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It is probably a rare incident for any young man to meet, in the flesh, the ideal of his boyhood's dreams. Such, however was my great good fortune. In the consul at Tengyueh, Mr. Litton, I found all that I had lost when Richard Burton died. He possessed the spirit of adventure in its noblest and most joyous form. He had the instinct for learning foreign languages and dealing with foreign people; and in one respect, his history had been similar. Some years before, he had been consul in another part of China which was the heart of the Boxer movement. Moving, as he did, among the Chinese in the most intimate way, he understood the feeling behind the agitation. He employed his genius in unravelling the conspiracy an succeeded in discovering the plans of the Boxers in detail. This information he communicated to the authorities in Peking. It will be remembered that Burton did exactly the same thing in the matter of the Indian Mutiny; and to a certain extent, Sir William Butler had done this with regard to the Boers.
The result in each case was exactly the same. The indignant authorities banished Litton to the remote and unimportant post of Tengyueh, at the very edge of the wildest province of China. But it is hard to keep a good man down. Litton's influence over the natives was so great that he was the real ruler of the province. He was just starting on tour to compose some native squabble near the frontier, some thirty miles from Tengyueh; and we lunched together by the wayside. He had done miracles to smooth my path.
He had been originally alarmed by my taking my wife and child with me on such a journey. His letter amused me very much; it showed the class of the English people with whom he was expected to deal. He expected us to scream if hot water and cold water was not laid on in every Chinese inn, and to take down every Chinese coolie, farmer or merchant for a murderer with a special “down” on “foreign devils”. He thought the we would be very much upset by that natural curiosity of the natives at seeing a white woman and interpret their interest as intentional insult. When he found with what practical common sense I travelled, he realized immediately that there was going to be no trouble. During this lunch he gave me more genuinely valuable information about China that I had had in the whole previous course of my life. One of his sayings was this: whatever one hears, however extraordinary, is true in China somewhere or other!
He also told me the main psychological difference between the Chinese and Indian as regards practical dealing with them. The Chinese does not
respect the white man as the Indian does — for his possession of high moral qualities. The very coolies despise their wealthiest merchants for their honesty, which, by the way, is unique in commerce. They respect any man who acts as their own mandarins act; with absolute lack of sympathy, justice or any other human feelings. They treat the traveler well in proportion as he is overbearing, haughty and avaricious.
I found, in fact, that it was necessary to throw the whole of my previous principles overboard. One cannot fraternize with the Chinese of the lower classes; one must treat them with absolute contempt and callousness. On the other hand the Chinese gentleman is the noblest and courtliest in the world. His general bearing is that of Athos in The Three Musketeers, at his best. One's relations with him should be those of absolute mutual respect; and here again, intimacy of any kind is impossible. Each man abides on pinnacles of isolation. A typical case is the relation of the Emperor to a man like Li Hung-chang. The Son of Heaven was so far above even the greatest of his subjects that he could make no difference between him and the commonest labourer. He wrote to him simply as Li.
Litton furnished me with careful notes of the stages of my journey to Yunnanfu, which I found extremely useful. I could not start from Tengyueh until my passport arrived from the consulate general. With extreme kindness, Litton invited me to stay at the consulate until it arrived. He himself hoped to be back in Tenjyueh within a week, so that I expected to see him again and learn more of his vision. We sat and talked for a couple of hours, each feeling instinctively that he had found a sympathetic spirit.
The march from Bhamo to Tengyueh had been rater eventful. The first day was a pleasant ride of about nine miles to Mamouk where we dined at the officers' mess. We were still in the Burmese atmosphere and the minds of the people were preoccupied with European affairs and disease. There was no trace of the singular horror with which I was to come in contact beyond the frontier, a horror from which I found no one but Litton himself entirely free, until I got into the sphere of French influence. The next day we covered twenty-one miles and the third sixteen, where we camped for the first time in the open. The scenery had not been particularly striking; but there was a feeling of openness on leaving the Irrawaddy basin which we found extremely pleasant.
On the fourth day we crossed the Chinese frontier. At this point it is marked by a small stream in a ravine. There is not proper bridge; only an insecure-looking tree trunk. I had doubts about my pony and decided to walk across. I was of course riding last to prevent straggling, and by the time I had crossed the stream the rest of the party were out of sight around the corner of the path which rises sharply along the hillside, in order to cross the mountain. I had got a little stiff with riding and thought I would stretch my
legs; so I walked with my horse up the slope for some distance. Deciding to remount, I swung my leg over the saddle; and, before I was seated, the brute put his hind hoof over the khud, which was here precipitious. We rolled over each other twice, a distance of thirty or forty feet.
We were neither of us in the least hurt; my feeling was one of plain astonishment. I look up at the cliff. It was well within my posers to climb, but there was no possibility of getting the pony up. I climbed up the path and carefully retied my turban, which had come off, before shouting for Alama to come back and extricate my horse. I felt it essential to show myself imperturbable. The men returned to find me quietly sitting and smoking. They had considerable difficulty in find a way round for the pony. The day's adventures were not yet over. Just before getting to camp I was kicked on the thigh by a mule. I shall explain later the extreme importance of this day in my career.
There was quite a series of small accidents during these days. Salama had started it by falling off his mule. Then came my turn. The day after, Rose and the baby fell while walking across a bridge, quite incomprehensibly. It was extraordinary luck that they did not come to serious grief. The day after, we spent the night in a Buddhist temple after a march in the pouring rain, during which the ayah was both kicked and bitten by a mule. The day after that it was again my turn to be kicked. I have had a good deal of experience with mules in various parts of the world; but only in this short section did such things occur.
This day was again very wet. The road led over a pass three thousand feet high. I say “road”, and of course this is the main highway from Burma to China, just as the road we had followed from Srinagar is the main highway from Kashmir to Turkestan. In neither case would it be considered good going by the average goat. The day we were to arrive in Tengyueh, the ayah gave us the slip. We had camped by a hot spring the night previous, in company with a caravan bound for Burma. One of the muleteers took the fancy of the lady and she decided to throw in her lot with his and go off to Burma. She had been such a bad servant and given so much trouble that I made no attempt to retrieve her.
We met with a warm welcome at the consulate from Litton's Chinese wife, an exceedingly beautiful woman with perfect manners. They had five charming children. The prejudice against half-castes requires analysis. It is not the mixture of blood, as a rule, that makes the majority of them such degraded specimens of humanity, but the circumstances usually attending their birth. These circumstances, again, are due to the crass imbecility of public morality. When the child is a by-blow of drunken Tommy and a bazaar woman there is no need of profound anthropological hypotheses to explain why it is not a Newton or a Chesterfield. There is no doubt, however,
that some races make better combinations than others. The best class of Englishman and the best class of Chinese mingle admirably, provided (of course) that the children are brought up decently in an environment where they are not handicapped from the first by feeling themselves objects of dislike and contempt. Nothing is worse for children than to be humiliated; they should be brought up to realize that they are “kings and priests unto God”.
The foreign colony at Tengyueh was small and dull. The head of the customs was Napier, the son of an old friend of my father's. He was a melancholy aristocrat who only kept himself from going insane in these monotonously uncongenial surroundings by a sort of Promethean courage. The other Britons have made no impression on my mind soever. There was a Norwegian missionary named Amundsen, even more colourless and doleful than brainless Scandinavians usually are. The doctor was a Bengali named Ram Lal Sircar, a burly nigger of the most loathsome type. I am not fond of Benaglis at the best and he as the worst specimen of his race I have ever seen. He was fat and oily, with small piglike treacherous eyes. On the rare occasions when he was not eating, he was writing anti-British articles for the Bengal native press.
There was, however, a guest at the consulate with whom I struck up an immediate warm friendship. This was a botanist named George Forrest, who was recuperating from an adventure which I must narrate in some detail, as it includes one of the most striking ghost stories I ever heard. His happy hunting ground had been the Mekong-Salween divide. He had been north beyond the twenty-eighth parallel, in country practically untraversed by any whites, among mountains which rose to nineteen thousand feet. His headquarters was a Jesuit mission.
The district had been disturbed for some time; a comparatively important town was the centre of a small revolt against the Chinese government. An army had been disatched to reduce it. The siege was typically Chinese. Having invested the town, the imperial general made no attempt to take it by assault; he simply entered into negotiations with the garrison as to the price of the surrender. After interminable haggling, a sum was fixed. So much is intelligible, but at this point the baffling psychology of the Chinese comes into play. The inhabitants were put to the sword and the town sacked, exactly as if it had been taken as the result of murderous conflicts.
The general weakening of the imperial authority led to the outbreak of raids on the part of the Buddhist lamas who lived in remote serais perched upon the inaccessible crags of the mountains bordering Tibet. Bands of these monks swept down from their fastnesses to indulge in orgies of rapine, rape, murder and cannibalism. (The official descriptions of the various hells in the Buddhist canon are of course actual pictures of fact; the tortures of the damned
are simply slight exaggerations of those actually inflicted by Buddhists on their enemies. In particular, it was the custom of these lamas to devour the hearts and livers of their enemies in order to acquire their vitality and courage. As I have already explained, I do not regard this as superstitious; I think it is practical common sense.)
Forrest was at the Jesuit mission when word came from the north that the lamas were on the war path. It was decided to flee and the entire mission hurried off. Its eldest member, Father Bernard, was a man over eighty. It was decided to separate for greater safety; but Forrest found it very hard to bring himself to leave the old man, for whom he had acquired extreme respect and affection. However, it was the only thing to do, and Forrest plunged off alone into an obscure side valley hoping to reach the comparative safety of the main road from Tengyueh to Yunnanfu by means of a detour.
The nightfall of the second day showed him the camp fires of the lamas on the hills to the south and he recognized that he was cut off. In the light of the fires he could see the gigantic silhouettes of their hounds. He suddenly realized that his European boots made it easy to track him, so he discarded them. During the day, the slightest movement might easily be observed, or the hounds might be on his track, so he spent it under a rock which overhung the river, up to his neck in the icy water. When night fell, he crawled out and tried to get some warmth into his body. (His food soon failed him. During this adventure he lived for eight days on nothing at all and for the twenty-one following on tsampa, Tibetan flour, which has the property of producing violent diarrhoea in the average European.)
Night came on utterly black and Forrest was suddenly aware of a luminous figure standing beside him. He recognized it immediately as that of Father Bernard. He thought to himself, “They have caught and killed him!” (This was subsequently verified. The old man met his end earlier on that day.) The phantom did not speak, but its right arm was outstretched as if to urge Forrest to seek refuge in that direction. Forrest laughed to himself, despite the atrocious circumstances, at the absurdity; the direction indicated was the one of all others which was most certainly fatal to take. After a few minutes the figure disappeared. Dawn broke and showed him the situation unchanged. He passed a second day in the water under the rock.
The second night the spectre reappeared. Again he pointed in the same direction and this time the gesture was imperious. Forrest's instinct of self-preservation had been practically worn out by hardship. “Oh well,” he said to himself, “a quick death is better than this,” and off he went in the direction designated. He had not gone far before he fell in with a countryman who offered to help him to escape, and led him, barefoot as he was, across a snow-covered pass over fifteen thousand feet high. The met no lamas and
eventually reached the main road, where Forrest fell in with a caravan of merchants travelling to Tengyueh, who treated him well and had him carried to the consulate, where I hound him, still weak from his adventure and still shaken in nerve. He told his story with the utmost modesty and equanimity; and I could not doubt that the apparition of Father Bernard was a fact. That it should have pointed out the way of salvation in the most unlikely direction certainly indicated supernormal knowledge.
The atmosphere at Tengyueh was intensely oppressive. The conversation invariably turned upon battle, murder and sudden death, embroidered with fantastic wealth of disease and torture. It was an absolute nightmare. I really take great credit to myself for having spent twenty-five days in this community without losing my nerve or becoming obsessed. Everyone seemed to be preoccupied with the idea that at any moment the Chinese might break out and put us all to the most cruel death.
I must admit that there was a quite unusual number of really terrifying incidents; even trifling occurrences seemed too apt to take on a sinister significance. For instance, two of Litton's horses died suddenly. I diagnosed anthrax and wanted to take the obvious measures; but there was nothing to be done. The servants at the consulate had taken the carcasses to the market and spent the next three days in janging for them. To hang is to haggle; but the most inveterate haggler is a fixed price merchant in comparison. It was certainly the limit to think of the animals being sold for human food! One must be resolute to prevent one's mind from dwelling on such subjects; one must take one's precautions so far as possible without thinking about the threatened calamity.
Another disquieting incident was as follows. Tengyueh was supposed to be ion direct telegraphic communication with Peking. One of the most absurdly characteristic arrangements was that the observatory at Peking telegraphed to us daily the correct time. Now at Yunchang there was a relay and, as often as not, the telegraphists would be engaged in smoking opium for three or four days at a time. Consequently a whole bunch of telegrams would arrive late one evening telling us that it was noon at Peking.
One was therefore not very sure of getting the news. And just about this time a message came though telling us of the riots in Shanghai and that seventeen people had been killed. We could not tell how serious this might he; whether it was a local outbreak or whether it was part of a general antiforeign rising. I heard later the details. The European colony had been badly scared and fortified themselves in the country club; but the riot fizzled out. It was none the less alarming to get an isolated item of news of this kind. Thinking of it today, I wonder that it never occurred to me to go back to Burma. I did not feel either courageous about it or alarmed. There is in me a quality of almost imbecile stoicism. I simply cannot be bothered to worry
about danger or hardship of any kind unless it is force on my immediate notice.
I cannot account for this peculiar imperturbability. It seems entirely at war with my extreme sensitiveness. And yet it may indeed be the Freudian protection against this; it may be that my instincts warn me that if I allow myself to think at all on certain subjects the pain will be unendurable. However that may be, there is no doubt that I possess a peculiar solidity; having decided to do anything, I go on my course no matter what new facts arise. I will not go a step out of my path of avoid the most obvious unpleasantness. And I have certainly never been able to make up my mind whether this quality is an advantage in the long run or no.
The final episode of my story at Tengyueh might indeed have caused most men to change their plan. It is in many ways the most dramatic adventure of my life and has left an ineradicable impression on my mind. I despair of describing its intensity or the wildness of the setting. The oppressively electric atmosphere of the previous three weeks, the indescribable apprehension which hung over the colony, suddenly discharged itself in a thunderbolt.
At eight p.m. on January 10th we were sitting at dinner in the consulate when we heard confused cries and flying footsteps in the courtyard. The doors were suddenly flung open and a gigantic runner dripping with sweat came crashing into the room, sprawling his gaunt arms and legs in the extravagance of his gestures. For a moment we believed that an attack was imminent but Forrest soon elicited a somewhat vague story to the effect that Litton was ill and required the services of a doctor. He was said to be camped at about two days' march away in the direction of Bhamo; but we resolved to cover the distance in the course of the night. Forrest being my senior, and knowing the language, was evidently marked as chief of the expedition. I put myself unreservedly at his orders.
The first thing was to get the horses, which was easy; the second to rout out the Bengali, which was an entirely different proposition. It was after nine o'clock before he joined us at the outskirts of the town. The word forward was given, and Forrest and I galloped furiously into the darkness. We kept up a tremendous pace as far as the foot of the hills. It was a wild and windy night; torn clouds scudded fitfully across a misty moon. Some rain had fallen and the broad smooth stones of the road were as slippery as glass. It was impossible to ride on the slopes; the tatu stumbled at every step.
My mountain boots with their wrought iron nails proved equally awkward. I was forced to march, supporting myself with one hand on the pony's neck and urging him with my whip with the other. We pressed on eagerly through the night; and at last we came to the crest of the ridge and began to run down the other side of the path towards the hot springs. There was just sufficient light in the east to reveal the landscape by the time we got
near the foot of the hill. Then I saw a litter slowly approaching. Forrest gave a shout and dashed enthusiastically forward; but I silently turned my horse, for I saw that the consul's legs were tied.
The situation, apart from its tragic present, was full of anxiety for the future. How had Litton died! A glance at the body was not reassuring. There were symptoms which suggested poison and the least sinister alternative was some deadly infection. I wanted a medical opinion; but the doctor avoided the neightbourhood of the litter, saying that the examination could be made at Tengyueh. I did not fully realize what was behind this and acquiesced. He hurried back much faster than he had come. For all I knew, he had it in his mind to make various preparations.
About four o'clock we reached a wretched hamlet where some coolies had kindled a fire in the street. The bearers of the litter, utterly fagged out, threw themselves down by the fire. There was some loose straw lying about and Forrest and I followed their example. We tried to learn the circumstances of Litton's death; but the men gave vague and apparently contradictory accounts of what had happened. It was awkward; some of them might have been in a conspiracy; and we had no means of telling its purport or extent. I snatched a few moments of that uneasy slumber which supervenes upon exhaustion and distress, and dulls while it does not rest the nerves.
We started again at about half-past six and reached Tengyueh at about ten o'clock. We had allowed the litter to precede us, thinking that the doctor would be in waiting, having made all arrangements, but we hound that nothing of the sort had been done. The coolies had simply dumped the body in the outer courtyard of the consulate. We hat it taken into an empty room on the opposite side of that in which people were living and sent round for the doctor. He returned an evasive answer.
After several further messages, Forrest lost patience and asked me to go round and bring him back by force if necessary. It must not be supposed that Forrest was in any way hysterical. It was immediately urgent to ascertain the cause of Litton's death. The safety of the European community might depend on it. If he had died by violence, our one chance might be for troops to be rushed up for our protection; if by disease, to take quarantine measures.
I found the Bengali seated at his table before a plate of rice such as I have never seen in my life. There was certainly enough for six average people. I stayed a few moments to watch the process of deglutition. It was well worth seeing; and from the debris on the table, it was clear that this was merely a little light dessert. I did not lose my temper; but I must confess to being very angry. I asked him to come round and he then began to try to get out of it altogether. I soon saw hat he had made up his mind that the consul had died of some dangerously infectious disease and was solely preoccupied with keeping himself out of danger.
Persuasion and reproach failing to reach him, I resorted to the use of my whalebone cutting-whip. He made no attempt to ward off the blows, still less to tackle me; he simply cowered and howled. I stopped at intervals to impress upon his mind that I intended to go on until he came with me to do his duty. He ultimately gave in and I drove him down the street to the consulate. But once in the chamber of death, it was still impossible to get him to make a proper examination. He would not approach the body. Forrest and I cut off the clothes.
There were some curious wounds caused, in my judgment, by the attempts of some of the coolies to relieve the symptoms. They were none of them serious in themselves. The main visible symptom was large patches of extravasated blood. The doctor refused point blank to make a post-mortem and said he would give his certificate that death was due to erysipelas. He then bolted. His next act was to remember that erysipelas was a notifiable infectious disease and that therefore his best course was to find my wife and child, and endeavour to communicate it if possible. Luckily she had sufficient sense to keep herself and the baby out of his way.
Only one thing was needed to put the lid on. When Forrest and I had done what was necessary, we proceeded to disinfect ourselves before rejoining the rest. The missionary Amundsen rushed up to us in great excitement and called our attention to an illustrated newspaper which he had just received. “Look,” he cried, “there is the Norwegian royal family!”
We buried Litton the following day.
The next business was to get off. My permission had arrived, but I was told that I must engage an interpreter. I should have been only too glad to have one; but I might as well have looked for a snowball in hell. Eventually they dug up a person named Johnny White. He was the first Chinese with whom I had been in direct permanent connection; and I was highly amused to discover that his Chinese name had been Ah Sin. He had been brought up from infancy at the Wesleyan Mission at Mandalay. As a servant he had the defect that he was continually drunk on arrack and opium. As an interpreter, one, he spoke no Chinese; two, he spoke no English. It was with the utmost pain that I was able to communicate with him at all. I cross-examined him, of course very severely, as to his religion. It took a long time for him to grasp my meaning; but ultimately he reassured me as to his creed, which was this: “John Wesley all same God.” He was so besotted with drink and drugs that his human qualities, if he ever possessed any, were completely in abeyance. His name was soon corrupted into “Janwar” — which is Hindustani for “wild animal”.
The journey to Yunnanfu was unique in my life in one important respect. I became richer as I went along — by the simple process of spending my money! It was impossible to get a change of silver except at one or two
points. I carried the bulk of my money in copper cash. (Everyone knows the coins with the square holes.) These furnished loads for two men. I must explain the financial status of this part of the world. Silver money had no denomination, but was valued by weight, and the “coinage” consisted of lumps of silver, whose purity was guaranteed by its shape. The bulkier kind was something like a houseboat, some three inches long and between one and two in the other dimensions. The other kind was not unlike a tortoise and its surface had a peculiar striation. Thus there were these lumps of silver identified as the products of the imperial mint.
Now, there was a varying relation (rate of exchange) between a certain weight of this silver and a string of cash. A string consisted nominally of a hundred cash; but these were what was called market cash. A certain number of cash counted as a hundred for all commercial purposes and this number varied with the district. Now, as it happened, this number was constantly decreased all the way to Yunnanfu, so that if I wished to buy something at Tengyuen for a hundred cash I had to hand over a string containing eighty-nine coins, whereas a similar transaction at Talifu required only seventy odd, and near Yunnansen forty-six if I remember right. I was consequently always having to take off coins from my original strings. The number of my strings therefore increased as I went along, although I was spending freely. In this way I became continually richer.
To conclude the financial question. This system broke up suddenly and completely on arrival at Yunnansen. Here the French were trying to extend their influence from Tonkin in pursuance of which object they had flooded the city with agents who were trying to force the French dollar into circulation. Opposed to them were the two old systems; valuing sliver by weight, and the tael; and the Mexican dollar, which had hitherto been the universal currency of the coast. (The Mexican dollar was itself guaranteed by being stamped by the mark or initials of some responsible firm of merchants.) Peking had just begun to coin a dollar of its own with the imperial dragon. This is one of the most beautiful coins I have ever seen.
The result of the contention of the currencies was that in Yunnansen one could buy things at an absurdly low price, provided that one would pay with the dollars which the merchant was being subsidized to accept. “When thieves fall out, honest men come by their own.” It is certainly amusing to watch them cutting their own throats in order to cut ours more efficiently later on. I only wish we could stop the second part of the process.
We reached Yunchangfu on the fifth day from Tengyueh. Our first march took us up the valley of the Shweli, which we crossed on a floating bamboo bridge. The road from there to Pingho winds uphill for about five thousand feet. The road was nowhere really bad, but in some places so steep that riding was difficult. The third day took us to Lu Chiang Chiao, in the valley of the
Salween. The gorge is indescribably sublime. It is sentinelled by magnificent hills of splendid and seductive shapes. The air was mild yet fresh. No menace of chill, yet no taint of oppression. The road was not steep as on the other side of the watershed and the descent afforded a series of superb views.
The Salween has the reputation of being the most deadly river in the world. Its only rivals are in New Guinea and, at an earlier day, the Amazon, the Niger and the Congo. It is supposed to have a specially fatal form of malaria which kills most people outright and from which on one ever wholly recovers. No doubt, some of the lower reaches are extremely pestilential; but in this section one might establish an ideal sanatorium. The course of the Salween had not at that time been completely explored. There is not only fever but massacre in that romantic ravine. Part of it is inhabited by the Lolos (they are not vaudeville artists but tribes) reported to be exceedingly primitive and addicted to head hunting, kidney chasing, phallus fishing and testicle trapping, so that their cooks are famous for stewed spleen, pancreas puddings and appendix on toast.
I met a number of these tribesmen; they reminded me very much of some of the wandering peoples of Central Asia and various folks of the low country of Mexico; and I was reminded of them in turn by many of the nomads of the Sahara. They were very different from the Chinese ion costume, manner and appearance. In character, I found them charmingly childlike. Of course, it was easy enough to imagine that a tactless traveller might alarm them in all sorts of ways without intending to do so, and that they would react as naturally and innocently as any other creatures of the wild might do. But they were entirely free from the malignant envy, the panic born of prejudice and the perverse passions produced by hypocritically pretending to suppress natural instincts, which one associates with tradesmen in the West End of London and ministers of religion.
Litton's idea of a holiday had been to explore the upper reaches of this river. He had in fact wanted to reach that very spot which I had myself picked out for my objective, where the Salween, Mekong and Yangtze Kiang run parallel to within a space of forty miles, while at their mouths the distance between each is two thousand miles instead of twenty. At each village Litton was received with the utmost courtesy and goodwill; but when he disclosed his intention of proceeding northwards, it created panic. They told him that to the north were no men but devils only; accursed races of the pit whose only methods of communicating ideas were envenomed arrows, pitfalls and the poisonous fluff of the bamboo which acts more subtly than ground glass.
I thought this story extraordinarily typical of human thought in general. Everyone admits that we have reached the summit of wisdom, scaled the
loftiest pinnacles of morality, put the crown of perfection upon the cranium of progress, and everyone knows perfectly well how this remarkable result has been achieved. But at the first hint that anyone proposes to take a step farther on this road, he is universally set down as a lunatic of the most dangerous type. However, the most savage Lolos are content with that diagnosis, whereas the most enlightened English add that the pioneer is not only a lunatic but a pervert, degenerate, anarchist an the rest of it — whatever terms of abuse chance to be in fashion. The abolition of slavery, humane treatment of the insane, the restriction of the death penalty to serious offences, and of indiscriminate flogging, the admission of Jews, Catholics, Dissenters and women as citizens, the introduction of the use of chloroform and antiseptics, the application of stem to travel, and of mechanical principles to such arts as spinning and printing, the systematic study of nature, the extension of the term poetry to metres other than the heroic, the recognition of painting other than voluptuous coloured photographs as art, and of music other than classical melody as art — these and a thousand similar innovations have all been denounced as chimerical, blasphemous, obscene, seditious, anti-social and what not.
We crossed the Salween by means of a bridge ornamented with shrines and a delightful and romantically beautiful house for the toll-keeper. Caesar, when he crossed the Rubicon, had less aesthetic attractions and less expense. I did not envy him, and as for the bridge, it did not seem aware of its responsibilities, which is perhaps the best state of mind in which a bridge can be.
The road was in unexpectedly good condition from the Salween to Pu Pa'o, a long stage rendered unpleasant towards the end by threatening rain, which carried out its fell designs in the course of the night. For the first time we experienced native curiosity in wholesale form. We had been recommended to avoid this by secretiveness. This strange wild beast, a white woman, was to be camouflaged in Chinese clothes and bundled out of sight as soon as possible.
I adopted exactly opposite tactics. I said to the people, “Come and see, enlarge your minds, increase your experience, take the fullest advantage of this opportunity.” They were so accustomed to conventional European cowardice that at first they were inclined to be unruly and even suspicious. Can it be a trap? But a few minutes convinced them of my absolute faith and friendliness, so that everyone became good-temnpered and frank. Their instinct and good manners, which nearly all men outside civilization possess, soon told them what conduct was really annoying and offensive; and they abstained immediately.
Europeans too often make up their minds to resent certain actions which are really quite harmless and natural. They persuade themselves that everything
which their grandmothers would not do in Sunday School must be resented with the utmost rigour. This attitude is the root of at least ninetenths of the trouble about “foreign devils”. The only unpleasantness between local natives and alleged whites which came under my notice during this journey was when some travelling missionary, instead of attending to his own affairs, took it upon himself to insult (in wretchedly and comically illiterate Chinese) some villagers who happened to be carrying an idol in procession as part of the festivities of New Year's Day (January 25th). He might as well have spoiled a children's party on the ground that the fairy stories which amused them were not strictly true.
The action was morally indistinguishable from brawling in church. I may not believe in the liquefaction of the blood of St. Januarius, but I see no reason for inflicting my incredulity on the people of Naples. The villagers naturally resented the ill manners of this brainless boor and told him to shut up. He immediately began to scream that he was being martyred for Christ's sake. I told him that if I could have brought myself to touch him, I would have thrashed him within an inch of his life. He did not understand my attitude; but I don't suppose there is much in this funny world that he did understand.
On the twenty-third we came to Yuncangfu. The road during this march was in excellent repair. It bordered on a lovely lake, which interested me extremely as having no obvious outlet unless through a curious rocky cave; but I could not be sure of this, no current of any sort being visible.
On arrival in the town I was greeted by the Tao Tai, who sent a deputation of brilliantly clad and highly dignified servants with presents. These of course I returned with the exception of one or two trifles which I retained in order to avoid discourtesy, and on my part bestowed goods of European manufacture.
The next act was an interview with the mandarin in his hall of state where we sat side by side, low down, leaving the place of honour for the Son of Heaven and his immediate satellites. Having exchanged polite generalities about philosophy and virtue (he seemed to think that I was no mean authority on the latter subject) we dealt lightly with more mundane topics and proceeded to extricate ourselves from each other's presence in accordance with the most elaborate etiquette. He concluded by inviting me to share with him the offal which had been rejected by the dogs and kites and I expressed my humble rapture at being permitted to partake of the celestial banquet which his heavenly hospitality had prepared for the meanest and mouldiest of mankind.
The mandarin was one of the most beautiful men I have ever seen. I use the word beautiful in its strictly aesthetic sense. He was, I judge, between thirty-five and forty years old; his features were astonishingly perfect and
their expression full of noble intelligence and lofty benevolence, harmonized by a placidity due to a consciousness of his superiority so unbroken and unquestioned that it had been absorbed into subconsciousness. He was a miracle of art and that art perfectly concealed. His complexion had more than the smoothness of the most exquisite southern European types; yet all this impeccability of excellence was not marred, as is too often the case with Greek sculpture, but lacking that touch of the bizarre which Goethe postulates as essential to supreme beauty. He possessed that peace which I believe is intended to inform images of the Buddha, but which nearly always appears as a mere lack of any positive passion. The mandarin of Yunchang radiated royalty.
It was easy to read his history; that he had been exiled to so remote and barbarous a city bore witness to the heinousness of the offence which had incurred so severe a sentence. On subsequent inquiry I was told that he had been accused of “failing in respect towards the imperial swans”. My informant did not say in what his error of ritual consisted. (Another rumour, so absurd as to be credible, is that he was not criminal at all but insane; that he had the delusion that he was a Fellow ofSt. John's College, whether Cambridge or Oxford, I did not learn; and from all accounts it makes little difference.) The superb epicureanism of his expression was equally indicative of his spiritual superiority to even such blasting disaster as the wrath of the emperor and his divine mother.
The banquet was worthy of the man. Beginning at high noon, it ended only when Kephra the Beetle passed through the pylon of midnight; and during thee twelve hours, there was no intermission in the arrival of new dishes and entertainments. The opulence of Trimalchio was concealed beneath the refinement of Lucullus and the culture of Horace.
Of late years Chinese cooking has become popular, though not nearly as popular as it deserves to be, in New York, Paris and London. In new York it is the best food; in Amurrka, outside New York, it is the only food (bar sea-food) fit for human consumption save in the Indian Grill Room in Los Angeles, Chez Antoine in New Orleans, and one or two other remote oases in the wilderness of canned abominations. In London, the vulgarity of the idea of a square meal has destroyed oriental delicacy; in Paris the refinement of French epicureanism combines with the charm of China.
But nowhere in Europe or America is the Chinese cook able to convey the essence of his excellence. One can no more understand a Chinese dish in Europe than one can enjoy an Egyptian cigarette. As to cross running water destroys the enchantment of witches, or to traverse black seas destroys the cast of the Brahmin, so the flavour of Chinese food is bounded by the Great Wall. I well understand why the exiled Mongol feels that the cannot rest in peace in any other than the sacred soil. The dishes too which one obtains at
Beem Nom Low's or at the Taverne Pascal are not those esoteric — shall we say Eleusinian? — ectasies which intepret the soul of the Wonderland of Flowers.
I may mention a condiment composed exclusively of rose petals from which, by a subtle process, all those elements which are capable of nourishing the human body have been abstracted. But for the most part I dare not even describe some of the dainties which make Yunchang, to this day, a fragrant memory in my mind. To do so would be to draw a culinary parallel with Le Jardin des Supplices. Not that the book is the real China; it is rather a wish phantasm of China by the delirium of a degenerate.
Yunchang is noted for its temples. In one of those is a superb delineation of some of the Buddhist hells, where the penalties for various vices are depicted with what is sometimes very startling realism. I was sorry not to have been able to stay longer in this perfumed paradise of beauty and pleasure, where every element of art and nature were harmoniously woven as if endeavouring to echo the melody of the personality of the mandarin.
The next day took us over superbly swelling hills upon whose bosom slumbered a lake. Here once more I was mystified as to its outlet. At the end of a delicious day we slept in a temple. It was the first day of the year and everyone but the missionary was rejoicing. Crackers clustered on long poles of bamboo and gay ornaments of coloured paper were the principal offerings to the eye, while the ear was delighted with all kinds of instrumental and vocal music. Strange delicate cakes and comfits tempted the tongue, while faint perfumes stirred the nostrils. The breeze was sweet with burning sandalwood and subtle with the sweat of dainty dancers. Even the sense of touch vibrated with virile joy as one's nerves trembled beneath the beatitude of innocent people swarming on every side.
I have noted about this day's march, “Roads everywhere good.” “Good” is a relative term. The Chinese have a proverb that a road is good for ten years and bad for ten thousand; most of the particular road I estimated at not less than eight thousand. I actually proposed to being home one bit of it; if the weight had not been prohibitive, it would have been well worthwhile. This was a slab of granite about fifteen feet long, three broad and three thick, and holes had been bored completely through it by the hoofs of the pack animals, so that the mud was visible clean through the stone.
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