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The-devils-of-the-ocean






In the twenty-second year of the period Eternal-happiness, the
population of Chao-cheou's harbour, awaking on a bright summer's
morning, were extremely surprised and frightened to see, swaying on the
blue water of the bay, a strange and abnormally huge ship. The three
high masts were heavily loaded with transversal pieces of wood, from
some of which sails were still hanging; another mast projected
horizontally from the prow, and three sails were tightened from this to
the foremast.

A small boat was lowered from the ship's side and rowed to the quay.
Several hundreds of people were watching the proceedings, asking one
another if it was a human invention or a ship coming from the depths of
hell.

The small boat stopped at a short distance from the bank; one could see
that, beside the rowers, there were three men seated in the stern; their
heads were covered with extraordinarily long and fluffy grey hair; they
wore big hats with feathers of many colours. A Chinaman was in the boat
and hailed the people:

"Ha! Please tell the local authorities that high mandarins from the
ocean want to speak to them. We are peaceful. But if you do any harm to
our men or ships, our wrath will be such that we will destroy in one day
the whole town and kill everybody within ten miles' distance."

Three or four men belonging to the Yamen had heard these words; they ran
to the prefect's palace and came back with an answer they delivered to
the new-comers:

"His Excellency the prefect consents to receive your visit. If you are
peaceful, no harm will be done to you. But if you steal anything, or
wound or kill anybody, the laws of our country will be enforced upon you
without mercy."

Then the boat slowly accosted the quay; two of the men with feathered
hats disembarked with the Chinaman, while six of the rowers, leaving
their oars in the boat, shouldered heavy muskets, and cleared the way,
three walking in front of the feathered hats and three behind. The
rowers wore small caps and had long blue trousers and very short blue
coats.

The prefect, in his embroidered dress, awaited them on the threshold of
his reception-room. He bade the new-comers be seated and asked their
names and their business; the Chinaman translated the questions and the
answers.

"We come from the other side of the earth."

"Well," thought the prefect. "I was sure of it, the earth being square
and flat, the other side of it is certainly hell. What am I to do?"

"We only want to trade with your countrymen. We will sell you what goods
we have brought; we will buy your country's productions, and if no harm
is done we will sail away in a few days."

"Our humble country is very poor," answered the prefect. "The people are
not rich enough to buy any of the splendid goods you may have brought.
Besides, this country's products are not worth your giving any money for
them. If I can give you good advice, you had better sail away to-day and
get to the first harbour of the northern province; there they are very
rich."

"We have just come from it; they told us the very reverse. Here,
according to them, we should be able to find everything we want.
Besides, our mind is settled; we will remain here long enough to buy
what we want and to sell what we can. We are very peaceful people as
long as one deals justly with us. But if you try to beguile us, we will
employ all our strength in the defence of our rights. All we want is a
place on shore where we can store and show our goods."

"Well, well; I never intended to do anything of the sort," said the
prefect. "But the Emperor is the only possessor of the soil. How could I
give you a place even on the shore?"

"We don't want very much, and the Emperor won't know anything. Give us
only the surface of ground covered by a carpet, and we will be
satisfied."

Chinese carpets are not more than two or three feet broad and five or
six feet wide. The prefect thought he could not be blamed to authorise
the foreigners to settle on such a small piece of ground; on the other
hand, if he refused, there would ensue trouble and he would certainly be
cashiered.

"It is only as a special arrangement and by greatly compromising with
the law that I can give you this authorisation."

And the prefect wrote a few words on one of his big red visiting-cards.
The interpreter carefully perused the document. Then the foreigners went
back to their ship. The same day a proclamation was issued and pasted on
the walls of the public edifices, explaining to the people that
The-Devils-of-the-ocean had been authorised to settle on a piece of
ground not bigger than a carpet and that no harm should be done to them.

In compliance with these orders, nobody dared oppose the foreigners when
they began unrolling on the shore a carpet ten yards broad and thirty
yards long. When the carpet was unrolled, The-Devils-of-the-ocean put
themselves in ranks with muskets and swords on the carpet; nearly five
hundred men stood there close to one another.

The prefect, who had personally watched the proceeding, was so angry
against the foreigners for their cunningness that he immediately ordered
troops to drive them out into the water. But the foreigners had a
devilish energy nobody could resist; they killed a great many of our
people, burned the greater part of the city, and occupied for several
years all the northern part of the bay, where they erected a sort of
bazaar and a fortress, which still exist to this day.





Next: Unknown Devils

Previous: The Spirit Of The River



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