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Inn at Pouching-hien Opium-smokers and gamblers Value of life in China A midnight disturbance Sing-Hoo fights with a joss-stick Difficulty of procuring men next day Sing-Hoo carries the luggage, and we march His bamboo breaks Scene amongst beggars Description of beggars in China A "king of the beggars" Charity always given I continue my journey Mountain passes and Buddhist temples A border town and Tartar guard We are inspected and allowed to pass on.
HAVING left tea and the tea-hills behind me, I shall now go on with my narrative. When I arrived at the city of Pouching-hien it was nearly dark. It had been raining heavily all the afternoon, and, being wet and uncomfortable, I was glad of the shelter afforded by a Chinese inn. The one which I entered did not appear to be so respectable as I could have wished, and I would have left it and sought another had the weather been better, but as the night was so wet I determined to stop where I was.
The chair-bearers and coolie, who had been re-engaged at Woo-e-shan, had now arrived at the end of their journey, according to agreement, and intended returning home again next day. They generally took care to be paid the proportion of their fare at the end of each day's journey, and I now desired Sing-Hoo to pay them the remainder and get rid of them as soon as possible. He informed me he had done so, but that they intended to remain in the same inn with ourselves for the night.
A hot dinner was at length placed upon the table. Rough and unpalatable as this would have appeared in other circumstances, I was now so accustomed to the Chinese style of living, that what was placed before me seemed tempting enough, and I believe I did full justice to it. My chair-bearers, having received their wages, were now seated at a side-table in another room absorbed in the mysteries of gambling, and Sing-Hoo was quietly smoking his pipe with the landlord. A number of other travellers were also loitering about, some of whom had an appearance which did not produce a favourable impression on me. They were evidently opium-smokers, from the sallow colour of their cheeks, probably gamblers, and altogether such characters as one would rather avoid than be on intimate terms with.
It still continued to rain heavily, and as all out of doors seemed dark and dismal, and all within uninviting, I retired early to rest. Tired with the exertions of the day, I was soon fast asleep in spite of my suspicious inn and strange companions. It might have been about midnight when I was awakened by the sounds of angry voices, and amongst them I could distinguish those of my chair-bearers and Sing-Hoo. I jumped up with strong suspicions that something serious was about to happen to us. The noise still increased, and, from the scuffle which reached my ears, I feared they were seizing my servant with the intention of robbing us, and perhaps of taking our lives.
Human life is not much valued in some parts of the country, and the province of Fokien does not bear a high character, and for aught I knew I might be in a den of thieves and robbers. Sing-Hoo, but a short time before, had been telling me of an occurrence which took place in the wild mountain country between Hoo-chow-foo the famous silk town and Hwuy-chow, his native place. Four travellers, he said, took up their quarters one evening in an inn on the roadside. They called for a good dinner, and afterwards smoked opium and gambled until nearly midnight. Next morning three of them paid their bills of fare and took their departure, but the fourth was nowhere visible. His body was afterwards found in a pit near the house, doubled up in his own box, and from its appearance there was no doubt the man had met with a violent death from the hands of his companions.
With this story in my mind, I could not endure the suspense any longer, and throwing on my clothes I opened the door and walked into the place where the disturbance was. What I saw was quite sufficient to alarm a bolder man, and yet there was something in it laughable too. Eight or ten stout fellows, including the chair-bearers, were attacking my servant, who was standing, like a tiger at bay, up against the wall of the house. He had a large joss-stick in his hand which every now and then he was poking at the faces of those who threatened to close with him. The most adventurous sometimes got a poke which sent them back, cursing and swearing, rather faster than they came. The whole scene brought vividly to my mind Bailie Nicol Jarvie's fight with the red-hot poker, so admirably described by Sir Walter Scott.
Had I been an uninterested spectator, I might have enjoyed a hearty laugh at the scene before me; but I was in the midst of a strange country and hostile people, and, being the weaker party, I felt really alarmed. The only weapon in my possession was a small pocket-pistol, one of those which are loaded by unscrewing the barrel. Thinking that if matters came to the worst this might be of some use, either in frightening our assailants or in saving my life, I went back to my bed-room and got it out. When I examined it I found that the wet had rusted the barrel, and it would not unscrew; it was therefore of no use.
The noise still continued, and if possible got louder. I determined, therefore, to present a bold front, and walked straight in amongst the combatants, clearing a space between my servant and the others, and asked the reason of the disturbance. My chair-bearers and coolie, who had always treated me with every respect, immediately fell back in the rear, grumbling at the same time about some cash which they had not received. On inquiring into the business, I found that Sing-Hoo, Chinaman-like, not content with what he got from me, had been trying to squeeze the chair-bearers and coolie out of 300 cash about a shilling of our money. He denied the accusation most stoutly, but I had no doubt in my own mind that what the men said was true; besides I was not going to have a disturbance, and perhaps lose my life, for a shilling, so I ordered him to pay the money without further delay.
This had the effect of restoring something like quietness to the house. I now ordered Sing-Hoo into my room and shut the door. The business, however, had gone too far, for the other men were highly incensed at his conduct, and threatened to be revenged upon him. For hours after this I could hear them talking about the matter, even after they had lain down in their beds. Sing-Hoo listened eagerly to every word of their conversation, and was evidently in a state of great alarm. He begged me to allow a candle to be lighted and kept burning in our apartment during the night.
In the room next to mine, and only separated from it by a wooden partition, about a dozen opiumsmokers had taken up their quarters. The soft, sickening fumes of the drug found their way through the chinks of the partition, and were most disagreeable. In a short time the opium began to operate upon the smokers; they talked and laughed loudly, and were evidently in their "heaven of bliss." Sing-Hoo's affair was uppermost in their minds, and it seemed as if they could think or talk of nothing else. What madmen might do under the circumstances for madmen they were while under the influence of the drug I could not possibly foresee. This kept me awake for several hours. At last, however, I dropped off to sleep, and did not awake until daylight was streaming into our miserable apartment. All was perfectly quiet. Sing-Hoo was lying on his bed fast asleep with his clothes on, and the opium-smokers had gone off at last into the land of dreams.
Rousing Sing-Hoo, I desired him to go and look after another chair and coolies to take me onwards across the Bohea mountains into the province of Chekiang. He returned saying that all was arranged, and that the men would come to the inn as soon as they had taken their breakfast. In the mean time we ordered breakfast, and began to make preparations for our departure. I felt anxious to leave Pouching-hien before Sing-Hoo's enemies could put into execution any scheme of revenge, which I had no doubt they would attempt if they had time. It turned out afterwards that my fears were not without foundation.
While we were at breakfast one of the men who had been engaged in the brawl on the evening before went out and endeavoured to prevent us from getting men for our journey. He represented that Sing-Hoo was a bad man, and, however fair he promised, yet he would not pay at the end of the journey. He succeeded but too well, for a message came from the men who had been engaged informing us that they declined going.
"Well, you see what you have done by your foolish conduct," said I to Sing-Hoo; "it is no use attempting to get a chair and coolies in this quarter; these men will prevent you by every means in their power." "Yes," said he, "I see the only way is to leave this house at once, and cut off all connection with it and with those who were here last night. I will carry the luggage myself until we have done this, and then we can easily engage a chair and coolies as before." This seemed the most feasible plan to adopt, and indeed the only one likely to succeed under the circumstances in which we were placed. I therefore desired him to go and purchase a bamboo and some rope by which he could carry the luggage on his shoulders. In the mean time I busied myself in packing up my plants and other things in as small bulk as possible.
When Sing-Hoo returned with the ropes and bamboo, he got the luggage on his shoulders, and we left the inn, in which we had spent a most uncomfortable night.
It had been raining heavily for many hours, and it was now pouring in torrents. The streets were completely flooded, and almost impassable. We plunged along, however, and were soon clear of the city, and on the great north road which leads to the passes across the Bohea mountains. When about a mile from the city walls, the bamboo with which Sing-Hoo was carrying our luggage suddenly snapped in two, and the whole of our effects were deposited in the mud and water with which the road was flooded. This part of the road was in the midst of a rice-field; no houses were near into which we could go for shelter, or where it was possible to purchase another bamboo.
I confess I felt a strong inclination to lose my temper, and to give utterance to some ill-natured reproaches; but when I looked at my servant, who stood covered with perspiration and dripping with rain, I had not the heart to reproach him. With the broken pieces of the bamboo in his hand, and the luggage (which included his own packages of grass-cloth) scattered about in the mud and water, he looked perfectly miserable.
About half a mile farther on I observed one of those sheds which are often built across the road in this country for the accommodation of travellers, and determined to make for it, as we could at least obtain shelter there from the rain. Shouldering part of the luggage, and desiring Sing-Hoo to take the remainder, I hurried onwards towards this place of shelter. These sheds are generally tenanted at night by beggars, who have nowhere else to lay their heads. When we entered we found a number of them fast asleep, and one preparing breakfast. Our arrival did not seem to attract more notice from them than a passing glance. Some of the sleepers lazily opened their eyes, but soon closed them again, and the cook went on with his culinary preparations.
It being impossible to proceed in the plight we were now in, I despatched Sing-Hoo back to the town for a chair and coolies, whilst I remained amongst the beggars to look after the luggage. Being afraid that he might fall into the hands of his enemies, who might detain him, or do him a serious injury, I desired him on no account to go near that part of the city where they were. I believe he was fully alive to the importance of taking these precautions.
He left me on his errand, and I sat down amongst the beggars. Never before had I had the honour of such company, and I devoutly hope I may never have again. Some of them were covered with natural sores, and others with artificial ones; while the low forehead, restless eye, and sturdy form of others told of a mind diseased. All were unshaven, and covered with dirt and filth. Beggars are numerous in China, and generally belong to three very distinct classes. The first are really objects of pity, and consist of the blind, the lame, and others who are covered with filthy cutaneous diseases; the second are those who endeavour to make themselves pitiable objects by artificial means; the third and largest class consists of persons who are weak-minded or insane. The community of beggars is found scattered over the empire in large numbers: it has its own regulations or laws, and there is really a "king of the beggars." The beggars in China are a privileged class, and, as they beg from door to door, seem to demand charity as their right more than as a favour. They are a great nuisance to the shopkeepers in large towns, who cannot get rid of them without giving them alms. Although a shopkeeper or householder is thus compelled to give a little to each, yet the sums given are often exceedingly small. The coin of the country is well adapted to this state of things. A hundred Chinese copper "cash" are worth only about four-pence of our money, and a beggar rarely receives more than one cash. Often he gets even less than this, and in the following curious manner: In every string of a hundred cash there are a number of small inferior ones: these are either given to beggars, or the beggar lays down one of them for the shopkeeper, who gives in return one of the usual size, so that in this case the beggar receives about the value of half a cash, or the fiftieth part of a penny! I believe, in many cases, it is not unusual for the inhabitants of a city to compound with the heads of this strange community. When this is done a slip of paper is pasted on the doorposts of the person who has made this arrangement, and no beggar troubles him during the space of time for which he has paid.
Such were the kind of persons with whom I shared the shelter of a public building on this eventful morning. They were not inquisitive, but left me to my own meditations, which were not very pleasant ones. I had three hundred le of a mountain road before me ere I could reach the head of the river, which has one of its sources on the northern side of the Bohea mountains, and in its course joins the Green River, which falls into the bay of Hang-chow. This was a most serious undertaking; and if I could not procure a chair I should be obliged to discard the greater part of my luggage, amongst which were the tea-plants I had procured on the Woo-e hills. I began to wish now that I had gone down the river Min to Foo-chow-foo, instead of coming across these mountains; but there was no use in repining, the die was cast, and I must press onwards.
In about an hour Sing-Hoo returned, bringing a chair and men, whom he had procured without any difficulty in another part of the town from that in which we had spent the night. Silently but heartily I bade adieu to Pouching-hien and the beggars, and getting into my chair continued my journey.
The road from Pouching-hien to the foot of the mountains (I was now travelling in a northerly direction) led through an undulating country. Rice was the principal crop in the fields, but considerable quantities of tobacco were cultivated on all the spots a little higher than the irrigated rice-lands. The tallow-tree was again met with in great abundance.
Forty le north from Pouching-hien we passed through a large town, the name of which I neglected to write down at the time, and which I now forget. We stopped here about two hours for refreshment, and pushing onwards arrived the same evening at a small place amongst the Bohea mountains, named Tsong-so. Determined not to run the risk of meeting disreputable company, I ordered Sing-Hoo to go to the principal inn of the town. The landlord received me at the door, and conducted me to the upper part of the hall, on each side of which the bedrooms were placed. Having chosen one, and deposited my luggage in it, I returned to the hall and partook of the usual beverage tea. In due time an excellent dinner was set before me, and so ended in a peaceful and agreeable manner a most exciting and disagreeable day.
The next morning we had an early breakfast, and then continued our journey. The road was a good one, but, being entirely mountainous, it was very fatiguing. We crossed over three passes during the day. These mountains, like the Woo-e hills, seem to be the strongholds of Buddhism. This morning, on reaching the top of the first pass, I found we were within the precincts of a temple. It was on the left-hand side of the road, while on the right there was a large tea-house for the refreshment of travellers; a kind of awning connected the two buildings, and formed a covered way which served as a protection from sun and rain.
A young priest, who observed us, ran and made a table ready and set tea before me. When I had finished tea he returned, carrying a large book in his hand, in which subscriptions for the support of the temple were entered with the names of the donors. This he presented to me, and intimated that "the smallest sum would be thankfully received." Sing-Hoo now explained to him that I was not a Buddhist, and would not subscribe to the support of that religion. Giving him a small sum for the tea, and thanking him for his civility, I took my departure. He closed the book and carried it off, apparently perfectly satisfied.
About mid-day we reached the top of another pass having a temple somewhat like the last, and a large tea-house or refreshment room attached to it.
We were now on the borders of two provinces, namely, Fokien and Chekiang, and had to pass through a border-town where a number of troops were stationed. This place is called Ching-che, and stands on the banks of a small mountain-stream which flows to the westward. As we entered the town I observed soldiers idling about in all directions; some were washing their clothes in the river, others were smoking in the tea-shops, while many were sitting chatting at the doors. All seemed to have eager eyes for the passing traveller, whom it was their duty to examine.
When we had got about half way through the town we stopped at a tea-shop for refreshment. Sing-Hoo begged me to remain in my chair until we had passed the Tartar lines, and I judged it prudent to do so. During the time we stopped, a mandarin of an inferior grade came and examined us, and seeing nothing out of the common way he merely inquired of Sing-Hoo where we had come from, and where we were going to. When he had obtained the requisite information, he walked away, seemingly perfectly satisfied.
We now crossed the river, which, I believe, here divides Fokien from Chekiang. Another high hill was before us, and we began to ascend it soon after we had crossed the river; and here an accident happened, which, had it taken place in the midst of the town through which we had just passed, might have been attended with disagreeable results. One of the bamboo levers of my chair, which I had often thought rather unsound, suddenly snapped in two, and the chair came down upon the road. This was very annoying, yet I felt thankful that it had not occurred while we were within the Tartar lines.
The chair-bearers said they could procure another bamboo at some cottages close by, so, leaving SingHoo to look after the luggage and broken chair, I went on towards the pass, examining the botany of this remarkable district by the way. I met again with the pretty Spiræa which I had first seen on the western ranges of the Bohea mountains. Here also it had chosen its home at a high elevation, and was never met with in the valleys, or on the lower sides of the hills.
When I reached the top of the pass I observed my chairmen and coolies far below. They had evidently got everything right again, and were coming onward as fast as they could. I waited for them on the top of the mountain. They said they had been obliged to pay the sum of 200 cash for a pair of new bamboos, a sum which I told them should be repaid to them at the end of their journey. They seemed very much pleased, and afterwards showed their gratitude in many little ways.
The day was now far advanced, and we had still a considerable distance to go before reaching the town in which we intended to spend the night. Almost every evening we had had a terrific thunder-storm amongst these mountains, and several hours of heavy rain. The clouds were already threatening, so we pressed on as fast as we could.
The town came at last into view, beautifully situated in the bosom of the hills. It is called Er-she-pa-tu. Just as we entered it the storm came on, the thunder sounded nearer and nearer, large drops of rain began to fall, and there was no time to lose in seeking an inn. We soon found a comfortable one, and spent the night agreeably enough.