I FORGET who the clever, ugly Frenchman was who asked only ten minutes' start of the handsomest man in Europe. I believe that Archibold Cameron would have been quicker; I believe that he would have done with six minutes. I saw him hypnotize a dinner party in about so much. He slid into the room where we stood assembled, waiting for him, half apologetically, half respectfully, as if he knew himself inadequate to look at, but as if he did not want to come to begin with, and it was none of our business if he was long and drooping and weather-beaten and his clothes needed pressing. With blue eyes dropped, with a sun-faded mustache and a British air of saying "Tell me what you think and I'll disagree with you," he made a rapid bow to each one of us and was silent and defied us.
Mrs. McDonald, our hostess, had talked much of this war-correspondent Scotch friend who had been into hot water all over the world, wherever hot water and hot blood were spilling; I felt a chill of disappointment at sight of the hero. But Mrs. McDonald knew her affair. We went directly out to dinner; the resentful one did not lift a finger to conciliate or amuse us and in five minutes no one at the table willingly talked to anyone but him. So does personality triumph over manner, the big thing that a man is over the small things that he does. In less than half an hour we all knew that this stranger who was cheerfully at ease in an uncanny Tartar camp or a fierce African village, was afraid of us. Incredibly, absurdly, he was shy; almost as incredibly his shyness was a force that made for instant popularity. In much less than half an hour we all meant, earnestly, to give him a good time, and meanwhile he gave us one, for forgetting himself, he talked like a fairy story. He told us in a commonplace, choppy way, in the loveliest pure voice, in burring Scottish speech, of things which one reads, without a twinge of realizing,—and we lived them as he told. He talked casually about elephant shooting on the Zambesi; he spun a merry tale of pig-sticking with a lady whose hair came down and who rolled off her pony and would not let him stop to pick her up,—and we felt a glow of comradeship with that plucky woman. Then he made us laugh as if at an episode of the Bowery, over a life-and-death stampede he had done on a lame horse out of a Thibet stronghold. It was the gossip of his life he was talking to us, only Mr. Cameron's gossip was of the caliber of history. And in and out of his vibrant voice shot magnetism—the unexplainable quality which may let all other gifts have cards and spades, and win the game. And the argument to this long preamble is only that we listened with all our ears to whatever he said.
He said much, for he liked to be killed, as other people, yet at times the absurd shyness seized him, and he flashed down the line of faces a startled glance, and then his eyes dulled and dropped and he fell silent. And with that we must provoke the lion's roar again. It was part of his charm, it added an attraction to the appealing blue glance to know that at any second it might be frosted. I half coaxed him, half prodded him through such a spasm of uncertainty, sitting sidewise in my chair to look at him—I was placed next—when the Japanese butler bent with a tray at his left hand and Mr. Cameron did not see it. I stopped to call his attention, and he turned, and then instead of taking a squab he threw back his head and flashed up a smile at the little dark man and slid off a sentence of queer sounds. The butler stood as if petrified; his masklike face twisted and he answered with a low syllable and was gone.
"What did you say?" I asked.
"I merely told him, don't you know, that they were making heroes of stuff like him out in Japan," he answered, and fell to at his salad.
"Merely!" I said. "Merely a bomb. Those little fellows are inflammable as tow, they say. You'll be owing Mrs. McDonald a butler."
"Dear me—I hope not."
And then some one spoke to him from the other end of the table, and much too soon the dinner was over, and next day the quiet hero of many adventures was gone, no one knew to what hidden corner of the world.
Two years later, in December, 1900, Mrs. McDonald called me up on the telephone.
"Something good is going to happen," she said. "Archie Cameron is coming Thursday but for only one night. He's just from China. He was in the Boxer trouble and got into Pekin with the allied armies last summer. He was awfully ill—but I'll let him tell you the rest. Will you come to dinner? He's sure to ask for you—he always does in his letters."
"You don't need to flatter me," I hurriedly threw down the wire. "I'll come without urging—you couldn't keep me away."
Again I sat next Mr. Cameron, and as the middle of the dinner came around, as I sat turned, looking at him, behold again a little noiseless figure held a silver dish of birds close to his left hand, and an expressionless dark face bent over him. And again he did not see.
"Look," I told him. "You keep me busy, Mr. Cameron—every two years I have to tell you to take a squab."
He laughed, remembering, and as before he flashed up a quick look at the impenetrable Oriental mask, but this time he said nothing—only helped himself to a bird. Ishi, the butler, passed down the table. I watched him while, with the careful tenderness he has with his eatables, as if handling something precious, he bent by a woman in a gold-colored dress. Across the pink candle shades, in the bronze shadows, the black head and olive face were a note of the East. I saw Mr. Cameron's quick eyes on him too, and he turned to Mrs. McDonald.
"That's not the same Japanese you had two years ago?"
"How you remember!" she answered in surprise. "No—oh no! This is another. A good little heathen, too, but nothing to the first." She sighed. "Nothing like that will ever happen to my dining-room again—angels don't come and buttle for us twice in a lifetime."
"What became of him?" Mr. Cameron asked, yet not as if he cared, but to show decent interest.
"He went back to Japan—he said that a word had come to him that his country needed him. I don't know what he meant I'm sure, but I know that no one ever made the silver look as he did. Little gentle creature, I hated to have him travel alone—I wanted to send a nurse with him. And such a wonder at arranging flowers. But Ishi is good—I'm fond of Ishi," she said and glanced down the room where the butler's face was a shadow painted on shadows. "How in the world did you ever happen to remember one Japanese from another after two years?" she demanded. "They look to me as if they came in sets."
"Ah, that's just the type," answered Mr. Cameron. "They're quite as distinct as we are when once you get to know them—even as Americans possibly, though that's hardly credible," and he lifted his eyes and sent down the table a luminous smile which made each woman suspect herself of being the unforgettable one of a unique nation.
Everybody had forgotten Ishi now, but the entire company was interested in Japanese personality. "Isn't it true that they're more alike than Anglo-Saxons?" a man asked, "That the same characteristics run through the nation more universally? Take their courage—it's all of the same sort—a sort by itself."
Mr. Cameron considered. "They're quite as different as we are individually, don't you know," he insisted. "Yet Japanese heroism is—typically—Japanese heroism." The clearly enunciated words fell slowly. "When one of those little chaps comes to offer up his life he inevitably does it in the national way. It's a good way. I don't know but it's the finest way I've run across."
"It isn't fair to make a distinction between one man who gives his life and another. Dying is the last test—there's nothing farther; one way of dying can't be finer than another." I brought this out in a hurry, impelled by an unexpected violence of loyalty to white heroes. And Mr. Cameron turned to me with a wistful smile.
"Very good," he said. "I'm a white man myself. All I mean is that we are subject, as a race, to theatrical manias in heroism, and the Japanese aren't. It doesn't occur among them. For instance, do you remember that chap—what was his name? Ah—certainly—Douglas. The Black Douglas?" He inquired it of us as of historical authorities. "He had the heart of Bruce done up in a silver casket, as I recollect, to take to the Holy Land—didn't he? And as he went through a battle it was his practice to throw the casket forward, and then fight his way up to it. That was a theatrical performance. It would have served him right if an acquisitive person had made off with the box. Now that sort of business would have been impossible to a Japanese—they have better taste, don't you know. I can think of a hundred instances"—he stopped and looked up at us all, uncertainly, modestly, wondering quite plainly if he were not talking too much.
"Oh please tell one, please tell one," I begged. And with that he smiled a liquid blue glance and dropped his lashes like a girl of sixteen.
"It's a bit hard to choose," he stammered, and detached a loose pink carnation and beat the cloth with it. And then suddenly his look flashed up again, animated and at ease. "By Jove, I got caught in the Japanese column as it advanced on the Chi-ho gate—the east gate of the Tartar city."
He had forgotten himself. There was no shyness now. The words rushed.
"It was much against my will, don't you know—I couldn't help it," he went on. "But it was inspiring. Probably you know the Japanese cry of 'Banzai'—it means literally 'ten thousand years.' They began that slowly—"Banzai—Ban-zai'—keeping time to their march. And as the pace quickened, the 'Banzai' got faster. And louder—louder and faster and more furious. It was an outlandish effect, all those foreign voices together, and yet for all its' gaining impetus, it kept undertone of deliberation—of purpose—that made it rather terrible. Finally the column was running, and the welded shout of many voices was like the roll of water—"B'zai, B'zai,' like a torrent—inevitable and resistless. Every little brown man was screwed up last notch, teeth gleaming, muscles tight. Incarnate vengeances, human tigers——"
He stopped; there was silence; then he dropped his eyes and began beating with his carnation. Some one gasped at him:
"You—in the middle of it?"
"Oh yes," Mr. Cameron said in a commonplace tone, and looked annoyed.
"Did the Chinese fire at you?" I asked.
"A bit," he acknowledged, and smiled, "They popped us from the gate and the wall.—The beggars shelled us too. I didn't like it. You must understand I'd got lost the day before between Tung-Chow and Pekin, and run into the Japanese, and I stuck to them like a brother, don't you see—afraid of Boxers. But I didn't want to go into the attack at all. It was very much against my will. It frightened me badly."
Everyone at the table drew a breath and laughed. But we were keen now to hear more. A man spoke from the other end.
"That's intensely interesting, Mr. Cameron," he said. "It makes one want to impose on you and ask questions."
Mr. Cameron had got back into his shell—conscious because he felt the atmosphere he had created. He answered civilly but coldly.
"Oh, thank you very much."
The man went on, impervious to the chill, and we all were glad. "You talk about Japanese acts of heroism you've seen. Couldn't you tell us one? Most of us here to-night didn't get into Pekin with the allied armies, and this is a great event, to hear about it at first hand."
Mrs. McDonald, the hostess, put in a word. "There's no question, Mr. Cameron, you're a lion and you must roar a little for us. Tell us a story, please. Anything as good as Macaulay's Lays of Ancient Rome will do. Just some simple tale."
"By Jove," said Mr. Cameron with easy, unexpected boldness, "there's plenty of material good enough for Macaulay or any other chap. Every man there saw a few things that were remarkable."
"That's what we want. Begin," Mrs. McDonald urged him. "I'll start you—'Heavy clouds hung over the great city of Pekin. It was the day before the battle."
"You're wrong there," he caught up the thread. "It was the very day that the allies got in, the 14th of August, 1900. I was with my friends the Japanese. I wasn't quite fit, and they were taking care of me—their hospital business was capital However, they'd no idea, don't you see, of being left out of the to the scrimmage—in fact they had a distinct idea that they'd be in the front, so I had to trot along with them. And time was important.
The Legations might be at their last gasp—we couldn't tell. Any half hour those white women and children might fall into the hands of the cruelest devils known to history.
"There were several ways of getting into Pekin, and the Japanese had been told off to do the march from Tung-Chow by the ancient paved road, and to attack the east gate—the one I spoke of. The Chi-ho gate, the Chinese call it. We had camped about three miles from it, the night of the 13th, and had got soaked in a rain like a mountain torrent. I was feeling rather nasty, but the little soldiers in their wet white uniforms were as fit as ever—tough little chaps. But I'm telling about taking the gate. At eight o'clock they made a rush on it—the one I was just mentioning—and we got awfully peppered from the walls and a lot of shells burst among us. Yet we advanced, sheltering along the roadside, and it was interesting to see volunteer sharp-shooters rush out from the ranks up to a hundred yards of the gate, and empty their magazines at the Chinese on the walls and rush back before the fire could be returned. The quiet way they did that was rather Japanese. Of course many of them got potted," Mr. Cameron added reflectively, as if talking about a disease among chickens.
"But about shelling the gate. I forgot to say that some Japanese artillery had come up—four pieces—and they began shelling at eight hundred yards. They kept that up all day and it was surprising how the old affair stood it. It's astonishing how many shells it took to do any damage to those antediluvian gates. Case after case was brought up, the nose of each shell screwed and inserted in the gun according to Hoyle, and discharged. There was a thundering lot of noise, splinters flew, the gates shook, but there they stood solid as ever. They're rotten looking arrangements, those old triple entrances, bored like tunnels into the endless, colossal wall, fifty feet high and forty thick, the black forbidding wall of masonry which extends for miles clean around the Tartar city. It's an uncanny, heathenish creation, that wall lifting out of the black dust of the desert; it gives a man a shiver. It's as if it were taken from some ancient tale, as if built by ogres or demons, to guard evil riches. Not so far wrong either, by Jove. Pekin is a fantastic setting for half-human fiends, to my mind. But that's digressing. The gates are deep arches twelve or fifteen feet high, burrowing into the wall, and over each is a preposterous pile of dungeons of five stories or so, extravagant, nightmare dungeons, topped with the typical Chinese cocked roof. Most extraordinary affairs, really. Upon my word I thought I was dreaming when I first saw the Tartar wall and the Chi-ho gate.
"As I mentioned just now we pounded away with shells a good bit of the day, and at each discharge we thought we'd fetched it, but the old barrier stood it all, and finally there was a pause. The Japanese officers were puzzled. The next move was more radical—a detachment was ordered to blow up the gate with dynamite. The little chaps ran forward—under fire of course from the walls—a picture of soldierly trimness in their white uniforms and black and yellow caps, quick, but yet quite deliberate. All of them got there safe, and they had the explosive fixed and the fuse set in a short time, and got back without a casualty. But before they'd reached us the Boxers from the inside opened a wicket in the main gate, and two men in the dirty-blue cotton of the Chinese rank and file, had slipped through and taken away the fuse, and slipped back like evil spirits, in their element with fire-works—and the wicket was barred again. We went through that performance several times. Each time, as quickly as our men turned to leave, out through the wicket slipped the blue ghosts, and the work and the danger went for nothing. Several were killed in the attempts, and presently it was patent that there was nothing to be expected from that plan.
"A knot of Japanese officers drew together, close by me, and consulted. And whilst they talked in low tones, in a flash a soldier, a corporal, sprang from the ranks and saluted, and said something rapidly to his captain—Captain Yusai it was—I know him well. I saw the corporal quite plainly—he was ten feet from me—but I didn't catch what he said. I speak the language a little but I can't follow when it's done fast. The captain's face was as inscrutable as common, but yet I thought I saw a gleam in his eye, as if he was gratified, Then he turned, and in a loud voice asked for volunteers to go to the gate and protect the fuse till the dynamite exploded—be blown up with the gate, you understand.
"Now mark this"—Mr. Cameron bent across the table then, utterly forgetful of all but his story, and lifted a forefinger at us all. "This is one of the reasons why I think that all Japanese are heroes—every man in sound of the captain's voice wanted to go. Every man. Yusai had to pick them, and the ones who were left looked as if they'd been condemned to death, instead of their friends. A squad of six was quickly chosen, and as they stood ready to start Yusai whipped out his little water bottle and handed it to the corporal who'd invented the scheme, and the man took it and drank from it as if it had been a sacrament. Which as a matter of fact it was—among the Japanese the cup of pure water is administered to the dying by his nearest relative, as a manner of purification, I mean to say, for the next life. Then Yusai spoke a few words, and the little doomed chaps listened eagerly— you could see that, for all their impassive fates.
"'You have done well, men,' he said. 'You are serving fatherland. You go to death, and your country will keep your memory. Out of your dust will blossom the flower of honor. Forward march!'
"They sprang as if going to a fête, led by the corporal, and the column as they started began singing—first two or three men, and then the whole column took it up. It was the Japanese national hymn—'Kimi ga yo' they call it.
"" May our Lord's dominion last
Till ten thousand years are past,'
it's translated. When the detachment heard that it seemed to set them on fire. It got into my blood even, the heavy chords of men's voices in the ancient song of triumph as a requiem to their comrades. The squad leaped through the dust, and shot on a run across the open where the firing was hot, and the song followed after. Not a man was touched. We saw them a moment under the arch of the gateway, busy over the fuse; then we saw them a moment, a mass of white with yellow touches of the caps, grouped quietly around the dynamite. The Chinese would not meddle this time."
Mr. Cameron stopped. No one at the table moved or spoke. It was perhaps a minute we waited and then Mrs. McDonald said:
"Tell it!" And her voice broke on the two words.
He answered in a matter-of-fact tone. "Then the gate blew up and the detachment was killed to a man. Nothing else possible, don't you know."
No one spoke. I think we all felt we had been watching a handful of little soldiers, a white spot on a gray desert, running to death. We sat at the pink-shaded dinner table and stared across flowers and silver and saw that. Mr. Cameron looked down the line of people and suddenly he seemed to know how we felt, and how he had taken us with him and we could not get back to commonplace. When he spoke again we could tell that he was trusting us with his real feeling, which he had not done before, and by the light of his words we could read a little into the shy, reserved depths of his character, and know that some of the charm by which he held us was the charm of "him who humbleth himself."
"I know of nothing finer," he said. "Done quite simply, without self-consciousness—absolutely for their country, the antique brand of patriotism. It is that sort of heroism which seems greater to me than the pictorial edition. The self-effacement, the disregard of personal glory—it's typically Japanese. That incident stirred Japan. They were all heroes, every one of the six, but to the little corporal belonged the inspiration and the decision, the hardest part. When what was left of him was sent home to Tokio every battleship in the harbor saluted the ship bearing his body as it passed; up and down the country the story was told and retold, and they say there's not a child in Japan to-day that doesn't know the name of Kato Gondo."
We jumped when Mrs. McDonald leaned forward sharply, knocking over her claret glass and not seeing it. She spoke harshly, and we all looked at her. "What did you say his name was?" she asked.
Mr. Cameron repeated, a little surprised. "Kato Gondo," he said. "It's a famous name now in Japan—Kato Gondo."
Mrs. McDonald's hand lay in the claret; her eyes were fastened on his face, and she was quite still for a long minute. At last:
"Kato Gondo," she spoke after him. "You asked—what became of—my butler!"