By the side of a roaring waterfall, in a spot which looked a very fairyland in surroundings of reproductive green, we all sat down to rest. The air was cool and the path was damp, and water tumbling everywhere down from the rocks formed pretty cascades and rivulets. We heard the clang of the hatchets, and soon came upon men felling timber and sawing up trees into coffin boards. We were in the Valley of the Shadow, and it was the finest coffin center of the district. I took my boots off to wade through water which overran the pathway, and just beyond my men, exhausted with their awful toil, lay flat on their backs to rest; they were dead beat. One pointed up to the perpendicular cliff, momentarily closed his eyes and looked at me in disgust. I gently remonstrated. It was not my country, I told him; it was the “Emperor’s.” And after a time we reached the top.
Shadows were lengthening. In the distance we saw the mountains upon which we had spent the previous night, whose tops were gilded by the setting sun. Down below all was already dark. A cold wind blew the trees bending wearily towards the Valley.
And still we plodded on.
* * * * *
We had come to Siao-p’ing-ho, 115 li instead of the 140 I had been led to believe my men would cover. Every room in the hut was full, we were told, but the next place (with some unpronounceable name), fifteen li farther down, would give us good housing for the night. Lao Chang and I resolved to go on, tired though we were. Before I resolved on this plan I stopped to take a careful survey of the exact situation of the sheltering hollow in which we meant to pass the night. The sun was fast sinking; the dust of the road lay grey and thick about my feet; above me the heavens were reddening in sunset glory; the landscape had no touch of human life about it save our own two solitary figures; and the place, fifteen li away, lay before me as a dream of a good night rather than a reality.
Then on again we plodded, and yelled our intentions to the men behind.