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Title: Sir Robert Hart - The Romance of a Great Career,  2nd Edition
Author: Bredon, Juliet
Language: English
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Produced from images provided by the Million Book Project.



[Illustration: _Sir Robert Hart, G.C.M.G._]



SIR ROBERT HART

_THE ROMANCE OF A GREAT CAREER_

TOLD BY HIS NIECE JULIET BREDON

SECOND EDITION

1910



CONTENTS


A WORD OF INTRODUCTION


CHAPTER I

EARLY YEARS


CHAPTER II

FIRST YEARS IN CHINA--LIFE AT NINGPO--THE ALLIED COMMISSION AND SIR
HARRY PARKES--RESIGNATION FROM THE CONSULAR SERVICE


CHAPTER III

THE BEGINNINGS OF THE IMPERIAL CHINESE CUSTOMS--A VISIT TO
SIR FREDERICK BRUCE--THE SHERARD OSBORNE AFFAIR--APPOINTED
INSPECTOR-GENERAL


CHAPTER IV

ORDERED TO LIVE AT SHANGHAI--FIRST MEETING WITH "CHINESE GORDON"--THE
RECONCILIATION BETWEEN GORDON AND LI HUNG CHANG--THE TAKING OF
CHANG-CHOW-FU--DISBANDMENT OF "THE EVER-VICTORIOUS ARMY"--REWARDS FOR
GORDON


CHAPTER V

ORDERED TO LIVE IN PEKING--"WHAT A BYSTANDER SAYS"--A RETURN TO
EUROPE--MARRIAGE--CHINA ONCE AGAIN--THE BURLINGAME MISSION--FIRST
DECORATION--THE "WASA" OF SWEDEN AND NORWAY


CHAPTER VI

BIRTH OF A SON--THE MARGARY AFFAIR AND THE CHEFOO CONVENTION--A SECOND
VISIT TO EUROPE--THE PARIS EXHIBITION OF 1878


CHAPTER VII

YUAN PAO HÊNG SUGGESTS PROHIBITION OF OPIUM SMOKING IN CHINA--NEW
BUILDINGS FOR THE INSPECTORATE--THE FIRST INFORMAL POSTAGE
SERVICE--THE FRENCH TREATY OF 1885--OFFERED POST OF BRITISH MINISTER


CHAPTER VIII

AN IMPORTANT MISSION TO HONGKONG AND MACAO--THE BEGINNING OF A
PRIVATE BAND--DECORATIONS, CHINESE AND FOREIGN--THE SIKKIM-THIBET
CONVENTION--FORMAL ESTABLISHMENT OF THE POST OFFICE--WAR LOANS


CHAPTER IX

THE PROLOGUE TO THE SIEGE--BARRICADES AND SCALING LADDERS--THE SIEGE
PROPER--A MESSAGE FROM THE YAMÊN AND AN IMPORTANT TELEGRAM--RELIEF AT
LAST--NEW QUARTERS--NEGOTIATIONS--THE CONGRESS OF PEKING--AN IMPERIAL
AUDIENCE


CHAPTER X

SOME QUIET YEARS--A CHANGE OF MASTERS--INSOMNIA--A FAREWELL
AUDIENCE--AN HONOUR AND ITS ADVERTISEMENT--AH FONG AND
OTHERS--DEPARTURE FROM PEKING--"A SMALL, INSIGNIFICANT IRISHMAN"



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS


SIR ROBERT HART

THE CANAL: THE ROUTE BY WHICH SIR ROBERT HART FIRST CAME TO PEKING

A VIEW OF OLD PEKING SHOWING CONDITION OF ROADS

A ROAD IN OLD PEKING DURING THE RAINY SEASON

SIR ROBERT HART ABOUT 1866

UNDER THE PEKING CITY WALL TOWARDS TUNGCHOW--ALONG THE GRAND CANAL

A PICNIC IN OLD PEKING--TOWARDS YUEN MING YUEN

WELL NEAR THE CANAL, BRITISH LEGATION, BEFORE 1900

SIR ROBERT HART IN 1878

OUTSIDE SIR ROBERT HART'S HOUSE BEFORE 1900

PEKING: A MESSENGER CARRYING MAILS IN THE RAINY SEASON

A SECRETARY GOING TO THE INSPECTORATE OFFICES DURING THE RAINY SEASON

STABLES OF SIR ROBERT HART IN THE RAINY SEASON

THE INSPECTORATE STREET BEFORE 1900

ENTRANCE TO THE INSPECTORATE OF CUSTOMS BEFORE 1900

SIR ROBERT HART'S BAND IN THE EARLY 'NINETIES

SIR ROBERT HART'S CHINESE BAND

SIR ROBERT HART'S STABLES IN 1890

SIR ROBERT HART'S PRIVATE CART

THE IMPERIAL CHINESE POST OFFICE ENTRANCE ON A RAINY DAY IN THE
'NINETIES

A GARDEN PARTY GIVEN BY SIR ROBERT HART TO GOVERNOR TRÜPPEL (OF
KIAOCHOW) AND PARTY

LADY HART

SIR ROBERT HART IN HIS PRIVATE OFFICE

SIR ROBERT HART AND A GROUP OF CUSTOMS PEOPLE

SIR ROBERT HART AND MISS KATE CARL

PEKING PEACE PROTOCOL, 1901

A CORNER OF SIR ROBERT HART'S GARDEN: A WINTER VIEW

ANOTHER WINTER VIEW OF SIR ROBERT HART'S GARDEN

TING'RH, OR CHINESE PAVILION, IN SIR ROBERT HART'S GARDEN, PEKING

SIR ROBERT HART AND HIS STAFF (FOREIGN AND CHINESE), PEKING, 1903

SIR ROBERT HART WISHING MISS ROOSEVELT "BON VOYAGE" ON HER DEPARTURE
FROM PEKING, SEPTEMBER 16, 1906

FRONT DOOR OF SIR ROBERT HART'S HOUSE, PEKING

FRONT VIEW OF SIR ROBERT HART'S HOUSE



A WORD OF INTRODUCTION


Seventy-three years ago a little Irish boy lay in his aunt's lap
looking out on a strange and mysterious world that his solemn eyes
had explored for scarcely ten short days, while she, to whom the
commonplaces of everyday surroundings had lost their first absorbing
interest, was busily engaged in braiding a watch-chain from her
splendid, Titian-red hair. These chains were the fashion of the hour,
and the old family doctor, friend as well as physician, paused after
a visit to the boy's mother, to joke her about it: "You're making a
keepsake for your sweetheart, I see."

"No, indeed," she answered gaily with a toss of her bonny head, "I'm
making a wedding present for this new nephew of mine when he marries
your daughter."

It was a long-shot prophecy. The doctor was even then a man past his
first youth; the neighbours looked upon him as a confirmed bachelor;
he seemed as unlikely ever to possess a daughter as a diamond mine.
Yet, all these improbabilities notwithstanding, he had taken to
himself the luxury of a wife within a very few years, and soon
children were climbing on his knees. I cannot say whether this
red-haired young woman had the gift of second sight or whether, by
some subtle power of suggestion, she willed the doctor to carry
out her prophecy. I only know that the prophecy _was_ startlingly
fulfilled, for among his children was one little girl who, when
she grew to womanhood, _did_ marry the nephew and _did_ get the
watch-chain as a wedding gift.

The doctor's daughter was an aunt of mine, and her romantic marriage,
by tying our two families together, gave me some slight claim on her
husband's affection. Propinquity afterwards ripened what opportunity
had begun; we lived long side by side in a far-away corner of the
world, and from the formal relationship of uncle and niece soon
slipped into that still better and warmer companionship of friend and
friend.

For me the friendship has ever been, is, and always will be, a thing
to take pride in, a thing to treasure. Nor will you wonder when I
confess that he of whom I speak is none other than the great Sir
Robert Hart, the man whose life has been as useful as varied, as
romantic as successful.

The story of it can be but imperfectly written now. There are many
shoals in the form of diplomatic indiscretions to steer clear of;
there is much weighing and sifting of political motives for serious
historians to do, but the time has not come for that. Much of the
romance of his long career in China lies over and above such things,
and of the romantic and personal side I here set down what I have
gathered from one and from another--chiefly from those who have had
the opportunity to collect their information at first hand, who either
knew him sooner than I or were themselves concerned in the events
described--in the hope that some readers may sufficiently enjoy the
romance of a great career to forgive any imperfections in the telling
for the sake of the story itself.



CHAPTER I

EARLY YEARS


Robert Hart began his romantic life in simple circumstances. He was
born on the 20th day of February, 1835, in a little white house
with green shutters on Dungannon Street, in the small Irish town of
Portadown, County Armagh, and was the eldest of twelve children. His
mother, a daughter of Mr. John Edgar, of Ballybreagh, must have been a
delightful woman, all tenderness and charity, judging from the way her
children's affections became entwined around her. His father, Henry
Hart, was a man of forceful and picturesque character, of a somewhat
antique strain, and a Wesleyan to the core. The household, therefore,
grew up under the bracing influence of uncompromising doctrines; it
was no unusual thing for one member to ask another at table, "What
have you been doing for God to-day?" and so rigidly was Sunday
observed that, had the family owned any Turners, I am sure they would
have been covered up on Saturday nights, just as they were in Ruskin's
home.

When the young Robert was only twelve months old the Harts moved to
Miltown, on the banks of beautiful Lough Neagh, remaining there barely
a year. Then they moved again--this time to Hillsborough, where he
attended his first school. It came about in this way. One afternoon
he was called into the parlour by his father. Two visitors--not by
any means an everyday occurrence in Miltown--were within. One was
a stoutish man with sandy hair, the other a very long person like a
knitting-needle. The stout man called the boy to him, passed his hand
carefully over the bumps of his head, and then, turning to the father,
said, "From what I gather of this child's talents from my examination
of his cranial cerebration, my brother's system of education is
exactly the one calculated to develop them," The men were two brothers
named Arnold, who proposed to open a little school in Hillsborough and
were tramping the country in search of pupils.

At the impressionable age of six or thereabouts an aunt fired the
boy's imagination with stories of the departed glories of the Hart
family. She used to tell him how their ancestor, Captain van Hardt,
came over from Holland with King William, fought at the Battle of
the Boyne and greatly distinguished himself; how afterwards, in
recognition of his gallant services, the King gave him the township of
Kilmoriarty as a reward; how the gallant captain settled himself down
there, kept his horses, ate well, drank deep, and left the place so
burdened with debt that one of his descendants was obliged to sell it.

"When I'm a man," the little fellow would say solemnly after hearing
these things, "I'll buy back Kilmoriarty--and I'll get a title too."
Of course she laughed at him quietly, thinking to herself how time and
circumstances would separate the lad from the goodly company of his
ambitions. Yet, after all, he saw clearer than she; he never wavered
in the serious purpose formed before he reached his teens, and he
actually did buy back Kilmoriarty when it came on the market years
afterwards. As for a title, he gained a knighthood, a grand cross and
a baronetcy--thus fulfilling the second part of his promise grandly.

From the care of the phrenologist brothers Arnold, Robert Hart was
taken over to a Wesleyan school in Taunton, England, by his father.
This journey gave him his first sight of the sea and his first
acquaintance with the mysteries of a steamer. The latter took firm
hold of his imagination; he long remembered the name of the particular
vessel on which they crossed, the _Shamrock_, and many years later he
was destined to meet her again under the strangest circumstances.

In England he stayed only a year, just long enough to make his first
friend and learn his first Latin. The friend he lost, but recovered
after an interval of forty years; the Latin he kept, added to, and
enjoyed all his life long.

When the summer holidays came, one of the tutors, a North of Ireland
man himself, agreed to accompany the lad back to Belfast; but in the
end he was prevented from starting, and the Governor of the school
allowed the eleven-year-old child to travel alone. He managed the
train journey safely as far as Liverpool, betook himself to a hotel,
and called, with a comical man-of-the-world air, for refreshment. Tea,
cold chicken and buns were brought him by the landlady and her maids,
who stood round in a circle watching the young traveller eat. His
serious ways and his solemn air of responsibility touched their
women's hearts so much that when the time came for him to sail they
took him down to the dock and put him on board his ship.

Henry Hart met his son at Belfast, and was so angry, at finding he
had been allowed to travel alone that he vowed the lad should never
go back to Taunton, and therefore sent him to the Wesleyan Connexional
School in Dublin instead. Here his quaint, merry little face, his
ready laugh, and above all his willingness to perform any trickery
that they suggested, made him a favourite among the boys at once. To
the masters he must have been something of a trial, I imagine, with
his habit of asking the why and wherefore of rules and regulations and
his refusal to submit to them without a logical answer. One day, for
instance, when a certain master spoke somewhat sourly and irritably to
him, Robert Hart then and there took it upon himself to deliver him a
lecture which, in its calm reasoning, was most disconcerting.

"It is wonderful the way you treat us boys," he said, "just as if you
were our superior; just as if you were not a little dust and water
like the rest of us. One would think from your manners you were our
master, whereas you are really our servant. It is we who give you your
livelihood--and yet you behave to us in this high-handed manner." That
tirade naturally made a pretty row in the school, but the obdurate
young orator melted under the coaxings and cajolings of the Governor's
gentle and distressed wife, and duly apologized.

The slightest of excuses served to turn him suddenly from a clever,
scatterbrained imp of mischief into a serious student. It happened
that the whole school met on an equality in one subject--Scripture
History. The head of that class, therefore, enjoyed a peculiar
prestige among his fellows, and it was clearly understood that a
certain Freckleton, a senior and the good boy of the school, should
hold this pleasant leadership. What was more natural, since he was
destined to "wag his head in a pulpit?" But Robert Hart could not see
the matter in this light. Some spirit of contradictoriness rising in
him, he thought a little dispute for first place in Scripture would
add spice to a naughty boy's school life and both amuse and amaze.
So on Sundays, while the rest of the boys were otherwise occupied, he
would walk up and down the ball alley secretly studying Scripture.

When the examination day came the whole school was assembled;
questions flew back and forth. Now one boy, now another dropped out
of the game; at last only Freckleton and Hart were left, the big boy
prodigiously nervous, rubbing his hands on his knees, the small one
aggravatingly cool and collected. At last the examiner called for a
list of the Kings of Israel. Freckleton stumbled. The question passed
to Hart, and, while the boys sat tense with excitement, he answered
fluently and correctly. The first place was his, and a hearty cheer
greeted his unexpected success.

After this little victory the Governor of the school remarked to him:

"Now you see what you can do when you try, Hart; why don't you try?"

Why not, indeed? Here was a new idea. He accepted it as a challenge,
took it up eagerly, and from that day on devoted himself to study with
an enthusiasm as thorough as sudden. Everything there was to study,
he studied--even stole fifteen minutes from his lunch hour to work
at Hebrew--till the boys laughingly nicknamed him "Stewpot" and the
"Consequential Butt."

The result was that at fifteen he was ready to leave the school the
first boy of the College class, and his parents were puzzled what to
do with him next. His father considered it unwise to send such a
young lad away to Trinity College, Dublin, where he would be among
companions far older than himself; and the end of the matter was
that he went to the newly founded Queen's College at Belfast instead
because that was nearer Hillsborough and the family circle.

He passed the entrance examinations easily, and of the twelve
scholarships offered he carried off the twelfth--nothing, however,
to what he was to do later. The second year there were seven
scholarships, and he got the seventh; the third there were five, and
he got the first. He heard the news of this last triumph one afternoon
in a little second-hand book-store where the collegians often
gathered. It was a gloomy day wrapped in a grey blanket of rain, and
he was not feeling particularly confident--his besetting sin from the
first was modesty--when suddenly a fellow-student rushed up and said,
"Congratulations, Hart. You've come out first."

"What," retorted Hart, astonished, "is the list published already?"
They told him where it was to be seen, and he hurried off to look for
himself. Quite likely they were playing a joke on him, he thought. But
it was no joke after all; his name stood before all the others--though
he could scarcely believe his own eyes, and did not write home about
it till next day, for fear that the good luck might turn to bad in the
night.

Unfortunately these successes left him little time for the sports
which should be a boy's most profitable form of idling. He ran no
races after he left Taunton, where he was known for the fleetest
pair of heels in the school; he played no games, neither cricket nor
football, not even bowls or rounders--but these amusements he probably
missed the less as they were not popular at Belfast, the College being
new and without muscular traditions, and the students chiefly young
men of narrow means and broad ambitions.

On the rare occasions when he had time for recreation, he either made
a few friends in the world of books--Emerson's "Essays" influenced him
most--or tried his own hand at literature. Once he even went so far as
to write a poem and send it to a Belfast newspaper, signing it "C'est
Moi." It was printed, and, being short of money at the time, he wrote
his father that his first published writing had appeared, and received
from his proud parent £10 by way of encouragement.

But his literary success was short-lived. When he tried the same
editor with another effusion signed with the same pen-name, the
unfeeling man actually printed in his columns: "'C'est Moi's' last is
not worth the paper it is written on." Alas! for the prophet in his
own country. Years afterwards he got another criticism just as harsh
from another Irish paper. It was a review of his book "These from the
Land of Sinim," and the Irish reviewer for some unknown reason rated
the book thoroughly, declared its opinions were ridiculous, its
English neither forcible nor elegant, and concluded with the biting
remark, "We hear that the writer has also composed poems which were
lost in the Peking Siege, thank God."

In 1853 Hart was ready to pass his final Degree Examinations.
They were held in Dublin, where the three newly established Irish
Colleges--Cork, Galway and Belfast--took them together. Belfast had
been fortunate the year before in carrying off several "firsts," and
the men were anxious to do as well as, or even better than on the
previous occasion. So they arranged amongst themselves that each
should cram some particular subject and try for honours in it.

Young Hart, with his character compounded of energy and ambition,
agreed to take two as his share. One was English, the other Logic,
which he had studied under the famous Dr. McCosh, which he delighted
in, and which undoubtedly developed his natural talent for getting
directly at the point of an intricate matter. He worked eighteen hours
a day during the last three weeks before the Literature Examination,
and when it came he did well--at least, so he supposed.

The rule was that only those in each class who had shown marked
ability and knowledge of their subject at the "pass" examination
should be recommended for re-examination for honours. But to his
surprise, when the list was read out, Hart's name was not even amongst
the successful candidates. The Belfast students were thoroughly angry.
They felt the honour of the College was at stake; he had not done his
share in upholding it, and they did not hesitate to tell him so. Hart
listened to their reproaches and answered never a word, but quietly
went on, in the week that intervened between the pass examination and
the final, with his preparations for the latter. The ability to do so
showed courage and character--and he hath both in an unusual degree.

The very night before the "final" his reward came. Some one hurried
up his stairs and burst into his little sitting-room. It was the
Professor--the famous George Lillie Craik--who had set the papers for
the Literature class.

"I come to apologize to you for a mistake," he said very kindly, "and
to explain why you have not been chosen for re-examination. The truth
is you answered so well at the 'pass' that I wrote your name on the
first sheet, and nobody else's--as nobody came near you. Unfortunately
this page, almost blank, was mislaid, and that is how it happened that
you, who should have been chosen before all the rest, were overlooked.
Now I want to ask you to come up for re-examination to-morrow, and, at
the same time, wish you the best of luck."

Robert Hart went--and won. He received a gold medal and £15 for this
subject, a gold medal and £15 also for Logic and Metaphysics, and
sufficient honour and glory besides to turn a less well-balanced head.

Meanwhile the choice of a future career naturally filled the young
man's thoughts. First he seriously debated whether he should become
a doctor, but gave up the idea when he found he came home from every
operation imagining himself a sufferer from the disease he had just
seen treated. Next there was some talk of putting him into a lawyer's
office--talk which came to nothing; and finally a lecture he heard on
China at seventeen almost decided him to become a missionary to the
heathen, but he soon abandoned this plan like the others.

After taking his B.A., he went instead to spend a post-graduate year
at Belfast, and read for a Master's degree--this in spite of the fact
that he was worn out with the strain of eighteen hours' work a day,
and used to see authors creeping in through the keyhole and wake in
the night to find illuminated letters dancing a witches' dance around
his bed.

Then, just at the critical moment of his life--in the spring of
1854--the British Foreign Office gave a nomination for the Consular
Service in China to each of the three Irish Queen's Colleges, Belfast,
Cork and Galway. He immediately abandoned all idea of reading for
a fellowship, and applied. So did thirty-six others. A competitive
examination was announced, but when the College authorities saw
Hart's name among the rest, they gave the nomination to him, _without
examination_.

Two months later he presented himself at the Foreign Office in London
and saw the Under-Secretary of State, Mr. (afterwards Lord) Hammond,
who gave him some parting advice. "When you reach Hongkong," said he,
"_never_ venture into the sun without an umbrella, and never go snipe
shooting without top boots pulled up well over the thighs." As no
snipe have ever been seen on Hongkong, the last bit of counsel was as
absurd as the first was sensible.

He actually started for China in May 1854. It is not easy to imagine
in these feverish days of travel what that journey must have meant to
a young Irish lad brought up in a small town lad to whom even London
probably seemed very far away. But the mothers of other sons can
give a pretty shrewd guess at how the mere thought of it must have
terrified those he was leaving behind. "Will he come back a heathen?"
one might ask, and another--but never aloud--"Will he come at all?"

But, whatever they felt, none would have selfishly held him back;
on the contrary, they were all encouragement, and the last thing
his father did was to put into the young man's hand a roll of fifty
sovereigns--a splendid piece of generosity on the part of one whose
whole income at the time did not amount to more than a few hundreds a
year--and later, splendidly repaid.

It is interesting to review the curious series of incidents that
guided Robert Hart towards the great and romantic career before him.
Had it not been for the tutor's detention, the subsequent move from
Taunton to Dublin, and the sudden awakening there of his mischievous
ambition over Scripture History, he would probably never have
developed into the ardent student he did at a very early age, or left
school so young.

Again, had it not been for his extreme youth, his family would
probably have sent him to Dublin instead of to Belfast--and Dublin
received no nomination for the Consular Service in China. Such
nominations were not usually given to Colleges, and the only reason
that the three colleges comprising the Queen's University in Ireland
received them was because the University was new, and the Foreign
Office (at which, by the way, the Chief, Lord Clarendon, was also
Chancellor of the Queen's University) desired to give it some
recognition and encouragement.

Surely if ever a boy was "led," as the Wesleyans say, to do a certain
work, Robert Hart was that boy.



CHAPTER II

FIRST YEARS IN CHINA--LIFE AT NINGPO--THE ALLIED COMMISSION AND SIR
HARRY PARKES--RESIGNATION FROM THE CONSULAR SERVICE


The journey out to Chinn in 1854 was not the simple matter that it
is now. No Suez Canal existed then, and the _Candia_ that took Robert
Hart from Southampton left him at Alexandria. Thence he had to travel
up the Mahmudi Canal to the Nile, push on towards Cairo, and finally
spend eighteen cramped and weary hours in an omnibus crossing
the desert to Suez, where he got one steamer as far as Galle, and
another--the _Pottinger_ from Bombay--which called there took him on
to his destination.

He remained three uneventful months in Hongkong as Student Interpreter
at the Superintendency of Trade, awaiting the return of Sir John
Bowring, H.B.M.'s Minister to China, who was away at Taku trying to
open negotiations with the Peking Government. It was this same Sir
John Bowring, by the way, who first aroused Robert Hart's interest
in Chinese life and customs--subjects on which so many foreigners in
China remain pitifully ignorant all their lives. "Study everything
around you," said he to the young man. "Go out and walk in the street
and read the shop signs. Bend over the bookstalls and read titles.
Listen to the talk of the people. If you acquire these habits, you
will not only learn something new every time you leave your door, but
you will always carry with you an antidote for boredom."

When the Minister came back in September, Robert Hart was appointed
to the British Consulate at Ningpo, and started off immediately,
travelling up to Shanghai in a trim little 150-ton opium schooner
called the _Iona_. The voyage should have taken a week; it took three.
At first a calm and then the sudden burst of the north-east monsoon
made progress impossible; the schooner tacked back and forth for a
fortnight, advancing scarcely a mile, and all this time her single
passenger could just manage to take seven steps on her little deck
without wetting his feet. Then, to make matters worse, provisions
gave out, and the ship's company was reduced for twelve days to an
unsavoury diet of water-buffalo and peanuts--all they could get from
a nearby island. Was it any wonder that Hart could never afterwards
endure the taste of peanuts, or that at the mere sight of a passing
water-buffalo his appetite was clean gone for the day?

He found Shanghai in the hands of the Triads (rebels), and a friend,
one of the missionaries, took him to see their famous chief, who was
said to have risen, not from the ranks, but from the stables of an
American merchant. With Mr. (afterwards Sir Rutherford) Alcock he also
went into the other camp to visit the commander of the Imperialist
forces, a Mongol, the Governor of the Province and a man of fine
presence. He was the first specimen of the Mandarin class that Robert
Hart had seen, and consequently the details of the interview remained
in his memory.

In later years he would sometimes describe what interested him most
as, silent and inconspicuous, he observed the doings of his seniors.
It was not the crowd of petty officials standing about, though they
were curious enough to a newcomer in their long official robes and
hats decorated with peacock's feathers; it was not the conversation
going on between Alcock and the Governor; it was simply the way the
latter, by his excessive dignity and dramatic manner, turned a simple
action into a ceremony. What he did was to draw carefully from
his official boot a wad of fine white paper, detach one sheet, and
solemnly blow his nose upon it. The action was nothing, the method
everything. He then proceeded to fold the paper into a cocked hat,
and, calling a servant to him, gave it into his hands with a grand
bow, just as if he were presenting the man with some specially earned
honour. As for the servant, he took his cue excellently well, received
the paper like a sacred relic, and, still as if he were taking part in
some ceremony; opened the flap of the tent and threw it away.

[Illustration: THE CANAL: THE ROUTE BY WHICH SIR ROBERT HART FIRST
CAME TO PEKING.]

Still more adventures awaited Robert Hart on the short trip from
Shanghai to Ningpo; indeed I think the best and the most romantic
adventures took a certain pleasure in following him always. At any
rate, this time he was to have such a one as even Captain Kettle
might have envied; he was to be chased by a pirate junk, a Cantonese
Comanting, with a painted eye in the bow, so that she might find her
prey, with a high stern bristling with rifles and cutlasses, so that
she might destroy it when found, and with stinkpots at her mastheads
and boarding-nets hung round her. Of course he was to escape in the
end, but so narrowly that all possible sail had to be crowded on to
his little ship, and the whole crew set to work the big oar at the
stern, while every soul on board shivered and shook as men should when
pirates are after them.

Ningpo itself in 1854 was the quietest place under the sun. A handful
of merchants lived there, buried without the trouble of dying; one or
two consulates had been built, but roads were non-existent, and the
few houses were separated from one another by a network of paddy
(rice) fields. The new consular assistant shared his house with a man
called Patridge, for whom he had conceived a liking, a jolly fellow
and a capital messmate, yet not without certain peculiarities of his
own. I believe he took a special delight in posing for fearful and
radical ideas like the abolition of the House of Lords, and could
never be made to see why a man should not sit in the presence of his
Sovereign, or wear his hat either if he felt so inclined.

The other youngsters laughed at his notions; one or two even went so
far as to accuse him of being a snob and to twit him on having changed
the spelling of his name and dropped the first "r" for the sake of a
stylishness he pretended to despise. He protested hotly; they stuck
to their assertion. He declared his name was Patridge, always had been
Patridge, and never could be anything else; they disbelieved him, and
so the dispute remained a drawn battle for want of an umpire till
long afterwards, when Robert Hart himself proved the point in a very
curious way.

A word or two about Patridge's early history must be told in order to
show how he did it. Patridge, as a young boy, was on board a vessel
carrying opium along the coasts of China, when in 1842 she and another
engaged in the same trade were wrecked on the island of Formosa, and
both crews--175 Bengalis and 13 white men in all--were captured by
the natives and taken to the capital, Tai-Wan-Foo. The Bengalis were
beheaded immediately. It was touch and go whether the white men
would suffer the same fate, when a brilliant idea struck the ship's
carpenter. Why not seek to soften the hearts of his captors by a
_kotow_ as profound as it was novel; why not stand on his head? He
did, with the happiest results. The Formosans, delighted with this
feat of submission, spared the lives of himself and his companions and
kept them in prison instead of decapitating them.

But for a long time it was doubtful whether they would ever regain
their liberty, and, as a record for friends who might later search for
them in vain, they made a schoolboy's calendar on the walls of their
cramped and dirty prison, ticked off each day, and signed their names
below. It is nice to know that they got away free at last, though
their fate has little to do with my story.

The record remained. More than twenty years afterwards, when Robert
Hart, then Inspector-General of the Chinese Customs, had occasion to
go to Formosa on business, he found it in an old rice hong (shop), and
Patridge's name among the rest, spelled with two "r's" (Partridge),
whereupon he could not resist the temptation of cutting off the list
with his penknife and, on his return to Shanghai, triumphantly handing
it to his old messmate.

In 1855, owing to a dispute with his Portuguese colleague, the British
Consul at Ningpo was suspended from duty, and young Hart put in charge
of affairs for some months. His calm judgment and good sense during
this first period of responsibility gained him favourable notice with
the "powers that be," for a little later at Canton, when the British
General Van Straubenzee remarked, on introducing him to Mr.(afterwards
Sir Frederick) Bruce, "This young man I recommend you to keep your eye
on; some day he will do something," the latter answered, "Oh, I have
already had my attention called to him by the Foreign Office."

The Portuguese were much in evidence in the Ningpo of those days. They
were numerous; they had power, and they abused it: with the result
that retribution came upon them so sure, so swift, so terrible that
not only Ningpo but the whole of China was deeply stirred by the
horror of it.

I am thinking now of that dreadful massacre of June 26th, 1857,
the culmination of years of trouble between the Cantonese and the
Portuguese lorchamen, who with their fast vessels--the fastest and
most easily managed ships in the age before steam--terrorized the
whole coast, exacted tribute, refused to pay duties, and even fell
into downright piracy, burning peaceful villages and killing their
inhabitants.

Rumours of Cantonese revenge began in the winter of 1856, when news
came that all the foreigners in Ningpo would be massacred on a
certain night. Some one thereupon invited the whole community to dine
together; but Robert Hart refused, thinking that men who sat drinking
hot whiskey punch through a long evening would be in no condition to
face a disturbance if it came. Thus, while the others kept up their
courage in company, he slept in a deserted house--the terrified
servants had fled--with a revolver under his pillow, and beside his
bed an open window, through which he intended to drop, if the worst
came to the worst, and try to make his way on foot to Shanghai.
Nothing happened then, however; but the talk of the tea-shops had not
been unfounded--only premature.

The 26th of June saw the vengeance consummated. With great bravery and
determination the Cantonese under Poo Liang Tai swept the Portuguese
lorchas up the entire coast and into Ningpo. The fight began afloat
and ashore. Bullets whistled everywhere; the distracted lorchamen
ran wildly about, hoping to escape the inevitable. Some of the
poor wretches reached the British Consulate, alive or half alive,
clamouring for shelter; but Mr. Meadows, then Consul, refused to let
them in, fearing to turn the riot from an anti-Portuguese disturbance
into an anti-foreign outbreak, and the unfortunate creatures
frantically beat on the closed gates in vain.

Perhaps much of their fate was well deserved--some historians say
so--but it was none the less terrible when it came; and I can imagine
that the predicament of Meadows and young Hart, standing behind the
barred gates of the Consulate, could have been little worse, mentally,
than that of the wretches outside praying to them in the name of
Heaven and the saints for shelter.

All were hunted down at last, dragged out of their hiding-places in
old Chinese graves among the paddy fields, butchered where they stood
defending their lodging-house, or taken prisoners only to be put on
one of their own lorchas, towed a little way up the river and slowly
roasted to death. Then, "last scene of all," the Cantonese stormed the
Portuguese Consulate, pillaged and wrecked the building, and were
just climbing on to the flat roof to haul down the flag when a stately
white cloud appeared far down the river, serenely floating towards the
disturbed city.

It was the French warship _Capricieuse_, under full sail. She had
come straight from South America and put in at Ningpo after her long
voyage, all unconscious of the terrible events passing there. Was
ever an arrival more providential? I greatly doubt it; for had she not
appeared in this miraculous fashion, who knows what would have come to
the handful of white men left in that last outpost of civilization?

Such was Robert Hart's first experience of a fight, but it was by no
means to be his only one. Bugles have sounded in his ears from first
to last, and a wide variety of military experiences--he was present
at the taking of one city and during the siege of another--has come to
him without his seeking it.

From Ningpo he was transferred to Canton in March 1858, and made
Secretary to the Allied Commission governing that city. Life was very
different there from what it had been in Ningpo. Instead of the small
community to which he had been accustomed, he found himself in a town
filled with troops--British and French. Instead of living alone
or with one companion, he occupied quarters in a big yamên full of
officers and men--a change which probably benefited a character too
given to seriousness and introspection.

The work in Canton was exceedingly interesting. He was much more
in the centre of affairs than he had been before, and he had the
opportunity of serving under Sir Harry Parkes. With some of the
erraticness that is said to belong to genius, Parkes enjoyed doing
things at odd hours. He liked to fall asleep after dinner, for
instance, with a big cigar in his mouth, then wake refreshed and
energetic at midnight, and work till morning. But he never expected
his staff to follow his example, and was consideration itself to those
under him--especially to young Hart, whom he liked from the first, and
whom he always took with him on his expeditions around or outside the
city.

There was no lack of these, since he was a man of indomitable energy,
matured his plans with astonishing rapidity, and often had them
carried out before any one suspected they were maturing.

The story of one particular little _coup d'état_ is well worth the
telling. A new Viceroy was expected in Canton, and Parkes heard that
the man who was filling the Acting Appointment was anxious to go out
of the city to meet his successor. At the same time he was told that
if the official left the city, the occasion would be taken to make a
disturbance, so he determined to use a sudden and vigorous stratagem
to keep the Acting Viceroy within the walls, willing or no.
Accordingly one morning he invited all the officials to discuss
matters at the said Viceroy's yamên, and went himself to the
rendezvous with Hart and an escort of military police.

He greeted the assembled officials cordially, and, after some
preliminary remark, went on to say: "I hear that you are all anxious
to go and meet the new Viceroy. Very natural, I'm sure; very natural
and obviously your duty. But we really do not want you to leave Canton
just at this particular moment. Ugly rumours are floating about which
only your presence here keeps in check. Therefore, as we realize that
if you do not go to meet your colleague, you will be accused in Peking
of lack of courtesy towards him, that none of your excuses will be
believed, I have brought a few men with me to keep guard outside
your rooms here. You can consequently say with truth that you were
_prevented from fulfilling_ your duty."

Astonished and angry as they were at the turn of events, the Chinese
were shrewd enough to see they were helpless. The soldiers stayed.
Hart went every day to inquire after the prisoners, and listened to
their complaints about the ceaseless tread of the sentries under their
windows all night. "They never seem to sit down like other people,"
one of the Chinese said pathetically. "They walk all night, all
night, and we cannot sleep." Parkes sent sympathetic messages, but he
remained courteously firm. Perhaps he thought a few wakeful hours were
not too high a price to pay for keeping Canton quiet.

There was one official, however, who had not been caught with the
rest. He was Fantai, or Provincial Treasurer, who remained quietly
hidden in a temple in one of the western suburbs till Parkes ferreted
him out. He and Hart and the mounted police then made a second
expedition. As soon as they reached the outer door of the place,
Parkes jumped off his pony and rushed in with such impetuosity that
the crowds of servants running before him had no time to warn their
master of the intruders' arrival. Parkes continued his rapid career
straight into the inner room, where the Fantai himself sat at a table
strewn with papers, absolutely calm, serene and unmoved. Parkes began
to talk; the Fantai remained silent. No matter, Parkes was very adroit
at carrying on a one-sided interview, and conversation did not flag.

"I've come to pay you a visit," said he; "and though you have not
mentioned your pleasure at meeting a new acquaintance, I am sure it
is none the less deep. Ah," he went on, looking over the paper-strewn
table, "you have even been kind enough to lay aside your work on my
account. Let us see. You were writing letters," and Parkes thereupon
read the finished and unfinished despatches under the Fantai's very
eye, then profusely thanked him for the useful information.

The Chinese sat superbly contemptuous through it all, and finally spat
over his shoulder, putting enough scorn into the action to freeze
the boldest. Yet Parkes had the gift of looking unconscious the whole
time, and babbled on gaily:

"You don't seem very talkative to-day--but of course, sometimes one
feels more in the mood for conversation than others. Besides, there
is no need for you to tell me any of your news. I have found out
everything I wanted to know from these papers here." He had indeed;
they contained the most important revelations as to the prospective
movements of the Chinese troops outside the city, and also showed
exactly how far the officials inside were co-operating with them.

There was no further need to prolong the interview, and Parkes began
to make his adieus. In China, these are not the slight things they are
with us. Host and guest have mutual obligations; the former, unless
he is willing to risk being thought uncivil, must escort a visitor of
rank to the outer gate himself. But the Fantai cared little whether he
was thought civil or not, and he sat stolidly in his chair when Parkes
made a move to go. He reckoned without his--guest, who was not the man
to be slighted.

"I am sorry to take you away from your pressing business," said Parkes
affably, "but if you should neglect to s'ung (literally, bid farewell
in the ceremonial manner) me, people might think that we are not the
good friends we are; people might even suspect that our political
relations are unsatisfactory. Therefore I must with great reluctance
trouble you." The Fantai, helpless, accompanied him grudgingly to the
door of the inner courtyard, whence he was about to beat a retreat
when Parkes said again, insinuatingly and half under his breath, "Oh,
come a little farther, please do; there are not enough people here to
see our good-byes."

The same scene was gone through at each successive courtyard, and in
a big Chinese temple they are neither few nor small. Hart, who was
behind the other two, could scarcely stifle his amusement at the
half-snarling, half-contemptuous face of the Fantai as Parkes in one
phrase insisted _sotto voce_ on his coming farther, and in the next,
spoken a little louder for the benefit of listening servants and
secretaries, thanked him profusely for his great courtesy and
hospitality in seeing a humble guest so far. Only at the outermost
gate, around which a crowd had collected, all, in Chinese fashion,
asking who was within and what he had come about, was the irate Fantai
permitted to return to his interrupted labours--after he had satisfied
every canon of the elaborate courtesy.

Hart left his work under Sir Harry Parkes with real regret in October
1858, when he was promoted and appointed interpreter at the British
Consulate in Canton under Sir Rutherford Alcock; but in May 1859 he
resigned to enter the Chinese Imperial Maritime Customs. It was the
Viceroy Laou Tsung Kwang who invited him to do so, for he was one of
Hart's special friends, a shrewd judge of men, clever enough himself
and progressive for his day. He had been quick to notice the success
of the new Custom House at Shanghai, and presently asked young Hart if
he could not draw up a set of regulations for the collection of duty
at Canton, and undertake the work of supervision.

To this invitation Hart replied that Mr. H.N. Lay was in charge of the
Customs; that he, Hart, knew nothing about the business, having had
no experience of the sort, and could not therefore agree to the
proposals. But what he did agree to do was to write to Mr. Lay and
see if something could not be done to bring Canton into line with
Shanghai. The result of the correspondence, briefly put, was that
Mr. Lay first offered Robert Hart a position as interpreter, which
he refused, and later the post of Deputy-Commissioner of Customs
at Canton, which he accepted. Of course he had meanwhile asked the
British Government if he might resign from the Consular Service. Their
reply gave the desired permission, but stipulated at the same time
that he must not expect the acceptance of his resignation to imply
that he might return to the British service whenever he pleased.
Neither they nor he guessed then that he was beginning a work from
which he would have no wish to turn back, or that it would be they who
would finally beg him to return to their service, not as Consul, but
as Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary.



CHAPTER III

THE BEGINNINGS OF THE IMPERIAL CHINESE CUSTOMS--A VISIT TO
SIR FREDERICK BRUCE--THE SHERARD OSBORNE AFFAIR--APPOINTED
INSPECTOR-GENERAL


When Robert Hart joined the Chinese Imperial Maritime Customs, the
service was already four years old. 1854--the very year he passed
through Shanghai on his way to Ningpo--saw its beginning as an
international institution. A Chinese Superintendent had hitherto
collected duties for his Government, but, owing to the capture
of Shanghai by the rebels, affairs became so disorganized that he
appealed to the three Consuls of Great Britain, France and the United
States for help, and they responded by each appointing one of
their nationals to assist him in securing an honest and efficient
administration.

As far as the Chinese Government was concerned, the triumvirate
gave immediate and entire satisfaction. Duties increased, smuggling
diminished--all as a result of the new system, which was continued, by
the express desire of the Chinese officials, even after the city was
recaptured by the Imperial troops.

But the merchants on their side had no praise for an arrangement that
cut large slices off their profits. They found it exceedingly annoying
to be obliged to give the correct weight of their tea and silk under
penalty of forfeiture; as for calmly landing and shipping their goods
without permits, this was now out of the question. Yet what could they
do to circumvent these innovations? Nothing--but put every conceivable
difficulty, large and small, ingenious and obvious, in the way of the
new inspectors.

The Frenchman presently withdrew, the American, a consular official,
resigned in 1856, and the Englishman, Mr. (afterwards Sir Thomas)
Wade, a sensitive man, unable to endure the social boycott imposed on
him, did likewise. Mr. H.N. Lay, Vice-Consul and Interpreter in the
British Consulate at Shanghai, was then appointed to succeed Mr. Wade,
and, as the two other Powers concerned did not appoint successors
to their original nominees, he thereafter managed Chinese Customs
business alone.

Such, briefly told, is the history of the service which Robert Hart
joined as Deputy-Commissioner at Canton in 1859 at the suggestion of
the Canton Viceroy, Laou Tsung Kwang--which he was to build up and in
which he was to make his great name and reputation. From the first
he did better than well. He set to work at once on a series of
regulations for Custom House management. They were greatly needed--all
the internal arrangements of the infant service were in a chaotic
condition--and they were also greatly praised. The Viceroy himself was
delighted. Here was his own young _protégé_, by his diligence, by
his practical business capacity, by his unusual willingness to accept
responsibility and by the promises of administrative ability he was
giving, proving himself the very man to make the newly organized
Customs a success. The Viceroy had chosen better than he knew.

Two years--from 1859 to 1861--Robert Hart spent in Canton setting
affairs in order and working very hard in a hot, damp climate.
Curiously enough he was never ill, though many men of far greater
physical strength, of far tougher build, wilted in that steaming
atmosphere; he himself was always too busy, I think, for symptoms and
sickness.

During those years he had an unexpected meeting with an old friend.
Word having been brought to him that a ship from Macao was expected to
load teas at Komchuk--a place inland not open to trade--he started off
with a posse of tidewaiters on the revenue cruiser _Cumfa_, to seize
her. She was a shabby little vessel; her paint was scratched, her name
almost obliterated. Almost, but not quite; he was able to make out the
word _Shamrock_ at her bow, and on careful inquiry identified her as
the very vessel on which he had travelled to England as a boy; but
alas! a _Shamrock_ fallen on evil days, dilapidated by doubtful
adventures in distant seas, and debased to the low company of
smugglers.

In 1861 chance, luck, or Providence--call it what you will--once
again interfered in the humdrum routine of events to give Hart the
opportunity he had come half-way across the world to meet. A riot
broke out at Shanghai, and Mr. Lay, as he was walking down the main
street, was attacked by a man with a long knife and so severely
wounded that he was obliged to go to England on two years' leave in
order to recover his health.

Two of his subordinates were made Officiating Inspector-Generals in
his place: Fitzroy, formerly private secretary to Lord Elgin, at that
time Shanghai Commissioner, and Robert Hart. Both men had excellent
qualities; but while Fitzroy, who knew no Chinese, was content to
remain at Shanghai, his more active and energetic colleague travelled
to and fro establishing new offices.

The Tientsin Treaties having recently opened more ports to trade, and
the Chinese Government having repeatedly approved of the golden stream
of revenue pouring into their Treasury, Customs administration was
extended up and down the coasts as fast as the ports could be declared
"open"--to Ningpo, Foochow, Amoy, Swatow, Chinkiang, even so far north
as Tientsin, and British, French or German Commissioners put in charge
of each, in order that the original international character of the
service might be preserved.

Most of these ports welcomed the new order of things; but at one,
notably Hankow, difficulties arose, and Hart promptly started to clear
them up. At the time of his going both Wuhu and Nanking, two cities
on the Yangtsze, were still in the hands of the rebels, and the
river-steamer captain warned his passengers that the ship would stop
at Wuhu to get her papers from them. "Take my advice," said he, "and
remain quietly in your cabin from the time we stop until we leave, for
the rebels have the habit of coming on board, and were they to find
a man like yourself, a Government agent on Government business, they
would certainly take you ashore. They usually only look about the
saloon, however, and do not examine the cabins, so you will be safe
enough if you stay in yours."

Robert Hart gratefully accepted the advice, and, sitting on the edge
of his bunk, listened to the rebels talking in the saloon outside,
till, with a sigh of relief, he heard them leave the ship and allow
her to proceed on her way. That the danger had been real enough the
deserted river proved; terror of these same revolutionaries had
swept the usually busy waterway clean of craft, and nothing further
disturbed the quiet but the hoarse honk of wild geese and the whirring
of ducks' wings.

At Hankow the Viceroy, Kwan Wen, was as friendly personally as he
was obstinate officially. He did not desire to see the new system
enforced. Again and again he politely told Robert Hart that he was
wasting his time--that it was quite useless his remaining longer.

But as Robert Hart listened with equal politeness and remained,
the Viceroy's patience finally began to wear thin. He then sent
a subordinate official to make one last effort to persuade the
Officiating Inspector-General to go. This failed, just as the other
attempts at persuasion had failed. Hart simply told the man that he
was acting under orders, and further hinted that when he reported to
Peking and the Emperor Tung Chih heard that difficulties had been made
about the establishment of the Customs at Hankow, it would not look
well. "But the Emperor's name is not Tung Chih," remarked the Taotai
scornfully. "You should know that as well as I." "To me," retorted
Robert Hart calmly, "it seems equally strange that you as a Chinese
official do not know the name of your own Emperor."

He thereupon went to a drawer, took out a new _Peking Gazette_
announcing the famous _coup d'état_ of November 2nd, 1861, when Prince
Soo Sun's party was absolutely overthrown by the party of Prince Kung
and the Emperor's official style altered from Chi Hsiang ("Lucky") to
Tung Chih ("Pull Together"), and handed it to him. The man was utterly
surprised. This was the very first news of the important event
to reach Hankow, and as soon as it became generally known all the
officials who had hitherto shaped their actions to please Prince Soo
were quick to change their attitude. Even the Viceroy promptly sent
for Hart and begged him, with every expression of cordiality, to do
just as he pleased about everything; above all, to proceed with his
business immediately.

A few weeks later, all being in working order, the Officiating
Inspector-General was on his way down the river again. He had a
message for the other Yangtsze Viceroy, Tseun Kuo Fan, and accordingly
paid five hundred taels (£70) to stop the little steamer _Poyang_
for two hours at Nanking in order to deliver it. This message was
comparatively prosaic, concerning as it did nothing more interesting
than the Viceroy's views relative to some unimportant trade matters.

But the Viceroy's answer is worth recording. "You have asked me my
opinion on many matters," said old Tseun. "Some of these must be
settled direct with the Wai-Wu-Pu (the Foreign Office at Peking).
But I will tell you this much now. Whatever is good for Chinese and
foreigners I will support; whatever is good for foreigners and does
not harm Chinese I will approve; but whatever is bad for Chinese, no
matter how good it is for foreigners, I will die rather than consent
to." In this grand old statesman's confession of his political faith
it is good to find a convincing answer to the arguments of those who
pretend that there are no patriots in China.

Robert Hart's next mission was to Peking itself, the grey, wall-ringed
mediæval city where he was afterwards to spend so many years,
and where he stayed with Sir Frederick Bruce at the British
Legation--then, as now, housed in a fine old Chinese building.

[Illustration: A VIEW OF PEKING SHOWING CONDITION OF ROADS.]

Sir Frederick Bruce was a most striking type of man, like a straight,
healthy tree, most cordial in manner, with a beautiful voice that made
even oaths sound like splendid oratory, a keen intelligence flavoured
with a pinch of humour, and a great gift of diplomatic suavity.

Between himself and young Robert Hart a bond of friendship rapidly
grew--strong enough to bear the lapse of time and even the occasional
bursts of frank criticism to which the host treated his guest. At
least on one occasion it was very sharp indeed. Hart and another young
man (afterwards Sir Robert Douglas) had gone riding in the outer city
of Peking on the fifth of the fifth moon--a feast day--when, on their
way home, a yelling mob collected around them, shouting disrespectful
names and even throwing things at them. True, they did it all in a
spirit of playfulness, but a moment or a trifle might easily have
turned mischief into malice, and, realizing this, Hart pulled up
at one of the shops in the big street and asked the shopkeeper, a
respectable greybeard, to tell the crowd not to pass his shop door.

"But," said the old fellow, "we have nothing to do with these people."

"I know that," was the reply, "but if they misbehave themselves I
shall not be able to report them, because they are vagabonds who
will disappear into the holes and corners of the city. They would
be impossible to find again, but you are a man with a fixed place of
residence; it will be easy enough to find you. I see, by the way, your
shop is called 'Renewed Affluence' on the signboard. And if you plead
that the affair was no business of yours, people will never believe
that a word from a respectable man like yourself would not suffice to
control a crowd of ragamuffins."

Hart's use of this argument, so peculiarly Chinese in its reasoning,
showed how well he already understood the character of the people--how
well he appreciated the underlying principle of their community
life, the responsibility of a man for his neighbour's behaviour. The
shopkeeper was, of course, duly impressed. He spoke to the crowd and
they melted away.

But when at luncheon Hart told his host how narrowly he had escaped
rough treatment, all the satisfaction he got was: "Served you right,
you two young fools, riding about where you were not wanted. Served
you right, I say. If I had been there I'd have had a shy at you
myself."

This remark was characteristic of Sir Frederick Bruce, who, either
from character or experience, or both, took a conservative view of
everything--even of trifles. I know Robert Hart afterwards attributed
some of his own caution to his friend's example. "In all things go
slowly," Bruce was wont to say in his booming, bell-like tone.
"Never be in a hurry---especially don't be in a hurry about answering
letters. If you leave things long enough and quiet enough they answer
themselves, whereas if you hurry matters balanced on the edge of a
precipice, they often topple over instead of settling and remaining
comfortably there for ever."

During Hart's visit to Peking a very important question arose
concerning the policing of the China Seas. Great Britain had
hitherto been doing the work, but the arrangement was considered
unsatisfactory. The first idea that China should invest in a fleet of
her own came up in the course of a friendly conversation between the
British Minister and the Officiating Inspector-General.

Later, when they had talked the subject over at length, and Bruce
asserted that Great Britain would probably be willing to lend officers
and sell ships of war to China for the nucleus of the proposed
navy, Hart laid the matter before Prince Kung. There were endless
negotiations, the difficulty and delicacy of which cannot be
exaggerated. But they ended satisfactorily.

[Illustration: A ROAD IN OLD PEKING DURING THE RAINY SEASON.]

Prince Kung memorialized the Throne, with the result that £250,000
was directed to be set aside for the purpose. Then, at Robert Hart's
suggestion, the money was sent to the Inspector-General--Mr.
Lay--to be spent by him in England, together with a long letter
of instructions (written by Prince Kung) urging Lay to purchase
everything as soon as possible, and to see that the "work put into the
vessels should be strong and the materials genuine."

This delicious phrase, a true touch of human nature, is solemnly
recorded in one of the despatches, and may still be seen in the
correspondence on the subject in the Blue Book for the year.

It is only fair to point out that it was Robert Hart who stated that
"the ability of the Inspector-General is great; that he possesses
a mind which embraces the minutest details, and is therefore fully
competent to make the necessary arrangements with a more than
satisfactory result," when he might so easily have used his great and
growing personal influence with the Chinese (he was a _persona grata_
with them from the beginning) to undermine his chief.

How the fleet "of genuine materials" came out with all despatch under
the celebrated Captain Sherard Osborne and various other officers
lent by the Admiralty, is a matter of history. The reputations of its
commanders--for all were men of distinction--should have ensured its
success if anything could have done so. But from the very moment the
fleet reached Shanghai there were misunderstandings. Captain Osborne
found himself subject to local officials whose control he resented.

The truth was Lay had somewhat altered the regulations drawn up by
Robert Hart and approved by Prince Kung, and had then told Captain
Osborne that of course the Chinese would agree to anything he wished.
Subsequent events proved him wrong, and showed that he had made the
fatal mistake of committing his employers too far. Perhaps this was
not unnatural considering that he was just then receiving the most
flattering notice from the British press and a C.B. from the British
Government for his services--yet it was none the less disastrous.

In May 1863 Lay returned to Shanghai, and, Robert Hart's acting
appointment having come to an end, he was made Commissioner at
Shanghai, with charge of the Yangtsze ports, the position being
specially created for him by Prince Kung in order to give him more
authority than would belong to the simple Commissioner of a port. That
same autumn the Sherard Osborne affair came to a crisis. Returning
from a trip up the Yangtsze, Hart found Lay and Li Hung Chang at
daggers drawn. The former had just peremptorily demanded a large sum
of money to provision the fleet, and the latter had flatly refused to
put his hand in his pocket without official orders to do so,
Robert Hart, who very shrewdly guessed at the real cause of the
misunderstanding, offered to go and see Li and explain. Very tactfully
he told Li that all Lay and Captain Osborne wanted was his formal
sanction to present at the bank, as without this the transaction would
not have the necessary official character. Li agreed readily enough
when the matter was presented in this light; what he had objected to
was Lay's abrupt demand to pay so many thousand taels out of his own
pocket immediately.

But no small manoeuvre such as this, however successful, could arrange
the larger matter. The fleet had been an utter failure. Osborne
himself was disgusted; the Chinese were dissatisfied. They therefore
made the best of a bad bargain, and sent the ships back to be sold
in England in order to prevent their falling into the hands of the
independent and quarrelsome Daimios of Japan, or, as Mr. Burlingame,
the United States Minister, greatly feared, into the hands of the
Confederates.

Thus ended a very curious incident which, by closing as it did,
undoubtedly set back the clock of reform in China. It may be that from
the political point of view this was as well; that, had the venture
been an unqualified success, the Chinese might have thrown themselves
too much into the arms of foreign Powers and tried to reform too
fast by slavish imitation instead of slowly working out their own
salvation.

As far as he was personally concerned the disastrous and expensive
failure long preyed upon Robert Hart's mind. He reproached himself
bitterly for the mistake. But the Chinese never attached the least
blame to him; they showed him no diminution of respect, rather an
increase. It was on the Inspector-General H.N. Lay that their wrath
fell. They considered that he had treated the whole matter too
high-handedly, and within three months they had dismissed him and
offered the post to Robert Hart. Of course the change gave rise to
much discussion, and Sherard Osborne went frankly to Hart and told him
how ill-natured people were hinting that he had intrigued against
Lay. The malignity of idle gossip, however, could not turn him back.
Knowing that he had worked as loyally for his chief as for himself, he
simply replied that if the public looked at it in that way, instead of
refusing he would certainly accept the post. I wonder if any instinct
told him that the great day of his life was when he _did_ accept it,
or if he had any premonition of the useful and romantic career before
him?

The characters of the two Inspector-Generals, the one outgoing, the
other incoming, contrasted very strangely. Lay was inclined to be
dictatorial and rather impatient of Chinese methods; an excellent
and clever man, but with one point of view and one only. Hart, on the
other hand, was tactful, patient, and, above all else, tolerant
of other people's prejudices. "To grow a little catholic," says
Stevenson, "is the compensation of years." But Robert Hart was
catholic in this broad sense even when he was young. He would
sometimes say that the habit of toleration he acquired at college, and
through the most simple incident.

Seven or eight of the Belfast students were one day asked to describe
what would seem to be the simplest thing in the world to describe--a
packing-case. And yet every man, after stating the simple fact that he
saw a packing-case, had something different to say about it. One, who
stood on the right, described an address written in black letters;
another, who stood at one end, dwelt on the iron hoops that bound the
box; a third gave prominence to the long nails studding a corner.
Thus each, according to his view-point, saw that same commonplace
packing-case in a different way. After this practical demonstration
Robert Hart never in his life could grow impatient with a man who did
not see exactly what he saw when both were standing on opposite sides
of a question.



CHAPTER IV

ORDERED TO LIVE AT SHANGHAI--FIRST MEETING WITH "CHINESE GORDON"--THE
RECONCILIATION BETWEEN GORDON AND LI HUNG CHANG--THE TAKING OF
CHANG-CHOW-FU--DISBANDMENT OF "THE EVER-VICTORIOUS ARMY"--REWARDS FOR
GORDON


The first order transmitted by Prince Kung to the new
Inspector-General--or the I.G., as he was always familiarly
called--was that he should live at Shanghai. This gave him the
opportunity of meeting and working with the famous "Chinese Gordon,"
to whom the suppression of the Taiping Rebellion was so largely due.
For the history of that rebellion--how one soldier of fortune after
the other attempted to suppress it; how the picturesque American
Burgevine, on changing masters and seeking to better his fortune with
the rebels, was succeeded by the prosaic failure Holland; how at last,
on General Staveley's recommendation, Charles Gordon was lent with
several other young officers to the Imperialist cause--the reader must
go (and will thank me for sending him) to some of the many historians
who have immortalized the struggle.

Nothing remains to be told about that terrible war--except the part
that Robert Hart accidentally played in it.

His first meeting with Gordon was planned for October 1863, when
Major-General Brown, commanding the troops at Hongkong, came up
to Shanghai for the express purpose of seeing the brilliant young
commander of what was already known as "The Ever-Victorious
Army." Gordon sent the _Firefly_ to take the General and the
Inspector-General up the Soochow Creek to Quinsan, where he then
was, and on a certain Sunday morning they intended to have started.
Fortunately, as it afterwards turned out, Fate interfered at this
point.

The English mail arrived suddenly on Saturday night with important
despatches; the General sent his A.D.C. to say that he could not
possibly leave until they were answered; and so, reluctantly, the
visit was postponed--as the two men thought, for a few days, but in
reality for much longer. Next morning the A.D.C. hurried round
again almost before Hart was out of bed, and this time with the most
sensational news--the _Firefly_ had been boarded as she lay at her
moorings by foreign friends of the rebels, carried up stream, and
burnt. Both her European engineers had mysteriously disappeared.

The whole affair, of course, was a plot as deep laid as diabolical,
hatched by the rebels for the purpose of getting rid of General Brown,
who they feared was about to reinforce Gordon. But for the timely
arrival of those pressing despatches it would have succeeded, and he
and the I.G. would have been trapped and quietly murdered.

Not till the spring of 1864 did the delayed meeting finally take
place. There had been a serious difference of opinion between Gordon
and Li Hung Chang--a difference which arose over the taking of
Soochow. When the city, thanks to Gordon's co-operation, was captured,
certain of the Taiping princes agreed to surrender. General Ching went
to interview them outside one of the city gates, taking Gordon with
him. His idea was that if the great General Gordon showed the rebels
that he had actually been concerned in the successful operations
against them, they would be the more likely to consider further
resistance hopeless. Gordon, on the other hand, thought his presence
would be taken by them to mean surety for their safety. It was not an
unnatural misunderstanding, seeing that Gordon spoke no Chinese, that
neither the rebels nor General Ching understood English, and that
there was no interpreter present.

In the end the rebellious princes surrendered, not from any feeling
that Gordon's presence would ensure the sparing of their lives, but
because they believed--just as General Ching shrewdly guessed they
would--that his presence in Soochow made it useless to continue the
struggle. Had they only been wise enough to retire gracefully from
the field, all would have been well. But they swaggered into
Li's presence. "They appeared"--so an eyewitness described the
scene--"rather like leaders in a position to dictate terms than men
sharing in an act of clemency." They even had the audacity to suggest
that Li should pay their soldiers--_their_ soldiers, who had fought
_him_, mind you--and divide the city of Soochow by a great wall,
leaving half of it in rebel hands.

Naturally he refused to do either of these things; how could he
possibly agree to such quixotic demands? But through his refusal, he
found himself face to face with the problem of what to do with
the surrendered Wangs. He might keep them prisoners--that would be
difficult; or he might summarily behead them--and that would be easy.
The latter action must certainly be open to the ugly suspicion of
treachery, but he had as his excuse that the city was under martial
law, and that prompt and vigorous measures might be the means of
saving more bloodshed in the end. Accordingly he ordered the immediate
execution of the surrendered chiefs.

When Gordon heard of it he was as angry as only a passionate nature
such as his could be. The idea that his unspoken word of honour to
helpless prisoners had been broken for him made him mad with fury. Out
into the city he went, revolver in hand, to look for Li, and to avenge
what he called the "murder." His sense of his own guilt was certainly
morbid; morbid too was his treatment of the head of the Na Wang,
which he found exposed in an iron lantern on one of the city gates.
He brought it home, kept it for days beside him, even laying it on his
bed, and kneeling and asking forgiveness beside it. The Na Wang's son
he adopted into his bodyguard. No father could have treated his
own child more tenderly. I believe not once but a dozen times in an
afternoon he would turn to the boy and ask wistfully, "Who are you?"
receiving the same soft answer, "I am your son," each time with the
same pleasure.

Almost immediately after the decapitation of the Wangs, Gordon, still
fuming with rage, suddenly determined to break off all relations with
Li, to retire to Quinsan, and to take his "Ever-Victorious Army" with
him. Though his friends, singly and in company, did their best to
dissuade him from this rash course, and pointed out the consequences,
he would not listen, and he went.

The Chinese Government took fright at Gordon's dramatic move--there
was no knowing what he might do next--(I wonder if in the back of
their minds they had a sneaking fear he might join the rebels like
Burgevine?)--and consequently they thought it wisdom to send the I.G.
to make peace--since peace was so badly needed.

Robert Hart, in his new rôle of military arbitrator, left Shanghai
on January 19th by boat, creeping slowly through the canals. The
desolation along both banks was pitiful; every village had been
burned, every field trampled; not a living thing was in sight--not
even a dog--but the creeks were choked with corpses. No man could
pass through such a dreary waste unmoved, least of all one who had the
slightest power to alter the sad conditions, and Robert Hart met Li at
Soochow with his determination to do all in his power to reconcile him
with Gordon, and so end the war quickly, greatly strengthened.

Li promptly explained his action by justifying his policy from his own
point of view, and finally ended by saying, "Do tell Gordon I
never meant to do it; I meant to keep my word as to the Princes'
safe-conduct; but when I saw those fellows come in with their hair
long, the very sign of rebellion, and only wearing the white badge
of submission in their buttonholes, I thought it such insolence that
anger overcame me, and I gave the order for their execution. But it
was my doing, not Gordon's; my safe-conduct, not Gordon's, that had
been violated. Tell him that I am ready to proclaim far and wide that
he had nothing to do with it, so that he loses no reputation by it.
Can you not make peace with him for me?"

To find Gordon at that time was no easy matter. He was moving
about very rapidly. With his wonderful eye for country, he saw at a
glance--almost by instinct--a point that ought to be taken in order to
command other points, and wasted no time over the taking of it. Thus
he was never long in any particular spot, and Robert Hart had a
week's search before he came up with him at Quinsan. Truly that was
an exciting week's journey, I can promise you, dodging up and down
canals, expecting every moment to run round a corner into a rebel
camp--yet fortunately never doing it--in fact, doing nothing at all
more exciting than listening to the cries of startled pheasants.

Gordon greeted the I.G. very cordially and held a parade in his
honour, just by way of celebrating his arrival. That march past was
unforgettable. Though the soldiers were commonplace enough, plain
and businesslike the officers, of whom Gordon had about thirty of all
ages, sizes and tastes, usually designed their own uniforms, which
were sometimes fantastic, to say the least. On this great occasion you
may be sure none had neglected to appear in the fullest of full dress,
with highly comical results. Indeed their efforts amused Gordon so
much that all the time they were advancing he kept repeating as he
rubbed his hands gleefully together, "Go it, ye cripples; go it, ye
cripples!"

By contrast, he himself, the commander of them all, appeared so simple
in his long blue frock coat--the old uniform of the Engineers--with
his trousers tucked roughly into his big boots and a little cane, the
only weapon he ever carried--"I am too hot tempered for any other" he
would often say laughingly of himself--in his hand. This simplicity,
this utter absence of affectation, was the keynote to his
character--just as it was the keynote of Robert Hart's character.
Because both possessed it to an unusual degree, each understood the
other--and at once.

[Illustration: SIR ROBERT HART ABOUT 1866.]

Within a week of the I.G.'s arrival Gordon's fit of gloom, brought on
by the affair of the Wangs, was dissipating; within two it was gone,
for a character of such violent "downs" must have equally mercurial
"ups"; within three he capitulated to argument and agreed to go back
to Soochow and see Li. Impulsive and generous as ever, he then wished
that Hart should say he (Hart) had induced him to come to Li. "That
will give you immense influence with the Chinese," he declared. But
Hart would not have it so; he preferred to tell Li that Gordon
had come of his own free will, knowing that this would please Li
personally far more.

The three-cornered meeting passed off well. As little as possible
was said about past disagreements, as much as possible about future
agreements, and the end of it was that Gordon agreed to take the field
again. At the same time the I.G. took care to suggest the removal of
an excuse for future misunderstandings in the person of an officious,
inefficient interpreter whom Robert Hart himself described as a
"'Talkee talkee, me-no-savey,' the sort of person whose attempt at
Mandarin [official Chinese] is even viler than his English."

There then remained nothing more to do in Soochow, and Hart and Gordon
started back together to Quinsan, though not before they had visited
the historic Soochow stockades together, and Gordon, taking his friend
over every disputed foot of ground, had vividly described the bloody
fighting there--the victory so pleasant to remember, the tragedy so
difficult to forget.

I doubt if anything he ever did in China gave Robert Hart greater
pleasure than this reconciliation, or if there was any other single
episode in his career in which he took more pride; though he spoke of
it so seldom and so modestly that scarcely any one--certainly not
the public--knew of what he had done. It cost him a few friends among
minor officials who thought that negotiations should have passed
through their hands rather than his. But his old friend Sir Frederick
Bruce, to whom he wrote a report of the whole affair (afterwards
included in the Blue Book for 1864), took genuine pleasure in his
success, while the Chinese gratitude was unbounded; they realized very
clearly what the extremity had been and the difficulty from which they
had been rescued.

Three months after the reconciliation (April 28th) Robert Hart
went once again to see Gordon and to be present at the taking of
Chang-Chow-Fu. This was one of those typical water cities of Central
China, walled in of course and with a canal--the Grand Canal in this
case--doing duty for a moat. Gordon's headquarters were in boats,
and Hart and his little party--one of whom, Colonel Mann Stuart,
afterwards helped to keep the line of communications open for Gordon
in Khartoum--moored his flotilla alongside. The largest vessel of the
fleet was the common dining-room, and owed its excellent ventilation
to two holes opposite each other torn out close to the ceiling by a
shell while Gordon had been lunching a few days before.

This taking of Chang-Chow-Fu was to be a sight worth seeing--the
culminating point of the whole campaign. Nowhere had the rebels fought
with greater obstinacy or gathered in greater numbers. One spy told
Gordon that he had forty thousand soldiers against him; another
fifty thousand; a third a hundred thousand. It was impossible to get
accurate information. He only knew that twice the rebels were strong
enough to repulse the Imperialist attacks and that he himself was
determined to lead the third--from which there could be no turning
back. "You," said he to Robert Hart, "must arrange with Li that, if
I fall, some one is ready to take my place." Major Edwardes, also a
Royal Engineer, was the man chosen; but, after all, his services were
not needed.

The great attack was fixed for the 11th of May. On the 10th Gordon
determined to find out all he could about the position of the rebels
on the city wall, so taking a small party, which included Hart and two
of his faithful bodyguard, he went out to reconnoitre. No sooner had
the Taipings recognized the Ever-Victorious Leader than they pelted
shots at him. The wooden screen behind which he took shelter looked
in a very few minutes as if it were suffering from an acute attack of
smallpox.

But Gordon, with his usual miraculous luck--in his fighting before
more than twenty cities he was only once wounded--escaped scot-free,
though one of his bodyguard got a bullet in his chest. With all
possible haste the poor fellow was taken back to the doctor's boat,
and the surgeon began poking his fingers into the wound to find the
ball. It was not a pleasant operation for the guardsman, and he made
some grimaces, much to the amusement of several of his companions, who
stood on the bank and jeered at his lack of courage. Those jeers, in
addition to the pain, exasperated him greatly, and Hart, whose
boat was moored next to the doctor's overheard the man say to his
companions, "Yes, it's all very well for you to laugh, but if you had
a rebel fiend's bullet in your chest, and a foreign devil's fingers
groping after it, you would make more fuss than I do."

Very early in the morning of the 11th all was in readiness. The guns
from the various batteries around the city began to play. They barked
and roared until noon, when Gordon gave the order to "Cease fire."
"You see," he remarked to Hart by way of explanation, "those beggars
inside will be completely thrown off their guard by the silence. They
will take it that we have finished work for the day."

Gordon then snatched a hasty lunch, and at one o'clock the signal
was given for the big attack by four soldiers waving red flags on the
little hill where Li Hung Chang's tent stood. From this hill Hart
and Li stood together to watch the operations. Three rushes were
made simultaneously--two feints, and one led by Gordon himself. How
splendidly he called his men on, how he flourished his little cane,
just as though it had been a lance with flying pennant! I can imagine
how the watchers held their breath with excitement. "They're in--no,
they're out; no, they're in," one said to the other, I'm sure, till at
last they _were_ in, Gordon himself the very first to dash through
the narrow breach, his too reckless exposure of his own precious life
redeemed by the inspiring audacity of his presence.

The spectacular moment was over, but work still remained to be
done. The rebels immediately attempted a turning movement, which if
successful, threatened the artillery camp, and Gordon sent post haste
to Li with a request for more troops to help him. Li turned to the
I.G. in despair. "What can I do?" he said. "All my men are scattered
over the city looting by this time. How shall I collect them?" Hart
persuaded Li to send messengers and try. Meantime, luckily, the rebels
dispersed and the city fell.

They fled wildly in every direction, dropping flags, rifles, and the
fans without which no Chinese soldier of the old regime ever went to
war, as they ran. From the grey belt of city wall the I.G. looked down
on the whole tragic panorama. Fires were burning north, east, south
and west. In one street he saw an old woman hobble out of a house
supported by her two sons. Just before they could reach shelter a
narrow stone bridge over a pond had to be crossed. The old woman
limped pitifully to the middle, when a shrill ping rang out. A
sharpshooter's bullet struck her; she toppled over into the water,
while the men took to their heels and fled back into the smoke of the
burning building.

Similar horrors took place in nearly every lane; men were struck down
in the attitudes of escape, and the hateful lean dogs that infest
Chinese cities crept stealthily out of holes and corners.

As Robert Hart turned away from these sights and descended the ramp of
the wall, he noticed a dozen little boys following him, naked urchins
with uncombed hair on shoulders. Some of Li Hung Chang's men, seeing
them too, rushed up, rolling their sleeves high and flourishing
swords. Here, thought they, was an excellent opportunity to gain
favour with their master by cutting off some rebel heads and
exaggerating the exploit into a severe fight. But the I.G. immediately
stepped between, showed his revolver, and threatened to shoot the
first man who stirred a step nearer to the boys. "Are you not ashamed
to fight with children?" said he, and they slunk off.

At the end of the day, when he returned to the boats, the whole ragged
troop was there waiting, their number increased by a little fellow
of six or seven years, the son of the Taiping Wang (Prince) of
Chang-Chow-Fu, who had been left behind in the confusion and rescued
by Gordon from his father's burning palace. He was adopted at once by
the party, made much of, petted, and consoled for his fall from high
estate by being placed in the seat of honour; and he caused great
amusement to the assembled company by the matter-of-fact way in which
he accepted his dignity and looked about with serious eyes, as if to
say, "This is just what I am accustomed to."

Yet he ill repaid the care that was lavished on him till he grew to
manhood. Clothes, food, some education, and finally a position on one
of the Customs cruisers, were given to him. He wasted no breath in
thanks to his generous captors; but one day, when the wild fighting
blood in his veins asserted itself, disappeared. Nor from that day to
this has anything been heard of the errant princeling.

What to do with the other children was a problem. All could not be
adopted: so the youngest, a winning little fellow of ten years, who
lisped out "Lo Atsai" when asked his name, remained at headquarters,
while the rest were sent off to find their friends.

Lo Atsai was promptly handed over to the cook--with no cannibal
intent, but simply to be washed. "The energy and enthusiasm that cook
put into his task," the I.G. would remark when telling the story,
"made the whole operation most ludicrous. Into the river the child was
plunged again and again, our chef holding him stoutly by the hair all
the time as he bobbed up and down between the boats and the unsavoury
corpses sticking there, till he was considered clean enough to be
hauled on board again."

This little child, son of humble parents, was destined to rise far
higher in the world than the prince's son who sat in the place of
honour while Lo Atsai ingratiated himself with the servants in the
confined kitchen quarters of the boat. Because of his whole-hearted
allegiance, the I.G. sent him to school in Hongkong, where he improved
his opportunities so well that the Head Master, reporting on him,
could only say, "He is too conscientious; he will kill himself with
study."

He was truly wearing himself out with diligence, when a rich merchant
took a fancy to him and gave him a good position; then another gave
him a better, so that in a few years he had become a very rich man.

It is nice to add--for the benefit of those who sneer at Chinese
gratitude--that at every new year he would travel, no matter how far
away he might be, to see his old patron and friend. Nor did he ever
grow too grand to go into the kitchen afterwards and gossip with
the servants, sitting down in his sable robes and peacock's feathers
without thought of snobbery, without desire to make himself appear
great in humble eyes.

Chang-Chow-Fu was the last city Gordon took. Its fall closed his
career, and the I.G. arranged most of the details regarding the
disbandment of the famous "Ever-Victorious Army." He did more; once
again he smoothed out a difficulty for the too impulsive Gordon. At
the close of the rebellion the Chinese showed towards Gordon a warmth
of feeling which it has seldom been their habit to show to foreigners.
They thereupon begged Sir Frederick Bruce to advise them as to what
would be a suitable reward to offer him for his valuable services to
the Imperial cause. Finally a gratuity of £3,000 (Tls. 18,000) was
decided upon; but when Gordon got wind of this, he was so furious at
being treated like what he called "an adventurer," that he chased the
messenger out of the camp.

Now the Chinese were utterly at a loss to understand a man who grew
furious at the offer of a large sum of money, such an occurrence being
without precedent. As usual in times of perplexity, they asked the
ever-tactful I.G. to sound Gordon as to what he _would_ accept. "Tell
Wen Hsiang" (then Premier), was Gordon's answer, "that though I have
refused the money, I would like a Chinese costume." Accordingly, by
Imperial Decree, a costume was sent him, and, on Hart's suggestion,
the famous Yellow Jacket was added. Gordon afterwards had his
portrait painted in the full regalia, and, like a glorified Chinese
Field-Marshal in his quaint garb, he still looks down from over the
mantelpiece in the Royal Engineers' mess-room at Chatham.

Once again before his tragic death this strange soldier of destiny
was to see China, though on this second visit he did not meet his old
friend Robert Hart. He came in the early eighties direct from India,
where he had been Private Secretary to the Viceroy. The position never
suited his too independent character, and when the Chinese, perplexed
over Russian questions, invited him to the Middle Kingdom, he gladly
accepted their invitation.

Unfortunately the visit was a failure. His advice was unpractical, and
though, as the first prophet of "China for the Chinese," he found
a fundamental truth, he found it too soon for immediate utility. On
political matters he and the I.G. disagreed; the latter was far too
wise to hold with Gordon's somewhat visionary idea that China could
raise an army as good as the best in the twinkling of an eye; and when
Gordon left Peking after a very short stay, he left disappointed and
disgusted.

It was, however, characteristic of him that before he had got farther
than Hongkong he wrote an affectionate letter to his old friend,
acknowledging himself in the wrong and giving the highest praise to
that friend's policy. This, with all the rest of Gordon's letters to
the I.G., was burned in the Boxer outbreak of 1900.

But what nothing could destroy was Robert Hart's admiration for the
soldier hero. If the apparent inconsistencies of his character were
numerous, all of them added force and picturesqueness to it, and only
served to increase the affection of one who knew him and understood
him most thoroughly.



CHAPTER V

ORDERED TO LIVE IN PEKING--"WHAT A BYSTANDER SAYS"--A RETURN TO
EUROPE--MARRIAGE--CHINA ONCE AGAIN--THE BURLINGAME MISSION--FIRST
DECORATION--THE "WASA" OF SWEDEN AND NORWAY


When his share in the arrangements for the disbandment of "The
Ever-Victorious Army" was completed, the I.G. received a second order
directing him to live at Peking. In those days Peking was the very
last corner of the world. Eighty miles inland, not even the sound of
a friendly ship's whistle could help an exiled imagination cross the
gulf to far-away countries, while railways were, of course, still
undreamed of.

The only two means of reaching the capital were by springless cart
over the grey alkali plains, or by boat along the Grand Canal.
Both were slow; neither was enjoyable, but since the latter perhaps
presented fewer discomforts, Robert Hart chose to spend a week in the
monotonous scenery of mudbanks, and land at Tungchow, a little town
some fifteen miles from his destination. Thence he made his way over
a roughly paved stone causeway--one of those roads that the Chinese
proverb says is "good for ten years and bad for ten thousand"--between
endless fields of high millet to the biggest gate of Peking itself.

To step through the gate was to step back into the Middle Ages--into
the times of Ghenghiz Khan. The street leading from it was nobly
planned--broad, generous; but rough and uneven like the hastily
made highway from one camp to another. Rough, too, were the vehicles
traversing it; the oddly assorted teams, mules, donkeys and Mongolian
ponies, went unclipped and ungroomed; the drivers went unwashed.
Loathsome beggars sat in the gilded doorways of the fur-shops, the
incongruity of their rags against the background of barbaric splendour
evidently appealing to none of the passers-by who hurried about their
business in a cloud of dust.

At sundown the noise and bustle ceased; the big city gates closed with
a clang, and the municipal guard, for all the world like Dogberry and
his watch, made their rounds beating wooden clappers, not in the hope
of catching, but rather in the hope of frightening malefactors away.

[Illustration: UNDER THE PEKING CITY WALL TOWARDS TUNGCHOW--ALONG THE
GRAND CANAL.]

Yet Robert Hart had already seen far queerer places--and lonelier. I
am thinking now of Formosa, that strange land of adventure where the
veriest good-for-nothings, stranded by chance, have "owned navies and
mounted the steps of thrones," and where he spent some time in 1864
inspecting the Custom Houses.

A most amusing story was told him on his travels there--a story
too good to leave unrepeated, though he personally had no part in
it--unless the laugh at the end can be called a part. During one of
those terrible storms which periodically sweep the shores of Formosa,
an American vessel was wrecked and her crew eaten by the aborigines.
The nearest American Consul thereupon journeyed inland to the savage
territory in order to make terms with the cannibals for future
emergencies. Unfortunately the chiefs refused to listen, and would
have nothing to do with the agreement prepared for their signature.
The Consul was irritated by their obstinacy; he had a bad temper and
a glass eye, and when he lost the first, the second annoyed him. Under
great stress of excitement he occasionally slipped the eye out for
a moment, rubbed it violently on his coat-sleeve, then as rapidly
replaced it--and this he did there in the council hut, utterly
forgetful of his audience, and before a soul could say the Formosan
equivalent of "Jack Robinson."

The chiefs paled, stiffened, shuddered with fright. One with more
presence of mind than his fellows called for a pen. "Yes, quick,
quick, a pen!"--the word passed from mouth to mouth. No more
obstinacy, no more hesitation; all of them clamoured to sign,
willing, even eager to yield to any demand that a man gifted with the
supernatural power of taking out his eye and replacing it at pleasure,
might make.

On his return from Formosa the I.G. wrote a famous paper called "Pang
Kwan Lun" ("What a Bystander Says"), full of useful criticisms and
suggestions on Chinese affairs. Some were followed, others were
not, but he had the satisfaction of hearing from the lips of the
Empress-Dowager herself--when she received him in audience in
1902--that she regretted more of his advice had not been taken,
subsequent events having proved how sound and useful it all was.

In 1866, having worked twelve years in China--seven of those years for
the Chinese Government--Robert Hart felt a very natural desire to see
his own country and his own people again. He therefore applied for
leave, and was granted six months--none too long a rest after the
strenuous work he had done.

Just before starting he said to the Chinese, "You will soon be
establishing Legations abroad. Do you not think that my going will be
an excellent opportunity for you to send some of your people to see a
little of the world?" Yes, they agreed it would be; but--though they
never told him so--I think the older conservative generation had grave
doubts whether the adventurous ones would return alive. Europe was
then a _terra incognita_. There might easily be pirates in the Seine
and cannibals in Bond Street, not to mention the hundred mysterious
dangers of the great waters and the fire-breathing monsters that
traversed them.

Well, in the end, the prejudices melted and the party started,
chaperoned by the I.G. Five in all there were, a certain Pin Lao Yeh,
an ex-Prefect, his son and three students from the Tung Wen Kwan or
College of Languages. Old Pin Lao Yeh, being the senior, wrote a book
about his experiences, describing all he saw for the benefit of his
timid homekeeping countrymen, and giving careful measurements of
everything measurable--the masts of the steamers, the length of the
wharves, the height of the Arc de Triomphe, as if in some mysterious
way statistics could prove a prop to the faint-hearted. Of the four
lads in the "experiment," two afterwards filled high diplomatic
posts. A certain Fang I was made Chargé d'Affaires in London and later
Consul-General in Singapore, while Chang Teh Ming was made Minister
Plenipotentiary to the Court of St. James.

The voyage home was uneventful, the little party's first adventure
coming at their last port. Here the Customs had to be passed. With
some pride, I should like to write, only I am sure it was with his
usual modesty--the kind of modesty that made strangers say, the first
time they saw him, "Is that all he is?" and after they had spoken with
him for ten minutes, "Can he be all that?"--the I.G. presented his
letter from the French Legation at Peking to the Chief Custom House
Official Profound bows immediately from this worthy, then grand
gestures and the magic words, "Passe en ambassade!"

Accordingly the "mission" passed--in true Chinese style. The first
man by had a dried duck over his shoulder, the next a smoked ham,
the third a jar of pickled cabbage, none too savoury, while all
the attachés and servants were equally weighted down by pieces of
outlandish baggage from which nothing in the world would have induced
them to part, since nothing in the world could have replaced them in
the markets of the West.

From Marseilles Robert Hart went on to Paris. Though this was his
first sight of the Continent, he was too impatient to be home to
linger, and he only remained long enough to hand over his charges to
the Foreign Minister, who promised they should be treated with the
utmost friendliness. They were indeed. Half the courts of Europe
entertained them; they dined with Napoleon and Eugenie; had tea with
old King William of Prussia at Potsdam, and travelled altogether _en
prince_.

Meanwhile the I.G. declined any share in the lionizing, and slipped
off to enjoy a quiet holiday in Ireland. The only inconvenience he
found in being a private individual was when he passed the Customs
in London. What a difference from Marseilles! About sixty passengers
crowded into the examining room together, and a slouchy man with a
short pipe came forward, eyed them critically, but instead of taking
people in turn, spied out Robert Hart and said roughly, "I'll take
you. Anything to declare?" pointing to his pile of trunks.

"Nothing but one box of cigars--Manillas."

The man scowled just as if he had discovered a gunpowder plot. Finally
he asked Hart where he came from.

"Straight from China, from Peking."

"Oh," said the Examiner, softening a little, "that's such a long way I
suppose we can let those cigars pass."

Then he went over to the waiting people, waved his hand and said, "You
can go; that's all."

Robert Hart was so much amused at being picked out as the likely
smuggler of the party that he could scarcely restrain himself from
whipping out of his pocket a card with "Inspector-General Chinese
Imperial Maritime Customs" on it and presenting it to the man.

He found his father and mother settled at Ravarnet, as proud as happy
to see him back again, and he dropped quite naturally into the simple
home life, resumed his affectionate intimacy with a clan of sisters
just as if it had never been broken off, and took the same delight
in simple pleasures that he had taken as a boy. Some of his relatives
wondered a little at this.

"Let me look at you," said they, peering and peeking about him for
the solution of the mystery. For mystery there must be when a great
man--yes, that's what he was already--should look just the same on the
outside as Tom or Dick or Harry--should even enjoy a simple breakfast
of fresh herring and tea.

"I am just like everybody else," he would answer to their
half-quizzical inspection. "No more noses or eyes than you."

Alas! this home life, delightful though it was, could not last very
long. On August 22nd, 1866, he married that daughter of old Dr. Bredon
of Portadown that his aunt had prophesied he would when, at the age of
ten days, he lay upon her lap. The honeymoon was spent at the romantic
lakes of Killarney, and very soon afterwards the young couple were on
their way out to China again.

The house in Peking had been somewhat rearranged and remodelled while
the I.G. was in Europe, in anticipation of his wife's coming. Without
altering the picturesqueness of the original Chinese design, it had
been adapted to Western ideas of comfort. The pretty pavilions
with their upturned roofs remained; the ornamental rockwork of the
courtyards, the doors shaped like gourds or leaves or full moons,
were left untouched. So were the odd-shaped windows, real Jack Frost
designs; but instead of paper, glass was fitted into the quaint panes
and the stone floors, characteristic of Chinese rooms, covered with
wood--a very necessary alteration in a town which, although in the
same latitude as Naples, Madrid and Constantinople, has a winter as
severe as New York.

Fortunately neither he nor his bride had a very keen taste for
society, as in those days Peking could not boast of any. The
Diplomatic Corps was small; no concession-hunters or would-be builders
of battleships enlivened the capital with their intrigues, and the
monotony of life was broken only by an occasional visitor.

Rarely, very rarely, there was a dinner party--a formal affair, to
which the I.G.'s wife went in state and, as became her rank, in a big
green box of a sedan chair with four bearers. Indeed this was the
only possible means of going about comfortably at night in a city
of unexpected ditches, ruts like sword-gashes, and lighted only by
twinkling lanterns of belated roysterers.

The I.G. was therefore somewhat disconcerted when his chair coolies,
having been six months in his service, came to say they could remain
no longer. "It is not that we are discontented with our wages," the
head man explained, "or that you are not a kind master, or that the
_Taitai_ [the lady of the house] is an inconsiderate mistress."

"Then you have too much work to do?"

"No, that's the trouble," the man replied, "we have not enough. Our
shoulders are getting soft and our leg muscles are getting flabby. Now
if the _Taitai_ would only go out for twenty miles every day instead
of for two miles every ten days as she does now, we would be delighted
to remain in your service." Was ever stranger complaint made by
servant to master?

Whenever work permitted Robert Hart and his wife rode out into the
country on their stocky native ponies, sometimes to one and sometimes
to another of the picturesque temples, pagodas and monasteries which
then abounded in the hills near by. The favourite picnicking place of
the little community--almost the only Imperial property open in those
days--was the ruined palace of Yuen Ming Yuen destroyed by the Allies
in 1860. It must have been a most charming spot, at all events in the
autumn months, when the persimmon-trees, heavy with balls of golden,
fruit, overhung its grey walls.

The original construction in semi-foreign style from plans by the
early Jesuit Fathers was doubtless still easy to trace; an ornate
façade brought unexpected memories of Versailles, while on crumbling
walls old European coats-of-arms, carved, for the sake of their
decorative beauty, beside Oriental dragons and phoenixes, remained to
surprise and delight the eye.

Unluckily business too often stood in the way of pleasure, for the
'sixties were very busy years. China was just beginning to realize
that she could no longer remain in peaceful self-sufficiency;
intercourse with foreign nations she must have, willing or no; that
meant drastic changes--changes in which the I.G.'s advice would be
valuable. Thus circumstances helped him into a unique position, one
without parallel in any other country; he was continually consulted on
hundreds of matters not properly connected with Customs administration
at all, and he was in fact, if not in name, far more than an
Inspector-General.

[Illustration: A PICNIC IN OLD PEKING--TOWARDS YUEN MING YUEN.]

Much of this advisory work, too, was of the most delicate nature: some
involved intricate dealings with several Powers having conflicting
interests. The slightest false move would often have been sufficient
to snap the frail thread of negotiation. It is not to be wondered
at if he made some mistakes--he would have been scarcely human
otherwise--but as a rule his tact and energy carried to a successful
issue whatever he began.

"What is your secret power of settling a difficult matter?" a friend
once asked him. "Whenever I deal with other people, and especially
with Chinese," was the answer, "I always ask myself two questions:
what idea that I do not want them to have will my remark suggest to
them, and what answer will my remark allow them to make to me?"

The habit of deliberating before he made a statement grew upon him,
as habits will, exaggerated with time, and provided an excuse for at
least one _bon mot_. A certain French Professor whom he had brought
out with him for the Tung Wen Kwan once went to interview his chief.

"Well," said his colleagues on his return. "What did the I.G. say
about such and such a thing?" The Frenchman shook his head ruefully:
"He rolled the answer back and forth seven times, and then he did not
make it." Probably the I.G. had learned by experience that a person
can seldom pick up a hasty speech just where he dropped it.

Another time a very charming lady went up to him at a soirée with a
rose in her hand. "May I offer you my boutonnière?" said she, smiling.
The mere fact of a question having been asked him suddenly put him
instinctively upon his guard; an uncommunicative look spread over his
face, and to her horror and his own subsequent amusement, he answered,
"I should prefer to consider the matter before answering."

In 1868 came the affair of the Burlingame Mission, with which--as with
all the other events of the time in China--Robert Hart had much to do.
Mr. Burlingame was then United States Minister in Peking, a personal
friend of the I.G.'s and a most charming man with a genius for
hospitality. Nothing pleased him more than to see half a dozen
nationalities seated at his table. At one of these little dinners
Burlingame noticed that a certain discussion was growing too serious
and heated. Some of his guests were on the point of losing their
tempers, for Envoys Extraordinary dislike being disagreed with, even
by Ministers Plenipotentiary. He therefore picked up his glass of
sherry in the most courtly manner in the world, held it to the light,
studied it critically from every point of view, turning it now this
way, now that.

"Look," said he suddenly, addressing the table in his most charming
manner, "did you ever see sherry exactly like that before? Do you
notice its peculiar colour? See how it shines--yellow in one light,
reddish brown in another."

When he had drawn the interest, he went on to give the most delightful
little lecture on sherries, their similarities, their differences, and
their making, till the whole table listened with rapt attention
and, listening, forgot their perilous discussion and the heat and
irritation they had spent upon it.

These very qualities of tact and polish, combined with dignity and
agreeable manners, made Mr. Burlingame popular with the courtly
Chinese officials, and when he was about to return to his own country
some of the Wai-Wu-Pu (Foreign Office) Ministers asked him to speak a
good word for China in the United States. "Was not that an excellent
idea?" they asked the I.G. next day. He agreed, and out of this
trivial incident grew the Burlingame Mission to all the courts of
Europe. Alas! the idea was visionary rather than practical, and doomed
to disappointment--a disappointment which, luckily, Mr. Burlingame
himself never felt keenly, since he died at St. Petersburg while his
tour was still uncompleted.

At the same time that he was concerned with the Mission, the I.G.
was "setting his house in order" with very practical measures. New
Regulations for Pilotage, Rules for the Joint Investigation (Chinese
and Consular) of Disputed Customs Cases, Rules for Coolie Emigration,
each in turn claimed his attention, and it was he also who arranged
with the Chinese that one-tenth of the tonnage dues--afterwards raised
to seven-tenths--should be devoted to port improvements and lighting
the coasts. Until he took the matter in hand, vessels had been obliged
to grope around the difficult China coast in total darkness; to-day,
thanks to his foresight, lighthouses are dotted from Newchang in the
north to Hainan in the south, and a little fleet of three Revenue
cruisers serves them.

A lawsuit called him to Shanghai, when these matters were off his
hands, and kept him there for some weeks. He had time to enter into
the social life of the place, meet all the people worth meeting,
and, what he enjoyed most of all, hear the sermons of a certain Dean
Butcher, famous for his wit. The first Sunday the I.G. "sat under"
him, the Dean dragged out his discourse so interminably--and quite
contrary to his usual custom--that Robert Hart actually took out his
watch. Just as he quietly got it back to his pocket again and noticed
that he had listened for fifty minutes, the preacher looked up from
his manuscript and made Hart start guiltily as he said, "You ask, is
the sermon done. No, my brothers, it is not _done_. It is _read_. Be
ye doers of the Word, not hearers only." This bit of effect at
the end, so cleverly led up to, accounted for the unnaturally long
discourse.

Another time, when Robert Hart was present, Dean Butcher preached
from a text in the Psalms, "If I go up to the heights, Thy Presence is
beside me, and if I go into the utmost depths. It is there," etc. He
had subdivided the sermon into headings--preached about God in heaven
and God upon earth, when he suddenly began to cough a little. "The
preacher's voice fails him," he said--cough, cough--"fails him, my
brethren"--more coughs--"fails him"--still more gentle coughs--"and so
we must leave God in hell till next Sunday."

Some years afterwards, when the I.G. was in Shanghai again, he went to
a luncheon at which Dean Butcher was present. Every one was asked
to tell a story, and when Robert Hart's turn came, he told one of
a certain clergyman of his acquaintance--the name he mercifully
withheld--who had "left God in hell till next Sunday." The face of
Dean Butcher during the telling was a study in sunset colours, but no
one except himself and the I.G. remembered the particular preacher who
had been so indiscreet.

Before he left Shanghai Robert Hart received the first of his long
series of honours. It came with delightful unexpectedness, with no
warning of its arrival; simply, one day as he was going to see his
lawyer, Mr. (afterwards Sir Nicholas) Hannen, a passing postman handed
him a little brown-paper parcel with Swedish stamps on it. As he
had neither acquaintance nor official correspondence with Sweden or
Norway, he was completely puzzled as to what it might contain. Greatly
to his surprise, on opening it he found an order, the "Wasa" of Sweden
and Norway, the very first foreign recognition of his international
work in China. Coming as it did just at that moment, it was singularly
opportune and acceptable, and ever afterwards I know it held a
peculiar place in his affections, even when he received a shower of
Grand Crosses from every civilized country in the world.



CHAPTER VI

BIRTH OF A SON--THE MARGARY AFFAIR AND THE CHEFOO CONVENTION--A SECOND
VISIT TO EUROPE--THE PARIS EXHIBITION OF 1878


Three important things occurred in Robert Hart's life between the
years 1870 and 1879. In 1873 his only son was born; 1875 was marked
by the beginning of the famous Margary affair, and in 1878 he went as
President of the Chinese Commission to the Paris Exhibition.

_À propos_ of the birth of his son, there was a very strange--almost
what a Highlander would call an "uncanny"--sequence of dates in
the I.G.'s own life. The year that he himself was born, the 20th of
February--his birthday--fell on the 23rd day of the Chinese First
Moon. Once more it fell on the 23rd of the First Moon in 1854, the
year he came to China, and not again until 1873, when his son first
opened his eyes on this best of all possible worlds. A coincidence if
you like, but still a very remarkable one all the same.

In 1875 the famous Margary affair, destined to become so complicated
later on, first appeared upon the stage of politics in the simplest
possible form. There was one hero and one villain, with a crowd of
shadowy accomplices looking over his shoulder. To this day it is not
certain how many there actually were. We can distinctly follow the
unfortunate hero--his name was Margary, his occupation Interpreter
at a Consulate--on his journey across Yunnan to Burmah as far as
Tengyueh. We know he was cruelly done to death there, but we cannot
sift out truth from falsehood in the rumours that he met his death
with the connivance--and perhaps even under the orders of--the
provincial authorities.

The simple fact of a white man's murder was, of course, bad enough;
but when that white man was an official and on a mission, it was a
hundred times worse. Negotiations between the British Legation and
the Chinese began immediately. On the one side heavy compensation was
demanded, on the other it was argued over and delayed. Neither party
would move a step forward, and presently the Yunnan outrage got
hopelessly mixed with every other disputed question of the day; new
demands sprang up beside old ones; both parties, as Michie says, found
themselves "entangled in a perfect cat's-cradle of negotiations,"
and the Chinese in the privacy of their yamêns were beginning to
ask themselves gloomily, "Will the English fight unless we make full
reparation?"

Would they? There was the rub. But now, the crisis being safely
passed, I may tell that they would--that they very nearly did--and
that the thing that prevented them was nothing more nor less than
the moving of the Customs pew in the British Legation Chapel from the
front of the church to the back. So do great events sometimes hang
upon trifles.

After the arbitrary moving of his accustomed seat, the I.G. remained
away from the Sunday services for more than a year. Then, just when
the political atmosphere was most electric, Bishop Russell, an old
friend of Ningpo days and a charming and genial Irishman, came to
Peking on a visit. He was to preach in the Legation Chapel the next
Sunday, and the I.G. could not resist the temptation of going to hear
his old acquaintance.

Russell was a man of an unconventional and spontaneous type. Because
other people did things in a certain way was no reason why he should
do the same. Consequently, instead of beginning the service by reading
the usual verses, he said, "I would like the congregation to sing a
hymn"; and the hymn that he chose was "God moves in a mysterious
way His wonders to perform." It happened to be one of Robert Hart's
favourites, but beyond feeling pleasure that this particular hymn
should have been chosen, the incident made no great impression on him
at the time.

As soon as the service was over, he went to shake hands with the
Bishop. Russell, however, was obliged to hurry away to address a
Chinese meeting; there was scarcely a moment for talk then. "We must
have a chat about old times," said he cordially; "when may I come and
see you--on Tuesday?"

[Illustration: WELL NEAR THE CANAL, BRITISH LEGATION, BEFORE 1900.]

"By all means on Tuesday. Don't forget," was the answer, and the I.G.
left the chapel with the rest of the congregation.

He noticed as he went out that Sir Thomas Wade had not been in church,
which struck him as odd. Surely in a small community like Peking,
where a Bishop in the pulpit was a rarity, the British Minister would
have made it a point to hear him preach--unless something very unusual
had occurred. Hart therefore went at once to call on Wade and see what
the news might be. News? There was enough and to spare, all of the
most sensational kind. Another deadlock had been reached in the
negotiations. Blacker clouds than ever obscured the horizon; war was
as near as flesh to bone. Luckily the I.G. saw at once that the
new _contretemps_ was due rather to accident than design. A
misunderstanding of Chinese despatches--which are always open to
several translations--had given Wade a wrong impression of the force
of their contents, and the I.G. accordingly begged permission to
explain the point at issue as he saw it.

Two hours later the Minister came completely round to his view, and
the critical moment was safely passed.

On Tuesday at the appointed hour Bishop Russell went to see Robert
Hart. They talked long over old Ningpo days, and presently Russell
said, "D'ye know, Hart, my converts have grown to have such faith in
me that they believe I can not only show them the way to heaven, but
arrange matters on this earth as well. What do you think they said,
now, before I came up to Peking? They said I was coming to prevent
a war with England. And that to me!" added the Bishop, laughing his
wholesome laugh, "who, as you know, am the last man in the world to
concern myself with politics."

"Well," replied the I.G. solemnly, "you have prevented war with
England all the same." And he told the Bishop the whole story. "If
you had not come to Peking," he concluded, "I should not have gone
to church. If I had not gone to church, I should not have noticed the
Minister's absence, and therefore should not have gone in to see him.
Consequently I should never have known of the difficulty which then
threatened the negotiations, and might not have been able to help
remove it. Truly, Russell,

'God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform.'"

Thus, by a romantic episode, the crisis was tided over--for a time.
Alas! only for a time. A second set-back, more serious even than the
first, interrupted matters again just when they seemed to be going
on most smoothly. It occurred on a Saturday night. On Monday morning,
without saying a word to Hart--or indeed to any one--Wade started off
posthaste to Shanghai to "await orders from his Government." This
bad news greatly upset and alarmed the Yamên. "You must follow him at
once," was the order they sent the I.G., so within twelve hours he too
was on his way to Shanghai, determined on making one more effort
to avert the war which, like a sword of Damocles, was hanging over
China's head.

He was again successful, in so far as he obtained the British
Minister's consent to reopen negotiations with the Chinese. But
where?--that was the question. Should they be held at Shanghai, with
the Viceroy from Nanking to assist, or should they be held at Chefoo,
with the Viceroy of Chihli (who happened to be the great Li Hung
Chang) to help? Wade decided for Chefoo, which, as a cool seaside
resort, was especially suited for the broiling months of August and
September; and Robert Hart immediately wired to Peking to arrange that
Li should come to Chefoo. The Tientsin people protested vigorously
against their Viceroy's going. They even went so far as to throw
petitions in hundreds over the walls of his yamên--petitions all
reminding him of the fate of Yeh Ming Shen, the Governor-General of
Canton in 1858, whom the British seized and sent to Calcutta, where he
died.

Yet, in spite of their warnings, Li showed sufficient absence of
superstition and sufficient patriotism to go, which was certainly
rather noble of him, more especially as his personal inclination was
against touching the affair at all. This he told the I.G. frankly when
they met, and even upbraided Robert Hart rather sharply for, as he
said, "dragging him into the business. If they fail--and there has
been no luck about these negotiations before--I shall be blamed,
whereas if they succeed, it is most unlikely that I shall get any
credit."

But the I.G. reassured him in answer to his complaints. "There will
be no trouble," said he, "no trouble at all if you work with me. Say
nothing, arrange nothing, promise nothing that we do not both agree
upon beforehand." Every evening at ten o'clock, therefore, the I.G.
would go to Li's house, and the two would remain talking, often far
into the night, of what had been done during the day and what was to
be done on the morrow.

Unfortunately in some mysterious way the plans and proposals they
discussed leaked out, allowing the other side to checkmate their best
moves and woefully retard progress. It was really too provoking just
as these troublesome negotiations promised to end so well; it meant
precious time wasted; it meant unnecessary anxiety and worry. But no
matter, history has never been made without trouble to its makers;
the I.G. was well prepared for obstacles; he met them with patience,
discovered their cause with rare intelligence, remedied them with
despatch--and this time the Convention was safely signed. Pens had
been poised over it so long that I can imagine he breathed a sigh of
relief when the signatures were actually on the document.

A big banquet celebrated the signing--a grand affair given by Li to
the personnel of the drama. Most of the Foreign Ministers from Peking
were present, they having come down to Chefoo to see what was going
on. Two British admirals had put in for the same reason, so the
banquet did not lack distinguished guests. The display of uniforms,
medals and decorations was dazzling, while the decorations of the hall
were as gorgeous as splendour-loving Orientals could devise.

The clever Li toasted the occasion by a happy speech, in which he
dwelt on the joy of meeting so many friends together. Most of them
he had known (outwitted, too, I daresay) for some time, but now,
unhindered by the restraints of public business, he could enjoy their
society with a freedom hitherto denied him, and he concluded, "Since
at this port of Yentai [Chefoo] beautiful scenery delights the eye
and cool breezes give health to the body, it is fitting that our
minds should be in harmony with the beauties of nature, cultivating
friendship and sincerity as being the noblest traits of human
character." All of which was very pretty sentiment, and if some poetic
licence got mixed in with the truth, surely the occasion justified the
alliance.

Li certainly had reason to feel pleased with himself and his work. The
Convention was excellent--though it might have been still better
had Robert Hart had more of his own way. He wished, and the Chinese
agreed, to include in it clauses relative to the establishment of
a national Chinese Post Office and the opening of mints for uniform
coinage throughout the Empire. But it did not suit all parties to
allow one man to make too many suggestions, and so his schemes were
frustrated.

Still, over and above all petty international jealousies he had scored
another diplomatic triumph, and the Chinese were duly grateful to him
for his share in the work. That was, after all is said, the secret of
his unique position--that confidence of his Chinese employers which he
never lost. Probably the real reason he kept it so well was because
of his calm and reticent character, because he could never be moved to
anger and impatient words. Sir Thomas Wade, on the contrary, was a
man of exactly the opposite type, and his _ch'i_, better translated
as excitability than anger, often increased his difficulties at a
difficult time.

The I.G.'s association with the great Li Hung Chang by no means ceased
after the Margary affair. Business in the succeeding months frequently
took him to Tientsin--the nearest port, eighty miles from Peking, and
the post of the Chihli Viceroy--and whenever he was there, he had
a standing invitation to lunch with Li--an invitation which he very
often accepted.

What greatly appealed to him about Li's household was its absolute
simplicity. Instead of a wearisome array of courses, never more than
two plates were served--fish, and perhaps a dish of chicken, cooked,
of course, in the Chinese manner and eaten with big portions of rice.
The first was seldom touched. Li would say to his guest, "If you do
not want any fish, we will send it in to the _Taitai_" (his wife,
who, according to Chinese etiquette, was dining in the next room); and
Robert Hart, always the smallest of eaters, would invariably answer
"No," leaving the fish to go whole and untouched to Madame Li, much to
her husband's delight.

One day afterwards in Peking the I.G. happened to speak with his
Chinese writer about Li Hung Chang's household--praising a simplicity
so rarely to be found in the yamêns of the rich and powerful. There
happened to be a long interval before he lunched with the Viceroy
again, and when he did, he noticed to his horror that the servants
were bringing in an array of dishes suitable for a feast. Shark's fins
preceded expensive pickled eggs and followed choice bird's-nest soup.
What could the change mean? Simply that his complimentary remark,
maimed and contorted beyond recognition by ill-informed or mischievous
persons, had travelled to Li's ears, and that he had therefore
determined to treat his guest with the greatest possible formality.

"You shall not have the chance to go away again and say that you have
been fed like a coolie in my house," said the Viceroy proudly at the
end of the banquet.

"Nevertheless, the very simplicity of your hospitality was what I most
appreciated," the I.G. replied. "But if you believe that I could have
made any such remark, and if you persist in altering the style of my
reception, I shall not come to lunch with you again."

As if the cares of treaty making and Customs supervision, coupled with
the responsibility of being unofficial adviser to the Wai-Wu-Pu,
were not enough for one man, the I.G., at the request of the Chinese,
undertook to supervise China's part in the international exhibitions
of Europe. First came the Viennese Exhibition in 1873. He set his
various commissioners of ports collecting the products of their
provinces--silks, porcelains, lacquers and teas. It sounds so simple,
but often what may be told in a dozen words may scarcely be done in as
many months, and little less than a year of writing and planning and
directing can have elapsed before all details were in order, and
his four Commissioners of Customs were driving, like the Marquis of
Carabbas, in a glass coach through the streets of Vienna. The Chinese
spared neither pains nor expense to make a good showing, and gave a
gala performance at the Opera in return for Austrian hospitality.

In 1878 came the Paris Exhibition, and to this he went himself as
President of the Chinese Government's Commission. He arrived in Paris
just before the Exhibition opened--just in time to be present at the
great opening ceremony in fact. This was a very grand affair, but
with--for him--a ludicrous climax. Coming away, he and his secretary
lost their carriage in the crowd, and had to walk the whole way home,
not a cab being obtainable--and this, too, in elaborate and heavy
uniforms, and at the risk of being hooted by _gamins_. But by good
luck, in those days gold lace and medals were so plentiful that they
attracted no embarrassing attention.

[Illustration: SIR ROBERT HART IN 1878.]

Numberless functions, of course, took place in connection with the
Exhibition, and scarcely a night passed without some gigantic official
reception at which two or three thousand people were present. The
Minister of Education, for example, gave a magnificent _soirée_ at
which the old dances, the stately minuet and the graceful pavane, were
danced in splendid and appropriate costumes. Bernhardt, then at the
height of her powers, recited one night at the Élysée; so also did
Coquelin. But to Robert Hart these "crushes" were often an ordeal.
Conventional entertainments never had a great attraction for him;
besides, these gatherings were really too big for any one's comfort or
pleasure; conversation was nearly impossible, and nobody felt at home.

What he did enjoy was a drive in the beautiful Bois with his children,
from whom, for the sake of their education, he had already been
separated for several years. Or else he liked to take them to the
many excellent concerts then being held. They often went to hear the
Norwegian singers who, so the advertisements said, had walked all the
way from their northern home in their quaint national costume, and
they scarcely missed a Wednesday at the Trocadero, where there were
contests of massed bands.

Music, in fact, would draw Robert Hart any day, for he loved it
dearly. Other people might talk learnedly about various schools and
tone poems; he took all he could get silently and with a thankful
heart; and because in far-away Peking he could not count upon others
playing for him, he performed the prodigious feat of learning to play
both violin and 'cello himself without a teacher, and long after he
was a man grown.

Just before the Exhibition closed, all the fine blackwood furniture of
the Chinese pavilion was presented to the Maréchale MacMahon. The
I.G. had to make a speech on this occasion, which he greatly dreaded,
having none of that love of getting on his feet that is characteristic
of the south of Ireland Irishman; but when he did so his voice,
always soft and gentle, with the faintest trace of Irish accent, never
wavered for a moment, and every word he said could be heard by all.

Whether it was the speech making or the festivities or the hard work
or a combination of all three I cannot say, but Robert Hart suddenly
found himself over-tired and threatened with a breakdown of health
by the time the Exhibition closed. Sir William Gull, the famous
specialist, whom he consulted, put the case tersely to him: "If you
will do work, work will do you."

There was nothing for it then but six weeks of idleness at Ischl,
with long walks in the wonderful clear air, another six weeks at
Baden-Baden, and a quiet winter at Brighton. So, much to his regret,
he had very little opportunity to see London or enjoy the life and
gaiety which would have been such a happy contrast to the solitude of
Peking. A few hasty visits--I think the longest lasted scarcely ten
days--left him no time at all to meet the many men whose acquaintance
would have meant so much to him.

The only thing he did of a semi-political character was to accept an
invitation from the Reform Club to address them on the opium question.
The men he met there had all their opinions and convictions settled
beforehand; they had really invited him, the great authority on China,
to agree with them, and no schoolboys who had found that sixpences
had been put into their pockets in the night could have been more
surprised than they when he did not.

At least, it is not exactly accurate to say that he disagreed; he took
a practical view of a question which at that time was regarded with
much heat and sentiment. He quoted statistics to them, proved that
foreign opium was smoked by only one-third of one per cent of the
population of China, and by the calm sanity of his views made much of
their agitation seem unnecessary. But they were finally consoled when
he agreed with them that even so small a percentage in so large a
population meant millions of smokers, and that it would be well to
rescue these from so damaging a habit.

This was the last public affair in which he took part before the close
of 1878, when, being sufficiently recovered in health, he started back
to China, little thinking that he was not destined to see Europe again
for thirty years.



CHAPTER VII

YUAN PAO HÊNG SUGGESTS PROHIBITION OF OPIUM SMOKING IN CHINA--NEW
BUILDINGS FOR THE INSPECTORATE--THE FIRST INFORMAL POSTAGE
SERVICE--THE FRENCH TREATY OF 1885--OFFERED POST OF BRITISH MINISTER


Curiously enough, almost as soon as Robert Hart was back in Peking
(1880) the opium question was brought to his attention again. This
time it was by a Chinese official--one Yuan Pao Hêng, an uncle of the
famous Yuan Shih Kai, whose influence is paramount in the Flowery
Land to-day, and who more than any other single man was probably
responsible for the Imperial Edict (1906) which ordered the opium
traffic to be abolished within ten years.

The uncle was as bitter an enemy of the drug as his nephew, but though
his views were sound they were in advance of his time, and the I.G.
very properly pointed out to him that the cultivation of the poppy
could not be stopped suddenly. However wise theoretically it might
be to do this, practically it would be dangerous. A great source of
revenue must not be cut off abruptly, or China might find herself in
the position of the man in the old fable, who thoughtlessly mounted
the tiger, and then found out too late that he had forfeited the right
to dismount when and where he pleased.

Haste in the Far East is a commodity for which it is easy to pay too
high a price--when it is obtainable at all--which, to tell the truth,
it generally is not. "Change slowly--if change you must" has ever been
the motto of China, and for years the capital itself was an example
of the saying. Improvements were not encouraged. There were no more
public buildings in 1879 than in 1863. I doubt if a single tumble-down
wall had been replaced--the dirt and smells still remained, and the
roads were no smoother. Only a few more Legations had established
themselves there, and, by clustering together, they formed what might
by courtesy be called a Legation Quarter, which lay between the pink
wall of the Imperial City--the innermost of the ring of three cities
that form Peking--and the frowning, machicolated grey wall of the
Tartar town.

The Chinese, partly no doubt with the idea of keeping all the
foreigners together and partly for the convenience of business,
presently gave the I.G. a piece of land in this quarter, and he
accordingly moved down to comparative civilization--as we understand
it--from his far-away corner of the suburbs, as soon as the buildings
were ready. He had a modest row of low offices, several houses for his
staff, each standing, Indian fashion, in its own compound, and, in a
large garden, his own dwelling.

This, like the rest, was a bungalow--for the Chinese in those days
objected to high buildings lest they should overlook the Palace--and
built in the form of a letter H, partly from a sentimental connection
with his own initial, and partly to utilise all the sunshine and
southerly breeze possible. Two fine drawing-rooms, a billiard- and
a dining-room filled the cross-bar of the letter: one of the
perpendicular strokes was the west, or guest wing; the other contained
his own private offices, a special reception-room, furnished in
Chinese style--stiff chairs and rigid tables--for Chinese guests, and
his living-rooms. It was characteristic of the man that these were the
most unpretentious rooms in the whole house.

Undoubtedly one of the chief reasons which allowed Peking to preserve
its mediæval aspect intact for so many years was the difficulty of
communicating with the rest of the world for several months of the
year. Its port, Tientsin, was ice-bound from November to March, and
the foreign community was therefore completely cut off during the long
winter. Neither letters nor papers enlivened _la morte saison_
until the I.G. conceived the idea of arranging a service of overland
couriers from Chinkiang, a port on the Yangtsze, to Peking. The seven
hundred miles intervening was covered by mounted men, who took
from ten to twelve days for the journey, and they as well as their
mounts--the latter of course in relays--were provided on contract by
a clever old mafoo (groom) who had the reputation of getting the best
ponies for the Tientsin amateur race meetings, and who was in league
with all the picturesque Mongol horse-dealers.

[Illustration: OUTSIDE SIR ROBERT HART'S HOUSE BEFORE 1900.]

On the whole the system worked admirably, though of course there were
occasional hitches. Sometimes a messenger was attacked by bandits on
the way and had his bags stolen. I know once the I.G. chuckled over
such a disaster. It so happened that in the missing bags there was one
letter which he had written giving an appointment in the Customs to a
certain man. No sooner was it gone than he regretted what he had
done, and would have recalled his decision had it been possible. Well,
believe it or not, this and one other were the only two letters of
that lost pouch ever discovered, and they came into the possession of
a French Missionary Bishop and were afterwards returned by him to the
I.G.

Now and again, too, an accident happened to the incoming mails even
after they reached Peking. Of course they were taken direct to the
Inspectorate for sorting, and while headquarters were still in the
_Kau Lan Hu Tung_ the messenger was more than once thrown on his
way down to the Legations--perhaps he met one of those gong-beating
processions which would be enough to frighten a hobby-horse--and his
mails recklessly distributed by the terrified animal. And sometimes a
courier would stumble into a ditch in the rainy season when the road
was all river, and narrowly escape being drowned, but these little
incidents were only the fortunes of war.

It is not to be wondered at, considering the international work he was
doing, that his own country decorated Robert Hart as early as 1879.
It is only strange--to me--that they gave him no more than a humble
C.M.G. But this was soon changed into a K.C.M.G., and, as it happened,
at a most opportune moment---just when an American University
conferred an LL.D. upon him. There he was within an ace of being
called "Doctor" for the rest of his life, when the knighthood
providentially came to save the situation. The K.C.M.G. was followed
by a G.C.M.G., and the G.C.M.G. by a baronetcy, both the Liberals and
Conservatives giving him honours alternately. The last, the baronetcy,
came from Gladstone's Ministry, and with it he received a friendly
letter from the Grand Old Man, who always admired him immensely, and
said so when a brother of the I.G.'s--at the time in Europe acting
as interpreter to Li Hung Chang--was presented at a big dinner to the
Premier.

[Illustration: PEKING: A MESSENGER CARRYING MAILS IN THE RAINY
SEASON.]

"So you are a Mr. Hart from China," he remarked. "You should feel very
proud of a man who has made his name illustrious for all time."

France was not long behindhand in adding to his ever-growing list of
honours. He had the "Grand Officier" of the coveted "Legion" in 1885
after bringing safely to a conclusion the French Treaty of that year.
Undoubtedly this was one of the most picturesque and interesting
incidents with which he was ever connected, and perhaps it will not
come amiss to give some details of how it came about.

The trouble began over a disputed boundary--the Tonkin frontier, to
be exact. One side, the Chinese, wanted the Red River for the
dividing-line, would hear of nothing else, declared loudly that this
was the natural division; the other, France, was equally obstinate
for the older frontier between the State of Tonkin and China proper,
because this meant far more land for her. Meanwhile, in the disputed
area, Liu Yung Fuh, a very famous soldier of fortune--somewhat of an
Eastern d'Artagnan--roamed to and fro with his band of "Black Flags,"
threw in his lot with the Chinese, and made harassing raids on
the French side of the disputed border-line. Like the picador at a
bullfight, he maddened his enemy with dart-pricks, and the Chinese,
who, to continue the simile, had the toreador's part to play,
reaped the enmity he provoked. The French gave them battle at Pagoda
Anchorage, routed them utterly, and seized Formosa. This was the point
where the I.G. first came upon the scene. Once again he was to play
his old part of peacemaker. With the Nanking Viceroy Tseng Kuo Tseun
as collaborator, so to speak, he went to Shanghai to interview the
French Chargé d'Affaires, M. Patenotre, and see what could be done.

[Illustration: A SECRETARY GOING TO THE INSPECTORATE OFFICES DURING
THE RAINY SEASON.]

This Viceroy, by the way, was what we should call a self-made man;
that is, he had not risen to office by the usual route, which in China
is the way of a scholar. Undistinguished for any particular learning,
he had none of those literary degrees which the conservative Chinese
of those days prized above every other possession. He was, moreover,
quite conscious of his limitations and spoke of them to the I.G. _à
propos_ of the visit to Shanghai of two men who held the much-coveted
position of Literary Chancellors.

"It will not be possible for me to make a success of these
negotiations with the French," he exclaimed ruefully, "because
whatever I do these two men will find it out and disparage it in
every way they can. You see their view-point is that of distinguished
scholars, and they despise an unlettered man like me."

"But what would you say," replied the I.G., "if these two learned
gentlemen were made your colleagues in the business--if they were
ordered to work with you and share the responsibility?"

"Ah, that would be too good to be true," was the Viceroy's answer.
Nevertheless it did come true, because the I.G. telegraphed to Peking
about it, and shortly afterwards an Imperial Edict appointed them
to be associated with Tseng Kuo Tseun. Did ever any one find a more
diplomatic method of avoiding jealousies and closing the mouth of
criticism.

In government business even more than in private affairs the great
danger always is what the wise old Chicago pork-packer described as
"the weak mouths that let slip what they ought to retain." Indiscreet
talk has upset many a politician's apple-cart--even the legitimate
bumps on the road are not such serious obstacles. It almost spoiled
the Margary affair, it threatened the French Treaty no less seriously.
Again and again the two parties attempted to come to an agreement over
the troublesome boundary question; again and again they failed. And
why? Simply because the vexatious gossip that is the curse of small
communities interfered. And then to add to the existing complications
a Customs vessel, the _Fei Hoo_, was seized by the French as she was
landing stores for a lighthouse in Formosa. They would not let her go,
saying she had landed letters as well as stores. Perhaps she did--no
one can say--but contraband mail on board or not, she had important
duties to perform. All the lighthouses along that coast depended on
her for supplies, could not, in fact, function without her, and all
vessels of every nationality in China seas depended on those lights,
so her detention was worse than aggravating.

The I.G. explained this to Monsieur Patenotre and urged him to free
her. "_Ça, c'est l'affaire de l'amiral_," was the answer, and the
Admiral, when communicated with, refused to do anything. With many
regrets Monsieur Patenotre told the I.G. this, adding: "You'd better
go to Paris." He probably little thought that his advice would be
taken _au pied de la lettre_, but within an incredibly short time
the barren negotiations at Shanghai were abandoned, and the I.G. had
telegraphed at length explaining the whole position to his Resident
Secretary in London and directing him to go to Paris, see M. Jules
Ferry, then Premier and Minister for Foreign Affairs, and try to
settle something about the _Fei Hoo_ there. M. Ferry received him very
cordially, said he would be interested in hearing anything such an
authority as Sir Robert Hart might have to say, but, all civilities
aside, the matter rested with the Admiralty, and he would be obliged
to refer it to them.

Next day the Secretary, a certain Mr. Campbell, went again for his
answer and found it unfavourable, for the Admiralty was still in
that state of mind which we call firm when it occurs in ourselves,
obstinate when it occurs in others. M. Ferry personally was distressed
over the refusal. But what could he do beyond asking Mr. Campbell
politely if there was any other matter about which he would like to
speak? Here was an opportunity the I.G. had luckily foreseen--and
prepared to meet. Thanks to his foresight, Mr. Campbell was able to
take out of his pocket several long and carefully worded telegrams
giving a _résumé_ of the situation. They suggested a workable
compromise; it was adopted, and peace _pourparlers_ began once more.
The I.G.'s one stipulation on entering upon them was that they should
be kept absolutely secret. And this time they were. Except Prince
Ching and one Tsungli Yamên Minister, nobody knew, nobody even
guessed, that anything unusual was even "on the carpet," as the French
say; and in order to deepen the impression that no political
anxieties were darkening the horizon, Robert Hart embarked in private
theatricals--a thing he had never done before, or since--and played
Pillicoddy.

Alas, the path of treaties never did run smooth! When arrangements
were just on the point of being concluded the Court suddenly desired
to retract some of their promises, thinking too much had been given
away. This was a cruel blow to the I.G., who well knew that the French
would never agree to the proposed changes and that the painstaking
work of weeks would topple over like a house of cards. As for China's
position in case the Treaty fell through, the less said about that the
better.

Notwithstanding, the I.G. did speak of it, and forcibly, to Yamên
Ministers, who did not listen--not because they would not, but
because they dared not for fear of exceeding their powers and bringing
Imperial censure on their own heads. What the I.G. must do, said they,
was to send a telegram immediately to Paris and say the Treaty could
not be signed as it was. He promised to do this--what else could he
do?--and went home from the Yamên disheartened, discouraged, and in no
mood for work.

[Illustration: STABLES OF SIR ROBERT HART IN THE RAINY SEASON.]

A weaker man would have "gloomed" openly; he did nothing more
despairing than stroll into the office of one of his secretaries and
have some talk about indifferent matters. None the less it was an
unusual thing for him to do, as, whenever they had business together,
his secretaries came to him, and he must have been pushed to it by one
of those mysterious impulses that sometimes shape men's destinies. Was
it the same strange impulse that sent him over to the bookcase in the
corner of the room, that made him pick out, at random, and without
thinking what he was doing, a volume of the Chinese classics, and when
he opened it carelessly made his eye light on the sentence "_Kung Kwei
Yih Kwei_,"--literally, the "work wants another basket"? (The phrase
is part of one of Confucius' sayings.) "If a man wants to build a hill
so high," says the Sage, "he must not refuse it the last basketful of
earth."

Here was a direct answer to the I.G.'s own perplexity. Perhaps one
more effort and his work, too, might be successful. At any rate he
would keep back the fatal telegram for a day.

Next morning he went to the Yamên again. The first thing the Minister
said to him was, "Have you sent that telegram?" And they were all
anxiety till they had his reply, which, strange to say, they received
with profound sighs of relief, for once again the Court had changed
their minds--had come to see the folly of risking a break in the
negotiations--and the Ministers, who feared the I.G. had already
taken the step they had insisted on so firmly the day before, were
prodigiously relieved to find nothing definite had been done. Then,
when he told them the reason, how Confucius had guided China from his
grave, they were still more deeply impressed.

The telegram that the I.G. _did_ send that morning to his London agent
was "Sign the Treaty. But don't sign the 1st of April," he added,
for they were then in the last days of March. The sudden relief from
anxiety made him want a little joke--but he did not want it in the
Treaty. Unfortunately nobody appreciated the sally. His Resident
Secretary solemnly wrote on the telegram when he handed it to
the French Minister of Foreign Affairs, "Don't sign on the 1st of
April--_parce que c'est un jour néfasfe_--because it is an unlucky
day." Either as a Scotchman he deplored the unseemly frivolity, or he
thought the French could not appreciate a _poisson d'Avril_, and
so racked his brains for a serious reason to justify the I.G.'s
objection.

It so happened that the very day this message went to Paris, Sir Harry
Parkes's funeral took place. After a useful and eventful life he
died, as every one knows, at the summit of his ambitions while he was
British Minister in Peking. Just as the I.G. was going into the chapel
for the service, one of the Legation Secretaries drew him aside to
communicate a most important piece of news. A wire had come in only
a few minutes before offering "the appointment of Her Britannic
Majesty's Minister Plenipotentiary and Envoy Extraordinary at Peking
to Sir Robert Hart." To say the I.G. was surprised is not to say
enough. The offer, coming as it did under such solemn circumstances,
made an impression upon him too deep for words. Looking down at the
coffin half hidden in flowers, he could not help feeling the vanity
of earthly glories. "We brought nothing into this world, and it is
certain we can take nothing out," said the voice of the preacher. The
Envoy Extraordinary and the beggar travel towards the same goal, and
one is scarcely more indispensable than the other. Any pride he might
have had in the new dignity was most effectively taken out of him,
and I think that never in his life did the I.G. feel a deeper humility
than on this day when, invited to take the Legation, he stood the one
black-coated coated figure amid a blaze of diplomatic uniforms.

[Illustration: THE INSPECTORATE STREET BEFORE 1900.]

In the evening Mr. O'Conor (afterwards Sir Nicholas), the First
Secretary of the British Legation, came to dine with him and hear
his answer--which was that for the present he could not take up
the appointment as British Minister because of those Franco-Chinese
negotiations. So well had the secret been kept this time that O'Conor
had not the faintest idea anything important was going on; he heard
the news with amazement. Might he telegraph it home to his Government?
Yes, he might, provided he did not speak of the matter in Peking.

At the same time the I.G. begged that his appointment might not
be gazetted just then, for possibly the French would not care to
negotiate with a man about to become British Minister, and even
if they made no formal objection, the fact could not fail to have
considerable influence on Chinese affairs.

Accordingly the news was temporarily suppressed. But the I.G.
afterwards had the personal satisfaction of hearing through a lady
of the Court that when O'Conor's telegrams about the whole story were
laid before Queen Victoria, she said, "I am very glad that we shall
have for our next Minister in China the man who arranged such delicate
negotiations as these."

By all the laws of climax the incident should close here; no writer
would dream of dragging it out further, but unfortunately in real
life there is little respect for climaxes, and that vexatious Treaty
coquetted with her suitors once more. Really it was enough to make
anybody lose patience altogether. When the ground was clear at the
very last moment, how absurd that the Black Flags and the Chinese
should win a big victory over the French at Langson and that, in
consequence, there should have been an interpellation in the French
Senate causing the Jules Ferry Ministry to resign suddenly and leaving
the Treaty still unsigned.

The victory affected the Chinese no less seriously; in the twinkling
of an eye they were split into two parties. The military side, elated
with their success, was all for continuing the war ("Those we have
beaten once we shall beat again," said they), and the wiser councils
of the civil side only just carried the day, for, flushed as the
soldiers were with victory, it was not easy to make them see that
their success was but temporary, and the best, in fact the only thing,
for China to do was to hurry on with the Treaty.

Then the endless telegraphing began again. The I.G., by the way, had
spent Tls. 80,000 (over £10,000) on telegrams, a sum which, had the
Treaty failed, would not have been repaid easily. But it was too late
to stop now. Once more he wired instructions to his Secretary.

"You must face the jump. Go direct to the President and lay the matter
before him." In those days, when he was manoeuvring for a big success,
the I.G. sometimes risked much on the turn of a card.

Mr. Campbell went to President Grévy, and later to the Foreign
Minister de Freycinet. Things, as they seemed most desperate, took a
brighter turn; difficulties melted away, and at last, on the 4th of
April, 1885, M. Billot, afterwards Ambassador at Rome, was appointed
by the French Government to sign for France, and the Resident
Secretary of course signed for the Chinese. Thus the work was really
completed by those last basketfuls of earth, and the long months of
anxiety and strain brought to a happy conclusion much to everybody's
satisfaction.

Later, M. de Freycinet asked the I.G. to continue and arrange the
detail Treaty, as the first had been really little more than a
Protocol. The second went through without a hitch, and on June 9th Li
Hung Chang and M. Patenotre signed it at Tientsin.

Next day the I.G. had a telegram from London from Lord Granville
saying that the Gladstone Ministry was about to resign. "If your
appointment as British Minister at Peking is to be published before
the new Government under Lord Salisbury comes in, it must be gazetted
immediately." He was then able to answer. "Yes. Publish whenever you
please. The French Treaty was signed yesterday, June 9."

[Illustration: ENTRANCE TO THE INSPECTORATE OF CUSTOMS BEFORE 1900.]

Sir Robert Hart planned to go into the Legation in August, on the
anniversary of his wedding day. Of course you may be sure he had
reported the matter to the Chinese and sent in his resignation in good
time. But, as they gave him no definite answer, there was nothing for
it but to remind them that he had agreed to go--and soon. Downcast
faces listened; a most unconsenting silence answered.

"Well, are you willing?" said he at last. "Is Her Majesty the
Empress-Dowager agreeable to receiving me as British Minister?"

"Oh, yes," they replied; "she would rather have you than any one else,
because, with your great knowledge of China, it will be very pleasant
to do business with you. Besides, you are an old friend of ours."

"Then is she willing to have me leave the Inspectorate?" continued
the I.G., still feeling a subtle sense of their dissatisfaction. They
brightened up at this. It was evidently the cue they had been looking
for. "That is the point," said one of the Ministers, plucking up
courage. "Her Majesty would much prefer that you stayed with us."

The upshot of it all was that he stayed; he felt that in the face
of the Yamên's remarks he could not treat such kind and considerate
employers as the Chinese otherwise. But one of the quaintest touches
in the whole affair was that his strongest private reason for holding
back, at first, from the splendid appointment as British Minister
was that he did not wish to tie himself for five years longer in
China--and yet after all he was to stay twenty-five willingly in the
land of his exile.



CHAPTER VIII

AN IMPORTANT MISSION TO HONGKONG AND MACAO--THE BEGINNING OF A
PRIVATE BAND--DECORATIONS, CHINESE AND FOREIGN--THE SIKKIM-THIBET
CONVENTION--FORMAL ESTABLISHMENT OF THE POST OFFICE--WAR LOANS


Robert Hart therefore went quietly on with his work in the Customs
(1885), setting personal ambitions calmly aside, and finding--let us
hope--his reward in the satisfaction which the Chinese and the service
generally expressed at his sacrifice of the British Government's
tempting offer.

The very year after it was made, an important piece of business,
safely, even brilliantly concluded, added greatly to his reputation.
This was the settlement of questions relating to the simultaneous
collection of duty and likin on opium--two of the burning questions of
the day in the south. China had long desired to levy both taxes at one
and the same time, but without an arrangement with the Hongkong and
Macao Governments this was impossible, as clever smugglers usually
contrived to hurry the drug safely into either British or Portuguese
territory before the Chinese authorities could lay their eyes, much
less levy their duties, upon it. Moreover, once it had crossed a
frontier, redress was impossible.

To remedy this unfortunate state of affairs, the I.G., together with
a certain Taotai, was sent on a mission. Great pourparlers were held
with the Hongkong authorities, who finally agreed to the concessions
he asked--provided the Macao authorities should do the same. Luckily
they did with readiness--even with enthusiasm--as they themselves were
anxious for a _quid pro quo_ from China.

The Portuguese position in Macao had always been a peculiar
one--unofficial is the word which best describes it--for though they
had quietly occupied the place since the far-away days of the Mings,
the Chinese had tolerated the strangers without recognizing them, only
now and then murdering one by way of protest. Here, then, was their
chance to obtain official status, and the Governor, a shrewd man,
seized it. The matter went through without a hitch; China, in addition
to getting her own way on the likin question, was given the right to
open her Custom Houses at Kowloon (Hongkong) and Lappa (Macao), while
Portugal on her side agreed never to sell or cede Macao to any other
Power without China's consent.

A slight passage-at-arms between the I.G. and a certain Chinese
official enlivened the proceedings, and threw an amusing sidelight on
Oriental methods. This man, when Robert Hart met him in Canton, said
with amazing frankness, "I had a spy in Hongkong who repeated to me
faithfully all that went on there, all that you did, all that you
said; but I had nobody in Macao. So will you please tell me what
happened in the latter place?"

When the I.G. refused, saying the business concerned only himself and
the Yamên, the fellow was first genuinely amazed, then righteously
indignant, finally secretly vindictive. He nursed the grievance for
years, and revenged himself at last by memorializing against the
I.G.'s famous Land Tax Scheme, which, weathering a storm of bitter
criticism, lived to enjoy great praise.

Once this Mission was over, the I.G. travelled no more. Things were so
well established by this time that there was no need for him to tour
the ports, and increasing work kept him ever closer to his desk in
Peking. Never was a man, I think, who lived a quieter or more orderly
life, or who had less recreation in his days. He went little
into society; when he did, his rare appearances were immensely
remarked--much as the passage of a comet might have been--and if he
made a visit, it was talked of with pride all through the community.
Indeed, the hostess who could say "The I.G. took tea with me to-day,"
was something of a heroine. He read much and wrote prodigiously,
sending out--and receiving too--the mail of a Prime Minister.

One extravagance, and only one, did he permit himself--I am thinking
of his private band. Yet even that he did not deliberately seek. The
idea came to him unexpectedly, put into his head by the Commissioner
of Customs at Tientsin, who wrote one day that he had among his
subordinates the very man for a bandmaster. Pathetic derelict, a
bandmaster without a band! Acting upon a sudden inspiration--perhaps
with some subtle intuition of the important part the music was to play
in the life of the community in after years, and of all the pleasure
it was to give--the I.G. sent money from his private purse to buy
instruments and music, though until that moment the idea of a band in
Peking had seemed infinitely remote if not utterly preposterous.

[Illustration: SIR ROBERT HART'S BAND IN THE EARLY 'NINETIES, BEFORE
IT HAD GROWN TO ITS PRESENT SIZE.

Playing on the lawn in front of his house.]

Some dozen promising young Chinese were at once collected and
initiated into the complicated mysteries of chords and keys. They
learned quickly and well--so well that within a year eight of them
were ready to come up to the capital and teach others. A doubtful
venture became an assured success. More and more players were added;
a promising barber, lured, perhaps, by the playing of his friend's
flute, abandoned his trade and set to work on the 'cello; or a
shoemaker, forsaking his last, devoted himself to the cornet. The
neighbouring tailor laid aside his needle; the carter left his cart,
bewitched away from everyday things by the music. It may be the smart
uniform had something to do with the popularity of the organization;
there is ever a fine line between art and vanity--but why dwell upon
an ignoble motive?

Suffice it to say, whether from pure conceit or better things, the
little company grew till it reached a score, and, under a Portuguese
bandmaster, touched a high level of perfection, playing both on brass
and strings with taste and spirit. The Tientsin branch flourished
equally well and became ultimately the Viceroy's band, and the mother
of bands innumerable all over the metropolitan province of Chihli. But
in reputation it never equalled what was known throughout China as the
"I.G.'s Own."

[Illustration: SIR ROBERT HART'S CHINESE BAND.]

In spring and autumn his musicians gave an open-air concert in the
Inspectorate garden every Wednesday afternoon. Of course, this was the
event of the week so far as society was concerned. Peking residents,
as well as many distinguished strangers who happened to be passing,
came to listen. The scene was invariably animated; ladies walked about
under the lilacs, which in April hung over the paths like soft clouds
of purple fog, displaying their newest toilettes; diplomats discussed
_la situation politique_; missionaries argued points of doctrine;
correspondents exchanged bits of news. All nationalities, classes and
creeds were represented in this cosmopolitan corner of the world, but
the lions and the lambs agreed tacitly to tolerate each other for the
sake of hearing the familiar tunes, warming as good old wine to the
hearts of exiles, and for the sake of seeing the mysterious man whose
advice, given, as it were, under his breath, shaped the course of
events in China.

He guessed well enough what brought the people, and would sometimes
remark laughingly, "They come; I know why they all come. It is just
to get a sight of the two curios of Peking, the I.G. and his queer
musicians."

Occasionally Chinese guests would mingle with the rest, lending with
their silken gowns and silken manners a touch of picturesqueness to
the scene. I can well remember seeing the famous Wu Ting Fang, whose
alert manner made him a general favourite. He prided himself upon
it--and rightly. "How old do you think I am?" he asked his host one
day. "Perhaps forty-five," was the reply. "Forty-five! What a guess!
Sixty-five would have been nearer--and I mean to live to be two
hundred."

He went on to explain carefully how this feat was to be accomplished.
The first thing, naturally, was diet. The man who would cheat time
should live on nuts like the squirrels (do they contrive to do it, I
wonder?). Under no conditions should he touch salt, lest a dangerous
precipitate form upon his bones, and he should begin and end each meal
with a teaspoonful of olive oil. So much for the physical side: the
mental is no less important. "I have hung scrolls in my bedroom," Wu
Ting Fang went on to explain, "with these sentences written upon them
in English and in Chinese: 'I am young, I am healthy, I am cheerful.'
Immediately I enter the room my eye falls upon these precepts. I
say to myself, Why, of course I am, and therefore I _am_." Was ever
simpler or saner method discovered for warding off old age?

Towards the end of 1889 the Chinese Government, desirous of paying the
I.G. a special compliment, chose to confer upon him an honour never
before given to any foreigner. Without precedent and without warning,
the Emperor issued an Imperial Decree raising him to the Chinese
equivalent of the peerage. Henceforth he belonged to the distinguished
company of Iron Hatted Dukes--at least not he but his ancestors
did, for this was no ordinary father-to-son patent of nobility. The
topsy-turvy honour reached backward instead of forward, diminishing
one rank with each succeeding generation.

The Chinese reason as follows: "If a man is wise or great or
successful, it is because his forbears were studious or temperate or
frugal. Therefore, when we give rewards, shall we not give them where
they are justly due?" Something might be said for a point of view
so diametrically opposed to our own, but the question of ethics has
nothing to do with my story.

The strange feature of it is that the very night before the Edict
appeared--when the I.G. had not the slightest hint of what was in
store for him--he dreamed of his father's father--a thing he had not
done for years. Dressed in a snuff-coloured suit, with knee-breeches
and shining shoe buckles, he appeared walking down the little street
of Portadown leaning heavily upon a blackthorn stick and murmuring
sadly, "Nobody cares for me, nobody takes any notice of me." Nobody,
indeed?

[Illustration: SIR ROBERT HART'S STABLES IN 1890.]

The very next evening at a dinner party at the French Legation some
one told the I.G. of the new honour, gazetted an hour before, and how
an Emperor, with a stroke of his Vermilion Pencil, had deprived the
ghost of a grievance.

Equally romantic was a coincidence that happened when the I.G. was
made a Baronet in 1893. The question of arms then coming up, he made
all possible enquiries concerning those which his family had a right
to use. Without doubt the Harts did bear arms in the days of William
of Orange, when they were granted to the famous Dutchman Captain van
Hardt who so distinguished himself at the Battle of the Boyne. But
after his death the family grew poor; the arms fell into disuse and
were forgotten so completely that one descendant thought they might
have been a hart rampant, while another declared they were a sheaf of
burning wheat.

Robert Hart was not the man to grope long in a fog of mystery. He
decided the question once and for all by submitting a blazon of his
own choice to the College of Heralds, and his design--three fleurs
de lis and a four-leaved shamrock--was sanctioned, as it had not been
previously applied for.

The search for the original arms was naturally given up then, but by
the merest accident they were ultimately found. Some member of
the family happening years afterwards to stroll through a very old
cemetery in Dublin, curiosity or idleness led him to examine the
tombstones. One in particular attracted his attention, perhaps because
it was more dilapidated and tumble-down than the rest. He gently
scraped the moss from the inscription and found that he had stumbled
on the long-forgotten tomb of Captain van Hardt, and underneath
the hero's name he found a coat-of-arms, half obliterated yet still
recognizable. It showed _three fleurs de lis and a four-leaved
shamrock_.

But it must not be imagined that Robert Hart was the man to rest on
his laurels or to regard honours as so many flags of truce entitling
him to draw out, even for a time, of the battle of work. From 1889
to 1903 he was deeply engaged on that very important business the
Sikkim-Thibet Convention. The Thibetans having crossed the border into
Sikkim, a State protected by the British, the British in return sent
an expedition into Thibet and, since there was trouble about the
frontier, refused to go out again. This was a very disagreeable
predicament for China. She turned, as usual, to the man who never
ceased labouring on her behalf, and, as usual, he rose to the
occasion.

Mr. James Hart, the I.G.'s brother, lately returned from delimitating
the Tonkin frontier, was sent posthaste to assist the Amban, the
Chinese Resident in Thibet. As a result of this wise choice, the
preliminary Treaty was put through by 1890, and the Chinese Customs
opened stations in Thibet. Three questions relative to trade, however,
remained to be settled, and for three long years negotiations over
these dragged on at Darjeeling.

Needless to say it was a slow and often wearisome business, with the
interest, to my mind, unfairly divided. On one side, the Thibetan
side, there was picturesqueness enough, though not without discomfort
too, for many a time the envoys must needs cross mountain-passes so
deep in snow that a hundred Thibetans marched ahead treading it down,
and not less often they must sleep in the rudest camps and eat the
unsavoury cuisine of the country. But on the other, the Peking side,
there was nothing but hard and dreary work, since every word that the
Chinese Commissioners said was telegraphed back to the I.G., and then
carefully discussed with the Yamên.

No sooner was quiet restored in Thibet than anxiety about war with
Japan began to agitate the Chinese capital. The air was as full of
rumours as a woman of whims. One day, happening to find himself beside
Baron Komura, the Japanese Chargé d'Affaires in Peking, the I.G. half
laughingly remarked, "So you are going to fight China after all?
I suppose you will win." "Oh, one never knows," was the Minister's
diplomatic reply. Strange to say the general opinion among men less
practical and less well-informed than the Inspector-General, was that
China would easily win a war against Japan--if it came to war--just as
later the unanimous opinion in the Far East was that if Russia fought
Japan, Russia must conquer.

But subsequent events proved Robert Hart right. China, after a brief
struggle, was severely beaten, and peace came as a relief. Then
immediately the question of loans to pay off the indemnity arose.
Two small war loans of Tls. 10,000,000 each were floated, it is true,
during the actual hostilities, but the first big loan of £16,000,000
was not arranged till so late as 1896.

The I.G. had the matter in hand; but unfortunately, just as he was
about to complete it, French and Russian banks offered to lend the sum
at a cheaper rate of interest, and so it was given to them. They also
agreed to float a second loan for £16,000,000. But at the last moment,
either because of some hitch in the minor arrangements, or because the
Chinese suddenly thought it might be unwise to put all their eggs in
one basket, they turned again to Robert Hart.

Late one night a Yamên messenger came clattering down the silent
streets, the sound of his pony's hoof-beats echoing from the compound
walls and arousing the whole quarter, there was a prodigious thumping
on the big outer gate before a sleeping watchman could be made to roll
out of his wadded quilts; but finally, after prolonged consultation,
the despatch was taken in to the I.G., the messenger calmed with tea
and a _pourboire_, and quiet once more restored. Next morning, early,
the I.G.'s cart was at the door--a vehicle, by the way, interesting
in itself, since it was chosen by Hung Ki, the man who liberated Sir
Harry Parkes--and Robert Hart started for the only shop in Peking,
ostensibly to buy toys for his children friends, as it was near
Christmas.

[Illustration: SIR ROBERT HART'S PRIVATE CART.

The wheels have knobs on them to strengthen them, there are no
springs. The carter always walks.]

In those days the Legations watched his movements very closely;
he wished them to hear that his little expedition was purely a
pleasurable one. No doubt they did, for not a soul knew that, when
he casually strolled into a bank near by, it was to quietly produce a
paper from his pocket and say, as one might say "Good day,"--"I have
here a loan agreement for £16,000,000, but I can only give it to you
on condition that you sign immediately."

Half an hour later the necessary signatures were on the document--the
whole great matter put through. Looking back upon the success, one
marvels at how he contrived it so rapidly that, once the news was out,
people caught their breath with astonishment. Instinctively he must
have felt it was a psychological moment when a man is required to take
responsibility--to presume even on his power, and that in a moment's
hesitation all might have been lost.

In 1896 came the formal establishment of the Imperial Chinese Post
Office--in itself the work of many a man's lifetime. Money had to
be found for the experiment from the Customs funds first, then
innumerable rules and regulations framed and experiments tried before
it became a practical working institution. The I.G.'s wonderful grasp
of detail stood him in good stead then, for a hundred details came
daily under his notice, and he was consulted on every possible
subject--from a design on a postage stamp to the opening of a
new department. To him, indeed, belongs the entire credit for the
designing and building of the greatest success of recent years in
China--a postal service, grown beyond the most sanguine hopes,
which not only pays its own way but is beginning to turn over some
revenue--indirectly, of course--to the Imperial Treasury.

[Illustration: THE IMPERIAL CHINESE POST OFFICE ENTRANCE ON A RAINY
DAY IN THE 'NINETIES]

Meanwhile the "five years longer" that he had privately set as the
term of his life in China when he refused to become British Minister
at Peking (1885) were long since passed, and five other years had
followed them, yet he had never found it possible to return to his
own country. Each spring he debated whether he might safely leave his
unfinished plans, which, ranging as they did over a vast number of
subjects, could not well be given half completed into other hands, and
each spring some new problem claimed his attention. In 1896, however,
he faced a harder decision than usual. The road was perhaps unusually
open--and yet he knew that, half hidden, there were obstacles waiting
to be met.

At this crisis of indecision he decided to do what he had so often
done before--consult the Bible. This had been a habit of his father's
before him; in fact, his whole family had asked guidance on every
venture they undertook, no matter how humble it might be, and the
training of his childhood was not outgrown. He accordingly took the
Bible lying on his desk and opened it at random one evening. There,
truly enough, was an answer clear and unmistakable in the very
first verse his eye lighted upon--Acts xxvii. 31: "Paul said to the
centurion and to the soldiers, Except these abide in the ship, ye
cannot be saved." It immediately decided him to remain in China, and
he suffered no more from perplexity or indecision.

Robert Hart was indeed deeply religious. Unlike so many men who
have passed their lives in the East, he never absorbed any Eastern
fatalism, nor did the lamp of his faith ever burn dimly because he
mixed with men of other and older creeds. The Christian ideal he
always considered the highest in the world; but once, when trying to
live up to it, he was brought to confusion, though not through any
fault of his own.

One day, as he was leaving the gate of a certain mission where he
had been to pay a call, a Chinese of the poorer classes, unkempt and
dirty, came and threw an arm about his shoulders, saying, "I see you
are also coming away from the mission, so we are brothers in Christ. I
will accompany you on your way."

The I.G. afterwards confessed that his first feeling was one of
irritation at the man's familiarity--which amounted almost to
impertinence--and his second, disgust at the grimy hand so near his
collar. To summarily shake it off was a natural instinct. But, when he
thought a moment, he clearly saw the absurdity of professing a creed
of universal brotherhood and then, as soon as some one attempted
brotherly familiarity, of repulsing him. Therefore he suffered the
man's arm to remain as far as the corner of the big street, where he
made a determined effort to get free, saying, "My way lies in this
direction," and attempting to slip off before his companion could see
which point of the compass "this" was.

But the fellow-Christian was observant and consistent. "Oh, I will
come with you," he said, in the tone of one doing a kindness, so the
I.G. could do nothing but resign himself to his fate. Baronet and
coolie made a triumphal progress down Legation Street, much to the
amusement of the sentries on guard, and by the time he reached his own
door the former felt a few shamefaced doubts about the advisability of
mission methods which inculcated the equality of man irrespective of
colour, class, and cleanliness.

1899 saw the Germans take possession of Kiaochow, and the question of
establishing a branch of the Chinese Customs there was discussed and
settled, China finally obtaining the right to open her own Kiaochow
Custom House, with a German staff of her own employees.

This was the last important international work he undertook before
the memorable Siege in 1900. Already the first mutterings of the storm
sounded. The first Boxers appeared in Shantung--a little cloud
of fanatics scarcely bigger than a man's hand. But soon they were
spreading over all the north of China, and even spilling into the
metropolitan province of Chihli itself.

[Illustration: A GARDEN PARTY GIVEN BY SIR ROBERT HART TO GOVERNOR
TRÜPPEL (OF KIAOCHOW) AND PARTY.]



CHAPTER IX

THE PROLOGUE TO THE SIEGE--BARRICADES AND SCALING LADDERS--THE SIEGE
PROPER--A MESSAGE FROM THE YAMÊN AND AN IMPORTANT TELEGRAM--RELIEF AT
LAST--NEW QUARTERS--NEGOTIATIONS--THE CONGRESS OF PEKING--AN IMPERIAL
AUDIENCE


Some three weeks before the beginning of the Siege proper Peking was
in a state of great unrest--how great no one, not even the I.G., could
accurately judge. But as each day brought new alarms and constant
reports of Boxer misdoings all over the city were confirmed by
terrified eye-witnesses, it was thought wise to make some practical
preparations for defence. The Legations were luckily provided with
guards, whose officers, acting in concert, agreed to hold a square
that included the whole quarter and the Customs property as well.
Unfortunately the few troops made a pitifully thin line when they were
spread over the area to be defended, and the Customs Staff, at the
I.G.'s suggestion, organized themselves into a Volunteer corps, kept
regular watches day and night, and prepared to assist generally in
case of emergency.

Indeed they did even more; with his permission they set to and
fortified the Inspectorate compounds, turning his garden into a
trampled wilderness. Barricades were built across what was known as
Inspectorate Street while the I.G. stood by and refreshed the thirsty
workers with beer from his cellar; the big gate was loopholed, the
walls strengthened, and clumsy look-out platforms, reminiscent of
the Siege of Troy, constructed. From these I can guess he must have
watched--and with what feelings!--the progress of the dreadful fires
starting over the city; must have seen, down the long straight street,
native Christians burning like torches, and must have heard the
fiendish shouts of "Kill!" "Kill and burn!" issuing from a thousand
hoarse throats.

The situation was terrifying enough in all conscience--yet nothing to
what it was to be later when the handful of white men, encumbered with
women, children and converts, were to stand against Imperial troops in
addition to these savage hordes of Boxers, whose infinite daring, due
to a belief in their own invulnerability, was somewhat mitigated by
their inferior weapons.

[Illustration: LADY HART.]

From first to last the I.G., though no longer young, showed admirable
coolness and courage in the face of the crisis. He sent frequent
despatches, full of excellent and sane advice, to the Yamên. Alas!
they went unheeded. So did the telegram he got through to Li Hung
Chang on June 12th. This was his final effort to save a desperate
situation, and the message ran: "You have killed missionaries; that
is bad enough. But if you harm the Legations you will violate the most
sacred international obligations and create an impossible situation."

It did no good, unluckily; things had gone so far by this time that
they must go still farther with inevitable motion, and whatever
Li himself thought of the insane idea of attempting to exterminate
foreigners, he could do nothing to stem the tide of mistaken Boxer
patriotism.

On the 13th the telegraph wires were cut; and on the 19th an ultimatum
arrived from the Yamên giving the foreigners twenty-four hours to
leave Peking, and offering to convoy them with Chinese troops as
far as Tientsin. The Ministers held meeting after meeting; they were
somewhat shaken, but, still trustful, determined to accept the Chinese
Government's offer of an escort as far as the sea. Against this
proposal, however, the non-diplomatic community threw the whole weight
of its disapproval, fortunately--as things turned out--overbearing it,
since the Chinese Government, with the best will in the world, was not
at that moment in a position to assure the safety of any one. The very
best proof of this, if further proof were needed, was the murder of
Baron von Ketteler, the German Minister, on the morning of June 20th.

The shock of that news filled the community with horror and
consternation. The suddenness of the tragedy, the treachery of it,
were appalling. Plainly no protection could be hoped for, and the same
afternoon all non-combatants were ordered into the British Legation,
as that was the largest compound in Peking, and the one most suitable
for a last stand should the worst come to the worst. The I.G., of
course, went with the rest. If it cost him anything to calmly walk
out of the house he had occupied for years, leaving all behind him--he
took a last look around the rooms, I remember, as though to impress
their picture on his mind--he gave no sign, just as he showed none
of the natural alarm which, with his responsibility for a large staff
with wives and children, he must have felt.

[Illustration: By the courtesy of "The Pall Mall Magazine"

SIR ROBERT HART IN HIS PRIVATE OFFICE.]

The history of the Siege proper, like the history of the Taiping
Rebellion, has been written a hundred times. Praise and blame have
been variously distributed; flaws picked in one another's behaviour
by a dozen eye-witnesses, but it is not my purpose to attempt to
arbitrate over details which each man naturally sees through his own
glasses. Only so far as the I.G. was personally concerned with the
events of those two unhappy months need they be touched upon here.

At first the wildest confusion prevailed in the Legation.
Misunderstandings about where a final stand should be made, doubts
whether it should be made in Peking at all, had delayed very necessary
preparations. There was not shelter for all the refugees, and some
literally camped under the big _ting-erhs_ (open pavilions with roofs
but no side walls), their hastily collected household goods lying
around them. The Customs, however, fared better than that; they were
given a small house, into which they packed themselves as best they
could. The I.G., who refused to accept any special privileges, slept
in a tiny back room and cheerfully ate the mule, which was hatefully
coarse while it was fat and unutterably tough when it grew lean.
Indeed, his marvellous adaptability to difficult conditions was soon
the talk of that little company.

To a man accustomed during a long life to habits regulated by
clockwork, the jar must have been especially sharp; yet before his
neighbours had fairly begun to wonder how he would take it, he had
made for himself a new routine of living, and he might have been
observed each day doing the same things at the same hours--smoking
his afternoon cigarette as he leaned against a favourite pillar, or
walking to and fro along a particular path--thus setting an example of
regularity in an irregular and stormy existence.

As every one expected, the Yamên soon attempted to communicate with
him. This they did several times, throwing letters over the wall
during the night. One enquired quite tenderly after the besieged;
another asked him to send a message to London saying all was well with
the Legations; a third calmly requested his advice about a ticklish
matter of Customs business. This latter he answered in detail--just
as if he had been in his own office--and then threw the reply over the
wall again. It is interesting to know, by the way, that the "writer"
who assisted him with these letters received £20 for his pains--the
highest pay ever earned by a literary man in China at one sitting.

But the message which the I.G. afterwards laughingly said was the
most important--as far as he personally was concerned--went out of the
Legation instead of coming into it. Addressed to no Foreign Office and
to no Commander-in-Chief, it contained neither diplomatic nor military
secrets. It was a domestic message pure and simple--yet sent neither
to relative nor intimate friend. His tailor was, in fact, the man who
received it. "Send quickly," the wire read, "two autumn office suits
and later two winter ditto with morning and evening dress, warm cape
and four pairs of boots and slippers. I have lost everything but am
well. We have still an anxious fortnight to weather.--HART, Peking, 5
August 1900."

What a startling effect this message from the grave must have had upon
people in England, who, having pictured the I.G. boiled in oil, found
him quietly ordering clothes for a future which was still uncertain!
As it happened his forethought was providential, for the parcel of
warm clothing arrived in Peking on the morning of October 26th, when
the I.G. waked to find autumn changed to winter in a night, and the
ground thickly powdered with snow.

The "anxious fortnight," he spoke of was, after all, safely weathered.
On the night of August 13th, which happened to be fine and clear,
the far-away guns of the relief force outside the city sounded so
distinctly that all those in the Legation were aroused in a moment.
The sleepers sprang to their feet; and the sentries answered the
welcome voices of the pom-poms, careless of their own long-saved
ammunition. Next day the relieving troops were in the city, and
the besieged, in defiance of orders (the Chinese were still firing
heavily), were out to meet them beyond the last barricade, and close
by the historic water gate. No words could adequately picture the
intense excitement of that meeting; emotion touched for a moment the
most unemotional, and I may say, without exaggeration, that there was
not a dry eye, blue or black, nor a voice which could give a cheer
without a break in it.

Soon after the I.G. had the dangerous pleasure of reading his own
obituary notices, and then, very much alive again, he set to work
once more. Not for him was a change of air and scene possible. As he
whimsically remarked to some one who urged him to take a rest after
the discomforts and trials of the Siege, "I have had my holiday
already. Eight weeks of doing nothing,--what more could a man expect?"

The Yamên Secretaries were seeking him out three days after the last
shot was fired--while he still remained in the Legation--eagerly
enquiring what he thought of the possibility of beginning negotiations
with the Powers. How could order be brought out of chaos?

[Illustration: SIR ROBERT HART AND A GROUP OF CUSTOMS PEOPLE.]

As a famous Chinese, Ku Hung Ming, author of the "Papers from a
Viceroy's Yamên," afterwards said, "All great men are optimists,
and Sir Robert Hart was the greatest optimist we had in 1900." His
hopefulness encouraged the officials so much that the heads of the
Yamên soon sent word they also wished to consult him: this business,
if there was any hope of its success, was too big to be entrusted to
deputies. Accordingly he began a search for new offices, since the
Legation was no place to receive such men and his own house had been
burned down.

Alas for the mournful desolation that met his eyes when he made a
melancholy pilgrimage, as it were, to his old quarters! Nothing was
left of the house but a few charred walls. Broken tiles lay scattered
here and there, and he picked up the head of a pretty little Saxe
shepherdess, of all things the most fragile and improbable to survive
such a storm. The rest of his belongings had disappeared utterly--all
the treasures of a lifetime had been burned or looted--priceless
letters from Chinese Gordon and from Gladstone, the wonderful
rainbow-silk scrolls for his Chinese patent of nobility, the
photographs of all the famous men with whom he had been associated in
the past--everything.

He was glad enough to get two rooms behind Kierulff's shop for
temporary living quarters. What matter if his hall door was littered
with packing-cases, or if his sitting-room windows fronted upon waste
ground where a herd of mules scampered? He soon learned to pick his
way among the former; the latter, with characteristic caution, always
respected his panes, and anyway it was not the time for finicking over
trifles.

For an office he hired a tiny little temple nestling under the walls
of the Tartar City. It was but a small _pied-à-terre_, yet all he
required, for the Customs Archives had been burnt, and the Deputy
Inspector General, Sir Robert Bredon, with the Inspectorate Staff,
left immediately for Shanghai to begin the difficult task of picking
up the threads of Customs work there.

Meanwhile the _Tajêns_ (heads of boards) wrote to the I.G. asking for
a safe convoy through the foreign lines, and he sent one of his own
men to bring them down, since, though poor enough in other things,
they were so rich in fears. Five came this first time, but one acted
as spokesman to voice the grief of all over what had occurred, and to
exonerate the Emperor and the Empress-Dowager of blame. No doubt
the two sovereigns _were_ innocent of responsibility for what had
happened--no one would believe it at the time, however--and _were_
captured, as these ministers said, by "officials of another way of
thinking, and made to appear as if approving what they disapproved and
ordering what they really forbade."

Their position is not too difficult to understand when one remembers
that, Oriental fashion, they were shut up in their palaces, where no
breath of impartial advice could possibly reach them, and that they
heard only what courtiers with their own fish to fry permitted them to
hear.

The real culprits then, according to all accounts, were the officials
who deliberately misled the Court. It was characteristic of the I.G.,
always too big for resentment, that he could find some excuse for
them and, though the length of his service entitled him to more
consideration than most of those who cried out bitterly for
"vengeance," could write in his book ("These From the Land of Sinim"),
"In the heat of the conflict, and under the agonizing strain of
anxiety for imperilled loved ones, many hard things have been said and
written about the officials who allied themselves with the Boxers.
But these men were eminent in their own country for their learning
and services, were animated by patriotism, were enraged by foreign
dictation, and had the courage of their convictions. We must do them
the justice of allowing that they were actuated by high motives and
love of country--not that these necessarily mean political ability or
highest wisdom," The truth is--and he realized it thoroughly--that
the real deep feeling of the Chinese people has always been to be left
alone in peace to pursue the even tenor of their way.

So enlightened a man as the great Minister Wen Hsiang--"one of the
most intelligent and broad-minded Chinese I ever knew," as Sir Robert
Hart sometimes said--frankly confessed this when speaking to the I.G.
a few years after the inauguration of the Customs. "We would gladly
pay you all the increased revenue you have brought us," were his exact
words, "if you foreigners would go back to your own country and leave
us in peace as we were before you came."

Of course neither the wishes of the Chinese nor the question of
Imperial responsibility or non-responsibility mattered greatly in
1900. The nations of the world were not in a tolerant mood; they
would, as he pointed out, care little for excuses and less for the
Chinese anxiety about the Palace, "with its ancestral contents," or
the Imperial Tombs. The only thing which might influence them was the
consideration of the welfare of the Chinese people.

Plans for the future must turn upon this as upon an axle. Moreover,
to effect anything some distinguished person of high position and
importance must come forward, and the man whom the I.G. named when he
was asked for his advice was Prince Ching. He was the one person with
whom the Foreign Powers would be most likely to treat, as it was to
his influence, rumour said, that the Legations owed the merciful truce
during the Siege. Li Hung Chang, it is true, had also been given full
powers to negotiate with the Nations, but they looked rather askance
at him because of two telegrams he had sent. One stating that the
Legations had reached Tientsin in safety was a most unfortunate
falsehood and prejudiced the world against him, more's the pity, as he
had hitherto been considered able and powerful abroad. The other was a
foolish request that no foreign troops should pass Tungchow--a town
on the Grand Canal about fifteen miles from the capital. It was quite
right and proper that, being appointed, Li should share Prince Ching's
labours and not allow everything, criticism included, to be thrown on
the latter alone; but the more he was discredited, the more need for
Prince Ching to return to Peking--and quickly.

[Illustration: SIR ROBERT HART AND MISS KATE CARL

In the costume given her by the Empress-Dowager of China when Miss
Carl painted her portrait for the St. Louis Exhibition.]

At last the officials discovered where he was--he had fled with the
Court but stopped _en route_--urged him to come back, and he came. I
believe one of the first things he did was to send for the I.G., whom
he greeted with great cordiality. "This is China's oldest friend,"
he said to the officials standing by, "and I rely on him to help us.
Indeed I can remember, as if it was yesterday, when we worked together
before on the Franco-Chinese negotiations in 1885."

The meeting was a memorable and decisive one. As the Chinese
themselves knew, and as the I.G. agreed, there were but two ways of
solving the difficulty before them. Either it must be fought out--and
the fact that China's military strength could not arrest the steps of
the foreign troops, and that a fort-night sufficed for them to march
victoriously from the sea to Peking, was in itself sufficient to show
that nothing could be hoped from the noble idea of "no surrender"--or
at all costs some peaceful arrangement must be made.

A note was accordingly drawn up requesting the doyen of the Diplomatic
Corps to fix a day to receive the Chinese Plenipotentiaries, who
"were ready to begin negotiations and had prepared a proposal for
discussion," which they enclosed. A bold stroke this, and rather a
surprise to the diplomats, who marvelled that the Chinese--injuring
parties as they were--should have the courage--let us call it so, for
there was truly much admirable bravery in it--to take the first step.

The details of the subsequent negotiations would fill pages.
How anxiously Li Hung Chang was waited for; how memorandum after
memorandum was drawn up, altered, amended, discarded altogether; how
the stricken city was gradually calmed, and traders induced to bring
in supplies again; how the poor ladies, wives of four Emperors, who
had been left behind in the palace almost starved to death when the
international troops guarding the Forbidden City forbade all ingress
and egress through the pink gates, until the I.G. saved them, in the
nick of time, by applying to the Allied Generals, might be told at
length.

But a busy age has little patience with details, however
romantic--suffice it to say that negotiations continued by fits and
starts. What really complicated them was the absence of the Court! The
I.G. frankly wrote as much to the Grand Secretary, Wang Wên Shao, and
in so doing he only voiced the general feeling that "at such a time
of suffering it would be well for the Emperor to be with his people."
Prince Ching willingly testified that. Though he had been back ten
days he had not suffered any personal indignity, and hinted that, were
the Emperor to return, he would, of course, meet with even greater
consideration. But the Court was obstinate. While the Palace was in
the hands of foreign troops they would not come--and so, for the
time, the negotiators had to get on as best they could without their
Imperial masters.

Only for a time, however. Then what persuasion had been unable to
accomplish was brought about by a natural calamity. Famine broke
out in the province of Shênsi, and the Court suffered greatly in the
devastated state of the country and the cramped and uncomfortable
quarters of a Governor's yamên. Soon they were as desirous of
returning to their capital as they had formerly been reluctant to do
so. "Hurry up the negotiations at all costs" were the orders sent
to the Plenipotentiaries, and hurry they did, so that by December a
settlement was within sight, the two most difficult questions--those
dealing with penalties and indemnities--being the last arranged.

The first named long caused embarrassment to the Chinese side and
greatly worried everybody, for there seemed no possible way to
compromise about it. The last ultimately resolved itself into the
simple problem not whether China would or would not pay, but what
she would pay with. Tariff Revision was suggested as one method, the
taxation of native opium as another. Speaking of the latter, the I.G.
one day remarked to Prince Ching, "I lost all my memoranda about it
when the Inspectorate was burned down." "But you have your wonderful
memory," the Prince replied, "and you must carry it through. I count
upon you, remember."

On Christmas Eve (1900) a great meeting was held at the Spanish
Legation--the Spanish Minister was doyen of the Diplomatic Corps at
the time. All the Ministers then assembled to meet Prince Ching and
Li and to hand over the final demands they had formulated. They were
signed in French that same day, and the next telegraphed in Chinese
word for word to the Court at Si-an.

Strange to say the I.G. was not present at the meeting, and therefore
reaped none of the kudos for his hard work. It was not for lack of
invitation, however. The Chinese certainly urged him to come. Li Hung
Chang, for instance, spoke continually of what he had done, and not an
official but was sincerely grateful and would gladly have pushed him
forward. A vainer man, a lighter character, must have yielded to the
temptation to satisfy his vanity, but he had the strength to refuse,
saying, "Being a foreigner, my presence would only complicate
matters."

The Court, however, did not allow his efforts to go unrewarded.
They telegraphed another high if queer-sounding honour from Si-an.
Thenceforth he was to be addressed as _Kung-pao_, or Guardian of the
Heir-Apparent,--who, by the way, does not exist; not that in
China this trifling fact makes his guardians any less important
or honourable. The Empress-Dowager herself was well aware that the
importance of these Peace Negotiations could not be overestimated. She
knew that his promptness in urging the return of Prince Ching probably
saved the dynasty--that had Count Waldersee arrived before any Chinese
officials had taken action, it is impossible to say what might not
have happened; and to further show her Imperial approbation she
summoned him to a private audience on her return to Peking and said
so.

[Illustration: PEKING PEACE PROTOCOL, 1901.

Left to right (seated) Secretary of Japanese Legation Baron
d'Anthouard, Secretary of French Legation Baron (now Count) Komura,
Japanese Minister M. Knotel, Minister for the Netherlands Marquis
Salvago-Raggi, Minister for Italy M de Giers, Minister for Russia M.
de Cologan, Minister for Spain Baron Czikann de Wahlborn. Minister for
Austria M. Joostens, Minister for Belgium Baron Momin, Minister for
Germany Sir Ernest Satow, Minister for Great Britain Mr. Rockhill,
Minister for the United States M. Beau, Minister for France.]

To him she showed her softest side, melted into kindness and
consideration, complimented him in her velvet voice, and went so
far as to say, when some question of the future came up, "We owe the
possibility of a new beginning to the help you have given our faithful
Ministers." Last of all she paid him a greater tribute still. When on
enquiring where he lived, and being told by Prince Kung on his knees
and in deeply apologetic tones, "Since the little accident in
1900, when Sir Robert's house was burned, he has been living behind
Kierulff's shop," her eyes filled with tears, and with real regret in
her voice she said, "How can we look you in the face?"



CHAPTER X

SOME QUIET YEARS--A CHANGE OF MASTERS--INSOMNIA--A FAREWELL
AUDIENCE--AN HONOUR AND ITS ADVERTISEMENT--AH FONG AND
OTHERS--DEPARTURE FROM PEKING--"A SMALL, INSIGNIFICANT IRISHMAN"


With the conclusion of the Peking Congress a new era began in the old
capital. One could scarcely expect the effects of the Siege and its
terrible aftermath to wear off at once. It was long indeed before the
city resumed anything like a normal appearance, before people dared to
come creeping back to their ruined shops and houses. Some, alas! found
they had nothing to creep back to, not even ruins--for the Legations,
determined never to be caught in the same trap a second time,
insisted upon reserving a big area for themselves and fortifying
it. Unfortunately those who had borne least of the heat of the day
received the largest rewards in the newly planned Quarter, and grabbed
most greedily and with least justice. Consideration for Chinese
sentiments at such a time would have been almost more than human, but
revenge carried to the point of making the I.G., because he was an
employee of the Chinese Government, suffer for the mistakes of that
Government, seems both unnecessary and ungenerous. This, however, was
just what happened. His fine garden was ruthlessly chopped to pieces
in the rearrangement, and though he did not actually lose ground, the
long walk around the house was spoiled and he found a frowning wall
five feet from his back windows. Moreover there was nothing he could
do to prevent these things--the opinions of critics who accused him
of weakness notwithstanding. These critics wanted him to shout his
grievances aloud, to make them audible above the din of that noisy
time. But what hope had he of being heard? The Chinese officials
_could_ not listen and his own countrymen _would_ not, so where was he
to turn?

Nothing remained for it but to build his house on the old
foundations--an economical plan--and try to forget about the wall near
the back windows. The garden also was set in order. As the Psalmist
says, "The wilderness was made to blossom," for wilderness it was.
Judging from appearances, Chinese soldiers must have encamped there.
They left their rice-bowls in the path and their fans under the trees.
Probably they stayed some days and looted at leisure, then disappeared
as suddenly as they had come, after a sharp struggle with a company
of Boxers, for two of these patriots in full regalia--red sashes and
rusty swords--lay dead in the long grass. Poor patriots, they owed
their quiet graves under a barbarian's lawn to a barbarian's kindness.
I wonder if their ghosts have a sense of humour, and if they ever
chuckle a little over the trick Fate played on them when they were
helpless?

[Illustration]

Once established again in his new-old quarters, the I.G. went back
to his former routine of life. The band-boys, scattered by the Siege,
returned, one having become, all of a sudden, a hero.

It happened during the days immediately following the Relief, when the
prostrate city was given up to plunderers. A company of soldiers
chose to break into a big dwelling-house, and the Chinese inhabitants
scampered--men and women--in wild terror. Then suddenly, in the midst
of the confusion, a bugle call rang loud and clear on the air. The
European soldiers, recognizing the "Retreat" and fearing a superior
force was about to descend on them, stood not on the order of their
going, but left at once. Yet it was no superior force after all. A
single man by his presence of mind saved the situation--and that man
was the I.G.'s best cornet player. Afterwards, I remember, he used to
be pointed out to strangers at garden parties, and he had quite a deal
of notoriety before he and his gallantry were forgotten in the daily
round of commonplace happenings.

Taking into consideration the great shock of 1900, it is wonderful how
the I.G. could remain unaltered in all his habits, could be so unmoved
by the changes taking place around him. The Chinese officials, for
instance--who suddenly became as anxious for Western comforts as they
had hitherto detested them--drove over modernized roads in carriages;
he clung to his old-fashioned sedan chair. The majority of the
besieged bought--or otherwise acquired loot; he never spent a penny on
it, and never entered what the looters euphemistically liked to call
"deserted houses."

[Illustration: ANOTHER WINTER VIEW OF SIR ROBERT HART'S GARDEN,
PEKING.]

The whole community took advantage of the opening of the Temple of
Heaven and the Temple of Agriculture, fine parks free from dust and
the noise of the city; he never entered either. Nor at a time when the
whole world was discussing the Winter Palace and the Forbidden City,
did he consider that the dictates of good breeding permitted him to go
where the rightful owners would have refused him entrance. He took his
outings as usual either in his own garden or on the city wall, from
which he could watch the slow rebuilding of the Legation Quarter, a
perfect _salade Russe_ of architecture, with German gables, classic
Venetian gateways and Flemish turrets jostling one another.

This calm life continued for four peaceful years. Then he was startled
again by a bolt from the blue. The Inspectorate of Customs was
transferred by Imperial Edict from the Wai-Wu-Pu to the Shui-Wu-Ch'u,
a Board specially created to control it.

The real meaning of the change was not easy to fathom, but everybody
seized the opportunity to talk at once--all the newspapers and the
correspondents and the political experts; to criticize, to prophesy,
to predict, to shake their heads--all but one man, the man most
concerned. And he said nothing; he listened while the others
authoritatively stated what he must think, what he did think, and what
he would think later. To tell the truth he thought less of his own
position, the prestige of which was undoubtedly affected by a move
that turned him from a semi-political agent into a simple departmental
head, than he did of the future of his service. Consequently, at a
juncture when he had the best excuse for deserting a post which had
partially deserted him, he remained to reassure outsiders as well
as employees and to prove that radical as the Edict seemed, its real
meaning was not half so disturbing as it appeared.

[Illustration: TING'RH, OR CHINESE PAVILION, IN SIR ROBERT HART'S
GARDEN, PEKING.]

Anxiety could never have driven him away; it took insomnia to make him
apply for the leave he so greatly needed. His brain, like Gladstone's,
was overtaxed; the problems which he had so long considered gave him
no rest, and by night as well as by day his too active mind thought
and planned and considered. Rest was therefore imperative,
and fortunately his leave was granted. At the same time the
Empress-Dowager commanded him to an Audience. It was not the first by
any means, as he had for the last few years always gone to the Palace
at the Chinese New Year. But as it was typical of the others, a few
words of description may not come amiss. He was off early in the
morning as usual, surrounded by Palace officials mounted on shaggy
ponies who trotted beside his sedan chair while their riders with
shrieks and yells cleared a way for the cavalcade. The police guards
popped out of their stations to salute him--I can tell you that hour's
journey across the city was something in the nature of a triumphal
progress, what with traffic airily waved aside and sentries and
soldier-police presenting arms! At the Palace gates he alighted, and
was met by other officials, bigger and grander, and conducted to
the Hall of Audience. A considerable distance still remained to
be covered; courtyard after courtyard had to be traversed and an
artificial lake crossed in a barge before the Hall itself was reached
and--an official having gone ahead and peeped in and announced
his presence informally--he was shown into the presence of Their
Majesties. Side by side on a little raised platform sat the Emperor
and the Empress-Dowager, each with a table before them. He might have
noticed that there were flowers on the Empress's table and none on the
Emperor's, but that otherwise the room was not particularly large or
imposing and very bare--without chairs, without cupboards, without
ornamentation of any kind except the beautiful painting on the ceiling
and the fine woodcarving on the long doors. But he had a speech
to make--absorbing occupation--and as soon as it was over the
Empress-Dowager was talking to him quite simply about his travels and
asking questions about London. She shyly confessed that since her one
and only train journey--from Si-an in 1900--she had conceived a great
liking for travel and enjoyed seeing strange sights. Then she wished
him a happy voyage and concluded by remarking: "We have chosen to
give you some little keepsakes," using the word meaning a "personal
souvenir" rather than a formal and perfunctory "present." It was
a moment of natural excitement, and the I.G., dumb with emotion,
received the intimation in unflattering silence. "Thank," said the
Minister who presented him, in agonized tones; and while he stammered
out a simple "Thank you," devoid of any conventional flourishes, the
Minister went down on his knees and put his gratitude prettily.
The interview was then closed; Emperor and Empress both assumed a
Buddha-like impassivity of expression and allowed the I.G. to back
just as if they were entirely oblivious of his presence. Such is
the Chinese method of differentiating between the friend and the
sovereign.

[Illustration: SIR ROBERT HART AND HIS STAFF (FOREIGN AND CHINESE)
PEKING 1902.]

In the waiting-room he told his _faux pas_ to the Ministers, either
coming from or going into the Audience Hall, and expressed his
annoyance that the proper formula for returning thanks had slipped his
mind when it did. They laughed heartily over the incident, and for his
comfort told him the story of a certain man called Kwei Hsin, who had
an even worse experience. Some time in the late 'seventies he returned
from an audience pulling his beard, which was long and thin. He seemed
visibly annoyed about something.

"What has happened?" enquired his colleagues anxiously.

[Illustration: SIR ROBERT HART WISHING MISS ROOSEVELT "BON VOYAGE" ON
HER DEPARTURE FROM PEKING, SEPTEMBER 16, 1906

On the left is admiral Hu Yü Fen]

"Well," said he, "the Emperor (then little more than a child) asked me
a question to-day which I could not answer."

"And what was it?" Their minds immediately flew to knotty points
at issue. Was it about the finances of the provinces? Could it be a
Censor had denounced some one and enquiries were to be made?

"He asked me," said Kwei Hsin slowly, "if I slept with my beard under
the quilt or outside it, and for the life of me I could not remember,
so I stood there dumb as a fish."

Two or three days after the audience the "souvenirs" were brought to
the I.G. by the Palace servants. In addition, they gave him a little
surprise of their own. He found them pasting a big red placard on his
front gate. It was their way of advertising his newest honour--the
Presidency of a Board--and has had the sanction of society in China
since the Flood. What if it is a little embarrassing! It would be
worse for the newly promoted to tell his friends about his step up in
the world himself. By this method he is spared the trouble, and while
he theoretically knows nothing about it, the Imperial servants
take this delicate means of making the honour known, receiving a
substantial tip for their thoughtfulness.

But the I.G., whose modesty was entirely genuine instead of
counterfeit, was shocked at seeing himself lauded in three-inch black
characters on a flaring red ground, and driven in desperation to
explain that while his gratitude was unbounded, he did not want
an admiring crowd collected on his threshold. So, much to the
disappointment of his servants, who in China feel that their master's
glory reflects upon themselves, the announcement was taken down.

Whoever says "No man can be a hero to his own valet" is wrong, for
the I.G. was undoubtedly a hero to his whole household--modesty
notwithstanding. Most of his servants remained with him for thirty
years, and at the end one and all gave him an excellent "character."
"We have found you a very satisfactory master," said they--which
sounds strange to us, but is the Chinese way of doing things. No
wonder they said so. He had such a horror of asking too much from
those he employed that he was far too lenient with them. His ear
was too attentive to their stories, his purse too open to their
borrowings. When their relatives died--and in China each man has an
army of them, including duplicate mothers and grandmothers--boys,
cooks, coolies and bandsmen rushed to "borrow" from him. I cannot
remember hearing that one ever came to repay.

At last this fact struck even the I.G., long-suffering though he
was. "Why do you not ask me to give you this amount?" he mildly
expostulated to the next man who came pleading for the funeral
expenses of his brother's son's wife.

"Oh," replied the fellow, pained and grieved at his master's want
of understanding, "I couldn't do that. If I did I should lose
'face'"--that is, prestige and standing in the community. On such a
slender thread hangs self-respect in the Far East.

The old butler, a Cantonese with the manner of a courtier, was even
more privileged than the rest--and for the best of reasons. He
had been with his master for almost half a century. His memory was
wonderful, and sometimes on winter nights when he had helped to
serve the I.G.'s solitary and frugal dinner, he would presume on his
position, linger behind the other servants, and call up again to the
I.G.'s mind the night in 1863--just such a bitter night as this, with
just such a howling wind--when together they had gone to meet Gordon,
and the sampan taking them ashore had capsized, throwing them both
into the icy water.

Occasionally then the I.G. would retaliate with reminiscences of Ah
Fong making the Grand Tour of Europe with him in 1878--how he
kissed his hands to the winning French chambermaids, and called out
"Allewalla, Allewalla!" ("Au revoir, au revoir!"), or how he had
answered the horrified ladies of Ireland who inquired about his
duties,--"Morning time my brush master's clothes, night time my bring
he brandy and water."

[Illustration: FRONT DOOR OF SIR ROBERT HART'S HOUSE, PEKING]

In this age of uninterested or inanimate "helps," a servitor like Ah
Fong is about as rare as an archaeopteryx. Devotion and loyalty such
as his are fast dying out of the world, but they make a pretty picture
when one does find them, and I like to tell how the old servant
grieved at the thought of separation from one who represented his
whole horizon.

The I.G., too, must have felt some sentiment at leaving the faces
to which he was accustomed, the house which had grown dear in almost
thirty years of uninterrupted solitude. It is just these associations
which are most intangible, which sound most trivial set down in black
and white, that often take the strongest hold upon us. Habit, the
little old dame, creeps in one day, sits by our fire, amuses us,
comforts us, occupies us, and--before we know it--we feel a wrench if
we are obliged to move away.

Nevertheless we must all move some time or another. Everybody
does--even the I.G., whose going had been so often prophesied and
again so often contradicted that he had come to be regarded as the one
fixed star twinkling unselfishly in the heaven of duty.

The morning of his going, I remember, broke fine and clear. The sky
was beautifully blue, like an inverted turquoise bowl. The little
railway station must have been startled half out of its wits by all
the people flocking in. Such a thing in all its history had never
happened before. Under the low grey roof trooped guards of honour
sent by every nationality--all for the sake of one man who was only a
civilian, and nothing but a private individual. There were this
man's own nationals in the central position--a company of splendid
Highlanders with pipers, and stretching away down the platform there
were American marines, Italian sailors, Dutch marines and Japanese
soldiers. And, of course, there were Chinese, no less than three
detachments of them, looking very well in their new khaki uniforms.
Two of the detachments had brought their bands, and the I.G.'s own
band had come of its own accord to play "Auld Lang Syne."

[Illustration: FRONT VIEW OF SIR ROBERT HART'S HOUSE.

With his butler, Ah Fong, who served him for almost half a century.]

As the I.G. stepped from his sedan chair at the end of the platform
his face wore an expression of bewilderment, but only for a moment.
Then he turned to the commanding officer, and saying "I am ready,"
walked steadily down the lines of saluting troops while the bands all
played "Home, Sweet Home." Just as quietly he said good-bye to the
host of Chinese officials with whom he had been associated so long;
then turned to the Europeans whom he had known so well, to all of
whom he had done so many kindnesses, and none of whom could say "bon
voyage" dry-eyed, while camera fiends "snapped" him as he shook hands
and said last good-byes. At last he stepped on board the train and
slowly drew away from the crowd, bowing again and again in his modest
way.

So far as his work was concerned he could go without regrets. He left
his career behind him with no frayed edges that could tangle. He had
fulfilled all his ambitions. He had "bought back Kilmoriarty and got a
title too," as he promised his aunt he would while still a boy in his
teens. He had collected an almost unprecedented number of honours,
been decorated no less than twenty-four times, eight, however, being
promotions in the Orders. But still that left him sixteen to wear, and
of those sixteen, thirteen were Grand Crosses. As a matter of fact he
never wore any of them when he could help it, and never more than one
at a time. "I do not want to look like a Christmas tree," he would say
in joke. This was his humility again.

He certainly was humble, and he looked so. There was never the
slightest pomp or pride about him. "A small, insignificant Irishman,"
so some one has described him. Is he small? I dare say he is, but
one never notices it. One notices only the long face still further
lengthened by a beard, the domed forehead, the bright eyes, very
inscrutable usually, very sympathetic when he chooses to make them
so; and when he speaks, a soft voice, quiet and even-toned but often
indistinct. Not given to demonstrativeness, he appears the same under
all conditions--silent when depressed, silent too when cheerful; he
may smile, but he will never laugh outright--unless called upon in
society to make a special effort to amuse somebody. Then he does it,
as he does all he sets out to do, well.

But usually he allows other people to instruct him, listening
patiently and giving so little hint of what he himself thinks that few
people know him intimately and the general public stands a little
in awe of him. What more natural? His work has been a hard
disciplinarian, a relentless grudger of little joys; and, as is well
known, those who make history have little time to make friends.

Yet on the whole his success has been cheap as successes go. True he
worked prodigiously--how he did work, straight on from his University
days!--but none of his labours have been hopelessly dull, while some
have been exceptionally interesting, and all have been flavoured with
a pinch of romance. Further, he has had the satisfaction of filling
his years about twice as full as other people's--of helping more men
than most of his neighbours, and of gaining the world's respect and
admiration.

How has he done it? Shall I tell you the secret--or what he often
laughingly said was the secret? It lies hidden in a verse which he
wrote in his fantastic hand on the desk at which he stood for so many
years with unremitting industry. First came two dates "1854--1908,"
and then these lines:

  "If thou hast yesterday thy duty done,
     And thereby cleared firm footing for to-day,
  Whatever clouds may dark to-morrow's sun,
     Thou shalt not miss thy solitary way."


THE END





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