With the Allies to Pekin: A Tale of the Relief of the Legations
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In the meantime the detachment had been exposed to a continuous and heavy fire, and had been obliged to sally out to defeat a force which advanced with the intention of taking them in rear. The attack, although made contrary to the agreement, was of great advantage to the Legations, for a furious onslaught had been made upon them with the evident intention of destroying them before the allies attacked the city, and therefore releasing the whole of the Chinese force for the purposes of defence. As soon, however, as the Chinese learned that the Russians had entered the gate, a considerable portion of the force round the Legation was withdrawn to oppose their advance, and from that moment the fury of the assault abated considerably.
The British had met with but slight resistance. Their main body had left Tung–Chow at two o?clock on the morning of the fourteenth. When within a mile of the southeast gate, they bombarded a village and drove the enemy holding it into the town, and then advancing they entered the Chinese city, and pushed on until they reached the Chien gate of the Tartar Wall. Here they were welcomed by the allied troops holding the wall near the gate.
They could not, however, let them in, and for a short time the British force were exposed to a galling fire from the Chinese city and from other parts of the wall. The British, however, knew of the water gate which opens into the canal, running up between the Russian and British Legations and the Fu, having received news that it was likely to be unguarded, by a messenger sent out by Sir Claude Macdonald. General Gaselee, therefore, taking with him the 7th Rajputs and a party of the 1st Sikhs, made a dash for this gate, and got through without much trouble.
The Chinese, never dreaming that an attack would be made on that side of the city, had not placed a strong force there, and as soon as General Gaselee had entered by the water gate, a party of Americans and Russians was able without much difficulty to seize the Chien M?n, and so admit the main body of the British force, who were waiting there to enter.
The loss sustained altogether by the allies was small in comparison with what might have been anticipated in capturing a town very strongly fortified and defended by a garrison of courageous men. The Japanese lost about two hundred killed and wounded, the Russians a hundred and twenty–eight killed and wounded, the Americans, who with the French entered the city immediately after the Russians, twenty–four killed and wounded, while the British had but half a dozen casualties.
Rex slept soundly for three hours, and was then aroused by the din going on around him. When he started up he found that, in addition to the crowd who had occupied the place during the siege, numbers of soldiers – Sikhs, Rajputs, and Welsh Fusiliers, Royal Marine Infantry, and sailors, were moving about. Scattered among them were a few men of other nationalities who had missed their columns during the night and had straggled in.Officers and men alike were endeavouring, with the scanty amount of water at their disposal, to get rid of the dust gathered during the two preceding days. All were talking and laughing in the highest glee at the satisfactory conclusion of their work. Most of them, like Rex, had slept on the ground, for it was impossible to find quarters in the already crowded houses.
Giving himself a shake as a substitute for a wash he went across to the hospital. One of the nurses came to the door.
“You are too early, Mr. Bateman,” she said. “Your cousins did not go to bed till half–past two, and we cannot think of waking them till eight. Fortunately not many wounded were brought in with the troops, and almost all our patients have benefited so greatly by the arrival of our friends that we are likely to have a quiet day of it. We did not tell your eldest cousin last night; we thought it best not to do so. They heard, of course, that you did not come in with the British, but one of the officers whom we questioned about it said that you were with the Japs, and would no doubt arrive with them. Your own arrival was the first intimation we had that the Japs had come in, so it was much better to let your cousin go quietly to sleep. Had she known that you were here she would have been wanting to see you, and to hear all about your doings.”
“Thank you!” said Rex; “it was much the best way. I should not have thought of coming in last night, but I feared that they would be uneasy when they found that I did not arrive with the British. Of course on the way up I spoke to several of the officers who had been with Seymour?s expedition, but the chances are that none of them would come your way. Well, I will go to my friends at the college.”
He was received quite joyously by the young men he knew, and as he had only eaten a biscuit on the previous day, some cold food was at once placed before him.
“We have been out of meat for some time,” said Sandwich; “only about half a dozen mules are left alive, and they are so desperately thin that it would be useless to kill them; one might as well try to make soup out of a clothes–horse. Here, however, is bread and rice and some jam. During the amnesty we managed to buy a good many things, and among them six pots of jam. This is the last pot, so you see we are treating you royally.”
“Rice and jam are not to be despised, only I hope there is enough rice. I should be sorry to place any limit to the powers of my appetite just at present.”
“Well, you can eat as much as you like, but eat quickly, for we want to know about everything. We have only heard that there was very little fighting on the way up, and that the Japs did the principal part of it.”
“Yes, and I was fortunate enough to see it all, for I came up as interpreter to their head–quarter staff. I can tell you in very few words about our march up here; the principal event was the fighting yesterday. But I must finish eating before I begin talking about that.”
After he had made a good meal Rex gave them a full account of the storming of the gate by the Japanese. When he finished, Sandwich said: “Now, tell us how it is that they have been such a tremendous time in relieving us, and also what has happened at Tientsin.”
“The first question is easy enough to answer. All the generals made up their minds that the Legations had been captured and the whole lot of you massacred, and it was not until a despatch came down from Conger about ten days before we started, that they really woke up in earnest. But nothing had worked smoothly since the day when they came up to relieve Tientsin. We and the Japs and the Americans got on capitally together, but the others were always raising difficulties, especially the Russians. The general opinion among us was that they were playing a double game.”
“In what way, Bateman?”
“Well, that I really cannot tell you. Certainly their generals altogether opposed the march up, and it was only when Gaselee and Chaffee declared that they would go alone, if none of the others would accompany them, that the Russians had to give way. It was generally believed that they wanted in some way to pose as friends of China, and on the strength of that to get concessions and that sort of thing, and especially to obtain from China the concession of the whole of Manchuria. I have no doubt they will try on that game now, when things settle down again, unless the other Powers back up China.”
“It is a rum state of things altogether,” Sandwich said.
“Well, tell us all about Tientsin.”
“To begin with, then, Tientsin and the settlements have to a large extent ceased to exist.”
“What? Was the fighting so severe as that? We have heard nothing whatever about it.”
“Yes, it was very severe. As far as actual fighting went, you were not in it here at all. For eight or nine days we were bombarded by any number of guns. The French settlement, which was nearest to the enemy, may be said to have been completely destroyed, the cathedral and mission–houses burned, and the rest of the houses practically knocked to pieces. Our quarters were pounded pretty heavily, but not to the same extent. We were exposed to a continuous fire from the ruins of the Chinese college on the other side of the river, and from all the houses that remained on that side. Of course we had barricades erected at the ends of all the streets, but nevertheless it was not altogether pleasant to walk about in the showers of bullets and shot and shell which came practically from all directions. The hottest fighting was at the railway–station, where it went on night and day.
“Well, when large reinforcements came up, we took the offensive. The Russians and French did not do much, but the Japs, the Americans, and our fellows had some very hard work. At the end of the first day things looked pretty bad. We were established in the suburb outside the town, but farther than that we could not get, and indeed there was some question whether we should not fall back after dark. This, however, was negatived, but that it should have been even proposed showed that we were really in a tight place. Fortunately, during the night the same question was discussed by the Chinese, and they concluded that as it was evident that we did not intend to go they had better do so, and the greater portion of them accordingly marched away. In the morning we carried the gate between us, the Japs doing most of the fighting, and as soon as we were in, the Chinese bolted like sheep.
“We found that our artillery fire had been most destructive in the town, and that a large portion of the place was in ruins. This, however, was principally the work of the Chinese themselves, who, during the first stage of the affair, acted like madmen. No one knows how many of the people suspected of being friendly to us were massacred; some put it at tens of thousands. At any rate, it was a great many thousands, and the river was literally full of corpses. Besides killing these people they sacked and set fire to their houses, and this way an enormous amount of damage was done.
“The allies, it must be confessed, did a lot of looting. The Japs, all agreed, behaved best; we and the Americans very fairly; but the Russians, who had done practically nothing towards the taking of the town, acted in a most brutal way. Moreover, they actually wanted one of their number appointed governor. Fortunately, the other Powers would not agree to this, and in the end a commission of three – a Russian, a Jap, and an Englishman – were appointed to manage things. A lot of the Chinese were enlisted as policemen, and in a day or two the place, which was littered with dead, was got into some sort of order. If this had not been done, there certainly would have been a pestilence.”
“But what about Seymour?s force?”
“They had to fight their way back, and were getting into great straits for provisions, when, luckily enough, by a sudden attack, they captured the arsenal of Hsi–Ku, five miles north of the native town. Here they found a tremendous quantity of weapons and stores, and a big supply of rice, and although the Chinese tried to recapture the place, they were able to hold it without much difficulty until, when the reinforcements came up from the sea, a strong body went out and relieved them. They could hardly have fought their way down without aid, for they had some hundreds of wounded, and a large number of the fighting–men would have been required to carry them.”
“And how about the capture of the Taku Forts?”
“Well, I will tell you all about that later. Of course, I did not see that; we were cut off from the sea for some days.”
“And what were you doing all that time?”
“I joined the volunteers – every able–bodied man did so – and helped in beating off several attacks on the barrier. I also had a part in some of the fighting at the railway–station, which was about the hottest thing in the whole affair; indeed, we were only saved by the fortunate arrival of a party of Sikhs who came out to take the place of the garrison, and even with their aid it was a close thing, for the Boxers fought with the greatest pluck, and even crossed bayonets with us.
“But there, I have given you now a rough account of it all; details will follow later. Here is your breakfast coming in. I want to take a turn round and see how matters stood up to the time when we arrived, and after that I am going to see my cousins. I was going to say I suppose you will be all off duty now, but I hear that the firing has broken out again. That shows that although we have got in, the Chinese have not got out, and may give us more trouble before we have done with them. By the way, what has become of the Empress?”
“She bolted three days ago when she heard, I fancy, that you had taken Tung–Chow. I don?t know whether it would be wise to send a force in pursuit of her, considering that the town is still full of Chinese troops and that there is so much to be done here. Besides, though she has a tremendous train of baggage with her, it would take some days? march for infantry to catch her, and it would be a risky thing for our small force of cavalry to go alone, as of course she has taken a considerable body of troops with her.”
“Yes, I don?t think they will pursue her,” Rex said. “There must be someone for us to treat with, and if we were to take her prisoner it is pretty certain that, directly we had gone, she would repudiate any treaty she might make, on the ground that it was obtained from her by force. The Chinese never hold to treaties, and this would afford them so excellent an excuse for breaking one that the agreement would hardly be worth the paper it was written on.”
“Well, I shall come back about ten o?clock, and then, before I give you any details of what I have seen, I shall expect you to give me a full account of all that has taken place here since I went away.”
Rex now went to the hospital again. A nurse went to inform the girls of his arrival, and almost immediately they came flying out.
“We are glad to see you again, Rex,” Jenny said; “we have been in dreadful anxiety about you. When you went away we had no idea that it would be so dreadfully long before you came back.”
“I did not think it would be myself,” he said, “but it has certainly not been my fault that I did not get back sooner. I can assure you that I have been quite as anxious about you as you can have been about me.”
“We were so dreadfully disappointed yesterday when the troops came in, to find that you were not with them. We asked a good many officers, but only one knew anything about you, and he said that you were with the Japanese.”
“Yes, that was so. It would have been very difficult for me to get leave to come with my own people, but the Japanese were glad of an extra interpreter. Now, how have you been all the time?”
“We have been very well on the whole. Of course we are both thinner, for recently rations have had to be reduced very much; we have had no meat for the past fortnight, and not a great deal of anything else. At the same time we have been kept very busy, for the number of wounded has been large; but we were very glad to be fully employed, for it was much better to be working here than to have nothing to do but make bags to hold earth and sand.”
“I can quite understand that. The students were telling me that it was terribly tedious when they had nothing to do. Certainly they were called out to aid the guard at the barriers, when these were heavily attacked, but often two or three days passed without their being summoned.”
“And how are Uncle and Aunt, Rex?” asked Jenny.
“They are both well. They have been besieged just as you were here, and there was very hard fighting. The settlement indeed was very much knocked about, but fortunately, in spite of the severe shelling, hardly any lives were lost.
“We can come out with you now for an hour,” said Jenny, “and then you can tell us all about it, and what prevented the army from coming up to help us.”
The girls put on their hats and the three sallied forth. As they walked about, Rex gave them a graphic account of the fighting at Tientsin.
“And has Ah Lo come up with you, Rex?”
“Certainly he has. I should as soon have thought of coming without a hat as without him. He is a splendid fellow, and I have got so accustomed to his company that I really don?t know what I should do without him.”
“It is time for us to go back,” Jenny said at last. “We shall be off duty this afternoon at three, and to–morrow or next day we shall leave the hospital, for most of the wounded are convalescent, and unless there is tough fighting the hospital will empty fast, especially now that we can get fresh fruit and meat and other things for the patients.”
Rex returned to the room occupied by the students, and there he found Sandwich waiting for him.
“I am feeling like a fish out of water, Bateman,” his friend said. “After being in readiness for the past two months to snatch up our rifles at any moment and run out to repel an attack, it seems strange indeed that we can ramble about without any fixed duty, and that our military work is over. Now, then, I will give you an account of what has happened here since you left. I have kept a journal ever since the siege began, so that I can tell you how everything was done in its right order.
“Nothing came of the letters sent in by Prince Ching. It was soon evident that the war party were supreme again, and the fighting went on as usual. One prisoner, who was taken the day after you left, said that the Empress had issued an edict explaining that the firing of large guns was a dangerous practice and liable to do much mischief, and she therefore ordered the troops to confine themselves to the use of rifles only. There can be no doubt that this curious edict was issued, and it was supposed to have been the result of representations by the inhabitants of the damage inflicted by their gun fire. No doubt this was very extensive, for their fire was always high and every shot that flew over the Legations must have fallen in the city and inflicted damage there. At any rate there was much less firing afterwards, and although the shells did not inflict any very great damage here, it was a relief to be free of them. The gun, however, that was being worked against the defenders of the Fu, distant only about fifty yards, continued to do great damage, and one night the attack of the Chinese was so fierce that the Italian guard posted between the British and Japanese retired, and had the Chinese taken advantage of the movement both the Japs and ourselves would have been cut off and the Fu altogether lost.
“Next day the attack was renewed with great vigour, both on the defenders of the Fu and on the French Legation. At the latter place two explosions took place, the enemy having driven mines under it. The French were forced to retire from the main building, but held entrenchments that they had prepared behind it. At the same time the Chinese made a desperate attempt to force their way into the German Legation. They did actually break into the club and set it on fire, but were driven back at the point of the bayonet. The fire, however, spread, and there was great danger that the defence would be forced. The alarm–bell was rung here, the gates were shut, and everyone stood at his post. The attack was maintained with fury till eight in the evening, then it gradually ceased, and when the enemy retired they left the French and Germans still holding the remains of their Legations. All night the French Legation continued to burn, and the coolies in the Fu worked unceasingly to extinguish the flames.
“The next day letters were received from Ching urging that the Europeans should all leave the Legations and go to the yamen. The proposition was so absurd that a refusal, of course in polite terms, was sent, as even had the Europeans been inclined to trust themselves to the mercy of the Chinese, they would have been obliged to abandon the native Christians under their protection.
“On the sixteenth another communication arrived from Ching. The night passed quietly. In the morning two Chinese presented themselves at the German Legation. Both said they had come to enquire what we meant to do, and to ask if the Foreign Chinese Secretary would go out to discuss matters with the generals. They explained that orders had come to cease firing on the Legations, and the bugler said that General Nieh had been defeated between Taku and Tientsin and had committed suicide.
“An answer was sent that we did not propose to fire without cause, but that we could not allow the Chinese to continue to build barricades, as they had been doing ever since the first message from Prince Ching reached us. While these letters were being exchanged, Chinese soldiers kept coming up to the barricade unarmed and professing friendship. A French volunteer was foolish enough to get over a barricade and go out. He had better luck than he deserved, for he was taken to Jung Lu?s head–quarters, where he was well treated. He was closely questioned as to the state of things in the Legation, and said, in reply, that we were having a first–rate time, enjoying ourselves greatly, and wanted nothing but fresh fruit. The Chinese thereupon gave him some melons and peaches and sent him back.
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