George Henty.

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





It is probable, indeed, that those four hundred men who went up to Pekin six weeks ago as guards to the Legation have so far saved the situation. The Chinese, as you know, did all in their power to prevent them from coming. Fortunately the ambassadors had by that time so fully recognized the danger of the situation that they brought them up in spite of the Chinese Ministers. It is but a small force to resist a wellarmed army and a vast crowd of Boxers and the rabble of the town, but there must be a good number of white men there, missionaries of the city, and many who have made their way in from country stations. The European shopkeepers, too, and such merchants as have not left, will between them considerably raise the fighting force. Besides, you told me that at any rate some slight defences had been thrown up when you came away; no doubt these have since been increased. It is fortunate that all the Legations are fairly close to each other, and can probably be connected with each other without much difficulty.

The German, French, Japanese, and Pekin Hotels make practically one block, the Spanish is but a short distance away, the British Legation is separated from the Palace of Prince Su only by the street, the Russian Legation lies close to the British, and the United States Legation and Russian Bank face it. I should fancy that the line of defence will include all these. The Dutch Legation is isolated on one side, and the Italian on the other. The Austrian and the Belgian Legations also lie apart, and close to the former are the postoffice and customs. These, however, are all that are outside the probable line. I should hope that the Tartar wall, which overlooks the whole and is close to the United States and German Legations, will also be held. It is a big area for seven or eight hundred men to defend; but it was not a much larger force that held Lucknow, and what can be done in one place can be done in another.

I do hope, Father, that you will allow me to go up with the troops. If, as you think, they are not able to reach Pekin, I could push on in disguise and get into the town as easily as I left it. I don?t think there will be the least difficulty about that. I am very anxious about the girls, and might, if the worst came to the worst, escape with them in disguise, as I did before. Even if Admiral Seymour?s force should fight its way into the town, I should think that they will be in a similar position to that in which General Havelock found himself when he fought his way into Cawnpore. He would certainly be able to defend the Legations against the whole Chinese force, but he might not be able to cut his way out, encumbered as he must be, with a mass of native Christians who certainly could not be left there to be murdered. Even putting the girls aside, I should like, above all things, to take part in the defence.

I don?t know that you would be able to go with the troops even if I gave you leave, Rex.

Well, you see, I should become an interpreter.

They will be sure to want some men with them who know the language, to question prisoners, and buy stores, and so on.

Well, I will think it over. I must speak to your mother before I settle on such a question as that. Of course there will be a good deal of danger, but I have very little doubt that as soon as these troops go up, the Chinese will attack us here. Large numbers of them are in the neighbourhood, and if they find they cannot resist the advance of the force, they will close in behind it and march upon this town. Certainly we could not hope to hold the native quarter, but I feel sure that we could defend the settlement. Still, we might lose many men. There will, of course, be no fear of our having to stand a long siege, for the fleet are sure to batter down the Taku Forts, and the gunboats will shortly be sent up the river. Besides, the troops from India and Port Arthur, and the Japanese, will soon arrive, and will no doubt come up to our succour. I can quite understand your desire to take part in the siege, to say nothing of your idea of getting the girls away. Going up with two thousand men also is a very different affair from starting off on your own account.

The next morning at breakfast Mr. Bateman said: I have talked the matter over with your mother, and though she is very reluctant to part with you, she has given her consent, as I have pointed out to her that naturally at your age you want to take part in a defence which is likely to be historical, and that you would certainly be a comfort to your cousins and might be of vital service. You have already shown great presence of mind and resource, and I have no doubt would do so again in case of necessity.

But you must promise me, Mrs. Bateman said, that you will take care of yourself, and not expose yourself needlessly. You must remember, my boy, that, fond as we are of your cousins, you are all in all to us. You are our only child, and for our sakes you must promise not to thrust yourself needlessly into danger.

I will not run risks more than I can help, Mother. Of course, if I do get into Pekin, I must take part in the defence.

Yes, Rex, of course, I understand that; I only beg of you not to expose yourself recklessly.

I promise not to do so, Mother. Of course I shall take Ah Lo with me. I am awfully obliged to you for giving your consent; it would be a splendid thing to go through the siege. It is not like an ordinary siege in an ordinary war. They have attacked us and perpetrated the most horrible massacres all over the country; they have lied through thick and thin; they are treacherous and cruel brutes, who will certainly show no mercy if they capture the place, so that I shall feel that I am fighting in a good cause, and that these men deserve all they will get.

Tientsin presented a busy appearance. Troops arrived fast by train from the coast, and it became known that an expedition of some two thousand men was going to advance to Pekin under the command of Admiral Seymour.

Do you think, Father, that you could get leave for me to accompany the expedition. I could make myself useful as an interpreter.

I was introduced to Admiral Seymour this morning, Rex, and the idea did occur to me then, but I thought it well to wait until I talked the matter over with you again. It would certainly be far less risky to go with the troops than to make your way up in disguise, for by all accounts the Boxers and the roughs who have joined them are clearing out the villages and putting numbers of people to death. So you see your disguise could not be any great protection. However, I shall see Admiral Seymour again this afternoon, for I am supplying a good many articles they require. If you go with me I shall introduce you to him, and we shall hear what he says about it.

Admiral Seymour was at the railwaystation seeing to the detrainment of a strong body of marines and bluejackets and to the unloading of their stores. Mr. Bateman waited until he was disengaged, and as he was leaving the station went up to him.

I have sent the things you wanted to the depot, and shall be willing to send any further supplies that you may require. Everything in my store is entirely at your disposal.

Will you allow me to present my son to you? He has only lately returned from a most hazardous journey which he accomplished in disguise. He went to save two girl cousins of his who were the sole survivors of a mission station at Chafui. He succeeded in rescuing them and taking them to Pekin, where he was obliged to leave them, as they were prostrated by what they had gone through. He is very anxious to return there; and as he speaks Chinese perfectly, he thought perhaps that you would be kind enough to allow him to accompany your expedition in the character of an interpreter. He might be useful in questioning prisoners or villagers. He could carry arms also, for he and a native servant annihilated a party of twelve Boxers who attacked them while they were bringing his cousins down.

I have already got two or three interpreters, Mr. Bateman, but I have no doubt that I could do very well with another. I will attach him to the company of marines and bluejackets from the Centurion.

Thank you very much indeed, Admiral!

Ah, here is Major Johnston, who commands the marines! said the admiral; I will put you under his charge at once.

Major Johnston, I shall be glad if you will take charge of this young gentleman. He speaks Chinese fluently, and no doubt you will find him very useful as an interpreter. He is most anxious to get up to Pekin, because two of the young ladies there are his cousins. He will probably have a yarn to tell you of how he rescued them from the Boxers at Chafui. You will, of course, attach him to your mess.

Very well, sir, I shall be very glad to have someone with me who speaks Chinese; we are pretty sure to get hold of some wounded Boxers, and we may get valuable information from them.

Again thanking the admiral, Rex went off with the major, whose men were quartered in the customshouse. He was soon busy translating orders to the coolies who were assisting in bringing up cases of ammunition and other stores. In a couple of hours all was quiet.

My father will be very glad, sir, he said to the major, if you will take up your abode at his house. I have no doubt that all the officers will be quartered among the residents. I think that we can very well house four, and, if they don?t mind squeezing, six or seven.

Thank you, Mr. Bateman! I don?t know whether we have been told off to quarters, but if not, I will very gladly accept your offer.

Rex hurried home, and his father returned with him and assured the officer that it would be a great pleasure to him to have as many officers as the house would hold, and that he could very well contrive to take in ten of them.

Thank you very much, Mr. Bateman! It will take some little time to see the men properly quartered. I notice that a quantity of straw has been provided for them. What time do you dine?

We will fix our dinner hour to suit you. We generally dine at seven.

That will suit us very well. I command two companies, and have six officers, whom I will bring with me. You will have to take us in the rough, for we have only the uniforms that we stand in.

You shall dine in your shirt sleeves if you like, Major.

Rex returned with his father, and there was for a short time some bustle in the house getting bedrooms ready and making arrangements for dinner. At seven o?clock the officers arrived and were introduced by Major Johnston to Mr. and Mrs. Bateman. They were a merry party, for the officers were all in high spirits at being selected to take part in the expedition. When they heard that Rex had only returned from Pekin the week before, they asked him innumerable questions as to the country and the strength of the force that would be likely to oppose them.

I think that you will have harder work than you expect, he said. A considerable portion of the railway is certainly pulled up, and, judging by the number of fires I saw as I came down at night, the enemy must be in very strong force. I have no doubt that they will fight hard, for the Boxers believe that they are invulnerable, and will fight with fanatical fury.

We shall soon teach them that they are mistaken as to their invulnerability, one of the officers laughed, and I don?t think that any number of armed peasants, for that is what they are, will stop us.

I hope not, indeed, Rex said. I only say that I think it will be harder work than you expect.

Now, Mr. Bateman, the Major said, I hope that you will tell us the story of the rescue of your cousins, of which the admiral told me.

I have had to tell it so many times since I came back, Rex said, that I really hope you will excuse me.

Oh, no, that is mistaken modesty on your part!

I will tell it for him, his father said; it is a good story, and does the boy great credit.

Then I will go and see if everything is ready outside, said Rex.

It was half an hour before he returned, and by that time his father had finished the story. The officers all warmly congratulated him when he reentered the room.

I wish I had done it, one of the young lieutenants said. I would have given anything to have carried out such a plan.

I suppose you have not been in England at all, the Major said; for if you had been you would scarcely have been able to speak Chinese so well.

Yes, he has been four years there, Mr. Bateman said, but I sent over with him a Chinese boy, who has always been his companion, and Rex had two days off school each week to go about with him and so keep up his knowledge of the language. I intend to go home myself in a few years? time, and as he will then be left in charge it is of the utmost importance that he should keep up his Chinese. Latin and Greek would be of no value whatever here, so I arranged that he should only take up English subjects and English games.

A capital plan, Mr. Bateman. His knowledge of the language has already stood him in good stead.

What is the latest news?

We had a telegram to say that the American Mission buildings at Tung Chau, twelve miles from Pekin, have been abandoned by the missionaries, and have been looted and burned by the Chinese soldiers sent to protect them; and further, that seventyfive native Christians, who have been trained for years by the American missionaries, were massacred there. The British Legation summer residence in the hills near Pekin has also been burned. A telegram from Shanghai says that there has been a fight between General Nel Hsi Chong, with three thousand men, and the Boxers, and it is reported that the general has been superseded for his trouble.

When do you leave?

The rest of the force will be up tomorrow, and we shall start on the following morning. Altogether we shall have nine hundred and fifteen British, three hundred and fifteen Germans, three hundred Russians, one hundred and fiftyeight French, one hundred and four Americans, fiftytwo Japanese, forty Italians, and twentyfive Austrians.

Rather a mixed lot, Mr. Bateman said. It is as well that our contingent is so strong. Had it not been so, Admiral Seymour might have found some difficulty with the commanders of so many nationalities.

Yes, it is certainly well that we constitute nearly half the force more than half the force, if we count in the Americans and Japs, on both of whom we can rely. However, I don?t think that there will be any trouble with the Russians, Germans, and French, who won?t be able to understand each other, and as it is so short a march they will have no opportunity of coming to any mutual understanding. We might even count in the two small parties of Austrians and Italians as going with us.

CHAPTER VI
IN PEKIN

All were hard at work on the following day making preparations for the advance. Rex acted as interpreter to the major, and got on quite familiar terms with his officers. The start was made early the next morning in four troop trains. The men cheered lustily as they started, and the residents of the town all gathered to give them a hearty sendoff. Rex managed to get a place in the train for Ah Lo, and took with him in a small bundle the disguise he had worn at Chafui. He was perhaps the only person in the train who did not feel absolutely confident of a triumphant march to Pekin, but he had made up his mind that should they have to fall back he would himself pursue his journey with Ah Lo.

For a time the train passed through cultivated ground, but the work of the enemy was very soon visible. Portions of the line were torn up in many places, and attempts had evidently been made to destroy the bridges. Several times the train had to stop in order to make repairs, but owing to the large number of hands available the work was performed so rapidly that there was only a short delay at these points. At LoFa for the first time the Boxers were seen actively engaged. The platelayers? cabins were in flames, and the telegraph poles had been cut down, and men were engaged in destroying them. The villages bordering the line were also in flames, and the inscription, Kill all foreigners, was posted up everywhere. The Chinese troops alighted and fired several volleys at parties of Boxers, but apparently without doing any execution, their ineffectual efforts exciting much merriment among the allied troops.

A mile farther smoke was seen rising from several villages, and General Nieh refused absolutely to continue the journey, declaring that the whole country was evidently swarming with Boxers, and that it was highly dangerous to advance. He insisted on returning to LoFa. Admiral Seymour strongly urged him to remain there with his men, but without success; he and his soldiers were firmly convinced that it was useless to try to fight the Boxers, who, they believed, were invulnerable to shot. After the Chinese had left, the troops were detrained. The work of repairing the line had for the last few miles been very heavy, and as it was already late they halted there for the night.

So far their work had been altogether unimpeded by the enemy, who had apparently fallen back as soon as the laden trains were seen approaching in the distance. The troops had grumbled a good deal at the cowardice of the enemy, but consoled themselves with the idea that they had not yet gone halfway, and that no doubt the Boxers would make a stand later on.

There were plenty of materials for making camp fires, and these were soon blazing, and as night closed in, songs in various languages rose from the bivouacs of the different nationalities. The officers gathered round their own fires and chatted on the prospect before them.

Your anticipations have not been fulfilled thus far, Bateman, one of the lieutenants said to Rex.

No, but it is not yet time for them to be fulfilled. It was only during the first half of my journey down that I saw the Boxers? fires all over the country. They will become thicker and thicker as we near Pekin, and in the end I expect that the whole Chinese army will come out to meet us, swollen by the rabble of the town.

The expedition moved forward again in the morning. It was soon evident that in the country through which they were now advancing the Boxers had carried out their operations more thoroughly than in that through which they had already passed. In many places the railroad had been taken up for some hundreds of yards, and the sleepers carried off and burned, while the whole of the telegraph poles had been cut down and the wires carried away. The troops were very soon all detrained again and employed in the work of restoring the line, an operation which was only carried on with great difficulty.

In the meantime Lieutenant Smith of the Aurora went forward with a party of three officers and fortyfour men to try to reach Neting, thirteen miles ahead, to prevent more damage being done to the line and to hold the railwaystation there. He was attacked soon after he started. At three villages in succession he drove the enemy out with ease; but at halfpast ten a determined attack was made on him by about four hundred and fifty Boxers, who charged in line with great courage. His little force, however, repulsed them with heavy loss; but as ammunition was then beginning to run short, and the enemy was still increasing in strength, Lieutenant Smith retired. As great bands of Boxers could be seen in the distance, Major Johnston was sent forward with sixty men to examine the line ahead.

You may as well come on with me, Bateman; we shall very likely fall in with some villagers and perhaps capture a Boxer, and so get information as to the position of the enemy in front of us and the state of the line.

I shall be very glad to come, sir.

Ah Lo, without receiving any specific orders, fell in as a matter of course in the rear of the marines. They went steadily on, keeping two miles ahead of the leading train, and when eight miles above LoFa they saw a body of Boxers, which they reckoned about three thousand strong, streaming out from a village on the left. This force did not make directly for the little party, but bore towards their rear with the evident intention of cutting them off. They had with them a good many mounted men who, dashing forward, crossed the railway behind them, while the men on foot made for a partiallyburned bridge and a village commanding the line.

Fall back at the double! Major Johnston called. Not too fast; it is certain that we shall have to fight them, and it won?t do to put ourselves out of breath. Keep up a quick fire as you go; halt when you fire, and take steady aim. They won?t like the long range of our bullets. I don?t suppose we shall do them much harm, but our fellows will hear the firing at the wagons and we shall soon have a party up to our assistance.

Rex and Ah Lo unslung their rifles and joined the marines in their steady fire. The return of the enemy was not effective; only a few were armed with guns, and these were not of long range. For a mile a running fight was kept up, twenty or thirty of the enemy being killed. They nevertheless persisted in their endeavour to cut off the party. When, however, he saw a body of marines and bluejackets coming up at the double, the major at once halted his men.





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