It is now 12:30, and we have fifty li to cover before reaching Ch’u-tung. We sit here to feed at a place called Siao-shui-tsing, a sorry antediluvian make-shift of a building, where in subsequent travel I was hung up in bitter weather and had to pass the night. The people, courteous and civil as always, show a simple trustfulness with which is associated some little suspicion. I gave a cake to a little child, but its mother would not allow it to be eaten until she was again and again assured and reassured that it was quite fit to eat. This home life of the very poor Chinese, if indeed it may be called home life, has a listlessness about it in marked contrast to that of the West. There is little housework, no furniture more than a table and chair or two, and the simplicity of the cooking arrangements does not tend to increase the work of the housewife.
People here to-day are going about their work with a restful deliberation very trying to one in a hurry. The women, with infants tied to their backs, do not work hard but very long. A mud-house is being built near by, and between the cooking and attending to passing travelers, two women are digging the earth and filling up the baskets, while the men are mixing the mud, filling in the oblong wooden trough, and thus building the wall. At my elbow a man—old and grizzled and dirty—is turning back roll upon roll of his wadded garments, and ridding it of as many as he can find of the insects with which it is infested. A slobbering, boss-eyed cretin chops wood at my side, and when I rise to try a snap on the women and the children they hide behind the walls. Thus my time passes away, as I wait for the coolies who sit on a log in the open road feeding on common basins of dry rice.
After that we had to cross the face of a steep hill. We could, however, find no road, no pathway even, but could merely see the scratchings of coolies and ponies already crossed. It was an achievement not unrisky, but we managed to reach the other side without mishap. My horse, owing to the stupidity of the man who hung on to his mouth to steady himself, put his foot in a hole and dragged the fool of a fellow some twenty yards downwards in the mud. My coolies, themselves in a spot most dangerous to their own necks, stuck the outside leg deep in the mud to rest themselves, and set to assiduously in blackguarding the man in their richest vein, then, extricating themselves, again continued their journey, satisfied that they had shown the proper front, and saved the face of the foreigner who could not save it for himself. Then we all went down through a narrow ravine into a lovely shady glade, all green and refreshing, with a brook gurgling sweetly at the foot and birds singing in the foliage. There was something very quaint in this cosy corner, with the hideous echoes and weird re-echoes of my men’s squealing. Then we went on again from hill to hill, in a ten-inch footway, broken and washed away, so that in places it was necessary to hang on to the evergrowing grass to keep one’s footing in the slopes. One needs to have no nerves in China.