From a height of 7,850 feet we dropped abruptly, through clouds of thick red dust which blinded my eyes and filled my throat, down to the city of Sei-tze. I went down behind some ponies. Upwards came a fellow struggling with two loads of crockery, and in the narrow pathway he stood in an elevated position to let the animals pass. Irony of fate! One of the horses—it seemed most intentional—gave his load a tilt: man and crockery all went together in one heap to a crevice thirty yards down the incline, and as I proceeded I heard the choice rhetoric of the victim and the muleteer arguing as to who should pay.
Just before that, I dipped into the very bosom of the earth, with rugged hills rising to bewildering heights all around, base to summit clad luxuriously in thick greenery of mountain firs, a few cedars, and the Chinese ash. Black patches of rock to the right were the death-bed of many a swaying giant, and in contrast, running away sunwards, a silver shimmer on the unmoving ocean of delicious green was caused by the slantwise sun reflections, while in the ravines on the other side a dark blue haze gave no invitation. Smoothly-curving fringes stood out softly against the eternal blue of the heavens. Farther on, eloquent of their own strength and imperturbability, were deep rocks, black and defiant; but even here firs grew on the projecting ledges which now and again hung menacingly above the red path, shading away the sunlight and giving to the dark crevices an atmosphere of damp and cold, where men’s voices echoed and re-echoed like weird greetings from the grave. Onwards again, and from the cool ravines, adorned with overhang branches, forming cosy retreats from the now blazing sun, one emerged to a road leading up once more to undiscovered vastnesses. Yonder narrowed a gorge, fine and delicately covered, pleasing to one’s aesthetic sense. The center was a dome, all full of life and waving leafage, ethereal and sweet; and running down, like children to their mother, were numerous little hills densely clothed in a green lighter and more dainty than that of the parent hill, throwing graceful curtsies to the murmuring river at the foot. As I write here, bathed in the beauty of spring sunlight, it is difficult to believe that a few hours since the thermometer was at zero. Little spots of habitation, with foodstuffs growing alongside, looking most lonely in their patches of green in the forest, added a human and sentimental picturesqueness to a scene so strongly impressive.
A thatched, barn-like place gave us rest, the woman producing for me a huge chunk of palatable rice sponge-cake sprinkled with brown sugar. Little naked children, offspring of parents themselves covered with merest hanging rags, groped round me and treated me with courteous curiosity; goats smelt round the coolie-loads of men who rested on low forms and smoked their rank tobacco; smoke from the green wood fires issued from the mud grates, where receptacles were filled with boiling