What, then, was the little game? Were all the foreigners resident in this town dodging us, afraid of us—or what?
“The latter, the blithering idiots!” yelled The Other Man. He was infuriated. “Two Englishmen with English tongues in their heads, and unable to direct their own movements. Preposterous!” And then, making an observation which I will not print, he suggested mildly that we might fix up all matters ourselves.
Within an hour an English-speaking “one piece cook” had secured the berth, which carried a salary of twenty-five dollars per month, we were well on the way with the engaging of our boat for the Gorges trip, and one by one our troubles vanished.
Laying in stores, however, was not the lightest of sundry perplexities. Curry and rice had been suggested as the staple diet for the river journey; and we ordered, with no thought to the contrary, a picul of best rice, various brands of curries, which were raked from behind the shelves of a dingy little store in a back street, and presented to us at alarming prices—enough to last a regiment of soldiers for pretty well the number of days we two were to travel; and, for luxuries, we laid in a few tinned meats. All was practically settled, when The Other Man, settling his eyes dead upon me, yelled—
“Dingle, you’ve forgotten the milk!” And then, after a moment, “Oh, well, we can surely do without milk; it’s no use coming on a journey like this unless one can rough it a bit.” And he ended up with a rude reference to the disgusting sticky condensed milk tins, and we wandered on.
Suddenly he stopped, did The Other Man. He looked at a small stone on the pavement for a long time, eventually cruelly blurting out, directly at me, as if it were all my misdoing: “The sugar, the sugar! We must have sugar, man.” I said nothing, with the exception of a slight remark that we might do without sugar, as we were to do without milk. There was a pause. Then, raising his stick in the air, The Other Man perorated: “Now, I have no wish to quarrel” (and he put his nose nearer to mine), “you know that, of course. But to think we can do without sugar is quite unreasonable, and I had no idea you were such a cantankerous man. We have sugar, or—I go back.”
* * * * *
We had sugar. It was brought on board in upwards of twenty small packets of that detestable thin Chinese paper, and The Other Man, with commendable meekness, withdrew several pleasantries he had unwittingly dropped anent deficiencies in my upbringing. Fifty pounds of this sugar were ordered, and sugar—that dirty, brown sticky stuff—got into everything on board—my fingers are sticky even as I write—and no less than exactly one-half went down to the bottom of the Yangtze. Travelers by houseboat on the Upper Yangtze should have some knowledge of commissariat.
Getting away was a tedious business.