The day after New Year we crossed the Mekong. The river flows through a superb gorge with extremely steep banks. Inscriptions of all kinds were carved on the naked cliffs. I was aware of a very curious sensation in crossing both this river and the Salween. I can only describe it by saying that I seemed to be aware of the genius loci. At night, the wild beauty of the scenery was further enhanced. A house in the adjacent fields, several acres in extent, caught fire. This warm glow in the midst of the cold vastness of the plateau and the stars was very weird; and the silhouettes of the excited peasants who were trying to keep the fire from spreading seemed to dance in front of the flickering flames gigantically. It was a sort of opium dream of hell.

Talking of opium, I purchased the necessary apparatus and began to learn to smoke. I have already described the fiasco with laudanum in Kandy, and somewhere in Burma I had made an equally futile experiment with powered opium, taking thirty grains or so with no greater profit than making myself suddenly and painlessly sick. I found smoking the drug equally unavailing. I smoked twenty-five pipes in five hours with no result whatever. It now appears that I was not inhaling properly; but (for all that) I might have got something out of twenty-five pipes! The fact is that I have an idiosyncrasy with regard to this drug. I sometimes wonder whether I did not use up all my capacities in that respect in a previous incarnation; possibly I was Ko Hs’uen.

East of the Mekong, the path becomes much less satisfactory, partly owing to the geological differences. The whole country between Sha Yang and Chu Tung is across a steep wide range. There are innumerable barrancas, with which Mexico had made me familiar. The atmosphere of China had by this time begun to soak into my soul. Chinese art explained itself as inspired by Chinese nature. There is a vast, free, pale, delicate expanse of colour and form, whose lines are visibly determined by the very structure of the globe itself. There is an infinite harmony and ease in a journey such as I was making.

The physical geography is even more vast in its own way that that of the Himalayas; and the country seems somehow less definite, less specialized yet equally ineluctable! Small vivid patches of colour are associated rather with the works of man that those of nature, and if I were to endeavour to give a name to the poetic quintessence of the province of Yunnan I should content myself with one word — space. The Sahara Desert itself and the sea do not exceed this district in this respect, for they obtain their effects by what I may call the brutal method of sheer magnitude. Here the country is as diversified as Cumberland or Switzerland; the effect of immensity, of almost formless immensity, is obtained by slightly increasing the scale of quite normal types of hill, forest, lake and river, so that man and his ant heaps appear absurdly diminutive by means of delicate satire rather than drastic demonstration.

The character of the journey constantly changes. The steep and desolate range scarred by barrancas gave place in a single march to the loveliest wooded hills, yet the slight magnification of everything produced a sense of tedium. To enjoy China fully, one must allow one’s soul to expand to the scale of the scenery and this cannot be cone by ardour, as it can among great glaciers. It must be a gently beatific and philosophical adaptation of oneself to one’s environment. During this month, my poetic genius was lulling itself by means of an ineffably beautiful rhythm and rime scheme. On this whole journey I composed only tow poems, and for the first time in my life I did not write them down, so to speak, automatically; I made up the verses in my head and only took pen when they were complete. The second of the poems, "The King Ghost", is most peculiar psychologically. It is as if I had been stripped to the skin of my infinite mentality. It refers to the country south of Yunnanfu where the North Wind, or rather North Draught, was the dominant demon of the desert.

These sensuous yet savage uplands conveyed a peculiar spiritual exaltation such as I have experienced nowhere else and I translated them into "The Opium Smoker". In all these months I succeeded in completing only tow sections;the other six were invented and written down later.

My diary from Mekong to Talifu is very meagre. The most interesting entry is this, Saw child saved from missionary (one eye lost) showing marks of gouging." I do not remember at this distance of time what the incident was. It was nothing unusual. Medical missionaries in remote districts tend to become sadistically insane from the boredom of their lives. Being brainless, they cannot endure it; and take advantage of their circumstances to vivisect the poor far more freely than is done in London hospitals.

Almost every day blesses the traveller with some delightful geographical surprises. I recall, for instance, plodding wearily up a pass of decidedly rugged character. It was natural to expect that the other side of the pass would be not very dissimilar. I reached the top — and was stupefied. Instead of looking down into a valley, I saw the ground stretching away from me perfectly level, a shallow oblong with a rim of grassy mounds. It was highly cultivated land, paddy fields and plantations of white poppy ablaze in the sunlight with straight narrow channels of pure pale green and pale blue water marking off one meadow from another. Similar surprises constantly {487} crop up. Their unexpectedness suggests the atmosphere of Alice in Wonderland, while their formal beauty reminds one of the character visions of the "alchemical plant". A less accurate but perhaps more intelligible analogy is that of the curiously luminous, exquisite and irrational landscapes which were used as backgrounds by such painters as Mantegna, Memling and Leonardo da Vinci.

On February 1st we entered a magnificent gorge. The culminating ecstasy is the approach to Hsia-Kuan but means of a natural rock bridge amid rock walls. It is as if one had come suddenly upon the "dark tower" of Childe Roland, a fortress built by titanic gnomes when the planet was a semi-liquid flux of lava.

The road to Talifu, the second greatest city of the province and the most picturesquely situated and historically important, breaks off from the main road across China and runs sharply northward for eight miles across wild desolate moorlands. Every weak spot in the defences of the wilderness has been seized upon by the industry of the Chinese and turned into a glowing patch of cultivated soil. The approach to Tali itself inspires the stranger with a certain awe, for life is seen wrestling with death in a supreme spasm. The pullulating towers and temples of the town seem literally to quake amid the rotten and restless ruins with which they are interspersed. And thereby hangs a tale.

During eighteen years the province of Yunnan had been the theatre of civil war. Tali was the greatest stronghold of the Mohammedans, their opponents being (more or less) Mahayana Buddhists. There was not really, I fancy, much to choose between them. The outward and visible sign of Islam in these parts is that the door of a Moslem is protected from malignant demons by a poster inscribed with sacred characters instead of a fierce-looking genius. Also he objects to pork. The cause of the war was in fact either that the Mohammedans raided the pork butchers or that the Pork Trust wished to extend its market by force. I do not remember how many million men were said to have been killed in the course of these struggles, but something like two thirds of the whole area of Talifu (some estimates gave three quarters) had been razed to the ground in the final storming of the stronghold.

Dr. Clark, the medical missionary of Talifu, received us with great courtesy and hospitality. I found him a sincere and earnest man; more, even an enlightened man, so far as it is possible for a missionary to be so; but that is not very far. I found him totally ignorant both of canonical Buddhism and of local beliefs. I tried to point out to him that he could hardly hope to show the natives the errors of their way of thinking, unless he knew that that was. But he declined to see the point. He was so cocksure that his own sect of Christianity held truth in utter purity and entirety that he could not imagine {488} that the Chinese had any way of thinking at all. He regarded their refusal to follow him as a mixture of sheer dullness and sheer wickedness.

I forget the figures with regard to the converts at Talifu. In Yunnanfu the staff of six missionaries claimed four converts in four years and I imagine that these four were rice Christians at that. The truth seems to be that there are two main types of non-Christian religion. The first may be described as philosophical. In this category I place the more intelligent classes of Buddhist, Hindu and Mohammedan. To convert these people it would obviously be necessary to show them that Christianity offers them a more satisfactory explanation of the universe than their own; and not only have I never met a missionary who was capable of doing this, but not even one who admitted the desirability of it or attempting it.

The other type is the superstitious to which belong the fetish- worshipping varieties of Buddhist and Hindu and pagan (Equatorial Africa and Polynesia) with their paraphernalia of miracles, sacrifices, priestcraft, penance, vicarious atonements and the like. It is up to the missionary to show that the Christian form of such things is superior to the local variety and the difficulty is usually insuperable. The native can produce much bigger and more improbable miracles, a much more terrifying demonology, a far more fascinating pantheon, with a more alluring (and, so to say, actual) ritual than even the papist. The native perhaps seems little reason why he should not accept Christianity, but certainly none at all why he should discard his own beliefs which seem to him more vivid and more veracious, better adapted and better attested than the new. It is in fact only among the very lowest class of superstitious savages that Christianity makes any headway. Where Christian and Moslem missions are in direct rivalry, Islam collects the higher and Christianity the lower sections of the society.

Disappointed about learning Chinese ideas at first hand in this remote region, I hoped at least to get available information about the effects of opium smoking. Dr. Clark informed me that these effects were appalling — the usual scaremonger story. He said it was the curse of the country and that his clinic was full of victims; "Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds," he groaned, "physical and moral wrecks from the habit." "I should like to see one," I replied with the appropriate sigh and shudder. "Well, you have only to come down to my clinic any morning," re returned: "there are hundreds and hundreds and hundreds." He groaned again. Well, I went down to his clinic and he went on groaning that there were hundreds and hundreds and hundreds, and I went on sighing that I should like to see one.

During my whole journey, I never saw a man whom I could call definitely the worse for opium. My wife’s chair coolies were cases in point. They had smoked from twelve years old or thereabouts; and when I say smoked, I mean smoked. Every night on reaching the inn, temple or camp, as the case {489} may be, they cooked their rice and started to smoke directly they had eaten it, continuing till they went to sleep. In the morning again they smoked before starting. The chair (with Rose and the baby, and the books which I like to have handy to read at odd moments without unpacking my valise) weighed over one hundred and sixty pounds.

Each man had therefore to carry forty pounds. Not much, but a load of this kind is very different to dead weight. Each man had to keep in step with the rest and shake the chair as little as possible; and this over rough hilly toads, often slippery with mud; perhaps against a head wind, in which case the furniture of the chair offered a large surface. One of these coolies, the heaviest the most inveterate smoker of the quartet, cannot have been less than sixty years old. I timed the men under the worst conditions; a road mostly uphill, driving sleet — half a gale — dead ahead, streaming slippery cobbles, and they did eight miles without a rest in two hours dead. If those men were "physical wrecks from abuse of opium", I should like to see the animal in his undamaged state!

There are of course men who have injured their health by opium; and one can see such on the coast, where the affair is complicated with alcohol and European vices. But on the whole, the search for an opium fiend in China is on all fours with the search for the man with tobacco amblyopia in England. Consular reports and independent medical opinion are unanimous that opium smoking does little or no harm to the Chinese. Dr. Thomas Stevenson, in his special article in Quain’s Dictionary of Medicine, sits on the fence as follows: "Great differences of opinion exist as to the pernicious or other effects of opium smoking. Some would have us believe that the practice is pernicious, not to say deadly; but debasing it often is. The pictures drawn as to its effects are evidently coloured by the bias of the observer. On the other hand some would persuade us that the practice is harmless, not to say beneficial. Doubtless neither view is absolutely correct, and whilst opium smoking is pernicious, the evils have been greatly exaggerated." These remarks strike me on the whole as fair.

I have myself made extensive and elaborate studies of the effects of indulgence in stimulants and narcotics. (See my The Psychology of Hashish, Cocaine, The Green Goddess, The Diary of a Drug Fiend etc.) I have a vast quantity of unpublished data. I am convinced that personal idiosyncrasy counts for more in this matter than all the other factors put together. The philosophical phlegmatic temperament of the Chinese finds opium sympathetic. But the effect of opium on a vivacious, nervous, mean, cowardly Frenchman, on an Englishman with his congenital guilty conscience or on an American with his passion for pushing everything to extremes is very different; the drug is almost certain to produce disaster.

Similarly, hashish, which excites certain types of Arab, Indian, Malay or {490} Mexican to indiscriminate murder, whose motive is often religious insanity, has no such effect on quietly disposed, refined and philosophical people, especially if they happen to possess the faculty of self-analysis. In brief, generalization about such exceptionally subtle problems is a snare.

One one point, however, I must admit to thinking and feeling somewhat strongly. Dr. Clark told me that the missionaries treated the opium habit with injections of morphia; and in other parts of China I learnt that they had taught the Chinese, with the same laudable intention, to sniff cocaine.

The British government has acted with incredible folly. The economic prosperity of India is largely bound up with the export of opium. Whilst I was in China a petition against "the accursed traffic" had been presented. It was signed by many of the most eminent and enlightened men in China, to say nothing of the sister-in-law (I think it was) of the emperor whom they had persuaded to declare herself a Christian so as to have a foot in the enemy’s camp. The fact was the most of the petitioners were themselves opium growers whose business was damaged by the competition of the Indian product. In the same way, of course, many of the missionaries were employed by the manufacturers of morphia and cocaine to introduce these drugs instead of the practically harmless and even beneficial YEN.

China has been the most civilized country in the world; from the time of Lao Tzu and Confucius, the fringe of its culture has been torn by the claws of commerce, but it will survive the collapse of Europe. And in Yunnan the contamination of the foreign devil had not gone very far; in fact, it had not yet reached the asymptote of its own curve. However, the clearing of the ground had long been complete. There are practically no wild animals in the province. I did not even see one of those famous pheasants which I was anxious to shoot. I had hitherto bagged nothing but occasional pigeons for the pot.

At Talifu, nevertheless, there is great sport to be had. From the great deserts to the north, across the mighty mountains, migrate many magnificent birds, especially cranes and geese. I went out from the city northwards, for these birds migrate at this time of the year from the terrible highlands of Central Asia to the warm valleys and plains of the low country. I used to lie behind an embankment which was perhaps at one time part of the fortifications of the city, and shoot them as they came over. It was very difficult sport. The birds flew very high and at a tremendous pace. Some idea may be gained from the fact that a grouse shot clean through the head would fall as much as a quarter of a mile from the embankment. The geese are admirable eating, but the flesh of the crane is very coarse and fishy.

Talking of shooting, I may as well sum up the subject by saying that the part of China through which I travelled offers very poor sport on the whole; there is usually the chance of a pigeon for the pot, but that is all one can get {491} without taking a great deal of pins. I had heard so much of the gorgeous beauty of the Chinese pheasant and looked forward to bagging a few, but never so much as saw one during the whole march. As for quadrupeds, I never set eyes on as much as a rabbit or a marmot, let alone a deer. Foxes abound; but they did not come my way. Chinese civilization is so systematic that wild animals have been abolished on principle. That at least is the only explanation that suggests itself to me.

We had been told that we should find ample supplies of fresh food of all sorts everywhere. Nothing could have been farther from the truth. We could get no fresh milk, the Chinese considering it obscene to extract it; but strangely enough, in even the smallest villages, we were able to buy an excellent brand of evaporated cream which some enterprising drummer had managed to unload along the track. There was no mutton to be had; and it was only seldom that we managed to but a goat or kid. Poultry and eggs were fairly plentiful in most places; rice of an inferior quality and the most suspicious-looking kind of pork were the staple food of the people. Flour was rarely available and of course there was no butter.

Salama was in great distress at the difference between the local rice and the Indian variety to which he was accustomed, while as a Moslem he abhorred pork. I too would not eat it, valuing the respect in which he held me, as a sahib who partook not of the abominations of my race. Luckily, distrusting my informant, I had supplied myself with a considerable stock of canned provisions before starting, and I increased this at Tengyueh, buying some of Litton’s stores from his widow. Even so, we were running very short before we reached Yunnanfu.

At this hour, seventeen years later, I recall almost more vividly than any other incident of the journey, an absurd little tragedy in this connection. We had some tins of coffee and milk, and we had come to the last portion of the last tin. We treasured it for days, looking forward to enjoying it on some great occasion as never an epicure looked forward to a bottle of rare wine. The moment came, we prepared the great drink with almost reverential care. And just as we were going to drink it, my wife shifted her position and spilled it. It would be hopeless to try to express the bitterness of our disappointment. Stay-at-home people can form no idea of the strength of the obsession which trifles impose. Conrad in "An Outpost of Progress" tells of a murder and suicide beginning in a quarrel between two close friends, traders up-river, over a few lumps of sugar.

During our short stay in Talifu, we saw the biggest pageant with which the Chinese welcome spring. I did not know enough Chinese to understand the details of the ceremony; and the missionaries regarded the while business as a blasphemous pagan orgy from which all righteous people should avert their gaze. I could see clearly, however, that the central figure was an ox. He was {492} evidently the hero of the occasion because he was going to help them out with their ploughing. It was a gay, spontaneous, harmless piece of merriment; to see idolatry in it is sheer morbid prejudice.

We left Tali on February 6th and got back to the main road. The following day was without interest, but on the eighth, the latter part of the march led through a delightful valley of the most surprising beauty. It was an altogether new type of scenery. China is full of these delicious revelations. It has always some new delicate splendour to show the traveller. The variety is infinite, not as Alpine peaks or Scottish locks differ, merely in detail; in China, one is always discovering a totally strange fairyland. The spirit of a man is reborn with every such vision. It is not even possible to compare and contrast these beauties; each is entirely individual, lord of its own atmosphere; the points of similarity with other places such as geological formations, the flora, the villages and the people seem to possess infinitesimal importance.

On the ninth there was a novelty of another kind. The dignity of Johnny White as interpreter entitled him to ride on horseback; but naturally he had to be content with a somewhat sorry screw, wile my own pony was a fairly decent animal. He thought the time ripe to attempt to force me to "lose face": that is, to become an object of ridicule to the coolies. If he had succeeded, I need hardly point out, there would have been and end of all discipline and we should probably have been robbed and murdered in short order. His idea was to start out ahead of us on my pony. I did not find out what had happened for some time.

When I did, I set out on foot at top speed after him. In two or three hours I came up with the culprit. As luck would have it, he was crossing a steep hillside; below the path were gigantic thorn bushes. I came up quietly and unperceived, put my left hand under his right foot and with one deft jerk flung him from the saddle into a thorn bush. It was quite impossible for him to extricate himself, the bush being very large and elastic, the thorns long and persuasive. So I waited, peacefully smoking, until the coolies began to arrive, when I got up and gave him a whack with my whalebone hip as each man passed. When all had gone by, I mounted my pony and followed. Johnny White was rescued by a subsequent caravan and turned up during the halt for tiffin. It was not I who had "lost face" with the coolies! And I had no more trouble of any kind for the rest of the journey to Yunnanfu.

This march was very long and dull, its monotony relieved only by a fine view of lakes and hills. But the next six days were utterly uninteresting. Not until the sixteenth did the featureless plateau give way to the grand wooded gorges which caress Tatz’assa Tang. The village has no good inn, so we went on to a lovely glade which afforded a delightful and romantic place for a camp. I fell ill, I don’t know of what, for the next three days. Whatever scenery there may have been I was too sick to observe.


We reached Yunnanfu on the twentieth. Mr. Wilkinson, the consul general, wrote that he was very sorry not to be able to offer hospitality, but the Bengali blackguard of Tengyueh had pout in a complaint that I had assaulted him, so that his relations with me must be strictly official until the matter was settled. We found accommodation in the dépendance of the French Hospital; an admirable place run by a Dr. Barbezieux and a Parisian head nurse, both of them really too much accomplished and delightful to be wasted on such a cesspool as this city. I called on Wilkinson and told him my side of the story of Litton’s death. Steps were taken to make it hot for the doctor; but as my assault was not denied, the consul general had to regard it as a technical offence, which was duly purged by the payment of a small fine.

The approach to Yunnanfu is worthy of remark. The city is situated in the centre of a plain ringed round by hills. The suggestion is almost of a crater, like Mexico City. There is no adequate drainage for the rainfall. The town itself seems, from a distance, to be perched on a huge mound some fifty to a hundred feet in height. But on investigation one discovers that this mound is composed of the refuse of the city; the accumulation of centuries of indescribable dirt. It inclined one to accept the theory that bubonic plague first appeared here and spread hence throughout the world.

On the twenty-third I paid the inevitable visit to the inevitable missionary. This specimen was more bigoted and less intelligent than any I had previously met. I had not thought this possible. Six missionaries in four years working in this populous city did one even claim more than four converts. They attributed their failure, of course, to the personal activity of the devil. It never occurred to them that there might be something wrong with their methods. Roughly speaking, any man with energy and enthusiasm ought to be able to bring at least a dozen others round to his opinion in the course of a year, no matter how absurd that opinion might be. We see every day in politics, in business, in social life, large masses of people brought to embrace the most revolutionary ideas, sometimes within a few days. It is all a question of getting hold of them in the right way and working on their weak points.

I enjoyed my ten days in Yunnanfu immensely. I picked up quite a lot of old prints at prices so low that I could hardly believe my ears. The city had never been ransacked by bric-…-brac hounds.

Having settled my little official affair with the consul general, we were free to become excellent friends. He was a distinguished and delightful man, though I could well understand that Litton had been a thorn in his side. He wanted everything done elegantly and correctly, while Litton cared nothing for routine. He was always imposing his tameless personal genius on the province, with the result that he was always achieving unexpected successes when Wilkinson expected him to be filling up forms and docketing reports.

For various reasons, I decided to abandon my original design to descend {494} the Yangtze; for one thing, the delays at Bhamo and Tengyueh had robbed me of time. I was anxious to get to Europe in good time to prepare a new expedition to Kangchenjunga for 1907. I had the mountain, so to speak, in my pocket. A part of average strength could make as certain of strolling to the top as if it were the Strand. I decided, therefore, to turn south and make for Tonkin.

On March 2nd, after breakfast and tiffin with the consul general, who was unfortunately short of stores and could only spare us a couple of tins of butter, we started along the cobbled track, lively with cherry blossoms. The walking soon became very difficult; the paths were rough, wet and slippery. On the fourth we came to a pass in the mountains guarded southwards by fine cliffs. At nightfall we reached a lake by whose side we camped. The weather for the first five days of this journey was bitterly cold. The wind, shifting from south-east to south-west, literally took the skin off our faces, even mine, which I had thought inured to all the possible devilishness of nature.

Later, this wind dropped and was replaced by a much more deadly device; a steady draught from the north was infernally icy as when it started its career in the ghastly deserts of Siberia. It had the same quality as the north wind which we had on Chogo Ri; it took no notice whatever of poshtin (coats lined with sheepskin), sweaters, flannel shirts and vests. One felt as if one were absolutely naked. There was no shelter from it. One might crouch behind a wall or a house, but although that prevented the wind from blowing on one, it did not hinder the draught from drawing from one. The effect was just as bad; it simply exhausted one bodily and mentally; it sucked out all vitality and courage.

On the sixth we came out suddenly on the edge of a plateau with a descent of some three thousand feet in front of us, through a fine gorge. But I was hardly in a mood to appreciate nature. For three days we had practically nothing to eat but soup and Worchester Sauce. When we asked for eggs, we created something not far shot of a scandal. Even rice was scanty. The villages on this route are few, far apart and poverty-stricken.

Of one thing we had plenty — tea. I had heard marvellous stories of the so-called "brick tea" that hails from these parts; and laid in a large stock of various brands to take back to England. The bricks are usually in the shape of a flat cone, somewhat hollow beneath. It reminds one of the straw hats of Japanese coolies. The diameter is from eight inches to one foot and the thicknesses from two to four inches. The flavour is excellent, very subtle and aromatic; but it possesses a property not usually associated with tea, the desirability of which depends on the physiological condition of the drinker, for it acts as a powerful laxative and a purgative when strongly infused and consumed in excess. When I reached home and could compare it with the finest caravan {495} teas, its flavour seemed less admirable, yet it retained its distinction and was always worth its place in the caddy as a curiosity. For myself, too, it was a potent spell to evoke most vivid memories of this weirdly fascinating journey.

To return to the march to Mengtsz. There is little to see that is impressive. My one memory is of a big pagoda perched on the crest of a mountain that looked as if it had been cleft in twain by a wizard. I was heartily glad on the tenth when Mengtsz came into sight; a French outpost with all the civilization, culture and cooking that heart of man can wish. The inspector of customs, Mr. Brewitt Taylor, very kindly asked us to stay in his house, though at first sight he could hardly believe that I was an Englishman. The journey had reduced me to rags; I had no chance of washing or trimming my beard; the skin of my face was torn by the wind. I must have looked simply frightful. (I still do.)

We only stayed three days in Mengtsz in spite of the attractions of the little French colony. Everyone invited us everywhere, including a garden party where I played lawn tennis for the first time in ten years. I will play once more — when I return.

There is one ghastly tale to be told. The French intended to run a railway up to Yunnan to extend their sphere of influence. They had surveyed the route satisfactorily and proceeded to import eight thousand coolies. With unbelievable stupidity, they got them from Manchuria. Naturally enough, the men could not stand the climate, especially as no proper accommodations had been provided to house them. In six months only five hundred were left.

On March 14th we left Mengtsz for Manhao on the Red River —three days’ easy travelling. The very first night, an unpleasant incident took place. Wilkinson had made me promise on no account to strike any of the men but to rely on him to punish any misconduct when they returned to Yunnanfu. It seemed as if they knew of this compact and the Great God Wilkinson seemed very far off to them. I could feel instinctively that the respect, akin to godly fear, which I had previously inspired was less powerful as an inhibition.

We slept on the fourteenth at a seerai, dirty and entirely comfortless. I paid the host more than liberally; but he was insolent and I had no means of abating the nuisance. This emboldened my own coolies to be mutinous; and in the course of a squabble with my wife (I being ahead out of sight) one of them struck the baby. I ground my teeth; but resolved to keep my temper and my promise to the consul.

The fifteenth was a long march over muddy cobbles full of holes where my horse constantly slipped an stumbled. It blew great guns and poured blue cats all day. We reached a village with an alleged European hotel; the ‘Sino-France”, {496} a wattled hotel, unspeakably foul; the worst place I had yet struck in all Asia.

Manhao is a fine village situated on the banks of the Red River — a torrent which competes with the Salween for pre-eminence in deadliness, both from disease and demons. The Chinese refuse to sleep even a single night in the valley; but I saw no cachectics in the village any more than I had seen victims of opium elsewhere.

The Red River at this point runs through a deep and narrow gorge. We found it stiflingly hot, after our long exposure to the icy winds of the plateau. I had hired a dup-out to take us down the rapids to Hokow, and her I saw my chance of getting even with the coolies. Having got everything aboard, I proceeded to pay the head man the exact sum due to him — less certain fines. Then the band played. They started to threaten the crew and prevented them from casting off the ropes. They incited the bystanders to take their part; and presently we had thirty or forty yelling maniacs preparing to stone us. I got out my .400 Cordite Express and told Salama to wade ashore and untie the ropes. But like all Kashmiris, thoughtlessly brave in the face of elemental dangers, he was an absolute coward when opposed to men. I told him that unless be obeyed at once I would begin by shooting him. He saw I meant it and did his duty; while I covered the crowd with my rifle. Not a stone was thrown; three minutes later the fierce current had swept us away from the rioters.

The real danger now began. This was the only part of the journey where we encountered any serious risk of disaster. The Red River, though broad and deep, has all the characteristics of the wildest mountain torrents. It falls in a succession of dangerous rapids, all the more perilous for the sudden sharp curves of the channel. At almost every corner we saw one or more wrecks, a far from reassuring spectacle. I was given to understand, however, that disaster rarely overtook boats going down stream. It is when they are being towed by insufficient power up the rapids that they get out of control and are dashed upon the rocks. For all that, we managed to hit two nasty snags in the course of the day; one of them ripped a hole in us amidships; but the men managed to stop the leak with tarpaulin nailed in place by short boards with extraordinary speed and efficiency. They were evidently well accustomed to similar jobs.

We reached Hokow on the eighteenth and struck a forlorn Englishman who gave us tiffin and dined with us. We all got gloriously drunk celebrating the success of a journey which in the opinion of all reasonable people was a crazy escapade, doomed from the first to disaster. Another bubble had burst! The awe-inspiring adventure had proved as safe as a bus ride from the Bank to Battersea.


< >

Back to index