A Monster Heroism
THE CITY OF SILENCE
This sound has in it, too, something of nature's immanence and majesty; an elemental force of decay and a primal grandeur of progress. Yet it is ominously deadly. The sky above is a perfect azure, the sea below a perfect turquoise, the town beyond a haze of tranquil ocher. We are lying among warships, but they are silent. Beyond us a troopship is unloading a thousand conscripts for the trenches, but they are silent. The city of Dalny is beautiful-and silent. Silence everywhere. Then comes that boom-silence-boom-boom-boom! The captain steps up and speaks a few words. We begin to realize that we are listening to siege guns pounding the life out of a doomed city. The captain waves an arm toward a point of land to be seen faintly through a glass. Only half a day's walk that way and beyond-to the southeast-lies Port Arthur.
We are ten. Yesterday there landed here eight military observers-four British, one Spaniard, one German, one Chilean and one American. These eighteen have been assigned by the Japanese Government to the army now operating against Port Arthur. The eighteen are the only Occidentals who will see the siege.
Richard Barry and Frederic Villiers. Mr. Villiers (in knickerbockers) the veteran of seventeen campaigns, was Dean of the War Correspondents before Port Arthur.
Four days ago we left Moji in a transport steamer, the Oyomaru. The ship's name tells of the trip-"The prosperous ocean ship." We might have come across a millpond so placid was our journey. Yesterday afternoon we sighted a line of sand piles and verdure-covered rocks rising out of the ocean. We were about to steam past when a flash of sunlight, like a gay salute from a boy's pocket mirror, struck our bow. It was the heliograph. The Oyomaru put to port and slid in under the lee of the islands. As we came up an old gray battleship veered on her anchor to give us room and as we turned her bows we floated in among the fleet, dragging at its chains, steam up, waiting to dash at the word to Port Arthur, four miles away.
We were at the Elliot Islands, inhabited by fisher folk and seized by the Japanese for a naval base. Around us lay the silence of death, though twenty men-of-war were within gun shot. Only the spiral upshoot of smoke from fifty stacks and the heave and push of tide-driven fighting craft gave evidence of the tensity we were in. From the highest hill a thin shaft, like a straw in the wind, cut against the sunset. There lay the wireless-telegraph station to which are flashed signals from the torpedo craft and cruisers guarding the mouth of Port Arthur.
At dawn we left the fleet, silent, with that lazy curl of smoke uplifting its ragged fringe. On for five hours we came at ten knots until we rounded a cape and turned into Talienwan Bay. In the farther curve, as a pebble in a sling, lay Dalny.
"It looks like Greece; the Piraeus with Marathon in the distance," said Frederic Villiers. I thought of another place; San Diego Bay with Point Loma curving a crescent out of the Pacific.
The Russians came here to stay; that is plain. We can see miles of brick buildings, some five stories high. The great brick chimney of an electric light plant towers above the city. The public buildings, hospitals, schools and railroad station are as fine as those of Los Angeles. Costly villas with spacious grounds, coolie covered, stretch back under the hillsides. A zoological garden of several dozen acres can be seen off at the left. There are miles of new wharves cemented and built with stone. Two piers strike out four hundred yards into the harbor, locked down by solid masonry. A breakwater half a mile long stretches at our stern.
Ten years ago could the Romanoff seated in the Winter Palace at Petersburg, placing a finger on the map of western Asia, as he said: "Let there be a Russian city here;"-could he possibly have foreseen to-day?-the Russians gone, half of the magnificent city burned, the safe and beautiful harbor filled with Japanese transports and men-of-war, the railway held for a Japanese line of advance and Russian prestige on the Manchurian littoral smashed like a rotten egg!
This afternoon we have found how desperate the silence is. For mere movement after three days on shipboard and five months solitary confinement in Tokyo we asked to launch the ship's boat and row about the harbor. The captain assented. Eight of us got in and started off among the transports. Next to us was a hospital ship painted white with a green stripe running across her middle like an abdominal bandage round an invalid. "Looks as enticing as a cocktail before dinner," said one of the boys. It did have a cool glance that must be grateful to a wounded man just in from the battlefield. We but turned her bows when we ran into a warship-a gunboat of the third class. She was in black, with red stripes about her portholes and stanchions. The gun carriages were outlined in red-stuff put on to keep off rust. Just beyond the gunboat lay a torpedo destroyer-the most devilish craft that floats-long, thin, low, with four thick funnels above engines like a bull's lungs.
As we passed the gunboat a bugle piped "to quarters" and several officers turned their glasses on us. But on we went, gay with the freedom of the lark, and stretching our ship-bound muscles against the buffeting of the choppy sea. Yonder lay the torpedo boats and brother destroyers and beyond an armored cruiser of the second class. The cruiser piped "to quarters" and more glasses were leveled on us.
About this time the coxswain turned her nose to the Oyomaru, but before we got there the ship's sampan glided alongside, the mate in her alive, jabbering Nipponese and gesticulating toward the ship. We hurried back.
As we climbed on board Villiers yelled
: "You've spoiled it now
. You'll never see Port Arthur
Then we found we had created a sensation-this strange boat manned by eight foreigners
, appearing in broad afternoon in the harbor of the nearest naval base to the scene of the fleet's activities
. Two warships had prepared to fire on us at word of command and signaling from the fleet to the shore had only found that it was
" we were
," but that officially we could not be recognized
. The captain was reprimanded and we were told to keep close to the ship until released
. Tokyo had said nothing of us to Dalny
. To-morrow we will be released
. But we will not again go about the harbor
. We will go on shore
. We will have ears and eyes
, but no legs or tongues