Siege days: personal experiences of American women and children during the Peking siege by Ada Haven Mateer

pp 141 (Saturday, June 23, 1900)

Today I saw Mrs. Conger, our minister's wife, out filling sandbags. A Greek priest was working with her, using a porcelain kettle. —Miss J. G. Evans.

pp 335-336 (Monday, August 6, 1900)

Yesterday Mrs. Mateer and I made an interesting trip. First we started to go over to the Russian Legation to see the soldiers' graves. Our soldiers are buried there as well as the Russian, for that compound is permanent possession, while the American Legation is only private property rented. They are buried in a quiet court. A statue marks the entrance to the court, separated by some shrubbery from the back of the church. Following the path around to the side of the church, we came upon the graves, some on the level with the walk, some on a terrace slightly raised above the general level, just at the base of the wall. A little American flag, as well as the English inscriptions on the simple wooden head-boards, proclaimed the site of our graves. The Russians were marked by high wooden crosses, with three horizontal pieces, one put on at an angle with the rest, not parallel. These also had wreaths of artificial flowers, and Christmas tree tinsel. One also had a birthday picture card tacked on the top. Inscriptions, of course, were in Russian, all in script, not printed.

Afterwards we went and swung the outer door of the chapel and looked through the inner glass doors into the little chapel, a dusky glow of color, from the high-up stained glass windows at all sides, and the gold and crimson of the oriental decorations at the back of the church. Then we climbed the bell tower, a great square building in front of the church. The west side of the room at the top was broken by a ball and, stand- ing on the debris, we saw the ruins of the Chien Men (the great southern city gate). — A. H.

pp 368-374 (Sunday, August 12, 1900)

On this the last Sabbath (Sunday) of the siege, some of us thought we would like to really go to church, to see how it would seem. There was only one place where we could do it—in the Russian Legation. In going to attend it we are obliged to pass through the Chinese preaching place. The contents of two or three stores between the English Legation and the little lane at the back of the Russian Legation had before been cleared out to make a free passage between the Legations. As time passed on, this passage, at first rough with the debris of broken partitions, etc., is made clean and smooth, and now at the end is placed a great green counter, probably from one of the shops, and here as we pause a minute, we may hear the Rev. A. H. Smith recounting to an attentive Chinese audience standing before him the mercies of our wonderful preservation. We go on, and pass up the lane, where each little store is now occupied by one or more of our Christian families. One of each family remains to keep house while the others are gone to the service.

Arriving at the Legation, we pass through the outer court, and into the chapel, and soon find ourselves standing with the other women of the little congregation. This was really more like a church than anything else we had within our lines. We had ourselves turned our English friends from their chapel. But this little church was not thus desecrated by the affairs of ordinary life. Nevertheless, even here, with surroundings wholly ecclesiastical, the word "siege" seemed written everywhere. We could see it in the gaunt faces of the congregation, and the unchurchly dress of some. It showed in the make up of the choir. We had once attended a service in the Russian chapel in the northern part of the city, and been struck by the rich sweet voices of the young men who rendered the musical parts of the service. Now the choir is composed of whoever can sing the parts—two or three civilians, perhaps belonging to the Legation, some young girls with profiles reminding one of Greek cameos, a marine or two. Some of this motley choir came in late, going to the platform on entering. The priests wore the usual rich robes, coming up behind the head like a kind of reredos, and there was the usual changing of robes, and adjusting of the girdle, sometimes being worn long from the shoulder, and sometimes crossing behind the back, over or under their long hair. But the choir wore no vestments. Here was a man with official insignia, there a marine whose striped undervest showed through a great hole in the sholder that it was the only garment to his back. Some of the girls wore hats, some not. On both men's and women's side of the congregation, we could see the same contrast in clothing and condition. But on all faces we saw a look of grateful veneration, and could know that they were rendering homage for preserved lives, the daily miracle. This seemed especially to impress the marines, who had passed through so much danger. Some of these on entering would bow to the ground, touching the forehead to the floor as in the Chinese k'ou t'ou. There is a marked difference between the Legation gentleman and the marine, the latter bearing the distinctive mark of the Russian peasantry, low brows and heavy features, and with hair the color of the yellow earth from which they seem to have sprung.

We recognized some of the faces we saw in the church, the priest who had helped Mrs. Conger fill the sand-bags and worked with an ax on the burning tree in the Han Lin, the matrons whom we had seen serving as Red Cross nurses in the Russian ward of the hospital, and one slender strip of a boy, whom we had seen passing in and out among the beds of the Russian patients, giving each a word of cheer, or himself sitting on the floor beside some bed to read to a patient. He had struck me as looking thin when first I saw him there on his little errands of mercy. Now through his calico shirt one could see that he was worn almost to a skeleton. He was here also in his usual capacity—serving; acting as acolyte—lighting or extinguishing the lamps at appropriate times, and passing the communion, that is, the plate of bread from which the congregation partake. The wine is drunk by the priest alone, as in the Roman Catholic service. We had watched with interest the ceremonies, the passing back and forth of the intoning priests, the opening and shutting of the vine-carved door leading into the holy of holies where the host was kept. All this was after the established order of things. But when this same youth in whom we had been so much interested, took the plate of bread and made a straight line for us, we were slightly embarrassed, and wished we had slipped out before. He offered it first to the youngest of the party, a child of six, and his mother declining for him, the rest of us were passed by, thus saving any question either as to fact or method of partaking.

Soon after this the little congregation disperses, or rather adjourns to the court, the place under the wall already made sacred by the ashes of our brave defenders, American and Russian, and which is now to receive two more. The grave is already dug, and the uncoffined bodies lie there on stretchers covered by a flag, under the trees. We try to find places where we may be sheltered a little from the sun, which is very hot. As we stand there, we note an index of the weary length of time we have been in the siege. The graves on the terrace under the wall are those of our own boys, and on those of the ones who fell in the early part of the siege the weeds have now grown from one to two feet high. It seems sad for the two Russians who are now to be laid away—the relieving army now so near—yet it will come too late to save them.

The service is partly read, partly sung. At one point there is a slight delay. Everybody seems waiting. Finally the priest whispers a word in the ear of a marine who disappears immediately on a keen run. He appears after a while, this time also on the double quick but with more caution than before, and his hat is not on his head, but is held carefully with one hand in front of his breast, while the other hand holds something carefully guarded behind this shield. On coining up he gives it to the priest, and one sees that it is a lighted candle. With this the necessary thing, candles or incense burner (I forgot which), was lighted, and the service proceeded. And now finally the bodies are lifted one by one on the straw matting on which they lie. The men carrying the burden stoop at the grave, lower and lower, until their arms are stretched at full length down the grave, and then they let go. "Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust."—and then we all leave. —A. H.

Just a line before tea. Besides the letter from the English commander, received on Friday, the same messenger brought another from the Japanese commander giving a more definite idea of their hope and plan in regard to reaching here. Their hope was to reach Chiang-chia-wan yesterday, Tungchou today and Peking tomorrow or the next day. Word came today of a great battle and a great defeat of the Chinese troops at Chiang-chia-wan yesterday, but I don't know how reliable the word is. The messenger brought word from Tungchou that a Boxer flag was over every store in the city, and a man had been impressed from every one to join the Boxer army. They were systematically hunting out and murdering all our Christians.

A fierce attack was made in the night last night upon the French and German Legations, one man being killed and another wounded. We too were attacked, and the bullets whistled past our windows, but no harm was done.

We have had our usual Sabbath service today. This afternoon a very precious experience meeting, telling one another the lessons the Lord had been teaching us during these weeks of storm and stress, and the things for which we thank the Lord. The Chinese had had their meetings as usual, and Miss Evans had a meeting with one group of women. I wanted to meet another group, but it has been so fearfully hot that I thought I would wait until after tea. Later a fierce attack came just after tea, and the bullets were flying so everywhere that I delayed my meeting till the firing stopped. Then it was so far to the group I wanted to reach, and so many sick ones to see by the way, that I was finally obliged to give up my meeting as the darkness was already gathering. Just as I was starting back another terrible attack began and I was rather afraid to come back; but I could not know how long it would last, and dared not wait lest it be dark, so I rushed, and asked the Lord as I went to cover me with his hand, and he did. As soon as I got within the walls of the English Legation (our people are scattered about among all the Legations), I went into the first house I came to, in which were Miss Douw and the ladies of her mission, and waited there until there was a lull in the firing. There have been five distinct attacks today, in one of which the French commander was killed. —Miss Andrews.