Kidnapped in London/Chapter 8

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Kidnapped in London (1897)
by Sun Yat-sen
Chapter VIII: Released
1598276Kidnapped in London — Chapter VIII: Released1897Sun Yat-sen



ON October 22nd Cole directed my attention to the coal scuttle, and when he left the room I picked up a clipping from a newspaper, which proved to be the Globe. There I read the account of my detention, under the heading: "Startling Story! Conspirator Kidnapped in London! Imprisonment at the Chinese Embassy!" And then followed a long and detailed account of my position. At last the Press had interfered, and I felt that I was really safe. It came as a reprieve to a condemned man, and my heart was full of thankfulness.

Friday, October 23rd, dawned, and the day wore on, and still I was in durance. At 4.30 p.m., however, on that day, my English and Chinese guards came into the room and said "Macartney wants to see you downstairs." I was told to put on my boots and hat and overcoat. I accordingly did so, not knowing whither I was going. I descended the stairs, and as it was to the basement I was being conducted, I believed I was to be hidden in a cellar whilst the house was being searched by the command of the British Government. I was not told I was to be released, and I thought I was to enter another place of imprisonment or punishment. It seemed too good to be true that I was actually to be released. However, Mr. Cantlie presently appeared on the scene in company with two other men, who turned out to be Inspector Jarvis from Scotland Yard, and an old man, the messenger from the Foreign Office.

Sir Halliday Macartney then, in the presence of these gentlemen, handed me over the various effects that had been taken from me, and addressed the Government officials to the following effect:—

"I hand this man over to you, and I do so on condition that neither the prerogative nor the diplomatic rights of the Legation are interfered with," or words to that effect. I was too excited to commit them to memory, but they seemed to me then, as they do now, senseless and childish.

The meeting related above took place in a passage in the basement of the house, and I was told I was a free man. Sir Halliday then shook hands with us all, a post-Judas salutation, and we were shown out by a side-door leading to the area. From thence we ascended the area steps, and issued into Weymouth Street from the back door of the Legation.

It will perhaps escape observation and pass out of mind as but a minor circumstance that we were sent out by the back door of the Legation.

The fact of the rescue was the all important measure in the minds of the little group of Englishmen present; not so, however, with my astute countryman; not so especially with Sir Halliday Macartney, that embodiment of retrograde orientalism.

The fact that the representatives of the British Government were shown out by the back door, as common carrion, will redound to the credit of the Minister and his clientelle in the high courts of their country. It was intended as a slight and insult, and it was carried out as only one versed in the Chinese methods of dealing with foreigners can appreciate. The excuse, no doubt, was that the hall was crowded with reporters; that a considerable throng of people had assembled in the street outside the building; that the Foreign Office was anxious that the affair should be conducted quietly without demonstration. These, no doubt, were the reasons present in the ever-ready minds of these Manchurian rapscallions and their caretaker Macartney.

To English ways of looking at things, the fact of my release was all that was cared for; but to the Chinese the manner of the release wiped out all the triumph of British diplomacy in obtaining it. Both had their triumph, and no doubt it brought them equal gratification.

It was not an imposing party that proceeded to the Chinese Legation that Friday afternoon in October; but one member of it, the venerable old messenger from the Foreign Office, had a small note concealed in the depths of his great-coat pocket that seemed to bear great weight. It must have been short and to the point, for it took Macartney but two or three seconds to master its contents. Short it may have been, but it bore the sweet message of freedom for me, and an escape from death, and what I dreaded more, the customary exquisite torture to which political prisoners in China are submitted to procure confession of the names of accomplices.

In Weymouth Street a considerable crowd had assembled, and the ever-present newspaper reporter tried to inveigle me there and then into a confession. I was, however, speedily put into a four-wheeled cab, and, in company with Mr. Cantlie, Inspector Jarvis, and the messenger, driven off towards Scotland Yard. On the way thither Inspector Jarvis gravely lectured me on my delinquencies, and scolded me as a bad boy, and advised me to have nothing to do any more with revolutions. Instead of stopping at Scotland Yard, however, the cab drew up at the door of a restaurant in Whitehall, and we got out on the pavement. Immediately the newspaper men surrounded me; where they came from I could not tell. We had left them a mile away in Portland Place, and here they were again the moment my cab stopped. There is no repressing them; one man had actually, unknown to us, climbed up on the seat beside the driver. He it was that stayed the cab at the restaurant, knowing well that if once I was within the precincts of Scotland Yard they could not get at me for some time. Unless the others—some dozen in number—were on the roof of my cab, I cannot understand where they sprang from. I was hustled from the pavement into the back premises of the hostelry with much more violence than ever was expended upon me when originally taken within the Chinese Legation, and surrounded by a crowd thirsting for knowledge as eagerly as my countrymen thirsted for my head. Pencils executed wonderful hieroglyphics which I had never seen before, and I did not know until that moment that English could be written in what seemed to me cuneiform characters. I found out afterwards it was in shorthand they were writing.

I spoke until I could speak no more, and it was only when Mr. Cantlie called out "Time, gentlemen!" that I was forcibly rescued from their midst and carried off to Scotland Yard. At the Yard I was evidently regarded as a child of their own delivery, and Jarvis's honest face was a picture to behold. However, the difficult labour was over, and here I was free to make my own confession. I was detained there for an hour, during which time I made a full statement of the circumstances of my capture and detention. This was all taken down and read over to me, and I appended my signature and bade a cordial adieu to my friends in the police force. Mr. Cantlie and myself then hied ourselves homewards, where a hospitable welcome was accorded me, and over an appetising dinner, a toast to my "head" was drunk with enthusiasm.

During the evening I was frequently interviewed, and it was not until a late hour that I was allowed to rest. Oh! that first night's sleep! Shall I ever forget it? For nine hours did it last, and when I awoke it was to the noise of children romping on the floor above me. It was evident by their loud, penetrating voices some excitement was on hand, and as I listened I could hear the cause of it. "Now, Colin, you be Sun Yat Sen, and Neil will be Sir Halliday Macartney, and I will rescue Sun." Then followed a turmoil; Sir Halliday was knocked endways, and a crash on the floor made me believe that my little friend Neil was no more. Sun was brought out in triumph by Keith, the eldest boy, and a general amnesty was declared by the beating of drums, the piercing notes of a tin whistle, and the singing of "The British Grenadiers." This was home and safety, indeed; for it was evident my youthful friends were prepared to shed the last drop of their blood on my behalf.

During Saturday, October 24th, I was interviewing all day. The one question put was, "How did you let the doctors know?" and the same question was addressed to Mr. Cantlie many scores of times. We felt, however, that our tongues were tied; as, by answering the query, we should be incriminating those who, within the Legation walls, had acted as my friends, and they would lose their positions. However, when Cole resolved to resign his appointment, so that none of the others should be wrongly suspected, there was no object in hiding who had been the informant. It is all very well to say that I bribed him; that is not the case. He did not understand that I gave him the money by way of fee at all; he believed I gave it him to keep for me; he told Mr. Cantlie he had the £20 the day he got it, and offered to give it to him for safe keeping. When I came out Cole handed the money back to me, but it was the least I could do to urge him to keep it. I wish it had been more, but it was all the ready money I had. Cole had many frights during this time, but perhaps the worst scare he got was at the very first start. On the Sunday afternoon, October 18th, when he had made up his mind to help me practically, he took my notes to Mr. Cantlie, in his pocket, at 46 Devonshire Street. The door was opened and he was admitted within the hall. The doctor was not at home, so he asked to see his wife. Whilst the servant was gone to fetch her mistress, Cole became conscious of the presence of a Chinaman watching him from the far end of the hall. He immediately suspected that he had been followed or rather anticipated, for here was a Chinaman, pigtail and all, earnestly scrutinising him from a recess. When Mrs. Cantlie came down she beheld a man, trembling with fear and pale from terror, who could hardly speak. The cause of this alarm was a model of a Chinaman, of most life-like appearance, which Mr. Cantlie had brought home with him amongst his curios from Hong Kong. It has frightened many other visitors with less tender consciences than Cole's, whose overwrought nerves actually endowed the figure with a halo of terrible reality. Mrs. Cantlie relieved Cole's mind from his fear and sent him in to find her husband at Dr. Manson's. My part of the tale is nearly ended; what further complications in connection with this affair may arise I cannot say. There is not time, as yet, to hear how the papers in other English-speaking countries will deal with the subject, and as Parliament has not yet assembled I cannot say what questions appertaining to the event may be forthcoming. I have, however, found many friends since my release. I have paid several pleasant visits to the country. I have been dined and feasted, and run a good chance of being permanently spoiled by my well-wishers in and around London.