The Approaching Hour
We cannot say we had no warning. -- Sir Robert Hart
Their sins are numberless as the hairs of the head. . . . The will of heaven is that . . . the foreign devils be decapitated.
-- Boxer placard
NEWS of Sidney Brooks's gruesome murder reached Peking on 2 January 1900. Just hours earlier the American minister Edwin Conger had written to his government warning them of a hardening in China's attitude toward foreigners. Conger, a bearded Civil War veteran, former congressman, and friend of President McKinley, had arrived in Peking with his family in late 1898. However, he was facing those first perplexing months of 1900 alone. His wife, Sarah, a fervently devout Christian Scientist, was visiting friends in Iowa with their daughters.
The Congers were slightly dull, well-meaning, worthy, hospitable people who took their responsibilities seriously. When Mrs. Conger was in Peking, Thursdays were her days "at home." She enjoyed filling her rooms with the "medley of foreigners" that came to drink tea and chat. Livelier company was to be found at the residence of Herbert Squiers, the athletic, strong-jawed American first secretary, an ex-cavalry officer, and his wife, Harriet, a grand- daughter of John Jacob Astor. These stylish and well-connected New England "blue noses" had excellent taste and an acquisitive streak to match. During their stay in China they amassed such an extensive collection of antique Chinese porcelain that when they eventually left Peking it filled several railway carriages. Several