From the brow of the hill we descended with extreme rapidity—down, down into a valley which sent up a damp, oppressive atmosphere. Through the trees I could see one lovely ball of deep, rich red, painting the earth as it sank in a beauty exquisite beyond all else. Four men met us, stared suspiciously, thought we were deaf, and yelled that the place was twenty li away, and that we had better return to the brow of the hill. But we left them, and went still farther down. In the hush that prevailed I was unaccountably startled to see the form of a woman gliding towards me in the twilight. She came out of the valley carrying firewood. She spoke kindly to my man, and invited me to spend the night in her house near by.
I was for the moment vaguely awed by her very quiescence, and gazed wondering, doubting, bewildered. What was the little trick? Could I not from such things get free, even in Inland China? The red light of the sunken sun playing round her comely figure dazzled me, it is admitted, and I followed her with a sigh of mingled dread and desire for rest. Shall I say the shadow of the smile upon her lips deepened and softened with an infinite compassion?
Dogs rounded upon me as I entered the bamboo hut stuck on the side of the hill—they knew I had no right there. Inside a man was nursing a squalling baby; our escort was its mother, the man her husband. So I was safe. The place was swept up, unnecessary gear was taken away, fire was kindled, tea was brewed, rice was prepared; and whilst in shaving (for we were to reach Tengyueh on the morrow) I dodged here and there to escape the smoke and get the most light, giving my hospitable host a good deal of fun in so doing; every possible preparation was made for my comfort and convenience by the untiring woman at whose invitation I was there. Their attentions embarrassed me; every movement, every look, every gesture, every wish was anticipated, so that I had no more discomfort than a roaring wind and a low temperature about the region which no one could help. It was bitterly cold. In front of the fire I sat in an overcoat among the crowd drinking tea, whilst the soldiers drank wine—they bought five cash worth. Had my lamp oil run out, I should have bought liquor and tried to burn it instead. Soon the spirit began to talk, and these braves of the Chinese army got on terms of freest familiarity, telling me what an all-round excellent fellow I was, and how pleased they were that I had to suffer as well as they. But they never forgot themselves, and I allowed them to wander on uncontradicted and unrestrained. After a weary night of tossing in my p’ukai, with a roaring gale blowing through the latticed bamboo, behind which I lay so poorly sheltered, we started in good spirits.