"My dear, I do not own this boat, and so cannot prevent it; if I tried we would probably be mobbed. Anyway, you cannot change people's superstitions by force, but only by conviction. As for your other question, the wind is a good one for all I know to the contrary, and even if it is not, it may change at any moment; and in this country if you ever want to get anywhere you must be on the spot."
"You are right as always, and I am a very, very tender-foot," smiled Helen; "I wanted to drift, and drifting let it be."
Having given orders to sail as soon as possible, Miss Matilda started to do the honours of their new home.
"This first cubby hole you enter on leaving the bow is the kitchen where Lao Liu holds sway, although he does almost all the cooking on deck over the charcoal brazier. Those chickens you see are alive and we are to subsist on them throughout the trip. Do you wonder that they look pensive ? Chinese chickens are likely to look that way for some reason."
"Do you always travel with Lao Liu like a sort of human dress suitcase?" asked Helen.
"Always, he looks after our fifty odd parcels and does the bargaining and the cooking as well, for I cannot eat the native food. I pay him three dollars a month and he supplies his own meals. He is supposed to make a pretty good thing of it, and is a dandy as well. Just notice the rakish angle of that derby hat that we waited all Saturday afternoon for him to buy."
In the cabin the amah had almost settled their belongings. Helen now began to see the necessity for all the pile of luggage. She found that Miss Matilda had to supply everything: camp cots, bedding, knives, forks, plates, tablecloths, towels, wash-basins, and many other necessities. No wonder Lao Liu was an essential. The cabin was to be their bedroom, living- and dining-room, while next it was a tiny closet which they could use as a dressing-room.
In China No One Is In Such A Hurry That He Cannot Stop, Look, And Listen Whenever Any New Thing Appears.
A Fleet Of House-Boats Under Way.
"Just beyond that thin board partition are the quarters of the boatman's family," explained Miss Matilda, as they investigated this apartment. "There are many cracks and holes in the boards, so I have hung up those curtains to keep off the all-pervading eye that is ever with us in the Orient."
Having thoroughly investigated their quarters, they unpacked the remainder of their belongings and settled themselves down in the living-room.
"As I gave you my watch, and said to myself that time was nothing to me, I suppose it is inconsistent to state that certain inner symptoms make me feel that tiffin should be prepared," Helen remarked an hour or two later.
Miss Matilda, who had no quarrel with time, pulled out her watch and exclaimed, "Why, it is a quarter after two, and Lao Liu has not begun to get ready. No wonder you are hungry!" And she hurried out on deck to get things started.
At three they sat down to a nicely cooked meal, and as they did so the beating of a drum and the explosion of firecrackers told them that they were finally under way. The breeze caught the sail, the water rippled against the prow, and they went along merrily for four or five li.
"If this alarming speed keeps up I have faith to believe that we will get to Feng Ti Fu a week or two before it is time for me to turn my face toward home," said Helen laughingly.
The words were scarcely spoken, when there was a grating sound; then the boat came to such a sudden stop that they were almost thrown to the floor. Tremendous excitement and shouting ensued with a rushing about the deck. When the confusion had subsided a little they found that they had run on a sandbar and it took nearly an hour to get them off. Then, after a good deal of discussion, the master of the boat decided to come to anchor for the night. There was a curve in the canal directly in front of them, and if they went on the wind would be dead ahead; and besides, a village was at hand which would make a protection through the hours of darkness. Helen protested mildly that such dillydallying was worse than a schedule, but Miss Matilda agreed with the boatmen. She knew more of the dangers of pirates and bandits than did Helen, and did not care to be caught by darkness between two villages where they would be alone against marauders.
Very early that evening they retired to bed, for a chill had fallen with sunset that made the thought of warm blankets welcome. It took some time to make everything snug and safe, for there were no locks on the doors arid they had to be secured by ropes. When Helen gathered from a chance remark of Matilda's that these precautions were rather needless as pirates usually captured the whole boat and carried it off, getting rid of the passengers in various ways, a distinct shiver went down her spine. She did not make any inquiries about what these ways were, thinking that where ignorance was bad enough, knowledge would be even worse. Her great comfort was that her friend had taken the trip many times and was still alive to be frightened.
All through the time of her preparations she was disturbed by the quarrelling of the boat people. The wife of one of the boatmen had a red hot temper and her voice was seldom still, but in the quiet of evening it seemed to echo and re-echo through the night. Miss Matilda was evidently used to this sort of lullaby and soon fell asleep. Not so Helen; she twisted and turned and put her hands up over her ears without much success until the voice stopped. She was just falling into her first sweet doze when she was startled awake by the sound of scratching on the door at her head. She raised herself and peered out into the darkness; that surely was the scrape of burglars' tools. She waited quietly at first, but the noise kept furtively on and she felt in a moment that she must scream.