Page:A Wayfarer in China.djvu/225

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169
ACROSS CHENGTU PLAIN

along on the large flat-bottomed freight barrow, while on every hand we saw substantial looking farmer folk, men, women, and children, going to town in the same primitive fashion.

To save the journey a little for my chair-men, and also for the fun of a new experience, I bargained with a barrow-man to carry me for a few miles. My coolies took it as a fine joke, and after starting me off trotted on behind, but my military escort looked troubled. No longer striding proudly in front, he showed a desire to loiter behind, although so long as my grand chair kept close at my heels he could save his face by explaining my strange proceeding as the mad freak of a foreigner. But finally, when I bade the chair-men stop for a smoke at a rest-house, knowing they could easily overtake my slow-moving vehicle, he too disappeared, and only took up his station again at the head of the procession when I went back to my chair after dismissing the barrow with a payment of eighty cash for a ride of twenty-five li. Barrow travelling is not as bad as it seems, for there is a chair-back, and rests for the feet are fixed on either side of the wheel. But in spite of the dexterity with which the coolie trundled me over the rough places and through the deep ruts, an upset into an unsavoury rice-patch seemed unpleasantly possible, and more than all, you can never lose consciousness of the straining man behind.