RETURN TO PEKING Death of the Emperor and Empress Anxious Times—Good-bye.
The hotel seemed very warm and comfortable and home-like, and it was pleasant to talk with other English people, and hear the news of the world from which I had been practically cut off. The gossip going round recalled to me a conversation with one of my attendants a few days before at the palace. He had been telling me of an audience at Court at which he had been present, and I asked him how the Empress Dowager and the Emperor looked : the Empress, he said, looked well and strong and walked erect, but the Emperor looked very ill.
During my last week or so at Peking there were anxious times for many. Rumours came from the • Winter Palace of the serious illness of the Emperor, then more rumours of the Empress Dowager, and it was felt that a crisis in the affairs of China was near. The strong hand so long felt was now trembling. The Emperor was known to be dying, and all were wonder ing what might happen next.
Before leaving I had invited all my Chinese friends to dine with me—those who had helped to forward my petition for entry to the palace, and those who had smoothed my way by their kind attention—and, to meet them, a few of my personal friends. For this farewell dinner I made for each guest special menu cards, on which I painted little bits of the Summer Palace. Just before dinner a note from one of my Chinese guests brought apologies for absence. The others came and we sat down. We were nearly at the end of our meal, when messengers arrived to call all the Chinese away from my table. They apologised gravely and politely and left ; and but a few seconds after another guest, a journalist of note, quietly asked me to excuse him. We remaining knew too well what must have happened, but could get no definite news till late that night. The Emperor was dead, and the Empress Dowager dying. Next day brought news that she, too, was dead ; both the long and the short lives were over, and a new regime must now guide the fate of the great Empire. Early next morning I was awakened by the march past of our bonnie Highland men to reinforce the Legation guard ; and so our watch ful guardians took precautions which might be very necessary. There was considerable anxiety on all sides,
for no one knew quite what might happen.
I had still a little work to do in Peking ; and cold though it was, I moved about in the city, and found the streets patrolled by military and extra police. The people stood about in groups, particularly near the many small banks, from which depositors or holders of notes were hurriedly withdrawing their money. A feeling of uneasiness was general. Walking with some friends one day up Legation Street, I was much amused to find that the Chinese gatekeeper near Hata-Men Street had most carefully oiled the hinges of the Legation quarter gates. He meant to make it easier and quieter to shut them hurriedly if necessary.
But as far as we were concerned, all things seemed quiet. Tientsin papers came in, and it amused us to read of the events taking place in our midst of which we knew nothing. The many Mongolians, who for some time past had been coming to the capital to pay their duty to the Dalai Lama, were magnified by the press into an army of Mongolians on the north of the city, ready to force an entry. More than one Legation was said to have put out wire entanglements and made other preparations for siege, and women and children were pre paring to leave. Rumours reached us that various high officials had suddenly met their end, and that others were imprisoned ; but nothing happened, The new Em peror was enthroned, the Prince Regent was appointed, and things went on as before.
On one of my excursions across the city I came on the procession of the Dalai Lama, and in my ricksha rode beside him Tor a mile or so. He was seated in his yellow chair, alone—outside of the Chinese Imperial family—holding the right to ride thus. This remarkable man has an intelligent face of the true Asiatic type—high cheek bones, prominent teeth, and straggling thin black moustache.