It was true. Neither my companion nor myself knew three words of the language, but went forward simply believing in the good faith of the Chinese people, with our passports alone to protect us. That we should encounter difficulties innumerable, that we should be called upon to put up with the greatest hardships of life, when viewed from the standard to which one had been accustomed, and that we should be put to great physical endurance, we could not doubt. But we believed in the Chinese, and believed that should any evil befall us it would be the outcome of our own lack of forbearance, or of our own direct seeking. We knew that to the Chinese we should at once be “foreign devils” and “barbarians,” that if not holding us actually in contempt, they would feel some condescension in dealing and mixing with us; but I was personally of the opinion that it was easier for us to walk through China than it would be for two Chinese, dressed as Chinese, to walk through Great Britain or America. What would the canny Highlander or the rural English rustic think of two pig-tailed men tramping through his countryside?
We anchored at Ichang at 7:30 a.m. on March 19th. I fell up against a boatman who offered to take us ashore. An uglier fellow I had never seen in the East. The morning sunshine soon dried the decks of the gunboat Kinsha (then stationed in the river for the defense of the port) which English jack-tars were swabbing in a half-hearted sort of way, and all looked rosy enough.[B] But for the author, who with his companion was a literal “babe in the wood,” the day was most eventful and trying to one’s personal serenity. We had asked questions of all and sundry respecting our proposed tramp and the way we should get to work in making preparations. Each individual person seemed vigorously to do his best to induce us to turn back and follow callings of respectable members of society. From Shanghai upwards we might have believed ourselves watched by a secret society, which had for its motto, “Return, oh, wanderer, return!” Hardly a person knew aught of the actual conditions of the interior of the country in which he lived and labored, and everyone tried to dissuade us from our project.
Coming ashore in good spirits, we called at the Consulate, at the back of the city graveyard, and were smoking his cigars and giving his boy an examination in elementary English, when the Consul came down. It was not possible, however, for us to get much more information than we had read up, and the Consul suggested that the most likely person to be of use to us would be the missionary at the China Inland Mission. Thither we repaired, following a sturdy employe of Britain, but we found that the C.I.M. representative was not to be found—despite our repairing. So off we trotted to the chief business house of the town, at the entrance to which we were met by a Chinese, who bowed gravely, asked whether we had eaten our rice, and told us, quietly but pointedly, that our passing up the rough stone steps would be of no use, as the manager was out. A few minutes later I stood reading the inscription on the gravestone near the church, whilst my brave companion, The Other Man, endeavored fruitlessly to pacify a fierce dog in the doorway of the Scottish Society’s missionary premises—but that missionary, too, was out!