Across China on Foot eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 330 pages of information about Across China on Foot.
moment, the natural elements of hunger and constant struggle against the great river swell their fury; they bellow like wild beasts, they are like beasts, for they have known nothing but struggle all their lives; they have always, since they were tiny children, been fighting this roaring water monster—­they know none else.  And now, as I say, they bellow like beasts, each man ravenously eager to be among the number chosen to earn a few cash.[D] The arrangement at last is made, and the discordant hubbub, instead of lessening, grows more and more deafening.  It is a miserable, desperate, wholly panic-stricken crowd that then harnesses up with their great hooks joined to a rough waist-belt, with which they connect themselves to the straining tow-lines.

And now her nose is put into the teeth of this trough of treachery—­a veritable boiling cauldron, stirring up all past mysteries.  Waves rush furiously towards us, with the growl of a thousand demons, whose anger is only swelled by the thousands of miles of her course from far-away Tibet.  It seems as if they must instantly devour her, and that we must now go under to swell the number of their victims.  But they only beat her back, for she rides gracefully, faltering timidly with frightened creaks and groans, whilst the waters shiver her frail bulwarks with their cruel message of destruction, which might mean her very death-rattle.  I get landed in the stomach with the end of a gigantic bamboo boat-hook, used by one of the men standing in the bows whose duty is to fend her off the rocks.  He falls towards the river.  I grab his single garment, give one swift pull, and he comes up again with a jerky little laugh and asks if he has hurt me—­yelling through his hands in my ears, for the noise is terrible.  To look out over the side makes me giddy, for the fifteen-knot current, blustering and bubbling and foaming and leaping, gives one the feeling that he is in an express train tearing through the sea.  On shore, far ahead, I can see the trackers—­struggling forms of men and women, touching each other, grasping each other, wrestling furiously and mightily, straining on all fours, now gripping a boulder to aid them forward, now to the right, now to the left, always fighting for one more inch, and engaged in a task which to one seeing it for the first time looks as if it were quite beyond human effort.  Fagged and famished beings are these trackers, whose life day after day, week in week out, is harder than that of the average costermonger’s donkey.  They throw up their hands in a dumb frenzy of protest and futile appeal to the presiding deity; and here on the river, depending entirely upon those men on the shore, slowly, inch by inch, the little craft, feeling her own weakness, forges ahead against the leaping current in the gapway in the reef.

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Across China on Foot from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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