As we went along together, just before reaching this hill, we saw women carrying bags of rice. They saw us, too. One passed me safely, but with fear. The others carelessly dropping their burdens, scampered off, afraid of their lives; and when one of my soldiers (whose sense of humor was on a par with my own when as a boy I used to stick butterscotch drops on the bald head of my Sunday School teacher, and bend pins for small boys to sit on and rise from) shouted to them, they dived straight as a die over the hedge into a submerged rice-field, and made a sorry spectacle with their “lily” feet and pale blue trousers, covered with the thin mud. In struggling to get away, one of them, the silly creature, went sprawling on all fours in the slime, and with only the imperfect footing possible to her with her little stumps, she would have been submerged, had not the man who had frightened her, at my bidding, gone to drag her out. As it was, they looked anything but beautiful with their wet and muddy garments clinging tightly to their bodies, and betraying every curve of their not unbeautiful figures. One of the women, a comely damsel of some twenty summers, did not jump into the field, but lay flat on the ground behind some bushes, thereby hoping to get out of sight, and now came forward with amorous glances. We, however, sent them on their way, and I will lay my life that they will not “scoot” at the sight of the next foreigner.
And now we are at the “Nest.” Many travelers have made remarks upon this place, where I was waited upon by a shrivelled, shambling specimen of manhood, whose wife—in contrast to her kind in China—seemed to rule house and home, bed and board. Whilst we were there, a Chinese, bound on the downward journey, endeavored to mount his mule at the very moment the animal was reaching out for a blade of straw. As he swung his leg across the mule took another step forward, and the rider fell bodily with an enormous bump into the lap of one of my coolies, upsetting him and his bowl of tea over his trousers and my own. I could not suppress hearty approval of this acrobatic incident.
But the end was not yet.
I sat on one end of one of those narrow forms, and this same coolie sat on the other. He rose up suddenly, reached over for the common salt-pot, and I came off—with the multitude of alfresco diners laughing at this smart retaliation until their chock-full mouths emitted the grains of rice they chewed.