Having heard of the approach of the army of relief, we became more cheerful.
Continuing The Boxer Uprising,
our selection from The Siege in Peking by William A.P. Martin published in 1900. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages. The selection is presented in seven easy 5 minute installments.
Previously in The Boxer Uprising.
We all lost flesh from perspiration and want of food — some ten, some twenty, some fifty pounds. After the siege many strong men were brought down by fevers produced no doubt by the privations of that trying time.
My post was a vantage-ground for observation, and one of the deepest impressions made upon me was by seeing men of all nationalities passing to and fro cooperating for the common weal. It presented a foretaste of that union which, we trust, may be realized in the coming millennium, with this difference, that then the nations shall “learn war no more.” The lines of creed and nationality appeared to be obliterated. An orthodox Russian priest filled sand-bags or dug trenches side by side with a Roman Catholic or Protestant missionary. Often did I converse with the Catholic missionaries of France, and I felt myself irresistibly drawn to them by their spirituality and devotion.
Having heard of the approach of the army of relief, we became more cheerful. That we were able to hold out was, perhaps, in some degree due to divided counsels among our enemies; for we learned, with deep sorrow, from the Court Gazette, which had been surreptitiously brought in, that four Ministers in the Tsung-Li-Yamen had been executed by order of the Empress-Dowager. We mourned them as our friends, who had employed their influence as far as possible in our favor. Of this I feel assured, for one of them was the High Commissioner for Education, who had the supervision of our new university. Two others were directors of the Tungwen College, the diplomatic school of which I was president for so long a time, and I had come to hold them in the highest estimation. One of them had sent three sons to be under my instruction in the new university.
Prince Ching undoubtedly exerted a powerful, though secret, influence in our favor. Commanding, as he did, the city guard, a Manchu force of fifty thousand men, had he chosen to let them loose upon us all at once, we must have been inevitably over whelmed. Though he lacked the courage to remonstrate with the tyrant Empress he had the power and the tact to restrain the fury of his soldiery.
One of our greatest privations was the want of newspapers. Not merely were we without intelligence from the great world beyond the sea, we were for the most part in absolute ignorance as to what was going on outside of our own walls. From time to time we sought to remedy this state of things by endeavoring in one way or another to get a glimpse, by means of messengers let down at night, as Paul was let down in a basket from the wall of Damascus, or by purchasing intelligence from our enemies.
In this last way Colonel Shiba considered himself peculiarly fortunate in finding a man who gave him daily intelligence of the approach of our relief. One day they had reached Lang Fang; another, they had got to Chang Kia Wan, and, after passing five or six stations, it seemed as if they were just about to reach Peking, when he felt it necessary to turn them about and make them fall back a stage or two in order to keep up the flow of remuneration. He was paid about thirty dollars a day for this cheering news. Needless to say that for the whole of it he had drawn on his imagination.
One of our messengers who was most successful, having succeeded in the guise of a blind beggar in reaching Tientsin and bringing back most encouraging letters, was a lad of sixteen. Though not a Christian, he had begged to be taken under the protection of a Christian mission, and nobly did he reward their kindness. Having sewed the letters between the soles of his shoe he was three times searched without discovery.
On August 14th, after midnight, a sentry burst into our sleeping-room, calling aloud, “They are coming!”
The Minister and I arose and rushed out into the open air, not taking time to put on our clothes, for we never had put them off. True enough, we heard the playing of machine-guns on the outside of the city. Never was music so sweet. We awakened the ladies. They also listened. The news spread from one building to another, until all were under the open sky listening to the playing of those guns, as the women at Lucknow listened to the bagpipes of Havelock’s Highlanders. Overwhelmed with joy, some impulsive women threw themselves on one another’s neck and wept aloud.
The next morning, at ten o’clock, the great gates of the legation were thrown open, and in came a company of mounted Sikhs, the finest cavalry I ever beheld; and with their long spears and high turbans they appeared the handsomest men on whom my eyes had ever rested. So, perhaps, by the magnifying effect of time and circumstance, they appeared to all of us as the van guard of the army of relief. They had come in through the water-gate, by which the passage would have been impossible but for the occupation of the wall by our marines.
The rest of our troops, of various nationalities, entered later in the day by the great front gate, the key of which Mr. Squiers, acting as chief of staff to Sir Claude MacDonald, had captured from the flying enemy.
Among the Roman Catholic missionaries, one white-haired father especially attracted my attention. I had seen him walking on the bank of the canal amid a shower of bullets, apparently courting death, yet in words he expressed the hope of rescue. The morning of our deliverance he grasped my hand, and, looking up with streaming eyes, exclaimed, “Te Deum, Te Deum, Laudamus” Setting off alone to carry the good news to the Bishop at the northern cathedral, he was shot dead by some enemy in ambush. Mr. Knobel, the Netherlands Minister, was wounded in the same way the day after the siege was raised, while standing on a bridge near the legation.
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