AN INTERLUDE

Headquarters, Third Imperial Army, Before Port Arthur, Sept.
30th:–We went yesterday to the foremost firing line, where all the
venom of war is concentrated in a score of yards among a dozen men.
There we saw how the besiegers of Port Arthur are besieging it, how
they live, what manner of men they are, and some of the facts of
modern warfare which those who want to know about the humanity of
science had better not read. Before we went an officer led us to a
bombproof on the Japanese side of the great valley across which we
were to go to gain the captured fort.

“Look!” said he, turning over his hyposcope, “the way is about a
mile and a half. The real danger is in the fort itself, but if
you are very careful to crawl with your heads low you are safe.
If you decide to go you must relieve our authorities from all
responsibility for your lives.”

Across the valley a puff of white spat out a tongue of flame; a
shell crashed into the escarpment below us. From across the valley
came the intermittent puffing of outposts. A mis-shot bullet lapped
up a patch of dust twenty paces to our right.

“Well, gentlemen, will you go? It’s a quiet morning. We had better
start soon if at all, for the sun is in their eyes now; soon it
will be against us and then they can pick us off like flies.”

Villiers was with me. “What do you say?” he asked. “It’s time to
measure risks. Think what you’ll get out of it. A correspondent
dead is of no use to his paper, and people remember him as a fool
who got shot in some reckless venture. Remember, you’re going into
bullet fire for the first time. You’ve had shell fire only, up to
now, and shell fire is to bullets what a bluebottle fly is to a
tiger mosquito. Forbes used to have a supreme contempt for shell
fire and a supreme respect for bullets. A shell buzzes and blows–a
bullet flits in quietly, spits through an artery, the heart, the
head–and it’s all over. Their rifles fire point blank at 200 yards
and up where you want to go the lines are but forty yards apart.
They can pick off a ten-cent piece at that distance. Remember, if
your head shows so much as an inch above that parapet, you’re only
good to sniff at when the wind blows from you, for these people
have no extra stretcher for your useless carcass.” Villiers can say
these things. Somewhere in his London studio is his order of St.
George which the Czar gave him for audacity at Plevna. Also some
seven other governments have decorated him for fit war behavior, so
he is an expert on battlefields.

“But,” said I, “think of what there is up there: the bloody angle,
scene of the death of 3,000 men, heaps of unburied slain, trenches
made of corpses, sentries firing, the living sleeping, eating,
working among their dead comrades, the enemy on three sides, with
this single line of supply and retreat down which only four men can
march abreast. This captured fort is to the siege of Port Arthur
what Nanshan is to the campaign–its decisive battle. It is the
wedge Japan is driving into the heart of Russia and we’ll be on its
tip. When the nations hear the truth about this fort–the assault
that captured it, the odds against which it was fortified and held
for six weeks–it will be the marvel of the age. Think! Would you
miss standing on the apex of the world?”

“I was a youngster myself once and I’m not old now,” replied
Villiers. “They fake these things in London almost as well as I
can do them in the field, so why risk my bones? But I’m as good
as a Japanese officer or an American reporter. Up to now we’ve
been chaperoned scribblers; here we become war correspondents. It
smells of the old days: Forbes, Cameron, Pierce, McGahan, Jackson,
Burleigh–and that crowd of gay devils. Lead on.” Perhaps you will
be more interested in Villiers to know that he is supposed to be
the original of Kipling’s character, Dick the Artist, in “The Light
that Failed.”

So we went into the chipmunk’s burrow, up through the cornfields,
frowned on by a hundred thousand guns, menaced by two armies,
until we nestled in the ragged hole Japan has torn in Russia’s
impregnable last stand. Laterally down the line of our advance, but
high over our heads, shells often rammed their harsh bewilderment
and we could hear them strike, sometimes rods, sometimes miles
away. How like a live thing a shell snarls–as some wild beast, in
ferocious glee thrusting the cruel fangs in earth and rock, rending
livid flesh with its savage claws, and its fetid breath with poison
powder scorching the autumn wind! ’Most always it fizzes and funks
in shameful waste. Bullets are the nasty things; a who-whit, a dry
spat, a thin hole drilled in a frightful way, as snakes sling their
venom in sly and easy scorn. When we got halfway up, and into the
angle, so that Russian trenches were on three sides, a number sped
about us. Hardly a minute but one passed over our heads.

The situation looks well in print. Yet we were in little danger.
Our wits kept–we were safe. For this let us profoundly thank the
engineer who built that siege parallel–a cunning masterful Yankee
of the East, whose name as a military engineer must be handed
down to future generations of technical students. He had taken
advantage of every rise in the ground and of every depression. Of
corn stubble he made a drapery, of hillocks a screen, of ravines an
ambuscade, until Nature so aided him that she and not the Japanese
infantry was the assaulting force against those heights beyond.

We walked twenty meters apart, for, should we by any chance lift
our heads together and be sighted in a party, the Russians could
drop a bit of shrapnel over us. Otherwise we might be off for a
morning stroll down a country lane. We crouched as we walked, for
the trench was built for Japanese, who average a few inches less in
height than a foreigner. The distance as the crow flies was little
over half a mile; we went nearly a mile and a half. At one side
ran a telephone wire, staked down at intervals with broken, rusty
rifles. At every angle a sentry saluted, stepping forth grimly
from a dugout. Halfway up we passed a stretcher bearing a body,
the face covered with coarse matting, sewn roughly–a corpse of
the night before. Farther on came a soldier with his arm in a wet,
crimson sling. Half an hour before, feeling secure after days in
the ominous place, he had passed into a ravine he thought safe,
but out of the path chosen by the clever engineer. He was in the
Russian fire zone and presently a shell fragment smashed his arm.
From a dozen to fifteen are lost that way every day.

Across the valley we halt at the foot of a hill and then turn
into the fort. Chloride of lime is sprinkled here over the human
effluvia that nowhere else can be deposited, but a bone sticks
out of the trench wall. I look closely. It is a human femur. From
it projects a heavy coil of rubber-insulated cable. The officer
explains that this formed the electric communications with the
barbed wire entanglements through which we are passing, and that
on the day of the fight it was charged so that when the Japanese
pioneers tried to cut the wire with pincers they were prostrated
with the shock and had to wait for glove-handled tools. Beside it
is a long strip of bamboo, torn and shattered. This was carried to
the attack by two soldiers who with it tossed into the fort a short
strip of bamboo stuffed with gun cotton. This, exploding, tore a
hole through which the men could charge. It was a more effective
bombardment than the shells. As we turned the corner we came upon
the men and at last we saw the besiegers of Port Arthur, where they
were living, 200 yards from the Russian trenches, in the famous
redoubt where enough men have been killed to cover the place four
deep with corpses.

The officer took up a pick lying in the trench. “Look!” said he,
“the point was sharp as a grindstone could make it to begin with,
but in some places, you know, the rock is hard and–” he would
apologize. He was very sorry we should find the picks in such bad
condition. He was always apologizing. He apologized for the length
of the way, the heat of the sun, the annoyance of the shells. But
the boys in khaki smiled on. Word passed as to who we were and they
greeted us dumbly, spread out their pitiful small blankets, pulled
from obscure coats and corners their precious sweetmeats, advanced
the cigarettes that mean more than beef to a soldier, offered us
their still more precious tea. All over them was written their joy
in being recognized, in having someone share their hardships.

Death on the battlefield is the height of this soldier’s ambition.
But not uncleanliness on the battlefield, and all the time we
sat there I was aware of a pervasive, sickening odor, something
strange, something frightfully offensive.

“What can it be?” I said as it bore in upon me and I felt suddenly
nauseated.

“Well, in the hurry of building these trenches, in the night,
under fire, a few dead bodies–only a few–were rolled into the
escarpment. We very much regretted it—-.” The officer apologized
profusely, but they had been under fire ever since and the trenches
could not be torn down. So they stood–human walls. “But I can
assure you there is no smell now. The first week, in the hot
sun–Ah! then I should not have liked to bring you here.” As I
leaned against the wall something crushed, like the snap of a
pencil, under my back. I leaped, in alarm, to my feet. As I turned
around a blue coat, which I had pushed back in my fatigue, fell
over the skeleton of a hand, and at my feet dropped the joint of a
forefinger. Villiers pulled me to my knees.

“Look over there,” he said and pointed beyond the trench. I saw
fresh earth heaped up. “It is the brow of the Russian works,” he
said, “but look in between–that pit of uniforms.” A mound of
soiled, tattered clothes, higher than a man could stand, and longer
than a company street, lay before us, not fifty feet away. At the
base, facing me, detached from the rest, a hideous skull leered.
“Unburied dead,” Villiers said, “hugging the ground, sent back into
the earth from whence they came.”

Then the officer apologized. Yes, there was no chance to bury the
dead. Under constant fire for six weeks, between hostile lines,
they slowly rotted away until only bones and rags remained–Russian
and Japanese inextricably together on the scene of the last
desperate Russian stand, where was concentrated all the machine gun
fire of both sides.

Wounded and dying had been mixed with dead. No succor was possible.
A general must count his men as fighting units and he could not
afford to pay a dozen good lives for one injured. We turned to
go–stomach and heart sick, but the boys in khaki smiled. They
were used to it. Just then the postman passed. He had a handful of
cards, scrawled over with loving messages.

As we saw how complete the service was–mail delivered under the
shadow of guns, and as a man goes on to the firing line to offer
up his life–we suddenly came to the telephone which made us think
how near we were to all we held dear. That line was connected with
headquarters, headquarters with Tokyo, Tokyo with New York and
London. I suddenly saw myself ringing up the editor to catch an
edition.

“Hello! just arrived at the Eternal Dragon. Quiet this morning.
Russian sortie last night. Repulsed. One Japanese, eighteen
Russians lost–three wounded between the lines calling for
water—-”

“Hold on, what’s that?”

“Wait a minute till I stop this infernal racket.” Down with the
receiver. To the Colonel: “Can’t you stop that battery a minute?
I’m at the ’phone.”

“All right, editor. Wounded man says–Hold on a minute. It’s that
blasted volley firing. All right. I was saying, a wounded–Hell,
here comes a shell!”

We turned another corner and came upon the commander of the
regiment–a lieutenant-colonel, stern-faced, with that eternal
smile, a countenance nationally characteristic. He welcomed us to
his shelter between two walls–which the Russians had built and
which our shells destroyed. His staff–a captain and a major–sat
crosslegged on one side. We sat on a red-blanketed bench on the
other. Crosslegged, on his red blanket, he was no better fitted
than his men. At his side on a nail hung his sword and cap. Behind
him suspended from two wires was the regimental flag, in a plush
case. It is 30 years old, has been in 18 battles, and is all but
gone from bullet fire. To the regiment it is a sacred emblem. This
is the illustrious Seventh Regiment which captured the Eternal
Dragon, after losing all but ten per cent. of its number and
which now, after a month with the reserves when its ranks were
replenished, is back for a week on sentry duty. So intense is the
service there, one week in four is all a single regiment can stand.
We were served with tea in daintily lacquered cups and then the
lieutenant-colonel passed saké and tea, asking permission to drink
our health.

[Illustration:

_Copyright, 1905, by Collier’s Weekly_

THE LAST WORD

An officer giving final instructions to his men before the Grand
Assault of September 21. This photograph was taken in the front
parallel, 300 yards from the Cock’s Comb Fort.]

“Where is the Colonel?” I asked the officer. Then he apologized
again. He was sorry he couldn’t oblige me, but unfortunately the
Colonel had been killed about twenty yards from where I then
sat. His body had been cremated within three paces of my present
seat. Just beyond the tent I could see his grave, should I look.
I leaned out and in a niche of the wall saw a plain white stick
ideographed in black. At the base was a bottle of flowers and a
Chinese pumpkin. It contained the ration a soldier calls “iron,”
and some sweetmeats beside a can of water. Then we knew what some
living soldier had done. The ghost might come wandering back in the
night and be hungry. It should not suffer. We went on to more tea
with the new live Colonel and some sweetmeats which we utilized
differently than the ghost had evidently utilized his. “How was he
killed?” I asked. Then we heard the story of the capture of the
Eternal Dragon.

“It was a hot August afternoon,” said the officer, our interpreter,
“and the general of this division, a very determined man, resolved
that the time had come to pierce the Russian center. So he chose
the Seventh Regiment for the honor. It is the regiment to which
the young Captain, wounded, and rescued by the Russian prisoner,
of whom you were talking this morning, belonged. The Colonel made
his plan of attack to have his command advance in three battalions,
one on each flank and one in the front, the flanks to be the real
attack, the front to be a feint. He, himself, commanded the feint,
and, as usual, stayed in the rear. He sent his pioneer corps ahead
to cut the barbed wire entanglements. They came back with the
report of electric charge. They went forward again with insulated
pincers and the regiment followed. All the way to the base of the
hill, where we now are, they were almost unmolested, when they had
expected to meet a fierce shell fire. This made them confident.
But the Russian general, as we afterward learned, had ordered his
men to reserve their fire till we got within close range, and then
to give it to us with machine guns. So the two side battalions got
safely well up to the slope, only to meet a terrible rain of steel
from the top. The aim was so sure and the firing so heavy that
nearly two-thirds of the command was mowed down at once. And the
surprise we found was in their construction of the fort. Where we
supposed our shells had opened gaps in it, we found it intact and
our assaulting party unable to gain foothold, for the Russians had
placed boiler plates under two feet of earth and the shells had had
little or no effect on it.

“When the Colonel learned all this he got mad, and instantly
ordered the third Battalion to assault the front in force. He
led the charge. A few of the men got in and fought hand to hand
with the Russians. By that time another regiment had arrived with
reinforcements, charged through the breach and overwhelmed the
Russians, driving them out of the place. Though we are dominated
by six of their batteries and have been assaulted by them eighteen
times in attempts to recapture, we have ever since held it.
The Colonel’s body was found under a heap of slain. In it were
twenty-four bullet holes. His sword was broken at the hilt. His cap
was missing and we searched for it a long time without success,
until one day our lookout spied it between the lines. Certain death
seemed the price for a man to try to get it, but as soon as the
Colonel’s servant, a soldier, learned where it was, he volunteered
and succeeded one dark night in regaining it, so the cremation
could take place properly. If you wish now, follow the Captain into
the fort and you will see the foremost trenches. Keep your heads
low.”

Then we saw the kitten become a tiger. We passed from the
hospitable soldier, with his sweetheart’s letters, his welcoming
smile, his innocent and friendly telephone, his harmless tea and
cakes, to the firing line, to death, and to worse than death.

It was hands and knees into the fort and the front trenches. This
is the tip of the bloody angle, with the enemy on three sides.
Bullets passed over us continually. Shells were bursting far
away. Twice we passed half ruined chambers built of timber below
ground–Russian food and ammunition shelter. It was high noon. At
length we lay, panting, under a pile of sapling poplars; above us
were sand bags six deep.

“We are perfectly safe here,” said the officer, and we looked out.

“Except from ricochet bullets,” added Villiers. “The zone of fire
of those chaps yonder is away from us and as long as they exchange
we’re all right. Shells can’t reach us, even shrapnel would be
nullified by this covering, but when those bullets strike a stone
no one can tell how they will come. They can shoot around a corner
from a flat stone as easily as in the open through a loop-hole.”

I heard nothing. Standing up, secure, my eyes came upon him
suddenly–the soldier of the Emperor, the boy who does the
trick–at work. He was crouched under the parapet in front, rifle
to cheek, its steel nose through a loophole, his finger on the
trigger. The tensity of his muscles and his eyes glancing down
that barrel in deadly aim made me think of nothing but a great cat
pausing for a spring. One leg was drawn up, his cap was pulled down
viciously over his eyes, the sun beat upon him and he lay, venomous
with pent-up passion, cut in silhouette against the trenches, a
shade darker than the shale. A minute before he had offered me tea
and a cigarette; now he was dealing out hot lead. Yet, who could
suspect danger, with all so still and clear! But life most intense
and death the most terrible and swift dwelt all about us. Through
chinks in the wall a row of sand bags on a mound of earth could be
seen. They marked the Russian trenches behind which the enemy lay
as silent and deadly as the boys on our side. Not a minute passed
without its bullet. Forty meters was the distance, the officer
said, the closest place in the whole ten-mile front of the two
armies. By day, when the Russians stay quiet, sentries stand three
yards apart, by night, shoulder to shoulder. They are changed every
thirty minutes so intense is the strain. A regiment can stay in the
fort only seven days because the Russians are above and on three
sides, and they must keep them out, while they stew in their own
juice and their comrades rot beyond the wall. When a sortie is made
neither side asks for quarter nor expects it. The Russians know
that unless they regain their trenches they will not live, for to
be wounded and fall in the bloody angle means slow death where
no aid can come; to meet the Japanese line means instant death.
The Japanese know their chances, if wounded, are the same, and if
they reach the Russian lines they accept only two things–victory
or death. So it is that here through long weeks the siege has
concentrated its bitterest essence, living has come to be a burden
and death a joy.

Then came the thud of a bullet. It was a different thud from any
we had had up to that time, and though I had never before heard a
bullet strike flesh, I could not mistake the sound. It goes into
the earth wholesome and angry, but into flesh ripping and sick with
a splash like a hoof beat of mud in the face.

I turned to look. I saw the nearest sentry sinking to his knees.
His rifle had dropped and was leaning against the wall, butt down.
He sank together all in a heap and his head hung limp, his chin
against his breast.

“Poor chap,” said Villiers, “he was looking at us and got in
front of the loop hole. I suppose we are so great a novelty in
his strained existence that he could not resist the temptation to
neglect his duty for a minute.”

We crawled back and out silently and quickly, bade a hurried
good-by to the Colonel, hastened past the smiling, oblivious
men–they are used to it–and over a mile and a half of chipmunk
burrow. The General was waiting tiffin for us in his tent. There
was a jar containing strawberry jam like grandmother used to
make. With a flash it brought back all the comforts of home. An
empty shell in the center of the table held some field daisies
and wild chrysanthemums. All the fragrance of the fields and the
beauties of nature came with them. At my mess plate lay an American
newspaper, just delivered by this incomprehensible field post. With
it civilization, its myriad passions and joys, floated in. As the
cigars were passed I opened the paper. I found an interview with
Dr. Nicholas Senn, of Chicago, in which he said:

“All the talk of inhumanity which some correspondents are sending
out from the Orient is foolish. Statements of soldiers being
wounded in the mouth and reports of all similar acts of atrocity
can be set down as being without foundation. Russia has the best
Red Cross Society in the world and the Russians are an extremely
humane people. Likewise, this war is going to be a humane war. As
for the Japanese, the worst that can be said of them is that they
are a proud people.” I read this aloud. It was translated and the
officers, Lieutenant-General Oshima and his staff, listened. None
of them replied. Finally Villiers said:

“The question is not: Are the Japanese or the Russians a humane
people, or not a humane people? It is: Are individual men, under
conditions the most terrible the imagination can devise, Christians
or savages? Both Japanese and Russians socially are delightful
people. I’ve lived with the armies of both nations and their
soldiers are delightful and humane. But that is not the question.

“Now, is it possible for soldiers living as we saw them to-day–in
their own filth, unable to succor the wounded, preyed on by
stenches from the dead, until battle in which they neither ask nor
give quarter is a welcome relief–can the word ‘humane’ be uttered
in speaking of lives such as theirs? Or can it be uttered of the
Russians–driven into a trap, half-starved, night and day in the
trenches, confronted by overwhelming numbers, with certainty of
no relief, yet defending a lost hope with lives easier lost than
lived? Would you be ‘humane’ under such conditions? I am sure I
would not.

“No. The truth about war cannot be told. It is too horrible. The
public will not listen. A white bandage about the forehead with
a strawberry mark on the center is the picture they want of the
wounded. They won’t let you tell the truth and show bowels ripped
out, brains spilled, eyes gouged away, faces blanched with horror.
The only painter fellow who ever told the truth about war was
Verestchagin, poor chap, drowned over there in the harbor. He in
paint and Zola in words told the truth and they were howled down
and ostracized all their lives, simply because the theorists, like
this surgeon, fed up with themselves, nursed in the belief that
science is all powerful, will always assure the public that modern
war is humane.

“Scientific warfare! Let me tell you the facts about science.
Archibald Forbes predicted twenty years ago that the time would
come when armies would no longer be able to take their wounded
from the field of battle. That day has come. We are living in it.
Wounded have existed–how, God alone knows–on that field out
there, without help, for twelve days, while shell and bullets
rained above them, and if a comrade had dared to come to their
assistance his would have been a useless suicide. The searchlight,
the enginery of scientific trenches, machine guns, rifles point
blank at 200 yards with a range of 2,000–these things have helped
to make warfare more terrible now than ever before in history.

“Red Cross societies and scientific text-books–they sound well and
look pretty, but as for ‘humane warfare’–was there ever put into
words a mightier sarcasm!”

This was translated. The officers–Lieutenant-General Oshima and
three of his staff–listened, gravely. No one said anything.
Finally, we walked home silently as the sun went down.

Noon found me well up toward the firing line, assured by the
staff that it would be the day of days. To get there I passed a
mile and more of batteries–the Osacca guns vomiting balls of
fire, puff-balls of smoke and fat, heavy balls of steel; the
howitzers–coyotes of artillery–spitting from peaks, snapping,
louder than the monsters growl below; the naval six-inch turret
firers, rakishly sunk in valleys, their greyhound noses dappled
with mud, baying out reverberations at which even the sulking sun
might have shuddered; the field four-point-sevens, bag-redoubted,
conventional as pictures, flinging forth the business barks of
house dogs; then, finally, the hand one-pounders, hauled well up
the parallels, their bodies angled half-wise and as forlorn amid
such colossal music as a penny whistle before a symphony orchestra.
To be in it, to pass through it, to feel this whiz and boom people
the air above with demon gossip, to sniff from ravines the gusts
seeped with cordite and with phosphorus, while in the far-stretched
vistas bluecoat files wind through the fierce, vain taunts hurled
in among them–ah, this is the atmosphere–the grand, the fearful,
the unspeakably sublime atmosphere of war.

Cloudy! Yes, but what day could smile in the face of such a row
as this? The grand bombardment has been on for five days. We call
it the “grand” bombardment, to distinguish it from that other
trifling bombardment of a few hundred field guns that was on for
nearly three months. Now the big coast defense mortars from Osacca,
hurling shells the size of donkeys, are ripping the lining from the
doomed fortress. We cry for rest, but there is no rest. Night and
day the fearful din keeps up. The paper windows of the Manchurian
house where we live, two miles away, have been blown out twice by
concussions. The mountains tremble. If you get within a hundred
yards of the guns, you must wear cotton batting in your ears and
walk tiptoe to save ear-drums. This for a ten-mile front, with
infantry and regular artillery hammering the spaces out, was enough
to discourage the sun. Sun, however, is an incident. War waits for
no weather.

Halfway in among the batteries I paused for guidance. There were
certain lines between our batteries and the Russian batteries which
were called “lines of fire,” and these lines were good places to
avoid. Soon two soldiers, each with a rice bag on his back, came
along, and I picked up their trail. There was a narrow valley which
led to the Ninth Division, whose firing line was to be the center
of the attack and for which I was bound. Along the center of this
valley seemed to me the right way, but the soldiers headed straight
across it, business-like, stolid, as if they knew where to go, and
I followed. We were fair in the midst of it then. In ravines on
both sides the Osacca mortars were hid. From behind and directly
over our heads a naval battery was firing, and in front of us
there were four or five batteries of field artillery, opening the
engagement. There was never a moment without two or three shells
in the air directly over our heads. So long as they were friendly
shells–imagine a shell being friendly!–no one seemed to mind.
(That “seemed” is a good word to describe my state.) But directly
they came viciously from across the valley–look out! Presently one
did come that way. I knew it was coming. How? I felt it. So the
ground in front found my stomach and my nose sniffed the gravel.
It could not have passed very far above our heads–this shell–for
when it exploded behind the dust showered over us, and I thanked
myself for lying down, else a fragment might have rapped me so I
would have cared nothing for dust or dirt of stale encampments. Of
course, the soldiers must have lain down, too–they surely must
have known the danger. I looked up to laugh with them, but they
were trudging on stolidly, as if they were carrying a pound of meat
home from the butcher’s. When the dust came they blinked–that was
all. I was so ashamed I hardly dared show myself; yet I needed my
legs to get on out of the line of fire, and there are times one
forgets his pride. I ran; but no need to be ashamed; they had not
seen me fall, had neither quickened nor lessened pace, had turned
not so much as an eyelash to left or right. They had orders to
take that rice to the battery, and to the battery they were going.
So I paused–amazement surviving fear–and looked at them, cogs
of the machine, secret of an army’s strength, of its indomitable
bravery. As well expect the shafts of an engine to cry quits when
the trucks spring a hot box!

At length I found myself where the pewit of bullets beat a
quickstep for the inferno aloft. It was on the crest in front of
the farthest field artillery, at the rear of the parallels in which
the infantry lay, huddled masses of blue dabbed above with glints
of bayonet steel, waiting for the assault. Occasionally the sun
came out and sent a heliograph message from those bayonets to me,
and then, like myself, sought cover again. The four forts slated
for attack by the two divisions in my view lay directly in front,
about a mile and a half by parallels and approaches, but, as my
vision went, eight hundred yards for the nearest, fifteen hundred
for the farthest. From the rear that assorted pack of war-dogs
flung suspense and agony, surprise and death, over my head. Beyond,
the forts, hung like a corona of barbarous gems on the brow of the
mountain range, gushed forth pain and disgust.

The Pine Tree fort (Shodzuzan) on the extreme right was afire, had
been for two hours, and the smoke from it, blown by a northwest
wind, lifted raggedly square across the field. Through the slight
haze each explosion opposite could be seen, as it tore out, now
a chunk of a mountain and now a crater from a parapet. About
half-past twelve the star bomb chamber of the south battery, the
one nearest, was struck, and for ten minutes an explosion of day
fireworks held the line. On the north battery two guns hung across
the parapet, their backs broken, useless. On the two smaller forts
between, the P and M redoubts, men could be seen feverishly working
at a rear intrenchment. Evidently they were preparing to retire
from the front line, where they already scented danger. But they as
evidently showed determination to fight to the last ditch–which
they did. All four of these forts, spread fanwise halfway down this
mountain slope, formed the group called the Cock’s Comb (Keikan,
Japanese; Keekwan, Chinese), and above them on the skyline the
comb could be plainly seen, lacking only the dab of red, later
to be given its approaches, to give it the cock color. It was on
the Cock’s Comb that half of the great losses in August occurred.
Some ten thousand Japanese had already been mowed down there, for
every slope was prepared for enfilading by two batteries, the moats
were deep, the fortifications of masonry and the glacis sheer
and slippery. Yet the Cock’s Comb once taken, the Russians must
yield, for it was to the siege of Port Arthur what Nanshan was to
the campaign–the decisive position. Once driven from there, the
enemy’s back would be broken. The fall of the Cock’s Comb and the
Two Dragons, on December 31st, forced Stoessel’s surrender.

[Illustration:

_Copyright, 1905, by Collier’s Weekly_

PREPARING FOR DEATH

A superstition holds that the Japanese soldier who dies dirty finds
no place among the Shinto Shades; so before going into action every
soldier changes his linen, as this one is doing, preceding the
battle of October 29.]

At one o’clock the bombardment seemed to have reached a climax
of intensity. The parapets of the four forts were alive with
bursting shrapnel. A hundred a minute were exploding on each (at
fifteen gold dollars apiece). The air above them was black with the
glycerine gases of the mortar shells, and the wind blowing toward
the sea held huge quantities of dust. Timber splinters were in the
air and rocks were flying. Not a fort replied, and from the
entire eight-and-one-half-mile front of the Russian line there were
few answers. Once about every ten minutes a wheezy battery off on
the Liaotishan Peninsula sent a shell promiscuously into our vast
field, apparently to show that the defense was yet at least gasping
for breath.

In the front parallels the infantry seemed on the move. There was
a shifting of rifles, and in three of them, from end to end, a man
could be seen running. The night before I had been up there to find
all of the soldiers changing their linen and sponging themselves
off as best they could with old towels and soiled handkerchiefs.
They were purifying themselves for death. A superstition as old
as Japan says that a man who dies dirty finds no place among the
Shinto shades. Now they were waiting calmly, each with an overcoat
and spade across his back. Why the spade? Will it be necessary
to hastily intrench for the night far up the slope? Each had an
“iron” ration in his pocket, and a pint of cold tea in his flask.
Two hundred rounds of ammunition in his three leather pouches go
to help the bayoneted rifle that he slings by its strap, its butt
dragging as he goes up the hill. What a job it is, this, of living
in a pocket handkerchief, on compressed air, giving and receiving
death, for three cents a day!

At one-fifteen our fire changes. The four forts are left to their
silence and devastation, and the fat balls travel westward to the
Pine Tree and the Two Dragons. For a moment the slopes stand out,
ghastly with smoke, pitted like strawberries, each pit a shell hole
deep enough to give a man shelter.

Before anyone knows it the assault is on. The four get it at once.
From the bottom of each, out of the approach sapped there in the
night, a handful of men is fed, as corn might drop, grain by grain,
ground from a hopper. They get a few rods up when another handful
is fed, then another, until the whole face of the hill is swarming
with tiny figures, their blue turned in the distance to black, the
space between each at no place less than two yards, at none more
than two rods. Not in battalion phalanx, as the picture books show,
shells dismembering, arms thrown aloft, faces wild with battle’s
glory, terror, agony, but steadily, sanely seeking every cover,
deploying with skirmish formation, they go on and up, into the jaws
of death, into the mouth of hell. Not a life is thrown away, not a
precious head wasted.

Not fifty yards up the Russian lookout scouts them, and then we
see we are not facing a beaten foe, but a waiting one. Until that
moment no sound came from the enemy. No shells chucked away at
hidden batteries, no rifle ammunition plumped into the sandbags of
parallels, no shrapnel sent hit-or-miss over the fields searching
for an unseen foe–not any of that stupid, wild game for them.
They have let the preparation go on, all the fuss and fury, the
bombardment, the sapping, and now we see what they are up to. It is
all hit with them, no miss, they have no ammunition to waste. Their
backs are to the wall. Their defense is determined, great. Deadly
purpose is in that silence.

The sun is out for a moment, the smoke has lifted. Through my
glass I see it all as perfectly as though on a chessboard; the
sprawling blue ants creeping up, rifle-butts dragging, the line
officers ahead, the field behind. Far in advance of the squad on
the P fort a young lieutenant is running, carried out of himself
in passion, foolish in zeal, waving his sword. Almost fifty yards
behind him, his nearest file-sergeant lumbers stolidly on, as
stolidly as my two companions of the morning lumbered with their
bags of rice. At that moment they meet what they changed their
linen for the night before. From all the Russian batteries, from
silent nooks, from huge, open emplacements, from mountain recesses,
from the entire line of parapets, it comes–the Russian reply. So
here is the why of that previous ghostly silence. Every shot must
tell. Bursts directly above send vitreous blue shoots of smoke
as of strata sidewise, then curl voluminously upward, the edges
unfolding to the breeze; the deadly shrapnel downward shooting bits
of lead and steel. Enfilading from all crests, over the shoulders
of the slopes, come shells, plowing the ground, hurling stones and
fragments. From above rattle the Nordenfeldts and Maxims, spraying
bullets into the advancing ants as kerosene is sometimes sprayed
from a hose nozzle on the tribe of real pests.

It was to be expected. Not a man lives. The fire ceases. They
all lie prone–some hid in the shell holes, some lost in the
gullies, some face down bare on the open sand. Most of them lie
lengthwise, their heads upward, shot apparently as they stumbled
forward. On the second slope in one place the legs and trunk of
a man are sprawled, armless, headless. An entire shell must have
met him halfway. Occasionally the figures are huddled, piteously
deprived of action, sending upward the silent, unanswerable appeal
that death makes. But most of them have that curious upward slant,
bodies rigid, as of determined men hugging the ground. Were they
bulleted straight? Anyway, it is a glorious death–this of the
infantry soldier storming Port Arthur, lifted on the crest of the
world’s fiercest passion, puffed into vapor as the crest of a
storm-tossed wave! Painless, too. A touch and all is over. But can
they all be dead, all of those figures slanted curiously upward?
There must have been remarkable sharpshooters above to pick every
man off, for shells are notoriously extravagant of bravado and
bluff.

Ten minutes pass–fifteen–twenty–and only the giant shells
wheezing through the sky to distant, unseen marks remind one that
here is indeed a battlefield.

Then suddenly those figures with the curious upward slant come to
life. Another handful of war corn is fed from the human hopper
below. The young officer waves his sword. The line-sergeant
stolidly climbs. The deploying lines curl their microbe grip more
firmly into the slope. There was a hitch in the machine. Now it
moves, slow, inexorable.

The piteously huddled figures remain. The comrades go on, with
never a look down, never a look behind, half-stooped, rifle-butts
dragging, laboring with the terrific climb. Ten paces from the
fresh start, and that hail of bursting steel meets them again. They
struggle on, perhaps a hundred feet, perhaps a hundred and fifty,
then commence dropping one by one, by the dozen, fifteen at a time,
two by two. They rest again. Again the time drags. Again the fresh
start, with more piteously huddled figures. So it goes, the hopper
below supplying every loss.

At length the young officer pauses. Just for a moment he lingers
and then digs his boots into the crater that one of those friendly
shells tore out for him an hour before. Without waiting for his
men, fifty yards beyond the nearest, he leaps to the parapet, reels
for an instant on the skyline, then plunges out of sight. I never
see him again. What must have been his fate inside there, alone,
before his men came up? Was he shot down as he entered? Did he keep
the Russians at bay till his supports came up? Dear, foolish boy,
did you think that, single-handed, with that bit of toy steel, you
could take Port Arthur?

It seems ages and ages before the line-sergeant and his deploying
figures leap to the skyline, reel for an instant, and disappear.
The grist from the hopper below hastens and the rifle-butts spring
from ground to shoulders. It was the first man who was needed. Now
that the charm is broken, they no longer skulk, but run eagerly to
the crater and tumble in. The hopper has fed well-eared corn into
the mill, and it has come out ground meal. The grits lie scattered
all along the slope. Some move. The most lie still, their battle
with cold nights in exposed trenches finished, sentry duty done.
And in many a thatched cot among the rice paddies across the sea
the old hataman will tell to his gray wife how their boy helped
take Port Arthur, and both will make a little journey to the sacred
mountain to assure the fathers they are thankful to have bred brave
stock.

At a quarter-past one the young lieutenant started on his mad
errand, supported by the same mechanism. At a quarter-past two
the flag of the Rising Sun floated from both north corners of the
P fort. At a quarter-past three the stretcher-bearers are on the
slope searching among the huddled figures. They move swiftly along,
turning a figure over, giving it a quick look and dropping it with
business precision; to another, dropping it; to another, pausing,
out with the lint, perhaps the hypodermic needle, perhaps a sip
from the tea flask, the arms of one bearer hastily passing under
the arms of the figure of the other under the knees, dropping it
on the stretcher, passing in and out among the shell holes, down
the hill, while back on the slope the carrion figures lie with the
slant of the setting sun struggling through the clouds to flash
over the bayonets beside them!

Meanwhile, over the rest of the vast field, of which the P fort
was but a fragment, the assault had been continuing. The Russian
fire had not abated. As soon as they saw the P fort was gone they
turned their shells into the redoubt itself, and cut up our forces
where they were seeking cover in the very places their own shells
had previously destroyed. But the slopes of the other three forts
were kept just as hot as in the beginning. The moment the thin line
advanced, that moment the hail commenced, and it ceased only when
the line ceased; nor did it entirely cease then, for shrapnel was
dropped above the forms, those huddled and those lying curiously
straight.

Suddenly, on the farther slope, where near a battalion of men had
crawled almost two-thirds of the way up the glacis, a panic seemed
to have seized them. The whole crowd ran down and to the right.
They disappeared over the scruff of the hill, toward their own
trenches, brushed off as a handful of flies might be blown away
from a heel of bread. The cowards! to run like that when their
comrades are valiantly struggling up the nearer heights!

But no. It is not a panic. Halfway to their trenches they all drop
into the ground. Shell holes and gullies swallow them up. As they
disappear the scruff of the hill from which they ran is blown into
the air, the flame shooting from the center of the rocks and dirt,
and the white smoke rising above. A mine has gone off there.

The pioneer ahead found the contact signal–clever fellow–ran back
to the advance officer, who led his men in their retreat. So it was
not a panic, but a well-ordered movement. Soon the advance goes on,
up the nearer angle of the slope, the men deploying carefully as
before, the hell shooting down from above, the hopper feeding from
below. So I learn to criticise nothing on a field of battle. Who
but the commanding officer can ever disclose motives? Not a word of
authentic news leaks from this place. Once the citadel is down, say
the generals, let criticism rage. Port Arthur will have been taken.
Meanwhile, let us have silence, concentration, determination!

Then, under the middle parapet, I find a squad of men hanging,
having survived the ordeal below. With no leader so headstrong as
the young officer, they halt for supports to go in and capture the
fort, for they are but twenty, or at most thirty. No supports come.
The shrapnel plays over them, the bullets rain through.

Into the crater torn on the parapet of the fort opposite by one of
our Osacca shells, and which with an enfilading fire can command
the squad, there marches a company of Russian soldiers, four
abreast. The hole accommodates four at a time, and they stand as if
on parade, an officer to the left rear, his sword drawn, giving the
word of command. Still farther in behind is another officer, pistol
in hand, holding the men to their work. They order arms, prepare,
aim, fire, wheel to the left, defile, the next squad takes their
places, and again comes this drill in manual of arms. A splendid
sight; men in the crux of action as if on parade; an object lesson
for discipline to the whole Russian army. The Japanese need no
such object lesson. Each man is an individual, though he is part
of the machine; he has a brain to think, eyes to see, legs and
arms to act. Just below the firing squad, within twenty yards, a
company of our boys has crawled up and is lying face down waiting
for the word to make the final charge. Hid by the angle of the
parapet, neither squad nor company sees the other, and the Russians
above fire directly over the heads of the Japanese below into the
assaulting party on the opposite slope, distant some four or five
hundred yards. When the last four have emptied their rifles, the
crater becomes again black with emptiness. Evening is falling. The
assaulting party creeps on up.

Under the parapet of the north battery, where the forsaken squad
was left, I now see the why of the inaction. The twenty or thirty,
in half an hour, have thrown up a shallow trench. So this is the
meaning of the spade that each man carries at such cost, up those
terrific heights. They are fixing themselves for the night. Under
cover of darkness the supports will come up, and before dawn
the way from valley to parapet will be entirely protected with
trenches, so that a whole regiment can be poured up for the final
assault without losing a man. As the price of it on the slope there
lie thousands of huddled figures.

The Itos are the Smiths of Japan. There is one President of the
Privy Council, one the chief naval authority and head of the naval
board. There are two generals named Ito and statistics alone know
how many private soldiers are thus made still more common. The
Asahi to-day told of an Ito hanged for a triple murder. In the
adjoining column account was made of another Ito decorated by the
Portuguese government. The reason, not stated, was that the king
of that decrepit monarchy, wishing to assimilate some stray rays
of good fortune from this rising sun, chose three men in Japan on
whom to bestow his ribbons of mark. These were the Emperor, the
Emperor’s son and an old man by the universal name of Ito.

A strange circumstance permitted me to ride for an hour one morning
in a railway coach with this other Ito–the only Ito. Ambitious
of that smartness which can save where any simpleton can spend I
procured a second-class ticket from Yokohama to Tokyo, a run that
covers some twenty-eight miles in twice as many minutes. The ticket
cost fifty-three sen, and as the rate of exchange for American
gold here now is 213 you will see that the ride cost less than a
quarter. I could have gone first class for seventy-four sen, or ten
more American cents–hardly worth the saving. Still, it is more
interesting second class. Only foreigners, and Japanese who ape
foreigners, ride first class.

Japanese railway coaches are of three classes. It is not necessary
to experience the third to know it. A look is enough. Red, like the
emperor’s, they are the antithesis of imperial. Only in an imperial
land, dyed in the ancient belief that certain men are by birth
superior to other men, could these third-class coaches exist. They
are for the common people. Small as the dummy cars of an intramural
railway they are boxed off in sections similar to continental
compartments. These are loaded with as many of the riffraff as the
station guards can crowd in. Hard seats and plain company with
transportation at the mere cost of hauling is the rule there. The
fare is thirty sen (fifteen cents). The government, which owns the
railway, conducts its business on the theory employed by Japanese
merchants–sell to the poor at cost and let the rich pay the
profits.

The difference between the first and second class is twofold. One
is the color–white for the first class, blue for the second. The
accommodation is just the same–leather and plush upholstering of
seats plenty large enough, with washstand, toilet and drinking
water handy and clean midway of the car. The chief difference is
sociologic, tinged with political, economic and moral degrees.
First class is for the nobility, second for the bourgeoisie. Though
the first-class carriage is lawfully open to anyone possessing
seventy-four sen, no second-class Jap ever dares aspire to it.
So secure are the officials in the _morale_ of the people that
tickets are never examined. You show your pasteboard at the gate
as you enter the platform at the beginning of the journey, again
as you leave the platform at the end, but not on the train. A
third-class fare could easily ride in a first-class coach. No one
but a foreigner would ever think of this. I tried it one day and
succeeded, getting seventy-four sen worth of nobility for thirty
sen. It is an axiom that all foreigners are noble; hence all
foreigners should travel first class. Some day Japan will really be
civilized.

This morning the first-class coach was filled with London tiles
and Paris frocks, all silked and diamonded. It was the day of the
imperial garden party and all foreigners of note in Yokohama were
on their way to the palace in Tokyo. There was a crush of German,
French and English. I detected one pair Castilian in suavity of
accent. All were agog with gossipy gayety. The men, sleek on
Oriental dining as fresh pork packers, plumped seats unusually
commodious quite full of broadclothed avoirdupois. The women were
agush with scents, mowed from the four quarters. Feminine with
suggested lingerie, they left the men to the papers, for the London
mail was just in, and toasted some stale diplomatic scandal whose
drift I vainly strove to get. Between silk tiles and be-birded
bonnets there was not a vacant seat left in the first-class coach.

I found a seat in the rear of the second-class coach, which was
but half filled. The occupants were Japanese, evidently business
and professional men of note, perhaps fifteen all told. Except
for the complexions, the upward slant of the eyes and the uniform
small stature they might have passed for the occupants of the nine
o’clock car downtown any American morning. The dress was the same,
the average of intelligence the same. Before I began my paper I
studied each face. The Japanese countenance is inscrutable. From
coolie to Mikado exists the same placid, patient, nearly always
alert expression of canny indifference. Before such uniformity,
such hidden power, purpose and weird beginning toothed in the husk
of time the most expert western physiognomist is baffled. The
geography alone of these humanists of hardy strife can be sketched.
Of their history, legends, poesy, knowledge and aspiration little
may be said at the outward glance.

In the far corner sat a man whose personality attracted with an
unmistakable potency. Sensitive to what psychologists call the
aura, I instinctively felt that he was a person of distinction,
a distinction genuine in that it must be inherent, for nothing
obvious indicated his difference from the other Japanese. He wore
a frock coat which had seen use and a beaver hat, apparently of
English make, as it had a Piccadilly smugness found nowhere else.
None of his countrymen in the car wore cuffs like his, which were
links. The others were old-fashioned in plain roundness. His tie
was ample and of heavy silk, four-in-hand with a certain regality
of flourish. His shoes were wide, short, homely, well-furnished.
Only two items of his apparel were unlike those of anyone else. One
was the pendant from his watchchain, a superb head of polished onyx
on which I could make out the square and compass of the Masonic
regalia. The other was a button the size of an American copper cent
which he wore in his left lapel. It looked like the button of the
Legion of Honor. Later I learned that it was the insignia of the
first-class order of the Rising Sun. Only twenty-two men in the
world have the right to wear that. I also noticed that his left leg
was slightly bent. He appeared to be bow-legged.

The unknown held a newspaper in front of his face. When the train
had been two minutes out of Yokohama he put the paper down and
looked out upon the landscape. Then I recognized the Marquis Ito,
who was born a poor boy of ordinary family in an imperial land, and
who is now known before the world as the father of the New Japan.

Some historian has written that the Nineteenth Century produced
four constructive statesmen of the first rank; two–Bismarck and
Cavour–in the west, and two–Li Hung Chang and Ito–in the east.
Another puts him down as the greatest of the four because he is the
most humble.

Of Ito’s place in history it is not the purpose here to speak. This
is but the record of a chance hour when I saw him this morning
take a second-class carriage to Tokyo that he might escape the
crowd of foreigners whom he doubtless felt would annoy him with
attention, when he wishes to be undisturbed. He has one sure mark
of the prophets, that of being unhonored in his own country. The
people say that he is proud, which is their interpretation of his
aloofness, and that he does things unbecoming a gentleman. By this
they mean his fondness for geisha, which he makes no attempt to
conceal, despising public opinion and thus calling upon his head
that which he despises. He is the antithesis of Disraeli, of whom
Gladstone could say that he was the only public man in England,
unmarried, who could live his maturity without being mixed up with
a petticoat. Ito makes no secret of his feminine promiscuity.

The Marquis can well afford to ignore public opinion. With what
monarch of what age would he trade places? He has no position, no
titles and no responsibilities. Yet he is the most powerful person
in Japan. He is simply referred to as the chief of the “genro,” or
elder statesmen. What a benign reference! He is general utility
man for the government, and with that self-effacement which marks
the Japanese of whatever station he accepts his duties with as
unswerving a fidelity as the meanest gunner at his post.

When the Emperor wanted a delicate mission to Korea executed he
sent Ito with absolute diplomatic power. Ito went, conducted the
business with entire success and returned home quietly. He has
political enemies, of course, but these in the great hour of need
stand aside and recognize his voice for what it is, the guiding
genius of the nation. Emperor, ministers and generals come to him
for final advice. He is not bothered with the routine of an office
or the social duties of a position. He lives as obscurely as I saw
him this morning in the second-class coach, yet on such significant
occasions as that presentation by the Portuguese King he is the one
man selected.

Ito is now sixty-two years old. In this magnificent prime of a
great life he is at one of the ideal positions of all time–the
real dictator of the glorious future of a coming people. What a
contrast to petty jealousies and inefficient systems of western
races, who have so ill disposed of men of similar stamp! At the
same age Bismarck was hurling his thunders of wounded pride from
Friedrichsruhe at the young William. Cavour, momentarily anxious,
was tottering in an insecure seat; Grant, honored by the nations,
had to submit to the humiliation of a defeat at the hands of his
own party; Gladstone, hoary in public service, wavered between the
fires of an outraged public and an obtuse monarch; Cleveland and
Harrison, whose service may be said to compare with that of the
Japanese, at the very moment when their experience, their age and
their disinterestedness would be of most service to the state, are
relegated, like broken horses, to quiet pastures. Ito alone holds
his rightful power–unchecked, supreme at the helm of state where
alone the joy of the soul of such a man can find a vent.

His appearance! Of the cryptogram of that typical Oriental
countenance only stray ideographs can be learned. Like them all it
is inscrutable. The skin, old and yellow with the impenetrable age
and the hoary toughness of parchment, lay in sleek, well-grained
folds across a dome of brow. The eyes gazed out with reserve,
incisive, mild from a flat setting. The iris–as what Japanese is
not?–was brown-black, the white yellow with the musty haleness of
yellow marble. The look was simple and quiet. Yes. It was profound.
Yet it was alert.

I realized that I was looking on that which was older than the
saber-toothed tiger or the mausoleums of time, as old as the
riddle of the Sphinx. I was gazing upon the oldest thing in the
world–the spirit of progress.

When the train reached the last station, Shinegawa, eight minutes
from Shimbashi, which is to Tokyo what the Grand Central station
is to New York, there were but two vacant seats left in the car,
one beside the Marquis, one next myself. Two Japanese entered.
The first was well dressed, foreign style, and, without looking,
plumped into the seat near the Marquis. I was, apparently, the only
one in the car who had recognized the great man.

The second newcomer was one of those queer specimens of the hiatus
from old to new which may be seen in the streets of the large
cities. He wore the wooden Japanese geta and a half-caste kimono,
but on his head was a dinky derby hat so low in the crown that
the ticket he had stuck in the band was as tall as the hat. He
halted in the door, abashed. Plainly he had taken the wrong coach.
He should have gone third class. He was in a land where caste is
everything and he felt out of his element. His limp attitude told
his embarrassment and even his inscrutable face showed his pain.
But the train had started and he could not get out.

Marquis Ito touched the man on the arm and pointed out the seat
at the farther end of the car. The poor fellow was only more
embarrassed. He looked like a street tramp who might have stepped
into a Fifth Avenue prayer meeting. At one shrewd glance the
Marquis Ito saw the situation. He rose from his seat, offered it to
the stranger with a simple gesture and himself walked the length of
the car to the vacant place.

* * * * *

Know a nation’s great men and you know the nation, says the spirit
of biography. Marquis Ito is to Japan what Count Tolstoi is to
Russia, with this difference: Ito is in power, Tolstoi all but
exiled. You may say that one is a statesman, the other a writer,
and that hence they are not comparable. Yet, each stands before the
world as the most significant intellectual figure among his people.

There are other differences between the two. Ito is silent, Tolstoi
has a clarion voice; Ito is omnipotent, Tolstoi powerless; Ito
has no ostensible followers, Tolstoi counts his by the tens of
thousands. Again you will say this is the difference not between
men, but between statesman and prophet. Granted. But a curious
fact lessens the force of that truth. Ito and Tolstoi are working
for the same ends. Both seek the enfranchisement of men. The true
difference between them is this: Ito sinks his personality in the
cause he champions, satisfying Tolstoi’s own definition of the
great man as being one too great to tell of his own goodness, while
Tolstoi stalks his stalwart way to the limelight and focuses upon
himself the attention of an age.

Hundreds have written of Marquis Ito, and the only reason for
writing of him again is that he may thus be seen in some new
light. He is not the only interesting man in Japan, nor the only
great one, but he is certainly a dominating figure which fills
the horizon with a mighty presence. He is not popular. The papers
make only formal announcements of his movements. He passes to and
from his country residence and the Imperial Palace without escort
or demonstrations. He has no official position, Katsura being the
prime minister, except the titular one of President of the Privy
Council, which carries with it neither stated duties nor salary. He
may be easily approached and is seen by all who have the desire. He
is as free from pose as it is possible for man to be. He doesn’t
chop trees like Gladstone or pet great danes like Bismarck or walk
in melancholy solitude like Disraeli. As a picturesque personality
he is disappointing. He is more like Ben Harrison leaving the
White House to practice law in Indianapolis; or, imagine Abraham
Lincoln surviving the war and settled quietly in a side street in
Washington and you will have Marquis Ito as he is to-day. Only add
to that the absolute confidence of an all-powerful emperor and the
support of all politicians, even those of life-long enmity.

Yet, in spite of seclusion, in spite of a simplicity possible only
to men of the very first rank, Ito charms and holds attention. One
finds traces of him, hears accounts of him, feels his pervading
influence everywhere. When I told of riding in the second-class
coach with him from Yokohama to Tokyo the day of the imperial
garden party, I did not tell of the talk I had with him after he
had given up his seat to the abashed countryman and had taken
one next to mine. After a minute and when I saw that he was not
occupied I had the temerity to say:

“Your Excellency, I am an American, and as I see you are unoccupied
would be glad if you might say a few words that I could repeat to
my countrymen.” The never-to-be-forgotten way in which he turned
to me replying, “Certainly,” was at once benign and shrewd. There
was something of the fatherly old priest about him. Yet through
his naïve simplicity there shone a canny alertness such as critics
say the French landscapist, Corot, preserved in all his idealist
vagaries.

The way in which the old statesman interviewed me was masterly, yet
as gracious and lovable as any of the compelling things produced by
any of the artists of these forty million. I had before then been
sent on newspaper embassies to famous interviewers of the west. Of
these J. Pierpont Morgan is of the roughest squeeze, ripping the
marrow from a scribe with one smash of his lion paw. Elihu Root
glances through one like a rapier, gashing incisive questions into
the very pith of the attempt. But you leave such knights of power
and purpose dismayed and disheartened. You have been baffled and
beaten, the door slammed in your face; you have been caught up by
a strong wind and flung blindly to the ground. You need not cry.
It is only the wing of destiny clipping a wee mortal as it hurls
skyward in its flight.

Not so with Ito. He is all gauzy silk over his shimmering steel. I
left him satisfied, enthusiastic about his priceless simplicity,
jubilant over his grave dexterity, worshipful at his fatherly
equality. Surely, he was a great man worthy of the name.

What had he told me? Nothing.

What had I told him? Everything.

Do not laugh, thinking mine the joy of one self-pleased at his own
prattle. No. It was sheer delight in the knowing of one who towers
above the greatest without conscious effort, and who reaches to the
lowest without condescension. When I shook hands with him I felt
that I had known him all my life. When I saw him into his carriage
ten minutes later I felt that I should call him brother through all
the lives that Buddha promises.

How did he do it? By flattery? How vain! By subtlety? How futile!
There were a few details of person to note–a slim flex of the
wrist as it dangled majestically across his lap, the weatherly gray
old look of battles fought and conquered and of tempests braved
and won; then always that inscrutable squint of the brown-black
eyes with their yellow whites. For the rest you must seek it in
that alchemy which the world, in spite of poets and prophets
innumerable, seems still to overlook.

* * * * *

In the last quarter century the Marquis Ito has made the same
change in his attitude toward the Japanese house of peers that
Gladstone made in his lifetime on the slavery question. In the
beginning he believed–or at least contended–that it should hold
but one allegiance–toward the Emperor. Now he believes that it
should owe a duty to the people, as well. Count Ogura, leader of
the opposing political party, has had the honor of bringing him
around. Ogura from the first has been a stanch democrat. Ito has
been neither imperialist nor democrat; he has been both. Like every
successful constructive statesman he has been an opportunist,
taking things as they existed and improving them as he could. And
he has had as phenomenal a success as any man that ever lived. His
attitude on the peers question alone will illustrate the manner of
his policy. In the beginning he feared to make too great a breach
from the old ways, not sure that either people or peers would stand
it. Slowly he released the old beliefs, educating his countrymen,
by other innovations, to the new. Now when he finds that neither
peers nor populace will stampede at so complete a revolution he
forsakes that consistency which is the weakness of little minds.

* * * * *

Again to-day I came across Marquis Ito–his mark. In this Japanese
room made of a roof on pegs, with walls of paper shutters, and
its floor ten blanketed mats, there are three decorations. They
belong to a hotel of the second class. First is a spray of lordly
wistaria, leaning slender and dainty from a majolica vase. Next
is a bronze statue of a Chinese prophet, sword-habited and
tiara-coiffured. The third faces me, leaning above the sliding
paper doors. It is a motto in Chinese characters, two yards long
and a yard wide. At the left end is a signature and below the
signature two seals, one an ochrish yellow, the other vermilion.
For days that motto has stared at me its baffling puzzle. Were it
the conventional lettering of any language but that of the East
I would not be so much concerned. But in the dreamy half light
of evening or in filmy moonbeams these ideographs dance; they
cry aloud; they gesticulate; they demand utterance. Each stroke
is masterly; each separate character a picture–more a poem! I
am haunted by their blazing signals. Are they of appeal, or of
warning, or of blessing? I try to study them out and fancy I
can make a tortoise of the first. The last is a straight dash,
the exclaimer of a prodigious font of type, clasped by two
crossbeams. Perhaps this ideograph shows a man embraced by welcome
arms–appropriate for a bedroom. At last my curiosity bubbles over
and I drag Kato in to translate.

“It is very difficult to explain the meaning,” he says. “It is
simple to a Japanese, but impossible to a foreigner. The first
character is a tortoise, which to us is the symbol of wisdom
and eternity. The next means to pray. The last shows pilgrims
climbing the sacred mountain, Fujiyama. That straight dash with the
cross-beams is the crater with clouds floating about it.”

“The motto thus means, ‘Pray that you may be as a tortoise on the
sacred mountain.’”

“Yes. It means to wish eternal wisdom and happiness to the dweller
in this room.”

“And the signature?”

Kato looks again. “Hiburimo Ito,” he spells. “The Marquis Ito.”

“The Marquis Ito,” I cry.

“There is only one,” says he.

“The motto was given by him to the master of this house. See! the
yellow and red seals are his. He did the work himself. This is the
mark of his brush.”

“Is he a friend of the master?”

“No. But the master has a friend who came from the same province,
Tosa, in the south. It is called the Statesman Province, for Ogura
and Komura also came from there, while Satsuma in the west, from
which Yamagata, Oyama and Hirose came, is called the Warrior’s
Province. This friend went to school with the Marquis Ito when they
were both poor and now that the Marquis is rich and powerful his
friend asked him for some motto of good fortune. And he was given
this. It is a custom.”

* * * * *

The Marquis Ito says but little. Of whatever subjects he speaks he
illumines, and he never hesitates to break into a conversation if
it interests him. Some time ago he rivaled that unknown New Yorker
who achieved fame for a single toast of nine words:

“The new woman, once our superior, now our equal.”

It was at a reception and the Marquis interrupted a discussion of
the difference between American and Japanese women to say to an
American: “When I marry I take on a head servant; when you marry
you become one.”

It was only last week at a banquet that Mrs. Wood, wife of the
United States Military Attaché at the legation here, was asking
Baron Komura, Minister of Foreign Affairs, if it was true that the
Japanese government had made an appropriation to buy back the
heirlooms which needy Japanese of good family had sold abroad.

“No,” said Komura, “we are too poor. What is gone is gone. It
may be that some private parties are buying them up, but not the
government. I have heard that even some of the temple relics, their
most prized bronzes and lacquers, have gone. The people forsake the
old gods, the priest gets poor, the curio man comes with gold and
away go the musty monuments of centuries.”

At this moment, with an almost sinister frown the Marquis Ito
interrupted. “What’s that?” he called. The conversation was
repeated. The inscrutable eyes closed, then he opened them with a
squint and said to Mrs. Wood:

“America can have all the relics Japan has–her bronzes, gilts,
ivories, lacquers, silks, her temples, everything but the land and
the people–for gold. We want American gold.”

“Couldn’t America buy Japan?” asked Mrs. Wood, playfully.

The old man mused a while. Finally he said:

“I have no doubt that America has the enterprise to build a ship
large enough to float our island to the Golden Gate and anchor it
there, but if you do that I bid America beware that we do not annex
her!”

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