A man with a diseased hip joined me thirty li farther on, dismounting from his pile of earthly belongings which these men fix on the backs of their ponies. It is a creditable trapeze act to effect a mount after the pony is ready for the journey. He had, he said, met me before. He knew that I was a missionary, and had heard me preach. He remembered my wife and myself and children passing the night in the same inn in which he stayed on one of his pilgrimages from his native town somewhere to the east of the province. I had never seen him before! I had no wife; I have never preached a sermon in my life. I should be pained ever again to have to suffer his unmannerly presence anywhere.
Ponies were being loaded near my table. The rapscallion in question explained that the black blocks were salt, taking a pinch from my salt-cellar with his grimy fingers to add point to his remarks. I kicked at a couple of mongrels under the rude form on which I sat—they fought for the skins of those potato-like pears which grow here so prolifically. The person announced that they were dogs, and that an idiosyncrasy of Chinese dogs was to fight. Several wags joined in, and all appeared, through the traveling nincompoop, to know all about my past and present, lapsing into a desultory harangue upon all men and things foreign. The street reminded me of Clovelly—rugged and ragged—and the people were wrinkled and wretched; and, indeed, being a Devonian myself by birth, I should be excused of wantonly intending to hurt the delicate feelings of the lusty sons of Devon were I to declare that I thought the life not of a very terrible dissimilarity from that port of antiquity in the West.
Salt was everywhere, much more like coal than salt, certainly as black. The blocks were stacked up by the sides of inns ready for transport, carried on the backs of a multitude of poor wretches who work like oxen from dawn to dusk for the merest pittance, on the backs of droves and droves of ponies, scrambling and spluttering along over the slippery once-paved streets.
All day long, with the exception of two or three easy ascents, we were travelling in pleasantly undulating country of park-like magnificence. My men dallied. I tramped on alone; and sitting down to rest on the rocks, I realized that I was in one of the strangest, loneliest, wildest corners of the world. Great mountain-peaks towered around me, white and sparkling diadems of wondrous beauty, and at my feet, black and stirless, lay a silent pool, reflecting the weird shadows of my coolies flitting like specters among the jagged rocks of these most solitary hills.
[Footnote AD: Hsiakwan would be supplied by a branch line of the main railway in the Kunlong scheme advocated by Major H.R. Davies, leaving at Mi-tu, to the south of Hungay.—E.J.D.]
[Footnote AE: The written language was framed and instituted by the Rev. Sam. Pollard, of the Bible Christian Mission (now merged into the United Methodist Mission).—E.J.D.]