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you need not aim it, as the inherent Spirit of the gun does all the rest.
Over this little town are set two Governors, the Civil and the Military, of whom the Civil-in this case a kind, jovial old fellow, all for softness and general good-will at any cost has precedence. What else can one expect in this acutely anti-military Empire, which will not even take the trouble to keep a quiet frontier, though, in places such as these, it could be done with the utmost ease at very slight expense, by a permanent garrison in each place of even thirty modern soldiers, uniformed, well drilled, well paid, and armed with efficient magazine rifles? Indeed, when one contemplates this huge and harmless land, asking nothing but peace and getting little but war, the mind even of one who has a firm sympathy with the wise, enduring East, as against the hurrying and successful' West, is apt to feel a pang of irritation at such persistent neglect of elementary and obvious precautions. For want of these, especially of late, thousands of kindly inoffensive people have been plunged into bitterest penury and mourning; and yet one well-posted regiment or so, in the passes of the South, would have completely barred the advance of the Wolf into Kansu. Contemplate the position of the Military Governor of the Subprefectural City. Unlike his Civil colleague, he is a man who has travelled far and wide in all the provinces of China; he has studied Europe in Shanghai, and stood face to face with the Supreme Pontiff in Lhasa, and the great Grand-Dowager in Sian. Here he ends, in the Subprefectural City, ruined, embittered, broken up by the hopeless helplessness of his position, alone among sullen rebels fixed in the unmoved methods of the Ming Dynasty, among whom he stands as grotesque as a motor-bicycle in Stonehenge, powerless to stir, educate, discipline or reform. Four years he has ruled; but his soldiers go on strike whenever the fancy takes them, leaving gates and wall unguarded, and Jo Dâ-ren alone in the innermost yard of his wide but ruinous Yamen, all of which, with himself, family, guests, court, attendants and garrison he has to maintain in the due dignity of the most tremendous Empire in the world on an official salary of ten shillings a year.
Thus, under the rumour of the Thibetan approach, the
town went justly crazy with the instinct of self-preservation. The whole male population turned out upon the wall; stones were piled all along the battlements for throwing; and in disorder ran up and down the tattered garrison, making a vain show of refurbishing their ridiculous muskets and the pair of mud-embedded mortars that might have saluted with their latest sigh the accession of Queen Elizabeth. The citizens meanwhile sent their notabilities in solemn deputation to the foreign Lords, to entreat their help; and in a short time came up their Highnesses Jang and Jo, upon the same errand. We gladly assented; and rifles, cartridges, revolvers and tents were sent up on to the wall at the threatened Western Gate, and there publicly displayed, to the great encouragement of the defence. Meanwhile a procession was formed from the Yamen, and up to our posts we ourselves were convoyed in state by both the mandarins, between a ragged avenue of Yamen attendants in the unaltered scarlet and yellow blouses of Imperial days, armed with every sort of fantastic and theatricallooking halberd, hung about with crimson tassels to keep away the ubiquitous devils of Chinese life. On the wall we pitched our tents amid enthusiastic crowds. Night came; the scene might have been laid in Troy, but for the lack of Helen. Under the serene night of stars fires shone and flickered all round the line of battlements. Jo Dâ-ren, in contempt of this nonsensical medievalism beyond his power to help or heal, went home indeed to bed; but Jang continually went the rounds, attended by his underlings, addressing fatherly words of encouragement to his little flock from point to point. Gongs clanged incessantly, trumpets wailed across the booming of drums, and clackers pitilessly clacked all through the darkness and far on into the dawn. And in the end, though the foe advanced to a high ridge above the town and peered over, they were discouraged by the sight of such unexpected preparations and puissance, and retired accordingly in discomfiture, empty-handed.
A few days later, however, more excitement supervened. Suddenly, at two hours' notice, three hundred Szechuanese soldiers marched into the city. The population was nearly wild with wonder and dread at sight of these monsters, uniformed in khaki, walking with a
well-drilled swing, and armed with modern rifles clearly capable of going off. What would these anachronisms do? What were they come for? Would they save the town, or turn to plunder it? Everybody was confounded at the sight of them and of the coinage they offered— unheard-of silver disks called dollars, and rectangular pieces of paper which they mendaciously made out were money, and produced for payment in place of the immemorial perforated pence which are the town's one currency, and of such a value that ten shillings' worth would be more than a man could carry. Pavid as the town lay under fear of the military, it could not but make a stand against such incomprehensible frauds; and for a time more difficulties were added to a difficult situation, which was already causing poor stout old Lord Jang to fall visibly away with anxiety, as he paddled to and fro endeavouring to solve the problem of peaceably providing for three hundred men (with the threat of more), in a place so poor that the two foreign Lords alone had driven it nearly bankrupt in flour and eggs and hens. The Szechuanese meanwhile proved perfectly decent and orderly, though how long they would remain so, if angered, defrauded or starved, was a problem which kept my Lord Jang awake at night.
They had come, it turned out, with orders to restore peace on the frontier, teach the Thibetans a good lesson, and then go northward against the Wolf. This news upset the city yet more. It had no malice against the marauding Thibetans; the custom of ages prescribed a situation of mutual and quite amiable brigandage, each · party robbing the other in turn, and nobody conceiving bad blood against anybody else. But now, if these troops were to go out and kill Thibetans, what reprisals would not that vengeful and longanimous people take when once the troops were removed? A state of embittered blood-feud would succeed the pleasant state of things that had gone before. Lord Jang felt this, and quaked as he sat; the troops would some day go, and he would be left to bear the brunt. The news spread far and wide; the monks of the border took to quaking too. The foreign Lords had evidently sent to Yuan Shi Kai, and the late insult to them was to be wiped out in blood. At last a monk came slinking in to learn the truth of all
this. Fortunately he happened on the honey-dealer, who was friendly to the foreign Lords for buying all his honey. Besides, he was a Mahomedan and therefore delighted at the chance of vexing a monk. For a week,' he said, 'you need not so greatly fear: but after thatHeaven help you!' Whereupon the monk, with no more words, gathered up his purple skirts and fled precipitately homeward over the hills.
The expedition into Thibet was reported a success. Back came the troops in triumph, making the most strangely anachronistic effect as they marched through the streets. Minor alarums and excursions now succeeded; some went, more came. Nobody knew what was to happen next, and the Military Mandarin was as much in the dark as his meanest coolie, according to that immemorial separatist spirit of Chinese officialism, which preserves the most absolute secrecy between different departments, though matters of state debated in the open Yamen became property of the listening street immediately. So came and went the forces, but no news either went or came. For two months the city sat in utter isolation, as if in the most rigid siege. Not a soul dared venture out upon the roads, and not a soul came in from outside to tell of what was going on in Kansu. The silence, at last, grew terribly ominous; not even the oil-men came down from Minchow with their wattled jars, and not a postman for many a week had been heard upon his tinkling journey over the desolate and empty highways. There was a stillness of death abroad; the Subprefectural City seemed alone to live, a strange suspended life in the void of a dead world. All attempts at re-establishing communications failed; emissaries from either Yamen, despatched to Minchow under pain of heavy beating, either flatly refused to stir, whether beaten or no, or else trotted forth with obedient alacrity, only to spend a few days resting in some village just beyond the walls, and then return with a story of impassable roads.
So weeks went by, and, at last, news began to come. A stray mail, long belated, fluttered in from England, hinting at strange doings, pale and remote, yet, like all mails, telling nothing, and leaving the reader more in the dark than ever. It had gone circling the round of the
sacked cities, and so in the end came safe to hand, according to the unalterable fidelity of the Chinese Post Office. But, even more important, soon came letters from the north, and at last we learned of the Hell that had raged through Kansu in May and June, while we and the Subprefectural City alone lay safe and whole, beyond even the remotest sound of the storm. We learned the looting of Minchow; and hardly had we read of it, than the bloody tale turned white in comparison with the ghastly fate of Taochow. Yet now the coast was clear; the Wolves were gone in disorder; the Thibetans were in a state of comparative calm. Accordingly, not without a sadness in leaving the quiet little town that had been to us so kindly and opportune a harbour through a time of storm and peril unrealised, we obeyed at last the insistent call of the great northern mountains which so long had kept us fluttering on the chain, ungratefully chafing against the tediousness of our enforced sojourn in the Subprefectural City. But the channels were reopening, the air clearing; it was time to be gone, if we wanted to catch the skirts of early summer on the high Alps, whither she had long retreated. So with affectionate farewells to my Lords Jang and Jo, we set forth at last on our way, making northward in the blasted trail of the Wolves. No sure news of the outer world was yet to hand, but there were at least rumours of international troops now coming to take charge of China-dead gossip long ere this at home; lying gossip too, very likely. And then last of all, perhaps as true, perhaps as false, or only premature, the night before we left, Jo Dâ-ren came privately to our room and told us in whispers of an official letter just received from Lanchow, and it was couched in the style and formula of the Emperors of China! Under that silent night in the Yamen yard, the vast and awful shadow of the Dragon Throne seemed to take shape once more and fill the world. Not long had its majesty lingered in the lumberroom of history.