A Tale Of A Tour In Mongolia - Chapter 10
( Originally Published 1920 )
"I would that I were as I have been,
Hunting the Hart in Forest Green,
With bended bow and bloodhound free,
O that's the life for Joy and me "---Scott
THE wisdom of an early start soon became apparent when we were obliged literally to cut our way through forest undergrowth for hours on end. Starting with a steep climb, we had to dodge the water which was pouring down in rivulets between the trees. The erstwhile track had been washed away and now formed the bed of a torrential river, which having scattered the loose material was in parts quite deep. The horses floundered about in great distress and uncertainty for some time, and finally we decided that there was nothing for it but to make a path for ourselves through the thicket fortunately not of a particularly dense description.
To make the whole concern narrower, one pony was unhitched, and I led him, while the men struggled to get the tarantass through the trees, branches from which had from time to time to be hacked off in order to let it pass. Frequently we had to negotiate rushing streams. One of us would leap over first to receive the leading rein of the loose pony anything but a docile little beast which would then jump across. It went down once, but fortunately was none the worse, and the Jamschik was on ahead and did not see it.
I also went down once, in the very middle of a stream, the banks of which had not afforded a very good take-off. Amusement in that instance seemed to deprive my fellow-traveller of all sympathy.
Our gymnastic feats, however, were not such as to swamp our appreciation of the scenery around us. It was as though one gardener had decided to make a rockery of ferns and foliage whilst the other had come along and sewn seeds of every variety of flowers among them. We feasted on the sight and scent. It was marvellously pretty here, and we lamented that the Jamschik saw fit to press on, and bring us, after some strenuous hours, to an open hill-side before he would allow us to outspan and have tiffin. Certainly it was dry enough there ; hot beyond expression. The weather had undergone a sharp reaction, and we sat grilling in the sun until our thoughtful driver rigged up a sailcloth, when the effect of our hard morning's work, to say nothing of lunch, induced us to succumb promptly to a siesta in its shade.
As to why the Jamschik should loaf now when but a few hours previously he had hurried us uncomfortably, we could not fathom until in the late afternoon we arrived on the banks of the Hara Gal, the most important river on our route, and found it to be so high that it might be another two days before we could get over in safety.
Other people had been hung up in the same way, and we fraternised with a large family of Russians whose destination was the gold-mining district to the north-east of Urga. It was here that my fellow-traveller and I had our first and almost our only difference of opinion. I had my own notions as to suitable places for camping out, and did not at all wish to do so upon ground that from time to time was covered with water, and which after all was only temporarily dried-up swamp. I was certain that we should be much harassed by mosquitoes. We were both rather tired, and--shall I admit it ?--I, at least, felt a bit irritable.
In turn we had each indulged in a considerable bath in the river, but I, being in no sense a strong swimmer, had to content myself with a muddy backwater, instead of plunging into the stream. On my return I found that the superior sex had settled matters and had unpacked upon a piece of ground about 300 yards only from the little encampment belonging to our Russian neighbours, instead of, as I had wished, driving back a mere mile to a delightful hillside where we should be free from the pest which had been my greatest trial throughout my sojourn in the East. As a matter of fact, the Jamschik had had, I suppose, the casting vote ; moreover, our neighbours might have felt hurt had we gone so far away, so, with his usual consideration for the feelings of others, my fellow-traveller had given way during my absence.
I was, again I admit it, decidedly cross, and found great relief in putting my gun together (for the first time, for it was practically a new toy), stuffing my pockets full of ammunition, and stalking off by myself to some marshy land at a considerable distance from the camp. My new toy was tremendously soothing to my feelings, and I banged away a dozen or so cartridges incidentally killing a wild fowl which I was unable to retrieve with great satisfaction. A small lame boy appeared from nowhere, and followed me about in delighted anticipation of empty cartridge cases. I tried to kill at too great a range. There were wild geese and duck in plenty, but they circled above my head, making derisive squawks at me ; and finally with the lightest of light bags I got back to our camp happy and hungry. I managed to maintain a dignified reserve throughout dinner, at the end of which, however, rested and replete, we decided that formality and strained relations on the banks of a river a thousand miles away from civilisation were hardly consistent with our philosophy. A confidential little talk during our after-dinner stroll in the dusk put matters right again.
As a matter of fact we scored decidedly in making friends with the Russian miners. One of the party spoke a little German, and we were thus enabled to trade tinned food and chocolate for the fresh meat and bread which they had killed and baked on the river banks. Next day we fed royally, and I maintain that the best ragout I have ever tasted was the result of my own genius in allying well-soaked, dried apricots with half a leg of mutton, and stewing the lot for hours.
The apricots made an admirable substitute for the vegetables we were unable to procure. The smell arising from our delicious stew, must, we thought, be making the Jarnschik's mouth water considerably, and at some sacrifice to ourselves it was hungry work, this trekking we decided to invite him to share the feast. What was my disgust, chagrin, when he dug his jack-knife into the saucepan and speared out the meat, deliberately pouring off all the gravy and apricots upon the ground. There was nothing to be done, but I swore there and then that this was the last time I would invite any foreigner to share pot luck of my providing.
But if the Jamschik did not appreciate the ragout, the dogs did. I had been driven by the onslaughts of the mosquitoes to sleeping rather uncomfortably in the tarantass, and all through the night I was disturbed by these horrible animals prowling about underneath, sniffing round the sleeping forms of the men under the sailcloth. They did not appear to be conscious of them, but later I discovered that the Jamschik slept with one ear at least on the " qui vive," for apparently he knew his own horses' footsteps among a hundred, and got up in the dead of night to hobble them when they wandered together with scores of others too near to the camp.
Apart from the dogs, the persistently inquisitive Mongol boys, and the mosquitoes, camping on the banks of the Hara Gol returns to my memory as one of the pleasantest episodes in the journey. I found a perfect bathing place a little lower down the river, with a hard, shingly bottom, and though not in the current it was perfectly clear and away from the public gaze. From yourts far and near we were visited by Mongols, who usually, when they found that we did not speak their language and could convey no news to them in consequence, spent but a few minutes in making their inspection and rode off again. On one occasion we witnessed a very amusing sight. We had given a particularly ragged lama some odds and ends of food, and a squabble immediately arose between him and another. They quickly came to blows, when the smaller man, finding himself outmatched, stopped suddenly, and picking up a large boulder proceeded to hammer the head of his adversary. The Russian sense of fairplay could not stand this, and a huge man with the ruddy countenance of a David and the flaming beard combined with the muscularity of a Samson, walked in, and seizing each man by the scruff of his neck, hurled the twain apart, to the great glee of the onlookers. At a very early hour of our third day's camp, I was awakened with the news that the river had gone down sufficiently to admit of a trial trip to cross it. A great deal of preparation was necessary in order to keep things dry, and when we were about the middle of the river it was just touch and go " lest the water would overflow the sides of the tarantass. A great caravan of us crossed together, Russians, Chinese, and a rabble of Mongols, who, stripped almost naked, carried over our loads on their saddle bows. I regretted afterwards that I took no photograph of the crossing, but I was far too much occupied in keeping my camera and cartridges dry to think of doing so.
The next two stages offered no special attraction in the matter of scenery, and we broke into the routine of the day only by leaving our tarantass for the space of an hour that we might inspect at closer quarters what looked uncommonly like a foreign building about half a mile away from the road. It turned out to be quite a large flour mill called Wang Ch'ang Shan, belonging to a Chinese firm, and employing apparently some twenty-five to thirty men. Although they offered us tea and sold us some eggs and stodgy little dough rolls at high prices, they maintained that baffling reserve as to their business, which amounts only to the polite Chinese method of telling you to mind yours.
Another couple of hours brought us to an unexpected little oasis in the shape of a promising and well-built house in Russian style, but owned fortunately by a young Chinaman, who welcomed us most warmly and who could not do enough for us. We sat on chairs and ate a delicious tiffin of lightly boiled eggs, toasted dough rolls, and samovar tea, at a table in great comfort, after which Mr. Gull thought to crown all by indulging in a luxurious siesta in what looked like a nice clean little bedroom adjoining, I sat and read a book over a final cup of tea. I had not settled down for more than ten minutes when the peace was suddenly disturbed by execrations coming from the other room, and an earnest entreaty that I should send in the Chinese proprietor at once " to see ". He did so, and found the usually philosophical Englishman rampant and furious. Biting him, crawling over his clothes and on the cork mattress which he had taken in with him, were numbers of large and lively I must write it bugs. Nothing but a complete bath in a very small basin, followed by a change of all his clothes which involved the entire unpacking of the tarantass would soothe him. The incident had really a humorous side, for we had, in theory, contemplated encounter with every variety of carnivorous insect on our journey ; and then at first sight to produce such a hullabaloo !
Our Chinese host was careful to explain that the majority of his guests who made use of his rooms were less cleanly than ourselves, and that the Russians who were his most frequent visitors were dirty pigs ". He was himself suffering from a highly inflamed condition of both eyes, and was mightily pleased when I gave him some foreign medicine " with the use of which I predicted a speedy cure, as well as showing him how to open his eye in a wine-glass. I bore the mild contempt of my fellow-traveller with the patience bred of faith, and nobly refrained, when some weeks later we returned from Urga and found that the solution of boracic acid had done its work in effecting a complete cure, from saying,
I told you so ".
The night following we were far away from all humanity and passed the night sheer out on the open hill-side down by the wheels of the tarantass.
We had had a long and somewhat dreary drive, twelve hours in all, exclusive of a midday rest. To go to sleep with a vision of heaven beyond the twinkling stars is one thing to wake up in the cheerless grey dawn, saturated with dew and stiff with cold, is another. We had little difficulty in starting off at four o'clock that morning, and I do not remember that there was a great deal of conversation between the three of us for the first couple of hours or so.
A Tour In Mongolia:
A Tale Of A Tour In Mongolia - Chapter 1
A Tale Of A Tour In Mongolia - Chapter 2
A Tale Of A Tour In Mongolia - Chapter 3
A Tale Of A Tour In Mongolia - Chapter 4
A Tale Of A Tour In Mongolia - Chapter 5
A Tale Of A Tour In Mongolia - Chapter 6
A Tale Of A Tour In Mongolia - Chapter 7
A Tale Of A Tour In Mongolia - Chapter 8
A Tale Of A Tour In Mongolia - Chapter 9
A Tale Of A Tour In Mongolia - Chapter 10
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