Through China's Wall

Through China's Wall

Through China's Wall

Through China's Wall

Excerpt

I LEFT Peking for the last time on a warm afternoon in mid-October, boarding the train from a station platform which lay freakishly quiet and deserted in the clear autumn sunlight. Two months before, every train to the coast had been frantically jammed with refugees, but that stopped after the fighting began at Shanghai and this train carried practically no Chinese; the cars were empty except for a sprinkling of Japanese officers and traveling salesmen, a guard of live Japanese soldiers, and, in the baggage car, a consignment of dead ones reduced to ashes and packed away in small white-enamel boxes.

On the train I was firmly ushered past a line of empty compartments, into one which smelled faintly of feet and was occupied by a gray Japanese in a derby hat, sitting on his heels with his dagger-shaped European shoes aligned on the plush beside him. He hissed punctiliously at me, then, as the train moved slowly out of the station, he unbuttoned his vest and pants, took off his hat, revealing himself an albino, dug from his suitcase a Japanese movie-magazine and a bottle of pop, and settled down for the journey. Through the swamps and tiny fields of the lower city the train glided with increasing speed, plunged through the outer wall, and rolled on into the wide, dusty country.

It was a splendid day, probably the last really warm one of the decaying year. Beside the track the fields glistened with yellow crops and above them the banked foliage of poplars and willows floated like bronze plumes of seaweed under-water. Nothing more serious than desultory skirmishing had taken place here, and in the few spots where the . . .

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