“See his boots! Look at his old hat! What a face! It is a monstrosity, and—”
But as I sat down the general of the establishment cruelly forced back the people, and screamingly yelled at the top of his voice that those who wanted to drink tea in the room must pay double rates. His unusual announcement was received with a low grunt of dissatisfaction, but no one left. Every table in the square apartment was soon filled with six or eight men, and the noise was terrific. Curiosity increased. The fun was, as the comic papers say, fast and furious; and despite the ill-favored pleasantries passed by my own men and the inquisitive tea-shop keeper-as to peculiarities of heredity in certain noisy members of the crowd, a riot seemed inevitable. I stationed my two soldiers in the narrow doorway to defend the only entrance and entertain the uninitiated with stories of their prowess with the rifle and of the weapon’s deadliness. Boys climbed like monkeys to the overhead beams to get a glimpse of me as I fed, and incidentally shook dust into my food.
Everyone pushed to where there was standing room. Outside a rolling sea of yellow faces surmounted a mass of lively blue cotton, all eager for a look. The din was terrible. All very visibly annoyed were my men at the rudeness of their low-bred fellow countrymen, and especially surprised at the equanimity of Ding Daren in tolerating quietly their pointed and personal remarks. I became more and more the hero of the hour.
Turning to the crowd as I came out, I smiled serenely, and with a quiet wave of the hand pointed out in faultless English that the gulf between my own country and theirs was already wide enough, and that Great Britain might—did not say that she would, but might—widen it still more if they persisted in treating her subjects in China as monstrous specimens of the human race. This was rigorously corroborated by my two soldier-men, to whom I appealed, and a parting word on the ordinary politeness of Western nations to a greasy fellow (he was a worker in brass), who felt my clothes with his dirty fingers, ended an interesting break in the day’s monotony. In the street the crowd again was at my heels, and evinced more than comfortable curiosity in my straw sandals. They cost me thirty cash, equal to about a halfpenny in our coinage.
Since then I have paid other visits to Pu-piao. On one occasion in subsequent travel I had a public shave there. My arrival at the inn in the nick of time enabled me to buttonhole the barber who was picking up his traps to clear, and I had one of the best shaves I have ever had in my life, in one of the most uncomfortable positions I ever remember. My seat was a low, narrow form with no back or anything for my neck to rest upon, and afterwards I went through the primitive and painful massage process of being bumped all over the back. Between every four or five whacks the barber snapped his fingers and clapped his hands, and right glad was I when he had finished. The yard was full, even to the stable and cook-house alongside each other, the anger of a grizzly old dame, who smoked a reeking pipe and who had charge of the rice-and-cabbage depot, being eclipsed only by my infuriated barber as he gave cruel vent to his anger upon my aching back.