wrinkles deepening on the forehead of her hostess, ' that is impossible
in many cases. Your own dear papa, for instance, is obliged to be
away, but that is for your sakes.'
Mrs. Conway smiled bitterly. Poor Mrs. Wardlaw grew redder
and redder, and so very warm that the colour came out of her
bright blue gloves. Only one means of conciliation presented itself.
She disliked to speak ill of anybody, but to abuse Mr. Pennicuick
was always a sure way to Mrs. Conway's favour : so she resolved to
sacrifice that gentleman upon the altar of friendship.
' What I meant to say against men lea\T^ng their homes and
families was when they do so of their own free wills, from love of
travel as they call it, but which is often only a cloak for selfishness.
What a mistake it is, for example, in that Mr. Pennicuick to leave
I04 BY PROXY.
his son, and his country, and his parish church, to go gadding
about in foreign parts ! '
' I cannot say that I agree with you, Mrs. Wardlaw,' observed
Mrs. Conway coldly. ' I think Mr. Pennicuick is quite right.
The mistake he makes â€” and which those like him make who sepa-
rate themselves from their own flesh and blood, to live abroadâ€” is
this, that they ever trouble themselves to come liome again.'
'Oh dear !' murmured Mrs. Wardlaw under her breath. She
felt as though she had broken some priceless article which could not
be replaced, and for which mischance no apology could be made.
' Do you know, Nelly, I think it's going to rain ; so I had better
get home while I can.'
She rose and made her adieux to her hostess, who received
them with frigidity. Nelly accompanied her to the hall door.
* My dear child,' whispered the departing visitor, ' I am afraid
I have put your mamma out. What could I have said that set
her off so ? Can it possibly have been the tambourines ? Perhaps
your dear papa used to play upon them.'
' No, no ; mamma is not very well to-day : that is all.'
' But that would never make her say that he needn't trouble
himself to return home.'
^Hush, hush : she didn't mean it.'
' Of course not ; but even to say it, with your poor dear papa
all among those pigtailed savages ! why, if anything was to happen
to him, she would never forgive herself â€” I've not upset you^
darling, I do hope. I can see there's soiniething the matter.'
' No, no. I shall be better presently. Grood-bye, dear Mrs.
Wardlaw, and love to Uncle John.'
It was not often that Nelly Conway ' broke down ; ' but that
AfRS. JVARDLAW, 105
afternoon had been a very trying one to her. She had been more
moved by Kaymond's proposal than she had owned even to herself ;
the neces^ity of rejecting it had disheartened her, and made her
strangely subject to depressing influences. That allusion of Mr^.
AVardlaw's to her father â€” the very echo of the sentiment she had
herself expressed but a few minutes before â€” filled her with a vague
sense of foreboding ; how dreadful it would be if ' anything was to
happen to him,' and she were never to see the loving face which
she had pictured to herself so often, partly from memory, partly from
the personal description which he had penned to her half in jest!
She knew this was weakness, but she was just now too weak to
battle against it. It was her wont, when her mother was irritable
or in low spirits, to do her best to comfort her, but on this
occasion she shrank from the dutiful task. There were two topics
â€” Eaymond and her father â€” which for the time were too painful
to her to be discoursed upon ; and they were the very ones that her
mother would probably select.
She passed by the parlour door, and went up into her own
room : not ' to have a good cry,' as is the way with some girls, but
to think matters out, and if possible compose her mind. She did
think of many things both sad and strange. But the wild, wander-
ing, audacious thought itself sometimes falls short of the reality ;
and so it was with Nelly Conway as she dwelt anxiously upon her
father's and her lover's future, or dreamily forecast her own.
io6 BY PROXY.
There is but one step, it is often said, between the Sublime and
the Eidiculous : a downward one, and taken very quickly ; but the
shock is far greater when the step is taken the other way, and we
stumble wp from the Ridiculous to the Sublime. I remember a
masked ball, in a certain place, where men and women were
grinning and jigging together, without a serious thought among
them, when suddenly above the brazen roar of the band there
rose a shrill terrified shriek of ' Fire ! ' What happened on the
occasion in question need not be here narrated ; but it was dwelt
upon by the annalists of the day as transcending all that has
been written of the cowardice of human nature. Had they been
there themselves, perhaps they would have helped to illustrate it.
It was a spectacle, at all events, calculated to inspire pity as well
as contempt. To be brought face to face with Death without
warning is awful even to the wretched ; but to meet him at a
harlequinade, with our cap and bells on, is an ordeal terrible to
It was something of this nature that had happened to Ealph
Pennicuick, when he found himself felled and bound in the hands
of the despised Chinese. He had conceived so intense a disdain
CHINESE JUSTICE. 107
for them, he had been accustomed to regard them so entirely as
disagreeable children, that even his dislike of them had been
mitigated by their insignificance ; and now, in a moment, all his
views were changed. The very ridicule he had expended on them
seemed to have been paid back to him again ; he could not
understand how he had ever entertained it ; his heart had room
for nothing in regard to them save rage, and hate, and horror.
For though his courage, or his pride, forbad him to give the
least sign of fear, he was as well aware as Conway himself that he
was doomed to death. It was surprising that so sagacious a man,
and one in general so careful of his own well-being, should have
given way to a temptation that would only have been attractive,
as one would think, to a midshipman or a schoolboy, and the
consequences of succumbing to which were ob\iously so tremendous.
It was, however, his very love of self, which never permitted him
to deny it a gratification, however fleeting, combined with what
in a younger man would have been the love of mischief, but was in
him a malicious impulse, that had induced him to steal the
Shay-le. The sudden impulse to deprive thousands of ignorant
devotees, and scores of lying priests, of the most precious and
most ancient relic their temple possessed, had seized upon him
while the Chief-priest's attention was engaged in exhibiting some
other sacred object, and it had proved too strong to be resisted.
When he had done it, his repentance had been as rapid as his
crime ; he had perceived the extreme danger of his position, and
would perhaps willingly have withdrawn from it had retreat been
possible. On the other hand, the Shay-le would not be inquired for
again till the next feast-day, which he understood would not occur
for several weeks, and by that time he would be safe enough
io8 BY PROX\.
among his fellow-countrymen. And with what pride and pleasure
would he exhibit this concentration of Chinese sanctity, this
crystallised essence of Buddha himself, to admiring friends! If he
had not made a reputation for himself already for audacity and
coolness, the possession of this relic and the story of its capture
would have secured one. At first, as I have said, he had had his
doubts, which had given his manner that constraint which his
friend had observed : but, before he reached the boat, the matter
had thoroughly recommended itself to him. When Conway
informed him that the priest had indirectly deceived him, and
that the morrow was another feast-day on which the Shay-le would
probably be again exhibited, his mind once more misgave him.
For it was plain that the loss of the relic would be at once dis-
covered, and on whom was suspicion so likely to fall as upon
himself? He even took it from its hiding-place, as we have seen,
with the half-intention of dropping it into the river, and so
getting rid of all evidence against him ; but the thing had shone
so, that it struck him it might be really a precious stone ; and he
was a man to whom gems were gems, and money money. More-
over, pride came to his ruin. He had got possession of this
blessed ' curio,' and he was not going to part with it, come what
would. A resolve once taken with him became adamant. It was
clear that the sooner they left the neighbourhood of the temple
the better ; yet just because Conway had unconsciously observed,
* You seem in a hurry to get away,' Pennicuick had obstinately
denied it; nay, even though, as has been seen, he had a suspicion that
he had been watched by Fu-chow, so strong that if the Chinese
captain had given a sign of wakefulness that night, he would have
.shot him dead, he had not been deterred from his purpose to retain
CHINESE JUSTICE. 109
his prize. The thought that any harm might arise to his com-
panion out of his own recklessness did not enter into his mind ;
but it would have been all the same if it had ; for if Ealph
Pennicuick was not to be moved from a course of action by a con-
sideration of the coDsequences to himself, it is certain that he
would not be so fiom any fear of what might happen to other
people. Hard, insolent, selfish as he was, however, even the
sternest moralist might have felt pity for him now. A few days
at furthest, to be spent in a noisome prison and to be ended by
a lingering death of unimaginable pain, were all that would
probably remain to him of life. In the contemplation of which,
a better man might have been forgiven if all thought of ' and after
death the judgment ' was overwhelmed and lost.
And yet, all hopeless and helpless as Pennicuick was, not a
muscle quivered, nor did the steadiness of his keen eyes abate
one jot, as he looked round about him upon his keen-eyed foes.
The Chinese, some say, are not cruel; but this only means
that they do not take the same active delight in cruelty as some
more savage communities ; they are totally insensible to the
sufferings of their fellow-creatures. They knew that the English-
man was about to undergo one of the most horrible punishments
even in their horrible code ; but that did not cause them to regard
him with any special interest. One of their own countrymen
would have failed to arouse it under similar circumstances,
and far less this barbarian. What made their almond eyes so
bright and wondering as they gazed upon their captive was the
immensity of his crime. They could not understand what Buddha
could have been about to have permitted so great an impiety as
the abstraction of a portion of his own anatomy, without some
no BY PROXY.
signal and immediate revelation of his wrath. Here was the man
alive and unscathed who had stolen the sacred Shay-le, and
carried it round his neck as a girl her beads ; and there was the
precious relic itself, on an open plate upon the altar, twinkling in
a subdued manner (by reason of the paper windows) as though the
sacrilege that had disturbed its ten thousand years of venerable
seclusion was rather a joke than otherwise. Anger and pity were
equally absent from the flat smooth faces that surrounded the
prostrate prisoner, with one exception. The countenance of
Fu-chow, in general not more significant than that of most of his
countrymen, expressed quiet malice â€” an unsatisfied grudge. As
Pennicuick's gaze rested upon it, he knew- -quite as surely as if
the man had told him â€” that it was to him that he was indebted
for this catastrophe : that he had tried to leave the boat that
morning to give information of the sacrilege, and failing in that
attempt had sent one of his men to do so. This did not arouse in
him any remembrance of his own conduct ; of the insult he had
put on the man's daughter, or of his threats and harshness to the
man himself, which had hourly kept alive and ministered to his
rancour; but it filled him with a yearning never to be satis-
fied, and like the craving of a strong man for food or drink,
to be allowed one minute â€” only one â€” with his arms free, or
even his hands, and that smooth traitor's throat within reach of
Fu-chow, who read this desire in his eyes quite plainly, moved
softly across the room, and stooping down, with quite a winning
smile, whispered something in his ear. ' I understood you, my
friend, quite well,' returned Pennicuick quietly, ' though I am
unacquainted with your charming language.' But he put the
word that had been whispered into a pigeon-hole of his mind, that
he might presently obtain its interpretation.
The next moment he was picked up by four soldiers, and
carried, as though he were already dead, into a neighbouring
chamber. This was what in an English country gentleman's house,
who is a magistrate, would have been termed the justice-room,
where poachers undergo preliminary examination (in which they
are by no means cautioned not to criminate themselves), and the
parentage of callage love-children is humorously investigated ; in
China, where everything is as magnificent as sound can make it, it
was the Hall of Audience, where the proceedings are conducted
in accordance with the dignity of its title.
At a high broad desk set out with writing materials, the
mandarin had already taken his seat, with secretaries, clerks, and
even an interpreter (who did not understand English) in at-
tendance ; and two lictors with whips â€” used not as formal
instruments of punishment, but merely in a casual way to clear
the road for his Eminence, when he moved in his sedan abroad.
On the desk was Twang-hi's official seal, and a cup containing
tallies, to be thrown down on the ground to indicate how many
stripes with the universal bamboo he considered to be adapted for
any culprit brought before him. The bamboo stood up against
the wall, along with a board with two round grooves for com-
pressing the ankles, in order to expedite confession, and five
round sticks arranged to squeeze the fingers with the like object.
Above these instruments of persuasion hung several inscriptions,
like the Scripture texts in the bedrooms of some professing Chris-
tians (and with about as much practical efifect), recommending the
exercise of mercy.
112 BY PROXY.
Despite these formal shows, and not a little tawdry ornamenta-
tion, the room was as dirty as a' police-court in a low neighbour-
hood. There was of course no counsel on either side ; none such
are in any case permitted to appear ; nor are the witnesses even
sworn â€” a precaution the less necessary since no oath has up to this
date been discovered which is binding upon the Chinese conscience ;
indeed, if among the wise sayings of Confucius the phrase ' first
catch your conscience' does not appear, his system of morality as
regards the Celestial race is singularly deficient and unelemental.
Moreover, the witnesses are not bound to appear against the
prisoner during any subsequent proceedings. It cannot be urged
against the Chinese code that these most necessary and innocent
persons are kept hanging about in draughty courts, as under our
own system, not knowing when they will be called upon, and
uncertain of everything except that they are the only persons in
the case who are being put to inconvenience without remuneration^
In China, to prevent all this, and especially to insure their
attendance, witnesses, prosecutor, and prisoner, are all committed
to gaol together in readiness for the assizes.
In the present case there was but one witness pure and simple,.
a Buddhist priest, who had seen the two Englishmen go up towards
the pagoda where the Shay-le was kept ; for Fu-chow, although his
revelation of what he had seen in the cabin would prove fatal
enough, even if the relic had not been found upon the prisoner's
person, assumed to himself the position of prosecutor. His
glibness in his own tongue was surprising ; and as he had taken
the precaution to preface his observations with the statement that
his father was a mandarin, the great Twang-hi condescended to
attend to them ; otherwise (and this is a plan which we might
CHINESE JUSTICE. 113
borrow with great advantage), when witnesses are tedious or even
too florid in their testimony, the bamboo is applied to theni^ to
Conway listened with all his ears ; but his scanty knowledge
of the Chinese tongue placed him in much the same position as
that of a gentleman learning short -hand who endeavom-s to set
down the words of a fluent speaker ; before he had thoroughly
mastered the meaning of the first sentence, the orator was three
sentences ahead of him. He could only gather vaguely that
Fu-chow was extolling his father, whose dignity and position he
described as only inferior to that of Twang-hi himself; and that
he then proceeded to describe his own devotion to the principles
of morality and religion, which had caused him to watch with
caution (or in other words to play the spy upon) this barbarian
blasphemer, whose cup of enormities, long filled to the brim, had
at last been made to run over by this imparalleled act of sacrilege.
He also observed that the references to himself were exculpatory
and even favourable, which afforded him some comfort upon his
friend's account as well as upon his own, since, had he also been
included in the accusation, he would have been powerless indeed
to give him aid.
"What he missed the sense of, and which was likely to escape
him from its original view of the matter, was the two pictures
drawn of him and Pennicuick by the Chinese captain and contrasted
with one another. He himself was described as a military person-
age of distinction, revered by his fellow-countrymen, and even
respected, as was proved by his letter of introduction, by Chinese
officials at Shanghae of such rank as to enjoy the personal acquaint-
ance of Twang-hi himself. He was guileless, pious, and passionately
VOL. I. I
114 BY PROXY.
attached to the memory of his parents : whereas this Pennicuick,
on the other hand, was a mere hanger-on of society, unknown to
persons of respectability, and one whom he (Fu-chow), albeit
imperfectly acquainted with the barbarian language, had with his
own ears heard speak disrespectfully of mandarins, of their buttons,
their peacock's feathers, and in short of every institution calculated
to arouse reverence and respect in the mind of man. That the
prisoner was wicked and dangerous, in fact, had been long
abundantly clear to him, though the crime of which he now stood
committed did, Fu-chow confessed, transcend everything of which
he had suspected him to be capable.
To all this impassioned eloquence Twang-hi listened with a
sublime gravity, not to be emulated by flesh and blood ; indeed, he .
looked more like the mandarins we see in England, not constructed
of those fleeting materials, who stand at the doors of tea-shops, and
point rigidly to the legends in the window concerning the piices
of Congou or Hyson. Only at intervals he would slowly and
solemnly incline his head, so much after the manner of an automa-
ton chess-player that Conway almost expected to hear the click in
the machinery as he did so. Presently, however, cutting Fu-chow's
eloquence not short indeed, but very abruptly, he signed to his
two lictors, and in a moment Pennicuick was on his knees in front
of the desk with these two personages on either side of him, and
apparently hanging on to him by his ears. They were not hurting
him at present, but were prepared to twist them at a moment's
notice in case the culprit proved refractory in the matter of con-
fession, or generally failed to gratify expectation. Conway also
noticed for the first time that there was a neat plot of flint-stones
CHINESE JUSTICE. 115
on the floor, to which a kneeling prisoner might be removed, by
no means to his convenience, if he showed any tardiness of speech.
'Let the culprit say what he has got to say for himself,'
observed the mandarin ; ' and do you, sir ' (this with a courteous
inclination of his head to Conway), 'interpret it to us in the
interests of justice.'
' He calls upon you, Pennicuick, for your defence,' said Conway
hurriedly. 'Tell him you were ignorant of the gravity of
your crime ; that you are exceedingly sorry ; and above all that
you have lots of money wherewith to make expiation to the
temple for the wrong committed, and â€” especially â€” to recompense
his Excellency for the trouble you have caused him.'
' I will see him damned first, Connie,' was the fierce reply.
' The revolver is lying on the right-hand side of his desk beneath
those papers. I will give you a thousand pounds '
'You are throwing away your life, Pennicuick,' interrupted
Conway, ' by every moment of silence, and the least show of resist-
ance would throw away mine. I adjure you to say something
conciliatory, and above all to offer as huge a bribe as it is in your
power to pay without application to Shanghae.'
' I am not to be frightened, Conway, by this juggler's threats.
And I will not submit to extortion,' answered Pennicuick sternly.
' Tell him I am underneath the protection of the British flag, and
woe betide him '
Twang-hi lifted up his hand for silence, and at the same moment
something happened to the speaker's ears which somehow com-
pelled obedience. The agony was so excessive that it might have
extorted a shriek from the strongest man, but not a sound broke
from the prisoner's lips. His friend, attracted by the mandarin's
ii6 BY PROXY.
eye, did not even know what had taken place, nor did the stubborn
pride of Pennicuick permit him to reveal the humiliation he had
' My friend wishes to say, your Excellency,' said Conway, very
slowly, not only that he might be understood, but to give himself time
to manufacture suitable arguments, 'that he is overwhelmed with
horror and penitence, on account of the outrage he has committed.
He had no idea of the sacredness of the Shay-le, or of the value set
upon it by so many religious persons. He is prepared to pay to the
utmost of his power in atonement for the foolish frolic (as he thought
it) of which he has been guilty. If any offering to the temple,
or endowment for the priests ' â€” a look of such intense negation
came into the mandarin's face, that Conway would have left that
line, and glided off to another branch at once, even without the
words that accompanied it.
' Is it conceivable,'interruptedTwang-hi, pointing to Pennicuick,
' that this wretch imagines that Buddha needs his dirty money, or
that his priests would accept in his cursed name, as expiation for Wi
infamous a sacrilege, any pecuniary recompense whatever ? If it
was possible to enhance such unparalleled wickedness as he has
committed, he has done so by this proposal.'
Here the audieiice all raised their hands in admiration of his
Excellency's noble sentiments, with the exception of the Buddhist
priest himself, who looked morose and disappointed. Like a High
Church rector who has been decorating his chancel, he was thinking
of restorations, and how conveniently a little hereticalis cne in a million) â€” when we have
visited any scene of misfortune, such as a workhouse, or a limatic
asylum, in which, nevertheless, many thousands of our fellows con-
tinue to live on.
When now, in company with the dignified Kushan, he reached
the gate of the gaol, it was with no greater apprehension concerning
the present position of his friend than that his own absence might
have distressed him, since he would not know how long thev might
be kept apart. His mind, too, was monopolised by the ultimate
fate of Pennicuick, which, he was only too sure, was sealed, and
which it was become, bethought, his painful duty to break to him.
Although, as we have said, the man was not very dear to him
as a friend, his unhappy position seemed to beget a deamess, or
rather, perhaps, to revive all those feelings of regard he had once
entertained for him in youth. The memory of their old college
days together welled up from his still kindly heart into his eyes,
as he thought of this man and the bitter end that awaited him.
"WTiat an end it was for so masterfid and proud a spirit ! If his
sentence had been death â€” mere death â€” that would have been sad
enough ; but no soldier would have looked down the muzzle of the
guns that were to kill him more steadfastly, he was well aware,