The greater part of the roads to be traversed now were constructed on projecting slopes above rivers and torrents, affluents of the Yangtze, and cross a region upon which the troubled appearance of the mountains that bristle over it stamps the impress of a severe kind of beauty. Such roads would not be tolerated in any country but China—I doubt if any but the ancient Chinese could have had the patience to build them. One could not walk with comfort; it was an impossible task. Far away over the earth, winding into all the natural trends of the mountain base, ran the highway, merrily tripping over huge boulders, into hollows and out of them, almost underground, but always, with its long white extended finger, beckoning me on by the narrow ribbon in the distance. True, although I was absolutely destitute of company, I had always the road with me, yet ever far from me. I could not catch it up, and sometimes, dreaming triumphantly that I had now come even with it where it seemed to end in some disordered stony mass, it would trip mischievously out again into view, bounding away into some tricky bend far down to the edge of the river, and rounding out of sight once more until the point of vantage was attained. Its twisting and turning, up and down, inwards, outwards, made humor for the full long day. With it I could not quarrel, for it did its best to help me with my weary men onwards over the now darkened landscape, and ever took the lead to urge us forward. If it came to a great upstanding mountain, with marked politeness it ran round by a circuitous route, more easily if of greater length; at other times it scaled clear up, nimbly and straight, turning not once to us in its self-appointed task, and at the top, standing like some fairy on a steeple-point, beckoned us on encouragingly. At times it became exhausted and stretched itself wearisomely out, measuring in width to only a few small inches, and overlooked the river at great height, telling us to ponder well our footsteps ere we go forward. To part company with the road would mean to die, for elsewhere was no foothold possible. So in this narrow faithful ledge, torn up by the heavy tread of countless horses’ feet beyond Lao-wa-t’an (where horse traffic starts), we carefully ordered every step. Looking down, sheer down as from some lofty palace window, I saw the green snake waiting, waiting for me. Slipping, there would be no hope—death and the river alone lay down that treacherous mountain-side. And then, at times, pursuing that white-faced wriggling demon which stretched out far over the mist-swept landscape in incessant writhing and annoying contortions, we quite gave up the chase. It seemed leading me on to some unknown destiny. I knew not whither; only this I knew—that I must follow.
And so each hour and every hour was fraught with peril which seemed imminent. But He who guards the fatherless and helpless, feeds the poor and friendless, guarded the traveler in those days. Mishaps I had none, and when at night I reached those tiny mountain seats, perched majestically high for the most part and swept by all the winds of heaven, I seemed to be the lonely spectator and companionless watcher over mighty mountain-tops, which appeared every moment to be hesitating to take a gigantic dive into the roaring river several hundred feet below our lofty resting-place.