It has been said that all of us have an innermost room, wherein we conceal our own secret affairs. In China everything is so open, and so much must be done in public, that it would surprise one to know that the Chinese have an inner room. The European traveler in this region must have no inner room, either, for the people seem to see down deep into one’s very soul. But it is when one wanders on alone, as I have done to-day, doing two days in one, no less than one hundred and forty li of terrible road through the most isolated country, that one can enjoy the comfort of one’s own loneliness and own inner room. The scenery was picturesque, much like Scotland, but the solitude was the best of all. I had left office and books and manuscripts, and was on a lonely walk, enjoying a solitude from which I could not escape, a reverie which was passed not nearly so much in thinking as in feeling, a feeling to nature-lovers which can never be completely expressed in words. It was indeed a refuge from the storms of life, and a veritable chamber of peace. And this, to my mind, is the way to spend a holiday. Robert Louis Stevenson tells us in one of his early books what a complete world two congenial friends make for themselves in the midst of a foreign population; all the hum and the stir goes on, and these two strangers exchange glances, and are filled with an infinite content Some of us would rather be alone, perhaps; for on a trip such as I am making now, in order to be happy with a companion you must have one who is thoroughly congenial and sympathetic, one who understands your unspoken thought, who is willing to let you have your way on the concession of the same privilege. Selfishness in the slightest degree should not enter in. But such a man is difficult to find, so I wander on alone, happy in my own solitude. Here I have liberty, perfect liberty.
I was stopped on my way to Lao-wa-t’an at a small town called Puerh-tu, the first place of importance after having come into Yuen-nan. A few li before reaching this town, one of my men cut the large toe of his left foot on a sharp rock, lacerating the flesh to the bone. I attended to him as best I could on the road, paid him four days’ extra pay, and then had a bit of a row with him because he would not go back. He avowed that carrying for the foreigner was such a good thing that he feared leaving it! Upon entering Puerh-tu, however, he fell in the roadway. A crowd gathered, a loud cry went up from the multitude, and in the consternation and confusion which ensued the people divided themselves into various sections.
Some rushed to proffer assistance to the fallen man (this was done because I was about; he would have been left had a foreigner not been there), others gathered around me with outrageous adulation and seeming words of welcome. Meanwhile, I thought the coolie was dying, and, fearful and unnatural as it seems, it is nevertheless true that at all ages the Chinese find a peculiar and awful satisfaction in watching the agonies of the dying. By far the larger part of the mob was watching him dying, as they thought. But no, he was still worth many dead men! He slowly opened his eyes, smiled, rose up, and immediately recognized a poor manacled wretch, then passing under escort of several soldiers, who stopped a little farther down, followed by a mandarin in a chair.