Bert Wilson, Wireless Operatorñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
“I suppose that system of theirs explains why the civil service in our own country is slightingly referred to as the ‘Chinese’ civil service by disgruntled politicians,” said Ralph.
“Yes,” said the captain, “and speaking of politicians, our Chinese friends could give us cards and spades and beat us out at that game. They’re the smoothest and slickest set of grafters in the world. Why, the way they work it here would make our ward politicians turn green with envy. We’re only pikers compared with these fellows. Graft is universal all through China. It taints every phase of the national life. Justice is bought and sold like any commodity and with scarcely a trace of shame or concealment. The only concern the mandarin has with the case brought before him is as to which side will make him the richest present. It is a case of the longest purse and little else. Then after a man has been sent to prison, the jailer must be paid to make his punishment as light as possible. If he is condemned to death, the executioner must be paid to do his work as painlessly and quickly as he can. At every turn and corner the grafter stands with his palm held out, and unless you grease it well you might as well abandon your cause at the start. You’re certainly foredoomed to failure.”
“Well,” said Bert, “we’re badly enough off at home in the matter of graft, but at least we have some ‘chance for our white alley’ when we go into a court of justice.”
“Yes,” assented the doctor, “of course a long purse doesn’t hurt there, as everywhere else. But, in the main, our judges are beyond the coarse temptation of money bribes. We’ve advanced a good deal from the time of Sir Francis Bacon, that ‘brightest, wisest, meanest of mankind,’ who not only accepted presents from suitors in cases brought before him, but had the nerve to write a pamphlet justifying the practice and claiming that it didn’t affect his judgment.”
“What do you think of the present revolution in China, doctor?” asked Dick. “Will it bring the people more into sympathy with our way of looking at things?”
He shook his head skeptically.
“No,” he answered, “to be frank I don’t. Between us and the Chinese there is a great gulf fixed, and I don’t believe it will ever be bridged. The Caucasian and Mongolian races are wholly out of sympathy. We look at everything from opposite sides of the shield. We can no more mix than oil and water.
“The white races made a mistake,” he went on and the boys detected in his voice a strain of sombre foreboding, “when they drew China out of its shell and forced it to come in contact with the modern world. It was a hermit nation and wanted to remain so. All it asked was to be let alone. It was a sleeping giant. Why did we wake him up unless we wanted to tempt fate and court destruction?
“Not only that, but the giant had forgotten how to fight. We’re teaching him how just as fast as we can, and even sending European officers to train and lead his armies.
The giant’s club was rotten and wormeaten. In its place, we’re giving him Gatling guns and rifled artillery, the finest in the world. We have forgotten that Mongol armies have already overrun the world and that they may do it again. We’re like the fisherman in the ‘Arabian Nights’ who found a bottle on the shore and learned that it held a powerful genii. As long as he kept the bottle corked he was safe. But he was foolish enough to take out the cork, and the genii, escaping, became as big as a mountain, and couldn’t be squeezed back into the bottle. We’ve pulled the cork that held the Chinese genii and we’ll never get him back again. Think of four hundred million people, a third of the population of the world, conscious of their strength, equipped with modern arms, trained in the latest tactics, able to live on practically nothing, moving over Europe like a swarm of devastating locusts! When some Chinese Napoleon – and he may be already born – finds such an army at his back – God help Europe!”
He spoke with feeling, and a silence fell upon them as they looked over the great city, and thought of the thousands of miles and countless millions of inhabitants that lay beyond. Did they hear in imagination the gathering of shadowy hosts, the tread of marching armies, and the distant thunder of artillery? Or did they dimly sense with that mysterious clairvoyance sometimes vouchsafed to men that in a few days they themselves would be at death grip with that invisible “yellow peril” and barely win out with their lives?
Dick shivered, though the night was warm.
“Come along, fellows,” he said, as the captain and doctor walked away. “Let’s go to bed.”
The Dragon’s Claws
The next morning the boys were up bright and early, ready for their trip through the city.
“By George,” said Dick, “I have to pinch myself to realize that we’re really in China at last. Until a month ago I never dreamed of seeing it. As a matter of course I had hoped and expected to go to Europe and possibly take in Egypt. That seemed the regulation thing to do and it was the limit of my traveling ambition. But as regards Asia, I’ve never quite gotten over the feeling I had when I was a kid. Then I thought that if I dug a hole through the center of the earth I’d come to China, and, since they were on the under side of the world, I’d find the people walking around upside down.”
“Well,” laughed Bert, “they’re upside down, sure enough, mentally and morally, but physically they don’t seem to be having any rush of blood to the head.”
An electric launch was at hand, but they preferred to take one of the native sampans that darted in and out among the shipping looking for passengers. They hailed one and it came rapidly to the side.
“See those queer little eyes on each side of the bow,” said Tom. “I wonder what they’re for?”
“Why, so that the boat can see where it is going,” replied Dick. “You wouldn’t want it to go it blind and bump head first into the side, would you?”
“And this in a nation that invented the mariner’s compass,” groaned Tom. “How are the mighty fallen!”
“And even that points to the south in China, while everywhere else it points to the north. Can you beat it?” chimed in Ralph.
“Even their names are contradictions,” said Bert. “This place was originally called ‘Hiang-Kiang,’ ‘the place of sweet waters.’ But do you catch any whiff here that reminds you of ottar of roses or the perfume wafted from ‘Araby the blest?’”
“Well, not so you could notice it,” responded Ralph, as the awful smells of the waterside forced themselves on their unwilling nostrils.
They speedily reached the shore and handed double fare to the parchment-faced boatman, who chattered volubly.
“What do you suppose he’s saying?” asked Tom.
“Heaven knows,” returned Ralph; “thanking us, probably. And yet he may be cursing us as ‘foreign devils,’ and consigning us to perdition. That’s one of the advantages of speaking in the toughest language on earth for an outsider to master.”
“It is fierce, isn’t it?” assented Bert. “I’ve heard that it takes about seven years of the hardest kind of study to learn to speak or read it, and even then you can’t do it any too well. Some simply can’t learn it at all.”
“Well,” said Tom, “I can’t conceive of any worse punishment than to have to listen to it, let alone speak it. Good old United States for mine.”
At the outset they found themselves in the English quarter. It was a splendid section of the city, with handsome buildings and well-kept streets, and giving eloquent testimony to the colonizing genius of the British empire. Here England had entrenched herself firmly, and from this as a point of departure, her long arm stretched out to the farthest limits of the Celestial Kingdom. She had made the place a modern Gibraltar, dominating the waters of the East as its older prototype held sway over the Mediterranean. Everywhere there were evidences of the law and order and regulated liberty that always accompany the Union Jack, and that explains why a little island in the Western Ocean rules a larger part of the earth’s surface than any other power.
“We’ve certainly got to hand it to the English,” said Ralph. “They’re the worst hated nation in Europe, and yet as colonizers the whole world has to take off its hat to them. Look at Egypt and India and Canada and Australia and a score of smaller places. No wonder that Webster was impressed by it when he spoke of the ‘drum-beat that, following the sun and keeping pace with the hours, encircled the globe with the martial airs of England.’”
“It’s queer, too, why it is so,” mused Bert. “If they were specially genial and adaptable, you could understand it. But, as a rule, they’re cold and arrogant and distant, and they don’t even try to get in touch with the people they rule. Now the French are far more sympathetic and flexible, but, although they have done pretty well in Algiers and Tonquin and Madagascar, they don’t compare with the British as colonizers.”
“Well,” rejoined Ralph, “I suppose the real explanation lies in their tenacity and their sense of justice. They may be hard but they are just, and the people after a while realize that their right to life and property will be protected, and that in their courts the poor have almost an equal chance with the rich. But when all’s said and done, I guess we’ll simply have to say that they have the genius for colonizing and let it go at that.”
“Speaking of justice and fair play, though,” said Bert, “there’s one big blot on their record, and that is the way they have forced the opium traffic on China. The Chinese as a rule are a temperate race, but there seems to be some deadly attraction for them in opium that they can’t resist. It is to them what ‘firewater’ is to the Indian. The rulers of China realized how it was destroying the nation and tried to prohibit its importation. But England saw a great source of revenue threatened by this reform, as most of the opium comes from the poppy grown in India. So up she comes with her gunboats, this Christian nation, and fairly forces the reluctant rulers to let in the opium under threat of bombardment if they refused. To-day the habit has grown to enormous proportions. It is the curse of China, and the blame for the debauchery of a whole nation lies directly at the door of England and no one else.”
By this time they had passed through the British section and found themselves in the native quarter. Here at last they were face to face with the real China. They had practically been in Europe; a moment later and they were in Asia. A new world lay before them.
The streets were very narrow, sometimes not more than eight or ten feet in width. A man standing at a window on one side could leap into one directly opposite. They were winding as well as narrow, and crowded on both sides with tiny shops in which merchants sat beside their wares or artisans plied their trade. Before each shop was a little altar dedicated to the god of wealth, a frank admission that here, as in America, they all worshipped the “Almighty Dollar.” Flaunting signs, on which were traced dragons and other fearsome and impossible beasts, hung over the store entrances.
“My,” said Ralph, “this would be a bad place for a heavy drinker to find himself in suddenly. He’d think he ‘had ’em’ sure. Pink giraffes and blue elephants wouldn’t be a circumstance to some of these works of art.”
“Right you are,” assented Tom. “I’ll bet if the truth were known the Futurist and Cubist painters, that are making such a splurge in America just now, got their first tips from just such awful specimens as these.”
“Well, these narrow streets have one advantage over Fifth Avenue,” said Ralph. “No automobile can come along here and propel you into another world.”
“No,” laughed Bert, “if the ‘Gray Ghost’ tried to get through here, it would carry away part of the houses on each side of the street. The worst thing that can run over us here is a wheelbarrow.”
“Or a sedan chair,” added Tom, as one of these, bearing a passenger, carried by four stalwart coolies, brushed against him.
A constant din filled the air as customers bargained with the shop-keepers over the really beautiful wares displayed on every hand. Rare silks and ivories and lacquered objects were heaped in rich profusion in the front of the narrow stalls, and their evident value stood out in marked contrast to the squalid surroundings that served as a setting.
“No ‘one price’ here, I imagine,” said Ralph, as the boys watched the noisy disputes between buyer and seller.
“No,” said Bert. “To use a phrase that our financiers in America are fond of, they put on ‘all that the traffic will bear.’ I suppose if you actually gave them what they first asked they’d throw a fit or drop dead. I’d hate to take the chance.”
“It would be an awful loss, wouldn’t it?” asked Tom sarcastically, as he looked about at the immense crowd swarming like bees from a hive. “Where could they find anyone to take his place?”
“There are quite a few, aren’t there?” said Ralph. “The mystery is where they all live and sleep. There don’t seem to be enough houses in the town to take care of them all.”
“No,” remarked Bert, “but what the town lacks in the way of accommodations is supplied by the river. Millions of the Chinese live in the boats along the rivers, and at night you can see them pouring down to the waterside in droves. A white man needs a space six feet by two when he’s dead, but a Chinaman doesn’t need much more than that while he is alive. A sardine has nothing on him when it comes to saving space and packing close.”
At every turn their eyes were greeted with something new and strange. Here a wandering barber squatted in the street and carried on his trade as calmly as though in a shop of his own. Tinkers mended pans, soothsayers told fortunes, jugglers and acrobats held forth to delighted crowds, snake charmers put their slimy pets through a bewildering variety of exhibitions. Groups of idlers played fan-tan and other games of chance, and through the waving curtains of queerly painted booths came at times the acrid fumes of opium. Mingled with these were the odors of cooking, some repellant and some appetizing, which latter reminded the boys that it was getting toward noon and their healthy appetites began to assert themselves. They looked at each other.
“Well,” said Ralph, “how about the eats?”
“I move that we have some,” answered Tom.
“Second the motion,” chimed in Dick.
“Carried unanimously,” added Bert, “but where?”
“Perhaps we would better get back to the English quarter,” suggested Ralph. “There are some restaurants there as good as you can find in New York or London.”
“Not for mine,” said Tom. “We can do that at any time, but it isn’t often we’ll have a chance to eat in a regular Chinese restaurant. Let’s take our courage in our hands and go into the next one here we come to. It’s all in a lifetime. Come along.”
“Tom’s right,” said Dick. “Let’s shut our eyes and wade in. It won’t kill us, and we’ll have one more experience to look back upon. So ‘lead on, MacDuff.’”
Accordingly they all piled into the next queer little eating-house they came to, but not before they had agreed among themselves that they would take the whole course from “soup to nuts,” no matter what their stomachs or their noses warned them against. A suave, smiling Chinaman seated them with many profound bows at a quaint table, on which were the most delicate of plates and the most tiny and fragile of cups. They had of course to depend on signs, but they made him understand that they wanted a full course dinner, and that they left the choice of the food to him. They had no cause to regret this, for, despite their misgivings, the dinner was surprisingly good. The shark-fin soup was declared by Ralph to be equal to terrapin. They fought a little shy of indulging heartily in the meat, especially after Bert had mischievously given a tiny squeak that made Tom turn a trifle pale; but in the main they stuck manfully to their pledge, and, to show that they were no “pikers” but “game sports,” tasted at least something of each ingredient set before them. And when they came to the dessert, they gave full rein to their appetites, for it was delicious. Candied fruits and raisins and nuts were topped off with little cups of the finest tea that the boys had ever tasted. They paid their bill and left the place with a much greater respect for Chinese cookery than they had ever expected to entertain.
The afternoon slipped away as if by magic in these new and fascinating surroundings. They wove in and out among the countless shops, picking up souvenirs here and there, until their pockets were much heavier and their purses correspondingly lighter. Articles were secured for a song that would have cost them ten times as much in any American city, if indeed they could be bought at all. The ivory carvers, workers in jade, silk dealers, painters of rice-paper pictures, porcelain and silver sellers – all these were many cash richer by the time the boys, tired but delighted, turned back to the shore and were conveyed to the Fearless.
“Well,” smiled the doctor, as they came up the side, “how did you enjoy your first day ashore in China?”
“Simply great,” responded Bert, enthusiastically, while the others concurred. “I never had so many new sensations crowding upon me at one time in all my whole life before. As a matter of fact I’m bewildered by it yet. I suppose it will be some days before I can digest it and have a clear recollection of all we’ve seen and done to-day.”
“Yes,” said the doctor, “but, even yet, you haven’t seen the real China. Hong-Kong is so largely English that even the native quarter is more or less influenced by it. Now, Canton is Chinese through and through. Although of course there are foreign residents there, they form so small a part of the population that they are practically nil. It’s only about seventy miles away, and I’m going down there to-morrow on a little business of my own. How would you fellows like to come along? Provided, of course, that the captain agrees.”
Needless to say the boys agreed with a shout, and the consent of the captain was readily obtained.
“How shall we go?” asked Ralph.
“What’s the matter with taking the ‘Gray Ghost’ along?” put in Tom.
The doctor shook his head.
“No,” said he. “That would be all right if the roads were good. Of course they’re fine here in the city and for a few miles out. But beyond that they’re simply horrible. If it should be rainy you’d be mired to the hubs, and even if the weather keeps dry, the roads in places are mere footpaths. They weren’t constructed with a view to automobile riding.”
So they took an English river steamer the next day, and before night reached the teeming city, full of color and picturesque to a degree not attained by any other coast city of the Empire. Their time was limited and there was so much to see that they scarcely knew where to begin. But here again the vast experience of the doctor stood them in good stead. Under his expert guidance next day they visited the Tartar City, the Gate of Virtue, the Flowery Pagoda, the Clepsydra or Water Clock, the Viceroy’s Yamen, the City of the Dead, and the Temple of the Five Hundred Genii. The latter was a kind of Chinese “Hall of Fame,” with images of the most famous statesmen, soldiers, scholars, and philosophers that the country had produced. Before their shrines fires were kept constantly burning, and the place was heavy with the pungent odor of joss sticks and incense.
They wound up with a visit to the execution ground and the prisons, a vivid reminder of the barbarism that foreign influence has as yet not been able to modify to any great degree. The boys were horrified at the devilish ingenuity displayed by the Chinese in their system of punishment.
Here was a poor fellow condemned to the torture of the cangue. This was a species of treebox built about him with an opening at the neck through which his head protruded. He stood upon a number of thin slabs of wood. Every day one of these was removed so that his weight rested more heavily on the collar surrounding his neck, until finally his toes failed to touch the wood at the bottom and he hung by the neck until he slowly strangled to death.
“Yes,” said the doctor, as the boys turned away sickened by the sight, “there is no nation so cruel and unfeeling as the Chinese. Scarcely one of these that pass by indifferently, would save this poor fellow if they could. They look unmoved on scenes that would freeze the blood in our veins.”
“This is bad enough,” he went on, “but it is nothing to some of the fiendish atrocities that they indulge in. Their executioners could give points on torture to a Sioux Indian.
“They have for instance what they call the ‘death of the thousand slices.’ They are such expert anatomists that they can carve a man continuously for hours without touching a vital spot. They hang the victim on a kind of cross and cut slices from every part of his body before death comes to his relief.ñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
ñòðàíèöû: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13