George Henty.

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

We heard that there had been a massacre at Chafui.

Yes, I managed, with the aid of my man, to rescue my two cousins, who are the daughters of the missionary there. I was just in time, for they were to have been murdered on the following day.

But how was it that you were not murdered yourself?

For the simple reason that I was not there when the massacre took place. The news of the massacre came to us at Tientsin, and I set off with my man to see if any of them had survived and if possible to rescue them. This we effected by setting fire to the governor?s yamen, where the girls were confined, and carrying them off in the confusion that ensued. The only adventure we met with on the road was that we were interfered with by a party of a dozen Boxers. We had a fight with them; but as we had breechloaders, and they were jammed up in a room, we had no difficulty in disposing of them all.

By Jove, that was a plucky thing, Sandwich said; and so you are going off again?

Yes, I am in a hurry to get back to my people, who must be in great anxiety about me.

Well, this is our college, the young man said, stopping before a building of some size. We are all trained here for the Chinese Consulate service. I will take you to my room first and rig you out. We shall be having a meal directly, and then I can introduce you to the fellows, when I promise you a hearty reception.

Half an hour later Rex went down in a suit of white clothes to the diningroom. He had already asked Sandwich to hand over Ah Lo to the proper quarter, where he could get rations and lodging. He was introduced to eight or ten young men who were studying at the college, and, after the meal was over, related the story of the rescue of his cousins. The narrative excited great interest, and he was warmly praised.


That evening after dinner Rex told the envoy in full the story of his adventures. The chiefs of two or three other Legations were present, and all expressed great surprise that a mere lad should have carried out so desperate an undertaking.

The next morning the doctor called to see Rex.

You are thinking of going down at once, are you not?

Yes, sir.

Well, I have come in to tell you that your cousins cannot possibly go with you. Their recent experiences have been a terrible strain on them, and as a result of the reaction, both are completely prostrated. The younger one is very feverish, and is, I expect, in for a sharp illness.

I am very sorry to hear that, sir, though I cannot say that I am surprised. They have held on very well, but they were weak when they started, and throughout the journey they have had no chance of picking up strength. I was afraid that they would break down before they got here. At any rate I shall run down to Tientsin to see my father and mother, who are no doubt suffering great anxiety, and shall then, I hope, be able to arrange to come back for them.

I suppose I can see them before I start?

Certainly, but the shorter your visit the better. You may be quite sure that they will have every attention here. I don?t think there is any reason for being uneasy about them. It is the natural reaction after the strain, and I hope that in another fortnight or so they will be able to travel. I will go across with you to their room now.

Rex at once went over.

I have come to say goodbye, Jenny, he said, as he entered the shaded room in which his cousins were lying. The doctor says that you won?t be fit to travel for another fortnight, and you know I must run down to see my father and mother, who will by this time be in a great state of alarm about you. I shall be back for you, and I hope if I come at the end of a fortnight I shall find you both in a fit state to go. If you are not, I shall wait till you are. Goodbye, dear!

Goodbye, Rex! Of course you ought to go to Tientsin, and we shall look forward to your return. Thank you a thousand times for all that you have done for us, and thank Ah Lo too!

Mabel was lying with her eyes halfclosed and her cheeks flushed with fever, and Rex, seeing that it was of no use trying to rouse her to say goodbye, kissed Jenny and went quietly out of the room.

I shall keep your clothes until I come back again, Sandwich, Rex said when he was taking leave of his friend.

You are perfectly welcome to them if you don?t bring them back, the other laughed. I have any number of suits, and if trouble comes on we shall not be particular about washing.

I expect I shall be back before long, for if there is a row here I should like to be in it.

Rex and Ah Lo went to the railwaystation in time for the train which started at ten o?clock. Several merchants and others were going down also. The journey was a tedious one, for the train travelled slowly and stopped frequently. It was just breakfasttime next morning when they arrived. Rex walked in unannounced just as his father and mother were sitting down to breakfast. They leapt to their feet with cries of surprise and delight.

I cannot blow you up now, Rex, his father said after the first joy of the meeting had passed, but it was the maddest thing that I ever heard of. I am too glad, however, at your safe return to scold you. We were beginning to lose all hope of your return. We thought you might get to Chafui, and of course it was a great satisfaction that you had Ah Lo with you; but when you found that everyone had been massacred, what prevented you from returning at once?

The fact, Father, that I found that they were not all massacred. My uncle and aunt had both fallen, but the girls were prisoners in the governor?s yamen. It was a close affair, for they were to have been given to the Boxers to be massacred the very next day. We got them out, however, and took them safely to Pekin, and they are at present staying at the Legation.

You have saved the dear girls! his mother exclaimed; that is indeed good news. But where are they?

They are at Pekin, Mother. They bore up splendidly until they got there, and then they broke down, and the doctor said that they would need careful treatment and rest before they could be moved. So I ran down here to tell you of my safety, and am going back again in a few days to bring them home. I will give you full particulars when I have got into my own clothes and had some breakfast. We brought a good stock of provisions with us, but finished the last morsel yesterday afternoon. It has been a tremendously long journey, and, as you may imagine, I am pretty peckish. Before sitting down, however, I will run upstairs and change, for I must have a wash before eating. I shall be down again in ten minutes.

He soon returned, and his father and mother asked no questions until he had finished breakfast, except that his mother asked how he had left the girls.

I think they will both be better for a rest, Mother, he said. They both look fagged, which is not to be wondered at, considering all they have come through, but they are a good deal better than when I first saw them.

As soon as breakfast was over, and before he questioned Rex further, Mr. Bateman sent for Ah Lo.

Ah Lo, he said, when the Chinaman came in, you did wrong to aid my son to carry out this enterprise. However, as it succeeded so well I cannot blame you, and indeed must thank you heartily for having carried Rex safely through the matter.

The Chinaman smiled. I think it is the other way. Mr. Rex carried me through the affair. He always told me what to do; I did just so and it came out all right.

Well, I shall not forget the great service you have rendered us. Ah Lo bowed and went off.

Now then, Rex, give us an account of your doings, for at present I cannot imagine how you managed to get the girls out from the governor?s yamen.

It took Rex more than an hour to relate his adventures, for he was very frequently interrupted by exclamations and questions from his father and mother.

It was a wonderful rescue, his father said, when he had brought that part of the story to a close. It seems simple enough as you tell it, but I really can hardly imagine how the plan occurred to you. There the girls were shut up in the strong house of a governor, with sentries over them and a guard but a few yards away. It was a problem that might have puzzled the sharpest brain, and it was carried out without the slightest hitch. It does you extreme credit, Rex, and I feel proud of you. Well, go on with your story.

There was a fresh outburst of surprise when Rex related the fight with the twelve Boxers.

Well, my boy, Mr. Bateman said when Rex brought his story to an end, after that you can be trusted to go anywhere, and I don?t think your mother or I will in future feel anything like the same anxiety concerning you as we have experienced this time.

And now, Father, how do matters stand here at present?

Things are quiet. A good many sailors have come up, and although a large number of the rebels are still round the town, we have no fear whatever that they will be able to take the place.

I think the fighting will be pretty hard work, Father, if, as I think there is little doubt, the Boxers attack in earnest. But what are the regular Chinese troops going to do?

I think the envoys still hope that they will stand aloof; but as far as I have learned, the general opinion is just the other way. The Empress and her ministers profess that the Boxers are a peaceable people who only desire well for the empire. They have issued a few shillyshallying edicts, which can be read both ways, but it is generally believed that the Boxers have been put in the foreground because the Empress thinks they are more than sufficiently strong to destroy the Legations and kill every white and native Christian in the country. She doesn?t want the responsibility. Before Europeans she can, if she chooses, disavow their actions, while at the same time professing her inability to control them, and declaring that as the will of the people is that no white men shall henceforth live or trade in China she must bow to their wishes. Many think, therefore, that if the Boxers can do the work alone they will be allowed to do it; if not, the Imperial troops will join them.

It is quite certain that an enormous number of native Christians have been massacred in various parts of China, and I have heard that some have been murdered in Pekin itself. I hope that enough troops will be collected to go up before long. Troops have come in from all directions, but I am afraid it will be at least a couple of months before anything like an army can be moved forward. From the ships now here probably only two thousand men could be spared for the purpose.

I doubt whether that would be enough, Father. There are hordes of Chinese between this and Pekin, and a large number of them are armed with the best rifles. They have breechloaders of all sorts, and you know we must do them the justice to say that they fought bravely enough round here. I fancy they will fight even better to prevent us from getting to Pekin.

It is by no means certain, Rex, that in the first place we shall not have to fight on for our own existence. Great numbers of Boxers and other ruffians throng the town, and if they know their own business they will not be fools enough to allow an army to gather here at all. As to the Taku Forts, I believe they will be taken just as easily as they were last time. Still, the larger vessels cannot come up the river, and the smaller ones will probably have to be escorted up by troops. They will doubtless be opposed fiercely, and not improbably we shall be attacked here at the same time, in which case we may have to fight hard.

All right, Father! I should like it all the better. Knowing, as we do, how they have massacred hundreds of missionaries and their families and many thousands of native Christians, we shall feel a real satisfaction in fighting these fiends.

And yet, Rex, a good deal of allowance must be made for them. You must remember that China has always been an exclusive country, and that the Chinese appear to have an ingrained hatred of foreigners. To begin with, we come here because they don?t want to buy our opium, and we fight them and compel them to open Chinese ports to trade. Well, the Chinese are not fools, and as long as it was only a question of trade they might put up with us, seeing that they obtained as much advantage from trade as we do. This, however, was not enough. We invade them with a vast crowd of missionaries, who settle themselves in all parts of the country, build themselves houses and churches, and set to work to convert the Chinese. Naturally the Chinese don?t like it. Certainly we should not like it ourselves if hundreds of Chinamen were to settle down in all our towns, open josshouses, hold out all sorts of advantages to proselytes, and convert the lowest and most ignorant class of the population to Confucianism or Buddhism. But this is not all. Missionaries take the converts under their protection, set up a little imperium, demand the right to judge and punish their own people, and generally to set the local authorities pretty well at defiance; and the Catholic bishops have actually insisted upon having the title, rank, and power of Chinese viceroys.

All these things are odious to the mass of the people, and when, as at present, they find the whole of the European powers engaged in a general grab of fresh ports, they say this thing must stop. I need not say that I hold these massacres in abhorrence, but if they had simply brought down all the missionaries to the treaty ports and said to them, ?If you come outside these walls you will be at once put to death,? I should say that they were acting just as most European powers would act in similar circumstances, and that from their own point of view they were acting wisely. It would be necessary, of course, for us to retain ambassadors at Pekin to protect our treaty rights and to settle any disputes that might arise, but beyond that I would, if I were the Emperor of China, forbid any foreigner from going beyond the treaty ports, which would be all so strongly fortified that they could defy any attack. Of course, foreigners might be allowed to enter the Chinese service if invited to do so, drill their troops, manage their dockyards, build their railways, and conduct their mines.

To my mind, the game of grab that has been going on of late has been shocking. The Russians who stepped in to prevent the Japanese from obtaining any benefit from their defeat of China were the first to begin by their enormous appropriation of territory. We seized a port opposite to them, and the Germans, Italians, and French all seized ports and territories. Can one wonder that China was moved to the core, that this sect of Boxers, which has existed for a very long time, suddenly became a violent political association, and that the Empress has gladly availed herself of their assistance? It would be strange indeed if it were not so. You must remember that the Chinese as a race are extremely intelligent. Owing to the denseness of the population and the poverty of the people the weakly die off in childhood, and the struggle for life is so severe that the wits of the people become sharpened. They are the cleverest bargainers in the world. Every transaction is a battle in which purchaser and seller try to get the better of one another. Physically they are fine men; and their lives being for the most part hard, they have little or no fear of death.

When you take all these things into consideration, you can see that there is a great deal to be said for the action of the Chinese. They have perpetrated horrible cruelties upon the missionaries and native Christians, but they have lived under a cruel r?gime. Capital punishment under the most atrocious conditions is very frequent among them, and they have become habituated and hardened to it. You must remember that at home as late as the reign of Queen Elizabeth any persons found begging were executed, or, as a mild punishment for a first offence, had their hands or ears cut off.

Of course, if we are attacked, I shall aid in the defence; but although I have lost my sisterinlaw and her husband, I shall feel no personal animosity towards the Chinese, for I consider that we have, from their point of view, given them ample grounds for endeavouring to get rid of us.

Well, I don?t think that I ever thought of it in that light, Father, but it certainly does seem rough on them that we should seize port after port on the smallest pretext, and send our people interfering with their customs and religions all over the country. Certainly at ordinary times they have always seemed to me an inoffensive set of people, placid and goodtempered, which makes it all the more extraordinary that they should go in for such hideous massacres. However, Father, whatever excuse they have, it is quite certain that we must not let them take Tientsin if we can keep them out of it.

We shall certainly do our best, Mr. Bateman laughed, and I have no doubt that we shall succeed. Still, we may have some tough work before us.

We have received a despatch from Macdonald urgently asking that troops should be sent up at once, Mr. Bateman said to Rex two days after his return.

Well, Father, if things really do look bad I should like to go back again. I told the girls that I would, and I certainly should like to be there on my own account if there is any fighting.

Probably there will be fighting here also, Rex.

Yes, Father, but there is no doubt that you will be able to beat them off here. Marines and bluejackets will be sent up from the ships to take the place of those who are going forward now. Besides, no doubt an attack will be made on the Taku Forts, and you know they are not formidable. I don?t think, however, that it is anything like so certain that they will be able to hold out in Pekin. The Legations cover a big extent of ground, and what with the Boxers, the lower classes of the city, and the Chinese army, there will be a tremendous pressure upon them. Now, as Ah Lo and I managed to get the girls away from Chafui, it seems to me possible that, if the worst comes to the worst, we may manage to rescue them again. At any rate I know it would be a big comfort to them if I were there.

I don?t know, Rex, his father said gravely, that I should be justified in letting you go. Still, you got so wonderfully out of the last business that I am disposed to let you have your own way in this. Besides, if there is fighting here, which I think probable, you will, of course, want to take part in it, and are as likely to be killed here as at Pekin, and as it will certainly be a comfort to the girls to have you there, I shall not say ?No.? There will, however, be no occasion for you to go up with the troops. Possibly on their arrival there things will calm down, and in that case the troubles are more likely to begin here by the sea. I think there is scarcely a shadow of doubt that the Taku Forts will be bombarded, and that the ships will open a passage for the gunboats up the river. You had better, therefore, wait for a week at any rate, by which time we shall hear whether matters have settled down in Pekin.

Very well, Father, but I do not think there is a chance of that. There is no doubt that the Empress and her favourites are secretly urging on the Boxers, and although these will probably begin an attack, they will be joined in the end by the Imperial troops. I have no doubt, however, that I shall be able to get there in time. You see, Father, if I take part in the defence of the Pekin Legations it will be something to talk about all my life.

I am afraid, Rex, his father said with a smile, that, although I do not say that you are not anxious to be at hand if your cousins are in danger, you would be just as eager to go if they were not at Pekin at all. I begin to think that I have made a mistake in your education, that I should have done better if I had kept you by me and sent you to the College of Student Interpreters at Pekin. It seems to me that you are more fitted for the profession of a knighterrant than a sober trader.

Oh, I don?t think so, Father! When things are quiet I shall be quite content to be quiet, to work hard all day, and to take a ride or sail in the evening.

Well, we shall see when matters do settle down, Rex, as I have no doubt they will after a time. I shall be quite content if we resume trade at the treaty ports as before, and I hope that the result of this war will not be the further breaking up of China.

The next morning the glad news was heard that strong detachments from all the ships of war were coming up and were going to march on Pekin. Admiral Seymour was to be in command, and the force would amount to about two thousand.

This is splendid, isn?t it, Father? said Rex.

It is capital news, my boy; but two thousand men are but a small body to go through a bitterly hostile country defended by an army which, including the Boxers, cannot be put at much less than forty thousand men. There is no doubt that the railway will have been greatly damaged by the Boxers, and if our men trust to that, they will have no means of transport when they come to the point where the line is destroyed, which will probably be about halfway between this and Pekin. At the same time it is undoubtedly right that the effort should be made. Our countrymen cannot be allowed to perish if it be possible to save them. We know that so far they are unhurt, for the telegraph wire is still open to Shanghai, and we get messages from there, contradictory ones, it is true, but still, in spite of the varying nature of the reports, there is little doubt that up to the present time the Legations are safe.

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