THE EMPRESS'S PORTRAIT
AFTER staying a little while at the temple, we returned to the Palace, and the ladies said goodbye and took chairs to the Palace gate, where their own chairs were waiting for them. I then went to report to Her Majesty in the usual way what had been said by the visitors; whether they had expressed themselves as being pleased with the reception they had received. Her Majesty said: "I like Mrs. Evans. I think she is a very good woman. It seems to me that her manners are quite different from those of the other American ladies whom I have met. I like to meet people who are polite." Then, referring to the subject of the portrait Her Majesty said: "I wonder why Mrs. Conger has this idea. Now please explain to me what painting a portrait really is." When I explained that it would be necessary for her to sit for several hours each day she was excited, and afraid she would never have the patience to see it through. She asked me what she must do during the sitting, so I explained that she would simply have to pose for the portrait, sitting in one position all the time She said: "I shall be an old woman by the time the portrait is finished." I told her that I had had my own portrait painted during my stay in Paris, by the same artist Mrs. Conger had proposed should paint her own portrait (Miss Carl). She immediately told me to fetch the portrait of myself so that she could examine it and see what it was like, so I gave the order right away to a eunuch who was standing by to go to my house and bring it. Her Majesty said: "I do not understand why I must sit for the portrait Couldn't someone else do it for me." I explained to her that as it was her own portrait, and not that of somebody else, they wished to paint, it would be necessary for her to sit herself. She then enquired whether it would be necessary for her to wear the same dress at each sitting, also the same jewels and ornaments. I replied that it would be necessary to do so on each occasion. Her Majesty then explained that in China it was only necessary for an artist to see his subject once, after which he could start right away and finish the portrait in a very short time, and thought that a really first-class foreign artist should be able to do the same. Of course I explained the difference between foreign portrait painting and Chinese, and told her that when she had seen it she would see the difference and understand the reason for so many sittings. She said: "I wonder what kind of a person this lady artist is. Does she speak Chinese?" I said that I knew Miss Carl very well, and that she was a very nice lady, but that she didn't speak Chinese. She said: "If her brother has been in the Customs service for so long, how is it that she doesn't speak Chinese also?" I told her that Miss Carl had been away from China for a long time; that in fact she had only been in China for a very short time altogether, most of her work being in Europe and America. Her Majesty said: "I am glad she doesn't understand Chinese. The only objection about this portrait painting is that I have to have a foreigner at the Palace all the time. With my own people gossiping they might tell her things which I don't want anyone to know." I told her that would be impossible as Miss Carl did not understand Chinese at all, neither did any of the people at Court understand English, with the exception of ourselves (my mother, sister and myself). Her Majesty answered: "You must not rely too much on that, as after spending a short time at the Court they will soon learn to understand each other." Continuing, she said: "By the way, how long will it take before this portrait is finished?" I told her that it depended entirely upon how often she sat, and how long each time. I didn't like to tell her exactly how long it would take, as I was afraid she might consider it too much bother, so I said that when the artist arrived I would tell her to get along and finish the portrait as quickly as possible.
Her Majesty said: "I don't see how I can very well refuse Mrs. Conger's request. Of course I told her, as you know, that I would have to consult with my Ministers, just to give me time to think the matter over. If you know all about this artist lady, and think she is quite all right to come here to the Palace, of course she may come, and I will tell Prince Ching to reply to Mrs. Conger to that effect. First of all we must talk over what we are going to do, for to have a foreign lady staying in the Palace is out of the question altogether. As a rule I always spend the summer at my Summer Palace, and it is so far from the city that I don't think she will be able to go to and from the Palace every day, on account of the distance. Now, where can we put her? Someone will have to watch her all the time. This is such a difficult matter that I hardly know what to decide upon. How would you like to look after her? Do you think you could manage it in such a way that no one at the Palace will have a chance to talk with her during the daytime, but who is going to stay and watch her during the night?" Her Majesty walked up and down the room thinking it over for quite a while. Finally she smiled and said: "I have it. We can treat her as a prisoner without her knowing it, but it will all depend on your mother, your sister and yourself to act for me in this matter. Each of you will have to play your part very carefully, and I mine also. I will give orders to have the Palace Garden of Prince Chung (the Emperor Kwang Hsu's father) fixed up for Miss Carl during her stay here."
This Palace garden is quite close to Her Majesty's own Palace, about ten minutes' drive. It is not in the Palace ground, but is quite a separate Palace outside the Summer Palace.
Continuing, Her Majesty said: "Now, you will have to come with her every morning and return to stay with her every night. I think this is the safest way out of the difficulty, but be careful with regard to all correspondence which she may either receive or send away. The only thing about it is that it will give you a lot of extra work, but you know how particular I am over things of this kind, and it will save a lot of trouble in the end. There is another thing you will have to be very careful about, and that is to watch that Miss Carl has no chance to talk with the Emperor. The reason why I say this is because, as you know, the Emperor is of a shy disposition, and might say something which would offend her. I will appoint four extra eunuchs to be in attendance during the sittings for the portrait, so that they will be on hand in case anything is wanted." Her Majesty then said: "I noticed that Mrs. Conger was watching you when you pulled my sleeve. I wonder what she thought of it. You needn't care, anyway. Let her think anything she likes. I understood what you meant if Mrs. Conger didn't, and that is all that is necessary." I told her that perhaps Mrs. Conger thought I wanted to advise her to refuse this request, but Her Majesty said: "What does that matter? If it hadn't been that you know the artist yourself I would not have consented in any case. It is not the painting of the portrait that I mind, but it might give rise to serious results."
The next morning I received a letter from Mrs. Conger begging me not to prejudice Her Majesty against Miss Carl in any way. I translated this to Her Majesty, and it made her furious. She said: "No one has any right to write to you in such a way. How dare she suggest that you would say anything against Miss Carl? Didn't I tell you she was watching you when you pulled my sleeve? When you reply to that letter tell her whatever you like, but answer in the same way she writes herself, or, better still, you write and inform her that it is not customary for any Court lady to try and influence Her Majesty in this country, and that in addition, you are not so mean as to say anything against anybody. If you don't like to say that, just say that as Miss Carl is a personal friend of yours you certainly would never think of saying anything against her."
I therefore replied to Mrs. Conger's letter in the ordinary way, making it as formal as possible.
Her Majesty then talked of nothing but the portrait during the whole of that afternoon. By and bye she said: "I hope that Mrs. Conger will not send a missionary lady with Miss Carl to keep her company during her stay at the Palace. If she does I will certainly refuse to sit. The next morning the eunuch arrived with my portrait, and everyone at the Court had a good look at it before I took it to show to Her Majesty. Some of them were of the opinion that it was very much like me, while the others thought the painting a very poor one. When I informed Her Majesty of the arrival of the portrait she ordered that it should be brought into her bedroom immediately. She scrutinized it very carefully for a while, even touching the painting in her curiosity. Finally she burst out laughing and said: "What a funny painting this is, it looks as though it had been painted with oil." (Of course it was an oil painting.) "Such rough work I never saw in all my life. The picture itself is marvellously like you, and I do not hesitate to say that none of our Chinese painters could get the expression which appears on this picture. What a funny dress you are wearing in this picture. Why are your arms and neck all bare? I have heard that foreign ladies wear their dresses without sleeves and without collars, but I had no idea that it was so bad and ugly as the dress you are wearing here. I cannot imagine how you could do it. I should have thought you would have been ashamed to expose yourself in that manner. Don't wear any more such dresses, please. It has quite shocked me. What a funny kind of civilization this is to be sure. Is this dress only worn on certain occasions, or is it worn any time, even when gentlemen are present?" I explained to her that it was the usual evening dress for ladies and was worn at dinners, balls, receptions, etc. Her Majesty laughed and exclaimed: "This is getting worse and worse. Everything seems to go backwards in foreign countries. Here we don't even expose our wrists when in the company of gentlemen, but foreigners seem to have quite different ideas on the subject. The Emperor is always talking about reform, but if this is a sample we had much better remain as we are. Tell me, have you yet changed your opinion with regard to foreign customs? Don't you think that our own customs are much nicer?" Of course I was obliged to say "yes" seeing that she herself was so prejudiced. She again examined the portrait and said: "Why is it that one side of your face is painted white and the other black? This is not natural -- your face is not black. Half of your neck is painted black, too. How is it?" I explained that it was simply the shading and was painted exactly as the artist saw me from the position in which she was sitting. Her Majesty then enquired: "Do you think that this Artist lady will paint my picture to look black also? It is going to America, and I don't want the people over there to imagine that half of my face is white and half black." I didn't like to tell her the truth, that her portrait would in all probability be painted the same as mine, so I promised Her Majesty that I would tell the artist exactly how she wished to be painted. She then asked me if I knew when the artist proposed commencing the portrait. I told her that the artist was still in Shanghai, but that Mrs. Conger had already written to her to come up to Peking, to make the necessary preparations. One week later I received a letter from Miss Carl informing me that she proposed coming up to Peking at once, and that she would be delighted if Her Majesty would allow her to paint this portrait. I translated the letter to Her Majesty, who said: "I am very glad that you know this lady personally. It will make it much easier for me. You know there may be some things which I may want to tell Miss Carl, but which I don't want Mrs. Conger to know. I mean that there might be certain things which I shall have to say to Miss Carl, which, if Mrs. Conger heard of them, would give her the impression that I was very difficult to please. You understand what I mean. As this lady is a friend of yours, you will of course be able to tell her things in such a manner as not to offend her, and I may tell you again that if it were not that she is a personal friend of your own I would not have her here at all, as it is quite contrary to our custom."
On the third day of the second-fifth moon Prince Ching informed Her Majesty that the artist had arrived at Peking and was staying with Mrs. Conger and wished to know Her Majesty's pleasure in regard to commencing the portrait. Now I must explain that the Chinese year varies as to the number of moons it contains. For example, one year contains the ordinary twelve months or moons. The following year may contain thirteen moons. Then the two years following that may contain twelve moons only, and thirteen moons the next year, and so on. At the time of the proposed visit of the artist the Chinese year contained thirteen moons, there being two fifth moons in that year. When Prince Ching asked Her Majesty to name the day on which Miss Carl should commence her work, she replied: "I will give her my answer to-morrow. I must first consult my book, as I don't want to start this portrait on an unlucky day." So the next day, after her usual morning audience Her Majesty consulted this book for quite a time. Finally she said to me: "According to my book the next lucky day will not occur for another ten days or so," and handed me the book to look myself. Eventually she picked out the twentieth day of the second-fifth moon as the most lucky day for beginning the work. Next she had to consult the book again in order to fix on the exact hour, finally fixing on 7 o'clock in the evening. I was very much worried when she told me that, as by that time it would be quite dark, so I explained to Her Majesty as nicely as I could that it would be impossible for Miss Carl to work at that hour of the day. Her Majesty replied: "Well, we have electric lights here. Surely that would be sufficient light for her." Then I had to explain that it would not be possible to get such good results by means of artificial light as if it were painted during the daytime. You see I was anxious to get her to change the hour, as I was sure that Miss Carl would refuse to paint by means of electric light. Her Majesty replied: "What a bother. I can paint pictures myself in any kind of light, and she ought to be able to do the same." After much discussion it was finally settled that 10 o'clock on the morning of the twentieth day of the second-fifth moon should be the time for Miss Carl to commence to paint this portrait, and I can assure you that I felt very much relieved when it was all settled. When the eunuch brought in my portrait, he also brought in several photographs which I had had taken during my stay in Paris, but I decided not to show them to Her Majesty in case she should decide to have a photograph taken instead of having this portrait painted, as it would be much quicker and save her the trouble of sitting each day. However, as Her Majesty was passing on the veranda in front of my bedroom the next morning she stepped into the room just to have a look around and, as she put it, to see whether I kept everything clean, and in good order. This was the first time she had visited me in my own room, and I was naturally very much embarrassed, as she very rarely visited the rooms of her Court ladies. I could not keep her standing, and I could not ask her to sit down in any of my own chairs, as it is the Chinese custom that the Emperor and Empress should only sit down in their own special chairs, which are usually carried by an attendant wherever they go. I therefore was on the point of giving an order for her own stool to be brought in, when Her Majesty stopped me and said that she would sit on one of the chairs in the room, and so bring me good luck. So she sat down in an easy chair. A eunuch brought in her tea, which I handed to her myself instead of letting the eunuch wait upon her. This of course was Court etiquette, and was also a sign of respect
After she had finished her tea, she got up and went around the room, examining everything, opening up all my bureau drawers and boxes in order to see whether I kept my things in proper order. Happening to glance into one corner of the room she exclaimed: "What are those pictures on the table over there," and walked across to examine them. As soon as she picked them up, she exclaimed in much surprise: "Why, they are all photographs of yourself, and are very much better than the picture you had painted. They are more like you. Why didn't you show them to me before?" I hardly knew what to answer, and when she saw that I was very much embarrassed by her question, she immediately started talking about something else. She often acted in this manner when she saw that any of us were not quite prepared for any of her questions, but she would be sure to reopen the subject at some future time, when we were expected to give a direct answer.
After examining the photographs for sometime, which by the way, were all taken in European dress, Her Majesty said: "Now these are good photographs; much better than the portrait you had painted. Still I have given my promise, and I suppose I shall have to keep it. However, if I do have my photograph taken, it will not interfere at all with the painting of the portrait. The only trouble is I cannot ask an ordinary professional photographer to the Palace. It would hardly be the thing."
My mother thereupon explained to Her Majesty that if she desired to have her photograph taken, one of my brothers, who had studied photography for some considerable time, would be able to do all that was necessary.
I would like to explain that I had two brothers at Court at that time, who held appointments under the Empress Dowager. One was in charge of all the electrical installation at the Summer Palace, and the other, her private steam launch. It was the custom for all the sons of the Manchu officials to hold certain positions at the Court for two or three years. They were perfectly free to walk about the grounds of the Palace, and saw Her Majesty daily. Her Majesty was always very kind to these young men, and chatted with them in quite a motherly way. These young fellows had to come to the Palace each morning very early, but as no man was allowed to stay all night in the Palace they of course had to leave when they had finished their duties for the day.
When Her Majesty heard what my mother said, she was very much surprised, and asked why she had never been told that my brother was learned in photography. My mother replied that she had no idea that Her Majesty wished to have a photograph taken, and had not dared to suggest such a thing herself. Her Majesty laughed, and said: "You may suggest anything you like, as I want to try anything that is new to me, especially as outsiders can know nothing about it." She gave orders to send for my brother at once. On his arrival Her Majesty said to him: "I hear that you are a photographer. I am going to give you something to do." My brother was kneeling, as was the custom of the Court, whilst Her Majesty was addressing him. Everybody, with the exception of the Court ladies, had to kneel when she was speaking to them. Even the Emperor himself was no exception to this rule. Of course the Court ladies, being constantly in attendance, were allowed not to kneel, as Her Majesty was talking to us all the time, and it was her orders that we should not do so, as it would be wasting a lot of time.
Her Majesty asked my brother when he would be able to come and take her photograph, and what kind of weather was necessary. My brother said that he would go back to Peking that night, to fetch his camera, and that he could take the photograph at any time she desired, as the weather would not affect the work. So Her Majesty decided to have her photograph taken the next morning. She said: "I want to have one taken first of all in my chair, when going to the audience, and you can take some others afterwards." She also asked my brother how long she would have to sit, and was surprised to learn that only a few seconds would suffice. Next she enquired how long it would be before it was finished, so that she could see it. My brother answered that if it were taken in the morning it could be finished late the same afternoon. Her Majesty said that was delightful, and expressed a wish to watch him do the work. She told my brother that he might select any room in the Palace to work in, and ordered a eunuch to make the necessary preparations.
The next day was a beautiful day, and at eight o'clock my brother was waiting in the courtyard with several cameras. Her Majesty went to the courtyard and examined each of them. She said: "How funny it is that you can take a person's picture with a thing like that." After the method of taking the photograph had been fully explained to her, she commanded one of the eunuchs to stand in front of the camera so that she might look through the focusing glass, to see what it was like. Her Majesty exclaimed: "Why is it your head is upside down? Are you standing on your head or feet?" So we explained when the photo was taken it would not look that way. She was delighted with the result of her observations, and said that it was marvellous. Finally she told me to go and stand there, as she wanted to have a look at me through this glass also. She then exchanged places with me, and desired that I should look through the glass and see if I could make out what she was doing. She waved her hand in front of the camera, and on my telling her of it, she was pleased.
She then entered her chair, and ordered the bearers to proceed. My brother took another photograph of Her Majesty in the procession as she passed the camera. After she had passed the camera she turned and asked my brother: "Did you take a picture?" and on my brother answering that he had, Her Majesty said: "Why didn't you tell me? I was looking too serious. Next time when you are going to take one, let me know so that I may try and look pleasant."
I knew that Her Majesty was very much pleased. While we were at the back of the screen during the audience, I noticed that she seemed anxious to get it over, in order to have some more photographs taken. It only took about twenty minutes to get that particular audience over, which was very rare.
After the people had gone, we came from behind the screen and Her Majesty said: "Let us go and have some more pictures taken while the weather is fine." So she walked the courtyard of the Audience Hall, where my brother had a camera ready, and had another photograph taken. She said that she would like to have some taken sitting on her throne, exactly as though she were holding an audience. It took us only a few minutes to have everything prepared in the courtyard. The screen was placed behind the throne, and her footstool was also placed ready for her, and she ordered one of the Court ladies to go and bring several gowns for her to select from. At the same time I went and brought some of her favorite jewelry. She ordered the two gowns which she had worn at the audiences when she received Admiral Evans and Mrs. Evans, to be brought in, and also the same jewels as she had worn on those respective occasions. She had two photographs taken in these costumes, one in each dress. Next she wanted one taken in a plain gown, without any embroidery. She then ordered my brother to go and finish the pictures which had already been taken, as she was anxious to see what they were like. She said to my brother: "You wait a minute, I want to go with you and see how you work on them." Of course, I had not considered it necessary to explain to Her Majesty the process of developing the pictures, the dark room, etc., so I explained to her as well as I could the whole thing. Her Majesty replied: "It doesn't matter. I want to go and see the room, no matter what kind of a room it is." So we all adjourned to the dark room in order to see my brother work on the photographs. We placed a chair so that Her Majesty could sit down. She said to my brother: "You must forget that I am here, and go along with your work just as usual." She watched for a while, and was very pleased when she saw that the plates were developing so quickly. My brother held up the plate to the red light, to enable her to see more distinctly. Her Majesty said: "It is not very clear. I can see that it is myself all right, but why is it that my face and hands are dark?" We explained to her that when the picture was printed on paper, these dark spots would show white, and the white parts would be dark. She said: "Well, one is never too old to learn. This is something really new to me. I am not sorry that I suggested having my photograph taken, and only hope that I shall like the portrait painting as well." She said to my brother: "Don't finish these photographs until after I have had my afternoon rest. I want to see you do it." When she got up at about half-past three, it did not take her long to dress herself, as was her usual custom, and she went immediately to where my brother had the papers and everything prepared. He then showed Her Majesty how the printing was done. There was plenty of light, as it was summer time, and as it was only four o'clock in the afternoon, the sun was still high. Her Majesty watched for two hours while my brother was printing, and was delighted to see each picture come out quite plainly. She held the first one in her hands so long while examining the others, that when she came to look at it again, she found that it had turned quite black. She could not understand this at all, and exclaimed: "Why has this gone black? Is it bad luck?" We explained to her that it must be washed after printing, otherwise a strong light would cause the picture to fade, as this one had done. She said: "How very interesting, and what a lot of work there is."
After the printing process had been finished, my brother placed the pictures in a chemical bath, as usual, finally washing them in clean water. This caused Her Majesty even more surprise when she saw how clear the pictures came out, and caused her to exclaim: "How extraordinary. Everything is quite true to life." When they were finally completed, she took the whole of them to her own room and sat down on her little throne, and gazed at them for a long time. She even took her mirror in order to compare her reflection with the photographs just taken.
All this time my brother was standing in the courtyard awaiting Her Majesty's further commands. Suddenly she recollected this fact, and said: "Why, I had forgotten all about your brother. The poor fellow must be still standing waiting to know what I want next. You go and tell him -- no, I had better go and speak to him myself. He has worked so hard all the day, that I want to say something to make him feel happy." She ordered my brother to print ten copies of each of the photographs, and to leave all his cameras at the Palace, in order that he could proceed with the work the next day.
The following ten days it rained continually, which made Her Majesty very impatient, as it was impossible to take any more photographs until the weather improved. Her Majesty wanted to have some taken in the Throne Room, but this room was too dark, the upper windows being pasted over with thick paper, only the lower windows allowing the light to enter. My brother tried several times, but failed to get a good picture.
During this rainy period the Court was moved to the Sea Palace, as the Emperor was to sacrifice at the Temple of Earth. This was a yearly ceremony and was carried out on similar lines to all other annual ceremonies. On account of the rain Her Majesty ordered that boats should be brought alongside the west shore of the Summer Palace. On entering the boats, Her Majesty, accompanied by the Court, proceeded to the Western Gate of the city, and on arrival at the last bridge, disembarked. Chairs were awaiting us and we rode to the gate of the Sea Palace. There we again entered the boats and proceeded across the lake, a distance of about a mile. While crossing the lake Her Majesty noticed a lot of lotus plants which were in full bloom. She said: "We are going to stay at least three days here. I hope the weather will be fine, as I should like to have some photographs taken in the open boats on the lake. I have also another; good idea, and that is, I want to have one taken as `Kuan Yin' (Goddess of Mersy). The two chief eunuchs will be dressed as attendants. The necessary gowns were made some time ago, and I occasionally put them on. Whenever I have been angry, or worried over anything, by dressing up as the Goddess of Mercy it helps me to calm myself, and so play the part I represent. I can assure you that it does help me a great deal, as it makes me remember that I am looked upon as being all-merciful. By having a photograph taken of myself dressed in this costume, I shall be able to see myself as I ought to be at all times."
When we arrived at the private Palace the rain ceased. We walked to her bedroom, although the ground was still in bad condition. One of Her Majesty's peculiarities was a desire to go out in the rain and walk about. She would not even use an umbrella unless it was raining very heavily. The eunuchs always carried our umbrellas, but if Her Majesty did not use her umbrella, of course we could not very well use ours. The same thing applied in everything. If Her Majesty wanted to walk, we had to walk also, and if she decided to ride in her chair, we had to get into our chairs and ride as well. The only exception to this rule was when Her Majesty, being tired walking, ordered her stool to rest on. We were not allowed to sit in her presence, but had to stand all the time. Her Majesty liked her Sea Palace better than her Palace in the Forbidden City. It was far prettier, and had the effect of making her good tempered.
Her Majesty ordered us to retire early that day, as we were all very tired after the trip, and said that in the event of it being fine the next day, she would have the proposed photographs taken. However, much to Her Majesty's disappointment, it rained incessantly for the next three days, so it was decided to stay a few days longer. On the last day of our stay it cleared up sufficiently to enable the photographs to be taken, after which we all returned to the Summer Palace.
The day after our arrival at the Summer Palace Her Majesty said that we had better prepare everything for the audience to receive the lady artist (Miss Carl). She told the chief eunuch to issue orders to all the other eunuchs not to speak to Miss Carl, but simply be polite as occasion required. We Court ladies received similar orders. Also, that we were not to address Her Majesty while Miss Carl was present. The Emperor received similar instructions. Her Majesty gave orders to have the Gardens of Prince Chung's Palace ready. She then said to us: "I trust you three to look after this lady artist. I have already given orders for food to be supplied by the Wai Wu Pu. The only thing that I have been worried about is that I have no foreign food here for Miss Carl." She ordered us to have our stove taken over to Prince Chung's Palace in case Miss Carl desired something cooked. She said: "I know it will be very hard for you to take her to the Palace each morning and return with her at night, besides having to watch her all day long, but I know you do not mind. You are doing all this for me." After a while she smiled, and said: "How selfish of me. I order you to bring all your things to this place, but what is your father going to do? The best thing will be to ask your father to come and live in the same place. The country air might benefit him." We kowtowed and thanked Her Majesty, as this was a special favor, no official nor anyone else having been allowed to live in Prince Chung's Palace previously. We all were very pleased -- I could now see my father every day. Hitherto we had only been able to see him about once a month, and then only by asking special leave.
The next day Her Majesty sent us to Prince Chung's Palace to make all necessary arrangements for Miss Carl's stay.
This Palace of Prince Chung's was a magnificent place. All the smaller dwellings were quite separate from each other, not in one large building, as was the custom. There was a small lake in the grounds, and lovely little paths to walk along, exactly like the Empress Dowager's Summer Palace, but, of course, on a much smaller scale. We selected one of these small dwellings, or summer houses, for the use of Miss Carl during her stay, and had it fitted up nicely, to make her as comfortable as possible. We ourselves were to occupy the next house to Miss Carl, in order that we might always be on hand, and at the same time keep a good eye on her. We returned to the Summer Palace the same evening, and told Her Majesty just how everything had been arranged. She said: "I want you all to be very careful not to let this lady know that you are watching her." She seemed very anxious about this, repeating these instructions for several days prior to Miss Carl's arrival.
I felt very much relieved when the day before the audience arrived, and everything was finally fixed to Her Majesty's satisfaction. She ordered us to retire early that evening, as she wanted to rest and look well the next morning. When morning came we hurried over everything, even the usual morning audience, so that we could be ready when Miss Carl arrived.
While I was standing behind the screen, as usual, a eunuch came and told me that Mrs. Conger, the artist, and another lady had arrived, and that they were now in the waiting room. By that time the audience was about finished. The chief eunuch came in and told Her Majesty that the foreign ladies had arrived and were waiting in another room. Her Majesty said to us: "I think I will go to the courtyard and meet them there." Of course, at all private audiences Her Majesty received the people in the Throne Room, but as Miss Carl was more of a guest, she did not think it necessary to go through the usual formal reception.
While we were descending the steps we saw the ladies entering the gate of the courtyard. I pointed out Miss Carl to Her Majesty, and noticed that she eyed Miss Carl very keenly. When we arrived in the courtyard, Mrs. Conger came forward and greeted Her Majesty and then presented Miss Carl. Her Majesty's first impression of Miss Carl was a good one, as Miss Carl was smiling very pleasantly, and Her Majesty, who always liked to see a pleasant smile, exclaimed to me in an undertone: "She seems to be a very pleasant person," to which I replied that I was very glad she thought so, as I was very anxious about the impression Miss Carl would make on Her Majesty. Her Majesty watched Miss Carl and myself as we greeted each other, and I could see that she was satisfied. She told me afterwards that she had noticed Miss Carl appeared very glad to see me again, and said: "We will handle her pretty easily, I think." Her Majesty then went to her own private Palace, and we all followed. On our arrival, Miss Carl told me that she had brought her own canvas. This was a piece about six feet by four feet. I had told Miss Carl a little previously that Her Majesty refused to sit for a very small portrait and that she would like a life-size one. When Her Majesty saw the canvas she appeared to be very much disappointed, as in her opinion even that was not large enough. We placed the tables ready for Miss Carl, and Her Majesty asked her to choose the position in which she wished to paint. I knew that Miss Carl would have great difficulty in choosing a good position on account of the windows being built so low, there being very little light except low down near the ground. However, Miss Carl finally placed the canvas near the door of the room. Her Majesty told Mrs. Conger and the rest to sit down for a while as she wanted to change into another gown. I followed her into her bedroom. The first question Her Majesty asked was how old I thought Miss Carl was, as she herself could not guess her age, her hair being extremely light, in fact almost white. I could hardly refrain from laughing outright on hearing this, and told Her Majesty that Miss Carl's hair was naturally of a light color. Her Majesty said that she had often seen ladies with golden hair, but never one with white hair, excepting old ladies. She said: "I think that she is very nice, however, and hope she will paint a good portrait."
Turning to one of the Court ladies, she ordered her to fetch a yellow gown as although, as she put it, she did not like yellow, she thought it would be the best color for a portrait. She selected one from a number which the Court lady brought, embroidered all over with purple wisteria. Her shoes and handkerchiefs matched. She also wore a blue silk scarf, embroidered with the character "Shou" (long life). Each character had a pearl in the center. She wore a pair of jade bracelets and also jade nail protectors. In addition she wore jade butterflies and a tassel on one side of her headdress, and, as usual, fresh flowers on the other side. Her Majesty certainly did look beautiful on that occasion.
By the time she came out from her room Miss Carl had everything prepared. When she saw how Her Majesty was dressed, she exclaimed: "How beautiful Her Majesty looks in this dress," which remark I interpreted to Her Majesty, and it pleased her very much.
She seated herself on her throne, ready to pose for the picture. She just sat down in an ordinary easy position, placing one hand on a cushion. Miss Carl explained: "That is an excellent position, as it is so natural. Please do not move." I told Her Majesty what Miss Carl said, and she asked me whether she looked all right, or not. If not, she would change her position. I assured her that she looked very grand in that position. However, she asked the opinion of the Young Empress and some of the Court ladies, who all agreed that she could not look better. I could see that they never looked at Her Majesty at all, they were too much interested in what Miss Carl was doing.
When Miss Carl commenced to make the rough sketch of Her Majesty everyone watched with open mouth, as they had never seen anything done so easily and so naturally. The Young Empress whispered to me: "Although I don't know anything about portrait painting, still I can see that she is a good artist. She has never seen any of our clothes and headdresses, and she has copied them exactly. Just imagine one of our Chinese artists trying to paint a foreign lady, what a mess he would make of it."
After the sketch was finished Her Majesty was delighted and thought it was wonderful for Miss Carl to have made it so quickly and so accurately. I explained that this was a rough sketch and that when Miss Carl commenced painting, she would soon see the difference. Her Majesty told me to ask Miss Carl whether she was tired and would like to rest; also to tell her that she was very busy all the day, and would only be able to give her a few minutes' sitting each day. We then took Miss Carl to luncheon, together with Mrs. Conger, and after luncheon we accompanied Her Majesty to the theatre.
After Mrs. Conger had departed I took Miss Carl to my room to rest. As soon as we arrived there, Her Majesty sent a eunuch to call me to her bedroom. Her Majesty said: "I don't want this lady to paint during my afternoon rest. She can rest at the same time. As soon as I am up you can bring her here to paint. I am glad that it looks like turning out better than I had anticipated." I therefore told Miss Carl Her Majesty's wishes in this respect and that she could paint for a little while, if she chose to, after Her Majesty had had her rest. Miss Carl was so interested in Her Majesty, she told me she didn't want to rest at all, but that she would like to go on with the painting right away. Of course, I did not like to tell her anything the first day, as it might upset her, and did not say that this was a command from Her Majesty. After a lot of maneuvering I got her to give up the idea of continuing straight off, without offending her. I took her out on the veranda as the eunuch was preparing the table for Her Majesty's dinner in the room we were then occupying. The Young Empress kept Miss Carl busy talking, I acting as interpreter. Soon one of the eunuchs came and informed us that Her Majesty had finished dinner, and would we please come and take ours. On entering the room I was very much surprised to see that chairs had been placed there, as this had never been done previously, everybody, with the exception of Her Majesty, taking their meals standing. The Young Empress was also very much surprised and asked me whether I knew anything about it. I said that perhaps it was on account of Miss Carl being there. The Young Empress told me to go over and ask Her Majesty, as she was afraid to sit down without receiving orders to do so. Her Majesty whispered to me: "I don't want Miss Carl to think we are barbarians, and treat the Young Empress and the Court ladies in that manner. Of course, she does not understand our Court etiquette and might form a wrong impression, so you can all sit down without coming over to thank me, but be natural, as though you were accustomed to sitting down to dinner every day."
After Her Majesty had washed her hands she came over to our table. Of course we all stood up. Her Majesty told me to ask Miss Carl whether she liked the food, and was pleased when Miss Carl answered that she liked the food better than her own kind. That relieved Her Majesty.
After dinner was over I told Miss Carl to say good-bye to Her Majesty. We courtesied to her, also to the Young Empress, and said good night to the Court ladies. We then took Miss Carl to the Palace of Prince Chung. It took us about ten minutes' ride in the carts. We showed Miss Carl her bedroom, and were pleased to leave her and get to our own rooms, for a good night's rest.
The next morning we took Miss Carl to the Palace, and arrived there during the morning audience. Of course Miss Carl, being a foreigner, could not enter the Throne Room, so we sat down on the back veranda of the Audience Hall and waited until it was over. This, of course, prevented my being in attendance each morning, as usual, and was a great disappointment to me, as I was unable to keep in touch with what was taking place. Moreover, during the time I had been at Court, my one object had been to endeavor to interest Her Majesty in Western customs and civilization. I believed that to a great extent Her Majesty was becoming interested in these things, and would refer the subjects of our conversations to her Ministers, for their opinions. For instance, I had shown her photographs taken of a Naval Review at which I was present in France. Her Majesty seemed to be impressed, and said that she would certainly like to be able to make a similar display in China. This matter she consulted with her Ministers, but they gave the usual evasive answer, viz.: "There is plenty of time for that." From this you will see that Her Majesty was not able to introduce reforms entirely alone, even though she might desire to do so, but had to consult the Ministers, who would always agree with Her Majesty, but would suggest that the matter be put off for a time.
My experience while at the Palace was that everybody seemed to be afraid to suggest anything new for fear they might get themselves into trouble.
When Her Majesty came out from the Audience Hall, Miss Carl went up to her and kissed Her Majesty's hand, which caused her great surprise, although she did not show it at the time. Afterwards, however, when we were alone, she asked me why Miss Carl had done this, as it was not a Chinese custom. She naturally thought that it must be a foreign custom, and therefore said nothing about it.
Her Majesty then proceeded on foot to her own Palace, to change her dress for the portrait. It was a beautiful morning, and when she had posed for about ten minutes, she told me that she felt too tired to proceed, and asked if it would be all right to ask Miss Carl to postpone it. I explained that as Miss Carl was going to be at the Palace for some time, the postponement of one day's sitting would not make much difference at that time, although I knew that Miss Carl would naturally be disappointed. Still, I had to humor Her Majesty as much as possible, otherwise she might have thrown up the whole thing. Miss Carl said that if Her Majesty wished to go to rest, she could be working painting the screen and the throne, and Her Majesty could pose again later on if she felt like it. This pleased Her Majesty, and she said that she would try to sit again after taking her afternoon's rest. Her Majesty ordered me to give Miss Carl her lunch in my own room at twelve o'clock each day, my mother, my sister and myself keeping her company. Dinner at the Palace was usually taken about six o'clock, and it was arranged that Miss Carl should take dinner with the Young Empress and the Court ladies at that hour, after Her Majesty had finished dining. Her Majesty also ordered that champagne or any other wine which Miss Carl preferred, should be served, as she said she knew it was the custom for all foreign ladies to take wine with their meals. Where she got hold of this idea, nobody knew. I was sure that Her Majesty had been misinformed by somebody, but it would have been bad policy to have tried to tell her different at the moment. She disliked very much to be told that she was wrong in any of these things, and it could only be done by waiting and casually introducing the subject at some other time.
After Miss Carl had gone to rest during the afternoon, Her Majesty sent for me and asked the usual question, viz.: What had Miss Carl been saying? etc., etc. She seemed particularly anxious to know what Miss Carl thought of her, and when I told her that Miss Carl had said that she was very beautiful and quite young looking, she said: "Oh! well, of course Miss Carl would say that to you." However, on my assuring her that Miss Carl had given this opinion without being asked for it, she showed very plainly that she was not at all displeased with the compliment.
Suddenly Her Majesty said: "I have been thinking that if Miss Carl can paint the screen and the throne, surely she ought to be able to paint my clothes and jewels, without it being necessary for me to pose all the time." I told her that would be quite impossible, as nobody could hold the things for Miss Carl to get the proper effect. To my surprise she answered: "Well, that is easily gotten over. You wear them in my place." I hardly knew what to say, but thought I would get out of the difficulty by telling her that perhaps Miss Carl would not like such an arrangement. Her Majesty, however, could see no possible objection on Miss Carl's part, as she herself could pose when the time came for painting her face. So I put the matter as nicely as possible to Miss Carl, and it was finally arranged that I should dress in Her Majesty's robes and jewels whenever Her Majesty felt too tired to do the posing herself. In this manner the portrait of the Empress Dowager was painted, and with the exception of just a few hours to enable Miss Carl to get Her Majesty's facial expression, I had to sit for two hours each morning, and for another two hours each afternoon until the portrait was finished.