With the Allies to Pekin: A Tale of the Relief of the Legations
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“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 well–armed 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 post–office 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 gun–boats 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 railway–station seeing to the detrainment of a strong body of marines and blue–jackets 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 blue–jackets 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 customs–house. 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 re–entered 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 seventy–five 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 to–morrow, 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 fifty–eight French, one hundred and four Americans, fifty–two Japanese, forty Italians, and twenty–five 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.”