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Title: Indiscreet Letters From Peking - Being the Notes of an Eye-Witness, Which Set Forth in Some Detail, from Day to Day, the Real Story of the Siege and Sack of a Distressed Capital in 1900—The Year of Great Tribulation
Author: Putnam Weale, B. L. (Bertram Lenox), 1877-1930 [Editor]
Language: English
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Being the Notes of an Eye-Witness,
Which Set Forth in Some Detail, from
Day to Day, the Real Story of the
Siege and Sack of a Distressed Capital
in 1900--the Year of Great Tribulation

Edited by


Author of "Manchu and Muscovite,"
and "The Re-shaping of the Far East."

China Edition


Kelly and Walsh, Limited
British Empire and Continental
Copyright Excepting Scandinavian Countries
by Putnam Weale from 1921






     I CHAOS




The publication of these letters, dealing with the startling events
which took place in Peking during the summer and autumn of 1900, at this
late date may be justified on a number of counts. In the first place,
there can be but little doubt that an exact narrative from the pen of an
eye-witness who saw everything, and knew exactly what was going on from
day to day, and even from hour to hour, in the diplomatic world of the
Chinese capital during the deplorable times when the dread Boxer
movement overcast everything so much that even in England the South
African War was temporarily forgotten, is of intense human interest,
showing most clearly as it does, perhaps for the first time in realistic
fashion, the extraordinary _bouleversement_ which overcame everyone; the
unpreparedness and the panic when there was really ample warning; the
rivalry of the warring Legations even when they were almost _in
extremis_, and the curious course of the whole seige itself owing to the
division of counsels among the Chinese--this last a state of affairs
which alone saved everyone from a shameful death. In the second place,
this account may dispel many false ideas which still obtain in Europe
and America regarding the position of various Powers in China--ideas
based on data which have long been declared of no value by those
competent to judge. In the third place, the vivid and terrible
description of the sack of Peking by the soldiery of Europe, showing the
demoralisation into which all troops fall as soon as the iron hand of
discipline is relaxed, may set finally at rest the mutual recriminations
which have since been levelled publicly and privately. Everybody was
tarred with the same brush. Those arm-chair critics who have been too
prone to state that brutalities no longer mark the course of war may
reconsider their words, and remember that sacking, with all the
accompanying excesses, is still regarded as the divine right of soldiery
unless the provost-marshal's gallows stand ready. In the fourth place,
those who still believe that the representatives assigned to Eastern
countries need only be second-rate men--reserving for Europe the
master-minds--may begin to ask themselves seriously whether the time has
not come when only the most capable and brilliant diplomatic
officials--men whose intelligence will help to shape events and not be
led by them, and who will act with iron firmness when the time for such
action comes--should be assigned to such a difficult post as Peking. In
the fifth place, the strange idea, which refuses to be eradicated, that
the Chinese showed themselves in this Peking seige once and for all
incompetent to carry to fruition any military plan, may be somewhat
corrected by the plain and convincing terms in which the eye-witness
describes the manner in which they stayed their hand whenever it could
have slain, and the silent struggle which the Moderates of Chinese
politics must have waged to avert the catastrophe by merely gaining time
and allowing the Desperates to dash themselves to pieces when the
inevitable swing of the pendulum took place. Finally, it will not escape
notice that many remarks borne out all through the narrative tend to
show that British diplomacy in the Far East was at one time at a low

Of course the Peking seige has already been amply described in many
volumes and much magazine literature. Dr. Morrison, the famous Peking
correspondent of the _Times_, informs me that he has in his library no
less than forty-three accounts in English alone. The majority of
these, however, are not as complete or enlightening as they might be;
nor has the extraordinarily dramatic nature of the Warning, the Siege,
and the Sack been shown. Thus few people, outside of a small circle in
the Far East, have been able to understand from such accounts what
actually occurred in Peking, or to realise the nature of the fighting
which took place. The two best accounts, Dr. Morrison's own statement
and the French Minister's graphic report-to his government, were both
written rather to fix the principal events immediately after they had
occurred than to attempt to probe beneath the surface, or to deal with
the strictly personal or private side. Nor did they embrace that most
remarkable portion of the Boxer year, the entire sack of Peking and
the extraordinary scenes which marked this latter-day Vandalism. A
veil has been habitually drawn over these little-known events, but in
the narrative which follows it is boldly lifted for the first time.

The eye-witness whose account follows was careful to establish with as
much lucidity as possible each phase of existence during five months
of extraordinary interest. Much in these notes has had to be
suppressed for many reasons, and much that remains may create some
astonishment. Yet it is well to remember that "one eye-witness,
however dull and prejudiced, is worth a wilderness of sentimental
historians." The historians are already beginning to arise; these
pages may serve as a corrective to many erroneous ideas. Perhaps some
also will allow that this curious tragedy, swept into Peking and
playing madly round the entrenched European Legations, has intense
human interest still. The vague terror which oppressed everyone
before the storm actually burst; the manner in which the feeble chain
of fighting men were locked round the European lines, and suffered
grievously but were providentially saved from annihilation; the
curious way in which diplomacy made itself felt from time to time only
to disappear as the rude shock of events taking place near Tientsin
and the sea were reflected in Peking; the final coming of the strange
relief--all these points and many others are made in such a manner
that everyone should be able to understand and to believe. The
description of the last act of the upheaval--the complete sack of
Peking--shows clearly how the lust for loot gains all men, and hand in
hand invites such terrible things as wholesale rape and murder.

The eye-witness attempts to account for all that happened; to make
real and living the hoarse roll of musketry, the savage cries of
desperadoes stripped to the waist and glistening in their sweat; to
give echo to the blood-curdling notes of Chinese trumpets; to limn the
tall mountains of flames licking sky high. If there is failure in
these efforts, it is due to the editing.

The summer of 1900 in Peking will ever remain as famous in the annals
of the world's history as the Indian Mutiny; it was something unique
and unparalleled. With the curious movements now at work in the Far
East, it may not be unwise to study the story again. And after Port
Arthur these pages may show something about which little has been
written--the psychology of the seige. The seige is still the rudest
test in the world. It is well to know it.


CHINA, June, 1906.





12th May, 1900.

       *       *       *       *       *

The weather is becoming hot, even here in latitude 40 and in the month
of May. The Peking dust, distinguished among all the dusts of the
earth for its blackness, its disagreeable insistence in sticking to
one's clothes, one's hair, one's very eyebrows, until a grey-brown
coating its visible to every eye, is rising in heavier clouds than
ever. In the market-places, and near the great gates of the city,
where Peking carts and camels from beyond the passes--_k'ou wai_, to
use the correct vernacular--jostle one another, the dust has become
damnable beyond words, and there can be no health possibly in us. The
Peking dust rises, therefore, in clouds and obscures the very sun at
times; for the sun always shines here in our Northern China, except
during a brief summer rainy season, and a few other days you can count
on your fingers. The dust is without significance, you will say, since
it is always there more or less. It is in any case--healthy; it chokes
you, but is reputed also to choke germs; therefore it is good. All of
which is true, only this year there is more of it than ever, meaning
very dry weather indeed for this city, hanging near the gates of
Mongolian deserts--a dry weather spelling the devil for the Northern

Meanwhile, is there anything special for me to chronicle? Not much,
although there is a cloud no bigger than your hand in Shantung not a
thousand miles from Weihaiwei, and the German Legation is consequently
somewhat irate. It was noticed at our club, for instance, which, by
the way, is a humble affair, that the German military attache, a
gentleman who wears bracelets, is somewhat effeminate, and plays vile
tennis and worse billiards, had a "hostile attitude" towards the
British Legation--that is, such of the British Legation as gather
together each day at the "ice-shed"--which happens to be the club's
peculiar Chinese name. The military attache is somewhat irate, because
the spectacle of the Weihaiwei regiment, six hundred yellow men under
twelve white Englishmen, chasing malcontents in Shantung, is
derogatory to Teutonic aspirations. Germany has earmarked Shantung,
and it is just like English bluntness to remind the would-be dominant
Power that there is a British sphere and a British colony in the
Chinese province, as well as a German sphere and a German colony. But
the German Minister, a _beau garcon_ with blue eyes and a handsome
moustache, says nothing, and is quite calm.

Meanwhile the cloud no bigger than your hand is quite unremarked by
the rank and file of Legation Street--that I will swear. Chinese
malcontents--"the Society of Harmonious Fists," particular habitat
Shantung province--are casually mentioned; but it is remembered that
the provincial governor of Shantung is a strong Chinaman, one Yuan
Shih-kai, who has some knowledge of military matters, and, better
still, ten thousand foreign-drilled troops. Shantung is all right,
never fear--such is the comment of the day.

But the political situation--the _situation politique_ as we call it
in our several conversations, which always have a diplomatic
turn--although not grave, is unhappy; everybody at least acknowledges
that. Peking has never been what it was before the Japanese war. In
the old days we were all something of a happy family. There were
merely the eleven Legations, the Inspectorate of Chinese Customs, with
the aged Sir R---- H---- at its head, and perhaps a few favoured
globe-trotters or nondescripts looking for rich concessions. Picnics
and dinners, races and excursions, were the order of the day, and
politics and political situations were not burning. Ministers
plenipotentiary and envoys extraordinary wore Terai hats, very old
clothes, and had an affable air--something like what Teheran must
still be. Then came the Japanese war, and the eternal political
situation. Russia started the ball rolling and the others kicked it
along. The Russo-Chinese Bank, appeared on the scenes led by the great
P----, a man with an ominous black portfolio continually under his
arm, as he hurried along Legation Street, and an intriguing expression
always on his dark face--a veritable master of men and moneys, they
say. This intriguing soon found Expression in the Cassini Convention,
denounced as untrue, and followed by a perfectly open and frank
Manchurian railway convention, a convention which, in spite of its
frankness, had future trouble written unmistakably on the face of it.
Besides these things there were always ominous reports of other
things--of great things being done secretly.

After the Russo-Chinese Bank and the Manchurian railway business,
there was the Kiaochow affair, then the Port Arthur affair, the
Weihaiwei and Kwangchowwan affairs, nothing but "affairs" all tending
in the same direction--the making of a very grave political situation.
The juniors to-day make fun of it, it is true, and greet each other
daily with the salutation, "_La situation politique est tres grave_,"
and laugh at the good words. But it is grave notwithstanding the
laughter. Once in 1899, after the Empress Dowager's _coup d'etat_ and
the virtual imprisonment of the Emperor, Legation Guards had to be
sent for, a few files for each of the Legations that possess squadrons
in the Far East, and, what is more, these guards had to stay for a
good many months. The guards are now no more, but it is curious that
the men they came mainly to protect us against--Tung Fu-hsiang's
Mohammedan braves from the savage back province of Kansu who love the
reactionary Empress Dowager--are still encamped near the Northern

The old Peking society has therefore vanished, and in its place are
highly suspicious and hostile Legations--Legations petty in their
conceptions of men and things--Legations bitterly disliking one
another--in fact, Legations richly deserving all they get, some of the
cynics say.

The Peking air, as I have already said, is highly electrical and
unpleasant in these hot spring days with the dust rising in heavy
clouds. Squabbling and cantankerous, rather absurd and petty, the
Legations are spinning their little threads, each one hedged in by
high walls in its own compound and by the debatable question of the
_situation politique_.

Outside and around us roars the noise of the Tartar city. At night the
noise ceases, for the inner and outer cities are closed to one another
by great gates; but at midnight the gates are opened by sleepy Manchu
guards for a brief ten minutes, so that gorgeous red and blue-trapped
carts, drawn by sleek mules, may speed into the Imperial City for the
Daybreak Audience with the Throne. These conveyances contain the high
officials of the Empire. It has been noticed by a Legation stroller on
the Wall--the Tartar Wall--that the number of carts passing in at
midnight is far greater than usual; that the guards of the city gates
now and again stop and question a driver. It is nothing.

Meanwhile the dust rises in clouds. It is very dry this year--that is



24th May, 1900.

       *       *       *       *       *

We are beginning to call them Boxers--grudgingly and sometimes harking
back and giving them their full name, "Society of Harmonious Fists,"
or the "Righteous Harmony Fist Society"; but still a beginning has
been made, and they are becoming Boxers by the inevitable process of
shortening which distinguishes speech.

have been talking about them a good deal to-day, these Boxers,
since it has been the birthday of her most excellent Majesty Queen
Victoria, and the British Legation has been _en fete_. Her Majesty's
Minister, in fine, has been entertaining us in the vast and princely
gardens of the British Legation at his own expense. Weird Chinese
lanterns have been lighted in the evening and slung around the
grounds; champagne has been flowing with what effervescence it could
muster; the eleven Legations and the nondescripts have forgotten their
cares for a brief space and have been enjoying the evening air and the
music of Sir R---- H----'s Chinese band. Looking at lighted lanterns,
drinking champagne cup, listening to a Chinese band--where the devil
is the protocol and the political situation, you will say? Not quite
forgotten, since the French Minister attracted the attention of many
all the evening by his vehement manner. I pushed up once, too, and
with a polite bow listened to what he was saying. Ah, the old words,
the eternal words, the political situation, or the _situation
politique_, whichever way you like to use them. But still you listen a
bit, for it is droll to hear the yet unaccustomed word Boxers in
French. "_Les Boxeurs_," he says; and what the French Minister says is
always worth listening to, since he has the best Intelligence corps in
the world--the Catholic priests of China--at his disposal.

Curiously enough, he was speaking of the arch-priest of priests,
renowned above all others in this Peking world, Monseigneur F----,
Vicar Apostolic of the Manchu capital--almost Vicar of God to
countless thousands of dark-yellow converts. It is Monseigneur F----'s
letter of the 19th May, written but five days ago, and already locally
famous through leakage, which was the subject-matter of his impromptu
oration. Monseigneur F---- wrote and demanded a guard of marines for
his cathedral, his people and his chattels--_quarante ou cinquante
marins pour proteger nos personnes et nos biens_, were his exact
words, and his request has been cruelly refused by the Council of
Ministers on the ground that it is absurd. The Vicar Apostolic,
however, gave his grounds for making such a demand calmly and
logically--depicted the damage already done by an anti-foreign and
revolutionary movement in the districts not a thousand miles from
Peking, and solemnly forecasted what was soon to happen....

The French Minister was irate and raised his fat hands above his fat
person, took a discreet look around him, and then hinted that it was
this Legation, the British Legation, which stopped the marines from

The French Minister was quite irate, and after his discourse was ended
he slipped quietly away--possibly to send some more telegrams. The
crumbs of his conversation were soon gathered up and distributed and
the conviviality somewhat damped. As yet, however, the Boxers are only
laughed at and are not taken quite seriously. They have killed native
Christians, it is true, and it has been proved conclusively now that
it was they who murdered Brooks, the English missionary in Shantung.
But Englishmen are cheap, since there is a glut in the home market,
and their government merely gets angry with them when they get into
trouble and are killed. So many are always getting killed in China.

So the Boxers, with half the governments of Europe, led by England, as
we know by our telegrams, seeking to minimise their importance--in
fact, trying to stifle the movement by ignoring it or lavishing on it
their supreme contempt--have already moved from their particular
habitat, which is Shantung, into the metropolitan province of Chihli.
Already they are in some force at Chochou, only seventy miles to the
southeast of Peking--always massacring, always advancing, and driving
in bodies of native Christians before them on their march. Nobody
cares very much, however, except a vicar apostolic, who urgently
requests forty or fifty marines or sailors "to protect our persons and
our chattels." Foolish bishop he is, is he not, when Christians have
been expressly born to be massacred? Does he not know his history?

Lead on, blind ministers plenipotentiary and envoys extraordinary;
lead on, with your eternal political situations in embryo, your
eternal political situations that have not yet hatched out; while one
that is more pregnant than any you have ever conceived is already
born under your very noses and is being sniffed at by you. But no
matter what happens outside, Peking is safe, that is your dictum, and
the dictum of the day. So, yawning and somewhat tired of the evening's
convivialities, we go our several ways home, in our Peking carts and
our official chairs, and are soon lost in sleep--dreaming, perhaps,
that we have been too long in this dry Northern climate, and that it
is really affecting one's nerves.



28th May, 1900.

       *       *       *       *       *

It is only four days since we discussed the Vicar Apostolic's letter,
and laughed somewhat at French excitability; but in four days what a
change! The cloud no bigger than your hand is now bigger than your
whole body, bigger, indeed, than the combined bodies of all your
neighbours, supposing you could spread them fantastically in great
layers across the skies. What, then, has happened?

It is that the Boxers, christened by us, as you will remember, but two
or three short weeks ago, have blossomed forth with such fierce growth
that they have become the men of the hour to the exclusion of
everything else, and were one to believe one tithe of the talk
babbling all around, the whole earth is shaking with them. Yet it is a
very local affair--a thing concerning only a tiny portion of a
half-known corner of the world. But for us it is sufficiently grave.
The Peking-Paotingfu railway is being rapidly destroyed; Fentai
station, but six miles from Peking--think of it, only six miles from
this Manchu holy of holies--has gone up in flames; a great steel
bridge has succumbed to the destroying energy of dynamite. All the
European engineers have fled into Peking; and, worst of all, the Boxer
banners have been unfurled; and lo and behold, as they floated in the
breeze, the four dread characters, "_Pao Ch'ing Mien Yang_," have been
read on blood-red bunting--"Death and destruction to the foreigner and
all his works and loyal support to the great Ching dynasty."

Is that sufficiently enthralling, or should I add that the
invulnerability of the Boxer has been officially and indisputably
tested by the Manchus, according to the gossip of the day? Proceeding
to the Boxer camp at Chochou, duly authorised officers of the Crown
have seen recruits, who have performed all the dread rites, and are
initiated, stand fearlessly in front of a full-fledged Boxer; have
seen that Boxer load up his blunderbuss with powder, ramming down a
wad on top; have witnessed a handful of iron buckshot added, but with
no wad to hold the charge in place; have noticed that the master Boxer
gesticulated with his lethal weapon the better to impress his audience
before he fired, but have not noticed that the iron buckshot tripped
merrily out of the rusty barrel since no wad held it in place; and
finally, when the fire-piece belched forth flames and ear-breaking
noise at a distance of a man's body from the recruit's person, they
have seen, and with them thousands of others, that no harm came. It is
astounding, miraculous, but it is true; henceforth, the Boxer is
officially invulnerable and must remain so as long as the ground is
parched. That is what our Chinese reports say.

There are myriads of men already in camp and myriads more speeding on
their way to this Chochou camp of camps, while in village and hamlet
local committees of public safety against the accursed foreigner and
all his works are being quite naturally evolved, and red cloth--that
sign manual of revolt--is already at a premium. The whole-province of
Chihli is shaking; North China will soon be in flames; any one with
half a nose can smell rebellion in the air....

This is one side of the picture, the side which friendly Chinese are
painting for us. Yet when you glance at the eleven Legations, placidly
living their own little lives, you will see them cynically listening
to these old women's tales, while at heart they secretly wonder what
political capital each of them can separately make out of the whole
business, so that their governments may know that Peking has clever
diplomats. Clever diplomats! There have been no clever diplomats in
Peking since G---- of the French Legation took his departure, and that
purring Slav P---- went to Seoul.

Of course Peking is safe, that goes without saying; but merely because
there are foolish women and children, some nondescripts, and a good
many missionaries, we will order a few guards. This, at least, has
just been decided by the Council of Ministers--a rather foolish
council, without backbone, excepting one man. All the afternoon
everybody was occupied in telegraphing the orders and reports of the
day, and these actions are now beyond recall.

Guards have been ordered from the ships lying out at the Taku bar. The
guards will soon be here, and when they have come the movement will
cease. Thus have the eleven Legations spoken, each telegraphing a
different tale to its government, and each more than annoyed by this
joint action. Incidentally each one is secretly wondering what is
going to happen, and whether there is really any danger.

It has been directly telegraphed from London by Her Majesty's
Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Lord Salisbury, so gossip says, that as
quite enough has been heard of this Boxer business it must cease at
once. Is not the South African War still proceeding, and has England
not enough troubles without this additional one? It is almost
pathetic, this peremptory order from a vacillating Foreign Office that
never knows its own mind--this Canute-like bidding of the angry waves
of human men to stand still at once and be no more heard of. People in
Europe will never quite understand the East, for the East is ruled by
things which are impossible in a temperate climate.

Meanwhile, in the Palace, whose pink walls we see blinking at us in
the sun just beyond Legation Street, all is also topsy-turvy, the
Chinese reports say. The Empress Dowager, shrewdly listening to this
person and that, must feel in her own bones that it is a bad business,
and that it will not end well, for she understands dynastic disasters
uncommonly well. She has sent again and again for P'i Hsiao-li,
"Cobbler's-wax" Li, as he is called, the reputed false eunuch who is
master of her inner counsels, if Chinese small talk is to be believed.
The eunuch Li has been told earnestly to find out the truth and
nothing but the truth. A passionate old woman, this Empress Dowager of
China, a veritable Catherine of Russia in her younger days they say,
with her hot Manchu blood and her lust for ruling men. "Cobbler's-wax"
Li, son of a cobbler and falsely emasculated, they say, so that he
might become an eunuch of the Palace, from which lowly estate he has
blossomed into the real power behind the Throne, hastens off once more
to the palace of Prince Tuan, the father of the titular heir-apparent.
As Prince Tuan's discretion has long since been cast to the winds,
and Lao t'uan-yeh, or spiritual Boxer chiefs, now sit at the princely
banqueting tables discussing the terms on which they will rush the
Tartar city with their flags unfurled and their yelling forces behind
them, a foolish and irresolute government, made up of the most diverse
elements, and a rouge-smirched Empress Dowager, will then have to side
with them or be begulfed too. Anxiously listening, "Cobbler's-wax" Li
weights the odds, for no fool is this false eunuch, who through his
manly charms leads an Empress who in turn leads an empire. Half
suspicious and wholly unconvinced, he questions and demands the exact
number of invulnerables that can be placed in line; and is forthwith
assured, with braggart Chinese choruses, that they are as locusts,
that the whole earth swarms with them, that the movement is
unconquerable. Still unconvinced, the false eunuch takes his
departure, and then the Throne decrees and counter decrees in agonised
Edicts. It is noticed, too, that the distributors of the official
organ, the _Peking Gazette_, no longer staidly walk their rounds,
pausing to gossip with their friends, but run with their wooden-block
printed Edicts wet from the presses, and shout indiscreetly to the
passers-by, "Aside, our business is important." In all faith there is
something in this movement. It is also noticed that roughness and
rudeness are growing in the streets; little things that are always the
precursors of the coming storm in the East are freely indulged in, and
"foreign devil" is now almost a chorus. The atmosphere is obviously
unwholesome, but guards have been ordered and it will soon be well.
All these other things of which I speak are merely native reports....

Meanwhile each Legation does not forget its dignity, but walks
stolidly alone. Alone in front of the French Legation is there some
commotion almost hourly. It is, however, only the arrival and
departure of Catholic priests posting to and from the Pei-t'ang about
that little business of forty or fifty marines _pour proteger nos
personnes et nos biens_, that is all. A singularly importunate fellow
this Monseigneur F----, our most reverend Vicar Apostolic of the
Manchu capital.



31st May, 1900.

       *       *       *       *       *

We had been dining out, a number of us, this evening, with result that
the good wine and the good fare, for the Peking markets are admirable,
left us reasonably content and in quite a valorous spirit. The party I
was at was neither very large nor very small; we were eighteen, to be
exact, and the political situation was represented in all its gravity
by the presence of a Minister and his spouse. The former has always
been pessimistic, and so we had Boxers for soup, Boxers with the
_entrees_, and Boxers to the end. In fact, if the truth be told, the
Boxers surrounded us in a constant vapour of words so formidable that
one might well have reason to be alarmed. P----, the Minister, was,
indeed, very talkative and gesticulative; his wife was sad and sighed
constantly--_elle poussait des soupirs tristes_--at the lurid
spectacle her husband's words conjured up. According to him, anything
was possible. There might be sudden massacres in Peking itself--the
Chinese Government had gone mad. Rendered more and more talkative by
the wine and the good fare, he became alarming, menacing in the end.
But we became more and more valiant as we ate and drank. That is
always so.

It was all the guards' fault. Telegrams despatched in the morning from
Tientsin distinctly told us that the guards were entraining; later
news said the guards had actually started; and yet when we were almost
through dinner, and it was nearly ten o'clock, there was not a sign of
them. That was the distressing point, and in the end, as it thrust
itself more and more on people's attention, the first great valour
began to ooze. For although the Guardian of the Nine Gates--a species
of Manchu warden or grand constable of Peking--has been officially
warned that foreign guards, whose arrival has been duly authorised by
the Tsung-li Yamen, may be a little late and that consequently the
Ch'ien Men, or the Middle Gate, should be kept open a couple of hours
longer, the chief guardian may become nervous and irate and
incontinently shut the gates. This alone might provoke an outbreak.

This train of thought once started, we busily followed it up, and soon
all the wives were sighing in unison more heavily than ever. I shall
always remember what happened at that psychological moment. A strip of
red-lined native writing-paper was placed in somebody's hands with a
long list of the different detachments which had just passed in
through the Main Gate. At last the guards had arrived. Speedily we
became very valorous again. P---- afterwards said that he knew
something which he had not dared to tell any one--not even his

From this little list, it was soon clear that the British, French,
Russian, American, Italian, and Japanese detachments had arrived. The
Germans and the Austrians were missing, but we concluded that they
would arrive by another train within very few hours. The important
point was that men had been allowed to come through--that the Chinese
Government, in spite of its enormous capacity for mischief, could not
yet have made up its mind how to act. That consoled us.

After this, a faint-hearted attempt was made to continue our talk. But
it was no good. We soon discovered that each one of us had been
simulating a false interest in our never-ending discussion. We really
wished to see with our own eyes these Legation Guards who might still
save the situation.

Strolling out in the warm night, just as we were, we first came on
them in the French Legation. The French detachment were merely sailors
belonging to what they call their _Compagnies de debarquement_, and
they were all brushing each other down and cursing the _sacree
poussiere_. Such a leading _motif_ has this Peking dust become that
the very sailors notice it. Also we found two priests from Monseigneur
F----'s Cathedral, sitting in the garden and patiently waiting for the
Minister's return. I heard afterwards that they would not move until
P---- decided that twenty-five sailors should march the next day to
the Cathedral--in fact at daylight.

In all the Legations I found it was much the same thing--the men of
the various detachments were brushing each other down and exchanging
congratulations that they had been picked for Peking service. It was,
perhaps, only because they were so glad to be allotted shore-duty
after interminable service afloat off China's muddy coasts that they
congratulated one another; but it might be also because they had heard
tell throughout the fleets that the men who had come in '98, after the
_coup d'etat_, had had the finest time which could be imagined--all
loafing and no duties. They did not seem to understand or suspect....

I found later in the night that there had actually been a little
trouble at the Tientsin station. The British had tried to get through
a hundred marines instead of the maximum of seventy-five which had
been agreed on. The Chinese authorities had then refused to let the
train go, and although an English ship's captain had threatened to
hang the station-master, in the end the point was won by the Chinese.
By one or two in the morning everybody was very gay, walking about and
having drinks with one another, and saying that it was all right now.
Then it was that I remembered that it was already June--the historic
month which has seen more crises than any other--and I became a little
gloomy again. It was so terribly sultry and dry that it seemed as if
anything could happen. I felt convinced that the guards were too few.



4th June, 1900.

        *       *       *       *       *

No matter in what light you look at it, you realise that somehow--in
some wonderful, inexplicable manner--normal conditions have ceased
long ago--in the month of May, I believe. The days, which a couple of
weeks ago had but twenty-four hours, have now at least forty-two. You
cannot exactly say why this strange state of affairs obtains, for as
yet there is nothing very definite to fix upon, and you have
absolutely no physical sensation of fear; but the mercury of both the
barometer and the thermometer has been somehow badly shaken, and the
mainsprings of all watches and clocks, although still much as the
mainsprings of clocks and watches in other parts of the
world--bringing your mind to bear on it you know they are exactly the
same--are merely mechanism, and allow the day to have at least
forty-two hours. It is strange, is it not, and you begin to understand
vaguely some of the quite impossible Indian metaphysics which tell you
gravely that what is, is not, and that what is not can still be.... In
the crushing heat you can understand that.

Perhaps it is all because the hours are now split into ten separate
and different parts by the fierce rumours which rage for a few minutes
and then, dissipating their strength through their very violence, die
away as suddenly as they came. The air is charged with electricity of
human passions until it throbs painfully, and then.... You are
merrily eating your _tiffin_ or your dinner, and quite calmly cursing
your "_boy_" because something is not properly iced. Your "_boy_," who
is a Bannerman or Manchu and of Roman Catholic family, as are all
servants of polite Peking society, does not move a muscle nor show any
passing indignation, as he would were the ordinary rules and
regulations of life still in existence. He, like everyone of the
hundreds of thousands of Peking and the millions of North China, is
waiting--waiting more patiently than impatient Westerners, but waiting
just as anxiously; waiting with ear wide open to every rumour; waiting
with an eye on every shadow--to know whether the storm is going to
break or blow away. There is something disconcerting, startling,
unseemly in being waited on by those who you know are in turn waiting
on battle, murder, and sudden death. You feel that something may come
suddenly at any moment, and though you do not dare to speak your
thoughts to your neighbour, these thoughts are talking busily to you
without a second's interruption. For if this storm truly comes, it
must sweep everything before it and blot us all out in a horrible way.
Our servants tell us so.

These servants of polite Peking society are favoured mortals, for they
one and all are of the Eight Banners, direct descendants of the Manchu
conquerors of China. And, strangely enough, although they are thus
directly tied to the Manchu dynasty, and that some of them may be even
Red Girdles or lineal descendants of collateral branches of the
Imperial house, they are still more tightly tied to the foreigner
because they are Roman Catholic dating from the early days of
Verbiest and Schall, when the Jesuits were all supreme. On Sundays and
feast days they all proceed to the Vicar Apostolic's own northern
cathedral, and witness the Elevation of the Host to the discordant and
strange sound of Chinese firecrackers, a curious accompaniment,
indeed, permitted only by Catholic complacency. This they love more
than the Throne.

Your Bannerman servant is now the medium of bringing in countless
rumours which he barefacedly alleges are facts, and in impressing on
you that everyone must certainly die unless we quickly act. The three
Roman Catholic Cathedrals of Peking, placed at three points of the
compass, are almost strategic centres surrounded by whole lanes and
districts of Catholics captured to the tenets of Christ, or that
portion deemed sufficient for yellow men, in ages gone by. Every
household of these people during the past few weeks has seen
fellow-religionists from the country places running in sorely
distressed in body and mind, and but ill-equipped in money and means
for this impromptu escape to the capital which everyone vainly hopes
generally is to be a sanctuary. The refugees, it is true, do not
receive all the sympathy they expect, for the Peking Catholic being
the oldest and most mature in the eighteen provinces of China, holds
his head very high, and "new people"--that is, those whose families
have only been baptized, let us say, during the nineteenth
century--are somewhat disdained. In a word, the Peking cathedrals and
their Manchu and other adherents are the Blacks; and not even in papal
Rome could this aristocracy in religion be excelled. But although the
newcomers are disdained, their news is not. Everything they say is
believed. The servants, therefore, browsing rumours wherever they go,
bring back a curious hotchpotch after each separate excursion.
Sometimes the balance swings this way, sometimes that; sometimes it is
ominously black, sometimes only cloudy. You never know what it will be
ten minutes hence, and you must content yourself as best you can. Your
body-servant being a Bannerman (my particular one is a Manchu), and
being reasonably young, is also a reservist of the Peking Field Force,
and consorts with other Bannermen who may be actually on guard at one
of the Palace gates. Who passes in and who passes out of the Palace
now spreads like wildfire round the whole city, for the success of the
Boxers will depend upon the support the Peking Government intends to
give them when the worst comes to the worst. And the Peking Government
is still fencing, because the Palace cannot make up its mind whether
the time has really come when it must act. This lack of decision is

Late in the afternoon it transpired that the Empress Dowager was not
in the Imperial city at all, but out at the Summer Palace on the
Wan-shou-shan--the hills of ten thousand ages, as these are poetically
called. Tung Fu-hsiang, whose ruffianly Kansu braves were marched out
of the Chinese city--that is the outer ring of Peking--two nights
before the Legation Guards came in, is also with the Empress, for his
cavalry banners, made of black and blue velvet, with blood-red
characters splashed splendidly across them, have been seen planted at
the foot of the hills. Tung Fu-hsiang is an invincible one, who
stamped out the Kansu rebellion a few years ago with such fierceness
that his name strikes terror to-day into every Chinese heart. As for
P'i Hsiao-li--the false eunuch--he is everywhere, they say, sometimes
here, sometimes there, and quite defying search. The eunuch has a
mighty fortune at stake, and all natives believe that he will betray
himself. Half the pawnshops and banks of Peking belong to him, and he
will not sacrifice his thirty million taels until he is convinced that
his head is at stake. The Summer Palace lies but a dozen miles beyond
Peking's embattled walls, and from the top, straining your eyes to the
west, you can vaguely see the Empress's plaisaunce. A journey in and
out is nothing by cart, and this favoured eunuch has the best mules in
the Empire--black jennets fifteen hands high--and is using them night
and day. And so everyone is asking again and again whether the
Empress has arranged with Prince Tuan, since that is the burning
question; and did this eunuch of eunuchs have his fateful confidential
interview with the secret Boxer leaders, which was to decide finally
on extermination.

The families of other palace eunuchs say yes, and the wife of one
eunuch, living near the South Cathedral, is quite positive, my
servants inform me. Wife of a eunuch, did I say? You will think me
mad, but it is nevertheless true, for Chinese eunuchs have wives. Why
have they wives, you will ask, since they are only half men, and
cannot perform the duties of the male? Well, I can only answer as did
my teacher once when I asked him years ago. "Eunuchs are still men,"
he said, smiling doubtfully, "insomuch as they like homes of their own
beyond the Palace walls and desire children to play with. Since their
wives can bear no children they buy children from poor people, and
these duly become their own. Thus when the eunuch dies he has children
to worship at his grave." In this land of mystery even eunuchs can
correctly become ancestors. Yet this is a trivial detail which I
should not speak of.

So the eunuch's wife living near the South Cathedral, who gossips with
her Black Catholic neighbours, and whose gossip gives me news many
times a day, avers most positively that the chief eunuch has been in
town--that the whole matter has been decided--and that every foreigner
will die. And very late in the evening my Manchu servant rushed in on
me with his eyes sparkling strangely, and his voice so hoarse with
excitement that he did not speak, but shout. "Master," he cried, "I
have seen myself this time; three long carts full of swords and spears
have passed in from the outer city through the Ha-ta Gate. The city
guards stopped and questioned the drivers--then let them go. They had
a pass from the Governor of Peking, and the people all say it is now
coming." Now do you wonder about our clocks and our watches, and our
time? Nothing can ever be normal again until this terrible question is



9th June 1900.

       *       *       *       *       *

It is getting desperate, of that there is now no shadow of doubt. The
Tientsin trains that have been lately running more and more slowly and
irregularly, as if they, too, were waiting on the pleasure of the
coming storm, are going to run no more, and the odds are heavily
against to-day's train ever reaching its destination. It is true these
trains have long ceased running as far as we are personally concerned,
for the weariness of living forty-two hours during twenty-four dulls
one's perception of everything excepting one's immediate surroundings.
And even one's surroundings are somehow shrinking until they will soon
be but the four walls of a courtyard. But about the trains--why are
they stopping? Because the licking flames are approaching so near that
they will soon overwhelm all who are concerned with the running of
trains unless they disappear very nimbly. One of the Chinese railway
managers, an educated man in the Western sense who can quote
Shakespeare, has been all over Legation Street yesterday and to-day,
pointing out the hopelessness of the general position and almost
openly urging the Legations to call on Europe to take steps. General
Nieh, an intelligent general, with foreign-drilled troops, has indeed
been fitfully ordered by Imperial Edict to "protect the railway," and
to keep communication open, but this order has already come to
nothing, and the position is worse than it was before. His troops,
merely desirous of testing their brand-new Mausers, and as calmly
cruel as only Easterns can be, did open a heavy fire a day or two ago
on some Boxer marauders who had strayed into a station on the
Tientsin-Peking line, and proposed to crucify the native
station-master and beat all others, who were indirectly eating the
foreign devils' rice by working on the railway, into lumps of jelly.
General Nieh's men let their rifles crash off, not because their
sympathies were against the Boxers, but probably because every living
man armed with a rifle loves to fire at another living man when he can
do so without harm to himself. This is my brutal explanation. But in
any case these soldiers have now been marched off in semi-disgrace to
their camp at Lutai, a few miles to the north of Tientsin, and told
never to do such rash and indiscreet things again. That means the end
of any attempts to control. For the Boxer partisans in Peking allege
that the soldiers actually hit and killed a good many men, which is
quite without precedent, and is upsetting all plans. On such occasions
it is always understood that you fire a little in the air, warwhoop a
good deal, and then come back quietly to camp with captured flags and
banners as undeniable evidences of your victory. This has been the old
method of making domestic war in China--the only one.

But all this is many miles from the sacred capital. The cry is still
that we of Peking are safe, and that even if this is to be a true
rebellion we cannot be hurt. The cry, however, is not so lusty as it
was even three or four days ago, and, indeed, has only become an
official cry--that is, one you are permitted to contradict privately
when you meet your dear colleagues in the street and wonder aloud
what is really going to happen. In the despatches Peking is still
quite safe, although unwholesome. Yet our own private political
situations, of which we were so proud and talked so vauntingly, have
all now disappeared, miserable things, and are quite lost and
forgotten. No one cares to talk about them. People merely say that all
business is temporarily suspended; that we must wait and merely mark

But we discovered something worth knowing at the last moment to-day
which is, without any doubt, true. The Empress Dowager returned to-day
from the Summer Palace, and is now actually in the Forbidden City. We
are at a loss to know exactly as yet what this means, and whether it
is an augury of good or of bad. The Winter Palace is so near us; it is
just to the west of us. The fact that the redoubtable Tung Fu-hsiang
rode behind his Imperial mistress with his banner-bearers flaunting
their colours and his trumpets blaring as loudly as possible is,
however, not very reassuring. It seemed like defiance and treachery.

But at first, in spite of the Empress's entry, there were not many
rumours accompanying her; in the late afternoon they came so thick and
fast that no one had time to write them down. But of rumours we have
had more than our bellyful. Let me tell some of the facts.

First and foremost. The racecourse grand-stand where less than a month
ago we were all watching the struggles for victory between our various
short-legged ponies, has gone up in flames and puff--just like
that--the social battle-ground is no more. The Boxers, for everybody
who does anything nowadays is a Boxer, tried to grill our official
caretakers on the red-hot bricks, but the neighbouring village came to
the rescue and shouted the marauders out of the place. That is the
nearest danger which has been heard of. Immediately after this some
Legation students, riding out on the sands under the Tartar Wall, were
openly attacked by spear-armed men, and only escaped by galloping
furiously and firing the revolvers which everyone now carries. Most
important of all, however, to us is that aged Sir R---- H---- is
hauling down his colours, and has been rapidly calling in all his
scattered staff who live near the premises of the Tsung-li
Yamen--China's Foreign Office. Here we are, the Legations of all
Europe, with five hundred sailors and marines cleaning their rifles
and marking out distances in the capital of a so-called friendly
Power; with our _pro forma_ despatches still being despatched while
our real messages are frightened; attempting to weather a storm which
the Chinese Government is powerless to arrest. The very passers-by are
becoming sheep-eyed and are looking at us askance.

Passers-by, did I say? But do not imagine from this that there are
many of these, for the Chinese have been for days avoiding the
Legation quarter as if it were plague-stricken, and sounds that were
so roaring a few weeks ago are now daily becoming more and more
scarce. A blight is settling on us, for we are accursed by the whole
population of North China, and who knows what will be the fate of
those seen lurking near the foreigner?

And now when we wander even in our own streets--that is, those
abutting immediately on our compounds of the Legation area--a new
nickname salutes our ears. No longer are we mere _yang kuei-tzu_,
foreign devils; we have risen to the proud estate of _ta mao-tzu_, or
long-haired ones of the first class. _Mao-tzu_ is a term of some
contemptuous strength, since _mao_ is the hair of animals, and our
barbarian heads are not even shaved. The _ta_--great or first
class--is also significant, because behind our own detested class
press two others deserving of almost equal contempt at the hands of
all believers in divine Boxerism. These are _ehr-mao-tzu_ and _san
mao-tzu_, second and third class coarse-haired ones. All good converts
belong to the second class, and death awaits them, our servants say;
while as to the third category, all having any sort of connection,
direct or indirect with the foreigner and his works are lumped
indiscriminately together in this one, and should be equally detested.
The small talk of the tea-shops now even says that officials having a
few sticks of European furniture in their houses are _san mao-tzu_. It
is very significant, too, this open talk in the tea-shops, because in
official Peking, the very centre of the enormous, loose-jointed
Empire, political gossip is severely disliked and the four characters,
"_mo t'an kuo shih_" (eschew political discussions), are skied in
every public room. People in the old days of last month heeded this
four-character warning, for a bambooing at the nearest police-station,
_ting erh_, was always a possibility. Now everyone can do as he

It is, therefore, becoming patent to the most blind that this is going
to be something startling, something eclipsing any other anti-foreign
movement ever heard of, because never before have the users of foreign
imports and the mere friends of foreigners been labelled in a class
just below that of the foreigners themselves. And then as it became
dark to-day, a fresh wave of excitement broke over the city and
produced almost a panic. The main body of Tung Fu-hsiang's savage
Kansu braves--that is, his whole army--re-entered the capital and
rapidly encamped on the open places in front of the Temples of Heaven
and Agriculture in the outer ring of Peking. This settled it, I am
glad to say. At last all the Legations shivered, and urgent telegrams
were sent to the British admiral for reinforcements to be rushed up at
all costs.

But too late--too late; the Manchu servants who have friends among the
guards at the Palace gates have said this all the evening. For the
Chinese Colossus, lumbering and lazy, sluggish and ill-equipped, has
raised himself on his elbow, and with sheep-like and calculating eyes
is looking down on us--a pigmy-like collection of foreigners and their
guards--and soon will risk a kick--perhaps even will trample us
quickly to pieces. How bitterly everyone is regretting our false
confidence, and how our chiefs are being cursed!



11th June, 1900.

       *       *       *       *       *

You do not know this Capital of Capitals, perhaps--that is, you do not
know it as you should if the scenes which may presently move across
the stage, now in shouting crowds of sword-armed men, now in pitiable
incidents of small account, are to be properly understood, and their
dramatic setting, stirring blood-thrilling, incongruous as they must
be and can only be. I feel that something will come--I even know it. I
have been talking vaguely about this and about that; have begun
preparing colours, as it were, in the usual careless fashion without
explanations or digressions--until you possibly wonder what it is all
about. For you have not yet seen the barbaric frame which will hedge
in the whole--the barbaric frame in all truth, since it is gradually
closing in on us on every side until, like some mediaeval torture-room,
we may have the very life crushed out of us by a cruel pressure. But
enough of fine phrases; while there is time let me write something.

Peking is at least two thousand years old. Several hundred years
before Christ, they say a Chinese kingdom made the present site the
capital, and began building the outer walls; but the Chinese, the
gentler Chinese who had all military spirit crushed out of them five
thousand years before by having to tramp from Mesopotamia to where
they now are in the eighteen provinces, these Chinese, I say, never
had in Peking anything but a temporary trysting-place. For Peking
stands for a sort of blatant barbarianism, mounted on sturdy ponies,
pouring in from the far North; and the history of Peking can only be
said to begin when Mongol-Tartars, who have always been freebooters
and robbers, forced their way in and imposed their militarism on a
nation of shopkeepers and collectors of taxes.

Even before the Christian era, the Chinese chronicles tell of the
pressure of these fierce barbarians from the North being so much felt
and their raids so constant, that Chi Huang-ti, the ruler of the
powerful Chinese feudatory state which laid the foundations of the
present Empire of China, began to build the Great Wall of China and to
fortify old Peking as the only means of stopping these living waves.
The Great Wall took ages to build, for the Northern barbarians always
kept cunningly slipping round the uncompleted ends, and the Mings, the
last purely Chinese sovereigns to reign in Peking, actually added
three hundred miles to this colossal structure in the year 1547, or
nearly two thousand years after the first bricks had been cemented.
That shows you what people they were, and what the contest was.

For hundreds of years the war with the semi-nomadic hordes of the
North continued. Sometimes isolated bands of Tartars broke through the
Chinese defence and enslaved the people, but never for very long;
instinctively by the use of every stratagem the cleverer Chinese
compassed their destruction. While Attila and his Huns were ravaging
Europe in the fifth century, other _Hwingnoo_, or Huns, veritable
scourges of God, forced their way into China. In this fashion, while
China itself was passing through a dozen different forms of
government, and had a dozen capitals--sometimes owning allegiance to a
single Emperor such as those of the T'ang dynasty who added Canton and
the Cantonese to the Empire, sometimes split into petty kingdoms such
as the "Ten States"--this curious frontier war continued and was
handed down from father to son. Chinese industrialism and socialism,
content to accept whatever form of government Chinese strong men
succeeded in imposing, instinctively kept up an iron resistance to
these Northern invaders. Such was the fear inspired, that a proverb
coined thousands of years ago is still current. "Do not fear the cock
from the South, but the wolf from the North," it says. Everybody is
always quoting this saying. I have heard it twice to-day.

It was not until the tenth century that the Tartars finally broke
through and established themselves definitively on Chinese soil. The
Khitans, a Manchu-Tartar people, springing from Central Manchuria,
then captured Peking and made it their capital. The Khitans were a
cheerful people, with a peculiar sense of humour and a still greater
conviction of the inferiority of women. To show their contempt for
them, it is still recorded that they used to slit the back of their
wives and drink their blood to give them strength. For two and a half
centuries the Khitans, under the style of the Liao or Iron dynasty,
maintained their position by the use of the sword, and then succumbing
to the sapping influence of Chinese civilisation, they in turn were
unable to resist a second Manchu-Mongol horde, the Kins. The Kins,
under the style of the Silver dynasty, reigned in Northern China for a
term of years, but there was nothing of a permanent character in their
rule, since they were uncouth barbarians who soon drank themselves to
death and destruction.

At the beginning of the thirteenth century Genghis Khan, the great
Mongol, born in the bleak Hsing-an Mountains, gathered together all
the restless bands of Mongolia, and sweeping down on Peking drove out
the Kins and established the purely Mongol dynasty of the Yuan. Up
till then Peking had consisted of what is to-day the Chinese city, or
the older outer city. Kublai Khan, Genghis's grandson, fixed his
residence definitively in Peking in 1264, and began building the
_Ta-tu_, or Great Residence--the Tartar city of to-day. The Chinese
city is oblong; the Tartar city is squat and square and overlaps and
dominates the northern walls of the older city. Kublai Khan, by
building the Tartar city on the northern edge of the Chinese city and
fortifying it with immense strength, may be said to have fitted the
spear-head on to the Chinese shaft, and to have given the key-note to
the policy which exists to this day--the policy of the North of China
dominating the South of China.

In time the Yuan dynasty of Mongols passed away--their strength sapped
by confinement to walled cities because their power was only on the
tented field. Ser Marco Polo, that audacious traveller, never tires of
telling of the magnificence of the Mongol Khans and their resplendent
courts. It requires no Marco Polo to assure us that the thirteenth
century of the Far East was immeasurably in advance of the thirteenth
century of Europe. The vast and magnificent works which remain to this
day, weather-beaten though they be; the fierce reds, the wonderful
greens, the boldness and size of everything, speak to us of an age
which knew of mighty conquests of all Asia by invincible Mongol

The Mongols were succeeded by the Mings--a purely Chinese house; but
the Mings, in some terror of the rough North, since for over four
centuries Tartars or Manchu-Mongols had been the overlords of China,
discreetly established their capital on the Yangtsze and called it
Nanking, or the Southern capital. It was only the third Emperor of the
Mings who dared to remove the court to Peking. His choice was ill made
for his dynasty, since a century and a half had hardly passed before
fresh hordes--the modern Manchus--began to gather strength in the
mountains and valleys to the northeast of Moukden. Fighting
stubbornly, Nurhachu, the founder of this new enterprise, steadily
broke through Chinese resistance in the Liaotung, then a Chinese
province colonised from Chihli, and slowly but surely reached out
towards Peking, the goal which beckons to everyone. The Great Wall,
built eighteen hundred years before as a protection against other
barbarians of the same stock, stopped Nurhachu a hundred times, and
although he captured Moukden and made it a Manchu capital, he died
worn out by half a century of warfare. His son, Tai Tsung, or Tien
Tsung, nothing daunted, took up the struggle, and finding it
impossible to break through the fortifications of the East, near
Shan-hai-kwan, adopted Genghis Khan's route--the passes leading in
from the great grassy plains of Mongolia many hundreds of miles to the
West. Allying himself by marriage with Mongols, the Manchu monarch
began a series of grand raids through their territory in the direction
of Peking. Once he actually reached Peking and sat down in front of
its mighty walls to besiege it. But he found his strength unequal to
the task, and once more was forced to retire. Then this second Manchu
prince died, and was succeeded by a tiny grandson of five. The regent
appointed by the Manchu nobles owed his final success to the fact that
he was called in by the Chinese generals commanding the coveted
Shan-hai-kwan gates to rescue Peking from the hands of Chinese
insurgents, who had everywhere arisen; and in 1644, after seventy
years of warfare, the Manchus seated themselves on the Dragon Throne,
in defiance of the wishes of the people, but backed up by a vast
concourse of Manchus and Mongols, and half the fierce blades of
Eastern Asia.

The history of all these centuries of warfare is eloquently written on
all the buildings, the fortifications, the monuments, the palaces and
temples of Peking which surround us. Peking is the Delhi of China, and
the grave of warlike barbarians. Four separate times have Tartars
broken in and founded dynasties, and four separate times have Chinese
culture and civilisation sapped rugged strength, and made the rulers
the _de facto_ servants of the ceremonious inhabitants. In the Tartar
city there are Yellow Lama temples, with hundreds of bare-pated lama
priests, the results of Buddhist Concordats guaranteeing Thibetan
semi-independence in return for a tacit acknowledgment of Chinese
suzerainty. Near the Palace walls is a Mongolian Superintendency,
where the Mongol hordes still grazing their herds and their flocks on
the grassy plains of high Asia, as they have done for countless
centuries, are divided up into Banners, or military divisions, showing
the enormous strength in irregular cavalry they possessed two hundred
and fifty years ago. Round the Forbidden City are the Six Boards and
the Nine Ministries, the outward signs of those bonds of etiquette
and procedure which bind the Manchu Throne to the eighteen provinces.
The walls of the Tartar city heave up fifty feet in the air, and are
forty feet thick. The circumference of the outer ring of
fortifications is over twenty miles. Each gate is surmounted by a
square three-storied tower or pagoda, vast and imposing. Round the
city and through the city run century-old canals and moats with
water-gates shutting down with cruel iron prongs. In the Chinese city
the two Temples of Heaven and Agriculture raise their altars to the
skies, invoking the help of the deities for this decaying but proud
Chinese Empire. Think of the millions of dead hands that fashioned
such enormous strength and old-time magnificence! On the corner of the
Tartar Wall is the old Jesuit Observatory with beautiful
dragon-adorned instruments of bronze given by a Louis of France. There
are temples with yellow-gowned or grey-gowned priests in their
hundreds founded in the times of Kublai Khan. There are Mohammedan
mosques, with Chinese muezzins in blue turbans on feast days; Manchu
palaces with vermillion-red pillars and archways and green and gold
ceilings. There are unending lines of camels plodding slowly in from
the Western deserts laden with all manner of merchandise; there are
curious palanquins slung between two mules and escorted by sword-armed
men that have journeyed all the way from Shansi and Kansu, which are a
thousand miles away; a Mongol market with bare-pated and long-coated
Mongols hawking venison and other products of their chase; comely
Soochow harlots with reeking native scents rising from their hair;
water-carriers and barbers from sturdy Shantung; cooks from epicurean
Canton; bankers from Shansi--the whole Empire of China sending its
best to its old-world barbaric capital, which has now no strength.

And right in the centre of it all is the Forbidden City, enclosing
with its high pink walls the palaces which are full of warm-blooded
Manchu concubines, sleek eunuchs who speak in wheedling tones, and is
always hot with intrigue. At the gates of the Palace lounge bow and
jingal-armed Imperial guards. Inside is the Son of Heaven himself, the
Emperor imprisoned in his own Palace by the Empress Mother, who is as
masterful as any man who ever lived....

I beg you, do you begin to see something of Peking and to understand
the eleven miserable little Legations, each with its own particular
ideas and intrigues, but crouching all together under the Tarter Wall
and tremblingly awaiting with mock assurance the bursting of this
storm? If you are so good as to see this you will realise the
wonderful stage effects, the fierce Mediaevalism in senile decay, the
superb distances, the red dust from the Gobi that has choked up all
the drains and tarnished all the magnificence until it is no more
magnificence at all--this dust which is such a herald of the coming
storm--the new guns and pistols of Herr Krupp and the camels of the
deserts and all the other things all mixed up together....

Oh, I see that we are absurd and can only be made more ridiculous by
coming events. Of course the Boxers coming in openly through the gates
cannot be true, and yet--shades of Genghis Khan and all his Tartars,
what is that? When I had got as far as this from all sides came a
tremendous blaring of barbaric trumpets--those long brass trumpets
that can make one's blood curdle horribly, a blaring which has now
upset everything I was about to write and also my inkpot. I rushed
out to inquire; it was only a portion of the Manchu Peking Field Force
marching home, but the sounds have unsettled us all again, and in the
tumult of one's emotions one does not know what to believe and what to
fear. Everything seems a little impossible and absurd, especially what
I am now writing from hour to hour.



12th June, 1900.

       *       *       *       *       *

Even the British Legation--"the stoical, sceptical, ill-informed
British Legation," as S---- of the American Legation calls it--is
wringing its hands with annoyance, and were it Italian, and therefore
dramatically articulate, its curses and _maladette_ would ascend to
the very heavens in a menacing cloud like our Peking dust. For on
England we have all been waiting because of an ancient prestige; and
England, everyone says, is mainly responsible for our present plight.
Everybody is lowering at England and the British Legation along
Legation Street, because S---- was not sent for two weeks ago, and the
language of the minor missions, who could not possibly expect to
receive protecting guards unless they swam all the way from Europe, is
sulphurous. They ask with much reason why we do not lead events
instead of being lead by them; why are we so foolish, so confident.
What has happened to justify all this, you will ask? Well, permit me
to speak.

The day before yesterday several Englishmen rode down to the Machiapu
railway station, which is just outside the Chinese city, and is our
Peking station, to welcome, as they thought, Admiral S---- and his
reinforcements, so despairingly telegraphed for by the British
Legation just fourteen days later than should have been done. Their
passage to the station was unmarked by incidents, excepting that they
noted with apprehension the thickly clustering tents of Kansu soldiery
in the open spaces fronting the vast Temples of Heaven and
Agriculture. Once the station was reached a weary wait began, with
nothing to relieve the tedium, for the vast crowds which usually
surround the "fire-cart stopping-place," to translate the vernacular,
all had disappeared, and in place of the former noisiness there was
nothing but silence.

At last, somewhat downcast, our Englishmen were forced to return
without a word of news, passing into the Chinese city when it was
almost dusk. Alas! the Kansu soldiery, after the manner of all
Celestials, were taking the air in the twilight; and no sooner did
they spy the hated foreigner than hoots and curses rose louder and
louder. The horsemen quickened their pace, stones flew, and had it not
been for the presence of mind of one man they would have been torn to
pieces. They left the great main street of the outer city in a
tremendous uproar and seemed glad to be back among friends.

Yesterday, the 11th, it seemed absolutely certain S---- would arrive,
since he must have left Tientsin on the 10th, and it is only ninety
miles by rail. The Legations wished to despatch a messenger, but the
Kansu soldiery on those open spaces were not attractive, and nobody
was very anxious to brave them. Who was to go? No sooner was it
mentioned in the Japanese Legation than, of course, a Japanese was
found ready to go; in fact, several Japanese almost came to blows on
the subject. Sugiyama, the _chancelier_, somehow managed to prove that
he had the best right, and go he did, but never to return.

It was dark before his carter turned up in Legation Street, covered
with dust and bespattered with blood, while I happened to be there. It
was an ugly story he unfolded, and it is hardly good to tell it. On
the open spaces facing the supplicating altars of Heaven and
Agriculture this little Japanese, Sugiyama, met his death in a horrid
way. The Kansu soldiery were waiting for more cursed foreigners to
appear, and this time they had their arms with them and were
determined to have blood. So they killed the Japanese brutally while
he shielded himself with his small hands. They hacked off all his
limbs, barbarians that they are, decapitated him, then mutilated his
body. It now lies half-buried where it was smitten down. The carter
who drove him was eloquent as only Orientals can be when tragedy
flings their customary reserve aside: "May my tongue be torn out if I
scatter falsehoods," he said again and again, using the customary
phrase, as he showed how it all happened. And late into the night he
was still reciting his story to fresh crowds of listeners, who gaped
with terror and astonishment. Squatting in a great Peking courtyard on
his hams and calling on the unseen powers to tear out his tongue if he
lied, he was a figure of some moment, this Peking carter, for those
that thought; for everybody realises that we are now caught and cannot
be driven out....

This was the 11th. On the 12th, the day was still more startling, for
somehow the shadow which has been lurking so near us seems to have
been thrown more forward and become more intense. The hero of the
affair is the one really brave man among our chiefs, of course--the
Baron von K----, the Kaiser's Minister to the Court of Peking.

The Baron is no stranger in Peking, although he has been here but a
twelvemonth in his new capacity as Minister. Fifteen years ago his
handsome face charmed more than one fair lady in the old pre-political
situation days, when there was plenty of time for picnics and
love-making. Then he was only an irresponsible attache; now he is here
as a very full-blooded plenipotentiary, with the burden of a special
German political mission in China, bequeathed him by his pompous and
mannerless predecessor, Baron von H----, to support. But a man is the
present German Minister if there was ever one, and it was in the newly
macadamised Legation Street that the incident I am about to relate

Walking out in the morning, the German Minister saw one of the
ordinary hooded Peking carts trotting carelessly along, with the mule
all ears, because the carter was urging him along with many digs near
the tail. But it was not the cart, nor the carter, nor yet the mule,
which attracted His Excellency's immediate attention, but the
passenger seated on the customary place of the off-shaft. For a moment
Baron von K---- could not believe his eyes. It was nothing less than a
full-fledged Boxer with his hair tied up in red cloth, red ribbons
round his wrists and ankles, and a flaming red girdle tightening his
loose white tunic; and, to cap all, the man was audaciously and calmly
sharpening a big carver knife on his boots! It was sublime insolence,
riding down Legation Street like this in the full glare of day, with a
knife and regalia proclaiming the dawn of Boxerism in the Capital of
Capitals, and withal, was a very ugly sign. What did K---- do--go home
and invite some one to write a despatch for him to his government
deprecating the growth of the Boxer movement, and the impossibility
of carrying out conciliatory instructions, as some of his colleagues,
including my own chief, would have done? Not a bit of it! He tilted
full at the man with his walking stick, and before he could escape had
beaten a regular roll of kettledrums on his hide. Then the Boxer,
after a short struggle, abandoned his knife, and ran with some
fleetness of foot into a neighbouring lane. The gallant German
Minister raised the hue and cry, and then discovered yet another Boxer
inside the cart, whom he duly secured by falling on top of him; and
this last one was handed over to his own Legation Guards. The fugitive
was followed into Prince Su's grounds, which run right through the
Legation area, and there cornered in a house. The mysterious Dr. M----
then suddenly appeared on the scenes and insisted upon searching the
Manchu Prince's entire grounds and most private apartments. But time
was wasted in _pourparlers_, and in spite of a minute inspection,
which extended even to the concubine apartments, the Boxer vanished in
some mysterious way like a breath, and is even now untraced. This
shows us conclusively that there are accomplices right in our midst.

No sooner had this incident occurred and been bandied round with
sundry exaggerations, than the life of the Legations and the
nondescripts who have been coming in from the country became more
abnormal than ever. For in spite of our extraordinary position, even
up to to-day we were attempting to work--that is, writing three lines
of a despatch, and then rushing madly out to hear the latest news. Now
not so much as one word is written, and our eleven Legations are
openly terribly perturbed in body and mind and conscious of their
intense impotence, although we have all the so-called resources of
diplomacy still at our command, and we are officially still on the
friendliest terms with the Chinese Government.

This morning, the 12th, there was another commotion--this time in
Customs Street, as it is called. Three more Boxers, armed with swords
and followed by a crowd of loafers, fearful but curious, ran rapidly
past the Post Office, which faces the Customs Inspectorate, and got
into a small temple a few hundred feet away, where they began their
incantations. It was decided to attack them only with riding-whips, so
as to avoid drawing first blood. But when a party of us arrived, we
could not get into their retreat, as they had barricaded themselves
in. So marines and sailors were requisitioned with axes; after a lot
of exhausting work it was discovered that the birds had flown. This
was another proof that there is treachery among friendly natives, for
without help these Boxers could never have escaped.

And now imagine our excitement and general perturbation. Since the 8th
or 9th, I really forget which date, we have been acting on a more or
less preconcerted plan--that is, as far as our defences are concerned,
as we have been quite cut off from the outer world. The commanders of
the British, American, German, French, Italian, Russian, Austrian and
Japanese detachments have met and conferred--each carefully instructed
by his own Minister just how far he is to acquiesce in his colleagues'
proposals, which is, roughly speaking, not at all. We can have no
effective council of war thus, because there is no commander-in-chief,
and everybody is a claimant to the post. There is first an Austrian
captain of a man-of-war lying off the Taku bar, who was merely up in
Peking on a pleasure trip when he was caught by the storm, but this
has not hindered him taking over command of the Austrian sailors from
the lieutenant who brought them up; and everybody knows that a captain
in the navy ranks with a colonel in the army. There are no military
men in Peking excepting three captains of British marines, one
Japanese lieutenant-colonel and his aide-de-camp, and some unimportant
military attaches, who are very junior. So on paper the command should
lie between two men--the Austrian naval captain and the Japanese
lieutenant-colonel. But, then, the Japanese have instructions to
follow the British lead, and the senior British marine captain has
orders to follow, his own ideas, and his own ideas do not fancy the
unattached Austrian captain of a man-of-war. So the concerted plan of
defence has only been evolved very suddenly, a plan which has resolved
itself naturally into each detachment-commander holding his own
Legation as long as he could, and being vaguely linked to his
neighbour by picquets of two or three men. But about this you will
understand more later on. The point I wish you now to realise is that
the counsels of the allied countries of Europe in the persons of their
Legation Guards' commanders are as effective as those of very juvenile
kindergartens. Everybody is intensely jealous of everybody else and
determined not to give way on the question of the supreme command. Of
course, if the storm comes suddenly, without any warning, we are
doomed, because you cannot hold an area a mile square with a lot of
men who are fighting among themselves, and who have fallen too quickly
into our miserably petty Peking scheme of things.



14th June, 1900.

       *       *       *       *       *

I had risen yesterday some what late in the day with the oddness and
uncomfortableness--I do not mean discomfort--which comes from too much
boots, too much disturbance of one's ordinary routine, too much
listening to people airing their opinions and recounting rumours, and,
last of all, very wearied by the uncustomary task of transporting a
terrible battery of hand artillery (for we are at last all heavily
armed); and consequent of these varied things, I, like everybody else,
was a good deal out of temper and rather sick of it all. I began to
ask myself this question: Were we really playing an immense comedy, or
was there a great and terrible peril menacing us? I could never get
beyond asking the question. I could not think sanely long enough for
the answer.

The day passed slowly, and very late in the afternoon, when some of us
had completed a tour of the Legations, and looked at their various
picquets, I finished up at the Austrian Legation and the Customs
Street. Men were everywhere sitting about, idly watching the dusty and
deserted streets, half hoping that something was going to happen
shortly, when suddenly there was a shout and a fierce running of feet.
Something had happened.

We all jumped up as if we had been shot, for we had been sitting very
democratically on the sidewalk, and round the corner, running with
the speed of the scared, came a youthful English postal carrier. That
was all at first.

But behind him were Chinese, and ponies and carts ridden or driven
with recklessness that was amazing. The English youth had started
gasping exclamations as he ran in, and tried to fetch his breath, when
from the back of the Austrian Legation came a rapid roll of musketry.
Austrian marines, who were spread-eagled along the roofs of their
Legation residences, and on the top of the high surrounding wall, had
evidently caught sight of the edge of an advancing storm, and were
firing fiercely. We seized our rifles--everybody has been armed
_cap-a-pie_ for days--and in a disorderly crowd we ran down to the end
of the great wall surrounding the Austrian compounds to view the broad
street which runs towards the city gates. The firing ceased as
suddenly as it had begun, and in its place arose a perfect storm of
distant roaring and shouting. Soon we could see flames shooting up not
more than half a mile from where we stood; but the intervening houses
and trees, the din and the excitement, coupled with the stern order of
an Austrian officer, shouted from the top of an outhouse, not to move
as their machine-gun was coming into action over our heads, made it
impossible for us to understand or move forward. What was it?

Presently somebody trotted up from behind us on a pony, and, waiting
his opportunity, rode into the open, and with considerable skill
seized a fleeing Chinaman by the neck. This prisoner was dragged in
more dead than alive with fear, and he told us that all he knew was
that as he had passed into the Tartar city through the Ha-ta Gate a
quarter of an hour before, myriads of Boxers--those were his
words--armed with swords and spears, and with their red sashes and
insignia openly worn, had rushed into the Tartar city from the Chinese
city, slashing and stabbing at everyone indiscriminately. The
foreigners' guns had caught them, he said, and dusted them badly, and
they were now running towards the north, setting fire to chapels and
churches, and any evidences of the European they could find. He knew
nothing more. We let our prisoner go, and no sooner had he disappeared
than fresh waves of fugitives appeared sobbing and weeping with
excitement. The Boxers, deflected from the Legation quarter, were
spreading rapidly down the Ha-ta Great Street which runs due north,
and everybody was fleeing west past our quarter. Never have I seen
such fast galloping and driving in the Peking streets; never would I
have believed that small-footed women, of whom there are a goodly
number even in the large-footed Manchu city, could get so nimbly over
the ground. Everybody was panic-stricken and distraught, and we could
do nothing but look on. They went on running, running, running. Then
the waves of men, women and animals disappeared as suddenly as they
had come, and the roads became once again silent and deserted. Far
away the din of the Boxers could still be heard, and flames shooting
up to the skies now marked their track; but of the dreaded men
themselves we had not seen a single one.

We had now time to breathe, and to run round making inquiries. We
found the Italian picquet at the Ha-ta end of Legation Street nearly
mad with excitement; the men were crimson and shouting at one another.
But there was nothing new to learn. Bands of Boxers had passed the
Italian line only eighty or a hundred yards off, and a number of dark
spots on the ground testified to some slaughter by small-bore Mausers.
They had been given a taste of our guns, that was all; and, fearing
the worst, every able-bodied man in the Legations fell in at the
prearranged posts and waited for fresh developments.

At eight o'clock, while we were hurriedly eating some food, word was
passed that fires to the north and east were recommencing with renewed
vigour. The Boxers, having passed two miles of neutral territory, had
reached the belt of abandoned foreign houses and grounds belonging to
the foreign Customs, to missionaries, and to some other people.
Pillaging and burning and unopposed, they were spreading everywhere.
Flames were now leaping up from a dozen different quarters, ever
higher and higher. The night was inky black, and these points of fire,
gathering strength as their progress was unchecked, soon met and
formed a vast line of flame half a mile long. There is nothing which
can make such a splendid but fearful spectacle as fire at night. The
wind, which had been blowing gently from the north, veered to the
east, as if the god's wished us to realise our plight; and on the
breeze leading towards the Legations, some sound of the vast tumult
and excitement was wafted to us. The whole city seemed now to be alive
with hoarse noises, which spoke of the force of disorder unloosed.
Orders for every man to stand by and for reinforcements to be massed
near the Austrian quarter were issued, and impatient, yet impotent, we
waited the upshot of it all. Chinese officialdom gave no sign; not a
single word did or could the Chinese Government dare to send us. We
were abandoned to our own resources, as was inevitable.

Suddenly a tremor passed over all who were watching the brilliant
scene. The flames, which till then had been confined to a broad belt
at least three thousand yards from our eastern picquets, began leaping
up a mile nearer. The Boxers, having destroyed all the foreign houses
in the Tsung-li Yamen quarter, were advancing up rapidly on the Tung
T'ang--the Roman Catholic Eastern Cathedral, which was but fifteen
minutes' walk from our lines. We knew that hundreds of native
Christians lived around the cathedral, and that as soon as their lives
were threatened they would at once seek refuge in their church, and we
knew, also, what that would mean.

The roar increased in vigour, and then hundreds of torches, dancing
like will-o'-the-wisps in front of our straining eyes, appeared far
down the Wang-ta, or so-called Customs Street, which separates Sir
R---- H----'s Inspectorate from the Austrian Legation. They were less
than a thousand yards away. The Boxers, casting discretion to the
winds, appeared to be once more advancing on the Legations. But then
came a shout from the Austrian Legation, some hoarse cries in guttural
German, and the big gates of the Legation were thrown open near us.
The night was inky black, and you could see nothing. A confused
banging of feet followed, then some more orders, and with a rattling
of gun-wheels a machine-gun was run out and planted in the very centre
of the street.

"At two thousand yards," sang out the naval lieutenant unexpectedly
and jarringly as we stood watching, "slow fire."

I was surprised at such decision. _Tang, tang, tang, tang, tang_, spat
the machine-gun in the black night, now rasping out bullets at the
rate of three hundred a minute, as the gunner under the excitement of
the hour and his surroundings forgot his instructions, now steadying
to a slow second fire. This was something like a counter-excitement;
we were beginning to speak at last. We were delighted. It was not so
much the gun reports which thrilled us as the resonant echoes which,
crackling like very dry fagots in a fierce fire as the bullets sped
down the long, straight street, made us realise their destroying
power. Have you ever heard a high-velocity machine-gun firing down
deserted and gloomy thorough-fares? It crackles all over your body in
electrical shocks as powerful as those of a galvanic battery; it
stimulates the brain as nothing else can do; it is extraordinary.

The will-o'-the-wisp torches had stopped dancing forward now, but
still they remained there, quite inexplicable in their fixity. We
imagined that our five minutes' bombardment must have carried death
and destruction to everyone and everything. And yet what did this
mean? The flames, which had been licking round near the cathedral,
suddenly burst up in a great pillar of fire. That was the answer; the
cathedral was at last alight. At this we all gave a howl of rage, for
we knew what that meant. The picquets had been mysteriously reinforced
by Frenchmen, Englishmen, and men of half a dozen other nationalities,
all chattering together in all the languages of Europe. "_Que faire,
que faire_," somebody kept bawling. "Get your damned gun out of the
way," shouted other angry voices, "and let us charge the beggars." But
Captain T----, the Austrian commander, was already conferring with a
dear colleague whom he had discovered in the dark. Even in this storm
of excitement the protocol could not be forgotten. Marines, sailors,
and Legation juniors groaned; was this opportunity to be missed? At
last they arranged it; it should be a charge of volunteers.

"Volunteers to the front," shouted somebody. Everybody sprang forward
like one man. A French squad was already fixing bayonets noisily and
excusing their rattle and cursing on account of the dark; the
Austrians had deployed and were already advancing. _"Pas de charge,"_
called a French middy. Somebody started tootling a bugle, and
helter-skelter we were off down the street, with fixed bayonets and
loaded magazines, a veritable massacre for ourselves in the dark....

The charge blew itself out in less than four hundred yards, and we
pulled up panting, swearing and laughing. Somebody had stuck some one
else through the seat of the trousers, and the some one else was
making a horrid noise about this trivial detail. Some rifles had also
gone off by themselves, how, why and at whom no one would explain. A
very fine night counter-attack we were, and the rear was the safest
place. Yet that run did us good. It was like a good drink of strong

But we had now reached the first torches and understood why they
remained stationary. The Boxers, met by the Austrian machine-gun, had
stuck them in long lines along the edge of the raised driving road,
and had then sneaked back quietly in the dark. Every minute we
expected to have our progress checked by the dead bodies of those we
had slain, but not a corpse could you see. The Austrian commander was
now once again holding a council of war, and this time he urged a
prompt retreat. We had certainly lost touch with our own lines, and
for all we knew we might suddenly be greeted with a volley from our
own people coming out to reinforce us. Our commanders wobbled this
way and that for a few minutes, but then, goaded by the general
desire, we pushed forward again, with a common movement, without
orders this time. We moved more slowly, firing heavily at every shadow
along the sides of the road. Here it seemed more black than ever, for
the spluttering torches, which cast a dim light on the raised road
itself, left the neighbouring houses in an impenetrable gloom. Whole
battalions of Boxers could have lurked there unmarked by us; perhaps
they were only waiting until they could safely cut us off. It was very

In front of us the flames of the burning Roman Catholic Cathedral rose
higher and higher, and the shouts and roars, becoming ever fiercer and
fiercer, could be plainly heard. Just then a Frenchman stumbled with a
muttered oath, and, bending down, jumped back with a cry of alarm. At
his feet lay a native woman trussed tightly with ropes, with her body
already half-charred and reeking with kerosene, but still alive and
moaning faintly. The Boxers, inhuman brutes, had caught her, set fire
to her, and then flung her on the road to light their way. She was the
first victim of their rage we had as yet come across. That made us
feel like savages. We were now not more than three hundred yards from
the cathedral, and in the light of the flames, which were now burning
more brightly than ever, we could see hundreds of figures dancing
about busily. We had just halted to prepare for a final charge when
something moved in front of us. "Halt," we all cried, marking our
different nationalities by our different intonations of the word. A
sobbing Chinese voice called back to us: "_Wo pu shih; wo pu shih_,"
which merely means, "I am not," leaving us to infer that he was
referring to the Boxers; and then without waiting for an answer the
night wanderer, whoever he might be, scampered away hurriedly. The
immediate result was that we opened a terrible fusillade in the
direction he had fled, our men firing at least a hundred shots. Many
mocking voices then called back to us from the shadows. There was
laughter, too. It was obviously hopeless trying to do anything in this
dark; so when a bugler trotted up from our lines with stern orders
from the French commandant for his men to retire, we all stumbled back
more than willingly We had gone out of our depth.

Meanwhile the flames spread farther and farther, until half the Tartar
city seemed on fire. All Peking awoke, and from every part confused
noises and a vast barking of dogs was borne down on us. What course
should we take, if the attack was suddenly carried all round our area?

The French Minister was by this time officially informed that native
Catholics were being butchered wholesale; that there were plenty of
men who were willing to go and rescue them, but that no one seemed to
have any orders, and that everyone was swearing at the general
incompetence. Absolute confusion reigned within our lines; the
picquets broke away from their posts; the different nationalities
fraternised under the excitement of the hour and lost themselves; and
it would have been child's play to have rushed the whole Legation
area. We felt that clearly enough.

It was not until well past midnight, and after several heated
discussions, that a relief party was finally organised; but when they
got to the cathedral there was hardly anything to see, for the
butchery was nearly over and the ruin completed. Several hundred
native Roman Catholics had disappeared, only a few Boxers were seen
and shot and a few converts rescued.

How well I remember the scene when this second expedition returned,
excited and garrulous as only Frenchmen can be. The French Minister
led them in. He explained to us that the Boxers had already absolutely
demolished everything--that it was no use risking one's self so far
from one's own lines any more--that it was a terrible business, but
_que faire_.... The French Minister did not hurry away, but stood
there talking endlessly. It was at once dramatic and absurd. Sir R----
H----, in company with many others, stood listening, however, with an
awestruck expression on his face. He carried a somewhat formidable
armament--at least two large Colt revolvers strapped on to his thin
body, and possibly a third stowed away in his hip pocket. From
midnight to the small hours there was a constant stream of our most
distinguished personages coming and looking down this street and
wondering what would happen next. It was not a very valiant spectacle.

In this curious fashion the memorable night of the 12th passed away,
with sometimes one picquet firing, sometimes another, and with
everybody waiting wearily for the morning. We had almost lost interest
by that time.

At half-past four the pink light began chasing away the gloom; the
shadows lightened, and day at last broke. At six o'clock native
refugees from the foreign houses that had been burned came slinking
silently in with white faces and trembling hands, all quite broken
down by terrible experiences. One gate-keeper, whose case was
tragically unique, had lost everything and everybody belonging to
him, and was weeping in a curious Chinese way, without tears and
without much contortion of features, but persistently, without any
break or intermission, in a somewhat terrifying fashion. His wife, six
children, his father and mother, and a number of relations had all
been burned alive--thirteen in all. They had been driven into the
flames with spears. Moaning like a sick dog, and making us all feel
cowardly because we had not attempted a rescue, the man sought refuge
in an outhouse. Sir R---- H---- was still standing at his post,
looking terribly old and hardly less distressed than the wretched
fugitives pouring in. His old offices and residences, where forty
years before he had painfully begun a life-long work, were all stamped
out of existence, and the iron had entered into his soul. A number of
the officers commanding detachments, and people belonging to various
Legations, attempted to glean details as to the strength of the Boxer
detachments from these survivors, but nobody could give any
information worth having. I noticed that no Ministers came; they were
all in bed!

At eight o'clock, still afoot, we heard that there was a deuce of a
row going on at the Ha-ta Gate, because it was still locked and the
key was gone. It now transpired that a party of volunteers, led by the
Swiss hotel-keeper of the place and his wife, had marched down to the
gate after the Boxers had rushed in, had locked it, and taken the key
home to bed, so that no one else could pay us their attentions from
this quarter. This is the simplest and the most sensible thing which
has been yet done, and it shows how we will have to take the law into
our own hands if we are to survive.

In this fashion the Boxers were ushered in on us. Most of us kept
awake until ten or eleven in the morning for fear that by sleeping we
might miss some incidents. But even the Boxers had apparently become
tired, for there was not a sign of a disturbance after midnight. In
spite of the quiet, however, the streets remain absolutely deserted,
and we have no means of knowing what is going to happen next.



16th June, 1900.

       *       *       *       *       *

We have entered quite naturally in these unnatural times on a new
phase of existence. It is the time of barricades and punitive
expeditions; of the Legations tardily bestirring themselves in their
own defence, and realising that they must try and forget their private
politics if they are even to live, not to say one day to resume their
various rivalries and animosities. Imperceptibly we are being impelled
to take action; we must do something.

We woke up late on the 14th to the fact that loopholed barricades had
been everywhere begun on our streets, as effective bars to the inrush
of savage torch-bearing desperadoes, each Legation doing its own work;
and that the Chinese Government, with its likes and dislikes, would
have to be seriously and cynically disregarded if we wished to
preserve the breath of life. So barricades have been going up on all
sides, excepting near the British Legation, where the same
indifference and sloth, which have so greatly contributed to this
_impasse_, still remain undisturbed. Near the Austrian, French,
American, Italian and Russian Legations barricade-builders are at
work, capturing stray Peking carts, turning them over and filling them
full of bricks. So quickly has the work been pushed on, that in some
places there are already loopholed walls three feet thick stretching
across our streets, and so cleverly constructed that carts can still
pass in and out without great difficulty. We are still on speaking
terms with the Chinese Government, but who knows what the morrow may

But although you may have gathered some idea of the general aspect of
Peking from what I have written, it is more than probable that you
have no clear conception of the Legation quarter and what this
barricading means. It seems certain that we will have to fight some
one in time, so I will try and explain.

Legation Street, or the _Chiao Min hsiang_, to give it the native
appellation, runs parallel to the Tartar Wall. Beginning at the west
end of the street--that is, the end nearest the Imperial City and the
great Ch'ien Men Gate--the Legations run as follows: Dutch, American,
Russian, German, Spanish, Japanese, French, Italian. Of the eleven
Legations, therefore, eight are in the one street, some on one side,
some on the other; some adjoining one another, with their enormous
compounds actually meeting, others standing more or less alone with
nests of Chinese houses in between. Apart from the eight Legations,
there are a number of other buildings belonging to Europeans in this
street, such as banks, the club, the hotel, and a few stores and
nondescript houses. Taking the remaining three Legations, the Belgian
is hopelessly far away beyond the Ha-ta Gate line; the Austrian is two
hundred yards down a side street on which is also the Customs
Inspectorate; and, finally, the British is at the back of the other
Legations--that is, to the north of the south Tartar Wall. The extent
of this Legation and its sheltered position make it a sort of natural
sanctuary for all non-combatants, since it is masked on two sides by
the other Legations, and is only really exposed on two sides, the
north and the west. Already many missionaries and nondescripts have
been coming in and claiming protection, and in the natural course of
events it must become the central base of any defence. Everyone sees
and acknowledges that.

At the two ends of Legation Street, the western Russo-American end and
the eastern Italian end, heavy barricades have already gone up. The
Dutch Legation, lying beyond the Russian and American Legations at
this west end of the street, being without any guards and protectors,
will, therefore, have to be abandoned immediately there is a rush from
the Ch'ien Men Gate. The Belgian Legation is naturally untenable, and
will also have to be sacrificed. The Austrian Legation is likewise a
little too far away; but for the time being a triple line of
barricades have gone up, having been constructed along the road
between this Legation and the Customs inspectorate. To-day, the 16th,
carts are no more to be seen on these streets; foot traffic is
likewise almost at an end. There is a tacit understanding that
everybody must act on the defensive.

Also every Chinaman passing our barricades is forced to provide
himself with a pass, which shows clearly his reason for wandering
abroad in times like this. There has already been trouble on this
score, for our system has had no proper trial....

Since the 14th and that dreadful first Boxer night, we have begun to
take affairs a good deal into our own hands, and have attempted to
strike blows at this growing movement, which remains so unexplained,
whenever an occasion warranted it--that is, those of us who have any
spirit. Thus, on the afternoon of the 14th, Baron von K---- took a
party of his marines on top of the Tartar Wall, pointed out to them a
party of Boxer recruits openly drilling below on the sandy stretch,
and gave orders to fire without a moment's hesitation. So the German
rifles cracked off, and the sands were spotted with about twenty dead
and dying. This action of the German Minister's at once created an
immense controversy. The timid Ministers unhesitatingly condemned the
action; all those who understand that you must prick an ulcer with a
lancet instead of pegging at it with despatch-pens, as nearly all our
chiefs have been doing, approved and began to follow the example set.
This is the only way to act when the time for action comes in the
East, and the net result is that we have been unendingly busy. There
have been expeditions, raids, and native Christians pouring in and
demanding sanctuary within our lines. One story is worth telling, as
showing how we are being forced to act.

Word came to us suddenly that the Boxers had caught a lot of native
Christians, and had taken them to a temple where they were engaged in
torturing them with a refinement of cruelty. One of our leaders
collected a few marines and some volunteers, marched out and
surrounded the temple and captured everybody red-handed. The Boxers
were given short shrift--those that had their insignia on; but in the
sorting-out process it was impossible to tell everybody right at first
sight. Christians and Boxers were all of them gory with the blood
which had flown from the torturing and brutalities that had been going
on; so the Christians were told to line up against the wall of the
temple to facilitate the summary execution in progress. Then a big
fellow rushed out of a corner, yelling, "I have received the faith."
Our leader looked at the man with a critical eye, and then said to him
in his quietest tones, "Stand up against the wall." The Boxer stood up
and a revolver belched the top of his head off. With that quickness of
eye for which he is distinguished, our leader had seen a few red
threads hanging below the fellow's tunic. The man, as he fell with a
cry, disclosed his sash underneath. He was a Boxer chief. At least
thirty men were killed here.

But it was at the Western Roman Catholic Cathedral that the most
exciting times up till now have been had, for there, as at the other
cathedral, the Boxers have been at work. The first relief expedition
went out during the night--that is, last night. Headed by some one
from the French Legation, the expedition managed to bring in all the
priests and nuns attached to the cathedral mission. Old Father
d'A----, a charming Italian priest, was the most important man
rescued. After having been forty years here, he surveys the present
scenes of devastation and pillage with the remark, "_En Chine il n'y a
ni Chretiens ni civilisation. Ce ne sont la que des phrases_." That is
what he said.

This morning a second relief corps, containing the most miscellaneous
elements, tramped away stolidly in the direction of the still smoking
cathedral ruins in the hopes of saving some more unfortunates, and our
expectations were soon realised. After a walk of a mile and a half, we
rounded a corner with the sound of much wailing on all sides, and ran
suddenly full tilt into at least two or three dozen Boxers, who have
been allowed to do exactly as they like for days. There was a fierce
scuffle, for we were down on them in a wild rush before they could get
away, and they showed some fight. I marked down one man and drove an
old sword at his chest. The fellow howled frightfully, and just as I
was going to despatch him, a French sailor saved me the trouble by
stretching him out with a resounding thump on the head from his Lebel
rifle. The Boxer curled over like a sick worm and expired. There was
not much time, however, to take stock of such minor incidents as the
slaying of individual men, even when one was the principal actor, for
everywhere men were running frantically in and out of houses, shouting
and screaming, and the confusion was such that no one knew what to do.
The Boxers had been calmly butchering all people who seemed to them to
be Christians--had been engaged in this work for many hours--and all
were now mixed up in such a confused crowd that it was impossible to
distinguish friends and foes. As they caught sight of us, many of the
marauders tore off their red sashes and fell howling to the ground, in
the hope that they would be passed by. Dozens of narrow lanes round
the ruined cathedral, which was still smoking, were full of Christian
families hiding in the most impossible places, and everywhere Boxers
and banditti, sometimes in groups, sometimes singly, still chased them
and cut them down. Numbers had already been massacred, and several
lanes looked like veritable shambles. The stench of human blood in the
hot June air was almost intolerable, and the sights more than we could
bear. Men, women and children lay indiscriminately heaped together,
some hacked to pieces, others with their throats cut from ear to ear,
some still moving, others quite motionless.

Gradually we collected an ever-growing mob of terror stricken people
who had escaped this massacre. Some of the girls seemed quite
paralysed with fear; others were apparently temporarily bereft and
kept on shrieking with a persistency that was maddening. A young
French sailor who did not look more than seventeen, and was splashed
all over with blood from having fallen in one of the worst places,
kept striking them two and three at a time, and cursing them in fluent
Breton, in the hope of bringing them to reason. "_Eh bien, mes belles!
Vous ne finissez pas_," he ended despairingly, and rushed off again to
see whether he could find any more.

The blood was rising to our men's heads badly by now, and I saw
several who could stand it no longer stabbing at the few dead Boxers
we had secured. We had none of us imagined we were coming to such
scenes as these; for nobody would have believed that such brutal
things were possible. When we judged we had finished rescuing every
one alive, a man in the most pitiable condition ran out from behind
the smouldering cathedral carrying a newly severed human head in
either hand. He seemed but little abashed when he saw us, but came
forward rapidly enough towards us, glancing the while over his
shoulder. Several sailors were rushing at him with their bayonets,
ready to spit him, when he fell on his knees, and, tearing open his
tunic, disclosed to our astonished eyes a bronze crucifix with a
silver Christ hung on it. "_Je suis catholique_," he cried to us
repeatedly and rapidly in fair French, and the sailors stayed their
cold steel until we had extracted an explication. Then it transpired
that he had used this horrible device to escape the notice of some
Boxers who were still at work in a street on the other side of the
cathedral. We ran round promptly on hearing this, and caught sight of
a few fellows stripped to the waist, and gory with blood as I have
never seen men before. Instead of fleeing, they met our charge with
resolution, and one tall fellow put me in considerable danger of my
life with a long spear, finally escaping before we could shoot him

On this side the ruins of the cathedral were covered with corpses
burned black from the heat of the flames and exposure to the sun. One
woman, by some freak of nature, had her arms poised above her head as
she sat dead, shrivelled almost beyond human recognition. It was
probable that the Boxers had pitched many of their victims alive into
the flames and driven them back with their swords and spears whenever
they attempted to escape....

At last we got away with everybody who was still alive, as far as we
could judge. Tramping back slowly and painfully, the rescued looked
the most pitiable concourse I have ever seen. Somehow it was exactly
like that eloquent picture in "Michael Serogoff," showing the crowds
of Siberian prisoners being driven away by Feofar Khan's Tartars after
the capture of Omsk. Among our people there were the same old
granddames, wrinkled and white haired, supporting themselves with
crooked sticks and hobbling painfully on their mutilated feet; the
same mothers with their children sucking their breasts; the same
little boys and little girls laden with a few miserable rags; the same
able-bodied men carrying the food they had saved. The older people
gazed straight in front of them with the stolid despair of the
fatalist East, and did not utter a word. A woman who had given birth
to a child the very night before was being carried on a single plank
slung on ropes, with a green-white pallor of death on her features. I
have never taken part in such a remarkable procession as this.

Thus bloodstained and very weary we finally reached our Legation
quarter, and once again the energy and resolution of Dr. M----
expressed themselves. The grounds of the Su wang-fu, belonging to the
Manchu prince Su, where the first Boxer we had openly seen had sought
refuge a few days previously, were commandeered by him, and by evening
nearly a thousand Catholic refugees were crowded into its precincts.
All day people were labouring to bring in rice and food for their
people, and camp-fires were soon built at which they could cook their
meals. Several of the _chefs de mission_ were again much alarmed at
this action of ours in openly rescuing Chinese simply because they
were doubtful co-religionists. They say that this action will make us
pay dearly with our own lives; that the Legations will be attacked;
that we cannot possibly defend ourselves against the numbers which
will be brought to bear against us; that we are fools. Perhaps we are,
but still there is some comfort in discovering that this nest of
diplomacy still contains a few men.

Meanwhile there is not a word of news from S----, and there are
indications that our despatches to the Chinese Government, which are
being sent from every Legation more and more urgently, are hardly
read. The situation is becoming more and more impossible, and our
servants say it is useless bringing in any news, as there is such
confusion in the Palace that nobody knows anything reliable.



16th June, 1900.

       *       *       *       *       *

No developments have taken place during the past few hours. So far
very few men have been conspicuous; and as it is these few who have
brought about the only developments, and outlined our position, and
that they are to-day all terribly tired, we have absolute monotony. I
have not heard what the German Minister has been doing, but it is
rumoured that he is engaged in trying to re-establish communication
with Tientsin and the sea by bribing the Tsung-li Yamen smaller
officials to take down packets of his despatches by pony-express. It
seems doubtful whether this will succeed. For all communication has
absolutely ceased now, and the Customs postal carriers say that it is
impossible to get through by any stratagem, as all the roads are
swarming with Boxers and banditti. The Chinese Government, in its few
despatches to some of the Legations, is clearly temporising and trying
to save itself. There is no means of knowing what is going on inside
the Palace, or of understanding what the Empress Dowager has decided.
Everybody says it is all topsy-turvydom now in the capital, and that
the most extraordinary reports are coming in from the provinces. Our
Chinese despatch writers, our Manchu servants, and the few natives who
come through our barricaded streets, all say the same thing--that it
is too soon to speak, but that the dangers are enormous. Meanwhile the
more timid of these people attached to the Legation area are sending
word that they are sick and cannot come any more. It is a polite way
of saying that they are afraid. I do not blame them, since anything
now is possible. You cannot surely ask men to sacrifice themselves
when they are only bound to you by the hire system. Such is the
external and general situation.

Within our own quarter things are much the same, developing naturally
along the line of least resistance.

Now that Prince Su's palace grounds have been openly converted into a
Roman Catholic sanctuary, hundreds of converts are pouring in on us
from everywhere, laden with their pots and pans, their beds, and their
bundles of rice; indeed, carrying every imaginable thing. The great
Northern Cathedral and Monseigneur F---- are in no danger, for the
time being at least, since the cathedral and its extensive grounds are
surrounded by powerful walls and the bishop has now got his fifty
guards and possibly a couple of thousand young native Catholics, who
can probably be armed and fight. So although it seems as if the whole
Roman Catholic population of Peking is pouring in on us, we are in
reality only getting a few hundred miserables who had no time to fly
to their chief priest when the storm caught them; we have to prepare
for the worst, as everything is developing very slowly.

Even in this matter of Chinese refugees the attitude of our foolish
Legations is rather inexplicable. Actually up to within a few days ago
some of the Ministers were still resolutely refusing to entertain the
idea that native Christians--men who have been estranged from their
own countrymen and marked as pariahs because they have listened to the
white man's gospel--could be brought within the Legation area. In
consequence of this hardly any Chinese Protestants have as yet come
in. Of course circumstance, the force of example, and a timidity in
the face of the growing irritation, have at length broken down this
weak-kneed attitude, but people have not yet finished discussing it.
For instance, there is a remarkable story about the well-known S----,
who wrote that celebrated book, "Chinese Characteristics." He turned
up at the British Legation late one evening, long before the Boxers
entered the Tartar city, and brought positive proof that unless S----
was hurried in we would all be murdered by a conspiracy headed by the
most powerful men. S---- was kept waiting for an hour, and then told
that no time could be spared to see him as everybody was busy writing
despatches! This is indeed our whole situation expressed in a trivial
incident; all the plenipotentiaries are trying to save their positions
and their careers by violent despatch-writing at the eleventh hour.
They know perfectly well that it is they alone who are responsible for
the present _impasse_, and that even if they come out alive they are
all hopelessly compromised. Young O---- told me that in their Legation
they were actually antedating their despatches so as to be on the safe
side! This shows how absolutely inexcusable has been the whole policy
for three entire weeks.

We do not know what is going on around us; we do not know of what the
Peking Court is thinking; we do not know by whom S---- has been
stopped. We know nothing now excepting that we are gradually but
surely getting so dirty that our tempers cannot but be vile. One
never realises how great a part soap and water play in one's scheme of
things until times like these. With upturned Peking carts blocking the
ingresses to our quarter; with everything disgruntled and out of
order; with native Christians crowding in on us, sensible heathen
servants bolting as hard as they can, ice running short, we, the
eleven Legations of Peking, await with some fear and trepidation and
an ever-increasing discomfort our various fates under the shadow of
the gloomy Tartar Wall. What is to be the next thing? I could possibly
imagine and write something about this were I not so tired.



Night, 17th June 1900.

       *       *       *       *       *

It is past twelve o'clock at night, but in spite of the late hour and
my fatigue--I have been dead tired for a week now--I am writing this
with the greatest ease, my pen gliding, as it were, over a surface of
ice-like slippiness, although my fingers are all blistered from manual
work. Why, you will ask? Well, simply because my imagination is afire,
and taking complete control of such minor things as the nerves and
muscles of my right arm, my eyes and my general person, it speeds me
along with astonishing celerity. Let your imagination be aflame and
you can do anything....

It began last night. No sooner had the gates which pierce the Tartar
Wall been closed by the Imperial guards, who still remain openly
faithful to their duties, than there arose such a shouting and roaring
as I have never heard before and never thought possible. It was the
Boxers. The first time the Boxers had rushed in on us, it was through
the Ha-ta Gate to the east of the Legations. Last night, after having
for three days toured the Tartar city pillaging, looting, burning and
slaying, with their progress quite unchecked except for those few
hundred rifle shots of our own, the major part of the Boxer
fraternity, to whom had joined themselves all the many rapscallions of
Peking, found themselves in the Chinese or outer city after dark, and
consequently debarred from coming near their legitimate prey. (The
gates are still always closed as before.) Somebody must have told them
that they could do as they liked with Christians and Europeans; for,
mad with rage, they began shouting and roaring in chorus two single
words, "_Sha-shao,"_ kill and burn, in an ever-increasing crescendo. I
have heard a very big mass of Russian soldiery give a roar of welcome
to the Czar some years ago, a roar which rose in a very extraordinary
manner to the empyrean; but never have I heard such a blood-curdling
volume of sound, such a vast bellowing as began then and there, and
went on persistently, hour after hour, without ever a break, in a
maddening sort of way which filled one with evil thoughts. Sometimes
for a few moments the sound sank imperceptibly lower and lower and
seemed making ready to stop. Then reinforced by fresh thousands of
throats, doubtless wetted by copious drafts of _samshu_, it grew again
suddenly, rising stronger and stronger, hoarser and hoarser, more
insane and more possessed, until the tympanums of our ears were so
tortured that they seemed fit to burst. Could walls and gates have
fallen by mere will and throat power, ours of Peking would have
clattered down Jericho-like. Our womenfolk were frozen with
horror--the very sailors and marines muttered that this was not to be
war, but an Inferno of Dante with fresh horrors. You could feel
instinctively that if these men got in they would tear us from the
scabbards of our limbs. It was pitch dark, too, and in the gloom the
towers and battlements of the Tartar Wall loomed up so menacingly that
they, too, seemed ready to fall in and crush us.

For possibly three or four hours this insane demonstration proceeded
apace. The Manchu guards listened gloomily and curiously from the
inside of the gates, but made no attempt to open them, but they
equally refused sullenly to parley with a strong body of sailors and
volunteers we sent with instructions to shoot any one attempting to
unlock the barriers. Yet it was evident that the guards had received
special instructions, and that the gates would not be handed over to
the mob.

A few minutes before midnight the sounds became more sullen, and
beneath the general uproar another note, one of those in distress,
began, as it were, like an undercurrent to this pandemonium. The cause
we had not long to seek, for presently flames began to shoot up, a
sight we were by now well accustomed to, though not in this purely
trading quarter of the city. The fire, started with savage disregard
in the very centre of the most densely populated street of the Chinese
city, spread with terrible rapidity. Soon both sides of Ch'ien Men
great street, just on the other side of the Tartar Wall, were
enveloped in raging flames, and a lurid light, growing ever brighter
and brighter, turned the dark night into an unnatural day.

Between the incendiaries and ourselves the great Tartar Wall stood
firm, but though this ancient defence against other barbarians was an
effective protection for us, it could not long remain immune itself.
The _lou_, or square pagoda-like tower facing the Chinese city side,
caught some of the thousands and tens of thousands of sparks flying
skywards, and it was not long before the vast pile was burning as
fiercely as the rest. The great rafters of Burmese teak, brought by
Mongol Khans six centuries before to Peking, were as dry as tinder
with the dryness of ages; and thus almost before we had noted that
the bottom of the tower was well alight the flames were shooting
through the roof and out through the hundreds of little square windows
which in olden days were lined by archers. Higher and higher the
flames leaped, until the top of the longest tongues of fire, pouring
out through a funnel of brick, was hundreds of feet above the ground
level. Only Vereschagin could have done justice to this holocaust; I
have never seen anything so barbarically splendid.

Meanwhile below this in the Chinese city all had become quiet, except
for the increasing and growing roar of the all-devouring flames. The
Boxers, as if appalled by their own handiwork and the mournful sight
of the capital in flames, had retreated into their haunts and had left
the unfortunate townfolk to battle with this disaster as they could.
From the top of the wall, which I hastily climbed as soon as I
obtained permission to leave my post, thousands and tens of thousands
of figures could be seen moving hurriedly about laden with
merchandise, which they were attempting to save. Busy as ants, these
wonderful Chinese traders were rescuing as much of their invested
capital from the very embrace of the flames as they could at a moment
when the Boxer patriots, menacing and killing them with sword and
spears as _san mao-tzu,_ or third-class barbarians who sold the cursed
foreigners' stuffs and products, had hardly disappeared.

Yet it seemed vain, indeed, to talk of salvage with half the city in
flames, for other fires now began mysteriously in other places, which
"lighted" the horizon. "_Tout Pekin brule_," muttered a French sailor
to me as I passed back to my post, and his careless remark made me
think that this was the Commune and Sansculottism intermixed--the
ends of two centuries tumbled together--because we foreigners had
upset the equilibrium of the Far East with our importunities and our
covetousness of the Yellow Man's possessions....

And what of S----, what of the Peking Government--what is everybody in
the outside world doing--the distant world of which we have so
suddenly lost all trace, while we are passing through such times? We
do not know; we have no idea; we have almost forgotten to think about
it. S---- was heard of twice some days ago from Langfang, a station
only forty miles from Peking, but why he does not advance, why there
is this intolerable delay, we do not know. The Peking Government is
still decreeing and counter-decreeing night and day according to the
Government Gazettes. The Ministers of our eleven Legations are meeting
one another almost hourly, and are eternally discussing, but are doing
nothing else. We have blocked our roads with barricades and provided
our servants and dependents with passes written in English, French,
German, Italian, Russian and Chinese--so that everyone can
understand. We are now sick of such a multitude of languages and wish
all the world spoken Volapuk.

Thus with our rescued native Christians, our few butchered Boxers, our
score and more of fires lighting the whole of the horizon, here in the
middle of the night of the 16th of June we are no further forward in
our political situation than we were two and a half weeks ago, when
our Legation Guards arrived, and we esteemed ourselves so secure. Two
and a half weeks ago! It seems at least two and a half months; but
that is merely the direct fault of having to live nearly twice the
proper number of hours in twenty-four.



18th June, 1900.

       *       *       *       *       *

It has just transpired that Hsu Tung, an infamous Manchu high
official, who has been the Emperor's tutor, and whose house is
actually on Legation Street some fifty yards inside the lines of the
Italian Legation, has been allowed to pass out of our barricaded
quarter, going quite openly in his blue and red official chair. This
is a terrible mistake which we may pay for dearly.

Hsu Tung is a scoundrel who is at least thorough in his convictions as
far as we are concerned. It is he who has long been boasting--and all
Peking has been repeating his boast--that in the near future he is
going to line his sedan chair with the hides of foreign devils and
fill his harem with their women; and it is he, above all other men,
who should have been seized by us, held as hostage, and shot out of
hand the very moment the Chinese Government gives its open official
sanction to this insane Boxer policy. Had we acted in this way and
taken charge of a number of other high officials who live just around
us, we might have shown the trembling government that a day of
retribution is certain to come. And yet listen what happened. Either
on the 15th or 16th Hsu Tung sent the majordomo of his household
cringing to the French Legation for a _passepartout_. He had already
tried once to escape by way of the Italian barricades, but had been
sternly ordered back, and his house placed under watch. Somehow,
through the foolishness of an interpreter of the French Legation, he
got his safe-conduct pass, and started out bold as brass in the
morning, seated in his official chair and accompanied by his official
outriders. He passed a first French barricade and reached an outer
second barrier manned by volunteers, who challenged him roughly and
then refused to let him pass.

The outriders then tried to ride our men down, and it needed a
rifle-shot to bring them to their senses. Fortunately nobody was hurt,
and presently the youthful volunteers had Hsu Tung himself out of the
chair, and kept him seated on the ground while they debated whether
they should respect the French pass or strap the great man up and send
him to their own quarters as a prisoner of war.

In the end, however, one of the secretaries came up and inquired what
it all meant, and then, of course, weak counsels prevailed, and Hsu
Tung was allowed to sneak off unmolested down a side lane.

This incident is typical as showing the stamp of men who have
commanding voices in our beleagued quarter.

God help us if any considerable force is sent against us, for we can
never help ourselves. Every proper-minded young man is a natural
soldier methinks, even in Anno Domini 1900, but every elderly person
in the same year of grace is quite valueless--that is what we have
already discovered.

And yet even to-day all the senior people in our Legation area--those
who are our guides and mentors--though they be secretly much alarmed,
are comforting themselves with a great deal of garrulous talk because
a letter has arrived from Tientsin--in fact, several letters have
arrived. This is the first reliable news we have had for many days,
and everybody seems now to imagine that we are safe. The chief item in
these fateful missives seems to be that the Roman Catholic Cathedral
at Tientsin has also been burned; that this was accompanied by
massacres of native converts; and that the riverine port is swarming
with Boxers. And there is no news of S----, no news of anything good.
What has become of him we cannot imagine. Yet Ministers, secretaries,
and elderly nondescripts are somewhat relieved, and go about nervously
smiling in a very ridiculous way. No one can quite make out why they
are relieved, excepting perhaps, that they are delighted to find that
the visible world still exists elsewhere, and goes on revolving on its
own axis in spite of our dilemma. Why should the obvious be so often

Our poor Legation Guards and their commanding officers, with whom we
were so pleased a fortnight ago, are quite as crushed as everyone
else now--perhaps even more. You see the rank and file are merely a
crowd of uneducated sailors, who have not yet made head or tail of
what all this Peking _bouleversement_ means. They were suddenly
entrained and rushed up to Peking many days ago; they arrived in the
dark; they were crammed into their respective Legations as quickly as
possible; they have done a little patrol and picquet work on the
streets, and have stood expectantly behind barricades which they were
told to erect; but otherwise they are as completely at sea again as if
they were back to their ships.... In all the clouds of dust and smoke
around them, how can they understand? It is true I have rather a
grudge against some persons of the Legation defenders as yet unknown,
and think of them perhaps a little angrily, for, like all soldiery,
they loot. They have already taken my field-glasses, an excellent
revolver, and several other things during the confusion of the nights.
Of course this is the fortune of war, as all old campaigners will tell
you, but a more decent interval should have been allowed to elapse
before beginning the inevitable stripping process....

As for the detachment officers, some of them are very good fellows and
some of them are not; but already they have each of them instinctively
adopted the old attitude of the Legations towards one another. They
are mutually suspicious. The detachment officers are also considerably
tired and in very bad tempers, for the night has been turned into day
with a regularity which cannot leave anybody very happy. Then dirt is
accumulating, too, sad truth; and in the East you cannot feel dirty in
the summer and be happy. That is quite impossible....

Thus we are all in a very grunting frame of mind. The British Legation
appears to be at length hopelessly crowded with perspiring
missionaries of all denominations and creeds, who have suddenly come
in from beyond the barricades. Life must be quite impossible there.
The novelty of this experience has been worn off, and I for one would
welcome any change, either for better or worse. So long as it is only
a change....



19th June, 1900.

       *       *       *       *       *

How foolish we can be! Only last night I was bewailing the dulness and
the dirt of it all, and the general absurdity and discomfort, and now
without one qualm I confess I would willingly exchange yesterday's
uncertainty for to-day's certainty--that we are all going to be made
into mincemeat. But I do not even feel serious or desperate now; it
has got beyond that.

I do not know at what hour the ultimatum came to-day; it may have been
eleven in the morning or one in the afternoon; but one thing I do know
is, that here, at four in the afternoon, the great majority of one
thousand Europeans are shaking, absolutely distraught. It is evident
therefrom that there is something impressive and demoralising to most
people in the idea of finality, and that on the threshold of the
twentieth century, courage, since it is seldom dealt in, is hardly a
great living force. It makes one realise, too, that with all their
faults, the aristocrats of France, who, a hundred years ago, were
condemned to the shameful death of the guillotine and went in their
tumbrils through streets filled with cursing crowds of sansculottes,
with scorn and contempt written on their features, were rather
exceptional people. Things have changed since then, and the so-called
Americanisation of the world has not conduced to gallantry. Fortunate
are we that there is no white man's audience to watch us impassively,
and to witness the effects of this bombshell of an ultimatum which has
come to-day. There is nothing so humiliating as abject fear. Curiously
enough, the women bear it much better than the elder men, who are
openly distraught; and when I say women, I mean all the women, both
those belonging to the Legations and the dozens of missionary women
who have crowded in. Nearly everyone of them is better than the
elderly men; at least, they try and say nothing so as not to add to
the terrible confusion....

But the ultimatum--what is it, and against whom is it so summarily
directed? Briefly the ultimatum is a neat-looking document written on
striped Chinese despatch-paper, and comes from the Tsung-li Yamen, or
office charged with the overseeing of "the outside nations'
affairs"--which are the affairs of Europe. After very briefly
referring to a demand made by the allied admirals for a surrender of
the Taku forts off the muddy bar of the Tientsin River--about which we
know nothing--it goes on to say that as China can no longer protect
the Legations, the Legations will have to protect themselves by
leaving Peking within twenty-four hours, dating from to-day at four
o'clock. That is all. Not another word. Yet in other words this
document means this: that the demand of the admirals must have been
refused; that they would not have made it unless something disastrous
had happened to S---- and to Tientsin; that acts of war have already
been committed, and that it will be no longer a Boxer affair, but a
government affair. This makes our position desperate enough in all
truth. There is to be war.... The ultimatum was conveyed to the
eleven Legations and the Inspectorate-General of Foreign Customs in
twelve neat red envelopes by trembling _t'ing ch'ai_ of the Chinese
Government, and in spite of some attempt at first to hide its contents
was soon known by everyone. The twelve copies, indeed, were exactly
alike, twelve bombshells, which, bursting in twelve different parts of
our barricaded quarter, finally united their fumes until we were all
fairly suffocated. For we have either got to flee now or be butchered.
Mechanically all eyes were turned at once to the chiefs of the eleven
missions to China, who have brought things to such a pass, and
everybody demanded frantically that something should be done. People
lost control themselves and behaved insanely. It was not long before
the whole diplomatic body met--in a terrible gloom--at the Legation of
the Spanish Minister, who is the _doyen_ of the Corps, and soon a
tremendous discussion was raging. There were mutual recriminations,
and proposal after proposal was taken up and rejected as being too
dangerous. Nobody had for a moment dreamed that such a menace would
come so swiftly. Expectant crowds soon gathered round the gates of the
Spanish Legation, and attempted to find out what was being decided,
but the only thing I could learn was that brave Von K---- proposed at
once that the Ministers should go in a body to the Yamen and force the
Chinese Government to agree to an armistice. This was vetoed by all,
of course, and one gentleman openly wept at the idea. In the end, at
seven o'clock, when it was nearly dark, a joint Note was prepared,
saying that the Ministers could only accept the demand made on them
and prepare to leave Peking at once, but that twenty-four hours was
too short a notice in which to pack their trunks, and that, besides,
they must have some guarantees as to the ninety miles road to
Tientsin, which were so swarming with bandits that communication had
been completely interrupted. That is to say, the Ministers were
prepared to accept....

No sooner had this weak reply been despatched than a fresh wave of
consternation passed over the whole Legation quarter, for we now
number nearly a thousand white people in all, and we could never march
that distance to Tientsin unbroken. But beneath that wave of
consternation a fiercer note steadily rose--the note of revolt against
the decrees of eleven men. I cannot describe to you what an intensity
of passion was suddenly revealed. Muttering first, this revolt became
quite open and almost unanimous. All of us would have a fair fight
behind barricades and entrenchments, but no massacre of a long,
unending convoy. For picture to yourself what this convoy would be
crawling out of giant Peking in carts, on ponies and afoot, if it were
forced to go; we would be a thousand white people with a vast trail of
native Christians following us, and calling on us not to abandon them
and their children. Do you think we could run ahead, while a cowardly
massacre by Boxers and savage soldiery was hourly thinning out the
stragglers and defenceless people in the rear? Never!

Hardly anybody thought of eating all that long evening. Most of us
were trying to find out whether some sensible understanding could not
be arrived at; whether we could not prepare before it was too late.
But it was quite in vain to plan anything or attempt to think of
anything. Everything was so topsy-turvy, everybody so panic-stricken.

But as the night grew later and later, some people began busying
themselves packing boxes, still deluding themselves that they were
going to leave comfortably on the morrow as if nothing had happened.
Yet the world is really upside down as far as we are concerned, and it
is quite absolutely impossible that the situation should end so
normally as to find us quietly retreating down the Tientsin road.
Others kept sending out servants to discover at what price carts would
undertake to drive the whole way down to the sea, or at least to
Tientsin. Forty, fifty, and even one hundred taels were demanded for
three days' work; and then, although the carters said they would come
if the government sends proper escorts of soldiers as has been
promised, Heaven only knows if they will ever dare to move near our
stricken quarter. Still in some Legations they ordered fifty carts at
any price, with the most lavish promises of reward for those that
could manage to secure them. All the official servants soon came back
trembling, saying that they had found a few carts, but that it was _pu
yi t'ing_--not at all sure whether the carters would dare to move when
daylight came. For the whole city is already in a fresh uproar; people
are flying in every direction in the night. Stories come in of
officials who have been pulled out of their chairs and forced to
_K'et'ou_ to Boxers to show their respect to the new power. Prince
Tuan has been appointed President of the Tsung-li Yamen, high Manchus
have been placed in charge of the Boxer commands, and rice is being
issued to them from the Imperial granaries. There is no end to the
tales that now come in, since everybody has understood that there is
no need for concealment and that there is going to be some sort of
war. At two o'clock I even began to get news of what the Empress
Dowager had been doing, and how the Boxer partisans had become so
strong that it was absolutely impossible to hope for anything but the

Once when I got some details which I thought of importance, I tried to
find my chief in order to communicate it to him. But he was lost in
the middle of the night, conferring unofficially with some of his
colleagues; and I could but feel immensely amused when in his office I
saw that he had been scribbling some frenzied notes on the back of a
completed despatch, dealing with one of those petty little affairs
which were so important only the other day.

Ah, where are the dear little political situations of only a few weeks
ago; those safe little political situations which redounded so much to
the credit of those that made them and did not contain any of the
dread elements of our present very real and terrible one! Like
soldiers who have degenerated from the chasing of mere vagabonds of
mediocre importance, so have our Peking Ministers Plenipotentiary and
Envoys Extraordinary fallen from their proud estate to mere diplomatic
make-beliefs full of wind--wind-blown from much tilting at windmills,
with their Governments rescuing them Sancho Panza-like at the eleventh

But though for us there is still some hope, there is very little for
the wretched native Christians quartered in the palace grounds of
Prince Su, whom we have saved from the Boxers.

They soon heard the news, too, that the foreigner who has once saved
them is going--going away because he has been ordered to. All night
long there was an awful panic among these people which made one's
heart sick, for they understood better than us how quickly they would
be massacred once they left our care.

I shall never forget the night of the 19th of June, 1900, with all its
tragedy and tragi-comedy, though I live to be a hundred. It allowed me
to see something of real human nature in momentary flashes; of how
mean and full of fear we really are, how small and how easily
impressed. A hundred times I longed to have the time and the power to
set down exactly so that everyone might understand the incidents and
the sudden impulses which took place--all prompted by that master of
human beings--FEAR. That is why we worship heroes, or we pretend we
worship them, because it is the _culte_. For a moment these people who
have been set on pedestals were not afraid. Is it only the power not
to be afraid which makes one a hero?



20th June, 1900.

       *       *       *       *       *

It is notorious that in moments of tension, when the mind has been
stimulated to too great an activity by unhealthy excitement, you think
of the most curiously assorted things--in fact, of absurd things which
are quite out of place. I have been thinking the whole time of
something very stupid which is only fiction: That a Zulu, named
Umslopagas, rode and ran one hundred miles in a single night and then
refreshed himself sufficiently by a couple of hours' sleep to deliver
battle with such vigour at the head of a marble staircase, that he
saved the haggard hero. That is what I have been thinking of....

We of Peking are, unfortunately, not of the mettle of Zulus, and as
far as I am personally concerned, three hours' sleep is but the
appetite-giver for five hours more. And so on this fateful 20th June,
with the time limit of our ultimatum expiring at four o'clock, I got
up in no sort of valorous spirit, and with the feeling that tragedies
outside the theatre--at least those that spin themselves out for an
indefinite number of days--are quite impossible for us Moderns. But,
then, probably everybody has always thought the same thing--even those
who lived before the Renaissance.

At eight o'clock everyone was once more afoot, although most have
hardly had a wink of sleep. All over our Legation quarter, dusty and
dirty men, unwashed and unbathed, now squatted along the edge of the
streets, hanging their weary heads against their rifles, with their
faces very white from too much sentry-go and too little sleep. There
is little distinction between sailors and Legation people, for we are
all in the same dilemma. On this eventful 20th of June, instead of
being resolute and alert, everybody is merely tired and weakened by a
couple of weeks' watchfulness against Boxers during an unofficial
semi-siege, a state of affairs which has quite unfitted us for fresh
strains. Yet beyond our barricades of upturned carts and stolen
building-bricks all was quiet and peaceful, and hardly a thing moves.
It seemed as if we had been only dreaming.... Wandering down beyond
the eastern end of Legation Street, which gives you the most view of
the mysterious world around the great Ha-ta Street, which the Boxers
have conquered, indeed you find everything practically deserted, the
people having learned that it is best to stay indoors until this
crisis is solved in some manner. Occasionally a rag-picker, or some
humble person so little separated from the life hereafter that to push
a trifle closer does not spell much peril, can be seen hooking up rags
and whatnots from the piles of Peking offal. If you speak to him he
gives an unintelligent _pu chih tao_--"I do not know"--and moves
boorishly on. As my old Chinese writer said a week ago, Peking has
never been in such a state of topsy-turvydom since the robber who
unseated the Ming dynasty rushed in two and a half centuries ago....

Going on top of the great Tartar Wall and gazing down on the scene of
devastation and ruin beyond the Ch'ien Men Gate, one can hardly
believe one's eyes, for where there was once a mighty bustle one now
sees thousands of houses with nothing but their walls standing and
charred timbers strewing the grounds. The great burned tower which
blazed so wondrously a few nights ago is still half standing, its
mighty brickwork too powerful and too proud to succumb totally to the
flames' destroying energy. Gaunt and hollow-eyed, the old Tartar tower
surveys the scene somewhat contemptuously, as if saying that the pigmy
men of to-day are far removed from the paladins of old and their

Quiet and perfectly silent it all looks--but below the tower, and,
indeed, on all sides as far as the eyes can see, some search shows
little ants of men are at work in the ruins--not moving much, but
bobbing up and down with unending energy and regularity. They are the
beggars of Peking in their hundreds and thousands salving what they
can from all this immense destruction by poking deep holes into the
ruins and pulling out all manner of things from under the mass of
bricks and rubbish. In the conserving hands of the Chinaman nothing is
ever irremediably destroyed....

Looking far to the east, even the Ha-ta Gate, where no harm has been
done, does not show much movement. The carts passing in and out are
very few and far between, and the dust which in ordinary times floats
above the din and roar of the gates in heavy clouds is to-day
seemingly absent. Even our Peking dust is awed by the approaching
storm and nestles close to Mother Earth, so that it may come to no

The more I looked the more observant I became. The sun lolling up in a
red ball, the birds, twittering and flying about while the heat of the
day is not severe, showed themselves in a new light; and thus the 20th
June is ushered in so complaisantly, when all the world of men appear
merely tired and watchful, that the contrast makes one wonder, and at
nine o'clock once more our Ministers Plenipotentiary and our _Charges
d'Affaires_ gather their eleven estimable persons together at the
Legation of the _doyen_. For yesterday's Ministerial reply agreeing to
the Manchu order to vacate the capital, if certain conditions were
fulfilled, had begged for an urgent answer by nine o'clock regarding
the little counter-demands for a time-extension, and a definite
arrangement concerning the Chinese troops who are to be the safe
conduct along the Tientsin road. Nine o'clock has come, but alas! with
it there is no neat Chinese despatch on striped paper which would so
relieve our Ministerial feelings. The Chinese Government remains
grimly silent, for the Chinese Government has spoken plainly once, and
never within the memory of man has it done so on two consecutive
occasions. So the eleven Ministers meet once more in anything but a
happy frame of mind--eleven sorely tried and wholly fearful persons,
except for two or three who vainly try to instill some courage into
the others. All idea of completing the packing commenced last night
has vanished; even that would demand action and resolution. A proposal
to visit the Tsung-li Yamen in a body is set aside with nervous
protestations once more. The meeting thereupon became very stormy, and
the French Minister was kind enough to report afterwards that the
British Minister became thereafter very red--_il est devenu
soudainement tres rouge_, for what reason is unknown. S----, who did
the minutes afterwards, said that the French Minister volunteered to
go with the others if they would proceed in a body, and became very
pale at the idea, that he confessed himself. Here we have, then, a
red Minister and a white Minister, and if we add those who were most
certainly blue and green, the national flags of the entire assembly
could be fitly made up. The French Minister, although simply a
_citoyen_ sent by the Republic to intrigue in times of peace, and aid
his Russian colleague to the best of his ability, is a man withal,
although quite unfitted _de carriere_ for wars and sieges. In the
French Legation he has been receiving such tearful instructions from
his wife during the past three weeks that it is a wonder he has any
backbone at all....

The meeting became stormier and stormier as it went on, S---- says,
until old C---- argued that the only way to decide was to put
everything to the vote. Every vote put was promptly lost, and after an
hour's haggling they had got no farther than at the beginning!

The dramatic moment came when Baron Von K---- got up and stated shortly
that as he had a previous appointment with the Tsung-li Yamen at
eleven o'clock, in spite of the ultimatum and a possible state of
war--in fact, in spite of everything--it was his intention to keep his
appointment, cost what it might. The others urged him not to go, for
they must have been feeling rather ashamed of themselves and their
overvalued lives. But K---- insisted he would go; he had said so once,
and did not intend to allow the Chinese Government to say he broke an
appointment through fear.

S----, who told me the whole story a few hours afterwards, said that
he added that as soon as his own personal business was finished, he
would attend to the general question of the Legations' departure from
Peking, if the diplomatic corps would give him authority. As time was
pressing they gave it to him promptly enough. I remember everything
that happened afterwards with a very extraordinary accuracy of detail,
because I had just walked past the Spanish Legation when the
Ministerial meeting broke up, and I had determined to follow any move
in person so as to know what our fate was to be.

The German Minister turned into his Legation, and after a time he
reappeared in his green and red official chair, with C----, the
dragonman, in a similar conveyance. There were only two Chinese
outriders with them, as Von K---- had refused to take any of his
guards. I remember Von K---- was smoking and leaning his arms on the
front bar of his sedan, for all the world as if he were going on a
picnic. The little _cortege_ soon turned a corner and was swallowed
up. I walked out some distance beyond our barricades with Baron R----,
of the Russian Legation, and we wondered how long he would take to
come back. We soon knew! How terrible that was! For not more than
fifteen minutes passed before, crashing their Manchu riding-sticks
terror-stricken on to their ponies' hides, the two outriders appeared
alone in a mad gallop and nearly rode us down. Through the barricades
they passed, yelling desperately. It was impossible to understand what
they were saying, but disaster was written in the air.

At this we started running after these two men, but when we reached
the corner of the French Legation the people there had already
understood, and said the German Minister had been shot down and was
stone-dead. Everybody was paralysed.

Meanwhile the outriders had reached the German Legation and had flung
themselves, disordered, from their sweating ponies. The men of the
Legation Guard were swarming round them and questioning them roughly
when I came up, but there was nothing further to be learned about Von
K----. A shot had passed through his chair and he had never moved
again, while other shots struck all round. C----, the dragonman,
dripping with blood, had run round a corner closely pursued by Chinese
riflemen. What happened to him they cannot say, for they, too, would
have been shot had they not fled. The tragedy was so simple, but so
crushing, that we all stood dazed. Our one man of character and
decision was dead--lost beyond recall!

A quarter of an hour after this half the German detachment was
marching rapidly down Customs Street, with fixed bayonets and an air
of desperation on their harsh Teutonic faces. They were determined to
try and at least save the body. I thought of going with them, too, but
a moment's thought told me there were other things which were now more
pressing. I went and gave some attention to the contents of
despatch-boxes which no one else had a right to see....

The detachment reached the scene of the murder led by a trembling
outrider. Drops of blood were found on the ground; the Peking dust was
scraped this way and that, as if it had only been made an accomplice
unwillingly and with a violent struggle too; but the sedan-chairs, the
bearers, the murderous soldiers, and every other trace had vanished
completely. To question people was impossible, since everyone was
keeping closely indoors and barred entrances everywhere met the eye.
The Peking streets have become so lonely and deserted that not even a
dog allows himself to be entrapped in the open. Later I heard that
C---- had escaped, although terribly wounded.

The detachment tramped back stolidly, and would not answer a word when
spoken to, for German despair is very gloomy. The remaining
Plenipotentiaries at last understood the nature of the game that was
being played, and realised that we were down to the naked and crude
facts of life and death. Their confounded vacillation has alone
brought us to this pass. They do realise it now, and they are made to
realise it more and more by the savage looks everyone has been giving

The departure for Tientsin half-acquiesced in but fifteen short hours
ago is no longer thought of, for what the Ministers propose to do now
interests no one. After impotently attempting to deal with questions
for which they were in no wise fitted they have resigned themselves to
the inevitable, and have become mere pawns like the rest of us.
Fortunately the men who are men begin to work with frenzied energy,
rushing about collecting food and materials. S----, the first
Secretary of the American Legation, began it, and soon stood out with
some insistence. He guesses with no one contradicting him that rice is
useful, that flour is still more useful, and that every pound we can
find in the native shops should be taken. The obvious is often
somewhat obscure in times like these, and the men who act are very
laudable. There is no denying it that on this 20th the Americans
showed more energy than anybody else, and pushed everybody to sending
out their carts and bringing in tons upon tons of food. Every shop
containing grain was raided, payment being made in some cases and in
others postponed to a more propitious moment. The American
missionaries concentrated in a fortified missionary compound a couple
of miles from us, and the last people to remain outside were hastily
sent for, given twenty minutes in which to pack their things, and
marched in as quickly as possible by a guard of American marines.
There were seventy white men, women and children, and countless herds
of native schoolgirls and converts. Their reports were the last we
got. Vast crowds of silent people had watched them pass through the
eastern Tartar city to our Legation lines without comment or without
hostility. Gloomily the Peking crowd must have watched this strange
convoy curling its way to a safer place, the missionaries armed in a
droll fashion with Remingtons and revolvers, and some of the converts
carrying pikes and carving-knives in their hands, for the Peking crowd
and Peking itself has been, and is being, terrorised by the Boxers and
the Manchu extremists, and is not really allied to them--of that we
all are now convinced. But C----, who was so nearly massacred, came in
too with the American missionaries. He managed somehow, after he was
shot in a deadly place, to half-run and half-crawl until he was picked
up and carried into the American missionary compound. From what I
heard, he knows nothing more about the death of the German Minister.
It was only a few hours ago, and yet it already seems days!

All the non-combatants were now rushed into the British Legation, and
to the women and children join themselves dozens of men, whose place
should be in the fighting-line, but who have no idea of being there.
Lines of carts conveying stores, clothing, trunks and miscellaneous
belongings were soon pouring towards the British Legation, and long
before nightfall the spacious compounds were so crowded with
impedimenta and masses of human beings that one could hardly move
there. It was a memorable and an extraordinary sight.

The few Chinese shops that had been until now carrying on business in
our Legation quarter in spite of the semi-siege and the barricades in
a furtive way, were soon quietly putting up their shutters--not
entirely, but what they call three-quarters shut after the custom on
their New Year holidays, when they are not supposed to trade, but do
trade all the same. The shop-boys, slipping their arms into their long
coats and dusting off their trousers and shoes after the Peking manner
with their long sleeves, made one feel in a rather laughable sort of
way that finality had been reached! They had that curious half-laugh
on their faces which signifies an intense nervousness being politely
concealed. Up to three o'clock these complaisant shopmen were still
selling things at a purely nominal price, which was not entered in the
books, but quietly pocketed by them for their own benefit. Having
completed my own arrangements, I began idly watching their actions,
they were so curious. At three o'clock sharp the last shutters went
up, the last shopman pasted a diamond-shaped Fu, or Happiness, of red
paper over the wooden bars, and vanished silently and mysteriously. It
was for all the world once again exactly like the telegraph-operator
in "Michael Strogoff," when the Tartars smash in the front doors of
his office and seize the person of the hero, while the clerk coolly
takes up his hat and disappears through a back door. These Chinese had
done business in the very same way, until the very last moment--the
very last.

And not only are the few shopmen slipping away, but also numbers of
others within our lines who had been half-imprisoned during the past
week by our barricades and incessant patrolling. Men, women, and
children, each with a single blue-cloth bundle tied across their
backs containing a few belongings, slip away; gliding, as it were,
rapidly across the open spaces where a shot could reach them, and
scuttling down mysterious back alleys and holes in the walls, the
existence of which has been unknown to most of us. This time the rats
are leaving the sinking ship quietly and silently, for a quiet word
passed round had informed everyone of what is coming, and no one
wishes to be caught. This is the sort of silent play I love to watch.

Just before this, however, down beyond the Austrian Legation came a
flourish of hoarse-throated trumpets--those wonderful Chinese
trumpets. Blare, blare, in a half-chorus they first hang on a high
note; then suddenly tumbling an octave, they roar a bassoon-like
challenge in unison like a lot of enraged bulls. Nearer and nearer, as
if challenging us with these hoarse sounds, came a large body of
soldiery; we could distinctly see the bright cluster of banners round
the squadron commander. Pushing through the clouds of dust which
floated high above them, the horses and their riders appeared and
skirted the edge of our square. We noted the colour of their tunics
and the blackness of the turbans. Two horsemen who dismounted for some
reason, swung themselves rapidly into their saddles, carbine in hand,
and galloped madly to rejoin their comrades in a very significant way.
For a moment they half turned and waved their Mannlichers at us,
showing their breast-circle of characters. They were the soldiers of
savage Tung Fu-hsiang, and were going west--that is, into the Imperial
city. The manner in which they so coolly rode past fifty yards away
must have frightened some one, for when I passed here an hour later
the Austrian Legation and its street defences had been suddenly
abandoned by our men. We had surrendered, without striking a blow, a
quarter of our ground! I remember that I was only mildly interested at
this; everything was so _bouleverse_ and curious that a little more
could not matter. It was like in a dream. Tramping back, the Austrian
sailors crowded into the French Legation and all round their lines and
threw themselves down. One man was so drunk from lack of sleep that he
tumbled on the ground and could not be made to move again. Everybody
kicked him, but he was dead-finished and could be counted out. This
was beginning our warfare cheerfully.

On top of the Austrians a lot of volunteers came in at a double, very
angry, and cursing the Austrians for a retreat which was only
discovered by them by chance. Like so many units in war-time, these
volunteers had been forgotten along a line of positions which could
have been held for days. Nobody could give any explanation excepting
that Captain T----, the Austrian commander, said that he was not going
to sacrifice his men and risk being cut off, when there was nobody in
command over the whole area. T---- was very excited, and did not seem
to realise one thing of immense importance--that half our northeastern
defences have been surrendered without a shot being fired.

At the big French barricades facing north an angry altercation soon
began between the French and Austrian commanders. The French line of
barricades was but the third line of defence here, and only the
streets had been fortified, not the houses; but by the Austrian
retreat it had become the first, and the worn-out French sailors would
have hastily to do more weary fatigue-work carting more materials to
strengthen this contact point. I remember I began to get interested in
the discussion, when I found that there was an unfortified alley
leading right into the rear of this. It would be easy at night-time to
rush the whole line.

Meanwhile nobody knew what was going to happen. All the Ministers,
their wives and belongings, and the secretaries and nondescripts had
disappeared into the British Legation, and the sailors and the
volunteers became more and more bitter with rage. A number of young
Englishmen belonging to the Customs volunteers began telling the
French and Austrian sailors that we had been _trahis_, in order to
make them swear louder. I know that it was becoming funny, because it
was so absurd when ... bang-ping, bang-ping, came three or four
scattered shots from far down the street beyond the Austrian Legation.
It was just where Tung Fu-hsiang's men had passed. That stopped us
talking, and as I took a wad of waste out of the end of my rifle I
looked at my watch--3.49 exactly, or eleven minutes too soon. I ran
forward, pushing home the top cartridge on my clip, but I was too
late. "_A quatre-cents metres_," L----, the French commander, called,
and then a volley was loosed off down that long dusty street--our
first volley of the siege.

Our barricades were full of men here, and it was no use trying to push
in. I postponed my own shooting, for after a brisk fusillade here,
urgent summons came from other quarters, and I had to rush away....
The siege had begun in earnest. I record these things just as they
seemed to happen. We are so tired, my account cannot seem very
sensible. Yet it is the truth.




21st June, 1900.

       *       *       *       *       *

I passed the night in half a dozen different places, assimilating all
there was to assimilate; gazing and noting the thousand things there
were to be seen and heard, and sleeping exactly three hours. Few
people would believe the extraordinary condition to which twelve hours
of chaos can reduce a large number of civilised people who have been
forced into an unnatural life. It is indeed extraordinary. Half the
Legations are abandoned, excepting for a few sailors; others are being
evacuated, and most people have even none of the necessities of life
with them. For instance, at eight o'clock I discovered that I had had
no breakfast, and on finding that it would be impossible for me to get
any for some hours, I forthwith became so ravenously hungry that I
determined I would steal some if necessary. What a position for a
budding diplomatist!

Fortunately I thought of the Hotel de Pekin before I had done anything
startling, and soon C----, the genial and energetic Swiss, who is the
master of this wonderful hostelry, had given me coffee. He told me
then to go into his private rooms, ransack the place and take what I
liked. I found I was not alone in his private apartments. Baron
R----, the Russian commandant, had just come in before me, and had
fallen asleep from sheer fatigue as he was in the act of eating
something. He looked so ridiculous lying in a chair with his mouth
wide open and his sword and revolver mixed up with the things he had
been eating, that I began laughing loudly, and, aroused by this sound,
two more men appeared suddenly--Marquis P----, the cousin of the
Italian _charge_, and K----, the Dutch Minister. What they were doing
there I did not inquire. The Dutch Minister was in a frightful rage at
everything and everybody, and began talking so loudly that R---- woke
up, and commenced eating again in the most natural way in the world,
without saying a single word. As soon as he had finished he went to
sleep again. He was plainly a man of some character; the whole
position was so ridiculous and yet he paid no attention.

I soon got tired of this, as plenty of other people now came in, all
calling for food, and I was really so weary from lack of sleep and
proper rest that I could not remember what they were talking about two
seconds after they had finished speaking. Most of the men were angry
at the "muddle," as they called it, and said it was hopeless going on
this way. One of the Austrian midshipmen told me that there had been
altogether very little firing, and not more than a few dozen Chinese
skirmishers engaged, but that the whole northern and eastern fronts of
our square were so imperfectly garrisoned that they could be rushed in
a few minutes. Everybody agreed with him, but nobody appeared to know
who was in supreme command, or who was responsible for a distribution
of our defending forces, which would total at least six hundred or
seven hundred men if every able-bodied man was forced into the
fighting-line. Fortunately the Chinese Government appears to be
hesitating again; we have been all driven into our square and can be
safely left there for the time being--that seems to be the point of

I now became anxious about a trunk containing a few valuables, which I
had sent into the British Legation, and I determined to go in person
and see how things were looking there. What confusion! I soon learned
that it had been very gay at the British Legation during the night. At
four o'clock of the previous afternoon, when the first shots had
already been dropping in at the northern and eastern defences, not a
thing had been done in the way of barricading and sandbagging--that
everybody admitted. The flood of people coming in from the other
Legations, almost weeping and wailing, had driven them half insane. At
the Main Gate, a majestic structure of stone and brick, a few sandbags
had actually been got together, as if suggesting that later on
something might be done. But for the time being this Legation, where
all the women and children have rushed for safety, is quite
defenceless. Yet it has long been an understood thing that it was to
become the general base. It was not surprising, then, that at six in
the evening yesterday a tragedy had occurred within eyesight of
everybody at the Main Gate. A European, who afterwards turned out to
be Professor J----, of the Imperial University, an eccentric of
pronounced type, had attempted to cross the north bridge, which
connects the extreme north of Prince Su's palace walls with a road
passing just one hundred yards from the British Legation northern
wall, and perhaps three hundred yards from the Main Gate itself. It
was seen that the European was running, onlookers told me, and that
after him came a Chinese brave in full war-paint, with his rifle at
the trail. Instead of charging his men down the street to save this
wretched man, the British officer, Captain W----, ordered the Main
Gate to be closed, and everybody to go inside except himself and his
file of marines. He then commanded volley-firing, apparently at the
pink walls of the Imperial city, which form a background to the
bridge, although he might as well have ordered musical drill.
Meanwhile the unfortunate J---- was caught half way across the stone
bridge by some other Chinese snipers, who had been lying concealed
there all the time behind some piles of stones. He was hit several
times, though not killed, as several people swear they saw him
crawling down into the canal bed on his hands and knees. Volley-firing
continued at the Main Gate, and the aforesaid British officer cursed
himself into a fever of rage over his men. Even when J---- had finally
disappeared, no steps were taken to see what had become of him; he was
calmly reported lost. This was the opening of the ball at the British

No sooner was it dark than M----, the chief, appeared on the scenes,
smoking a cigarette reminiscent of his Egyptian campaign, and clad in
orthodox evening dress. This completed everyone's anger, but the end
was not yet. At ten in the evening a scare developed among the women,
and it was decided to begin fortifying some of the more exposed
points. Everybody who could be found was turned on to this work, but
in the dark little progress could be made excepting in removing all
possibility of any one going to sleep.

But the sublimely ridiculous was reached in an out-of-the-way building
facing the canal, an incident displaying even more than anything else
the attitude of some of the _personnel_ of our missions to China.
Sleeping peacefully in his nice pyjamas under a mosquito net was found
a sleek official of the London Board of Works, who wanted to know what
was meant by waking him up in the middle of the night. Investigations
elsewhere found other members of this Legation asleep in their beds;
everybody said the young men were all right, but those above a certain

The night thus spent itself very uneasily. They were only learning
what should have been known days before.

When day broke in the British Legation things had seemed more
impossible than ever. Orders and counter-orders came from every side;
the place was choked with women, missionaries, puling children, and
whole hosts of lamb-faced converts, whose presence in such close
proximity was intolerable. Heaven only knew how the matter would end.
The night before people had been only too glad to rush frantically to
a place of safety; with daylight they remembered that they were
terribly uncomfortable--that this might have to go on for days or for
weeks. It is very hard to die uncomfortably. I thought then that
things would never be shaken into proper shape.

In this wise has our siege commenced; with all the men angry and
discontented; with no responsible head; with the one man among those
high-placed dead; with hundreds of converts crowding us at every
turn--in a word, with everything just the natural outcome of the
vacillation and ignorance displayed during the past weeks by those who
should have been the leaders. Fortunately, as I have already said, so
far there has been no fighting or no firing worth speaking of. Only
along the French and Italian barricades, facing east and north, a
dropping fire has continued since yesterday, and one Frenchman has
been shot through the head and one Austrian wounded. It is worth while
noting, now that I think of it, that the French, the Italians, the
Germans, and, of course, the Austrians, have accepted Captain T----,
the cruiser captain, as their commander-in-chief, and that the
Japanese have signified their willingness to do so, too, as soon as
the British and Americans do likewise. Thus already there are signs
that a pretty storm is brewing over this question of a responsible
commander; and, of course, so long as things remain as they are at
present, there can be no question of an adequate defence. Each
detachment is acting independently and swearing at all the others,
excepting the French and Austrians, for the good reason that as the
Austrians have taken refuge in the French lines they must remain
polite. Half the officers are also at loggerheads; volunteers have
been roaming about at will and sniping at anything they have happened
to see moving in the distance; ammunition is being wasted; there are
great gaps in our defences, which any resolute foe could rush in five
minutes were they so inclined; there is not a single accurate map of
the area we have to defend!

All this I discovered in the course of the morning, and by afternoon I
had nothing better to do than go over to the great Su wang-fu, or
Prince Su's palace grounds, now filled with Chinese refugees, both
Catholic and Protestant, and there watch the Japanese at work. The
Japanese Legation is squashed in between Prince Su's palace grounds
and buildings and the French Legation lines, and, consequently, to be
on the outer rim of our defences the little Japanese have been shifted
north and now hold the northeast side of our quadrilateral. Prince Su,
together with his various wives and concubines and their eunuchs, has
days ago fled inside the Imperial city, abandoning this palace with
its valuables to the tender mercies of the first comers; and thus the
Japanese sailor detachment, reinforced by a couple of dozen Japanese
and other volunteers, has made itself free with everything, and is
holding an immense line of high walls, requiring at least five hundred
men to be made tolerably safe. But they have an extraordinary little
fellow in command, Colonel S----, the military attache. He is awkward
and stiff-legged, as are most Japanese, but he is very much in
earnest, and already understands exactly what he can do and what he
cannot. After a search of many hours, I found here the first evidences
of system. This little man, working quietly, is reducing things to
order, and in the few hours which have gone by since the dreadful
occurrences of yesterday he has succeeded in attending to the thousand
small details which demanded his attention. He is organising his
dependents into a little self-contained camp; he is making the hordes
of converts come to his aid and strengthen his lines; in fact, he is
doing everything that he should do. Already I honour this little man;
soon I feel I shall be his slave.

But not only is there order within these Japanese lines; attempts are
being made to find out what is going on beyond--that is, to discover
what is being done in this deserted corner of the city, which is
abandoned to the European. Although all is quiet without, it is not
possible that everyone has fled, because some rifle-firing is going
on.... When I arrived the Japanese had already discovered that a
Chinese camp had been quietly established less than a quarter of a
mile away. Half an hour afterwards a breathless Japanese sailor
brought in a report that snipers had been seen stealthily approaching.
I was just in the nick of time, as Colonel S---- immediately decided on
a reconnaissance in force; any one who liked could go. Would I go?

We slipped out under command of the colonel himself and worked through
tortuous lanes down towards the abandoned Customs Inspectorate and the
Austrian Legation. We reached the rear of the Customs compounds
without a sound being heard or a living thing seen. All along hundreds
of yards of twisting alleyways the native houses stood empty and
silent, abandoned by their owners just as they are. Even the Peking
dog, a cur of great ferocity, who in peaceful times abounds everywhere
and is the terror of our riding-parties, had fled, as if driven away
by the fear of the coming storm. In the distance, as we stealthily
moved, we could hear an occasional rattle of musketry, probably
directed against the French Legation and the Italian barricade, where
it has been going on for twenty-four hours; but so isolated is one
street in Peking from the rest by the high walls of the numberless
compounds and the thick trees which intercept all sounds that we could
be certain of nothing. Perhaps the firing was not even the enemy at
work, whoever he may be; it might be our men....

But directly in front of us all was still, and just as we thought of
stealing on, a Japanese whispered "Hush," and pointed a warning
finger. We flattened ourselves against houses and scurried into open
doors. Suddenly it was getting exciting. Down another lane then came a
noisy sound of feet, incautiously pattering on the hard ground to the
accompaniment of some raucous talk. It is the very devil in this
network of lanes and blind alleys which twist round the Legations, and
no force could properly patrol them....

Without any warning two men came round the corner, peering everywhere
with sharp eyes and bobbing up and down. Simultaneously with the sob
of surprise they gave our rifles crashed off. And this time, owing to
the short range and the Japanese warning, we got them fair and square,
and both of them rolled over. But no, one fellow jumped to his feet
again, and before we could stop him was down another lane like a flash
of lighting. We promptly gave chase, yelling blue murder in an
incautious manner, which might have brought hundreds of the enemy on
our heels. But we did not care. Round a corner, as we followed the man
up, a high wall rose sheer, but nothing daunted, the fellow took a
tremendous leap, and by the aid of the lattice-work on a window,
climbed to a roof. Then bang, bang, bang, seven shots went at him
rapidly, one after another. In spite of the volley the man still
crawled upwards, but as he reached the top of the low house and passed
his legs over he gave a feeble moan and then.... _flopper-ti flop,
flopper-ti flop_, he crashed down the other side and ended with a dull
thud on the ground. On the other side there he was dead as a door-nail
and all covered with blood. It was our first proper work. But he was
not a soldier, he was a Boxer; and in place of the former incomplete
attire of red sashes and strings, this true patriot wore a long red
tunic edged with blue, and had his head tied up in the regulation
_bonnet rouge_ of the French Revolution. Round his waist he had also
girded on a blue cartridge-belt of cloth, with great thick Martini
bullets jammed into the thumb holes. This we thought very curious at
the time, as the Boxers were supposed to laugh at firearms. Elated by
this little affair, we pushed on, and came upon other men working
round our lines in small bands, and exchanged shots with them. All
were Boxers in this new uniform; but although we tried to entice them
on and corner them in houses, they were too cunning for us, and broke
back each time. In the end we had so stirred up this hornet's nest
that the scattered firing became more and more persistent, and stern
orders came for us to fall back.

We came in feeling elated, but Colonel S---- was looking serious, for
he had discovered that the extent of Prince Su's outer walls, which
have to be held in their entirety, is so much greater than was
expected, and every part can be so easily attacked from the outside,
that the task is desperate. There are less than fifty men in all for
these long Japanese lines, and if we take more from elsewhere it will
be merely creating fresh gaps.... Decidedly it is not enticing. The
whole line from the north right round to the south, where the
Japanese, French, Austrians, Italians and Germans are distributed,
ending on the Tartar Wall itself, is terribly weak. And as I began to
understand this, an hour after this afternoon adventure I became quite
gloomy at the outlook.

Everything, indeed, was upside down. Matters in the British Legation
were not improving, and the fighting air which exists elsewhere is not
to be found here. Men, women and children; ponies, mules and
packing-cases; sandbags and Ministers Plenipotentiary--are still all
engaged in attempting to sort themselves out and keep distinct from
one another. Already the British Legation has surrendered itself, not
to the enemy, but to committees. There are general committees, food
committees, fortifications committees, and what other committees I do
not know, except that American missionaries, who appear at least to
have more energy than any one else, are practically ruling them. This
is all very well in its way, but it is curious to see that dozens of
able bodied men, armed with rifles, are hiding away in corners so that
they shall not be drafted away to the outer defences. Everywhere a
contemptible spirit is being displayed, because a feeling prevails
that there are no responsible chiefs in whom absolute trust can be
placed. A pleasant mess in all truth. It is now everyone for himself
and nobody looking after the others....

Some of the people, however, have begun dividing themselves up, and
now are billeted, nationality by nationality, in separate quarters.
But many persons seem lost and distraught. H----, the great director
of Chinese affairs, was siting on an old mattress looking quite
paralysed; P----, his counterpart in the Russian bank, was striding
about excitedly and muttering to himself. The Belgian Legation has
disappeared entirely; whether they have run away or been lost in the
confusion I could not for the life of me tell. What a position, what a
condition! Already it is a great feat to be on speaking terms with a
dozen people, and if we could only instill some of the savageness we
all feel towards one another into our defence, it would become so
vigorous and unconquerable that not all the legions of the Boxer
Empire, massed in serried ranks, could break in on us. But this very
defence, which should be so determined, is the most half-hearted thing
imaginable. It has no real leader, and merely resolves itself into
the old policy of each Legation holding its own in an irregular
half-circle round the British Legation, which itself is a mass of
disorder. I feel certain that if we have a night attack at once the
Chinese will break in with the greatest ease, and then.... _Tant pis!_

The last thing I saw in the British Legation was M----, the great
correspondent, sitting on a great stack of his books, looking wearily
around him. His former energy and resolution have all departed, sapped
by the spectacle of extraordinary incompetence around him. Of what
good has all that rescuing of native Christians been--all that energy
in dragging them more dead than alive into our lines in the face of
Ministerial opposition, when we cannot even protect ourselves? But
just when I began this moralising, the hundred and fifty mules and
ponies that have been collected together all broke loose, frightened
by some stray shots, and went careering madly around us. It was pitch
dark and most gloomy before they had been all tied up again, and
although firing became heavier and heavier as Chinese snipers found
they could approach our outer lines in safety, I finally sought out a
spot for myself and fell asleep with my rifle on my chest--cursing
everybody. It is a sign of the times--my nerves are becoming



23rd June, 1900.

       *       *       *       *       *

Yesterday the inevitable happened, and only Heaven and the foolishness
of the attacking forces, who are only playing with us, and do not seem
to have settled down to their work, saved us from complete
annihilation. Without a word of explanation, Captain T----, the
Austrian commander, suddenly ordered all the French, Italians and
Austrians to fall back on the British Legation, sending word meanwhile
to the Japanese and the Germans to follow his example. This meant that
the whole vast semicircle to the northeast and the southeast was being
thrown up. The result was that for ten minutes armed men of all
nationalities poured into the British Legation, until every
rifle-bearing effective was standing there, all jabbering in a mass,
and not knowing what it was all about. The Americans, who had
established themselves on the Tartar Wall as the main point in the
western defence, guessed they were not going to be left there cut off
from salvation by a failure to remember their existence; and presently
they, too, ran in, openly swearing at their officers. These American
marines have never quite liked this idea of being planted on the
Tartar Wall; for with that smartness for which their race is
distinguished, they see it is quite on the cards that they are
forgotten up there if a rush occurs while the others are sitting safe
in the main base. And the Americans are not going to be forgotten--we
soon found that out. They are the people of the future.

Depict to yourself, if you can, the blind fear of all the
Plenipotentiaries, of all the missionaries and their lamb-faced
converts, on seeing the gallant defenders of the outer lines rushing
in on them at a fast trot, and then falling into line and standing
very much at ease awaiting the next move. I may be brutal, but I
relished that scene a little; it was a lesson that was sadly needed.
It was the British Minister who remained the most calm; perhaps he
immediately understood that the game was now in his hands. But the
other Ministers, I wish you could have but seen them! They crowded
round his British Excellency in an adoring and trembling ring, and
without subterfuge offered him the supreme command; that was exactly
what we had been expecting. Underneath their manner you could easily
see they meant to say that they knew it was the British Legation in
which they had taken refuge; that they had had enough of all these
alarums and excursions; and that so long as they were left in peace
they did not care about the rest. What mean little people we are in
this world! The French, the Russian, the Italian and the Japanese
Ministers were the first to act thus, and as they represented a
majority of the detachments, the others who had Legation Guards had
pretty well to follow suit, whether they liked it or not, and some did
not like it, as I shall show hereafter. M---- had been hinting very
plainly that he had been in a kilted regiment, and that the British
Legation was the hub of the defence--the asylum for all; and so with a
satisfied smile, he was pleased to accept the proffered appointment.
Yet it was one only in name. For just as he was writing out his first
_ordre du jour_ the various Plenipotentiaries showed their
appreciation of the office they had conferred on him by ordering, each
one of them separately, their respective detachments to return to
their respective Legations so hurriedly abandoned. So the sailors and
the marines, and the fighting volunteers who bear them company,
bundled back to the outer lines and barricades again, finding all just
as it had been before, except that the Italian Legation was in flames
and the Italian barricades therefore useless. The snipers had found
that they could suddenly work in peace, and had thrown blazing
torches. Four Legations are now destroyed and abandoned, for the
Belgian, the Austrian and the Dutch have all gone up in flames at
different times during the last days. Seven Legations remain and ten

The defence is thus getting into reasonable limits and so long as our
attacks are confined to what they have been up till now, we may really
pull through. Incendiary fires round the outer lines, lighted by means
of torches stuck on long poles, a heavy rifle-fire poured into the
most exposed barricades by an unseen enemy, and very occasionally a
faint-hearted rush forward, which a fusillade on our part turns into a
rout--these have so far been the dangers with which we have had to
contend. But the very worst feature of the defence is that no one
trusts the neighbouring detachment sufficiently to believe that it
will stand firm under all circumstances and not abandon its ground;
consequently this fear that a sudden breakdown along some barricades
will allow of an inrush of Chinese troops and Boxers makes men fight
all the time with their eyes over their shoulders, which is the very
worst way of fighting I can possibly imagine. And another hardly less
important point is that the burden is not evenly apportioned, and that
the men know it. For instance, the British Legation, which is as yet
not in the slightest exposed, is full of able-bodied men doing
nothing--whereas on the outer lines of the other Legations many men
are so dead with sleep that they can hardly sit awake two hours. It
can easily be seen from the rude sketches I have made and re-made,
what I mean. I have been over every inch on my own legs; there can be
no mistake.

From the main sketch you will see that the holding of the Tartar Wall,
together with the American and Russian Legations, protects the British
Legation effectively from the south and partially, from the west; that
the Franco-German-Austrian lines, and the Su wang-fu, with the
Japanese, mask the east; and that of the other two sides on which the
British Legation walls and outbuildings really constitute the actual
defence line directly in touch with the enemy, the Imperial Carriage
Park, a vast grass-grown area with but half a dozen yellow-roofed
buildings in it, makes the western approaches very difficult to
attack, since they are easily swept by our rifle-fire; and that the
northern side is so filled with buildings belonging to the Chinese
Government (which it now seems cannot be destroyed), that I do not
apprehend attacks here. The only real dangers to the British Legation
in any case are these two corners to the north and the southwest....

Passing over to the Su wang-fu, you realise the extraordinary
difference between the danger points along the British Legation
northern and western barricades, and little Colonel S----'s command.
Here you are in direct touch with the enemy, for the snipers of
forty-eight hours ago have been strongly reinforced, doubtless
attracted by the possibility of loot.

[Illustration: Map of the siege.]

Soldiers and all sorts of banditti must have joined hands with the
Boxers, for it is clear that every hour is mysteriously adding more
and more men round our lines. You can hear the men talking, and you
can see bricks moving but fifty or sixty yards from where you are
squinting through a loophole as fresh barricades, that are gradually
surrounding us in a vise which may yet crush us to death, are silently
built. The forty or fifty Japanese, and the few volunteers who are
with them, have now been reinforced by all the Italians, who have been
given a big strip of outer wall and a fortified hillock in Prince Su's
ornamental garden--a hillock which commands a great stretch of
territory, as territory goes in our wall split area. For here in the
Su wang-fu the number of walls and buildings is terrible, and Heaven
only knows how seventy or eighty men can even make a pretence of
holding such positions. First there is the great outer wall eighteen
feet high and three feet thick. Then from this outer wall, other thick
walls run inwards at right angles, splitting up the place into little
squares, in which as likely as not there will be a group of houses
with great dragon-adorned roofs. Further towards the centre of the Fu
is Prince Su's own palace and his retainers' quarters; to the south of
this is an ornamental garden full of trees, a vast and mournful
enclosure, standing in which the crack of outpost rifles can only be
distantly heard. Moving across to the southern side--that is, the side
near the French Legation and the protected Legation Street--the
Christian refugees are found gathered here in huge droves. In one
building there are alone four hundred native schoolgirls, rows upon
rows of them that never seem to come to an end, sitting on the ground
in their sober blue coats and trousers, peacefully combing each
other's hair, or working on sandbags with the imperturbability of the
Easterner who is placid under death. Farther on, again, you come on
families, sometimes three generations huddling together on a six-foot
straw mat. A mother trying to feed a child from her half-dry breasts
tells you quietly that it is no use, since the meagre fare she is
already getting does not make sustenance enough for her, let alone her
child. Yet everything possible is being done to feed them. All the
able-bodied converts have long ago been drafted off for
barricade-building and loophole-making in the endless walls, and here
the curious Japanese passion for order and detail is shown on the
coats of the older men. The boss-shifts, each responsible for so many
men who have to accomplish a given amount of work in a specified time,
have big white labels with characters written squarely across them,
telling everyone clearly what they are. At a little table near by
writers, who have been carefully sorted out from this incongruous
gathering, are provided with brush and ink, and have been set to work
making up reports and lists of all the people. These are handed to a
Japanese Secretary of Legation, who has been evolved into an
engineer-in-chief and overseer of native labour, and thus at every
hour of the day the distribution of the barricaders is known. Amid
these crowds of native refugees, who number at least a couple of
thousand people, two or three Japanese occasionally wander to see that
all's well, and give the babies little things they have looted from
Prince Su's palace to play with. Content to be where they are and
assured that the European will not abandon them, these natives exhibit
in a strange manner that inexplicable thing--Faith. Poor people--they
little know! Is it always thus with faith?

So the Su wang-fu, which is but the northwestern part of our lines, is
now a city in itself, inhabited by the most unlikely people in the
world. Three days have sufficed to give it an entity of its own. The
nature of the defence and the fighting value of the Japanese as
compared to the Italians, are fitly illustrated by the distribution of
forces which little Colonel S---- has already made. The Italians hold
perhaps a hundred feet of the outer wall and one hillock of some
importance. The Japanese have at least a thousand feet of loopholed
and unloop-holed wall, and are quite ready to take another thousand if
some one would be kind enough to give it to them. In posts of three
and four men, distant sometimes hundreds of feet apart, the little
Japanese takes his two hours on and his four hours off night and day
without a murmur or without ever a break. Only at one place are there
more than three or four little men together. At the eastern end of the
Fu there is a big post grouped round the fortified Main Gate, where
there are actually eight or nine men under the command of a Japanese
naval lieutenant.

But the genius who has organised all this system, the little Japanese
colonel, does not waste time walking around. He is at work at an
eternal map decorated with green, blue and red spots, which show the
distribution of his forces and their respective strength and fighting
value. Somehow I could not tear myself away from this quarter. It was
so orderly....

Behind the commanding hillock in the Italian centre I found Lieutenant
P----, the Italian naval officer, dining off bread and Bologna
sausage, which he was stripping after the Italian fashion, inelegantly
using his knife both to punctuate his sentences and to assist the
passage of his food. "Look out," he cried, as soon as I had appeared,
"it is very warm here; the bullets are flying low." The leaves of the
trees under which he was sitting were indeed falling thickly, cut down
by snipers' fire. But still I wish he would walk down to a Japanese
post not more than five hundred feet away and watch a little Jap and a
half dozen Chinese snipers at work against each other. That is where I
had just been--convoying some supplies. The little Japanese had
ostentatiously placed his sailor cap just in front of an empty
loophole twenty feet from where he actually squatted, and where he had
probably been a few seconds before I had arrived. The snipers saw this
and promptly fired, bang, bang, bang, a long line of shots following
one after the other in quick succession. Hum! they must be reloading
now, said the little Jap plainly by the expression on his face; and
jumping straight on top of the wall in front of him he hastily snapped
at one of his enemies. Then down he came again, but hardly quick
enough, for bricks were dislodged all around him, and once he received
one on the head. The little man rubbed his cranium ruefully, shook
himself like a dog to get rid of the sting, and then with a little
more caution began his strange performance again. This is what is
going on all round the Japanese posts--men bobbing up and firing
rapidly, in some cases only fifty feet away from one another. The
Italians are lying comfortably on their stomachs completely out of
sight, and wildly volleying far too often. Already their ammunition
is running low, although there is hardly any need really to reply at
all to our enemies. They have crept closer, it is true, and without
surprising any one, or even causing notice, their numbers of riflemen
have grown from hour to hour. Now I come to think of it, there must be
many hundreds of men lying all round us and firing just as they
please. But they are hidden behind walls and ruined houses; they
belong to our curious state; they are the essential things after all.
How foolish one becomes!

Threading your way due south you come suddenly on a French picquet,
four Frenchmen and two Austrians behind a heavy barricade. This
precious Su wang-fu is merely linked to the French Legation by a
system of such posts audaciously feeble when you consider the duty
they have to undertake--to keep up a connection hundreds of yards long
which any moment may be broken in a dozen places by a determined rush
of the enemy. This first French post is the extreme left of the French
defence, and it is only after some long alleyways that you come on the
centre itself. Here on roofs, squatting behind loopholes, and even on
tree-tops, though these are very dangerous, French and Austrian
sailors exchange shots with the enemy. Half a dozen men have been
already hit here, but in spite of the strictest orders men are
fearlessly exposing themselves and reaping the inevitable result. It
is only at the beginning that one is so unwise. One giant Austrian had
spread himself across the top of a roof near which I passed, with two
sandbags to protect his head, and looked in his blue-black sailors
clothes like an enormous fly squashed flat up there by the anger of
the gods. Now leaning this way, now that, he flashed off a Mannlicher
there towards the Italian Legation, where only one hundred hours ago
no one ever dreamed that Chinese desperadoes would have made our
normal life such a distant memory.

As I came up the French commander allowed the remark to drop that the
position did not please him--_ca ne me dit rien_ is the exact
expression he used--and that his defence was too thin to be capable of
resisting a single determined rush. The abandoned Italian barricade,
with the Italian Legation still smouldering behind it, is indeed now
filling up with more and more Chinese sharpshooters, who continually
pour in a hot fire only fifty feet from the French lines. Occasionally
a reckless Chinese brave dashes across from the hiding-place he has
selected to cover his advance into the nest of Chinese houses which
are only separated by a twenty-foot lane from the French Legation
wall, and coolly applies the torch. Then puff; first there is a small
cloud of smoke, then a volley of crackling wood, and finally flames
leaping skyward. You can see this here at all hours. Aided by fire and
rifle-shots the Chinese are pushing nearer and nearer the French. It
is clear that they will have a worse time than the Japanese if the
situation develops as quietly but as rapidly as it has been doing....

Across Legation Street connection with the Germans is now had by means
of more loopholed barricades; for the Germans link hands with the
French and Austrians, just as they on their part link up with the
little colonel of the Su wang-fu. But the Germans are not in force at
their own Legation; they are merely using it as their base, for it is
only by means of the Peking Club, whose grounds run sheer back, that
they touch the priceless Tartar Wall. Spread-eagled along a very
indifferently barricaded line, the marines of the German Sea Battalion
now lie in an angry frame of mind dangerous for everyone. They have
felt hurt ever since the loss of their Minister, and the men are
recklessly desperate. On the Tartar Wall itself they are exposed to a
dusting fire from the great Ha-ta Towers that loom up half a mile from
them, and men are already falling. A three-inch gun commenced firing
in the morning--nobody but the Wall posts noticed it at first--and now
overhead whiz with that odd shaking of the air so hard to explain
these light but dangerous projectiles. Happily it is rather a modern
gun, and the Chinese, unaccustomed to the flat trajectory, are firing
far too high. I noticed as I crept along that the shells fell
screaming into the Imperial city a mile or two away. If they only get
the range!

Far along the Tartar Wall, towards the Ch'ien Men Gate, yellow dots
could be indistinctly seen. These were the Americans, in their slouch
hats and khaki suits, lying on the ground and facing the enemy's fire
in the other direction. Held in check by the Germans and Americans in
two feeble posts of a few men each, the Chinese commanders cannot get
their men along the Tartar Wall, and command the Legations that crouch
below. Perhaps that is why playing is only going on and no assaults.
Now sobbing, now gurgling, the bullets pass thickly enough overhead
here, sometimes in dense flights like angry wild-fowl, sometimes
speeding in quick succession after one another as if they were all
late and were frantically endeavouring to make up for lost time.... I
am certain now that this fusillade is increasing from hour to
hour--almost from minute to minute. I do not think playing will soon
be the right expression....

To get to the Russo-American side of the defence, there is no help for
it, you have to make a long voyage; to climb down off the Wall, pass
through the German Legation, cross Legation Street into the French
lines, and work your way slowly through acres of compounds and
deserted houses. Yesterday I would have made a dash, but after
watching the four hundred yards of wall between the German and
American posts, you are easily convinced that even to sneak along,
hugging the protecting parapet, would be an undertaking of utter
foolishness. For as I stood looking, the rank undergrowth, which
Chinese sloth has allowed in past years to grow up along the top of
the Tartar Wall, was apparently alive, now swinging this way, now
swaying that, and sometimes even jumping into the air in pieces as if
galvanised into madness by the rush of bullets. The number of riflemen
is growing fast. So passing into the French Legation, great holes let
you into the next compound, which happens to be that of my friend
C----, the Peking hotel-keeper. Here there is a new sight; everybody
is at work quite peacefully, milling wheat, washing rice, slaughtering
animals, barricading windows--doing everything, in fact at once. This
fellow C---- is an original, who knows how to make his Chinese slave
with the greatest industry and sets them an admirable example himself.
A rather desperate lot are these servants, although most of them are
professed Roman Catholics, and can gabble French learned years ago at
Monseigneur F----'s. And that reminds me: no one has thought of the
gallant bishop during the past few days. That shows how indifferent
the abnormal makes one; the French Legation has attempted once to get
into communication with the distant cathedral and failed. Since then
nobody I have seen has even mentioned the great Catholic mission.

These lonely and deserted compounds, merely connected with our bases
and the outlying works by great holes rudely picked through their
massive walls, are curiously mournful and passing strange. The houses
are absolutely empty and silent; everything has been left exactly as
it stood, when the occupants rushed off feverishly to the British
Legation, where they now sit in idleness relying for protection on the
thin outer lines I have described. In these abandoned Legations and
residences you can scarcely hear more than a distant rattle of
musketry, and when you think how great the distances are it is very
easy to understand why the panic occurred yesterday morning among the
men on the outer lines, at which those smugly safe in the British
Legation were so indignant. Occupying widely separated positions,
imperfectly linked together, and with no responsible commander to
watch them with a keen and discerning eye, the defenders of the
eastern, southern and western lines could well suppose that the
incompetence of the Ministers and the disorders which have reigned
during the past few weeks would culminate in their being abandoned
without a word of warning being sent them. It is so silly to say that
because men are soldiers and sailors they must be prepared to do their
duty everywhere. There must have been times when even the Roman
soldier at Pompeii felt like revolting.

Pushing on, I crossed the southern bridge of stone, in order to reach
the Russo-American lines and the rear of the British Legation, and
marvelled more and more at our good luck. As yet nothing has been
done to protect this very exposed connecting link; and so bending low
you have once more to sneak rapidly along, using the stone parapet as
a traverse to save you from the enfilading fire, which is coming from
heavens know where. The bullets were singing in all manner of tones
here as I ran, the iron ones of old-fashioned make muttering a deep
bass; the nickel-headed modern devils spitting the thinnest kind of
treble as they hastened along. It was almost amusing to gauge their
speed. Some had already travelled so far that with a flop which raises
a little cloud of dust they dropped exhausted at your feet. The
ricochets are in the majority, for with the vast number of intervening
walls and trees and the sloping Chinese roofs which pen us in on all
sides, the nickel, iron and lead of Mannlicher and Mauser rifles and
Tower muskets are soon converted into mere discordant humming-birds,
whose greatest inconvenience is their sound. Never have I heard such a
humming as these spent ricochets make.

Fifty feet past this southern stone bridge you meet the first Russian
barricade, with half a dozen tired Russian sailors sleeping on the
ground and a sleepy-eyed lookout man leaning on his rifle. This
barricade faces in both directions in the shape of a V, and under its
protection this part of Legation Street is supposed to be safe from a
rush, if the men stand firm. In the Russian and American Legations it
is everywhere the same story--barricades and loopholed houses and
outworks, now mostly crowned with sandbags, succeed one another with a
regularity which becomes monotonous. But on this western side the
bullets are few and far between as yet, and sometimes for a few
seconds a curious quiet reigns, only broken by the distant and
muffled hum of sound and crackling towards the east. Decidedly up to
date it is the Japanese and the French and their companions who have
all the honours in the matter of cannonading and fusillading, and the
Germans are soon going to be not far behind them. Right up on the
Tartar Wall I found the American marines once again lying mutinously
silent. They, too, do not like it, frankly and unreservedly; and as I
lay up there and told them what I had seen elsewhere, an old fellow
with a beard said it was S----, the first secretary, who had insisted
on their stopping, and had almost had a fight with everyone about it.
The old marine told me that the other men would be damned--he used the
word in a wistful sort of way which had nothing profane about it--if
they stopped much longer. They wanted other people to share the
honours; they did not see why every man should not have a turn at the
same duty.... I was glad these Americans were making this fuss, for
everything is just as unbalanced as it was at the beginning, and there
is no sort of confidence anywhere. After three days of siege the only
clear thing I can see is that there are a lot of bad tempers, and that
the few good men are saving the situation by acting independently to
the best of their ability and are not trying to understand anything

Much depressed, I at last slipped down through the back of the Russian
Legation into the British Legation. Yes! the others are right, for on
reaching the English grounds you feel unconsciously that you have
passed from the fighting line to the hospital and commissariat base.
Here, mixed impartially with the women, crowds of vigorous men,
belonging to the junior ranks of the Legations' staffs and to numbers
of other institutions, are skulking, or getting themselves placed on
committees so as to escape duty. I suppose you could beat up a
hundred, or even a hundred and fifty, rifle-bearing effectives in an
hour. Many of the younger men were furious, and said they were quite
willing to do anything, but that everybody should be turned out.... In
the afternoon some of them fell in with my idea--volunteering under
independent command on the outer lines--and now the Japanese, the
French and the Germans have got more men. But what I wish to show you
in this rambling account is the unbalanced condition. Except in two or
three places we can be rushed in ten minutes.



24th June, 1900.

       *       *       *       *       *

I am convinced that not only does everything come to him who knows how
to wait, but that sooner or later everybody meets with their deserts.

The British Legation, allowed to sink into a somewhat somnolent
condition owing to its immunity from direct attack, has been now
rudely awakened. Fires commencing in earnest yesterday, after a few
half-hearted attempts made previously, have been raging in half a
dozen different places in this huge compound; and one incendiary,
creeping in with the stealthiness of a cat, threw his torches so
skilfully that for at least an hour the fate of the Ministerial
residences hung in the balance, and Ministerial fears assumed alarming
proportions. Again I was satisfied; everybody should sooner or later
meet with their deserts.

I have already said how the British Legation is situated. Protected on
the east and south entirely by the other Legations and linked
defences, it can run no risk from these quarters until the defenders
of these lines are beaten back by superior weight of numbers.
Partially protected on the west, owing to the fact that an immense
grass-grown park renders approach from this quarter without carefully
entrenching and barricading simple suicide, there remain but two
points of meagre dimensions at which the Chinese attack can be
successfully developed without much preliminary preparation; the
narrow northern end and a southwestern point formed by a regular
rabbit-warren of Chinese houses that push right up to the Legation
walls. It is precisely at these two points that the Chinese, with
their peculiar methods of attack, directed their best efforts.

Beginning in earnest at the northern end, after some inconsiderable
efforts on the southwestern corner, they set fire to the sacro-sanct
Hanlin Yuan, which is at once the Oxford and Cambridge, the Heidelberg
and the Sorbonne of the eighteen provinces of China rolled into one,
and is revered above all other earthly things by the Chinese scholar.
In the spacious halls of the Hanlin Academy, which back against the
flanking wall of the British Legation, are gathered in mighty piles
the literature and labours of the premier scholars of the Celestial
Empire. Here complete editions of Gargantuan compass; vast cyclopaedia
copied by hand and running into thousands of volumes; essays dating
from the time of dynasties now almost forgotten; woodblocks black with
age crowded the endless unvarnished shelves. In an empire where
scholarship has attained an untrammelled pedantry never dreamed of in
the remote West, in a country where a perfect knowledge of the
classics is respected by beggar and prince to such an extent that to
attempt to convey an idea would cause laughter in Europe, all of us
thought--even the pessimists--that it could never happen that this
holy of holies would be desecrated by fire. Listen to what happened.

To the sound of a heavy rifle-fire, designed to frustrate all efforts
at extinguishing the dread fire-demon, the flaming torch was applied
by Chinese soldiery to half a dozen different places, and almost
before anybody knew it, the holy of holies was lustily ablaze. As the
flames shot skywards, advertising the danger to the most purblind,
everybody at last became energetic and sank their feuds. British
marines and volunteers were formed up and independent commands rushed
over from the other lines; a hole was smashed through a wall, and the
mixed force poured raggedly into the enclosures beyond. They had to
clamber over obstacles, through tightly jammed doors, under falling
beams, occasionally halting to volley heavily until they had cleared
all the ground around the Hanlin, and found perhaps half a ton of
empty brass cartridge cases left by the enemy, who had discreetly
flown. From a safe distance snipers, hidden from view an untraceable,
kept on firing steadily; but they were careful not to advance.

Meanwhile the flames were spreading rapidly, the century-old beams and
rafters crackling with a most alarming fierceness which threatened to
engulf the adjacent buildings of the Legation. What huge flames they
were! The priceless literature was also catching fire, so the
dragon-adorned pools and wells in the peaceful Hanlin courtyards were
soon choked with the tens of thousands of books that were heaved in by
many willing hands. At all costs this fire must be checked. Dozens of
men from the British Legation, hastily whipped into action by sharp
words, were now pushed into the burning Hanlin College, abandoning
their tranquil occupation of committee meetings and commissariat work,
which had been engaging their attention since the first shots had been
fired on the 20th, and thus reinforced the marines and the volunteers
soon made short work of twenty centuries of literature. Beautiful
silk-covered volumes, illumined by hand and written by masters of the
Chinese brush, were pitched unceremoniously here and there by the
thousand with utter disregard. Sometimes a sinologue, of whom there
are plenty in the Legations, unable to restrain himself at the sight
of these literary riches which in any other times would be utterly
beyond his reach, would select an armful of volumes and attempt to
fight his way back through the flames to where he might deposit his
burden in safety; but soon the way was barred by marines with stern
orders to stop such literary looting. Some of these books were worth
their weight in gold. A few managed to get through with their spoils,
and it is possible that missing copies of China's literature may be
some day resurrected in strange lands.

With such curious scenes proceeding these fires were checked in one
direction only to break out in another. For later on, sneaking in
under the cover of trees and the many massive buildings which pushed
up so close, Chinese marauders finding that they could escape, threw
torch after torch soaked in petroleum on the neighbouring roofs and
rafters. In some cases they forced our posts to seek cover by firing
on them very heavily, and then with a sudden dash they could
accomplish their deadly work at ease. At one time, thanks to this
policy, the outbuildings of the British Legation actually caught fire,
and the flames, urged on by a sharp north wind, lolled out their
tongues longingly towards the main buildings. Lines of men, women, and
children were hastily formed to our wells and hundreds of utensils of
the most incongruous character were brought into play. I came back to
find ladies of the Legations handing even _pots de chambre_ full of
water to the next person in the long chain which had been formed; and
among all these people who were at length willing to work because of
the imminent danger of their being smoked out, I found long-lost
faces, including that of my own chief. Where they had all sprung from
I could not make out. But to see Madame So-and-so, a Ministerial wife,
handing these delectable utensils, and forced to labour hard, was
worth a good many privations. There are so many elements of the
tragic-absurd now to be seen.

That work on the British Legation lines confined me for some time to
this area, and determined to profit by it, I sought out Viscount
T----, who loves delicacies, and offered to exchange champagne for a
few tins of preserves. We have mules, we have ponies, and we have even
donkeys, it is true, and a great mass of grain and rice which will
last for weeks. But it is dry and sorrowful food, and I long for a few
delicacies. To-day my midday tiffin consisted of a rude curry made of
pony meat; and in the evening, because I was busy and had no time to
search out other things, I ate once again of pony--this time cold! 'I
will frankly confess that I was not enchanted, and had it not been for
the Monopole, of which there are great stores in the hotel and the
club--thousand cases in all, I believe--I should have collapsed. For
as Monsieur la Fontaine has informed us, even the most willing of
stomachs has certain rights, and there are times when a good deal of
zeal is necessary. It is true we have now a narcotic to feed on which
supports us at all times almost without the aid of anything else--the
never-ending roll of rifle-fire now blazing forth with grim violence
and sending a storm of bullets overhead, now muttering slowly and
cautiously with merely a falling leaf or a snipped branch to show
that it is directed at our devoted heads. You can live on that for
many hours, but it is a bad thing to feed on, of course, for it must
leave after-effects more hard to overcome than those of opium. Little
d'A----, of the French Legation, swears he never feels hungry at all
so long as the firing continues....

To perform this work of feeding so many mouths, there are
committees--committees far too big, since everyone is anxious to join
their safe ranks--committees which, although they number men of all
nationalities, are simply standing examples, I opine, of the
organising capacity of the Yankee and his masterfulness over other
people. For it is the Yankee missionary who has invaded and taken
charge of the British Legation; it is the Yankee missionary who is
doing all the work there and getting all the credit. Beginning with
the fortifications committee, there is an extraordinary man named
G----, who is doing everything--absolutely everything. I believe there
are actually other members of this committee--at least, there are some
people who assist--but G---- is the man of the hour, and will brook no
interference. Already the British Legation, which at the commencement
of the siege was utterly undefended by any entrenchments or sandbags,
is rapidly being hustled into order by the masterful hand of this
missionary. Coolies are evolved from the converts of all classes, who,
although they protest that they are unaccustomed to manual work, are
merely given shovels and picks, sandbags and bricks, and resolutely
told to commence and learn. Already the discontented in the outer
lines are sending for him and asking him to do this and that, and the
hard-worked man always finds time for everything. It is a wonder.

And behind this one man fortifications committee there are many other
committees now. There is a general committee which no one has yet
fathomed; a fuel committee; a sanitary committee; nothing but
committees, all noisily talking and quite safe in the British
Legation. Out of the noise and chatter the American missionary
emerges, sometimes odorous and unpleasant to look upon, but whose
excuse for not shouldering a rifle and volunteering for the front is
written on his tired face. It is the selfsame Yankee missionary who is
grinding the wheat and seeing that it is not stolen; it is the
American missionary who is surveying the butcher at work and seeing
that not even the hoofs are wasted. And I am sad to confess that it is
he who is feeding those thousands of Roman Catholics in the Su
wang-fu, while the French and Italian priests and fathers, divorced
from the dull routine of their ordinary life, sit helplessly with
their hands folded, willingly abandoning their charges to these more
energetic Anglo-Saxons. This Protestantism is not my religion, but for
masculine energy there is none other like it. I would not have you
think by this and my constant irritation that there are no Englishmen
doing well; it is merely that the ponderous atmosphere of the British
Legation is such that very few men who live habitually there can shake
themselves free from it even in such times as these. I know that half
of them are much upset at the _role_ they are being forced to play,
but who can help them?

We are progressing more quietly now that the big fires are out; but
still there is scant reason for any congratulations. S----, for
instance, is quite forgotten, I assure you, for I mentioned his name
to P----, the French Minister, only an hour ago, and the only reply he
made was to spread out his hands in front of him and give vent to an
immense sigh. Then he muttered as he went away, "_II a disparu
completement--entierement; c'est la fin_."...

All relief is now felt to be out of the question. Men are also beginning to
fall with regularity, and are carried in bloodstained, as evidence that
this is really a serious business. The British Chancery is now the
hospital; despatch tables have been washed and covered with surgical cloth;
cases are dropping in (seventeen up to date, I hear), and doctors are busy.
Already in the night smothered cries burst from the walls of these
torture-rooms, and make one conscious that it may be one's turn next. I
have always felt that it is all right up in the firing line, but it is that
dreadful afterwards on the operating-table.... But nurses and doctors are
doing valiantly. There is a German army doctor who knows his business very
well, they say; and his reputation has already spread so far among the men
of our all-nation sailors and marines that they all ask for him. I have
heard that request in four languages already.

To me it seems that by incontestable laws each actor is taking his
proper place, and that each nationality is pushing out its best to the
proper perspective. Ah! a siege is evidently the testing-room of the
gods. If we could only in ordinary life apply the great siege test,
what mistakes would be avoided, what reputations would be saved from
being shattered! Because no weak man would ever be given advancement.



25th June, 1900.

       *       *       *       *       *

On all sides our position has become less secure, less enviable, and
the enemy more menacing, more daring and more intent in breaking in on
us. The few dropping shots which opened the ball on the 20th have now
duly blossomed into a rich harvest of bullets that sometimes continues
for hours without intermission or break. The Japanese, unable to hold
their huge line, consisting of Prince Su's outer wall, have already
been forced to give way at several points, but in doing so they have
each time managed to bite hard at the enemy's attacking head. The day
before yesterday the little Japanese colonel decided he would have to
give up a block of courts on the northeast--some of those courts I
have already described, which, hemmed in by walls almost as high as
the outer monster, itself eighteen or twenty feet high and three feet
thick, form veritable death-traps if you can entice any one inside and
hammer them to pieces by loophole fire. This is precisely the policy
adopted by Colonel S----.

The battalion of the Peking Field Force which faces the northern front
had been industriously pushing forward massive barricades until they
almost touched Prince Su's outer wall. Secure behind these
sharpshooter fortifications a distressing fire was concentrated on
the half a dozen fortified Japanese posts that lined the outer wall.
Here on high stagings, crudely made of timber and bamboo poles and
protected by thick wedges of sandbags, Japanese sailors and some
miscellaneous volunteers, grouped in posts of four and five men, lay
hour after hour unable to show a finger or move a hand. Hundreds of
Chinese rifles at the closest possible range poured in a never-ending
fire on these facile targets, and the sandbagged positions, literally
eaten away by old-fashioned iron bullets in company with the most
modern nickel-headed variety, crumbled down to practically nothing.
Lying on your back at these advanced posts and looking at the sloping
roofs of Prince Su's ornamental pavilions a few hundred feet within
our lines was a droll sight. The Chinese riflemen, being on a slightly
lower level and forced to fire upwards at the Japanese positions,
caused many of their bullets to skim the sandbagged crest and strike
the line of roofs behind. Many, I say; I should have said thousands
and tens of thousands, for the roofs seemed alive and palpitating with
strange feelings; and extraordinary as it may sound, big holes were
soon eaten into the heavily tiled roofs by this simple rifle
fusillade. It seemed as if the Chinese hoped to destroy us and our
defences by this novel method. But there was a more ominous sign than
this. A Japanese sailor perched high up aloft on a roof five hundred
feet inside these advance positions and armed with a telescope, had
seen two guns being dragged forward. In a few hours at the most, even
allowing for Chinese sloth and indifference as to time, the guns would
be in position, and then the outer wall would be demolished, and
possibly a disordered retirement would be the result. So the little
Japanese colonel took the bull by the horns. Setting all the coolies
he could muster from among the converts, he quickly formed a second
line of defence by loopholing and sandbagging all the chess-board
squares that flank the northern wall. When night came the advanced
positions were quietly abandoned, and as soon as the Chinese scouts,
who always creep forward at daybreak, discovered that our men had
flown, their leaders ordered a charge. A confused mass rushed forward,
penetrated one of the courtyards, and finding it apparently deserted,
incautiously pushed into the next square. Before they could fly, a
murderous fire caught them on three sides and wiped out several dozens
of them, the rifles and ammunition being taken by our men and the
corpses thrown outside. This has apparently had a chilling effect on
the policy of open charges in this quarter, and now the Chinese
commanders are advancing their lines by means of ingenious parallels
and zig-zag barricades, which will take some time to construct.

Meanwhile, the Japanese main-gate fort, at the extreme Japanese east,
with its outlying barricades, is being slowly reached for by the same
means. Two or three times the French, who make connection with the
Japanese lines a hundred feet to the south, have had to send as many
men as they could spare to hold back a sudden rush. Each time the
threatened Chinese charge has not come off, and the incipient attack
has fizzled out to the accompaniment of a diminishing fusillade.

The commanding Italian knoll on the northwest corner of the Su wang-fu
remains firm, but somehow no one has very much confidence in the
Italians, and secondary lines are being formed behind them, towards
which the Italians look with longing eyes. And yet next to the
British Legation posts the Italians are having the easiest time of
all. Lieutenant P----, their commander, is a brave fellow; but he is
brave because he is educated. The uneducated Italian, unlike the
uneducated Frenchman, has little stomach for fighting, and it is easy
to understand in the light of our present experiences why the
Austrians so long dominated Northern Italy, and why unlucky Baratieri
and his men were seized with panic and overwhelmed at Adowa.

Opposite the French and German Legations, Chinese activity is not so
intense as it has been heretofore. Everything in this quarter for
thousands of yards is practically flat with the ground, for
incendiaries have destroyed hundreds and hundreds of houses, and the
Chinese commanders are favouring low-lying barricades, which are hard
to pick out from the enormous mass of partially burned ruins which
encumber the ground. Just as in South Africa we were reading only the
other day, before this plight overtook us, that the hardest thing to
see is a live Boer on the battlefield, so here it is the merest chance
to make out the soldiery that is attacking us. Sometimes dozens of men
scuttle across from position to position, and for a moment a vision of
dark, sunburned faces and brightly coloured uniforms waves in front of
us; but in the main, so well has the enemy learned the art of taking
cover, and of utilising every fold in the ground, that many, have not
even seen a Boxer or a soldier or know what they look like, although
their fire has been so assiduously pelting us. But some sharp-eyed men
of the Legations have learned two things--that the Manchu Banners and
Tung Fu-hsiang's Kansu soldiery now divide the honour of the attack.
Tung Fu-hsiang fortunately has mostly cavalry, and a strong force of
his dismounted men armed with Mannlicher carbines are on the northeast
of the Japanese position, for two have been shot and dragged into our
lines. These cavalrymen are not much to be feared.

Farther to the south the German position has become exceedingly
curious. While from the American marines on the Tartar Wall round in a
vast sweep on to the French Legation, each hour sees more defences go
up, the Germans have to content themselves with what practically
amounts to fighting in the open. There has been no time to give them
enough coolies, and so they have only lookout men, with the main body
entrenched in the centre of their position. But yesterday they
surprised some Boxers, who had daringly pushed their way into a
Chinese house a few yards from one outwork, and who were about to set
fire to it, preparatory to calling forward their regular troops. The
Germans charged with a tremendous rush, killed everyone of the
marauders, and flung the dead bodies far out so that the enemy might
see the reward for daring. Being certain that the Chinese commanders
would attempt to revenge this blow, what driblets of men could be
spared have been lent to make the German chain more continuous. It is
almost impossible now to follow the ebb and flow of reinforcements
from one point to another; but it may be roughly said that the
southeastern, eastern, northern and northwestern part of our
square--that is, the Germans, French, Austrians, Japanese and
Italians--feed one another with men whenever the rifle fire in any
given direction along their lines and the flitting movements of the
enemy make post commanders suppose a mass attack is coming; and that
the British Legation and the western Russo-American front, together
with the American posts on the Tartar Wall, work together. It is, of
course, self-evident from what I have written that the first, or
Continental and Japanese lines, are having by far the worst time. For,
apart from the American posts on the Tartar Wall, no outposts in the
second section are as yet in direct touch with the enemy. The strain
on those who are within a few yards of Chinese commands is at times
terrible. At night many men can only be held in place by a system of
patrols designed to give them confidence....

I have just said that no part of the second half of our irregular
system was in direct touch with the enemy, but this, although true
enough to-day, was not so yesterday. The Chinese pushed up a gun
somewhere near the dangerous southwestern corner of the British
Legation, and the fire became so annoying that it was decided to make
a sortie and effect a capture if possible. Captain H----, the second
captain of the British detachment, was selected to command the sortie,
and with a small force of British marines who have been pining at
their enforced inaction and dull sentry-go, and are jealous of the
greater glory the others have already earned by their successful
butchery of the enemy, a wall was breached and our men rushed out.
Being off duty, I witnessed most of the affair. Of course, the sortie
ended in failure, as every such movement is foredoomed to, when the
nature of the ground which surrounds us is considered. There are
nothing but small Chinese houses and walls on every side, making it
impossible to move beyond our lines without demolishing and breaking
through heavy brickwork. The marines went forward as gallantly as they
could, and surprised some of the nests of sharpshooters protecting the
gun; but the Chinese, as they retreated, set fire to the houses on
all sides, and in the thick flames and smoke it was impossible to move
save back by the way they had come. Under cover of the smoke the
Chinese soldiery opened a tremendous fire on the sortie party, who
were picking up some of the rifles and swords with which the ground
was strewn, and seeing that our men could not possibly advance, the
enemy pushed forward boldly, rapidly firing more and more
energetically. The British captain received a terrible wound, but
refused to retire; a marine was shot through the groin and died in a
few minutes; bullets cut the men's tunics to pieces; and in a
hailstorm of fire, poured on them a few yards away, they retreated.
H---- covered the retreat all the way, wounded as he was, and shot
three men with his revolver, who were heading a last desperate rush at
his men as they made for the hole in the wall. Dripping with blood,
this brave man staggered all the way to the hospital alone, refusing
all support, and gripping his smoking revolver to the last. His
battered appearance so frightened all the miserables who swarm in the
British Legation that everyone was very gloomy until the next meal
had been eaten, and they had restored themselves by garrulous talk.
The German doctor says that H---- will probably die.

Meanwhile the Americans on the Wall are behaving more erratically than
ever. They have retired and reoccupied their position three or four
times since the siege began, and the men are now more than mutinous.
Yesterday they came down twice--no one could quite make out why--and
after a lapse of an hour or two in each case, they returned. Matters
reached a crisis this morning, and a council of war was called by the
British Minister, composed of all the officers commanding
detachments. The meeting took place under the American barricade on
the Tartar Wall itself, apparently to give confidence to the men and
to make them ashamed of themselves. But the most curious part of it
all was that our commander-in-chief excused himself on the diplomatic
ground that he was sick, and amid the smiles of all, Captain T----, the
Austrian, presided and laid down the law. This clearly shows how
absurd is our whole system. Everyone says the Americans were quite
ashamed of themselves when the meeting was over, for the general vote
of all the detachment officers was that the position was well
fortified, easy to retain, and absolutely essential to hold. They say
the whole reason is that there is internal trouble in the American
contingent, and that one of the officers is hated. Whether this is
really so or not, I do not know; we never know anything certain now.
But although the American has but little discipline, as a sharpshooter
on the defensive he is quite unrivalled by reason of his superior
intelligence and the interest he takes in devoting himself to the
matter in hand. You only have to see these mutinous marines at work
for five minutes as snipers to be convinced of that. I saw a case in
point only a few hours ago. Men were wanted to drive back, or at least
intimidate, a whole nest of Chinese riflemen, who had cautiously
established themselves in a big block of Chinese houses across the dry
canal, which separates the British Legation from the Su wang-fu. This
block of houses is so placed that an enfilading fire can reach a
number of points which are hidden from the Japanese lines; and this
enfilading fire was badly needed, as the Chinese riflemen were
becoming more and more daring, and had already made several hits.
Half a dozen of the best American shots were requisitioned.

The six men who came over went deliberately to work in a very
characteristic way. They split into pairs, and each pair got, by some
means binoculars. After a quarter of an hour they settled down to
work, lying on their stomachs. First they stripped off their slouch
hats and hung them up elsewhere, but instead of putting them a few
feet to the right or left as everybody else, with a vague idea of Red
Indian warfare, within our lines had been doing, they placed them in
such a way as to attract the enemy's fire and make the enemy disclose
himself, which is quite a different matter. This they did by adding
their coats and decorating adjacent trees with them so far away from
where they lay that there could be no chance of the enemy's bad
shooting hitting them by mistake--as had been the case elsewhere where
this device had been tried.

All this by-play took some time, but at last they were ready--one man
armed with a pair of binoculars and the other with the American naval
rifle--the Lee straight-pull, which fires the thinnest pin of a
cartridge I have seen and has but a two-pound trigger pull. Even then
nothing was done for perhaps another ten minutes, and in some cases
for half an hour; it varied according to individual requirements. Then
when the quarry was located by the man with the binoculars, and the
man with the rifle had finished asking a lot of playful questions so
as to gain time, the first shots were fired. The marines armed with
binoculars were not unduly elated by any one shot, but merely reported
progress in a characteristic American fashion--that is, by a system of
chaffing. This provided tonic, and presently the bullets crept in so
close to the marks that all chaff was forgotten. Sometimes it took an
hour, or even two, to bring down a single man; but no matter how long
the time necessary might be, the Americans stayed patiently with their
man until the sniper's life's blood was drilled out of him by these
thin pencils of Lee straight-pull bullets. Once, and once only, did
excitement overtake a linked pair I was watching. They had already
knocked over two of the enemy aloft in trees, and were attacking a
third, who only showed his head occasionally above a roof-line when he
fired, and who bobbed up and down with lightning speed. The sole thing
to do under the circumstances was to calculate when the head would
reappear. So the man with the binoculars calculated aloud for the
benefit of the man with the rifle, and soon, in safety below the
wall-line, a curious group had collected to see the end. But it was a
hard shot and a disappointing one, since it was essential not to scare
the quarry thoroughly by smashing the roof-line instead of the head.
So the bullets flew high, and although the sharpshooter was comforted
by the remarks of the other man, no progress was made. Then suddenly
the rifleman fired, on an inspiration, he said afterwards, and lo! and
behold, the head and shoulders of a Chinese brave rose clear in the
air and then tumbled backwards. "Killed, by G----; killed, by G----!"
swore the man with the binoculars irreverently; and well content with
their morning's work, the two climbed down and went away.

You will realise from all these things that everything is still very
erratic, and that the men remain badly distributed. Nor is this all.
The general command over the whole of the Legation area is now plainly
modelled on the Chinese plan--that is, the officer commanding does
not interfere with the others, excepting when he can do so with
impunity to himself. As I have shown, orders which are distasteful are
simply ignored. There is a spirit of rebellion which can only spring
from one cause. People who have read a lot say that every siege in
history has been like this--with everything incomplete and in
disorder. If this is so, I wonder how history has been made! Certainly
in this age there is very little of real valour and bravery. Perhaps
there has been a little in the past, and it is only the glozing-over
of time which makes it seem otherwise.



25th June, 1900 (night-time).

       *       *       *       *       *

It is always true that the unexpected affords relief when least
awaited. In our case it has been amply proved.

The sun, which had been shining fiercely all day long until we felt
fairly baked and very disconsolate, was heaving down slowly towards
the west, flooding the pink walls of the Imperial city with a golden
light and sinking the black outline of the sombre Tartar Wall that
towers so high above us, when all round our battered lines the
dropping rifle-fire drooped more and more until single shots alone
punctuated the silence. Our outposts, grouping together, leaned on
their rifles and gave vent to sighs of relief. Perhaps something had
at last really happened, for though five days only have passed since
the beginning of the real siege, they seemed to everyone more like
five weeks, or even five months, so clearly do startling events
separate one by huge gaps from the dull routine of every-day life. All
of us listened attentively, and presently on all sides the fierce
music of the long Chinese trumpets blared out uproariously--blare,
blare, sobbing on a high note tremulously, and then, boom, boom,
suddenly dropping to a thrilling basso profondissimo. Even the
children know that sound now. Louder and louder the trumpet-calls rang
out to one another in answering voice, imperatively calling off the
attacking forces. Impelled to retire by this constant clamour, all the
Chinese soldiery must have retreated, except a few straggling snipers,
who remained for a few minutes longer, dully and methodically loosing
off their rifles at our barricades. Ten or fifteen minutes passed, and
then, as if the growing solitude were oppressing them, these last
snipers desisted, and, coolly rising and disclosing their brightly
coloured tunics and sombre turbans, they sauntered off in full view. I
saw half a dozen go off in this way. Clearly something remarkable was
happening and our astonishment deepened.

Presently the word ran round our half-mile of barricades that a board,
with big Chinese characters written across it, had been placed by a
Chinese soldier bearing the conventional white flag of truce on the
parapet of the north bridge, where J----, the first man killed, had
fallen, and that the curious board was exciting everyone's
astonishment. Getting leave to absent myself, I ran into the British
Legation, and from a scaffolding not a hundred yards from the bridge I
saw the mysterious placard with my own eyes. Already binoculars and
telescopes had been busily adjusted, and all the sinologues mustered
in the British Legation had roughly written copies of the message in
their hands and were disputing as to the exact meaning. It was only
then that I realised what a strange medley of nationalities had been
collected together in this siege. Frenchmen, Russians, Germans,
Japanese, English, Americans, and many others were all arguing
together, until finally H----, the great administrator, was called
upon to decide. The legend ran:

"In accordance with the Imperial commands to protect the Ministers,
firing will cease immediately and a despatch will be delivered at the
Imperial canal-bridge."

A vast commotion was created, as you may judge, when this news
circulated among the refugee Ministers and all the heterogeneous crowd
who have been behaving so strangely since the serious business began.
Not one of us had relished the idea of being massacred after the
manner of the Indian Mutiny, but there are different ways of behaving
under such perils; some of those we had witnessed would not bear

In a very short time, indeed, a suitable reply had been written
briefly in Chinese on another board, but the finding of a messenger
was more difficult. We must send a proper man. A chinaman was at
length discovered, who, after having been invested with the customary
official hat and the long official coat, was persuaded to advance
towards the bridge bearing our message and piteously waving a white
flag to show that he likewise was a harbinger of peace. The man
progressed but slowly towards the Imperial bridge, and twice he gave
unmistakable signs of wishing to bolt; but urged on by cries and a
frantic waving, he at last reached the parapet on which leaned our
enemy's placard. Then depositing our own reply, his courage left him
completely, and he incontinently bolted for our lines as hard as he
could run, casting his dignity to the winds. In his haste he had set
his board all askew, and the enemy could not possibly have understood
it. But no arguments could induce our messenger to return. He swore,
indeed, that he had just escaped in time, as the enemy's rifles were
all pointed towards him from a number of positions just beneath the
Imperial city wall, which we could not see from our lines. So nothing
more was done by our headquarters, and an hour passed away with all
the world waiting, but with no Imperial despatch brought to us.

The sun was now down only six inches above the pink walls--in another
hour it would be dark and our position would be exactly the same as
before. On all sides our fighting line had clambered over their
barricades and were examining the enemy's silent ones with curiosity.
Beyond the fortified Hanlin courtyards, to the north of the British
Legation courtyards, which had been occupied and heavily sandbagged
after the big fires there, so as to keep the enemy at a safe
distance--the mass of ruins were indeed as silent and as deserted as a
graveyard. Cautiously escalading walls and pushing down narrow
alleyways, some of us advanced several hundred yards to see what was
happening beyond; and presently, standing on the top of an unbroken
wall line, there were the Palace gates and the mysterious pink walls
almost within a stone's throw of us. The sun had moved still farther
west, and its slanting rays now struck the Imperial city, under whose
orders we had been so lustily bombarded, with a wonderful light. Just
outside the Palace gates were crowds of Manchu and Chinese
soldiery--infantry, cavalry, and gunners grouped all together in one
vast mass of colour. Never in my life have I seen such a wonderful
panorama--such a brilliant blaze in such rude and barbaric
surroundings. There were jackets and tunics of every colour;
trouserings of blood red embroidered with black dragons; great
two-handed swords in some hands; men armed with bows and arrows mixing
with Tung Fu-hsian's Kansu horsemen, who had the most modern carbines
slung across their backs. There were blue banners, yellow banners
embroidered with black, white and red flags, both triangular and
square, all presented in a jumble to our wondering eyes. The Kansu
soldiery of Tung Fu-hsiang's command were easy to pick out from among
the milder looking Peking Banner troops. Tanned almost to a colour of
chocolate by years of campaigning in the sun, of sturdy and muscular
physique, these men who desired to be our butchers showed by their
aspect what little pity we should meet with if they were allowed to
break in on us. Men from all the Peking Banners seemed to be there
with their plain and bordered jackets showing their divisions; but of
Boxers there was not a sign. Where had the famed Boxers vanished to?

Thus we stood for some time, the enemy gazing as eagerly at us as we
at them. Strict orders must have come from the Palace, for not a
hostile sign was made. It was almost worth five days of siege just to
see that unique sight, which took one back to times when savage hordes
were overrunning the world. Peking is still so barbaric!

We sent back word that it might be possible to parley with the enemy,
and to learn, perhaps, the reason for this sudden truce; and soon
several members of the so-called general committee, whose organisation
and duties I confess I do not clearly understand, came out from our
lines and stood waving their handkerchiefs. But it was some time
before the gaudy-coated enemy would pay any attention to these
advances, and finally one of our committeemen, to show that he was a
man of peace and really wished to speak with them, went slowly forward
with his hands held high above his head. Then a thin, sallow Chinese,
throwing a sword to the ground, advanced from the Palace walls, and
finally these two were standing thirty or forty yards apart and
within hail of one another. Then a parley began which led to nothing,
but gave us some news. The board ordering firing to cease had been
carried out under instructions from Jung Lu--Jung Lu being the
Generalissimo of the Peking field forces. A despatch would certainly
follow, because even now a Palace meeting was being held. The Empress
Dowager, the man continued, was much distressed, and had given orders
to stop the fighting; the Boxers were fools....

Then the soldier waved a farewell, and retreated cautiously, picking
his way back through the ruins and masses of _debris_. Several times
he stopped and raised the head of some dead man that lay there, victim
to our rifles, and peered at the face to see whether it was
recognisable. In five days we have accounted for very many killed and
wounded, and numbers still lie in the exposed positions where they

The disappearing figure of that man was the end to the last clue we
came across regarding the meaning of this sudden quiet. The shadows
gradually lengthened and night suddenly fell, and around us were
nothing but these strangely silent ruins. There was barricade for
barricade, loophole for loophole, and sandbag for sandbag. What has
been levelled to the ground by fire has been heaped up once more so
that the ruins themselves may bring more ruin!

But although we exhausted ourselves with questions, and many of us
hoped against hope, the hours sped slowly by and no message came. The
Palace, enclosed in its pink walls, had slunk to sleep, or forgotten
us--or, perhaps, had even found that there could be no truce. Then
midnight came, and as we were preparing, half incredulously, to go to
sleep, we truly knew. Crack, crack, went the first shots from some
distant barricade, and bang went an answering rifle on our side.
Awakened by these echoes, the firing grew naturally and mechanically
to the storm of sound we have become so accustomed to, and the short
truce was forgotten. It is no use; we must go through to the end....



3rd July, 1900.

       *       *       *       *       *

For a week I have written nothing, absolutely nothing, and have not
even taken a note, nor cared what happened to me or to anybody else.
How could I when I have been so crushed by unending sentry-go, by such
an unending roar of rifles and crash of shells, that I merely
mechanically wake at the appointed hour, mechanically perform my duty
and as mechanically fall asleep again. My _ego_ has been crushed out
of me, and I have become, doubtless, quite rightly so, an
insignificant atom in a curious thing called a siege. No mortal under
such circumstances, no matter how faithful to an appointed task, can
put pencil to paper, and attempt to sketch the confusion and smoke
around him. You may try, perhaps, as I have tried, and then, suddenly,
before you can realise it, you fall half asleep and pencil and paper
are thrice damned.

For we have been worked so hard, those of us who do not care and are
young, and the enemy is pushing in so close and so persistently, that
we have not much farther to run if the signs that I see about me go
for anything. Artillery, to the number of some eight or ten pieces, is
now grinding our barricades to pieces and making our outworks more and
more untenable. Rifle bullets float overhead in such swarms that by a
comparison of notes I now estimate that there must be from five to
six thousand infantry and dismounted cavalry ranged against us. Mines
are being already run under so many parts of our advanced lines, and
their dangers are so near that on the outworks we fall asleep ready to
be blown up....

... Nor are the dangers merely prospective.' They are actual and
grimly disgusting. During the past week the casualty list has gone on
rapidly increasing, and to-day our total is close on one hundred
killed and wounded in less than two weeks' intermittent fighting out
of a force of four hundred and fifty rifles. The shells occasionally
fly low and take you on the head; the bullets flick through loopholes
or as often take you in the back from some enfilading barricades, and
thus through two agencies you can be hastened towards the Unknown. As
far as I am personally concerned, it is largely a matter of food
whether this affects one acutely or not. If you have a full stomach
you do not mind so much, and even shrug your shoulders should the man
next to you be hit; but at four or five in the morning, when
everything is pale and damp, and you are stomach-sick, it is
nerve-shaking to see a man brutally struck and gasping under the blow.
I have seen this happen three times; once it was truly horrible, for I
was so splashed with blood....

It is also largely a matter of days. On some days, you think, in a
curious sort of a way, that your turn has come, and that it will be
all over in a few minutes. You try to convince yourself by silent
arguing that such thoughts are the merest foolishness, that you are at
heart a real coward; but in spite of every device the feeling remains,
and in place of your former unconcern a nervousness takes possession
of you. This nervousness is not exactly the nervousness of yourself,
for your outer self surveys your inner depths with some contempt, but
the slight fear remains. You do not know what it is--it is
inexplicable. Yet it is there.

Yesterday I had the experience in full force, just as a line of us in
extended order were galloping up to a threatened position. My boots
untied and twice nearly tripped me. I had to stop, perhaps two
seconds, perhaps five, dropping on my knee with my head low beside it.
For some reason I did not finish tying the laces. I sprang up, threw
my right leg forward preparatory to doubling, and then _ping_--I was
spinning on the ground, laughing at my own clumsiness in falling down.
Then I glanced to see why my right knee-cap stung me so much. I
stopped laughing. A bullet had split across the skin--_rafle_, the
French call it--and a shred of my trousers, mixed with some shreds of
skin, was hanging down covered with blood. Half a second before my
head had been exactly where my knee was, and had I not moved, spurred
by some curious intuition, I would have been dead on the ground.
Perhaps one's inner consciousness knows more than one thinks....

But such personal experiences are trivial compared with what is going
on around us generally. I should not speak of them. For if the Chinese
commands are closing in on us on every side, our fighting line is
biting back as savagely as it can, and is giving them better than they
give us when we get to grips. But in spite of this our position is
less enviable than ever, and it requires no genius to see that if the
Chinese commanders persist in their present policy the Legations must
fall unless relief comes in another two weeks.

Look at the Su wang-fu and the plucky little Japanese colonel! You
will, perhaps, remember that I said that the great flanking wall of
the Su wang-fu was far too big a task for the Japanese command, and
that sooner or later they would have to give way. It has been proved
days ago that what I said was correct, for slowly but surely the fire
of two Chinese guns has demolished successively the outer wall, the
enclosed courtyards behind it, and then a line of houses linked
together by field-works hastily constructed from the rubble lying
around. It was my duty to be one of a post six men hastily sent here
and entrenched on the fringe of our defence in one of these Chinese
houses. It was a curious experience. It lasted for hours.

Inside the partly demolished wall of one house we were forced to squat
on a staging, peeping at the enemy, who was not more than twenty yards
off, lying _perdu_ just behind a confused mass of low-lying
barricades. These riflemen, flung far forward of the main Chinese
positions in this quarter, lay very silent, hardly moving hour after
hour. A couple of hundred yards or so behind them, the main body of
the enemy, secure behind massive earthen and brick works, poured in an
unending fire on our devoted heads with a vigour which never seemed to
flag. Our loopholes, which we had carefully blocked up with loose
bricks so that the merest cracks remained, spat dust at us as the
enemy's bullets persistently pecked at the outside, but could gain no
entrance. Sometimes a single missile would slue its way in through
everything and end with a sob against the inside wall. Once one came
crash through and struck the Japanese who was next to me full in the
face. It knocked out two teeth, cut his mouth and his cheek so that
they bled red blood hour after hour, making him hideous to look on;
but the Japanese, calmly untying the clout which encased his head,
bound it instead across the wound, merely cursing the enemy and not
stirring an inch. The rest of us had not time to note much even of
that which was taking place right alongside of us; for we had orders
to be ready at any moment for a forward rush. If it had come we should
have been caught in a trap and lost. That I knew and understood.

We had stood this storm for a couple of hours, and were beginning to
revenge ourselves on the advanced line of skirmishers by winging them
whenever an incautious movement disclosed an arm or a leg, although we
had the strictest orders not to fire except to check a rush, when a
new danger presented itself, and was added to our already
uncomfortable position. An antiquated gun that had been sending
screeching shells over our heads, had evidently been given orders to
drive us from where we lay, for the shells which had been flying high
moved lower and lower, and buzzed more and more fiercely, until at
last one struck the roof. The aim, however, was still too high, for
the _debris_ of tiles, timber and mortar clattered down the other side
of the house and did us no harm.

It may have been five or ten minutes when a tremendous blow shook our
staging, and a vast shower of falling tiles and bricks drowned all
other sound. A shell, aimed well and low, had taken the roof full and
fair, and brought a big piece in on top of us. For some time we could
see nothing, nor realise the extent of the damage done, for clouds of
choking dust filled our improvised fort, and made us oblivious to
everything except a supreme desire for fresh air. Pushing our
loopholes open, regardless of the enemy's fire, we gasped for breath;
never have I been so choked and so distressed, and presently, the air
clearing a little, a huge rent in the roof was disclosed. On the
ground behind lay piles upon piles of rubbish and broken tiles, and
perilously near our heads a huge rafter sagged downwards, half split
in two. We were debating how long we could stand under such
circumstances, when a second shock shook the building, and once more
we were deluged with dust and dirt. This time the hanging rafter was
dislodged and fell sullenly with a heavy crash to the ground; and now,
in addition to the gap in the roof, a long rent appeared in the rear
wall. Our top line of loopholes was obviously, worse than useless, and
as it seemed more than likely that with the accurate range they had
got the Chinese gunners would soon be pitching their shells right into
our faces, we decided to climb down off the staging and man a lower
line of loopholes pierced two feet above the ground line. Here we
could see very little in front on account of the ruins. We were not a
minute too soon, for the very next missile struck our front wall
fairly and squarely, and showered bricks and ragged bits of segment on
to the platform above us. Luckily the planks and timber with which
this edifice was stoutly constructed saved our heads, and the loosened
bricks, piling up on the improvised flooring above us, made our
position below even more secure. Seizing the breathing time the clumsy
reloading of the gun attacking us gave, we pulled spare rafters and
bricks around us in the shape of a blockhouse, and thus apparently
buried in the ruins of the house, we-were soon in reality quite
comfortably and securely ensconced. Slowly and methodically the
artillerymen demolished the upper part of our fort, and brought tons
and tons of bricks and slates rattling about our ears; but with the
exception of many bruises impartially distributed among all of us, no
one was further hurt. After two hours' bombardment and throwing forty
or fifty shells right on top of us, the enemy apparently tired of the
amusement, and we, on our part, seeing no good in remaining where we
were, sallied out of the side of the building and suddenly faced the
skirmishers, who were still lying on the sunburned bricks. The Chinese
soldiery, alarmed at this sudden appearance when they must have
thought us dead, took precipitously to flight, and in their haste to
escape so exposed themselves that we had no difficulty in rolling over
a couple. As soon as they had retreated we reoccupied a little
position slightly in advance of the house, and lay there contentedly
munching biscuit and having a pull at the water bottles. It is
extraordinary how callous you become.

It was not until four or five o'clock in the afternoon that we were
relieved, and then in a fashion that highly flattered our vanity. The
little Japanese colonel appeared in person with a small force of
riflemen and some stretcher bearers, and he fell back in astonishment
when he saw our occupation. We had pushed forward a lookout a few
yards in advance, and the rest of us were playing noughts and crosses
on some broken tiles. In front of us the barricades were silent, and
the Japanese sailor so curiously wounded in the earlier part of the
day was fiercely wrangling with an English volunteer, who had taught
him the game and had just insulted him by saying he was cheating. The
colonel declared he had thought us all dead, but that although he had
sent twice to find out how we were faring, the tremendous storm of
shells and bullets raging round our entire lines had made it
impossible to reinforce us. The French, he said, had been so heavily
beaten that he had had to prepare for a general retreat into the
British Legation; the Germans had been swept off the Tartar Wall; the
Americans had been shaken and almost driven back; and had not the
Chinese themselves tired of the game, another hour would have seen a
general retreat sounded. We were much commended for not having fallen
back, but we pointed out that it had been really nothing, since we had
only had one man slightly wounded. Still, it was an experience hard to
beat to be left in a house practically levelled to the ground by
shell-fire, and as I got eighteen hours off duty granted me, during
which time I slept solidly without waking once, the whole affair
remains most firmly impressed on the tablets of my memory. It is only
when you have been through it that you understand what you can endure.

All this was some days ago, and was really nothing to what we had the
day before yesterday, which happened to be the 1st of July.

The Chinese artillery practice, although poor, the guns and shells
being hopelessly ancient, had become so annoying and so distressing
that it was determined to adopt a policy of reprisals, taking the form
of sorties, and by bayonetting the gunners and damaging the guns if we
could not drag them off, to induce the enemy to make his offensive
less galling. The ball was opened by an attack which was miserably
conducted on the selfsame gun that had so harshly treated that little
post I have described a few days before. On the 1st of the month,
Lieutenant P----, the commander of the Italian hillock, laid a plan of
sortie before headquarters to which consent was given. Supported by
British marines and volunteers, the Italians were to make a sortie in
force from their position and seize the gun. The Japanese were to
co-operate from their barricades and trenches by opening a heavy fire,
and moving slowly forward in extended order as soon as the Italian
charge had commenced. All the morning the Italians were noisily
preparing, and as soon as their attack was delivered, it justified all
we had already thought about them. They issued from their lines with a
wild rush, but no sooner did the Chinese fire strike them than they
broke and fled, losing several killed and wounded, and fighting like
madmen to escape through a passageway which led back. P---- was very
severely wounded in the arm, and had to give up his command, and the
bodies of the Italians killed were never recovered. A section of the
British Legation students, who had gone forward with the Italians, had
a man badly wounded, and the sight of this young fellow staggering
back with his clothes literally dripping with blood gave the British
Legation inmates a start it took some time to recover from. Later, it
turned out that P----'s sortie plan was based on a faulty map; that
the whole command found itself being fired on from a dozen quarters
before fifty yards had been covered; and that there were nothing but
impossible walls and barricades. But still this does not excuse the
fact that while the Italians were behaving like madmen the young
students stood stock-still and awaited orders to retire. In truth, we
are being educated by events.

The loss of the Italian commander has made the Italian posts more
useless than ever. These men are now nervous, and have hardly a round
of ammunition left, although they were given some of the captured
Chinese Mausers and a fresh stock of cartridges three days ago. Every
shadow is fired at by them at night, and the vague uneasiness which
overcomes everyone when dozens of the enemy are moving in the inkly
black only a few feet off seems more than they can stand.

Meanwhile the French Legation, thanks to this gun-fire, is now but a
ruined mass of buildings, a portion of which has fallen into Chinese
hands. Alarmed at the progress which has been made everywhere, M----,
the British Minister, who is still the nominal commander-in-chief, has
for days been pestering the French commandant to send him men to
reinforce other points. The same stubborn answer has been sent back,
that not a sailor can be spared, and that none will be sent. This
curious contest between the commander of the French lines and the
British Minister has ended in a species of deadlock, which bodes ill
for us all. The Frenchman believes that the remains of the French
lines form a vital part in the defence; the British Minister, invested
with military rank by his colleagues, instead of examining the entire
area of the defence carefully with his own eyes and seeing exactly
whether this is so or not, never ventures beyond the limits of the
British Legation. At least, no one has ever seen him. Even the
so-called chief of the staff, who is the commander of the British
marines, does not regularly visit the French lines. Practically, it
may be said that while there is death and murder outside there is only
armed neutrality within. It is an extraordinary position.

In spite of the way they have been treated up to the 1st Of July, the
French and Austrians still sullenly cling to the ruins of the French
barricades. But on the 1st the Chinese, elated at their success in
capturing the eastern half of the French Legation, pushed their
barricades nearer and nearer, and only one hundred yards behind their
advanced lines they brought two guns into action, firing segment and
shrapnel alternately. Under this devastating bombardment, almost _a bout
portant_, as the French say, the last line of French trenches and their
main-gate blockhouse became untenable. Pieces of shell tore through
everything; men were wounded more and more quickly, and in the most
sheltered part a French volunteer, Wagner, had his entire face blown off
him, dying a horrible death. The French commander, disheartened by the
treatment he had received from the commander-in-chief, and convinced
that all his men would be blown to pieces if they remained where they
were, ordered his bugler to sound the retire. The clarion's notes rose
shrilly above this storm of fire, and dragging their dead with them, the
Franco-American survivors retreated into the fortified line behind
them--the Peking hotel. Here they manned the windows and barricades of
the intrepid Swiss' hostelry, which had already been heavily damaged by
the Chinese guns. A determination was arrived at not to be driven out of
this hotel until the last man had been killed; it was necessary at all
costs to prevent the enemy from breaking in so far. More volunteers were
brought to reinforce this line, and the sinking spirits of the French
were restored; for within half an hour of their retreat the bugler had
sounded the advance again, and with a rush the abandoned positions were
reoccupied and the Chinese driven back. Then the guns stopped their
cannonade, and a breathing space was given which was sufficient to
repair some of the damage done.

While these stirring events had been following each other in quick
succession down on level ground, the grim Tartar Wall has been at once
our salvation and destroyer of men. The Germans have been having a
terrible time, and although they have borne themselves with soldiery
composure, they have been at last driven clean down with
heart-breaking losses. The guns, which the Chinese had been firing
from the great Ha-ta Gate half a mile off, were advanced during the
night of the 30th June to within a hundred yards of the imperfect
German defences, and on the 1st of July four marines were killed and
six wounded out of a post of fifteen men with nerve-shaking rapidity.
The Chinese soldiers, then swarming forward under the Tartar Wall
itself, threatened the little blockhouse at the base, which kept up
connection with the Club and the German Legation line of barricades,
and soon there was no help for it, the eastern Tartar Wall posts had
to be abandoned. With the German retirement the Americans abandoned
their positions facing west and rushed down to safety below. It cannot
be said that the Americans are afraid; they have merely realised from
the beginning what a few of us have understood. The motley crowd
gathered in the British Legation, as well as our commander-in-chief,
were much stirred by the American retirement, for they already saw
themselves directly bombarded from the menacing height of the city
walls--a prospect which can enchant no one, as the confusion already
reigning would have been worse confounded had all the elderly persons
been given a taste of what the outworks are experiencing. So a council
of war was hastily convened very much after the style of the Boer
commandoes, with everybody talking at once, and it was at once decided
that the blessed Tartar Wall must be at once reoccupied at any cost.
A mixed force, under the command of the American captain, stormed back
again, and with a rush found themselves back in their old quarters
with everything intact. The representation of the American marines had
at last made themselves felt, for British marines took the places of
half the Americans, who were given duty elsewhere. We thought that
that had solved the question.

But this was on the 1st of the month. To-day, the 3rd of the month,
the position became once more untenable, for the Chinese now being
able to attack the wall defences from both sides, were pushing their
barricades rapidly closer and closer until only a few feet separated
them from their prey. So more men were called for, and this morning,
after a short harangue, a storming-party, numbering sixty bayonets and
composed of British, Americans and Russians, dashed over into the
Chinese lines killing thirty of the enemy and driving the rest back in
great confusion. It was a brilliant little affair and well conducted,
but unfortunately Captain M----, who commanded, was wounded in the
foot, and the Americans have no officer now fit to lead them. It is a
curious fact worth recording that owing to wounds and staff work,
neither the British nor Americans have any good officers left. It is
only many days of this close-quarter fighting that shows you that
without good officers no men care for moving out of shelter. Unless
there are men who will sacrifice themselves, the ordinary rank and
file feel under no obligation to do anything more arduous than to lie
comfortably firing at the enemy. You can have no idea how hard it is
to get men to make sorties; on the slightest provocation, once they
have left their own barricades, they rush back to safety....

Fortunately with all these events, we have been given something else
to think about, and it is a thing of this sort which re-establishes
confidence more than any warlike deeds. I mention it because it is the
simple truth. It is also a pretty commentary on _la bete humaine_.

You remember the V-shaped barricade garrisoned by Russian sailors, I
spoke about a few days ago? Well, if you do not happen to remember, I
merely need say again, that it is a barricade facing both ways on
Legation Street, which now in the fulness of time has blossomed into a
whole network of barricades which protect our inner lines and the
British Legation base from any rush of the enemy which might succeed
momentarily in getting past our outworks. The Russian sailors who
furnish these posts have been having a very easy time with nothing to
do but to eat and to sleep, and to mount guard, turn and turn about.
Of course, this comparative idleness in all the storm and stress
around us gave them time to look around and to loot the vacant houses
near them. Not content with this, some of them discovered that a large
number of buxom Chinese schoolgirls from the American missions were
lodged but a stone's throw from their barricades. The missionaries,
fearing that some scandal might occur, had placed some elderly native
Christians in charge of the schoolgirls, with the strictest orders to
prevent any one from entering their retreat. This was effective for
some time. One dark night, however, when the usual fusillade along the
outer lines began, the sailors made tremendous preparations for an
attack which they said was bound to reach them. At eleven o'clock they
developed the threatened attack by emptying a warning rifle or two in
the air. Then warming to their work, and with their dramatic Slav
imaginations charmed with the _mise en scene_, they emptied all their
rifles into the air. Then they started firing volley after volley that
crashed horribly in the narrow lanes, retreating the while into the
forbidden area. Fiercely fighting their imaginary foe they fell back
slowly; and as soon as the elderly native converts had sufficiently
realised the perils to which they were exposed, these cowardly males
fled hurriedly through the passageways which have been cut into the
British Legation. The sailors then placed their rifles against a wall
and disappeared. Unfortunately for them a strong guard sent to
investigate this unexpected firing almost immediately appeared, and
presently the sailors were rescued, some with much scratched faces.
The girls, catlike, had known how to protect themselves!

The next day there was a terrible scene, which everybody soon heard
about. Baron von R----, the Russian commander, on being acquainted
with the facts of the affair, swore that his honour and the honour of
Russia demanded that the culprits be shot. I shall never forget that
absurd scene when R----, who speaks the vilest English, demanded with
terrible gestures that the ring-leaders be identified by the victims.
It was pointed out to him that the affair had occurred when all was
dark--that the whole post was implicated--that it was impossible to
name any one man. Then R---- swore he would shoot the whole lot of
them as a lesson; he would not tolerate such things. But the very next
day, when a notice was posted on the bell-tower of the British
Legation forbidding everyone under severe penalties to approach this
delectable building, R---- had his _revanche a la Russe_, as he
called it. Taking off his cap, and assuming a very polite air of doubt
and perplexity, he inquired of the lady missionary committee which
over-sees the welfare of these girls, "_Pardon, mesdames_," he said
purposely in French, "_cette affiche est-ce seulement pour les civiles
ou aussi pour les militaires!_"



5th July, 1900.

       *       *       *       *       *

It depends very much on moments as to whether one has time to laugh or
to cry. The last time I wrote, we were nearly all laughing--when we
had the time; to-day most of us are doing the reverse. Be one ever so
hardened, it is impossible to go to the humble hospital and the little
graveyard of our battered lines without tender feelings welling up,
and perhaps even a silent tear dropping. We have all been to either
one or the other place to-day; our losses are mounting up. In the
hospital alone there are now fifty sorely wounded and tortured men,
groaning and moving this way and that. The bullet and shell wounds
have so far been distinguished for their deadliness, probably because
of the close ranges at which we are fighting. It is a strange
assembly, in all truth, to be mustered within the precincts of a
diplomatic Chancery, wherein were prepared only a few short weeks ago
dry-as-dust documents, which so hastened the storm by not promptly
arresting it. For the Chancery of the British Legation is now the
hospital, and on despatch tables, lately littered with diplomatic
documents, operations are now almost hourly performed and muttered
groans wrung from maimed men. It is a curious thought this--to think
that the vengeance of foolish despatches overtakes innocent men and
lays them groaning and bleeding on the very spot where the ink which
framed them flowed. It does not often happen that cause and effect
meet like this.

It is a wretched hospital, too, even though it is the best which can
be made. Every window has to be bricked in partially; every entrance
where bullets might flick in must be closed; and in the heat and dust
of a Peking summer the stench is terrible. Worse still are the flies,
which, attracted by the newly spilt blood of strong men, swarm so
thickly that another torture is added. Half the nationalities of
Europe lie groaning together, each calling in his native tongue for
water, or for help to loosen a bandage which in the shimmering heat
has become unbearable. And as the rifle cracking rises to the storm it
always does every few hours, more men will be brought in and laid on
that gruesome operating table. The very passageways have been already
invaded by men lying on long chairs, because there are no more beds.
Even they are happy; they have crept to a place where they can gasp in
quiet; that is all they ask for.

In a hideous little room at the back the dead are prepared for their
last resting place--prepared in a manner which is shocking, but is the
best that can be done. I cannot describe it. In the cool of the
evening, when perhaps the enemy's fire has slackened a little, and the
bullets only sob very faintly overhead, and the shells have ceased
their brutal attentions, stretcher parties come quietly and carry out
the corpses. That is the worst sight of all.

There are no coffins, and the dead, shrouded in white cloth, have
sometimes their booted feet pushing through the coarse fabric in which
they are sewn. Never shall I forget the sight of one man, a great,
long fellow, who seemed immense in his white shroud. A movement of
the bearers struggling under his unaccustomed weight burst his winding
sheet and his feet shot out as if he were making a last effort to
escape from the pitiless grasp of Mother Earth extending her arms
towards him in the form of a narrow trench. There was something
hideous and terrible in these booted feet. One man, unnerved at the
sight, gave a short cry, as if he had been struck. That is the brutal
side of life--death.

There is also no room and not time to give each one a separate grave,
these our dead; and so, strapped to a plank, they are lowered into the
ground, a few shovelfuls of earth are hastily dropped in on top, and
then another corpse is laid down. Sometimes there are three or four in
a single grave, and when the grave is filled up the dead men's order
is written on rough crosses. That is all.

At such burials you may see the real truth which is hidden by the mask
of every-day life. Men you thought were good fellows turn out to be
hearts of stone; the true hearts of gold are generally those who are
devil-may-care and indifferently regarded when there is no _Sturm und
Drang._ I, who have never been religious, begin to understand what
such phrases mean--"that many are called, but few are chosen." It is
not possible that the final valuation can be that of the every-day
world. Then when I think of these things, I long to get away from this
imprisonment; to revalue things in a new light; to see and to

But as you pass away from this torture room and this execution ground
a sullen anger seizes you. Why should so many be called--why should we
die thus in a hole?...



6th July, 1900.

       *       *       *       *       *

I have always found that there is a corrective for everything in this
world. Action is the best one of all, people say. It is not always so.

The little Japanese colonel stood this morning pulling his thin
moustaches very thoughtfully and looking earnestly ahead of him when I
came on duty with a dozen others. In front was a great mass of ruins,
concealing a couple of entrenched posts of our own men, where I was
going, and farther on, half masked by the ruins, some of the enemy's
advanced barricades lay.

"I think," said the colonel finally, pronouncing on the situation with
inherited Japanese caution, "that it will be very difficult, but we
must try."

He referred to the wretched Chinese gun belonging to the redoubtable
Tung Fu-hsiang, as we had discovered from big banners pitched near by,
which had been steadily and methodically smashing in the northern
front of our defence, and was fast rendering our lines untenable here.
We always went on duty at these posts with little enthusiasm. We could
not hit back. Another gun, a newcomer, had also been posted somewhere
near the ruins of the Chinese Customs, as if encouraged by the success
of the other one, and was now playing on the main-gate posts of the Su
wang-fu, and rendering even these more and more dangerous for us to
hold permanently.

The newcomer was, however, still, comparatively speaking, far away; it
was our old friend we most dreaded. Well hidden, it pelted us with
rusty but effective shells night and day. To make another sortie was
highly dangerous for the ill-success of the first one in this quarter
had certainly encouraged the Chinese, and this time we would have to
be prepared for a very vigorous defence, which might bring on a series
of counter-attacks. Then, too, the wall-split and barricaded grounds
beyond our own feeble defences meant that a single false step would
lead us into an _impasse_ from which we could not lightly escape.
Rifle-fire would pelt us at close quarters, shells would burst right
in our midst; it was not a pleasant prospect even for the biggest
fire-eaters of our lines. We had, however, to remember that so long as
we held firm on the outer rim of our ruins would the enormous piles of
brickwork which lie around, either in the form of ruined houses or
wrecked compound walls, act as traverses and make the heavy rifle and
cannon fire being poured in nothing very terrible. But as soon as we
are forced to abandon our advanced lines the enemy speedily will swarm
in, and then no sortie, however well planned, can dislodge him. He
will make our best defences his parallels--and in a week he will be
able to split us in half. These things made immediate action really
advisable, and soon the word was passed round that a big sortie was to
be made at once.

Once more all the morning was spent in making preparations. Marines
and volunteer reserves were brought over from the British Legation to
line the trenches and barricades, and cover the advance with a heavy
rifle fire; the Italians, who were to co-operate by jumping down off
their northwestern hillock and rushing forward, were warned for duty,
and had fresh ammunition served out to them; and finally volunteers
were called for, and the command of the sortie handed over to a
Japanese officer, Captain A----.

When everything was ready, we stood for a minute massed together while
some parting instructions were given. We presented a curious and
unique spectacle. There were fifteen Japanese sailors in the dirty
remains of their blue uniforms, without caps or jumpers, with broken
boots and begrimed faces; and alongside of them were twenty-five
miscellaneous volunteers, some with bayonets to their rifles, some
with none--but all determined to get home on the enemy at all costs
this time. There had been sixteen days' incessant work at the trenches
and barricades with next to no sleep. Mud and brickwork clung to us
all with an insistence which no amount of rough dusting would remove.
We were a tattered and disreputable crowd.

There was little time to reflect or to cast one's eyes around,
however, for no sooner had Captain A---- received his last
instructions than his bugler sounded the charge, and from the Italian
lines, eight hundred feet away, which were hidden from us by walls and
trees, came an answering blast. The Italians were ready. I gripped my
rifle and took the flank of my detachment.

We tumbled forward in silence, forty effectives in all, with a couple
dozen native converts behind us, who had been provided with some of
the captured rifles and swords. As soon as we were clear, Captain
A----, who was a tiny man, even among a tiny race, drew a little
sword, and pointing to the enemy's barricades now looming up very
close, ordered his bugler to sound the charge once more. The notes
ripped out, and giving a mixed attempt at a European cheer, we
quickened our pace, running as rapidly as we could over the rubbish
which covered the ground and taking advantage of every piece of cover.
A few stray shots pecked at us, but in this quarter, so strange that
it appeared unreal, the enemy gave hardly a sign of life. Behind us,
on our left, a tremendous fusillade was in progress, and the cracking
of the rifles came back to us in one high-pitched roar. But the
intervening trees and the ruins did not allow us to see or understand
what was the cause. We had completely lost touch with the others.

Rushing round a corner, we suddenly came on the gun we had been sent
to capture; it was perched high on a long, loopholed barricade, and
stood quite silent and alone. We gave a shout and pitched forward in a
momentary ecstasy of delight, but like a flash the scene around us
changed. Dozens of soldiers jumped up around us, looking every bit
like startled pheasants in their bright uniforms, and retired, firing
rapidly. This, as if a preconcerted plan, was the signal for a
tremendous fire on all sides, which absolutely surprised us. From
every adjacent ruin and roof the enemy appeared by magic, and fired at
us with ever-increasing vigour. Now just above us the selfsame gun
which had demolished my outpost house a few days before loomed
invitingly, and determined to have our revenge and stick the gunners
like pigs if we could only get to grips, a knot of us ran on. The
bugler blew a few sharp notes to rally some of those who were hanging
back in confusion, and finally, riflemen in advance and the converts
herded tremblingly behind by a brave Japanese Secretary of Legation
in spectacles, we succeeded in climbing up on to the gun platform. The
gunners, who had been lying beside their weapon, fled precipitately as
soon as they saw our heads come over the barricade, but to our right
and left the enemy was now swarming forward with frantic yells. The
converts, who were to drag off the gun while we covered them with our
rifles and bayonets, could not be made to advance, but clung to the
wall screaming piteously. We beat some of them over the head with our
rifle-butts and kicked them savagely in a fever of anxiety to put some
spirit in them, but nothing could move them forward. It must be always
so; the Christian Chinaman face to face with his fierce, heathen
countrymen is as a lamb; he cannot fight. Then before we knew it the
little Japanese captain was on the ground, two or three Japanese
sailors fell too, a _sauve qui peut_ began, and everything was in
inextricable disorder. The Chinese commanders, seeing our plight,
urged their men forward, and soon hundreds of rifles were crashing at
us, and savage-looking men in brightly coloured tunics and their red
trouser-covers swinging in the breeze leaped forward on us. It was a
terrible sight. There was nothing to do but to retire, which we did,
dragging in our wounded with brutal energy. At a ruined wall, half a
dozen of us made a stand, covering the retreat, which had degenerated
into a rout, and, firing steadily at a close range, we dropped man
after man. Some of the Kansu soldiers rushed right up to us, and only
fell a few feet from our rifles, yelling, "Sha, Sha,"--kill, kill, to
the last moment; and one fellow, as he was beaten down, threw a sword,
which stabbed one of our men in the thigh and terribly wounded him.

It must have been all over in a very few minutes, for the next thing I
remember is that we were all inside our lines again, and that my knees
were bleeding profusely from the scrambling over barricades and ruins.
We were completely out of breath from the excitement and the running,
and most of us were crimson with rage at our ill-success when we had
practically had everything in our own hands. Everyone was for
shooting a convert or two as an example for the rest, but in the end
it came to nothing. Meanwhile the fusillade against us grew enormously
in vigour. From every side bullets flicked in huge droves. The
Chinese, as if incensed at our enterprise, strove to repay us by
pelting us unmercifully, and awakened into action by this persistent
firing, the roar of musketry and cannon soon extended to every side
until it crashed with unexampled fury. Messages came from half a dozen
quarters for the reserves to be sent back, and in the hurry and
general confusion we could not learn what had happened to the Italians
or the rest of the enterprise.

Meanwhile our wounded were lying on the ground, and the news soon
spread that the Japanese surgeon had pronounced the little captain's
case hopeless. I went to see him as soon as I could, and seldom have I
seen a more pitiful sight. Lying on a coat thrown one the ground, with
his side torn open by an iron bullet, the stricken man looked like a
child who had met with a terrible accident. He could not have been
more than five feet high, and his sword, which was a tiny blade, about
thirty inches long, was strapped to his wrist by a cord, which he
refused to have released. Beating his arms up and down in the air with
that tiny sword bobbing with them, he struggled to master the pain,
but the effort was too great for him, and he kept moaning in spite of
himself. A few feet from him sat a wounded Japanese sailor, who had
been struck in the knee by a soft-nosed bullet. His trousers had been
ripped up to put on a field dressing, and never have I before seen a
more ghastly wound. The bullet had drilled into his knee-cap in a neat
little hole, but the soft metal, striking the bony substance within,
had splashed as it progressed through, with the result that the hole
made on coming out was as big as the knee-cap itself. The sailor bore
his wound with a stoicism which seemed to me superhuman. The sweat was
pouring off his face in his agony, but he had stuffed a cap into his
mouth so that he might not disgrace himself by crying out, and even in
his agony he lay perfectly still, with staring eyes, as he waited to
be carried to the operating table.

Presently the captain died with a sudden stiffening, and news came in
from a number of other posts that men were falling, and we must detach
some of ours to reinforce threatened points. In utter gloom the day
ended, and miserably tired, we got hardly any sleep until the small



8th July, 1900.

       *       *       *       *       *

And yet in spite of such things there are plenty of interludes. For of
the nine hundred and more European men, women and children besieged in
the Legation lines, many are playing no part at all. There are, of
course, some four hundred marines and sailors, and more than two
hundred women and children. The first are naturally ranged in the
fighting line; the second can be but non-combatants. But of the
remainder, two hundred and more of whom are able-bodied, most are
shirking. There are less than eighty taking an active part in the
defence--the eighty being all young men. The others have claimed the
right of sanctuary, and will do nothing. At most they have been
induced to form themselves into a last reserve, which, I hope, may
never be employed. If it is.... The duties of this reserve consist in
mustering round the clanging bell of the Jubilee Tower in the British
Legation when a general alarm is rung. When the firing becomes very
heavy that bell begins clanging.

There was a general alarm the other night when I happened to be off
duty, and I stopped in front of the bell-tower to see it all. The last
reserve tumbled from their sleeping-places in various stages of
deshabille, all talking excitedly. The women had too much sense to
move a great deal, although the alarm might be a signal for anything.
A few of them got up, too, and came out into the open; but the
majority stayed where they were. Presently the commander-in chief
appeared in person in his pyjamas, twirling his moustaches, and
listened to the increasing fusillade and cannonade directed against
the outposts. The din and roar, judged by the din and roar of
every-day life, may have been nerve-breaking, but to any one who had
been so close to it for eighteen days it was nothing exceptional. The
night attack, which had been heralded after the usual manner by a
fierce blowing of trumpets, simply meant thousands of rifles crashing
off together, and as far as the British Legation was concerned, you
might stand just as safely there as on the Boulevard des Italiens or
in Piccadilly. There was a tremendous noise, and swarms of bullets
passing overhead, but that was all. The time had not arrived for
actual assaults to be delivered; there was too much open ground to be

The groups of reserves stood and listened in awe, the
commander-in-chief twirled his moustaches with composure, and two or
three other refugee Plenipotentiaries slipped out and nervously waited
the upshot of it all. It was a very curious scene. Well, the fusillade
soon reached the limit of its _crescendo_, and then with delighted
sighs, the _diminuendo_ could plainly be divined. The Chinese
riflemen, having blazed off many rounds of ammunition, and finding
their rifle barrels uncomfortably warm, were plainly pulling them out
of their loopholes and leaning them up against the barricades. The
_diminuendo_ became more and more marked, and finally, except for the
usual snipers' shots, all was over. So the reserves were dismissed and
went contentedly off to bed. As far as the actual defence was
concerned, this comedy might have been left unplayed. In the dense
gloom those men could never have been moved anywhere. Such a manoeuvre
would have brought about a panic at once, for there is little mutual
confidence, and nothing has been done to promote it.

At first, in the hurry and scurry and confusion of the initial
attacks, when everything and everybody was unprepared and upset, this
state of things escaped attention. Now all the fighting line is
becoming openly discontented. There is favouritism and incompetency in
everything that is being done. Two days ago a young Scotch volunteer
got killed almost on purpose, because he was sick and tired of the
cowardice and indecision. And now, not content with all this, there is
a new folly. An alleged searchlight has been seen flickering on the
skies at night, and M----, the British Minister, has in a burst of
optimism declared that it is the relief under S---- signalling to us.
Yet there are men who know exactly what it is--the opening of the
doors of a blast-furnace in the Chinese city, which sends up a ruddy
light in certain weather.

Discipline is becoming bad, too, and sailors and volunteers off duty
are looting the few foreign stores enclosed in our lines. Everything
is being taken, and the native Christians, finding this out, have been
pouring in bands when the firing ceases and wrecking everything
which they cannot carry away.

A German marine killed one, and several have been dangerously wounded.
In our present condition anything is possible. Still, the
fortification work is proceeding steadily, and the appearance of the
base, the British Legation, has been miraculously changed. Enormous
quantities of sandbags have been turned out and placed in position,
and all the walls are now loopholed. With all this access of strength,
we are much more secure, and yet our best contingents are being very
slowly but very continuously shot to pieces. Our casualty list is now
well into the second hundred, and as the line of defenders thins, the
men are becoming more savage. In addition to looting, there have been
a number of attempts on the native girl converts, which have been
hushed up.... Ugly signs are everywhere, and the position becomes from
day to day less enviable.



10th July, 1900.

       *       *       *       *       *

Had we a single gun how different it would be! We could parade it
boldly under the enemy's nose; sweep his barricades and his advanced
lines away in a cloud of dust and brick-chips; bombard his camps which
we have located; make him sorry and ashamed ... as it is we can do
nothing; we have not a single piece which can be called serious
artillery; and we must suffer the segment which the enemy affects in
almost complete silence. Listen to our list of weapons.

First, there is the Italian one-pounder firing ballistite. It is
absolutely useless. Its snapping shells are so small that you can
thrust them in your pocket without noticing them. This gun is merely a
plaything. And yet being the best we have, it is wheeled unendingly
around and fired at the enemy from a dozen different points. It may
give confidence, but that is all it can give. The other day I watched
it at work on a heavy barricade being constructed by night and day by
the methodical enemy. By night the Chinese soldiery work as openly as
they please, for no outpost may waste its ammunition by indiscriminate
shooting. But during the day, orders or no orders, it has become rash
for the enemy to expose himself to our view; and even the fleeting
glimpse of a moving hand is made the excuse for a hailstorm of fire.
This has made excessive caution the order of the day, and you can
almost believe, when no rifles are firing to disturb such a
conviction, that there are only dead men round us. Yet with nothing to
be seen, countless hands are at work; in spite of the greatest
vigilance barricades and barriers grow up nearer and nearer to us both
night and day; we are being tied in tighter. These mysterious
barricades, built in parallels, are so cunningly constructed that our
fiercest sorties must in the end beat themselves to pieces against
brick and stone; if the enemy can complete his plans we shall be
choked silently. That is why the Italian gun is so often

I was saying that I watched the one-pounder at work against the
enemy's brick-bound lines. Each time, as ammunition is becoming
precious, the gun was more carefully sighted and fired, and each time,
with a little crash, the baby shell shot through the barricades,
boring a ragged hole six or eight inches in diameter. Two or three
times this might always be accomplished with everything on the Chinese
side silent as death. The cunning enemy! Then suddenly, as the gun was
shifted a bit to continue the work of ripping up that barricade,
attention would be distracted, and before you could explain it the
ragged holes would be no more. Unseen hands had repaired the damage by
pushing up dozens of bricks and sandbags, and before the game could be
opened again, unseen rifles were rolling off in their dozens and
tearing the crests of our outworks. In that storm of brick-chips,
split sandbags and dented nickel, you could not move or reply. That is
the Italian gun.

The next most useful weapon should be the Austrian machine-gun, which
is a very modern weapon, and throws Mannlicher bullets at the rate of
six hundred to the minute. Yet it, too, is practically useless. It has
been tried everywhere and found to be defective. When it rattles at
full speed, it has been seen that its sighting is illusory--that it
throws erratically high in the air, and that ammunition is simply
wasted. It cannot help us in the slightest. The value of machine-guns
has been always overrated.

Then there is a Nordenfeldt belonging to the British marines, and a
very small Colt, which was brought up by the Americans. The
Nordenfeldt is absolutely useless and now refuses to work; the Colt is
so small, being single-barrelled, that it can only do boy's work. Yet
this Colt is the most satisfactory of all, and when we have dragged it
out with us and played it on the enemy, it has shot true and straight.
They say it has killed more men than all the rest put together....

There should be a Russian gun, too--a good Russian gun of respectable
calibre. But although the shells were brought, a thousand of them,
too, the gun was forgotten at the Tientsin Station! Such a thing could
only happen to Russians, everybody says. But some people say it was
forgotten on purpose, because De G---- had received absolute assurance
from the Chinese Government that the Russian Legation would not be
attacked under any circumstances, and that sailors were only brought
up to keep faith with the other Powers....

This miserable list, as you will see, means that we have nothing with
which to reply to the enemy's fire. We are not so proud and foolish as
to wish to silence the guns ranged against us, but, at least, we
should be able to make some reply. In desperation, the sailor-gunners
tried to manufacture a crude piece of ordnance by lashing iron and
steel together, and encasing it in wood. Fortunately it was never
fired, for in the nick of time an old rusty muzzle-loader has been
discovered in a blacksmith's shop within our lines, and has been made
to fire the Russian ammunition by the exercise of much ingenuity. It
belches forth mainly flames, and smokes and makes a terrific report.
Some say this is as useful as a modern twelve-pounder....

About the Chinese guns we can find out very little, excepting that
none, or very few, of the modern weapons which are in stock at Peking
have been used against us. There are at most only nine or ten in
constant use; perhaps the others have been dragged away down the long
Tientsin road. But even these nine or ten, if they were worked
together, would nearly wreck us. Our sorties have pushed some of them

Two of these guns are being fired at us from a staging on the Palace
wall--sometimes regularly and persistently, sometimes as if they had
fallen under the influence of the conflicting factors which are
struggling to win the day in the Palace. If they bombarded us without
intermission for twenty-four hours, they would render the British
Legation almost untenable. Two or three more guns are on the Tartar
Wall; three or four are ranged against the Su wang-fu and French
lines; some are kept travelling round us searching for a weak spot.
They have no system or fire-discipline. Some use shrapnel and segment;
others fire solid round shot all covered with rust. Silent sometimes
with a mysterious silence for days at a time, they come to life again
suddenly in a blaze of activity, and wreak more ruin in a few minutes
than weeks of rifle fusillade and days of firing on the fringe of
outer buildings. And yet we cannot complain. We have so many walls,
so many houses, so many trees, so many obstructions of every kind,
that they cannot get a clear view of anything. These singing shells,
which might breach any one part, were the guns massed and their fire
continuous, are sneered at by most of us already. Provided you can lie
low, shell-fire soon loses even its moral effect.



       *       *       *       *       *

The siege has now become such a regular business with everyone that
there are almost rules and regulations, which, if not promulgated
among besieged and besiegers, are, at least, more or less understood
things. Thus, for instance, after one or two in the morning the
crashing of rifles around us is always quite stilled; the gunners have
long ceased paying us their attentions, and a certain placid calmness
comes over all. The moon may then be aloft in the skies; and if it is,
the Tartar Wall stands out clear and black, while the ruined
entrenchments about us are flooded in a silver light which makes the
sordidness of our surroundings instantly disappear in the enchantment
of night. Our little world is tired; we have all had enough; and even
though they may run the risk of being court-martialled, it is always
fairly certain that by three or four in the morning half the outposts
and the picquets will be dead asleep. It was not like that in the
beginning, for then nobody slept much night or day; and if one did, it
was only to awake with a moan, the result of some weird nightmare.

Now with the weeks which have gone by since we broke off relations
with the rest of the world it is quite different, and we pander to our
little weakness of forty winks before a loophole, although orderly
officers may stumble by all night on their rounds and curse and swear
at this state of affairs. By training yourself, however, I have found
that you can practically sleep like a dog, with one eye open and both
ears on the alert--that light slumber which the faintest stirring
immediately breaks; when you are like this you can do your duty at a

It is such dull work, too, in front of the eternal loopholes, with
nothing but darkness and thick shadows around you, and the rest of a
post of four or five men vigorously snoring. The first half hour goes
fairly quickly, and, perhaps even the second; but the last hour is
dreary, tiresome work. And when your two hours are up, and contentedly
you kick your relief on the ground beside you, he only moans faintly,
but does not stir. Dead with sleep is he. Then you kick him again with
all that zest which comes from a sense of your own lost slumbers, and
once more he moans in his fatigue, more loudly this time, but still he
does not move.

Finally, in angry despair you land the butt of your rifle brutally on
his chest, and he will start up with a cry or an oath.

"Time," you mutter. The relief grumblingly rises to his feet, rubbing
his glued eyes violently, and asks you if there is anything.
"Nothing," you answer curtly. It is always nothing, for although the
enemy's barricades rear themselves perhaps not more than twenty or
thirty feet from where you stand, you know that it takes a lusty
stomach to rush that distance and climb your fortifications and
ditches in the dark in the face of the furious fire which sooner or
later would burst out. For we understand our work now. Experience is
the only schoolmaster.

So with your two hours on and your four hours off the night spends
itself and dawn blushes in the skies. It is in all truth weary work,
those long watches of the night.... Sometimes even your four hours'
sleeping time is rudely broken into by half a dozen alarms; for
separated sometimes by hundreds of feet from your comrades of the next
post, the instinct of self-preservation makes you line your loopholes
and peer anxiously into the gloom beyond, when any one of the enemy
shows that he is afoot. A single rifle-shot spitting off near by is as
often as not the cause of the alarm; for that rifle-shot cracking out
discordantly and awakening the echoes may be the signal for the dread
rush which would spell the beginning of the end. Once one line is
broken into we know instinctively that the confusion which would
follow would engulf us all. There is no confidence....

When you have time you may relieve his monotony by sniping.

In the early morning, the very early morning, is the time for this
work--say, roughly, between the hours of four and six, when the
soldier Chinaman beyond our lines is yawningly arousing himself from
his slumbers and squats blinking and inattentive before his morning
tea. Then if you are a natural hunter, are inclined to risk a good
deal, and something of a quick shot, you may have splendid chances
which teach you more than you could ever learn by months in front of
targets. Baron von R----, the cynical commander of the Russian
detachment, is the crack sniper of us all, because he has not a great
deal to do in the daytime, and, also, because beyond his lines of the
Russian Legation all is generally quiet with a curious and suggestive
quietness. At four in the morning R----, with his sailor's habits,
generally rises, shakes himself like a dog, lights his eternal Russian
cigarette, takes a few whiffs, and then sallies forth with a
Mannlicher carbine and a clip of five cartridges. His sailors are duly
warned to cover him if he has to retire in disorder, but so far he has
met with no mishap. Cautiously pushing out beyond his barricades, he
climbs a ruined wall, reaches the top and buries himself in the dust
in pleasant anticipation of what will follow.

Presently he is rewarded. A Chinese brave comes out into the open,
selects a corner, and sits down to smoke under cover of a barricade.
The Baron pushes his clip of cartridges deliberately into the
magazine, shoots one into the rifle barrel through the feed, and then
very cautiously and very slowly draws a steady bead on the man. I have
seen him at work. Five seconds may go by, perhaps even ten, for the
Baron allows himself only one shot in each case, and then bang! the
bullet speeds on its way, and the Chinaman rolls over bored through
and through. On a good day the bag may be two or three; on a bad day
the Russian commander returns with his five cartridges intact and a
persistent Russian shrug, for he never fires in vain, and there are
certain canons in this sport which he does not care to violate

Myself, enamoured with this game, after I had watched the Russian
commander two mornings, I, too, determined that I would embark on it,
although I have no such leisure in the early hours. Eleven or twelve
o'clock in the bright sunlight has become my hour, when the sun beats
down hotly on our heads, and everyone is drowsy with the noon-heat.
Then you may also catch the Chinaman smoking and drinking his tea once
again, and if you are quick a dead man is your reward. Every dead man
puts another drop of caution into the attackers. It is therefore good
and useful.

Yesterday I had great luck, for I got three men within very few
minutes of one another; and then when I was fondly imagining that I
might pick off dozens more from my coign of vantage, I was swept back
into our lines under such a storm of fire as I have never experienced
before. I should tell you that there are practically only two
shooting-grounds where this curious sport may be had; there are only
two areas of brick and ruins where by judicious manoeuvring you may
steal out and get the enemy on his exposed flank where no barricades
protect him from an enfilading fire. These two areas lie opposite the
Russian front, and beyond the extreme Japanese western posts of the Su
wang-fu. Since the Russian front is the Russian commander's own
preserve, it is from the Japanese posts that I work.

On the day when I made my record bag, half-past eleven found everybody
drowsy and the time propitious. Our northern Peking sun beats down
pitilessly from the cloudless skies at such a time, and so I had the
field completely to myself. Firing had ceased absolutely on all sides,
and the Chinese had begun to sleep. Crouching low down I scurried
across from the Japanese post to some ruins fifty feet off, and
remained quietly squatting there, panting in the heat, to get myself
bearings. Around me all was silent, and thirty or forty yards from
where I lay I could see the brown face of the Japanese sailor laughing
at me through a loophole. Presently bringing my glasses into play I
swept the huge pile of ruined houses and streets lying huddled on all

There was not a twig stirring or a shadow moving. All was dead quiet.
The main Chinese camp on this side was placed in H----'s abandoned
compounds--that we had discovered long ago--but the battalions there
were now apparently asleep with not so much as a sentry out. So,
gaining confidence, I pushed on, working parallel to Prince Su's outer
walls and about fifty feet beyond them. Suddenly I stopped and
dropped, quite by instinct, for although my mind had telegraphed the
danger to my knees, I did not fully realise what it was until I was on
the ground. Just round the corner there was a glimpse of three men
stripped to the waist to be seen. Had they seen me? I waited in some
suspense for a few seconds pressed my glasses back into their case,
and gripped my rifle. My anxiety was soon set at rest, for with a
clatter, which seemed ten times greater than it really was, the men
set quickly to work on a structure. They were building something, and
now was my chance. Getting to the corner again I peered cautiously
around, and there but seventy or eighty feet from where I lay three
strapping fellows were raising a heavy log. They had pulled off their
red and black tunics, and were only in their baggy breeches and the
curious little stomach apron the Northern Chinaman affects to keep
himself from catching cold.

Their brown backs glistened with sweat in the bright sunshine, and
between their belts and the loose black turbans, under which their
pigtails were gathered up, an ideal two-feet target presented itself.
Carefully I fired.

In a flash one broad brown back was suddenly splashed with red, a
fellow sank on his knees with outstretched arms, and at last rolled
over without a moan, apparently as dead as dead could be. It was

The log the men were carrying crashed down heavily on the ground and
the two remaining soldiers started back in surprise. From whence came
that shot? In front of where they were working lay their advanced
posts, which, facing our own, two or three hundred feet away, should
completely cover them. They peered around for a few minutes, anxiously
searching their front and not looking behind them. At last they
apparently decided that it must have been a stray shot, for, bending
down, they once more raised the log, paying no more attention to their
dead companion than they would to a dead dog.

This time I let them advance towards their outposts until they were a
hundred feet farther away. Then I fired again. The log came down once
more with a dull thud, and both the men fell as well. But imagine my
disgust when they both rose to their feet, one man merely showing the
other a snipped shoulder which must be bleeding, but was evidently
nothing as a wound. I cursed my government rifle, which always throws
to the right. At less than a hundred yards such practice was
disgraceful. This time both the men were aroused, and, abandoning
their log, they disappeared round some ruins, only to reappear with
their tunics on, their bandoliers strapped round them, and their
Mausers in their hands. They meant to have some revenge. I lost sight
of them for quite ten minutes, only to have them both out again almost
halfway between myself and the Japanese posts from which I had sallied
forth. I was cut off! I would have to wipe those two men out or else
they would do that to me.

They were in no hurry, however, for they began by beating the ground
carefully and taking advantage of every piece of cover. They evidently
suspected that some of our men had come out in skirmishing order and
were still lying hidden; at last one saw something. He had caught
sight of the Japanese sentry who was looking out anxiously to see what
had become of me. So rising hurriedly, the soldier fired at the brown
Japanese face. Before he had sunk on his knees again I had drilled him
fair with a snapshot--in the head it must have been, because he went
over with a piercing yell and with his hands plucking at his cap. The
other man did not wait to see what would happen, but fled as fast as
he could down a small lane that ran only twenty feet past me. Seeing
the game was played out, I rose and fired rapidly from under the crook
of my arm and missed. Reloading as I scrambled after him, I drove
another bullet at him, and he staggered wildly but did not fall. My
blood was now up, and I was determined to get him, even if I had to
follow into the Chinese camp, so I sped along too. The fellow was now
yelling lustily, calling his comrades to his aid, and I seemed to be
going mad in my excitement. I fired again as I ran, and must have hit
him again, for he reeled still more; then he turned totteringly into a
ruined doorway....

Just as I determined that I must give it up the scene changed like the
flash of a lamp. My quarry stumbled and fell flat; dozens of
half-stripped men came charging towards me, loading as they ran, and
almost before I knew it, the ground around me was ripped with bullets.

Then in turn how I raced!

Such was the storm of fire around me that I nearly dropped my rifle so
as to improve my pace, and all the moisture left my mouth. Holding
grimly on I at last cleared the exposed ground, and jumped through
into the Japanese barricades. In their rage the Chinese soldiery
rushed into the open after me, firing angrily all along the line, and
before the loopholes could be properly manned and the fusillade
returned they were almost up to us. Then, as always happens, they
suddenly became irresolute, and trickled away, and from behind safe
cover they poured in the same long-range rifle-fire....

This, however, is only an incident--one which I provoked. Generally we
are not so enterprising, but are inclined to accept events as they
unroll. But this escapade proved to me that attacks are thrown against
us only after special orders have been issued by the government, and
that the camps of soldiery established round our lines are as much to
imprison us as to slay us. They have bound us in with brickworks, and
they bombard us intermittently with nine or ten guns; but each
bombardment and each attack seems to be conducted quite without any
relation to the general situation.... Fortunately, then, although we
are ill organised and badly commanded as a whole, our units are well
led, and we meet the situation as it actually is on the best plan
possible for the time being. But will this last? Will not something
happen which will fling our enemy against us animated by one desire
--a desire to slay us one and all? It requires now but one rush of the
thousands of armed men encamped about us to sweep our defence off the
face of the earth like so many dried and worthless leaves.



14th July, 1900.

       *       *       *       *       *

The post fighting is becoming more desperate, and the French are
steadily losing ground. Is it true that they are losing courage? Of
course, everyone knows that they are a gallant race, and that
although the Germans, by their relentless science and unending
attention to detail, are rated superior in machine-like warfare, they
can never be quite like the brilliant conquerors of Jena, Austerlitz,
and a hundred other battles; and yet no one expected the French were
going to cling to the ruins of their Legation with the bulldog
desperation of which they complained in the English at Waterloo; a
desperation making each house a siege in itself, and only ending with
the total destruction of that house by shells or fire; were going to
treat all idea of retirement with contempt, although their shabby
treatment caused them two weeks ago to temporarily evacuate their
lines in a fit of moroseness.... This is what has happened until now,
for the French have set their teeth, and now everyone almost believes
that nothing--not even mines, shells, myriads of bullets, and foolish
order after order from headquarters ordering men to be sent elsewhere
--will beat them back. And yet they cannot keep on this way for ever.
All round them the connecting posts and blockhouses are losing more
and more men, and matters are reaching a dangerous point.

It is now nearly four weeks since the first bullet flicked out the
brains of the first French sailor ten minutes after the opening of
hostilities at barricades far away down Customs Street, and in these
twenty-five days which have elapsed the French positions have been
beaten into such shapeless masses that they are quite past
recognition. I had not been there for a week, and was shocked when I
saw how little remains. The Chinese have, foot by foot, gained more
than half of the Legation, and all that is practically left to the
defenders is their main-gate blockhouse, a long barricaded trench and
the remains of a few houses. These they have sworn to retain until
they are too feeble to hold. Then, and then only, will they retreat
into the next line behind them, the fortified Hotel de Pekin, which
has already four hundred shell holes in it.

Yesterday's losses at the French lines were five men wounded, four
blown up by a mine, of whom two never have been seen again, and two
men killed outright by rifle-fire. Then the last houses were set fire
to by Chinese soldiers, who, able to push forward in the excitement
and confusion of the mine explosions, attempted to seize and hold
these strategic points, and were only driven out by repeated
counter-attacks. Such events show that for some occult reason the
Chinese commands are trying to carry the French lines by every
possible device.... It has been like this for a week now.

For, from the 7th of July, the Chinese commands having prepared the
ground for their attacks by a heavy cannonade lasting for sixty hours,
which riddled everything above the ground level with gaping holes,
started pushing forward through the breaches, and setting fire, by
means of torches attached to long bamboo poles, to everything which
would burn. No living men, no matter how brave, can hold a glowing
mass of ruins and ashes, and the Chinese were showing devilish
cunning. Isolated combats took place along the whole French line--in a
vain effort to drive off the incendiaries, little sorties of two or
three men furiously attacking the persistent enemy, and each time
driving him back with loss, only to find him dribbling in again like
muddy water through every hole and cranny in the imperfect defences.
But even this did not do much good. No one could keep an accurate
record of these curious encounters during the first few days, for they
have succeeded one another with such rapidity that men have become too
tired, too sleepy to wish to talk. They try to act, and some of their
adventures have been astonishing.

Thus a young Breton sailor, not more than seventeen years old, seeing
men armed with swords collecting one night for a rush, jumped down
among them from the top of an earthwork, and shot and bayonetted three
or four of them before they had time to defend themselves. Then it
took him half an hour to get back to safety by creeping from one hole
in the ground to another and avoiding the rifle-fire....

Self-preservation makes it necessary to rush out thus single handed
and ease your front. Every man killed is a discouragement, which holds
the enemy back a bit.

Exploits of this nature must at length have shown the Chinese soldiery
that they have to face men endowed with the courage of despair in this
quarter; and fearing cold steel more than anything else, they have
decided that the only way of reaching their prey is by blowing them up
piecemeal. That is why they have taken to mining--most audacious
mining, carried on under the noses of the French defenders. If you
come here at night, and remain until one of those curious lulls in the
rifle-fire suddenly begins, you will distinctly hear this curious
tapping of picks and shovels, which means the preparation of a

So as to save time, such mining is not begun from behind the enemy's
trenches; it is audaciously commenced in the ruins which litter some
of the neutral territory, which neither side holds and into which
Chinese desperadoes creep as soon as it is dusk. For a few days the
French did not dare to make sorties against such enterprises, but some
of the younger volunteers, discovering that these sappers were only
armed with their tools, have taken to creeping out and butchering in
the bowels of the earth.... This is terribly but absolutely true. Thus
a young volunteer, named D----, found, after watching for two days,
that a number of men crept into a tunnel mouth every night only twenty
feet from his post, and began working on a mine right under his feet.
He decided to go out himself and kill them all.... He told me the
story. He crept out two days ago as soon as he had seen them go in,
and, posting himself at the entrance, called on the men to come out,
else he would block them in and kill them in the most miserable way he
could think of. They came out, crawling on their hands and knees, and
as each man slipped up to the level he was bayonetted.... in the end
thirteen were killed like this. Three remained, but D----'s strength
was not equal to it, and he had to drive them in as captives. Then
they were despatched and beheaded. They say the French sailors slung
back those heads far over into the advanced Chinese barricades with
taunts and shouts. That stopped all work for a few hours. But it was
not for long enough.

Yesterday, the 13th, the Chinese had their revenge for the loss of the
hundred odd men who have been shot or bayonetted along this front
during the past week. At six in the evening, when the rifle-fire all
along the line had become stilled, a tremendous explosion shook every
quarter of our besieged area and made everyone tremble with
apprehension. Even in the most northerly part of our defences--the
Hanlin posts beyond the British Legation, which are probably three or
four thousand feet away--the men said it was like an earthquake. In
the French lines it seemed as if the end of the world had come. The
Chinese, having successfully sapped right under one of the remaining
fortified houses, had blown it up with a huge charge of black
gunpowder. D----, the French commander, R----, the Austrian _Charge
d'Affaires,_ the same indomitable volunteer D----, and a picket of
four French sailors were in the house, and were buried in the ruins.
Hardly had the echoes of the first explosion died away, when a second
one blew up another house, and out of the ruins were lifted, as if the
powers of darkness had taken pity on them all, the defenders who had
been buried alive, excepting two. Never has such a thing been heard of
before. Providence is plainly helping us. The wretched men thus
cruelly treated were all the colour of death and bleeding badly when
they were dragged out. The two missing French sailors must have been
crushed into fragments. Only a foot has been found....

That was afterwards; for the mine explosions were the signals for a
terrible bombardment and rifle-fire all along the line, from which we
have not yet recovered. The French, more than a little shaken, were
driven into their last trench--the _tranche Bartholin_, which has just
been completed. They held this to this morning and then
counter-attacked. That is why I have found myself here. Reinforcements
were rushed in by us at daybreak, and after a sleepless forty hours
the Chinese advance has been fairly held. But for how long? If they
act as earnestly during the next week we are finished!



15th July, 1900.

       *       *       *       *       *

Fortunately, startling events of the sort I have just described are
confined to the outposts, and the half a dozen closely threatened
points. Our main base, the British Legation, is little affected, and
many in it do not appear to realise or to know anything of these
frantic encounters along the outer lines. They can tell from the
stretcher-parties that come in at all hours of the day and night, and
pass down to the hospital, what success the Chinese fire is having,
but beyond this they know nothing. They secretly hope, most of them,
that it will remain like this to the end; that bullets and shells may
scream overhead, but that they may be left attending to minor affairs.
As I look around me, it appears more and more evident that
self-preservation is the dominant, mean characteristic of modern
mankind. The universal attitude is: spare me and take all my less
worthy neighbours. In gaining in skin-deep civilisation we have lost
in the animal-fighting capacity. We are truly mainly grotesque when
our lives are in danger.

In the British Legation time has even been found to establish a model
laundry, and several able-bodied men actually fought for the privilege
of supervising it, they say, when the idea was mooted.

Neither have our Ministers improved by the seasoning process of the
siege. Most of them have become so ridiculous, that they shun the
public eye, and listen to the roar of the rifles from safe places
which cannot be discovered. And yet fully half of them are able-bodied
men, who might do valuable work; who might even take rifles and shoot.
But it is they who give a ridiculous side, and for that, at least, one
should be thankful. It is something to see P----, the French Minister,
starting out with his whole staff, all armed with _fusils de chasse_,
and looking _tres sportsman_ on a tour of inspection when everything
is quiet. Each one is well told by his tearful wife to look out for
the Boxers, to be on the alert--as if Chinese banditti were lurking
just outside the Legation base to swallow up these brave
creatures!--and in a compact body they sally forth. These are the
married men: marriage excuses everything when the guns begin to play.
Thus the Secretary of Legation, whose name I will not divulge even
with an initial, amused me immensely yesterday by calculating how much
more valuable he was to the State as a father of a family than an
unmarried youngster like myself. He tried to prove to me that if he
died the economic value of his children would suffer--what a fool he
was!--and that my own value capitalised after the manner of
mathematicians was very small. I listened to him carefully, and then
asked if the difference between a brave man and a coward had any
economic significance. He became suddenly angry and left me. Some of
the besieged are becoming truly revolting.

Even P----, who some people think ought to stay in the remains of his
own Legation, is rather disgusted, and as he marches out in an
embroidered nightshirt, with little birds picked out in red thread on
it, he is not as absurd as I first thought. Poor man, he is
attempting to do his duty after his own lights, and excepting two or
three others, he has been the most creditable of all the elderly men,
who think that position excuses everything.

Labouring at the making of sandbags, the women sit under shelter, and
keep company with those men who have not the stomach to go out. And as
shells have been falling more and more frequently in and around this
safe base, and rumour has told them that the outer lines may give way,
bomb-proof shelters have been dug in many quarters ready to receive
all those who are willing to crouch for hours to avoid the possibility
of being hit....

Otherwise, there is nothing much to note in the British Legation, for
here the storm and stress of the outer lines come back oddly enough
quite faintly, excepting during a general attack. The dozens of walls
account for that. In the evenings the missionaries now gather and sing
hymns ... sometimes Madame P----, the wife of the great Russian Bank
Director, takes compassion, and gives an _aria_ from some opera. She
used to be a diva in the St. Petersburg Opera House, they say, years
ago, and her voice comes like a sweet dream in such surroundings. A
week ago a strange thing happened when she was giving an impromptu
concert. She was singing the Jewel song from _Faust_ so ringingly that
the Chinese snipers must have heard it, for immediately they opened a
heavy "fire," which grew to a perfect tornado, and sent the listeners
flying in terror. Perhaps the enemy thought it was a new war-cry,
which meant their sudden damnation!

Yet we have had so much time to rectify all our mistakes that things
are in much better working order. Public opinion has made the
commander-in-chief distribute the British marines in many of the
exposed positions and thus allow inferior fighting forces to garrison
the interior lines. Twice last week, before this redistribution had
been completed, there was trouble with both the Italian and the
Austrian sailors and some volunteers. Posts of them retreated during
the night.... They gave as their excuse that they knew that the loose
organisation would cause them to be sacrificed if the enemy began
rushing. There is much to be said for them; the general command had
been disgraceful, especially during the night, when only good fortune
saves us from annihilation. One single determined rush is all that is
needed to end this farce....

These retreats, which have not been confined to the sailors, have
ended by causing great commotion and alarm among the non-combatants,
and reserve trenches and barricades are being improved and manned in
growing numbers. Still, the distribution is unequal. There is a force
of nearly sixty rifles in what is the northern front of the British
Legation--the sole front exposed to direct attack on this side of the
square. With difficulty can the command be induced to withdraw a
single man from here. They say it is so close to all those who have
sought the shelter of the British Legation, so close to the women and
children and those who are afraid, that it would be a crime to weaken
this front. And yet there has been hardly a casualty among those sixty
men during four weeks' siege, while elsewhere about one hundred and
twenty have been killed and wounded....

The fear that fire-balls will be flung far in from here, or
fire-arrows shot from the adjacent trenches, has made them institute
patrols, which make a weary round all through the night to see that
all's well. In the thick darkness these men can act as they please,
and already the are several _sales histoires_ being sold. One is very
funny. The patrol in question was composed entirely of Russian
students, who are not rated as effectives. Beginning at nine o'clock
the day before yesterday, the patrol had got as far as the Japanese
women's quarters at this northern front of the British Legation, when
they were halted for a few minutes to communicate some orders. One of
the volunteers, of an amorous disposition, noticed a buxom little
Japanese servant at work on a wash-tub in the gloom. An appointment
was made for the morrow....

The next night duly came. Once more the patrol halted, and once more
the young Russian told his companions to go on. The patrol moved away,
and the adventurous Russian tiptoed into the Japanese quarters.
Cautiously feeling his way down a corridor, he opened a door, which he
thought the right one; then the tragedy occurred. Suddenly a quiet
voice said to him in French out of the gloom:

"_Monsieur desire quelque chose? Je serai charmee de donner a Monsieur
ce qu'il voudra s'il veut bien rester a la porte_." The wretched
Russian student imagined he was lost; it was the wife of a Minister!
He hesitated a minute; then, gripping his rifle and with the perfect
Russian imperturbability coming to his rescue, he replied, with a deep
bow: "_Merci, Madame, Merci mille fois! Je cherchais seulement de la
vaseline pour mon fusil_!"

This phrase has become immortal among the besieged.



16th July, 1900.

       *       *       *       *       *

And yet one is lucky if one can laugh at all. The rifle and cannon
fire continues; barricades are pushing closer and closer, more of our
men are falling--it is always the same monotonous chronicle. A few
days ago poor T----, the Austrian cruiser captain, who aspired to be
our commander-in-chief with such disastrous results, was killed in the
Su wan-fu while he was encouraging his men to stand firm and not
repeat some of their former performances. To-day little S----, the
British Minister's chief of the staff, has been mortally hit, and has
just died. It was a sad affair. In the morning a party from
headquarters was making a tour of inspection of the Su wang-fu posts,
in order to see exactly how much battering they could stand, and how
soon the Italian contention that already the hillock works were
untenable would become an undeniable fact. The Italian defences had
been inspected and the little party was crossing the ornamental
gardens, which are always swept by a storm of fire, when suddenly
S---- fell mortally wounded, M----, the correspondent, was badly hit
in the leg, the Japanese colonel alone escaping with a bullet-cut
tunic. They had drawn the enemy's fire. Great was the dismay when the
news became generally known; it meant that the authority of
headquarters had received a cruel blow. There is no officer left who
can really perform the duties of the chief of the staff, and all the
outer lines will feel this loosening of a control which has really
only been complimentary and nominal. Casualties among the officers of
the other detachments had allowed the British marine commanders to
increase their influence. Now it is finished. The only two good ones
have now been struck off the list.

All day long men looked gloomily about them, and felt that gradually
but surely things were progressing from bad to worse. Six of the best
officers have either been killed or so badly wounded that they cannot
possibly take the field again; about fifty of our most daring regulars
and volunteers have been killed outright; the number of admittances to
the hospital up to date is one hundred and ten; and thus of the four
hundred and fifty rifles defending our lines, nearly a third have been
placed out of action in less than four weeks. Excepting for a small
gap across the Northern Imperial canal bridge, a continuous double, or
even treble, line of the enemy's barricades now stretch unbroken from
a point opposite the American positions on the Tartar Wall round in a
vast irregular curve to the city wall overlooking the German Legation.

These barricades are becoming more and more powerful, and are being
pushed so close to us by a system of parallels and traverses that at
the Su wang-fu and the French lines only a few feet separate some of
our own defences from the enemy's. Already it had twice happened that
a fierce and unique deed had taken place at the same loophole between
one of our men and a Chinese brave, ending in the shooting of one or
the other, forcing a retirement on our part to the next line of
barricades. Thus, by sheer weight of brickwork they are crushing us
in, and if they have only two weeks' more uninterrupted work, it can
only end in one way. Colonel S---- has made two more frantic sorties,
in both of which I took part at daybreak, with a few men, which
succeeded each time in pushing back the enemy for a few days in one
particular corner at the cost of casualties we cannot afford. But the
work and the strain are becoming exhausting, and even the Japanese,
who are being driven by little S---- like mules, are showing the
effects in their lack-lustre eyes and dragging legs. The men are half
drunk from lack of sleep and from bad, overheated blood, caused by a
perpetual peering through loopholes and a continual alertness even
when they are asleep. The strain is intolerable, I say, and pony meat
is becoming nauseating, and fills me with disgust.

On top of it all the trenches are now sometimes half full of water,
for the summer rains, which have held back for so long, are beginning
to fall. The stenches are so bad from rotting carcases and obscene
droppings that an already weakened stomach becomes so rebellious that
it is hard to swallow any food at all.

In the morning it is sometimes revolting. For four days I was at a
line of loopholes, with Chinese corpses swelling in the sun under my
nose.... At the risk of being shot, I covered them partially by
throwing handfuls of mud. Otherwise not I myself, but my rebellious
stomach, could not have stood it.

Scorched by the sun by day, unable to sleep except in short snatches
at night, with a never-ending rifle and cannon fire around us, we have
had almost as much as we can stand, and no one wants any more. I
wonder now sometimes why we have been abandoned by our own people.
Reliefs and S---- are only seen in ghastly dreams....

And yet there are others near who must be faring worse than we. Far
away in the north of the city, where are Monseigneur F----'s
cathedral, his thousands of converts, and the forty or fifty men he so
ardently desired, we hear on the quieter days a distant rumble of
cannon. Sometimes when the wind bears down on us we think we can hear
a confused sound of rifle-firing, far, far away. They say that Jung
Lu, the Manchu Generalissimo of Peking, whose friendship has been
assiduously cultivated by the French Bishop, is seeing to it that the
Chinese attacks are not pushed home, and that a waiting policy is
adopted similar to that which the Chinese have used towards us. But no
matter what be the actual facts of the case, the besieged fathers must
be having a terrible time....

Ponies and mules are also getting scarcer, and the original mobs,
numbering at least one hundred and fifty or two hundred head, have
disappeared at the rate of two or three a day as meat. Our remaining
animals are now quartered in a portion of the Su wang-fu, where they
are feeding on what scant grass and green vegetation they can still
find in those gloomy gardens. Sometimes a humming bullet flies low and
maims one of the poor animals in a vital spot. Then the butcher need
not use his knife, for meat is precious, and even the sick horses that
die, and whose bodies are ordered to be buried quickly, are not safe
from the clutches of our half-starving Chinese refugees....

A few days ago a number of ponies, frightened at some sudden roar of
battle, broke loose and escaped by jumping over in a marvellous way
some low barricades fronting the canal banks. Caught between our own
fire and that of the enemy, and unable to do anything but gallop up
and down frantically in a frightened mob, the poor animals excited our
pity for days without our being able to do a single thing towards
rescuing them. Gradually one by one they were hit, and soon their
festering carcases, lying swollen in the sun, added a little more to
the awful stenches which now surround us. Some men volunteered to go
out and bury them, and cautiously creeping out, shovel in hand, just
as night fell, once more our Peking dust was requisitioned, and a
coverlet of earth spread over them.

The droves of ownerless Peking dogs wandering about and creeping in
and out of every hole and gap are also annoying us terribly. These
pariahs, abandoned by their masters, who have fled from this ruined
quarter of the city, are ravenous with hunger, and fight over the
bodies of the Chinese dead, and dig up the half-buried horses; nothing
will drive them away. In furious bands they rush down on us at night,
sometimes alarming the outposts so much that they open a heavy fire.
An order given to shoot everyone of them, so as to stop these night
rushes, has been carried out, but no matter how many we kill, more
push forward, frantic with hunger, and tear their dead comrades to
pieces in front of our eyes. It is becoming a horrible warfare in this
bricked-in battle-ground.

Inside our lines there are a number of half-starving natives, who were
caught by the storm and are unable to escape. They are poor people of
the coolie classes, and it is no one's business to care for them.
Several times parties of them have attempted to sneak out and get
away, but each time they have been seized with panic, and have fled
back, willing to die with starvation sooner than be riddled by the
enemy's bullets. The native troops beyond our lines shoot at
everything that moves. A few days ago an old rag-picker was seen
outside the Tartar Wall shambling along half dazed towards the
Water-Gate, which runs in under the Great Wall into the dry canal in
our centre. The Chinese sharpshooters saw him and must have thought
him a messenger. Soon their rifles crashed at him, and the old man
fell hit, but remained alive. After a while he raised himself on his
hands and knees and began crawling towards his countrymen like a poor,
stricken dog, in the hope that they would spare him when they saw his
condition. But pitilessly once more the rifles crashed out, and this
time their bullets found a billet in his vital parts, for the beggar
rolled over and remained motionless. There he now lies where he was
shot down in the dust and dirt, and his white beard and his rotting
rags seem to raise a silent and eloquent protest to high Heaven
against the devilish complots which are racking Peking.

The feeding of our native Christians, an army of nearly two thousand,
is still progressing, but babies are dying rapidly, and nothing
further can be done.

There is only just so much rice, and the men who are doing the heavy
coolie work on the fortifications must be fed better than the rest or
else no food at all would be needed....

The native children, with hunger gnawing savagely at their stomachs,
wander about stripping the trees of their leaves until half Prince
Su's grounds have leafless branches. Some of the mothers have taken
all the clothes off their children on account of the heat, and their
terrible water-swollen stomachs and the pitiful sticks of legs
eloquently tell their own tale. Unable to find food, all are drinking
enormous quantities of water to stave off the pangs of hunger. A man
who has been in India says that all drink like this in famine time,
which inflates the stomach to a dangerous extent, and is the
forerunner of certain death.

To the babies we give all the scraps of food we can gather up after
our own rough food is eaten, and to see the little disappointed faces
when there is nothing is sadder than to watch the wounded being
carried in. If we ever get out we have some heavy scores to settle,
and some of our rifles will speak very bitterly.

Thus enclosed in our brick-bound lines, each of us is spinning out his
fate. The Europeans still have as much food as they need; the Chinese
are half starving; shot and shell continue; stinks abound; rotting
carcases lie festering in the sun; our command is looser than ever. It
is the merest luck we are still holding out. Perhaps to-morrow it will
be over. In any case, the glory has long since departed, and we have
nothing but brutal realities.



17th July, 1900.

       *       *       *       *       *

The impossible has happened at the eleventh hour. Around us those
hoarse-throated trumpets have been ringing out stentoriously all day.
How blood-curdling they sounded! Calling fiercely and insistently to
one another, this barbaric cease-fire of brass trumpets has grown to
such a blood-curdling roar that attention had to be paid, and
gradually but surely the rifles have been all stilled until complete
and absolute silence surrounds us. At last diplomacy in the far-away
outer world has made itself heard, and we who are placed in the very
centre of this Middle Kingdom of China, being parleyed with by the
responsible Chinese Government. It has been a long and heart-breaking
wait, but it is always better late than never.

This is exactly what has happened, although I have only just learned
the full details. On the 14th--that is, three days ago--a native
messenger, bearing our tidings, was sent out in fear and trembling,
induced to attempt to reach Tientsin by lavish promises, and by the
urgency of missionary entreaties. But instead of even getting out of
the city, the messenger was captured, beaten, and detained for several
days at the headquarters of the Manchu commander-in-chief, Jung Lu, in
the Imperial city. Then, finally, when he thought that he was being
led out to be put to death, he was brought back to our barricades,
presenting a very sorrowful appearance, but bearing a fateful despatch
from Prince Ching and all the members of the Tsung-li Yamen. This
despatch had nothing very sensational in it, but it marked the
beginning. It merely stated that soldiers and bandits had been
fighting during the last few days; that the accuracy and vigour of our
fire had created alarm and suspicion; and that, in consequence, our
Ministers and their staffs were invited to repair at once to the
Tsung-li Yamen, where they would be properly cared for. As for the
rest of the thousand living and dead Europeans and the two thousand
native Christians within our lines, they were not even dignified by
being mentioned. Most people inferred from this that by some means
even the extremists of the Chinese Government had realised that if all
the foreign Ministers were killed, it would be necessary for Europe to
sacrifice some members of the Imperial family.

But the despatch, although its terms were trivial and even childish,
had a vast importance for us. It showed that something had happened
somewhere in the vague world beyond Peking--perhaps that armies were
arriving. We were reminded that we were still alive. A dignified reply
was sent, and the very next day came an astonishing Washington cipher
message, which has been puzzling us ever since. It was only three
words: "Communicate to bearer." No one can explain what these words
mean; even the American Minister has cudgelled his brains in vain, and
asked everybody's opinion. But about one thing there is no doubt--that
it comes straight from Washington untampered with, for these three
words are in a secret cipher, which only half a dozen of the highest
American officials in Washington understand, and in Peking there is no
one excepting the Minister himself who has the key.

This is absolutely the first authentic sign we have had. If the reply
message ever gets through, public opinion may force our rescue....

Finding that they could trust us, our own messenger has been followed
by Chinese Government messengers, who, tremblingly waving white flags,
march up to our barricades hand in their messages, and crouch down,
waiting to be given a safe-conduct back.

There have been several such messages delivered at one point along our
long front while the rifle duel was continuing elsewhere with the same
monotony. Now those trumpets, gaining confidence, have brought
absolute silence.

At first there was only this absolute silence. It seemed so odd and
curious after weeks of rifle-fire and booming of old-fashioned cannon,
that that alone was like a holiday. Then, as everyone seemed to
realise that it was a truce, men began standing up on their barricades
and waving white cloths to one another.

Both sides did this for some time, and as no one fired, a mutual
inquisitiveness prompted men to climb over their entrenched positions
and walk out boldly into the open. Still the same friendliness.

By midday friendliness and confidence had reached such a point, that
half our men were over the barricades, and had met the Chinese
soldiery on the neutral zone of ruins and rubbish extending between
our lines. All of us left our rifles behind, and stowed revolvers into
our shirts lest treachery suddenly surprised us and found us
defenceless. I placed an army revolver in my trousers pocket, with a
vague idea that I would attempt the prairie trick of shooting through
my clothing if there was any need to resort to force. I soon found
that this was unnecessary.

Boldly walking forward, we pushed right up to the Chinese barricades.
Nothing surprised us so much as to see the great access of strength to
the Chinese positions since the early days of the siege. Not only were
we now securely hedged in by frontal trenches and barricades, but
flanking such Chinese positions were great numbers of parallel
defences, designed solely with the object of battering our sortie
parties to pieces should we attempt to take the offensive again.
Lining these barricades and improvised forts were hundreds of men, all
with their faces bronzed by the sun, and with their heads encased in
black cloth fighting caps. Relieving the sombre aspect of this
headgear were numbers of brightly coloured tunics, betokening the
various corps to which this soldiery belonged. What a wonderful sight
they made! There were Tung Fu-hsiang's artillerymen, with violet
embroidered coats and blue trousers; dismounted cavalry detachments
belonging to the same commander in red and black tunics and red "tiger
skirts"; Jung Lu's Peking Field Force; Manchu Bannermen; provincial
levies and many others. All these men, standing up on the top of their
fortifications, made a most brilliant picture, and we looked long and
eagerly. I wish some painter of genius could have been there and
caught that message. For there were skulls and bones littering the
ground, and representing all that remained of the dead enemy after the
pariah dogs had finished with them. Broken rifles and thousands of
empty brass cartridge cases added to the battered look of this
fiercely contested area, and down the streets the remains of every
native house had been heaped together in rude imitation of a fort,
with jagged loopholes placed at intervals of eight or ten inches,
allowing any number of rifles to be brought into play against us under
secure cover. The men who had manned these defences had left their
rifles where they were, and by peering over we could see that the
majority of these fire-pieces were tied into position by means of
wooden forks so as to bear a converging fire on the exposed points of
our defences. Only then did I realise how much a protracted resistance
places an attacking force on the defensive. We were afraid of one
another. Sauntering about, some of the enemy were willing to enter
into conversation. A number of things they told filled us with
surprise, and made us begin to understand the complexity of the
situation around us. The Shansi levies and Tung Fu-hsiang's men--that
is, all the soldiery from the provinces--had but little idea of why
they were attacking us; they had been sent, they said, to prevent us
from breaking into the Palace and killing their Emperor.

If the foreigners had not brought so many foreign soldiers into
Peking, there would have been no fighting. They did not want to
fight.... They did not want to be killed....

Somebody tried to explain to them that the Boxers had brought it all
on. But to this they answered that the Boxers were finished, driven
away, discredited; there were none left in Peking, and why did we not
send our own soldiers away, who had been killing so many of them. Such
things they repeated time without number; it was their only point of

The morning passed away in this wise, but there were several
_contretemps_ which nearly led to the spilling of blood. In one case,
an English marine tried to take a watermelon from a soldier, who was
very anxious to sell it; but as the latter would not give it up
without immediate payment, the marine thumped his head and then
knocked him over. Everyone rushed for their rifles, but some of us
shouted for silence, and going over to the marine, whispered to him to
keep quiet while we tied up his hands. We told him to march back into
our lines, and informed our audience that he would be beaten, and that
the man who had been knocked over would get a dollar. We managed by
this crude acting to save an open rupture, but it was plain that the
rank and file must not be allowed to mix. We managed eventually to
restore a semblance of good-fellowship by purchasing at very heavy
prices a great number of eggs. The women, the children, and the
wounded have been long in want of eggs and fresh food, and we knew
that these would do a great many people good.

Late in the afternoon, as a result of this extraordinary fraternising,
a very singular thing occurred along the French front, where the
bitter fighting has rebounded into a hot friendship. A French
volunteer, who is as dare-devil as many of his friends, suddenly
climbed over the Chinese barricades and shouted back that he was going
away on a visit. They tried to make him return, but in spite of a
little hesitation, he went on climbing and getting farther and farther
away. Then he suddenly disappeared for good. Nobody expected to see
him alive again, and everybody put it down to a manifestation of the
incipient madness which is affecting a number of men....

But two hours afterwards a letter came from the French volunteer. It
merely said that he was in Jung Lu's camp, having an excellent time.
Very late in the evening he came back himself. In spite of the
foolhardiness of the whole thing his news was the most valuable we had

It shows us plainly that not only has something happened elsewhere,
but that the Boxer plan is miscarrying in Peking itself.

The young Frenchman had been really well treated, fed with Chinese
cakes and fruit, and given excellent tea to drink. Then he had been
led direct to Jung Lu's headquarters, and closely questioned by the
generalissimo himself as to our condition, our provisions, and the
number of men we had lost. He had replied, he said, that we were
having a charming time, and that we only needed some ice and some
fruit to make us perfectly happy, even in the great summer heat.
Thereupon Jung Lu had filled his pockets with peaches and ordered his
servants to tie up watermelons in a piece of cloth for him to carry
back. Jung Lu finally bade him good-bye, with the significant words
that his own personal troops on whom he could rely would attempt to
protect the Legations, but added that it was very difficult to do so
as everyone was fearful for their own heads, and dare not show too
much concern for the foreigner. This makes it absolutely plain that
this extraordinary armistice is the result of a whole series of events
which we cannot even imagine. It is like that curious affair of the
Board of Truce, but much more definite. It means ... what the devil
does it mean? After S----'s mysterious disappearance, when he was only
a day's march from Peking--month ago--it is useless to attempt any
speculations. How long will this last?... In the evening, when we
had exhausted the discussion of every possible theory, somebody
remarked on the silence. I will always remember how, for some
inexplicable reason, that remark annoyed me immensely--made me nervous
and angry. Perhaps it was that after weeks of rifle-fire and cannon
booming, the colourless monotone of complete silence was
nerve-destroying. Yes, it must have been that; a perpetual,
aggravating, insolent silence is worse than noise.... But this will
mean nothing to you; experience alone teaches.



20th July, 1900.

       *       *       *       *       *

The third phase continues unabated, with nothing even to enliven it.
Despatches in Chinese from nowhere in particular continue to drop in
from the Tsung-li Yamen; pen had been put to paper, and the despatches
have been duly answered, leaving the position unchanged. I have been
even requisitioned, rebelliously, I will confess, to turn my hand to
despatch writing; but my fingers, so long accustomed only to
rifle-bolts and triggers, and a clumsy wielding of entrenching tools,
produce such a hideous caligraphic result, that I have been coldly
excused from further attempts. It is incredible that one should so
easily forget how to write properly, but it is nevertheless
true--eight weeks in the trenches will break the best hand in the
world. An ordinary man would think that what I write now is in a
secret cipher!

But of diplomatic life. All these despatches which come in are in the
same monotonous tone; they are entreaties and appeals to evacuate the
Legations and place ourselves under the benevolent care of the
Tsung-li Yamen, to come speedily before it is too late. Of course, not
even our Ministers will go.

But there is more news, although it is not quite cheering or definite.
On the 18th the Japanese received a message direct from Tientsin,
giving information to the effect that thirty thousand troops were
assembling there for a general advance on Peking. They say that ten
days or a fortnight may see us relieved, but somehow the Japanese are
not very hopeful.

On this same date came a secretary from the Tsung-li Yamen in person,
accompanied by a trembling _t'ingoh'ai,_ or card-bearer, frantically
waving the white flag of truce. They must been very frightened, for
never have I seen such convulsiveness. The secretary, walking quickly
with spasmodic steps, held tight to the arm of his official servant,
and made him wave, wave, wave that white flag of truce until it became

Thus preceded, the Tsung-li Yamen secretary advanced to the main-gate
blockhouse of the British Legation, where he was curtly stopped, given
a chair, and told to await the arrival of the Ministers, or such as
proposed to see him. Seated just outside this evil-smelling
dungeon--for the blockhouse, encased in huge sandbags, is full of dirt
and ruins and has many smells--the feelings of this representative of
the Chinese Government must have been charmingly mixed. Near by were
grimy and work-worn men, in all manner of attire, with their rifles;
in the dry canal alongside were rude structures of brick and
overturned. Peking carts, line upon line, thrown down and heaped up to
block the enemy's long-expected charges; and on all sides were such
stenches and refuse--all the flotsam and jetsam cast up by our sea of
troubles. Until then I did not realise how many carcases, fragments of
broken weapons, empty cartridge cases, broken bottles, torn clothing,
and a hundred other things were lying about. It was a sordid picture.
Presently the British Minister, in his capacity of commander-in-chief
and protector of the other Ministers, came out and took his seat by
the side of his guest, an interpreter standing beside him to help the
interview. Then the French Minister approached and insinuated himself
into the droll council of peace; the Spanish Minister, as _doyen_,
also appeared, and one or two others. But those Ministers who are
without Legations, who so uncomfortably resemble their colleagues at
home--those without portfolios--formed a group in the middle distance,
humble as men only are who have to rely upon bounty. I saw the Belgian
Minister and the Italian Charge for the first time for several weeks.
My own chief was also there, rubbing his hands, trying to seem
natural. The interview proceeded apace, and as far as we could judge
there were no noticeable results.

There were assurances on both sides, regrets, the crocodile tears of
diplomacy, and vague threats. All our Ministers seemed comforted to feel
that diplomacy still existed--that there was still a world in which
protocols were binding. And yet nothing definite could be learned from
this Yamen secretary. He said that everyone would be protected, but that
the "bandits" were still very strong. After this official interview,
other private interviews took place. Buglers and orderlies from the
Chinese generals around us trooped in on us for unknown reasons. Three
came over the German barricades, and were led blindfolded to the British
Legation to be cross-questioned and examined. One trumpeter said that
his general wished for an interview with one of our generals at the
great Ha-ta Gate, where were his headquarters. He wished to discuss
military matters. Other men came in a big deputation to the little
Japanese colonel, and said they wanted an interview too. It means the
temporary resumption of a species of diplomatic life. I suppose it is
in the air, and everybody likes the change. Yesterday, too, came another
despatch from Prince Ching and others--as these letters are now always
curiously signed, the lesser men hiding their identity in this
way--asking the Ministers once more to do something impossible; and once
more a despatch has gone back, saying that we are perfectly happy to
remain where we are, only we would like some vegetables and fruit....
And so, to-day, four cartloads of melons and cabbages have actually come
with the Empress Dowager's own compliments. The melons looked
beautifully red and ripe, and the cabbages of perfect green after this
drab-coloured life. But many people would not eat of this Imperial gift;
they feared being poisoned. More despatches from Europe have also been
transmitted--notably a cipher one to the French Minister, saying that
fifteen thousand French troops have left France. Evidently a change has
taken place somewhere.

But while these _pourparlers_ are proceeding, some of us are not at
all quieted. Fortification of the inner lines is going on harder than
ever. The entire British Legation has now walls of immense strength,
with miniature blockhouses at regular intervals, and a system of
trenches. If our advanced posts have to fall back they may be able to
hold this Legation for a few days in spite of the artillery fire.
French digging, in the form of very narrow and very deep cuts designed
to stop the enemy's possible mining, is being planned and carried out
everywhere, and soon the general asylum will be even more secure than
it has been since the beginning. Undoubtedly we are just marking
time--stamping audibly with our diplomatic feet to reassure
ourselves, and to show that we are still alive. For in spite of all
this apparent friendliness, which was heralded with such an outburst
of shaking hands and smiling faces, there have already been a number
of little acts of treachery along the lines, showing that the old
spirit lurks underneath just as strong.

In the Northern Hanlin posts which skirt the British Legation, a
black-faced Bannerman held up a green melon in one hand, and signalled
with the other to one of our men to advance and receive this gift. Our
man dropped his rifle, and was sliding a leg over his barricade, when
with a swish a bullet went through the folds of his shirt--the nearest
shave he had ever had. The volunteer dropped back to his side, and
then, after, a while, waved an empty tin in his hand as a notice that
he desired a resumption of friendly relations. The Chinese brave
cautiously put his head up, and once again, with a crack, the
compliment was returned, and the soldier was slightly wounded, and now
we only peer through our loopholes and are careful of our heads. The
novelty of the armistice is wearing off, and we feel that we are only
gaining time.

Still, we are improving our position. There is a more friendly feeling
among the commands in our lines, and the various contingents are being
redistributed. By bribing the Yamen messenger, copies of the _Peking
Gazette_ have been obtained, and from these it is evident that
something has happened. For all the decreeing and counter-decreeing of
the early Boxer days have begun again, and the all-powerful Boxers
with their boasted powers are being rudely treated. It is evident that
they are no longer believed in; that the situation in and around
Peking is changing from day to day. The Boxers, having shown
themselves incompetent, are reaping the whirlwind. They must soon
entirely disappear.

It is even two weeks since the last one was shot outside the Japanese
lines at night, and now there is nothing but regular soldiery encamped
around us. This last Boxer was a mere boy of fifteen, who had stripped
stark naked and smeared himself all over with oil after the manner of
Chinese thieves, so that if he came into our clutches no hands would
be able to hold him tight. The most daring ones have always been boys.
He had crept fearlessly right up to the Japanese posts armed only with
matches and a stone bottle of kerosene, with which he purposed to set
buildings on fire and thus destroy a link in our defences. This is
always the Boxer policy. But the Japanese, as usual, were on the
alert. They let the youthful Boxer approach to within a few feet of
their rifles--a thin shadow of a boy faintly stirring in the thick
gloom. Then flames of fire spurted out, and a thud told the sentries
that their bullets had gone home.

When morning came we went out and inspected the corpse, and marvelled
at the terrible muzzle velocity of the modern rifle. One bullet had
gone through the chest, and tiny pin-heads of blood near the
breast-bone and between the shoulders was all the trace that had been
left. But the second pencil of nickel-plated lead had struck the
fanatic on the forearm, and instead of boring through, had knocked out
a clean wedge of flesh, half an inch thick and three inches deep, just
as you would chip out a piece of wood from a plank. There was nothing
unseemly in it all, death had come so suddenly. The blows had been so
tremendous, and death so instantaneous, that there had been no

It was extraordinary.

Meanwhile, from the Pei-t'ang we can still plainly hear a distant
cannonade sullenly booming in the hot air. We have breathing space,
but they, poor devils are still being thundered at. No one can
understand how they have held out so long.

Our losses, now that we have time to go round and find out accurately,
seem appalling. The French have lost forty-two killed and wounded out
of a force of fifty sailors and sixteen volunteers; the Japanese,
forty-five out of a band of sixty sailors and Japanese and
miscellaneous volunteers; the Germans have thirty killed and wounded
out of fifty-four; and in all there have been one hundred and seventy
casualties of all classes. Many of the slightly wounded have returned
already to their posts, but these men have nothing like the spirit
they had before they were shot.

The shell holes and number of shells fired are also being counted up.
The little Hotel de Pekin, standing high up just behind the French
lines, has been the most struck. It is simply torn to pieces and has
hundreds of holes in it. Altogether some three thousand shells have
been thrown at us and found a lodgment. The wreckage round the outer
fringe is appalling, and in this present calm scarcely believable.
Another three thousand shells will bring everything flat to the



24th July, 1900.

       *       *       *       *       *

The situation is practically unchanged, and there is devilish little
to write about. During the last two or three days no Chinese soldiers
have been coming in to parley with us, except in one or two isolated
instances. Cautious reconnaissances of two or three men creeping out
at a time, pushing out as far as possible, have discovered that the
enemy is nothing like as numerous as he was at the beginning of this

Some of his barricades seem even abandoned, and stand lonely and quite
silent without any of the gaudily clothed soldiery to enliven them by
occasionally standing up and waving us their doubtful greetings. But,
curious contradiction, although some barricades have been practically
abandoned, others are being erected very cautiously, very quietly, and
without any ostentation, as if the enemy were preparing for
eventualities which he knows must inevitably occur. Sometimes, too,
there is even a little crackle of musketry in some remote corner,
which remains quite unexplained. A secret traffic in eggs and
ammunition is still going on with renegade soldiery from Tung
Fu-hsiang's camp; but no longer can these things be purchased openly,
for a Chinese commander has beheaded several men for this treachery,
and threatens to resume fighting if his soldiers are tampered with.

But there is another piece of curious news. A spy has come in and
offered to report the movements of the European army of relief, which
he alleges has already left Tientsin and is pushing back dense bodies
of Chinese troops. This offer has been accepted, and the man has been
given a sackful of dollars from Prince Su's treasure-rooms. He is to
report every day, and to be paid as richly as he cares if he gives us
the truth. Some people say he can only be a liar, who will trim his
sails to whatever breezes he meets. But the Japanese, who have
arranged with him, are not so sceptical; they think that something of
importance may be learned.

Down near the Water-Gate, which runs under the Tartar Wall, the
miserable natives imprisoned by our warfare are in a terrible state of
starvation. Their bones are cracking through their skin; their eyes
have an insane look; yet nothing is being done for them. They are
afraid to attempt escape even in this quiet, as the Water-Gate is
watched on the outside night and day by Chinese sharpshooters. It is
the last gap leading to the outer world which is still left open.
Tortured by the sight of these starving wretches, who moan and mutter
night and day, the posts near by shoot down dogs and cows and drag
them there. They say everything is devoured raw with cannibal-like

The position is therefore unchanged. We have had a week's quiet, and
some letters from the Tsung-li Yamen, which assures us of their
distinguished consideration, yet we are just as isolated and as uneasy
as we were before. This solitude is becoming killing.



27th July, 1900.

       *       *       *       *       *

It is not so peaceful as it was. Trumpet calls have been blaring
outside; troops have been seen moving in big bodies with great banners
in their van; the Imperial world of Peking is in great tumult; the
soldier-spy alleges new storms must be brewing.

In spite of this, however, the Tsung-li Yamen messengers now come and
go with a certain regularity. This curious diplomatic correspondence
must be piling up. Even the messengers, who at first suffered such
agonies of doubt as they approached our lines, frantically waving
their flags of truce and fearing our rifles, are now quite accustomed
to their work, and are becoming communicative in a cautious, curious
Chinese way which hints at rather than boldly states. They tell us
that our barricades can only be approached with some sense of safety
from the eastern side--that is, the Franco-German quarter; in other
quarters they may be fired on and killed by their own people. The
Peking troops, who can be still controlled by Prince Ching and the
Tsung-li Yamen, are on the eastern side of the enclosing squares of
barricades; elsewhere there are field forces from other
provinces--men who cannot be trusted, and who would massacre the
messengers as soon as they would us, although they are clad in
official dress and represent the highest authority in the Empire. This
position is very strange.

But more ominous than all the trumpet calls and the large movements of
troops which have been spied from the top of the lofty Tartar Wall,
are the tappings and curious little noises underground. Everywhere
these little noises are being heard, always along the outskirts of our
defence. It must be that the mining of the French Legation is looked
upon as so successful, that the Chinese feel that could they but reach
every point of our outworks with black powder placed in narrow
subterranean passages, they would speedily blow us into an ever
narrower ring, until there was only that left of us which could be
calmly destroyed by shells. We now occupy such an extended area, and
are so well entrenched, that shelling, although nerve-wracking, has
lost almost all its power and terror. Were Chinese commanders united
in their purpose and their men faithful to them, a few determined
rushes would pierce our loose formation. As it is, it is our
salvation. In the quiet of the night all the outposts hear this
curious tapping. It is heard along the French lines, along the German
lines, along the Japanese lines, and all round the north of the
British Legation. Were we to remain quiescent the armistice might be
suddenly broken some day by all our fighting men being hoisted into
the air. Our counter-action has, however, already commenced.

For while the enemy is pushing his lines cunningly and rapidly under
our walls and outworks, we are running out counter-mines under his--at
least, we are attempting this by plunging a great depth into the
earth, and only beginning to drive horizontally many feet below the
surface line. Hundreds of men are on this work, but the Peking soil is
not generous; it is, indeed, a cursed soil. On top there are thick
layers of dust--that terrible Peking dust which is so rapidly
converted into such clinging slush by a few minutes' rain. Then
immediately below, for eight feet or so, there is a curious soil full
of stones and _debris_, which must mean something geologically, but
which no one can explain. Finally, at about a fathom and a half there
is a sea of despond--the real and solid substratum, thick, tightly
bound clay, which has to be pared off in thin slices just as you would
do with very old cheese. This is work which breaks your hands and your
back. Somebody must do it, however; the same men who do everything
help this along as well....

With all this mining going on many curious finds are being made, which
give something to talk about. In one place, ten feet below the
surface, hundreds and hundreds of ancient stone cannon-balls have been
found which must go back very many centuries. Some say they are six
hundred years and more old, because the Mongol conqueror, Kublai Khan,
who built the Tartar City of Peking, lived in the thirteenth century,
and these cannon-balls lie beneath where tilled fields must then have
been. Are they traces of a forgotten siege? In other places splendid
drains have been bared--drains four feet high and three broad, which
run everywhere. Once, when Marco Polo was young, Peking must have been
a fit and proper place, and the magnificent streets magnificently
clean. Now ...!

To-day the soldier-spy has brought in news that the Court is preparing
to flee, because of the approach of our avenging armies, and that the
moving troops and the hundreds of carts which can be seen picking
their way through the burned and ruined Ch'ien Men great street in the
Chinese city will all be engaged in this flight. Our troops are
advancing steadily, he says, driving everything before them. Still no
one believes these stories very much. We have had six weeks of it now
and several distinct phases. Somehow it seems impossible that the
whole tragedy should end in this unfinished way--that thousands of
European troops should march in unmolested and find us as we are....
There is practically no day duty now and very easy work at night. One
can have a good sleep now, but even this seems strange and out of



28th July, 1900.

       *       *       *       *       *

Something has again happened, something of the highest importance. A
courier from Tientsin has arrived at last--a courier who slipped into
our lines, delivered his quill of a message which had been rolled up
and plaited into his hair for many days, and is now sitting and
fanning himself--a thin slip of a native boy, who has travelled all
the way down that long Tientsin road and all the way back again for a
very small earthly reward. A curious figure this messenger bringing
news from the outside world made as he sat calmly fanning himself with
the stoicism of his race. Nobody hurried him or questioned him much
after he had delivered his paper; he was left to rest himself, and
when he was cool he began to speak. I wish you could have heard him;
it seemed to me at once a message and a sermon--a sermon for those who
are so afraid. The little pictures this boy dropped out in jerks
showed us that there were worse terrors than being sealed in by
brickwork. He had been twenty-four days travelling up and down the
eighty miles of the Tientsin road, and four times he had been caught,
beaten, and threatened with death. Everywhere there were marauding
bands of Boxers; every village was hung with red cloth and pasted with
Boxer legends; and each time he had been captured he had been cruelly
beaten, because he had no excuse. Once he was tied up and made to work
for days at a village inn. Then he escaped at night, and went on
quickly, travelling by night across the fields. Somehow, by stealing
food, he finally reached Tientsin. The native city was full of Chinese
troops and armed Boxers; beyond were the Europeans. There was nothing
but fighting and disorder and a firing of big guns. By moving slowly
he had broken into the country again, and gained an outpost of
European troops, who captured him and took him into the camps. Then he
had delivered his message, and received the one he had brought back.
That is all; it had taken twenty-four days. This he repeated many
times, for everybody came and wished to hear. It was plain that many
felt secretly ashamed, and wished that there would be time to redeem
their reputations. There would be that!

For about then some one came out from headquarters and posted the
translation of that quill of a cipher message, and a dense crowd
gathered to see when the relief would march in. March in! The message
from an English Consul ran:

     "Your letter of the 4th July received. Twenty-four thousand troops
     landed and 19,000 at Tientsin. General Gaselee expected at Taku
     to-morrow; Russians at Pei-tsang. Tientsin city under foreign
     government. Boxer power exploded here. Plenty of troops on the way
     if you can keep yourselves in food. Almost all the ladies have left

I suppose it was cruel to laugh, but laugh I did with a few others.
Never has a man been so abused as was that luckless English Consul
who penned such a fatuous message. The spy had already marched our
troops half way and more; even the pessimistic allowed that they must
have started; an authentic message showed clearly that it was folly
and imagination. We would have to have weeks more of it, perhaps even
a whole month. The people wept and stormed, and soon lost all
enthusiasm for the poor messenger boy who had been so brave.

Two hours afterwards I found him still fanning himself and cooling
himself. He was quite alone; most people had rather he had never come.
Yet the message has been heeded. The significant phrase is that we
must keep ourselves in food. Ponies are running short; there is only
sufficient grain for three weeks' rations; so if there is another
month, it will be a fair chance that a great many die for lack of
food. Lists are therefore being made of everything eatable there is,
and all private supplies are to be commandeered in a few days. People
are, of course, making false lists and hiding away a few things. If
there is another month of it there will be some very unpleasant
scenes--yes, some very unpleasant scenes.



30th July, 1900.

       *       *       *       *       *

From the north that dull booming of guns ever continues. The Pei-t'ang
is still closely besieged, and no news comes as to how long
Monseigneur F----, with his few sailors and his many converts, can
hold out, or why they are exempted from this strange armistice, which
protects us temporarily. Nothing can be learned about them.

And yet our own armistice, in spite of Tsung-li Yamen despatches and
the mutual diplomatic assurances, cannot continue for ever. Barricade
building and mining prove that. To-day the last openings have been
closed in on us for some curious reason, and the stretch of street
which runs along under the pink Palace walls and across the Northern
canal bridge has been securely fortified with a very powerful
barricade. Outside the Water-Gate the Chinese sharpshooters have dug
also a trench....

This last barricade was not built without some attempt on our part to
stop such a menacing step, for we tried with all our might, by
directing a heavy rifle-fire, and at last dragging the Italian gun and
a machine-gun into position, to make the barricade-builders' task
impossible. But it was all in vain, and now we are neatly encased in a
vast circle of bricks and timber; we are absolutely enclosed and shut
in, and we can never break through.

Of course this has been a violation of the armistice, for it was
mutually agreed that neither side should continue offensive
fortification work, or push closer, and that violation would entail a
reopening of rifle and gun fire. We reopened our fire for a short
interval, but little good that did us. We lost two men in the
operation, for an Italian gunner was shot through the hand and made
useless for weeks, and a volunteer was pinked in both shoulders, and
may have to lose one arm. After that we stopped firing, for those
bleeding men showed us how soon our defence would have melted away had
we not even this questionable armistice.

Very soon there was a partial explanation of why this immense
barricade had been built. Late in the afternoon Chinese troops began
to stream past at a trot under cover of the structure. First there
were only infantrymen, whose rifles and banners could just be seen
from some of our lookout posts on the highest roofs. But presently
came artillery and cavalry. Everybody could see those, although the
men bent low. Unendingly they streamed past, until the alarm became
general. Even in Peking, quite close to us, there were thousands of
soldiery. When the others were driven in off the Tientsin road it
would be our doom.

From the top of the Tartar Wall came the same reports. Our outposts
saw nothing but moving troops picking their way through the ruins of
the Ch'ien Men great street--troops moving both in and out, and
accompanied by long tails of carts bearing their impedimenta. Yet it
was impossible to trace the movements of the corps streaming past
under cover of the newly built barricade. The flitting glimpses we
got of them as they swarmed past were not sufficient to allow any
identification. Perhaps they were passing out of the city; perhaps
they were being massed in the Palace; perhaps.... Anything was
possible, and, as one thought, imperceptibly the atmosphere seemed to
become more stifled, as if a storm was about to break on us, and we
knew our feebleness. Yet we are strong as we can ever be. The
fortification work has gone on without a break. It has become



31st July, 1900.

       *       *       *       *       *

More despatches have been sent by our diplomats to the Tsung-li Yamen,
complaining about all the ominous signs we see around us, and asking
for explanations. Explanations--they are so easy to give! Every
question has been promptly answered, even though the Yamen itself is
probably only just managing to keep its head above the muddy waters of
revolution which surge around. Listen to the replies. The sound of
heavy guns we hear in the north of the city are due to the
government's orders to exterminate the Boxers and rebels, who have
been attacking the Pei-t'ang Cathedral and harassing the converts. The
great barricade across the Northern canal bridge was built solely to
protect the Chinese soldiery from the accuracy of our fire, which is
greatly feared. As for the mining, our ears must have played us false.
None is going on.

Such was the gist of the answers which have been promptly sent in.
These answers and this correspondence give our diplomats satisfaction,
I suppose, but most people think that they are making themselves more
undignified than they have been ever since this storm broke on us. The
Yamen can in any case do nothing; it is merely a consultative or
deliberative body of no importance. Probably exactly the same type of
despatches are being sent to the commanders of the relieving columns
at Tientsin.

There being so little for the rank and file to do or talk about at the
present moment, there is endless gossip and scandal going on. The
subject of eggs is one of the most burning ones! Great numbers of eggs
are being obtained by the payment of heavy sums to some of the more
friendly soldiery around us, who steal in with baskets and sacks, and
receive in return rolls of dollars, and these eggs are being
distributed by a committee. Some people are getting more than others.
Everybody professes tremendous rage because a certain lady with
blue-black hair is supposed to have used a whole dozen in the washing
of her hair! She is one of those who have not been seen or heard of
since the rifles began to speak. There are lots of that sort, all well
nourished and timorous, while dozens of poor missionary women are
suffering great hardships. Several people who had relations in Paris
thirty years ago tell me it was the same thing then, and that it will
always be the same thing. This story of the eggs, however, has had one
immediate result. People are hiding away more provisions and marking
them off on their lists as eaten. What is the use of depriving one's
self for the common good later on under such circumstances? What,

There is another sign which is not pleasing any one. An official diary
is being now written up under orders of the headquarters. It will be
full of our Peking diplomatic half-truths. But, worst of all, our only
correspondent, M----, who was shot the other day and is getting
convalescent, has been taken under the wing of our commander-in-chief,
and his lips will be sealed by the time we get out--if ever we get
out. With an official history and a discreet independent version, no
one will ever understand what bungling there has been, and what
culpability. It is our chicken-hearted chiefs, and they alone, who
should be discredited. With a few exceptions, they are more afraid
than the women, and never venture beyond the British Legation.
Everything is left to the younger men, whose economic value is
smaller! I hope I may live to see the official accounts....



2nd August, 1900.

       *       *       *       *       *

A new month has dawned, and with it have come shoals of letters
bringing us exact tidings from the outer world. Yesterday one
messenger slipped in bearing three letters. To-day another has arrived
with six missives--making nine letters in all for those who have had
nothing at all except a couple of cipher messages for two entire
months. Those nine letters meant as much to us as a winter's mail by
the overland route in the old days....

For as each one confirms and adds to the news of the others, we can
now form a complete and well-connected story of almost everything that
has taken place. We even begin to understand why S---- and his two
thousand sailors never reached us. There have been so many things

But all minor details are forgotten in the fact that there is absolute
and definite news of the relief columns--news which is repeated and
confirmed nine times over and cannot be false this time. The columns
were forming for a general advance as the letters were sent off. The
advance guard was leaving immediately, the main body following two
days later; and the whole of the international forces would arrive
before the middle of the month of August. That is what the letters
said. Also, the American Minister's cipher message had got through,
and was now known to the entire world. Everybody's eyes were fixed on
Peking. There was nothing else spoken of. That made us stronger than
anything else. Poor human nature--we are so egotistical!

But there were other items of news. For the first time we learned that
Tientsin has had a siege and bombardment of its own; that all
Manchuria is in flames; that the Yangtse Valley has been trembling on
the brink of rebellion; that Tientsin city has at last been captured
by European troops and a provisional government firmly established;
and that many of the high Chinese officials have committed suicide in
many parts of China. It is curious what a shock all this news gave,
and how many people behaved almost as if their minds had become
unhinged. But then we have had two months of it, and in two months you
can travel far. In the hospital it was noticed, too, that all the
wounded became more sick.... It has been decided that any further news
must be only gradually divulged, and that despatches which give
absolute details can no longer be posted on the Bell-tower....

A network of ruined houses around the old Mongol market have just been
seized and occupied by a volunteer force. This is the last weak spot
there is--a half-closed gap, which could be rushed by bodies of men
coming in from the Ch'ien Men Gate and ordered to attack us. This new
angle of native houses are being sandbagged and loopholed. Both sides,
defenders and attacking forces, are now as ready as possible. What is
going to happen? I am mightily tired of speculating and of writing.



4th August, 1900.

       *       *       *       *       *

There is now, and has been for the best part of the last forty-eight
hours, outpost shooting on all sides, which remains quite unexplained.
Listen how it happens.

You are sitting at a loophole, half asleep, perhaps, during the
daytime, when crack! a bullet sends a shower of brick chips and a
powder-puff of dust over your head. You swear, maybe, and quietly
continue dozing. Then come two or three rifle reports and more dust.
This time the thing seems more serious, it may mean something; so you
reach for your glasses and carefully survey the scene beyond through
your loophole. To remain absolutely hidden is the order of the day. So
there is nothing much to be seen. Far away, and very near, lie the
enemy's barricades, some running almost up to your own, but quite
peaceful and silent, others standing up frowningly hundreds of yards
off, monuments erected weeks ago. These latter are so distant that
they are unknown quantities. Then just as you are about to give it up
as a bad job, you see the top of a rifle barrel glistening in the sun.
You ... bang! perilously near your glasses another bullet has struck.
So you pull up your rifle by the strap, open out your loophole a
little by removing some of the bricks, and carefully and slowly you
send the answering message at the enemy's head. If you have great
luck a faint groan or a distant shout of pain may reward your efforts;
but you can never be quite sure whether you have got home on your
rival or not. Loophole shooting is very tricky, and the very best
shots fire by the hour in vain. I have seen that often....

Yesterday I directly disobeyed orders by opening the ball myself. I
had been posted in the early morning very close to one of the enemy's
banners--perhaps not more than forty feet away--and this gaudy flag,
defiantly flapping so near the end of my nose, must have incensed me;
for almost before I had realised what I was doing I was very slowly
and very carefully aiming at the bamboo staff so as to split it in two
and bring down the banner with a run. I fired three shots in ten
minutes and missed in an exasperating fashion. It is the devil's own
job to do really accurate work with an untested government rifle. But
my fourth shot was more successful; it snapped the staff neatly
enough, and the banner floated to the ground just outside the

This Chinese outpost must have been but feebly manned, as, indeed, all
the outposts have been since the armistice, for it was fully ten
minutes before anything occurred. Then an arm came suddenly over and
pecked vainly at the banner. I snapped rapidly, missed, and the arm
flicked back. Another five minutes passed, and then a piece of curved
bamboo moved over the barricade and hunted about. It was no use,
however, the arm had to come, too. I waited until the brown hand
clasping the bamboo was low and then pumped a quick shot at it. A yell
of pain answered me; the bamboo was dropped, the arm disappeared. I
had drawn blood.

Nothing now occurred for a quarter of an hour, and I heard not a
sound. Then suddenly half a dozen arms clasping bamboos appeared at
different points, and as soon as I had fired six heads swooped out and
directed this bamboo fishing. In a trice they had harpooned the flag,
and before I could fire again it was back in their camp. I had been
beaten! Then, as a revenge, I was steadily pelted with lead for more
than half an hour and had to lie very low. They searched for me with
their missiles with devilish ingenuity. This firing became so
persistent that one of our patrols at last appeared and crept forward
to me from the line of main works behind. Only by ingenious lying did
I escape from being reported....

Probably incidents like this account for the outpost duels which are
hourly proceeding, in spite of all the Tsung-li Yamen despatches and
the unending mutual assurances. Many of our men shoot immediately they
see a Chinese rifle or a Chinese head in the hopes of adding another
scalp to their tale. In any case, this does no harm. It seems to me
that only the resolution of the outposts, acting independently, and
sometimes even in defiance to orders from headquarters, has kept the
enemy so long at bay. The rifle distrusts diplomacy.

This diplomatic correspondence with the Yamen is rapidly accumulating.
Many documents are now coming through from European Foreign Offices in
the form of cipher telegrams, that are copied out by the native
telegraphists in the usual way. No one is being told what is in these
documents; we can only guess. The Yamen covers each message with a
formal despatch in Chinese, generally begging the Ministers to commit
themselves to the care of the government. They now even propose that
everyone should be escorted to Tientsin--at once. And yet we have
learned from copies of the _Peking Gazette_ that two members of the
Yamen were executed exactly seven days ago for recommending a mild
policy and making an immediate end of the Boxer _regime_. It is thus
impossible to see how it will end. Our fate must ultimately be decided
by a number of factors, concerning which we know nothing.

This breathing space is giving time, however, which is not being
entirely wasted on our part. At several points we have managed to
enter into secret relations with some of the Chinese commands, and to
induce traitors to begin a secret traffic in ammunition and food

It is curious how it is done. By tunnelling through walls and houses
in neglected corners, protected ways have been made into some of the
nests of half-ruined native houses. And by spending many bags of
dollars, friendship has first been bought and then supplies.

The Japanese have been the most successful. Instead of killing the
soldier-spy, who had been selling them false news, they pardoned him
and enlisted him in this new cause. He has been very useful, and
arranged matters with the enemy....

The other night I crept out through the secret way to the Japanese
supply house to see how it was done. There were only two little
Japanese in there squatting on the ground, with several revolvers
lying ready. A shaded candle just allowed you to distinguish the torn
roof, the wrecked wooden furniture. Nobody spoke a word, and we all
listened intently.

A full hour must have passed before a very faint noise was heard, and
then I caught a discreet scratching. It was the signal. One of the
little men got up and crawled forward to the door like a dog on his
hands and knees. Then I heard a revolver click--a short pause, and the
noise of a door being opened. Then there was a tap--tap--tap, like the
Morse code being quietly played, and the revolver clicked down again.
It was the right man. He, too, crawled in like a dog; got up
painfully, as if he were very stiff, and silently began unloading.
Then I understood why he was so stiff; he was loaded from top to
bottom with cartridges.

It took a quarter of an hour for everything to be taken out and
stacked on the floor. He had carried in close on six hundred rounds of
Mauser ammunition, and for every hundred he received the same weight
in silver. This man was a military cook, who crept round and robbed
his comrades as they lay asleep, not a hundred yards from here. Of
course, he will be discovered one day and torn to pieces, but I have
just learned that by marvellous ingenuity and with the aid of a few of
his fellows thousands of eggs have been brought in by him. It is a
curious business, and adds yet another strange element to this
strangest of lives.



6th August, 1900.

       *       *       *       *       *

Firing has been more persistent and more general during the last two
days, although the armistice ostensibly still continues in the same
way as before. A number of our men have been wounded, and two or three
even killed during the past week. It is an extraordinary state of
affairs, but better than a general attack all along the line. We have
no right to complain. The day before yesterday several Russians were
badly wounded; yesterday a Frenchman was killed outright and a couple
of other men wounded; to-day three more have been hit. In spite of the
discharges from the hospitals, the numbers _hors de combat_ remain the

To-day, too, trumpets are again blaring fiercely, and more and more
troops can be seen moving if one looks down from the Tartar Wall. Up
on the wall itself, however, all is dead quiet. It has been like that
for weeks. No men have been lost there.

Neither is there any news of the thick relief columns which should be
advancing from Tientsin. In spite of the shoals of letters I have duly
recorded, assuring us of their immediate departure, the majority of us
have again become rather incredulous about our approaching relief. It
has become such a regular thing, this siege life, and all other kinds
of life are somehow so far away and so impossible after what we have
gone through, that we look upon the outer world as something
mythical.... Some men have their minds a little unhinged; two are
absolutely mad. One, a poor devil of a Norwegian missionary, who has
been living in misery for years in a vain effort to make converts,
became so dangerous long ago that he had to be locked up, and even
bound. But one night he managed to escape, climb our defences and
deliver himself up to the Chinese soldiery. They led him also to the
Manchu Generalissimo, Jung Lu, half suspecting that he was crazy. Jung
Lu questioned him closely as to our condition, and the Norwegian
divulged everything he knew. He said the Chinese fire had been too
high to do us very much harm; that they should drive low at us, and
remember the flat trajectory of modern weapons. After keeping him for
some hours and learning all he could, Jung Lu sent him back. The poor
devil, when he lurched in again, vacantly told the people in the
British Legation what he had said, and a number demanded that he be
shot for treason. If they once began doing that an end would never be

Some go mad, too, during the fighting. It is always those who have too
much imagination. Thus, during a lull in the attacks against the
French lines, a Russian volunteer, with rifle and bandolier across his
back and a bottle of spirits in his hand, charged furiously at the
Chinese barriers with insane cries. No effort could be made to save
him, because hundreds of Chinese riflemen were merely waiting for an
opportunity to pick off our men. So the doomed Russian reached the
first Chinese barricade unmolested, put a leg over, and then fell back
with a terrible cry as a dozen rifles were emptied into his body. By
a miracle he picked himself up even in his dying condition, and made
another frantic effort to climb the obstacle. But more rifles were
then discharged, and finally the wretched man fell back quite
lifeless. Then over his body a fierce duel took place. Chinese
commanders having placed a price on European heads, these riflemen
were determined not to lose their reward. Man after man attempted to
drag in that dead body; but each time our men were too quick for them,
and a Chinese brave rolled over. In the end they hooked the corpse in
with long poles and it was seen no more.

A yet more blood-curdling case is that of a British marine, who has
been hopelessly mad for weeks now. He shot and bayonetted a man in the
early part of the siege, and the details must have horrified him. They
say he first drove his bayonet in right up to the hilt through a
soldier's chest; and then, without withdrawing, emptied the whole of
the contents of his magazine into his victim, muttering all the time.
Now he lies repeating hour after hour, "How it splashes! how it
splashes!" and at night he shrieks and cries.... In that miserable
Chancery hospital, swept by rifle-fire and full of such cries and
groans, the nights have become dreaded, until it is a wonder the
wounded still live....

Still, with all this, the Yamen messengers continue to come and go
with clockwork regularity. Yesterday the Chinese Government excelled
itself, and made some who have still a sense of humour left laugh
cynically. In an original official despatch--that is, not a mere
covering despatch--it politely informed the Italian _Charge
d'Affaires_ that King Humbert had been assassinated by a lunatic, and
it begged to convey the news with its most profound condolences!
Perhaps, however, there was a wish to point a moral--a subtle moral
such as Chinese scholars love. Yes, on second thoughts that was rather
a clever despatch; in diplomacy the Chinese have nothing to learn....



8th August, 1900.

       *       *       *       *       *

Some strange deity is helping the Chinese Government. There is always
something appropriate to write about. Yesterday the Duke of Edinburgh
died. We were officially informed to that effect, after the King
Humbert manner, and the condolences were great. Yesterday, also,
during the evening, shelling suddenly commenced and the cannon-mouths
that have been leering at us from a distance in dull curiosity at
their inactivity have barked themselves hoarsely to life again. Thus,
while diplomacy still continues, shrapnel and segment are plunging
about. At times it really seems as if the Chinese Government had
succeeded in dividing us up into two distinct categories. It has tried
to save the diplomats from shells and bullets; since they remain with
the others they must share their fate.

We listened to this cannonade with tightly pressed lips last night for
an hour and more, and, lying low, watched the splinters fly; and then,
just as the clamour appeared to be growing, it ceased as suddenly as
it had commenced, and the uproarious trumpets, that we know so well,
once more called off the attacking forces with their stentorian
voices. It seems as if an internecine warfare had begun outside our
lines--that the loosely jointed Chinese Government is also struggling
with itself. Thus legs and arms thrash around for a while and cause
chaos; then the brain reasserts its sway, and the limbs become quieted
and reposeful for a time. Never will there be such a siege again. I am
beginning to understand something of all its vast complexity, to know
that everybody is at once guilty and innocent, and that a strange
deity decrees that it must be so....

For while we are beginning to be attacked fitfully, other strange
things have been observed from the Tartar Wall. There has been some
fighting and shooting in the burned and ruined Ch'ien Men great street
down below, and Chinese cavalry have been seen chasing and cutting
down red-coated men. A species of Communism may in the end rise from
the ashes of the ruined capital, or a new dynasty be proclaimed, or
nothing may happen at all, excepting that we shall die of starvation
in a few weeks....

The native Christians in the Su wang-fu are already getting ravenous
with hunger, and are robbing us of every scrap of food they can garner
up. Their provisioning has almost broken down, in spite of every
effort, and the missionary committees and sub-committees charged with
their feeding are beginning to discriminate, they say. These vaunted
committees cannot but be a failure except in those things which
immediately concern the welfare of the committees themselves. The
feeble authority of headquarters, now that puny diplomacy has been so
busy, has become more feeble than it was in the first days, and, like
the Chinese Government, we, too, shall soon fall to pieces by an
ungumming process. Native children are now dying rapidly, and two
weeks more will see a veritable famine. The trees are even now all
stripped of their leaves; cats and dogs are hunted down and rudely
beaten to death with stones, so that their carcases may be devoured.
Many of the men and women cling to life with a desperation which seems
wonderful, for some are getting hardly any food at all, and their ribs
are cracking through their skin. There is something wrong somewhere,
for while so many are half starving, the crowds of able-bodied
converts used in the fortification work are fairly well fed. Nobody
seems to wish to pay much attention to the question, although many
reports have been sent in. Perhaps, from one point of view, it is
without significance whether these useless people die or not. Hardly
any of the many non-combatant Europeans stir beyond the limits of the
British Legation, even with this lull. All sit there talking--talking
eternally and praying for relief, calculating our chances of holding
out for another two or three weeks, but never acting. A roll, indeed,
has been made at last, with every able-bodied man's name set down, and
a distribution table drawn up. But beyond that no action has been
taken, and the hundred and more men who might be added to our active
forces are allowed to do nothing.

This might be all right were there not certain ominous signs around
us, which show that a change must soon come. For the enemy has planted
new banners on all sides of us, bearing the names of new Chinese
generals unknown to us. Audaciously driven into the ground but twenty
or thirty feet from our outposts, these gaudy flags of black and
yellow, and many other colours, flaunt us and mock us with the
protection assured by the Tsung-li Yamen. Still, those despatches
continue to come in, but the first interpreter of the French
Legation, who sees some of them in the original, says that their tone
is becoming more surly and imperative.

It is ominous, too, that the Chinese commands, which have been so
reinforced and are now of great strength, are so close to our outer
line that they heave over heavy stones in order to maim and hurt our
outposts without firing. All the outer barricades and trenches are
being hurriedly roofed in to protect us from this new danger. One of
our men, struck on the head with a twenty-pound stone, has been
unconscious ever since, and a great many many others are badly hurt in
other ways. The Chinese can be very ingenious devils if they wish, and
the score against them is piling up more and more.



10th August, 1900.

       *       *       *       *       *

At last some great news! Messengers from the relief columns have
actually arrived, and the columns themselves are only a few days'
march from Peking. What excitement there has been among the
non-combatant community; what handshaking; what embracing; what
fervent delight! This unique life is to end; we are to become
reasonably clean and quite ordinary mortals again, lost among the
world's population of fifteen hundred millions--undistinguished,
unknown--that is, if the relief gets in....

The messengers came to us apparently from nowhere, walking in after
the Chinese manner, which is quite nonchalantly, and with the sublime
calm of the East. One of the first slid in and out of the enemy's
barricades with immense effrontery at dawn, and then climbed the
Japanese defences, and produced a little ball of tissue paper from his
left ear. Fateful news contained so long in that left ear! It was a
cipher despatch from General Fukishima, chief of the staff of the
relieving Japanese columns. It said that the advance guard would reach
the outskirts of Peking on the 13th or 14th, if all went well.
Heavens, we all said, as we calculated aloud, that meant only three or
four days more....

This news was soon duplicated, for hardly had the first excitement
subsided when the news spread that a second messenger from the
British General of the relieving forces had managed to force his way
through. It was a confirmation, was his message; three or four days
more.... But the messenger, when he spoke, had other things to say. He
had been sent out by us a week before by being lowered by ropes from
the Tartar Wall. Forty miles from Peking he had met Black cavalry and
Russian cavalry miles in advance of the other soldiery. They had
charged at him and captured him, and led him before generals and
officers.... The roads leading to Peking were littered with wounded
and disbanded Chinese soldiery; there had been much fighting, but the
natives could not withstand the foreigner--that is what their
compatriot said. Everybody was terrified by the Black soldiery from
India; they had come in the same way forty years before....

So the relieving armies are truly rolling up on Peking. It seems
incredible and unreal, but it is undoubtedly true, and it must be
accepted as true....

As if goaded by the terrors conjured up by these avenging armies,
which are now so close, the Tsung-li Yamen, in some last despatches,
has informed our Plenipotentiaries that it is decapitating wholesale
the soldiery that have been firing on us--that it wishes for personal
interviews with all our Ministers to arrange everything, so that there
may be no more misunderstandings later on. Vain hope! Numbers of
documents are coming in, and every Minister wishes to write something
in return--to show that with the return of normal conditions there
will be a return of importance. Somehow it seems to me that not one of
them can become important again in Peking. They have been too
ridiculous--politically, they are already all dead.



12th August, 1900.

       *       *       *       *       *

All thoughts of relief have been pushed into the middle distance--and
even beyond--by the urgent business we have now on hand. For the
attacks have been suddenly resumed, and have been continuous, well
sustained, and far worse than anything we have ever experienced
before, even in the first furious days of the siege. What stupendous
quantities of ammunition have been loosed off on us during the past
forty-eight hours--what tons of lead and nickel! Some of our
barricades have been so eaten away by this fire, that there is but
little left, and we are forced to lie prone on the ground hour after
hour, not daring to move and not daring to send reliefs at the
appointed intervals. So intense has the rifle-fire been around the Su
Wang-fu and the French Legation lines, that high above the deafening
roar of battle a distinct and ominous snake-like hissing can be
heard--a hiss, hiss, hiss, that never ceases. It is the high-velocity
nickel-nosed bullet tearing through the air at lightning speed, and
spitting with rage at its ill success in driving home on some
unfortunate wretch. They hiss, hiss, hiss, hour after hour, without
stopping; and as undertone to that brutal hiss there is the roll of
the rifles themselves, crackling at us by the thousand like dry
fagots. At first this storm of sound paralyses you a little; then a
lust for battle gains you, and you steadily drive bullets through the
Chinese loopholes in the hope of finding a Chinese face. Whenever they
bunch and press forward we wither them to pieces.... But men are
falling on our side more rapidly than we care to think--one rolled
over on top of me two hours ago drilled through and through--and if
anything should happen to the relieving columns and delay their
arrival for only two or three days, this tornado of fire will have
swept all our defenders into the hospitals. The Chinese guns are also
booming again, and shrapnel and segment are tearing down trees and
outhouses, bursting through walls, splintering roofs, and wrecking our
strongest defences more and more. Just now one of our few remaining
ponies was struck, and it was a pitiable sight, giving a bloody
illustration of the deadly force of shell-fragments. The piece that
struck this poor animal was not very big, but still it simply tore
into his flank, and seemed to burst him in two. With his entrails
hanging out and his agonised eyes mutely protesting, the pony
staggered and fell. Then we despatched him with our rifles.

Our casualty list has now passed the two hundred mark, they say. In a
few days more, fifty per cent. of the total force of active combatants
will have been either killed or wounded.

During the lulls which occur between the attacks, when the Chinese
soldiery are probably coolly refreshing themselves with tea and pipes
and hauling away those who have succumbed, we hear from the north of
the city the same dull booming of big guns, continuous, relentless,
and never-tiring. It is the sound of the Chinese artillery ranged
against the great fortified Roman Catholic Cathedral. When we have a
few moments we can well picture to ourselves this valiant Bishop
F----, with cross in hand, like some old-time warrior-priest, pointing
to the enemy, and urging his spear-armed flocks to stand firm along
the outer rim. We can also see, in the smoke and dust, the thin fringe
of sailors who must be forming the mainstay of the defence. Perhaps,
sprinkled along the compound walls, with harsh-speaking rifles in
their hands, they are a sort of human incense, exorcising by their
mere presence the devils in pagan hearts....

Scant time for thoughts; none for recording, as each hour shows more
clearly what we may expect. Scarcely has the fire been stilled in one
quarter than it breaks out with even greater violence in another, and
we are hurried in small reinforcements from point to point. And from
the positions on the Tartar Wall, which are now also dusted by a
continually growing fire that would sweep our men off in a cloud of
sandbags and brick-chips, the enemy's attacks can be best understood.
The growing number of rifles being brought to bear on us; the violence
and increasing audacity; the building of new barricades that press
closer and closer to our own, and are now so near that they almost
crush in our chests--are all clear from the reports sent down. The
relief columns on the Tientsin road are driving in unwieldy Chinese
forces on top of us, and this native soldiery is falling back on the
capital to be remarshalled after a fashion--placed on the city walls
or flung against us in a despairing attempt to kill us all, and remove
the Thing which is making the relieving columns advance so quickly.
Crazy with fear, and with ghosts of the chastisement of 1860 etched on
every column of dust raised by their retreating soldiery, the Chinese
Government is acting like one possessed.

To-day I saw it all beautifully, with the aid of the best glasses we
have got. First came bodies of infantry trotting hurriedly in their
sandals and glancing about them. In the dust and the distance they
seemed to have lost all formation--to be mere broken fragments. But
once a man stopped, looked up at us, a mere dot in the ruined streets
hundreds and hundreds of yards away, and then savagely discharged his
rifle at us. He knew we were on the Tartar Wall, and so sent his
impotent curses at us through a three-foot steel tube.... Behind such
men were long country carts laden with wounded and broken men, and
driven by savage-looking drivers, powdered with our cursed dust and
driving standing up with voice and whip alone. The teams of ponies
were all mud-stained and tired, and moved very slowly away; and their
great iron-hooped wheels clanked discordantly over the stone-paved
ways. Sometimes a body of cavalry, with gaudy banners in the van and
the men flogging on their steeds with short whips, have also ridden by
escaping from the rout. Infantry and horsemen, wounded in carts and
wounded on foot, flow back into the city through the deserted and
terror-stricken streets, and it is we who shall suffer. So much of
this has been understood by everybody, that an order has been
privately given that no one is to be allowed on the Tartar Wall,
excepting the regular reliefs. There is in any case no time for most
of us to creep up there and look on the city below; we are tied to the
barricades and trenches down in the flat among the ruins, chained to
our posts by a never-ending rifle-fire.



13th August, 1900.

       *       *       *       *       *

It is the 13th, that fateful number, and there are some who are
divided between hope and fear. Is it good to hope on a 13th, or is it
mere foolishness to thing about such things? Who knows?--for we have
become unnatural and abnormal--subject to atavistic tendencies in
thought and action.... Most people are keeping their thoughts to
themselves, but actions cannot be hidden. You would not believe some
of the things....

There has not been a sign or a word from the relief column for many
hours. The fleeing Chinese soldiery we witnessed in such numbers
yesterday entering the city have stopped rushing in, and now from the
Tartar Wall the streets below in the outer city seem quite silent and
deserted. Last night, too, it was seen that the line of the enemy's
rifles packed against us was so continuous, and the spacing so close,
that one continuous flame of fire ripped round from side to side and
deluged us with metal. So heavy was this firing, so crushing, that it
was paralysing. Any part broken into would have been irretrievably
lost. The bullets and shells struck our walls and defences in great
swarms sometimes several hundred projectiles swishing down at a time.
There must have been ten or twelve thousand infantry firing at us and
fifteen guns. Where I lay, with a post of sixteen men, there were more
than five hundred riflemen facing us, at distances varying from forty
feet to four hundred yards. Every ruined house outside the fringe of
our defence has now been converted into a blockhouse by the persistent
enemy. Every barricade we have built has a dozen other barricades
opposing it in parallels, in chessboards, in every kind of formation;
and from these barricades the fire poured in since the 10th--that is,
for sixty long hours--has only ceased at rare intervals. Our
stretcher-parties have been very busy, but how many men we have lost
since the armistice was deliberately broken no one knows. Yesterday a
French captain, a gallant officer, who feared nothing, was shot dead
through the head, making the ninth officer killed or severely wounded
since the beginning. Yesterday, also, the new Mongol market defences
trembled on the brink hour after hour, and with them the fate of three
thousand heads. New Chinese troops armed with Mannlicher carbines, the
handiest weapons for barricade fighting, had been pushed up behind a
veil of light entrenchments to within twenty feet of the Mongol market
posts, and their fire was so tremendous that it drove right through
our bricks and sandbags. God willed that just as the final rush was
coming a Chinese barricade gave way; our men emptied their magazines
with the rapidity of despair into the swarms of Chinese riflemen
disclosed; dozens of them fell killed and wounded, and the rest were
driven back in disorder. Ten seconds more would have made them masters
of our positions. The closeness of this final agony was such that
squads of reserves, who had not fired a shot during the siege,
voluntarily went forward to the threatened points and lay there the
whole night. At last it has been driven home on all that our fate
hangs in the balance, and has hung in the balance for weeks. But it is
too late now. If a single link in our chain is broken there will be a
_sauve qui pent_ which no heroism can stop.



14th August, 1900.

       *       *       *       *       *

All yesterday the fire hardly diminished in violence, and more and
more of our men were hit.... The Chinese commanders, having learned of
the loss of a Chinese general and a great number of his men at the
Mongol market, have been having their revenge by giving us not a
minute's rest. Up to six o'clock yesterday evening I had been
continually on duty for forty-eight hours, with a few minutes' sleep
during the lulls. At six in the evening I stretched out. At half-past
eight the pandemonium had risen to such a pitch that sleep without
opiates was impossible. All round our lines roared and barked Mausers,
Mannlichers, jingals, and Tower muskets, every gun that could be
brought to bear on us firing as fast and as fiercely as possible in a
last wild effort. The sound was so immense, so terrifying, that many
could hardly breathe. Against the barricades, through half-blocked
loopholes, and on to the very ground, myriads of projectiles beat
their way, hissing and crashing, ricochetting and slashing, until it
seemed impossible any living thing could exist in such a storm.

It was the night of the 13th. Not a word had been heard of the relief
columns, not a message, not a courier had come in. But could anything
have dared to move to us? Even the Tsung-li Yamen, affrighted anew at
this storm of fire which it can no longer control, had not dared or
attempted to communicate with us. We were abandoned to our own
resources. At best we would have to work out our own salvation. Was it
to be the last night of this insane Boxerism, or merely the beginning
of a still more terrible series of attacks with massed assaults pushed
right home on us? In any case, there was but one course--not to cede
one inch until the last man had been hit. All the isolated
post-commanders--I had risen to be one--decided that on us hinged the
fate of all. The very idea of a supreme command watching intelligently
and overseeing every spot of ground was impossible. It had been a war
of post-commanders and their men from the beginning; it would remain
so to the bitter end. A siege teaches you that this is always so.

By ten o'clock every sleeping man had been pulled up and pushed
against the barricades. Privately all the doubtful men were told that
if they moved they would be shot as they fell back. Everywhere we had
been discovering that in the pitch dark many could hardly be held in
place. By eleven o'clock the fire had grown to its maximum pitch. It
was impossible that it could become heavier, for the enemy was manning
every coign of vantage along the entire line, and blazing so fiercely
and pushing in so close that many of the riflemen must have fallen
from their own fire. From the great Tartar Wall to the Palace
enclosure, and then round in a vast jagged circle, thousands of jets
of fire spurted at us; and as these jets pushed closer and closer, we
gave orders to reply steadily and slowly. Twice black bunches of men
crept quickly in front of me, but were melted to pieces. By twelve
o'clock the exhaustion of the attackers became suddenly marked. The
rifles, heated to a burning pitch, were no longer deemed safe even by
Chinese fatalists; and any men who had ventured out into the open had
been so severely handled by our fire that they had no stomach for a
massed charge. Trumpet calls now broke out along the line and echoed
pealingly far and near. The riflemen were being called off.

But hardly had the fire dropped for ten or fifteen minutes than it
broke out again with renewed vigour. Fresh troops lying in reserve had
evidently been called up, and by one o'clock the tornado was fiercer
than ever. Our men became intoxicated by this terrible clamour, and
many of them, infuriated by splinters of brick and stone that broke
off in clouds from the barricades and stung us from head to foot,
sometimes even inflicting cruel wounds, could no longer be held in
check. By two o'clock every rifle that could be brought in line was
replying to the enemy's fire. If this continued, in a couple of hours
our ammunition would be exhausted, and we would have only our bayonets
to rely on. I passed down my line, and furiously attempted to stop
this firing, but it was in vain. In two places the Chinese had pushed
so close, that hand-to-hand fighting had taken place. This gives a
lust that is uncontrollable.... Everything was being taken out of our

Suddenly above the clamour of rifle-fire a distant boom to the far
east broke on my ears, as I was shouting madly at my men. I held my
breath and tried to think, but before I could decide, boom! came an
answering big gun miles away. I dug my teeth into my lips to keep
myself calm, but icy shivers ran down my back. They came faster and
faster, those shivers.... You will never know that feeling. Then,
boom! before I had calmed myself came a third shock; and then ten
seconds afterwards, three booms, one, two, three, properly spaced. I
understood, although the sounds only shivered in the air. It was a
battery of six guns coming into action somewhere very far off. It must
be true! I rose to my feet and shook myself. Then, in answer to the
heavy guns, came such an immense rolling of machine-gun fire, that it
sounded faintly, but distinctly, above the storm around us. Great
forces must be engaged in the open....

I had been so ardently listening to these sounds that the enemy's fire
had imperceptibly faded away in front of me unnoticed, until it had
become almost completely stilled. Single rifles now alone cracked off;
all the other men must be listening too--listening and wondering what
this distant rumble meant. Far away the Chinese fire still continued
to rage as fiercely--but near us, by some strange chance, these
distant echoes had claimed attention.

Again the booming dully shook the air. Again the machine-guns beat
their replying rataplan. Now every rifle near by suddenly was stilled,
and a Chinese stretcher-party behind me murmured, "_Ta ping lai tao
liao_"--"the armies arrived." Somebody took this up, and then we began
shouting it across in Chinese to our enemy, shouting it louder and
louder in a sort of ecstasy, and heaving heavy stones to attract their
attention. We must have become quite crazy, for my throat suddenly
gave out, and I could only speak in an absurd whisper.... Oh, what a

Behind the barricades facing us we could now distinctly hear the
Chinese soldiery moving uneasily and muttering excitedly to one
another. They had understood that it must be the last night of
Boxerism, so we threw more stones and shouted more taunts. Then, as if
accepting the challenge, a rifle cracked off, a second one joined it,
a third, a fourth, and soon the long lines blazed flames and
ear-splitting sounds again. But it was the last night--this did not
matter--assuredly it was the last night, and from our posts we
despatched the first news to headquarters to report that heavy guns
had been heard to the east....

Presently, going back during a lull to see ammunition brought up, I
found that inside our lines the women and children had all risen, and
were craning their necks to catch the distant sounds which had been so
long in coming. All night long the buildings in the Su wang-fu, which
are packed with native Christians, had been filled with the sound of
praying. The elders appointed to watch over this vast flock had been
warned that perhaps they would all have to retreat to the base at the
last minute, and that all must remain ready during the night and none
sleep. As soon as it was possible, they were told that the relief was
coming--that the end was near.... What a sight it was to see them all
grouped together, for they had scrupulously obeyed orders! In one
great hall five hundred Roman Catholic women and children in sober
blue gowns were sitting patiently and silently, with their hands
folded--had been sitting so all the long night, waiting to hear any
news or orders that might be brought to them. Relief or retreat,
massacre or deliverance--all must be taken with the stoicism of the
East. A single lamp cast its dim rays over these people; and a hundred
feet farther on were other halls and buildings, all filled to
overflowing with these waiting miserables. A word would have sent them
surging back across the dry Imperial Canal--to seek safety for a few
hours in our base. Would it have been safety? An immense flood of
feeling overwhelmed me....

So the night passed uneasily away, but no more distant sounds were
heard, and in the end we began to wonder whether our ears after this
strain of weeks had not played us false.



14th August, 1900.

       *       *       *       *       *

Day broke, after that tremendous night, in a somewhat shambling and
odd fashion. Exhausted by so much vigilance and such a strain, we
merely posted a scattered line of picquets and threw ourselves on the
ground. It was then nearly five o'clock, and with the growing light
everything seemed unreal and untrue. There was not a sound around us;
there was going to be no relief, and we had been only dreaming horrid
dreams--that was the verdict of our eyes and looks. There was but
scant time, however, for thinking, even if one could have thought with
any sense or logic. The skies were blushing rosier and rosier; a
solitary crow, that had lived through all that storm, came from
somewhere and began calling hoarsely to its lost mates. We were dead
with sleep; we would sleep, or else....

I awoke at eleven in the morning sick as a beaten dog. The sun beating
hotly down, and a fierce ray had found its way through the branches of
my protecting tree and had been burning the back of my neck. The
Eastern sun is a brute; when it strikes you long in a tender spot, it
can make you sicker than anything I know of. Arousing ourselves, we
got up all of us gruntingly; reposted the sentries; drank some black
tea; made a faint pretence at washing; and finding all dead quiet and
not a trace of the enemy, sauntered off for news. Not a word
anywhere, not a sound, not a message. Everybody was standing about in
uneasy groups, from the French and German lines to the northern
outposts of the British Legation. Where the devil were our relieving

From the Tartar Wall we scanned the horizon with our glasses. Not a
soul afoot--nothing. Was all the world still asleep, tired from the
night's debauch, or was it merely the end of everything? As time went
on, and the silence around us was uninterrupted, we became more and
more nervous. In place of the storm of fire which had been raging for
so many hours this unbroken calm was terrible; for far worse than all
the tortures in the world is the one of a solitary silent confinement.

At one o'clock I could stand it no longer. Getting leave to take out a
skirmishing party, I called for volunteer and got six men and two
Chinese scouts. At half-past one we slid over the Eastern Su wang-fu
barricades--near where the messengers are sent from--and scurried
forward into the contested territory beyond. Working cautiously in a
long line, we beat the ground thoroughly; approached the enemy's
flanking barricades; peered over in some trepidation, and found the
Chinese riflemen gone. Every soul had fled. Something had most
certainly happened somewhere. This quiet was becoming more and more

We abandoned our cover, and boldly taking to the brick-littered
street, climbed over fortifications which had shut us in for so long.
Not a sound or a living thing. On the ground, however, there were many
grim evidences of the struggle which had been so long proceeding.
Skulls picked clean by crows and dogs and the dead bodies of the
scavenger-dogs themselves dotted the ground; in other places were
pathetic wisps of pigtails half covered with rubbish, broken rifles,
rusted swords, heaps of brass cartridges--all proclaiming the
bitterness with which the warfare had been waged in this small corner
alone. Eagerly gazing about us, we slowly pushed on, drinking in all
these details with eager eyes. How sweet it is to be an escaped
prisoner even for a few short minutes!

In a quarter of an hour we had cleared the ground intervening between
our defences and the long-abandoned Customs Street--perhaps a couple
of hundred yards; and peering about us, we at last jumped over the
French barricade, where our first man had been shot dead two months
ago. Two months--it might have been two years! Still there was not a
sound. Nothing but acres of ruins. Forward.

Splitting into two sections, we began working down Customs Street
towards the Austrian Legation, tightly hugging the walls and expecting
a surprise every moment. Suddenly, as we were going along in this
cautious manner, a tall, gaunt Chinaman started up only twenty feet
from us, where he had been lying buried in the ruins. Our rifles went
up with a leap, and "Master," cried the man, running towards me with
outstretched arms, "master, save me; I am a carter of the foreign
Legations, and have only just escaped." He pulled up his blue tunic,
this strange apparition, and showed me underneath his scapula. He was
of Roman Catholic family; there was no time to investigate; he was all
right. Telling him to join us, we marched on. We progressed another
fifty yards, and then there was a scuffle. I looked round, and our
Catholic had disappeared. Were we trapped? Just as I was calling out,
he reappeared; this time he was bearing a rifle and a bandolier. This
was disconcerting. "I saw the man," he began calmly, "and with my
hands I killed him by pulling on the throat--thus." He made a horrid
pantomime with his hands. Behind a wall we found the red and black
tunic of a Chinese soldier, the sash and the boots, but of a corpse
there was no sign. I was glad I understood. "What do you mean by
deceiving me?" I sternly asked the carter. "These are yours, and it
was you who were fighting against us." The man fell on his knees, and
confessed then and there without subterfuge. He had been captured, he
said and imprisoned weeks ago by a Chinese commander, who had
threatened to break the bones of his legs unless he enlisted against
us. So he had joined and had been fighting for a month. Last night, as
soon as the big guns had been heard, he deserted, and had lain where
we found him for fifteen hours, waiting for our advances, and may his
legs be broken if he lied. I paused in doubt for a minute; then I made
up my mind--we let him follow! The odds were in any case against him.

As we moved stealthily forward we came on more and more
fortifications. A formidable blockhouse had been constructed by
dragging out big steel safes, looted from the various European offices
in this abandoned area, and building them into a thick half-moon of
stone and brick, making a shell-proof defence. On the ground brass
cartridge-cases and broken straps and weapons were littered more and
more thickly, but of any sign of life there was absolutely none.
Absolute stillness reigned around us. We might have been in a city
abandoned for dozens of years....

Past this blockhouse we crept more and more cautiously, beating the
ground thoroughly, and wasting many minutes to make sure that no
riflemen lurked in the ruins which covered the ground. Our new recruit
had shown us how easily we could be trapped. Loopholes squinted at us
from countless low-lying barricades roughly made by heaping bricks and
charred timbers together. They had feared our sorties evidently as
much as we had their rushes, had these Chinese soldiers. Their
fortified lines were hundreds of feet deep.

We were now down near the abandoned Austrian Legation, and, rapidly
trotting forward in Indian file under cover of the high encircling
wall, we at last reached the main entrance. This was debatable ground.
I looked round the corner with one cautious eye, and even as I did so,
a shadow rushed along the ground.... Instantly I snapped off my rifle
from my hip, the others followed suit, and a howl of canine rage
answered us. We had rolled over a wolfish dog searching for dead
bodies. Before we had time to realise much, the savage animal was up
again and rushing at us--to escape through the gate. As it passed, we
clubbed and bayonetted him with neatness, for we have now some art in
close-quarter work, and with a last howl the animal's life flickered
out. Dogs are highly dangerous, as we knew to our cost; they give the
alarm in a way which no living man, even in these civilised days, can
fail to understand. We waited in some anguish to see whether this
scuffle had been heard; we were a quarter of a mile away from our own
lines by the circuitous route we had been forced to take, and if we
were ambuscaded, no one would probably go back to tell the tale....

Still not a sound, not a word. A little encouraged, we crept more
valiantly into the Austrian Legation, and stood amazed at the
spectacle. Rank-growing weeds covered the ground two or three feet
high; all the houses and residences had been gutted by fire,
everything combustible burned, leaving a terrible litter. But the
brickwork and stonework stood almost intact, and the tall Corinthian
pillars with which it had been the architect's fancy to adorn this
mission of His Most Catholic Majesty, stood up white and chaste in all
this scene of devastation and ruin; they might have dated from
centuries ago. Broken weapons, thousands more of brass cartridges, and
sometimes even a soldier's bloodstained tunic could be seen among the
weeds. This must have been the site of another camp of Chinese
soldiery. Abandoned straw matting showed where rough huts had once
been built line upon line. But all these hosts had flown.

We now held a council of war. What should we do--push on or go back?
It seemed highly dangerous, but suddenly making up my mind, I cut
short all deliberations and ordered an advance. To feel for the enemy,
to get in touch with the enemy at all costs, and to scratch him if
possible, is evidently the scout's duty, even when the scout is but a
siege amateur, with broken trousers, a mud-stained shirt and a
battered rifle. But we must make ourselves secure. We bolted the big
gates behind us; we sweatily piled up sufficient bricks to make its
opening a matter of minutes for an enemy's hand, and then we once
again trotted forward. This time we were irrevocably inside the
Legation, and separated, perhaps, for good and all from our own

We rapidly covered the ground until we reached the extreme eastern
corner of the vast enclosing Legation wall. Very recently there had
been some one just here for a fire was still smouldering on the
ground, and in some earthenware bowls there was some cold rice. We
must see what was beyond....

The big recruit lent me his broad shoulder, and with some struggling I
caught the edge of an outhouse roof and hitched myself astride of the
main wall. Still nothing to be seen except ruined and battered houses;
again not a soul, not a dog, not a vestige of life. The others came
up, too, and we rapidly improvised a ladder to get down the other side
and back again if necessary.

We were busily at work completing these preparations when suddenly the
big recruit grabbed me unceremoniously by the shoulder and uttered a
single word in a hoarse tone of excitement. "Look," he said; "look!" I
looked, and far down the street below us towards where lay the Palace
and the Imperial city, I saw a figure rapidly moving. A pair of
binoculars were pulled out and brought to bear. It was a Chinese

We flattened ourselves on the top of the wall like so many crawling
snails, pushed out our rifles in front of us, and at four hundred
yards we most foolishly opened on the man. By instinct and experience,
we had all learned much in two months; yet in a moment of excitement
everything was being rapidly unlearned....

It takes some shooting to get home on a flickering figure, dodging
along a street with irregular lines, at that range, and I confess we
drew no blood. But still loophole shooting must spoil open-air work,
otherwise at that range.... The man had paused irresolutely as the
stream of bullets had hissed past him, and had then run violently into
a doorway. Presently, as we intently watched, his head emerged, then
his whole body; and, finally dodging quickly in and out, he gained a
cross-road and disappeared. What did this mean?

It did not take long to learn, for just as we had finished swearing at
our ill luck, other figures began to appear in the same direction, and
as they ran we could see that they were throwing down their things. It
seemed plain now; these must be deserters slipping out of the Imperial
city and the Palace enclosures and fleeing rapidly to escape some
fate. Something must have certainly happened somewhere, although there
was still nothing to be heard, except perhaps a distant movement in
the air, which might mean the rattle of musketry. Sometimes we could
hear that faint suggestion of sound, sometimes we could not; it was
impossible to say what it was.

Running gives Dutch courage, so we dropped from our wall, and we, too,
began running--towards the deserters. Most foolish scouts were we
becoming. The first band of fugitives saw us and bolted to the north,
one man loosing off his rifle at us as he ran, and his bullet making
an ugly swish in the air just above our heads. It was that Chinese
hip-shot which is practised with jingal and matchlock in the native
hunting, and which these Northern Chinese can with difficulty unlearn.
As that swish reached us we pressed forward even more eagerly, and
soon had debouched once more on the long Customs Street--this time
many hundreds of yards higher up than we had ever been before.
Flattening ourselves on the ground, and barricading our heads with
bricks, we waited in silence for more of the enemy to appear. We were
now admirably and safely posted.

It was some time before any more of them were to be seen, but at last,
in twos and threes, other soldiers appeared, running hurriedly, and
looking quickly about them, as if they expected to be shot down. This
time they were men of many corps, whose uniforms we could almost make
out at this short distance, and as they ran many of them threw off
their tunics and loosened their leggings. This meant open and flagrant
desertion. Just as I was about to give the order to fire a volley, a
dense mass of men, in close formation, came out of a great building
leaning up against the pink Palace walls and started marching rapidly
towards us. Then as soon as they reached a cross-road five hundred
yards away, they bent quickly due north and disappeared in a cloud of
dust. What did this fleeing to the north of the city and this ominous
quiet mean? What in the name of all that is extraordinary was
happening to cause these strange doings?

There was little time for reflection, however, for like some theatre
of the gods new scenes began to unroll. Soon other bodies of troops
appeared and disappeared, always heading away there towards the north,
always marching rapidly with hurried looks cast around them. Now safe
in the knowledge that a general retreat was taking place from this
quarter, we started volleying savagely. Bunched together in twos and
threes, the enemy offered an easy mark, and with a callousness born of
long privations we dropped at least fifteen or twenty men in very few
minutes. Lying flat on the ground our angles soon grew fixed on to our
rifle-sights, and at one house-corner four hundred yards away, six
times I made the same shot and dropped a deserter. But this heavy
firing must have attracted attention, for lead began to pelt at us
from hidden places, and soon this little action became very warm. It
was a curious experience....

It was now three in the afternoon, and, excepting for this unexplained
movement of Chinese troops, we had not discovered any sign of our
relief. Our volleying was becoming nonsensical, for having picked up
numbers of Chinese Mauser cartridges, we amused ourselves firing away
almost all the ammunition we carried. This could not continue
indefinitely. So once more I drew my men together, and once again we
scurried away, changing our direction to due east towards the great
Ha-ta Gate. We were becoming callous, now that we knew there was small
possibility of our being cut off, and half a mile from home meant
nothing to us.

We had almost reached the Ha-ta great street, and were beginning to
feel that by some strange chance we had half the city to ourselves,
when a furious galloping gave us a timely signal, and made us shrink
into a native house, the doorway of which had been beaten in by
marauders. We were just in time, for no sooner had we disappeared than
a body of Manchu cavalry came rapidly past, flogging their ponies, and
shouting excitedly to one another as they passed. At their head were a
number of high officials, and our new recruit whispered in a hoarse
voice that an old man was no other than Jung Lu, the Manchu
Generalissimo, who had command of everything. But whether this was
actually so or not, there could be no doubt about the soldiery. They
were _ch'in ping_, or body-guard troops, in sky-blue tunics, and this
retirement was the most significant of all. There was now not a shadow
of doubt.

We waited patiently in some trepidation, until the sound of these
galloping hoofs had died away completely and then peering out and
finding the coast clear, we ran for it as hard as we could leg. Faster
and faster we spun along; we were not as safe as we thought, Three
minutes brought us back again on Customs Street, and, panting sorely
from this unaccustomed exertion, we looked around. Here there was now
not a single sound, not the sight of a single man.

For many minutes nothing again occurred, but at length more Chinese
troops began to appear, all running rapidly in long flights, and a
troop of cavalry came out of a side street not more than two hundred
yards away from where we lay, and headed away at a furious gallop.
Everybody was obviously making for the north of the city; what was
going on in the other quarters to cause this exodus? The cavalry, as
they moved in close formation, were so tempting, that without
hesitation once more our rifles rang out in a well-knit volley. That
caused a terrible commotion, for cavalry are an easy mark. Ponies
broke away and galloped frantically into side streets; there was a
waving and a mix-up which blurred everything, and yet before we had
time to realise it, bullets were hissing all round us and kicking up
little spurts of dust a few inches from our bodies; a resolute
commander was in front of us. This firing became so violent that we
were driven to take shelter, and as we ran and were seen the bullets
hissed quicker and quicker. Then as suddenly as it had commenced this
pelting ceased; we saw our cavalrymen flicker away in the distance,
and once more everything was absolutely quiet. It was obvious that
something so urgent was taking place, that no one had any time to lose
in pranks.

Many minutes elapsed before we noticed any fresh signs of life, and we
remained spread across the street on our stomachs, earnestly searching
in vain for some explanation. At last, when I was becoming tired of
it, figures began to move on the long street again--little indecisive
blue dots that jerked forward, halted, appeared and disappeared in a
most curious way. They were also coming towards us--jerking about like
people possessed. Climbing a wall, I brought my glasses to bear; they
were ordinary townspeople, there was not a shadow of doubt about that,
men, women, and children, running violently, waving and calling to one
another, and apparently much distressed.

I remained on this wall-top idly gazing until my vision began to
become blurred, and I could no longer see. Then something made me
close my eyes for a second to regain command over them again; and when
I opened them and looked again through that powerful Leiss, my jaw
dropped. This time, with a vengeance, it was something new. Dense
bodies of men in white tunics and dark trousers were debouching into
the street, thousands of yards away, and were then marching due
east--that is, towards the Palace. They came on and on, until it
seemed they would never cease. What were these newcomers? Were they
white troops at last--were they Bannermen of the white Banners?...

They might be anything--anything in the world--but they might be....

Yes, without a doubt they might be ordinary Russian infantry of the
line. Russian infantry of the line! It was imperative to learn.

I clambered off the wall and decided at once on a grim test. All of us
pushed up our flaps to the extreme range and gave four sharp
volleys--the eight rifles crashing off jarringly together. As we were
preparing to give them the last cartridge on the clips, the white
specks we could just see with the naked eye stopped and flickered
away. Then as we waited there was a moment's silence; a little vapour
spurted up far away, and bang! a shell whizzed, and burst two hundred
yards to our rear. That was an immense surprise! But now we had no
doubts; these were European troops; the relief must have come; it was
all over, we must communicate the news....

Before our ideas had grouped themselves coherently, we found ourselves
bolting home--bolting like madmen. We charged clear down the middle of
the streets, with a disregard for everything; we headed straight as
arrows for the French lines, right through the heart of the most
formidable Chinese works, where but twelve hours before furious
attacks had been developed. We tore through hundreds of feet of
trenches, barricades, saps, half-opened tunnels, where everything was
scored and beaten by the riotous passage of nickel and lead. We
vaguely saw, as we rushed, lines of mat huts, broken walls, charred
timbers, countless brass cartridge cases, gaping holes--all the
wreckage left by these weeks of insane warfare. But of living things
there was not a trace.

Beating our way rapidly forward, we at length passed through those
death-strewn French Legation lines, and reached our own last
barricades, where the defence had been driven. Supposing that our men
were still behind them, we violently shouted that we were friends.
Nobody answered us.

Curiously alarmed, we clambered forward more and more quickly, and at
last near the fortified little Hotel de Pekin a confused sound of
voices arose from a stoutly fortified quadrangle. Then as we drew
nearer the voices grew, until they framed themselves into
half-suppressed cheers--a multitude of men uneasily greeting and
calling to one another. At least, we had not been abandoned I put my
leg up to swarm over a wall, and suddenly a thick smell greeted my
nostrils, a smell I knew, because I had smelt it before, and yet a
smell which belonged to another world.... With tremendous
heart-beating, I looked over. It was the smell of India! Into this
quadrangle beyond hundreds of native troops were filing and piling
arms. They were Rajputs, all talking together, and greeting some of
our sailors and men, and demanding immediately _pane, pane, pane_ all
the time in a monotonous chorus. I could not understand that word. The
relief had come; this must be some sections of an advance guard which
had been flung forward, and had burst in unopposed....

We hurried forward in a sort of daze and looked for officers, to ask
them how they had come, and whether it was all right. We found a knot
of them standing-together, wiping the sweat from their streaming
faces, and calling for water. They wanted to go to the British
Legation; not to this place--what was it; where was the British
Legation? In the heat and smell and excitement those continuous
questions made one confused and angry. This advance guard which had
rushed in could not understand our all-split area; yet it had been the
saving of us. I told them where the British Legation was. I told them
to follow me; I was going to run.

I ran on, once more choking a little, and with a curious desire to
weep or shout or make uncouth noises. I was now terribly excited. I
remember I kicked my way through barricades with such energy that once
for my foolishness I came crashing down, my rifle loosing off of its
own account and the bullet passing through my hat. I did not care;
the relief had come. It was an immense occasion and I had not been
there to see it.

Along the dry canal-bed, as I ran out of the Legation Street, I noted
without amazement that tall Sikhs were picking their way in little
groups, looking dog-tired. But they were very excited, too, and waved
their hands to me as I ran, and called and cried with curious
intonations. Pioneers, smaller men, in different turbans, were already
smashing down our barricades, and clearing a road, and from the west,
the Palace side, a tremendous rifle and machine-gun fire was dusting
endlessly. I rushed into the British Legation through the canal
open-cut, and here they were, piles and piles of Indian troops,
standing and lying about and waving and talking. A British general and
his staff were seated at a little table that had been dragged out, and
were now drinking as if they, too, had been burned dry with thirst.
Around all our people were crowding a confused mass of marines,
sailors, volunteers, Ministers--everyone. Many of the women were
crying and patting the sweating soldiery that never ceased streaming
in. People you had not seen for weeks, who might have, indeed, been
dead a hundred times without your being any the wiser, appeared now
for the first time from the rooms in which they had been hidden and
acted hysterically. They were pleased to rush about and fetch water
and begin to tell their experiences. All that day, I was told, these
hidden ones had taken a sudden interest in the hospital; had roused
themselves from their lethargy and fright, because the end was coming.

As we stood about, twisting our fingers and cheering, and trying to
find something sensible to say or to do, there was a rush of people
towards the lines connecting with the American Legation and the Tartar
Wall This caused another tremendous outburst of cheering and
counter-cheering, and led by C----, the American Minister, columns of
American infantry in khaki suits and slouch hats came pressing in. In
they came--more and more men, until the open squares were choking with
them. These men were more dog-tired than the Indian troops, and their
uniforms were stained and clotted with the dust and sweat flung on
them by the rapid advance. Soon there was such confusion and
excitement that all order was lost, until the Americans began filing
out again, and the native troops were pushed to the northern line of
defences. In the turmoil and delight everything had been temporarily
forgotten, but the growing roar of rifles had at length called
attention to the fact that there might be more fierce fighting. Every
minute added to the din, and soon the ceaseless patter of sound showed
machine-guns were firing like fury. Somebody called out to me that
there was a fine sight to be seen from the Tartar Wall, for those who
did not mind a few more bullets; and, enticed by the storm of sound
that rose ever higher and higher, I ran hastily through our lines
towards the city bastions. Every street and lane from the Ch'ien Men
Gate was now choked with troops of the relieving column, all British
and American, as far as I could see, and already the pioneers attached
to each battalion were levelling our rude defences to the ground in
order to facilitate the passage of the guns and transport waggons....
Strange cries smote one's ears--all the cursing of armed men, whose
discipline has been loosened by days of strain and the impossibility
of manoeuvring. One word struck me and clung to me again; everybody
among the Indian troops was crying it: "_Chullo, chullo, chullo_,"
they were calling.

The general advance, which had been from the outer city, as soon as
the news had been brought through that a way to the Legations had been
opened, had thrown the various units into an immense confusion.
Infantry, cavalry, artillery, and the fighting trains, were all mixed
in a terrible tangle. Some had come forward so rapidly, in their
eagerness not to be left out of it all, that they had passed in under
the walls as soon as the gates had been burst open, and had now got
jammed into our narrow streets and were unable to move. Just under the
ramp of the Tartar Wall I came on some Indian cavalry--about thirty or
forty troopers covered with mud and dirt, and led by a single British
officer. As soon as the latter caught sight of me, he shouted an angry
question as to what all this firing meant, and how in h---- he could
get out of this into the open.... He rained his questions at me like
the others had done, never waiting for an answer. The firing, in all
truth, had increased enormously, and now rang out with a most
tremendous roar. It always came from over there to the northwest,
round about the Palace entrances. Evidently Chinese troops were
holding all the Palace gates in great force, and for some reason
wished to keep the relief columns at bay at all costs until nightfall.
I yelled something of this to my disconsolate cavalry officer, and
suggested that he should follow me up the wall and see for himself. I
knew nothing. "Cavalry can't climb a wall," he furiously replied as I
rushed up above, and as I climbed higher that voice followed me in
gusts which became fainter and fainter, "Cavalry can't climb a wall!
cavalry can't climb a wall!" Then the road blotted him and his voice
completely out and a swelling scene was before me.

For up there I soon understood. A mass of Indian infantry, with some
machine-guns, had established themselves for hundreds of yards along
this commanding height, among the old Chinese barricades, and were now
firing as fast as they could down into the distant Palace enclosures.
Overhead bullets were passing in continuous streams, and crouching low
in an angle of the buttresses lay a number of wounded men. Of the
enemy, however, there was no sign to be seen; that he was firing back
more and more quickly and desperately was certain. All these

As I stood and looked, suddenly the horrid bark of the modern
high-velocity field-gun began down below in our lines, and the word
passed along that a British battery had succeeded in getting through
the jam, and was opening on the enemy from just outside the Legations.
The barking went on very rapidly for a few minutes, and then ceased as
suddenly as it had begun. The cause was not long to seek; an infantry
advance had followed, for without any warning swarms of Chinese
riflemen began running out from the nests of ruined Chinese houses a
few hundred yards to the rear of our old lines. They came out in rapid
rushes just as flights of startled sparrows dart over the ground, and,
although very distant, from the commanding height of the Tartar Wall
they offered a splendid mark. The rifles rattled at them as hard as
possible, but the practice was as poor as ever. Of the first batch a
dozen fell and began crawling and staggering away; but the next lot,
although they ran and halted at first like dazed men under the sleet
of nickel, rapidly became more cunning. All fell as if by some sudden
signal on the ground, and crawling and jumping forward, they soon
managed to push through without losing a single man, and immediately
after this there was a droll incident such as only occurs at such
times as these.

These bunches of men had ceased falling back in their sudden rout, and
the firing of our men was being concentrated on some distant walls
flanking the Palace enclosures, when a solitary Chinese rifleman, who
had evidently been forgotten in the turmoil, trotted peacefully out.
Then, seeing he was almost in the hands of his enemies, he ran like a
hunted deer straight across a vast open, which lies directly in front
of the Dynastic Gate--never seeking cover, but running like a madman
in the open. It was wonderful.

A roar went up from our whole line when he was seen, but the infantry
did not attempt to bring him down. A single machine-gun started
rapping at him.... The man ran faster and faster as the swish of
bullets hurtled around him, until his legs were twinkling so rapidly
that he seemed to be fairly flying. The machine-gun went on rapping
and clanging ever quicker as it followed him up, and it seemed at
length impossible that he should get through. With a natural impulse,
everybody's attention became concentrated on this fugitive: would he
reach cover in safety? The answer came almost before one had thought
the question, for with sudden disgust the machine-gun stopped dead;
the man ran a few seconds longer, and then with a last bound he had
disappeared--a tiny dot of blue and red flicking vaguely away behind
some wall. Instinctively, then, some one began laughing; the next man
took it up, and soon a roar of hoarse-throated laughter came from the
hundreds of Indian soldiery who had witnessed the scene. It was like
a scene in a theatre from that height, and I remember that this
laughter of free men resounded in my ears for a long time--the
laughter of free men who have never been enslaved in bricks. It came
from straight off the chest, without any nervous nasal twanging or
sudden stopping....

Soon after this the firing dropped and dwindled away to nothing, as if
by common consent. Everybody was dog-tired, and as night fell both
sides felt that nothing could be gained or materially changed until
another day had dawned. I wandered round for the last time. Our lines,
so carefully and painfully built up during those long never-ending
weeks, had crumbled to pieces in half as many hours. The barricades
and trenches obstructing the streets had been thrown all in a lump and
sent to join the huge litter which surrounded them. There was hardly a
sentry or a picquet to be seen, only a hundred of little camp-fires
twinkling and twinkling everywhere. Such battalions and units as had
pushed in had bivouacked exactly where they had halted. Far away under
the Tartar Wall, on the long, sandy stretches, there were little wood
fires blazing at regular intervals, with countless dots moving around.
From a hundred other places there came that confused murmur which,
speaks of masses of men and animals. There were faint cries, hoarse
calls, and orders, with always a vague undercurrent trembling in the
air. For the time being, they were only British and American
troops--not a soldier of a single other nationality had been seen. As
the hours went, other people, whose troops had not come in, began
making excuses, and pretending that their generals were very wise in
acting as they had done. There were all sorts of theories. Some said
that they were securing all the gates of the city, and capturing the
Court, and seeing to very important things. It was the political
situation of three months ago being suddenly reborn, reincarnated, by
all these people, before we had even breathed the air of freedom. It
was for this that we had been rescued by the main body of the troops:
merely because had we been all killed and all recent Peking history
made an utter blank, there would have been a terrible gulf which no
protocols could bridge. It would have meant an end, an absolute end,
such as governments and their distinguished servants do not really
love. We were mere puppets, whose rescue would set everything merrily
dancing again--marionettes made the sport of mad events. We had merely
saved diplomacy from an impossible situation....

As I stood there in the night, thinking of these things, and trying to
escape from people with theories, a faint cheering arose, a hurrahing
which somehow had but little vigour. I knew what it meant; the ground
was being noisily cleared right up to the Palace walls, to make sure
that none of the enemy were lurking in the ruins, and that the play
could begin merrily on the morrow. After that cheering came a few dull
explosions, the blowing-up of a few unnecessary walls, and then all
was dead quiet again, excepting for the faint stirring of the soldiery
encamped around us, which never ceased. There was not a volley, not a
shot. It was all over, this siege, everything was finished.

With a growing blackness and distress in my heart, which I could not
explain, and sought in vain to disguise, I wandered about. I wanted
some more movement--some fresh distraction to tear my attention away
from gloomy thoughts.

Near the battered Hotel de Pekin officers who had strayed from their
commands and who were hungry had already gathered, and were paying in
gold for anything they could buy. Luckily, there were a few cases of
champagne left and a few tins of potted things, which could now be
tranquilly sold. I found some French uniforms. Some officers had at
last come in from the French commander, saying that at daylight the
French columns would march in. At present they were too exhausted to

All these men, seated at the tables, were noisily discussing the
relief. I learned how it had been effected and the moves of the few
preceding days. They said that the Russians had attempted to steal a
march on the Japanese on the night of the 13th, in order to force the
Eastern gates, and reach the Imperial city and the Empress Dowager
before any one else. That had upset the whole plan of attack, and
there had then simply been a mad rush, everyone going as hard as
possible, and trusting to Providence to pull them through.

Most of the officers at the tables soon became highly elated. That is
the way when your stomach has been fed on hard rations and you have
had fourteen days of the sun. They then all began shouting and singing
and not talking so much. But still they were all devilishly keen to
know about the siege, and who had fought best, and who had been

I left them in what remains of a little barricaded and fortified hotel
disputing away in rather a foolish fashion, because they were more or
less inebriate and the sun had burned them badly. And speeding to my
_cache_, I drew out my two blankets and my waterproof. While I had
been forgetting other things, I had learned two new things--how to
sleep and how to shoot--and now since there was no more need to
practise the one, I would do the other.




16th August, 1900.

       *       *       *       *       *

The next morning (which was only yesterday!) I awoke in much the same
strange despondency. Around me, as the grey light stole softly into my
lean-to, everything was absolutely quiet. It was the same in every way
as it had been the morning after the last terrible night; and yet that
was already so long ago! Almost mechanically, I searched the breast
pocket of my soil-worn shirt for the previous day's orders, so as to
see about picquet posting; then I remembered suddenly, with a curious
heart-sinking, that it was all over, finished, completed.... It was
so strange that it should be so--that everything should have come so
suddenly to an end. After all those experiences, to be lying on the
ground like some tramp in Europe, without a thing to one's name, was
to be merely grotesque and incongruous. Yet it was necessary to become
accustomed immediately to the idea that one belonged to the ordinary
world, where one would not be distinguished from one's fellow; where
everything was quiet and orderly.... And I was separated from this by
such a mighty gulf. I knew so many things now. What! was I no longer
to experience that supreme delight of shooting and being shot at--of
that unending excitement? Oh! was it really over?...

I got up, and shook myself disconsolately, retied what remained of a
neckcloth, and then looked in disgust at my boots. My boots! Two and a
half months' work and sleep in them--my only pair--had not improved
their appearance. Yet I had not even suspected that before; the evil
fruit of relief had made my nakedness clear....

Alongside the whole post of ten men was still peacefully
slumbering--regulars and volunteers heaped impartially together. Poor
devils! Each one, after the enormous excitement of the relief, had
come back mechanically to his accustomed place, because this strange
life of ours, imposed by the discipline of events, has become a second
nature, which we scarcely know how to shake off. Like tired dogs, we
still creep into our holes. The youngest were moaning and tossing, as
they have done every night for weeks past--shaking off sleep like a
harmful narcotic, because the poison of fighting is too strong for
most blood in these degenerate days. What sounds have I not heard
during the past two months--what sighs, what gasps, what groans, what
muttered protests! When men lie asleep, their imaginations betray
their secret thoughts....

Day had not broken properly before the murmur and movements of the
night before rose again. This time, as I looked around me, they were
more marked--as if the relieving forces had become half accustomed to
their strange surroundings, and were acting with the freedom of
familiarity. There were bugle-calls and trumpet-calls, the neighing
and whinnying of horses, the rumble of heavy waggons, calls and
cries.... But hidden by the high walls and the barricades, nothing
could be seen. We got something to eat, and, wishing to explore, I
marched down to the dry canal-bed, jumped in, and made for the
Water-Gate, through which the first men had come. In a few steps I was
outside the Tartar Wall, for the first time for nearly three long
months. At last there was something to be seen. Far along here, there
were nothing but bivouacs of soldiery moving uneasily like ants
suddenly disturbed, and as I tramped through the sand towards the
great Ch'ien Men Gate I could see columns of other men, already in
movement, though day had just come, winding in and out from the outer
Chinese city. Thick pillars of smoke, that hung dully in the morning
air, were rising in the distance as if fire had been set to many
buildings; but apart from these marching troops there was not a living
soul to be seen. The ruins and the houses had become mere landmarks
and the city a veritable desert.

I wandered about listlessly and exchanged small talk disconsolately
with numbers of people. Nobody knew what was going to happen, but
everybody was trying to learn from somebody else. The wildest rumours
were circulating. The Russians and Japanese had disappeared through
the Eastern Gates of the city, and the gossip was that each, in trying
to steal a march on the other, had knocked up against large bodies of
Chinese troops, who, still retaining their discipline, had stood their
ground and inflicted heavy losses on the rivals. But whether this was
true or not, there was, for the time being, no means of knowing. I
thought of my last rifle-shots of the siege at those endless white and
black dots, which had suddenly debouched on that long, dusty street,
and held my tongue. Idly we waited to see what was going to happen.
After so many climaxes one's imagination totally failed.

It was still very early in the morning when, without any warning,
gallopers came suddenly from the American headquarters and set all the
soldiery in motion. I remember that it seemed only a few minutes
before the American infantry had become massed all round the southern
entrances to the Palace, while with a quickness which came as an odd
surprise to me after the deliberation of the siege field-guns suddenly
opened on the Imperial Gates. A number of shells were pitched against
the huge iron-clamped entrances at a range of a few hundred yards with
a horrid coughing, and presently, yielding to this bombardment, with a
crash the first line had been beaten to the ground. I understood then
why the powerful American Gatlings had been kept playing on the fringe
of walls and roofs beyond; for as the infantry charged forward in some
confusion, with their cheering and bugling filling the air, the
dusting Chinese fire, which we knew so well, rang out with an unending
rattle and hissing. Thousands of riflemen had been silently lying
inside the Palace enclosures ever since the previous afternoon waiting
for this opportunity. It was the last act. Well, it had come....

The Chinese fire was partially effective, for as I ran forward through
the burst and bent gates, panting as if my heart would break, a
trickle of wounded American soldiers came slowly filing out. Some were
hobbling, unsupported, with pale faces, and some were being carried
quite motionless. On the ground of this first vast enclosure, which
was hundreds and hundreds of yards long and entirely paved with stone,
were a number of Chinese dead--men of some resolution, who had met
the charge in the open and died like soldiers. That, indeed, had been
our own experience. Even with the ambiguous orders which must have
been given in every command ranged against us, there were always men
who could not be restrained, but charged right up to our bayonets....
Now as I ran forward firing was going on just as heavily, and the ugly
rush and swish of bullets filled the air with war's rude music. It
seemed curious to me that everyone should be out in the open with no
cover; after a siege one has queer ideas.

The bursting of this first set of gates meant very little, as I
personally knew full well, for immediately beyond was a far more
powerful line, with immense pink walls heaving straight up into the
air. The Tartar conquerors, who had designed this Palace, had with
good purpose made their Imperial residence a last citadel in the huge
city of Peking--a citadel which could be easily defended to the death
in the old days even when the enemy had seized all the outer walls,
for without powerful cannon the place was impregnable. On the sky-line
of this great outer wall Chinese riflemen, with immense audacity,
still remained, and as I ran for cover rifles were quickly and
furiously discharged at me.... Presently the American guns came
rapidly forward, but their commanders were wary, and did not seem to
like to risk them too close. There was a short lull, while immense
scaling ladders, made by the Americans for attacking the city walls in
case the relief had failed to get in any other way, were rushed up.
The idea was evidently to storm the walls and batter in the gates,
line upon line, until the Imperial residences were reached and the
inmost square taken. It might take many hours if there was much
resistance. The area to be covered was immense. To the north a faint
booming proclaimed that other forces, perhaps the Russians and the
Japanese still in rivalry, were at work on this huge Forbidden City,
racing once more to see that neither got the advantage of the other.
... All this meant slow work without startling developments. Everybody
was moving very deliberately, as if time was of no value. A new idea
came into my head. It was impossible to cover such distances
continually on foot without becoming exhausted. Already I was tired
out. I must seize a mount somewhere before it was too late. I must go

Trotting quickly, I reached the Legation area to find that the scene
had changed. The ruined streets were once again filled with troops.
The transport and fighting trains of a number of Indian regiments,
which had spent the night somewhere in the outer Chinese city, had
evidently been hurriedly pushed forward at daylight to be ready for
any eventualities. Ambulance corps and some very heavy artillery were
mixed with all these moving men and kicking animals in hopeless
confusion, and rude shouts and curses filled the air as all tried to
push forward. Among these countless animals and their jostling drivers
it was almost impossible to fight one's way; but with a struggle I
reached the dry canal, and, once more jumping down, I had a road to
myself. I went straight along it.

Under the Tartar Wall, as I climbed again to the ground-level, I met
the head of fresh columns of men. This time they were white
troops--French Infanterie Coloniale, in dusty blue suits of torn and
discoloured Nankeen. There must have been thousands of them, for after
some delay they got into movement, and, enveloped in thick clouds of
dust, these solid companies of blue uniforms, crowned with
dirty-white helmets, started filing past me in an endless stream. The
officers were riding up and down the line, calling on the men to exert
themselves, and to hurry, hurry, hurry. But the rank and file were
pitifully exhausted, and their white, drawn faces spoke only of the
fever-haunted swamps of Tonkin, whence they had been summoned to
participate in this frantic march on the capital. They had always been
behind, I heard, and had only been hurried up by constant forced
marching, which left the men mutinous and valueless. Once again they
were being hurried not to be too late....

I only lost these troops to find myself crushed in by long lines of
mountain artillery carried on mules, and led by strange-looking
Annamites. In a thin line they stretched away until I could only
divine how many there were. These batteries, however, were not going
forward, and to my surprise I found the guns being suddenly loaded and
hauled to the top of the Tartar Wall up one of the ramparts which had
been our salvation. This was a new development, and in my interest,
forgetting my pony, I ran up, too.

Up there I found a mass of people, mostly comprising those who had
been spectators rather than actors in the siege. I remember being
seized with strange feelings when I saw their little air of derision
and their sneers as they looked down towards the Palace in pleasurable
anticipation. They imagined, these self-satisfied people who had done
so little to defend themselves, that a day of reckoning had at last
come when they would be able to do as they liked towards this
detestable Palace, which had given them so many unhappy hours. It
would all be destroyed, burned. Little did they know!

Soon enough these small French batteries of light guns came into
action, and sent a stream of little shells into the Palace enclosures
a couple of thousand yards away. The majority pitched on the gaudy
roofs of Imperial pavilions far inside the Palace grounds, bursting
into pretty little fleecy clouds, and starting small smouldering fires
that suddenly died down before they had done much damage. But a number
fell short, and swept enclosures where I knew American soldiery had
already penetrated. I drew my breath, but said nothing....

The view from here was perfect. The sun had risen and was shining
brightly. Directly below lay the ruined Legations, with their rude
fortifications and thousands of surrounding native houses levelled
flat to the ground; but beyond, for many miles, stretched the vast
city of Peking, dead silent, excepting for these now accustomed sounds
of war, and half hidden by myriads of trees, which did not allow one
to see clearly what was taking place. The Palace, with its immense
walls, its yellow roofs, and its vast open places, lay mysteriously
quiet, too, while this punishment was meted out on it. You could not
understand what was going on. To the very far north a heavy cloud,
which had already attracted my attention, now rose blacker and
blacker, until it spread like a pall on the bright sky. Cossacks or
Japanese, who by this time had swept over the entire ground, must have
met with resistance; they were burning and sacking, and a huge
conflagration had been started.

For a quarter of an hour and more I watched in an idle, tired
curiosity, which I could not explain, those little French shells
bursting far away and falling short, and presently, as I expected, the
inevitable happened. A young American officer rode up and began
shouting angrily up to the Wall. I knew exactly what he meant, but
everybody was so interested that he remained unnoticed. And so,
presently, more furious than ever, he dismounted and rushed up red
with rage. He Was so angry that he was funny. He wanted to know if the
commander of these d---- pop-guns knew what he was firing at, and
whether he could not see the United States army in full occupation of
the bombarded points. He swore and he cursed and he gesticulated,
until finally cease fire was sounded and the guns were ordered down.
All the Frenchmen were furious, and I saw P----, the Minster, go down
in company with the gaunt-looking Spanish _doyen_, vowing vengeance
and declaiming loudly that if they were stopped everybody must be
stopped too. There must be no favouring; that they would not have. I
understood, then, why the mountain guns had come so quickly into
action; they were gaining time for that exhausted colonial infantry to
get round to some convenient spot and begin a separate attack. It was
each one for himself.

Somehow I understood now that it was a useless time for ceremony, and
that one must act just as one wished. So, finding some ponies tethered
to a post below, without a word I mounted one and rode rapidly back to
the Palace. For an instant, as I passed the great Ch'ien Men Gate, I
could see Indian troops filing out in their hundreds, and forcing a
path through the press of incoming transport and guns. Evidently the
British commanders considered that the thing was over; that it was no
use going on. Already they had had enough of our Peking methods....

I must have ridden nearly a mile straight through the vast enclosures
of the Palace, past lines and lines of American infantry lying on the
ground, with the reserve artillery trains halted under cover of high
walls, before I saw ahead of me a set of gates which were still
unbroken. General firing had quite ceased now, and excepting for an
occasional shot coming from some distant corner, there was no sound.
The bulk of the American infantry had not even been advanced as far as
I had come. A skirmishing line, evidently formed only a short time
before my arrival, was still lying on the ground; but the men were
laughing and smoking, and the officers had withdrawn out of the heat
of the sun into a side building, where they were examining a map. The
scaling-ladders were left behind. I was soon told that orders had come
direct from headquarters to stop the attack absolutely, and not to
advance an inch further on any consideration. The inner courts of the
Palace and the residences of the Emperor and the Empress Dowager could
not be approached until concerted action had been taken up by all the
Allies. I laughed--it was the hydra-headed diplomacy of Peking raising
its head defiantly less than eighteen hours after the first soldiers
had rushed in....

The massive set of gates in front of me were those just without a most
beautiful marble courtyard. That I knew from the rude Chinese maps of
the Forbidden City which are everywhere sold; if this boundary were
passed the Imperial Palaces, with all their treasures, would be
reached. I thought, with my mouth watering a little, although I had no
actual desire for riches, of General Montauban, created Comte de
Palikao, because in the 1860 expedition, when the famous Summer Palace
was so ruthlessly sacked, he had taken all the most splendid black
pearls he could find and had carried them back to the Empress Eugenie
as a little offering. If one could only get past this boundary and the
protocol had not stepped in!

Moved a little by such thoughts, I advanced on the central gate, and
peered through a chink near which an infantryman was standing alert,
rifle in hand. There were the marble courtyards, the beautiful yellow
decorated roofs. I could see them clearly, and then ... a rifle from
the other side was discharged almost in my ear; a bullet hissed past a
few inches from my head, too; and I had a flitting vision of a Chinese
soldier in the sky-blue tunic of the Palace Guards darting back on the
other side. There must still be numbers of soldiery waiting sullenly
beyond for the expected advance; they would only fall back in rapid
flight as our men rushed in, just as they had been doing from the
beginning. I discharged my own revolver rather aimlessly through the
chink in the hope that something would happen, but all became quiet
again. Everything was finished here.

But although the advance down this grand approach to the inner halls
and Palaces had been stayed, nothing had been said about piercing
through the great outer enclosures to the right and left; and,
catching my pony, I rode round a corner where a broad avenue led to
another set of entrances. Perhaps here would be something. All along I
found a sprinkling of American infantrymen, in their sweaty and
dust-covered khaki suits, lying down and fanning themselves with
anything that came handy, and sending rude jests at one another.
Old-fashioned Chinese jingals, gaudy Banners, and even Manchu
long-bows, were scattered on the ground in enormous confusion. The
Palace Guards belonging to the old Manchu levies had evidently been
surprised here by the advance of the main body of American troops
through the Dynastic Gate, and had fled panic-stricken, abandoning
their antiquated arms and accoutrements as they ran. The soldiery who
had been doing all the fighting and firing must have been the more
modern field forces engaged in the last attacks on the Legations, or
those driven in on Peking by the rout on the Tientsin road. Still,
there was nothing worth seeing, and the miniature Tartar towers
crowning the angles of the great pink walls looked down in contempt,
as if conscious that no enemy could hurt them. I must push along.

I trotted quickly, exchanging chaff with the Americans, who called out
to me with curious oaths that they had had no breakfast, and wanted to
know why in h---- this fun was being stopped, and that they were being
left there. Alas! I could give them no news. I only swore back in the
same playful way. At the end of an immense wall I came on the last of
this soldiery--a corporal's guard, squatting round a small wicket-gate
and looking very tired. They told me that they were still being shot
at from somewhere on the inside; and even as I paused and looked a
curious _pot-pourri_ of missiles grounded angrily against the
gate-top. There were modern bullets, old iron shot, and two arrows--a
strange assortment. Somehow those quivering arrows, shot from over the
immense pink walls, and attempting to vent their old-fashioned wrath
on the insolent invaders who had penetrated where never before an
enemy's foot had trod, made us all stare and remain amazed. It seemed
so curious and impossible--so out of date. Then one of the Americans
ran into a guard-house, bringing out with him a huge Manchu bow, which
he had secreted there as his plunder. He plucked with difficulty the
arrows out of the woodwork in which they had been plunged, and with
an immense twanging of catgut sent them high into the air, until they
were suddenly lost to our sight in the far beyond. An answer was not
long in coming. In less than half a minute a crackle of firearms broke
harshly on the air, and a fresh covey of bullets whistled high
overhead. The enemy was plainly still on the alert inside the last
enclosures, where no one might penetrate. What a pity it had been

I rode off, bearing away some flags and swords, and, making due east,
as last reached some broad avenues near the Eastern Gates of this
Forbidden City.... Fresh masses of moving men now appeared. The main
body of French infantry I had seen a couple of hours before were being
marched in here, while smaller bodies were tramping off to the north,
and sappers were blowing down walls to clear their way. As I ambled
along, seeking a way out, a couple of officers galloped up to me, and,
touching their helmets, begged me in the name of goodness to tell them
what was being done. What were the general orders, they wanted to
know. I explained to them that nobody knew anything; that as far as I
could see, the Americans had stopped attacking for good; that the
Indian troops were already marching out into the Chinese city; and
that nothing more was to be done, as the other columns had been
completely lost touch with.

"_Toujours cette confusion, toujours pas d'ordres,"_ the French
officers angrily commented, and in a few words they told me rapidly
how from the very start at Tientsin it had been like this, each column
racing against the others, while they openly pretended to co-operate;
with everyone jealous and discontented. Where were the Russians, the
Italians, and the Germans? I answered that I had not the slightest
idea, and that nobody knew, or appeared to care at all. I personally
was going on; I had had enough of it....

To my surprise, as I turned to go, I found that the men of the
Infanterie Coloniale, in their dirty-blue suits, had pushed up as
close as possible to overhear what was being said, and now surrounded
us. One private indeed boldly asked the officers whether they were
going to be able to enter the Palace at once; and when he got an angry
negative, he and his comrades took to such cursing and swearing, that
it seemed incredible that this was a disciplined army. The men wanted
to know why they had been dragged forward like animals in this burning
heat and stifling dust, day after day, until they could walk no
longer, if they were to have no reward--if there was to be nothing to
take in this cursed country. In the hot air the sullen complaints of
these sweating men rang out brutally. They wanted to loot; to break
through all locked doors and work their wills on everything.
Otherwise, why had they been brought? These men knew the history of

I turned in disgust, and went slowly back the way I had come, only to
find all unchanged.... Everything had obviously been stopped by
explicit orders; there was no doubt about that now; diplomacy, afraid
to allow any one to enter the inner Palaces for fear of what would
follow, and how much one Power might triumph over another, had called
an absolute halt. But no one was taking any chances, or placing too
much confidence in the assurances of the dear Allies. That was plain!
For, even as I had almost finished trotting up to the Dynastic Gate, I
came on a large body of Italian sailors, who had evidently just
entered Peking, and who, marching with the quick step of the
Bersaglieri, were being led by C----, the lank Secretary of Legation,
right up to the last line of gates. They were in an enormous hurry,
and looked about them with eager eyes. C---- and some others called
out to me as I passed, and wanted to know whether it was true that the
Americans and the French had already got in, and had sacked half the
place, and whether fire had been set to the buildings. I answered with
no compunction that it appeared to be so, and that the Russians and
the Japanese had burst in also through the north, and had actually
fired on the others coming from the south, thinking they were Manchu
soldiery.... I told them that they were too late; that every point of
importance had already been seized. That set them moving faster than
ever. It was truly comical and ridiculous. Beyond this there were more
troops of other nationalities that had just arrived, and were now
looking about them in bewilderment. No wonder. With no orders and no
maps, and surrounded by these immense ruins, and still more immense
squares, they could not understand it at all. What confusion!

As I paused, debating what I should do, once again something else
speedily attracted my attention. This time big groups of American
soldiery, whom I had not observed before, were gathering like swarms
of flies at the door of one of the Chinese guard-houses, which line
the enclosing walls of the Palace. They were evidently much excited by
some discovery. Wishing to learn what it was, I dismounted and pushed
in. Grovelling on the ground lay an elderly Chinese, whose peculiar
aspect and general demeanour made it clear what he was. He was a
Palace eunuch, left here by some strange luck. The man was in a
paroxysm of fear, and, pointing into the guard-house behind him, he
was beseeching the soldiery with words and gestures not to treat him
as those inside had been handled. Through the open door I could see a
confused mass of dead bodies--men who had been bayonetted to death in
the early morning--and from a rafter hung a miserable wretch, who had
destroyed himself in his agony to escape the terror of cold steel. As
the details became clear, the scene was hideous. Never, indeed, shall
I forget that horrid little vignette of war--those dozens upon dozens
of curious soldier faces framed in slouch hats only half
understanding; the imploring eunuch on the ground, the huddled mass of
slaughtered men swimming in their blood in the shadow behind; that
thick smell of murder and sudden death rising and stinking in the hot
air; and the last cruel note of that Chinese figure, with a shriek of
agony and fear petrified on the features, swinging in long, loose
clothes from the rafter above. In the bright sunlight and the sudden
silence which had come over everything, there was a peculiar menace in
all this which chilled one....

Perhaps the eunuch had divined from my different dress that he would
be better understood by me than by these rough crowds of rank and file
who crushed him in; for, as I gazed, he had thrown himself at my feet,
with muttered words and a constant begging and imploring. I noticed
then that the unfortunate man could not walk, could only drag himself
like a beaten dog. The reason soon transpired: both his legs had been
broken by some mad jump which he must have essayed in his agony to
escape. I quieted the man's fears as best I could, and, tearing a
sheet from a note-book, wrote a description of him, so that a field
hospital would dress him. Then, anxious to learn something concrete
with this vapour of haziness and confusion blinding us all, I began
questioning him quickly about the Palace, the numbers of soldiery
within, the strength of the inner enclosures, and the residences of
the Emperor and the Empress Dowager. The man answered me willingly
enough, but suddenly said it was all no use, that we were too late.
The Emperor, the Empress Dowager, indeed, the whole Court, had
disappeared--had fled, was gone....


On my life, I could scarcely believe my ears. After all these weeks of
confusion and plotting, had the Empress Dowager and her whole Court
fled at the very last moment, and, by so doing, escaped all
possibility of vengeance? Was it really so? One might have known that
this loose-jointed relief expedition could accomplish nothing, would
do everything wrong; and still we were acting as if everything was in
our hands. Then, suddenly, I fined down my questions, and imperatively
asked when the Court had fled; exactly at what hour and in what

At first I could get no reliable answer, but, pushing my questions and
assuming a threatening attitude, the shattered eunuch at length
collapsed, and whiningly informed me that the flight had taken place
at nine o'clock exactly the previous night, and had been carried out
by way of the Northern Gates of the city. They had left five hours
after the relief had come in! I calculated quickly. That meant twenty
hours' start at four miles an hour--for they would travel frantically
night and day--eighty miles! It was hopeless; they were safe through
the first mountain-passes, and if they had soldiery with them, as was
more than certain, these had most certainly been dropped at the
formidable barriers which nature has interposed just forty miles
beyond Peking. The mountain-passes would protect them. There could be
no vengeance exacted; no retribution could overtake the real authors
of this _debacle_. Nothing. It was a strange end....

Disconsolately I turned and rode back into the Legation lines, feeling
as if an immense misfortune had come. Here I met finally some Japanese
cavalry and some Cossacks. After being actually in Peking twenty-four
hours, they had at length formed junction with their Legations. The
cavalrymen were trotting up and down, and trying to discover their own
people. Neither did they understand it all.

I communicated the news I had learned speedily enough to all people of
importance whom I could find, told it to them all frantically; but it
aroused no interest, even hardly any comment. Once or twice there was
a start of surprise, and then the old attitude of indifference. A
species of torpor seems to have come over everyone as a crushing
anti-climax after the various climaxes of the terrible weeks. No one
cares, excepting that the siege is finished. C----, of the British
Legation, who has practically directed its policy for years (indeed,
ever since it has been in the present hands), told me that when the
British commander had come in, he had simply placed himself at the
disposal of the Legation, and had said that his orders were concerned
only with the relief. He was not to attempt anything else; to do
nothing more, absolutely nothing....

Later in the afternoon, at a Ministerial meeting, convened in haste,
the Ministers decided that as they did not know what was going to
happen to them or what policy their governments proposed to adopt, in
the absence of instructions they could take no steps about anything.
Of course, everyone of importance will be transferred elsewhere, and
probably be sent to South America, or the Balkan States, or possibly
Athens. The confirmation of the news that the Empress Dowager and the
Court had fled concerned them less than the dread possibilities which
the field telegraphs bring. The wires have already been stretched into
Peking, and messages would have to come through soon....

That evening, as dusk fell, and I was idly watching some English
sappers blowing an entrance from the canal street through the pink
Palace walls, so that a private right of way into this precious area
could be had right where the twin-cannon were fired at us for so many
weeks, a sound of a rude French song being chanted made me turn round.
I saw then that it was a soldier of the Infanterie Coloniale in his
faded blue suit of Nankeen, staggering along with his rifle slung
across his back and a big gunny-sack on his shoulder. He approached,
singing lustily in a drunken sort of way, and reeling more and more,
until, as he tried to step over the ruins of a brick barricade, he at
last tripped and fell heavily to the ground. The English sappers
watched him curiously for a few moments as he lay moving drunkenly on
the ground, unable to rise, but no one offered to help him, or even
stepped forward, until one soldier, who had been looking fixedly at
something on the ground, said suddenly to his mates in a hoarse
whisper, "Silver! Silver!" He spoke in an extraordinary way.

I stepped forward at these words to see. It was true. The sack had
been split open by the fall, and on the ground now scattered about lay
big half-moons of silver-_sycee_, as it is called. The sappers took
a cautious look around, saw that all was quiet and only myself there;
and then the six of them, seized with the same idea, went quietly
forward and plundered the fallen Frenchman of his loot as he lay. Each
man stuffed as many of those lumps as he could carry into his shirt or
tunic. Then they helped the fallen drunkard to his feet, handed him
the fraction of his treasure which remained, and pushed him roughly
away. The last I noticed of this curious scene was this marauder
staggering into the night, and calling faintly at intervals, as he
realised his loss, "_Sacres voleurs! Sacres voleurs anglais_!" Then I
made off too. It was the first open looting I had seen. I shall always
remember absolutely how curiously it impressed me. It seemed very



18th August, 1900.

       *       *       *       *       *

After these events and the curious entry of our relieving troops,
nothing came as a surprise to me. I can still remember as if it had
only occurred ten seconds ago how, after witnessing those English
sappers calmly strip that drunken French marauder of his gains, I came
back into the broken Legation Street to find that a whole company of
savage-looking Indian troops--Baluchis they were--had found their way
in the dark into a compound filled with women-converts who had gone
through the siege with us, and that these black soldiery were engaged,
amidst cries and protests, in plucking from their victims' very heads
any small silver hair-pins and ornaments which the women possessed.
Trying to shield them as best she could was a lady missionary. She
wielded at intervals a thick stick, and tried to beat the marauders
away. But these rough Indian soldiers, immense fellows, with great
heads of hair which escaped beneath their turbans, merely laughed, and
carelessly warding off this rain of impotent blows, went calmly on
with their trifling plundering. Some also tried to caress the women
and drag them away.... Then the lady missionary began to weep in a
quiet and hopeless way, because she was really courageous and only
entirely over-strung. At this a curious spasm of rage suddenly seized
me, and taking out my revolver, I pushed it into one fellow's face,
and told him in plain English, which he did not understand, that if he
did not disgorge I would blow out his brains on the spot. I remember I
pushed my short barrel right into his face, and held it there grimly,
with my finger on the trigger. That at least he understood. There was
a moment of suspense, during which I had ample time to realise that I
would be bayonetted and shot to pieces by the others if I carried out
my threat. It was ugly; I did not like it. At the last moment,
fortunately, my fellow relented, and throwing sullenly what he had
taken to the ground, he shouldered his rifle and left the place. The
others followed with mutterings and grumbles, and the women being now
safe, began barricading the entrance of their house against other
marauders. They were green-white with fear. They feared these Indian

That same night, very late, a transport corps, composed of Japanese
coolies, in figured blue coats, belonging to some British regiment,
came in hauling a multitude of little carts; and within a few minutes
these men were offering for sale hundreds of rolls of splendid silks,
which they had gathered on their way through the city. You could get
them for nothing. Some one who had some gold in his pocket got an
enormous mass for a hundred francs. The next day he was offered ten
times the amount he had paid. In the dark he had purchased priceless
fabrics from the Hangchow looms, which fetch anything in Europe. Great
quantities of things were offered for sale after that as quickly as
they could be dragged from haversacks and knapsacks. Everybody had
things for sale. We heard then that everything had been looted by the
troops from the sea right up to Peking; that all the men had got
badly out of hand in the Tientsin native city, which had been picked
as clean as a bone; and that hundreds of terrible outrages had come to
light. Every village on the line of march from Tientsin had been
treated in the same way. Perhaps it was because there had been so
little fighting that there had been so much looting.

The very next morning a decision was arrived at to send away all
non-combatants in the Legation lines as quickly as possible from such
scenes--to let them breathe an air uncontaminated by such ruin and
devastation and rotting corpses--to escape from this cursed bondage of
brick lines. There would be a caravan formed down to Tungchow, which
is fifteen miles away, and then river transport. To provide
conveyances for these fifteen miles of road, people would have to
sally forth and help themselves; near the Legations there was
absolutely nothing left. We must hustle for ourselves.... The same men
who have done all the work would have to do this.

I shall never forget the renewed sense of freedom when I went out the
next morning with my men and some others I picked up, this time boldly
striking into the rich quarter in the eastern suburbs of the Tartar
city and leaving the garrisoned area far behind. It was something to
ride out without having to take cover at every turning.... The first
part of our route was the same as that of my scouting expedition made
so few days before. But this time we went forward so quickly to the
main streets beyond the white ruins of the Austrian Legation that it
seemed incredible that we should have wasted so much time covering the
ground before. That shows what danger means. I alone was mounted,
riding the old pony I had commandeered the day before; my men were on
foot and ran pantingly alongside. We were so keen!

For half a mile or so we met occasional detachments of European
troops, an odd enough _pot-pourri_ of armed men such as few people
ever witness. They made a curious picture, did this soldiery in the
deserted streets, for every detachment was loaded with pickings from
Chinese houses, and some German mounted infantry, in addition to the
great bundles strapped to their saddles, were driving in front of them
a mixed herd of cattle, sheep and extra ponies which they had
collected on the way. The men were in excellent humour, and jested and
cursed as they hastened along, and in a thick cloud of dust raised by
all these hoofs they finally disappeared round a corner. It was only
when they were gone that I realised how silent and deserted the
streets had become. Not a soul afoot, not a door ajar, not a
dog--nothing. It might have been a city of the dead. After all the
roar of rifle and cannon which had dulled the hearing of one's ears
for so many days there was something awesome, unearthly and
disconcerting in this terrified silence. What had happened to all the

I had ridden forward slowly for a quarter of an hour or so, glancing
keenly at the barred entrances which frowned on the great street, when
suddenly I missed my men. My pony had carried me along the raised
highway--the riding and driving road, which is separated from the
sidewalks by huge open drains. My men had been across these drains,
keeping close to the houses so that they could soon discover some sign
of life. Then they had disappeared. That is all I could remember.

I rode back, rather alarmed and shouting lustily. My voice raised
echoes in the deserted thoroughfare, which brought vague flickers of
faces to unexpected chinks and cracks in the doors, telling me that
this desert of a city was really inhabited by a race made
panic-striken prisoners in their own houses by the sudden entry of
avenging European troops. There were really hosts of people watching
and listening in fear, and ready to flee over back walls as soon as
any danger became evident. That explained to me a great deal. I began
to understand. Then suddenly, as I looked, there were several rifle
shots, a scuffle and some shouting, and as I galloped back in a sweat
of apprehension I saw one of my men emerge from the huge
_porte-cochere_ of a native inn mounted on a black mule. My men were
coolly at work. They were providing themselves with a necessary
convenience for moving about freely over the immense distances. In the
courtyard of the inn two dead men lay, one with his head half blown
off, the second with a gaping wound in his chest. My remaining
servants were harnessing mules to carts, and each, in addition, had a
pony, ready saddled to receive him, tied to an iron ring in the wall.
I angrily questioned them about the shots, and pointed to the ghastly
remains on the ground; but they, nothing abashed, as angrily answered
me, saying that the men had resisted and had to be killed. Then, as I
was not satisfied, and continued muttering at them and fiercely
threatening punishment, one of them went to the door of a gate-house,
and flinging it back, bade me look in. That was a sight! It was full
of great masses of arms and all sorts of soldiers' and Boxers'
clothing; and tied up in bundles of blue cloth were stacks of booty,
consisting of furs and silks, all made ready to be carried away. This
was evidently one of the many district headquarters which the Boxers
had established everywhere. My men had known it, because these things
become speedily known to natives. They had acted. After all, this was
a vengeance which was overtaking everybody. What could I do?...

I said nothing then, and somewhat gloomily watched them proceed. With
utmost coolness they finished harnessing the carts; drove them with
curses to a point near the gate-house, and silently loaded all those
bundles of booty into them, strapping the swords and rifles on in
stacks behind. It was evidently to be a clean sweep, with nothing
left. Then, when they had made everything ready, one of them
disappeared for a short time into a back courtyard, and after some
fresh scuffling, reappeared, driving in front of him three men in torn
clothing and with dishevelled hair, who had been hiding all the while,
and were trembling like aspen leaves now that they had been caught. My
men, without undue explanations, told them that they had to drive, one
to each cart, and that if one tried to escape all would be shot down.
With protestations, the captives swore that they would obey; only let
them escape with their lives; they were innocent.... Then in a body we
sallied forth, this time a fully-equipped and well-mounted body of
marauders. It was a fate from which it was impossible to escape--my
men had such decision left when every person in authority was already

Fitted out in this wise, we now rattled along the streets with faster
speed, and the clanking cart-wheels, awaking louder and louder echoes
which sounded curiously indiscreet in these deserted streets, made
heads bob from doorways and windows with greater and greater
frequency. Down in the side alleys, now that we were a mile or two
away from our lines, people might be even seen standing in frightened
groups, as if debating what was going to happen; these melted silently
away as soon as we were spied. But finding that they were disregarded,
and that no rifles cracked off at them as they half expected,
forthwith the groups formed again, and men even came out into the main
street and followed us a little way, calling half-heartedly to the
drivers to know if there was any news.... The terrible quiet which had
spread over the city after the Allies had burst in from two or three
quarters seemed indeed inexplicable; such troops as had passed had
gone hurriedly westwards towards the Palace. This quarter could
scarcely have been touched....

Our little cavalcade was clattering along midst these strange
surroundings, when my attention was attracted by the similarity of the
occupation which now appeared to be engaging numbers of people on the
side streets. The occupation was plainly a doubtful one, since as soon
as we were seen everyone fled indoors. All had been standing scraping
away at the door-posts with any instruments which came handy; and one
could hear this scratching and screeching distinctly in the distance
as one approached. It was extraordinary. Determined to solve this new
mystery, on an inspiration I suddenly drove my old pony full tilt up
an alleyway before the rest of my men had come in view, and, dashing
quickly forward, secured one old man before he could escape. Once
again I understood: all these people had been scraping off little
diamond-shaped pieces of red paper pasted on their door-posts; and on
these papers were written a number of characters, which proclaimed the
adherence of all the inmates to the tenets of the Boxers. In their
few weeks' reign, this Chinese sansculottism had succeeded in imposing
its will on all. Everyone was implicated; the whole city had been in
their hands; it had been an enormous plot....

Inside the house I had singled out, we found only old women and young
boys--the rest had all fled. Spread on the ground were pieces of white
cloth on which flags were being rudely fashioned--Japanese, English,
French and some others. They were changing their colours, all these
people, as fast as they could--that is what they were doing; and
farther on, as we came to more remote quarters, we found these
protecting insignia already flying boldly from every house. Everybody
wished to be friends. But my men exhorted me to proceed quickly and to
escape from these districts, which, they alleged, were still full of
Boxers and disbanded soldiery; and yielding to their entreaties, we
again dashed onwards quicker and quicker. For half an hour and more we
had, indeed, lost sight of every friendly face.

The succession of streets we passed was endless. There were nothing
but these deserted main thorough-fares, and the scuttling people on
the side alleys, and in absolute silence we reached an immense street
running due north and south. To my surprise, although everything was
now quite quiet, dead Chinese soldiers lay around here in some
numbers. There were both infantry and cavalry flung headlong on the
ground as they had fled. One big fellow, carrying a banner, had been
toppled over, pony and all, as he rode away, and now lay in
picturesque confusion, half thrown down the steep slope of the raised
driving road, with his tragedy painted clearly as a picture. In the
bright sunshine, with all absolutely quiet and peaceful around, it
seemed impossible that these men should have met with a violent death
such a short while ago amid a roar of sound. It was funny, curious,
inexplicable.... For my men, however, there were no such thoughts;
they climbed off their ponies, and, whipping out knives or bayonets,
they slit the bandoliers and pouches from every dead soldier and threw
them into the carts. They had become in this short time good
campaigners; you can never have too much ammunition.

The big Shantung recruit, whom I had come across so oddly only three
days before, was now once again plainly excited and smelled quarry. I
remembered, then, that there was nothing very strange in the decisive
actions of all my followers; they were being led by this man and told
exactly what to do. He had, after all, been outside all the time, and
knew what had been going on and where now to strike hard! Quickly,
without speaking a word, he pushed ahead, and arriving at the big
gates of another inn, loudly called on some one inside to open. He
could not have got any very satisfactory answer, for the next thing I
saw was that he had sprung like lightning from his stolen pony, had
thrown his rifle to the ground, and was attacking a latticed window
with an old bayonet he had been carrying in his hand. With half a
dozen furious blows he sent the woodwork into splinters, and,
springing up with a lithe, tiger-like jump, he clambered through the
gap, big man as he was, with surprising agility. Then there was a dead
silence for a few seconds and we waited in suspense. But presently
oaths and protests came from far back and drew nearer and nearer,
until I knew that the some one who had refused to answer had been duly
secured. The gates themselves were finally flung open, and I saw that
an oldish man of immense stature had been driven to do this work--a
man who, so far from being afraid, was only held in check by a loaded
revolver being kept steadily against his back. The Shantung man's face
had become devilish with rage, and I could see that he was slowly
working himself up into that Chinese frenzy which is such madness and
bodes no good to any one. I was at a loss to understand this scene.

Our captured carts were driven in and the gates securely shut; and
then, driving his captive still in front of him, my man led us, with a
rapidity which showed that he knew every inch of his ground, to a big
building at the side. Then it was my turn to understand and to stare.
Within the building a big altar had been clumsily made of wooden
boards and draped with blood-red cloth; and lining the wall behind it
was a row of hideously-painted wooden Buddhas. There were sticks of
incense, too, with inscriptions written in the same manner as those we
had seen being scraped so feverishly from the door-posts a few minutes
ago. Red sashes and rusty swords lay on the ground also. Here there
could be absolutely no mistake; it was a headquarters of that evil
cult which had brought such ruin and destruction in its train. The
Boxers had been in full force here.

The Shantung man, for reasons I could not yet unravel and did not care
to learn, had become absolutely livid with rage now, and the others,
who were all Catholics, shared his fury. They said that here converts
had been tortured to death--killed by being slit into small pieces and
then burned. Everybody knew it. With spasmodic gestures they called on
the captive to fling to the ground the whole altar, to smash his idols
into a thousand pieces, to destroy everything. But the man, resolute
even in captivity, sullenly refused. Then, with a movement of
uncontrollable rage, one man seized a long pole, and in a dozen blows
had broken everything to atoms. Idols, red cloth, incense sticks,
bowls of sacrificial rice and swords lay in a shapeless heap. And with
ugly kicks my men ground the ruin into yet smaller pieces. Somehow it
made me wince. It was a brutal sight; to treat gods, even if they be
false, in this wise....

As I looked and wondered, scarcely daring to interfere, the Shantung
man had pushed his face, after the native manner, close into that of
his enemy and was muttering taunts at him, which were hissed like the
fury of a snake in anger. This could not last--my man was carrying it
too far. It was so. With a cry his victim suddenly closed on him,
seized him insanely by the throat and hair, tried to tear him to the
ground. I remember I had just a vision of those brown wrestling bodies
half-bared by the fury of their clutches, and I could hear the quickly
drawn pants which came at a supreme moment, when there was a sharp
report, which sounded a little muffled, a piece of plaster flew out of
the wall behind the two, and some biting smoke bit one's nostrils.
Before I realised what had been done, the giant Boxer was staggering
back; then he tottered and fell on his knees, talking strangely to
himself, with his voice sliding up and down as if it now refused
control. Some blood welled up to his lips and trickled out; he shook a
bit, and then he crashed finally down. There he lay among the ruins of
his faith--dead, stone-dead, killed outright. The Shantung man stood
over him with a smoking revolver in his hand. I remembered then that
he had never taken his hand from the weapon. He had been waiting for
this--it was an old score, properly paid....

I had had enough, however, of this mode of settling up under cover of
my protection, and angrily I intimated that if there was any more
shooting I should draw too, and pistol every man. I was proceeding to
add to these remarks, and was even becoming eloquent as my righteous
feelings welled up, when a thunder of blows suddenly resounded on the
outer gates, and made me realise with a start that this was no place
for abstract morality. Strayed so far from safety, we had taken our
lives into our own hands; at any moment we might have to fight once
more desperately against superior numbers. Perhaps in the end we would
totter over in the same way as the unfortunate who had strayed across
our path.... Indeed, it was no time for morality....

The thunder on the gates continued, and then with a crash they came
open suddenly, and a party of French soldiers, with fixed bayonets and
their uniforms in great disorder, rushed in on us. They did not see me
at first, and, charging down on our captured carters, merely yelled
violently to them, "_Rendez-vous! Rendez-vous!_" Before we could move
or disclose ourselves, they had seized some of the carts and were
making preparations to drive them off without a second's delay. But
then I made up my mind in a flash, too, and becoming desperate, I
threw down the gauntlet. The contagion had caught me. Running at them
with my drawn revolver, I, too, shouted, "_Rendez-vous! Rendez-vous!_"
and with my men following me, we interposed ourselves between the
marauders and their only line of retreat. There was no time for
thinking or for explanations; somebody would have to give way or else
there would be shooting. In a second, a fresh desperate situation had

The marauders, astonished at my sudden appearance and the manner in
which their _razzia_ had been interrupted, stood debating in loud
voices what they should do, and calling me names. Twice they turned as
if they would shoot me down; then one of them made up the minds of the
others by declaring that their object was not to fight, but to
pillage--these few carts did not matter. With lowering faces they
speedily withdrew, cursing me with calm insolence as they reached the
gates. Outside we saw that they had a number of other carts and mules,
all loaded up with huge bundles; and reeling round these captured
things were other drunken soldiers, whose disordered clothing and
leering faces proclaimed that they had given themselves solely up to
the wildest orgies. To-day there would be no quarter....

We waited until the clamour of these men had died away in the
distance, and then, with a strange double grin, the big Shantung man
turned silently back into an inner courtyard, and pointed me out
another building. I did not understand, for the very stables were
empty and deserted here, as if everything had been already looted or
carried away into safety. There appeared to be not a cart, not a piece
of harness, not a stick of furniture, nothing left at all. The big
Shantung man still grinned, however, and quickly made for the building
he had pointed out. The door was open, as if there was nothing to
conceal, and only enormous bins made of bamboo matting half blocked
the entrance. But with a few rough efforts my men sent these soon
flying; then there was a mighty stamping and neighing of alarm, and as
I looked in I laughed from sheer surprise. The house was full of
ponies, mules, and even donkeys, which had been driven in and tethered
together tightly behind barricades of tables and chairs. Now seeing
us, they stood there all eyes and ears, and with prolonged whinnies
and gruntings plainly welcomed this diversion. With glee we drove them
out and counted them up--ten more animals!

It was with disgust, however, that I remembered that there was neither
harness nor carts; but to my surprise, now that the animals had been
discovered, my men were running busily around searching every likely
hiding-place of the huge straggling courtyards. Like rats, they ran
into every corner, turned over everything, pulled up loose floorings,
and presently the body of a cart was found hidden in a loft in the
most cunning way. But it was only the body of a cart; there were no
wheels. And yet the wheels could not be far off. Five more minutes'
search had discovered them suspended down a well, under a bucket,
which itself contained a mass of harness; and then in every impossible
place we discovered the inn property cleverly stored away. In the end,
we had all the animals hitched up, and the carts themselves full of
fodder. Then, by employing the same tactics as before, just outside
drivers were discovered and induced to follow us, and now, with a
heavy caravan to protect against all comers, we sallied forth. This
time we would have our work cut out.

An hour and more had elapsed since we had been on the open streets,
and it being near midday, and everything still quiet, we were
surprised to see people of the lower classes moving cautiously about
on the main streets, but disappearing quickly at the mere sight of
other people whose business they could not divine. That, too, was
soon explained; for, seeing one rapscallion trying to run away with a
sack over his back, we discharged a rifle at him. Straightway the man
stopped running, fell on his knees, and whiningly said that he had
been permitted to take what he was carrying by honourable foreign
soldiery whom he had been allowed to assist. The bundle contained only
silks and clothes; with a kick we let him go. Plainly the plot was
thickening on all sides, and it was becoming more and more dangerous
to be abroad. Seized with a new thought, I stopped the whole caravan,
and giving orders to that effect, we soon had every driver we had so
summarily impressed securely strapped to his cart with heavy rope. At
least, if we had to cut our way back I had secured that our carts
could not be stampeded with ease. The drivers would make them go on;
it would be easier to run forward than to turn back.

Then, as if we realised the danger of the road, we began driving
frantically. We wished to carry the carts into safety. It was not long
before we saw in the distance many groups of people clustering round a
big building surrounded by high walls. That made me nervous, for the
groups formed and dissolved continually, as if they were in doubt, and
seeking to gain something which was bent on resisting. But no sooner
had they seen this than my men began laughing coarsely, and exclaimed
in the vernacular that it was a pawn-shop which the common people were
trying to loot. Of course, it was certain that every pawn-shop would
go sooner or later; but the sight of an actual attack in progress
seemed strange while the populace was still so terror-stricken. To our
further surprise, on coming up we found that a number of marauders and
stragglers belonging to a variety of European corps had been halted
by this sight; and as we drew nearer we found a private of the French
Infanterie Coloniale groaning on the ground, with a ghastly wound in
his leg. No one was attending to him--they were too busy with their
own business, and had we not tied him roughly with some cloth and
rope, he might have lain there bleeding to death. We carried the man
to the carts and decided we would take him to safety. But as we made
preparations to start a warning shout in French bade us not to pass in
front of the pawn-shop gates, and, looking up, I found that several
other French soldiers, together with some Indians and Annamites, had
climbed the roofs of adjacent houses, and with their rifles thrown out
in front of them, were attempting to get a shot at people inside. The
place was evidently securely held and refused to surrender. Grouped
all round, and armed with choppers, bars of iron and long poles, the
crowd of native rapscallions waited in a grim silence for the
_denouement_. It was an extraordinary scene. Everything and everyone
was so silent. I decided to stop and see it through. Such things never
happen twice in a lifetime.

A shot fired from the gate at an incautious man, who darted across the
street, showed that the defenders were both vigilant and desperate,
and knew what to expect at the hands of the foreign soldiery and the
populace once they poured in. Spurred by this sound, the French
soldiers on the roofs pushed down cautiously nearer and nearer to
their prey; but presently, when I thought that they had almost won
their way, a shower of bricks and heavy stones was sent at them by
unseen hands with such savageness and skill that another man was
placed _hors-de-combat,_ and came down groaning with his head split.
His, however, was only a scalp wound, and, discovering that a bandage
left him practically none the worse, he took his place with savage
curses at a corner just beyond the main gate, fixing his bayonet in
grim preparation for the end. Decidedly there would be no quarter when
that end came.

But there appeared to be, nevertheless, no means of bringing about the
desired climax. The defenders showed their alertness by occasional
shots that grated harshly on the still air, and the attack could make
no progress. I wondered what would happen. Yet it did not last long,
for Providence was at work. Two Cossacks came cantering along the
street, bearing some message from a Russian command; and although
warning shouts were sent at them, too, as they approached, they paid
no heed, but rode carelessly by. As they came abreast of the main gate
a sudden volley, which made their mounts swerve so badly that less
adept horsemen would have been flung heavily to the ground, greeted
them and sent them careering wildly for a few yards. But here were men
who understood this kind of warfare. First, it is true, they were a
little angry as they pulled up, unslung their carbines and shot home
cartridges as if they would act like the rest.... But then, when they
saw how things were, they grinned in some delight, and finally
dismounting and driving their beasts with shouts off the road, they
prepared to join the fray. With renewed interest I watched them go to

A little inspection showed the newcomers that the pawn-shop was too
difficult to capture by direct assault unless special means were
adopted, for such places being constructed with a view to resisting
the attacks of robbers even in peaceful times, are nearly always
little citadels in themselves. They are the people's banks. For some
time the two new arrivals walked stealthily around, with their
carbines in their hands, peering here and there, and trying to find a
weak spot. Then one man said something to the other, and they
disappeared into a neighbouring house, only to emerge almost
immediately with some bundles of straw and some wood. To their minds
it was evidently the only thing to be done; they were going to set
fire! Before there was time to protest, the Cossacks had piled their
fuel against an angle of the gate-house, just where they could not be
shot at, and with a puff the whole thing was soon ablaze. The
scattered groups of native rapscallions on the street, when they saw
what had been done, gave a subdued howl of despair, and cried aloud
that the whole block of buildings would catch fire, and that
everything in them would be destroyed. These confident looters had
already imagined that the pawn-shop was theirs to dispose of--after
the honourable foreign soldiery had had their fill!

The Cossacks, however, were men of many ideas, and paid not the
slightest attention to all this tumult beyond striking two or three of
the nearest men. They watched the blaze with cunning little eyes, and
as the short flames shot across the gate, driven by the wind, and
raised blinding clouds of smoke, one of them said it was all right and
that we would be soon inside. On the roofs the French soldiers and
their companions lay silently watching in amazement the antics of the
two dismounted horsemen, and from the shouts and curses which now came
from the pawn-shop compound itself, it was plain that this method of
attack would be productive of some result. It was becoming more and
more interesting.

My attention was distracted for an instant by seeing one of the
Cossacks climb up beside two French soldiers and explain to them
gravely, with a violent pantomime of his hands, what they should do in
a moment or two. When I turned, it was to find that the second had
driven with boot-kicks and some swinging blows from his loaded carbine
a number of the street people towards some of those long poles which
can always be found stacked on the Peking main streets. My own men,
understanding now what was to be done, ran forward, too, to help, and
in the twinkling of an eye two long poles had been borne forward and
laid in position across the highway. In spite of all modern progress,
much the same ways of attack have still to be adopted in siege work.
Then, with some further pantomine explaining how it would be
impossible to see or hurt them under cover of that smoke, the Cossacks
induced the crowd to raise the poles again. This time everybody's
blood was up, and, urging one another on with short staccato shouts,
dozens of willing men, stripped to the waist, jumped forward, and the
timbers were driven with a tremendous impetus against the gates. As
they crashed against the wood, and half splintered the stout
entrances, a succession of shots rang out from the roofs, and I saw
the French marauders sliding rapidly down and fall out of sight into
the compound. The defence had been broken down--at least, at this
point. It seemed quite over.

It was the work of a moment to hack the gates aside, and through the
choking fumes and charred remains the whole infuriated crowd now
poured. The little blaze, having met with much brick and stone, was
smouldering out, and so long as it was not kindled anew there was no
danger of the fire spreading.

Like a rush of muddy waters, the sweating, brown-backed men, now mad
with a lust for pillage, tore through the first courtyard. I was born
along with them perforce like a piece of flotsam on a raging
flood-tide; there was no turning back. Besides, such things do not
happen every day....

The Frenchmen and their companions had already disappeared inside, and
on the ground lay two of the pawn-shop men, dead or dying, swimming
silently in their own blood. Beyond this there was a first hall, empty
and devoid of furniture, excepting for immensely long wooden counters;
and as I jumped through to the warehouses beyond, I saw dimly in the
darkened room those dozens of city rapscallions whom we had unleashed
hurl themselves on to the counters and literally tear them to pieces.
They knew! Thousands of strings of cash were laid bare by this action,
and with the quickness of lightning hundreds of furious hands tore and
snatched, while hot voices smote the air in snarls and gasps. They
wanted this money--would lose their lives for it. In an instant the
pawn-shop hall had been turned into a sulphurous saturnalia horrid to
witness. That gave you a grim idea of mob violence. I rushed to escape

In the warehouses beyond I found the Frenchmen and the first Cossack,
who had directed the carrying of the place by assault, breaking open
with rude jests chests and boxes, and flinging to the ground the
contents of countless shelves. They cared nothing for the things they
found; they were hunting for treasure. With curses as their
disappointment deepened, and always hurling more and more shelves and
cupboards to the ground, they soon reduced room after room to a
confusion such as I have never before witnessed. Rich silks and costly
furs, boxes of trinkets, embroideries, women's head-dresses, and
hundreds of other things were flung to the ground and trampled under
foot into shapeless masses in a few moments, raising a choking dust
which cut one's breathing. They wanted only treasure, these men, gold
if possible, something which possessed an instant value for
them--something whose very touch spelled fortune. Nothing else. In
some amazement I watched this frantic scene. From the outer courtyards
came the same roar of excitement as the street crowd fought with one
another for possession of all that wealth in cash; separated from one
another by only a few yards, European marauders and Chinese vagabonds,
I reflected, were acting in much the same way. I followed the
Frenchmen and their companions into the last great rooms, all
dust-laden and filled with boxes without number, which were carefully
ticketed and stacked one upon another. Some were prized open with
bayonets; some had their pigskin covers beaten through by butt-end
blows; but whatever their treatment, there were always the same furs
and silks. There was no treasure.

My men had now fought their way through the outer crowd, and rapidly
flinging out coat after coat, suggested that sables were at least
worth the taking and the keeping. They selected two or three score of
these coats of precious skins, beautiful long Chinese robes reaching
to the feet, and tumbling them into emptied trunks, we went out as
soon as possible. We had had enough. The explanation of why the crowd
had not rushed through was in front of us. The remaining Cossack had
seated himself, carbine in hand, on the stone ledge at the entrance to
the inner courtyards and held everyone in check; just beyond hundreds
and hundreds of men stripped to the waist, glistening in their sweat
and trembling in their excitement, were waiting for the signal which
would let them go. I noticed that now there were old women, too. The
whole quarter was coming as fast as it could....

The Cossack grinned when he saw me appear, and looked with a shrug of
his shoulders at the sables. To him these were not priceless. Then he
explained his unconcerned attitude in a single gesture. He pushed a
hand down into his rough riding boots and pulled out one of those
Chinese gold bars which look for all the world like the conventional
yellow finger-biscuits which one eats with ice-cream. The rascal had
elsewhere come across some rich preserve and had his feet loaded with
gold--for he pulled out other bars to show me--and he did not care for
this petty pilfering. Then the Frenchmen began coming out, with the
Annamites and the Indians, each man with a bundle on his back, and the
Cossack, esteeming his watch ended, got up and stepped back. Once
again, like bloodhounds, the crowd rushed in, an endless stream of
men, women, and even children, all summoned by the news that the
pawn-shop, which was their natural enemy, had fallen. They roared past
us, striking and tearing at one another with insane gestures as if
each one feared that he would be too late. Inside the scene must have
baffled description, for a clamour soon rose which showed that it was
a battle to the death to secure loot at any price. Shrill cries and
awful groans rose high above the storm of sound, as the desperadoes of
the city, who were mixed with the more innocent common people, struck
out with choppers and bar iron and mercilessly felled to the ground
all who stood in their way. With conflicting feelings we struggled
outside, and as I mounted my pony, a wretched man covered with blood
rushed forward, and flinging himself at my feet, cried to me sobbingly
to save him. He was the last of the pawn-shop defenders and was
bleeding in a dozen places. Him, too, we roughly tied up and saved,
and telling him to mount a cart and to lie concealed inside, at last
we moved on again. We were gathering odd cargo.

The day was now waning, for the time had flown swiftly with such
strange scenes, and people began to slink out from side alleys more
and more frequently, as if they had been waiting for this dusk.
Several times we passed bands of men armed with swords and
knives--Boxers, without a doubt--who calmly watched us approach, as if
they were debating whether they should attack us or not. Once, too, a
roll of musketry suddenly rang out sharp and clear but a few hundred
feet away from the high road, only to be succeeded by an icy
silence--more speaking than any sound. We did not dare to stray away
to inquire what it might be; the high road was our only safety. Even
that was doubtful. Curious isolated encounters were taking place all
over the vast city of Peking; it was now everyone for himself, and
not even the devil taking care of the hindmost. It was no place for

At last, by vigorous riding and driving, which caused a great clatter
and drew forth many leering faces from darkened doorways, we debouched
into that long main street down which I had shot so few days before in
such an agony of doubt. Hurrying homeward in the same direction, we
now met bands of our siege converts in groups of forty and fifty
strong. These men, who had come so near to starving during the siege,
were having their own revenge. They had sallied forth with such arms
as they could lay their hands on, and had been plundering all day
within easy reach of the Legations. They had done what they could, and
had gathered every manner of thing in which they stood most in need.
Each man had immense bundles tied to his back--it was the revenge for
all they had suffered. They had given no quarter either, and before
many more hours had gone by they would have made up for those long
weeks.... We soon left these groups behind, and with the whole
cavalcade now going at a hand-gallop, it dawned on our companions and
beasts which we had so curiously gathered during the day that we were
nearing our destination.

But here the roadway was absolutely deserted, and in the dusk I
realised that had we been farther from home we would almost certainly
be ambuscaded by some of the many ruffians Boxerism had unloosed on
the city. Here was a sort of neutral belt. At every turning I half
expected a volley to greet us; at every door-creak I thought there
would be some rush of armed men which would have been impossible for
us to meet without losing half the convoy. Yet these fancies were not
justified, for to my immense surprise, at a cross-road I saw numbers
of women in their curious Manchu head-dress standing at a big gateway,
all dressed in their best clothes. As we passed they caught sight of
me, and, nothing abashed, began immediately calling to me and waving
with their arms. This was extraordinary and unlocked for. At first I
thought that they were only courtesans, who had been deprived for so
long of all custom that they had been rendered desperate, and were
seeking to inveigle me _faute de mieux_; but remembering that such
women are confined to the outer city, I reined in my mount, halted
the whole caravan, and went slowly towards them, half fearing, I
confess, some ruse. Yet the women greeted me with fresh cries and
words. There were a full dozen of them of the best class, and they
explained to me that they had been left, absolutely abandoned, two
nights before by all the men of the household, who, fearing the worst
and hearing that the way out through the north of the city was still
open, had seized all the draft and riding animals and ridden rapidly
away, saying that the women would be spared by the foreign soldiery,
but that probably every man of rank would be killed. No one had
molested them so far, because this house lay so close to the foreign
troops, but with so many armed men on the streets, and with the
pillaging and the murder that was going on, they did not know how long
they would be spared. They told me this quickly in gasps. I paused in
doubt to know what to answer; it was everyone for himself, and the
devil not even looking after the hindmost, as I have just said. But
women.... I must propose something.

They saw my hesitation, and women-like, renewed their pleading in
chorus. I noticed, also, that two or three of the older ones grouped
themselves close together, and, putting down their heads, began
rapidly discussing in loud whispers, which showed their trepidation.
Then they called a tall, splendidly built woman, and, telling her
something in an undertone, pushed her forward towards me. Unabashed,
she advanced on me with a firm step, and laying a white-skinned
hand--for the Manchus can be very white--on my arm, she begged me to
stop here myself--to make this my house for the time being--to do as I
pleased with all of them.... After all those weeks of privation, that
constant rifle-fire, that stench of earth-soiled men, this woman so
close seemed strange.... I answered, in greater confusion, that I
could not yet say whether it was possible for me to stay so far away;
that there might be trouble; that I would see and let them know before
the night was far advanced....

Not wholly satisfied and half doubting, they let me draw off with
their pleadings renewed. Then, as I thought something might happen
before I could let them know, I gave them two rifles from the store we
had collected, and telling them to bar and bolt their gate, showed
them how a shot or two would probably drive off an attack. We
clattered on and lost them in the gloom....

It was almost dark as we re-entered the ruined Legation lines and
picked our way slowly though the _debris_ which still stood stacked on
the streets. Fatigue parties of many corps were finishing their work
of attempting to restore some order and cleanliness, and clouds of
murky dust hung heavily in the air. All round these narrow streets
there was an atmosphere of exhaustion and disorder, crushed on top of
one another, which oppressed one so much after the open streets, that
an immense nostalgia suddenly swept over me. We had had too much of
it; I was tired and weary of it all. It was mean and miserable after
the great anti-climax. It was like coming back to a soiled dungeon.

We picked our way right through where two days before no vehicles
could have passed, and I stabled all the animals and carts, and handed
them over to where they were needed. Then I ordered that our captured
things, our weapons, and my few last belongings should be loaded into
one remaining cart, and ordering my men to follow, without a word of
explanation I started off again. I had made up my mind.

We passed rapidly enough out and again sped in the blackening night
down the long street just as we had returned. Almost too soon we
reached that great gate on the corner to find it barred and bolted.
Somehow my heart sank within me at this; was it too late?

But there were cries and a confusion of voices. Somebody peered
through. Then there was delight. The gate was unbarred by weak women's
hands, and the soft Manchu voice which had first begged me to stop was
speaking to me again....

Inside I found the courtyards and the lines of rooms which fronted
each square were immense and furnished with richly carved woodwork; it
was a rich house, and there was a profusion of everything which could
be wanted--only no men! We securely bolted and barred the main gate,
and for safety loopholed a little, because that is an art in which we
had become adepts. Then, with candles murkily shedding their light, I
explored every nook and corner to guard against surprise, always with
that soft voice explaining to me. It was very quiet and soft with that
atmosphere around; it was like a narcotic when a roar of fever still
hangs in one's ears. I became more and more content. After all, we had
become abnormals; a shade more or less could make no difference....
That night was a pleasant dream....



August, 1900.

       *       *       *       *       *

To rediscover the ease and luxury of lying down, not brute-like, but
man-like, seemed to me an immense thing. I had had my first night's
sleep on a bed for nearly three months, and I wished never to rise
again. I wished to be immensely lazy for a long period--not to have to
move or think or act. But that could not be. All sorts of marauders
were sweeping the city and working their wills in a hundred different
ways. Half a dozen times, as soon as daylight had come, shots had been
fired through my gateway. European soldiery, who had broken away from
their corps, and native vagabonds and disguised Boxers, who had hidden
panic-stricken during the first hours after the relief, were now
prowling about armed from head to foot. The vast city, which had been
given over for weeks to mad disorders and insane Boxerism, was in a
receptive condition for this final climax. There was no semblance of
authority left; with troops of many rival nationalities always pouring
in, and a nominal state of war still existing, with the possibility of
a Chinese counter-advance taking place, how could there be?... There
was nothing left to restrain anybody....

I thought of these things lying at my ease, and debated how long I
could stay in that unconcerned attitude. It was not long. For as I
lay, there was a thunder of blows somewhere near, and then a crackle
of shots, whose echoes smote so clean that I knew that firearms were
pointed in the direction of this house. I jumped up without delay. I
was not a minute too soon, for as I seized my rifle, one of my men ran
in and shouted to me that foreign cavalrymen had burst in, shooting in
the air, and were now driving out all the animals and looting all the
carts as well. Nothing could be done unless I lent my leadership.

Hastily I ran out, feeding a cartridge into my rifle-chamber as I
rushed. This time I was determined to give a lesson and pay back in
the same coin. The marauders were Cossacks again.

There were only four of them, however, and when they caught sight of
me they tried to stampede my mob and bolt ingloriously with them. But
we were too quick. I gave the first man's mount my first cartridge in
a fast shot, which took the animal well behind the shoulder and
brought the rider instantly down in a heap to the ground. That mixed
them up so that before they could extricate themselves they were all
covered with our rifles and the gates tight shut. Then we calmly
dragged the men off their ponies and kept them in suspense for many
minutes, debating aloud what to do. Finally we let them go after some
harsh threatening. The man who had lost his mount, nothing abashed,
swung himself coolly up behind a comrade, with his saddle and bridle
on his arm, without a comment. And as soon as they were in the open
street they galloped fast away, as if they feared we would shoot them
down from behind. That showed what was going on elsewhere....

I knew now what to expect unless we made very ready, for surely a
sharp revenge attack would come as soon as it was dark. So grimly we
set to work, with a return of-our old fighting feelings, and rapidly
fortified the main gate against all cavalry raids. We dug a broad moat
behind the gate, and threw up a respectable barricade with the earth
we had gained. Then we brought some timbers and built them in on top
with the aid of bricks and stones, so as to have a line of loopholes
converging on the entrance. We trained some of the many rifles we had
picked up in the same direction, and strapped them into position, just
as the Chinese commands had done all along their barricades during the
siege. In this way we made it so that in a few seconds a dozen of the
enemy could be brought to the ground without the defending force
showing a finger. That would be enough for any Cossacks....

Before midday we had added a couple of lookout posts to the roofs, and
then, secure in this new-found strength, I determined to go abroad
once more to collect supplies and food. That decision was materially
helped by an incident which showed that everyone was acting and that
it was the only way. As we cautiously opened our main gate and
prepared to sally out, a cart came by, accompanied by several men from
the Legations on horseback, who were much excited. Well might they be;
they had two of their number inside that cart, both shot and bleeding
badly from flesh wounds. They had been right to the east of the city,
they reported, where the Russians and Japanese had come in. It was
terrible there, they said. Nothing but dead people and fires and
looting. Chinese soldiers had still remained there in hiding and were
defending some of the bigger buildings belonging to Manchu princes.
Plunderers, also, were everywhere on the road. They advised caution
and told us not to trust ourselves in the alleyways. They had been
caught like that, and their servants and horse-boys had deserted in a
body four miles away immediately fire was opened on them from some
fortified house. That made me all the more determined. I would go and
be shot, too, if necessary, since it was the order of the day, but I
made up my mind that it would be no easy job to catch me sleeping.
Already I understood fully the new methods and the new requirements.

We rode away, stirrup to stirrup, I, a single white man, with a dozen
doubtful adherents, made savage at the idea of loot, as companions,
and held to me only by a questionable community of interests. Yet what
did it matter, I thought. One lives only once and dies only once. That
is elemental truth. So _tant pis_.

In our joy at being on those open streets again, with never a
passer-by or a vehicle to obstruct one's rapid passage, we went ahead
in a whirlwind of dust. We passed street after street with always the
same silence about us we had noticed the day before. Everything was
closed, tight shut; there was not a cat or a dog stirring abroad. Near
the Legations and the Palace, where the fear lay the heaviest, it
seemed like a city of the dead.

Yet we knew that there were plenty of living men only biding their
time and waiting their opportunity. It was only night that these
people desired; a good black night so that no one could see them flit
about. You felt in the small of your back as you rode along that ugly
faces were looking at you from the silent houses, and that at any
moment shots might ring out suddenly and bear you to the ground. But
that was merely a preliminary feeling. Soon it added zest to the
entertainment. What, indeed, did it matter? It only made one more and
more reckless.

We sped swiftly along, only twice seeing men of any sort in several
miles of streets. Once they were fellows who, on our approach,
scuttled so quickly away to hide their identity that we could not be
sure whether they were white or yellow. But once, without concealment,
a band of mixed European soldiery, in terrible disorder, who first
wished to fire on us, and then when they saw me set up a colourless
sort of cheer, appeared suddenly, only to disappear. We never paused
an instant; we kept straight on.

As we made our way farther and farther to the east and came across
rich districts of barricaded shops, signs were clear that pillaging
had gone on here already with insane violence, but by whom or at what
time it was impossible to say. Sometimes there were battered-in doors
and windows, with ugly, swollen corpses stretched near by; sometimes
the contents of a rich emporium had been swept, as if by some strange
whirlwind, out on the street to litter the whole driving road many
inches deep with the most heterogeneous things. On the ground, too,
were dozens of the rude imitation flags which had been so frantically
made by the terror-striken populace in order to disclaim all
association with Boxerism and the mad Imperialism being now so
summarily swept away. Jeering looters had torn these things down and
cast them in the dirt to show, as a reply, that there was to be no
quarter if they could help it. These grim notes limned speakingly on
everything, made it plain that a movement was in the air which could
hardly be arrested. It made one feel a little insane and intoxicated
to see it all; and as one's blood rushed through one's veins, after
that long captivity, one had, too, the desire to add a little more
destruction, to break down places and to shoot for the amusement of
the thing. You could not help it; it was in the air, I say. It was a
subtle poison which could not be analysed, but which kept on coursing
through one's veins and heating the blood to fever-pitch. The vast
open streets needed filling up with noise and rapid movements, one
thought; the inhabitants must be galvanised to life again, one

My men needed every kind of wearing apparel, for they had been in rags
althrough the siege, and as soon as possible they showed that they
appreciated the situation, and did not intend to stand on ceremony.
They set to work as soon as they saw what they wanted. A huge Chinese
boot, gaudily painted on a swinging sign-board, proclaimed a
boot-shop, where in ordinary times they could buy every kind of
foot-covering. But now it was no good attempting such methods. So they
tilted straight at the shop-door without hesitation, and beating a
wild rataplan of blows on the wooden shutters, demanded an entry in a
roar of voices. Otherwise they would shoot, they added. In very few
seconds, at this clamour, some shuffling steps were heard and
trembling hands unbarred in haste, fearing a worse fate. We then saw
two blanched and trembling shopkeepers, whose dirtied clothes and
dishevelled hair showed that they had had days and nights of the most
wretched existence. Shakingly they asked what we wanted, adding that
they had not a piece of silver or yet a string of cash left. The
Boxers had taken everything weeks before; now honourable foreign
soldiery were beating them because they were so poor. My men did not
trouble to answer; they went to work. They wanted boots and shoes,
and plenty of them, since there were plenty to take, and so they
searched and picked and chose. But presently one man gave vent to an
oath, and them, in his surprise, laughed coarsely. He had discovered
that there were only boots and shoes for the left foot. There was
nothing for the right foot, not a single boot, not a single shoe! Once
again they did not trouble to speak, but merely pushing fire-pieces
against the luckless shopkeepers' heads waited in silence. Immediately
the men broke down anew and began whining more explanations. It was
true there were no right feet, they said. The right feet were over
there in a neighbour's shop. That shop had all the right feet; they
had only left feet. This seemed strange humour. Yet it was a good, if
crude, device which these cunning shopkeepers had hit on even in their
distress. For they knew that looters would probably not waste time
attempting to match shoes in such confusion, when so much better
things were lying near. They hoped at least to save their stock by
this device; and it seemed certain that they would. I said not a word;
this was a family affair.

In the end a bargain was struck; two pairs of shoes for each man, and
the rest to be left untouched. Then the right feet appeared soon
enough from hidden places, and the shopmen were saved from further
loss. With all the other things the same procedure was adopted along
this shopman's street. A bargain was struck in each case, which saved
one side from undue loss and gave the other far less trouble. In this
new fashion we captured chickens, eggs, sheep, rice, flour, and a
dozen other necessaries, only taking a quarter of what we would have
seized otherwise, in return for the help given. It was curious
shopping, but everybody was curious now. What you did not take,
somebody would seize ten minutes later.

These occupations were so peaceful and gave so little difficulty, that
it soon seemed to me as if everything was actually settling down
quietly in this one corner of the city. Yet it was not so. We were
only having momentary luck. For presently soldiers of various
nationalities began passing in many directions, some returning from
successful forays, and others just starting out to see what they could
pick up. And on top of them all came a curious young fellow from one
of the Legations, galloping along on a big white horse he must have
just looted. He was accompanied by no one. He had been half-mad for
weeks during the siege and now seemed quite crazy as he rode.

It was he who had again and again volunteered to play the part of
executioner to all the wretched coolies engaged in sapping under our
lines who had been captured from time to time, and whose heads had at
once paid the last penalty. This man had done it always with a
shot-gun, and he had seemed to gloat over it; and in the end people
had taken a detestation for him, and looked upon him for some strange
reason as a little unclean. Now he was madly excited, and as soon as
he saw me he called out, in his thick Brussels accent, and made a long
broken speech, which I shall never forget.

"Have you seen them?" he said, not pausing for a reply. "It is the
sight of all others--the best of all. Hsu Tung, you remember, the
Imperial Tutor, who wished to make covers for his sedan chair with our
hides, and who was allowed to escape when we had him tight? Well, he
is swinging high now from his own rafters, he and his whole
household--wives, children, concubines, attendants, everyone. There
are sixteen of them in all--sixteen, all swinging from ropes tied on
with their own hands, and with the chairs on which they stood kicked
from under them. That they did in their death struggles. Everywhere
they have acted in the same way. They call it hanging, but it is not
that; it is really slow strangulation, which lasts for many minutes,
because at the last moment the victims become afraid and try to regain
their footholds."

The man paused a minute and licked his dry lips. To me there was
something hideous in this story being told on that sacked street. His
voice sounded a little like those Chinese trumpets, whose gurgling
notes make one think instantly of evil things. Then he went on, more
furiously than ever:

"And the wells near the Eastern Gates, have you seen them, where all
the women and girls have been jumping in? They are full of women and
young girls--quite full, because they were afraid of the troops,
especially of the black troops. The black troops become insane, the
people say, when they see women. So the women killed themselves
wherever they heard the guns. Now they are hauling up the dead bodies
so that the wells will not be poisoned. I have seen them take six and
seven bodies from the same well, all clinging together, and the men
have tried to kill me because I looked. But I was well mounted; I
could look as long as I liked, and then gallop away so fast that not
even their shots could catch me. The place is full of dead people,
nothing but dead people everywhere, and more are dying every minute."

Then he came up to me and whispered how soldiers were behaving after
they had outraged women. It was impossible to listen. He said that
our own inhuman soldiery had invited him to stay and see. Yet although
I swore at the man and told him to go away, I could not drive him from
me. He wanted to talk and he had found some one who had to listen.
Indeed, he clung to me all the way home, as if he had been at length
frightened by his own stories and by his imagination. Steadily he
became more and more curious. He watched me eat, he watched me drink,
but he would take nothing himself. He wanted to go out again. He must
have movement, he said, and he insisted on riding to Monseigneur
F----'s Pei-t'ang Cathedral. He had not been there yet, and a
curiosity suddenly seized him to see the place where others had
suffered in the same way as ourselves. That reminded me, too, that
everybody had almost forgotten about this Roman Catholic cathedral,
forgotten completely because they were now at their ease. It had been
two whole days before troops were even sent there to see that all was
well, and even these only went because a priest had been killed half
way between the Legations and the Cathedral. I decided to go, too. It
was almost a duty to make this pilgrimage. So we quickly left again.

For a few minutes after leaving the occupied area we threaded streets
with men from the relief columns in full view, but soon enough we
found ourselves in treacherous roadways, all littered with the ruins
and the inexpressible confusion which come of desultory
street-fighting spread over long weeks. To me this was a new
quarter--one which I had not been near since the month of May, and
soon it was equally clear that it was still a very evil place. Only
yesterday men who had broken away from the French corps were found
here, some dead and some horribly mutilated. Yet in spite of this the
same signs of mock friendliness greeted our eyes on every side--those
fluttering little flags of all nations, so rudely made from whatever
cloth had been handy. Every building displayed some flag--every single
one; but there now were other signs, too--signs which showed that all
this quarter had been picked so clean that it was of no more value to
marauders. Little notices, some in French, some in English, and a few
in other tongues, were scratched on the walls or written on dirty
scraps of paper and nailed up. Half in jest and half in earnest, these
curious notices said all manner of things. For the wretched people who
had been plundered or otherwise ill used had already fallen into the
habit of asking from the soldiery for some scrap of writing which
would prove that they had contributed their quota, and might,
therefore, be exempted from further looting. Scrawled in soldiers'
hands were such things as, "_Defense absolue de piller; nous autres
avons tout pris_"; or, "No looting permitted. This show is cleaned
out." Everywhere these signs were to be seen. Here they must have
worked fast and furiously....

Riding quickly, at last we reached the famous cathedral, with great
trenches and earthworks surrounding it, and the torn and battered
buildings showing how bitter the struggle had been. To our
siege-taught eyes a single look explained the nature of the defence,
and the lines which had been naturally formed. It was written as plain
as on a map. The priests and their allies had now hauled the enemy's
abandoned guns to the cathedral entrances and the spires were now
crowned with garlands of flags of all nations. But that was all. There
was no one to be seen. Everybody was away, out minding the new
business--that of making good the damage done by levying contributions
on the city at large. It was all dead quiet, silent like some deserted
graveyard. The sailors and the priests and their converts, remembering
that Heaven helps those who help themselves, had sallied out and were
reprovisioning themselves and making good their losses. Indeed, the
only men we could find were some converts engaged in stacking up
silver shoes, or _sycee_, in a secluded quadrangle. These had become
the property of the mission by the divine right of capture; there
seemed at the moment nothing strange about it.

This silent cathedral, with its vast grounds and its deserted
quadrangles torn up by the savage conflict, became to us curiously
oppressive--almost ghostlike in the bright sunshine. It seemed absurd
to imagine that forty or fifty rifle-armed sailors, a band of priests
and many thousands of converts had been ringed in here by fire and
smoke for weeks, and had lost dozens and hundreds at a time through
mine explosions. It seemed, also, equally absurd that the twenty or
thirty thousand men who had poured into Peking had already become so
quickly lost in the expanses of the city. Where were they all?...

My mad companion had tired, too, of looking, and wanted again to rush
off and discover some signs of life. He wanted, above all, to see the
place where the first companies of the French infantry had suddenly
come on a mixed crowd of Boxers, soldiers and townspeople fleeing in
panic all mixed together, and had mown them down with _mitrailleuses_.
There was a cul-de-sac, which was horrible, it was reported. The
machine-guns had played for ten or fifteen minutes in that death-trap
without stopping a second until nothing had moved. The incident was
only a day or two old, yet everyone had heard of it. People exclaimed
that this was going too far in the matter of vengeance. But everything
had been allowed to go too far....

We rode out at a canter, and wondered more and more as we rode at the
solitude, where so few hours before there had been such a deafening
roar. We plunged straight into the maze of narrow streets, and then
suddenly, before we were aware of it, our mounts were swerving and
snorting in mad terror! For corpses dotted the ground in ugly
blotches, the corpses of men who had met death in a dozen different
ways. Lying in exhausted attitudes, they covered the roadway as if
they had been merely _tired to death_. It was awful, and I began to
have a terrible detestation for these Asiatic faces, which, because
they are dead, become such a hideous green-yellow-white, and whose
bodies seem to shrivel to nothing in their limp blue suitings. Such
dead are an insult to the living.

We picked our way on our trembling mounts, trying vainly to push
through quickly to escape it all. But it was no good. We had stumbled
by chance on the actual route taken by an avenging column, and the men
who had been mad with lust to loot the Palace, and had been turned off
almost as an afterthought to relieve co-religionists, had vented their
wrath on everything. The farther and farther we penetrated the more
hideous did the ruins and the corpses become. There was nothing but
silence once again--death, ruin, and silence; and at last we came on
such a mountain of corpses that our ponies suddenly stampeded and went
madly careering away. Frightened more and more by the sound of their
galloping hoofs, the animals soon laid their legs to the ground and
bolted blindly. Vainly we tugged at our bridles; vainly we tried every
device to bring them to a halt. But again it was no good. It had
become a sort of mad gallop of death; the animals had to be allowed to
rid themselves of their feelings.

Eventually we pulled up far away to the west of where we had started.
We were now near the districts which had only the day before been
proclaimed highly dangerous to everyone until clearing operations had
swept them clean of lurking Boxers or disbanded soldiery. But now
attracted by a roar of flames, and indifferent to any dangers which
might lurk near by, we followed up the trail of smoke hanging on the
skies to see what was taking place. One's interest never ceased, yet
it was only the same thing. French soldiers, some drunk and some
merely savage, had found their way here by some strange fate, and
being quite-alone had evidently looted and then set fire to a big pile
of buildings. They were discharging their rifles, too; for as we
approached, bullets whistled overhead, and sobbing townspeople, driven
from their hiding-places, began rushing away in every direction. This
was strange.

Our arrival was only the signal for a fresh discharge of rifles, and
then there was no doubt who was attracting the fire. The men were
deliberately aiming at us to drive us away! We halted behind cover,
and then with the same callousness as they displayed, we gave them a
volley back, as a note of warning. It was my insane companion who
drove us to do that; but, forthwith, on the sound of that well-knit
discharge, there was more firing on every side, some shots coming from
houses quite close to us and some from the open streets. With the
growing roar and crackle of the flames these shots made very
insignificant popping and attracted but little attention. Yet I soon
saw that this continuous firing could not come from the rifles of
European soldiery, unless there were whole companies of them, and that
perhaps we had been mistaken for other people. And soon my suspicions
were confirmed by a confused shouting in the vernacular, and a rush of
men from lanes not a hundred yards away. Then there were some
half-suppressed blasts on the hideous Chinese trumpet and--Chinese

They came out with a mad rush and charged straight at the drunken
French marauders, firing quickly as they ran after the old manner
which we knew so well. As we gazed, the men from the relief columns
fell back in disorder without any hesitation--indeed, fled madly to
the nearest houses and began pelting their assailants with lead in
return. Suppressed trumpet-blasts came again, rallying the attackers;
more and more men rushed out from all sorts of places, and as this was
no affair of ours, and our retreat would certainly be cut off if we
dallied, we retreated at full gallop farther and farther to the west.
We were going straight away to where might be our damnation.

I do not remember clearly how far we rode, or why we galloped, but
soon we arrived almost at the flanking city walls miles away, and
found ourselves among scores and hundreds of the enemy, who were still
lurking on the streets, half disguised and mixed with the townspeople.
They fired at us as we rode; they fired at us when we stopped; for
many minutes there was nothing to be heard but the hissing of lead and
fierce yells....

Conscious that only a big effort would pull us through, we boldly
turned bridle and galloped to the south--reached a city gate, went
through at a frantic pace, and sought safety in the outer Chinese
town. Here it was quieter for a time, but as once more we approached
the central streets, down which the Allies had marched, we came across
other marauders. This time they were Indian troops going about in
bands, with only their side arms with them, but leaving the same
destruction behind them. Then we came across Americans, again some
French, then some Germans, until it became an endless procession of
looting men--conquerors and conquered mixed and indifferent....

It was eight at night before I pulled up on my foundered mount at
home. I confess I had had enough. We were dead with fatigue. This was
too much after one had those weeks of siege.



August, 1900.

       *       *       *       *       *

The refugee columns have gone at last, and have got down safely to the
boats at Tungchow, which is fifteen miles away, and in direct water
communication with Tientsin. It is good that nearly all the women and
children and the sick have been packed off. This is, indeed, no place
for them. An Indian regiment sent a band, which played the endless
columns of carts, sedan chairs, and stretchers out along the sands
under the Tartar Wall, until they were well on their way. That made
everyone break down a little and realise what it has been. They say
it was like India during the Mutiny, and that it was impossible for
any one to have a dry eye. Even the native troops, rich in traditions
and stories of such times, understood the curious significance of it
all. They talked a great deal and told their officers that it was the

Thus, winding away over the sands and through the dust, the only
_raison d'etre_ of this great relief expedition has passed away.
Probably a conviction of this is why the situation in Peking itself
shows no signs of improving. Some say that it has become rather worse,
in a subtle, secret way. More troops have marched in, masses of German
troops and French infantry of the line, and columns of Russians are
already moving out, bound for places no one can ascertain. Nothing
but moving men on the great roads.

It is the newly arrived who cause the most trouble. Furious to find
that those who came with the first columns have all feathered their
nests and satisfied every desire, they are trying to make up for lost
time by stripping even the meanest streets of the valueless things
which remain. They say, too, now, that punitive expeditions are to be
organised and pushed all over North China, because these new troops,
which have come from so far, must be given something to do, and cannot
be allowed to settle down in mere idleness until something turns up,
which will alter the present irresolution and confusion....

But for the time being there is little else but quiet looting. Even
some of the Ministers have made little fortunes from so-called
official seizures, and there is one curious case, which nobody quite
understands, of forty thousand taels in silver shoes being suddenly
deposited in the French Legation, and as suddenly spirited away by
some one else to another Legation, while no one dares openly to say
who are the culprits, although their names are known. Silver, however,
is a drug in the market. Everybody, without exception, has piles of
it. Also, the Japanese, who are supposed to be on their good conduct,
have despoiled the whole Board of Revenue and taken over a million
pounds sterling in bullion. They have been most cunning. The only
currency to be had is the silver shoe. These shoes can be bought at an
enormous discount for gold in any form, and even with silver dollars
you can make a pretty profit. The new troops, who have arrived too
late, are doing their best to find some more of this silver by digging
up gardens and breaking down houses. Marchese P----, of the Italians,
who always pretends that he has been a mining engineer in some
prehistoric period of his existence, calls it "working over the

In consequence of this glut of silver and curiosities, a regular
buying and selling has set up, and all our armies are becoming armies
of traders. There are official auctions now being organised, where you
will be able to buy legally, and after the approved methods, every
kind of loot. The best things, however, are being disposed of
privately, for it is the rank and file who have managed to secure the
really priceless things. I heard to-day that an amateur who came up
with one of the columns bought from an Amerian soldier the Grand Cross
of the Prussian Order of the Black Eagle, set in magnificent diamonds,
for the sum of twenty dollars. It seems only the other day that Prince
Henry was here for the special purpose of donating this mark of the
personal esteem of the Kaiser after the Kiaochow affair. Twenty
dollars--it is an inglorious end!

The native troops from India, seeing all these strange scenes around
them, and quickly contaminated by the force of bad example, are most
curious to watch. When they are off duty they now select a good corner
along the beaten tracks where people can travel in safety, squat down
on their heels, spread a piece of cloth, and display thereon all the
lumps of silver, porcelain bowls, vases and other things which they
have managed to capture. You can sometimes see whole rows of them thus
engaged. The Chinese Mohammedans, of whom there are in normal times
many thousands in Peking, have found that they can venture forth in
safety in all the districts occupied by Indian troops once they put on
turbans to show that they are followers of Islam; and now they may be
seen in bands every day, with white and blue cloths swathed round
their heads in imitation of those they see on the heads of their
fellow-religionists, going to fraternise with all the Mussulmans of
the Indian Army. It is these Chinese Mohammedans who now largely serve
as intermediaries between the population and the occupation troops.
They are buying back immense quantities of the silver and silks in
exchange for foodstuffs and other things. A number of streets are now
safe as long as it is light, and along these people are beginning to
move with more and more freedom. But as soon as it is dark the uproar
begins again. The Chinese have had time now, however, to hide all the
valuables that have been left them. Everything is being buried as
quickly as possible in deep holes, and search parties now go out armed
with spades and picks, and try to purchase informers by promising a
goodly share of all finds made. It is really an extraordinary



End of August, 1900.

       *       *       *       *       *

It shows how little is still generally known of what is going on in
our very midst, and low disordered things really are, when I say that
I only learned to-day that the whole city--in fact, every part of
it--has been duly divided up some time ago by the Allied Commanders
into districts--one district being assigned to every Power of
importance that has brought up troops. They are trying to organise
military patrols and a system of police to stop the looting, which
shows no signs of abating. Everybody is crazy now to get more loot.
Every new man says that he only wants a few trifles, but as soon as he
has a few he must, of course, have more, and thus the ball continues
rolling indefinitely.... Nothing will stop it.

Yesterday, just as a man of the British Legation was telling me that
the system was really all right, that it was, in fact, a working
system which would soon be productive of results, and that the bad
part was over, a huge Russian convoy debouched into the street where
we were standing. It was a curious mixture of green-painted Russian
army-waggons and captured Chinese country carts, and every vehicle was
loaded to its maximum capacity with loot. The convoy had come in from
the direction of the Summer Palace, and was accompanied by such a
small escort of infantrymen that I should not have cared to insure
them against counter-attacks on the road from any marauders who might
have seen them in a quiet spot. A dozen mounted men of resolution
could have cut them up.

The carts lumbered along, however, indifferent to every danger, in
their careless disorder. Their drivers were half asleep, and things
kept on dropping to the ground and being smashed to atoms. Just near
us the ropes stretched round one cart became loosened by the rocking
and bumping occasioned by the vile road, and the contents, no longer
held in place, began spilling to the ground. As soon as he had seen
this, the Russian soldier-driver became furious. He would have had to
do a lot of work to repack his load properly, so he soon thought of a
shorter and easier way: he began deliberately throwing overboard his
overload! Three beautiful porcelain vases of enormous size and
priceless value suffered this fate; then some bulky pieces of jade
carved in the form of curious animals. C---- tried to stop the man,
but I only smiled grimly. What did it matter? In Prince Tuan's Palace
I had seen, a couple of days before, the incredible sight of thousands
of pieces of porcelain and baskets full of wonderful _objects de
vertu_ smashed into ten thousand atoms by the soldiery who had first
forced their way there. They only wanted bullion. Porcelain painted in
all the colours of the rainbow, and worth anything on the European
markets--what did that mean to them!

The convoy at last bumped away, leaving merely a long trail of dust
behind it and those fragments on the ground, and C---- became silent
and then left me suddenly. Perhaps the idea had finally entered his
respectable British head that we had become grotesque and out of
date, and that we should retreat and make room for other men. Nobody
cares for anybody else. Only a few hours before a reliable story had
been going the rounds that some Indian infantry had opened fire on a
Russian detachment in the country just beyond the Chinese city,
pleading that it was a mistake. How could it have been? There is only
one really sensible thing to do, and now it is too late to do that; to
set fire to the whole city and then retreat, as Napoleon did from
Moscow. The road to the sea is too short and the winter too far off
for any harm to come.

The first cables have at length come through in batches from Europe,
by way of the field telegraphs, which are now working smoothly and
well. Everybody of importance is being transferred, but it is
impossible to find out where they are all going. All the Ministers now
pretend that they had asked for transfers before the siege actually
began, and that they will be heartily glad to go away and forget that
such a horrible place as Peking exists. Yet from the nervousness of
those who have been told to report for orders in Europe, it cannot be
all joy.



August, 1900.

       *       *       *       *       *

Fortunately my friend K----, of the Russian Legation, rescued me at a
moment when I was prepared only to moralise on this infernal
situation, and to see nothing but evil in everything both around me
and in myself. I like to put it all down to the strange stupor and
lack of energy which have settled down on everything like a blight,
but I believe, also, that there must be a little bit of remorse at the
bottom of my feelings. K---- came in gaily enough, pretending that he
was looking for a breakfast and had learned of my retreat by mere
chance as he rode by. He had heard, I believe, as a matter of fact,
that there were a number of women on the premises, and that I was
living _en prince_. Perhaps, he had a number of reasons for coming.
From what he told me, however, it soon appeared that he had known
L----, the commander of the Russian columns, for many years, and had
just done business with him; and that, in consequence, the Russian
commander, who is a pleasant old fellow, risen from the ranks, had
said that he could have a private view of the Palace if he swore on
his honour that he would not divulge the excursion to any one. He
must, also, not take anything. He did not tell me all at first. It
came out bit by bit, after I had been sounded on a number of points.
Then he asked me if I would like to come, and if I, too, would swear.

Of course, I duly swore!

Eventually we started on our long ride; for it was necessary for us to
go right round the Imperial city, skirting the pink walls so as not to
become involved in other people's territory, or to be noticed too
much. That was one of the preliminary precautions, K---- said. All the
way round, that ride was a beautiful illustration of the way the
International Concert (written with capital letters) is now working.
At absolutely every entrance into the Imperial city there were troops
of one nationality or another: American, British, French, German,
Japanese, and others--all looking jealously at every passer-by, and
holding so tight to their precious gates, that it appeared as if all
the world was conspiring to wrest them from their grasp. They thought,
perhaps, that this Palace is the magic wand which touches all China
and can produce any results; that both in the immediate and dim future
the obtaining of a good foothold here will mean an immense amount to
their respective countries. What fatuous, immense foolishness! For a
moment, as I looked at these guards, I had the insane desire to charge
suddenly forward and call upon the French, in the name of their dear
Ally, Czar Nicholas, to hand me their gate, or else take the
consequences; to do the same to the others; to mix them up and confuse
them; to tell them that a new war had been declared; that they would
soon have to fight for their lives against formidable foes--to tell
them mad things and to add to the rumours which already fill the air.
These troops, which had been hurled on Peking in frantic haste, had
only come because it was a matter of jealousy--that was now clear to
me. They themselves did not know why they had come, or with whom they
were fighting, or why they were fighting. They knew nothing and cared
less. And yet it does not much matter. It is not really they who are
to blame, nor even their officers. I know full well how instructions
are issued and how little the pawns really count.... The despatches
from the Chancelleries of Europe, how grotesque they can be! Everybody
is always so afraid of everybody else.

Yet while I was thinking these things, K---- was not. He was secretly
worried, as he rode, whether L----'s promise would materialise, or
whether there would be another _impasse_. Somehow I felt certain that
there would be more difficulties, in spite of all assurances. _Ce
n'est pas pour rien qu'on connait les Russes_, as C----, our old
_doyen_, always says....

We passed at length into the Imperial city by the northern entrances,
far away from everybody else, and found ourselves in the midst of a
big Russian encampment, with rows upon rows of guns ranged in regular
formation and lots of tents and horses. All the soldiery here were
taking it very easy on this sunny day; had, indeed, stripped
themselves, and were now engaged in sluicing themselves over with
ice-cold water from a beautiful marble-enclosed canal. These hundreds
upon hundreds of clean white men, with their flaxen hair and their
blue eyes, seemed so strange and out of place in this semi-barbaric
Palace and so indifferent. How curious it was to think that only a few
days ago the Empress and all her _cortege_ had passed here!

We sought out the post commander and told him our purpose. The
difficulties began quickly enough then, as I had anticipated. The
officer explained to us that our request was out of order and
impossible; that no one was allowed inside the inner precincts or had
ever been there; and hinted, incidentally, that we must be mad.
K---- listened to all this in that insulting silence which is a sure
sign of gentility, and then, ransacking his pockets, brought out a
letter and handed it to our man. That produced a change which might
have been highly amusing at other times. There was the complete
_volte-face_ which amuses. The officer suddenly saluted, clicked his
heels, and said in a silky way, like a cat which has tasted milk, that
this order was explicit and made things different; that, indeed, we
might go at once if we liked, only we must be discreet--highly
discreet. He would accompany us himself. Such trivial details were
soon arranged.

We left our ponies and our outriders then and marched forward quickly
on foot. The soldiery around us stared and laughed among themselves as
soon as they saw where we were going. This made me understand that
this excursion had been taken before, probably under the same orders
and in exactly the same way. It was only a well-rehearsed comedy.
K----, who is really a bit of a coward, did not appear to relish the
comments made, and now became suddenly reluctant. He told me
afterwards that he had overheard the men saying that we might be
killed inside, as there were many people there. So in silence we all
marched on.

The first gate we reached was a beautiful example of the art of this
Northern country. There were splendid pillars of teak, marble tigers
and marble fretwork beneath, with much glittering colouring around. A
strong post of Russian infantry was on guard here, and sitting inside
the enclosure with the men off duty were a number of Palace eunuchs.
They all seemed quite intimate together and were chaffing one
another--soldiers and eunuchs laughing heartily at some coarse jest.

We wended our way through a marble courtyard, which wore a rather
deserted and forlorn look, and which had huge low-lying halls and
dwellings for the Palace servants ranged on either side. These
appeared to be all deserted now, but at regular intervals were Russian
sentries standing up on lookout platforms. They were peering over the
walls in every direction, and seemed to be keeping a very sharp
lookout. The officer said that many guards of other nationalities were
well within rifle-shot from here, and that men were continually trying
to steal their way right into the inner Palace by scaling the walls.
He called them robbers!

The next gate was much smaller, and showed from its very appearance
that we were nearing the actual Palaces--the hidden, mysterious abodes
of the Tartar rulers who had so ignominiously fled. Here the sentries
had the strictest orders, for, stopping us short with their lowered
bayonet points, they looked askance at us, and politely asked the
officer who we were and why we had ventured here. In the end, to set
their minds at ease, he had to tear a leaf from his pocket-book, write
an order, and make us sign our names. Upon this, the non-commissioned
officer in charge of this post detached himself and joined our little
party. We were not going to be allowed in alone, and imperceptibly the
affair assumed a graver and more consequential aspect. Then, quietly
advancing, we four were speedily lost in the huge maze of gardens and
buildings. The area covered by the Palaces was enormous.

Beyond this was a succession of high, picturesque-looking buildings of
a curious Persian-Tartar appearance, with little galleries running
round them, and drum-shaped gateways of stone pierced in unexpected
places. There were also flowering trees and beautiful groves. It was,
indeed, charming, and over everything there was a refined coolness
which to me was something very new. We came on a last sentry, who, at
a word from his sergeant, drew a heavy iron key from a wooden box
hanging on the wall and fitted it to a lock. The key turned with a
faint screeching, which seemed out of place; the little gate was
thrust open and closed behind us, and ... at last we were within the
sacro-sanct courtyards of the rulers of the most antique Empire in the

Around us there was now a curious and unnatural quiet, as if the world
was very old here, and the noises of modern life remained abashed at
the thresholds. I knew well from a study of the curious old Chinese
maps, which the vendors of Peking _objets d'art_ always offer you,
where we were, and it was almost with a sense of familiarity that I
turned and made my way to the east. There I knew in ordinary times the
Empress Dowager herself lodged in a whole Palace to herself. Somewhere
not very far from us I caught the soft cooing of the doves, which
everyone in Peking, from Emperor to shopkeepers, delights to keep, in
order to send sailing aloft on balmy days with a low-singing whistle
attached to their wings--a whistle which makes music in the air and
calls the other birds. Who has not heard that pleasant sound? Even the
Empress Dowager must have loved it. Here, in her private realm, the
doves were cooing, cooing, cooing, just like the French word
_roucoulement_, spoken strongly with the accent of Marseilles. You
could hear these birds of the Marseilles accent saying continually
that French word: _Roucoulement, roucoulement, roucoulement_, with
never a break....

We ran up some flights of marble steps, following these gentle sounds,
and walked along a broad terrace adorned with fantastically curved
dwarf-trees, set in rich porcelain pots, and made stately with
enormous bronze braziers. The Russian officer, and even the Russian
sergeant, were agreeably stroked by the contact with all this quiet
and seclusion and this old-world air, and they murmured in sibilant
Russian. It pleased them immensely.

We hastened to the end of the terrace, going quickly, because we were
anxious to find more delights; and as we turned at the end, without
any warning there were a few light screams and a little scuffle of
feet which died away rapidly. Women....

We caught a disappearing vision of brilliantly coloured silks and
satins and rouged faces passing away through some doors, and then
before we had satisfied our eyes, several flabby-faced men suddenly
came out and called imperatively to us to stop and go away. We could
not go farther, they said.

The two men of the Russian army, with the instinct of discipline which
we lacked, halted as if orders were being disobeyed, and looked at
K---- for inspiration. K---- stroked his thin moustaches, and put his
head a little on one side, as if he were debating what to say. I--well
since I had nothing to lose, and it did not really matter, I went
forward without any delay, asking our interlocutors roughly what they
meant and what they were doing here, and telling them, too, that we
were going on. I knew that they were sexless eunuchs, who would
stammer as I had heard them stammer in the old days when I had seen
them trafficking things they had been donated by officials desirous of
cultivating their friendship, in the mysterious curio shops beyond the
great Ch'ien Men Gate. Nor was I wrong. Stammering, they replied by
asking how it was that orders had been broken. Stammering, they said
that all the great generals had promised that the inner Palaces were
to be kept immune; now men were for ever climbing in, and others were
coming openly as we were doing. What did we wish?

I am afraid I was rude, for questions in these times do not sit well
on such folk, and I told them more roughly than ever to go quickly
away, or else we would hurt them. Perhaps we would even hurt them
badly I insinuated, fingering my revolver, for we had a duty to do. We
were going to inspect the entire Palace and see that all was well. And
before these men had recovered from their surprise we had pushed right
into the Empress Dowager's own ante-chambers.

I saw, as I walked in, that a long avenue in the distance led directly
to a high yellow-walled enclosure. That must be the Imperial seraglio,
where the hundreds of young Manchu women provided by tradition for the
amusement of the Emperor were imprisoned for life. In the haste of the
Court's flight, the majority of them had been abandoned, and only the
most valuable taken off. Everybody had heard of that.

Gently discoursing to the disturbed eunuchs, we went through room
after room, which even on the hot autumn day seemed cool and peaceful.
The _objects de vertu_ which littered the small tables, and the
scrolls which hung from the walls, did little to relieve the sombre
effect of those high ceilings and carved wood frescoes. Yet there was
a little air of distinction and refinement which showed that an
immeasurable gulf separated the favoured dwellers of this Palace from
even the greatest outside. Even here Royalty does more than oblige; it

With the eunuchs protesting more and more vigorously, and seeking to
stay our advance by a curious mixture of suggestion and imploring and
resistance which is a quality of the East, we slowly passed through
apartment after apartment. Some now were furnished with luxurious long
divans which eloquently invited graceful repose. What scenes had not
this silent furniture witnessed, and how little could the makers have
supposed, as they cunningly carved and stained and coloured, that
barbarians from Europe would be one day insolently gazing on their

I had lagged somewhat behind, when some curses and imprecations
dragged my wandering attention to the doors beyond. Two eunuchs had
fallen on their knees and were now kowtowing and begging with renewed
vigour, while a third was standing more resolutely than his fellows
with outstretched arms, imperatively forbidding any further advance.
The most interesting point had been reached; this must be the greatest
thing of all.

But these eunuchs were beginning to fatigue us with their airs of duly
authorised custodians who could do as they pleased, and going up, we
now told them that unless they went quickly away we would kill them
then and there. We all drew our revolvers, stood over them, and waited
a minute of two. Then, as if they had acted their parts right up to
the end, the men on their knees got up suddenly, shook themselves,
bowed to us politely without a trace of feeling, and left....
"_Enfin,"_ said K----.

At last we were in this dear Empress's bedroom, the abode which
shelters for such a considerable number of hours of every twenty-four
the most powerful woman in Asia. We looked eagerly. At one side of the
room was a large bed, beautifully adorned with embroidered hangings;
ranged round there was a profusion of handsome carved-wood furniture,
with European chairs upholstered in a style out of keeping with the
rest; on a high stand there were jewelled clocks noisily ticking; and
hidden modestly in one corner was nothing less than a magnificent
silver _pot de chambre_. She was here evidently very much at her ease,
the dear old lady. That little detail delighted me. The rest was
rather _banal_.

_Sans ceremonie_, I seated myself on the Imperial bed--it seemed to be
the most peaceful act of vandalism I could commit in repayment for
certain discomforts occasioned by this old lady's whims during eight
weeks of rifle-fire. And as my recollections went back to those
terrible days, I came down heavily as I could on this august couch. I
must confess that as a bed it was excellent; the old lady must have
slept well through it all, while she caused us our ceaseless vigil....

This solitude in the most secluded of spots in the whole Palace made
us more and more inquisitive, and soon K---- and myself were hard at
work, rummaging every likely hiding-place.

Our escort watched our antics and said nothing. It made an odd enough
little scene that, and I liked to think of its incongruity--we two
sets of men, who had not known of each other's existence an hour ago,
now absolutely alone in this retreat, from whence the siege had been
largely directed.

K---- continued rummaging, making an extraordinary amount of noise,
and exclaiming to himself now and again as he came across trifles
which interested him. Then I discovered a _compote_, or preserve made
of rose-leaves, which was so sweet and fragrant that we began promptly
eating. There were also Russian cigarettes, _au bonheur des dames_,
yet quite fit to smoke, and then just as we were becoming reasonably
content, K---- gave a tremendous oath and brought out something in his
hand. Then I knew that he was lost--that there would be speedy
complications; it was a Louis XV. painted watch--his greatest
weakness. Peking is full of these watches, some genuine enough and
many spurious. They were made the vogue centuries ago by the clever
Jesuit priests, when the first disciples of Loyola to come to China
were playing for kingly stakes in the capital of Cathay, and were not
ashamed to use any means which the ingenuity might discover to delight
the Manchu rulers of that day. Many of the most beautiful watches in
France, with amorous paintings of the most voluptuous kind decorating
the inside case, were brought to Peking and distributed among the high
and mighty. That set up a fashion for such pretty things; more and
more were brought, until Peking became a storehouse, stocked with this
specialty. Everyone even to-day has an example or two of this art, if
they can afford it.

I thought of these things as I saw K---- trifle with that watch and
scrutinise it more and more closely. He looked at it for a last time
longingly, and then, without a word, suddenly placed it in his pocket.
That was cool. But at once the Russian officer started forward
protesting; we were breaking our words; we had begun looting; he would
be forced to arrest us. As he spoke, the man became so red and
excited, that K----, who pretended at first merely to smile
indulgently, became more and more alarmed, and finally replaced the
watch without a word. But still he continued this curious search, and
coming across other things, I noticed vaguely that he seemed to be
placing them all together in little collections, so that he could
easily get at them again....

Then we wandered away to other great buildings, and we came on a
beautiful set of princely rooms, full of ticking clocks and rich
tapestries, and with such things as solid gold _bonbonnieres_, studded
with coarse, uncut stones, lying on the secretaires and small tables.
These, I believe, were the Emperor's apartments in normal times. There
were lots of beautiful things here--vases, enamels, jade, cloisonne,
and much wondrous porcelain; and although everyone had been saying
that Peking was not as rich as in 1860, when those strings of
beautiful black pearls had been brought home for the Empress Eugenie,
still it was clear that these Palaces contained a wealth undreamed of
outside. Indeed, there were magnificent things....

Round the corners, as we walked, we saw the eunuchs looking and
lurking, and finally disappearing whenever they thought that they were
seen. There were more of them now, too, and, seeing us quite alone,
they were beginning to pluck up courage and wished once more to
interfere. I thought for an instant as I looked at their evil faces of
tearing down some rich embroidery and fashioning from it a sack just
as I had seen those Indian troopers do so few days before; then of
setting to work and piling everything I fancied into it and making as
if I intended to go off.

Yet such a comedy would not be worth the candle; the officer and the
sergeant would have to go through the formality of arresting me, and
the eunuchs would not even be noticed....

Engrossed with such thoughts, and no longer amused by my surroundings,
I must have forgotten myself for a moment in a brown study; for when I
came to, I was surprised to find that we four had drifted some
distance apart, and that K---- was now whispering rapidly to the
Russian officer alone, and that the sergeant was standing far away,
with his back turned to them, slily fingering the things on the
tables. Then the sergeant allowed his hand to linger longer than was
necessary, and, throwing a sharp look round out of the corners of his
eyes, he suddenly thrust some object into his pocket. He, too, had
succumbed! I paid not the slightest attention to these curious
developments, but pretended to be gazing idly at nothing. Still, I
kept my eyes on the alert. K---- was manifestly plotting for those
watches; it was not my business--what did it matter to me if he took
everything there was?

The officer, whatever the arguments, was obviously not yet very
convinced, nor very happy. He shook his head vigorously again and
again, and protested in that thick Russian undertone, which always
seems to me to explain what Russians really are. Yet those thick tones
were becoming gradually monotonous and less emphatic, and presently
slower and slower, until they stopped altogether. Then K---- came
towards me, and said carelessly that he supposed I wanted to wander
around a little more on my own account to see what else there was. It
was an invitation to disappear. Very well! I moved off suddenly and
sent the eunuchs scurrying back. There was a wish to split up the
party for a few minutes so that no one would know what the others
were doing. I knew I should immensely annoy the eunuchs by going
towards the women's quarters. Well, I would not cavil....

I walked rapidly enough then down that back avenue I had observed
before, and looked neither behind me nor to the right or left. I would
go straight through to the end, _Dieu voulant_! It would be
interesting to have the unique experience of exploring the poor
Emperor's most private domains. But then I remembered that the women
had screamed and run away when they had caught sight of us in the
beginning. Now they would be securely locked in, and it was absurd and
dangerous to think of storming a gate by one's self. Farther and
farther I walked away until I became doubtful....

I suddenly became aware that I was in front of a small door; that the
door was ajar; and that an amused talking and moving was going on very
near with many ripples of laughter rising clearly in the still air. It
seemed that the fates were helping me for some inscrutable purpose. I
must discover that purpose. Without a quiver I boldly walked in.

I came on them without any sense of emotion, although nothing could
have been so novel--a number of groups of young Manchu women, some
clothed in beautiful robes, some in an undress which was hardly
maidenly. They were sitting and standing scattered round a large
courtyard, and hidden somewhere above them in the yellow tiled roofs
were more of those cooing doves with that strong accent of Marseilles:
"_Roucoulement, roucoulement, roucoulement_," they said very gently
this time, yet without ever ceasing. Their soft voices made beautiful
music.... For some reason none of the harem were surprised. Two or
three of the younger women ran back a step or two, and clasped the
hands of the others with broken ejaculations. Then they all sought my
eyes, and somehow we began smiling at one another. All women are the
same; these knew somehow that I would not hurt them. Yet in spite of
this fact I stood there embarrassed, knowing not what to say or do. I
had supposed myself inured by now to all the most impossible
situations--yet it seemed so absurd that I should be here, alone,
absolutely alone, among dozens of young women who were the Emperor's
most inviolate property--virgins selected from among the highest and
most comely in the land; forbidden fruit, which had not even been
tasted because of the Emperor's lack of masculinity.... I thought
rapidly of the various classes into which these women are divided
according to immemorial custom: of the concubines of the first rank,
of the second, of the third, and even of the fourth, who are merely
favoured hand-maidens of the Biblical type. Then I wondered whether it
was true that when the former Emperor Hsien Feng had suddenly died,
and the Empress Dowager had selected the child Kuang-shu to succeed
him, she had caused the child to be mutilated, so that the question of
the next heir should remain in her own hands.... The women would know.

And yet even Imperial concubines must have opportunities which no one
suspects, for I was suddenly relieved of the necessity of breaking the
ice by their breaking it for me. Without embarrassment they suddenly
began plying me with questions, and not waiting for replies, they
asked what was going on outside; what was going to happen; who was I;
why had I come; why was I not a soldier?... The questions came so
fast and thick that before I had realised it I had forgotten my
surroundings, forgotten the time, forgotten most things, I am afraid,
and was deep in the middle of an astonishing conversation, which never
flagged and which was continually broken with laughter. Then I was
brought to ominously. I heard a door shut with a thump; I saw the
women pinch and look at one another and cease talking. What did that
door mean?

On purpose I did not turn round; that would have been fatal. I did as
I always do now: I gained time to lessen the shock. Some day, when I
have much leisure, I shall, doubtless, prepare tables specially
adapted to every situation and to every temperament, which will show
exactly the number of seconds, minutes, and hours which are necessary
on an average to accustom one's self to anything. It is possible to do
so; it will be astonishing when it is done. For the time being, I
thought of this rather glumly--indeed, without a trace of
enthusiasm--and I wished a little that I had not been so foolish in
putting my head inside the lion's mouth. I remembered the story a
former Secretary of the British Legation used to tell us of two
Englishmen, who, in the unregenerate days in Cairo--or was it
Constantinople?--climbed into the harem, and were cruelly mutilated
for their audacity before they could be rescued. I became so glum as
this flashed through my mind, that my great system of preparation was
in imminent danger of breaking down. So I turned suddenly round on my
heel, and looked squarely ... it was as I had thought.

The door I had entered had been quietly locked, and now, inside, were
standing, with moving lips and menacing air, those evil-looking
eunuchs. This time there were four of them. Two were the two who had
knelt and prayed that we should not enter the Empress Dowager's
private apartments; one was the man who had stood up and been almost
threatening; the last one was so tall that his aspect of strength
almost gave the lie to the assumption that he had been mutilated for
Palace use. These last two would be difficult; the others I could
leave out of my calculations.

Faithful to my theory, and trusting to this strange ally, I merely
opened my revolver-pocket; then it was with a sense that I was
irretrievably lost that I saw that two of the opponents were armed in
the same way. My theories and preparations were all falling to the
ground. I would probably follow them in person in a very few minutes.
Nobody would be the wiser....

I stood there waiting while these men muttered at me, as if they now
hated me bitterly, and yet did not know how to commence, and with the
women behind me chattering affrighted. In vain I tried to work out how
many eunuchs there really were in this vast Palace; whether a great
number had gone away with the Court, or whether these four men would
summon four more, or perhaps fourteen, and possibly even forty or four
hundred. They always say the Palace contains three thousand....

It was all no good, however, for it was my turn to play, and without I
played we might remain standing there in this manner until it became
dark. Then I could be beaten to the ground and thrown down a well
without any one being the wiser. No search could be made for me, and
if one was made, nothing would be found. Men were continually missing
in Peking, and no one knew how they met their fate....

I advanced now with my hands empty and my mind fairly made up.
Everything depended on a new theory, which I was about to test, a mere
Chinese theory concerning eunuchs--that their mutilation makes them
bestial, but also downtrodden and quite spiritless and peculiarly
weak. That is why the old Empress could thrash them to death whenever
they displeased her, without their daring to raise their hands or make
one single struggle. Now, as I walked forward, I could see my old
Chinese teacher, who had taught me these strange theories concerning
eunuchs, sitting in front of me and slowly waving his fan, and showing
by an analysis of things I did not clearly understand, how Nature had
laws and decrees which cannot be violated without bringing heavy and
immediate punishment in their train. As I walked forward I could not
help seeing that old figure of a Chinese teacher in front of me, and
prayed that he was correct. If he was not ... then I stopped thinking
and acted.

I did it neatly, with some brutality, because I had been absolutely
surprised, and had not yet recovered, and, also, because I was more
than a little afraid. Six paces off I threw myself in two savage
bounds against the tall man; caught him with my right hand by the
outstretched right arm, hurled him round once by the force of my own
impetus and the strength of my grasp; and then, as he swiftly swung
with loosened legs, stopped him suddenly short with a mighty up-driven
blow of my right knee, which sang so deep and cruelly into his soft
flesh, that it grated harshly against his spinal column. Nobody can
resist that blow--according to the old man's theory, least of all a
eunuch--nobody, nobody. It should be certain as death, once you have
the right grip. With a gurgle my man had sunk to the ground a mere
shapeless mass, perhaps really dead; and with by breath coming hot
through my nostrils at this success I closed fiercely with the second,
seized him by the throat, wrenched at him like a madman, and carried
him staggering back. The other trick demands the six paces and the
impetus; I would have liked to have tried it again, but I had not

But it was finished with dramatic suddenness, for even as I ran the
second eunuch, gasping for breath, backwards, the other two rushed to
the door, opened it hurriedly, and then stepped aside with loud
implorings and supplications. I accepted. I let go my grasp and
quickly jumped out. I, too, had had enough. As I went through I caught
a last glimpse of that curious scene framed by the red gate-posts and
the roofs beyond--the senseless eunuch on the ground, the other
standing near by, coughing and reaching at his throat, the women of
the seraglio in their gaily flowered coats pressing curiously
round.... But I had enough. I did not tarry. Rapidly I walked away,
with a little prayer in my heart. I felt almost as I had felt once
when I was nearly drowning.

I found K----, five minutes later, sitting on the first marble
terrace, with his pockets bulging out and an expression of ox-like
satisfaction on his face. That was an antidote which speedily sobered
me. The officer was farther on, and had also looted by his looks. The
sergeant of the guard--well, I knew about him already. K---- smiled
when I appeared, and said that I had been very quick and that he did
not expect me so soon. I did not take the trouble to answer;
explanations are always apologies. If I had told him the truth, he
would never have believed me, and certainly never have understood.
And if I had lied there would have been the same result. So I merely
said I was ready, and that we had seen enough; and then, in silence,
each man thinking of what he had done, we covered the way back very
quickly and mounted our ponies. All the way home during that long ride
I was amused by watching the heavy posts of soldiery belonging to the
other columns, who were so jealously guarding their own entrances. How
angry they would have been if they had only known!... That was an
extraordinary day.



End of August, 1900.

       *       *       *       *       *

Imperceptibly, I believe, things are settling down a little and
assuming broad outlines which can be more easily understood as the
days go by. Most people who went through the siege have now gone away.
A few remaining missionaries and their converts have flowed far away
and quartered themselves in some of the residences of the minor Manchu
princes, and are now selling off what they have found by auction. They
have the special permission of the Ministers and Generals to act in
this way. Loot-auctions, indeed, are going on everywhere, and the few
people who have managed to get through from other places in China with
loads of silver dollars are making fortunes. There are enormous masses
of silver _sycee_ in nearly everybody's hands, and I am certain now
that several of our _chefs de mission_ are in clover. My own chief,
who pretends to be virtuous because he is something of a _faineant_,
to put it mildly, eyed me very severely the other day and said that
everyone reported that I had developed into a species of latter-day
robber-chief, and had slain hundreds of people. He said all sorts of
other things, too. I let him exhaust his oratory before I replied.
Then I inquired regarding the definition of the term treasure-trove,
which has become the consecrated phrase for all our many hypocrites.
The generals and many of his colleagues had much treasure-trove, I
said; I had some, too. Of course, I admitted that if there were
investigations, and everyone had to render a strict account, I would
do the same; but for the time being I wanted to know that there was
going to be only one law for everyone. Those were good replies, for
some of the biggest people in the Legations are so mean and so bent on
covering up their tracks that they are using their wives to do their
dirty work.

I believe my chief thought for a moment that I knew something about an
affair in which he was involved, for he only said one word, "_Bien,"_
and looked at me in a strange way. I knew I had frightened him, and
that he must have thought that if I chose to speak later on there
would be trouble. I had no such intention, of course, only I hated
being annoyed by a man of little courage. Had he been courageous I
should never have answered at all, except perhaps to offer him a share
of my private treasure-trove!

Yet with all this settling down it seems to me that people must be
becoming suddenly more and more commercial, and that an inspection of
their accounts makes them wish for a little more on the profit side.
For one morning a young Englishman, who has been living in Peking
rather mysteriously for a number of years, marched in on me at a very
early hour, accompanied by several Chinese, whom I immediately knew
from their appearance to be small officials. The Englishman said that
he had a plan and a proposition, and these he unfolded so rapidly that
he made me laugh. It appeared that the men he had brought with him
were _ku-ping_, or Treasury Guards of the Board of Revenue under the
old _regime_; and, according to their accounts, they knew exactly
where the secret stores of treasure were hidden in the secret vaults
of the government. They explained that these stores belonged not only
to the government, but were also portions of what peculating officials
took from day to day and hid away until they could remove their
plunder in safety after an inspection had been made. They said, did
these informants, that there were millions in both gold and silver.
They became very enthusiastic and excited as they talked.

I waited patiently to see how they proposed to solve this problem--did
they wish a bold, open, frontal attack or an underground plot? Nothing
is very astonishing now, and we have all the resourcefulness of
_condottieri_, with a certain modern respectability added. But they
were sensible people, and did not dream of the impossible. They
supposed, they said, that I knew that the Russians had now full
control of the Board of Revenue. Perhaps, if their commander could be
approached in the proper way, the matter could be very rapidly
attended to. The treasure could be seized in the name of the Russian
Government and everyone could get a share. That is what they said.

At first I thought of refusing point-blank, for I was rather tired of
these adventures; but the men were so persistent, and I had been so
irritated by the pious insincerity of my own chief, that in the end I
told them that I would see what could be done, although the matter did
not interest me very much. I privately again thought of what our old
_doyen_ says, "_Ce n'est pas pour rien qu'on connait les Russes_," and
wondered how long negotiations would last.

Of course it was a wretchedly long business, and before long I
regretted bitterly that I had not been more hard-hearted. I managed to
communicate with L---- that same day through R----, and explained to
him as well as I could the whole affair. I found the Russian
Commander-in-Chief a sly old fox, for his first idea was to thank me
for the information and have the whole Treasury searched; if
necessary, to dig down to a depth of twenty feet or so with the help
of a regiment or two of infantry. That was his idea. In the end we
managed to convince him that this was foolish, and that there must be
places which his soldiers could not reach even by prodding down with
their bayonets and spades to great depths. Secret chambers cannot be
easily discovered even in this way, we said. That made L---- very
angry, for no reason apparently but that the affair seemed a huge
bother and trouble. He said in reply that the Japanese had taken
everything in any case, and that this was going to be a fool's quest
if he went on with it. Also, he would not listen to any arrangements
being made and put in writing regarding the proportions to be paid to
everyone if a find was actually made. Indeed, this last idea
irritated him so much that he angrily said that we were deliberately
plotting to take away the property of the Russian Government--property
which the Russian Government could not afford to lose, and did not
intend to lose, either. He even added that this was a city of robbers,
and that people would not keep to their own territory, but were always
trying to trespass. This made us laugh so much that he suddenly
changed his manner, and said that the whole question was a serious one
and would have to be referred home by telegraph. Otherwise he could
not authorise any payments. K----, who was present, replied
sarcastically that perhaps he would like to refer the question direct
to the Czar, and begged him to be cautious in such a very important

The last thing which could be got out of the Russian
Commander-in-Chief was that he would telegraph at once to Alexieff at
Port Arthur and ask his permission to arrange matters. If Alexieff
said yes, we would go to work at once; otherwise nothing could be
attempted. I knew that probably not a single word would be mentioned
to any one out of Peking, and that these were mere manoeuvres.

I had almost forgotten the matter when, a few mornings after this
interview, I was suddenly awakened at daylight and told that there
were several Russian officers in my courtyard who wished to speak to
me at once. Their business was urgent. I went out and greeted the men,
and they said that L---- would be ready at two o'clock that day to go
with his staff to the Board of Revenue and effect the seizure; and
that a quarter share on all amounts seized would be given by the
Russian Government for the information supplied. These officers added
that they would have to go back at once; but in the end they remained
with me the whole morning, drinking as hard as they could, and
contenting themselves with despatching a Cossack to say that all was

We started to go to the Russian headquarters at an early hour, but in
some mysterious way news must have been conveyed to other people of
this latest development, for half a dozen men arrived and appeared
immensely surprised to find these Russian officers there with me on
their horses. They asked me, each in turn, whether everything had been
arranged, and how much everyone was going to get, and where the
treasure was to be stored. There was, indeed, no end to their
questions, and they said that they estimated that the sum seized would
amount to about ten or twelve million francs. Later on, each man took
me aside, and explained what he had done to help the thing along,
hoping that he would be remembered in the end, as this was a very big
affair, and the more people in it the better. I confess I did not
clearly understand all this; it was like floating a mining company.
But I knew that most of these dear friends had been sitting shivering
inside the Legations while the sack was going on, because they had no
wish to risk their lives; and now that they thought they could safely
earn an honest penny in a legitimate affair, they would stoop to

We were soon such a huge cavalcade that I became nervous about the
reception L---- would give us. The Russian officers, too, became more
and more drunk in the open air, and kept on saying that they hoped
there would be fighting, heavy fighting, for they felt just like it. A
charge was what they wanted, they said. No one could find out with
whom they proposed to fight, as the place we were going to was only a
stone's throw away, with not a Chinaman near and a couple of strong
companies of Russian infantry inside. The officers became intensely
angry when everyone laughed, and said that although they were drunk,
they were not like many people without stomachs about whom there had
been so much talk. That was a nasty home-blow for some of them.

We found L---- ready enough; indeed, we had kept him waiting. He had
most of his staff with him, and the usual escort of Cossacks standing
by their horses, making it seem very official. Of course, L----
became furious when he saw the big crowd of people, and asked whether
it was going to be a picnic. This word tickled one of the drunken
officers so much, that suddenly he let his loose legs relapse and
clapped his spurs into his animal, which reared horribly, and in the
end sent him on the ground. I thought I should die of laughter. Then
everybody became more and more fussy, because they were afraid of
L----, but, fortunately, the general started off ahead, muttering to
himself, and we rode after him like some procession. It seemed to me
very absurd, and at that point I lost all confidence in the success of
the expedition. Everyone had become too sanguine, and I fully believe
that you cannot have any luck in such affairs with a crowd of idiots.
Other people, who had no business to know of the affair, somehow
managed to join us on the way, and when we reached the Board of
Revenue we numbered dozens of men, not including the escorts.

There were about two companies of Russian infantry in occupation
there, as I have already said, and in the first halls we found armed
guards superintending hundreds of small Chinese boys at work stringing
together copper cash. There must have been millions and hundreds of
millions of these worthless coins either piled up in great mountains
or scattered on the floors, and it would take months to sort them out
and market them. It was the only thing the cunning Japanese had openly

L---- now called the officers of the guard, and explained to them that
he was about to seize secret treasure which had been so well hidden by
the Chinese that the Japanese had not been able to find it. He told
them to give their assistance. The new officers, when they heard
this, looked so sharply at one another, that everyone began to
comment on it, and say that if there was nothing left they knew who
was guilty. It was becoming delightful.

We started off in a body with the _ku-ping_, or treasury guards, who
were giving the information, leading us. They took us past a good many
huge buildings that looked like grimy old warehouses, and then stopped
us short at one that appeared to be still barred and bolted. It took
some time to open these doors, although the officers of the guard said
that they had only been closed after they had taken over the place
from the Japanese; and when we got inside it was so dark and dank that
we could see nothing and could scarcely breathe. Candles had to be
lighted, and as they threw feeble flickers of light across the gloom,
hideous bats began flying madly about, and dashing to the ground in
their fright great shreds of dusty cobwebs that must have been
centuries old. Nobody minded that, however; it seemed just the sort of
place where millions could really be found in these prosaic days!

The thing was now interesting, if only from a psychological point of

The _ku-ping_ advanced, without hesitation, and brought us to a high
wooden paling which shut off one half of this immense hall from the
other. Inside the paling, as far as we could see, there were just
mountains of empty sacks--hundreds of thousands of them, even
millions, I should think.

But the paling was impassable. A small gate leading through it was
still locked with a heavy Chinese padlock, and there was no key. One
of the officers gave a wave of his hand, and a couple of the soldiers
went out and reappeared with axes. In a few blows they had cleared a
broad opening; the _ku-ping_ sprang through, and, like bloodhounds
that scent a trail, ran swiftly up the steep slopes of the great
masses of empty bags, looking eagerly about them. Then, finally
calculating aloud, they marked down a spot. They had located the exact
place where they would have to begin to work. They stripped themselves
to the waist with great rapidity, and, feeling that their reputations
were at stake, without any warning they were heaving away among those
empty sacks like so many madmen. Faster and faster they worked,
throwing away the sacks. Choking clouds of dust, now rising as if by
magic, filled the whole vast hall and drove us back coughing and
gasping for air, until, fairly beaten, we had to stand outside. As if
through a thick vapour we could dimly see those men still working more
and more rapidly. I wondered how they could breathe....

In very few minutes, however, they also had had enough, but as they
sprang down, and quickly gasping, sought the open air, they brought
with them the end of a rope. They had evidently not only located the
exact spot they were seeking, but had found the first trace which was
necessary to make their search successful. Still, it was impossible to
continue work in this way. It would take hours, at such a slow rate,
to dig down beneath those mountains of old treasure-sacks. It would
take more hours to excavate or open up chambers beneath. So we held a
short consultation. There was but one thing to do. We must tear down
one side of the building, so as to have more light, and to be able to
put more men to work. No sooner decided on, than the thing was done,
for in this work the Russians are supreme. They called in fatigue
parties from the infantry companies in garrison, and telling them in
simple language to break down one side of the building, in a few
moments a wonderful scene began. I had seen some rapid work at short
intervals during the worst agony of the siege, but never have I seen
men who could handle the axe and the crowbar like these rude
infantrymen. Everything went down under their blows--brickwork,
woodwork, stonework, iron stanchions, everything; and with a rapidity
which seemed incredible, gaping spaces appeared. Soon, standing
outside, from a dozen different points, you could see the Chinese
informants inside at work again, in those clouds of choking dust,
thrashing up and down, like men possessed.

But energy is not sufficient for some things. Three men were
attempting the work of a hundred. We must have more hands.

This time the dozens of small boys stringing cash in the outer
courtyards were called in and told to fall to; and forming lines which
oddly resembled those made by firemen, they were soon bundling out the
empty sacks to the open at the rate of thousands a minute. Faster and
faster they worked, as if the same frenzy had spread to them; wider
and wider moved the rings of floating dust, until they hung high above
everything and made the day seem dull and threatening. Then suddenly
the _ku-ping_ inside gave a shout. They had got low enough for the
time being--they wanted to be able to see. The squads of sweating
soldiers and the dozens of grimy little boys desisted and stood
open-eyed to see what was to follow. They were beginning to appreciate
the significance of it all.

We waited patiently and watched the great clouds melt away and settle
on our clothes and silt into our eyes; and then finally, when it was
clearer, a man inside struck a match, lit a candle and handed it down
into a great hole which had been dug through the very centre of these
decade-old bullion coverings. How deep the hole was I could not see,
but the three men slipped in and were entirely lost to our view.

They seemed a long time down there without giving a single sign or
making any noise, and we all became a little nervous. Perhaps the
thing was really miscarrying. Soon I felt certain that it had
miscarried, and bitterly regretted taking the matter in hand. Then one
man came up gruntingly and began cursing and swearing as soon as he
saw us. He did that because he was afraid. I feared the worst. On his
shoulders there was one single great lump of silver and nothing else,
and as he clambered out to where we stood he tilted it with a dull
thud to the ground, and said sullenly that that was the only thing
left, and that others had been there before us. He repeated this
several times, so that there should be no mistake; there was only this
enormous piece of silver and nothing else. The smile's left
everybody's face. Never have I seen such a sudden change. However, to
me it was _kismet_....

In some trepidation we at length approached L---- and told him what had
been said, and then there was another storm. He said that it was
impossible--that there must be some mistake--that the men had said
that the bullion was there, and there it must be. As he spoke his
anger rose again, and coming up and kicking the massive silver ingot,
he asked again and again in a few words of French, which I believe he
had learned especially for the occasion, "_Mais ou est l'or? mais ou
est l'or?_" It was almost pitiful to hear him repeat these words again
and again like a child. He believed we were cheating him....

The position had now become suddenly ridiculous, and I did not know
what to do. Everyone soon took up L----'s attitude, and felt that
they had been cheated by some one. Indeed, they acted as if they had
lost valued possessions. They all clambered around me, and said that
it was disgraceful, and that something should be done to punish the
men who had brought the false information. They became so excited that
it was necessary to create a diversion by going down into that hole
ourselves to see exactly what it meant. That proved the last straw.

It was the dirtiest and most uncomfortable descent I have ever made.
Sliding down through those piles of sacks led one to a false floor,
some planks of which had been forced up by the Chinese informants.
Beneath this was a short ladder, and, stepping down, one found one's
self in an immense underground chamber. The air was so thick and dank
here that it was almost impossible to breathe, and in the flickering
light of the candles we could just see a confused mass of chests and
boxes ranged round. Everyone of these had been battered open. The
cunning Japanese must have been there first and taken everything.
Alone that big lump of silver had been left because of its weight.

But there was something I missed. These _ku-ping_ had been emphatic
about the valuable weights we would find hidden--the standard weights
of China in pure gold, which were centuries old, they said, and were
the same as had been used during the Ming dynasty hundreds of years
before. I asked for them--where were they kept? Perhaps we might at
least have these.

Alas! they led me to a smaller chamber, with a curious little door
formed of a single slab of stone, and pointed once again
disconsolately to more rifled boxes. These outer chests covered
smaller boxes, which were of the size of the weights themselves. I had
always heard that the biggest weight of all was a square block of gold
equal to the weight of a full-grown man. I would like to have seen
that, but everything was gone. It was useless wasting any more time.

We came up again carrying some of those silk-lined boxes as
explanations and souvenirs. But our friends were now all standing
round some soldiers, who had accidentally knocked aside some flags of
stone, and had found a deep hole underneath. They were now jerking
away violently at some last obstruction, and finally they swept aside
everything and bared some steep steps. As we stood wondering what had
been discovered, and our hopes were almost revived, far down below
appeared a grimy face, and a man at last ran up, rapidly exclaiming
from surprise, as he mounted to the surface. It was one of our Chinese
informants! Then suddenly we saw the point, and in spite of our
discomfiture began laughing. The soldiers of the fatigue parties,
slower than us to understand, at length followed our example; then the
hundreds of small Chinese boys; then everyone else, until we were all
laughing. For we had been fooled and well fooled by those clever
little Japanese. When they had seized the Treasury, they had not only
discovered the general stores of silver, but had managed to find this
hidden entrance or some other near by. Without any trouble they had
gone down and taken everything, swept the place clean, and left,
probably as a supreme sarcasm, that one enormous lump of blackened
silver.... We were indeed well sold. It was immense.

At that particular moment I do not think any one was very bitter at
this absurd anti-climax after those great expectations. That is,
excepting the old general. Somehow, he became convinced by our
preparations that there would be much gold found as a just reward. Now
once again he accused us all of making a fool of him, of knowing from
the beginning that it was a wild-goose chase. I thought sarcastically
about his telegram and the desire he had had in the first place to
haggle about the terms; and I let him mutter on. It is always the one
who laughs last who laughs best. I made a little plan.

We retired from the Chinese Treasury with rather indecent haste. L----
did not even look at the guard which turned out as we passed the
entrance. When we had entered they had hurrahed him, and hoped that
his health was good, in a chorus after their custom; and he had made a
little speech in return, trusting that his children were also well! It
was amusing if you happened to be able to appreciate that kind of wit.
Most of my companions, however, did not. And yet with the clouds of
dust which had settled on us and covered us from head to food with
dirt it was impossible to look even dignified with success. And all my
friends, who had been so cordial and admiring in the morning, how cold
and distant they had become! They had not made anything--was not that
a sufficient excuse for any behaviour?

Somehow news of this expedition must have leaked out everywhere
through the indiscretion of confident busybodies, until everybody knew
about it, for we kept on meeting men riding across our road as if by
chance, and asking what luck we had had. This made the companions I
had gathered more furious than ever, and at the last moment, as we
parted, I could not restrain myself. I rode up to one of the staff
officers who had been the most officious and the most offensive, and
begged him not to forget to remind the general that he had a duty to
perform. An account must be telegraphed at once to Alexieff! That was
the last word--the very last.



September, 1900.

       *       *       *       *       *

I have now ridden to every point of the compass in the city, and even
beyond, and I have inspected everything with a critical eye. It is
wonderful how things shape themselves. There are now some portions of
the city that are reasonably peaceful even at night, and where even
women can come forth and walk openly about; others that are quiet on
the surface and yet throw up mad things at all hours; and lastly,
there are those where riot and disorder still reign supreme. Some
people estimate that half or even three quarters of the native
population have fled, and that this accounts for the curious silence
which now reigns, only to be broken by the noise of marauders or
marching troops. Yet I do not believe that so many of the population
have really fled; many people remain half hidden in quiet spots,
where, packed dozens and dozens in a single house, they tremulously
await the return to happier days. The Chinese, I sometimes think, of
all peoples of this earth must have their historic sense enormously
developed. Thousands of years of civil wars and countless endless
sieges have placed them in the dilemma of to-day more often than it is
possible to say. Only fifty years ago the Taipings made whole
provinces suffer the way Peking has now suffered.... Such things must
live in the blood of a people and never be quite forgotten....

You muse like this very often when you ride out and meet lumbering
military trains going back to Tientsin, laden with countless chests of
loot. What immense quantities of things have been taken! Every place
of importance, indeed, has been picked as clean as a bone. Now that
the road is well open, dozens of amateurs, too, from the ends of the
earth have been pouring in to buy up everything they can. The armies
have thus become mere bands of traders eternally selling or
exchanging, comparing or pricing, transporting or shipping. Every man
of them wishes to know whether there is a fortune in a collection of
old porcelain or merely a competence, and whether it is true that a
long robe of Amur River sables, when the furs are perfect and undyed,
fetch so many hundreds of pounds on the London market. There are
official military auctions going on everywhere, where huge quantities
of furs and silks and other things come under the hammer. Yet it is
noticed that the very best things always disappear before they can be
publicly sold. A phrase has been invented to meet the case. "_Cherchez
le general_," people say.

Even with these sales the stocks never seem to sink lower. There are
always fresh finds being made--seizures made officially by an officer
or two with a few files of men so that there may be some reasonable
excuse to offer to those who persist in remaining mulishly prudish.
These new finds are, of course, called treasures-trove. They are good
words. Looting has officially ceased; is, indeed, forbidden under the
most severe penalties. That is why it is being systematised and made
open and respectable. It is in the blood. You cannot escape it; it
still follows you everywhere, no matter how far away you go.

Listen to this. I rode some days ago into the Imperial city in order
to climb the famous Mei Shan, or Coal Hill, built, according to
ancient tradition, so that when some immense disaster overwhelmed the
ruling dynasty, it might be lighted and consume in its flames the
whole Imperial family. That is the tradition--that the hill is an
immense funeral pyre. (Nowadays, however, ruling dynasties are so
human that they merely run away.) All the way up that historic hill I
was followed by the whining voices of disappointed looters. A
battalion of the French troops, which came straight from Europe a week
or so too late for the relief, was in garrison at the base of this
eminence, and French soldiers escorted me to the top, probably under
orders to see that I did not try and chip off the gold-leaf which is
reputed to line the roofs of the pavilions. You can never be quite
certain for what reason you are watched by rival nationalities now.

It was a long climb to the top, up winding steps that never ceased and
through little pavilions which looked out on the scene below. A final
flight of stairs at last introduced you into a structure which crowned
the whole. From here the view was magnificent. Right below you
could see far into the Palace and inspect the marble bridges, the
lotus-covered sheets of water and all the other things of the Imperial
plaisaunce. Farther on, the city of Peking spread out in huge expanses
hemmed in only miles away by the grey tracing of the city walls and
the high-standing towers. Farther again were waving fields with uncut
crops rotting as they stood, because all the country people had fled
to escape the vengeance. On the very horizon line were dark hills. The
view was indeed immense and wonderful.

I stood lost a little in this contemplation, and forgot the
attendants who had so persistently followed me, until suddenly their
voices rose in a dispute which was purposely loud so that it should
engage my attention. At last, as the stratagem had failed, and I did
not turn, a soldier bolder than his comrades pushed up to me, and
saluting politely enough, said that they had a few things to sell,
although they had had hard luck and had found Peking almost empty.
Indeed, before showing me anything, they complained bitterly of the
men from Tonkin, who were no better than disciplinary battalions and
who got everything because they had come with the first columns. This
they called cruelly unjust. Then from their pockets and tunics these
men began producing their little _articles de vertu_. They made me
laugh at first, for they had systematised so much that each man's
possession had a ticket attached, with the price in francs clearly
marked. That was good commercialism brought straight from France.

They were, however, only the usual things--watches, rings,
snuff-boxes, hair-ornaments, curios of minor value, and a few stones
of bad colour. But the men crowded round me and extolled their wares
like the hucksters of Europe, and beseeched me to buy in a most
anxious manner. They would sell cheap, very cheap, they confessed, at
the present moment, because they had just learned that an order had
been issued to search all their kits and to turn over the finds to a
common fund. Rumours had spread to Europe, they said--it was the first
I had heard of it--of the dark things which had been going on, and the
generals were becoming alarmed....

Fortunately I had with me some gold coin, and for a mere song I
purchased everything. I did not want to do so, but already experience
has taught us that it is best to buy when you are alone and no help
near by, otherwise your pockets may be turned out and everything taken
without an excuse. That happened to a man in the German Legation.

I climbed down from the famous Coal Hill, thinking very little of the
renowned view. I wondered merely when it was all going to end, and how
normal conditions were going to come. I wandered, thinking in this
manner, over the famous marble bridge, that delicate, delightful
tracing of stone which so charmingly crosses an artificial lake thick
with swaying lotus. I turned this way and that, not thinking very much
where I was going; and presently, on my way back, walked past the
Little Detached Palace, where, they say, the Emperor was imprisoned
after the 1898 _coup d'etat_. Here there was a curious sight, which
brought back my wandering attention. French and English soldiers
divided the honour of guarding this Palace entrance. Rival sentries
stood only ten or fifteen feet away from one another and jealously
watched to see that this prize was not secretly seized. The British
regiment had the actual gates; it seemed that the French had posted
themselves so close merely to watch. I passed these lines of sentries
and wandered along, only to be accosted once more as soon as I was in
a quiet alley. I soon found that this man and his mates were more
cunning than those with whom I had had previously to deal and that
some time must elapse before a bargain could be struck. They wasted
time ascertaining who I was, and only hinted at good things--not the
usual watches and rings, they said, but really things worth their
weight in pure gold. Then one man tempted me deliberately with an
abrupt movement which reminded me of the way the sellers of obscene
playing-cards in Paris disclose to the unsuspecting stranger their
wares. He drew from his tunic a little wooden box, opened it quickly,
and laid bare a most exquisite Louis XV. gold belt-buckle, set in
diamonds and rubies, and beautifully painted. I, who knew a little of
Manchu history, understood that belt-buckle. It must have been one of
the countless presents made during the early days of the Jesuits in
Peking, when they almost controlled the destinies of the Empire. It
was a priceless relic.

Of course I succumbed. Such things have an international value, and
were not merely the sordid pickings from deserted private dwellings.
Who would not rob a fleeing Emperor of his possessions?

After this we went into the English camp unostentatiously, and by some
means men came forward from nowhere, and without greeting or
superfluous words showed me what they had. The English are good
traders; they never waste their words; and as I looked I thought of
the anguish which the patrons of the Hotel Drouot or Christie's would
have felt could they have seen this marvellous collection. For these
common men had made one of such taste and value that there could be no
doubt where the things had been obtained. Every piece was good and a
century or two old. There were enamels and miniatures which must have
lain undisturbed for countless years watching the Manchu Emperors come
and go. There were beautiful stones and snuff-boxes, and many other
things. There might be none of the black pearls of General Monttauban,
Comte de Palikao, that had delighted the Empress Eugenie half a
century ago, but there were _objets de vertu_ such as duchesses love.

In the end, I, too, became commercial and arranged that some men
should come and find me that same evening, bringing as much as they
could carry of the spoils they had amassed. They were to be paid in
gold coin or in gold bars just as I pleased, weight for weight, and a
quarter in my favour. That was soon settled. In the evening the men
duly came, not the few I had supposed, but so many that they filled my
courtyards, yet managing to remain curiously, silent. For them an
important turning-point had been reached; they would make small
fortunes if the thing went through successfully. With scales in front
of me and gold alongside, we weighed and calculated unendingly--weight
for weight, with that one quarter in my favour. It took two hours and
more, for these common men were very careful, and everything had to be
written down and recorded with strange marks and numbers, denoting the
private division of profits which would afterwards follow. In the end
everything was finished with and bought. Then the men stood up and
shook themselves as if they had been bathed in a perspiration of
anxiety, and the spokesman, a dark man with a quick tongue, which
showed that he had not always been a soldier, thanked me curtly. When
they had drunk, at my request, he explained to me how it was done.
There was something dramatic in the way he described. It was so
simple. I recorded what he said so as not to forget. "When it's dark"
he said, in a low voice, with no introduction, "there's only the
picquets. They have everything to themselves excepting that the
Frenchies are just alongside. The Frenchies watch us close, but we
watch them closer, and there's always a way. Rounds are not kept up
the whole night, for everything is slack now, and when they are
finished the fun begins. The reliefs, lying on the ground, strip off
everything so that they can crawl like snakes and that no one can get
hold of them. They crawl in through holes, over walls, with never a
match or a light to show them how. In the end they get inside." The
man laughed a little hoarsely, spat, and again went on.

"The palace they call the Little Detached Palace will soon be picked
clean--clean as any dog's bone, with the Frenchies only fifteen feet
off, and you'll get nothing more from there. Sometimes the Frenchies
suspect and want to march right in on us, but our corporals are
waiting, and are ready for them, and our bayonets stop them short.
Twice it's happened that their officers march a guard right up to the
gates of the Little Detached, and want to stay there all night with
our fellows crawling about inside. They suspected. But we bluffed them
away every time, and now that all the good things are gone we are
carrying away the big ones--vases, small tables, carvings, jars,
bowls--everything. We wrap them up in a bundle of great-coats and
feed-bags in the morning, and carry them away; no one's ever the
wiser. All round the Palace they are doing the same. The Yankees, the
Russians, and all of them are in the same boat. All night they climb
the walls to get the swag. Give them another six months and there will
be nothing left."

Thus spoke the spokesman of the party. It was organised plundering,
and everybody winked at it. After they had gone I sat long and
reflected. This was the retribution and the vengeance. We were all
tarred with the same brush; we were returning to primitive methods.
Yet, what could be done--what steps could be taken? It was rather a
hopeless tangle, and once more I gave it up.



September, 1900.

       *       *       *       *       *

There is not a single scrap of news worth recording, although
telegrams are now coming through more and more freely by the field
telegraphs from Europe. Still, no one knows what is going to happen.
As an appreciation of the astute action of the Court in fleeing at the
last second of the eleventh hour becomes more and more general, people
begin to see how absurd we have become with our avenging armies which
were going to do so much, and are now merely traders collecting and
valuing and slowly taking away the best loot of the capital. The
troops effected the relief, it is true; but there should have been
other steps. If these are now taken it is too late. Some, indeed, say
that punitive expeditions are going to be sent into the country as
soon as a transport service can be organised. Even now nests of Boxers
and disbanded soldiers are reported in great numbers only a few miles
beyond Peking. These men seem to understand that they are quite safe
even so close as this to the European corps, and that ample warning
will be conveyed to them directly there is any movement, so as to
allow them to escape. They, too, are now pillaging and setting fire
far and wide. Cossacks and other cavalry are supposed to be out many
miles beyond Peking, sweeping the country, and blowing up or setting
fire to temples and rich country-seats as a warning to others of the
fate which may overtake all for harbouring evil-doers. Yet even this
is done on no system. It is irresolute, foolish. A day or two ago,
from the top of the Tartar Wall, where I was idly sitting, I saw a
huge pillar of smoke roll up on the horizon ten or fifteen miles away,
and gradually spread farther and farther. The air was very still, for
the heat can still be baking in the midday of this autumn month, and
that smoke hung on the skies like some funeral pall. Into the hearts
of a whole country-side it must have struck a blind terror, for the
peasants still believe that they are all to die as soon as the troops
move out. The panic is thus only being added to; and a sort of blind
scourging of people who may not be in the least guilty can never be of
use. There is also still the same palsy on everyone and everything in
Peking. No one really knows what is going to happen. No one very much
cares. They say that this is being debated in Europe, and that there
are divided counsels which may bring about a split and really turn the
various corps now nominally allied to one another into active enemies,
as I dream when I see those jealous guards at the Palace entrances....

Yesterday some Chinese whom I had known in the old days came
stealthily to see me, and as soon as they were alone with me, without
excuse or warning, they fell on their knees and began bitterly
weeping. How sad, indeed, they were, these respectable people of the
Chinese _bourgeoisie_--so sad that for a long time I could not
persuade them to speak. Yet even as they wept they were dignified in a
curious way, and you felt that you were in the presence of men who had
only been cruelly wronged. At length they began speaking. They had
lost everything, absolutely everything, they said, what with the
Boxers and the sack, all this long, unending Reign of Terror. But that
they did not mind. They were bitter and beyond consolation because
they had lost the intangible--their honour. Each one had had women of
their households violated. One, with many hideous details, told me how
... soldiers came in and violated all his womankind, young and old.
That account, muttered to me with trembling lips, was no invention.
Their blanched and haggard faces showed that it was only the truth
they were speaking. About such elemental tragedies no one lies.

I tried to comfort these poor men as best I could. I told them old
sayings which had once been familiar to me; it was hard to know really
what to do. Yet they at length became more philosophic, and said they
understood that this was a visitation which the nation had deserved.
China had been utterly wrong; it had been madness. Then they remained
silent, and that silence was like a sermon straight from Heaven, both
for them and for me. I saw dimly for a few seconds many things, and
understood that it was useless saying more. But as they were
wretchedly poor, I gave them silver from the rich men's houses, which
seemed very Biblical--each man as much as he could carry--and told
them that they could always come for more. I asked them also to tell
all the people I had known to come, too; I would do as much as I could
for all of them. So all to-day they have been coming, and I have
showered largesse. A few households have thus some relief, but the
last man who came told me that a Hanlin scholar, who was his
neighbour--a learned man, who in the times of peace was courted by
all--is now selling wretched little cakes down the side alleys so as
to save himself and his few remaining relations from slow starvation.
Such things are the dregs. It is too much....



September, 1900.

       *       *       *       *       *

I suppose in some subtle way the conviction is being gradually forced
home that something must really be done to try and ameliorate the
general situation. It could obviously not go on forever in this way,
with the commanders of the rival columns almost fighting among
themselves, and with everybody quietly looting, and our Ministers, who
have lost so much, just twiddling their thumbs and delaying their
departure because they are afraid of worse things happening. So
somebody has been getting into communication with whoever represents
the last vestiges of Chinese authority in this ruined capital, and
diligent search has discovered that there are actually a few high
officials left and a great number of smaller ones. These have all
shown a trembling haste to oblige; and after some _pourparlers_, there
is now a faint possibility of a _modus vivendi_ being arranged during
the next few weeks.

For it soon transpired, after the confidence of these remaining
officials had been gained, that Prince Ching had been discreetly
dropped by the fleeing Court only about fifty miles to the southwest
of Peking--dropped just behind the first mountain barriers, so that he
was at once safe and yet within easy call. He had been in waiting
there for weeks, it appears. Sage old man! Those conciliatory
despatches, coming from the officers of the defunct Tsung-li Yamen,
have made of this old Manchu prince the natural person to bridge over
the ever-widening gulf the Court has dug by its insanity. People
remember now that this procedure of leaving behind a Prince to begin
the first _pourparlers_ is only the precedent of 1860. Then Prince
Kung played exactly the same _role_ when the Court had fled to Jehol.

Prince Ching fenced a long time before he would move forward, or even
disclose his safe hiding-place; but in the end he was prevailed upon
by some one. And yesterday he actually entered Peking through the same
Northern Gates which witnessed the mad flight of the Court a month

Many rode out to see this entry, half expecting something spectacular,
which would give them a change of thought. But they were grievously
disappointed. Prince Ching merely appeared in a sedan chair, looking
very old and very white, and with his _cortege_ closely surrounded by
Japanese cavalry, whose drawn swords gave the great man the appearance
of a prisoner rather than that of an Envoy. Every Chinese official,
large and small, in the city came out on this occasion for the first
time since the troops burst in; and sitting in what carts they could
find, and clothed in the remains of their official clothes, they paid
their Manchu dignitary their trembling respects. What terror these
wretched men exhibited until they actually met the Prince, and saw
that there was going to be no treachery of shooting down by ignorant
soldiery! For a whole month everyone of them had been living
disguised in the most humble clothes, escaping over back walls
directly news was brought that marauders were at their front doors;
offering their very women up so as to escape themselves; living in
all truth the most wretched lives. Hourly they had expected to be
denounced by enemies to the European commanders as ex-Boxer chiefs,
and then to be summarily shot. That is what had happened for miles
round Monseigneur F----'s cathedral, it is being whispered. The native
Catholics, having died in hundreds, and lost whole families of
relatives, had revenged themselves as cruelly as only men who have
been between life and death for many weeks do. They had led French
soldiers into every suspected household, and pointing out the man on
whom rumour had fixed some small blame, they had exacted vengeance.
Even on this day of Prince Ching's entry this search and revenge was
still going on; there were so many scores to pay....

It was plain to me that every official was thinking of these things,
for the little convoys that I watched all day wending their way to the
north of the city represented petrified fear in forms that I hope I
may never see again. I stopped one cart, all bedecked with
flags--German flags, English flags, Russian flags, French flags,
Japanese flags, every kind of flag, to help to protect from all
possible injury--merely to inquire at what hour precisely Prince Ching
would arrive and where he was going to live. What a result these
questions had! Instantly he heard my voice, the official inside the
cart crawled half out with a deathly green pallor on his face, and
with his whole body trembling so violently that I thought he would
collapse for good. As it was, he remained in a sort of stricken
attitude, like a man who has been stunned. He was quite speechless. I
called to him several times that all was well, that he would not be
hurt, to calm himself.... In vain. Every word I spoke only added to
his terror and remained unintelligible because of his panic. He was a
lost soul--for ever. The iron had entered too deeply. He was so
smitten that he never could be cured.

His outriders, who had swung themselves from their saddles, at last
bowed to me. They were a little pale, but quite collected.
"Excellency," they said, "forgive him; it is not his fault. He has
been frightened into semi-insanity." "_Hsia hu-tu-lo,"_ they said.
Yes, that is the phrase, frightened into semi-lunacy. They are
employing this for everyone. The tragedy has been so immense, the
strain has been endured for so many months, there has been so much of
it, that all minds excepting those of the common people have become a
little unhinged. Half the time you speak to men you are not
understood; they look at you with staring eyes, wondering whether the
rifle or the bayonet is to follow the question. It is past curing for
the time being.

Meanwhile Prince Ching has got in safely, and has been given a big
residence, which is closely guarded by the Japanese. Perhaps the
_modus vivendi_ will after all be arranged.



30th September, 1900.

       *       *       *       *       *

Prince Ching has been here a number of days now--I have not even taken
the trouble to note how many--but still nothing has been done. They
say that half the Powers refuse to treat with him until things are
better arranged, and that the Russians have already raised insuperable
difficulties because they say the Japanese have the big Manchu in
their pocket. Others argue that expeditions must really be launched
against a number of cities in Northern China, where hideous atrocities
have been committed, and where missionaries and converts were
butchered in countless numbers during the Boxer reign. Until these
expeditions have marched and had their revenge, there can be no
treating. There must be more killing, more blood. That is what people

The fleeing Court has reached Taiyuanfu, it is reliably reported. This
is three hundred miles away, but the Court does not yet feel safe; it
is going farther west, straight on to Hsianfu, the capital of Shensi
province, which is seven hundred miles away. That is a big gulf to
bridge; yet if there is any advance of European corps in that
direction, already Chinese say that the Empress will flee into the
terribly distant Kansu province--perhaps to Langchou, which is another
four hundred miles inland; perhaps even to Kanchau or Suchau, which
are five hundred miles nearer Central Asia. These cities, lying at
the very southwestern extremity of the Great Wall of China, look out
over the vast steppes of Mongolia, where there are nothing but Mongols
belonging to many hordes, who live in the saddle and drive their
flocks of sheep and their herds of ponies in front of them, forever
moving. It is nearly two thousand miles in all; no European armies
could ever follow, not in five years. They would slowly melt away on
that long, interminable road. With such a line of retreat open the
Court is absolutely safe, and knows it. It can act as it pleases.

Prince Ching is so miserably poor, they say, and has so little of the
things he most needs, that he has been forced to borrow looted _sycee_
from corps commanders and to give orders on the Southern Treaty ports
in payment. It is an extraordinary situation.

A number of little expeditions have already been pushed out forty,
fifty and even sixty miles into the country, feeling for any remnants
of the Chinese armies which may remain. I went with one of these
_faute-de mieux_, as Peking has become so gloomy, and there is so
little to do that it fills one with an immense nostalgia to remain and
continually to contemplate the ruins and devastation, from which there
can be no escape.

Never shall I regret that little expedition into the rude hills and
mountains, where climbs in wonderful manner the Great Wall of China.
It was divine. There was a sense of freedom and of openness which no
one who has not been a prisoner in a siege can ever experience. In the
morning sweet-throated cavalry trumpets sounded a reveille, which
floated over hill and dale so chastely and calmly that one wished they
might never stop. How those notes floated and trembled in the air, as
grey daylight was gently stealing up, and how good the brown earth
smelt! I almost forget the other kind of trumpet--that cruel Chinese
trumpet which only shrieks and roars.

Each day we rode farther and farther away, and higher and higher,
beating the ground and examining the villages, from which whole
populations had fled, to see that no enemy was secretly lurking.
Travelling in this wise, and presently climbing ever higher and
higher, we came at last to little mountain burgs, with great thick
outer walls and tall watch-towers, where in olden days the marauders
from the Mongolian plains were held in check until help could be
summoned from the country below. It was a wonderful experience to
travel along unaccustomed paths and to come on endless ruined bastions
and ivy-clad gates, which closed every ingress from Mongolia. Once
these defences must have been of enormous strength.

One night, after journeying for a long time, we camped in one of these
little mountain burgs, taking full possession, so that there should be
no treachery while it was dark. The night passed quietly, for even
fifty miles beyond Peking the terror lies heavy on the land, and in
the morning we wandered to the massive iron-clad gates and the tall
watch-towers which stood sentinel on either side to see if there was
anything to be had. How old these were, how very old! For, mounting
the staircase leading to the towers, we found that, although the rude
rooms beneath showed signs of having been recently occupied, the stone
steps which led to the roof-chambers were covered with enormous
cobwebs and great layers of dust, showing that nothing had been
disturbed for very many years. That was as it should be. At the very
top of one tower we discovered a locked door, and beating it in amid
showers of dust, we penetrated a room such as a witch of mediaeval
Europe would dearly have loved. Nothing but cobwebs, dust, flapping,
grey-yellow paper and decay. It was immensely old.

And yet we found something. For there were some chests hidden away,
and prizing these open, we discovered great books of yellow parchment,
so old and so sodden that they fell to pieces as soon as one touched
them. They were in some Mongol or Manchu script. They, too, were
centuries old. But there was something else--a great discovery.
Beneath the books we found helmets, inlaid with silver and gold and
embellished with black velvet trappings studded with little iron
knobs. There were also complete suits of chain armour. It seemed to us
in that early morning that we were suddenly discovering the Middle
Ages, perhaps even the Dark Ages. For these things were not even early
Manchu; they were Mongol; Mogul--the war-dress of conquerors whose
bodies had been rotting in the dust for five, six, seven, eight, or
even nine centuries. These relics had lain there undisturbed for all
this time because China has been merely tilling the fields and
neglecting everything else. In a curious mood we donned these suits
and went down below clad as the conquerors of old.

There were some Indian troopers waiting, and when they saw these
things they exclaimed and muttered excitedly to one another, casting
half-startled looks. These were the same trappings and war-dresses as
in the days of the Great Moguls at Delhi. The very same. The
conquerors who had swept across high Asia had worn such things, and
every man from Northern India must have understood their meaning and
message. As they looked the Indian troopers chattered and talked to
one another in a growing excitement. It seemed as if we had suddenly
dug up some links of the half-forgotten past which showed how the
chain of armed men had been tightly bound by Genghis Khan and Batu
Khan, and all the other great Khans, from the Great Wall of China all
round Northern and Central Asia, until it had reached down over the
Himalayas into India. It was very curious.

When we had finished this reconnaissance, which carried us in every
direction under the shadow of the Great Wall, we turned bridle and
made back towards Peking by another route. A day's march away from the
capital, word was brought us that there were still numbers of
disbanded soldiery and suspected Boxers hiding in the Nan-Hai-tsu--a
great Imperial Hunting Park, which had fallen into decay during the
present century. We would have to sweep this park, which was dozens of
miles broad and quite wild, and scatter any bands we might find. So
starting after midnight, we marched hard in the gloom for several
hours with native guides leading us, and daylight found us under the
encircling wall of the ancient hunting-ground. We halted there a bit
and refreshed ourselves quickly, and then galloped in through a
breach. There were miles upon miles of beautiful grass stretches, and
we and our mounts were fairly pumped before we saw or heard anything.
But towards midday we came on some tiny hills and a few low buildings,
which seemed suspicious, and no sooner had we approached than a whole
nest of men rushed out on us, firing and shouting as they ran. Some
had only huge lances made of bamboo, fifteen feet and more long, and
tipped with iron and with little red pennons fluttering; yet these
were the most effective of all. Waving these lances violently, and
holding them in such a manner that it was impossible to get near,
these men scattered our charge before it got home and unhorsed a
number of troopers. Then it became a general _melee_, which ended in
the killing or capture of a few of the enemy and the rapid escape of
the remainder.

Very late in the evening we rode into Peking with our helmets and our
coats of mail and our long lances as trophies. The capital seemed
terribly listless and oppressed after the country beyond, and I was
bitterly sorry that expedition had not lasted for weeks and months.



October, 1900.

       *       *       *       *       *

Another month has come and there has been practically no change. They
say now Prince Ching has no power to treat, and that he is a mere
Japanese prisoner. Li Hung Chang is in Tientsin, too, it appears. He
is to be the other plenipotentiary when negotiations really commence,
but for the time being he is the Russian captive. The Russians have
him surrounded with their troops, and no one but a favoured few may
even see him. Already there has been trouble with the British on this
score at Tientsin, and some people say that some pretext will be
seized to bring about an international crisis among the expeditionary
corps. They are fighting about the destroyed railway up to Peking
already. Various people are claiming the right to rebuild the line,
and refuse to give up the sections they have garrisoned. Everywhere
there are pretty complications in the air.

Meanwhile, in Peking itself things have become more and more quiet,
and as the policing is slowly improving, confidence is a little
restored. But still new troops are being marched in all the
time--notably German troops--and as soon as night closes down all
these men fall to looting and outraging in any way they can. They say
that the Kaiser, in his farewell speech to his first contingent,
before Peking had been heard of for weeks, told the men to act in
this way. They are strictly obeying orders. Even the officers of the
new troops take a hand in this looting in a modified way. They force
their way into the remains of the curio shops, take the few pieces
which are left, place a dollar or so on the counter and then walk out.
This makes a legitimate purchase.

In the Japanese district, which is now the best policed and the most
tranquil, shops are being reopened, but are now being panic-stricken
by this new procedure. It is the refinement of the game, and there is
no redress possible. Beyond this I know not of a thing worth the



October, 1900.

       *       *       *       *       *

There is, after all, to be no immediate peace--that seems now quite
certain. We hear that the Russians have invaded all Manchuria and are
strengthening their hold there by bringing in more and more troops
from the Amur districts. They say, too, that the French have crossed
the Tonkin frontier. But really accurately we know nothing very much
of what is being done. With sixty or seventy thousand soldiery
suddenly flung down on the ruined stretch of country between Peking
and the sea, everything has been put in the most horrible confusion.
You can get nothing, nor hear anything. Telegrams are the only things
which are coming through with any regularity, and even these are cut
to pieces by the field telegraphs or continually getting lost. The
mails, it is true, have at last arrived, but they are all mixed in
such a way, and there is such old correspondence heaped on top of the
new, that general instructions and the proposals made read in this way
seem to be the ravings of madmen. There are hundreds of despatches of
April, May and June, showing the calibre of some Foreign Offices in an
unmistakable way. I sometimes wonder if only the fools are left in the
home offices.

Still, after a good many headaches, one can begin to appreciate the
general plan which was finally settled on by the various
_Chancelleries_, and to understand what delayed the relief so much.
Most of all it has been the South African war. Also, is seems to me,
they wanted Waldersee, the German Field Marshal, to have time to take
over the supreme command for the sake of peace in Asia, and so that
there should be an enormous massed advance on Peking, which would
capture all North China to Christendom and enslave the cunning old
Empress Dowager, and do everything as arranged in Europe. It was,
above all, necessary not to cause an imbroglio in Europe.

Of course, the very opposite has happened, and everybody is now as
discontented and jealous as before the siege. Waldersee is in Tientsin
and has been there for weeks for some new decision to be made. The
grand advance is finished and done with, but now some column
commanders wish to push down into the south of the province and
isolate the Court, if possible. Meetings are being held the whole
time, but as Waldersee is coming up, nothing is to be done until his
arrival. By one ingenious stroke--the sudden flight of the Court--the
Chinese have turned the tables on allied Europe and made us all
ridiculous. Any one might have anticipated something of this--there is
a precedent in the histories. Yet history is only made to be
immediately forgotten.



October, 1900.

       *       *       *       *       *

At length Waldersee has arrived. He made a sort of entry which seemed
to me farcical. I only noticed that he was very old, and that the hats
that have been served out to the special German expeditionary corps
are absurd. They are made of straw and are shaped after the manner of
the Colonial hats used in South Africa. They have also a cockade of
the German colours sewn to the turned-up edge. This must be some
Berlin tailor's idea of an appropriate head-dress for a summer and
autumn campaign in the East. The hat is quite useless, and had it been
a month earlier all the men would certainly have died of sunstroke.

Of course, now with Waldersee in Peking, something more has to be
done, and the rumour is to-day that the Court has begun fleeing yet
farther to the West. The rulers of China are being kept accurately
informed of every move by some one, and any indication of a pursuit
will see them penetrate farther and farther towards the vast regions
of Central Asia. It seems to me that it would be almost amusing (would
not the consequences be so tragic) to begin this pursuit and really to
attempt to push the Court so far away that it finally lost touch with
all the rest of China. Then something beneficial to everyone might
come. An ultimatum, to which attention would be paid, might be
served, and guarantees exacted which would do service for a number of
years. At present the flight has done no harm whatever to China. The
Court is not even ridiculous in the eyes of the populace. It is merely
terribly unfortunate--a really luckless Court, which deserves to be
commiserated with and wept over rather than upbraided. For it is plain
to everyone that the first and last reason for all this is the
foreigner and no one else. Everything the foreigner does is always a
source of trouble.

Even the machinery of government has not been disturbed by the fact
that vast Peking, the vaunted capital, is in the hands of ruthless
invaders. At first everyone thought that with the Palace empty, and
all the great Boards and offices made mere camping-places for
thousands of hostile soldiery, the government of the whole empire
would be paralysed--sterilised. Yet that has not happened. The
government goes on much the same as ever. We know that now. For as the
Court flees it issues edicts, receives reports and accounts, is met
with tribute from provincial governors and viceroys, is clothed and
banqueted, makes fresh appointments, does its day's work while it
runs. I cannot understand, therefore, how this is to end. It is beyond
the keenest intellects in Peking, and people are now simply waiting
for things to happen and to accept facts as they may be dealt out by
the Fates. It is an inevitable policy. For you must always accept
facts when you cannot mould them.



October, 1900.

       *       *       *       *       *

I am becoming tired of it all once again--inexpressibly tired. It
seems to me at times now as if those of us who remain had been very
sick, and then, when we had become convalescent, had been ordered by
some cruel fate to remain sitting in our sick-rooms forever. A siege
is always a hospital--a hospital where mad thoughts abound and where
mad things are done; where, under the stimulus of an unnatural
excitement, new beings are evolved, beings who, while having the
outward shape of their former selves, and, indeed, most of the old
outward characteristics, are yet reborn in some subtle way and are no
longer the same.

For you can never be exactly the same; about that there is no doubt.
You have been made sick, as it were, by tasting a dangerous poison.
Great soldiers have often told their men after great battles have been
fought and great wars won that they have tasted the salt of life. The
salt of life! Is it true, or is it merely a mistake, such as
life-loving man most naturally makes? For it can be nothing but the
salt of death which has lain for a brief instant on the tongue of
every soldier--a revolting salt which the soldier refuses to swallow
and only is compelled to with strange cries and demon-like mutterings.
Sometimes, poor mortal, all his struggles and his oaths are in vain.
The dread salt is forced down his throat and he dies. The very
fortunate have only an acrid taste which defies analysis left them. Of
these more fortunate there are, however, many classes. Some, because
they are neurotic or have some hereditary taint, the existence of
which they have never suspected, in the end succumb; others do not
entirely succumb, but carry traces to their graves; yet others do not
appear to mind at all. It is a very subtle poison, which may lie
hidden in the blood for many months and many years. I believe it is a
terrible thing.

Nobody should have been allowed to stay behind after hearing for so
many weeks that ceaseless roar, sustaining that endless strain,
enduring so much. They should have been made to forget--by force.

And yet even this nobody understands or cares to speak of, although a
number of men are still half mad. The newcomers, soldiers and
civilians alike, who never cease streaming in now to gaze and gape and
inquire how it was all done, are quite indifferent. Some say that it
must have been an immense farce--that there was really nothing worth
speaking about. Others wish to know curious details which have no
general importance. The Englishmen are proud, and want to know whether
you were inside the British Legation, their Legation, and when they
have heard yes or no their interest ceases. They little know what the
Legation stood for. The Americans march up to the Tartar Wall, talk
about "Uncle Sam's boys," and exclaim that it requires no guessing to
tell who saved the Legations. The French are the same, so are the
Germans, so even the Italians. Only the Japanese and the Russians say

At first I was at some pains to explain to each separate man what
really occurred. I pulled out my rough map, all thumb-marked and
dirtied with brick chips and the soil of the trenches, and showed
stage by stage how the drama unrolled. It was no good. Poor me! nobody
quite understood. Some thought possibly that I was a glib liar; others
did not even trouble to think anything. How much they understood! They
had not the background, the atmosphere, the long weeks which were
necessary to teach even us ourselves. They had not tasted the poison
and did not yet suspect its existence. So I gradually desisted. Now I
say nothing, never a word. I listen and understand how history is
made. It is best never to explain or argue if you thoroughly
understand. Rhetoric is only the amplification of something long
understood in one's heart of hearts.

I am, therefore, tired of it all, inexpressibly tired. I wish to
escape from my hospital, to go away to some clean land where they
understand so little of such things that their indifference will in
the end, perhaps, convince me and make me forget.

Yet can one ever forget?



November, 1900.

       *       *       *       *       *

Another month, and I have made up my mind quite suddenly. I have
finished with it--at least, in outward form. After waiting a couple of
weeks and wondering what I should do, a last argument brought it
about--an argument with a German which ended by enraging me to an
impossible point and making me challenge him to anything he liked.
That showed me that my last safe moment had arrived.

He was a youngish officer sent from the Field-Marshal's staff to
discuss some diplomatic-military details with my chief. The business
part was soon over, for there was really little to decide, and then
the man fell to talking about what should be done. He said that were
there not so much rivalry and jealousy, and could Waldersee only act
as he wished, they would have proper punitive expeditions which would
shoot all the headmen of every village for hundreds of miles, and make
such an example of everybody that the memory would endure for
generations in every district where there had been Boxers. The officer
was eloquent because he had only just arrived, and understood
nothing--absolutely nothing. For some reason our stars crossed and I
hated him immediately. So I waited until he had finished so that I
could begin. Then I began.

I cannot even remember all I said, for I was greatly enraged by the
brutality of the man's ideas, but I treated him as he had never been
treated before. As I poured out my lava stream and he slowly
understood what I meant, he first became very red, and then very pale,
and finally he stood up. I took advantage of that action, and since we
all still are armed, I told him he could have satisfaction, at once if
he wished, and at any number of paces he chose to name.

My chief then suddenly intervened, and, trembling violently, said that
it could not go on--that it was a mistake. He took the blame on his
shoulders, he said, and would apologise himself later on. For many
minutes he harangued, and in the end the officer went away with his
eyes glittering, but not too reluctantly. He knew that I could have
killed him with my second chamber unless his first shot hit my

After that there was a second scene--but one which was much more
brief. My chief attempted to deal with me, and to him I spoke my mind.
I am afraid I said many things which were so brusque that modern
society would have reproved me. I told him that it was well known that
he and every other man of position had been tremulously fearing death
at every turn for weeks, and had been unwilling to do anything when
they might have really saved the situation; merely because they were
so afraid; that everything had been misstated in the reports, and that
although the full truth might not be known for years, eventually it
would be known and people would understand. I said that this petty
life created by men without stomachs had ended by disgusting me, and
that I had finished with it for good and for ever. Then I went out in
silence, slamming the door behind me with all the strength of my
arms. It was a most enormous slam. It had to be so; it was my last
word. In my commandeered residence I found that the breath of
misfortune had also come. The rightful owners had managed to steal
into Peking in the train of some big official who had had an escort of
foreign soldiery provided him, and now smilingly and cringingly
greeted me, and thanked me for my guardianship during their
unavoidable absence. The Manchu women were grouped round in great
excitement. They did not relish the change--they did not want it. The
tall and stately one who had first touched my knee on that dark night
during the sack was not there.

The rightful owners irritated me intensely with their obsequiousness.
I was irritated because they lived: they should have ceased to exist
long ago. They were still very much afraid, although they had reached
Peking in safety, for they half thought that I would hand them over to
some provost-marshal as Boxer partisans in order to get rid of them.
They were very afraid. The Manchu women were all talking and praising
me, and telling wonderful stories of all I had done. But the most
important one of them was absent. I became vaguely conscious that this
also meant something, that perhaps there was to be another tragedy. I
found her later wishing to kill herself, to commit suicide, so that
she, too, need never return to her other life.... That was more
terrible than the other scenes. I could do nothing, yet my
responsibility had been great. In the end something was arranged. I
hardly remember what.

I was soon ready to go; on the same afternoon I had completed all my
preparations. I had so little to prepare. Then I rode out for the last
time with all my men behind me, and not a single other person. We
passed down the streets out from the Tartar City, through the ruins of
the great Ch'ien Men Gate, and then followed straight along the vast
main street, still covered with _debris_ and dirt, and skulls and
broken weapons, as if the weeks and months which had gone by since the
fighting had been quite unheeded. Near the outer gates of the city I
met my three cavalrymen of the Indian regiment waiting to bid
good-bye. They joined me with some attempt at gaiety, but that soon
fizzled out. I had so plainly collapsed.

We passed into the country with the tall crops still rotting as they
stood, because everyone had fled and no one dared to return. We went
on faster and faster as the roads broadened, and as we galloped we met
new troops marching in on Peking. They were Germans driving captives
of many kinds in front of them. "Damned Germans," said the smaller
officer, who was the senior, and who had been quite silent for some
time. "Damned Germans," repeated the two others mechanically, as if
this was a new creed, and I, approving, faintly smiled. That stirred
them to talk again, and they told me that the expeditions had been
settled on, and that they would have to go, too. Orders had come from
home that they must not fall out with Waldersee. It was highly
important to placate the Germans because of South Africa. But the
Americans would not go, neither would the Russians, nor yet the
Japanese. It was to be a new arrangement. They went on talking in this
wise for a long time, and I heard these scraps of conversation vaguely
as in a dream. Cynically I thought that, although I was leaving it all
behind me in company of men who were strangers to Peking, the last
words would still be concerned with our tortuous diplomacy. Yet my
gallant friends were only trying to console me--to make me forget.
Such things they understood far better than others. They were from
India, where men think a good deal, and sometimes act. They were
treating me as best they could. Then when we came to a sharp rise over
which the road curled and crawled, they halted suddenly, stretched out
their hands, and bade me good-bye. They meant it to be a sharp
wrench--to be over quickly. Just on the rim of the horizon stretched
the grey of the fading Tartar Walls with their high-pitched towers.
The sun sinking behind the western hills threw some last flames of
golden fire, but the air remained chill. It was becoming cold, and
even the dust no longer rose in clouds. Everything was pinned to the

I rode on abruptly. Then, for the last time, my cavalrymen turned
round and shouted faintly back to me. It was a word which carried
well. "Chubb, Chubb, Chubb," they were shouting, to give my thoughts a
turn. They knew what I must be thinking. They knew; they had been in
India. I quickened my horse into a gallop, rode faster and faster, and
before night had fallen I had gained the river-boats. It was over....

     *     *     *     *     *     *




(2 volumes)





(In collaboration with Donald Mennie)











*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Indiscreet Letters From Peking - Being the Notes of an Eye-Witness, Which Set Forth in Some Detail, from Day to Day, the Real Story of the Siege and Sack of a Distressed Capital in 1900—The Year of Great Tribulation" ***

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