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Leave the silk country — Adventure at Nanziang — A visit from thieves — I am robbed of everything — Unsuccessful efforts to trace the robbers — Astonished by another visit from them — Its objects — My clothes and papers returned — Their motives for this — A visit to the Nanziang mandarin — Means taken to catch the robbers — Two are caught and bambooed — My visit to the mandarin returned — Arrive at Shanghae — Report the robbery to her Majesty's Consul — A portion of the money recovered — The remainder supposed to be kept by the mandarins.
HAVING now finished my inspection of the silk-districts I commenced my journey eastwards, in the direction of Shanghae, where I had some important work awaiting me. I have already stated in a former chapter that it was my intention to call again at Cading on my way in order to procure some seeds which were not ripe when I passed through that place en route to the silk-country. On the evening of the third day I arrived at a small town named Nanziang, a few miles to the west of Shanghae, and not very far from Cading, without having any adventures worth recording in these pages. I could not help thinking over the journey I had undertaken, and the quiet and successful manner in which it had been accomplished. Everywhere I had been treated with civility and kindness by the natives; I had had no trouble whatever with the authorities; and no complaints had been made by them on account of my transgressing the boundary-line drawn out for the restriction of barbarians, or "white devils," as they so politely term us. While congratulating myself upon these results my boat grounded in the midst of the Nanziang canal, and as at least a hundred were in the same predicament ahead of us it was impossible for us to proceed on our journey. My boatmen informed me that it would be necessary to remain where we were until the flood-tide came in, which would be about two or three o'clock in the morning. I was obliged to be contented with this arrangement, and went on shore for a walk while my servants were engaged in preparing dinner.
Between nine and ten o'clock in the evening we retired to rest. As the night was excessively close and warm I allowed the little glass windows in the sides of my boat to remain open in order to admit a little fresh air. These windows were so small that no one could enter the boat by them or take out any of the boxes which lay upon my floor or table. I had, therefore, no suspicion of there being any danger from the arrangement, which added considerably to my comfort. As all the people in the boat, as well as myself, were early risers, and had plenty to do during the day, we were soon fast asleep.
About two in the morning I was awakened by a loud yell from one of my servants, and I suspected at once that we had had a visit from thieves, for I had frequently heard the same sound before. Like the cry one hears at sea when a man has fallen overboard this alarm can never be mistaken when once it has been heard. When it had saluted my ear on former occasions it had proceeded from other boats or places in which I did not feel so great an interest as I perhaps ought to have done. I do not know how to describe it; it sounds like something between fear and defiance, and indicates that were the thieves bold enough to fight the defenders of property would probably run, or if the thieves are inclined to run the others might possibly follow them. In the present instance, and before I had time to inquire what was wrong, .one of my servants and two of the boatmen plunged into the canal and pursued the thieves. Thinking that we had only lost some cooking utensils, or things of little value that might have been lying outside the boat, I gave myself no uneasiness about the matter, and felt much inclined to go to sleep again. But my servant, who returned almost immediately, awoke me most effectually. "I fear," said he, opening my door, "the thieves have been inside the boat, and have taken away some of your property." "Impossible," said I, "they cannot have been here." "But look," he replied, "a portion of the side of your boat under the window has been lifted out; I shall light a candle and have it examined."
Turning to the place indicated by my servant I could see, although it was quite dark, that there was a large hole in the side of the boat not more than three feet from where my head bad been lying. At my right hand, and just under the window, the trunk used to stand in which I was in the habit of keeping my papers, money, and other valuables. On the first suspicion that I was the victim I stretched out my hand in the dark to feel if this was safe. Instead of my hand resting on the top of the trunk, as it had been accustomed to do, it went down to the floor of the boat, and I then knew for the first time that the trunk was gone. At the same moment my servant Tung-a came in with a candle and confirmed what I had just made out in the dark. The thieves had done their work well — the boat was empty. My money, amounting to more than one hundred Shanghae dollars, my accounts and other papers, including, gentle reader, this journal which has been amusing and instructing you — all, all, were gone. The rascals had not left me even the clothes I had thrown off when I went to bed.
But there was no time to lose; and in order to make every effort to catch the thieves, or at least get back a portion of my property, I jumped into the canal, and made for the banks. The tide had now risen, and instead of finding only about two feet of water — the depth when we went to bed — I now sank up to the neck, and found the stream very rapid. A few strokes with my arms soon brought me into shallow water, and to the shore. Here I found the boatmen rushing about in a frantic manner, examining with a lantern the bushes and indigo vats on the banks of the canal, but all they had found was a few Manilla cheroots which the thieves had dropped apparently in their hurry. After looking carefully in all directions nothing more could be found. A watchman with his lantern, and two or three stragglers, hearing the noise we made, came up and enquired what was wrong, but when asked whether they had seen anything of the thieves shook their heads and professed the most profound ignorance.
The night was pitch dark, everything was perfectly still, and with the exception of the few stragglers already mentioned, the whole town seemed sunk in a deep sleep. We were, therefore, perfectly helpless, and could do nothing further. Calling my people together I desired them to put out the light and to lie down amongst the long grass which grew on the banks of the canal. In this position they were desired to remain perfectly quiet, and should any person come prowling about he was to be seized without question or warrant. I thought it just possible the thieves might have left some of their plunder in the hurry, and that, when all was quiet, they might return in order to secure it. Having thus formed my plans and set the watch I returned, in no comfortable frame of mind, to my boat, leaving orders to be called should anything of importance take place.
Dripping with wet, and rather low-spirited on account of the misfortune which had befallen me, I lay down on my couch without any inclination to sleep, as may easily be imagined. It was a serious business for me to lose so much money, but that part of the matter gave me the least uneasiness. The loss of my accounts, journals, drawings and numerous memoranda I had been making during three years of travel, which it was impossible for anyone to replace, was of far greater importance. I tried to reason philosophically upon the matter; to persuade myself that as the thing could not be helped now it was no use being vexed with it; that in a few years it would not signify much either to myself or anyone else whether I had been robbed or not; but all this fine reasoning would not do.
I may have lain about an hour in this pleasing frame of mind, brooding over my ill luck, my people were still on shore, the night was very dark, and everything was perfectly quiet and still. Footsteps were now heard coming down the pathway on the opposite side of the canal from that on which my men were posted. Although we did not expect anything to turn up from that quarter we were all attention, and when we could see two figures halt abreast of our boat our excitement was at a very high pitch. "Louda, louda,"1 cried one of them, addressing the head boatman. My men immediately started up from their concealment on the opposite side and demanded what our visitors wanted. "Louda," said the same voice, with the greatest coolness, and as if he was transacting a very ordinary piece of business, "come over here and receive the white devil's' trunks and clothes."
My first impulse on hearing this conversation was to rush out of the boat and endeavour to seize these men, who I had no doubt were the thieves. But common-sense told me that any endeavour to do this in the darkness would surely fail, and might endanger the safety of the things they had brought back. It also struck me that, as the most valuable part of my property was of no use to them, I might possibly recover my books and papers. These considerations induced me to remain quiet in the boat and allow the Chinese to manage matters in their own way.
When my men reached the opposite side of the canal the thieves had disappeared, but had left on the banks my boxes and clothes. On these being brought into my cabin the first thing I examined was the box in which I kept my money and papers. I saw at the first glance that the padlock had been wrenched off, but the lid was now fastened carefully down with a piece of twine. On cutting this I observed that a small box inside in which I had kept my money had also been cut open, and the dollars were all gone. But everything else in the trunk, although bearing evident marks of having been under the examination of the thieves, had been carefully put back. My accounts, books, journals, and all that I valued most, had been returned to me. Many things, such as knives, pencils, &c., which are highly valued by the Chinese, were left untouched; and even the very padlock of the trunk had been put carefully inside. It was the same with my clothes. Coats, waistcoats, trousers, and even the necktie which I had thrown on the table when I went to bed — everything was returned except the dollars.
This proceeding on the part of the robbers surprised me greatly, and although I regretted the loss of the money I was truly thankful that I had come off so well. What an extraordinary people the Chinese are, and how difficult to understand! The thieves of any other nation would never have thought of bringing back what they did not want; if they do not appropriate the whole of their booty they either destroy it or throw it away. Chinese thieves are much more considerate and civilized; they return what does not suit their purpose to keep!
It is not difficult for a person acquainted with the manners and government of the Chinese to see the propriety and convenience of such a proceeding. In China almost every man is responsible in some way or another for the acts of his neighbour. If a disturbance takes place in a shop or private dwelling the owner of the place is liable to be called upon for an account of it by the authorities; if a fight occurs in the public street the people in the neighbourhood are held responsible; and in this manner every man is made responsible, to a certain extent, for what goes on around him. In this state of things it will easily be perceived that the gentry who robbed me acted wisely in bringing back all articles which, while they were of no use to them, might have led in some way to their detection. And, no doubt, this was the motive by which they were actuated, and not any regard for my convenience. But I felt truly grateful to them nevertheless, and in this frame of mind I retired again to rest after having secured the windows of the boat and set one of the men to watch.
As soon as daylight appeared I dressed myself and took my servant and one of the boatmen to the house of the highest mandarin in the town, in order to inform him what had happened to us during the night, and to ask him to take steps for the detection of the thieves and the recovery of the money. When we reached his Ya-mun, we were told by his servants that he was not yet awake. On explaining to them that my business was urgent, they promised to carry my message to their master, and politely showed me into the audience hall.
I had not been here for more than five minutes, when the mandarin himself appeared, dressed in his official robes, which he had apparently thrown very hurriedly on. As he entered the hall he made me several most polite bows, which, as in duty bound, I did not fail to return. As is usual in such cases, we had a long discussion as to who should occupy the seat of honour on the left side of a raised table at the end of the hall. He succeeded at last in getting me into it, and then ordered tea and pipes to be brought and set before us.
We now entered upon the business which had brought me to pay this visit. I told him that I had been travelling for some time in the interior of the country, and that I had never been plundered or molested in any way until I had come to Nanziang, which was under his jurisdiction. He expressed his great regret and indignation, and told me he was sorry to say that there were more thieves and bad characters about his district than that of any other magistrate in this part of China. I then hinted that no time ought to be lost in endeavouring to trace the thieves, and called my servants, who were outside, to explain particularly how and where the robbery had taken place.
An inferior officer was now sent for, and directed to send off runners in every direction to obtain information, and if possible to capture the thieves. Another was sent to accompany me down to where my boat was lying, to examine the manner in which the thieves had entered it, and to make inquiries amongst the people in the neighbourhood. Having thus put things in train, I bade good-by to the mandarin, and took my leave with an invitation to call upon him again in the evening, or on the following morning, when he might be able to give me some information regarding the recovery of my property.
When we reached my boat, the officer who accompanied me made a minute examination of the mode in which the thieves had effected an entrance. I now observed what I was not aware of before, that a portion of the boat under the window was made to lift out; the thieves, no doubt well aware of this, had only to lift out the window, undo the fastenings inside, and take out a board larger than the window itself, and quite large enough to admit a man or to remove any of my boxes. After examining these matters, and taking down on paper a list of all the articles taken away, those returned to me, and the missing dollars, the officer took his leave in order to prosecute his inquiries.
The news of the robbery by this time had spread over all the town. Hundreds of people came to look at the boat, and to make inquiries as to the truth of what they had heard.
In the afternoon the mandarin whom I had visited in the morning came to return my visit, and to inform me the police had caught one of the thieves. On inquiring if they had recovered the money an evasive answer was given, which I did not much like; so I repeated the question. He then told me that the money would be forthcoming in due time, but that it would be necessary to beat the man with the bamboo that night, and that I should be informed in the morning what success had attended this operation. Before taking his leave he expressed a wish that I would not leave Nanziang until the next afternoon, when he trusted all would be arranged to my satisfaction. He was very averse to my making any complaint to the English authorities in Shanghae about what had happened.
Early next morning, one of my boatmen who had been in the town informed me, apparently with great satisfaction, that two of the thieves had been caught and bambooed, and that it was reported the money had been recovered. As I did not intend troubling the authorities until the evening, I walked across the country to Cading, in order to procure samples of some seeds which I had marked when there some weeks before.
On returning to my boat in the evening, I despatched my servant to the office of the authorities, with a message stating that I had remained for two days with the prospect of having my property recovered, but that it was my intention now to proceed to Shanghae, and report the matter to the English consul. A very polite message came back stating that the thieves were to be treated with another bambooing that night, and asking me to wait the results. Thinking that the mandarins were trifling with me, and that more would be gained by my absence than presence, I returned my compliments, stating I could wait no longer, and that as soon as the money was recovered I would feel obliged if it was sent to the care of Her Majesty's consul in Shanghae. My servants and boatmen assured me it had been recovered, and that the mandarins could pay it if they liked.
As Nanziang was within the boundary line within which foreigners are supposed to range, I reported the circumstance to Mr. Robertson, Her Majesty's consul, and requested he would be good enough to assist me in getting back the money. Had the thieves not been found this perhaps would have been scarcely attended with any success; but as I felt certain the Nanziang mandarins had my property in their own hands, I was rather loth to let it remain there.
A few weeks after this I received from the vice-consul,
Mr. Harvey, a handkerchief containing thirty-five dollars, a number of small
new three-penny pieces, which I used to carry for giving away amongst the
children, a brass ring and seal, and various other little things which I had
not missed until they were restored to me. The remainder of the money was no
doubt retained by the worthy mandarins to pay for their civility and
entertainment. The labourer is worthy of his hire!
1 A term always applied to the captain or head man of the boat.