We surveyed the tiny horses with dismay. As Heller vainly tried to get his girth tight enough to keep the saddle from sliding over the animal’s tail he exclaimed, “Is this a horse or a squirrel I’m trying to ride?” But it was not so bad when we finally climbed aboard and found that we did not crush the little brutes.
A seventy-pound box on each side of the saddle with a few odds and ends on top made a pack of at least one hundred and sixty pounds. This is heavy even for a large animal and for these tiny mules seemed an impossibility, but it is the usual weight, and the businesslike way in which they moved off showed that they were not overloaded.
The Yuen-nan pack saddle is a remarkably ingenious arrangement. The load is strapped with a rawhide to a double A-shaped frame which fits loosely over a second saddle on the animal’s back and is held in place by its own weight. If a mule falls the pack comes off and, moreover, it can be easily removed if the road is bad or whenever a stop is made. It has the great disadvantage, however, of giving the horses serious back sores which receive but scanty attention from the mafus (muleteers).
When we were fairly started upon our long ride to Ta-li Fu the time slipped by in a succession of delightful days. Since this was the main caravan route the mafus had regular stages beyond which they would not go. If we did not stop for luncheon the march could be ended early in the afternoon and we could settle ourselves for the night in a temple which always proved a veritable “haven of rest” after a long day in the saddle. A few pages from my wife’s “Journal” of September fifteenth describes our camp at Lu-ho-we and our life on the road to Ta-li Fu.
We are sitting on the porch of an old, old temple. It is on a hilltop in a forest grove with the gray-walled town lying at our feet. The sun is flooding the flower-filled courtyard and throwing bars of golden light through the twisted branches of a bent old pine, over the stone well, and into the dim recesses behind the altar where a benevolent idol grins down upon us.
We have been in the saddle for eight hours and it is enchanting to rest in this peaceful, aged temple. Outside children are shouting and laughing but all is quiet here save for the drip of water in the well, and the chatter of a magpie on the pine tree. Today we made the stage in one long march and now we can rest and browse among our books or wander with a gun along the cool, tree-shaded paths.
The sun is hot at midday, although the mornings and evenings are cold, and tonight we shall build a fragrant fire of yellow pine, and talk for an hour before we go to sleep upon the porch where we can see the moon come up and the stars shining so low that they seem like tiny lanterns in the sky.
It is seven days since we left Yuen-nan Fu and each night we have come to temples such