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Beasts, Men and Gods By Ferdynand Antoni Ossendowski Characters: 12766

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07

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:

"That horse will not go further. His brain is dried out." So we had to leave him.

That evening we came to a beautiful change in scene when we topped a rise and found ourselves on a broad plateau covered with larch. On it we discovered the yurtas of some Soyot hunters, covered with bark instead of the usual felt. Out of these ten men with rifles rushed toward us as we approached. They informed us that the Prince of Soldjak did not allow anyone to pass this way, as he feared the coming of murderers and robbers into his dominions.

"Go back to the place from which you came," they advised us with fear in their eyes.

I did not answer but I stopped the beginnings of a quarrel between an old Soyot and one of my officers. I pointed to the small stream in the valley ahead of us and asked him its name.

"Oyna," replied the Soyot. "It is the border of the principality and the passage of it is forbidden."

"All right," I said, "but you will allow us to warm and rest ourselves a little."

"Yes, yes!" exclaimed the hospitable Soyots, and led us into their tepees.

On our way there I took the opportunity to hand to the old Soyot a cigarette and to another a box of matches. We were all walking along together save one Soyot who limped slowly in the rear and was holding his hand up over his nose.

"Is he ill?" I asked.

"Yes," sadly answered the old Soyot. "That is my son. He has been losing blood from the nose for two days and is now quite weak."

I stopped and called the young man to me.

"Unbutton your outer coat," I ordered, "bare your neck and chest and turn your face up as far as you can." I pressed the jugular vein on both sides of his head for some minutes and said to him:

"The blood will not flow from your nose any more. Go into your tepee and lie down for some time."

The "mysterious" action of my fingers created on the Soyots a strong impression. The old Soyot with fear and reverence whispered:

"Ta Lama, Ta Lama! (Great Doctor)."

In the yurta we were given tea while the old Soyot sat thinking deeply about something. Afterwards he took counsel with his companions and finally announced:

"The wife of our Prince is sick in her eyes and I think the Prince will be very glad if I lead the 'Ta Lama' to him. He will not punish me, for he ordered that no 'bad people' should be allowed to pass; but that should not stop the 'good people' from coming to us.

"Do as you think best," I replied rather indifferently. "As a matter of fact, I know how to treat eye diseases but I would go back if you say so."

"No, no!" the old man exclaimed with fear. "I shall guide you myself."

Sitting by the fire, he lighted his pipe with a flint, wiped the mouthpiece on his sleeve and offered it to me in true native hospitality. I was "comme il faut" and smoked. Afterwards he offered his pipe to each one of our company and received from each a cigarette, a little tobacco or some matches. It was the seal on our friendship. Soon in o

ur yurta many persons piled up around us, men, women, children and dogs. It was impossible to move. From among them emerged a Lama with shaved face and close cropped hair, dressed in the flowing red garment of his caste. His clothes and his expression were very different from the common mass of dirty Soyots with their queues and felt caps finished off with squirrel tails on the top. The Lama was very kindly disposed towards us but looked ever greedily at our gold rings and watches. I decided to exploit this avidity of the Servant of Buddha. Supplying him with tea and dried bread, I made known to him that I was in need of horses.

"I have a horse. Will you buy it from me?" he asked. "But I do not accept Russian bank notes. Let us exchange something."

For a long time I bargained with him and at last for my gold wedding ring, a raincoat and a leather saddle bag I received a fine Soyot horse-to replace one of the pack animals we had lost-and a young goat. We spent the night here and were feasted with fat mutton. In the morning we moved off under the guidance of the old Soyot along the trail that followed the valley of the Oyna, free from both mountains and swamps. But we knew that the mounts of my friend and myself, together with three others, were too worn down to make Kosogol and determined to try to buy others in Soldjak. Soon we began to meet little groups of Soyot yurtas with their cattle and horses round about. Finally we approached the shifting capital of the Prince. Our guide rode on ahead for the parley with him after assuring us that the Prince would be glad to welcome the Ta Lama, though at the time I remarked great anxiety and fear in his features as he spoke. Before long we emerged on to a large plain well covered with small bushes. Down by the shore of the river we made out big yurtas with yellow and blue flags floating over them and easily guessed that this was the seat of government. Soon our guide returned to us. His face was wreathed with smiles. He flourished his hands and cried:

"Noyon (the Prince) asks you to come! He is very glad!"

From a warrior I was forced to change myself into a diplomat. As we approached the yurta of the Prince, we were met by two officials, wearing the peaked Mongol caps with peacock feathers rampants behind. With low obeisances they begged the foreign "Noyon" to enter the yurta. My friend the Tartar and I entered. In the rich yurta draped with expensive silk we discovered a feeble, wizen-faced little old man with shaven face and cropped hair, wearing also a high pointed beaver cap with red silk apex topped off with a dark red button with the long peacock feathers streaming out behind. On his nose were big Chinese spectacles. He was sitting on a low divan, nervously clicking the beads of his rosary. This was Ta Lama, Prince of Soldjak and High Priest of the Buddhist Temple. He welcomed us very cordially and invited us to sit down before the fire burning in the copper brazier. His surprisingly beautiful Princess served us with tea and Chinese confections and cakes. We smoked our pipes, though the Prince as a Lama did not indulge, fulfilling, however, his duty as a host by raising to his lips the pipes we offered him and handing us in return the green nephrite bottle of snuff. Thus with the etiquette accomplished we awaited the words of the Prince. He inquired whether our travels had been felicitous and what were our further plans. I talked with him quite frankly and requested his hospitality for the rest of our company and for the horses. He agreed immediately and ordered four yurtas set up for us.

"I hear that the foreign Noyon," the Prince said, "is a good doctor."

"Yes, I know some diseases and have with me some medicines," I answered, "but I am not a doctor. I am a scientist in other branches."

But the Prince did not understand this. In his simple directness a man who knows how to treat disease is a doctor.

"My wife has had constant trouble for two months with her eyes," he announced. "Help her."

I asked the Princess to show me her eyes and I found the typical conjunctivitis from the continual smoke of the yurta and the general uncleanliness. The Tartar brought me my medicine case. I washed her eyes with boric acid and dropped a little cocaine and a feeble solution of sulphurate of zinc into them.

"I beg you to cure me," pleaded the Princess. "Do not go away until you have cured me. We shall give you sheep, milk and flour for all your company. I weep now very often because I had very nice eyes and my husband used to tell me they shone like the stars and now they are red. I cannot bear it, I cannot!"

She very capriciously stamped her foot and, coquettishly smiling at me, asked:

"Do you want to cure me? Yes?"

The character and manners of lovely woman are the same everywhere: on bright Broadway, along the stately Thames, on the vivacious boulevards of gay Paris and in the silk-draped yurta of the Soyot Princess behind the larch covered Tannu Ola.

"I shall certainly try," assuringly answered the new oculist.

We spent here ten days, surrounded by the kindness and friendship of the whole family of the Prince. The eyes of the Princess, which eight years ago had seduced the already old Prince Lama, were now recovered. She was beside herself with joy and seldom left her looking-glass.

The Prince gave me five fairly good horses, ten sheep and a bag of flour, which was immediately transformed into dry bread. My friend presented him with a Romanoff five-hundred-rouble note with a picture of Peter the Great upon it, while I gave to him a small nugget of gold which I had picked up in the bed of a stream. The Prince ordered one of the Soyots to guide us to the Kosogol. The whole family of the Prince conducted us to the monastery ten kilometres from the "capital." We did not visit the monastery but we stopped at the "Dugun," a Chinese trading establishment. The Chinese merchants looked at us in a very hostile manner though they simultaneously offered us all sorts of goods, thinking especially to catch us with their round bottles (lanhon) of maygolo or sweet brandy made from aniseed. As we had neither lump silver nor Chinese dollars, we could only look with longing at these attractive bottles, till the Prince came to the rescue and ordered the Chinese to put five of them in our saddle bags.

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