CHAPTER XVII. THROUGH CHINA.
During the day I have sprained my right knee, and it becomes painful in the night and wakes me up. In the morning my way is made through the waking city with a painful limp, that gives rise to much unsympathetic giggling among the crowd at my heels. Perhaps they think all Pankwaes thus hobble along; their giggling, however, is doubtless evidence of the well-known pitiless disposition of the Chinese. The sentiments of pity and consideration for the sufferings of others, are a well-nigh invisible quality of John Chinaman's character, and as I limp slowly along, I mentally picture myself with a broken leg or serious illness, alone among these people. A Fankwae with his leg broken! a Fankwae lying at the point of death! why, the whole city would want to witness such an extraordinary sight; there would be no keeping them out; one would be the centre of a tumultuous rabble day and night!
The river contains long reaches leading in a totally contrary direction to what I know my general course to be. My objective point is a little east of north, but for miles this morning I am headed considerably south of the rising sun. There is nothing for it, however, but to keep the foot-trail that now follows along the river bank, conforming to all its multifarious crooks and angles. Every mile or two the path is overhung by a big bamboo hedge, behind which is hidden a village.
The character of these little riverside villages varies from peaceful agricultural and fishing communities, to nests of river-pirates and hard characters generally, who covertly prey on the commerce of the Pi-kiang, and commit depredations in the surrounding country. A glimpse of me is generally caught by someone behind the hedge as I ride or trundle past; shouts of "the Fankwae, the Fankwae," and screams of laughter at the prospect of seeing one of those queer creatures, immediately follow the discovery. The gabble and laughter and hurrying from the houses to the hedge, the hasty scrambling through the little wicket gates, all occurs with a flutter and noisy squabble that suggest a flock of excited geese.
A few miles above Chin-yuen the river enters a rocky gorge, and the marvellous beauty of the scenery rivets me to the spot in wondering contemplation for an hour. It is the same picture of rocky mountains, blue water, junks, bridges, temples, and people, one sometimes sees on sets of chinaware. Never was water so intensely blue, or sand so dazzlingly white, as the Pi-kiang at the entrance to this gorge this sunny morning; on its sky-blue bosom float junks and sampans, their curious sails appearing and disappearing around a bend in the canon. The brown battlemented cliffs are relieved by scattering pines, and in the interstices by dense thickets of bamboo; temples, pagodas, and a village complete a scene that will be long remembered as one of the loveliest bits of scenery the whole world round. The scene is pre-eminently characteristic, and after seeing it, one no longer misunderstands the Chinaman who persists in thinking his country the great middle kingdom of landscape beauty and sunshine, compared to which all others are - "regions of mist and snow."
Across the creeks which occasionally join issue with the river, are erected frail and wabbly bamboo foot-rails; some of these are evidently private enterprises, as an ancient Celestial is usually on hand for the collection of tiny toll. Narrow bridges, rude steps cut in the face of the cliffs, trails along narrow ledges, over rocky ridges, down across gulches, and anon through loose shale on ticklishly sloping banks, characterize the passage through the canon. The sun is broiling hot, and my knee swollen and painful. It is barely possible to crawl along at a snail's pace by keeping my game leg stiff; bending the knee is attended with agony. Frequent rests are necessary, and an examination reveals my knee badly inflamed.
Hours are consumed in scrambling for three or four miles up and down steps, and over the most abominable course a bicycle was ever dragged, carried, up-ended and lugged over. At the end of that time I reach a temple occupying a romantic position in a rocky defile, and where a flight of steps leads down to the water's edge. All semblance of anything in the nature of a continuous path terminates at the temple, and hailing a sampan bound up stream, I obtain passage to the northern extremity of the canyon.
The sampan is towed by a team of seven coolies, harnessed to a small, strong rope made of bamboo splint. It is interesting, yet painful, to see these men clambering like goats about the rocky cliffs, sometimes as much as a hundred feet above the water; one of the number does nothing else but throw the rope over protuberant points of rock. One would naturally imagine that Chinese enterprise would be sufficient to construct something like a decent towpath through this caiion, considering the number of boats towed through it daily; but everything in China seems to be done by the main strength and awkwardness of individuals.
The boatmen seem honest-hearted fellows; at noon they invite me to participate in their frugal meal of rice and turnips. Passing sampans are greeted by the crew of our boat with the intelligence that a Fankwae is aboard; the news being invariably conveyed with a droll "ha-ha!" and received with the same. Indeed, the average Chinese river-man or agriculturist, the simple-hearted children of the water and the soil, seem to regard the Fankwae as a creature so remarkably comical, that the mere mention of him causes them to laugh.
Near the end of the canon the boat is moored at a village for the day, and my knee feeling much better from the rest, I pursue my course up the bank of the river. The bank is level in a general sense, but much cut up with small tributary creeks.