BEASTS, MEN AND GODS
by Ferdinand Ossendowski
When one of the leading publicists in America, Dr. Albert Shaw of the Review of Reviews, after reading the manuscript of Part I of this volume, characterized the author as "The Robinson Crusoe of the Twentieth Century," he touched the feature of the narrative which is at once most attractive and most dangerous; for the succession of trying and thrilling experiences recorded seems in places too highly colored to be real or, sometimes, even possible in this day and generation. I desire, therefore, to assure the reader at the outset that Dr. Ossendowski is a man of long and diverse experience as a scientist and writer with a training for careful observation which should put the stamp of accuracy and reliability on his chronicle. Only the extraordinary events of these extraordinary times could have thrown one with so many talents back into the surroundings of the "Cave Man" and thus given to us this unusual account of personal adventure, of great human mysteries and of the political and religious motives which are energizing the "Heart of Asia."
My share in the work has been to induce Dr. Ossendowski to write his story at this time and to assist him in rendering his experiences into English.
LEWIS STANTON PALEN.
PART I. DRAWING LOTS WITH DEATH
I. INTO THE FORESTS
II. THE SECRET OF MY FELLOW TRAVELER
III. THE STRUGGLE FOR LIFE
IV. A FISHERMAN
V. A DANGEROUS NEIGHBOR
VI. A RIVER IN TRAVAIL
VII. THROUGH SOVIET SIBERIA
VIII. THREE DAYS ON THE EDGE OF A PRECIPICE
IX. TO THE SAYANS AND SAFETY
X. THE BATTLE OF THE SEYBI
XI. THE BARRIER OF RED PARTISANS
XII. IN THE COUNTRY OF ETERNAL PEACE
XIII. MYSTERIES, MIRACLES AND A NEW FIGHT
XIV. THE RIVER OF THE DEVIL
XV. THE MARCH OF GHOSTS
XVI. IN MYSTERIOUS TIBET
PART II. THE LAND OF DEMONS
XVII. MYSTERIOUS MONGOLIA
XVIII. THE MYSTERIOUS LAMA AVENGER
XIX. WILD CHAHARS
XX. THE DEMON OF JAGISSTAI
XXI. THE NEST OF DEATH
XXII. AMONG THE MURDERERS
XXIII. ON A VOLCANO
XXIV. A BLOODY CHASTISEMENT
XXV. HARASSING DAYS
XXVI. THE BAND OF WHITE HUNGHUTZES
XXVII. MYSTERY IN A SMALL TEMPLE
XXVIII. THE BREATH OF DEATH
PART III. THE STRAINING HEART OF ASIA
XXIX. ON THE ROAD OF GREAT CONQUERORS
XXXI. TRAVELING BY "URGA"
XXXII. AN OLD FORTUNE TELLER
XXXIII. "DEATH FROM THE WHITE MAN WILL STAND BEHIND YOU"
XXXIV. THE HORROR OF WAR!
XXXV. IN THE CITY OF LIVING GODS, 30,000 BUDDHAS AND 60,000 MONKS
XXXVI. A SON OF CRUSADERS AND PRIVATEERS
XXXVII. THE CAMP OF MARTYRS
XXXVIII. BEFORE THE FACE OF BUDDHA
XXXIX. "THE MAN WITH A HEAD LIKE A SADDLE"
PART IV. THE LIVING BUDDHA
XL. IN THE BLISSFUL GARDEN OF A THOUSAND JOYS
XLI. THE DUST OF CENTURIES
XLII. THE BOOKS OF MIRACLES
XLIII. THE BIRTH OF THE LIVING BUDDHA
XLIV. A PAGE IN THE HISTORY OF THE PRESENT LIVING BUDDHA
XLV. THE VISION OF THE LIVING BUDDHA OF MAY 17, 1921
PART V. MYSTERY OF MYSTERIES—THE KING OF THE WORLD
XLVI. THE SUBTERRANEAN KINGDOM
XLVII. THE KING OF THE WORLD BEFORE THE FACE OF GOD
XLVIII. REALITY OR RELIGIOUS FANTASY?
XLIX. THE PROPHECY OF THE KING OF THE WORLD IN 1890
There are times, men and events about which History alone can record the final judgments; contemporaries and individual observers must only write what they have seen and heard. The very truth demands it.
BEASTS, MEN AND GODS
DRAWING LOTS WITH DEATH
INTO THE FORESTS
In the beginning of the year 1920 I happened to be living in the Siberian town of Krasnoyarsk, situated on the shores of the River Yenisei, that noble stream which is cradled in the sun-bathed mountains of Mongolia to pour its warming life into the Arctic Ocean and to whose mouth Nansen has twice come to open the shortest road for commerce from Europe to the heart of Asia. There in the depths of the still Siberian winter I was suddenly caught up in the whirling storm of mad revolution raging all over Russia, sowing in this peaceful and rich land vengeance, hate, bloodshed and crimes that go unpunished by the law. No one could tell the hour of his fate. The people lived from day to day and left their homes not knowing whether they should return to them or whether they should be dragged from the streets and thrown into the dungeons of that travesty of courts, the Revolutionary Committee, more terrible and more bloody than those of the Mediaeval Inquisition. We who were strangers in this distraught land were not saved from its persecutions and I personally lived through them.
One morning, when I had gone out to see a friend, I suddenly received the news that twenty Red soldiers had surrounded my house to arrest me and that I must escape. I quickly put on one of my friend's old hunting suits, took some money and hurried away on foot along the back ways of the town till I struck the open road, where I engaged a peasant, who in four hours had driven me twenty miles from the town and set me down in the midst of a deeply forested region. On the way I bought a rifle, three hundred cartridges, an ax, a knife, a sheepskin overcoat, tea, salt, dry bread and a kettle. I penetrated into the heart of the wood to an abandoned half-burned hut. From this day I became a genuine trapper but I never dreamed that I should follow this role as long as I did. The next morning I went hunting and had the good fortune to kill two heathcock. I found deer tracks in plenty and felt sure that I should not want for food. However, my sojourn in this place was not for long. Five days later when I returned from hunting I noticed smoke curling up out of the chimney of my hut. I stealthily crept along closer to the cabin and discovered two saddled horses with soldiers' rifles slung to the saddles. Two disarmed men were not dangerous for me with a weapon, so I quickly rushed across the open and entered the hut. From the bench two soldiers started up in fright. They were Bolsheviki. On their big Astrakhan caps I made out the red stars of Bolshevism and on their blouses the dirty red bands. We greeted each other and sat down. The soldiers had already prepared tea and so we drank this ever welcome hot beverage and chatted, suspiciously eyeing one another the while. To disarm this suspicion on their part, I told them that I was a hunter from a distant place and was living there because I found it good country for sables. They announced to me that they were soldiers of a detachment sent from a town into the woods to pursue all suspicious people.
"Do you understand, 'Comrade,'" said one of them to me, "we are looking for counter-revolutionists to shoot them?"
I knew it without his explanations. All my forces were directed to assuring them by my conduct that I was a simple peasant hunter and that I had nothing in common with the counter-revolutionists. I was thinking also all the time of where I should go after the departure of my unwelcome guests. It grew dark. In the darkness their faces were even less attractive. They took out bottles of vodka and drank and the alcohol began to act very noticeably. They talked loudly and constantly interrupted each other, boasting how many bourgeoisie they had killed in Krasnoyarsk and how many Cossacks they had slid under the ice in the river. Afterwards they began to quarrel but soon they were tired and prepared to sleep. All of a sudden and without any warning the door of the hut swung wide open and the steam of the heated room rolled out in a great cloud, out of which seemed to rise like a genie, as the steam settled, the figure of a tall, gaunt peasant impressively crowned with the high Astrakhan cap and wrapped in the great sheepskin overcoat that added to the massiveness of his figure. He stood with his rifle ready to fire. Under his girdle lay the sharp ax without which the Siberian peasant cannot exist. Eyes, quick and glimmering like those of a wild beast, fixed themselves alternately on each of us. In a moment he took off his cap, made the sign of the cross on his breast and asked of us: "Who is the master here?"
I answered him.
"May I stop the night?"
"Yes," I replied, "places enough for all. Take a cup of tea. It is still hot."
The stranger, running his eyes constantly over all of us and over everything about the room, began to take off his skin coat after putting his rifle in the corner. He was dressed in an old leather blouse with trousers of the same material tucked in high felt boots. His face was quite young, fine and tinged with something akin to mockery. His white, sharp teeth glimmered as his eyes penetrated everything they rested upon. I noticed the locks of grey in his shaggy head. Lines of bitterness circled his mouth. They showed his life had been very stormy and full of danger. He took a seat beside his rifle and laid his ax on the floor below.
"What? Is it your wife?" asked one of the drunken soldiers, pointing to the ax.
The tall peasant looked calmly at him from the quiet eyes under their heavy brows and as calmly answered:
"One meets a different folk these days and with an ax it is much safer."
He began to drink tea very greedily, while his eyes looked at me many times with sharp inquiry in them and ran often round the whole cabin in search of the answer to his doubts. Very slowly and with a guarded drawl he answered all the questions of the soldiers between gulps of the hot tea, then he turned his glass upside down as evidence of having finished, placed on the top of it the small lump of sugar left and remarked to the soldiers:
"I am going out to look after my horse and will unsaddle your horses for you also."
"All right," exclaimed the half-sleeping young soldier, "bring in our rifles as well."
The soldiers were lying on the benches and thus left for us only the floor. The stranger soon came back, brought the rifles and set them in the dark corner. He dropped the saddle pads on the floor, sat down on them and began to take off his boots. The soldiers and my guest soon were snoring but I did not sleep for thinking of what next to do. Finally as dawn was breaking, I dozed off only to awake in the broad daylight and find my stranger gone. I went outside the hut and discovered him saddling a fine bay stallion.
"Are you going away?" I asked.
"Yes, but I want to go together with these —— comrades,'" he whispered, "and afterwards I shall come back."
I did not ask him anything further and told him only that I would wait for him. He took off the bags that had been hanging on his saddle, put them away out of sight in the burned corner of the cabin, looked over the stirrups and bridle and, as he finished saddling, smiled and said:
"I am ready. I'm going to awake my 'comrades.'" Half an hour after the morning drink of tea, my three guests took their leave. I remained out of doors and was engaged in splitting wood for my stove. Suddenly, from a distance, rifle shots rang through the woods, first one, then a second. Afterwards all was still. From the place near the shots a frightened covey of blackcock broke and came over me. At the top of a high pine a jay cried out. I listened for a long time to see if anyone was approaching my hut but everything was still.
On the lower Yenisei it grows dark very early. I built a fire in my stove and began to cook my soup, constantly listening for every noise that came from beyond the cabin walls. Certainly I understood at all times very clearly that death was ever beside me and might claim me by means of either man, beast, cold, accident or disease. I knew that nobody was near me to assist and that all my help was in the hands of God, in the power of my hands and feet, in the accuracy of my aim and in my presence of mind. However, I listened in vain. I did not notice the return of my stranger. Like yesterday he appeared all at once on the threshold. Through the steam I made out his laughing eyes and his fine face. He stepped into the hut and dropped with a good deal of noise three rifles into the corner.
"Two horses, two rifles, two saddles, two boxes of dry bread, half a brick of tea, a small bag of salt, fifty cartridges, two overcoats, two pairs of boots," laughingly he counted out. "In truth today I had a very successful hunt."
In astonishment I looked at him.
"What are you surprised at?" he laughed. "Komu nujny eti tovarischi? Who's got any use for these fellows? Let us have tea and go to sleep. Tomorrow I will guide you to another safer place and then go on."
THE SECRET OF MY FELLOW TRAVELER
At the dawn of day we started forth, leaving my first place of refuge. Into the bags we packed our personal estate and fastened them on one of the saddles.
"We must go four or five hundred versts," very calmly announced my fellow traveler, who called himself "Ivan," a name that meant nothing to my mind or heart in this land where every second man bore the same.
"We shall travel then for a very long time," I remarked regretfully.
"Not more than one week, perhaps even less," he answered.
That night we spent in the woods under the wide spreading branches of the fir trees. It was my first night in the forest under the open sky. How many like this I was destined to spend in the year and a half of my wanderings! During the day there was very sharp cold. Under the hoofs of the horses the frozen snow crunched and the balls that formed and broke from their hoofs rolled away over the crust with a sound like crackling glass. The heathcock flew from the trees very idly, hares loped slowly down the beds of summer streams. At night the wind began to sigh and whistle as it bent the tops of the trees over our heads; while below it was still and calm. We stopped in a deep ravine bordered by heavy trees, where we found fallen firs, cut them into logs for the fire and, after having boiled our tea, dined.
Ivan dragged in two tree trunks, squared them on one side with his ax, laid one on the other with the squared faces together and then drove in a big wedge at the butt ends which separated them three or four inches. Then we placed live coals in this opening and watched the fire run rapidly the whole length of the squared faces vis-a-vis.
"Now there will be a fire in the morning," he announced. "This is the 'naida' of the gold prospectors. We prospectors wandering in the woods summer and winter always sleep beside this 'naida.' Fine! You shall see for yourself," he continued.
He cut fir branches and made a sloping roof out of them, resting it on two uprights toward the naida. Above our roof of boughs and our naida spread the branches of protecting fir. More branches were brought and spread on the snow under the roof, on these were placed the saddle cloths and together they made a seat for Ivan to rest on and to take off his outer garments down to his blouse. Soon I noticed his forehead was wet with perspiration and that he was wiping it and his neck on his sleeves.
"Now it is good and warm!" he exclaimed.
In a short time I was also forced to take off my overcoat and soon lay down to sleep without any covering at all, while through the branches of the fir trees and our roof glimmered the cold bright stars and just beyond the naida raged a stinging cold, from which we were cosily defended. After this night I was no longer frightened by the cold. Frozen during the days on horseback, I was thoroughly warmed through by the genial naida at night and rested from my heavy overcoat, sitting only in my blouse under the roofs of pine and fir and sipping the ever welcome tea.
During our daily treks Ivan related to me the stories of his wanderings through the mountains and woods of Transbaikalia in the search for gold. These stories were very lively, full of attractive adventure, danger and struggle. Ivan was a type of these prospectors who have discovered in Russia, and perhaps in other countries, the richest gold mines, while they themselves remain beggars. He evaded telling me why he left Transbaikalia to come to the Yenisei. I understood from his manner that he wished to keep his own counsel and so did not press him. However, the blanket of secrecy covering this part of his mysterious life was one day quite fortuitously lifted a bit. We were already at the objective point of our trip. The whole day we had traveled with difficulty through a thick growth of willow, approaching the shore of the big right branch of the Yenisei, the Mana. Everywhere we saw runways packed hard by the feet of the hares living in this bush. These small white denizens of the wood ran to and fro in front of us. Another time we saw the red tail of a fox hiding behind a rock, watching us and the unsuspecting hares at the same time.
Ivan had been silent for a long while. Then he spoke up and told me that not far from there was a small branch of the Mana, at the mouth of which was a hut.
"What do you say? Shall we push on there or spend the night by the naida?"
I suggested going to the hut, because I wanted to wash and because it would be agreeable to spend the night under a genuine roof again. Ivan knitted his brows but acceded.
It was growing dark when we approached a hut surrounded by the dense wood and wild raspberry bushes. It contained one small room with two microscopic windows and a gigantic Russian stove. Against the building were the remains of a shed and a cellar. We fired the stove and prepared our modest dinner. Ivan drank from the bottle inherited from the soldiers and in a short time was very eloquent, with brilliant eyes and with hands that coursed frequently and rapidly through his long locks. He began relating to me the story of one of his adventures, but suddenly stopped and, with fear in his eyes, squinted into a dark corner.
"Is it a rat?" he asked.
"I did not see anything," I replied.
He again became silent and reflected with knitted brow. Often we were silent through long hours and consequently I was not astonished. Ivan leaned over near to me and began to whisper.
"I want to tell you an old story. I had a friend in Transbaikalia. He was a banished convict. His name was Gavronsky. Through many woods and over many mountains we traveled in search of gold and we had an agreement to divide all we got into even shares. But Gavronsky suddenly went out to the 'Taiga' on the Yenisei and disappeared. After five years we heard that he had found a very rich gold mine and had become a rich man; then later that he and his wife with him had been murdered. . . ." Ivan was still for a moment and then continued:
"This is their old hut. Here he lived with his wife and somewhere on this river he took out his gold. But he told nobody where. All the peasants around here know that he had a lot of money in the bank and that he had been selling gold to the Government. Here they were murdered."
Ivan stepped to the stove, took out a flaming stick and, bending over, lighted a spot on the floor.
"Do you see these spots on the floor and on the wall? It is their blood, the blood of Gavronsky. They died but they did not disclose the whereabouts of the gold. It was taken out of a deep hole which they had drifted into the bank of the river and was hidden in the cellar under the shed. But Gavronsky gave nothing away. . . . AND LORD HOW I TORTURED THEM! I burned them with fire; I bent back their fingers; I gouged out their eyes; but Gavronsky died in silence."
He thought for a moment, then quickly said to me:
"I have heard all this from the peasants." He threw the log into the stove and flopped down on the bench. "It's time to sleep," he snapped out, and was still.
I listened for a long time to his breathing and his whispering to himself, as he turned from one side to the other and smoked his pipe.
In the morning we left this scene of so much suffering and crime and on the seventh day of our journey we came to the dense cedar wood growing on the foothills of a long chain of mountains.
"From here," Ivan explained to me, "it is eighty versts to the next peasant settlement. The people come to these woods to gather cedar nuts but only in the autumn. Before then you will not meet anyone. Also you will find many birds and beasts and a plentiful supply of nuts, so that it will be possible for you to live here. Do you see this river? When you want to find the peasants, follow along this stream and it will guide you to them."
Ivan helped me build my mud hut. But it was not the genuine mud hut. It was one formed by the tearing out of the roots of a great cedar, that had probably fallen in some wild storm, which made for me the deep hole as the room for my house and flanked this on one side with a wall of mud held fast among the upturned roots. Overhanging ones formed also the framework into which we interlaced the poles and branches to make a roof, finished off with stones for stability and snow for warmth. The front of the hut was ever open but was constantly protected by the guardian naida. In that snow-covered den I spent two months like summer without seeing any other human being and without touch with the outer world where such important events were transpiring. In that grave under the roots of the fallen tree I lived before the face of nature with my trials and my anxiety about my family as my constant companions, and in the hard struggle for my life. Ivan went off the second day, leaving for me a bag of dry bread and a little sugar. I never saw him again.
THE STRUGGLE FOR LIFE
Then I was alone. Around me only the wood of eternally green cedars covered with snow, the bare bushes, the frozen river and, as far as I could see out through the branches and the trunks of the trees, only the great ocean of cedars and snow. Siberian taiga! How long shall I be forced to live here? Will the Bolsheviki find me here or not? Will my friends know where I am? What is happening to my family? These questions were constantly as burning fires in my brain. Soon I understood why Ivan guided me so long. We passed many secluded places on the journey, far away from all people, where Ivan could have safely left me but he always said that he would take me to a place where it would be easier to live. And it was so. The charm of my lone refuge was in the cedar wood and in the mountains covered with these forests which stretched to every horizon. The cedar is a splendid, powerful tree with wide-spreading branches, an eternally green tent, attracting to its shelter every living being. Among the cedars was always effervescent life. There the squirrels were continually kicking up a row, jumping from tree to tree; the nut-jobbers cried shrilly; a flock of bullfinches with carmine breasts swept through the trees like a flame; or a small army of goldfinches broke in and filled the amphitheatre of trees with their whistling; a hare scooted from one tree trunk to another and behind him stole up the hardly visible shadow of a white ermine, crawling on the snow, and I watched for a long time the black spot which I knew to be the tip of his tail; carefully treading the hard crusted snow approached a noble deer; at last there visited me from the top of the mountain the king of the Siberian forest, the brown bear. All this distracted me and carried away the black thoughts from my brain, encouraging me to persevere. It was good for me also, though difficult, to climb to the top of my mountain, which reached up out of the forest and from which I could look away to the range of red on the horizon. It was the red cliff on the farther bank of the Yenisei. There lay the country, the towns, the enemies and the friends; and there was even the point which I located as the place of my family. It was the reason why Ivan had guided me here. And as the days in this solitude slipped by I began to miss sorely this companion who, though the murderer of Gavronsky, had taken care of me like a father, always saddling my horse for me, cutting the wood and doing everything to make me comfortable. He had spent many winters alone with nothing except his thoughts, face to face with nature—I should say, before the face of God. He had tried the horrors of solitude and had acquired facility in bearing them. I thought sometimes, if I had to meet my end in this place, that I would spend my last strength to drag myself to the top of the mountain to die there, looking away over the infinite sea of mountains and forest toward the point where my loved ones were.
However, the same life gave me much matter for reflection and yet more occupation for the physical side. It was a continuous struggle for existence, hard and severe. The hardest work was the preparation of the big logs for the naida. The fallen trunks of the trees were covered with snow and frozen to the ground. I was forced to dig them out and afterwards, with the help of a long stick as a lever, to move them from their place. For facilitating this work I chose the mountain for my supplies, where, although difficult to climb, it was easy to roll the logs down. Soon I made a splendid discovery. I found near my den a great quantity of larch, this beautiful yet sad forest giant, fallen during a big storm. The trunks were covered with snow but remained attached to their stumps, where they had broken off. When I cut into these stumps with the ax, the head buried itself and could with difficulty be drawn and, investigating the reason, I found them filled with pitch. Chips of this wood needed only a spark to set them aflame and ever afterward I always had a stock of them to light up quickly for warming my hands on returning from the hunt or for boiling my tea.
The greater part of my days was occupied with the hunt. I came to understand that I must distribute my work over every day, for it distracted me from my sad and depressing thoughts. Generally, after my morning tea, I went into the forest to seek heathcock or blackcock. After killing one or two I began to prepare my dinner, which never had an extensive menu. It was constantly game soup with a handful of dried bread and afterwards endless cups of tea, this essential beverage of the woods. Once, during my search for birds, I heard a rustle in the dense shrubs and, carefully peering about, I discovered the points of a deer's horns. I crawled along toward the spot but the watchful animal heard my approach. With a great noise he rushed from the bush and I saw him very clearly, after he had run about three hundred steps, stop on the slope of the mountain. It was a splendid animal with dark grey coat, with almost a black spine and as large as a small cow. I laid my rifle across a branch and fired. The animal made a great leap, ran several steps and fell. With all my strength I ran to him but he got up again and half jumped, half dragged himself up the mountain. The second shot stopped him. I had won a warm carpet for my den and a large stock of meat. The horns I fastened up among the branches of my wall, where they made a fine hat rack.
I cannot forget one very interesting but wild picture, which was staged for me several kilometres from my den. There was a small swamp covered with grass and cranberries scattered through it, where the blackcock and sand partridges usually came to feed on the berries. I approached noiselessly behind the bushes and saw a whole flock of blackcock scratching in the snow and picking out the berries. While I was surveying this scene, suddenly one of the blackcock jumped up and the rest of the frightened flock immediately flew away. To my astonishment the first bird began going straight up in a spiral flight and afterwards dropped directly down dead. When I approached there sprang from the body of the slain cock a rapacious ermine that hid under the trunk of a fallen tree. The bird's neck was badly torn. I then understood that the ermine had charged the cock, fastened itself on his neck and had been carried by the bird into the air, as he sucked the blood from its throat, and had been the cause of the heavy fall back to the earth. Thanks to his aeronautic ability I saved one cartridge.
So I lived fighting for the morrow and more and more poisoned by hard and bitter thoughts. The days and weeks passed and soon I felt the breath of warmer winds. On the open places the snow began to thaw. In spots the little rivulets of water appeared. Another day I saw a fly or a spider awakened after the hard winter. The spring was coming. I realized that in spring it was impossible to go out from the forest. Every river overflowed its banks; the swamps became impassable; all the runways of the animals turned into beds for streams of running water. I understood that until summer I was condemned to a continuation of my solitude. Spring very quickly came into her rights and soon my mountain was free from snow and was covered only with stones, the trunks of birch and aspen trees and the high cones of ant hills; the river in places broke its covering of ice and was coursing full with foam and bubbles.
One day during the hunt, I approached the bank of the river and noticed many very large fish with red backs, as though filled with blood. They were swimming on the surface enjoying the rays of the sun. When the river was entirely free from ice, these fish appeared in enormous quantities. Soon I realized that they were working up-stream for the spawning season in the smaller rivers. I thought to use a plundering method of catching, forbidden by the law of all countries; but all the lawyers and legislators should be lenient to one who lives in a den under the roots of a fallen tree and dares to break their rational laws.
Gathering many thin birch and aspen trees I built in the bed of the stream a weir which the fish could not pass and soon I found them trying to jump over it. Near the bank I left a hole in my barrier about eighteen inches below the surface and fastened on the up-stream side a high basket plaited from soft willow twigs, into which the fish came as they passed the hole. Then I stood cruelly by and hit them on the head with a strong stick. All my catch were over thirty pounds, some more than eighty. This variety of fish is called the taimen, is of the trout family and is the best in the Yenisei.
After two weeks the fish had passed and my basket gave me no more treasure, so I began anew the hunt.
A DANGEROUS NEIGHBOR
The hunt became more and more profitable and enjoyable, as spring animated everything. In the morning at the break of day the forest was full of voices, strange and undiscernible to the inhabitant of the town. There the heathcock clucked and sang his song of love, as he sat on the top branches of the cedar and admired the grey hen scratching in the fallen leaves below. It was very easy to approach this full-feathered Caruso and with a shot to bring him down from his more poetic to his more utilitarian duties. His going out was an euthanasia, for he was in love and heard nothing. Out in the clearing the blackcocks with their wide-spread spotted tails were fighting, while the hens strutting near, craning and chattering, probably some gossip about their fighting swains, watched and were delighted with them. From the distance flowed in a stern and deep roar, yet full of tenderness and love, the mating call of the deer; while from the crags above came down the short and broken voice of the mountain buck. Among the bushes frolicked the hares and often near them a red fox lay flattened to the ground watching his chance. I never heard any wolves and they are usually not found in the Siberian regions covered with mountains and forest.
But there was another beast, who was my neighbor, and one of us had to go away. One day, coming back from the hunt with a big heathcock, I suddenly noticed among the trees a black, moving mass. I stopped and, looking very attentively, saw a bear, digging away at an ant-hill. Smelling me, he snorted violently, and very quickly shuffled away, astonishing me with the speed of his clumsy gait. The following morning, while still lying under my overcoat, I was attracted by a noise behind my den. I peered out very carefully and discovered the bear. He stood on his hind legs and was noisily sniffing, investigating the question as to what living creature had adopted the custom of the bears of housing during the winter under the trunks of fallen trees. I shouted and struck my kettle with the ax. My early visitor made off with all his energy; but his visit did not please me. It was very early in the spring that this occurred and the bear should not yet have left his hibernating place. He was the so-called "ant-eater," an abnormal type of bear lacking in all the etiquette of the first families of the bear clan.
I knew that the "ant-eaters" were very irritable and audacious and quickly I prepared myself for both the defence and the charge. My preparations were short. I rubbed off the ends of five of my cartridges, thus making dum-dums out of them, a sufficiently intelligible argument for so unwelcome a guest. Putting on my coat I went to the place where I had first met the bear and where there were many ant-hills. I made a detour of the whole mountain, looked in all the ravines but nowhere found my caller. Disappointed and tired, I was approaching my shelter quite off my guard when I suddenly discovered the king of the forest himself just coming out of my lowly dwelling and sniffing all around the entrance to it. I shot. The bullet pierced his side. He roared with pain and anger and stood up on his hind legs. As the second bullet broke one of these, he squatted down but immediately, dragging the leg and endeavoring to stand upright, moved to attack me. Only the third bullet in his breast stopped him. He weighed about two hundred to two hundred fifty pounds, as near as I could guess, and was very tasty. He appeared at his best in cutlets but only a little less wonderful in the Hamburg steaks which I rolled and roasted on hot stones, watching them swell out into great balls that were as light as the finest souffle omelettes we used to have at the "Medved" in Petrograd. On this welcome addition to my larder I lived from then until the ground dried out and the stream ran down enough so that I could travel down along the river to the country whither Ivan had directed me.
Ever traveling with the greatest precautions I made the journey down along the river on foot, carrying from my winter quarters all my household furniture and goods, wrapped up in the deerskin bag which I formed by tying the legs together in an awkward knot; and thus laden fording the small streams and wading through the swamps that lay across my path. After fifty odd miles of this I came to the country called Sifkova, where I found the cabin of a peasant named Tropoff, located closest to the forest that came to be my natural environment. With him I lived for a time.
* * * * *
Now in these unimaginable surroundings of safety and peace, summing up the total of my experience in the Siberian taiga, I make the following deductions. In every healthy spiritual individual of our times, occasions of necessity resurrect the traits of primitive man, hunter and warrior, and help him in the struggle with nature. It is the prerogative of the man with the trained mind and spirit over the untrained, who does not possess sufficient science and will power to carry him through. But the price that the cultured man must pay is that for him there exists nothing more awful than absolute solitude and the knowledge of complete isolation from human society and the life of moral and aesthetic culture. One step, one moment of weakness and dark madness will seize a man and carry him to inevitable destruction. I spent awful days of struggle with the cold and hunger but I passed more terrible days in the struggle of the will to kill weakening destructive thoughts. The memories of these days freeze my heart and mind and even now, as I revive them so clearly by writing of my experiences, they throw me back into a state of fear and apprehension. Moreover, I am compelled to observe that the people in highly civilized states give too little regard to the training that is useful to man in primitive conditions, in conditions incident to the struggle against nature for existence. It is the single normal way to develop a new generation of strong, healthy, iron men, with at the same time sensitive souls.
Nature destroys the weak but helps the strong, awakening in the soul emotions which remain dormant under the urban conditions of modern life.
A RIVER IN TRAVAIL
My presence in the Sifkova country was not for long but I used it in full measure. First, I sent a man in whom I had confidence and whom I considered trustworthy to my friends in the town that I had left and received from them linen, boots, money and a small case of first aid materials and essential medicines, and, what was most important, a passport in another name, since I was dead for the Bolsheviki. Secondly, in these more or less favorable conditions I reflected upon the plan for my future actions. Soon in Sifkova the people heard that the Bolshevik commissar would come for the requisition of cattle for the Red Army. It was dangerous to remain longer. I waited only until the Yenisei should lose its massive lock of ice, which kept it sealed long after the small rivulets had opened and the trees had taken on their spring foliage. For one thousand roubles I engaged a fisherman who agreed to take me fifty-five miles up the river to an abandoned gold mine as soon as the river, which had then only opened in places, should be entirely clear of ice. At last one morning I heard a deafening roar like a tremendous cannonade and ran out to find the river had lifted its great bulk of ice and then given way to break it up. I rushed on down to the bank, where I witnessed an awe-inspiring but magnificent scene. The river had brought down the great volume of ice that had been dislodged in the south and was carrying it northward under the thick layer which still covered parts of the stream until finally its weight had broken the winter dam to the north and released the whole grand mass in one last rush for the Arctic. The Yenisei, "Father Yenisei," "Hero Yenisei," is one of the longest rivers in Asia, deep and magnificent, especially through the middle range of its course, where it is flanked and held in canyon-like by great towering ranges. The huge stream had brought down whole miles of ice fields, breaking them up on the rapids and on isolated rocks, twisting them with angry swirls, throwing up sections of the black winter roads, carrying down the tepees built for the use of passing caravans which in the Winter always go from Minnusinsk to Krasnoyarsk on the frozen river. From time to time the stream stopped in its flow, the roar began and the great fields of ice were squeezed and piled upward, sometimes as high as thirty feet, damming up the water behind, so that it rapidly rose and ran out over the low places, casting on the shore great masses of ice. Then the power of the reinforced waters conquered the towering dam of ice and carried it downward with a sound like breaking glass. At the bends in the river and round the great rocks developed terrifying chaos. Huge blocks of ice jammed and jostled until some were thrown clear into the air, crashing against others already there, or were hurled against the curving cliffs and banks, tearing out boulders, earth and trees high up the sides. All along the low embankments this giant of nature flung upward with a suddenness that leaves man but a pigmy in force a great wall of ice fifteen to twenty feet high, which the peasants call "Zaberega" and through which they cannot get to the river without cutting out a road. One incredible feat I saw the giant perform, when a block many feet thick and many yards square was hurled through the air and dropped to crush saplings and little trees more than a half hundred feet from the bank.
Watching this glorious withdrawal of the ice, I was filled with terror and revolt at seeing the awful spoils which the Yenisei bore away in this annual retreat. These were the bodies of the executed counter-revolutionaries—officers, soldiers and Cossacks of the former army of the Superior Governor of all anti-Bolshevik Russia, Admiral Kolchak. They were the results of the bloody work of the "Cheka" at Minnusinsk. Hundreds of these bodies with heads and hands cut off, with mutilated faces and bodies half burned, with broken skulls, floated and mingled with the blocks of ice, looking for their graves; or, turning in the furious whirlpools among the jagged blocks, they were ground and torn to pieces into shapeless masses, which the river, nauseated with its task, vomited out upon the islands and projecting sand bars. I passed the whole length of the middle Yenisei and constantly came across these putrifying and terrifying reminders of the work of the Bolsheviki. In one place at a turn of the river I saw a great heap of horses, which had been cast up by the ice and current, in number not less than three hundred. A verst below there I was sickened beyond endurance by the discovery of a grove of willows along the bank which had raked from the polluted stream and held in their finger-like drooping branches human bodies in all shapes and attitudes with a semblance of naturalness which made an everlasting picture on my distraught mind. Of this pitiful gruesome company I counted seventy.
At last the mountain of ice passed by, followed by the muddy freshets that carried down the trunks of fallen trees, logs and bodies, bodies, bodies. The fisherman and his son put me and my luggage into their dugout made from an aspen tree and poled upstream along the bank. Poling in a swift current is very hard work. At the sharp curves we were compelled to row, struggling against the force of the stream and even in places hugging the cliffs and making headway only by clutching the rocks with our hands and dragging along slowly. Sometimes it took us a long while to do five or six metres through these rapid holes. In two days we reached the goal of our journey. I spent several days in this gold mine, where the watchman and his family were living. As they were short of food, they had nothing to spare for me and consequently my rifle again served to nourish me, as well as contributing something to my hosts. One day there appeared here a trained agriculturalist. I did not hide because during my winter in the woods I had raised a heavy beard, so that probably my own mother could not have recognized me. However, our guest was very shrewd and at once deciphered me. I did not fear him because I saw that he was not a Bolshevik and later had confirmation of this. We found common acquaintances and a common viewpoint on current events. He lived close to the gold mine in a small village where he superintended public works. We determined to escape together from Russia. For a long time I had puzzled over this matter and now my plan was ready. Knowing the position in Siberia and its geography, I decided that the best way to safety was through Urianhai, the northern part of Mongolia on the head waters of the Yenisei, then through Mongolia and out to the Far East and the Pacific. Before the overthrow of the Kolchak Government I had received a commission to investigate Urianhai and Western Mongolia and then, with great accuracy, I studied all the maps and literature I could get on this question. To accomplish this audacious plan I had the great incentive of my own safety.
THROUGH SOVIET SIBERIA
After several days we started through the forest on the left bank of the Yenisei toward the south, avoiding the villages as much as possible in fear of leaving some trail by which we might be followed. Whenever we did have to go into them, we had a good reception at the hands of the peasants, who did not penetrate our disguise; and we saw that they hated the Bolsheviki, who had destroyed many of their villages. In one place we were told that a detachment of Red troops had been sent out from Minnusinsk to chase the Whites. We were forced to work far back from the shore of the Yenisei and to hide in the woods and mountains. Here we remained nearly a fortnight, because all this time the Red soldiers were traversing the country and capturing in the woods half-dressed unarmed officers who were in hiding from the atrocious vengeance of the Bolsheviki. Afterwards by accident we passed a meadow where we found the bodies of twenty-eight officers hung to the trees, with their faces and bodies mutilated. There we determined never to allow ourselves to come alive into the hands of the Boisheviki. To prevent this we had our weapons and a supply of cyanide of potassium.
Passing across one branch of the Yenisei, once we saw a narrow, miry pass, the entrance to which was strewn with the bodies of men and horses. A little farther along we found a broken sleigh with rifled boxes and papers scattered about. Near them were also torn garments and bodies. Who were these pitiful ones? What tragedy was staged in this wild wood? We tried to guess this enigma and we began to investigate the documents and papers. These were official papers addressed to the Staff of General Pepelaieff. Probably one part of the Staff during the retreat of Kolchak's army went through this wood, striving to hide from the enemy approaching from all sides; but here they were caught by the Reds and killed. Not far from here we found the body of a poor unfortunate woman, whose condition proved clearly what had happened before relief came through the beneficent bullet. The body lay beside a shelter of branches, strewn with bottles and conserve tins, telling the tale of the bantering feast that had preceded the destruction of this life.
The further we went to the south, the more pronouncedly hospitable the people became toward us and the more hostile to the Bolsheviki. At last we emerged from the forests and entered the spacious vastness of the Minnusinsk steppes, crossed by the high red mountain range called the "Kizill-Kaiya" and dotted here and there with salt lakes. It is a country of tombs, thousands of large and small dolmens, the tombs of the earliest proprietors of this land: pyramids of stone ten metres high, the marks set by Jenghiz Khan along his road of conquest and afterwards by the cripple Tamerlane-Temur. Thousands of these dolmens and stone pyramids stretch in endless rows to the north. In these plains the Tartars now live. They were robbed by the Bolsheviki and therefore hated them ardently. We openly told them that we were escaping. They gave us food for nothing and supplied us with guides, telling us with whom we might stop and where to hide in case of danger.
After several days we looked down from the high bank of the Yenisei upon the first steamer, the "Oriol," from Krasnoyarsk to Minnusinsk, laden with Red soldiers. Soon we came to the mouth of the river Tuba, which we were to follow straight east to the Sayan mountains, where Urianhai begins. We thought the stage along the Tuba and its branch, the Amyl, the most dangerous part of our course, because the valleys of these two rivers had a dense population which had contributed large numbers of soldiers to the celebrated Communist Partisans, Schetinkin and Krafcheno.
A Tartar ferried us and our horses over to the right bank of the Yenisei and afterwards sent us some Cossacks at daybreak who guided us to the mouth of the Tuba, where we spent the whole day in rest, gratifying ourselves with a feast of wild black currants and cherries.
THREE DAYS ON THE EDGE OF A PRECIPICE
Armed with our false passports, we moved along up the valley of the Tuba. Every ten or fifteen versts we came across large villages of from one to six hundred houses, where all administration was in the hands of Soviets and where spies scrutinized all passers-by. We could not avoid these villages for two reasons. First, our attempts to avoid them when we were constantly meeting the peasants in the country would have aroused suspicion and would have caused any Soviet to arrest us and send us to the "Cheka" in Minnusinsk, where we should have sung our last song. Secondly, in his documents my fellow traveler was granted permission to use the government post relays for forwarding him on his journey. Therefore, we were forced to visit the village Soviets and change our horses. Our own mounts we had given to the Tartar and Cossack who helped us at the mouth of the Tuba, and the Cossack brought us in his wagon to the first village, where we received the post horses. All except a small minority of the peasants were against the Bolsheviki and voluntarily assisted us. I paid them for their help by treating their sick and my fellow traveler gave them practical advice in the management of their agriculture. Those who helped us chiefly were the old dissenters and the Cossacks.
Sometimes we came across villages entirely Communistic but very soon we learned to distinguish them. When we entered a village with our horse bells tinkling and found the peasants who happened to be sitting in front of their houses ready to get up with a frown and a grumble that here were more new devils coming, we knew that this was a village opposed to the Communists and that here we could stop in safety. But, if the peasants approached and greeted us with pleasure, calling us "Comrades," we knew at once that we were among the enemy and took great precautions. Such villages were inhabited by people who were not the Siberian liberty-loving peasants but by emigrants from the Ukraine, idle and drunk, living in poor dirty huts, though their village were surrounded with the black and fertile soil of the steppes. Very dangerous and pleasant moments we spent in the large village of Karatuz. It is rather a town. In the year 1912 two colleges were opened here and the population reached 15,000 people. It is the capital of the South Yenisei Cossacks. But by now it is very difficult to recognize this town. The peasant emigrants and Red army murdered all the Cossack population and destroyed and burned most of the houses; and it is at present the center of Bolshevism and Communism in the eastern part of the Minnusinsk district. In the building of the Soviet, where we came to exchange our horses, there was being held a meeting of the "Cheka." We were immediately surrounded and questioned about our documents. We were not any too calm about the impression which might be made by our papers and attempted to avoid this examination. My fellow traveler afterwards often said to me:
"It is great good fortune that among the Bolsheviki the good-for-nothing shoemaker of yesterday is the Governor of today and scientists sweep the streets or clean the stables of the Red cavalry. I can talk with the Bolsheviki because they do not know the difference between 'disinfection' and 'diphtheria,' 'anthracite' and 'appendicitis' and can talk them round in all things, even up to persuading them not to put a bullet into me."
And so we talked the members of the "Cheka" round to everything that we wanted. We presented to them a bright scheme for the future development of their district, when we would build the roads and bridges which would allow them to export the wood from Urianhai, iron and gold from the Sayan Mountains, cattle and furs from Mongolia. What a triumph of creative work for the Soviet Government! Our ode occupied about an hour and afterwards the members of the "Cheka," forgetting about our documents, personally changed our horses, placed our luggage on the wagon and wished us success. It was the last ordeal within the borders of Russia.
When we had crossed the valley of the river Amyl, Happiness smiled on us. Near the ferry we met a member of the militia from Karatuz. He had on his wagon several rifles and automatic pistols, mostly Mausers, for outfitting an expedition through Urianhai in quest of some Cossack officers who had been greatly troubling the Bolsheviki. We stood upon our guard. We could very easily have met this expedition and we were not quite assured that the soldiers would be so appreciative of our high-sounding phrases as were the members of the "Cheka." Carefully questioning the militiaman, we ferreted out the route their expedition was to take. In the next village we stayed in the same house with him. I had to open my luggage and suddenly I noticed his admiring glance fixed upon my bag.
"What pleases you so much?" I asked.
He whispered: "Trousers . . . Trousers."
I had received from my townsmen quite new trousers of black thick cloth for riding. Those trousers attracted the rapt attention of the militiaman.
"If you have no other trousers. . . ." I remarked, reflecting upon my plan of attack against my new friend.
"No," he explained with sadness, "the Soviet does not furnish trousers. They tell me they also go without trousers. And my trousers are absolutely worn out. Look at them."
With these words he threw back the corner of his overcoat and I was astonished how he could keep himself inside these trousers, for they had such large holes that they were more of a net than trousers, a net through which a small shark could have slipped.
"Sell me," he whispered, with a question in his voice.
"I cannot, for I need them myself," I answered decisively.
He reflected for a few minutes and afterward, approaching me, said: "Let us go out doors and talk. Here it is inconvenient."
We went outside. "Now, what about it?" he began. "You are going into Urianhai. There the Soviet bank-notes have no value and you will not be able to buy anything, where there are plenty of sables, fox-skins, ermine and gold dust to be purchased, which they very willingly exchange for rifles and cartridges. You have each of you a rifle and I will give you one more rifle with a hundred cartridges if you give me the trousers."
"We do not need weapons. We are protected by our documents," I answered, as though I did not understand.
"But no," he interrupted, "you can change that rifle there into furs and gold. I shall give you that rifle outright."
"Ah, that's it, is it? But it's very little for those trousers. Nowhere in Russia can you now find trousers. All Russia goes without trousers and for your rifle I should receive a sable and what use to me is one skin?"
Word by word I attained to my desire. The militia-man got my trousers and I received a rifle with one hundred cartridges and two automatic pistols with forty cartridges each. We were armed now so that we could defend ourselves. Moreover, I persuaded the happy possessor of my trousers to give us a permit to carry the weapons. Then the law and force were both on our side.
In a distant village we bought three horses, two for riding and one for packing, engaged a guide, purchased dried bread, meat, salt and butter and, after resting twenty-four hours, began our trip up the Amyl toward the Sayan Mountains on the border of Urianhai. There we hoped not to meet Bolsheviki, either sly or silly. In three days from the mouth of the Tuba we passed the last Russian village near the Mongolian-Urianhai border, three days of constant contact with a lawless population, of continuous danger and of the ever present possibility of fortuitous death. Only iron will power, presence of mind and dogged tenacity brought us through all the dangers and saved us from rolling back down our precipice of adventure, at whose foot lay so many others who had failed to make this same climb to freedom which we had just accomplished. Perhaps they lacked the persistence or the presence of mind, perhaps they had not the poetic ability to sing odes about "roads, bridges and gold mines" or perhaps they simply had no spare trousers.
TO THE SAYANS AND SAFETY
Dense virgin wood surrounded us. In the high, already yellow grass the trail wound hardly noticeable in among bushes and trees just beginning to drop their many colored leaves. It is the old, already forgotten Amyl pass road. Twenty-five years ago it carried the provisions, machinery and workers for the numerous, now abandoned, gold mines of the Amyl valley. The road now wound along the wide and rapid Amyl, then penetrated into the deep forest, guiding us round the swampy ground filled with those dangerous Siberian quagmires, through the dense bushes, across mountains and wide meadows. Our guide probably did not surmise our real intention and sometimes, apprehensively looking down at the ground, would say:
"Three riders on horses with shoes on have passed here. Perhaps they were soldiers."
His anxiety was terminated when he discovered that the tracks led off to one side and then returned to the trail.
"They did not proceed farther," he remarked, slyly smiling.
"That's too bad," we answered. "It would have been more lively to travel in company."
But the peasant only stroked his beard and laughed. Evidently he was not taken in by our statement.
We passed on the way a gold mine that had been formerly planned and equipped on splendid lines but was now abandoned and the buildings all destroyed. The Bolsheviki had taken away the machinery, supplies and also some parts of the buildings. Nearby stood a dark and gloomy church with windows broken, the crucifix torn off and the tower burned, a pitifully typical emblem of the Russia of today. The starving family of the watchman lived at the mine in continuing danger and privation. They told us that in this forest region were wandering about a band of Reds who were robbing anything that remained on the property of the gold mine, were working the pay dirt in the richest part of the mine and, with a little gold washed, were going to drink and gamble it away in some distant villages where the peasants were making the forbidden vodka out of berries and potatoes and selling it for its weight in gold. A meeting with this band meant death. After three days we crossed the northern ridge of the Sayan chain, passed the border river Algiak and, after this day, were abroad in the territory of Urianhai.
This wonderful land, rich in most diverse forms of natural wealth, is inhabited by a branch of the Mongols, which is now only sixty thousand and which is gradually dying off, speaking a language quite different from any of the other dialects of this folk and holding as their life ideal the tenet of "Eternal Peace." Urianhai long ago became the scene of administrative attempts by Russians, Mongols and Chinese, all of whom claimed sovereignty over the region whose unfortunate inhabitants, the Soyots, had to pay tribute to all three of these overlords. It was due to this that the land was not an entirely safe refuge for us. We had heard already from our militiaman about the expedition preparing to go into Urianhai and from the peasants we learned that the villages along the Little Yenisei and farther south had formed Red detachments, who were robbing and killing everyone who fell into their hands. Recently they had killed sixty-two officers attempting to pass Urianhai into Mongolia; robbed and killed a caravan of Chinese merchants; and killed some German war prisoners who escaped from the Soviet paradise. On the fourth day we reached a swampy valley where, among open forests, stood a single Russian house. Here we took leave of our guide, who hastened away to get back before the snows should block his road over the Sayans. The master of the establishment agreed to guide us to the Seybi River for ten thousand roubles in Soviet notes. Our horses were tired and we were forced to give them a rest, so we decided to spend twenty-four hours here.
We were drinking tea when the daughter of our host cried:
"The Soyots are coming!" Into the room with their rifles and pointed hats came suddenly four of them.
"Mende," they grunted to us and then, without ceremony, began examining us critically. Not a button or a seam in our entire outfit escaped their penetrating gaze. Afterwards one of them, who appeared to be the local "Merin" or governor, began to investigate our political views. Listening to our criticisms of the Bolsheviki, he was evidently pleased and began talking freely.
"You are good people. You do not like Bolsheviki. We will help you."
I thanked him and presented him with the thick silk cord which I was wearing as a girdle. Before night they left us saying that they would return in the morning. It grew dark. We went to the meadow to look after our exhausted horses grazing there and came back to the house. We were gaily chatting with the hospitable host when suddenly we heard horses' hoofs in the court and raucous voices, followed by the immediate entry of five Red soldiers armed with rifles and swords. Something unpleasant and cold rolled up into my throat and my heart hammered. We knew the Reds as our enemies. These men had the red stars on their Astrakhan caps and red triangles on their sleeves. They were members of the detachment that was out to look for Cossack officers. Scowling at us they took off their overcoats and sat down. We first opened the conversation, explaining the purpose of our journey in exploring for bridges, roads and gold mines. From them we then learned that their commander would arrive in a little while with seven more men and that they would take our host at once as a guide to the Seybi River, where they thought the Cossack officers must be hidden. Immediately I remarked that our affairs were moving fortunately and that we must travel along together. One of the soldiers replied that that would depend upon the "Comrade-officer."
During our conversation the Soyot Governor entered. Very attentively he studied again the new arrivals and then asked: "Why did you take from the Soyots the good horses and leave bad ones?"
The soldiers laughed at him.
"Remember that you are in a foreign country!" answered the Soyot, with a threat in his voice.
"God and the Devil!" cried one of the soldiers.
But the Soyot very calmly took a seat at the table and accepted the cup of tea the hostess was preparing for him. The conversation ceased. The Soyot finished the tea, smoked his long pipe and, standing up, said:
"If tomorrow morning the horses are not back at the owner's, we shall come and take them." And with these words he turned and went out.
I noticed an expression of apprehension on the faces of the soldiers. Shortly one was sent out as a messenger while the others sat silent with bowed heads. Late in the night the officer arrived with his other seven men. As he received the report about the Soyot, he knitted his brows and said:
"It's a bad mess. We must travel through the swamp where a Soyot will be behind every mound watching us."
He seemed really very anxious and his trouble fortunately prevented him from paying much attention to us. I began to calm him and promised on the morrow to arrange this matter with the Soyots. The officer was a coarse brute and a silly man, desiring strongly to be promoted for the capture of the Cossack officers, and feared that the Soyot could prevent him from reaching the Seybi.
At daybreak we started together with the Red detachment. When we had made about fifteen kilometers, we discovered behind the bushes two riders. They were Soyots. On their backs were their flint rifles.
"Wait for me!" I said to the officer. "I shall go for a parley with them."
I went forward with all the speed of my horse. One of the horsemen was the Soyot Governor, who said to me:
"Remain behind the detachment and help us."
"All right," I answered, "but let us talk a little, in order that they may think we are parleying."
After a moment I shook the hand of the Soyot and returned to the soldiers.
"All right," I exclaimed, "we can continue our journey. No hindrance will come from the Soyots."
We moved forward and, when we were crossing a large meadow, we espied at a long distance two Soyots riding at full gallop right up the side of a mountain. Step by step I accomplished the necessary manoeuvre to bring me and my fellow traveler somewhat behind the detachment. Behind our backs remained only one soldier, very brutish in appearance and apparently very hostile to us. I had time to whisper to my companion only one word: "Mauser," and saw that he very carefully unbuttoned the saddle bag and drew out a little the handle of his pistol.
Soon I understood why these soldiers, excellent woodsmen as they were, would not attempt to go to the Seybi without a guide. All the country between the Algiak and the Seybi is formed by high and narrow mountain ridges separated by deep swampy valleys. It is a cursed and dangerous place. At first our horses mired to the knees, lunging about and catching their feet in the roots of bushes in the quagmires, then falling and pinning us under their sides, breaking parts of their saddles and bridles. Then we would go in up to the riders' knees. My horse went down once with his whole breast and head under the red fluid mud and we just saved it and no more. Afterwards the officer's horse fell with him so that he bruised his head on a stone. My companion injured one knee against a tree. Some of the men also fell and were injured. The horses breathed heavily. Somewhere dimly and gloomily a crow cawed. Later the road became worse still. The trail followed through the same miry swamp but everywhere the road was blocked with fallen tree trunks. The horses, jumping over the trunks, would land in an unexpectedly deep hole and flounder. We and all the soldiers were covered with blood and mud and were in great fear of exhausting our mounts. For a long distance we had to get down and lead them. At last we entered a broad meadow covered with bushes and bordered with rocks. Not only horses but riders also began to sink to their middle in a quagmire with apparently no bottom. The whole surface of the meadow was but a thin layer of turf, covering a lake with black putrefying water. When we finally learned to open our column and proceed at big intervals, we found we could keep on this surface that undulated like rubber ice and swayed the bushes up and down. In places the earth buckled up and broke.
Suddenly, three shots sounded. They were hardly more than the report of a Flobert rifle; but they were genuine shots, because the officer and two soldiers fell to the ground. The other soldiers grabbed their rifles and, with fear, looked about for the enemy. Four more were soon unseated and suddenly I noticed our rearguard brute raise his rifle and aim right at me. However, my Mauser outstrode his rifle and I was allowed to continue my story.
"Begin!" I cried to my friend and we took part in the shooting. Soon the meadow began to swarm with Soyots, stripping the fallen, dividing the spoils and recapturing their horses. In some forms of warfare it is never safe to leave any of the enemy to renew hostilities later with overwhelming forces.
After an hour of very difficult road we began to ascend the mountain and soon arrived on a high plateau covered with trees.
"After all, Soyots are not a too peaceful people," I remarked, approaching the Governor.
He looked at me very sharply and replied:
"It was not Soyots who did the killing."
He was right. It was the Abakan Tartars in Soyot clothes who killed the Bolsheviki. These Tartars were running their herds of cattle and horses down out of Russia through Urianhai to Mongolia. They had as their guide and negotiator a Kalmuck Lamaite. The following morning we were approaching a small settlement of Russian colonists and noticed some horsemen looking out from the woods. One of our young and brave Tartars galloped off at full speed toward these men in the wood but soon wheeled and returned with a reassuring smile.
"All right," he exclaimed, laughing, "keep right on."
We continued our travel on a good broad road along a high wooden fence surrounding a meadow filled with a fine herd of wapiti or izubr, which the Russian colonists breed for the horns that are so valuable in the velvet for sale to Tibetan and Chinese medicine dealers. These horns, when boiled and dried, are called panti and are sold to the Chinese at very high prices.
We were received with great fear by the settlers.
"Thank God!" exclaimed the hostess, "we thought . . ." and she broke off, looking at her husband.
THE BATTLE ON THE SEYBI
Constant dangers develop one's watchfulness and keenness of perception. We did not take off our clothes nor unsaddle our horses, tired as we were. I put my Mauser inside my coat and began to look about and scrutinize the people. The first thing I discovered was the butt end of a rifle under the pile of pillows always found on the peasants' large beds. Later I noticed the employees of our host constantly coming into the room for orders from him. They did not look like simple peasants, although they had long beards and were dressed very dirtily. They examined me with very attentive eyes and did not leave me and my friend alone with the host. We could not, however, make out anything. But then the Soyot Governor came in and, noticing our strained relations, began explaining in the Soyot language to the host all about us.
"I beg your pardon," the colonist said, "but you know yourself that now for one honest man we have ten thousand murderers and robbers."
With this we began chatting more freely. It appeared that our host knew that a band of Bolsheviki would attack him in the search for the band of Cossack officers who were living in his house on and off. He had heard also about the "total loss" of one detachment. However, it did not entirely calm the old man to have our news, for he had heard of the large detachment of Reds that was coming from the border of the Usinsky District in pursuit of the Tartars who were escaping with their cattle south to Mongolia.
"From one minute to another we are awaiting them with fear," said our host to me. "My Soyot has come in and announced that the Reds are already crossing the Seybi and the Tartars are prepared for the fight."
We immediately went out to look over our saddles and packs and then took the horses and hid them in the bushes not far off. We made ready our rifles and pistols and took posts in the enclosure to wait for our common enemy. An hour of trying impatience passed, when one of the workmen came running in from the wood and whispered:
"They are crossing our swamp. . . . The fight is on."
In fact, like an answer to his words, came through the woods the sound of a single rifle-shot, followed closely by the increasing rat-tat-tat of the mingled guns. Nearer to the house the sounds gradually came. Soon we heard the beating of the horses' hoofs and the brutish cries of the soldiers. In a moment three of them burst into the house, from off the road where they were being raked now by the Tartars from both directions, cursing violently. One of them shot at our host. He stumbled along and fell on his knee, as his hand reached out toward the rifle under his pillows.
"Who are YOU?" brutally blurted out one of the soldiers, turning to us and raising his rifle. We answered with Mausers and successfully, for only one soldier in the rear by the door escaped, and that merely to fall into the hands of a workman in the courtyard who strangled him. The fight had begun. The soldiers called on their comrades for help. The Reds were strung along in the ditch at the side of the road, three hundred paces from the house, returning the fire of the surrounding Tartars. Several soldiers ran to the house to help their comrades but this time we heard the regular volley of the workmen of our host. They fired as though in a manoeuvre calmly and accurately. Five Red soldiers lay on the road, while the rest now kept to their ditch. Before long we discovered that they began crouching and crawling out toward the end of the ditch nearest the wood where they had left their horses. The sounds of shots became more and more distant and soon we saw fifty or sixty Tartars pursuing the Reds across the meadow.
Two days we rested here on the Seybi. The workmen of our host, eight in number, turned out to be officers hiding from the Bolsheviks. They asked permission to go on with us, to which we agreed.
When my friend and I continued our trip we had a guard of eight armed officers and three horses with packs. We crossed a beautiful valley between the Rivers Seybi and Ut. Everywhere we saw splendid grazing lands with numerous herds upon them, but in two or three houses along the road we did not find anyone living. All had hidden away in fear after hearing the sounds of the fight with the Reds. The following day we went up over the high chain of mountains called Daban and, traversing a great area of burned timber where our trail lay among the fallen trees, we began to descend into a valley hidden from us by the intervening foothills. There behind these hills flowed the Little Yenisei, the last large river before reaching Mongolia proper. About ten kilometers from the river we spied a column of smoke rising up out of the wood. Two of the officers slipped away to make an investigation. For a long time they did not return and we, fearful lest something had happened, moved off carefully in the direction of the smoke, all ready for a fight if necessary. We finally came near enough to hear the voices of many people and among them the loud laugh of one of our scouts. In the middle of a meadow we made out a large tent with two tepees of branches and around these a crowd of fifty or sixty men. When we broke out of the forest all of them rushed forward with a joyful welcome for us. It appeared that it was a large camp of Russian officers and soldiers who, after their escape from Siberia, had lived in the houses of the Russian colonists and rich peasants in Urianhai.
"What are you doing here?" we asked with surprise.
"Oh, ho, you know nothing at all about what has been going on?" replied a fairly old man who called himself Colonel Ostrovsky. "In Urianhai an order has been issued from the Military Commissioner to mobilize all men over twenty-eight years of age and everywhere toward the town of Belotzarsk are moving detachments of these Partisans. They are robbing the colonists and peasants and killing everyone that falls into their hands. We are hiding here from them."
The whole camp counted only sixteen rifles and three bombs, belonging to a Tartar who was traveling with his Kalmuck guide to his herds in Western Mongolia. We explained the aim of our journey and our intention to pass through Mongolia to the nearest port on the Pacific. The officers asked me to bring them out with us. I agreed. Our reconnaissance proved to us that there were no Partisans near the house of the peasant who was to ferry us over the Little Yenisei. We moved off at once in order to pass as quickly as possible this dangerous zone of the Yenisei and to sink ourselves into the forest beyond. It snowed but immediately thawed. Before evening a cold north wind sprang up, bringing with it a small blizzard. Late in the night our party reached the river. Our colonist welcomed us and offered at once to ferry us over and swim the horses, although there was ice still floating which had come down from the head-waters of the stream. During this conversation there was present one of the peasant's workmen, red-haired and squint-eyed. He kept moving around all the time and suddenly disappeared. Our host noticed it and, with fear in his voice, said:
"He has run to the village and will guide the Partisans here. We must cross immediately."
Then began the most terrible night of my whole journey. We proposed to the colonist that he take only our food and ammunition in the boat, while we would swim our horses across, in order to save the time of the many trips. The width of the Yenisei in this place is about three hundred metres. The stream is very rapid and the shore breaks away abruptly to the full depth of the stream. The night was absolutely dark with not a star in the sky. The wind in whistling swirls drove the snow and sleet sharply against our faces. Before us flowed the stream of black, rapid water, carrying down thin, jagged blocks of ice, twisting and grinding in the whirls and eddies. For a long time my horse refused to take the plunge down the steep bank, snorted and braced himself. With all my strength I lashed him with my whip across his neck until, with a pitiful groan, he threw himself into the cold stream. We both went all the way under and I hardly kept my seat in the saddle. Soon I was some metres from the shore with my horse stretching his head and neck far forward in his efforts and snorting and blowing incessantly. I felt the every motion of his feet churning the water and the quivering of his whole body under me in this trial. At last we reached the middle of the river, where the current became exceedingly rapid and began to carry us down with it. Out of the ominous darkness I heard the shoutings of my companions and the dull cries of fear and suffering from the horses. I was chest deep in the icy water. Sometimes the floating blocks struck me; sometimes the waves broke up over my head and face. I had no time to look about or to feel the cold. The animal wish to live took possession of me; I became filled with the thought that, if my horse's strength failed in his struggle with the stream, I must perish. All my attention was turned to his efforts and to his quivering fear. Suddenly he groaned loudly and I noticed he was sinking. The water evidently was over his nostrils, because the intervals of his frightened snorts through the nostrils became longer. A big block of ice struck his head and turned him so that he was swimming right downstream. With difficulty I reined him around toward the shore but felt now that his force was gone. His head several times disappeared under the swirling surface. I had no choice. I slipped from the saddle and, holding this by my left hand, swam with my right beside my mount, encouraging him with my shouts. For a time he floated with lips apart and his teeth set firm. In his widely opened eyes was indescribable fear. As soon as I was out of the saddle, he had at once risen in the water and swam more calmly and rapidly. At last under the hoofs of my exhausted animal I heard the stones. One after another my companions came up on the shore. The well-trained horses had brought all their burdens over. Much farther down our colonist landed with the supplies. Without a moment's loss we packed our things on the horses and continued our journey. The wind was growing stronger and colder. At the dawn of day the cold was intense. Our soaked clothes froze and became hard as leather; our teeth chattered; and in our eyes showed the red fires of fever: but we traveled on to put as much space as we could between ourselves and the Partisans. Passing about fifteen kilometres through the forest we emerged into an open valley, from which we could see the opposite bank of the Yenisei. It was about eight o'clock. Along the road on the other shore wound the black serpent-like line of riders and wagons which we made out to be a column of Red soldiers with their transport. We dismounted and hid in the bushes in order to avoid attracting their attention.
All the day with the thermometer at zero and below we continued our journey, only at night reaching the mountains covered with larch forests, where we made big fires, dried our clothes and warmed ourselves thoroughly. The hungry horses did not leave the fires but stood right behind us with drooped heads and slept. Very early in the morning several Soyots came to our camp.
"Ulan? (Red?)" asked one of them.
"No! No!" exclaimed all our company.
"Tzagan? (White?)" followed the new question.
"Yes, yes," said the Tartar, "all are Whites."
"Mende! Mende!" they grunted and, after starting their cups of tea, began to relate very interesting and important news. It appeared that the Red Partisans, moving from the mountains Tannu Ola, occupied with their outposts all the border of Mongolia to stop and seize the peasants and Soyots driving out their cattle. To pass the Tannu Ola now would be impossible. I saw only one way—to turn sharp to the southeast, pass the swampy valley of the Buret Hei and reach the south shore of Lake Kosogol, which is already in the territory of Mongolia proper. It was very unpleasant news. To the first Mongol post in Samgaltai was not more than sixty miles from our camp, while to Kosogol by the shortest line not less than two hundred seventy-five. The horses my friend and I were riding, after having traveled more than six hundred miles over hard roads and without proper food or rest, could scarcely make such an additional distance. But, reflecting upon the situation and studying my new fellow travelers, I determined not to attempt to pass the Tannu Ola. They were nervous, morally weary men, badly dressed and armed and most of them were without weapons. I knew that during a fight there is no danger so great as that of disarmed men. They are easily caught by panic, lose their heads and infect all the others. Therefore, I consulted with my friends and decided to go to Kosogol. Our company agreed to follow us. After luncheon, consisting of soup with big lumps of meat, dry bread and tea, we moved out. About two o'clock the mountains began to rise up before us. They were the northeast outspurs of the Tannu Ola, behind which lay the Valley of Buret Hei.
THE BARRIER OF RED PARTISANS
In a valley between two sharp ridges we discovered a herd of yaks and cattle being rapidly driven off to the north by ten mounted Soyots. Approaching us warily they finally revealed that Noyon (Prince) of Todji had ordered them to drive the herds along the Buret Hei into Mongolia, apprehending the pillaging of the Red Partisans. They proceeded but were informed by some Soyot hunters that this part of the Tannu Ola was occupied by the Partisans from the village of Vladimirovka. Consequently they were forced to return. We inquired from them the whereabouts of these outposts and how many Partisans were holding the mountain pass over into Mongolia. We sent out the Tartar and the Kalmuck for a reconnaissance while all of us prepared for the further advance by wrapping the feet of our horses in our shirts and by muzzling their noses with straps and bits of rope so that they could not neigh. It was dark when our investigators returned and reported to us that about thirty Partisans had a camp some ten kilometers from us, occupying the yurtas of the Soyots. At the pass were two outposts, one of two soldiers and the other of three. From the outposts to the camp was a little over a mile. Our trail lay between the two outposts. From the top of the mountain one could plainly see the two posts and could shoot them all. When we had come near to the top of this mountain, I left our party and, taking with me my friend, the Tartar, the Kalmuck and two of the young officers, advanced. From the mountain I saw about five hundred yards ahead two fires. At each of the fires sat a soldier with his rifle and the others slept. I did not want to fight with the Partisans but we had to do away with these outposts and that without firing or we never should get through the pass. I did not believe the Partisans could afterwards track us because the whole trail was thickly marked with the spoors of horses and cattle.
"I shall take for my share these two," whispered my friend, pointing to the left outpost.
The rest of us were to take care of the second post. I crept along through the bushes behind my friend in order to help him in case of need; but I am bound to admit that I was not at all worried about him. He was about seven feet tall and so strong that, when a horse used to refuse sometimes to take the bit, he would wrap his arm around its neck, kick its forefeet out from under it and throw it so that he could easily bridle it on the ground. When only a hundred paces remained, I stood behind the bushes and watched. I could see very distinctly the fire and the dozing sentinel. He sat with his rifle on his knees. His companion, asleep beside him, did not move. Their white felt boots were plainly visible to me. For a long time I did not remark my friend. At the fire all was quiet. Suddenly from the other outpost floated over a few dim shouts and all was still. Our sentinel slowly raised his head. But just at this moment the huge body of my friend rose up and blanketed the fire from me and in a twinkling the feet of the sentinel flashed through the air, as my companion had seized him by the throat and swung him clear into the bushes, where both figures disappeared. In a second he re-appeared, flourished the rifle of the Partisan over his head and I heard the dull blow which was followed by an absolute calm. He came back toward me and, confusedly smiling, said:
"It is done. God and the Devil! When I was a boy, my mother wanted to make a priest out of me. When I grew up, I became a trained agronome in order . . . to strangle the people and smash their skulls. Revolution is a very stupid thing!"
And with anger and disgust he spit and began to smoke his pipe.
At the other outpost also all was finished. During this night we reached the top of the Tannu Ola and descended again into a valley covered with dense bushes and twined with a whole network of small rivers and streams. It was the headwaters of the Buret Hei. About one o'clock we stopped and began to feed our horses, as the grass just there was very good. Here we thought ourselves in safety. We saw many calming indications. On the mountains were seen the grazing herds of reindeers and yaks and approaching Soyots confirmed our supposition. Here behind the Tannu Ola the Soyots had not seen the Red soldiers. We presented to these Soyots a brick of tea and saw them depart happy and sure that we were "Tzagan," a "good people."
While our horses rested and grazed on the well-preserved grass, we sat by the fire and deliberated upon our further progress. There developed a sharp controversy between two sections of our company, one led by a Colonel who with four officers were so impressed by the absence of Reds south of the Tannu Ola that they determined to work westward to Kobdo and then on to the camp on the Emil River where the Chinese authorities had interned six thousand of the forces of General Bakitch, which had come over into Mongolian territory. My friend and I with sixteen of the officers chose to carry through our old plan to strike for the shores of Lake Kosogol and thence out to the Far East. As neither side could persuade the other to abandon its ideas, our company was divided and the next day at noon we took leave of one another. It turned out that our own wing of eighteen had many fights and difficulties on the way, which cost us the lives of six of our comrades, but that the remainder of us came through to the goal of our journey so closely knit by the ties of devotion which fighting and struggling for our very lives entailed that we have ever preserved for one another the warmest feelings of friendship. The other group under Colonel Jukoff perished. He met a big detachment of Red cavalry and was defeated by them in two fights. Only two officers escaped. They related to me this sad news and the details of the fights when we met four months later in Urga.
Our band of eighteen riders with five packhorses moved up the valley of the Buret Hei. We floundered in the swamps, passed innumerable miry streams, were frozen by the cold winds and were soaked through by the snow and sleet; but we persisted indefatigably toward the south end of Kosogol. As a guide our Tartar led us confidently over these trails well marked by the feet of many cattle being run out of Urianhai to Mongolia.
IN THE COUNTRY OF ETERNAL PEACE
The inhabitants of Urianhai, the Soyots, are proud of being the genuine Buddhists and of retaining the pure doctrine of holy Rama and the deep wisdom of Sakkia-Mouni. They are the eternal enemies of war and of the shedding of blood. Away back in the thirteenth century they preferred to move out from their native land and take refuge in the north rather than fight or become a part of the empire of the bloody conqueror Jenghiz Khan, who wanted to add to his forces these wonderful horsemen and skilled archers. Three times in their history they have thus trekked northward to avoid struggle and now no one can say that on the hands of the Soyots there has ever been seen human blood. With their love of peace they struggled against the evils of war. Even the severe Chinese administrators could not apply here in this country of peace the full measure of their implacable laws. In the same manner the Soyots conducted themselves when the Russian people, mad with blood and crime, brought this infection into their land. They avoided persistently meetings and encounters with the Red troops and Partisans, trekking off with their families and cattle southward into the distant principalities of Kemchik and Soldjak. The eastern branch of this stream of emigration passed through the valley of the Buret Hei, where we constantly outstrode groups of them with their cattle and herds.
We traveled quickly along the winding trail of the Buret Hei and in two days began to make the elevations of the mountain pass between the valleys of the Buret Hei and Kharga. The trail was not only very steep but was also littered with fallen larch trees and frequently intercepted, incredible as it may seem, with swampy places where the horses mired badly. Then again we picked our dangerous road over cobbles and small stones that rolled away under our horses' feet and bumped off over the precipice nearby. Our horses fatigued easily in passing this moraine that had been strewn by ancient glaciers along the mountain sides. Sometimes the trail led right along the edge of the precipices where the horses started great slides of stones and sand. I remember one whole mountain covered with these moving sands. We had to leave our saddles and, taking the bridles in our hands, to trot for a mile or more over these sliding beds, sometimes sinking in up to our knees and going down the mountain side with them toward the precipices below. One imprudent move at times would have sent us over the brink. This destiny met one of our horses. Belly down in the moving trap, he could not work free to change his direction and so slipped on down with a mass of it until he rolled over the precipice and was lost to us forever. We heard only the crackling of breaking trees along his road to death. Then with great difficulty we worked down to salvage the saddle and bags. Further along we had to abandon one of our pack horses which had come all the way from the northern border of Urianhai with us. We first unburdened it but this did not help; no more did our shouting and threats. He only stood with his head down and looked so exhausted that we realized he had reached the further bourne of his land of toil. Some Soyots with us examined him, felt of his muscles on the fore and hind legs, took his head in their hands and moved it from side to side, examined his head carefully after that and then said: