Puslapio vaizdai

Peking of its own accord, and, for the first time in their lives, the Empress Dowager and the Emperor would travel by railway and visit a seaport. I said something about the rumour which had reached some of the Emperor's party, that the Viceroy Yung Lu was preparing a plot to seize the Emperor's person on the occasion of this review, and thus to put a stop to the progressive edicts which were creating serious alarm among the Manchu clansmen. The Admiral, all agog for the Emperor's party, was greatly interested, but our talk was stopped by the I. G.' coming up to introduce one of the Ministers, and there was no opportunity for renewing it. "After dinner that evening, there came to see me privily at the hotel one of the young enthusiasts of the Reform party, a secretary of the Grand Council. He was one of the six who were executed two weeks later by order of the old Empress at the Board of Punishments; but, as some of his family are alive, we will call him Mr Wang. Things, he said, were coming to a head at the Summer Palace. Emperor's bitter-tongued Consort (commonly spoken of by the Reformers as 'rat-face') and the Chief Eunuch were continually imploring the Empress Dowager to assert her authority and protect the dignity of the Yehonala Clan against the intrigues of Kang Yu-wei and other protégés of the Emperor. They had succeeded in persuading the Old


Buddha that not only her authority but her life was in danger. The Pearl Concubine (the Emperor's favourite) had reported that the old lady had savagely rebuked his Majesty for lack of filial piety, that her face was darkened, and her sombre moods foreshadowed an impending storm. It would surely break long before the proposed journey to Tientsin. The Emperor's kinsman and friend, Prince Tsai Ch'u, was all for taking a quick offensive, and his Majesty was now prepared to risk all in carrying out a plan which the prince had suggested. But they wanted, in the first place, to ascertain definitely the attitude and sympathies of the British Government.

"I was telling him that nothing succeeds like success, and that all politicians respect a fait accompli, when there came a knock at the door and the boy announced a visitor. It was the Admiral. He had dropped in, he said, hoping for a smoke and a yarn to take away the taste of a damn dull dinner, and because he wanted to hear more about the interesting programme for that review at Tientsin. They had told him I was in, but not that I was engaged. It was a bit awkward at first, and Wang got up to take his leave; but I told him in a rapid aside that the Admiral was a friend to be trusted. So he sat down again, and as he understood English fairly well, was able to take part in the conversation. I introduced him as the son of

Cantonese merchant, and dare-devil escapade that had

said that we had just been talking about the rumours of trouble in the palace. After that we went on talking about them and about the Tientsin plot, but all in a general way. Wang played up very well, and told the Admiral several interesting things, citing as his authority either the native Press or his friends of the Canton Guild. Between us, in half an hour, the Admiral (who was writing a book, of course) had got a lot of picturesque materials and a fair idea of the general situation. He grasped all its essential points and needs with the sure instinct of a successful leader of men. It was the sort of situation in which, as he said, he would have loved to take a hand. If it had been possible, he would have put off his trip to Japan and stayed on to see the fun. At this point Wang, apparently casually curious, asked him what he would do if he were a staunch supporter of the Emperor's side. 'Do?' said the Admiral: go straight for the old lady. Give me three trusty bluejackets, a sketch-plan of the palace, a dark night and a sack, and I'd take odds we'd bring her to roost on some perch more convenient than throne. It's a case of cherchez la femme, my boy-cherchez la femme!' And with that, laughing his great hearty laugh, he got up and said good-night.



"It was just the sort of thing that he would say, of course, and just the sort of

made his fame and endeared his name to every wardroom of the fleet. No doubt that even now the spirit was there, ready and willing for it, had he had the chance, but all the same my imagination couldn't quite see him that night, sixteen stone and scant o' breath, as the Hotspur leader of any such adventure. It was just his playful breezy way. But whether in earnest or in jest, those words of his fell on ground well prepared for just that kind of seed, and led to that which, with a little luck, might have given the Manchus a new lease of life and China a decent government.

"I confess I thought no more about it at the time, but a few days later I had good reason to remember that conversation. It was about ten o'clock at night, and I was thinking of turning in, when a pebble rattled on my window. I looked out and saw two men standing in the porch. One of them stepped out, and I recognised Wang. In a low voice he begged me to come down. He wished to speak with me of an urgent matter, but his friend did not want to be seen by any of the hotel people. So I went down, and we walked together as far as the Water Gate. There, in the shadow of the wall, we stood and talked.

"Well, they were following the Admiral's advice, and doing it that very night. Three of their fellow - conspirators had left the city at sunset, and at

might be something more than a forlorn hope. As Wang said, it was bound to be a case of sink or swim before long, and they preferred to risk all on a bold stroke at once.

3 A.M. would be waiting at a spot agreed upon, close by the Kun Ming Lake at the Summer Palace. They had got a ladder and a plan showing the position of the Old Buddha's apartments. Also, they had got a "You may be wondering sheet cut in two long strips, why, in such a perilous venwhich Wang said would be ture, with the throne at stake, handier and more dignified than they should take a foreigner a sack. The moon was in her into their confidence. There first quarter, very convenient were three reasons. Firstly, for their purposes. The Em- Wang believed in me because peror's faithful eunuch, Sung, once before I had been able and the Pearl Concubine were to get him out of what might in the plot; they were to con- have been a serious scrape with trive that old Li and the old Chang Chih-tung at Haneunuchs in attendance on her kow. Secondly, they needed Majesty and the rat-faced the help of some one they could one' got something in their tea trust to hold the rope by which which would give them a sound they were going to let themsleep. They had a cart at selves down over the Tartar Haitien, in readiness to bring city wall, and then pass it their captive to the city, so down to them, so that they soon as the gates were opened. might use it in getting over the Their plan was then to take Chinese wall at the Hsi Pien her to the house of a certain Men. Finally, if their coup censor of the Emperor's party, came off, they wanted me to and there, under pain of death, go at once to the Legation to make her sign a decree and do my utmost to enlist finally renouncing public life, the Minister's sympathy and and conferring full power of support. They had an exsovereignty upon his Majesty traordinary and rather pathetic Kuang Hsü. Other edicts had belief in the British Governbeen drafted, one ordering the ment's benevolent interest in arrest of Kang Yi, Yu Lu, and the Emperor's plans for radical other implacable foes of the reforms, which, as you may Reform party, and another remember, every foreigner in transferring Yung Lu's foreign- China had been advocating for drilled forces from Tientsin to years, and in which the Legaserve under a new commander tion had professed to see the as his Majesty's bodyguard at dawn of a new era. No doubt the capital. The plot appeared had they succeeded, all the to have been carefully worked Legations would have hastened out, and the cool determined to express their enthusiastic bearing of Wang and his com- congratulations and wholepanion gave me the feeling hearted support for the new that this desperate adventure régime, and prided themselves

on the moral effect of their progressive policy. As it was, the Empress won the game, and their Excellencies were the first to deplore the wretched Emperor's unfortunate lack of judgment,' and to send their wives to pay their respects to the Old Buddha triumphant. Wang and his friends were probably influenced by the belief that, in a crisis, England would actively intervene, on grounds of humanity as well as of self-interest, and they may even have regarded the Admiral's offhand words as an inspired utterance intended to guide them.

"Be that as it may, the curtain was up, and the play begun. It was agreed that, if they succeeded, a messenger would reach me shortly after daybreak to say that I was wanted at the Legation; and the rest was on the knees of the gods. We went up on to the wall and Wang produced a rope; they made it fast, let themselves down the sloping face, and I dropped the rope after them. Before going over the side, Wang shook hands, and said, 'Good-bye; either I succeed or I shall not come back. We have our revolvers.' Then they disappeared into the darkness, and I went back to a sleepless bed.

"Well, the plot was well and boldly planned, but the fates were against Kuang Hsü, and it came to grief, as the result of deplorable blundering or bad luck, at a point where all serious obstacles had been surmounted and success seemed

assured. met as arranged at a spot on the south side of the Kun Ming Lake, and, leaving one man in charge of the cart, scaled the enclosure. There they found a boat ready for them, and rowed silently to the Marble Barge at the end of the lake side terrace. Having reached that part of the palace which they knew to be occupied by the ladies of the Court, two remained on guard at the gate, while the two others scaled the wall and proceeded to the spot indicated on their plan as the private apartment of the Empress Dowager. The two men entrusted with the execution of this, the most delicate part of the business, had been chosen because they were the strongest and most active of the party. They made their way unchallenged through a maze of courtyards, and having, as they thought, reached their goal, they quietly forced the door, found their quarry peacefully sleeping, and gagged and bound her as she lay. Then, slipping the two strips of sheet around her, the stronger of the two hoisted her on his back, and in ten minutes the whole party was on board the boat again, making for Peking and the road to glory. It was only when Wang came to unwrap the old lady and put her in the cart that, to his horror and dismay, he saw that they had bagged the wrong fox. Either the sketch-plan was at fault, or in their haste the raiders had taken a wrong turning: unfortunately, neither of the

The five conspirators

young men who carried out that she would now be moved

the kidnapping had ever seen the Empress in the flesh. Daylight was near; it was too late to try again. There was nothing for it but to make their way back as fast as possible. So taking their captive with them (she turned out to be one of the consort widows of his Majesty Tung Chih), they hurried to the city, got in just as the gates were opened, and deposited the old lady in a safe hiding-place. Then by trusty messenger they sent word of what had happened to Sung, the Emperor's personal attendant, bidding him warn his Majesty that the plot had failed, and that the only hope left lay in giving immediate command of the foreign-drilled troops at Tientsin to Yuan Shih-k'ai, and prevailing upon him to come speedily to the rescue of the Reform party.

"All this Wang told me when he came to see me next morning, a picture of hopeless dejection. It was not for himself, but for the Emperor and the cause, that he lamented his failure and feared its results. As regards the kidnapping of Tung Chih's widow, he was not greatly concerned, for she was more in sympathy with the Emperor than with the Yehonala Clan, so that there was nothing to connect her disappearance with the Reformers. Nevertheless, the business was bound to stir up a hornets' nest in the palace, and to preclude all hope of another attempt to secure the person of the Old Buddha. He feared

to one of her ungovernable fits of rage, and vent it on the unfortunate Emperor. Kang Yuwei, the Cantonese leader of the Reformers, was having audience of his Majesty that morning; unless something could be done, and that quickly, with the help of Yuan Shih-k'ai, the Emperor's day was over and the Reform movement doomed.

"Well, you all know the rest. That morning the Emperor gave audience to Yuan Shih-k'ai, entrusting his fortunes and his fate to the hands of the betrayer; that same afternoon the Old Buddha sent for him and ordered him to have Kang Yu-wei placed under arrest for speaking disrespectfully of her private morals. Five days later the blow fell, which condemned Kuang Hsü for the rest of his days to eat the bread of affliction and humiliation, and which relegated to the Board of Punishments all the leading Reformers except the two who had escaped to Shanghai. At no time during the crisis of the Old Buddha's savage reprisals did any hint leak out that Wang's attempt to seize her person had been discovered. The secret was well kept, and the kidnapped Dowager (deposited one night anonymously near the Palace Gate) never knew, of course, who her captors were or whence they came.

"In the long run a nation's destiny depends upon the character of the race, but every now and then its fortunes would seem to be determined by pure

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