Today, May 7th, we crossed the River Mekong, even at this distance from Siam a broad and swift stream. The river flows into the light from a dark and gloomy gorge, takes a sharp bend, and rolls on between the mountains. Where it issues from the gorge a suspension bridge has been stretched across the stream. A wonderful pathway zigzags down the face of the mountain to the river, in an almost vertical incline of 2000ft. At the riverside an embankment of dressed stone, built up from the rock, leads for some hundreds of feet along the bank, where there would otherwise have been no foothold, to the clearing by the bridge. The likin-barrier is here, and a tea house or two, and the guardian temple. The bridge itself is graceful and strong, swinging easily 30ft. above the current; it is built of powerful chains, carried from bank to bank and held by masses of solid masonry set in the bed-rock. It is 60 yards long and toft, wide, is floored with wood, and has a picket parapet supported by lateral chains. From the river a path led us up to a small village, where my men rested to gather strength. For facing us were the mountain heights, which had to be escaladed before we could leave the river gulch. Then with immense toil we climbed up the mountain path by a rocky staircase of thousands of steps, till, worn out and with "Bones" nearly dead, we at length reached the narrow defile near the summit, whence an easy road brought us in the early evening to Shuichai (6700ft.).

In the course of one afternoon we had descended 2000ft. to the river (4250ft. above the sea), and had then climbed 2450ft. to Shuichai. And the ascent from the river was steeper than the descent into it; yet the railway which is to be built over this trade-route between Burma and Yunnan will have other engineering difficulties to contend with even greater than this.

My soldier to-day was a boy of fifteen or sixteen. He was armed with a revolver, and bore himself valiantly. But his revolver was more dangerous in appearance than in effect, for the cylinder would not revolve, the hammer was broken short off, and there were no cartridges. Everywhere the weapon was examined with curiosity blended with awe, and I imagine that the Chinese were told strange tales of its deadliness.

Next morning we continued by easy gradients to Talichao (7700ft.), rising 1000ft. in rather less than seven miles. It was bitterly cold in the mists of the early morning. But twenty miles further the road dipped again to the sunshine and warmth of the valley of Yungchang, where, in the city made famous by Marco Polo, we found comfortable quarters in an excellent inn.

Yungchang is a large town, strongly walled. It is, however, only a remnant of the old city, acres of houses having been destroyed during the insurrection, when for three years, it is said, Imperialists and Mohammedans were contending for its possession. There is a telegraph station in the town. The streets are broad and well-paved, the inns large, and the temples flourishing. One fortunate circumstance the traveller will notice in Yungchang - there is a marked diminution in the number of cases of goitre. And the diminution is not confined to the town, but is apparent from this point right on to Burma.

Long after our arrival in Yungchang my opium-eating coolie "Bones" had not come, and we had to wait for him in anger and annoyance. He had my hamper of eatables and my bundle of bedding. Tired of waiting for him, I went for a walk to the telegraph office and was turning to come back, when I met the faithful skeleton, a mile from the inn, walking along as if to a funeral, his neck elongating from side to side like a camel's, a lean and hungry look in his staring eyes, his bones crackling inside his skin. Continuing in the direction that he was going when I found him, he might have reached Thibet in time, but never Burma. I led him back to the hotel, where he ruefully showed me his empty string of cash, as if that had been the cause of his delay; he had only 6 cash left, and he wanted an advance.

This was the worst coolie I had in my employ during my journey. But he was a good-natured fellow and honest. He was better educated, too, than most of the other coolies, and could both read and write. His dress on march was characteristic of the man. He was nearly naked; his clothes hardly hung together; he wore no sandals on his feet; but round his neck he carried a small earthenware phial of opium ash. In the early stages he delayed us all an hour or two every day, but he improved as we went further. And then he was so long and thin, so grotesque in his gait, and afforded me such frequent amusement, that I would not willingly have exchanged him for the most active coolie in China.

On the 9th we had a long and steep march west from the plain of Yungchang. At Pupiao I had a public lunch. It was market day, and the country people enjoyed the rare pleasure of seeing a foreigner feed. The street past the inn was packed in a few minutes, and the innkeeper had all he could do to attend to the many customers who wished to take tea at the same time as the foreigner. I was now used to these demonstrations. I could eat on with undisturbed equanimity. On such occasions I made it a practice, when I had finished and was leaving the inn, to turn round and bow gravely to the crowd, thanking them in a few kindly words of English, for the reception they had accorded me. At the same time I took the opportunity of mentioning that they would contribute to the comfort of future travellers, if only they would pay a little more attention to their table manners. Then, addressing the innkeeper, I thought it only right to point out to him that it was absurd to expect that one small black cloth should wipe all cups and cup-lids, all tables, all spilt tea, and all dishes, all through the day, without getting dirty. Occasionally, too, I pointed out another defect of management to the inn-keepen and told him that, while I personally had an open mind on the subject, other travellers might come his way who would disapprove, for instance - he would pardon my mentioning it - of the manure coolie passing through the restaurant with his buckets at mealtime, and halting by the table to see the stranger eat.

When I spoke in this way quite seriously and bowed, those whose eyes met mine always bowed gravely in return. And for the next hour on the track my men would tell each other, with cackles of laughter, how Mo Shensen, their master, mystified the natives.

From Pupiao we had a pleasant ride over a valley-plain, between hedges of cactus in flower and bushes of red roses, past graceful clumps of bamboo waving like ostrich feathers. By-and-by drizzling rain came on and compelled us to seek shelter in the only inn in a poor out-of-the-way hamlet. But I could not stop here, because the best room in the inn was already occupied by a military officer of some distinction, a colonel, on his way, like ourselves, to Tengyueh. An official chair with arched poles fitted for four bearers was in the common-room; the mules of his attendants were in the stables, and were valuable animals. The landlord offered me another room, an inferior one; but I waved the open fingers of my left hand before my face and said, "puyao! puyao!" (I don't want it, I don't want it). For I was not so foolish or inconsistent as to be content with a poorer quarter of the inn than that occupied by the officer, whatever his button. I could not acknowledge to the Chinese that any Chinaman travelling in the Middle Kingdom was my equal, let alone my superior. Refusing to remain, I waited in the front room until the rain should lift and allow us to proceed. But we did not require to go on. It happened as I expected. The Colonel sent for me, and, bowing to me, showed by signs that one half his room was at my service. In return for his politeness he had the privilege of seeing me eat. With both hands I offered him in turn every one of my dishes. Afterwards I showed him my photographs - I treated him, indeed, with proper condescension. On the loth we crossed the famous River Salween (2600 ft.). Through an open tableland, well grassed and sparsely wooded, we came at length to the cleft in the hills from which is obtained the first view of the river valley. There was a small village here, and, while we were taking tea, a soldier came hurriedly down the road, who handed me a letter addressed in Chinese. I confess that at the moment I had a sudden misgiving that some impediment was to be put in the way of my journey. But it was nothing more than a telegram from Mr. Jensen in Yunnan, telling me of the decision of the Chinese Government to continue the telegraph to the frontier of Burma. The telegram was written by the Chinese operator in Yungchang in a neat round hand, without any error of spelling; it had come to Yungchang after my departure, and had been courteously forwarded by the Chinese manager. The soldier who brought it had made a hurried march of thirty-eight miles before overtaking me, and deserved a reward. I motioned Laotseng, my cash-bearer, to give him a present, and he meanly counted out 25 cash, and was about to give them, when I ostentatiously increased the amount to 100 cash. The soldier was delighted; the onlookers were charmed with this exhibition of Western munificence. Suppose a rich Chinese traveller in England, who spoke no English, were to offer Tommy Atkins twopence halfpenny for travelling on foot thirty-eight miles to bring him a telegram, having then to walk back thirty-eight miles and find himself on the way, would the English soldier bow as gratefully as did his perishing Chinese brother when I thus rewarded him?

We descended by beautiful open country into the Valley of the Shadow of Death - the valley of the River Salween. No other part of Western China has the evil repute of this valley; its unhealthiness is a by-word. "It is impossible to pass," says Marco Polo; "the air in summer is so impure and bad and any foreigner attempting it would die for certain."

The Salween was formerly the boundary between Burma and China, and it is to be regretted that at the annexation of Upper Burma England did not push her frontier back to its former position. But the delimitation of the frontier of Burma is not yet complete. No time could be more opportune for its completion than the present, when China is distracted, by her difficulties with Japan. China disheartened could need but little persuasion to accede to the just demand of England that the frontier of Burma shall be the true southwestern frontier of China - the Salween River.

There are no Chinese in the valley, nor would any Chinaman venture to cross it after nightfall. The reason of its unhealthiness is not apparent, except in the explanation of Baber, that "border regions, 'debatable grounds,' are notoriously the birthplace of myths and marvels." There can be little doubt that the deadliness of the valley is a tradition rather than a reality.

By flights of stone steps we descended to the river, where, at the bridge-landing, we were arrested by a sight that could not be seen without emotion. A prisoner, chained by the hands and feet and cooped in a wooden cage, was being carried by four bearers to Yungchang to execution. He was not more than twenty-one years of age, was well-dressed, and evidently of a rank in life from which are recruited few of the criminals of China. Yet his crime could not have been much graver. On the corner posts of his cage white strips of paper were posted, giving his name and the particulars of the crime which he was so soon to expiate. He was a burglar who had escaped from prison by killing his guard, and had been recaptured. Unlike other criminals I have seen in China, who laugh at the stranger and appear unaffected by their lot, this young fellow seemed to feel keenly the cruel but well-deserved fate that was in store for him. Three days hence he would be put to death by strangulation outside the wall of Yungchang,

Another of those remarkable works which declare the engineering skill of the Chinese, is the suspension bridge which spans the Salween by a double loop - the larger loop over the river, the smaller one across the overflow. A natural piece of rock strengthened by masonry, rising from the river bed, holds the central ends of both loops. The longer span is 80 yards in length, the shorter 55; both are 12ft. wide, and are formed of twelve parallel chain cables, drawn to an appropriate curve. A rapid river flows under the bridge, the rush of whose waters can be heard high up the mountain slopes.

None but Shans live in the valley. They are permitted to govern themselves under Chinese supervision, and preserve their own laws and customs. They have a village near the bridge, of grass-thatched huts and open booths, where travellers can find rest and refreshment, and where native women prettily arrayed in dark-blue, will brew you tea in earthenware teapots. Very different are the Shan women from the Chinese. Their colour is much darker; their head-dress is a circular pile formed of concentric folds of dark-blue cloth; their dress closely resembles with its jacket and kilt the bathing dress of civilisation; their arms are bare, they have gaiters on their legs, and do not compress their feet. All wear brooches and earrings, and other ornaments of silver filigree.

From the valley the main road rises without intermission 6130 feet to the village of Fengshui-ling (8730 feet), a climb which has to be completed in the course of the afternoon. We were once more among the trees. Pushing on till I was afraid we should be benighted, we reached long after dark an encampment of bamboo and grass, in the lonely bush, where the kind people made us welcome. It was bitterly cold during the night, for the hut I slept in was open to the air. My three men and the escort must have been even colder than I was. gut at least we all slept in perfect security, and I cannot praise too highly the constant care of the Chinese authorities to shield even from the apprehension of harm, one whose only protection was his British passport.

All the way westward from Yunnan City I was shadowed both by a yamen-runner and a soldier; both were changed nearly every day, and the further west I went the more frequently were they armed. The yamen-runner usually carried a long native sword only, but the soldier, in addition to his sword, was on one occasion, as we have seen, armed with the relics of a revolver that would not revolve. On May 10th, for the first time, the soldier detailed to accompany me was provided with a rusty old musket with a very long barrel. I examined this weapon with much curiosity. China is our neighbour in Eastern Asia, and is, it is often stated, an ideal power to be intrusted with the government of the buffer state called for by French aggression in Siam. In China, it is alleged, we have a prospective ally in Asia, and it is preferable that England should suffer all reasonable indignities and humilities at her hands rather than endanger any possible relations, which may subsequently be entered into, with a hypothetically powerful neighbour.

On my arrival in Burma I was often amused by the serious questions I was asked concerning the military equipment of the Chinese soldiers of Western Yunnan. The soldier who was with me to-day was a type of the warlike sons of China, not only in the province bordering on Burma, but, with slight differences, all over the Middle Kingdom. Now, physically, this man was fit to be drafted into any army in the world, but, apart from his endurance, his value as a fighting machine lay in the weapon with which the military authorities had armed him. This weapon was peculiar; I noted down its peculiarities on the spot. In this weapon the spring of the trigger was broken so that it could not be pulled; if it had been in order, there was no cap for the hammer to strike; if there had been a cap, it would have been of no use because the pinhole was rusted; even if the pinhole had been open, the rifle would still have been ineffective because it was not loaded, for the very good reason that the soldier had not been provided with powder, or, if he had, he had been compelled to sell it in order to purchase the rice which the Emperor, "whose rice he ate," had neglected to send him.

An early start in the morning and we descended quickly to the River Shweli.

The Salween River is at an elevation of 2600 feet. Forty-five li further the road reaches at Fengshui-ling a height of 8730, from which point, in thirty-five li, it dips again to the River Shweli, 4400 feet above sea level. There was the usual suspension bridge at the river, and the inevitable likin-barrier. For the first time the Customs officials seemed inclined to delay me. I was on foot, and separated from my men by half the height of the hill. The collectors, and the underlings who are always hanging about the barriers, gathered round me and interrogated me closely. They spoke to me in Chinese, and with insufficient deference. The Chinese seem imbued with the mistaken belief that their language is the vehicle of intercourse not only within the four seas, but beyond them, and are often arrogant in consequence. I answered them in English. "I don't understand one word you say, but, if you wish to know," I said, energetically, "I come from Shanghai."


"Shanghai," they exclaimed, "he comes from Shanghai!" "And I am bound for Singai" (Bhamo) ; - "Singai," they repeated, "he is going to Singai!" - "unless the Imperial Government, suspicious of my intentions, which the meanest Intelligence can see are pacific, should prevent me, in which case England will find a coveted pretext to add Yunnan to her Burmese Empire." Then, addressing myself to the noisiest, I indulged in some sarcastic speculations upon his probable family history, deduced from his personal peculiarities, till he looked very uncomfortable indeed. Thereupon I gravely bowed to them, and, leaving them in dumb astonishment, walked on over the bridge. They probably thought I was rating them in Manchu, the language of the Emperor. Two boys staggering under loads of firewood did not escape so easily, but were detained and a log squeezed from each wherewith to light the likin fires.

A steep climb of another 3000 or 4000 feet over hills carpeted with bracken, with here and there grassy swards, pretty with lilies and daisies and wild strawberries, and then a quick descent, and we were in the valley of Tengyueh (5600ft.). A plain everywhere irrigated, flanked by treeless hills; fields shut in by low embankments; villages in plantations round its margin; black-faced sheep in flocks on the hillsides; and, away to the right the crenellated walls of Tengyueh. A stone-flagged path down the centre of the plain led us into the town. We entered by the south gate, and, turning to the left, were conducted into the telegraph compound, where I was to find accommodation, the clerk in charge of the operators being able to speak a few words of English I was an immediate object of curiosity.