Mile after mile this fertile plain stretches away in a succession of rice paddys and fields of sugar cane interspersed with patches of graceful bamboo, their summits drooping like enormous clusters of ostrich plumes; the air is warm and fragrant and the change from the surrounding hills is delightful. However, we were disappointed in the shooting for, although it appeared to be an ideal place for ducks and other water birds, we killed only five teal, and the great ponds were almost devoid of bird life. Even herons, so abundant in the north, were conspicuous by their absence and we saw no sheldrakes, geese, or mallards.
At Shih-tien we camped in a beautiful temple yard on the outskirts of the town, and with Wu I returned to the village to inquire about shooting places. We seated ourselves in the first open tea house and within ten minutes more than a hundred natives had filled the room, overflowed through the door and windows, and formed a mass of pushing, crowding bodies which completely blocked the street outside. It was a simple way of getting all the village together and Wu questioned everyone who looked intelligent.
We learned that shooting was to be found near Gen-kang, five days’ travel south, and we returned to the temple just in time to receive a visit from the resident mandarin. He was a good-looking, intellectual man, with charming manners and one of the most delightful gentlemen whom we met in China.
During his visit, and until dinner was over and we had retired to our tents, hundreds of men, women and children crowded into the temple yard to gaze curiously at us. After the gates had been closed they climbed the walls and sat upon the tiles like a flock of crows. Their curiosity was insatiable but not unfriendly and nowhere throughout our expedition did we find such extraordinary interest in our affairs as was manifested by the people in this immediate region. They were largely Chinese and most of them must have met foreigners before, yet their curiosity was much greater than that of any natives whom we knew were seeing white persons for the first time.
Just before camping the next day we passed through a large village where we were given a most flattering reception. We had stopped to do some shooting and were a considerable distance behind the caravan. The mafus must have announced our coming, for the populace was out en masse to greet us and lined the streets three deep. It was a veritable triumphal entry and crowds of men and children followed us for half a mile outside the town, running beside our horses and staring with saucer-like eyes.
On the second day from Shih-tien we climbed a high mountain and wound down a sharp descent for about 4,000 feet into a valley only 2,300 feet above sea level. We had been cold all day on the ridges exposed to a biting wind and had bundled ourselves into sweaters and coats over flannel shirts. After going down about 1,000 feet we tied our coats to the saddle pockets, on the second thousand stripped off the sweaters, and for the remainder of the descent rode with sleeves rolled up and shirts open at the throat. We had come from mid-winter into summer in two hours and the change was most startling. It was as though we had suddenly ridden into an artificially heated building like the rooms for tropical plants at botanical gardens.