The Painted Veil Chapter 30

Suddenly her bearers, long silent, began to speak and one of them, turning round, with words she could not understand and with a gesture, sought to attract her attention. She looked in the direction he pointed and there, on the top of a hill, saw an archway; she knew by now that it was a memorial in compliment of a fortunate scholar or a virtuous widow, she had passed many of them since they left the river; but this one, silhouetted against the westering sun, was more fantastic and beautiful than any she had seen. Yet, she knew not why, it made her uneasy; it had a significance which she felt but could not put into words: Was it a menace that she vaguely discerned or was it derision? She was passing a grove of bamboos and they leaned over the causeway strangely as if they would detain her; though the summer evening was windless their narrow green leaves shivered a little. It gave her the sensation that some one hidden among them was watching her as she passed. Now they came to the foot of the hill and the rice-fields ceased. The bearers took it with a swinging stride. The hill was covered close with little green mounds, close, close to one another, so that the ground was ribbed like the sea-sand when the tide has gone out; and this she knew too for she had passed just such a spot as they approached each populous city and left it. It was the graveyard. Now she knew why the bearers had called her attention to the archway that stood on the crest of the hill: they had reached the end of their journey.

They passed through the archway and the chair-bearers paused to change the pole from shoulder to shoulder. One of them wiped his sweating face with a dirty rag. The causeway wound down. There were bedraggled houses on each side. Now the night was falling. But the bearers on a sudden broke into excited talk and with a jump that shook her ranged themselves as near as they could to the wall. In a moment she knew what had startled them, for as they stood there, chattering to one another, four peasants passed, quick and silent, bearing a new coffin, unpainted, and its fresh wood gleamed white in the approaching darkness. Kitty felt her heart beat in terror against her ribs. The coffin passed, but the bearers stood still; it seemed as though they could not summon up the will to go on. But there was a shout from behind and they started. They did not speak now.

They walked for a few minutes longer and then turned sharply into an open gateway. The chair was set down. She had arrived.