George Henty.

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





I shall hold my tongue, Father. Who am I that I should disobey the orders of the Empress? Nevertheless, I tell you that these white people are good. Have I not lived among them for nearly four years? They are good people. Among them no one is illtreated, or beaten, or put to death. None carry weapons; everyone respects the others. Although I was a stranger and a foreigner, no one molested me; I went and came as I chose. As to their offering sacrifices and killing children, the thing is absurd. They are anxious to do good to foreigners, and subscribe great sums to send their priests abroad that they may teach other people their religion. All these stories that are told about them are lies, and they have been told for the purpose of rousing illfeeling against them. I am grieved that this trouble has come about, but assuredly it is no business of mine, except in so far as it concerns the friends of my patron. The ladies have stayed at his house, and they have spoken kindly to me and have given me money. I would do much for them for their own sake, as well as for that of my patron, who, as I have always told you, is the best man I have ever met. But I see that I can do nothing, and I can only grieve over the misfortunes that have befallen him. Of course I shall say nothing here as to my feelings, and shall even join in the cry against the foreigners. I have no wish to throw away my life and to bring disgrace and death upon you and my mother.

That is right, Ah Lo. It would assuredly bring terrible misfortune upon you were you to say a word in favour of the Christians. There are many who share your feelings, but they dare not open their lips, and you too must hide your real sentiments. The order has come that the Christians must be destroyed, and that order must be obeyed. Most of the young men of the village have joined the Boxers, fearing that unless they did so evil would befall them. Now tell me something about the country where you have been living, and about these strange people, who are not content to live in their own island, but come here to turn the minds of the people against their god and to bring trouble on the land. Are there many of them?

Very many; not so many as there are in China, but they are brave soldiers, and have arms altogether superior to ours. That, together with the way in which they are trained, gives them a great advantage over us. But though they can fight well, they do not wish to fight. They are great traders, and it is only when their trade is interfered with, or their people illtreated, that they go to war. They have no enmity against people of other religions, and all the time that I was in England no one ever tried to turn me from my faith. No one said a word against Buddha, or interfered with me in any way. They think that their religion is right, just as we believe in ours, and they try to convert others, just as the Buddhists came to China and converted large numbers of our people. They think that they are doing good, and spend much money in trying to do so.

It is strange to me that they cannot leave things alone, but it is their way, and certainly I have no illwill towards them on that account. When my mother has got our meal ready, and we have eaten, I will tell you much about them and of the life that I led there; but the tale is so long that I dare not begin it fasting.

For two or three hours Ah Lo talked with his parents, and then went out into the village with Rex and chatted with the villagers. He learned a good deal as to the state of the town, and arranged to buy some vegetables, saying that he wanted to go in and see for himself what had taken place, and that he did not like going in emptyhanded, as he might be illtreated by the Boxers were he walking about idly.

The great topic of conversation, however, was with regard to the fighting at Tientsin. Few particulars of this had been heard, and the villagers were astonished when they heard that the white devils had resisted all attacks upon them and had repulsed the Boxers with great slaughter, although the latter were no doubt much more numerous and had succeeded in destroying the greater portion of the town. Ah Lo, however, told his friends that the Boxers were still excited, and would no doubt renew their attacks with greater success, although some of the sailors from the ships were coming up to aid the whites.

I was glad to get away, he continued, for there was always shooting going on, and I feared that if the Boxers came in they would kill those who were in the employment of the whites. Most of these men managed to escape before I did, but I took the opportunity of the lull in fighting to escape at night.

It was not Until the old people had retired for the night that Ah Lo and Rex sat down to talk with each other. It had been a long and painful day for the lad; he had been compelled to appear at his ease, to answer innumerable questions, and to support Ah Lo in his various statements. But when at last he found himself alone with his faithful servant he exclaimed; Thank God, Ah Lo, we can now talk and decide what is to be done! I feel almost mad at the news. It is bad enough to know that my aunt has died, but to think of my cousin in the hands of these fiends is enough to drive me out of my mind. Of course we must try to rescue them. How it is to be accomplished I have not the faintest idea at present, but I am quite resolved that if it is in any way possible it must be done.

I am ready to do what I can, master, but if they are in the governor?s yamen I do not see how we can manage to release them.

No, nor do I; but there must be some way. There is always some way, Ah Lo, if one can but hit on it. I suppose the governor?s yamen will be guarded by soldiers?

It is certain to be, Ah Lo said. It would be in ordinary times, but now the watch is probably more strict than ever, because, although the governor has sided with the Boxers, it is probable that he is still afraid that they may attack him.

Well, tomorrow we must have a good look at the place. It is certain that there is no time to be lost, for these two poor girls may at any moment be murdered. We may take it as certain that there is no possibility of releasing them by force. The people here are evidently so completely cowed by the Boxers that it would be hopeless to get any of them to aid us in that way. We can do nothing until we see the place. I suppose you know it?

Yes, there is a large courtyard in front of it, with a guardhouse at the gate, and a wall runs across the courtyard just about the middle of the house. In the front part are the public offices, in the back the governor?s private apartments. Behind the building there is a large garden.

And it is probable that the prisoners are kept at the back of the house?

It may be so, master, but one cannot say. It is possible that the public may be permitted to stare at them, and in that case they might be in the front part of the house.

That doesn?t matter much. When we are in the town tomorrow we will go into the courtyard if the gates are open and the public are admitted; if not, we must try some other means to find them. Now, from what you say, I should think that it is by the garden that we must effect an entrance. Though there may be sentries in front of the house, it is hardly likely that any will be placed in the garden. But if sentries are there we ought to have no difficulty in settling them. Once into the garden, we ought easily to effect an entrance by a door or a window. Then, of course, we should have to be guided by circumstances, for there will doubtless be a number of servants sleeping in the passages, and possibly some soldiers. You are going to help me, aren?t you, Ah Lo?

Certainly, master; I have come here to do so. My life is of little consequence to me. If it is my fate to die now I must die. Tell me what you want done and I will do it.

Thank you, Ah Lo! I knew that I could rely upon you. If I could manage it by myself I would do so, but certainly I shall require assistance. We have to consider not only how to get the girls out, but also how we are to escape pursuit. Of course we shall need disguises, for there is sure to be a hot search, and the whole country will be scoured.

Well, master, we may as well sleep now. We can talk matters over when we go to the town in the morning. A couple of great baskets of vegetables will be ready for us in the morning, and we shall have plenty of time to talk over our plans as we go along.

CHAPTER IV
A RESCUE

An hour after dawn they started. Early as it was the vegetables had been cut and packed in three large baskets, and after paying for them they put the straps of the baskets across their foreheads and started. The loads were fairly heavy and although Ah Lo carried his without difficulty, Rex found the strap press very heavily on his forehead.

I was thinking it over in the night, master, Ah Lo said, when they had gone a short distance.

Don?t call me master, Ah Lo; you know that we agreed that you should always call me Shen Yo.

I will try to do so. Well, I have been thinking it over, and I consider that if we succeed in getting the ladies away, we should at first go north. The search will be made for us chiefly on the roads to Tientsin and Pekin. The distance is about the same to both towns. They will scarcely suspect that we have gone north, and if we travel all night, hide in a ricefield during the day, and then again travel all night, we should be beyond the reach of searchers, and could then travel round to Pekin, which would, I think, be safer than Tientsin, where the Boxers will always be in numbers. Of course we must have disguises for the ladies. Their best plan would be to dress as boys. Chinese women do not travel about, and their doing so would at once give rise to suspicion. We must, of course, get some stain to give them the proper native colour. When we have turned our faces towards Pekin we must state that you and I are going to enlist in the Chinese army, that we have friends in Pekin, and that the boys are going with us to get any work they can. We can account for our guns by saying that we have obtained them from some of the Boxers who had brought them from Tientsin.

Yes, we must stick to them if we can, Rex agreed. As they are magazine rifles we ought to be a match for any twenty of these villagers or a dozen Boxers; and at any rate, if the worst came to the worst, we could be killed fighting and not be put to death by slow torture.

I have been thinking too, Rex added, that the best thing to do will be to set the house on fire. If we take in with us a large can of spirit, sprinkle it over everything in one of the rooms, and then spill a lot in the passage and set it all alight, the sudden alarm will create such a tremendous confusion and panic that we may be able to seize the girls and carry them off without being noticed.

That would be a very good plan, Ah Lo agreed. We shall have to carry a heavy sledgehammer with us to break in the door of their prison, for they are sure to be locked up. A sentry will probably be stationed at their door, and of course we must stab him. If we set fire to the house, as you propose, we had better carry thick clothes with us to throw round them, as, in order to carry them off, we may have to run through the flames. The wrappings will protect them, and besides people won?t notice what we are carrying and will think that we are rescuing valuables from the flames. It will be well also, if possible, to seize porcelain jars or other valuables. I can carry the elder girl; and you can take the younger on one shoulder, and carry a jar or some other valuable on the other. We had better have cloaks and broad hats, like those of the soldiers. There would be no fear, in the confusion, of anyone noticing our faces.

I really think, Shen Yo, that we may be able to succeed. It did not seem possible at first, but I think now that with the aid of fire we may be successful.

I certainly don?t see why we shouldn?t, Rex said. In such wild confusion as there would be, no one would notice anyone else. The great thing is to be quite sure where the girls are kept, and that we must find out today if possible. We will get rid of our vegetables as soon as we can, and then wander about with the empty baskets on our shoulders. We shall then see if people go in and out of the yamen. It is most likely that they will. Many will have petitions to make and some complaints to lay before the governor. Some, perhaps, will only go in to stare about. Possibly a little cash may induce one of the soldiers to point out the door of the room where the girls are confined, and that will be all that we shall want. When we have found that out we shall have to buy two suits of clothes for the girls, two cloaks and hats like those worn by the military, long lengths of rope for climbing the wall and getting down, a hook of some sort for catching the top of the wall, a sledgehammer, a chisel for opening a door or a window, and a bottle holding a couple of gallons of spirit. Can you think of anything else?

We must get some provisions and leave them at the bottom of the wall before we climb up, for we must not go anywhere to buy food for the first day or two after we start.

Yes, that will certainly be a good plan.

When they approached Chafui they overtook some other peasants also carrying in vegetables, and, joining them, they entered the town together. Numbers of Boxers in their red jackets were in the streets, and a good many of the regular soldiers. The townspeople were moving about; some were laughing and chatting with the soldiers, others moved quietly about, evidently feeling by no means sure that the Boxers would not, before they left the town, plunder the houses.

Rex and Ah Lo were not long in disposing of the contents of their baskets, and they moved nearer and nearer to the yamen as they did so, getting rid of a large number of their goods within a short distance of the gate. They sat down for a while near the gate of the yamen and watched the people go in and out of the courtyard. Then, approaching the gate, they laid their blankets down a short distance from the soldiers standing at the gate, and entered. No questions were asked, and, crossing the courtyard, they entered the house. They saw two soldiers standing at a door and went up to them.

What do you want? one of them asked.

Can we see the little white devils? We have come a long way to have a look at them. And he slipped a few coins into the man?s hands.

No, you can?t see them, the man said; the orders of the governor are strict. They won?t be here much longer; the governor expects a message from the viceroy tomorrow, and then we shall put an end to them. It might just as well have been done at first. If it had, we should have been saved the trouble of keeping sentry over them for the past week.

This was serious news, but they had seen all they required. There was a door between the private apartment and the public rooms. This was closed, and the room occupied by the prisoners was next to it. Having ascertained this important fact, Rex and his follower left the house, took up their baskets, and walked off.

I think that is as well as we could expect, Rex said. We may take it for certain that no sentries will be placed in the private part of the house; so that if we enter on that side we can make our preparations and light our fire without fear of being disturbed. Now we had better take a turn round the place behind, to choose the spot where we will climb over, and see if any sentries are placed on that side.

The wall was about fourteen feet high, and there was a door at the back. All was quiet, and there was a piece of waste ground behind the garden. They examined the door carefully.

I think, Ah Lo, said Rex, it will be better to cut round this lock, if we cannot force it, instead of climbing over the wall. That would take us time; while if the door could be opened at once we should run straight down the garden, close the door behind us, and make off without a moment?s delay.

It would certainly be much better, Ah Lo agreed. We should have plenty of time to cut through the door after it gets dark. If we decide to do that we shall have to buy a saw and a tool for cutting a hole through which to thrust it. It would certainly be a relief to get rid of the ropes. We may as well get the other things at once, and then we can sit down in some quiet place, eat our food, and talk matters over.

When Ah Lo had bought all the various things they required, they sat down with their backs against a wall. All their purchases were stowed in the bottom of one of their baskets, the other being put into it so that no one might see what they were carrying.

Of course, said Rex when they were seated, it won?t be an easy job. In the first place, we have to make an entrance; I don?t think that there will be much difficulty about that. Then, you see, we shall have to light a fire in two rooms, one on each side, and as the flames rush out of the doors, we must open the door of communication. Probably it is fastened with a bar. There must be a sufficient blaze to cause a panic among the sentries. For a moment there will, no doubt, be a tremendous uproar, and anyone in the passage or rooms will rush out. Then we must seize the moment to break in the door. If the sentries should keep their place, which I should think is very doubtful, we must throw ourselves upon them at once. The door once open, the rest will be easy; we shall have but to wrap the girls in the blankets and run through the fire with them. The critical moment will be that at which we open the door; we must make perfectly sure that the two sentries are taken by surprise. I have every hope that the place will be burnt down, and in that case it is likely enough that they will never give the captives a thought beyond concluding that they have been burnt to death. I think it would be a good thing to take the hangings from some of the rooms, roll them up into a bundle, and soak them with the spirit. Then, when we have taken down the bar and have the door ready for opening, we will light that bundle, so that when we open the door there will be a great blaze close to the men and at the same time they will see the flames from the rooms farther down the passage. The scare is almost certain to make them bolt, and we can then break in the other door. The noise will merely sound to them as if something on fire had fallen down, and we shall have got the girls out through the door before they can open the gate of the yard and call the sentries from the guardhouse.

I think it ought all to go right, Ah Lo agreed. Now, master, I think that I will go back again. I must see my father and mother and tell them that I have to go away on urgent business, for that I hear the Boxers are coming to our village in the morning to search for every ablebodied man, and that, therefore, I must leave at once. What will you do?

Can we return to the back of this yamen without passing through the town?

Yes.

Then I will go with you. We need not bring our baskets back with us; we can make the things up into a bundle. I would rather walk home with you and return than hang about here where I might be questioned.

Accordingly they again took their baskets on their backs and returned to the village, hiding their parcels before they entered. Hearing the news they brought, several young men, who had managed to escape the last search of the Boxers, at once made off into the country. Ah Lo and Rex remained with the two old people until dusk. The old people were much distressed to hear that their son had to leave them so soon. He promised to pay them a longer visit as soon as it was safe to do so, and having left a sufficient supply of money to last them for some time, he took a tender farewell of them and started once more with his companion.

They arrived without adventure at the back of the yamen, and at once set to work on the lock, as it was now perfectly dark and the streets were already deserted except by parties of Boxers. In an hour they had cut round the lock, but then they found that the door was also held by bolts. It did not take them long, however, to enlarge the hole sufficiently for Rex to get his arm through and unfasten the bolts. They now waited until the lights in the house gradually disappeared, and then moved quietly up to it. They found, as they hoped would be the case, that the door of the house was unfastened.

Having ascertained this, they waited another hour until they were sure that everyone was asleep. Then they entered, lit a lamp that they had bought for the purpose, and set to work. They soon piled mats and curtains near the doors of the rooms on both sides of the passage, and poured oil and spirit over them. When this was done they made up a roll six feet high and six feet long, and, saturating this with oil, carried it to the door. They then set a light to the great piles of inflammable materials in the two rooms. These flashed up instantly, and the flames came rushing through the doors. When they saw that the blaze had taken a good hold of the material they set fire to the bundle in the passage.





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