San-kolinsin’s tactics — Description of Tlen-tsin — A Scientific Mission — “Own Correspondents” — Chinese Duplicity — Advance of the Allies — A Topographical Department — Russian Secretary — Description of the Country — Yang-tsun Village — Flag of Truce.
The approach to Tien-tsin from the river, as we before remarked, was defended by a small fort on each bank of the Peiho, situate about two miles below the city. Inland from these forts on either hand extended long crenellated walls, which, taking a semicircular sweep, girded the town, its suburbs, and a portion of the adjoining plain, and was only divided again by the course of the river above the city. The whole length of this wall was estimated at fifteen miles, and, had it been defended by sharpshooters, it might have given considerable annoyance to the [p. 184] advance of the Allies. This mud wall was of recent construction, and had been thrown up, as we learnt, at the cheap rate of 15d. the current foot. The forts showed signs of recent occupation, but the wall bore no marks of mounted guns, and was evidently raised as a bugbear to frighten at a distance, with the probable intention of beating back light-armed troops; an idea having prevailed among the Chinese that we were a peculiarly maritime race, who could only manoeuvre large guns on shipboard, and who were quite unpractised in field artillery. The foretaste, however, which the Tartars had of our Armstrongs on the seaboard induced them to change their views, and to yield passively to our army the fortresses which were intended only to compete with our navy.
San-kolinsin had proved himself a good engineer by the masterly manner in which he had constructed the forts, and made them impregnable from the sea; as a general he was hardly to be blamed for having miscalculated his enemy. He had hitherto only contended with a naval power, and had shown himself fully equal to the command and trust bestowed upon him; and, indeed, had done wonders, considering the materiel and the personnel he had to ply into use. But when he found a powerful army and good field-guns opposed to him, his calculations wrong, and his enemy quite the contrary’ to his preconceived ideas, [p. 185] he resolved on the most prudent measure that could possibly have occurred to a man placed in similar straits — namely, to allow the victorious Allies to advance as far as they wished in force, and then to call in the assistance of diplomacy to delay their further progress in numbers, and to inveigle them forward only in small, parties, under the blinding title of guards to the foreign Ministers, while he might have time to retire and take his final stand near Pekin, where he hoped to rally his troops and prepare them to meet in the field such small parties of the enemy’s superior soldiers, and make them an easy prey to his overwhelming numbers.
This, no doubt, was San-kolinsin’s policy; and though an amusing story was prevalent in the camp that the Prince was a runaway Irishman from the corps of Royal Marines, whose proper designation was Sam Colinson, and that his policy was perfectly characteristic of his descent from the land of Erin; yet to an impartial observer the Tartar general’s last resource admitted of considerable plausibility. He felt sure, from the hard-earned experience he had acquired within the last few weeks, that it would be madness to venture his army against the whole of ours in fair field; he therefore determined, by the aid of diplomacy, to have recourse to treachery, and win back his reputation by exterminating our troops piecemeal. [p. 186] However we might repudiate such conduct between two powers desirous of making peace, yet in war we are told all means are fair to gain the desired ends.
That the Chinese government believed that our object in making this expedition was with a view of wresting the country from them, there may be some little doubt; but they were at all events sure that our desire was to humiliate them; and, finding themselves too weak to resist us by force of arms, they had appeal to treachery, and by making pretence of their anxiety to concede to us all we demanded, they had hoped to inveigle our Ambassadors to the capital, under the plea of exchanging ratifications, accompanied by only 1,000 men each as guard; and to have conducted them instead into the trap that they had instructed San-kolinsin to prepare for us. Most of the officers from India, who had been there well initiated into the treacherous character of Asiatic politics, drew long faces, and recommended caution when it was given out that it was the intention of the Plenipotentiaries to leave the army at Tien-tsin, and proceed with only a small guard to Pekin; and, indeed, the natives themselves on this intelligence, though they treated us with courtesy, betrayed occasional hints that our visit would prove fruitless, and our prosperous career be but of short duration.
The camp life before Tien-tsin was very tedious [p. 187]and uncomfortable. We were encamped on a large grassy plain to the cast of Tien-tsin, and our bell tents afforded little protection from the scorching winds that swept over the open tract — so much so that, had I not had leisure to repair each day during the midday heat to the friendly shade of the Haikwang monastery, situated a mile and a half to the left, or to the streets of the town, it would have been impossible to have existed. Fortunately for the troops, the large airy Indian tents were soon substituted for their accommodation, and every measure was adopted to maintain the hitherto good health of the army. Tea was plentiful and cheap, and so were provisions of all descriptions; and a first-rate market was established close to the camp. Sheep were purchasable at 12s. 6d. a-piece, and bullocks varied in price up to 5l., according to size; while flesh of both was retailed at small cost — mutton at 4d. and beef at 3d. per lb.; but even these rates were much higher than the prices ruling in the native markets in the town. The most relished luxury during that hot season among the natives as well as the Europeans was ice, and hawkers were running about the camp all day long with this much-desired article. Among the Chinese themselves it is much used to lie upon during the heat of the day. The ice for this purpose is crushed and scattered over the stove-couch, whereon [p. 188] it is then covered with a mat, on which the native casts his body as soon as he has divested himself of superfluous integuments; and, thus released, refreshes himself with a cool siesta until the sun partially withdraws his midday heat, and enables man again to renew his energy. For though the noon is hot and enervating, resembling in this respect that of the southern parts of China, yet the nights are cool and refreshing, and a coverlet almost necessary. Long stay in a hot climate, it is often affirmed, acclimatizes an individual, and enables him to endure the heat; and yet the northern and southern Chinese are very impatient of heat — in fact, nearly as much so as the newly-arrived European. Even in the Takoo Forts, surrounded as they are by a wilderness of mud and salt-pans, ice was found in large quantities, as though San-kolinsin himself had been of opinion that it was necessary for the health of his troops.
At the rumour of the success of the Allies and their intention to advance on Tien-tsin, great numbers of the inhabitants retired from that city; yet as we passed through its streets we observed no material change from the usual crowded thoroughfares of a Chinese town. The ordinary business of the street-vendors and stall-keepers continued with the usual alacrity, and the lower classes laughed, grumbled, and [p. 189] scolded one another, clad in frowzy old rags, yet happy withal. The more respectable inhabitants, however, dressed in their long blue frocks, might be seen grouped together, looking anxious and unhappy, and the principal shops were shut. The crowd increased as we reached the water-side, and became insufferably large in the neighbourhood of the “Han” establishment, where a large throng was gathered, their occupation gone, lazily eyeing the sentry, or watching the barbarians as they passed to and fro. This large house of the wealthy corn-merchant, surnamed Han, was conveniently divided into different series of apartments, with two doorways leading out on to the bund, or river’s bank. The higher of these led to two suites of rooms, one of which was occupied by Lord Elgin and Staff, and the other by Sir Hope Grant and Staff. The lower door formed the entrance to the French General’s quarters. These separate suites merely consisted of clusters of low Chinese houses, each divided into two or three small rooms, and connected by series of courtyards and galleries in perfect labyrinth. Some of the rooms had boarded floors and glazed windows, with carved pillars and hangings, and a few of the courtyards were ornamented with grotto work and plots of flowers. There was some style and show of wealth about this place nevertheless, and it was, without doubt, the finest house [p. 190] in the town; and our high authorities added no little to their dignity in the native eye by fixing their head-quarters in this place. The Hai-kwang (Glory of the Ocean) Monastery, near our camp, which I have before alluded to, was the place prepared, in 1858, for the reception of our Ambassador, on the occasion of signing the treaty. It was a large, spacious temple of an antique appearance, but in the ordinary temple style. Its monastic apartments now afforded roomy accommodation to the Commissariat Department.
On the rivers bank a few doors above the Han establishment, was a house occupied by the French Mission Scientifique, as certain letters chalked conspicuously over the doorway certified. I congratulated myself on the discovery, and felt rather hurt that the French Government should have been in advance of our own in thus associating scientific researches with modern warfare. I at once paid a visit to that learned body, to ascertain the particular object of their mission, when, to my astonishment, I found the whole establishment consisted of one man (!), who informed me he had been appointed as head of the mission, but through some mistake in its organization the various scientific members required to complete the whole had not been forthcoming. This gentleman futher informed me that the pecu- [p. 191] liar part he took in the explorations was the study of political economy as developed among the Chinese. But before I took my leave, he made a statement which rather shook my faith in the leading member of this scientific body, viz. to the effect that he had been only three months acquiring the Chinese spoken language, and could now speak it fluently, and that he felt convinced that a further three months’ study would perfect him in the written language. I would not, however, have dared to question the boast of this master of political economy, had he not betrayed his want of proficiency in the language by discoursing with a Chinese in my presence.
I was agreeably surprised to hear that there was a zoologist in the French camp, to whom I next repaired. This gentleman was an amateur, who had procured permission to accompany the French army throughout the campaign. M. Yill was a colonist of Algeria, who, during his residence in that country, had paid considerable attention to the fauna of the Atlas range, a subject which has of late years attracted numbers of enterprising naturalists from our own islands to the North African coast.
He was a man of mature years, but possessed of that zeal for his hobby which overlooks all signs of decay that man’s enemy Time impresses on the body. During his residence at Chefoo, the French rendez- [p. 192] vous, he had carefully worked up the zoology of the promontory of Shantung, but unfortunately the exposure concurrent with the subsequent campaign at Takoo, had confined him to his bed with rheumatism, and he had consequently done little since the landing at Pehtang. He was a guest among the members of the Bureau Topographique, in company with another distinguished amateur in the French camp, the correspondent of the Moniteur. M. Yill complained much of the rude treatment he had received from the French soldiers, who were inclined to look upon him as an interloper, and he told me that many of his expensive illustrated works on natural history had come to grief owing to their wilful carelessness. When he complained of their conduct, they retorted, “Nous sommes soldats, nous ne sommes pas porteurs de bagage.”
We have thus shown that the French had one paid scientific man only in their camp, and he was a political economist. But, shame to our Government, we had none. Our Government always works on the utilitarian principle, and leaves scientific investigation in nearly every case to private enterprise. A well-known and learned zoologist, in the person of Mr. Blyth, of Calcutta, proffered his hard-earned thirty years’ experience in Asiatic zoology to illumine the North China campaign, on the part of Great [p. 193] Britain, with a scientific lustre, but the niggardly policy of our Government unhesitatingly rejected so noble an offer. Thus the fine opportunities presented by the success of our arms in a comparatively new field would have been entirely lost, had not the zeal of certain private individuals actuated them to bestow their leisure hours to the acquirement of those facts in natural history which always form so essential a part in the geography of any country.
The newspapers were better represented, for besides the intelligent correspondent of The Times’ Mr. Boulby, who was a guest of the Embassy, the camp had the honour of sustaining the editors of the North China Herald and China Mail, both of which gentlemen had been brought there by their love of enterprise and party spirit, the one in principle befriending the English, and the other the Chinese, and both anxious to see fair play. One of these personages, much respected by all who knew him, with locks prematurely white, and quite a specimen of the rare old English gentleman, was frequently mistaken for Lord Elgin, and sometimes in a most laughable manner. On the morning after the first night out at Sinho, while this gentleman was sitting quietly on a haycock regaling himself in the refreshing beams of the early morning sun, a padre stepped up to him, and taking off his hat inquired. [p. 194] “My lord, will you take a cup of chocolate?” The person accosted courteously declined the disinterested offer, and the padre went away chuckling to himself at the happy opportunity he had just had of showing some little attentions to his lordship. Another similar mistake which was somewhat more ludicrous, took place at Tien-tsin. The Russian Ambassador, on hearing of our advance, had come down to Tientsin to meet us, and quartered himself in a house in one of the back streets, at the door of which a Cossack guard was mounted. Our friend the editor had taken up his residence a few doors off this Embassy, and was quietly walking down the street when the Cossack spied him, and being under the impression that a venerable looking gentleman in plain clothes must be Lord Elgin, he rushed into the guard-house, and kicking up his drowsy comrades made them turn out and present arms to our friend, who quietly acknowledged the salute, though inwardly feeling nettled at having to receive an honour which was intended for a greater man; and in returning to his room he took advantage of a back alley to escape the notice of the officious sentry.
The whole army had now been mustered under the walls of Tien-tsin, with the exception of the small force left to garrison the Takoo forts, and the 44th Regiment, which had been despatched to Shanghai [p. 195] soon after the fall of the forts on the arrival of the news that the settlement there was under menace by a large body of Nankin rebels, Odin Bay in Talienwan had been abandoned, as, from the abundance of supplies procurable at the field of operations, it was no longer needed as a commissariat depot, and the 19th Punjaubees and remnant of Royal Artillery were ordered to the front. It was given out that the Chinese commissioners had acceded to all the demands made by Lord Elgin and Baron Gros; that the convention would be signed in a few days, and that then the Allied Ambassadors would proceed with their escort of 2,000 men to Pekin for the purpose of ratifying the Treaty of 1858. Our demands were modest enough it was true. Beyond what the ultimatum contained it was required that Tien-tsin should be opened to foreign trade, that the indemnity to be paid by the Chinese. Government should be fixed at eight millions of taels (about two millions and three-quarters sterling), and that the Takoo forts be held until the money was paid. Half the amount of indemnity should go for the Canton losses, and the other half to defray the expenses of the war. The French claimed the same amount of indemnity as ourselves, whereas their Canton losses amounted to scarce two millions, and their warlike preparations were on a far more moderate scale than ours. [p. 196]
At this pacific intelligence all parties were made to believe that the war was at an end, and that ere long the camp would be broken up. Indeed, the 1st Royal Regiment, which had served for some years at Hong Kong, and had been almost decimated by sickness, received their orders to prepare for immediate departure for England, and many of the officers sold off their horse-gear and much of their heavy baggage by public auction. But suddenly, like a clap of thunder, came the news, on the 6th September, that Messrs, Parkes and Wade had had an interview with Kweiliang and Hang-fuh to arrange for the signature of the convention on the following day, and that on the Chinese Commissioners being invited to show their credentials it was found that they were insufficient, and that they really had no power to sign the convention. They had told a barefaced lie in the hope that the interpreters, trusting to their honour, and not examining too deeply into their assumed powers, might be led to induce Lord Elgin to go through the formality of signing a convention at Tien-tsin, and then to proceed to Pekin with only a small guard, under the plea of exchanging ratifications at the Imperial Court, when his lordship would be quietly led instead into the meshes of the wily San-kolinsin, Such, doubtless, was their shortsighted policy, but, thanks to the acuteness of our [p. 197] trusty Chinese secretary and his colleague, the enemy’s hope was blighted in the bud. This want of good faith was at once reported to his lordship, who at once communicated the whole to Sir Hope Grant, and requested him to commence the march on Tungchow, where he informed the Commissioners he would confer with them as soon as they had received sufficient authority from the Emperor to sign the convention. Next day Sir Hope Grant pushed out an advance guard on the road to Tungchow, and encamped them some miles beyond Tientsin, at the same time giving orders that the march should commence on the following day. Accordingly, on the morning of the 8th, I was roused from my slumbers at an early hour by the band of the Rifles playing “Old Folks at Home,” and, turning out, saw that the march had commenced. The First Division, under Sir John Michel, were on their way to Tungchow. Mr. Gibson, their interpreter, was too sick to accompany them, so he was left behind, and Mr. M. C. Morrison, also of H.M.’s consular service, who was absent from his post at the Amoy Consulate on sick leave, and had volunteered his services to the Commander-in-Chief, was appointed interpreter to General Michel. After breakfast that morning, as I accompanied General Napier into the city and passed the baggage of the First Division, still struggling [p. 198] through the crowded thoroughfares, I was selfish enough to envy the better luck of my fellow in office in having been appointed to the advance while I myself was destined to remain behind with the Second Division. But imagine my joy when, on reaching head-quarters, I learned that the fates had had something better in store for me, and that Sir Hope Grant had attached me as interpreter to the Topographical Department under Colonel Wolseley, whose duty it was to follow in wake of the advancing columns and survey the roads. The neighbourhood of the “Han” establishment presented a scene of bustle and confusion easier imagined than described. Rows of carts and waggons lined the way, all carrying little flags with numbers on them, preparing for the morrows departure. Colonel Wolseley kindly procured me an order on the Military Train for a horse, and desired me to join him next day, and I returned to camp rejoicing.
“A pony or a horse?” inquired Captain Gray of the Military Train, as I presented myself before that gallant officer of the white stripe on the following morning. “I hope not the former, as we have no animals of that description worth choosing.” On my informing him it was one of the latter animals I sought, he sent a groom with me to inspect the lines. The horses were picketed in three or four rows, and [p. 199] as the syces uncovered them for my inspection it was a hard matter to choose from such a number of tall, gaunt scarecrows. I passed up and down the lines in despair, and felt half inclined to give it up as a bad job, when a Military Train trooper returned with a gray he had ridden out on an errand. This beast did not “handsome,” as our American cousins say, but he could boast a little more flesh than the others, and was free of sores, from which most suffered. I fixed on him at once, and having satisfied red tape with my receipt, rode in triumph to where the servants were packing up my tent and baggage. They had engaged native porters, and all was in readiness for the start; so, taking an affectionate farewell of General Napier and Staff, I posted off to join my new master, and commence a fresh career.
The topographical department, newly organized, consisted of three individuals — Colonel Wolseley, Deputy Assistant Quartermaster-General; Lieutenant Harrison, of the Royal Engineers; and myself. It was on a Sunday morning, the 9th September, when we commenced slowly to move along in rear of the French baggage with our three carts and servants through the streets of Tien-tsin; it was slow work, and accompanied by numerous stoppages as we gradually progressed through the street of “Everlasting Prosperity,” and curious it was to hear the strange [p. 200] remarks of the various shopmen who stood at their doorways watching the uncouth procession of carts, attended by men of all shades, sizes, shapes, and costumes. “They surely must he composed of a great number of nations,” said one; “see how black some are, and how fair are others.” “No,” said another; “they are only from two countries, France and England. Those black devils are their slaves.” Numbers admired the large size of our horses, and were extremely puzzled at our foolhardiness in riding stallions. And as our department rode three abreast, and all had gray chargers, many a “hai-ya” of admiration was expressed. We at last emerged from the streets on to the boat bridge across the junction of the Peiho river and the Grand Canal, or Yu-ho; then through a street, and over a small bridge across the Seaou, or Hia Se-ho (Little or Lower West River). The road then led over a stone bridge, the Hung-cheaou (or Red Bridge), which spans the Ta, or Shang Se-ho (Great or Higher West River), alias When-ho, and then past a cluster of houses on the bank of the Peiho, known as the Se-chwang, or West Village, until a little farther on we reached the village Ting-tsze-teoo, so called from the river here taking the form of the character “Ting,” or the letter T. To the left of this a grassy flat offered a nice encamping spot, and as Colonel Wolseley did not wish to proceed too [p. 201] far the first day, we had our tents pitched. I was dubbed commissary of our small camp, and went to parley with the villagers, which soon resulted in a supply of ice, fowls, and fruit, and we were thus enabled to regale the officers of Sir Hope Grant’s and Lord Elgin’s Staff’s, who hailed us on their ride out to join the advancing column.
We made inquiries about the names and courses of the different rivers in the neighbourhood; but the Chinese never understand a river as a whole, each portion being christened separately by the inhabitants of the towns and villages through which it runs, and often the same portion having different names applied to it by people living at no great distance apart from one another. This was most perplexing. Thus the Peiho below Tien-tsin is known along its banks as the “Peiho,” or North River; at Pehtang it is distinguished as the “Nan-ho,” or South River, from the Pehtang River, which is there called Peiho. At Tien-tsin the Peiho, flowing seawards, is spoken of as the “Hai-ho,” or Sea River, and the portion above the city towards Tung-chow bears the name of Peiho, or “Ta Peiho,” Great North River.
The Grand Canal, “Yun-leang,” or “Yu-ho” (Grain-bearing or Imperial Eiver), flows in a southerly direction, till it meets the “Hwang-ho,” or Yellow River, through a long list of towns and villages, whose [p. 202] names and distances we procured, but I fear they are not very reliable and scarce worth insertion here. It is still navigable for 400 or 500 miles of its lengthy and for perhaps more, but information on this head was obtained with difficulty. Every one knew that the Yellow River had burst its dykes, and destroyed the navigability of the Grand Canal; but as to the extent of the damage done no one could speak with certainty.
The Little or Lower West River is a small stream winding in a southerly direction, and is navigable for flat-bottomed barges as far as the departmental city of “Ning-tsing,” distant about 150 miles from Tien-tsin.
The Great or Upper West River, alias “When-ho” that joins the Peiho at the Red Bridge, runs almost due west to the Great Salt Marsh, or “Ting-hai,” east of Pekin, passing which it continues its course to the large prefectural city of Faou-ting-foo.
Next morning I rose early, and walked in a southerly direction towards a cluster of masts about a mile distant. These belonged to some junks anchored before a village on the When River. Other junks were moving down the river under sail, laden with sacks of salt. Traffic appeared to continue, notwithstanding the advance of the enemy. I was separated from the river’s bank by a creek running through a [p. 203] bed of rushes, and finally losing itself in a marsh of no great extent. This creek abounded in wild-fowl, and I only regretted that our stay would be of too short a duration to admit of my returning to the spot.
The British column had halted after the first day’s march at “Poo-kow,” and on the following day (10th September) advanced to Yang-tsun. The French column kept a day’s march behind, and though they marched out of Tien-tsin on the 9th at the same time as our department, they had only proceeded as far as “Se-chwang,” where they had encamped close in rear of us. We were, therefore, obliged to delay a little in order to let them pass. The small camp of our department consisted of one Indian tent, which accommodated the colonel and the lieutenant, and served as well for our common hall — and two bell tents, one belonging to myself, and the other to Wolseley’s soldier servant and a corporal of Engineers. The Chinese servants and carters generally built huts of mats and millet stalks, and the two nigger servants were accommodated with a tente d’abri. Besides our three horses picketed in row, there were the six baggage ponies belonging to the carts, and the carts themselves, and in a group hard by the eleven Sikh troopers detailed to us as guard, with their tents and horses. The whole made quite a conspicuous little [p. 204] group to the observation of the passers by, and many were the questions asked by the French officers as to who we were, and what was our particular commission? Among others, a Russian, attended by two Cossacks, rode up to us, and complimented us on the neat appearance of our camp, and the wonderful condition of our horses, which looked so strong and healthy, notwithstanding the long voyage they had undergone. He said what struck him as particularly marvellous was the Sikh Regiment, with their fine Arab horses. “When you reach Pekin, you will astonish the people,” he said. “I assure you that the Emperor rides on just such a pony as I am now mounted on” (pointing to the native galloway he bestrode). “But your Sikhs are magnificent. To think that from a country of black savages you could have produced so fine a troop of mounted soldiers!” The secretary to Count Ignatieff (for such he proved to be) was candid in his remarks; and indeed it could not have been deemed arrogant for a British officer to admire the drill and turn-out of these Sikhs, as compared with the wretched Spahis from Algeria of the French lines, who too often showed themselves impatient of discipline, as the French officers acknowledged, and were mounted on the most wretched of Manila ponies, lank and half-starved to look at. [p. 205]
As soon as the French had got well ahead we struck tents and commenced our duties on the road. Harrison took the course of the Peiho for his part of the survey, while Wolseley continued to track the road; and as my duties were to inquire the names of villages and to procure any required information, I was directed to accompany the latter officer. The river, as Captain Sherard Osborne observes, is fenced in on either side with artificial dykes, and the villages on its banks are larger and more thriving than those farther inland, whose inhabitants depend entirely on the fruits of agriculture for their livelihood. But the story of the paved road said to exist by that same author between Tien-tsin and Pekin, is all a myth, as we before supposed. He must surely have intended the paved way between Tungchow and Pekin, which other writers have before commented on.
The face of the country was covered for miles, as far as the eye could see, with fields of tall millet, and were it not for the occasional brick-kilns and watch-towers that occurred, an accurate survey of the road would have been most arduous. As it was, Colonel Wolesley felt that he could not ensure accuracy without pacing the road. The distances so noted were afterwards compared on the return march with the revolutions of a perambulator, and their accuracy [p. 205] verified. We rested at a pretty wayside temple called Taou-hwa-she (or Monastery of the Peach-flower), where the priest had fitted up a little room for the accommodation of travellers. On the benches within were gathered a motley group of Chinese rustics enjoying their cup of tea and pipe. By the side of these we seated and cooled ourselves, after the hot walk, under the friendly shelter of the temple’s roof, while our companions the Sikhs brought us apples and peaches, by way of accompaniment to the hot, refreshing beverage. The sky, which had hitherto continued cloudless, now began to lower, and before we had continued much farther on the road, showered a deluge over our heads, while lightning gleamed with vivid flashes, and the thunder vibrated through the air with terrific roar. We were compelled to seek shelter in a small mud-built village on the bank of the Peiho until the contention of the elements was somewhat abated. Lieutenant Harrison here joined us, and having received a coat apiece from our trusty followers of the swarthy complexion, which they insisted on our accepting, we slipped along the slimy road, converted by the deluge of rain into a sea of mud; but very fortunately we had only a couple of miles to go farther, for our servants, who had proceeded ahead, on observing the threatening state of the weather, had pitched our camp in a delightful [p. 207] little grove of willows close to the village of Lower Poo-kow, about two miles nearer than Poo-kow itself, where the French were encamped. We were thus enabled soon to make ourselves comfortable, and prepare for the worst, whereas many of the French baggagers only a little in advance of our carts were brought up short by the muddy state of the roads, and compelled to halt where they were, and brave the fury of the drenching storm. One Frenchman, with his wife, a pretty little vivandidre, was in this difficulty on the road close to us, and we were sorry we could give them no assistance further than tent-room for the night. The lady herself, however, did not partake of the hospitality at our hands, for a French officer who shortly afterwards came up assisted her to their camp. Many of our Sikhs were Mussulmans, and it was, therefore, difficult to supply them with provisions, as they would not eat pig, the only animal that abounded in the village. We at last succeeded in procuring a few fowls for them, and a moderate supply of wheaten flour.
Next morning the sun rose again in all his splendour, and evaporation of the earth’s surface commenced with vigour. We were, however, determined to take it easy till near noon, and I was consequently enabled to stroll about the precincts of the village. “Hia” (or Lower) Poo-kow is a village of no great [p. 208] extent, consisting entirely of mud huts, the homesteads of farmers. Near these was an abundant supply of forage of several descriptions. Fine hay and straw were built up into ricks, supported off the ground on poles, stacked in with millet stalks, and roofed with mushroom-shaped tops of mud, and in some cases coated all round the sides for a couple of feet from the ground with the same material. Many of the houses were deserted, by the women at least, and the greater part of the cattle had been driven away. By the way, the hospitality we tried to show to the French stragglers was met by an act of ingratitude on the part of one man, who quietly, in the dead of the night, unloosed my baggage-pony and carried him off to his camp, without leaving me any chance of ever recovering the animal.
There were several handsome trees in the neighbourhood of our grove, whereon the birds were particularly lively in the cheering sunshine of the morning. The wet night succeeded by a clear, bright morn, with the sun slowly rising and shedding his beams of light and warmth on saturated nature, was a gladdening sight to us mortals as well, and while the drenched and drooping bushes began to hold up their heads, the birds to shake their moistened feathers and prune them into order, we ourselves felt a peculiar pleasure in lounging idly in the sunshine. Here woodpeckers [p. 209] (a pied species) first made their appearance, and ran their giddy run up and round the bark of overhanging trees, while the gorgeous yellow plumage of the Chinese oriole showed conspicuously among the leafy foliage. Little flycatchers kept darting into the air to catch the passing fly, and the merry trill of the gray caterpillar-catcher told us that he, too, was busy overhead. The cheerful twitter of buntings, finches, and wagtails, and the heavy brushing through the branches of the clumsy cuckoo gave notice of our lively companions in the willow-grove, and made us mindful of our acquaintances of South China, which, to wage their insect war, had arrived before us, and were already at their summer haunts to welcome us to the hitherto unexplored northern regions of the Celestial Emperor s domains.
A few hours of sunshine works wonders on the mud-formed roads of this country, and, before noon the highway was sufficiently dry to admit of our proceeding in our carts. As before, Harrison took the course of the river, and started first with two Sikh orderlies, and Wolseley and myself continued along the road with three Sikhs, leaving the other six to accompany the baggage; but before we had gone far one of these dark followers came to grief, his horse having slipped and fallen with him bodily into a mud pool; which accident necessitated his return to the [p. 210] baggage add his place being supplied by one of the others.
We soon arrived at the village of Poo-kow, situated on the river’s bank. One long and dirty street through which we rode was partly occupied by the French Ambassador and his guard, but the French campt was pitched in a millet plain some little way beyond. Their advance was defend till the following day fit the request of Sir Hope Grant. who had sent back from the British camp at Yaogi-tsun.
Not far from the French camp we encountered two French sportsmen, who had availed themselves of tbe halt to have a day’s shooting, and I was glad to recognise in one of them my friend M. Zill. They were beating the millet-fields for quail, and had procured as yet only one button quail (Turnix Dusumieri).
Poo-kow, the first halting place on the march, is distant twelve and a half miles from Tien-tsin. Several villages of minor importance occur between this village and the city; these I have not thought it worth while enumerating here, as such lists of meaningless Chinesese names would have little purpose in this narrative, while they are accessible to the inquiring reader in the lately published Government Survey, the fruits of our department, planned by the indefatigable and painstaking Colonel Wolseley and Lieu- [p. 211] tenant Harrison, in which they are all carefully noted.
From Poo-kow a farther travel of seven and a half miles brought us up before evening with the British camp at Yang-tsun, where our baggagers had already pitched our tents and made all snug. Yang-tsun is a large, flourishing village occupying both banks of the Peiho, with several brick-built houses of the better class. It falls within the Hien, or department, of Woo-tsing, and holds the residences of two civil mandarins, a “Che-Heen” and a “Heen-ching,” both of the seventh rank, with gilt buttons. These worthies, it is needless to add, had decamped before we arrived. The drivers of the carts hired at Tientsin to carry the baggage of the Embassy and that of the Head-quarters’ Staff, had run away during the night’s stormy darkness, carrying with them many of the baggage animals; so a number of junk-boats were seized and manned by sailors to carry the impediments by the river.
The carters had doubtless been frightened by the threats of the Government underlings, many of whom we heard were hanging about the camp at this place, and, notwithstanding the vigilance of our Sikh sowars in keeping an eye upon the carters attached to our own department, two out of three managed to escape during the night we spent at Yang-tsun. [p. 212]
A flag of truce had arrived in the early part of the day borne by two mandarins of the fourth class, who announced that “Tsai-wan,” President of the Imperial Court of Punishment, who was the leading member of the war party, and “Moo-hien,” President of the Council of War, had been appointed to treat with the Ambassadors, and were now on their way down to Tien-tsin. The flag-bearers were dismissed with the reply that there could be no treating till we had arrived at Tung-chow.
Next morning (the 12th) at daylight the troops were on the march, but our department did not start till 10 A.M.
Several villages were passed; the country maintained its alluvial character, vast tracts being covered with tall millet and maize as before, but trees became more numerous the farther we advanced.
By the evening we reached Nantsai, the next stage on the march, seven and a half miles from Yang-tsun, where we halted again in the British camp. Next morning the march continued, and we followed somewhat later; but this time Colonel Wolseley took the survey of the river, which soon after leaving the village takes a long bend to the northward, and the road was left to Lieutenant Harrison.
As we approached Ho-see-woo the soil became more sandy, the village itself being situated in some [p. 213] sandy hills, or rather undulating on the river’s bank, but the rest of the country, as far as our wisdom reached was still one large flat, moving with a sea of undulating millet speckled with woody hamlets and here and there a brick-kiln or watch-tower.
The Head-quarters’ Staff had taken up their quarters at a gaudily painted Confucian temple just outside the village, and we pitched on the hill hard by. I took a walk along the bank of the river, here only thirty yards broad, in which numbers of the troops were luxuriating, the average depth of water being up to the waist, with occasional deeper spots occurring, and the current very fresh. I could not resist the temptation, so, throwing off my clothes, I plunged in, and for a while forgot the heat and dust of the road and the discomforts of a marching camp in the cool, refreshing bath in which I revelled. [p. 214]