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- BEASTS MEN AND GODS - 20/45 -
abandoned this method because of its danger to the dogs, the faithful friends and allies of the nomad. They do not, however, touch the eagles and hawks but even feed them. When the Mongols are slaughtering animals they often cast bits of meat up into the air for the hawks and eagles to catch in flight, just as we throw a bit of meat to a dog. Eagles and hawks fight and drive away the magpies and crows, which are very dangerous for cattle and horses, because they scratch and peck at the smallest wound or abrasion on the backs of the animals until they make them into uncurable areas which they continue to harass.
THE NEST OF DEATH
Our camels were trudging to a slow but steady measure on toward the north. We were making twenty-five to thirty miles a day as we approached a small monastery that lay to the left of our route. It was in the form of a square of large buildings surrounded by a high fence of thick poles. Each side had an opening in the middle leading to the four entrances of the temple in the center of the square. The temple was built with the red lacquered columns and the Chinese style roofs and dominated the surrounding low dwellings of the Lamas. On the opposite side of the road lay what appeared to be a Chinese fortress but which was in reality a trading compound or dugun, which the Chinese always build in the form of a fortress with double walls a few feet apart, within which they place their houses and shops and usually have twenty or thirty traders fully armed for any emergency. In case of need these duguns can be used as blockhouses and are capable of withstanding long sieges. Between the dugun and the monastery and nearer to the road I made out the camp of some nomads. Their horses and cattle were nowhere to be seen. Evidently the Mongols had stopped here for some time and had left their cattle in the mountains. Over several yurtas waved multi-colored triangular flags, a sign of the presence of disease. Near some yurtas high poles were stuck into the ground with Mongol caps at their tops, which indicated that the host of the yurta had died. The packs of dogs wandering over the plain showed that the dead bodies lay somewhere near, either in the ravines or along the banks of the river.
As we approached the camp, we heard from a distance the frantic beating of drums, the mournful sounds of the flute and shrill, mad shouting. Our Mongol went forward to investigate for us and reported that several Mongolian families had come here to the monastery to seek aid from the Hutuktu Jahansti who was famed for his miracles of healing. The people were stricken with leprosy and black smallpox and had come from long distances only to find that the Hutuktu was not at the monastery but had gone to the Living Buddha in Urga. Consequently they had been forced to invite the witch doctors. The people were dying one after another. Just the day before they had cast on the plain the twenty-seventh man.
Meanwhile, as we talked, the witch doctor came out of one of the yurtas. He was an old man with a cataract on one eye and with a face deeply scarred by smallpox. He was dressed in tatters with various colored bits of cloth hanging down from his waist. He carried a drum and a flute. We could see froth on his blue lips and madness in his eyes. Suddenly he began to whirl round and dance with a thousand prancings of his long legs and writhings of his arms and shoulders, still beating the drum and playing the flute or crying and raging at intervals, ever accelerating his movements until at last with pallid face and bloodshot eyes he fell on the snow, where he continued to writhe and give out his incoherent cries. In this manner the doctor treated his patients, frightening with his madness the bad devils that carry disease. Another witch doctor gave his patients dirty, muddy water, which I learned was the water from the bath of the very person of the Living Buddha who had washed in it his "divine" body born from the sacred flower of the lotus.
"Om! Om!" both witches continuously screamed.
While the doctors fought with the devils, the ill people were left to themselves. They lay in high fever under the heaps of sheepskins and overcoats, were delirious, raved and threw themselves about. By the braziers squatted adults and children who were still well, indifferently chatting, drinking tea and smoking. In all the yurtas I saw the diseased and the dead and such misery and physical horrors as cannot be described.
And I thought: "Oh, Great Jenghiz Khan! Why did you with your keen understanding of the whole situation of Asia and Europe, you who devoted all your life to the glory of the name of the Mongols, why did you not give to your own people, who preserve their old morality, honesty and peaceful customs, the enlightenment that would have saved them from such death? Your bones in the mausoleum at Karakorum being destroyed by the centuries that pass over them must cry out against the rapid disappearance of your formerly great people, who were feared by half the civilized world!"
Such thoughts filled my brain when I saw this camp of the dead tomorrow and when I heard the groans, shoutings and raving of dying men, women and children. Somewhere in the distance the dogs were howling mournfully, and monotonously the drum of the tired witch rolled.
"Forward!" I could not witness longer this dark horror, which I had no means or force to eradicate. We quickly passed on from the ominous place. Nor could we shake the thought that some horrible invisible spirit was following us from this scene of terror. "The devils of disease?" "The pictures of horror and misery?" "The souls of men who have been sacrificed on the altar of darkness of Mongolia?" An inexplicable fear penetrated into our consciousness from whose grasp we could not release ourselves. Only when we had turned from the road, passed over a timbered ridge into a bowl in the mountains from which we could see neither Jahantsi Kure, the dugun nor the squirming grave of dying Mongols could we breathe freely again.
Presently we discovered a large lake. It was Tisingol. Near the shore stood a large Russian house, the telegraph station between Kosogol and Uliassutai.
AMONG THE MURDERERS
As we approached the telegraph station, we were met by a blonde young man who was in charge of the office, Kanine by name. With some little confusion he offered us a place in his house for the night. When we entered the room, a tall, lanky man rose from the table and indecisively walked toward us, looking very attentively at us the while.
"Guests . . ." explained Kanine. "They are going to Khathyl. Private persons, strangers, foreigners . . ."
"A-h," drawled the stranger in a quiet, comprehending tone.
While we were untying our girdles and with difficulty getting out of our great Mongolian coats, the tall man was animatedly whispering something to our host. As we approached the table to sit down and rest, I overheard him say: "We are forced to postpone it," and saw Kanine simply nod in answer.
Several other people were seated at the table, among them the assistant of Kanine, a tall blonde man with a white face, who talked like a Gatling gun about everything imaginable. He was half crazy and his semi-madness expressed itself when any loud talking, shouting or sudden sharp report led him to repeat the words of the one to whom he was talking at the time or to relate in a mechanical, hurried manner stories of what was happening around him just at this particular juncture. The wife of Kanine, a pale, young, exhausted-looking woman with frightened eyes and a face distorted by fear, was also there and near her a young girl of fifteen with cropped hair and dressed like a man, as well as the two small sons of Kanine. We made acquaintance with all of them. The tall stranger called himself Gorokoff, a Russian colonist from Samgaltai, and presented the short-haired girl as his sister. Kanine's wife looked at us with plainly discernible fear and said nothing, evidently displeased over our being there. However, we had no choice and consequently began drinking tea and eating our bread and cold meat.
Kanine told us that ever since the telegraph line had been destroyed all his family and relatives had felt very keenly the poverty and hardship that naturally followed. The Bolsheviki did not send him any salary from Irkutsk, so that he was compelled to shift for himself as best he could. They cut and cured hay for sale to the Russian colonists, handled private messages and merchandise from Khathyl to Uliassutai and Samgaltai, bought and sold cattle, hunted and in this manner managed to exist. Gorokoff announced that his commercial affairs compelled him to go to Khathyl and that he and his sister would be glad to join our caravan. He had a most unprepossessing, angry-looking face with colorless eyes that always avoided those of the person with whom he was speaking. During the conversation we asked Kanine if there were Russian colonists near by, to which he answered with knitted brow and a look of disgust on his face:
"There is one rich old man, Bobroff, who lives a verst away from our station; but I would not advise you to visit him. He is a miserly, inhospitable old fellow who does not like guests."
During these words of her husband Madame Kanine dropped her eyes and contracted her shoulders in something resembling a shudder. Gorokoff and his sister smoked along indifferently. I very clearly remarked all this as well as the hostile tone of Kanine, the confusion of his wife and the artificial indifference of Gorokoff; and I determined to see the old colonist given such a bad name by Kanine. In Uliassutai I knew two Bobroffs. I said to Kanine that I had been asked to hand a letter personally to Bobroff and, after finishing my tea, put on my overcoat and went out.
The house of Bobroff stood in a deep sink in the mountains, surrounded by a high fence over which the low roofs of the houses could be seen. A light shone through the window. I knocked at the gate. A furious barking of dogs answered me and through the cracks of the fence I made out four huge black Mongol dogs, showing their teeth and growling as they rushed toward the gate. Inside the court someone opened the door and called out: "Who is there?"
I answered that I was traveling through from Uliassutai. The dogs were first caught and chained and I was then admitted by a man who looked me over very carefully and inquiringly from head to foot. A
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