A refractory Mandarin — Punjaubee Couriers — Letters from Prince Kung — Advance of the Allies — Letter from Mr. Parkes — Chinese Mohammedans — Bivouac — Flight of the Tartars — Chinese Mendacity — French Advance on the Summer Palace — A Celestial Funeral — Friendly Feeling of the Natives — Outside the Palace — An Imperial Eunuch — Description of the Palace — Rare Loot — The Summer Park.
Mr. Mongan of ours, who was stationed at Tien-tsin as interpreter to the force left there, found much difficulty in dealing with the prefect, or magistrate, of that place. This functionary was several times called on to exercise his authority in various ways, but returned evasive answers, and at last became insolent. General Napier, therefore, hit upon the plan of taking the prefect under his charge, and holding him close prisoner in the camp before the walls of Tien-tsin. The interpreter called upon the mandarin with a strong guard, and requested his attendance at the camp, but he refused compliance. [p. 271] He was at once seized and put into a chair, despite his struggles, and carried to the camp, where a tent was allotted him close to the Generals’ and a sentry posted at the door to guard him. For the first few days he sulked, and would scarcely eat anything; but, finding he gained no object by adopting such a course, he soon became more cheerful, and issued whatever orders he was bid. He told the interpreter that his impression before, with regard to foreigners, was that they were a set of unruly barbarians, and that he had no previous conception that such nations existed as France and England. He expressed much surprise at the equipment of the British force, and much admired their horses; but what particularly astonished him was the untiring attendance of the sentry. He said, “Those men are wonderfully disciplined. When a man is posted at my tent’s door, there he remains until he is relieved; he never thinks of going away, except to attend me when I move out. Why, if it were one of our soldiers, the scamp would run away, as soon as the officer’s hack was turned, to smoke his pipe, or to gamble with his comrades. I cannot make out how you teach your men such discipline.”
The capture of this mandarin, and his detention under guard, had reached the authorities in the capital, and was afterwards quoted by Hangke to Mr. Parkes [p. 272] in prison as one of the reasons why the Prince of E concluded that we were not sincere when treating for peace at Tung-chow. It was most essential to keep open a road communication with Tien-tsin; and for that object, detachments of the 31st had been stationed at Ho-see-woo and Yang-tsun, so that travellers between the camp and the city were enabled to find a safe halting-place on the road either way. For the conveyance of mails, to and fro, the Sikhs were usually employed, and their hardihood and indifference to the sun made them the best suited for the work. A couple of them were wont to be despatched on these errands, and they found no difficulty in performing the journey in two days. On one occasion before the camp at the canal broke up, two of these trusty troopers were fired on by some villagers as they rode through a village some miles in rear of Chang-chia-wan. The circumstance was at once reported to the General on their arrival in camp; and the matter being promptly taken up, the 8th Punjaubees were despatched to destroy the village by fire. This lesson had a lasting good effect on the roadside villages, and no folly of the like kind was again attempted.
Reconnaissances of cavalry had several times been sent from the camp right to the walls of the city, and these had brought back word that the enemy [p. 273] had a strong position within an embankment on the north-east angle of Pekin.
We have before stated that a communication had been received from the Prince of Kung, announcing his appointment as commissioner, and Lord Elgin’s reply that no treating could be thought of until the prisoners were returned. We will now briefly summarize the correspondence that followed. Prince Kung, in his second letter, acknowledged that the Chinese Government did hold certain British subjects prisoners, but as they were taken after the fighting had commenced, they could not be released until the convention had been signed and the allied armies withdrawn from the country. The reply to this was that the prisoners must be given up, or the army would advance, and then his lordship would not be responsible for the consequences, which might prove of a very serious nature, leading, perhaps, to the destruction of the capital, and possibly to the overthrow of the dynasty; and that if the Chinese Government preferred it, the restoration of the prisoners and the signing of the convention might be made simultaneous acts. Three clear days were given to Prince Kung to determine the course of the allies. The letter was written on the 25th, consequently, unless an answer was returned on the 29th, hostilities would be resumed on the 30th. The term [p. 274] would have been shorter had the allied forces been ready to advance at once; but the French reinforcements of infantry had not yet arrived, and our siege guns were still on the way from Tung-chow. Ere the term had expired, again and again did Prince Kung write, using every imaginable argument to delay the advance of the troops, but the question of the surrender of the prisoners he always evaded. On the 29th, we were cheered by the sight of a card, written, in Chinese and English, in Mr. Parkes’ own hand, and bearing a late date, enclosed in one of the Prince’s letters, and from this testimony we were delighted to learn that one of the prisoners at least was alive. For, previous to this, since the capture, nothing reliable had been heard of the prisoners, and we laboured under the fear and suspicion that they had been barbarously murdered, as is too often the treatment dealt by the Chinese to their captives in war.
The three days’ term had expired, and no satisfactory answer being returned from the Chinese, the army would have advanced at once, had the French infantry arrived; but as they had not yet made their appearance, the march was postponed. The General, however, kept his word, in so far that he pushed on a party of Rifles to take possession of a village on the other side of a canal, close to the [p. 276] paved highway, where it was proposed to establish a depot.
On the 2nd of October a note was received by Mr. Wade from Mr. Parkes in Chinese, stating that he and Mr. Loch were well, and both together, and had received permission to send for some clean clothes, which they much required; but not a word was said about the other prisoners, to whom the Chinese themselves did not allude. The reticence on this subject naturally filled us with much anxiety as to their safety. Mr. Parkes’ letter spoke in high terms of Prince Kung’s kindness and ability, but in a forced language which did not bear the stamp of sincerity; and that such was the case was verified by a few words in Hindustani written by Mr. Loch over his signature, which certified that the letter was written by order of the Government. To this note Mr. Wade returned an answer the same day in Chinese and English, and forwarded a bundle of clean clothes, among which one handkerchief was inserted with Hindustani words printed in Roman characters round the initials, to the effect that in three days the heavy guns would open fire and breach the walls of the city; and a shirt was also similarly marked in a conspicuous part.
At noon on the 3rd we struck tents, crossed the canal, and advanced to the Mohammedan village of [p. 276] Chang-ying, close to the advanced outposts of Rifles. Lord Elgin and Sir Hope Grant and Staffs took up their quarters in a handsome domed mosque, while the army, some 6,000 strong, encamped round about in the adjoining fields. The village was small, and composed of mud huts, but at the time not altogether tenant-less. Its inhabitants were all of the Mohammedan faith, and were at once to be distinguished from other natives by the singular conical caps they wore on their heads, into which the queue was folded. The interior of the mosque contained numerous inscriptions in large Arabic, as well as Chinese letters, and several printed books and manuscript writings in the Arabic character lay about. Many of the Chinese followers of the Prophet could spell out a few words of these books, but in a very few instances could they explain their meaning. They were, however, often acquainted with prayers and passages from the Koran, and used to repeat them to the Sikhs; the repetition of such prayers often drawing tears from the eyes of these tried warriors of Ind, and not infrequently the silver from their pockets, which latter sympathy the Celestial Mohammedan knew better know to appreciate. In the afternoon letters were received from Messrs. Parkes and Loch in English, saying that they were well; but again making no allusion to the other prisoners. [p. 277]
The French reinforcement had now arrived at the camp at Pa-le-cheaou, and it was arranged to march on the 5th and storm the Tartar encampment supposed to exist within the great earth embankment near the north-east corner of the Pekin wall. The baggage was all to be collected together and left at a large marble monument, the tomb of some grandee, and the troops to set out, with three days’ provisions in their haversacks, in light marching order.
On the 5th the French arrived from their encampment at an early hour, and the whole force of the Allies, over 10,000 strong, started on their Tartar hunting expedition, the French keeping to the left, the British to the right. It was quite a pretty sight to watch the movements of this compact little army as it stretched away over the country. Now the whole would be visible, moving uniformly along over an extent of cultivated ground; and now some portions would be lost to view, as they filed through a village or diverged on one side to avoid a wall-encircled grove.
Behold in awful march and dread array
The long-extended squadrons shape their way.
We had proceeded about four miles when a halt was sounded close to some grass-grown brick-kilns, from the tops of which we got our first view of the long-secluded capital of the Celestial Empire. The [p. 278] city lay at a distance of some six miles on flat ground, and almost entirely hidden by its long line of wall; but the towers over its gates, and its larger corner towers, loomed conspicuously through the clear atmosphere. The General and staff officers assembled on the top of the mound, and deliberated on the plan of attack; and the prospect of a collision, aided by the cheering sunlight which succeeded a damp, chilly morning, invigorated all to a speedy advance, when word came from the French Commander-in-Chief desiring a deferment of proceedings till the morrow, as his troops, which had marched four miles farther than ours, were fatigued, and required rest. A general order was, therefore, immediately circulated for the British troops to bivouac where they were. A few huts only, and those of the most wretched description, occurring on the spot, some of the more favoured officers were enabled to find quarters; the rest, in company with the soldiers, made what arrangements they could with the straw and millet stalks they could find, to make a comfortable bivouac. The French, however, were more fortunate. Having marched with the greater part of their heavy baggage, they soon pitched tents, and made themselves snug with all the ordinary comforts of camp life. The few rustics to whom these straw and mud built tenements belonged had, in nearly every case, [p. 279] decamped, leaving behind them, however, a few fowls and other poultry. One would have thought that, midst all other discomforts, to say the least, one was entitled to appropriate these to cheer the dejected spirits with the prospect of good fare. But not so! The provost-marshal was at work, and many an unfortunate “black” was summarily chastised while employed in catering for his master’s table. Forage was plentiful, and the horses were allowed to supply themselves without dread of falling into the hands of the ruthless provost. Colonel Wolseley selected an old broken-down homestead for the accommodation of himself and department. A very deaf old lady, full of years, was the only occupant, and she appeared too imbecile to take much heed of us. During that afternoon we heard from some Chinese who straggled through the camp, that the Tartars at the north-east comer of the city wall were fast making off, and removing their camp; they could or would not tell us whither.
Next morning betimes we were again in the field. It was damp and raw as we rode up behind the General, who was issuing orders for the disposition of the march. Sir Hope Grant called me to him, and ordered me to attach myself to the Cavalry Brigade, who were well away to the right. I forthwith galloped away in the direction I was told, and [p. 280] on opening a clump of trees found the brigade halted, and awaiting the signal for general march. I reported myself to Brigadier Pattle, commanding, and rode by his side as the troopers advanced through the pretty wood-abounding country of this neighbourhood. The infantry were on our left at no great distance, and we rarely lost sight of them, except where a grove or a village intervened. At eleven, a halt was called, and a staff officer came riding across with orders for Brigadier Pattle to attend on the General. The halting place was close to a glaring red wall, which partly closed in the mausoleum of one of the Emperor’s sisters. The structure was still unfinished, and did not display much taste. Some unwholesome-looking pools supplied the horses with ample water, and the troops refreshed themselves with a snack from their wallets, and a few whiffs from the ever-cheering pipe.
The Brigadier soon returned to his brigade with orders to proceed, after half an hour’s halt, in a northerly direction for a few miles, and then to strike due west, and halt at any convenient place on the broad northern road leading to the Tih-shing, or second gate of the north face of the city, as in all probability the Tartars would retreat along the north road, when their encampment was being attacked by the British and French infantry from the east; and thus an opportunity would be afforded to the Cavalry [p. 282] Brigade to intercept and cut off their retreat. The cavalry were advancing to the north-west, when the videttes reported large bodies of Tartars moving north. The brigade was halted, and a squadron of Probyn’s sent to observe the fugitives; but the Tartars sighted its approach, and made off.
We at last reached the broad road to which we were directed, and the brigade was drawn up in a grove on an eminence on the other side of the road, commanding open country on both right and left. The place was well adapted for a hiding-place, as the superabundant foliage covered the force from view of any passing enemy. Among some fir-trees at a distance we could see several men mounted on mules, scuttling about, but most of them were carrying bundles under their arms, and had the appearance of villagers escaping with their valuables. A cart was observed passing with what appeared to be a gun in it, and a few Sikhs were at once sent to capture it. The formidable-looking instrument turned out to be only some household chattels, which the native was hurrying off from a house in the neighbourhood. The Brigadier then sent me away with Captain Fane and a guard, to make inquiries along the road in the direction of the city as to the whereabouts of the Tartar camp. We had proceeded about two miles when we heard the report of mus- [p. 282] kets, and learned from a passing native that the Allies were already in the enemy’s camp.
With this intelligence we returned to the Brigadier, who determined to march towards the Allies. On the way we met a half-nude Chinaman with a sheepish look, who tried to avoid us. I was sent to seek for information from him; the man stopped at the sound of my voice, and when questioned stoutly denied having seen or heard anything of the Allies; but instead of standing still and giving straightforward answers, he kept sidling away the nearer I approached, and at last made a run for it. An officer immediately gave chase, and, seizing him by the tail, swung the poor wretch in the air, and hurled him prostrate on the ground; he picked himself up sharply, and again matched the swiftness of his heels against the pace of the officers horse, but without avail. The second grasp at his tail was a more firm one, and he was led back much humbled. He protested against this rough treatment, and swore that he was only a simple villager, and no Tartar. The coat rolled up under his arm, with the soldier’s badge and regimental ticket attached to his girdle, however, belied his affirmation. These, he insisted, he had picked up on the road, together with a roll of fine-powder-tubes, which he held in his hand — another ordinary accompaniment of the Chinese soldier’s accouterments [p. 283] which added more convincing proofs of his barefaced mendacity. The fellow was handed to the charge of a guard in the rear, and we advanced. We arrived at the large Peh-ting temple, some three miles from Tih-shing gate, close to which we found the French halted, and making anxious inquiries after the British infantry. The Brigadier spoke with General Montauban, who said that he suspected Sir Hope Grant had moved on to the Summer Palace, where he had appointed the rendezvous at the close of the day. The French General then intimated his intention of advancing at once on the Palace, and begged that the cavalry would move off his line of march. The Brigadier thought it very odd that the French, who were only a short way on the left, should have lost sight of the British troops, and, thinking that they might have pushed on to the Summer Palace, he directed his brigade thither also; but to avoid impeding the way of the French, we went some way up the north road before we struck across country for the Summer Palace in a north-westerly direction.
We came suddenly up with a procession of Chinese travellers. The chief personage was a pale young man seated cross-legged in a large sedan, carried by two mules, the fore and aft cross-poles resting on the respective shoulders of these animals. A large coffin, covered with blue cloth, was carried in a [p. 284] similar manner on two other mules. If the beasts were at all inclined to be troublesome, this mode of conveyance would be made far from agreeable, but they were attended by a groom apiece, who soon corrected any show of evil inclination on their part. The young man was greatly alarmed at our appearance, and continued knocking his head against the bottom of the chair. He prayed us to let him pass, as he was only a civilian engaged in escorting the coffin of his father to his native village. The Brigadier desired me to tell him not to be alarmed, for that he would see that none of his people harmed him; and this gallant officer really believed that none of his officers would take the mean advantage to plunder a harmless disarmed man; but, to my surprise, I afterwards heard that the coffin was seized for the sake of the mules that carried it, and these latter being properly secured, the former was thrown into a ditch.
The country was so thickly wooded, and the view so intercepted, that we were at a loss what direction to take. Just in the nick of time up rushed a Chinese in a most excited state, saying that but a short while ago parties of rascally Tartars had plundered his house in retreating, and run in the direction of the Summer Palace, and he prayed us to be avenged on them for plundering his all. If we would give them a good beating, he continued, he would be [p. 285] only too happy to show us the way. We were but too glad to avail ourselves of his guidance. A couple of miles or so brought us to the barracks of the Blue Bannermen. Our guide showed us these, adding, “There are soldiers inside; go and murder them all.” He then ran off. These barracks consisted of a large cluster of low houses, enclosed by an eight-feet wall, and entered by a large wooden gate, through the chinks of which we observed faces looking at us. To the right of the gate, and outside the wall, were a few houses, about which some respectable-looking villagers clustered with offerings of tea and cakes. Colonel Walker, the Quartermaster-General of the cavalry, and myself, went to them, and questioned them as to the inmates of the barracks. They replied that they only consisted of the wives, old folks, and children of the soldiers, the able-bodied men being all away with San-kolinsin. This was reported to the Brigadier, who demanded that the gate should be thrown open that we might go in and inspect the place. This they objected to, as they said our appearance would frighten the women and children; whereupon, to alarm them into compliance, a gun was quietly unlimbered, and made to face the entrance, and word was sent to the inmates that unless some of the veterans immediately came out to parley with us, and the gates were thrown open, we would force our way in. The threat pro- [p. 286] duced the desired effect, and soon a deputation of old men attended on the Brigadier, dressed in long white frocks in token of respect. They protested a warm friendship for our cause, and prayed we would not hurt them. We then questioned them as to whether they had seen any of the British infantry pass that way. They said they had seen plenty of Tartars passing during that day, but that we were the first of the Allies they had encountered. As we continued our course, in vain did we seek to gain information of the whereabouts of the British infantry.
The Brigadier thereupon resolved to move towards the French column, which was advancing on the Summer Palace. We found them on the road, as we had suspected, and the Brigadier offered his cooperation in the capture of the Palace. To this the French General assented, and begged that he would keep well to the right round the walls of the gardens to cut off the retreating Tartars, while he attacked the central gate. The French then advanced through the central road of the large village of Hai-teen in front of the Palace, while we moved round by the right. A few skirmishers were on ahead as we struck through a straggling series of the outermost houses.
Now sunk the sun; the closing hour of day
Came onward mantled o’er with sober gray;
Nature with silence bid the world repose,
When near the road a stately palace rose. [p. 287]
We were at the walls of the Palace, but we were completely closed in on our rear by the large populous village, and should the imperial gardens be well defended by Tartar skirmishers, as it was reported to be, it would be no place for mounted troops in the fast fading twilight. The Brigadier, therefore, determined to defer entering the grounds till the morrow, and now made inquiries of the natives for a spot of ground supplied with water to pass the night on. We were led to a clear space of turf of a rectangular form, made by the receding line of wall that encircled the Summer Palace; but this did not suit military taste, as only one end was open, and should the Tartars please to treat us with a night surprise they would catch us in a complete trap. We, therefore, turned our steps to the right, and sought an open spot in the fields beyond the village. As Colonel Walker and myself proceeded in advance we suddenly came upon a party of some twenty mounted men, who were in a field raised above the level of the road. These made off as fast as they could go, and the Brigadier selected the ground they had left for the bivouac. The troops had orders to stand by their horses, and not to light fires until the moon rose at eleven.
It was a clear fresh evening, and a bivouac sub jove would not have been so unpleasant, had we been provided with something at least to cheer the [p. 288] inner man. I had been despatched that morning with short notice, and had not had time to supply myself; but, thanks to the large holsters of the Brigadier and his Staff, I managed to procure a snack before resigning myself to sleep. We found ourselves close to a floor on which there was a pile of chaff, which yielded a most luxuriant mattress; and being provided with one of those fur coats, of which the doctor carried a goodly store (having had — true to his profession — an eye to the requirements of others), I soon succumbed beneath the fatigues of the day.
At one o’clock we were roused by the arrival of an officer with a prisoner. The moon was well up, and shed her mild light around; numerous fires glimmered throughout the camp, and, aided by the hum of voices, gave quite a cheerful appearance to the spot. A large fire blazed merrily close to our roost, and round it we soon recognized the Brigadier and several officers standing, and by their side an unfortunate native trembling with fear, and gesticulating most grotesquely to his captors. The captive was a withered old man, dressed in the garb of an official menial. He told me he was one of the Emperor’s eunuchs, who had been left behind to look after the Summer Palace. The Emperor had left for Ge-hol some fifteen days before, carrying with him his thirteen wives, and a large retinue. They had left in [p. 289] a great hurry, but Prince Kung had stayed behind till the evening previous, when the intelligence was brought that the Allies were marching on the place. The Prince took a precipitate leave of the premises, giving directions to the eunuchs, some 300 in number, to stand by in its defence. At sundown the French burst open the doors, and on the eunuchs opposing their entrance to the holy precincts of the Dragon Hall two of the eunuchs were killed, and others wounded. Seeing no hope of defending the place, our prisoner then mounted his pony and ran for it, and in his hot haste to escape he had run into our lines.
The Emperor, he said, was a very sickly man, and had lately suffered much from dropsy in one leg, which had necessitated his using a crutch. He had thirteen wives only. The first wife, or Empress, was barren, but two of the junior wives had blessed him with issue, one a boy now four years of age, the other a girl of five. His children, as well as his wives, had accompanied him to his retreat at Ge-hol, some hundred miles distant from Pekin. The total number of eunuchs employed by the Emperor amounted to about 480, and these were distributed throughout the different palaces and imperial grounds. Eunuchs were usually selected from families where there were three sons, the youngest being selected to the honourable post. He himself was the youngest of three in the [p. 290] family of a farmer, and at the age of eighteen was taken from the bosom of his family, and a bonus of fifteen taels of silver paid to soothe his bereaved parents. At that age he was totally emasculated, and then placed to serve in the Royal Imperial Hall of Medicine until within a few years, when he was promoted to attend on the Emperor. He had been twenty-seven years an eunuch, and would at the expiry of three years more be entitled to a gold button. The next step to a gold button was a white one, which appointment was a reward for good behaviour. From the white buttons was selected the controller of the eunuchs, decorated with a blue button, the highest rank attainable for this class of officials, his duty being to attend on the Emperor’s person. The gold buttons were very numerous, but there were only some twenty or so white-buttoned eunuchs. In former days the eunuchs were a far more honourable class than at the present; they were then empowered to hold appointments under Government, and could attain the highest official rank of the red button; but, owing to the frequent intrigues in which they had taken a prominent part, their position in life was now degraded to the simple menial.
Soon after daylight we were startled by the sound of heavy guns, and at first we thought that the bombardment of Pekin had commenced; but the reports [p. 291] continued uniformly until we had counted twenty-one, and then ceased. We listened in vain for more, and as no other sound of firing struck the ear, we felt convinced that the cannonade was intended for a royal salute, and that the city had either surrendered, or, what was more probable, it was done to give the missing cavalry notice of the direction of the British camp. Soon afterwards Colonel Wolseley found us out, and told us that the General had quartered the troops in the suburb outside the Tih-shing gate. It appears that Sir Hope Grant had diverged a little to the right in his line of attack on the earthwork, and had sent word to the French General to do the same, but that the latter had made a more decided turn to the right, and, crossing the rear of the British column, pushed after them, always thinking that he was behind them, until he reached the Summer Palace. The British had seen a considerable body of infantry falling back, but were unable to get up with them. They, however, had had a slight skirmish with a picket of Tartars at the Tih-shing suburb, which accounts for the reports of musketry we had heard. From this suburb they drove the Tartars into the gate, and as the troops were tired, and it was getting late, the General deemed it expedient to bivouac where he was. Colonel Wolseley, upon exchanging a few words with us, returned to the [p. 292] General; and the brigadier, accompanied by a couple of his officers and myself, at 7 a.m. paid a visit to the French at the Summer Palace, taking the captive eunuch along with us.
A paved roadway leaves the Palace inside Pekin, and emerging at the Se-che gate on the west side continues with a few windings in the direction of a group of villages of different names collectively called Hai-teen. The stoneway runs through this group of ugly hovels on to a broad road with the pavement through its centre. Stone garden walls stand to the right and left as you advance, enclosing the grounds of nobles and imperial connections. You advance, suivant le pavé, across a stone bridge, take a sweep to the left, and the road brings you between two large pieces of water in front of the grand entrance to the Palace of Yuen-ming-yuen. It was here under the trees that the French were encamped.
After the capture of the entrance the French posted a guard at the gate, and bivouacked under the trees; the French General reserving a large space of ground for the British cavalry, whom he expected to return to him after their peregrinations in search of the retreating Tartars. The ground of their camp was shut in on all sides by walls and houses, and the men appeared to have been tired and in low spirits; for, twice in the night, a panic seized [p. 293] them, and the French troops were almost uncontrollahle on both occasions, and would not listen to the calls of their officers. General Montauban led us into the Palace, solemnly protesting all the while that he had strictly prohibited his troops from entering within its walls, as he had determined that no looting should take place before the British came up, that all might have an equal chance. We entered through the central gateway upon a large paved courtyard, whereon the bodies of two Chinese officials were lying dead. The French assured us that these were two of the Tartars, who had opposed their entrance on the previous evening, and had succeeded in wounding two of their officers. The so-called Tartars turned out to be eunuchs. They were dressed in the usual official costume, and had red tasselled hats on their heads. On the centre of the pavement, and facing the gate, stood the grand reception hall, a large Chinese building, well adorned exteriorly with paint and gilding, and netted with iron wire under the fretted eaves to keep the birds off. We entered its central door, and found ourselves on a smooth marble floor, in front of the Emperor’s ebony throne. The carvings on the throne consisted of dragons in various attitudes, and was quite a work of art; but the material, on closer examination, proved to be some inferior wood painted to imitate ebony. The [p. 294] floor of the throne was carpeted with a light red cloth, and three low series of steps led up to it, of which the central series was the widest and intended for kow-towing on before the Emperor. The left side of the room was covered with one extensive picture, representing the grounds of the Summer Palace. Side-tables were covered with books in yellow silk binding and articles of virtu. There was somehow an air of reverence throughout this simple but neat hall, and we could well imagine the awe that it was calculated to inspire on the chosen few who were privileged to draw near on ceremonial days, and render their obeisance before the much-dreaded Brother of the Sun and Moon.
Imagine such a scene. The Emperor is seated on his ebony throne, attired in a yellow robe wrought over with dragons in gold thread, his head surmounted with a spherical crown of gold and precious stones, with pearl drops suspended round on light gold chains. His eunuchs and ministers, in court costume, ranged on either side on their knees, and his guard of honour and musicians drawn up in two lines in the courtyard without. The name of the distinguished personage to be introduced is called out, and as he approaches the band strikes up. He draws near the awful throne, and, looking meekly on the ground, drops on his knees before the central steps. He [p. 295] removes his hat from his head, and places it on the throne floor, with its peacock’s feather towards the imperial donor. The Emperor moves his hand, and down goes the humble head, and the forehead strikes on the step three times three. The head is then raised, but the eves are still meekly lowered, as the imperial voice in thrilling accents pronounces the behests of the great master. The voice hushed, down goes the head again and acknowledges the sovereign right, and the privileged individual is allowed to withdraw. The scene described is not imaginary, but warranted by the accounts of natives. How different the scene now! The hall filled with crowds of a foreign soldiery, and the throne floor covered with the Celestial Emperor’s choicest curios, but destined as gifts for two far more worthy monarchs. “See here,” said General Montauban, pointing to them, “I have had a few of the most brilliant things selected, to be divided between the Queen of Great Britain and the Emperor of the French.”
Behind the grand hall was rockery, and in rear of that again a large pond, so that a pebbled path leading over a bridge and taking a semicircular sweep of half the water, had to be traversed before you visited the next hall. The distance was about 500 yards. This hall was smaller, and not got up with [p. 296] such care: yellow sedan chairs and one mountain chair stood close to the throne; on the right and left were small rooms adjoining, with images of Buddha. Behind stood another reception hall, and in rear of that again a third; and on the left the Emperors private rooms, beautifully got up, the tables spread with all manner of precious articles, many of which were English or French. The house was small, and consisted chiefly of one moderately sized room, with a large double-seated throne, covered with gaudily coloured cloth, and having red drapery in rear, which formed a curtain to a waiting recess. A large glass chandelier hung from the roof, and large ornamented clocks and statuettes stood about the floor. Opposite the door was a carved wooden wainscoting, which formed by partition from the hall a narrow passage leading on the left to two small rooms with a spiral staircase in the rearmost of them, conveying you to two other small rooms above, which appeared from their shelves of books to have been the Emperor’s studio. A window in each of these rooms, of large single panes of glass, enabled you to look down into the hall. On the right of the passage were the Emperor’s two retiring rooms. A hanging blind over the entrance being withdrawn, you could enter the foremost of these rooms, which communicated again, by means of a doorway and another hanging blind, [p. 297] with the room in rear — his Majesty’s bedroom. A large niche in the wall, curtained over and covered with silk mattresses, served for the bed; and a sloping platform enabled his Majesty to mount into it. A small silk handkerchief, with sundry writings in the vermilion pencil about the barbarians, was under the imperial pillow, and pipes and other Chinese luxuries were on a table close by. The English treaty of 1858, with its covering envelope, lay on a table; and large quantities of vermilion pencillings were packed up, most of which had reference to the Allies. The greater part of the curiosities lay about these rooms, and we proceeded to examine them as we would the curiosities of a museum, when, to our astonishment, the French officers commenced to arracher everything they took a fancy to. Gold watches and small valuables were whipped up by these gentlemen with amazing velocity, and as speedily disappeared into their capacious pockets.
After allowing his people to load themselves as fast as they could for about ten minutes, the General insisted upon them all following him out, and kept on repeating that looting was strictly prohibited, and he would not allow it, although his officers were doing it without any reserve before his own eyes. He then told the Brigadier that nothing should be touched until Sir Hope Grant arrived. Just as we were [p. 298] walking out of the chief gateway an officer accosted the General, and informed him that they had caught a Chinese stealing a pair of old shoes out of the imperial grounds. “Bring him here!” said the indignant General. “Have we not said that looting is strictly forbidden?” The prisoner came forward trembling, and the gallant General exhausted his wrath with his cane about the shoulders of this luckless scapegoat. The Brigadier then went to breakfast with General Montauban and Staff, and I sought my friends of the Bureau Topographique. The French camp was revelling in silks and bijouterie. Everybody had some rare curios to show me, asking me their worth, as, being an interpreter, and having the eunuch with me, they looked upon me as quite a connoisseur. One French officer had a string of splendid pearls, each pearl being of the size of a marble (this he afterwards foolishly disposed of at Hong Kong for 3,000£); others had pencil-cases set with diamonds; others watches and vases set with pearls. Indeed, it would be an endless task to enumerate all the valuables already appropriated from the Palace, and yet the French General had asserted that nothing had been taken, as looting was strictly prohibited!
After breakfast the correspondent of the Moniteur got me a pass to accompany him into the palace [p. 299] again, and we bad not been long in before Sir Hope Grant and Staff arrived. General Montauban welcomed him, and positively assured him that nothing bad as yet been taken from the palace; but as Sir Hope Grant walked through the French camp his own eyes plainly told him the falsehood of such a statement. Looting still continued, but more surreptitiously; and a French officer, alluding to General Montauban’s prohibition, said, “It places us quite in a false position. The General says you must not loot, and yet be allows it to take place before bis own eyes.” Lord Elgin next arrived, and strongly protested against the looting, saying, in plain terms, “I would like a great many things that the palace contains, but I am not a thief.”
The Moniteur correspondent, myself, and the eunuch, continued our rambles through the palaces. On the extreme left were the Empress’s two rooms and several smaller ones for the sundry wives, but none of them in style at all approaching those of the Emperors. Several baskets of fruit and sweetmeats lay on the Empress’s table, showing that her departure was of no long date. On the right of the grand hall were houses after houses well stored with silks, curios, and luxuries of all kinds, such as birds-nests, tea, tobacco, dried fruits, &c. Then followed the houses of the retainers. Narrow painted galleries connected all [p. 300] the imperial rooms “in endless maze intricate, perplexed.”
Behind the chief building came the summer park, the extent of wall surrounding the whole being about twelve miles. Pebbled paths led you through groves of magnificent trees, round lakes, into picturesque summer-houses, over fantastic bridges. As you wandered along herds of deer would amble away from before you, tossing their antlered heads. Here a solitary building would rise fairy-like from the centre of a lake, reflecting its image on the limpid blue liquid in which it seemed to float, and then a sloping path would carry you into the heart of a mysterious cavern artificially formed of rockery, and leading out on to a grotto in the bosom of another lake. The variety of the picturesque was endless, and charming in the extreme; indeed, all that is most lovely in Chinese scenery, where art contrives to cheat the rude attempts of nature into the bewitching, seemed all associated in these delightful grounds. The resources of the designer appear to have been unending, and no money spared to bring his work to perfection. All the tasteful landscapes so often viewed in the better class of Chinese paintings, and which we had hitherto looked upon as wrought out of the imagination of the artist, were here bodied forth in life. I will not, however, venture on too minute a description, [p. 301] as it would doubtless prove tedious to the reader. Such spots can be better imagined than described.
Just within the walls that encircled the grounds on the right and left were large handsome llama temples with yellow tiled roofs.
In the afternoon the Brigadier called me away, and we returned to our bivouac, where we had to spend another night; but this time we spent the dark hours stowed away in a rude straw hut close to the threshing-floor. The farmer to whom it belonged appeared to have been a bird-fancier, for two cages hung to the roof of the hut, the one containing a hawkfinch, and the other a pair of redpoles, both old acquaintances of our boyhood’s early days.
The next morning we found our way to the British camp before the Tih-shing gate, where the Cavalry Brigade took possession of the quarters set aside for them, and I returned to my old position in the Topographical Department, and put up with Colonel Wolseley. [p. 302]