Web and Book design,
Copyright, Kellscraft Studio
(Return to Web Text-ures)
My departure was set for the 8th of April, and by half-past four of that morning the coolies, marshalled by the hong man, were at the door; but it was after nine before we were really under way. It is always a triumphant moment when one's caravan actually starts; there have been so many times when starting at all seemed doubtful. Mine looked quite imposing as it moved off, headed by Mr. Stevenson on his sturdy pony, I following in my chair, while servants and coolies straggled on behind, but, as usual, something was missing. This time it was one of the two soldiers detailed by the Foreign Office to accompany me the first stages of my journey. We were told he would join us farther on. Fortunately Mr. Stevenson was up to the wiles of the native, and he at once scented the favourite device for two to take the travelling allowance, and then, by some amicable arrangement, for only one to go. So messengers were sent in haste to look up the recreant, who finally joined us with cheerful face at the West Gate, which we reached by a rough path outside the north wall.
Here I bade Mr. Stevenson good-bye, and turned my face away from the city. Once more I was on the "open road." Above me shone the bright sun of Yunnan, before me lay the long trail leading into the unknown. Seven hundred miles of wild mountainous country, six weeks of steady travelling lay between me and Chengtu, the great western capital. The road I planned to follow would lead nearly due north at first, traversing the famous Chien-ch'ang valley after crossing the Yangtse. But at Fulin on the Ta Tu I intended to make a dιtour to the west as far as Tachienlu, that I might see a little of the Tibetans even though I could not enter Tibet. I did not fear trouble of any sort in spite of a last letter of warning received at Hong Kong from our Peking Legation, but there was just enough of a touch of adventure to the trip to make the roughnesses of the way endurable. Days would pass before I could again talk with my own kind, but I was not afraid of being lonely. "The scene was savage, but the scene was new," and the hours would be filled full with the constantly changing interests of the road, and as I looked at my men I felt already the comradeship that would come with long days of effort and hardship passed together. These men of the East Turk, Indian, Chinese, Mongol are much of a muchness, it seems to me; pay them fairly, treat them considerately, laugh instead of storm at the inevitable mishaps of the way, and generally they will give you faithful, willing service. It is only when they have been spoiled by overpayment, or by bullying of a sort they do not understand, that the foreigner finds them exacting and untrustworthy. And the Chinese is an eminently reasonable man. He does not expect reward without work, and he works easily and cheerfully. But as yet he was to me an unknown quantity, and I looked over my group of coolies with some interest and a little uncertainty. They were mostly strong, sound-looking men; two or three were middle-aged, the rest young. No one looked unequal to the work, and no one proved so. All wore the inevitable blue cotton of the Chinese, varying with wear and patching from blue-black to bluish-white, and the fashion of the dress was always the same; short, full trousers, square-cut, topped by a belted shirt with long sleeves falling over the hands or rolled up to the elbow according to the weather. About their heads they generally twisted a strip of cotton, save when blazing sun or pouring rain called for the protection of their wide straw hats covered with oiled cotton. Generally they wore the queue tucked into the girdle to keep it out of the way, but occasionally it was put to use, as, for example, if a man's hat was not at hand to ward off the glare of the sun, he would deftly arrange a thatch of leaves over his eyes, binding it firm with his long braid of black hair. On their feet they wore the inevitable straw sandal of these parts. Comfortable for those who know how to wear them, cheap even though not durable (they cost only four cents Mexican the pair), and a great safeguard against slipping, they seemed as satisfactory footwear as the ordinary shoes of the better-class Chinese seemed unsatisfactory. Throughout the East it is only the barefooted peasant or the sandalled mountaineer who does not seem encumbered by his feet. The felt shoe of the Chinese gentleman and the flapping, heelless slipper of the Indian are alike uncomfortable and hampering. Nor have Asiatics learned as yet to wear proper European shoes, or to wear them properly, for they stub along in badly cut, ill-fitting things too short for their feet. Why does not the shoemaker of the West, if he wishes to secure an Eastern market, study the foot of the native, and make him shoes suited to his need?
Our order of march through Yunnan varied little from day to day. We all had breakfast before starting at about seven, and we all had much the same thing, tea and rice, but mine came from the coast; the coolies bought theirs by the way. At intervals during the forenoon we stopped at one of the many tea-houses along the road to give the men a chance to rest and smoke and drink tea. Sometimes I stayed in my chair by the roadside; more often I escaped from the noise and dirt of the village to some spot outside, among the rice- and bean-fields, where the pony could gather a few scant mouthfuls of grass while I sat hard-by on a turf balk and enjoyed the quiet and clean air. Of course I was often found out and followed by the village-folk, but their curiosity was not very offensive. Generally they squatted down in a semi-circle about me, settling themselves deliberately to gaze their fill. If they came too near I laughed and waved them back, and they always complied good-naturedly. The little children were often really quite charming under the dirt, but until they had learned to wash their faces and wipe their noses I must confess I liked them best at a distance.
ON A YUNNAN ROAD
At noon we stopped at a handy inn or tea-house for tiffin and a long rest. I was ordinarily served at the back of the big eating-room open to the street in as dignified seclusion as my cook could achieve. Rice again, with perhaps stewed fowl or tinned beef, and a dessert of jam and biscuit, usually formed my luncheon, and dinner was like unto it, save that occasionally we succeeded in securing some onions or potatoes. The setting-forth of my table with clean cloth and changes of plates was of never-failing interest to the crowds that darkened the front of the eating-house, and excitement reached a climax when the coolie, whom my cook had installed as helper, there is no Chinese too poor to lack some one to do his bidding, served Jack his midday meal of rice in his own dish. Then men stood on tiptoe and children climbed on each other's shoulders to see a dog fed like the Chinese equivalent of Christian. They never seemed to begrudge him his food; on the contrary, they often smiled approvingly. We were thousands of miles away from the famine-stricken regions of eastern China, and through much of the country where I journeyed I saw almost no beggars or hungry-looking folk. In the afternoon we stopped as before at short intervals at some roadside tea-house, for the coolies generally expect to rest every hour.
Our day's stage usually ended in a good-sized town. I should have preferred it otherwise, for there is more quiet and freedom in the villages. But my coolies would have it so; they liked the stir and better fare of the towns, and the regular stages are arranged accordingly. Our entrance was noisy and imposing. My coming seemed always expected, for as by magic the narrow streets filled with staring crowds. Through them the soldiers fought a way for my chair, borne at smart pace by the coolies all shouting at the top of their voices. I tried to cultivate the superior impassiveness of the Chinese official, but generally the delighted shrieks of the children at the sight of Jack at my feet, and his gay yelps in response, "upset the apple cart." There was a rush to see the "foreign dog." I gripped him tighter and only breathed freely when with a sharp turn to right or left my chair was lifted high over a threshold and borne through the inn door into the courtyard, the crowd in no wise baffled swarming at our heels, sometimes not even stopping at the entrance to the inner court, sacred (more or less) to the so-called mandarin rooms, the best rooms of the place. I could not but sympathize with the innkeeper, the order of his establishment thus upset, but he took it in good part; perhaps the turmoil had its value in making known to the whole world that the wandering foreigner had bestowed her patronage upon his house. I am sure he had some reward in the many cups of tea drunk while the crowd lingered on the chance of another sight of the unusual visitor. Anyway we were always made welcome, and no objections were offered when my men took possession of the place in very unceremonious fashion, as it seemed to me, filling the court with their din, blocking the ways with the chairs and baskets, seeking the best room for me, and then testing the door and putting things to rights after a fashion, while the owner looked on in helpless wonder.
In the villages one stepped directly from the road into a large living-room, kitchen, and dining-room in one, and out of this opened the places for sleeping. The inns in the towns are built more or less after one and the same pattern. Entrance is through a large restaurant open to the street, and filled with tables occupied at all hours save early dawn with men sipping and smoking. From the restaurant one passes into a stone-paved court surrounded usually by low, one-story buildings, although occasionally there is a second story opening into a gallery. Here are kitchens and sleeping-rooms, while store-rooms and stables are tucked in anywhere. In the largest inns there is often an inner court into which open the better rooms.
While the cook bustled about to get hot water, and the head coolie saw to the setting-up of my bed, I generally went with the "ma-fu," or horse boy, to see that the pony was properly cared for. Usually he was handy, sometimes tethered by my door, often just under my room, once overhead. Meanwhile the coolies were freshening themselves up a bit after the day's work. Sitting about the court they rinsed chest and head and legs with the unfailing supply of hot water which is the one luxury of a Chinese inn. I can speak authoritatively on the cleanliness of the Chinese coolie, for I had the chance daily to see my men scrub themselves. Their cotton clothing loosely cut was well ventilated, even though infrequently cleansed, and there hung about them nothing of the odour of the great unwashed of the Western world. I wish one could say as much for the inns, but alas, they were foul-smelling, one and all, and occasionally the room offered me was so filthy that I refused to occupy it, and went on the war-path for myself, followed by a crowd of perplexed servants and coolies. Almost always I found a loft or a stable-yard that had at least the advantage of plenty of fresh air, and without demur my innkeeper made me free of it, although I expect it cut him to the heart to have his best room so flouted.
Generally I went to bed soon after dinner; there was nothing else to do, for the dim lantern light made reading difficult, and anyway my books were few. But while the nights were none too long for me, the Chinese, like most Asiatics, make little distinction between day and night. They sleep if there is nothing else to do, they wake when work or pleasure calls, and it was long after midnight when the inn settled itself to rest, and by four o'clock it was again awake, and before seven we were once more on the road.
In Yunnan, or "South of the Clouds," as the word signifies, you are in a land of sunshine, of wild grandeur and beauty, of unfailing interest. Its one hundred and fifty-five thousand square miles are pretty much on end; no matter which way you cross the country you are always going up or going down, and the contrasts of vegetation and lack of it are just as emphatic; barren snow-topped mountains overhang tiny valleys, veritable gems of tropical beauty; you pass with one step from a waste of rock and sand to a garden-like oasis of soft green and rippling waters. Yunnan's chequered history is revealed in the varied peoples that inhabit the deep valleys and narrow river banks. Nominally annexed to the empire by Kublai Khan, the Mongol, in the thirteenth century, ever since the Chinese people have been at work peacefully and irresistibly making the conquest real, and now they are found all over the province, as a matter of course occupying the best places. But they have not exterminated the aborigines, nor have they assimilated them to any degree. To-day the tribes constitute more than one half the population, and an ethnological map of Yunnan is a wonderful patchwork, for side by side and yet quite distinct, you find scattered about settlements of Chinese, Shans, Lolos, Miaos, Losus, and just what some of these are is still an unsolved riddle. To add to the confusion there is a division of religions hardly known elsewhere, for out of the population of twelve millions it is estimated that three or four millions are Mohammedans. To be sure, they seem much like the others, and generally all get on together very well, for Moslem pride of religion does not find much response with the practical Chinese, and the Buddhist is as tolerant here as elsewhere. But the Mohammedan rebellion of half a century ago has left terrible memories; then add to that the ill-feeling between the Chinese and the tribesmen, and the general discontent at the prohibition of poppy-growing, and it is plain that Yunnan offers a fine field for long-continued civil disorder with all the possibility of foreign interference.
The early hours of our first day's march led us along the great western trade route, and we met scores of people hurrying towards the capital, mostly coolies carrying on their backs, or slung from a bamboo pole across their shoulders, great loads of wood, charcoal, fowls, rice, vegetables. Every one was afoot or astride a pony, for there was nothing on wheels, not even a barrow. The crowd lacked the variety in colour and cut of dress of a Hindu gathering; all had black hair and all wore blue clothes, and one realized at once how much China loses in not having a picturesque and significant head covering like the Indian turban. But the faces showed more diversity both in hue and in feature than I had looked for. In America we come in contact chiefly with Chinese of one class, and usually from the one province of Kwangtung. But the men of Yunnan and Szechuan are of a different type, larger, sturdier, of better carriage. It takes experience commonly to mark differences in face and expression among men of an alien race, and to the Asiatic all Europeans look much alike, but already I was discerning variety in the faces I met along the trail, and they did not seem as unfamiliar to me as I had expected. I was constantly surprised by resemblances to types and individuals at home. One of my chair coolies, for example, a young, smooth-faced fellow, bore a disconcerting likeness to one of my former students. But fair or dark, fine-featured or foul, all greeted me in a friendly way, generally stopping after I had passed to ask my coolies more about me. My four-bearer chair testified to my standing, and my men, Eastern fashion, glorified themselves in glorifying me. I was a "scholar," a "learned lady," but what I had come for was not so clear. A missionary I certainly was not. Anyway, as a mere woman I was not likely to do harm.
The road after crossing the plain entered the hills, winding up and down, but always paved with cobbles and flags laid with infinite pains generations ago, and now illustrating the Chinese saying of "good for ten years, bad for ten thousand." It was so hopelessly out of repair that men and ponies alike had to pick their way with caution. Long flights of irregular and broken stone stairs led up and down the hillsides over which my freshly shod pony slipped and floundered awkwardly, and I always breathed a sigh of relief when a stretch of hard red earth gave a little respite. It was neither courage nor pride that kept me in the saddle, but the knowledge that much of the way would be worse rather than better, and I would wisely face it at the outset. If it got too nerve-racking I could always betake myself to my chair and, trusting in the eight sturdy legs of my bearers, abandon myself to enjoying the sights along the way.
Our first day's halt for tiffin was at the small hamlet of P'u chi. The eating-house was small and crowded, and my cook set my table perforce in the midst of the peering, pointing throng. I was the target of scores of black eyes, and I felt that every movement was discussed, every mouthful counted. As a first experience it was a little embarrassing, but the people seemed good-humoured and very ready to fall into place or move out of the way in obedience to my gestures when I tried to take some pictures, not too successfully. Here for a moment I was again in touch with my own world, as a runner, most thoughtfully sent by Mr. Stevenson with the morning's letters, overtook me. According to arrangement he had been paid beforehand, but not knowing that I knew that, he clamoured for more. The crowd pressed closer to listen to the discussion, and grinned with a rather malicious satisfaction when the man was forced to confess that he had already received what they knew was a generous tip. Chinese business instinct kept them impartial, even between one of their own people and a foreigner.
That night we stopped, after a stage of some sixty li, about nineteen miles, at Erh-tsun, a small, uninteresting village. The inn was very poor, and I would have consoled myself by thinking that it was well to get used to the worst at once, only I was not sure that it was the worst. My room, off the public gathering place, had but one window looking directly on the street. From the moment of my arrival the opening was filled with the faces of a staring, curious crowd, pushing each other, stretching their necks to get a better view. My servants put up an oiled cotton sheet, but it was promptly drawn aside, so there was nothing for me to do but wash, eat, and go to bed in public, like a royal personage of former times.
It was a beautiful spring morning when we started the next day. We were now among the mountains, and much of our way led along barren hillsides, but the air was intoxicating, and the views across the ridges were charming. At times we dropped into a small valley, each having its little group of houses nestling among feathery bamboos and surrounded by tiny green fields. Dogs barked, children ran after us, men and women stopped for a moment to smile a greeting and exchange a word with our coolies. As a rule, the people looked comfortable and well fed, but here and there we passed a group of ruined, abandoned hovels. The explanation varied. Sometimes the ruin dated back more than a generation to the terrible days of the Mohammedan rebellion. In other cases the trouble was more recent. The irrigating system had broken down, or water was scant, or more frequently the cutting-off of the opium crop had driven the people from their homes. But in general there was little tillable land that was unoccupied. In fact, the painstaking effort to utilize every bit of soil was tragic to American eyes, accustomed to long stretches of countryside awaiting the plough. At the close of the troubles that devastated the province during the third quarter of the nineteenth century it is said that the population of Yunnan had fallen to about a million, but now, owing in part to the great natural increase of the Chinese, and in part to immigration chiefly from overpopulated Szechuan and Kwei-chou, it is estimated at twelve million. At any rate, those who know the country well declare there is little vacant land fit for agriculture, that the province has about as many inhabitants as it can support, and can afford no relief to the overcrowded eastern districts. This is a thing to keep in mind when Japan urges her need of Manchuria for her teeming millions.
We stopped for tiffin at Fu-ming-hsien, a prosperous-looking town of some eight hundred families. As usual, I lunched in public, the crowd pressing close about my table in spite of the efforts of a real, khaki-clad policeman; but it was a jolly, friendly crowd, its interest easily diverted from me to the dog. Here we changed soldiers, for this was a hsien town, or district centre. Those who had come with me from Yunnan-fu were dismissed with a tip amounting to about three cents gold a day each. They seemed perfectly satisfied. It was the regulation amount; had I given more they would have clamoured for something additional. That afternoon we stopped for a long rest at a tiny, lonely inn, perched most picturesquely on a spur of the mountain. I sat in my chair while the coolies drank tea inside, and a number of children gathered about me, ready to run if I seemed dangerous. Finally one, taking his courage in both hands, presented me with the local substitute for candy, raw peas in the pod, which I nibbled and found refreshing. In turn I doled out some biscuits, to the children's great delight, while fathers and mothers looked on approvingly. The way to the heart of the Chinese is not far to seek. They dote on children, and children the world over are much alike. More than once I have solved an awkward situation by ignoring the inhospitable or unwilling elders and devoting myself to the little ones, always at hand. Please the children and you have won the parents.
We stopped that night at Chκ-pei, a small town lying at an elevation of about six thousand feet. My room, the best the inn afforded, was dirty, but large and airy. On one side a table was arranged for the ancestral family worship, and I delayed turning in at night to give the people a chance to burn a few joss sticks, which they did in a very matter-of-fact fashion, nowise disturbed at my washing-things, which Liu, the cook, had set out among the gods.
Our path the next day led high on the mountain-side and along a beautiful ridge. We stopped for an early rest at a little walled village, Jee-ka ("Cock's street"), perched picturesquely on the top of the hill. Later we saw a storm advancing across the mountains, and before we could reach cover the clouds broke over our heads, drenching the poor coolies to the skin, but they took it in good part, laughing as they scuttled along the trail. The rain kept on for some hours, and the road was alternately a brook or a sea of slippery red mud; the pony, with the cook on his back, rolled over, but fortunately neither was hurt; coolies slid and floundered, and the chair-men went down, greatly to their confusion, for it is deemed inexcusable for a chair-carrier to fall. Toward the end of the day it cleared and the bright sun soon dried the ways, and we raced into Wu-ting-chou in fine shape, the coolies picking their way deftly along the narrow earth balks that form the highway to this rather important town. Our entrance was of the usual character, a cross between a triumphal procession and a circus show, people rushing to see the sight, children calling, dogs barking, my men shouting as they pushed their way through the throng, while I sat the observed of all, trying to carry off my embarrassment with a benevolent smile. I am told that the interest of a Chinese crowd usually centres on the foreigners' shoes, but in my case, when the gaze got down to my feet, Jack was mostly there to divert attention.
Rain came on again in the night and kept us in Wu-ting-chou over the next day. The Chinese, with their extraordinary adaptability, can stand extremes of heat and cold remarkably well. Hence they are good colonizers, able to work in Manchuria and Singapore, Canada and Panama. But rain they dislike, and a smart shower is a good excuse for stopping. Fortunately for all, the inn was unusually decent. Steps led from the street into an outer court, behind which was a much larger second court, surrounded on all sides by two-story buildings. My room on the upper floor had beautiful views over the town, more attractive at close range than most Chinese towns. The temples and yamen buildings were exceptionally fine, while the houses, of sun-dried brick of the colour of the red soil of Yunnan, had a comfortable look, their tip-tilted tiled roofs showing picturesquely among the trees.
I spent the rainy forenoon in writing and in leaning over the gallery to watch the life going on below. After the first excitement people went about their business undisturbed by my presence. At one side cooking was carried on at a long, crescent-shaped range of some sort of cement, and containing half a dozen openings for fires. Above each fire was a bowl-shaped depression in the range, and into this was fitted a big iron pot. The food of the country is generally boiled, and is often seasoned with a good deal of care. Barring the lack of cleanliness, the chief objection to the cooking of the peasant-folk is the failure to cook thoroughly. The Chinese are content if the rice and vegetables are cooked through; they do not insist, as we do, that they be cooked soft. In the smaller inns my men prepared their food themselves, and some showed considerable skill. One soldier in particular was past-master in making savoury stews much appreciated by the others.
Wu-ting-chou being a place designated for the payment of an instalment of wages, and also the time having come for pork money, my coolies had a grand feast, after which they devoted themselves to gambling away their hard-earned money in games of "fan t'an." As they played entirely among themselves the result was that some staggered the following day under heavy ropes of cash, while others were forced to sell their hats to pay for their food. I could only hope that the next pay-day would mean a readjustment of spoils.
In the afternoon it cleared, and I went out in my chair, escorted by two policemen, to a charming grove outside the walls, where I rested for a time in a quiet nook, enjoying the views over the valley and thankful to get away from the din of the inn. Curling up, I went fast asleep, to wake with an uncomfortable sense of being watched; and sure enough, peering over the top of the bank where I was lying were two pairs of startled black eyes. I laughed, and thereupon the owners of the eyes, who had stumbled upon me as they came up the hill, seated themselves in front of me and began to ply me with questions, to which I could only answer with another laugh; so they relapsed into friendly silence, gingerly stroking Jack while they kept a watchful eye on me. What does it matter if words are lacking, a laugh is understood, and will often smooth a way where speech would bring confusion. Once, years ago in Western Tibet, I crossed a high pass with just one coolie, in advance of my caravan. Without warning we dropped down into a little village above the Shyok. Most of the people had never before seen a European. I could not talk with them nor they with my coolie, for he came from the other side of the range, nor he with me. But I laughed, and every one else laughed, and in five minutes I was sitting on the grass under the walnut trees, offerings of flowers and mulberries on my lap, and while the whole population sat around on stone walls and house roofs, the village head man took off my shoes and rubbed my weary feet.
When I emerged from my retreat I found that a priest from the neighbouring temple had come to beg a visit from me. It turned out to be a Buddhist temple on the usual plan, noteworthy only for a rather good figure of Buddha made of sun-dried clay and painted. The priest was inclined to refuse a fee, saying he had done nothing, but he was keen to have me take some pictures.
The next three days our path led us across the mountains separating the Yangtse and Red River basins. We were now off the main roads; villages and travellers were few. To my delight we had left for a time the paved trails over which the pony scraped and slipped; the hard dirt made a surer footing, and it was possible to let him out for a trot now and then. The start and finish of the day were usually by winding narrow paths carried along the strips of turf dividing the fields or over the top of a stone wall. I learned to respect both the sure-footedness of the Yunnan pony and the thrift of the Yunnan peasant who wasted no bit of tillable land on roads. From time to time we crossed a stone bridge, rarely of more than one arch, and that so pointed that the ponies on the road, which followed closely the line of the arch, clambered up with difficulty only to slide headlong on the other side. The bridges of these parts are very picturesque, giving an added charm to the landscape, in glaring contrast to the hideous, shed-like structures that disfigure many a beautiful stream of New England.
Our way led alternately over barren or pine-clad hills, showing everywhere signs of charcoal burners, or through deep gorges, or dipped down into tiny emerald valleys. At one point we descended an interminable rock staircase guarded by soldiers top and bottom. Formerly this was a haunt of robbers, but now the Government was making a vigorous effort to insure the safety of traffic along this way. Our stay that night was in a tiny hamlet, and a special guard was stationed at the door of the inn to defend us against real or fancied danger from marauders.
It was still early in April, but even on these high levels the flowers were in their glory, and each day revealed a new wonder. Roses were abundant, white and scentless, or small, pink, and spicy, and the ground was carpeted with yellow and blue flowers. From time to time we passed a group of comfortable farm buildings, but much of the country had a desolate look and the villages were nothing more than forlorn hamlets, and once we stopped for the night in a solitary house far from any settlement. A week after leaving Yunnan-fu we entered the valley of the Tso-ling Ho, a tributary of the Great River, and a more fertile region. As I had been warned, the weather changed here, and for the next twenty-four hours we sweltered in the steamy heat of the Yangtse basin. From now on, there was no lack of water. On all sides brooks large and small dashed down, swelling the Tso-ling almost to the size of the main river itself. At one spot, sending the men on to the village, I stopped on the river bank to bathe my tired feet, and was startled by the passing of a stray fisherman, but he seemed in no wise surprised, and greeting me courteously went on with his work. China shares with us the bad fame of being unpleasantly inquisitive. Would the rural American, happening upon a Chinese woman, an alien apparition from her smoothly plastered hair to her tiny bound feet, by the brookside in one of his home fields, have shown the same restraint?
At five o'clock that same day we reached the ferry across the Yangtse, too late to cross that night. I was hot and weary after a long march, and the only place available in the village of Lung-kai was a cramped, windowless hole opening into a small, filthy court, the best room of the inn being occupied by a sick man. Through an open doorway I caught a glimpse into a stable-yard well filled with pigs. On one side was a small, open, shrine-like structure reached by a short flight of steps. In spite of the shocked remonstrances of my men I insisted on taking possession of this; the yard, though dirty, was dry, and at least I was sure of plenty of air. Fresh straw was spread in the shrine and my bed set up on it; the pigs were given my pony's stable, as I preferred his company to theirs; and I had an unusually pleasant evening, spite of the fact that the roofs of the adjoining buildings were crowded with onlookers, mostly children, until it grew too dark for them to see anything.
We crossed the Yangtse the next day on a large flat-bottomed boat into which we all crowded higgledy-piggledy, the men and their loads, pony and chairs. The current was so swift that we were carried some distance downstream before making a landing. At this point, and indeed from Tibet to Suifu, the Yangtse is, I believe, generally known as the Kinsha Kiang, or "River of Golden Sand." The Chinese have no idea of the continuing identity of a river, and most of theirs have different names at different parts of their course, but in this case there is some reason for the failure to regard the upper and the lower Yangtse as one and the same stream, for at Suifu, where the Min joins the Yangtse, it is much the larger body of water throughout most of the year, and is generally held by the natives to be the true source of the Great River. Moreover, above the junction the Yangtse is not navigable, owing to the swift current and obstructing rocks, while the Min serves as one of China's great waterways, bearing the products of the famous Chengtu plain to the eastern markets.
After leaving the ferry we followed for some miles the dry bed of a river whose name I could not learn. The scene was desolate and barren in the extreme, nothing but rock and sand; and had it not been cloudy the heat would have been very trying. But we were now among the Cloud Mountains, where the bright days are so few that it is said the Szechuan dogs bark when the sun comes out. After a short stop at a lonely inn near a trickle of a brook we turned abruptly up the mountain-side, by a zigzag trail so steep that even the interpreter was forced to walk. As I toiled wearily upward, I looked back to find my dog riding comfortably in my chair. Tired and hot, he had barked to be taken up. The coolies thought it a fine joke, and when I whistled him down they at once put him back again, explaining that it was hard work for short legs. At one of the worst bits of the trail we met some finely dressed men on horseback, who stared in a superior way at me on foot. The Chinese sees no reason for walking if he has a chair or pony. What are the chair and the pony for? They must lack imagination, or how can they ride down the awful staircases of a West China road, the pony plunging from step to step under his heavy load? I doubt if they realize either the pony's suffering or the rider's danger. I did both, and so I often walked. After a climb of three thousand feet we came out on a wide open plateau, beautifully cultivated, which we crossed to our night stopping-place, Chiang-yi, nearly seven thousand feet above sea level.
We started the next morning in the rain, which kept up pretty much all day. The country through which we now passed was rather bare of cultivation and of inhabitants, but the wealth and variety of flowers and shrubs more than made amends. Nowhere have I seen such numbers of flowering shrubs as all through this region, a few known to me, but most of them quite new. It was with much gratification that I learned at a later time of the remarkable work done in connection with the Arnold Arboretum near Boston in seeking out and bringing to America specimens of many of China's beautiful trees and plants. At the head of one small valley we passed a charming temple half buried in oleanders and surrounded by its own shimmering green rice-fields, and a little farther on we came to a farmhouse enclosed in a rose hedge some twelve feet high and in full bloom. There was no sign of life about, and it might have served as the refuge of the Sleeping Princess, but a nearer inspection would probably have been disillusioning.
We stopped that night at Ho-k'ou, a small place of which I saw little, for the heavy rain that kept us there over a day held me a prisoner in the inn. I had a small room over the pony's stable, and I spent the forenoon writing to the tune of comfortable crunching of corn and beans. The rest of the day I amused myself in entertaining the women of the inn with the contents of my dressing-case, and when it grew cold in my open loft I joined the circle round the good coal fire burning in a brazier in the public room. Every one was friendly, and persistent, men and women alike, in urging me to take whiffs from their long-stemmed tobacco pipes. All smoke, using sometimes this long-stemmed, small-bowled pipe, and sometimes the water pipe, akin in principle to the Indian hubble-bubble. In this part of Szechuan I saw few smoking cigarettes, but thanks to the untiring efforts of the British American Tobacco Company, they are fast becoming known, and my men were vastly pleased when I doled some out at the end of a hard day.
From Ho-k'ou it was a two days' journey to Hui-li-chou, the first large town on my trip. The scenery was charmingly varied. At times the trail led along high ridges with beautiful glimpses down into the valleys, or affording splendid views to right and left, to the mysterious, forbidden Lololand to the east, and to the unsurveyed country beyond the Yalung, west of us, or again it dropped to the banks of the streams, leading us through attractive hamlets buried in palms and bamboo, pines and cactus, while the surrounding hillsides were white or red with masses of rhododendron just coming into flower. Entering one village I heard a sound as of swarming bees raised to the one hundredth power. On inquiry it turned out to be a school kept in a small temple. While the coolies were resting I sent my card to the schoolmaster, and was promptly invited to pay a visit of inspection. It proved to be a private school of some thirty boys and one girl, the master's daughter. They were of all ages from six years upwards, and, I was told, generally stayed from one to five years at school. Instruction was limited to reading and writing, and two boys were called up to show what they could do. To ignorant me they seemed to do very well, reading glibly down their pages of hieroglyphics.
At another stop I had a talk with the village headman. He was elected for one year, he told me, by the people of the hamlet, comprising about forty families. He confessed his inability to read or write, but his face was intelligent and his bearing showed dignity and self-respect. Petty disputes and breaches of the peace were settled by him according to unwritten custom and his native shrewdness; and he was also responsible for the collection of the land tax due from the village.
The people in this part of Szechuan seemed fairly prosperous, but the prevalence of goitre was very unpleasant. The natives account for it in various ways, the use of white salt or the drinking of water made from melting snow.
On the 20th of April we reached Hui-li-chou. The approach to the town or group of towns which make up this, the largest place in southern Szechuan, was charming, through high hedges gay with pink and white flowers. In the suburbs weaving or dyeing seemed to be going on in every house. Sometimes whole streets were given over to the dyers, naked men at work above huge vats filled with the inevitable blue of China. After crossing the half-dry bed of a small river we found ourselves under the great wall of Hui-li proper. Turning in at the South Gate we rapidly traversed the town to our night's lodging-place near the North Gate, the crowds becoming ever denser, people swarming out from the restaurants and side streets, as the news spread of the arrival of a "yang-potsz" (foreign woman). The interest was not surprising, as I was only the third or fourth European woman to come this way, but it was my first experience alone in a large town, and the pressing, staring crowd was rather dismaying; however, I found comfortable companionship in the smiling face of a little lad running beside my chair, his swift feet keeping pace with the carriers. I smiled back, and when the heavy doors of our night's lodging-house closed behind us, I found the small gamin was inside, too, self-installed errand boy. He proved quick and alert beyond the common run of boys, East or West, and made himself very useful, but save when out on errands he was always at my side, watching me with dog-like interest, and kowtowing to the ground when I gave him a small reward. The next morning he was on duty at dawn, and trotted beside my chair until we were well on our way, when I sent him back. I should have been glad to have borrowed or bought or stolen him.
Hui-li-chou, with a population of some forty thousand, is in the middle of an important mining region, both zinc and copper ore being found in the neighbouring hills in good quantity; but the bad roads and government restrictions combine to keep down industry. In spite of its being a trading centre the inns are notoriously bad, and we were fortunate in finding rooms in a small mission chapel maintained by a handful of native Christians. In the course of the evening some of them paid me a call. They seemed intelligent and alert, and although in the past the town has had an unpleasant reputation for hostility to missions, conditions at the present time were declared to be satisfactory.