Early Monday morning Mackay peeped out of the big warehouse door at the great calm mountain shrouded in the pale mists of early dawn. The other two travelers were soon astir, and were surprised to find their young companion all ready. They were not yet well enough acquainted with him to know that he could do with less sleep at night than an owl. He was in high spirits and as eager to be off as he had ever been to start for a day's fishing in the old times back in Ontario. And indeed this was just a great fishing expedition he was commencing. For had not one said to him, long long ago when he was but a little boy, "Come follow me, and I will make you to become a fisher of men?" and he had obeyed. The first task was to go out and buy food for the journey, and to hire a couple of coolies to carry it and what baggage they must take.
Dr. Dickson went off on this errand, and being well acquainted with Formosan customs and language, soon returned with two Chinese carriers and plenty of food. This last consisted of canned meats, biscuits, coffee, and condensed milk, bought at a store where ships' supplies were kept for sale. There was also some salted water-buffalo meat, a Chinese dish with which the young missionary was destined to become very familiar.
They started out three abreast, Mr. Ritchie's blue serge figure capped by a white helmet on the right, Dr. Dickson on the left in his Scotch tweed, and between them the alert, slim figure of the newcomer, in his suit of Canadian gray. The coolies, with baskets hung to a pole across their shoulders, came ambling along behind.
The three travelers were in the gayest mood. Perhaps it was the clear spring morning air, or the breath of the salt ocean, perhaps it was the intoxicating beauty of mountain and plain and river that surrounded them or it may have been because they had given their lives in perfect service to the One who is the source of all happiness, but whatever was the cause, they were all like schoolboys off for a holiday. The coolies who trotted in the rear were very much amazed and not a little amused at the actions of these foolish foreign devils, who laughed and joked and seemed in such high spirits for no reason at all.
They swung along the bank of the river until they came to the ferry that was to take them to the other side. They sprang into the boat and were shoved off. Before they reached the other side, at Dr. Dickson's suggestion, they took off their shoes and socks, and stowed them away in the carriers' baskets. When they came to the opposite bank they rolled up their trousers to their knees and sprang out into the shallow water. For a short distance they had the joy of tramping barefoot along the hard gleaming sand of the harbor.
But shoes and stockings had to be resumed, for soon they turned inland, on a path that wound up to the high plain above the river. "Do you ever use a horse on your travels?" asked young Mackay as they climbed upward.
Mr. Ritchie laughed. "You couldn't get one in north Formosa for love or money. And if you could, he wouldn't be any use."
"Unless he was a second Pegasus, and could soar above the Formosan roads," added Dr. Dickson. "Wait a bit and you'll understand."
The young missionary waited, and kept his eyes open for the answer. The pathway crossed a grassy plain where groups of queer-looking, mouse-colored animals, half ox, half buffalo, with great spreading horns, strayed about, herded by boys, or lay wallowing in deep pools.
"Water-buffaloes," he said, remembering them as he had seen them in the south.
"The most useful animal on the island," remarked Mr. Ritchie, adding with a laugh, "except perhaps the pig. You'll have a taste of Mr. Buffalo for your dinner, Mackay."
And now they were up on the heights, and the lovely country lay spread out before them. Mackay mentally compared this walk to many he had taken along the country roads of his native land. It was early in March, but as there had been no winter, so there was no spring. It was summer, warm, radiant summer, like a lovely day in June at home. Dandelions, violets, and many gay flowers that he did not recognize spangled the grassy plain. The skylark high overhead was pouring out its glorious song, just as he had heard it in his student days in Scotland. Here and there were clumps of fir trees that reminded him of Canada, but on the whole the scene was new and wonderful to his Western eyes.
They were now on the first level of the rice-fields. The farms were tiny things, none larger than eight or ten acres. They were divided into queer-shaped little irrigated fields, separated not by fences, but by little low walls of mud. Every farm was under water now, and here and there, wading through his little flooded fields, went the farmer with his plough, drawn by a useful water-buffalo, -- the latter apparently quite happy at being allowed to splash about in the mud.
These rice-farms soon became a familiar sight to the newcomer. He liked to see them at all times -- when each field was a pretty blue or green lake, later when the water was choked with the fresh green growth, or in harvest days, when the farmers stripped the fields of their grain. Just now they were at their prettiest. Row above row, they went up the mountainside, like a great glass stairs, each row reflecting the green hills and the bamboo groves above. And from each terrace to the one below, the water tumbled in pretty little cascades that sparkled in the sunlight and filled the air with music. For travelers there were only narrow paths between farms, and often only the ridge of the dykes between field and field. As they made their way between the tiny fields, walking along the narrow dykes, and listening to the splashing sound of the water, Mackay understood what Dr. Dickson meant, when he remarked that only a flying horse could be of use on such Formosan cross-country journeys.
Soon the pathway changed once more to the broader public highway. Here there was much traffic, and many travelers carried in sedan-chairs passed them. And many times by the roadside Mackay saw something that reminded him forcibly of why he had come to Formosa -- a heathen shrine. The whole countryside seemed dotted with them. And as he watched the worshippers coming and going, and heard the disdainful words from the priests cast at the hated foreigners, he realized that he was face to face with an awful opposing force. It was the great stone of heathenism he had come to break, and the question was, would he be as successful as he had been long ago in the Canadian pasture-field?
The travelers ate their dinner by the roadside under the shade of some fir trees that made Mackay feel at home. They were soon up and off again, and, tired with their long tramp, they arrived at a town called Tionglek, and decided to spend the night there. The place was about the size of Tamsui, with between four and five thousand inhabitants, and was quite as dirty and almost as noisy. They walked down the main street with its uneven stone pavement, its open shops, its noisy bargains, and above all its horrible smells. With the exception of an occasional visit from an official, foreigners scarcely ever came to Tionglek, and on every side were revilings and threatenings. One yellow-faced youngster picked up a handful of mud and threw it at the hated foreigners; and "Black-bearded barbarian," mingled with their shouts. Mackay's bright eyes took in everything, and he realized more and more the difficulties of the task before him.
They stopped in front of a low one-story building made of sun-dried bricks. This was the Tionglek hotel where they were to spend the night. Like most Chinese houses it was composed of a number of buildings arranged in the form of a square with a courtyard in the center. Dr. Dickson asked for lodgings from the slant-eyed proprietor. He looked askance at the foreigners, but concluded that their money was as good as any one else's, and he led them through the deep doorway into the courtyard.
In the center of this yard stood an earthen range, with a fire in it. Several travelers stood about it cooking their rice. It was evidently the hotel dining-room; a dining-room that was open to all too, for chickens clucked and cackled and pigs grunted about the range and made themselves quite at home. The men about the gateway scowled and muttered "Foreign devil," as the three strangers passed them.
They crossed the courtyard and entered their room, or rather stumbled into it, in semi-darkness. Mackay peered about him curiously. He discovered three beds, made of planks and set on brick pillars for legs. Each was covered with a dirty mat woven from grass and reeking with the odor of opium smoke.
A servant came in with something evidently intended for a lamp -- a burning pith wick set in a saucer of peanut oil. It gave out only a faint glimmer of light, but enough to enable the young missionary to see something else in the room, -- some THINGS rather, that ran and skipped and swarmed all over the damp earthen floor and the dirty walls. There were thousands of these brisk little creatures, all leaping about in pleasant anticipation of the good time they would have when the barbarians went to bed. There was no window, and only the one door that opened into the courtyard. An old pig, evidently more friendly to the foreigners than her masters, came waddling toward them followed by her squealing little brood, and flopping down into the mud in the doorway lay there uttering grunts of content.
The evil smells of the room, the stench from the pigs, and the still more dreadful odors wafted from the queer food cooking on the range, made the young traveler's unaccustomed senses revolt. He had a half notion that the two older men were putting up a joke on him.
"I suppose you thought it wise to give me a strong dose of all this at the start?" he inquired humorously, holding his nose and glancing from the pigs at the door to the crawlers on the wall.
"A strong dose!" laughed Mr. Ritchie. "Not a bit of it, young man. Wait till you've had some experience of the luxuries of Formosan inns. You'll be calling this the Queen's Hotel, before you've been here long!"
And so indeed it proved later, for George Mackay had yet much to learn of the true character of Chinese inns. Needless to say he spent a wakeful night, on his hard plank bed, and was up early in the morning. The travelers ate their breakfast in a room where the ducks and hens clattered about under the table and between their legs. Fortunately the food was taken from their own stores, and in spite of the surroundings was quite appetizing.
They started off early, drawing in great breaths of the pure morning air, relieved to be away from the odors of the "Queen's Hotel." Three hundred feet above them, high against the deep blue of the morning sky, stood Table Hill, and they started on a brisk climb up its side. The sun had not risen, but already the farmers were out in their little water-fields, or working in their tea plantations. The mountain with its groves of bamboo lay reflected in the little mirrors of the rice-fields. A steady climb brought them to the summit, and after a long descent on the other side and a tramp through tea plantations they arrived in the evening at a large city with a high wall around it, the city of Tek-chham. That night in the city inn was so much worse than the one at Tionglek that the Canadian was convinced his friends must have reserved the "strong dose" for the second night. There were the same smells, the same sorts of pigs and ducks and hens, the same breeds of lively nightly companions, and each seemed to have gained a fresh force.
It was a relief to be out in the fields again after the foul odors of the night, and the travelers were off before dawn. The country looked more familiar to Mackay this morning, for they passed through wheat and barley fields. It seemed so strange to wander over a man's farm by a footpath, but it was a Chinese custom to which he soon became accustomed.
The sun was blazing hot, and it was a great relief when they entered the cool shade of a forest. It was a delightful place and George Mackay reveled in its beauty. Ever since he had been able to run about his own home farm in Ontario his eyes had always been wide open to observe anything new. He had studied as much out of doors, all his life, as he had done in college, and now he found this forest a perfect library of new things. Nearly every tree and flower was strange to his Canadian eyes. Here and there, in sheltered valleys, grew the tree-fern, the most beautiful object in the forest, towering away up sometimes to a height of sixty feet, and spreading its stately fronds out to a width of fifteen feet. There was a lovely big plant with purple stem and purple leaves, and when Dr. Dickson told him it was the castor-oil plant, he smiled at the remembrance of the trials that plant had caused him in younger days. One elegant tree, straight as a pine, rose fifty feet in height, with leaves away up at the top only.
This was the betel-nut tree.
"The nuts of that tree," said Mr. Ritchie, standing and pointing away up to where the sunlight filtered through the far-off leaves, "are the chewing tobacco of Formosa and all the islands about here. The Chinese do not chew it, but the Malayans do. You will meet some of these natives soon."
On every side grew the rattan, half tree, half vine. It started off as a tree and grew straight up often to twenty feet in height, and then spread itself out over the tops of other trees and plants in vine-like fashion; some of its branches measured almost five hundred feet in length.
The travelers paused to admire one high in the branches of the trees.
"Many a Chinaman loses his head hunting that plant," remarked Mr. Ritchie. "These islanders export a great deal of rattan, and the head-hunters up there in the mountains watch for the Chinese when they are working in the forest."
Mackay listened eagerly to his friends' tales of the head-hunting savages, living in the mountains. They were always on the lookout for the farmers near their forest lairs. They watched for any unwary man who went too near the woods, pounced upon him, and went off in triumph with his head in a bag.
The young traveler's eyes brightened, "I'll visit them some day!" he cried, looking off toward the mountainside. Mr. Ritchie glanced quickly at the flashing eyes and the quick, alert figure of the young man as he strode along, and some hint came to him of the dauntless young heart which beat beneath that coat of Canadian gray.
Two days more over hill and dale, through rice and tea and tobacco-fields, and then, in the middle of a hot afternoon, Mr. Ritchie began to shiver and shake as though half frozen. Dr. Dickson understood, and at the next stopping-place he ordered a sedan-chair and four coolies to carry it. It was the old dreaded disease that hangs like a black cloud over lovely Formosa, the malarial fever. Mr. Ritchie had been a missionary only four years in the island, but already the scourge had come upon him, and his system was weakened. For, once seized by malaria in Formosa, one seldom makes his escape. They put the sick man into the chair, now in a raging fever, and he was carried by the four coolies.
They were nearing the end of their journey and were now among a people not Chinese. They belonged to the original Malayan race of the island. They had been conquered by the Chinese, who in the early days came over from China under a pirate named Koxinga. As the Chinese name every one but themselves "barbarians," they gave this name to all the natives of the island. They had conquered all but the dreaded head-hunters, who, free in their mountain fastnesses, took a terrible toll of heads from their would-be conquerors, or even from their own half-civilized brethren.
The native Malayans who had been subdued by the Chinese were given different names. Those who lived on the great level rice-plain over which the missionaries were traveling, were called Pe-po-hoan, "Barbarians of the plain." Mackay could see little difference between them and the Chinese, except in the cast of their features, and their long-shaped heads. They wore Chinese dress, even to the cue, worshiped the Chinese gods, and spoke with a peculiar Malayan twang.
The travelers were journeying rather wearily over a low muddy stretch of ground, picking their way along the narrow paths between the rice-fields, when they saw a group of men come hurrying down the path to meet them. They kept calling out, but the words they used were not the familiar "foreign devil" or "ugly barbarian." Instead the people were shouting words of joyful welcome.
Dr. Dickson hailed them with delight, and soon he and Mr. Ritchie's sedan-chair were surrounded by a clamorous group of friends.
They had journeyed so far south that they had arrived at the borders of the English Presbyterian mission, and the people crowding about them were native Christians. It was all so different from their treatment by the heathen that Mackay's heart was warmed. When the great stone of heathenism was broken, what love and kindness were revealed!
The visitors were led in triumph to the village. There was a chapel here, and they stayed nearly a week, preaching and teaching.
The rest did Mr. Ritchie much good, and at the end of their visit he was once more able to start off on foot. They moved on from village to village and everywhere the Pe-po-hoan Christians received them with the greatest hospitality.
But at last the three friends found the time had come for them to part. The two Englishmen had to go on through their fields to their south Formosan home and the young Canadian must go back to fight the battle alone in the north of the island. He had endeared himself to the two older men, and when the farewells came they were filled with regret.
They bade him a lingering good-by, with many blessings upon his young head, and many prayers for success in the hard fight upon which he was entering. They walked a short way with him, and stood watching the straight, lithe young figure, so full of courage and hope until it disappeared down the valley. They knew only too well the dangers and trials ahead of him, but they knew also that he was not going into the fight alone. For the Captain was going with his young soldier.
There was a suspicion of moisture in the eyes of the older missionaries as they turned back to prepare for their own journey southward.
"God bless the boy!" said Dr. Dickson fervently. "We'll hear of that young fellow yet, Ritchie. He's on fire."