CHAPTER V. THE YEN-PING REBELLION
The plot had been hatching for several days, but the death of Yuan Shi-kai had somewhat delayed its fruition. Saturday, however, it was known throughout the city that trouble would soon begin. Sunday morning at half past three, a band of one hundred men from Yuchi had marched to Yen-ping where they were received by a delegation of rebels dressed in white who opened to them the east gate of the city. Immediately they began to fire up the streets to intimidate the people and in a short time were in a hot engagement with the seventeen Northern soldiers, some of whom threw away their guns and swam across the river. The remaining city troops were from the province of Hunan and their sympathies were really with the South in the great rebellion. These immediately joined the rebels, where they were received with open arms. It was reported that the tao-tai (district mandarin) had asked for troops from Foochow and that these might be expected at any moment; thus when they arrived a real battle could be expected and it was very likely that the city would be partly destroyed.
We had a picnic supper on the Caldwell's porch and discussed the situation. It was the opinion of all that the foreigners were in no immediate danger, but nevertheless it was considered wise to be prepared, and we decided upon posts for each man if it should become necessary to protect the compound.
Hundreds of people were besieging the missionaries with requests to be allowed to bring their goods and families inside the walls, but these necessarily had to be refused. Had the missionaries allowed the Chinese to bring their valuables inside it would have cost them the right of Consular protection and, moreover, their compound would have been the first to be attacked if looting began.
On Monday morning while we were sitting on the porch of Mr. Caldwell's house preparing some bird skins, there came a sharp crackle of rifle fire and then a roar of shots. Bullets began to whistle over us and we could see puffs of smoke as the deep bang of a black powder gun punctuated the vicious snapping of the high-power rifles. The firing gradually ceased after half an hour and we decided to go down to the city to see what had happened, for, as no Northern troops had appeared, the cause of the fighting was a mystery.
We went first to the mission hospital which lay across a deep ravine and only a few yards from the quarters of the soldiers. At the door of the hospital compound lay a bloody rag, and we found Dr. Trimble in the operating room examining a wounded man who had just been brought in. The fellow had been shot in the abdomen with a 45-caliber lead ball that had gone entirely through him, emerging about three inches to the right of his spine.
From the doctor we got the first real news of the puzzling situation. It appeared that all the men who had arrived Sunday morning from Yuchi to join the Yen-ping rebels were in reality brigands and, to save their own lives, the Hunan soldiers quartered in the city had played a clever trick. They had pretended to join the rebels but at a given signal had turned upon them, killing or capturing almost every one. Although their sympathies were really with the South, the Hunan men knew that the rebels in Yen-ping could not hold the city against the Northern soldiers from Foochow and, by crushing the rebellion themselves, they hoped to avert a bigger fight.
As we could not help the doctor he suggested that we might be of some assistance to the wounded in the city, and with rude crosses of red cloth pinned to our white shirt sleeves we left the hospital, accompanied by four Chinese attendants bearing a stretcher. In the compound we met a chair in which was lying an old man groaning loudly and dripping with blood. Beside him were his wife and several boys. The poor woman was crying quietly and, between her sobs, was offering the wounded man mustard pickles from a small dish in her hand! Poor things, they have so little to eat that they believe food will cure all ills!
The bearers set the chair down as we appeared and lifted the filthy rag which covered a gaping wound in the man's shoulder, over which had been plastered a great mass of cow dung. Just think of the infection, but it was the only remedy they knew!
We took the man upstairs where Dr. Trimble was preparing to operate on the fellow who had been shot in the abdomen. The doctor was working steadily and quietly, making every move count and inspiring his native hospital staff with his own coolness; the way this young missionary handled his cases made us glad that he was an American.
On the way down the hill several soldiers passed us, each carrying four or five rifles and slung about with cartridge belts - plunder stripped from the men who had been killed. A few hundred yards farther on we found two brigands lying dead in a narrow street. The nearest one had fallen on his face and, as we turned him over, we saw that half his head had been blown away; the other was staring upward with wide open eyes on which the flies already were settling in swarms.