Page:A Wayfarer in China.djvu/116

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80
A WAYFARER IN CHINA

they could have spoken Chinese well enough to have been understood.

The 25th of April was our last day into Ning-yüanfu, and I was glad; it was getting very hot, and the coolies were tired from their long journey. Several were hiring substitutes from the village-folk, paying less than half what they received from me. To avoid the heat we were off before sunrise. Often on that part of the trip we started in the half-light of the early dawn, and there was something very delightful in our unnoticed departure through the empty, echoing streets of the sleeping town where, the evening before, the whole population had been at our heels. And outside the stifling walls the joy of another day's ride through a new world was awaiting me.

For a time we followed up the narrow, winding valley, gradually opening out until we turned off to cross the low hills that barred the southern end of the Ning-yüan plain. Every inch of ground was under cultivation, but as yet few crops were up. Mulberries, however, were ripening fast, forerunners of the abundant fruit of this region. Shortly before tiffin we crossed a stream over which the bridge of stone was actually being repaired. In China, as elsewhere in Asia, it is a work of merit to construct a new building or road, but waste of time to repair the old. I wondered if by any chance some high official was expected, for the East fulfils quite literally the