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- BEASTS MEN AND GODS - 30/45 -


please me and, bowing to the officers, I ordered my riders to move.

"Oh no!" he remonstrated, as he blocked the road again. "I cannot allow you to go farther. I want to have a long and serious conversation with you and you will have to come back to Zain for it."

I protested and called attention to the letter of Colonel Kazagrandi, only to hear Bezrodnoff answer with coldness:

"This letter is a matter of Colonel Kazagrandi's and to bring you back to Zain and talk with you is my affair. Now give me your weapon."

But I could not yield to this demand, even though death were threatened.

"Listen," I said. "Tell me frankly. Is yours really a detachment fighting against the Boisheviki or is it a Red contingent?"

"No, I assure you!" replied the Buriat officer Vandaloff, approaching me. "We have already been fighting the Bolsheviki for three years."

"Then I cannot hand you my weapon," I calmly replied. "I brought it from Soviet Siberia, have had many fights with this faithful weapon and now I am to be disarmed by White officers! It is an offence that I cannot allow."

With these words I threw my rifle and my Mauser into the stream. The officers were confused. Bezrodnoff turned red with anger.

"I freed you and myself from humiliation," I explained.

Bezrodnoff in silence turned his horse, the whole detachment of three hundred men passed immediately before me and only the last two riders stopped, ordered my Mongols to turn my cart round and then fell in behind my little group. So I was arrested! One of the horsemen behind me was a Russian and he told me that Bezrodnoff carried with him many death decrees. I was sure that mine was among them.

Stupid, very stupid! What was the use of fighting one's way through Red detachments, of being frozen and hungry, of almost perishing in Tibet only to die from a bullet of one of Bezrodnoff's Mongols? For such a pleasure it was not worth while to travel so long and so far! In every Siberian "Cheka" I could have had this end so joyfully accorded me.

When we arrived at Zain Shabi, my luggage was examined and Bezrodnoff began to question me in minutest detail about the events in Uliassutai. We talked about three hours, during which I tried to defend all the officers of Uliassutai, maintaining that one must not trust only the reports of Domojiroff. When our conversation was finished, the Captain stood up and offered his apologies for detaining me in my journey. Afterwards he presented me a fine Mauser with silver mountings on the handle and said:

"Your pride greatly pleased me. I beg you to receive this weapon as a memento of me."

The following morning I set out anew from Zain Shabi, having in my pocket the laissez-passer of Bezrodnoff for his outposts.

CHAPTER XXXI

TRAVELING BY "URGA"

Once more we traveled along the now known places, the mountain from which I espied the detachment of Bezrodnoff, the stream into which I had thrown my weapon, and soon all this lay behind us. At the first ourton we were disappointed because we did not find horses there. In the yurtas were only the host with two of his sons. I showed him my document and he exclaimed:

"Noyon has the right of 'urga.' Horses will be brought very soon."

He jumped into his saddle, took two of my Mongols with him, providing them and himself with long thin poles, four or five metres in length, and fitted at the end with a loop of rope, and galloped away. My cart moved behind them. We left the road, crossed the plain for an hour and came upon a big herd of horses grazing there. The Mongol began to catch a quota of them for us with his pole and noose or urga, when out of the mountains nearby came galloping the owners of the herds. When the old Mongol showed my papers to them, they submissively acquiesced and substituted four of their men for those who had come with me thus far. In this manner the Mongols travel, not along the ourton or station road but directly from one herd to another, where the fresh horses are caught and saddled and the new owners substituted for those of the last herd. All the Mongols so effected by the right of urga try to finish their task as rapidly as possible and gallop like mad for the nearest herd in your general direction of travel to turn over their task to their neighbor. Any traveler having this right of urga can catch horses himself and, if there are no owners, can force the former ones to carry on and leave the animals in the next herd he requisitions. But this happens very rarely because the Mongol never likes to seek out his animals in another's herd, as it always gives so many chances for controversy.

It was from this custom, according to one explanation, that the town of Urga took its name among outsiders. By the Mongols themselves it is always referred to as Ta Kure, "The Great Monastery." The reason the Buriats and Russians, who were the first to trade into this region, called it Urga was because it was the principal destination of all the trading expeditions which crossed the plains by this old method or right of travel. A second explanation is that the town lies in a "loop" whose sides are formed by three mountain ridges, along one of which the River Tola runs like the pole or stick of the familiar urga of the plains.

Thanks to this unique ticket of urga I crossed quite untraveled sections of Mongolia for about two hundred miles. It gave me the welcome opportunity to observe the fauna of this part of the country. I saw many huge herds of Mongolian antelopes running from five to six thousand, many groups of bighorns, wapiti and kabarga antelopes. Sometimes small herds of wild horses and wild asses flashed as a vision on the horizon.

In one place I observed a big colony of marmots. All over an area of several square miles their mounds were scattered with the holes leading down to their runways below, the dwellings of the marmot. In and out among these mounds the greyish-yellow or brown animals ran in all sizes up to half that of an average dog. They ran heavily and the skin on their fat bodies moved as though it were too big for them. The marmots are splendid prospectors, always digging deep ditches, throwing out on the surface all the stones. In many places I saw mounds the marmots had made from copper ore and farther north some from minerals containing wolfram and vanadium. Whenever the marmot is at the entrance of his hole, he sits up straight on his hind legs and looks like a bit of wood, a small stump or a stone. As soon as he spies a rider in the distance, he watches him with great curiosity and begins whistling sharply. This curiosity of the marmots is taken advantage of by the hunters, who sneak up to their holes flourishing streamers of cloth on the tips of long poles. The whole attention of the small animals is concentrated on this small flag and only the bullet that takes his life explains to him the reason for this previously unknown object.

I saw a very exciting picture as I passed through a marmot colony near the Orkhon River. There were thousands of holes here so that my Mongols had to use all their skill to keep the horses from breaking their legs in them. I noticed an eagle circling high overhead. All of a sudden he dropped like a stone to the top of a mound, where he sat motionless as a rock. The marmot in a few minutes ran out of his hole to a neighbor's doorway. The eagle calmly jumped down from the top and with one wing closed the entrance to the hole. The rodent heard the noise, turned back and rushed to the attack, trying to break through to his hole where he had evidently left his family. The struggle began. The eagle fought with one free wing, one leg and his beak but did not withdraw the bar to the entrance. The marmot jumped at the rapacious bird with great boldness but soon fell from a blow on the head. Only then the eagle withdrew his wing, approached the marmot, finished him off and with difficulty lifted him in his talons to carry him away to the mountains for a tasty luncheon.

In the more barren places with only occasional spears of grass in the plain another species of rodent lives, called imouran, about the size of a squirrel. They have a coat the same color as the prairie and, running about it like snakes, they collect the seeds that are blown across by the wind and carry them down into their diminutive homes. The imouran has a truly faithful friend, the yellow lark of the prairie with a brown back and head. When he sees the imouran running across the plain, he settles on his back, flaps his wings in balance and rides well this swiftly galloping mount, who gaily flourishes his long shaggy tail. The lark during his ride skilfully and quickly catches the parasites living on the body of his friend, giving evidence of his enjoyment of his work with a short agreeable song. The Mongols call the imouran "the steed of the gay lark." The lark warns the imouran of the approach of eagles and hawks with three sharp whistles the moment he sees the aerial brigand and takes refuge himself behind a stone or in a small ditch. After this signal no imouran will stick his head out of his hole until the danger is past. Thus the gay lark and his steed live in kindly neighborliness.

In other parts of Mongolia where there was very rich grass I saw another type of rodent, which I had previously come across in Urianhai. It is a gigantic black prairie rat with a short tail and lives in colonies of from one to two hundred. He is interesting and unique as the most skilful farmer among the animals in his preparation of his winter supply of fodder. During the weeks when the grass is most succulent he actually mows it down with swift jerky swings of his head, cutting about twenty or thirty stalks with his sharp long front teeth. Then he allows his grass to cure and later puts up his prepared hay in a most scientific manner. First he makes a mound about a foot high. Through this he pushes down into the ground four slanting stakes, converging toward the middle of the pile, and binds them close over the surface of the hay with the longest strands of grass, leaving the ends protruding enough for him to add another foot to the height of the pile, when he again binds the surface with more long strands--all this to keep his winter supply of food from blowing away over the prairie. This stock he always locates right at the door of his den to avoid long winter hauls. The horses and camels are very fond of this small farmer's hay, because it is always made from the most nutritious


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