Page:A Wayfarer in China.djvu/279

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219
DOWN THE YANGTSE

gulf, clinging to the face of rocks that do not seem to offer a foothold to a mountain goat, and all the time straining with every muscle at a thousand-foot rope. An inhuman task where men take great risks for a pittance, where death by drowning or by being dashed to pieces on the rocks confronts them at every turn, and where, at best, strains and exposure bring an early end. In my dreams I see them, the long lines of naked men, their strong bodies shining with wet and bleeding from many a cut, keeping time in a wild chant as they tug at the taut line; a rope breaks and the toil of hours is lost; one misstep and a life has ended.

But this is the sole highway to Szechuan; all the trade of China's largest province, the one best endowed by nature, must pass up and down here. Any people less prodigal of their strength, less determined and less resourceful than the Chinese, would have given up the struggle before it was begun, and Szechuan would have slumbered undeveloped and forgotten, instead of being as it is now the richest and most advanced part of the empire.

And the next step is assured; before many years have passed, a railway will connect the western capital with Wan-hsien and Hankow, the deserted gorges will no longer reëcho the cries of the trackers, and the upward trip that now takes six weeks will be a matter of two or three days. It will be a different