Page:A Wayfarer in China.djvu/192

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144
A WAYFARER IN CHINA

spur. Everywhere azaleas made the air sweet and the steep slopes wonderful with colour. At length we dropped without warning into a little village at the head of a precipitous narrow ravine, where we spent the night in an unusually interesting inn. Save for two or three private rooms, the best of which was given to me, all life centred in a great hall open to the roof and with merely a suggestion of partition in a few rough railings. Through the open doors men, children, pigs and fowls, cats and dogs, strolled in from the rain. Up in the roof our chairs were slung out of the way. Each coolie, having secured a strip of matting, had found his place. Some were cleaning off the sweat and dirt of the day's work with hot water: not until they have done that can they obtain the quilts that are rented for twenty cash each; others had already curled up for the afternoon pipe of opium, while still others were busy preparing the evening meal over the big semicircular range. In one pot bean-cake was being made, a long, complicated process; in another, cakes were frying in oil; in another, rice was boiling. One of my chair coolies seemed to be the chef par excellence; brandishing a big iron ladle, he went from pot to pot, stirring, tasting, seasoning, and generally lording it over two others working under his orders. In full control of the whole was a good-looking woman with bound feet, apparently the proprietor of the inn; at least I