Confucius Rescues the Kiangyin Mandarins

Here follows a segment excised from Yang Shen, Book I, when the size was trimmed from 860 pages to 556 pages. As we cannot imagine how to use this passage in the two books to come later, we print it here for the entertainment of our readers. The event recounted occurs at the end of Section 2, in Chapter 20 “Sumbitch Tigah Boat,” early the morning after the Chinese war steamer Confucius has arrived in the little river town called Kiangyin 江陰, about 95 miles up the Yangtze River from Shanghai.  

In the gold light of a bright dawn, a fishing sampan put out from the Kiangyin docks with two mandarins in the waist, and another on the stern gallery pushing wildly at a yuloh sweep. Unarmed, only twenty-five feet or so long, and without sails, the little sampan looked quite out of place, and at some risk zigzagging between huge, heavily armed imperial junks. A war junk came about toward the sampan, but a blast of the steamer’s whistle and a volley of Sharps carbine fire across her bow made her turn away. The enemy of my enemy is my friend, thought Confucius.

“Lao Huang, please fetch me the Little Mandarin,” Fletcher told the pilot. Fletcher had noticed that the Little Mandarin called the pilot Lao Huang, using the Chinese honorific “Lao” where an American would have said “Old” out of respect, and so he started calling the pilot Lao Huang.

Cutting through shimmering water, the sampan drew up alongside the steamer and the mandarins clambered up a rope ladder to the deck. They were unarmed, and dressed alike in summer hat topped with embossed gold button and red tassel, and dark blue gown and surcoat embroidered with a large, square cloth pusa depicting the blue and white flycatcher of the lowest ninth-rank mandarin. The three of them crowded together in front of the Little Mandarin, Mr. Yang, and excitedly yammered in Chinese.

“請慢慢來 please take it slowly,” Mr. Yang said, holding them off with upraised pudgy palms. He spoke with a placid expression and steadied calm that recalled the mandarins to more accustomed formality. “Please tell me your honorable names?”

“Please excuse us. We are all officers of the county yamen. My humble name is Chao 趙, and I am called You-wen 有文. I am the Chiang-yin assistant county magistrate for river administration 管河縣丞.”

“My humble name,” the second officer said, “is Chao 趙, and I am called You-fu 有福. I am the Chiang-yin assistant county magistrate for water works 水利縣丞.”

“My humble name,” the third officer said, “also is Chao 趙, and I am called You-ming 有明. I am the Chiang-yin assistant county magistrate for land tax 糧務縣丞.

“All named Chao?” Mr. Yang said.

“Yes,” the first officer said. “Please, your Excellency, Chiang-yin is infested with hundreds of deserters from the Chiang-nan Ta-ying Great Southern Imperial Encampment who have been killing and pillaging their way down the river from Nan-ching and along the Grand Canal.”

“The deserters occupy the Chiang-yin county yamen!” the second officer said.

“Locked us up in the yamen with the county magistrate!” the third officer said.

“We bribed a guard to let us out,” the first officer said, “then climbed over the wall of the yamen compound to escape. Last night we heard cannon fire and saw your foreign fire-wheel boat. We decided to come out of hiding at first light and ask for your help.”

A shout came across the water from a nearby imperial war junk.

“幫辦江南軍務張國樑大將軍派我們兵勇從南京江南大營來保護這個地方的老白性打長毛賊 Assistant Commander for Chiang-nan Military Affairs General Chang Kuo-liang sends us troops from the Nan-ching Chiang-nan Ta-ying to protect the people of this place and fight the longhaired rebels.”

The first Chinese officer from the yamen leapt to the rail and shouted back.

“糊說八道 bullshit! 你們是騙人的王八蛋逃兵來殺搶老白性把江陰衙們當監牢關押知縣在理面! You’re lying bastard deserters come to murder and rob people, made a jail of the Chiang-yin yamen and locked the magistrate up inside!”

For a minute, there was silence. Then another shout came from the war junk.

“洋人給五萬两銀子我們就把知縣放自由 if the foreigners pay 5,000 taels of silver, we will let the magistrate go free.”

Old Huang shouted up his rendering of this exchange to Ghent where the captain leaned out of the wheelhouse window.

“Tell those mutton-heads…,” the captain shouted, but then he disappeared back into the wheelhouse. The walking beam started to rise and fall again, and Confucius slowly brought her forward gun around to bear on the encampment of deserters along the Kiangyin bund.

“Tell them that I’m sending my men into the town on my business, and that if they interfere I’ll blast ‘em all to kingdom come!”

Fletcher, Old Huang, the pirate-suppressing mandarin and four heavily armed Manilamen went with the Kiangyin officers back to the bund, then waited while another sampan ferried a dozen more Manilamen crew from the steamer under the guns of the imperial war junk. The crewmen all were heavily armed and carried small rockets to set off as a signal for Confucius to open fire on the imp encampment. Two crewmen were left to guard the sampans. At the north gate, soldiers challenged the shore party, but Sharps carbines leveled at the deserters’ heads were enough to convince them to put down their weapons and lock themselves in the gatehouse. Four crewmen stayed to hold the gate. The Kiangyin officers lead the rest of the posse through the gate and along a winding route of narrow streets that Fletcher struggled to remember in case they had to retreat through the dark little passageways. They stopped at the corner of a small compound and peered down a deserted street crowded with a variety of tiny shops at a shabby gate. Four deserters armed with swords and pikes huddled around a small fire in front of the gate heating water for tea.

“Yamen gate,” Old Huang whispered.

Fletcher quickly explained his plan to the pilot, who explained it to the Chinese. Fletcher then stepped back and motioned to two Manilamen to follow him into a building opposite the wall. They climbed a narrow stairway to the second floor and went down an empty hallway to a small balcony overlooking the yamen courtyard. Fletcher instructed the sailors to provide covering fire if there was fighting, then went downstairs and returned to the corner of the compound.

Together with the three Kiangyin officers and Old Huang, Fletcher stepped out around the corner and approached the yamen gate. When challenged by the soldiers at the gate, one of the officers spoke up to say that the foreigner was bringing money to exchange for the magistrate. Two soldiers got up and pushed open the wooden gate and motioned for them to follow. The moment Fletcher’s party was inside the gate, the remaining Manilamen burst around the compound wall toward the yamen gate firing at a run. They dropped the two soldiers still outside the gate. The two soldiers inside the compound turned to find themselves staring down the barrel of a Colt Navy revolver.

Quickly, Fletcher grabbed the two men, disarmed them, and pushed them into the gatekeeper’s house, where the Kiangyin officers tied them up. Deserters burst out of the entrance of the great hall and ran into a volley of carbine fire from the courtyard and the second story opposite. All but two fell dead or wounded. The remaining two were disarmed and made to lead the way into the great hall, where the steamer’s crew quickly rounded up the remaining deserters. They found the city magistrate unharmed, locked up in his own jail together with fifteen of his officers and runners. Another fifteen runners and clerks were locked in rooms at the rear of the compound.

The county magistrate glanced about wide-eyed at the circle of armed foreigners while conferring with his officers and the steamer’s mandarin. The magistrate stopped frequently to clasp his own hands before his face and bow to the Little Mandarin, Mr. Yang, who kept bobbing up and down in response. Old Huang glanced at Fletcher with a wry expression.

“Big Mandalin many time say muchee t’ankee fo’ save ass. All mandalin belly polite.”

The county magistrate turned to Fletcher, clasped his own hands and shook them before his face while bowing forward to what seemed to Fletcher quite low. Fletcher returned the courtesy, much to the evident satisfaction of all the Chinese present. Then the county magistrate began speaking directly to the foreigner in Chinese. Old Huang whispered the meaning to Fletcher.

“Please say this ‘onlable foreigner my t’ankee him belly muchee save all people. My namee Chao You-yü 趙有餘. My nevah fo’get all life long, my son honah his son. Please what him ‘onlable las’ namee an’ gleat fus’ namee?”

“My name is Wood,” Fletcher said and, for the first time, “Wo jeeyao Woo-duh.”

The magistrate, thought Fletcher, could not have been more astonished if Daniel Webster had flopped a goose in his lap. You would think somebody’s pet spaniel had stood up on hind legs and recited the Declaration of Independence. Look at the Little Mandarin – he’s equally surprised and all smiles. Even Old Huang is impressed. What made their feathers fall off? I’ll have to remember to ask Chalmers Alexander about this.

Wu-te hsien-sheng 武德先生,” the magistrate said. “Mister Wood.”

One by one, the magistrate called forward the three officers.

“Mandalin say dis oldest son.”

“Mandalin say dis son numbah two.”

“Mandalin say dis son numbah thlee.”

The mandarin pointed to others in the crowd.

“Mandalin say him ‘countant, also son, and him gatekeepah, also son. Put very many son in yamen, help keep family fo’tune all inside yamen, no leak alay.”

A political dynasty, thought Fletcher, in a hallowed tradition like the Adams clan of New England.

“Mandalin beg Mistah Wu-te one mo’ piecee favor,” Old Huang said. “Can Mistah Wu-te help make desa’tahs go out of town, lockee gate keep bad eggs out. Mandalin have thi’ty man, hab soad and speah, some piecee musket. His man, you man, takee foreign lifle, can kickee allo bad egg out, makee go ‘way.”

Fletcher agreed they should secure the town and, once the gates were all closed and locked, turn Macanaya’s gun loose on the deserter camp and send them scurrying down the road. With Old Huang interpreting, Fletcher selected three streets on a map shown him by the three Kiangyin officers and assigned a squad of yamen runners and Manilamen crewman to each street.

The three squads swept through Kiangyin herding imperial deserters before them with occasional rifle shots, closed and barred the west gate and posted a guard, then returned along the walls, secured the south and east gates, and left guards there. After closing the north gate, Fletcher’s squad climbed up to the drum tower atop the north gate, where a crewman set off a rocket that flew in a high red arc over the anchorage. A few minutes later, they heard the first whump of the 32-pounder and watched as five rounds were fired into the disorderly rows of dirty tents along the bund and in the fields beyond. Deserters ran for their lives or jumped on horses and hightailed it for far places. Stragglers were hurried along with rounds from rifles in the drum tower and from aboard Confucius. In a half-hour, the magistrate’s men were dragging down tents and clearing the bund of equipment left behind by the fleeing mob.

Fletcher and his crewmen returned to the Kiangyin yamen and weathered an inundation of more profuse thanks from the Kiangyin county magistrate, Chao You-yü, and his officers. Fletcher arranged for a county officer to take him and his delegation to the local clearinghouse, ch’ien-chuang, associated with Takee Bank where the Little Mandarin, Mr. Yang, could trade bills of exchange, p’ing-p’iao, for silver. As they made their way through the streets, increasingly crowded with townspeople coming out of hiding and returning from the countryside, the whump of the 32-pounder aboard Confucius and the crackle of Sharps carbines began echoing off the pine-covered hills north of the anchorage.

“Tlouble?” Mr. Yang said.

“Judging from the direction,” Fletcher said, Old Huang interpreting, “the captain is putting Confucius to work on the tiger boats at the mouth of that creek.” He added, “Confucius killum sumbitch tigah boat.”

Mr. Yang grinned widely.

The way to the clearinghouse led them through progressively smaller streets and lanes littered with broken baskets and other refuse, past shabby storefronts from which shopkeepers and old women eyed them warily. Fletcher began to doubt a bank branch could be located in a slum Bill Sikes or Fagin would fear to enter. The nervous crewmen hoisted their rifles to the ready.

Getting in was easy, thought Fletcher, but getting out through the warren of alleys and lanes might be a tour de force. They stopped under a dusty arcade in front of a rundown shop with iron bars over the windows and door. Fletcher could not believe this was a bank, a correspondent of the great Takee Bank of Shanghai, but Mr. Yang sailed right in astern of the county officer. Fletcher left four crewmen outside and he and the rest crowded in behind – there was not room for more. Inside, the tiny room was dark and smelled strongly of sandalwood from the incense burning on a small altar high over a door at the rear. A wall of dark wood closed off half the small room leaving only a narrow passageway. In the wall there was a single window enclosed by an iron grille. The sudden apparition of so many rifles must have frightened the banker, because the shutter behind the grille jerked shut with a loud snap. Together with Mr. Yang, the yamen officer spoke to a gruff voice behind the wall for several minutes before the shutter opened a crack in response to their entreaties and a lone, bespectacled eye appeared in the crack to examine Mr. Yang’s bill of exchange.

Wo shih t’ai-chi hang lai-de 我是泰記行來的,” Mr. Yang said, “I’m from Takee Bank.”

Then the window opened wide and greetings flew as if between long-lost relatives. The door at the rear opened and Mr. Yang disappeared into the dark interior. Fifteen minutes later, he emerged and explained that they had credit for several thousand taels, showing them a bag full of silver ingots and copper coin secreted under his jacket. He also said that a man from the clearinghouse would come to Confucius that afternoon and take them to talk with trustworthy junkmen in the Kiangyin harbor.

They left the clearinghouse and marched Mr. Yang back to the yamen and thence to the harbor flanked by menacing Manilamen cradling their carbines. There was no trouble. The curious crowded into the street to watch the foreigners pass by, with a rear guard of giggling street urchins carrying sticks at shoulder arms. Back aboard Confucius, Fletcher mentally scratched his head at how simple the cash transaction turned out.

Above the town, where the creek entered the anchorage, small junks and sampans came and went without hindrance, no longer pestered by prowling tigers. The imperial war galleys were gone, except for the masts of one sunk, and the burning remains of another driven ashore.

Copyright 2013 James Lande
This entry was posted in Writer's Corner, Yang Shen, the God from the West, Book I, Yankee Mandarin and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Confucius Rescues the Kiangyin Mandarins

  1. Kay Meggison says:

    Sumbitch! Belly good stoly.

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