Page:A Wayfarer in China.djvu/226

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170
A WAYFARER IN CHINA

I thought the last stage into Chengtu would never end; the passing of people became more and more incessant and tiring, while the hot-house temperature of this rich lowland was most exhausting, and the occasional downpours only made the roads more impassable without cooling the air. My coolies, coming from higher altitudes, were almost used up. They stopped often to rest, and hardly one was doing his own work, making an exchange with another man, unless he had given up entirely, sweating out his job to some one hired on the way. So we straggled along, a disorderly, spiritless crowd, showing a little life only when Jack, whom nothing daunted, created a diversion by chasing the village dogs along the narrow earth balks between the fields, their favourite resting-places. Then the whole party waked up, cheering the little dog on with gay cries, and laughing impartially when hunter or hunted slipped into the muck of a rice-patch, while the toilers by the roadside thought we had all gone mad until they saw what it was, and then they too joined in with chuckles of delight. There is something quite childlike in the way in which this old Chinese people welcomes any little break in the grey days of grinding drudgery.

As the day wore on, one could guess that a great centre of government and trade was near at hand; the traffic was continuous,—coolies bent almost