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Filthy Inns and but Few Shepherds
soon struck up friendship with the Scot station at noon and the hamlet that sheland the Australian, advance agents of tered us at night, we saw few people a the British-American Tobacco Company shepherd or so with his flock on the hills in that new territory. The Belgian priest and a lonely figure, huddled in sheepskin, played lovely little melodies on his violin driving some moth-eaten yaks. For all and gave us real wine of the grape to the fine mountains that we were following, warm our hearts.
there was strangely little variety in those Beside these old residents of the town days of travel. A succession of filthy and the extraordinary little Chinese inns at night, two broken axles and some Postal Commissioner, who gave us dinner anxiety about the health of our mules, from foreign dishes in a huge empty were all that served to keep the mind dining room, there was Wulsin, who was from dangerous dwelling on home things. just packing his bird and animal skins to This lonely sense of detachment grew bring back to Harvard College. He and acute when we pulled into a town by a his wife had been collecting at Koko Nor little river at dark and overhead streamed and the Tibetan borderland. They were wild geese, a thousand strong, bugling now waiting till the river should drop and singing from van to rearguard. These enough to let them board a huge raft China geese do not make quite the music floated on a hundred and twenty inflated that ours do, but it was enough like it yak skins, which was to carry them and to thrill the New Englander. First there their tents and collections to within a was a sight of them far off in mile-long week's journey of the rail-head.
strings and in three minutes more they
had overhauled the thousand windy acres THE TIBETAN HIGHWAY
and were yelping loudly overhead like
in full cry. True to out of the friendly town over the in Kansu as in Massachusetts, their long iron bridge which the Americans had belling makes one shiver. slung across the Huang Ho. That is one Liangchow we could see but little of. of the only two bridges which span the landing there in the afternoon and reriver in all its great length, and it was solved to take the road again next mornstrange to see the cast-iron name-plate of ing. From Liangchow the stages were an American engineering firm at the not long, but there was no use in trying bridge rail, passed by a constant stream to better them because the country beof yaks and camels and laden mule-carts came desert suddenly and there was to and from Turkestan. On the hillsides nowhere to put up between the hamlets. of the right bank herds of yaks were Several towns a day were passed with grazing, and I took it for granted that we walls and many houses complete, but all should find many more from this time on. abandoned; though in the distance, near But they were not to be seen along the the foothills, could be seen the great Great West Road except here at Lanchow, fortified farms with tilled fields round where the Tibetan highway comes in.
about. Each farm showed a tall square The week's journey to Liangchow saw watch-tower thrust up from behind high dull weather with a threat of rain, and walls. It was proof of what this country the last three days were over great beach once was and may be again if the Chinese cobbles which rolled loosely beneath our cross the path of the Mohammedans, wheels and made the jolting progress so who are once more seizing the reins. slow that I despaired of ever again reach These two are obviously different races, ing honest dirt ruts. There was a sharp
There was a sharp though many Mohammedans have been hailstorm as we made up the slope, and so long settled here that they speak nothsnow seemed never far off; in fact, we ing but Chinese. The hawk beaks and could see it falling over the tops of the wide brown eyes of the bearded Central range only two miles south of the track Asians were a contrast to the blunt feawe followed. Except at the baiting tures of the Chinese peasants.
We met a large party on the desolate new paupers, and Japanese cities saw, road one day, escorting three mule litters. for the first time in history, white men The men had guns or old-fashioned sabres and barefoot women begging from Asiatstuck between the saddle and the knee ics by the roadside. and they looked like a truculent crowd. I Sentimentalizing over the signs of the am sure that the old lady who befriended Russian retreat was one thing, but meetKim and his Lama was in one of the ing blue eyes and Saxon hair on the Chilitters, for a constant stream of shrill talk nese highway was another. It was a boy came from behind the curtains and we saw scarce turned sixteen, and his sharp knees the ruffian guards grinning broadly. One stuck out bare from his ragged trousers. of them was dressed in scarlet wool with On his curls was a Chinese cap and on his big Chinese characters in black across his feet were felt boots, patched and nearly back and chest. It was evidently a relic falling apart. I would have given much of some old official bodyguard left over to have him for horse-boy and cook and from Imperial days. I longed to stop later to bring him home with me in them and gossip.
order to give him an education. But For days now there had been a strange Jayne pointed out that the education was half-felt presence on the Great North- a typically American solution of the west Road, as of other foreigners with difficulty and that probably Mr. Dick, us, something that made it seem even with his laconic "wash him!” as applied less like a journey of discovery. Of to the wandering David Copperfield, course, there had been the telegraph line had discovered a more profound answer. and the knowledge that missionaries and We parted with a few half-understood European archæologists came that way words of Russian, for he had no other at intervals, but this was a stronger scent language and next to none of his own. we followed and something quite unlooked He had come from Semipalatinsk, and for. Every chamber of every inn and he had with him less than a Chinese many bare walls in abandoned towns dollar. I gave him what silver I had were scrawled with Russian names and with me, but walked on wondering how regimental numbers and dates not many soon that frank blue eye and handsome months old. The ancient route, by which mouth would change into the eye of a the silk had come to the Nearer East and thief and the cruel mouth of a bandit in thence, by crooked ways and many the cynical school to which I left him-a hands, had reached Rome without so north Chinese winter and the scant mercy much as bringing with it the secret of the of the yellow man. Other Russians came road it traveled, had again become an later along the road, and among them artery between the East and the West. women, but none were so appealing as
the bonny ragged lad who might have BEGGING FROM ASIATICS
been our horse-boy. ORE Occidentals had trod it in
BEYOND THE WALL the last three years than had come in the two thousand years before, or are HE Great Wall, which we had been likely to come in several centuries from following for several marches, was now. They were the Tsarist Russians but a scant fifteen feet high, and imscurrying east from the Red Terror. pressed one only by reason of the fact From the Caspian Khanates and from the that it had got there at all from the seacities on the Volga, from Little Russia coast. What we saw was probably not and once-prosperous towns on the trans- of the greatest antiquity, as I judged by Siberian rail, they came singly and in the still visible trench from which the pairs and at last in slow caravans four clay to build it had been dug. Once, hundred strong. Peking was full of
Peking was full of toward evening, the track seemed to lead them when we left, Shanghai and Tientsin us through a gap in the wall and parallel could not take care of the thousands of with it on the outside.
Antelope, Dogs, and Men
The Chinese have a horror of going of wings as our cart's rumbling put them beyond its confines, so associated is it in up from the roadside ditches. their minds with exile and hardship and But the geese! The world was teeming the raids of wild tribes. I was thinking with geese, bugling and calling only fifty of this as our carters grumbled when we feet over our heads and gabbling as they passed the fateful line, and suddenly grazed in the stubble. As it slowly the countryside grew sinister. The wind lightened, enormous wedges of them came rose with a howl and two lone figures that in sight from every side, all talking and struggled toward us with their donkeys halloing and giving advice to the leaders seemed in some nameless way inimical. as they flew. In the gray of early dawn They could not or they would not direct they shone ghostly white from below, us, and we plodded on under the jagged I never knew before how many cadences foothills which mark the ancient boundary and tones and modulations the goose of Mongolia, more and more sure that language holds. They talk and grumble we had lost the way and must be be- and murmur and they fairly shout aloud nighted on that waste. To be benighted till one fancies them a crowd of men and was not so very serious after all, though women fitted with wings for a long it would delay us to have to feed the journey. horses next morning and we hated to have All this time phalanxes of enormous them go to bed supperless, but there was cranes were flapping over or alighting to a terror in that phrase "beyond the Wall" graze. First an ordered company of which had infected even us foreigners. them would flap unevenly and then sudBefore dark, however, the road led back denly fall into step, as it were, in peragain into China proper and our carters fect unison for a minute; then, setting breathed relief.
their wings motionless, would sail like At the big town of Kanchow we stayed gigantic platters till they reached the only a single night. The Chinese doctor ground where they turned into high who alone represented the China Inland question-marks as big as three-quarterMission in the West was friendly and anx- grown sheep. ious for news, but we had little of it to There were thumping geese as heavy give him and did not stay, never guessing as swans and, when the sun came up, how welcome the sight of his smiling smaller Lama geese dressed in tawny face would be when next we saw it more red robes. There was a marsh on either than two months later.
side of the road with ploughed land beTwo days out of Kanchow we saw our yond. The ducks fell to the marsh and first antelope, little scurrying clouds of the geese to the furrows and the grazing. brownish yellow sand blown along with Then as the light grew more alive I began incredible swiftness among the dunes. to see snipe and plover and little fat ducks Many as we afterward saw, I never quite in pairs apart from the rest. There was got used to the sight, or lost the thrill of a snipe-like bird, black and white with a watching them scurry and stop to browse crest, which waded and ran beside, very and flicker on again in panic haste. tame, and there were pairs of big sickle
billed curlew stepping about on stilts, A SKY FULL OF GEESE
with bodies as big as our tern. They UT the frosty morning of that day whistled familiarly at me till I thought
will never be forgotten for sheer of the State of Maine. By now, from elation. We started an hour before the far-off farmsteads, dogs were barking first peep of dawn in the chill, and when and cocks crowing and donkeys braying we got clear of the little gateless walled till, with the calling of geese and the gartown there was a quarter moon and a rulous gargling of cranes right overhead, heaven full of stars. Then from every
there seemed a terrific din. side came the clucking and subdued With broad daylight there was plenty quacking of fat ducks and the whistle of life, with noisy flocks flying by and fat
birds feeding in the fields, but it was all Camels, at first inquiry, were beyond different, changed in some strange way all reason in their rental. The wool crop and less exciting.
was coming in from Turkestan and the It was in the afternoon, when the Mohammedans preferred a fifty-day trip countryside shifted abruptly to desert, across the Ordos, in caravans of three or that we saw antelope among the sand hills. four hundred beasts, to promiscuous Farms were no more, nor any tillage. wool-gathering with mad foreigners away The ploughed land with noise of dogs from fodder and water. Six days were and men shouting at their donkeys in up and we were nearly at the end of the the fields stopped, to give place to a little temper which it is usual to keep in desert stretch as lonely and arid as any. China, when we got wind of a camel thing in Mongolia, though we were owner who sounded promising. His scarcely a dozen miles in either direction price was barely two thirds of what we from cultivated ground.
had been asked by the others and, after Here were fat-leafed desert plants a dozen long conferences, we closed with thrusting up from dry sand with all their him on condition that he would bring moisture stored away in the short spring the animals into town in four days and rains, enough to last all summer.
not the five which he seemed to think a whole new flora that we had come upon, necessary. with antelope in the distance and hard black beetles and lizards suddenly dodg
ENTER THE CAMELS ing among the roots. Here and there the ATE one evening there was the sound ground was white with alkali and not of a deep-toned bell outside and even desert plants could stand its bitter- a hammering on the inn gate. The big ness. No travelers were there, cart ruts doors were flung open and as I stood with were the only signs that man had ever my lantern the light swung about in crossed that spot before. Even the tele- snaky shadows on a dozen hairy necks and graph posts had, for the time, deserted the camel heads as they shoved their way in. cart-track to take a short cut across un- Once around the compound they strode friendly stretches of rolling sand hills. and then halted, nose to tail, to squat in a
Next day our noon stop was made at a long double line of humps and ropey hamlet where they dug gleaming white necks. cart loads of crystal salt from the low- The kindly old military governor who lands near by. A mule fell ill and bloated had feasted us and given us brandy at before our very eyes till I feared that the eleven in the morning, now added to his poor beast would burst. It was doctored benefactions by sending to our inn the with all sorts of homely remedies, in- dirtiest and most evil-looking character cluding raw kaoliang spirits poured down in Suchow to act as guide for Mongolia. the left ear.
We limped into the misera- I, being wise in the ways of guides, did ble inn, a dejected party, but knowing not try to initiate him into the mysteries that there was but one more march to of a map, but led him at once to the dust Suchow, where the carts turned back and of the innyard, there to trace with a where we must take to camel transport horny finger his own map of the Etsingol aná the Mongolian plateau in earnest. River and the position of the ruined town
toward which we were headed. His ON LOSING ONE'S TEMPER
furrows in the dust were sufficiently like EN whole days in Suchow town, and Stein's mathematical triangulations and
we knew every nook and cranny. we engaged him forthwith. I hasten to No foreigners lived there, unless the few say that, though he never did a stroke of passing Russian refugees could be said work, which is the manner of most guides to live or the Central Asians were foreign- the world over, and though he was reers. The latter kept bake shops and sponsible for our greatest disaster-almost horse-coopers' stalls on the main street. a tragedy-he was almost worth his salt.
Camels Have Strange Ways
and held her chin up while she tried vainly W Because the camels could scatter
When the camels were so loaded that and joggle began which was to last night they could barely pitch to their feet under after night for fourteen marches and then, their burdens, the guide had tossed his with a ten-day respite, for twenty-two sack aboard the most comfortable beast, more. At least the joggle went on during the last nose-string had been repaired, all those days, but I did not suffer from and the leader and the two under-camel- it for long periods. I walked by preference men were in place, we set out.
in the smelly lee of the tallest camel till I After one hour of slopping through fell from pure sleepiness and climbed soggy fields and turning on our tracks aboard. Soon it became too cold and to avoid deep ditches, the half-grown bone-shaking to bear for another instant camel at the tail of the line stood and I dropped down again, stretching my still on top of a temporary bridge paved legs and longing for a halt. Jayne was with sods, shuddered once, toppled her more enduring of the bone-shaking than load into the swift stream below and fol I and sat suffering without complaint lowed it, apparently drowning promptly. for whole nights together. Cold and dismal as the night was, several
A COLD PLUNGE IN CHINA of us followed the little camel overboard
E WERE to by to disable us by kicking. Her load too was finally towed ashore and readjusted. and find their scant grazing only by day. Ten minutes later the great camel that Also there was in some regions danger led us to the booming of the deep iron from wolves. We heard howling often bell, walked off another bridge into two enough and once a camel driver came in feet of water and lay there bubbling and from collecting his beasts and reported groaning, too heavily laden to rise. that he had seen five wolves near the
Still we struggled on till the slough be- camp. Their singing at the full moon came absolutely impassable; at which grew into a real cadence that was not point the guide suggested that the south- yelping or merely howling. It seemed east road was dry enough and that he like an infinitely wicked chorus accomhad known it all the time. We wheeled
We wheeled panying the devil's mass with antiphonal about, picked our way with infinite cau chants a capella. tion across the bridges which had wrecked Morning showed us under the scarp us before and, some three hours after our of a desert cliff topped by a chapel and a start, were safely back in the suburbs of square-based brick pyramid watch-tower Suchow being held up by the watch who of the sort which dots western China and demanded a camel tax of ten taels per that part of Mongolia along all the roads beast from each one of the thirteen. I and paths. By mid-afternoon we struck never shall know how the matter was camp and made off from the edge of the settled because I wrapped myself in im- buttes, the sun still splendid on the snow portant gloom on the back of my beast range of Nan Shan behind Suchow. It and refused to take an interest in what was only eight in the evening when we was going on. I decided on this course stopped for the night at the ford of the as being less trouble than a fit of fury, San Tao Ling, a little stream which was which was the alternative. It worked beginning to glaze with ice at the edges. like a charm and no one paid any money. In the morning I shocked the Chinese by
When the camels first rose one grabbed crashing through this splintery edge and convulsively at the forward ropes till the luxuriating in a gasping chill bath in the feet were slightly above the level of the pebbly current. Three times we forded animal's head. Then came a moment the stream that day, though each time of jelly-like sidewise staggering and one it was nearly too deep for our animals and reached for the hinder guys and was little Cheap 'n' Ugly, the smallest camel, thrown violently upward as the nerve-rack- evidently hoped to be able to leave her ing joggle, bump, and jerk, jerk, bump, light load in the water and drown herself.