With the Allies to Pekin: A Tale of the Relief of the Legations
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“Those rascals have evidently hidden,” said Rex; “probably the column halted here and they slipped into that shed intending to do some plundering on their own account and to fall in again as the force returns.”
The village was but two hundred yards from them. Suddenly they heard loud and piercing screams coming from that direction.
“Come on, Ah Lo, those villains are up to some rascality. Some of the villagers have fallen into their hands.”
Setting their horses to a gallop they dashed into the village. The screams were coming from a house of somewhat superior appearance. Leaping from their horses they ran in and discovered four or five women struggling wildly against the Russians.
“Leave those women alone, you scoundrels,” Rex shouted.
With savage oaths the Russians turned round, and, seeing that it was but a civilian with a native who accosted them, they caught up their muskets. Rex had not time to unsling his rifle, but he drew his revolver and, as one of the Russians raised his musket to his shoulder, fired. The ball struck the man in the forehead and he fell back. One of the others fired at once, but as he did not raise his musket to his shoulder his aim was not true, and the shot passed through Rex?s coat without touching him. Ah Lo, who had by this time unslung his rifle, shot the man dead. The other two, with a howl of rage, rushed at them. The Russians always carried their bayonets fixed and relied upon them rather than upon shooting. Ah Lo had not time to recock his piece, but, using his rifle as a club, struck aside the thrust aimed at him. The impetus of the charge brought the two men together and, simultaneously dropping their guns, they grappled in a fierce wrestle.
Rex had fired again as his opponent rushed at him. It was but a snap–shot, but the bullet went through one of the Russian?s wrists, and caused his thrust to swerve. The bayonet ripped open Rex?s clothes, inflicting a slight wound along his chest as it passed. The force of the blow, however, threw Rex upon his back. The Russian, standing over him, raised his musket to strike, but as he looked down Rex again fired. The bullet struck the man between the eyes, and he fell a lifeless mass, completely knocking the breath out of Rex?s body. It needed all the lad?s strength to roll the body off and to gain his feet. The combat between Ah Lo and the Russian had just terminated. The latter was a big and powerful man, but he was no match for the Chinaman, who, having gripped his adversary by the throat, held on until he had choked the life out of him. To make sure, however, he at once picked up his rifle and put a ball into the man?s head.
“Perhaps he is dead, master, perhaps not. No good leave him to get round again.”
The women, as soon as the Russians had released them, had fled upstairs. Rex called out to them in Chinese to come down, but it was not until he had called three or four times that one timidly descended. Seeing the four Russians lying dead, she fell on her knees and poured out her thanks, and the others, perceiving that all was well, at once came down.
“Look here,” Rex said, “I don?t want any thanks.I have only done my duty as a man. Now you must at once hide these bodies somewhere. There is a ruined house next door, we will carry the bodies there at once and topple one of the mud walls over them. Then you must come back here and clean up the floor, and afterwards take refuge in the place where you were hiding when the column came along. It is hardly likely that they will miss these fellows, but if they do they will be sure to search all the villages they pass through on the way back.”
A quarter of an hour?s work sufficed to obliterate all traces of the conflict, and Rex and Ah Lo rode off amid the blessings of the women they had rescued.
“It is lucky for those poor creatures that we came along, Ah Lo. I can?t say I feel the slightest regret at having to kill those Russian scoundrels.”
“They are very bad men, the Russians,” Ah Lo said; “they rob everyone, do very bad things wherever they go.”
“Well, I need not say, Ah Lo, that we must keep this affair a strict secret. If it were discovered there would be a frightful row over it. I think before we go any farther I will dismount. That bayonet has certainly cut a gash across my chest. I have been too busy to think about it, but I feel now that it is bleeding.”
The wound, which was in no way serious, was bandaged up and they resumed their ride. After going for two or three miles farther they came upon a village where some of the cultivators still remained, and these were well pleased to sell three carts and six mules. The carts were primitive vehicles, consisting of a pair of great wooden wheels, a pair of shafts, and a long framework. On this was what resembled a great box, which could either be used for the conveyance of two passengers or filled with goods. In the former case the jolting over the rough roads was so unbearable, and indeed dangerous, that the sides and roof had to be padded with thick mattresses. The framework projected beyond the body of the cart, and goods could be lashed there when the box was used as a carriage. Rex decided that a mattress should be placed here for the girls to sit on, both because it would be infinitely more comfortable than being boxed up, and because the interiors would be filled with his purchases.
After some bargaining he succeeded in persuading three of the villagers to go with the carts, promising them, in addition to their pay, the gift of the conveyances and mules on their arrival at Tientsin.
The girls went into screams of laughter when he arrived, late in the afternoon, with these conveyances. The three weeks that had elapsed since their relief had done wonders for them, and they were now full of fun and life.
“You don?t mean to pack us away in those big boxes without windows or openings of any sort?”
“I certainly do not,” Rex said, “I shall put a mattress on that projection behind them, and you will ride there quite comfortably. To–morrow morning I will buy some thick cloth or canvas, and you can sew it together and make a little tent. It will only require to be high enough to allow you to crawl into it, and wide enough to enable you to ride side by side.”
The next morning Rex?s purchases were packed in the three carts. This was done with great care, and when it was finished they had nothing more to attend to. They had practically no personal baggage, for the girls had only the clothes they stood in and a change, most of which they had made for themselves on their arrival at Pekin. In the interval before starting, therefore, they went round bidding good–bye to all the friends they had made during the siege.
“What are you all going to do?” Rex asked his friend Sandwich.
“I have not the least idea, and I don?t suppose anyone else has. They can hardly expect us to begin work again until everything is settled. In a short time, however, I suppose we shall get so accustomed to this sort of thing that we shall really prefer being at work again to doing nothing. Possibly they may move the college down to Tientsin, or even to Shanghai, but I should think it would be better to keep it here. We may feel pretty certain of one thing, that when peace is once established the guard for the Legations will be much stronger than before. In that case I don?t see why the college should not remain here. Of course it will be rather hard at first to settle down to grinding away at the language after all the excitement of the past three months. If, as the result of the negotiations, more ports are thrown open, it would be a good thing for us, for of course more officials will be required. As one of the seniors, I should be pretty sure to get a berth, whereas I might have to wait for two or three years in the ordinary course of things.”
“Well, if you do come down to Tientsin for a run, I expect that you will find me there, Sandwich, and in that case you must make our place your home. Of course I have no idea of what my father will do. It is quite on the cards that he may decide to go home for a bit. Business will certainly be at a stand–still for a long time, and he may take advantage of the lull to run home for a year or two. Whether I shall stay at Tientsin or not is, of course, equally uncertain. This row has so completely turned everything topsy–turvy that I have no idea what will come of it.”
In the evening Rex called upon the Minister to tell him that he was going down with the convoy.
“You are quite right to do so, Mr. Bateman; there is no chance of any further fighting here, and you will naturally wish to be with your family at Tientsin. If you will sit down for a few minutes I will write a sort of testimonial saying how valuable have been your services here. I don?t say that such a testimonial will be of value to you as a merchant; still, it may be of use, and in any case it will be something to be proud of and a record of your doings during the troubles.”
Sir Claude went into an inner room and dictated a letter to his secretary. On his return he handed the document to Rex, who thanked him very heartily, saying that it was a testimonial that he should be proud of to the end of his life. At an early hour next morning the convoy of wounded and sick, and women and children, left Pekin. The girls were seated on a mattress behind the first of the three carts. Rex had bought two great umbrellas which shaded them from the sun?s rays. They had with them a basket containing fruits, meat, and bread. Swinging under the body of the cart was a hamper containing charcoal, a tea–pot, plates, cups and saucers, and tea, and slung beside it was the little tent that the girls made, with the sticks for its support.
To the girls the journey was most enjoyable. There was practically no fear of trouble, for after the capture of Pekin strong parties had been sent down and had dispersed the Boxers along the line of railway. Still, there was the risk that they might fall in with isolated bands to add interest to the march. At times they got down and walked, joining one or other of the friends they had made during the siege. Of an evening they made tea and generally had little parties, as their friends in turn looked in upon them. Still, they were not sorry when, on the fifth day after starting, Tientsin came in sight.
Their arrival excited the liveliest pleasure on the part of Mr. and Mrs. Bateman. Their aunt cried a good deal over the two girls whom at one time she believed she would never see again.
After the first excitement was over, and while the girls were giving their aunt a lively account of their adventures, Rex and his father discussed the question of the business.
“Your mother and I have been talking matters over,” Mr. Bateman said. “It is absolutely certain that many months at any rate must pass before there is any revival of trade, and we have come to the conclusion that it would be useless for us to remain here. I should leave Thompson and the two clerks to keep the place open and look after things until your uncle and I agree that business can be started again. We shall, of course, take the girls with us, and I really don?t see that there will be any use in your remaining. You have gone through a very exciting time, and a rest will do you good. What do you say yourself?”
“I am ready to do whatever you think best, Father. I don?t feel any the worse for the three months? excitement, but I think it would certainly be slow here if you were all gone. I suppose you will come out again yourself when things begin again.”
“Certainly I shall, but I don?t think your mother will. But, of course, all that we will chat over with your uncle. My own idea is that I shall come out with you for a couple of years, by which time you ought to know enough of the business to take charge of it, especially as Thompson is fairly well up in it. But, as I have said, all that is a matter for after–consideration. I feel that I have certainly earned a rest, having been out here ten years without a break. As for you, this will certainly be a dreary place for at least a year, for it will be two or three years before it entirely recovers from the blow. You will not be without something to do in England, because you will go into your uncle?s office and will learn a good deal of the details of the business, price of the goods, and so on.”
“Well, in that case, Father, I certainly think I should much rather go home with you. If I could be of any use here, I would willingly stop, but there can be no return of trade until a treaty has been made and the troops have all left the country, and that will be at least a year, perhaps a good deal more.”
“Very well, then, that is settled. Just at present there are plenty of steamers going down to Shanghai, and I see no reason why we should not be off in a week. For many reasons I think the sooner we leave the better. The girls have gone through a terrible time for the past three or four months, and although they look better than could have been expected they must have been terribly shaken. Quiet and a long sea voyage will, I hope, set them up again. Shattered as the settlement is, goods may still be obtained, and I have no doubt that they can get everything requisite for the voyage in the course of a week.”
Accordingly, ten days later, Mr. and Mrs. Bateman, with their nieces, Rex, and Ah Lo – who refused positively Mr. Bateman?s offer to set him up comfortably in a farm in his native village – sailed together for Europe.
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