From one direction came a camel-train from Mongolia; from another, three or four blue-hooded, long-axled, Peking carts. Along a third street came a group of water-carriers and wheelbarrows, and from the fourth half a dozen rickshaws. All met, and in a moment became thoroughly mixed up.
Over the tops of the blue-hooded carts the tall camels raised their scornful heads, and surveyed the commotion with aloof disdain. In all the world there is nothing so arrogant and haughty as a camel, and they regarded from their supercilious height the petty quarreling of man.
Now and then he slaked his thirst at a stone fountain by the wayside, not without reverencing the blue-hooded Madonna painted over it. A few lean, brown peasants, bending under faggots, and one or two carts, passed us before we gained the top, and half-way up there was a hovel where drink could be bought; but with these exceptions nothing broke the loneliness of the long, wild ascent.
And the ponderous swaying of elephants sensitive creatures, nervous of their own bulk, resplendently caparisoned. And there a flash of the jungle, among casual goats, fowls, and pariahs went the royal cheetahs, led on slips; walking delicately, between scarlet peons, looking for all the world like amiable maiden ladies with blue-hooded caps tied under their chins.
The fields were cut across in every direction by dirt roads, unpaved, full of deep ruts and holes. At times these roads were sunk far below the level of the fields, worn deep into the earth by the traffic of centuries; so deep in places that the tops of the blue-hooded carts were also below the level of the fields.
He had started early one morning in his big, blue-hooded cart, drawn by a gorgeous yellow mule, its harness inlaid with jade stones. Not number-one jade, of course, but still jade, and of value. Ten days ago he had gone. Withers and the shroff caught the first train out for Peking, and arriving in two hours, made hasty preparations for their journey.