Page:A Wayfarer in China.djvu/273

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215
DOWN THE YANGTSE

while the poor, unprotected boatmen, robbed of their hard-earned sleep, kept up an accompaniment of slapping on the other side of the curtain. The river was falling again, leaving long stretches of mudbank over which I had to clamber if I tried to leave the boat for a little change, but I always managed to go on shore for a while when the men were cooking and eating their supper. They took an interminable time over it, and I never could see why they did not burn us all up, for their cooking was done in the tiny hold in an unprotected brazier. In fact, we did catch fire one day, but of course there was plenty of water at hand.

The third day about noon we tied up for a short time to cook some sort of a meal, and the rain coming on, the captain thought it best to wait. To escape the bad air of the boat, where all the mattings were down, I sat under an umbrella on the bank. A huge junk slowly pulling upstream moored close at hand, and I watched with interest the trackers making fast. They were men of all ages and sizes, but mostly young and well grown. Their naked bodies were well developed and muscular, but often cut or scarred with falling on the rocks. Having made all secure they too got under cover on the junk, and fell to eating, naked and wet as they were. It seemed to me that I sat for hours on that mudbank while the rain fell in torrents and the river rose higher and higher, for the