'The Overland Limited' from Chungking to Chengtu, Nov. 29th - Dec.9th, 1916

Agnes and Mary in sedan chair

The Yangtse became a chasm from which she could not escape. Cliffs rose suddenly, as unpredictably as nightmares. Agnes felt trapped on a battlefield, in a conflict between rocks rising above the writhing water and hidden boulders beneath. Their little vessel was aimed directly at massive cliffs, in seemingly deliberate threats to smash it to kindling. At the very last instant, when disaster seemed imminent, the captain pulled away into a clear channel of frothing foam, even as the ancient moss dangling from the rock face swept the fear from Agnes's wet hair, Lurching, roaring movement pitched her into Stanley's arms and they both held their child, praying to step on land.

Arriving in Chungking, Agnes and Stanley climbed up the steep stone steps from the ship in the harbour, rocking with an inner motion that refused to end. Following a stopover at the Methodist Agency in Chungking, they stepped up into the sedan chairs of The Overland Limited, a long caravan of cubicles, propelled by the force of men harnessed like donkeys. Agnes's body swayed back and forth within an entirely different pendulum of time.

The patting of the coolie's lightly wrapped feet against the ancient rounded stones echoed travellers from years past. 'Slap-a, pat-a, slap-a, pat-a ...' the cadence went, swaying and rocking as the breathing of the chairmen became raggedly rhythmic. Rice fields bordered her passage, rising and dropping in slashes of water and mud. Wooden irrigation pumps, like giant bicycles, rotated by the efforts of silent pedalling men. Little shrines housed aged wooden images. Agnes's horizon rolled about her, pivoting from her rocking compartment and the animated head of the sweating man at the helm.