DOWN THE KAN-KIANG VALLEY.
The country is still nothing but river and mountains, and a sampan is engaged to float me down the Kan-kiang as far as Kan-tchou-foo, from whence I hope to be able to resume my journey a-wheel. The water is very low in the upper reaches of the river, and the sampan has to be abandoned a few miles from where it started. I then get two of the boatmen to carry the wheel, intending to employ them as far as Kan-tchou-foo.
From the stories current at Canton, the reputation of Kan-tchou-foo is rather calculated to inspire a lone Fankwae with sundry misgivings. Some time ago an English traveller, named Cameron, had in that city an unpleasantly narrow escape from being burned alive. The Celestials conceived the diabolical notion of wrapping him in cotton, saturating him with peanut-oil, and setting him on fire. The authorities rescued him not a moment too soon.
Ere traversing many miles of mountain-paths we emerge upon a partially cultivated country, where the travelling is somewhat better than in Quang-tung. The Mae-ling Pass was the boundary line between the provinces of Quang-tung and Kiang-se; my journey from Nam-ngan will lead me through the whole length of the latter great province, between three hundred and four hundred miles north and south.
The paths hereabout are of dirt mostly, and although wretched roads for a wheelman in the abstract, are nevertheless admirable in comparison with the stone-ways of Quang-tung. Gratified at the prospect of being able to proceed to Kui-kiang by land after all, I determine at once that, if the country gets no worse by to-morrow, I will dismiss the boatmen and pursue my way alone again on the bicycle. This resolve very quickly develops into an earnest determination to rid myself of the incubus of the snail-like movements of my new carriers, who are decidedly out of their element when walking, as I am very quickly brought to understand by the annoying frequency of their halts at way-side tea-houses to rest and smoke and eat.
Ere we are five miles from the sampan these festive mariners of the Kan-kiang have developed into shuffling, shirking gormandizers, who peer longingly into every eating-house we pass by and evince a decided tendency to convert their task into a picnic. Finding me uncomplaining in footing their respective "bills of lading" at the frequent places where they rest and indulge their appetites for tid-bits, they advance, in the brief space of four hours, from a simple diet of peanuts and bubbles of greasy pastry to such epicurean dishes as pickled duck, salted eggs, and fricasseed kitten!
Fricasseed kitten is all very well for people who have been reared in the lap of luxury, and tenderly nurtured; but neither of these half-clad Kan-kiang navigators was born with the traditional silver spoon. From infancy they have had to thrive the best way they could on rice, turnip-tops, peanuts, and delusive expectations of pork and fish; their assumption of the delicacies above mentioned betrays the possession of bumps of assurance bigger than goose-eggs. It is equivalent to a moneyless New York guttersnipe sailing airily into Delmonico's and ordering porter-house steak and terrapin, because some benevolent person volunteered to feed him for a day or two at his expense. Fearful lest their ambitious palates should soar into the extravagant and bankrupting realms of bird-nest soup, shark's fins, and deer-horn jelly, I firmly resolve to dispense with their services at the first favorable opportunity.
Many of the larger villages we pass through are walled with enormously massive brick walls, all bearing evidence of battering at the hands of the Tai-pings. Owing to the frequent restings of the carriers we are overtaken toward evening by a fellow boat-passenger, Oolong, who after our departure determined to follow our enterprising example and walk to Kan-tchou-foo. He comes trudging briskly along with a little white tea-pot swinging in his hand and an umbrella under his arm.
The day is disagreeably cold by reason of the chilly typhoons that blow steadily from the north. I have considerately encased the thinnest clad carrier in my gossamer rubbers to shield him from the wind, but Oolong is even thinner clad than he, and he has to hustle along briskly to keep his Celestial blood in circulation.
No sooner do we reach the hittim where it is proposed to remain over night than poor Oolong gets into trouble by appropriating to his own use the quilted garment of one of the employes of the place, which he finds lying around loose. The irate owner of the garment loudly accuses Oolong of wanting to steal it, and notwithstanding his vigorous protestations to the contrary he is denounced as a thief and summarily ejected from the premises.
The last I ever see of Oolong and his white tea-pot and umbrella is when he pauses for a moment to give his accusers a bit of his mind before vanishing into outer darkness.
The morning is quite wintry, and the people are clad in the seasonable costumes of the country. Huge quilted garments are put on one over another until their figures are almost of ball-like rotundity; the hands are drawn up entirely out of sight in the long, loosely flowing sleeves, while the head is half-hidden by being drawn, turtle-like, into their blue-quilted shells. Like the Persians, they seem nipped and miserable in the cold; looking at them, standing about with humped backs and pinched faces this morning, I wonder, with the Chinaman's happy nonchalance about committing suicide, why they don't all seek relief within the nice warm tombs at the end of the village. Surely it can be nothing but their rampant curiosity, urging them to live on and on in the hopes of seeing something new and novel, that keeps them from collapsing entirely in the winter.
My epicurean carriers indulge largely in chopped cayenne peppers this morning, which they mis liberally with their food.
The paths at least get no worse than they were yesterday, and to-day I meet the first passenger-wheelbarrow, with its big wheel in the centre, a bulky female with a baby on one side, and a bale of merchandise on the other. Sometimes our road brings us to the banks of the Kan-kiang, and most of the time, even when a mile or two away, we can see the queer, corrugated sails of the sampans.
Once to-day we happen upon a fleet of fourteen cormorant fishers at a moment when the excitement of their pursuit is at its height. About seventy or eighty cormorants are diving and chasing about among a shoal of fish in a big silent pool, while fourteen wildly excited Chinamen, clad in abbreviated breech-cloths, dart their bamboo rafts about hither and thither, urging each one his own cormorants to dive by tapping them smartly with their poles. The scene is animated in the extreme, a unique picture of Chinese river-life not to be easily forgotten.
About two o'clock in the afternoon we arrive at a city that I flatter myself is Kan-tchou-foo; all attempts to question the carriers or anybody else in regard to the matter results in the hopeless bewilderment of both them and myself. The carriers are not such ignoramuses in the art of pantomime, however, but that they are able to announce their intention of stopping here for the remainder of the day, and night.
The liberality of my purse for a short day and a half, with its concomitant luxurious living, has so thoroughly demoralized the unaccustomed river-men, that they encroach still further upon my bounty and forbearance by revelling all night in the sensuous delights of opium, at my expense, and turning up in the morning in anything but fit condition for the road. Putting this and that together, I conclude that we have not yet readied Kan-tchou-foo; but the carriers have developed into an insufferable nuisance, a hinderance to progress, rather than a help, so I determine to take them no farther.
I tell them nothing of my intentions until we reach a lonely spot a mile from the city. Here I tender them suitable payment for their services and the customary present, attach my loose effects to the bicycle and about my person, and motion them to return. As I anticipated, they make a clamorous demand for more money, even seizing hold of the bicycle and shouting angrily in my face. This I had easily foreseen, and wisely preferred to have their angry demonstrations all to myself, rather than in a crowded city where they could perhaps have excited the mob against me.
For the first time in China I have to appeal to my Smith & Wesson in the interests of peace; without its terrifying possession I should on this occasion undoubtedly have been under the necessity of "wiping up a small section of Kiang-se" with these two worthies in self defence. In the affairs of individuals, as of nations, it sometimes operates to the preservation of peace to be well prepared for war. How many times has this been the case with myself on this journey around the world!
The barometer of satisfaction at the prospect of reaching Kui-kiang before the appearance of old age rises from zero-level to a quite flattering height, as I find the pathways more than half ridable after delivering myself of the dead weight of native "assistance." Twelve miles farther and I am approaching the grim high walls of a large city that instinctively impresses me as being Kan-tchou-foo. The confused babel of noises within the teeming wall-encompassed city reaches my ears in the form of an "ominous buzz," highly suggestive of a hive of bees, into the interior of which it would be extremely ticklish work for a Fankwae to enter. "Half an hour hence," I mentally speculate, "the pitying angels may be weeping over the spectacle of my seal-brown roasted remains being dragged about the streets by the ribald and exultant rag, tag, and bobtail of Kan-tchou-foo."
Reflecting on the horrors of cotton, peanut-oil, and fire, I sit down for half an hour at a peanut-seller's stall, eat peanuts, and meditatively argue the situation of whether it would be better, if seized by a murderous mob, to take the desperate chances of being, like Cameron, rescued at the last minute from the horrors of incineration, or to take my own life. Fourteen cartridges and a 38 Smith & Wesson is the sum total of my armament. Emptying my revolver among the mob, and then being caught while reloading, would mean a lingering death by the most diabolical tortures, processes that the heathen Chinee has reduced to a refinement of cruelty unsurpassed in the old Spanish inquisition chambers.
The saucer of peanuts eaten, I pursue my way along the cobblestone path leading to the gate, without having come to any more definite conclusion than to keep cool and govern my actions according to circumstances. Ten minutes after taking this precaution I am trundling along a paved street, somewhat wider than the average Chinese city street, in the thick of the inevitable excited crowd.
The city probably contains two hundred thousand people, judging from the length of this street and the wonderful quantity and richness of the goods displayed in the shops. Along this street I see a more lavish display of rich silks, furs, tiger-skins, and other evidences of opulence than was shown me at Canton. The pressure of the crowds reduces me at once to the necessity of drifting helplessly along, whithersoever the seething human tide may lead. Sometimes I fancy the few officiously interested persons about me, whom I endeavor to question in regard to the hoped-for Jesuit mission, have interpreted my queries aright and are piloting me thither; only to conclude by their actions, the next minute, that they have not the remotest conception of my wants, beyond reaching the other side of the city. Now and then some ruffian in the crowd, in a spirit of wanton devilment, utters a wild, exultant whoop and raises the cry of "Fankwae. Fankwae." The cry is taken up by others of his kind, and the whoops and shouts of "Fankwae" swell into a tumultuous howl.
Anxious moments these; the spirit of wanton mischief fairly bristles through the crowd, evidently needing but the merest friction to set it ablaze and render my situation desperate. My coat-tail is jerked, the bicycle stopped, my helmet knocked off, and other trifling indignities offered; but to these acts I take no exceptions, merely placing my helmet on again when it is knocked off, and maintaining a calm serenity of face and demeanor.
A dozen times during this trying trundle of a mile along the chief business thoroughfare of Kan-tchou-foo, the swelling whoops and yells of "Fankwae" seem to portend the immediate bursting of the anticipated storm, and a dozen times I breathe easier at the subsidence of its volume. The while I am still hoping faintly for a repetition in part of my delightful surprise at Chao-choo-foo, we arrive at a gate leading out on to a broad paved quay of the Kan-kiang, which flows close by the walls.
Here I first realize the presence of Imperial troops, and awaken to the probability that I am indebted to their known proximity for the self-restraint of the mob, and their comparatively mild behavior. These Celestial warriors would make excellent characters on the spectacular stage; their uniforms are such marvels of color and pattern that it is difficult to disassociate them from things theatrical. Some are uniformed in sky blue, and others in the gayest of scarlet gowns, blue aprons with little green pockets, and blue turbans or Tartar hats with red tassels. Their gowns and aprons are patterned so as to spread out to a ridiculous width at bottom, imparting to the gay warrior an appearance not unlike an opened fan, his head constituting the handle.
As a matter of fact, the soldiers of the Imperial army are the biggest dandies in the country; when on the march coolies are provided to carry their muskets and accoutrements. As seen today, beneath the walls of Kan-tchou-foo, they impress me far more favorably as dandies than as soldiers equal to the demand of modern warfare.
Like soldiers the whole world round, however, they seem to be a good-natured, superior class of men; no sooner does my presence become known than several of them interest themselves in checking the aggressive crowding of the people about me. Some of them even accompany me down to the ferry and order the ancient ferryman to take me across for nothing. This worthy individual, however, enters such a wordy protestation against this that I hand him a whole handful of the picayunish tsin. The soldiers make him give me back the over-payment, to the last tsin. The sordid money-making methods of the commercial world seem to be regarded with more or less contempt by the gallant sons of Mars everywhere, not excepting even the soldiers of the Chinese army.
The scene presented by the city and the camp from across the river is of a most pronounced mediaeval character, as well as one of the prettiest sights imaginable. The grim walla of the city extend for nearly a mile along the undulating bank of the Kan-kiang, with a narrow strip of greensward between the solid gray battlements and the blue, wind-rippled waters of the river. Along the whole distance, rising and falling with the undulations of the bank, are ranged a continuous row of gayly fluttering banners-red, purple, blue, green, yellow, and all these colors combined in others that are striped as prettily as the prettiest of barber-poles-probably not less than five hundred flags. These multitudinous banners flutter from long, spear-headed bamboo-staves, and of themselves present a wonderfully pretty effect in combination with the blue waters, the verdant bank, and the gray walls. But in addition to these are thousands of soldiers, equally gaudy as to raiment, reclining irregularly along the same greensward, each warrior a bright bit of coloring on the verdant groundwork of the bank.
Over variable paths and through numerous villages and hamlets my way now leads, my next objective point being Ki-ngan-foo. At first a country of curious red buttes, terraced rice-fields, and reservoirs of mountain-drift water, serving the double purpose of fish-ponds and irrigating reservoirs, it develops later into a more mountainous region, where the bicycle quickly degenerates into a thing more ornamental than useful.
On a narrow mountain-trail is met a gentleman astride of a chunky twelve-hand pony. This diminutive steed is almost concealed beneath a wealth of gay trappings, to which are attached hundreds of jingling bells that fill the air with music as he walks or jogs along. In his fright at the bicycle, or me, he charges wildly up the steep mountain-slope, unseating his rider and making for the mountain-top like the all-possessed. His rider takes the sensible course of immediately pursuing the pony, instead of wasting time in unprofitable fault-finding with me.
Few people of these obscure mountain-hamlets have ever seen a Fankwae; many, doubtless, have never even heard of the existence of such queer beings. They gather in a crowd about me when I stay to seek refreshments; the general query of "What is he? what is he?" passed from one to another, sometimes elicits the laconically expressed information of" Fankwae" from some knowing villager or traveller passing through, but often their question remains unanswered, because among the whole assembly there is nobody who really knows what I am.
The wonderful industry of these people is more apparent in this mountain-country than anywhere else. The valleys are very narrow, often little more than mere ravines between the mountains, and wherever a square yard of productive soil is to be found it is cultivated to its utmost capacity. In places the mountain-ravines are terraced, to their very topmost limits, tier after tier of substantial rock wall banking up a few square yards of soil that have been gathered with infinite labor and patience from the ledges and crevices of the rocky hills. The uppermost terrace is usually a pond of water, gathered by the artificial drainage of still higher levels, and reserved for the irrigation of the score or more descending "steps" of the rice-growing stairway beneath it.
Notwithstanding the mountainous nature of the country and the dallying progress through Kan-tchou-foo, so lightsome does it seem to be once more journeying along, free and unencumbered, that I judge my day's progress to be not less than fifty miles when nightfall overtakes me in a little mountain-village. It is the first day's progress in China with which I have been really satisfied. Nevertheless, it has been a toilsome day, taken altogether, and when nothing but tea and rice confronts me at supper the reward seems so wretchedly inadequate that I rise in rebellion at once.
Neither eggs, fish, nor meat are to be obtained, the good woman at the little hittim explains in a high key; neither loan, ue, nor ue-ah, nothing but ch'ung-ch'a and mai. The woman is evidently a dear, considerate mortal, however, for she surveys my evident disgust with sorrowful visage, and then, suddenly brightening up, motions for me to be seated and leaves the house. Presently the good dame returns with a smile of triumph on her face and an object in her hand that, from casual observation, might be the hind-quarters of a rabbit. Bringing it to me in the most matter-of-fact manner, she holds it near my face and, pointing to it with the air of a cateress proudly conscious of having secured something that she knows will be unusually acceptable to her guest, she explains "me-aow, me-aow!" The woman's naivete is simply sublime, and her sagacity in explaining the nature of the meat by imitating a kitten's cry instead of telling me its Chinese name stamps her as superior to her surroundings; but, for all that, I conclude to draw the line at kitten and sup off plain rice and tea. "Me-aow, me-aow" might not be altogether objectionable if one knew it to have been a nice healthy kitten, but my observations of Chinese unsqueamishness about the food they eat leaves an abundance of room for doubt about the nature of its death and its suitableness for human consumption. I therefore resist the temptation to indulge.
A clear morning and a white frost usher in the commencement of another march across the mountains, over cobbled paths for the greater part of the forenoon. The sun is warm, but the mountain-breezes are cool and refreshing. About noon I ferry across a large tributary of the Kan-kiang, and follow for miles a cobble-stone path that leads down its eastern bank.
According to my map, Ki-ngan-foo should be about fifty miles south of Kan-tchou-foo, so that I ought to have reached there by noon to-day. All due allowance, however, must be made for the map-makers in mapping out a country where their opportunities for accuracy must have been of the meagerest kind. Small occasion for fault-finding under the circumstances, I think, for in the middle of the afternoon the gray battlements, the pagodas, and the bright coloring of military flags a few miles farther down stream tell me that the geographers have not erred to any considerable extent.
It is about sunset when I enter the gates and find myself within the Manchu quarter, that portion of the city walled off for the residence of the Manchu garrison and their families. The hittim to which the quickly gathering crowd conduct me is found to be occupied by a rather prepossessing female, who, however, looks frightened at my approach and shuts the door. Nor will she consent to open it again until reassured of my peaceful character by the lengthy explanation of the people outside, and a searching scrutiny of my person through a crack. After opening the door again, and receiving what I opine to be a statement of the financial possibilities of the situation from some person who has heard fabulous accounts of the Fankwaes' liberality, her apprehensiveness dissolves into a smile of welcome and she motions for me to come in.
The evening is chilly, and everybody is swollen out to ridiculous proportions by the numerous thick-quilted garments they are wearing. All present, whether male or female, are likewise distinguished by abnormally protruding stomachs. Being Manchus, and therefore the accredited warriors of the country, it occurs to ine that perhaps the fashionable fad among them is to pad out their stomachs in token of the possession of extraordinary courage, the stomach being regarded by the Chinese as the seat of both courage and intelligence. In the absence of large stomachs provided by nature, perhaps these proud Manchus come to the correction of niggardly nature with wadding, as do various hollow-chested people in the "regions of mist and snow," the dreary, sunless land whence cometh the genus Fankwae.
But are the females also ambitious to be regarded as warriors, Amazonian soldiers, full of courage and warlike aspirations. As though in direct reply to my mental queries, a woman standing by solves the problem for me at once by producing from beneath her garments a wicker-basket containing a jar of hot ashes; stirring the deadened coals up a little she replaces it, evidently attaching it to her garments underneath by a little hook.
Among the hundreds of visitors that drop in to see the Fankwae and his bicycle is an intelligent old officer who actually knows that the great country of the Fankwaes is divided into different nationalities; either that, or else he thinks the Fankwaes have another name, said name being "Ying-yun" (English). Some idea of the dense ignorance of the Chinese of the interior concerning the rest of the world may be gathered from the fact that this officer is the first person since leaving Chao-choo-foo, upon whom the word "Ying-yun" has not been wholly thrown away.
Scenes of more than democratic equality and fraternity are witnessed in this Manchu hittim, where silk-robed mandarins and uncouth ragamuffins stand side by side and enjoy the luxury of seeing me take lessons in the use of the chop-sticks. All through China one cannot fail to be impressed with the freedom of intercourse between people of high and low degree; beggars with unwashed faces and disgusting sores and well-nigh naked bodies stand and discuss my appearance and movements with mandarins of high degree, without the least show of presumption on the one hand or condescension on the other.
Fully under the impression that Ki-ngan-foo has now peacefully come and peacefully gone from the pale of my experiences, I follow along awful stone paths next morning, leading across a level, cultivated country for several miles. Before long, however, a country of red clay hills and limited cultivable depressions is reached, where well-worn foot-trails over the natural soil afford more or less excellent going. In this particular district the women are observed to be all golden lilies, whereas the proportion of deformed feet in other rural districts has been rather small. Seeing that deformed feet add fifty or a hundred per cent, to the social and matrimonial value of a Chinese female, one cannot help applauding the enterprise of the people in this district as compared to the apathy existing on the same subject in some others. The comparative poverty of their clayey undulations has doubtless awakened them to the opportunities of increasing values in other directions. Hence they convert all their female infants into golden lilies, for whom some prospective husband will be willing to pay a hundred dollars more than if they were possessed of vulgar extremities as provided by nature.
The people hereabout seem unusually timid and alarmed at my strange appearance; it is both laughable and painful to see the women hobble off across the fields, frightened almost out of their wits. At times I can look about me and, within a radius of five hundred yards, see twenty or thirty females, all with deformed feet, scuttling off toward the villages with painful efforts at speed. One might well imagine them to be a colony of crippled rabbits, alarmed at the approach of a dog, endeavoring to hobble away from his destructive presence.
In the villages they seem equally apprehensive of danger, making it somewhat difficult to obtain anything to eat. At one village where I halt for refreshments the people scurry hastily into their houses at seeing me coming, and peep timidly out again after I have passed. Leaning the bicycle against a wall, I proceed in search of something to eat. A basket of oranges first attracts my attention; they are setting just inside the door of a little shop. The two women in charge look scared nearly out of their wits as I appear at the door and point to the basket; both of them retreat pell-mell into a rear apartment, and, holding the door ajar, peep curiously through to see what I am going to do. While my attention is directed for a moment to something down the street, one daring soul darts out and bears the basket of oranges triumphantly into the back room. For this heroic deed I beg to recommend this brave woman for the Victoria Cross; among the golden lilies of the Celestial Empire are no doubt many such brave souls, coequal with Grace Darling or the Maid of Saragossa.
Baffled and out-generaled by this brilliant sortie, I meander down to the other end of the village and invade the premises of an old man engaged in chopping up a piece of pork with a cleaver. The gallant pork-butcher gathers up the choicest parts of his meat and carries them into a rear room; with a wary yet determined look in his eye he then returns, and proceeds to mince up the few remaining odds and ends. It is plainly evident that he fancies himself in dangerous company, and is prepared to defend himself desperately with his meat-chopper in case he gets cornered up.
Finally I discover a really courageous individual, in the person of a man presiding over a peanut and treacle-cake establishment; this man, while evidently uneasy in his mind, manfully steels his nerves to the task of attending to my wants. Presently the people begin to gather at a respectful distance to watch me eat, and five minutes later, by a judicious distribution of a few saucers of peanuts among the youngsters, I gain their entire confidence.
About four o'clock in the afternoon my road once again brings me to a ferry across the Kan-kiang. Just previous to reaching the river, I meet on the road eight men, carrying a sedan containing a hideous black idol about twice as large as a man. A mile back from the ferry is another large walled city with a magnificent pagoda; this city I fondly imagine to be Lin-kiang, next on my map and itinerary to Ki-ngan-foo, and I mentally congratulate myself on the excellent time I have been making for the last two days.
Across the ferry are several official sampans with a number of boys gayly dressed in red and carrying old battle-axes; also a small squad of soldiers with bows and arrows. No sooner does the ferryman land me than the officer in charge of the party, with a wave of his hand in my direction, orders a couple of soldiers to conduct me into the city; his order is given in an off-hand manner peculiarly Chinese, as though I were a mere unimportant cipher in the matter, whose wishes it really was not worth while to consult. The soldiers conduct me to the city and into the yamen or official quarter, where I am greeted with extreme courtesy by a pleasant little officer in cloth top-boots and a pigtail that touches his heels. He is one of the nicest little fellows I have met in China, all smiles and bustling politeness and condescension; a trifle too much of the latter, perhaps, were we at all on an equality; but quite excusable under the conditions of Celestial refinement and civilization on one side, and untutored barbarism on the other.
Having duly copied my passport (apropos of the Chinese doing almost everything in a precisely opposite way to ourselves may be pointed out the fact that, instead of attaching vises to the traveller's passport, like European nations, each official copies off the entire document), the little officer with much bowing and scraping leads the way back to the ferry. My explanation that I am bound in the other direction elicits sundry additional bobbings of the head and soothing utterances and smiles, but he points reassuringly to the ferry. Arriving at the river, the little officer is dumbfounded to discover that I have no sampan--that I am not travelling by boat, but overland on the bicycle. Such a possibility had never entered his head; nor is it wonderful that it should not, considering the likelihood that nobody, in all his experience, had ever travelled to Kui-kiang from here except by boat. Least of all would he imagine that a stray Fankwae should be travelling otherwise.
At the ferry we meet the officer who first ordered the soldiers to take me in charge, and who now accompanies us back to the yamen. Evidently desirous of unfathoming the mystery of my incomprehensible mode of travelling through the country, these two officers spend much of the evening with me in the hittim smoking and keeping up an animated effort to converse. Notwithstanding my viceregal passport, the superior officer very plainly entertains suspicions as to my motives in undertaking this journey; his superficial politeness no more conceals his suspicions than a glass globe conceals a fish. Before they take their departure three yameni-runners are stationed in my room to assume the responsibility for my safe-keeping during the night.
An hour or so is spent waiting in the yamen next morning, apparently for the gratification of visitors continually arriving. When the yamen is crowded with people I am provided with a boiled fish and a pair of chop-sticks. Witnessing the consumption of this fish by the Fankwae is the finale of the "exhibition," and candor compels me to chronicle the fact that it fairly brings down the house.
It is a drizzly, disagreeable morning as I trundle out of the city gate over cobble-stones, made slippery by the rain. Walking before me is a slim young yameni-runner with a short bamboo-spear, and on his back a white bull's-eye eighteen inches in diameter; he is bare-footed and bare-headed and bare-legged. In the poverty of his apparel, the all-round contempt of personal appearance and cleanliness, and the total absence of individual ambition, this young person reminds me forcibly of our happy-go-lucky friend Osman, in the garden at Herat.
In striking contrast to him is the dandified individual who brings up the rear, about ten paces behind the bicycle. He likewise is a yameni-runner, but of higher degree than his compatriot of the advance; instead of a vulgar and rusty spear, he is armed with an oiled paper parasol, a flaming red article ornamented with blue characters and gilt women. Besides this gay mark of distinction and social superiority, he owns both shoes and hat, carrying the former, however, chiefly in his hand; when fairly away from town, he deliberately turns his red-braided jacket inside out to prevent it getting dirty. This transformation brings about a change from the two white bull's-eyes, to big rings of stitching by which these distinguishing appendages are attached.
A substantial meal of yams and pork is obtained at a way-side eating-house, after which yet another evidence of the sybaritic tastes of the rear-guard comes to light, in the form of a beautiful jade-stone opium pipe, with which he regales himself after chow-chow. He is, withal, possessed of more than average intelligence; it is from questioning him that I learn the rather startling fact that, instead of having reached Lin-kiang, I have not yet even come to Ki-ngan-foo. Ta-ho is the name of the city we have just left, and Ki-ngan-foo is whither we are now directly bound.
The weather at noon becomes warm, and the luxurious personage at the rear delivers his parasol, and shoes, and jade-stone pipe over to the slender and lissom advance guard to carry, to spare himself the weariness of their weight. Tea and tid-bit houses are plentiful, and stoppages for refreshing ourselves frequent. The rear guard assumes considerable dignity when in the presence of a crowd of sore-eyed rustics; he chides their ill-bred giggling at my appearance and movements by telling them, no matter how funny I appear to them here, I am a mandarin in my own country. After hearing this the crowd regard me with even more curiosity; but their inquisitiveness is now heavily freighted with respect.
Some of the costumes of the women in this region are very pretty and characteristic, and many of the females are themselves not devoid of beauty, as beauty goes among the Mongols. Particularly do I notice one to-day, whose tiny, doll-like extremities are neatly bound with red, blue, and green ribbon; her face is a picture of refinement, her head-dress a marvel of neatness and skill, and her whole manner and make-up attractive. Unlike her timid and apprehensive sisters of yesterday, she sees nothing in me to be afraid of; on the contrary, she comes and sits beside ine on the bench and makes herself at home with the peanuts and sweets I purchase, and laughs merrily when I offer to give her a ride on the bicycle.
The sun is sinking behind the mountains to the west when we approach the city of Ki-ngan-foo, its northern extremity marked by a very ancient pagoda now rapidly crumbling to decay. The city forms a crescent on the west bank of the Kan-kiang, the main street running parallel with the river for something like half a mile before terminating at the walls of the Manchu quarter.
The fastidious gentleman at the rear has betrayed symptoms of a very uneasy state of mind during the afternoon, and now, as he halts the procession a moment to turn the bull's-eye side of his coat outward, and to put on his shoes, he gives me a puzzled, sorrowful look and shakes his head dolefully. The trickiness of former acquaintances causes me to misinterpret this display of emotion into an hypocritical assumption of sorrow at the near prospect of our parting company, with ulterior designs on the nice long strings of tsin he knows to be in my leathern case. It soon becomes evident, however, that trouble of some kind is anticipated in Ki-ngan-foo, for he points to my revolver and then to the city and solemnly shakes his head.
The crescent water-front, the broad blue river and white sand, the plain dotted with smiling villages opposite, the tall pagodas, the swarms of sampans with their quaint sails, form the composite parts of a very pretty and striking picture, as seen from the northern tip of the crescent.
Near the old ruined pagoda the rear-guard points in an indifferent sort of a way to a substantial brick edifice surmounted by a plain wooden cross. Ah! a Jesuit mission, so help me Pius IX! now shall I meet some genial old French priest, who will make me comfortable for the night and enlighten me in regard to my bearings, distances, and other subjects about which I am in a very thick fog. Instead of the fifty miles from Kan-tchou-foo to Ki-ngan-foo indicated on my map, it has proved to be considerably over a hundred.
The sole occupant of the building, however, is found to be a fat, monkish-looking Chinaman, who knows never a word of either French or pidgeon English. He says he knows Latin, but for all the benefit this worthy accomplishment is to me he might as well know nothing but his own language. He informs me, by an expressive motion of the hand, that the missionaries have departed; whether gone to their everlasting reward, however, or only on a temporary flight, his pantomimic language fails to record. Subsequently I learn that they were compelled to flee the country, owing to the hostility aroused by the operations of the French in Tonquin.
Instead of extending that cordial greeting and consideration one would naturally expect from a converted Chinaman whose Fankwae accomplishments soar to the classic altitude of Latin, the Celestial convert seems rather anxious to get rid of me; he is evidently on pins and needles for fear my presence should attract a mob to the place and trouble result therefrom.
As we proceed down the street my appearance seems to stir the population up to a pitch of wild excitement. Merchants dart in and out of their shops, people in rags, people in tags, and people in gorgeous apparel, buzz all about me and flit hither and thither like a nest of stirred-up wasps. If curiosity has seemed to be rampant in other cities it passes all the limits of Occidental imagination in Ki-ngau-foo. Upon seeing me everybody gives utterance to a peculiar spontaneous squeak of surprise, reminding me very much of the monkeys' notes of alarm in the tree-tops along the Grand Trunk road, India.
One might easily imagine the very lives of these people dependent upon their success in obtaining a glimpse of my face. Well-dressed citizens rush hastily ahead, stoop down, and peer up into my face as I trundle past, with a determination to satisfy their curiosity that our language is totally inadequate to describe, and which our temperament renders equally difficult for us to understand.
By the time we are half-way along the street the whole city seems in wild tumult. Men rush ahead, peer into my face, deliver themselves of the above-mentioned peculiar squeak, and run hastily down some convergent alley-way. Stall-keepers quickly gather up their wares, and shop-keepers frantically snatch their goods inside as they hear the tumult and see the mob coming down the street. The excitement grows apace, and the same wanton cries of "Fank-wae. Fankwae!" that followed me through Kan-tchou-foo are here repeated with wild whoops and exultant cries. One would sometimes think that all the devils of Dante's "Inferno" had gotten into the crowd and set them wild with the spirit of mischief.
By this time the yameni-runners are quaking with fear; he of the paper parasol and jade-stone pipe walks beside me, convulsively clutching my arm, and with whiningly anxious voice shouts out orders to his subordinate. In response to these orders the advance-guard now and then hurries forward and peeps around certain corners, as though expecting some hidden assailants.
Thus far, although the symptoms of trouble have been gradually assuming more and more alarming proportions, there has been nothing worse than demoniacal howls. The chief reason of this, however, it now appears, has been the absence of loose stones, for no sooner do we enter an inferior quarter where loose stones and bricks are scattered about, than they come whistling about our ears. The poor yameni-runners shout deprecatingly at the mob; in return the mob loudly announce their intention of working destruction upon my unoffending head. Fortunately for me that head is pretty thoroughly hidden beneath the thick pith thatch-work of my Indian solar topee, otherwise I should have succumbed to the first fusillade of stones at the instance of a cracked pate. Stones that would have knocked me out of time in the first round rattle harmlessly on the 3/4-inch pith helmet, the generous proportions of which effectually protect head and neck from harm. Once, twice, it is knocked off by a stone striking it on the brim, but it never reaches the ground before being recovered and jammed more firmly than ever in its place. Things begin to look pretty desperate as we approach the gate of the Manchu quarter; an immense crowd of people have hurried down back streets and collected at this gate; fancying they are there for the hostile purpose of heading us off, I come very near dodging into an open door way with a view of defending myself till the yameni-runners could summon the authorities. There is no time for second thought, however; precious little time, in fact, for anything but to keep my helmet in its place and hurry along with the bicycle. The yameni-runners repeatedly warn the crowd that I am armed with a top-fanchee (revolver); this, doubtless, prevents them from closing in on us, and keeps their aggressive spirit within certain limits.
A moment's respite is happily obtained at the Manchu gate; the crowd gathered there in advance are comparatively peaceful, and the mob, for a moment, seem to hesitate about following us inside. Making the most of this opportunity, we hurry forward toward the yamen, which, I afterward learn, is still two or three hundred yards distant. Ere fifty yards are covered the mob come pouring through the gate, yelling like demons and picking up stones as they hurry after us. "A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse." or, what would suit me equally as well, a short piece of smooth road in lieu of break-neck cobble-stones.
Again are we overtaken and bombarded vigorously; ignorant of the distance to the yamen, I again begin looking about for some place in which to retreat for defensive purposes, unwilling to abandon the bicycle to destruction and seek doubtful safety in flight. At this juncture a brick strikes the unfortunate rear-guard on the arm, injuring that member severely, and quickening the already badly frightened yameni-runners to the urgent necessity of bringing matters to an ending somehow.
Pointing forward, they persist in dragging me into a run. Thus far I have been very careful to preserve outward composure, feeling sure that any demonstration of weakness on my part would surely operate to my disadvantage. The runners' appealing cries of "Yameni! yameni!" however, prove that we are almost there, and for fifty or seventy-five yards we scurry along before the vengeful storm of stones and pursuing mob.
As I anticipated, our running only increases the exultation of the mob, and ere we get inside the yamen gate the foremost of them are upon us. Two or three of the boldest spirits seize the bicycle, though the majority are evidently afraid I might turn loose on them with the top-fanchee. We are struggling to get loose from these few determined ruffians when the officials of the yamen, hearing the tumult, come hurrying to our rescue.
The only damage done is a couple of spokes broken out of the bicycle, a number of trifling bruises about my body, a badly dented helmet, and the yameni-runner's arm rather severely hurt. When fairly inside and away from danger the pent-up feelings of the advance-guard escape in silent tears, and his superior of the jade-stone pipe sits down and mournfully bemoans his wounded arm. This arm is really badly hurt, probably has sustained a slight fracture of the bone, judging from its unfortunate owner's complaints.
The Che-hsein, as I believe the chief magistrate is titled, greets me while running out with his subordinates, with reassuring cries of "S-s-o, s-s-o, s-s-o, s-s-o," repeated with extraordinary rapidity between shouts of deprecation to the mob. The mob seem half inclined to pursue us even inside the precincts of the yamen, but the authoritative voice of the Che-hsein restrains their aggressiveness within partly governable measure; nevertheless, in spite of his presence, showers of stones are hurled into the yamen so long as I remain in sight.
As quickly as possible the Che-hsein ushers me into his own office, where he quickly proves himself a comparatively enlightened individual by arching his eyebrows and propounding the query, "French?" "Ying-yun," I reply, feeling the advantage of being English or American, rather than French, more appreciably perhaps than I have ever done before or since.
This question of the Che-hsein's at once reveals a gleam of explanatory light concerning the hostility of the people. For aught I know to the contrary it may be but a few days ago since the Jesuit missionaries were compelled to flee for their lives. The mob cannot be expected to distinguish between French and English; to the average Celestial we of the Western world are indiscriminately known as Fankwaes, or foreign devils; even to such an enlightened individual as the Che-hsein himself these divisions of the Fankwae race are but vaguely understood.
After satisfying himself by questioning the yameni-runners, that I am without companions or other baggage save the bicycle, the Che-hsein ferrets out a bottle of samshoo and tenders me a liberal allowance in a tea-cup. This is evidently administered with the kindly intention of quieting my nerves, which he imagines to be unstrung from the alarmingly rough treatment at the hands of his riotous townmen.
Riotous they are, beyond a doubt, for even as the Che-hsein pours out the samshoo the clamorous howls of "Fankwae. Fankwae." seem louder than ever at the gates. Now and then, as the tumult outside seems to be increasing, the Che-hsein writes big red characters on flat bamboo-staves and sends it out by an officer to be read to the mob; and occasionally, as he sits and listens attentively to the clamor, as though gauging the situation by the volume of the noise, he addresses himself to me with a soothing and reassuring "S-s-o, s-s-o, s-s-o, s-o."
Shortly after my arrival the worthy-minded Che-hsein knits his brow for a moment in a profound study, and then, lightening up suddenly, delivers himself of "No savvy," a choice morsel of pidgeon English that he has somehow acquired. This is the full extent of his knowledge, however; but, feeble glimmer of my own mother tongue though it be, it sounds quite cheery amid the wilderness wild of Celestial gabble in the office. For although the shackles of authority hold in check the murderous mob, howling for my barbarian gore outside, a constant stream of officials and their friends are admitted to see me and the bicycle.
In making an examination of the bicycle, the peculiar "Ki-ngan-foo squeak" finds spontaneous expression at every new surprise. A man enters the room, peers wonderingly into my face-squeak!--comes closer, and looks again--squeak!--notices the peculiar cut of my garments--squeak!--observes my shoes--squeak!--sees helmet on table--squeak!--sees the bicycle--squeak!--goes and touches it--squeak!--finds out that the pedals twirl round--squeak! and thus he continues until he has seen everything and squeaked at everything; he then takes a lingering survey of the room to satisfy himself that nothing has been overlooked, gives a parting squeak, and leaves the room.
The Che-hsein provides me with a chicken, boiled whole, head included, for supper, and consumes his own meal at the same time. The difference between the Che-hsein, eating little prepared meatballs and rice, with gilded chop-sticks, and myself tearing the spraggly-looking rooster asunder and gnawing the drum-sticks greedily with my teeth, no doubt readily appeals to the interested lookers-on as an instructive picture of Chinese civilization and outer barbarism as depicted in our respective modes of eating, side by side.
More than once during the evening the tumult at the gate swells into a fierce hubbub, as though pandemonium had broken loose, and the blood-thirsty mob were determined to fetch me out. Every minute, at these periodical outbursts, I expect to see them come surging in through the doorway. A sociable young man, whose chief concern is to keep me supplied with pipes and tea, explains, with the aid of a taper, that the crowd are desirous of burning me alive. This cheerful piece of information, the sociable young man imparts with a characteristic Chinese chuckle of amusement; the thought of a Fankwae squirming and sizzling in the oil-fed flames touches the chord of his risibilities, and makes him giggle merrily. The Che-hsein himself occasionally goes out and harangues the excited mob, the authoritative tones of his voice being plainly heard above the squabbling and yelling.
It must be near about midnight when the excitement has finally subsided, and the mob disperse to their homes. Six yameni-runners then file into the room, paper umbrellas slung at their backs in green cloth cases, and stout bamboo quarter-staves in hand. The Che-hsein gives them their orders and delivers a letter into the hands of the officer in charge; he then bids me prepare to depart, bidding me farewell with much polite bowing and scraping, and sundry memorable "chin-chins."
A closely covered palanquin is waiting outside the door; into this I am conducted and the blinds carefully drawn. A squad of men with flaming torches, the Che-hsein, and several officials lead the way, maintaining great secrecy and quiet; stout carriers hoist the palanquin to their shoulders and follow on behind; others bring up the rear carrying the bicycle.
Back through the Manchu quarter and out of the gate again our little cavalcade wends its way, the officials immediately about the palanquin addressing one another in undertones; back, part way along the same street which but a few short hours ago resounded with the hoots and yells of the mischievous mob, down a long flight of steps, and the palanquin is resting at the end of a gang-plank leading aboard a little passenger-sampan. The worthy Che-hsein bows and scrapes and chin-chins me along this gang-plank, the bicycle is brought aboard, the six yameni-runners follow suit, and the boat is poled out into the river. The squad of torch-bearers are seen watching our progress until we are well out into the middle of the stream, and the officer in charge of my little guard stands out and signals them with his lantern, notifying them, I suppose, that all is well. One would imagine, from their actions, that they were apprehensive of our sampan being pursued or ambushed by some determined party. And yet the scene, as we drift noiselessly along with the current, looks lovely and peaceful as the realms of the blest; the crescent moon, the shimmering water--and the slowly receding lights of the city; what danger can there possibly be in so quiet and peaceful a scene as this?
By daylight we are anchored before another walled city, which I think is Ki-shway, a city of considerable pretentions as to wall, but full of social and moral rottenness and commercial decadence within, judging, at least, from outward appearances. Few among the crowds that are permitted free access to the yamen here do not betray, in unmistakable measure, the sins of former generations; while, as regards trade, half the place is in a ruinous, tumble-down condition.
The mandarin here is a fleshy, old-fashioned individual, with thick lips and an expression of great good humor. He provides me with a substantial breakfast of rice and pork, and fetches his wife and children in to enjoy the exhibition of a Fankwae feeding, likewise permitting the crowd to look in through the doors and windows. He is a phlegmatic, easy-going Celestial, and occupies about two hours copying my passport and writing a letter. At the end of this time he musters a squad of twelve retainers in faded red uniforms and armed with rusty pikes, who lead the way back to the river, followed by three yameni-runners, equipped, as usual, each with an umbrella and a small string of tsin to buy their food. The gentlemen with the mediaeval weapons accompany us to the river and keep the crowd from pressing too closely upon us until I and the yameni-runners board a Ki shway sampan that is to convey me to the next down-stream city.
It now becomes apparent that my bicycling experiences in China are about ending, and that the authorities have determined upon passing me down the Kan-kiang by boat to the Yang-tsi-kiang. I am to be passed on from city to city like a bale of merchandise, delivered and receipted for from day to day.
A few miles down stream we overtake a fleet of some twenty war-junks, presenting a most novel and interesting sight, crowded as each one is with the gayest of flags and streaming pennants galore. The junks are cumbersome enough, in all conscience, as utterly useless for purposes of modern warfare as the same number of floating hogsheads; yet withal they make a gallant sight, the like of which is to be seen nowhere these days but on the inland waters of China. Each junk is propelled by a crew of fourteen oarsmen, dressed in uniforms corresponding in color to the triangular flags that flutter gayly in the breeze at the stern. Not the least interesting part of the spectacle are these same oarsmen, as they ply. their long unwieldy sweeps in admirable unison; the sleeves of their coats are almost as broad as the body of the garment, and at every sweep of the oar these all flap up and down together in a manner most comical to behold.
All day long our modest little sampan keeps company with this gay fleet, giving me an excellent opportunity of witnessing its manoeuvres. Said manoeuvres and evolutions consist of more or less noisy greetings and demonstrations at every town and village we pass. In the case of a small town, a number of pikemen and officials assemble on the shore, erect a few flags, hammer vigorously on a resonant gong, shout out some sing-song greeting and shoot off a number of bombs and fire-crackers. The foremost vessel of the fleet replies to these noisy compliments by a salute of its one gun, and mayhap throws in two or three bombs, according to the liberality of the salutation ashore.
At the larger towns the amount of gunpowder burned and noise created is something wonderful. Bushels of fire-crackers are snapping and rattling away, the while gongs are beating, bombs exploding by the score, and salvoes of artillery are making the mountains echo, from every vessel in the fleet. Beneath the walls of a town we pass soon after noon are ranged fifteen other junks; as the fleet passes, these vessels simultaneously discharge all their guns, while at the same instant there burst upon the startled air detonations from hundreds of bombs, big heaps of firecrackers, and the din of many resonant gongs. Not to be outdone, the fleet of twenty return the compliment in kind, and with cheers from the crews thrown in for interest.
The fifteen now join the procession, adding volume and picturesqueness to the already wonderfully pretty scene, by their hundreds of brilliant-hued banners, and theatrically costumed oarsmen. About four o'clock, as we are approaching the city of Hat-kiang, our destination for the day, there comes to meet the gallant navy a pair of twin vessels surpassing all the others in the gorgeousness of their flags and the picturesqueness of the costumes. Purple is the prevailing color of both flags and crew. At their splendid appearance our yameni-runners announce in tones of enthusiasm and admiration that these new-comers hail from Lin-kiang, a large city down stream, that I fancied, it will be remembered, having reached at Ta-ho.
The officials are still abed when, in the early morning of the third day, we reach Sin-kiang, and repair to the yamen. A large crowd, however, gather and follow us from the market-place, swelling gradually by reenforcements to a multitude that surges in and out of the shanty-like office in such swarms that the frail board walls bulge and crack with the pressure. When the crowd overwhelm the place entirely, the officials clear them out by angry gesticulations and moral suasion, sometimes menacingly shaking the end of their own queues at them as though they were wielding black-snake whips. Having driven them out, no further notice is taken of them, so they immediately begin swarming in again, until the room is again inundated, when they are again driven out.
The permitting of this ebbing and flowing of the multitude into the official quarters is something quite incomprehensible to me; the mob is swayed and controlled--as far as they are controlled at all--without any organized effort of those in authority; when the officials commence screaming angrily at them they begin moving out; when the shouting ceases they begin swarming back. Thus in the course of an hour the room will, perchance, be filled and emptied with angry remonstrance half a dozen times, when, from our own stand-point, a couple of men stationed at the door with authority to keep them out would prevent all the bother and annoyance. Sure enough the Chinaman is "a peculiar little cuss," whether seen at home or abroad.
If the inhabitants of Ki-shway are scrofulous, sore-eyed, and mangy, they are at least an improvement on the disgusting state of the public health at Sin-kiang, as revealed in the lamentable condition of the crowd at the yamen and in the markets. Scarcely is it possible to single out a human being of sound and healthful appearance from among them all. Everybody has sore eyes, some have horribly diseased scalps, sores on face and body, and all the horrible array of acquired and hereditary diseases. One's hair stands on end almost at the thought of being among them, to say nothing of eating in their presence, and of their own cooking. Of my new escort from Sin-kiang all three have dreadfully sore eyes, and one wretched mortal is as piebald as a circus pony, from head to foot, with the leprosy. Added to these recommendations, they have the manners and instincts of swine rather than of human beings.
The same sampan is re-engaged to convey us farther down stream; beneath the housing of bamboo-mats, the rice-chaff leaves barely room for us to crowd in and huddle together from the rain and cold prevailing outside. The worst the elements can do, however, is far preferable to personal contact with these vile creatures; and so I don my blanket and gossamer rubbers, and sit out in the rain. The rain ceases and the chilly night air covers everything with a coating of hoar-frost, but all this is nothing compared with the horrible associations inside, the reeking fumes of opium and tobacco adding yet another abomination to be remembered.
At early morn we land and pursue our way for a few miles across country to Lin-kiang, which is situated on a big tributary stream a few miles above its junction with the Kan-kiang. Our way loads through a rich strip of low country, sheltered and protected from inundations by an extensive system of dykes. Here we pass through orchards of orange-trees bristling with the small blood-red mandarin oranges; we help ourselves freely from the trees, for their great plenteousness makes them of very little value. On the stalls they can be purchased six for one cent; like the people in the great peanut producing country below Nam-hung, the cheapness and abundance of oranges here seems an inducement for the people to almost subsist thereon.
Everybody is either buying, stealing, selling, packing, gathering, carrying, or eating oranges; coolies are staggering Lin-kiang-ward beneath big baskets of newly plucked fruit, and others are conveying them in wheelbarrows; boats are being loaded for conveyance along the river. Every orange-tree is distinguished by white characters painted on its trunk, big enough so that those who run may read the rightful owner's name and take warning accordingly.
Three more wearisome but eventful days, battling against adverse winds, and we come to anchor in a little slough, where a war-junk and several fishing vessels are already moored for the night. While supper is preparing I pass the time promenading back and forth along a little foot-trail leading for a short distance round the shore. The crew of the war-vessel are engaged in drying freshwater shrimps, tiny minnows, and other drainings and rakings of the water to store away for future use. One of the younger officers stalks back and forth along the same path as myself, brusquely maintaining the road whenever we meet, evidently bent on showing off his contempt for the boasted prowess of the Fankwaes, by compelling me to step to one side. His demeanor is that of a bully stalking about with the traditional chip on his shoulder, daring me to come and knock it off. Considering the circumstances about us, this is a wonderfully courageous performance on his part; nothing but his ignorance of my Smith & Wesson can explain his temerity in assuming a bellicose attitude with only one man-of-war at his back. Out of consideration for this ignorance, I studiously avoid interfering with the chip.
At length the river-voyage comes to an end at Wu-chang, on the Poyang Hoo, when I am permitted to proceed overland with an escort to Kui-kiang.
Spending the last night at a village inn, we pursue our way over awful bowlder paths next morning, for several miles; over a low mountain-pass and down the northern slope to a level plain. A towering white pagoda is observable in the distance ahead; thia the yameni-runner says is Kui-kiang. At a little way-side tea-house, I find Christmas numbers of the London Graphic pasted on the walls; yet with all this, so utterly unreliable has my information heretofore been, and so often have my hopes and expectations turned out disappointing, that I am almost afraid to believe the evidence of my own senses. The Graphic pictures are of the Christmas pantomimes; the good woman of the tea-house points out to me the tremendous noses, the ear-to-ear mouths, and the abnormal growths of chin therein depicted, with much amusement; "Fankwae," she says, "te-he, te-he," apparently fancying them genuine representations of certain types of that queer, queer people.
The paths improve, and soon I see the smoke of a steamer on the Yang-tsi than which, it is needless to say, no more welcome sight has greeted my vision the whole world round. Only the smoke is seen, rising above the city; it cannot be a steamer, it is too good to be possible! this isn't Kui-kiang; this is another wretched disappointment, the smoke is some Chinese house on fire! Not until I get near enough to distinguish flags on the consulates, and the crosses on the mission churches, do I permit myself fully to believe that I am at last actually looking at Kui-kiang, the city that I have begun to think a delusion and a snare, an ignis fatuus that was dancing away faster than I was approaching.
The sight of all these unmistakable proofs that I am at last bidding farewell to the hardships, the horrible filth, the soul-harrowing crowds, the abominable paths, and the ever-present danger and want of consideration; that in a little while all these will be a dream of the past, gives wings to my wheel wherever it can be mounted, and ridden. The yameni-runner is left far behind, and I have already engaged a row-boat to cross the little lake in the rear of the city, and the boatman is already pulling me to the "Ying-yun," when the poor yameni-runner comes hurrying up and shouts frantically for me to come back and fetch him.
Knowing that the man has to take back his receipt I yield to his request, follow him first to the Kui-kiang yamen, and from thence proceed to the English consulate. Captain McQuinn, of the China Steam Navigation Company's steamer Peking, and the consulate doctor see me riding down the smooth gravelled bund, followed by a crowd of delighted Celestials. "Hello! are you from Canton" they sing out in chorus. "Well, well, well! nobody expected to ever see anything of you again; and so you got through all safe, eh?"
"What's the matter? you look bad about the eyes," says the observant doctor, upon shaking hands; "you look haggard and fagged out."
Upon surveying myself in a mirror at the consulate I can see that the doctor is quite justified in his apprehensions. Hair long, face unshaved for five weeks, thin and gaunt-looking from daily hunger, worry, and hard dues generally, I look worse than a hunted greyhound. I look far worse, however, than I feel; a few days' rest and wholesome fare will work wonders.
An appetizing lunch of cold duck, cheese, and Bass's ale is quickly provided by Mr. Everard, the consul, who seems very pleased that the affair at Ki-ngan-foo ended without serious injury to anybody.
The Peking starts for Shanghai in an hour after my arrival; a warm bath, a shave, and a suit of clothes, kindly provided by pilot King, brings about something of a transformation in my appearance. Bountiful meals, clean, springy beds, and elegantly fitted cabins, form an impressive contrast to my life aboard the sampans on the Kan-kiang. The genii of Aladdin's lamp could scarcely execute any more marvellous change than that from my quarters and fare and surroundings at the village hittim, where my last night on the road from Canton was spent, and my first night aboard the elegant and luxurious Peking, only a day later.
A pleasant run down the Yang-tsi-kiang to Shanghai, and I arrive at that city just twenty-four hours before the Japanese steamer, Yokohama Maru, sails for Nagasaki. Taking passage aboard it leaves me but one brief day in the important and interesting city of Shanghai, during which time I have to purchase a new outfit of clothes, see about money matters, and what not.
Text, code and images © Ray Schumacher 2005