A Waterspout — Landing of the 2nd Brigade — The Position of Pehtang compared to Areola — A dreary Bivouac — Landing of the 2nd Division — Description of Pehtang Village — Loot — Quarters of the Troops — An elegant Chinese House — Wretched Condition of the Natives — Aspect of the Forts — The French Commissariat — A Reconnaissance in force — Skirmish with Tartars — Adventures of a Chinaman.
The landing of the 2nd Brigade was positively fixed on for the 1st August. Dark clouds hung about the sky on the evening previous, bursting occasionally over the ships with a deluge of rain, and threatening by their appearance a similar treat on the morrow. While we were lazily lounging about the deck, grumbling at the unsettled state of the weather, we suddenly observed a vapoury pillar lowering itself from an ink-black cloud, and connecting with the sea beneath, about two miles off, and thus forming what seamen call a waterspout. At first a tail, as it were, dropped from the dark mist above, gradually lengthening until it touched the water, which appeared in much commotion, and seemed to spring up towards the cloud, whirling and tossing about the spray. Then we observed a white hollow run up the centre [p. 53] of the column, up which tho water seemed to he rushing. The spout continued for some time swaying to and fro, and bending in curve, now becoming nearly invisible, and now almost darkening into opacity, till at last unlinking from the vapour above, the mass gushed downwards, and found its level with the waves below. A few birds (Emberiza aureola) settled on the rigging, and a noisy cicada made its way on board, apparently blown away from the shore.
The morning of the 1st of August at last dawned. The sea was calm and settled, though torrents of rain poured from heaven, accompanied by occasional puffs of wind. We were all up, and on the anxious look-out to see the landing party start. As I have before stated, the expedition consisted of the 2nd Brigade. His Excellency Sir Hope Grant and General Michell, with their respective Staffs, headed the party. The French had the 101st and 102nd Regiments, the Chasseurs, a few troopers mounted on miserable Japanese ponies, and some rifled cannon. At 9 A.M. the signal was made for the boats to pull off to the different transports, and about noon each boat was loaded with its allotted number of troops, and all ready for the start. The Coromandel with Sir Hope Grant and Admiral Hope on board, led the way, and the gunboats, with their decks crowded with red-jackets and military gear, and towing each [p. 54] six launches full of troops, followed in order; then the Leven, Janus, Clown, Woodcock, Drake, Watchful, Havock, Forester, Opossum, Firm, Staunch, Banterer, Bustard, Flamer, Bouncer, and Snap. Admiral Jones brought up the rear; and as they crossed the bar, they were joined by the Renard, Beagle, and Ringdove.
The French flotilla did not show nearly so well as ours. Their gunboats towed a greater number of boats, and even small Chinese junks, all densely crowded with men; and one small white steam-boat well down astern, presented a very farcical appearance.
As I myself was attached to the 2nd Division, and not among the favoured few who accompanied the 2nd Brigade, I think I cannot do better than quote the able description of the landing given by The Times’ correspondent, adding thereto a few remarks taken from the accounts of other eye-witnesses.
The Takoo forts lay within three miles on the port quarter, looking sullen and threatening, but giving no other signs of life than a Tartar flag, which waved from the largest battery. In our rear were the combined fleets of England and France, while far ahead the blue flag of Admiral Hope streamed from the Coromandel, as she led up to Pehtang. Soon after two o’clock the gunboats anchored about 2,000 [p. 55] yards from the forts. All the embrasures were masked, and no troops visible. These forts are about three miles from the mouth of the river, the passage of which they command, the town standing immediately in their rear. On a causeway running towards Takoo, a piquet of Tartar cavalry was visible, but no communication whatever was made from their commander. Some of the inhabitants were also seen hurrying along the causeway from the town, including two men of rank in sedan chairs, protected by a mounted escort. At 3 P.M. the Generals determined on landing 400 men, half English, half French, and on making a reconnaissance towards this road. The 2nd (Queen’s) supplied the English portion of the advanced party, and the boats at once pulled off to the mud-bank. They were very soon aground, and the men jumped out up to their middles in mud and water. On reaching the shore a flat of soft, sticky, slippery mud extended across on every side. Through this we waded, sinking ankle-deep at each step. For fully three quarters of a mile did we flounder and struggle before reaching a hard patch of similar mud, evidently covered by the sea during very high tides. Nearly every man was disembarrassed of his lower integuments, and one gallant brigadier led on his men with no other garment than his shirt. Immediately after the reconnoitring party had effected a [p. 56] landing, the Tartars retreated along the causeway, and the order was given to disembark the rest of the force at once. This was effected, without accident, by 5 o’clock, not a single shot having been fired by the enemy.
Never did more hopeless prospect greet an army. Mud and water everywhere, and “not a drop to drink.” Pools of brackish water were scattered about here and there, but perfectly undrinkable, and not a well or spring could be found. The ground was dotted with salt hills and groves, affording excellent cover for riflemen, but there was neither tree nor building of any sort or description.
It had been arranged between the Commanders-in-Chief, that our troops should take up position on the right — the side nearest the town — and that the French should be formed on the left flank of the English. Immediately on landing, however, a French Colonel, whose zeal outran his discretion, rushed forward with the Chasseurs, and occupied the causeway close to the gate, on the very spot which had been allotted to the English forces. Sir Hope Grant at once halted his troops, and spoke to General Montauban. In the promptest manner, and without a moment’s hesitation, the French General despatched Colonel Schmidtz, his Chef d’Etat Majeur to recal this regiment, which was soon marched along the [p. 67] causeway to its proper position. The English army then advanced, the Buffs to the right, the 15th Punjaubees in the centre, and the Queen’s on the left. They were on an island cut off from the causeway by a deep ditch forty feet wide, through which the tide flowed. In plunged the brigade, and sank middle deep in the vilest and most stinking slush; but the men struggled gallantly on, and in a few seconds the whole force was on the road. The sun was sinking fast, as from the causeway, raised some six feet from the marsh, we surveyed the position. To the right was the town, with a wooden gate at the end of the road. A few feet in advance of the gate, the causeway had been cut for a breadth of twenty or thirty feet, so as to admit the flow of the tide to the other side; over this ditch there was a wooden bridge. The bridge and gate were occupied, without delay, by 100 Rifles and 100 French, without a shot being fired. The ground in front was precisely similar to that in our rear — mud and brackish pools — while about six miles to the left a row of trees and a few houses were visible. It was the position of Arcola, an enormous marsh, with one causeway running across it; and a resolute enemy would have held the place against any odds. Sir Hope Grant was strongly pressed to occupy the town at once, but he steadily and most properly refused. Evening was [p. 68] rapidly closing into night, and consiliis nox apta ducum lux aptior armis. He was perfectly ignorant as to the force in the forts, and it would have been most imprudent to engage his army after nightfall in the narrow streets of a Chinese town, while during the dark it would have been utterly impossible to preserve discipline, and save the inhabitants from the horrors of a sack. So it was arranged that the gunboats should attack at four next morning, and the whole army lay down in the mud on the causeway, and waited the approach of day.Meanwhile, Mr. Gibson, interpreter to the 1st Division, approached the village, and seeing the natives friendly disposed, allowed himself to be conducted by them to where he could have a good view of the forts. There appeared to be no life in them; and the villagers assured him they were deserted. He at once reported the circumstance, and then Mr. Parkes and Captain Williams, Deputy-Assistant Quartermaster-General, with some riflemen, came forward, and seizing a few of the natives as hostages, left them in charge of the army, while they accompanied Mr. Gibson and the Chinamen who had given him the information through the villages to the south fort. The people seemed alarmed, and anxious to know their fate, but did not offer to molest them. They entered the fort, and found four men sleeping on mats, evi- [p. 59] dently left there as watchmen, as they bore no marks of the soldier about them. The embrasures mounted a few guns, which were found to be wooden dummies bound with hide. The villagers warned the party that the ground inside was mined, and showed them the spots where the infernal machines were buried. The party then returned with the intelligence to the Generals. All wet and dirty, the troops had lain down to sleep on the muddy causeway. The sky was serenely clear, and the moon beamed placidly upon them in their wretched and uncomfortable state. During the night a few Tartars approached the outposts of the Rifles to within a few yards, and were hailed by a salute of bullets that deprived one of their number of his mount. At daybreak the Generals passed through the village, and visited the south fort. The sappers were set to work to dig out the mines, of which there were four. The earth had been carefully moved round a circle of thirty feet at intervals of six or seven feet; eight-inch shells filled with powder and slugs were placed in tin cases; these were connected by fuses with traps into which flint and steel locks were set, and they again were attached to small strong cords. The whole were covered with matting and a thin layer of earth carefully flattened down so as to resemble the adjacent ground. The weight of a man placed on these pitfalls would at once throw him upon [p. 60] the traps, which might or might not have exploded, for opinions are divided upon the point.
After the Generals had taken a look round at the place, they gave orders to have the troops quartered in the town.
We must now return to the Imperatriz, which vessel the General of the 2nd Division and Staff had not left. On the day after the 2nd Brigade started, a Chinese junk was observed making for the shipping, through which she steered close past our ship. General Napier despatched me after her, to ascertain her object and her destination. As my boat approached, I hailed the junk in Chinese, when a man on board stood up, and, waving his hand, cried out, “No, no I” in English. On boarding her, she proved to be the bearer of a letter from the Governor-General of Cheli to the American Minister. The men on board declared that they had just come from Pehtang, that they had seen nothing of the allied troops landing, and that they knew nothing about the forts; in fact, they preferred telling innumerable lies to giving a flat refusal to communicate intelligence which might be harmful to their employers.
On the 4th, General Napier received directions to land with his Staff; so getting together a few necessaries, he transshipped into the small Calcutta steamer Mohur, and made for the mouth of the Pehtang [p. 61] River. The tide was about half ebb as we hurried across the shallow bar without touching bottom. For more than three miles in front of the forts there was nothing visible but a large flat on either side of soft mud and ooze, in which numbers of gulls, curlews, and small terns were feeding. The largest part of the village of Pehtang rests on the south bank close in rear of the fort, but there is also a gathering of houses on the opposite side in rear of the north fort. There was only one native landing-place, which was relinquished to the French; and the Engineers and sailors were set to work to throw up four wooden piers, which were numbered from 1 to 4, and placed under the surveillance of Captain Borlase, of H.M.S. Pearl. A temple was reserved for General Napier and Staff, and to this place we made our way through the filth and dirt that lay ankle-deep in the narrow lanes.
Pehtang is by no means a village of the first class. The houses were strongly built, with walls of mud and chopped straw, resting on layers of reeds introduced about one foot from the ground between the upper part of the wall and the foundation, and intended probably to preserve the house from the deleterious effect of the saline quality of the earth. The roofs were thatched with rushes, covered with a thick coating of mud mixed with bits of straw. The [p. 62] temples and some of the better houses had tiled roofs. The streets were narrow, with offensive gutters on each side; and it was only here and there in some yard that a sickly-looking tree appeared to struggle for existence. But with all its faults, on a clear sunshiny day, Pehtang bore the aspect of a sober, well-to-do village. Alas! what a change befell the place after a shower of rain! Liquid mud streamed in torrents from the roof-tops, and its firm streets were quickly converted into positive gutters of mud knee-deep. Nearly the whole period of our stay in this wretched village did the heavens favour us with rain, hence the filthy state of the place so much complained of by our people. The country round, as far as the eye could ken, presented nothing but one vast plain of mud, unrelieved by tree or blade of grass. Salt pools occurred abundantly, and sometimes tinged with algare, or the green stems of the salt-weed. On the land side a muddy ditch partly encircled the village; and crossing this by a bridge, the one road out of Pehtang led by a causeway through a gate in a southerly direction towards the Peiho; it was on this causeway that the troops passed the first night.
The village was now in the joint possession of the English and French; the latter occupying that portion nearest the fort, on the left of the main street that leads out to the causeway; the former the rest [p. 63] of the village. General Michell had one temple, General Napier another, and Sir Hope Grant and Staff, were quartered in the fort. Though the place had been occupied for the previous three days, many of the houses were still uninhabited; and idlers, mostly Frenchmen or coolies, were constantly to be met with, big sticks in hand, rushing into the houses and ransacking right and left. What articles they did not want to carry away they ruthlessly destroyed. The few natives that still lingered by their unusurped domiciles quietly watched with the eye of despair the destruction of all the property they possessed in the world, and the ruin of their hopes perhaps for ever. A few, both men and women, committed suicide, but the majority quietly escaped to the neighbouring villages, and many others were still to be seen retiring from the scene of destruction with their packs of worldly goods on their backs; but I grieve to say that even these poor wretches did not pass away scathless. As soon as they reached the open beyond the village, they were met by prowling soldiers, who had watched for them, and made to exhibit the contents of their packs before they were allowed to depart in peace. Sir Hope Grant had given strong injunctions against looting, and many a poor fellow was flogged unmercifully for picking up a trifle. Two of the Rifles were flogged for taking a pig, when [p. 64] the French were passing all day long driving these “unclean” animals home for their messes. The men were quartered in the various houses, and who could prevent their appropriating what those houses contained? Besides, the very provost-sergeants, whose duty it was to suppress looting, I was confidently assured, were greater plunderers themselves than most others. And if you wanted to purchase any curiosities of the place, you were pretty sure to succeed by having a private and confidential interview with these gentlemen. It certainly seemed hard against the poor villagers to be thus dispossessed of their houses and property, when they had shown us no resistance or hostility, but it was evidently a matter of pure necessity. The army must have shelter in such a climate and such a country, and a depot must be formed. They had, therefore, no one actually to blame but their rulers, in not having given them timely warning to clear out in the unprotected state they were left; and if they had been warned and did not accept the warning, they had none to blame but their own pig-headed obstinacy in not having removed, at the first arrival of the ships, which they could plainly see from the land, all the goods and chattels that they cared to preserve. Of course, one cannot help commiserating the woeful plight in which they were situated, and lamenting [p. 65] the stern necessity that actuated the General’s occupation of the village. But does not war in all countries involve the guilty and innocent alike in ruin? and how can a timid and mandarin-trodden race like the Chinese expect to be exempted from tho usual rule? Fortunately, most of the women had been carried away, and so few cases of violence occurred.
The houses occupied by the first landing party were mostly intact, as they were taken possession of before looters had time to destroy them; but the uninhabited houses showed the fearful results of spoliation and confusion. Boxes were broken open, and with their contents lay about the floor amidst a wreck of pottery, torn books, pictures, &c. The troops that landed next were consequently quartered in houses in this condition; and the first thing they did was to gather all the broken stuff, and throw it from the houses into the street, adding thereby dangerous adjuncts to the already filthy streets, which, besides the mire and muck, teemed with the carcases of dogs and cats.
The house occupied by the Provost-marshal was as neat a habitation as any that I saw. The front rooms were shops or warehouses, opening behind on a courtyard, with a house on each side and one at the back. This last was the residence of the owner, and really [p. 66] very elegantly furnished, though, of course, in true Chinese fashion. The sides of the rooms had large cupboards, reaching nearly to the ceiling, made of wood neatly polished, and fitted with brass locks and hinges. The large “kangs,” or store-beds, which occupied nearly one-half of each apartment, were spread with mats and pillows, and had on one side large wooden chests for clothes. The walls and ceiling were covered with elegantly designed paper, the former being decorated with pictures, Canton made mirrors, and Chinese mottoes on red and flowered paper. Ningpo jars and other ornaments were arranged in different parts of the rooms; and the narrow window-frames, covered with paper as usual, had gauze curtains stretched across, and a pane of glass in the centre of each window. As you passed through the residence, you came upon another courtyard with houses distributed as before. These were evidently, from the style of articles they contained, the dwellings of the female portion of the family. A larger establishment, also belonging to a merchant, on the same principle of courtyards and houses, was occupied by some of the 60th Rifles; who, on first taking possession, discovered two nicely dressed and pretty damsels weeping disconsolately in one of the rooms. Their relatives had fled without them, and left them to the mercy of the new occupants. [p. 67] They were, of course, well treated, and conveyed beyond the limits of the village out of harm’s way.
Beyond Pehtang, in a northerly direction across the ditch, there was a dry flat of hard ground, sprinkled with a few houses, which was again separated from the soft mud beyond by another ditch. On the farther end of this mud flat the wretched and half-starved natives used to assemble and beg for food. With these poor house-less beings we used occasionally to go and converse, and give them any assistance in our power; and in return they would sometimes bring apples and peaches by way of thanksgiving for our attentions.
The Generals were anxious to get information about the roads and the usual state of the weather at this season of the year; and after showing them a few civilities, we used to put questions to them on these subjects; but through fear of ulterior consequences they rarely gave us satisfactory answers. They begged urgently to be allowed to go into the village for the purpose of taking a little of the superfluous provisions the houses contained, and which our troops had no occasion to touch, such as preserved vegetables and salted fish; and if they went without permission, they were sure to be turned back, as the officers naturally feared they were not the class of people to be trusted where thieving might so [p. 68] easily be practised without detection. So gathering a number of them together, I bade them follow me, I led them to a house where I knew numbers of jars of salt fish were stowed in the courtyard. As I passed down a narrow street with all this tag-rag and bobtail at my heels, a soldier appeared on a house-top with a spear in his hand. “Stand clear, sir,” he cried out to me, “until I dig this into the blackguards.” I cautioned him not to be so mad; and taking these men into a house, made each fill his bag with salt fish. It was stinking stuff, and the sight of it was enough to make one feel sick; but with what avidity these poor wretches dived into the jars with their naked arms, and threw the mess into their bags! I was then obliged to walk with them till they got clear of the village again. On another occasion, while another officer and myself were standing near this rendezvous of beggars, we observed two men loaded with packs, struggling across the mud, and helping two old females along. While we were watching them, two Frenchmen armed with sticks rushed at them, and made them lay open the contents of their bundles. We went up and insisted on the release of the poor creatures, whom we assisted to cross the ditch to the other side. One of the old women was eighty, and the other ninety years of age, and blind to boot, and they could hardly totter along. [p. 69] They muttered thanks to us, and, being assisted on the backs of their male relatives, we saw them safely across the ditch, and then turned away to take a circuit of the village. Near another part of the ditch we observed a commotion amongst some soldiers on its bank, and saw an object floating under the surface of the mud and filth that the ditch contained. Some Frenchmen standing by were very much excited, and seizing hold of some natives who loitered about grinning at what they thought good fun, forced them down the bank and made them carry up the creature from the ditch. It turned out to be a native female who had jumped into the filth with the intention of committing suicide, and an awful figure she presented. She was still alive, and soon sat up and began to talk of “the devil’s having frightened her.” We procured some water, had her washed, gave her some rags from a neighbouring house, and then made two of her fellow-countrymen carry her over the mud; but I fear before they had got very far they deposited her in the marsh and left her to her sad fate.
On the 4th, Captain Govan, of the Royal Artillery, discovered a crock of powder with a lighted slow match in it. The discovery was circulated in General Orders, with a warning to the army to be on their guard against acts of treachery. The French, more- [p. 70] over, fancied the water was poisoned, as one of their soldiers had died foaming at the mouth; so that all the few Chinese that were found still remaining in the village were seized by the French, and enclosed within a paddock. Two days before this occurrence I had met an intelligent native, carrying a French pass, who had given me some good information and drawn maps of the road leading to the Tartar camp. He was still permitted to occupy a small corner in his own house in the French quarter. Wishing to see him again, I applied at the house where he dwelt, and was told he had passed the whole of the previous night in weeping, and had left early that morning. I at once thought that he was one of the unfortunates seized by the French. I went, therefore, to visit the captives. They were all seated in the yard, looking the picture of misery, but my friend was not there. One man was pointed out to me as the person who had been charged with poisoning the water, and that he was to be hanged; but as, on the case being examined, no decisive evidence was forthcoming, the man was acquitted, and they were all brought forward at the Bureau de la Place, before le Capitaine, and after receiving a suit of Chinese garments apiece were conveyed across the river and liberated.
We have been some days ashore, and have not yet visited the forts; so, if our readers please, we will now [p. 71] go and take a look at the defences of these fortresses. After wading through the mud of the streets, jostling soldiers, French, English, and darkies, who are hastening in different directions on their errands, and passing by files of coolies with bamboos over their shoulders, laden with various military articles, we arrive at the fosse that encircles the south fort. The road leads over a bridge to the gate of the fort, by which we enter. What a scene presents itself! The floor of the fort is entirely under water. On the right are encamped Probyn’s Sikh Troopers, with their fine Arab horses, picketed in rows, hoof-deep in slush, notwithstanding the straw that is spread under each; the gay pendant-topped spears belonging to each Sikh standing fixed in the ground by the side of his horse. The men themselves are arranged in various groups, talking or carrying on their different avocations. Indian water-carriers and grooms are running to and fro, interspersed with here and there a British soldier or Frenchman in the uniform of his regiment, making a most curious and motley spectacle. On the left are the tents of the Head-quarters and Staff, and from the left cavalier the jack floats proudly over the tents of the Commander-in-Chief, while the right cavalier carries the tricolour.
Still farther to the right are a few French troops, with some wretchedly lean horses in front of their [p. 72] tents, and on the extreme left are a few dilapidated houses. The fort consists of two cavaliers connected by a curtain with a waving trace. Each of the cavaliers has embrasures for three guns, and the connecting curtain for four. There is one embrasure beyond the northern cavalier, a gun in which would have commanded the bend of the river; and beyond the southern cavalier are other embrasures for two guns, which might be made to bear on the spot where the Allies first landed, and to form an unpleasant obstacle to troops only armed with firelocks and floundering in the mud. The parapet wall is about sixteen feet high and eleven feet thick, and the cavaliers thirty feet high. The fort is girt in rear by a crenellated wall, which would afford but poor protection against an assailing force. The fort is built internally of thick logs of timber plastered with a mixture of mud and flax or chopped straw, of much the same material as that used for the roofs of the village, and the embrasures have mantlets to let down in front of the guns by means of ropes and pulleys. The fort on the north bank is similarly constructed, but can only mount eleven guns. Papers were found stating the total garrison of the forts to be 327 men; but these were removed, we were told, to strengthen the position at Takoo. Various were the rumours we heard of the strength of San-Kolinsin’s forces [p. 75] on all sides, he returned, and, on the 3rd, sent out a reconnaissance along the causeway. At 4 a.m., the French, who were to take the lead, advanced, 1,000 in number, under the command of General Collineau, supported by two rifled 3-pounder mountain guns and a party of Engineers, and followed by the English force, consisting of 1,000 men, drawn from the 2nd and 60th Regiments, and the 15th Punjabees, commanded by Brigadier Sutton. The causeway ran out for three miles with naught but mud and water on either side. A small roadside temple was then reached, which formed the enemy’s extreme outpost in our direction. The Tartar videttes galloped away over a bridge about half a mile farther along the causeway, and joined the main body of Tartars, some 300 in number, who occupied their deserted houses about half a mile again beyond the bridge. The enemy waited till the French had passed the bridge, and then opened fire with their gingals and matchlocks. The French General gave orders for his men to deploy; whereupon the French ran through the ditch, and, forming on either side, advanced in shelter of the conical grave mounds that speckle this part of the country. The Tartars retired behind the houses. Some 2,000 of the enemy’s cavalry then appeared, and, extending right and left, threatened the flanks of the advancing column. The French General ordered [p. 76] two guns to the front and opened fire on the houses, which made the enemy again retire, and the advance was continued. The French formed on the right of the road and the English on the left, in columns in echelon of regiments, the road here being on a level with the hard, muddy ground through which it lay, which was covered with patches of the green salt-plant and pools of water. A large entrenched camp was now seen to present itself across the road, defended by a crenellated wall. The English, who were threatened by a large body of Tartar chivalry on the left flank, changed front to the left, and the 2nd Regiment sent forward two bodies of skirmishers, who advanced until drawn up by a pool of water, whence they fired at the enemy and forced them to retire. The skirmishers were then recalled. The enemy all this time were far from idle; they kept up a sharp fire, though, from the distance the missiles came, those that reached the allies were spent and almost harmless. The Brigade then pushed forward to within 1,200 yards, and halted. Skirmishers were thrown forward again by the 2nd Regiment, but were shortly after withdrawn, the enemy’s fire still continuing heavy. The commanders ordered the men to lie down, and sent to Pehtang for further orders, whether to advance or retire. Sir Hope Grant and General Montauban themselves answered [p. 77] in person to see how matters stood, and resolved to retire, as they had no cavalry. Just as the troops were returning, two guns of Desborough’s Battery came rushing up at a gallop, splashing through the mud. They had only landed the evening before; and though they had come at such speed through the mire and filth of Pehtang, yet they looked in fine condition. Each gun was dragged by six horses, who thought little of the weight, notwithstanding the muddy state of the roads, in which the wheels were half buried. The enemy must have fired their gingals at a very high elevation, as the three men who were wounded on our side, and the six men and an officer on the side of the French, were bruised more from the weight of the metal falling through the air than by any force imparted by the explosive impetus from the gun. The Tartars did not follow up the retreat, which they took to be a signal victory on their part, and, as we have since heard, sent glowing reports of to Pekin. They became much bolder afterwards, and approached our outposts with wonderful courage, a few even advancing within a few hundred yards, brandishing their swords and making grotesque gesticulations; so that, independent of the good results arising from a reconnaissance so far as an acquaintance with the country was concerned, it had its beneficial results in making the enemy more fearless of [p. 78] our strength, and thus an easier prey to our Armstrongs.
Each house in Pehtang keeps its own supply of water in jars, as none can be obtained in the immediate neighbourhood. This water, so preserved, is in reality melted ice, which the natives procure in winter, stowing it in jars with covered mouths for the use of the following summer. Of course all the water that Pehtang contained was not sufficient for the use of the allied forces; a gun-boat used, therefore, to be sent up the river for the article, and being several times harassed by small bodies of Tartars, Admiral Hope at last sent up Mr. Morrison, his interpreter, in the Beagle, to communicate with the Tartar camp, and inform the officer in command that if they would not fire at us, we would refrain from saluting them in the same way. Mr. Morrison walked boldly into their camp, and asked an interview with their chief, when he gave his message, and an understanding was at once come to on the matter. The interpreter then gave the Tartars some white flags of truce with Chinese characters on them, explaining their meaning, and told them it was our custom to respect the flag of truce, and we expected that they would do the same. They thanked him for his civility, and he returned. Hang-fat, governor of the province, probably thinking, from this show [p. 79] of friendly feeling that we had been alarmed by the valour of the Tartars on the day of the reconnaissance, at once sent letters to the Plenipotentiaries; but Lord Elgin and Baron Gros very wisely declined to treat, until our injured honour had been redeemed, and the allied colours floated proudly in the breeze on the heights of Takoo.
Dr. Lamprey, of the 67th, who had made some progress in the Chinese colloquial at Canton, brought a man to me who had been caught prowling about the outskirts of the village. His history, which he told me with tears in his eyes, is affecting and interesting, as it gives one an idea of the thousand other histories and tales of woe caused by the sudden occupation of so large a village. He was a native of Cheun-leang-ching, a village above Sinho on the left bank of the Peiho, and the first village through which the Americans passed on their road from Pehtang to Pekin. He was brought up as a boy in the study of the classics and Chinese literature, and on the death of his father married and set up a small school for beginners. His wife presented him with so many olive-branches, that he found it hard, with the pittance he made from his labours, to earn an existence for himself and family. Therefore, leaving her and the children at his native village in charge of his father-in-law, he removed his fortunes to [p. 80] Pehtang, where he set up as a druggist and dealer in marine stores. By some lucky prescriptions to patients who came to him for timely aid, he earned a repute, and in two years found himself in good enough circumstances to send for his family. He continued in connubial bliss at Pehtang for nearly a year, when our ships arrived, and the cruelty of our arms wrung the village from its unoffending inhabitants.
As soon as our ships began to muster in the gulf, the rumour was rife that the barbarians would probably land at Pehtang; but he foolishly delayed his departure in the hopes that such might not be the case; for he reasoned to himself that, if he recoved his goods and chattels, as many of the wiser people were doing, and we did not land there at all, all the expense so incurred would be so much unnecessary loss; so he thought he would leave it to fate. But we shall see how fate served him. The night the troops landed, he was standing at his door, when a foreign soldier asked him for water; he went into his house to get some, when the stranger seized him by the scruff of the neck and kicked him out of the house, and, before his prostrate wife and trembling mother, all the silver he had in the world, the result of his economy and hard saving for years, was robbed from the till. The plunderer went off with the [p. 81] money, and shortly afterwards others came to tell him that his house was wanted. He was almost driven to despair, but, recovering himself, he tried to comfort his wife and mother, and started with them and the little ones for the village of Ning-chay-koo, some five miles farther up the river. His wife and mother wept all the way, and the old lady talked of making away with herself by jumping into the river; but, as a dutiful son, he kept firm hold of her. When arrived at Ning-chay-koo, he hired a country cart to take him and his family to his native village. The driver wanted 28 cash; he succeeded in bating him down to 25 cash, about 2’d” sterling; but where was he to get even that amount from? He was cashless, and had no friend to supply him with the needful. While resolving what he should do, he recollected that his wife carried a jade-stone bracelet; this he at once went and pawned for 1,000 cash, and, having paid the fare for his journey, he left the remainder with his family, and himself returned to Pehtang to see if he could not recover some clothing and other comforts from his old house. The sentry would not allow him to pass, and, while he was still loitering about, he fell into Dr. Lamprey’s hands. The poor man, at the close of his story, fairly gave way to his grief and lay down on the ground. He was rather an intelligent individual, and drew maps of the country for us. [p. 82] General Napier, therefore, determined to attach him to his division as guide. At first, he entreated to be allowed to return to his people again, but afterwards somewhat gladly submitted to his fate, and appeared proud of the distinction of being what he considered a mandarin in the British army.
The following day (12th of August) the troops were to leave Pehtang, to try of what metal the Tartars were made and what stand their cavalry could make against the King’s Dragoon Guards and the swarthy followers of Fane and Probyn. [p. 82]