Page:A Wayfarer in China.djvu/191

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143
THE LESSER TRAIL

and fruit. For a few miles we kept up the left bank of the Ta Tu, and then turned abruptly up the mountain-side. Here my chair-men halted for breakfast and I did not see them again until we reached our night's stopping-place. Alone with Jack I kept on along the steep trail, revelling in my freedom. At first we met few people, although later in the day the number increased, but wherever the way seemed doubtful there was always some one to put me straight by signs. After a little we dropped by a sharp descent into the valley of a small wild river flowing into the Ta Tu from the east We kept up this, crossing the stream from side to side on planks and stepping-stones. After passing through two tiny hamlets embowered in walnut trees, we reached the head of the valley and faced a long, steep zigzag. The climb was hard, hot work, but I found some diversion in a friendly race with a good-looking woman going the same way; her unbound feet kept up with mine while our dogs romped along gaily. Women with unbound feet were far more common here than elsewhere in my travels, and they seemed exceptionally alert and intelligent, but the population of the region is scanty, many of the people being newcomers of Hakka stock. Arrived at the top of the cliff we found ourselves on a narrow ridge, and for the rest of the short stage our way led along the face of the mountain, from time to time topping a wooded