With the Allies to Pekin: A Tale of the Relief of the Legations
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As this blazed up they removed the bar and flung the door open. The two sentries gave a loud cry as they saw the flames rushing out at the end of the passage, and made a simultaneous rush for the front door. Running in, Rex and his companion found that the door of the girls? prison was held by bars only. These they undid, and found to their satisfaction that the door opened, and that there was no occasion to break it down.
The light of the flames was amply sufficient to enable them to see. The two girls lay in each other?s arms in one corner.
“It is all right, girls!” Rex cried. “I am Rex, and I have come here to save you!”
Then, lifting the girls to their feet, they wrapped the blankets round them. Each lifted one and sprang through the flames rising from the roll, and then through the sheet of fire at the end of the passage. When they reached the open air they released the girls from the wrappings, and, snatching up their rifles, which they had left leaning against the wall outside, ran down the garden. Once outside they felt that they were for the present safe.
Already a babel of noises was arising from the yamen – shrieks of women and shouts of men.
“I hope the women won?t be burned,” Rex said.
“If they cannot get down the staircase they can jump from the windows,” said Ah Lo.
“Thank God, girls, that we have got you out! We have some native clothes for you, but we must run for some little distance first; the fire will bring all the town out.”
“Are we dreaming?” Jenny said. “Can it be really you, Rex?”
“It is, dear; you can seize me and shake me, to make sure that you are awake. Are you strong enough to walk?”
“Yes, if I am really awake.”
The younger sister, however, could scarcely stand, and Ah Lo caught her up and they at once started, Jenny pouring question after question into Rex?s ear as he hurried her along. When they were two or three hundred yards away they broke into a walk.
“Now we can go on steadily,” Rex said. “We are absolutely safe till the morning, and by that time I hope we shall be a good many miles away.”
When they had gone another mile Rex said: “We had better stop here and eat something, for we shall want all our strength for the journey.”
“But how did you come to be here, Rex?”
“Well, dear, we heard such terrible news of what was going on throughout the country that Ah Lo and I determined to come out in disguise to see if we could be of any assistance to you. Of course we have heard all that has happened, so do not pain yourselves by talking about it at present. We have got stain for you to colour your skin, and the dresses of Chinese boys in which you must disguise yourselves. It would not do for you to be travelling as girls. We shall try to make our way to Pekin. Of course we shall have difficulties, but I trust that we shall get through all right. We intend to give out that we are going to enlist in the army, and we shall have to invent some story to account for your going with us.We have got rifles, so that if we should be interfered with by any small party we shall be able to give a good account of them. We have got you out more easily than we had expected, and no one is likely to notice that you have escaped. They will have more than enough to do if they wish to save the house, and I doubt whether they will succeed in putting out the fire, for I think we set the place pretty well alight.”
Indeed, it was already evident that the fire had got a great hold, for, from the point that they had now gained, the flames could be seen leaping out of all the windows on the ground floor at the back of the house. The fugitives went almost at a run for another mile, and when they stopped and looked round, the yamen was in a blaze from top to bottom. Ah Lo now set Mabel on her feet, and the two girls threw themselves into each other?s arms and burst into tears.
“Now you had better eat something,” Rex said, after he allowed them a short time to recover themselves. “Did the brutes feed you well?”
“We had enough to eat till to–day; they have given us nothing to–day, and we thought that that was a sign that the end had very nearly come.”
“No doubt it was so. Now in the first place you must each eat and drink something.”
“I don?t feel as if I wanted anything.”
“Never mind, it is absolutely necessary that you should eat. We must get as far away as we can before morning, and unless you eat you won?t be able to walk.”
The girls ate slowly at first, but as their appetites came back they managed to eat a hearty meal. While they did so Rex told them about the fighting at Tientsin, and the way in which they had made their way into the yamen and set it on fire.
“I can only just see the outline of your figure, Rex,” Jenny said, “but you seem to have grown tremendously since I saw you last.”
“Yes, I have grown a good deal. Four years make a great difference at my age. You have grown a good deal too, Jenny; you were quite a small girl when I saw you last. How pleased my father and mother will be to see you both again!”
“Did they send any messages?”
“No, Jenny, and for a very good reason. They did not know that we were coming. We stole off quietly in the night, for I was not at all sure that they would let me try if I asked their permission. I left a letter for them saying where I had gone, and that, as I had Ah Lo with me, I felt pretty sure that it would come out all right. You see, I speak Chinese nearly as well as he does, and there was no real reason why anyone should suspect that we were not what we looked. Now, dear, if you have finished we will go on.”
They went for some ten miles before the day began to break. Ah Lo carried Mabel for the last five, for both girls were weakened by the scenes they had gone through, the grief at the loss of their parents, and the fear as to their own fate. As day approached they went into a large field of standing corn, which rose some feet above their heads.
“Now, girls, you go on a few yards and then change your clothes. Here is the stain. You must dye your whole skin and darken your eyebrows, eyelashes, and hair. You know a great deal better than I do how your hair must be plaited into pigtails and wound up under these hats. I think you will find the clothes all right; they are just jackets buttoning up in front, and loose trousers. You can put on your own boots as long as we are walking in an open country and there is no one about, but when we are likely to meet anyone you must put on these Chinese shoes. After you have dressed yourselves you had better lie down and have a long sleep. We shall keep a look–out; but as we entered the field in single file, and raised the stalks after us, it is not likely that, even if the owner comes along, he will suspect that anyone is in hiding here. Before you try to go off to sleep you had better eat another meal.”
“Are we on our way to Pekin, Rex?”
“No, we have come north so far; for if a search is made it will be in the direction of Pekin or Tientsin. I do not think it at all likely, however, that they will trouble to look for us. They will not give you a thought at first; and when they do think of you the place will be in such a blaze that they won?t be able to get at your room, and will certainly conclude that you have perished in the flames. The only possible ground for suspicion will be that the door at the end of the garden may be found open; but no one may think of going round there for some days, and at the worst they will but fancy that robbers broke in there, and, while plundering the rooms, accidentally set the house on fire. At any rate, long before the idea can occur to them that it was an attempt to rescue you, we shall be a hundred miles away.”
The day passed quietly. Ah Lo and Rex in turn slept and watched near the edge of the corn. Men could be seen working in some of the fields, but no one approached the edge of the field in which they were hidden. Late in the afternoon the girls joined them, looking their character so well that even Ah Lo said that he would not have suspected them of being anything but what they seemed. A hearty meal was then eaten, and an hour after dark they started again, this time making towards the east. They passed through many small villages during the night, and walked, they calculated, over twenty miles, Ah Lo, as before, carrying Mabel the last seven or eight miles. Again they hid during the day, and in the evening turned their faces towards Pekin. Their stock of provisions was now exhausted, and the next day Ah Lo went into a village and brought a fresh supply.
They met with no adventure until they were half–way on their journey, when one evening as they were passing through a village, the door of one of the houses opened and three men whose dress showed them to be Boxers came out.
“Hello!” one of them said, “who are you?”
“We the travellers,” Ah Lo replied.
“What makes you travel so late?”
“We are anxious to push on to the next village.”
“Come in here and let us have a look at you,” one of them said.
“Shall we go in, master?” Ah Lo said in a whisper.
“Yes, you had better; there is a large party of them. You go on, girls; stop by the side of the last house in the village on the right–hand side.”
Rex and Lo then followed the men into the house. Inside were nine others, several of them smoking. “Now where are you going to?” demanded the Boxer who had before spoken, and who was apparently the leader of the party.
“We are going to enlist in the army.”
“You had better join us. I see you have a good gun; where did you get it from?”
“I got it from some men who were fighting at Tientsin and returned home wounded.”
“Well, you will get others there,” the man said; “you had better hand them over to us. You must stop here for the night and go on with us. It appears to me that there is something suspicious about you. Where are the two boys who were with you?”
“They have gone on. I told them to.”
“Two of you run after them and fetch them back,” the man said angrily.
Ah Lo and Rex both unslung their guns from their shoulders as if to hand them over. They were still standing in the doorway, and Ah Lo shoved one of the Boxers, who tried to pass him, and sent him staggering backwards. The captain, with an exclamation of fury, drew his sword. Ah Lo dropped his rifle against the man?s chest and fired. The others at once sprang to their feet.
“Don?t throw away a shot!” Rex exclaimed. “Now it is begun we must finish them,” and he shot down the man next him. “Step back outside the door, then only one can get at us at a time.”
The rifles rang out again, and three more of the Boxers fell. The others, seizing their arms, rushed in a mass towards them.
“Fire by turns, Ah Lo,” Rex said as he fired, and then drove the muzzle of his rifle with all his force into the chest of the next man coming at him; the man fell as instantaneously as though he had been shot. Two or three of the Boxers were armed with guns, and these attempted to press forward so as to be able to use them. Rex?s thrust had cleared the crowd a little back, and Ah Lo shot one of the men with a gun as he pressed forward. Almost at the same moment one of the others fired, and the ball passed along Rex?s arm and came out in the shoulder. With a howl the man rushed forward again. Rex and Ah Lo fired at the same moment. There were now but four Boxers left, and these charged before they were ready to fire again. Ah Lo clubbed his musket; Rex, as before, used his gun as a spear, and as a Boxer rushed at him with uplifted sword, caught him full in the chest.
“Hold the door while I load, Ah Lo,” he said.
It took but a couple of seconds to discharge the cartridge and reload and close the breech, and then Rex shot one assailant just when Ah Lo struck down another. The last man threw down his weapon, but Ah Lo?s blood was up, and knowing that none of the party must be allowed to get away, he brought the butt of his musket down with all his strength upon the man?s head.
“That has been sharp work, Ah Lo,” Rex panted. “Now, we must be off.”
“I don?t think they are all killed,” Ah Lo said.
“Well, most of them must be, and certainly none of the others can be in a position to take up the pursuit. We had better not wait another moment, or we shall have the villagers out on us.” So saying he started to run.
“I will run,” Ah Lo said, “but there is no fear that the villagers will come out. When they hear the firing they will think that the Boxers are quarrelling among themselves, and certainly no one will venture out to see about it.”
They found the girls waiting at the appointed place, and they gave a cry of joy as Rex ran up.
“What has happened?” they asked together.
“The Boxers were nasty and were sending two men off to catch you, so we stopped them, and we had a tough fight, but none of them got away.”
“How many were there?”
“And you killed them all?”
“We shot eight of them. Ah Lo broke the skulls of two, and I knocked the wind out of the other two. Whether I killed them or not I do not know, but it is quite certain that they cannot be in a fit condition to take up the pursuit. We can now go on again; only for the rest of the journey we must avoid villages.
“You needn?t grieve for the Boxers,” he said, as the girls uttered an exclamation of horror at what he had said. “As likely as not they have come from Chafui; but if not, no doubt they have taken part in some of these massacres and were making for Tientsin to join their fellows there.”
“Oh, how could you do it, Rex? I am not sorry for the Boxers a bit, but it is wonderful that you two should have killed twelve of them in two minutes; I am sure the firing did not last longer than that.”
“It was quick work certainly, Jenny; but with these breech–loaders one can fire all the shots in a magazine in less than a minute, and at such close quarters there was no possibility of missing one?s aim. If there had been a few more of them we should probably not have succeeded so well, for our magazines were nearly empty when we had finished. Still, holding the door as we did, so that only one man could really get at us at once, I think we should have given a good account of ourselves even if there had been five or six more.”
They made an unusually long journey that night; the girls would not hear of stopping, although Rex assured them that there was no chance of being overtaken. When day dawned they were more than usually careful in hiding themselves among some very high grass. Rex and Ah Lo took turns to watch all day, but to their satisfaction they saw no one hurrying along the road as if carrying a message of importance.
“I did not expect to see one,” Ah Lo said; “the villagers will be frightened out of their lives when they venture out in the morning and see what has happened. I think it likely that they will at once bury all the bodies, for they will be afraid that should a party of Boxers come along and see what has taken place, they would plunder and burn the village and kill all the inhabitants. No, I do not think there is any fear that the alarm will be given.”
They continued their journey thus till they were within fifteen miles of Pekin. Here the road was no longer unfrequented during the day, bands of armed men and Boxers frequently passing along. The next day they made ten miles and then lay down to sleep. Soon after daybreak natives in carts, with vegetables and grain, came along. As soon as they had passed, the fugitives issued out, and presently overtaking one of the parties journeyed on in company with them until they reached the gates of the city. They wandered about for some hours before they found the quarter where the Legations were situated, for they did not like to ask directions, as that would have shown that they were strangers in the city. They came at last to a building where two marines were keeping guard. From these they heard that the British Legation was in the next street, and soon they were gladdened by the sight of an English uniform.
They were stopped by the sentries, but on Rex saying in English that they were fugitives from one of the missions that had been destroyed they were allowed to enter.
The Legation stood in a very large enclosure which had at one time been a palace belonging to a member of the imperial family. The gardens were charmingly laid out, and it contained several courtyards, each surrounded by buildings.
They were conducted by one of the servants of the Legation to the house of the minister, Sir Claude Macdonald, and upon Rex sending in their names they were at once admitted.
“We have made our escape, sir,” Rex said, “from Chafui, where the mission has been destroyed and all save these two young ladies, daughters of the missionary in charge, murdered. I myself am the son of Mr. Bateman of Tientsin. These young ladies are my cousins, and with the aid of this faithful Chinaman, who has for many years been in my father?s service, I have succeeded in rescuing them from the hands of the Boxers.”
“I congratulate you indeed, sir. A considerable number of fugitives have already arrived here. I will hand the ladies over at once into the charge of Lady Macdonald, who will see that they are well cared for.”
He rang a bell and told a servant to take the girls to Lady Macdonald, and then turned again to Rex:
“We had heard reports of the massacre at Chafui, and were afraid that all had perished. I shall be glad to know how you and these young ladies escaped?”
Rex gave a brief account of the incident.
“I congratulate you most warmly on the success of your enterprise, and on the courage you displayed in undertaking it and carrying it out. It certainly seemed, on the face of it, to be a most mad–brained attempt, but it has been amply justified by the success that has attended it.
“Our position here is very precarious, and although the court continue to give us assurances of the most friendly intentions, we have the best grounds for believing that the Empress and her advisers are bent upon our destruction. However, we are making every preparation for defence, and believe that we shall be able to hold out until assistance arrives. What are your own intentions?”
“My intentions, sir, are to make my way at once down to Tientsin. My parents cannot but feel the most lively anxiety as to my safety, and my first duty is to go back to relieve their suspense. If any expedition is sent up here to your relief, I shall hope to accompany it in some capacity. I can speak Chinese like a native, and may be useful as an interpreter. I shall, of course, leave my cousins here if you will kindly permit them to stay, for although with my Chinese follower I might make my way without difficulty through any bodies of the Chinese who may be on the road, I could hardly do so if I were accompanied by two girls, however well they might be disguised.”
“Certainly not,” the envoy said; “that would be quite impossible. There are, we know, a considerable number of the Chinese between us and Tientsin. They have already torn up the railway, and although my messengers do get through, direct communications are entirely interrupted. Still, as you have made the journey from Chafui here without difficulty, I should think that you might manage to accomplish the journey to Tientsin safely. Of course you will remain here a day or two. One of the members of my staff will lend you a suit of clothes.” He touched the bell. “Send Mr. Sandwich here. He is one of the student interpreters,” he said, turning again to Rex, “and is about your own height; and I have no doubt that his things will fit you well. I shall be glad if you will dine with me and afterwards give me more detailed accounts of your adventures.”
In a few minutes the young man made his appearance. “Mr. Sandwich,” Sir Claude said, “I will hand over this gentleman, who has just arrived from Chafui, to your charge, He will only be staying here for a day or two, for he is going to try to make his way down to Tientsin. I shall be obliged if you will lend him a suit of clothes while he stays here.”
“Certainly, I will do all I can to make him comfortable.”
“I should be obliged, sir,” Rex said, “if you would allow a surgeon to dress my arm. A bullet entered just above the wrist and ran up to my shoulder. I think the wound is going on all right, but it is rather painful, and I should be glad to have it dressed properly.”
“Certainly, I will send our doctor to the college at once. He will be there almost as soon as you. You did not tell me that you had been hit.”
“It is not a serious wound, sir; the bullet only just went under the skin, and I fancy that when it has once been properly dressed it will give me no more trouble.”
“You are well disguised,” Sandwich said as he left the room with Rex. “I am sure that I should not have had any suspicions, however closely I inspected you. How did you manage to get here from Chafui?”
“I speak Chinese like a native. I was born in Tientsin, and was sent home to England four years ago; but as my father was most anxious that I should keep up Chinese, he sent with me one of the coolies who had always been my special servant, and so I came back speaking it as well as when I went.”
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