Page:A Wayfarer in China.djvu/237

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feet, or what ought to be his feet, laved by the rushing water of the Ta Fo Rapid. As the tale runs, this was the work of a good monk of the eighth century, who spent his life over the undertaking in the hope that by this pious act he might avert the terrible floods that devastated the region. A mighty task boldly conceived and patiently carried out, but still the rain pours down, and still the rivers rise and drown the land.

Baber tells the dramatic story of one of the greatest of the floods. It occurred in 1786 when the fall of a cliff in the Ta Tu dammed the river completely for a time. Warnings were sent to the villages along the banks, and many fled to the hills, but the people of Chia-ting, trusting to their open plain over which the water could spread itself, scouted the warning, and the cry, "Shui lai-la" ("The water is coming"), became the catchword of the hour. Let Baber tell the rest: "It was holiday in Chia-ting some days after the receipt of the notice, and the light hearted crowds which gathered on such occasions were chiefly attracted by a theatrical representation on the flat by the water-side. One of the actors suddenly stopped in the middle of his rôle, and gazing up the river, screamed out the now familiar by-word, 'Shui lai-la!' This repetition of the stock jest, with well-simulated terror, as it seemed to the merry-makers, drew shouts of laughter; but the echoes of the laugh were drowned