Walking here was treacherous. A foot pathway was the main road, winding in and out high along the surface of the hills, in many places washed away, and in others overgrown with grass and shrubbery. “Across China on Foot” would have met an untimely end had I made a false step or slipped on the loose stones in a momentary overbalance. I should have rolled down seven hundred feet into the Shui-pi Ho. Once during the morning I saw my coolies high up on a ledge opposite to me, and on practically the same level, a three-li gully dividing us. They were very small men, under very big hats, bustling along like busy Lilliputians, and my loads looked like match-boxes. I probably looked to them not less grotesque. But we had to watch our footsteps, and not each other.
We were rounding a corner, when I was surprised to see Hwan-lien-p’u a couple of li away. The fu-song were making considerable hue and cry because Rusty had rolled thirty feet down the incline, and as I looked I saw the animal get up and commence neighing because he had lost sight of us. He was in the habit of wandering on, nibbling a little here and a little there, and rarely gave trouble unless in chasing an occasional horse caravan, when he gave my men some fun in getting him again into line.
It was not yet midday, and we had four hours’ good going. So I calculated. Not so my men. They could not be prevailed upon to budge, and knowing the Chinese just a little, I reluctantly kept quiet. It was entirely unreasonable to expect them to go on to Ch’u-tung, ninety li away—it was impossible. And I learnt that the reason they would not go on was that no house this side of that place was good enough to put a horse into, even a Chinese horse, and they would not dream of taking me on under those conditions. There was not even a hut available for the traveler, so they said. I had come over difficult country, plodding upwards on tiptoe and then downwards with a lazy swing from stone to stone for miles. Throughout the day we had been going through fine mountain forest, everywhere peaceful and beautiful, but it had been hard going. In the morning a heavy frost lay thick and white about us, and by 10:30 a.m. the sun was playing down upon us with a merciless heat as we tramped over that little red line through the green of the hill-sides. Often in this march was I tempted to stay and sit down on the sward, but I had proved this to be fatal to walking. In traveling in Yuen-nan one’s practice should be: start early, have as few stops as possible, when a stop is made let it be long enough for a real rest. In Szech’wan, where the tea houses are much more frequent, men will pull up every ten li, and generally make ten minutes of it. In Yuen-nan these welcome refreshment houses are not met with so often, and little inducement is held out for the coolies to stop, but upon the slightest provocation they will stop for a smoke. On this walking trip I made it a rule to be off by seven o’clock, stop twice for a quarter of an hour up to tiffin (my men stopped oftener), when our rest was often for an hour, so that we were all refreshed and ready to push on for the fag-end of the stage. We generally were done by four or five o’clock. And I should be the last in the world to deny that by this time I had had enough for one day.