George Henty.

With the Allies to Pekin: A Tale of the Relief of the Legations





The scene on board the long lines of junks was interesting, and, to a lookeron, amusing. Two or three times Rex handed his horse to Ah Lo and took passage in one of the junks. These, of course, were guarded by soldiers of the various nationalities whose supplies were on board. All did their best to urge on their coolies, and as collisions were frequent, and boats every now and again ran ashore, the hubbub of shouting in five or six languages was appalling. Rudders were smashed, bulwarks crashed in, and damage done in every way, but the crowd of lubberly craft pushed on in spite of the confusion that everywhere reigned.

The Japanese had unquestionably the best of it. They were comfortably settled down with their hospital erected before the Russians lumbered up. Everything they did was as well arranged as if they had been at home, and Rex could not but admit that these little soldiers were far ahead of those of any European country in point of organization, discipline, and the quickness and cheeriness of their movements. No looting was allowed among them, and very few outrages indeed were committed by them on the unfortunate peasantry. In this respect they compared very favourably with the troops of all other nationalities, even including our own, although General Gaselee set himself strongly against such acts, severely punishing such offenders as could be brought to justice.

On the tenth the Japanese again pressed on, their outposts getting to within a mile of the retreating enemy. General Fukushima, the moving spirit of the pursuit, was asked in the evening if his troops were not very tired.

Yes, he said grimly, and so are the enemy.

This was the spirit in which he carried on the movement. The enemy were to be kept on the run, no time was to be given them to recover their spirits. They were even worse off than their pursuing enemy, for they had no commissariat, carried no provisions with them, and had to feed upon what they could gather at their haltingplaces, which was seldom more than melons and millet from the fields.

The Japanese cavalry and infantry halted about three miles in advance of the main body. When the rest of the infantry came up, they were extended and searched all the villages near the line of march. This done, the cavalry again went on ahead for some distance, and the process was then repeated.

In this way the army marched down to Matou. It was a long march, and the troops all suffered terribly from the heat, with the exception of the British, who were wisely kept at their last haltingplace until late in the afternoon, and came on in the cool of the evening. The main body of the force bivouacked at Matou, the Japanese camp being three miles farther ahead.

The next morning the Japanese arrived at ChanChiaWan. The day was cooler than the preceding one, and some rain fell, affording great relief from the heat. The Japanese reached the place at eleven o?clock, and sent on a strong detachment of cavalry, infantry, and artillery to reconnoitre.

They discovered the enemy in a position south of Chungtaw. At about two o?clock the Japanese brought up some more artillery and shelled the place, whereupon the enemy retired into TungChow, a large and very wealthy city only thirteen miles from Pekin. The next morning the Japanese entered TungChow without meeting with any resistance and took possession of half of the city. The rest of the allied army arrived somewhat later, and at once began to loot their portion of the town.

All the river trade down to Tientsin passes through TungChow, which contains even richer pawnshops than Pekin itself. These are very important institutions in China, not only because of the richness of the securities on which money is advanced, but because they are used as storingplaces for valuables by the general public, and contain immense quantities of jewellery, costly furs, jade, and works of art of all sorts and descriptions.

The greater part of the lower class of the population had remained in the city, and they joined in the general looting, which was carried on everywhere whenever they saw a chance. Officers in vain tried to keep their men in control in the narrow streets, but in the Russian section the soldiers were allowed to do just as they pleased, and they gave themselves entirely to looting, rapine, and crime of every kind. The reports of the flying Chinese soldiers had aroused in the people an intense fear of the foreign devils, and so when the troops arrived at a town or village many of the inhabitants made away with themselves to avoid the outrages of a licensed soldiery. Women threw themselves out of windows or drowned themselves in wells, indeed whole families often committed suicide in order to avoid a worse fate. Thus, although very many terrible outrages were committed, these accounted for but a small proportion of the deaths among the Chinese people.

The British camp was at the edge of the river, and the soldiers were not allowed inside the town, and stringent orders had been given against looting. Had the other generals taken the same view of the matter, the campaign would not have been disgraced by the plundering and murder of innocent people. The British general was proud of his troops, and justly so.

Rex had secured a room in the quarter held by the Japanese and enjoyed a good sleep. He was greatly grieved at the awful destruction that went on in the town, and he could not but wonder at the cowardice of the Chinese in evacuating, without striking a blow, a place whose walls were at least as strong as those at Tientsin, and leaving its enormous wealth to the enemy. He got up early in the morning and rode out. The sun had not yet risen, but the narrow streets were filled with the scum of the town, who, invisible the day before, had now returned in numbers, bent on looting the houses of their more wealthy countrymen who had forsaken them. Filthy beggars and coolies staggered along under the weight of furs and rolls of silk. The front of nearly every house was broken in and its contents turned topsyturvy. The allies had taken the pick of the goods, but vast quantities remained for any who chose to carry them away.

The changes of fortune that twentyfour hours had wrought were extraordinary. Rich men had become beggars, beggars had acquired that which made them wealthy.

Rex let his horse help himself at the grain shop; the day was likely to be a heavy one, and the rations served out were but scanty.

Now, Ah Lo, he said, as he joined the Japanese troops, who as usual started before daylight, this is the last day of the march. By tonight our suspense will be over and we shall know what has happened.

The Japanese had reason to be proud of themselves. General Yamaguchi, on entering the town, issued a proclamation promising protection to noncombatants, and telling the people to remain in their houses. It was unfortunate indeed that the Japanese had not occupied the whole of the city. If they had, the scenes that have disgraced the nations would have been avoided.

The Japanese advanced by an old stone causeway leading to the eastern gate of the Tartar City, the Russians by a road more to the south, but north of the canal, and leading to the northern gate of the Chinese city. South of the canal were the Americans, and still farther to the south the British. It had been arranged on the previous evening, at the meeting of the generals, that the column should halt a short distance from the city. This arrangement, however, was broken by the Russians, who marched close up to the city walls, and, meeting with no opposition and thinking that a surprise might be effected, advanced up to the gate. Here, however, they were met by a heavy rifle fire, which killed and wounded many men. They could not well retire, and their message begging for reinforcements was the first intimation of what had occurred. A subsequent rumour stated that they had succeeded in entering the city, and the other generals, annoyed at the trick by which the Russians hoped to have the glory of being the first to get into the city, at once marched forward with all haste and without consultation.

The Japs had, as agreed, halted at a village three miles from the eastern gate, and in one of the dwellings attached to a josshouse, or temple, Rex and a few Japanese took shelter. As night came on, a drizzling rain began to fall. At nine o?clock desultory firing was heard to the east, and half an hour after, a few shots somewhat nearer came from the direction of the eastern gate. Later, the fire increased, and the Japs got under arms. As the night was very dark it was impossible to tell what was going on, and, mindful of the arrangement that had been made, they could not attempt to advance. Just before daylight they started again, and then Rex learned of the trick the Russians had played, and that a messenger had arrived begging Fukushima to send reinforcements. The officer who brought the message said that if the Japanese joined the Russians the combined force could succeed in making an entrance through the wall into the city.

Fukushima replied: What about the Americans and the British?

The Russian officer shrugged his shoulders and said: Why should we trouble about them when we can do without them?

Fukushima replied angrily that he had undertaken to attack at a certain time, and that he should stick to his undertaking.

This is a pretty bad beginning to the day?s work, Rex said to the Japanese officer who was marching alongside.

I wish we had come without the Russians at all, the officer replied; they have brought disgrace upon us all by their infamous doings. They have worked on their own account since they started. They are surly brutes, and I would infinitely rather fight against them, as I have no doubt we shall have to do some day, than against these poor beggars of Chinese. It is perfectly scandalous that, after making an agreement only last night that we were to hold a council this morning and arrange for an attack in unison, they should sneak forward and try to get all the glory themselves.

CHAPTER XVI
THE CAPTURE OF PEKIN

The day was just breaking as the Japanese moved forward. Rex rode with their advance guard, which was moving along on the road with flanking parties in the woods close by. Suddenly there was a sound of rifle shots in the woods, and bullets whizzed through the air overhead. The column at once broke up, and, taking shelter among the bushes, began to advance in the direction of the firing, which became heavier every moment. It was a complete surprise, for no idea had been entertained that the Chinese would advance beyond the protection of their walls.

The main body behind had halted. Some wounded men were carried out of the woods, but they could give no particulars as to the force that had attacked them. Presently a mounted Russian officer dashed out from the wood and rode up to the headquarter staff, where he shouted to Fukushima that the Russians and Japs were firing upon each other.

Orders were at once given to cease firing, and investigations showed that the affair had been caused by a few Chinese lurking in the wood, who had fired upon the Japs. The Russians, whose movements were unknown to the Japs, were advancing on the other side of the wood, and the Japanese bullets flying over their heads led them to believe that they were attacked by the Chinese, and so the two allied forces skirmished briskly with each other until the mistake was discovered. Unfortunately several men were wounded on both sides, and two Russians killed.

As soon as the matter was cleared up the Japanese resumed their forward march, and in a short time, on rounding the base of a small eminence, they saw the great wall of Pekin and the massive gatehouse.

For a quarter of a mile outside the town extended a labyrinth of narrow streets. The road ran straight through these to the first gate leading through the great tower. To reach this the wide moat, crossed by a great stone bridge, had to be traversed. The gate itself could not be seen, as the road made a sharp angle at the tower, and therefore guns could not be brought to play upon it until they were close up. Beyond this gate was a large yard, and from this opened the inner gate of the wall itself.

Not a soul was to be seen in the streets, and the Japanese moved forward with a general feeling of expectation and wonderment. Why did not the Chinese open fire? They were within short range, and yet there was no sign whatever of the foe.

They began to think that, as at TungChow, the entry was not going to be opposed, when suddenly, as they rounded the bend, a tremendous fire broke out from the walls and a storm of bullets smote the column. Pending orders, there was nothing for it but to rush for shelter, and the dispersal of the solid battalions resembled that of a crowd when a thundershower breaks suddenly overhead. For a time nothing could be done. Crowded in the little houses, the troops waited for the engineers, who were to blow up the gate, to complete their work.

Rex, by stooping low, made his way forward until he reached a point where he could watch what was going on in front. Here he could see the little Japanese soldiers cheering as they advanced, running forward towards the gate under a tremendous fire of musketry. Of the first detachment more than half fell before they had gone many yards, but others pushed on until almost the last man had fallen. Attempt after attempt was made, the brave fellows going forward as cheerfully to almost certain death as if to a f?te. It soon became evident, however, that success could not be attained even at the greatest sacrifice of life, and twenty minutes after its commencement the attack was given up.

Nothing could now be done until night fell and afforded a screen for the forlorn hope to get up to the gate. The Japanese artillery were brought up and placed on some elevated ground beyond the suburb outside the wall, and opened fire on the gate and its surroundings. Meanwhile the troops were withdrawn from the houses near the walls, and, scattering among those at a safer distance from it, lay down and waited for further orders.

Rex went out with Fukushima to the hill on which the Japanese guns were preparing to open fire. There were no fewer than sixtyfour of them, for the most part quite small, and these were soon all at work pounding the great tower and the wall. It was not long, however, before it became evident that the massivelybuilt structure was not to be seriously injured by such puny missiles, and while the larger guns were still kept at work the smaller ones were turned upon the city wall. As a result the enemy?s musketry fire diminished, and soon only an occasional shot rang out from the wall. The Chinese fired a few shells in reply, but strangely enough they did but little in that way, although the outlying suburb might very speedily have been set on fire and the Japs driven out from their shelter.

The Japanese fire continued for six hours, but even at the end of that time the gatetower, although its face was closely pockmarked by the balls, had not been seriously damaged. The day passed slowly, and it was a relief indeed when, as darkness came on, the men again moved up into the houses on the main road and in the lanes branching from it. After all were ready they were still kept waiting, but at last two loud explosions were heard. The engineers had done their work, and in a few seconds the Japanese were swarming out of the houses and going forward at the double, keeping time as they went to the cheerful cry of One, two; one, two, with which they always advanced. But the Chinese were not taken unprepared. A storm of fire broke out from the great tower and the battlements on the walls, as heavy as that which they had encountered in the morning. But happily it was to a certain extent a random one, for although the moon had just risen, its light was not sufficiently strong to enable the defenders of the walls to make out the advancing enemy with any accuracy. Nevertheless, the middle of the road was so swept with fire that the Japs, as they advanced, had to take what shelter they could in the houses on either side. As they got to the last broad open space they halted at the corner and then went forward in batches, cheering and singing. Many fell, but many also reached the gate, and once under the wall they were in shelter from the fire. The leading parties, dashing through the gate which had been blown down, speedily drove back those of the defenders gathered there. The gatehouse was soon captured, and the troops, as they entered, were marched up to the top of the wall, and, following this to the right and left, drove the Chinese before them, the latter, however, offering an obstinate resistance at each bastion.

From the walls the city appeared a mass of ruins. The continuous fire of the Japanese guns had created immense destruction; large spaces had been swept by shot and shell. At some points a heavy fire was opened from the ruins upon the whiteclad column, which showed up very clear in the moonlight on the top of the wall; but this form of opposition presently ceased. Great fires could be seen burning in the direction of the Legations, and the column pressed on, anxious to be among the first to arrive there. Just at midnight, however, they came upon a Russian picket on the wall, and to their disappointment learned that the Legations had been relieved in the afternoon. They pressed on, however, and at two o?clock entered the Legations.

The general and his staff stopped at the Japanese Legation, but Rex and Ah Lo pushed on over barricades and ruins to that of the British. Here they found almost every square foot of ground occupied, but they made their way among the sleepers until they reached the hospital. Here alone there were signs of life; lights shone in the windows. Rex, knowing the way well, moved quietly into the kitchen. Fires were still burning, and kettles and pots were boiling. On the floor, with her head resting on a chair, Mabel was sitting fast asleep. Feeling sure that Jenny was assisting in the wards, he remained quiet for a minute or two until the head nurse entered with a can for water.

Ah, Mr. Bateman! she exclaimed as she saw him, I am indeed glad to see you. Your cousins have been very anxious about you. We have nearly finished in the hospital now, and shall get an hour or two?s sleep, I hope. I will send your cousin out to you at once.

No, thank you! said Rex; now that I know they are both well I am quite content to wait till morning, but I should be obliged if you would let Jenny know that I have been here.

I shall be very glad to do so.

We have been practically two nights without sleep, said Rex, and now I know that the girls are well, I feel that I have only to find room enough to lie down somewhere, and I shall be off to sleep almost before my head touches the ground.

I cannot ask you to stop here, Mr. Bateman, for our regulations are very strict.

Thank you! I was not thinking of that, and indeed I should much prefer the open air.

He joined Ah Lo again, and, lying down on the ground close to the entrance of the hospital, he fell asleep almost immediately.

Although the Japanese had done by far the heaviest fighting and suffered the greatest loss, the other allies had in some cases had serious fighting. The Russian attack, although it had been made in defiance of the agreement entered into, that no advance whatever should be made against the city until all the allies had arrived at the positions assigned to them, was a gallant affair, and to a certain extent an accident. Their reconnoitring party, consisting of four hundred infantry and three guns, had pushed forward, meeting with no signs of the enemy until, to their surprise, they found themselves close up to the outer walls, at the angle where the walls of the Chinese and Tartar cities join. It was pitch dark when they arrived, and with a sudden rush they disposed of the Chinese guard on duty on the bridge immediately outside the Tung Pien gate, and then blew a hole in the gate itself with their guns. They then mounted on the Tartar Wall.

Up to this time the opposition they had encountered had been very slight, which may be accounted for by the fact that the Chinese were so briskly engaged at the time in an attack upon the Legations that the proceedings of the Russians had really been unnoticed. About this time, however, the moon rose, bringing into relief the Russians moving on the wall. Immediately a desperate fire was opened upon them. Nearly all the horses with the guns were at once killed, and the infantry, taking their places, dragged the guns back to shelter, near the point where they had entered the city. Urgent demands for reinforcements were then sent to the main body of the Russian force. The refusal of the Japanese to take part in the affair, on the ground that it was the result of a breach of the arrangement arrived at by the allied commanders, paralyzed the action of the Russian general, and it was not until ten o?clock on the following morning that reinforcements arrived.





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