Kidnapped in London/Chapter 4
PLEADING WITH MY GAOLERS FOR LIFE.
AT twelve o'clock the same night Tang returned to my room and re-opened the subject. I asked him, if he was really a friend of mine, what he could do to help me.
"That is what I came back for," he replied, "and I want to do all I can, and will let you out by-and-by. Meantime," he continued, "I am getting the locksmith to make two duplicate keys, one for your room and one for the front door."
Tang had to take this step, he said, as the keys were kept by the confidential servant of the Minister, who would not part with them.
To my inquiry as to when he could let me out, he stated that it would be impossible till the following day, and that he could probably manage it at two a.m. Friday morning.
As he left the room he counselled me to be ready to get out on the Friday.
After his departure I wrote down a few words on a paper to give to the servants to take to Mr. Cantlie.
Next morning, Thursday, October 15th, I gave the note to the servant; but, as Tang told me on the afternoon of that day, it was handed by the servant to the Legation authorities.
Tang declared that by my action I had spoiled all his plans for rescuing me, and that Sir Halliday Macartney had scolded him very much for telling me how they intended to dispose of me.
I thereupon asked him if there was any hope for my life, to which he replied: "Yes, there is still great hope; but you must do what I tell you."
He advised me to write to the Minister asking for mercy. This I agreed to do, and asked for pen, ink and paper. These Tang told Cole to bring me.
I asked, however, that Chinese ink and paper should be supplied me, as I could not write to the Chinese Minister in English.
To this Tang replied: "Oh, English is best, for the Minister is but a figure-head; everything is in Macartney's hands, and you had better write to him."
When I asked what I should write, he said:
"You must deny that you had anything to do with the Canton plot, declare that you were wrongly accused by the mandarins, and that you came to the Legation to ask for redress."
I wrote to his dictation a long letter to this effect in Tang's presence.
Having addressed the folded paper to Sir Halliday Macartney (whose name Tang spelt for me, as I did not know how) I handed it to Tang, who went off with it in his possession, and I never saw the intriguer again.
This was no doubt a very stupid thing to have done, as I thereby furnished my enemies with documentary evidence that I had come voluntarily to the Legation. But as a dying man will clutch at anything, so I, in my strait, was easily imposed upon.
Tang had informed me that all my notes had been given up by the servants, so that none of them had reached my friends outside. I then lost all hope, and was persuaded that I was face to face with death.
During the week I had written statements of my plight on any scraps of paper I could get and thrown them out of the window. I had at first given them to the servants to throw out, as my window did not look out on the street; but it was evident all of them had been retained. I therefore attempted to throw them out at my own window myself, and by a lucky shot one fell on the leads of the back premises of the next house.
In order to make these missives travel further I weighted them with coppers, and, when these were exhausted, two-shilling pieces, which, in spite of the search, I had managed to retain on my person. When the note fell on the next house I was in hopes that the occupants might get it. One of the other notes, striking a rope, fell down immediately outside my window. I requested a servant—not Cole—to pick it up and give it me; but instead of doing so he told the Chinese guards about it, and they picked it up.
Whilst searching about, the letter on the leads of the next house caught their attention, and, climbing over, they got possession of that also, so that I was bereft of that hope too. These notes they took to their masters.
I was now in a worse plight than ever, for they screwed up my window, and my sole means of communication with the outside world seemed gone.
My despair was complete, and only by prayer to God could I gain any comfort. Still the dreary days and still more dreary nights wore on, and but for the comfort afforded me by prayer I believe I should have gone mad. After my release I related to Mr. Cantlie how prayer was my one hope, and told him how I should never forget the feeling that seemed to take possession of me as I rose from my knees on the morning of Friday, October 16th—a feeling of calmness, hopefulness and confidence, that assured me my prayer was heard, and filled me with hope that all would yet be well. I therefore resolved to redouble my efforts, and made a determined advance to Cole, beseeching him to help me.
When he came in I asked him: "Can you do anything for me?"
His reply was the question: "What are you?"
"A political refugee from China," I told him.
As he did not seem to quite grasp my meaning, I asked him if he had heard much about the Armenians. He said he had, so I followed up this line by telling him that just as the Sultan of Turkey wished to kill all the Christians of Armenia, so the Emperor of China wished to kill me because I was a Christian, and one of a party that was striving to secure good government for China.
"All English people," I said, "sympathise with the Armenians, and I do not doubt they would have the same feeling towards me if they knew my condition."
He remarked that he did not know whether the English Government would help me, but I replied that they would certainly do so, otherwise the Chinese Legation would not confine me so strictly, but would openly ask the British Government for my legal extradition.
"My life," I said to him, "is in your hands. If you let the matter be known outside, I shall be saved; if not, I shall certainly be executed. Is it good to save a life or to take it? Whether is it more important to regard your duty to God or to your master?—to honour the just British, or the corrupt Chinese, Government?"
I pleaded with him to think over what I had said, and to give me an answer next time he came, and tell me truly whether he would help me or not.
He went away, and I did not see him till next morning. It may well be imagined how eager I was to learn his decision. While engaged putting coals on the fire he pointed to a paper he had placed in the coal scuttle. On the contents of that paper my life seemed to depend. Would it prove a messenger of hope, or would the door of hope again be shut in my face? Immediately he left the room I picked it up and read:
"I will try to take a letter to your friend. You must not write it at the table, as you can be seen through the keyhole, and the guards outside watch you constantly. You must write it on your bed."
I then lay down on my bed, with my face to the wall, and wrote on a visiting card to Mr. Cantlie. At noon Cole came in again, and I pointed to where my note was. He went and picked it up, and I gave him all the money I had about me—£20. Mr. Cantlie's note in reply was placed by Cole behind the coal scuttle, and by a significant glance he indicated there was something there for me. When he had gone I anxiously picked it up, and was overjoyed to read the words: "Cheer up! The Government is working on your behalf, and you will be free in a few days." Then I knew God had answered my prayer.
During all this time I had never taken off my clothes. Sleep came but seldom, only in snatches, and these very troubled. Not until I received my friend's cheering news did I get a semblance of real rest.
My greatest dread was the evil that would befal the cause for which I had been fighting, and the consequences that would ensue were I taken to China and killed. Once the Chinese got me there, they would publish it abroad that I had been given up by the British Government in due legal fashion, and that there was no refuge in British territory for any of the other offenders. The members of "the Party" will remember the part played by England in the Taiping rebellion, and how by English interference that great national and Christian revolution was put down. Had I been taken to China to be executed, the people would have once more believed that the revolution was again being fought with the aid of Britain, and all hopes of success would be gone.
Had the Chinese Legation got my papers from my lodgings, further complications might have resulted to the detriment of many friends. This danger, it turned out, had been carefully guarded against by a thoughtful lady. Mrs. Cantlie, on her own responsibility, had gone to my lodgings, carefully collected my papers and correspondence, and within a few hours of her becoming acquainted with my imprisonment, there and then destroyed them. If some of my friends in various parts of the world have had no reply to their letters, they must blame this considerate lady for her wise and prompt action, and forgive my not having answered them, as I am minus their addresses, and in many cases do not even know their names. Should the Chinese authorities again entrap me, they will find no papers whereby my associates can be made known to them.
I luckily did not think of poison in my food, but my state of mind was such that food was repulsive to me. I could only get down liquid nourishment, such as milk and tea, and occasionally an egg. Only when my friend's note reached me could I either eat or sleep.