For hours we sat upon a beam athwart the afterdeck, in silence drinking in the strange phenomenon. We watched, after a small feed of curry and rice, long into the dark hours, when the thunder had passed us by, and in the distant booming one could now imagine the lower notes streaming forth from some great solemn organ symphony. The fierce lightning twitched, as it danced in and out the crevices—inwards, outwards, upwards, then finally lost in one downward swoop towards the river, tearing open the liquid blackness with its crystal blade of fire. The rain ceased not. But soon the moon, peeping out from the tops of a jagged wall above us, looking like a soiled, half-melted snowball, shone full down the far-stretching gorge, and now its broad lustre shed itself, like powdered silver, over the whole scene, so that one could have imagined oneself in the living splendor of some eternal sphere of ethereal sweetness. And so it might have been had the rain abated—a curious accompaniment to a moonlight night. Down it came, straight and determined and businesslike, in the windless silence, dancing like a shower of diamonds of purest brilliance on the background of the placid waters.
Very beautiful, reader, for a time. But would that the rain had been all moonshine!
Glorious was it to revel in for a time. But, during the weary night watches, in a bed long since soaked through, and one’s safest nightclothes now the stolid Burberry, with face protected by a twelve-cent umbrella, even one’s curry and rice saturated to sap with the constant drip, and everything around one rendered cold and uncomfortable enough through a perforation in its slenderest part of the worn-out bamboo matting—ah, it was then, then that one would have foregone with alacrity the dreams of the nomadic life of the wu-pan.
Our introduction, therefore, to the great Gorges of the Upper Yangtze—to China what the Niagara Falls are to America—was not remarkable for its placidity, albeit taken with as much complacency as the occasion allowed.
I do not, however, intend to weary or to entertain the reader, as may be, by a long description of the Yangtze gorges. Time and time again have they fallen to the imaginative pens of travelers—mostly bad or indifferent descriptions, few good; none better, perhaps, than Mrs. Bishop’s. But at best they are imaginative—they lack reality. It has been said that the world of imagination is the world of eternity, and as of eternity, so of the Gorges—they cannot be adequately described. As I write now in the Ichang Gorge, I seem veritably to have reached eternity. I seem to have arrived at the bosom of an after-life, where one’s body has ceased to vegetate, and where, in an infinite and eternal world of imagination, one’s soul expands with fullest freedom. There seems to exist in this eternal world of unending rock and invulnerable precipice permanent realities which stand from eternity