It was Shanks. He had been suffering from toothache, and unfortunately I had no gum-balm with me; without my knowledge Lao Chang had rubbed in some strong embrocation to the fellow’s cheek, so that now, in addition to toothache, he had also a badly blistered face, swollen up like a pudding. Upon learning that I had no means of curing him or of alleviating the pain, Shanks bellowed into my ear, loud enough to bring the dead out of the grave-mounds on the surrounding hill-sides, “Puh p’a teh, pub p’a teh”; then, raising his carrying-pole to the correct angle on the hump on his back, went merrily forward, warbling some squealing Chinese ditty. But Shanks was the songster of the party. He often madly disturbed the silence of middle night by a sudden outburst inte song, and when shouted down by others who lay around, or kicked by the man who shared his bed, and whose choral propensities were less in proportion, he would laugh wildly at them all. Poor Shanks; he was a peculiar mortal. He would laugh at men in pain, and think it sympathy. If we could get no food or drink on the march, after having wearily toiled away for hours, he would not be disposed to grumble—he would laugh. Such tragic incidents as the pony jumping over the precipice provoked him to extreme laughter.[AX]
And when I caught him sewing up an open wound in the sole of his foot with common colored Chinese thread and a rusty needle, and told him that he might thereby get blood poisoning, and lose his life or leg, he cared not a little. As a matter of fact, he laughed in my face. Not at me, not at all, but because he thought his laughter might probably delude the devil who was president over the ills of that particular portion of human anatomy. He came to me just outside Pu-peng, where we saw a coffin containing a corpse resting in the roadway whilst the bearers refreshed near by and, pointing thereto, told me that the man was “muh tsai” (not here)—the Chinese never on any account mention the word death—and his sides shook with laughter, so much so that he dropped his loads alongside the corpse, and startled the cock on top of the coffin guarding the spirit of the dead into a vigorous fit of crowing for fear of disaster.
We enjoyed fairly level road, although rough, for ten li after leaving T’ai-p’ing-p’u. It rose gradually from 7,400 feet to 8,500 feet, and then dipped suddenly, and continued at a fearful down gradient. I might describe it as a member of a British infantry regiment once described to me a slope on the Himalayas. It was about eight years ago, and a few fellows were at a smoker given to some Tommies returning from India, when a bottle-nosed individual, talking about a long march his battalion had made up the Himalayas, in excellent descriptive exclaimed, “’Twasn’t a ’ill, ’twasn’t a graydyent, ’twas a blooming precipice, guvnor.” The Himalayas and the country I am now describing have therefore something in common.
Just before this the beautiful mountains, behind which was the Tali-fu Lake, made a sight worth coming a long way to see.