CHAPTER XI. Painting in Seoul - Messages from the king - Royal princes sitting for their portraits - Breaking the mourning law - Quaint notions - Delight and despair - Calling in of State ceremony - Corean soldiers - How they mount guard - Drill.
The result of this amicable intercourse with the Royal Princes was that calls had to be duly exchanged according to the rules of Corean etiquette. Both Princes came again in their state array to call upon me in person, a privilege which I was told had never before been bestowed on any Europeans, not even the Diplomatic Agents in the land, after which upon the following day I proceeded to return their calls.
The morning was dedicated to the commander-in-chief, Prince Min-Young-Huan. Since to go on foot, even though the distance was only a few hundred yards from Mr. Greathouse's, where I was living, would have been, according to Corean etiquette, a disgrace and an insult, I rode up to his door on horseback. His house stood, surrounded by a strong wall of masonry and with impregnable iron-banded gates, in the centre of a large piece of ground. His ensign flew at one corner of the enclosure, and a detachment of picked troops was always at his beck and call in the immediate neighbourhood. At the door were sentries, and it was curious to note the way in which guard is mounted in the land of Cho-sen.
I suppose what I am going to narrate will not be believed, but it is none the less perfectly true. The Corean Tommy Atkins mounts guard curled up in a basket filled with rags and cotton-wool! Even at the royal palace one sees them. The Cho-senese warrior is not a giant; on the contrary, he is very small, only a little over five feet, or even less, so that the round basket which contains him is made only about four feet in diameter, and three-and-a-half feet deep. In the inner enclosures of the royal palace, where two soldiers at a time are on guard, the baskets are bigger, and the two men contained in them squat or curl up together like two birds in a nest. Their rifles are generally left standing against the wall; but, occasionally, when the position to be guarded is a very responsible one, they are nursed in the basket.
The infantry soldier, seen at his best, is a funny individual. He thinks he is dressed like a European soldier, but the reader can imagine the resemblance. His head-gear consists of a felt hat with a large brim, which he keeps on his head by means of two ribbons tied under his chin; for the fashion is, in military circles, to have a head-gear many times too small for his head. He wears a pair of calico trousers of a nondescript colour resembling green and black, under which his own padded "unmentionables" are concealed, a fact which of itself is sufficient to make him look a little baggy. Then there is his shortish coat with large sleeves and woollen wristlets; and a belt, with a brass buckle, somewhere about five inches above or below his waist, according to the amount of dinner he has eaten and the purses he has stuffed under his coat. Yes, the Coreans are not yet civilised enough to possess pockets, and all that they have to carry must be stuffed into small leather, cloth, or silk purses with long strings. By ordinary individuals these purses are fastened inside or outside the coat, but among the military it is strictly forbidden to show purses over the coat; wherefore the regulation method is to carry these underneath, tied to the trouser's band. Accordingly, as the number of purses is larger or smaller, the belt over the jacket is higher or lower on the waist, the coat sticking out in the most ridiculous manner.
In the illustration a Corean warrior of the latest fashion may be seen in his full uniform. He is an infantry soldier.
The guns with which these men are armed, are of all sorts, descriptions and ages, from the old flint-locks to repeating breech-loaders, and it can easily be imagined how difficult it must be to train the troops, hardly two soldiers having guns of even a similar make! A couple of American Army instructors were employed by the King to coach the soldiery in the art of foreign warfare, and to teach them how to use their weapons, but, if I remember rightly, one of the greatest difficulties they had to contend with was the utter want of discipline; for to this the easy-going Corean Tommy Atkins could on no account be made to submit. They are brave enough when it comes to fighting; that is, when this is done in their own way; and rather than give way an inch they will die like valiant warriors. It is an impossibility, however, to make them understand that when a man is a soldier, in European fashion, he is no more a man, but a machine.
"Why not have machines altogether?" seemed to be pretty much what they thought when compelled to go through the, to them, apparently useless and tiresome drill.
The target practice amused and interested them much when it took place, which was but seldom, for the cost of the ammunition was found to be too much for the authorities; there being, besides, the further difficulty of providing different cartridges for the great variety of rifles used. Thus it was that, though nearly every infantry soldier possessed a gun, he hardly ever had a chance of firing it. So rarely was even a round of blank cartridges fired in the capital, that, when this event did take place for some purpose or other, the King invariably sent a message to the few foreign residents in the town requesting them not to be frightened or alarmed at the "report," or to suppose that a revolution had broken out.