George Henty.

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

The Boxers burnt all the houses in the neighbourhood, threw inflammable pots into the convent and upon the roof of the cathedral, and maintained a continuous fire of musketry and artillery. Fortunately the fire was principally directed against the cathedral, and though that building was sorely battered, but little harm was done to the defenders.

Continual messages were shouted to the converts calling upon them to come out. One note, which was thrown into the trenches on an arrow, ran as follows: You Christians shut up in the Peitang, reduced to die in misery, eating the leaves of trees, why do you so obstinately resist? We have cannon and mines, and can blow you all up in no time. You are deceived by the devils of Europe. Return to the ancient religion of the Fu, hand over Mgr. Favier and the rest, and your lives shall be saved and we will supply you with food. If you do not do this, your women and children will be cut to pieces.

But although these attempts continued throughout the siege not one of the converts evinced the slightest desire to give in. The worst form of attack was that of mining. The enemy successfully exploded one huge mine, blowing up several buildings, and killing no fewer than eighty children and injuring a still greater number. Four tons of gunpowder were said to have been used, and the result was a huge round hole like the crater of a small volcano, measuring in diameter, from bank to bank, fully ninety feet. Even this did not shake the courage of the defenders, but it warned them of what they had to expect, and all available hands were at once set to work digging very deep trenches to prevent the Chinese from mining under the buildings. In spite of these efforts, however, four mines were exploded inside the compound, but another, which would have been almost as formidable as the first, was prevented from doing the damage that it would otherwise have done by one of the other trenches, though over seventy people were injured by the explosion.

Several other mines besides those exploded were met by countermines driven by the besieged. One mine, however, had escaped observation. This was driven under the foundations of the cathedral, and had the relief been delayed but a day or two longer it would have been fired and would probably have caused the death of a vast number of people, for the building was throughout the siege used as a hospital.

Towards the end of the siege the garrison was greatly annoyed by rockets. These were fired by an ingenious gun, and directed by the Chinese themselves. They rendered any passage across the enclosure dangerous, and set fire to many buildings. Once a brilliant sortie was organized and carried out by the handful of marines and a number of speararmed converts. They succeeded in capturing a fieldpiece and some ammunition, the latter being invaluable during the siege.

But the greatest enemy with whom the garrison had to contend was hunger. Gradually the ration of rice served out to the converts was reduced, and at the end, although but two ounces of rice was all that could be allowed to the Chinese converts, even this would have failed in the course of another two or three days.

This miserable ration was eked out in every way. Every green thing, every blade of grass, was pulled up, cooked, and eaten. The last few starving animals, before they were killed, had stripped the bark off the trees as high as they could reach.

The little party of marines had lost heavily. The captain had been killed early in the siege. The lieutenant fell on the 30th of July. He was but twentythree, but his cheerfulness and devotion had done much to maintain the spirits of the besieged. He had worked night and day, and his death caused the deepest regret among the garrison. Eleven of the soldiers were also killed and most of the others were wounded.

Mgr. Favier wrote: We wept but once during the siege, and it was on this day. So terrible was the pinch of hunger that halfwild dogs which fell upon the dead Boxers lying round the entrenchments were killed and eaten. The suffering was so great that one has to go back to the siege of Leyden for a parallel. The defenders, when relief arrived, were almost skeletons, living spectres scarce able to drag themselves along, and their rescuers, on viewing the shattered defences, the numerous pits made by the exploded mines, and the worn and pallid forms of the defenders, were astonished that they had been able to hold out so long against a horde of wellarmed and determined assailants. Gallant as was the defence of the Legations, there could be no doubt whatever that it was as nothing compared with that of the cathedral.

As things began to settle down a little the pressure in the Legations was relaxed, the Chinese converts in the Fu and in the British Legation moved out and established themselves in the deserted houses near. Supplies began to come in, especially to the British Legation, where the natives quickly learned that they would be fairly treated. The Japanese were also well supplied, but no native would enter the Russian quarter. The attempts of Russia to pose now as the friend of China were wholly fruitless. Putting aside the atrocities the Russians had committed there, the natives had become well aware of the horrible massacres they had perpetrated in Manchuria, and their occupation of that province had excited so deep a feeling of animosity that even had their behaviour been good at Pekin they would still have been regarded with the greatest mistrust.


Fighting went on for some days, but at last all opposition ceased, and the Chinese soldiers either left the city altogether or, changing their clothes, appeared as peaceable citizens. Rex went round the town and was horrified at the destruction that everywhere met his eye. The portion of the town held by the Russians was infinitely the worst; there the looting had been universal, and the atrocities committed upon the unfortunate inhabitants beyond description. In that part of the city Rex scarcely saw a native in the streets. In the German quarter things were little better, and in the French quite as bad. In those portions of the city occupied by the British and the Americans many natives were moving about, and in many of the streets fruit and other things were exposed for sale on stalls. In the Japanese quarter all was order and regularity. Looting had been prohibited from the first, and stringent orders given for the good treatment of the inhabitants. This had such a good effect that shops were already opening, and stalls lined the streets, and indeed the greater portion of the inhabitants from the other quarters had migrated to this part, where alone they found they would be safe from pillage and outrage. It was a humiliating sight for an Englishman that these swarthy little soldiers, whom the Europeans regarded almost as barbarians, should be so infinitely in advance of the Western troops in discipline, order, and good conduct.

The Americans, on the day following the relief of the Legations, fought their way to the entrance of the Forbidden City; but there they halted, as an agreement had been made that none should enter the Palace grounds until a formal entrance was made by the whole force. The jealousies and bickerings of the various generals had broken out afresh now that their purpose was achieved. The Russians, who had from the first signalized themselves by their brutal treatment of the natives, were now posing as their friends, and were already advocating a retirement. The French, owing perhaps to their supposed alliance with the Russians (though from the beginning they had been conspicuous for doing nothing), followed their lead in this as in all things. The Italians were inclined in the same direction; but the Japanese, British, and Americans were wholly against any movement of retirement until terms had been definitely settled.

After a fortnight?s consideration they decided to march through the Imperial Palace, and on the twentysixth the troops paraded, the arrangement being that ten per cent of each nationality should take part in the demonstration. They drew up outside the inner gateway. The Russians took up their position in the centre, close to the great stone bridge, the Japanese a little to the left, the British were to the right of the Russians, and the remainder behind them. They had but one band, a Russian one, but there were also some pipers belonging to one of the Indian Regiments. In all there were eight hundred Russians, eight hundred Japanese, four hundred British, four hundred Americans, two hundred French, two hundred Germans, and one hundred Italians and Austrians. Soon after eight o?clock a salute of twentyone guns was fired by one of our fieldartillery batteries, and then, led by the Russians, the force marched through the central archway of the TienAnM?n.

The Imperial Hall of Audience, or, as it was called, the Hall of Great Harmony, was a magnificent building. It was here that the Emperor sat enthroned, receiving the homage of his court, on any great occasion, notably New Year?s Day, his own birthday, and various other times prescribed by the rigid ceremony of the court. Here he conferred literary degrees and distributed robes of honour and promotions in rank. The hall was over two hundred feet long, one hundred feet wide, and the same height. It stood on a noble terrace of white stone, twenty feet above the level of the courtyard, and was reached by five flights of steps. These were flanked, and the terrace surrounded, by white marble balustrades, both steps and balustrades being excellently carved. A number of huge bronze urns of very handsome design, and two great bronze tortoises, added to the brilliancy of the approach.

Externally the hall was in fair repair, but the ornamentation under the eaves was dirty, and the pillars outside and the woodwork round the walls were sadly needing paint, so that in spite of the fine approach the general aspect was that of shabbiness. Why this should be so under the rule of an allpowerful Empress, with the whole resources of the Empire at her command, was quite unaccountable. One would have expected that everything within the walls of the palace, which is the centre of the Empire, would have been kept in the most perfect order. The same want of repair was evident in the Hall of Central Harmony, the Hall of Precious Harmony, and the various pavilions in the courtyards through which the troops marched. In fact the aspect of all the rooms, halls, and pavilions was disappointing in the extreme. The waitingrooms were gloomy, and everything was covered with dust. Grass grew thickly in the courtyard, and indeed the whole place had an aspect of neglect and privation. In the Imperial apartment there were superb vases and ornaments of all kinds, all bearing the same marks of neglect. The general feeling among the troops was one of disappointment. After a stay of an hour or two the troops marched out again. Some small articles were carried off, but there was nothing like general looting, and the mandarins who had remained behind in charge had no reason to complain of the conduct of the troops.

Rex accompanied the Japanese in their march, as being officially in their service, and, like all those who had formed the procession, was greatly disappointed.

It is really a rotten old place, he said to the girls on his turn. It looks as if it hadn?t been inhabited for a hundred years. It is grimy, dusty, and dark. No doubt there were all sorts of good things in the way of vases, but even these were so dirty and dull that no one would think of looking at them if they were not in the palace. Certainly I did not see anything that I should have cared to carry off if I had been permitted to do so, except upon the supposition that, as they were in the palace they must be valuable. I have seen much better things in the loot taken in the city.

Well, I am glad to hear you say so, Rex, Jenny said, for it does seem rather hard that the women who have taken part in the siege should not have been allowed to go to look at all the wonders.

Well, you have lost nothing, I can assure you, said Rex. Some of those things I bought are certainly better worth looking at than anything in the palace, at least till it has been cleaned up a bit.

Pekin having been conquered, and the proof of conquest having been given to the Chinese by the march through the temple, the general topic of conversation was what was next to be done. The Empress was, it was known, making her way to Shansi, some hundreds of miles away, and all agreed that it would be impossible to pursue her there, for even if the journey could be accomplished she would simply make another move, and so evade capture. It was considered probable that she would make an offer to treat, but no doubt a considerable time, weeks perhaps, or even months, would pass before she could bring herself to do so. It was considered certain that sooner or later she must take such a step, for, credulous as the Chinese are, it would be impossible to get them to believe that she was staying at Shansi from choice, and that Pekin was occupied by the allies by her gracious permission. The question was, what would be the end? As a matter of course a huge sum would have to be paid for the expenses of the war. On this point opinion was unanimous. The question on which there were strong differences of opinion was, what else would happen? Would each of the Powers demand a slice of Chinese territory, and undertake the civilization of the huge Empire? One objection to this was that it would sooner or later lead to a general outbreak of hostilities between the Powers. It was probable that the mere work of fixing the respective frontiers would bring matters to a crisis at once. Russia would assuredly demand a far greater share than the others, and, on condition that France would back her, would see that that country also benefited very largely. Austria and Italy would certainly be unable to manage a concession of any size, and, moreover, they had so little interest in the East that they would probably put in no claims. Germany, with her sudden greed for colonizing, would certainly expect a large slice. On the other hand, Japan, Great Britain, and America might be expected to oppose any steps in this direction. None of them had any wish to acquire territory. As traders they desired that all doors should be kept open, and that trade should be free to all. Their interest, therefore, was that China should remain intact, and should be allowed to advance gradually in the path of reform.

The war with Japan had already given a vast impulse to her life in many respects. Short as the intervening time had been, she had accumulated great stores of modern weapons, and had made considerable progress in the work of turning peasantry into soldiers. It was probable that a second disastrous defeat would show her still more vividly the necessity for adopting European methods. It would assuredly strengthen enormously the hands of the progressive party. Prince Ching and others of the same views would gain power and influence, and obstinate and imperious as the Empress might be, the fact that she had been driven a fugitive from her capital, as the result of following the advice of the war party, could not but impress her strongly. Although all allowed that it would be some time before China recovered from the shock, most of those in the British Legation at any rate, were of opinion that it would finally be of immense benefit to her.

The arguments were sometimes quite heated, until some calm listener suggested that months might elapse before any preliminaries of peace were agreed upon, and it was scarcely worth while to get excited over a future which really no one at present could in the slightest degree foretell.

Before starting, Rex had been furnished by his father with a considerable amount of money.

There is sure to be a great deal of looting, Mr. Bateman said, and, as is always the case in such circumstances, the soldiers are altogether ignorant of the value of the things they have picked up, and will be ready to sell them for a mere song. The two things to keep your eyes upon are really fine vases, old ones of course, and furs. The Chinese don?t mind what they give for good furs, so that their possessions in this line are of immense value. There are also silks and things of that sort, but they are not so saleable as furs, and I should advise you to stick to these and cloisonn? vases.

All the time he was able to go about the city, Rex had carried out his father?s instructions. The Russian soldiers had pillaged every shop in their district, and among these, as at TungChow, were enormous quantities of valuables of all kinds, many of which they had been ready to dispose of for a few dollars to the first comer. Rex was therefore able to procure a large quantity of valuable furs, fine vases, jade, and jewellery. In the British quarter all loot found was handed over to the military authorities, who sold it by auction every two or three days. Here the more valuable goods went for a song; foxfurs worth a couple of hundred pounds fetched only seven or eight, and vases were equally cheap, as the difficulty of carriage deterred most of the buyers from bidding at all. On the other hand, small articles which could be taken home as curios, and in memory of the siege, were eagerly bought up by soldiers and noncommissioned officers at prices far beyond their intrinsic value. The missionaries were very active in obtaining loot, which they also sold for the most part by auction, and justified their action by saying that the money would be used in rebuilding their ruined chapels and missionhouses. All this and much more that took place during the war was in direct defiance of the treaty to which China, as well as all the allied powers, was a party. This forbade the illtreatment of private persons, the forcible entry into their houses, the taking of their goods; but the allies considered that the Chinese, by their massacre of thousands of Christians and of numbers of missionaries, together with their attack upon the settlements, had so broken the treaty as to put themselves quite out of court. It must be admitted, however, that the conduct of the troops, especially of the Russians, Germans, and French, cannot but have greatly heightened the hatred felt by the Chinese for the foreign devils.

Rex had no difficulty in hiring coolies to bring home his purchases, and the girls were astonished at the mass of valuables he brought to the little room they now occupied. They were, of course, ignorant of the real worth of these things, but they could not but know that the silk and satin mantles, lined with lovely furs, must be of considerable value. However are you going to get them all down, Rex? asked Jenny.

Well, I intend to buy a couple of carts, and of course I shall hire coolies to drive them. When we have got all the things stowed away in them we will cover them with some rough cloth, and then you can sit one in each; that will be much more comfortable for you than riding, for, as you have told me, you have never been on a horse?s back in your lives, and besides it would be next to impossible to buy decent horses here.

Yes, it would be a great deal better. When do you think we shall be able to leave?

I hear, he said, that the day after tomorrow a convoy is going down, and that all women who have not husbands here can accompany it. I think, therefore, that we may as well go. There is nothing whatever to keep us here, and as far as I can see nothing is likely to be done for a long time, perhaps months. The Empress is hundreds of miles away, and it is certain that it will take a long time indeed before the terms of any treaty can be settled. I shall make arrangements for our joining the convoy. We certainly cannot take much time to pack. Ah Lo and I have horses, and I will this afternoon try to pick up a couple of carts. There is no buying them here, but I will ride out with Ah Lo to some of the villages round, where I have no doubt I shall be able to get what I want.

There will, of course, be an infantry escort with the convoy, and we shall therefore travel at a walkingpace; besides, there must be a number of wagons to carry stores for consumption on the way. We shall therefore have no difficulty in keeping up with the rest.

An hour later he rode out with Ah Lo. Both carried their rifles slung behind them, and Rex, in addition, took a revolver. It was certain they would not be able to buy carts in any of the villages, as these were entirely deserted, except by a few old people, within a circuit of some miles round the city. They therefore rode a considerable distance into the country. As they went along they saw in the distance a Russian column, which they had heard was to start an hour before they rode out. As it was certain that nothing would be found anywhere near that column, they were about to turn off and ride in another direction, when they saw four Russian soldiers come out of a shed, in which they had apparently been hiding, and go into a neighbouring village.

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