With the Allies to Pekin: A Tale of the Relief of the Legations
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“I don?t think the women meant to make fun of you, Ah Lo. My uncle told me that his housekeeper always spoke very well of you, and said that they all liked you.”
“Always laughed at Chinaman?s English.”
“Well, of course it was curious to English servants. Pidgin English is very curious to people who are unaccustomed to it, with your funny way of sticking in ?piecee? at every other word, and ?number one first chop,? and things of that sort. At any rate there were never any quarrels between them and you. Are you pretty comfortable down below?”
“Not bad. Ah Lo expects that he will have to hit three or four of those men who pretend to turn up their noses at him. Ah Lo very peaceable, not want to fight, but not to be treated like poor common Chinaman. Ah Lo hit very hard.”
“Yes, I know you do, Ah Lo,” said Rex, “and I have no doubt that you will astonish them in that way if you begin. Still, it is better not to do it unless they provoke you a great deal.”
He then walked aft again with Dick.
Three days later a serious complaint was brought before the captain, that three men had been grievously assaulted and battered by a Chinaman.
The captain was speaking to Rex when the complaint was made.
“That is my servant, no doubt,” Rex said. “He is a very quiet and peaceable man, and no doubt some of the men forward must have been playing tricks on him.”
The captain ordered the three complainants and the Chinaman to be brought aft. The faces of the former bore the signs of violent treatment, while the Chinaman was evidently none the worse of the conflict, and wore the usual placid air of his race.
“Now, let us hear your story,” the captain said.
The three men each repeated the story, how without the smallest reason the Chinee had suddenly sprung upon them and beaten them.
“But how came you,” said the captain, “three of you, to let this man assault you in the way you describe. Does your man speak English, Mr. Bateman?”
“He understands it perfectly, sir, but only speaks pidgin English. If, however, you will question him in English I will translate his replies to you.”
“Well, sir, what do you mean by beating these men in this style?”
“These men make fun of me,” Ah Lo said. “Ah Lo is a very quiet man, no want to have row. Men always keep on saying things against him. Ah Lo pretended not to understand, then they get worse. Presently one man push against Ah Lo one side, and then take off his hat and say, ?Beg pardon,? Then another push other side and say just the same. Then another man tumble against Ah Lo, then they all laugh very loud. Then Ah Lo say better look out, then they laugh again and push Ah Lo still more. That not proper treatment, so Ah Lo take two of them by scruff of neck and knock their faces together. Then other man run in, and Ah Lo think it is about time to begin and hit him on nose, quite a little hit, but made blood run very hard. Then the other men try again, and Ah Lo slap them, and they tumble down.That is all. Ah Lo very gentle and quiet, but not proper for men to go too far with him.”
The captain laughed when Rex translated this.
He said: “Well, my men, it seems to me that what you have got serves you right. You thought because this Chinaman was quiet and inoffensive that you could play any tricks you liked with him. You have made a bad mistake. It is evident that he is an uncommonly strong fellow, and he has given you what you deserved. I should say it would be wise for you to leave him alone in future, because if this is his way of being very quiet and gentle it might be serious if he lost his temper with you.”
“Ah Lo is quiet and good–tempered,” Rex said, as the others went forward. “One day when a couple of bargees upset a boat with some of our fellows in, Ah Lo took one of them and chucked him right out into the river. You never saw a fellow so astonished. But even then you would not have said that he was out of temper, for he looked as placid as possible, and only smiled when the fellow stood in the river and hurled bad language at him. He has been with me since I was a child, and I have never once seen him put out about anything.”
From that time there were no more complaints of Ah Lo. The voyage passed, as most voyages do pass, without any particular incident. They had one gale in the China seas, but no serious damage was done except that a boat was washed away and the bulwarks stove in. Rex and Dick had become great friends by the end of the voyage, and had promised to see a good deal of each other when they landed. They were not sorry, however, when the voyage came to an end, for Rex was looking forward to seeing his father and mother after their long separation, and Dick to reviving his very faint recollections of the country, and to making the acquaintance of the other young fellows of the establishment, and to entering upon serious work. They went ashore for a few hours at Hong Kong, and at Shanghai were transhipped to a comparatively small steamer, in which they made the journey to Taku. As soon as the vessel dropped anchor Mr. Bateman came on board. He had known the date at which she was due, and had come down by rail on the previous day.
“Well, you are grown a big fellow,” he exclaimed, after the first greeting. “Of course, I knew that you would have grown, but I did not expect to see such a big fellow as you are. Ah, Ah Lo, so there you are! I have heard capital accounts of you from my brother, and Rex has never failed to give news of you in every letter he wrote.”
As soon as the first questions had been asked and answered on both sides, Rex said, “This is Dick Chambers, father. We have been great chums on the voyage. He is coming out to Runciman?s house.”
“Oh yes, of course! I know your father very well. I am glad you came out together. It must have been more pleasant for both of you. One of the clerks of your house is somewhere about. He came down here to meet you, but I suppose he has not yet identified you.”
An hour later all their belongings were got on shore, and a short time afterwards the train started. There was a great deal for father and son to talk about, and although the journey across the low flat country would have been considered very slow in England, it seemed to pass rapidly. It was not until the next morning that Rex had time to talk of anything but England, and to ask about local matters.
“Things are very unsettled,” said his father. “There are reports of massacres of missionaries at several places, but these reports must be received with a great deal of suspicion. For myself I am not very much inclined to believe them; and they always have to pay so heavily for indulging in freaks of this sort that I should hardly think they would be so foolish as to repeat them. You see, the last murder of two German missionaries gave Germany an excuse for seizing the port of Kiaochow. That action has been in all respects unfortunate. The province is considered a sort of Holy Land by the Chinese, and they have consequently resented the seizure of that port very bitterly. Besides, naturally it seems an altogether preposterous price to pay for the murder of two foreigners. I am wholly with them there. Suppose two Chinese had been killed in Germany, what do you think the Germans would say if China were to demand as compensation Bremerhaven? You only have to look at it in that light to see the monstrosity of the affair. Why, after defeating China and taking Pekin and expending some millions of money, all that the Allies demanded was that five ports should be open for commerce; and yet Germany takes as her own a port, with the surrounding country, for the death of two missionaries. Still, even that gross act of spoliation would, one might think, hardly excite the people to rise against missionaries in general. I cannot believe that at the worst these are anything more than isolated outbreaks, and I believe they will be very severely punished by the authorities. Still, it may safely be said that there is not an Englishman alive, not even Mr. Hart, who really understands the Chinese, or who can predict what they will do in any given circumstances. They are very like children: they will bear desperate oppression and tyranny with passive submission, and they will then break out furiously at some fancied wrong.
“We never really get near the Chinese. They live in their native city; we live in our own settlement. We draw what labour we require from them, it comes and it goes again; but as far as the people are concerned, their ways, their talk, and their manner of life, we know no more of them than if the native town were situated in the moon. Their whole existence differs in almost every respect from ours. A Chinaman, if he is aggrieved by another, will go to the house of the man he has quarrelled with, and will cut his own throat at the door, and public opinion demands that the other man shall also cut his. If a man commits a crime and bolts, they don?t trouble greatly to catch him. They simply inflict the punishment due to him on his nearest relative. I don?t say that the system doesn?t act well, for the ties of family are tremendously strong, and few Chinamen, indeed, would so utterly disgrace themselves as to allow their fathers to be executed in their place.
“As to religion, it can scarcely be said that they have any except worship of ancestors. They have superstitions, but no real religion. They look at everything, in fact, in a light that differs directly from that in which we regard it. Every Chinaman will cheat in a bargain if he can, and only laugh if he is found out, for he has no shame whatever in conduct which he considers natural if not meritorious. But they have not the slightest fear of death. I do not know that they have the same fatalism as the Mohammedans, but practically it comes to the same thing. I don?t know whether you have heard in England about the Boxers?”
“Yes, I have heard something about them, but not much.”
“The sect has existed some two hundred years. It doesn?t seem originally to have had any very positive aims. Its members performed certain rites and certain exercises in a secret sort of way, but I fancy that is pretty well all that is known of them. It is really only lately that they have become at all prominent, and have gone in for recruiting their numbers to any extent. The whole basis of the association has been changed. It was formerly an association apparently without any political aims, and to some extent resembling our own freemasonry; and it has become an active, militant, and in a certain sense a national movement, directed principally against foreigners, but also against the corruption of the Chinese Court and the terrible condition of the people in general.
“In one of their early proclamations they say the whole populace is sunk in wretchedness, and that all the officials are spoilers of their food. The condition of the Yamen is unspeakable. In every market and in every guild nothing can be done unless the officials are bribed. All sorts of exactions are made. They are all alike; ill–gotten wealth is their one object; right has disappeared from the world, and sins are unnumbered. In the Yamens it is of no avail to have a clear case; unless you bribe, you will lose the day. All this is unquestionably true. After reciting these things the proclamation then turns to foreigners. It says: ?Greater calamities have overtaken the nation. Foreigners, devils come with their teaching, and converts to Christianity, Roman Catholics and Protestants, have become numerous. These are without human relations, but being most cunning they have attracted all the greedy and covetous as converts, and to an unlimited degree they have practised oppression.?
“The great impulse was given in Shan Tung in the north, but the movement spread like wildfire. At first the authorities at Pekin were altogether hostile to it, but, seeing its increasing power, there can be little doubt that the Empress has secretly encouraged it, with the object, no doubt, of diverting it from internal reform to hostility to foreigners. On the other hand, the more enlightened of the Chinese see the danger of the association. Several of the viceroys have taken measures against them, and General Nieh is preparing to attack them. The nine Yangtze viceroys are strongly opposed to the association. At present there has been no overt movement. It seems, as I said, true enough that some small missions in the interior have been attacked, but even this is unconfirmed. The cloud may blow over, or it may burst. I hope that in any case it will be confined to Northern China. If it extends over the whole country there can be little doubt that every missionary settlement in China will be wiped out, and the European settlements in all the mission towns will be attacked and their position become precarious in the extreme.
“As long as the movement is confined to the North it will be manageable. I do not say that the position of the European inhabits of Pekin will not become one of terrible peril, and we here may get our share of trouble; but Pekin is comparatively close to the sea, and although for a time the movement may have its own way, it will be only a repetition of the last troubles. A fleet of the Allied Powers could batter down the Taku forts and an army march to Pekin. They would have a battle or two to fight on the way, but they would defeat the Chinese with great slaughter, capture Pekin, and force the Empress to make terms. This will, to my mind, be almost assuredly the way things will go, unless the Empress takes firm ground, issues a proclamation denouncing the Boxers in the strongest terms, and orders all viceroys and generals to take prompt and energetic steps against them. I may tell you, however, that a considerable number of the British colony here do not share my views, and believe that the thing will die out.
“At any rate, for the present there is nothing to do but go on with our regular work, and see what comes of it. Your work will not be very heavy, for trade is nearly at a stand–still, and no one is getting fresh goods up from Shanghai. So you will have an easy breaking–in to work, which will give you an opportunity of looking up the few young fellows you knew before you left. There are, I think, only five or six who have not been home, but there are others who, being a few years older than you, went home before you and have since returned. There are, of course, some pleasant families here, and these I will give you an opportunity of knowing by having some of them to dinner every night this week. In that way you will speedily get to feel at home in the place. I shall, of course, take you up to the club. You used to do a good deal of drilling with Ah Lo before you went away, and as you would no doubt like to keep up your rowing, you will have plenty of opportunities of doing so on the river.”
For the next three weeks Rex had a very pleasant time. He spent the morning always in his father?s office, where he was instructed in the method of book–keeping employed, and in the general work of the house. Of an afternoon he either went with Ah Lo for a ramble in the native city or for a sail on the river, and sometimes played at cricket. Of an evening he either dined at home or at other houses, and at the end of the three weeks had made the acquaintance of almost all the British families in the settlement. Dick Chambers was generally at liberty in the afternoon and shared in the amusements.
“Stick to your amusements, Rex,” said his father. “The great thing in this country is to take to outdoor exercise as much as possible, and to make life go pleasantly when your work is done. I consider that for the next two or three years it will be quite sufficient for you to work here from nine till one, except on mail days, when you will find it necessary to stick at it all day. The more amusement you get out of your life the better I shall be pleased.”
So Rex joined in all that was going on. He and Dick were at once enrolled in the volunteer corps that had recently been formed, and of which all the clerks and younger members of the firms there had become members as soon as there were signs of possible trouble. As the news from without became daily more serious, cricket was given up and the evenings were devoted to drilling and shooting. The latter was specially attended to. It was evident that so small a body of men could have small occasion for man?uvres of any kind, but that individual shooting might be of extreme importance. Dick Chambers had been elected captain of the corps, as he had learned his work at Marlborough and was the best marksman of his year.
“It isn?t much of a place for defence,” he said to Rex, “but of course we shall have troops up from the ships; and at any rate five–and–twenty of us, if we shoot straight, can do a good deal; and of course all the heads will join if necessary, though they may not think it worth while to do so now. There is no doubt that the news gets worse every day, and that there are large numbers of these Boxers all over the country. I think the Chinese general is really, as he says, hostile to them, but of course what he does when the time comes will depend upon what orders he gets from the Empress, who is in every sense an unknown quantity in the problem. If he fights the Boxers, we sha?n?t have to; if he joins them, we shall all have our work cut out for us. In case of a row we may take it as certain that the population of the native town will all join in, partly because, like the rest of them, they hate us, partly to get a share in the loot. I hear that some of the traders are getting alarmed, and are sending their goods down to the port to be shipped back to Shanghai by the first steamer that comes along. I don?t think that our people are going to do so.”
“I am sure my father will not,” Rex said. “He thinks there is no doubt that we shall be able to defend ourselves with the aid of the force they will send up, and I believe he expects that they will send some troops up from Shanghai very shortly. Things may hang on as they are for some time. He rather calculates that a good many of the coolies who have been in the employ of the various houses for the past ten or twelve years will stand by us. I don?t think that any strong national feeling exists among them, and I believe they will stick to those who have paid and treated them well. I don?t mean that he thinks that they will fight, but they will throw up barricades and strengthen the godowns. In that way they would be of immense use.”
“It all depends, from what I hear,” Dick said, “upon whether they have families in the town. Those that have will be obliged to leave us whatever their own feelings may be, otherwise their families would be massacred at once. Of course if a man has come from a distance with a wife and a child or two he will probably bring them in here, but those born and bred here who have lots of relations would have no option in the matter, poor beggars!”
More alarming reports from up country continued to arrive, and the greatest anxiety began to prevail as to the fate of the missionaries. One morning when Rex went in to breakfast he found his mother in tears and his father looking very grave.
“What is the matter?” he asked.
“There is a report in the town that there has been a riot at Chafui. The mission–house has been attacked, and certainly some of the missionaries have been killed. Others, it is said, were taken to the governor?s Yamen. What has been their fate no one knows. It is certain that what troops there were in the town did not in any way interfere with the Boxers, and whether the governor had the power or the will to resist them is not known. Robson had no right to keep his wife and girls there. I wrote him again and again begging him to send them down here, but he is one of the most obstinate men I ever knew. If he liked to risk martyrdom, of course he was at liberty to do so, but he had no right to expose them to such a fate. However, it is useless to talk of that now. It is maddening to think that Kate and the two girls should be in the power of these fiendish scoundrels.”
“Can nothing be done, father?”
“What can be done?” Mr. Bateman said bitterly. “It will be as much as we are able to do to hold our own here. The whole country round is in their hands, and it is very doubtful whether Admiral Seymour can, with every man that possibly can be spared, fight his way to Pekin, which is two hundred miles away. Certainly no force can be spared to rescue people who fall into the hands of the Boxers so far away.”
Rex stood in silent consternation. He had not seen his uncle or any of the family since his return, but his aunt and the two girls had been staying some weeks at the house before he went away. “It is awful!” he said at last; “and Uncle must have been mad not to have sent them down when the troubles began.”
“I think so, too, Rex. As for his staying himself it is different. He has a large number of converts there, and no doubt he hoped that his presence there would be some protection. You see, one of the principal causes of the Chinese dislike for us is the missionary question. It is a religious question as much as a political one. The Chinese are in some things very superstitious. They worship to some extent the spirits of their ancestors, but for other religion they care but little. There is no ill–feeling between men of different religion here. No resistance was offered to the spread of Buddhism; the Taoists do not quarrel with those who are practically Confucians. But with Christianity it is different. The converts come under the protection of the missionaries, who have behind them the European powers, and consequently they are, to a great extent, independent of the local officials. The feeling has been greatly aggravated by France insisting that her bishops should have the rank of mandarins, and be judges over their native converts. All this has been a great mistake, for which we are paying now. I believe that our own missions have striven hard to avoid giving offence, and all missionaries in the up–country stations dress in native costume, for the Chinese regard dress as a serious matter.”
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