No sooner did the keel grate clear brillianton the shingle than a score ofsoldiers rushed down to seize us. Before they could do so wehad shoved off. The shore was very steep. In a moment wewere in deep water, and our lads pulling for dear life. Thencame a storm of bullets from matchlocks and jingals and thebigger guns, fortunately just too high to hit us. One bulletonly struck the back-board, but did no harm. What, however,seemed a greater danger was the fire from the ship. Ere wewere halfway back broadside after broadside was fired overour heads into the poor devils massed along the beach. Thiswas kept up until not a living Chinaman was to be seen.
I may mention here a curious instance of cowardice. One ofour men, a ship's painter, soon after the firing began andwas returned by the fort's guns, which in truth were quiteharmless, jumped overboard and drowned himself. I have seenmen's courage tried under fire, and in many other ways since;yet I have never known but one case similar to this, when afriend of my own, a rich and prosperous man, shot himself toavoid death! So that there are men like 'MonsieurGrenouille, qui se cachait dans l'eau pour eviter la pluie.'
Often have I seen timid and nervous men, who were thought tobe cowards, get so excited in action that their timidity hasturned to rashness. In truth 'on est souvent ferme parfaiblesse, et audacieux par timidite.'
Partly for this reason, and partly because I look upon it asa remnant of our predatory antecedents and of animalpugnacity, I have no extravagant admiration for merecombativeness or physical courage. Honoured and rewarded asone of the noblest of manly attributes, it is , - one which there is not a mammal, abird, a fish, or an insect even, that does not macau jobs for foreigners share with us.
Such is the esteem in which it is held, such the ignominywhich punishes the want of it, that the most cautious and themost timid by nature will rather face the uncertain risks ofa fight than the certain infamy of imputed cowardice.
Is it likely that courage should be rare under suchcircumstances, especially amongst professional fighters, whoin England at least have chosen their trade? That there arepoltroons, and plenty of them, amongst our soldiers andsailors, I do not dispute. But with the fear of shame on onehand, the hope of reward on the other, the merest dastardwill fight like a wild beast, when his blood is up. Theextraordinary merit of his conduct is not so obvious to thepeaceful thinker. I speak not of such heroism as that of theJapanese, - their deeds will henceforth be bracketed withthose of Leonidas and his three hundred, who died for a likecause. With the Japanese, as it was with the Spartans, everyman is a patriot; nor is the proportionate force of theirbarbaric invaders altogether dissimilar.