In consequence of the first of a series of accidents to our wheels, we were for several days the guests of the director of the botanical gardens at Pishpek. As a branch of the Crown botanical gardens at St. Petersburg, some valuable experiments were being made here with foreign seeds and plants. Peaches, we were told, do not thrive, but apples, pears, cherries, and the various kinds of berries, grow as well as they do at home. Rye, however, takes three years to reach the height of one year in America. Through the Russians, these people have obtained high-flown ideas of America and Americans. We saw many chromos of American celebrities in the various station-houses, and the most numerous was that of Thomas A. Edison. His phonograph, we were told, had already made its appearance in Pishpek, but the natives did not seem to realize what it was. "Why," they said, "we have often heard better music than that." Dr. Tanner was not without his share of fame in this far-away country. During his fast in America, a similar, though not voluntary, feat was being performed here. A Kirghiz messenger who had been despatched into the mountains during the winter was lost in the snow, and remained for twenty-eight days without food. He was found at last, crazed by hunger. When asked what he would have to eat, he replied, "Everything." They foolishly gave him "everything," and in two days he was dead. For a long time he was called the "Doctor Tanner of Turkestan."
A divergence of seventy-five miles from the regular post-route was made in order to visit Lake Issik Kul, which is probably the largest lake for its elevation in the world, being about ten times larger than Lake Geneva, and at a height of 5300 feet. Its slightly brackish water, which never freezes, teems with several varieties of fish, many of which we helped to unhook from a Russian fisherman's line, and then helped to eat in his primitive hut near the shore. A Russian Cossack, who had just come over the snow-capped Ala Tau, "of the Shade," from Fort Narin, was also present, and from the frequent glances cast at the fisherman's daughter we soon discovered the object of his visit. The ascent to this lake, through the famous Buam Defile, or Happy Pass, afforded some of the grandest scenery on our route through Asia. Its seething, foaming, irresistible torrent needs only a large volume to make it the equal of the rapids at Niagara.
Our return to the post-road was made by an unbeaten track over the Ala Tau mountains. From the Chu valley, dotted here and there with Kirghiz tent villages and their grazing flocks and herds, we pushed our wheels up the broken path, which wound like a mythical stairway far up into the low-hanging clouds. We trudged up one of the steepest ascents we have ever made with a wheel. The scenery was grand, but lonely. The wild tulips, pinks, and verbenas dotting the green slopes furnished the only pleasant diversion from our arduous labor. Just as we turned the highest summit, the clouds shifted for a moment, and revealed before us two Kirghiz horsemen. They started back in astonishment, and gazed at us as though we were demons of the air, until we disappeared again down the opposite and more gradual slope. Late in the afternoon we emerged upon the plain, but no post-road or station-house was in sight, as we expected; nothing but a few Kirghiz kibitkas among the straggling rocks, like the tents of the Egyptian Arabs among the fallen stones of the pyramids.
Toward these we now directed our course, and, in view of a rapidly approaching storm, asked to purchase a night's lodging. This was only too willingly granted in anticipation of the coming tomasha, or exhibition. The milkmaids as they went out to the rows of sheep and goats tied to the lines of woolen rope, and the horsemen with reinless horses to drive in the ranging herds, spread the news from tent to tent. By the time darkness fell the kibitka was filled to overflowing. We were given the seat of honor opposite the doorway, bolstered up with blankets and pillows. By the light of the fire curling its smoke upward through the central opening in the roof, it was interesting to note the faces of our hosts. We had never met a people of a more peaceful temperament, and, on the other hand, none more easily frightened. A dread of the evil eye is one of their characteristics. We had not been settled long before the ishan, or itinerant dervish, was called in to drive away the evil spirits, which the "devil's carts" might possibly have brought. Immediately on entering, he began to shrug his shoulders, and to shiver as though passing into a state of trance. Our dervish acquaintance was a man of more than average intelligence. He had traveled in India, and had even heard some one speak of America. This fact alone was sufficient to warrant him in posing as instructor for the rest of the assembly. While we were drinking tea, a habit they have recently adopted from the Russians, he held forth at great length to his audience about the Amerikon.
The rain now began to descend in torrents. The felt covering was drawn over the central opening, and propped up at one end with a pole to emit the clouds of smoke from the smoldering fire. This was shifted with the veering wind. Although a mere circular rib framework covered with white or brown felt, according as the occupant is rich or poor, the Kirghiz kibitka, or more properly yurt, is not as a house builded upon the sand, even in the fiercest storm. Its stanchness and comfort are surprising when we consider the rapidity with which it may be taken down and transported. In half an hour a whole village may vanish, emigrating northward in summer, and southward in winter. Many a Kirghiz cavalcade was overtaken on the road, with long tent-ribs and felts tied upon the backs of two-humped camels, for the Bactrian dromedary has not been able to endure the severities of these Northern climates. The men would always be mounted on the camels' or horses' backs, while the women would be perched on the oxen and bullocks, trained for the saddle and as beasts of burden. The men never walk; if there is any leading to be done it falls to the women. The constant use of the saddle has made many of the men bandy-legged, which, in connection with their usual obesity,—with them a mark of dignity,—gives them a comical appearance.
After their curiosity regarding us had been partly satisfied, it was suggested that a sheep should be slaughtered in our honor. Neither meat nor bread is ever eaten by any but the rich Kirghiz. Their universal kumiss, corresponding to the Turkish yaourt, or coagulated milk, and other forms of lacteal dishes, sometimes mixed with meal, form the chief diet of the poor. The wife of our host, a buxom woman, who, as we had seen, could leap upon a horse's back as readily as a man, now entered the doorway, carrying a full-grown sheep by its woolly coat. This she twirled over on its back, and held down with her knee while the butcher artist drew a dagger from his belt, and held it aloft until the assembly stroked their scant beards, and uttered the solemn bismillah. Tired out by the day's ride, we fell asleep before the arrangements for the feast had been completed. When awakened near midnight, we found that the savory odor from the huge caldron on the fire had only increased the attraction and the crowd. The choicest bits were now selected for the guests. These consisted of pieces of liver, served with lumps of fat from the tail of their peculiarly fat-tailed sheep. As an act of the highest hospitality, our host dipped these into some liquid grease, and then, reaching over, placed them in our mouths with his fingers. It required considerable effort on this occasion to subject our feelings of nausea to a sense of Kirghiz politeness. In keeping with their characteristic generosity, every one in the kibitka must partake in some measure of the feast, although the women, who had done all the work, must be content with remnants and bones already picked over by the host. But this disposition to share everything was not without its other aspect; we also were expected to share everything with them. We were asked to bestow any little trinket or nick-nack exposed to view. Any extra nut on the machine, a handkerchief, a packet of tea, or a lump of sugar, excited their cupidity at once. The latter was considered a bonbon by the women and younger portion of the spectators. The attractive daughter of our host, "Kumiss John," amused herself by stealing lumps of sugar from our pockets. When the feast was ended, the beards were again stroked, the name of Allah solemnly uttered by way of thanks for the bounty of heaven, and then each gave utterance to his appreciation of the meal.
Before retiring for the night, the dervish led the prayers, just as he had done at sunset. The praying-mats were spread, and all heads bowed toward Mecca. The only preparation for retiring was the spreading of blankets from the pile in one of the kibitkas. The Kirghiz are not in the habit of removing many garments for this purpose, and under the circumstances we found this custom a rather convenient one. Six of us turned in on the floor together, forming a semicircle, with our feet toward the fire. "Kumiss John," who was evidently the pet of the household, had a rudely constructed cot at the far end of the kibitka.
Vernoye, the old Almati, with its broad streets, low wood and brick houses, and Russian sign-boards, presented a Siberian aspect. The ruins of its many disastrous earthquakes lying low on every hand told us at once the cause of its deserted thoroughfares. The terrible shocks of the year before our visit killed several hundred people, and a whole mountain in the vicinity sank. The only hope of its persistent residents is a branch from the Transsiberian or Transcaspian railroad, or the reannexation by Russia of the fertile province of Ili, to make it an indispensable depot. Despite these periodical calamities, Vernoye has had, and is now constructing, under the genius of the French architect, Paul L. Gourdet, some of the finest edifices to be found in central Asia. The orphan asylum, a magnificent three-story structure, is now being built on experimental lines, to test its strength against earthquake shocks.
One of the chief incidents of our pleasant sojourn was afforded by Governor Ivanoff. We were invited to head the procession of the Cossacks on their annual departure for their summer encampment in the mountains. After the usual religious ceremony, they filed out from the city parade-ground. Being unavoidably detained for a few moments, we did not come up until some time after the column had started. As we dashed by to the front with the American and Russian flags fluttering side by side from the handle-bars, cheer after cheer arose from the ranks, and even the governor and his party doffed their caps in acknowledgment. At the camp we were favored with a special exhibition of horsemanship. By a single twist of the rein the steeds would fall to the ground, and their riders crouch down behind them as a bulwark in battle. Then dashing forward at full speed, they would spring to the ground, and leap back again into the saddle, or, hanging by their legs, would reach over and pick up a handkerchief, cap, or a soldier supposed to be wounded. All these movements we photographed with our camera. Of the endurance of these Cossacks and their Kirghiz horses we had a practical test. Overtaking a Cossack courier in the early part of a day's journey, he became so interested in the velocipede, as the Russians call the bicycle, that he determined to see as much of it as possible. He stayed with us the whole day, over a distance of fifty-five miles. His chief compensation was in witnessing the surprise of the natives to whom he would shout across the fields to come and see the tomasha, adding in explanation that we were the American gentlemen who had ridden all the way from America. Our speed was not slow, and frequently the poor fellow would have to resort to the whip, or shout, "Slowly, gentlemen, my horse is tired; the town is not far away, it is not necessary to hurry so." The fact is that in all our experience we found no horse of even the famed Kirghiz or Turkoman breed that could travel with the same ease and rapidity as ourselves even over the most ordinary road.
At Vernoye we began to glean practical information about China, but all except our genial host, M. Gourdet, counseled us against our proposed journey. He alone, as a traveler of experience, advised a divergence from the Siberian route at Altin Imell, in order to visit the Chinese city of Kuldja, where, as he said, with the assistance of the resident Russian consul we could test the validity of the Chinese passport received, as before mentioned, from the Chinese minister at London.
A few days later we were rolling up the valley of the Ili, having crossed that river by the well-constructed Russian bridge at Fort Iliysk, the head of navigation for the boats from Lake Balkash. New faces here met our curious gaze. As an ethnological transition between the inhabitants of central Asia and the Chinese, we were now among two distinctly agricultural races—the Dungans and Taranchis. As the invited guests of these people on several occasions, we were struck with their extreme cleanliness, economy, and industry; but their deep-set eyes seem to express reckless cruelty.
The Mohammedan mosques of this people are like the Chinese pagodas in outward appearance, while they seem to be Chinese in half-Kirghiz garments. Their women, too, do not veil themselves, although they are much more shy than their rugged sisters of the steppes. Tenacious of their word, these people were also scrupulous about returning favors. Our exhibitions were usually rewarded by a spread of sweets and yellow Dungan tea. Of this we would partake beneath the shade of their well-trained grape-arbors, while listening to the music, or rather discord, of a peculiar stringed instrument played by the boys. Its bow of two parts was so interlaced with the strings of the instrument as to play upon two at every draw. Another musician usually accompanied by beating little sticks on a saucer.
These are the people who were introduced by the Manchus to replace the Kalmucks in the Kuldja district, and who in 1869 so terribly avenged upon their masters the blood they previously caused to flow. The fertile province of Kuldja, with a population of 2,500,000, was reduced by their massacres to one vast necropolis. On all sides are canals that have become swamps, abandoned fields, wasted forests, and towns and villages in ruins, in some of which the ground is still strewn with the bleached bones of the murdered.
As we ascended the Ili valley piles of stones marked in succession the sites of the towns of Turgen, Jarkend, Akkend, and Khorgos, names which the Russians are already reviving in their pioneer settlements. The largest of these, Jarkend, is the coming frontier town, to take the place of evacuated Kuldja. About twenty-two miles east of this point the large white Russian fort of Khorgos stands bristling on the bank of the river of that name, which, by the treaty of 1881, is now the boundary-line of the Celestial empire. On a ledge of rocks overlooking the ford a Russian sentinel was walking his beat in the solitude of a dreary outpost. He stopped to watch us as we plunged into the flood, with our Russian telega for a ferry-boat. "All's well," we heard him cry, as, bumping over the rocky bottom, we passed from Russia into China. "Ah, yes," we thought; " 'All's well that ends well,' but this is only the beginning."
A few minutes later we dashed through the arched driveway of the Chinese custom-house, and were several yards away before the lounging officials realized what it was that flitted across their vision. "Stop! Come back!" they shouted in broken Russian. Amid a confusion of chattering voices, rustling gowns, clattering shoes, swinging pigtails, and clouds of opium and tobacco smoke, we were brought into the presence of the head official. Putting on his huge spectacles, he read aloud the vise written upon our American passports by the Chinese minister in London. His wonderment was increased when he further read that such a journey was being made on the "foot-moved carriages," which were being curiously fingered by the attendants. Our garments were minutely scrutinized, especially the buttons, while our caps and dark-colored spectacles were taken from our heads, and passed round for each to try on in turn, amid much laughter.
Owing to the predominant influence of Russia in these northwestern confines, our Russian papers would have been quite sufficient to cross the border into Kuldja. It was only beyond this point that our Chinese passport would be found necessary, and possibly invalid. After the usual vises had been stamped and written over, we were off on what proved to be our six months' experience in the "Middle Kingdom or Central Empire," as the natives call it, for to Chinamen there is a fifth point to the compass—the center, which is China. Not far on the road we heard the clatter of hoofs behind us. A Kalmuck was dashing toward us with a portentous look on his features. We dismounted in apprehension. He stopped short some twenty feet away, leaped to the ground, and, crawling up on hands and knees, began to chin-chin or knock his head on the ground before us. This he continued for some moments, and then without a word gazed at us in wild astonishment. Our perplexity over this performance was increased when, at a neighboring village, a bewildered Chinaman sprang out from the speechless crowd, and threw himself in the road before us. By a dexterous turn we missed his head, and passed over his extended queue.
Kuldja, with its Russian consul and Cossack station, still maintains a Russian telegraph and postal service. The mail is carried from the border in a train of three or four telegas, which rattle along over the primitive roads in a cloud of dust, with armed Cossacks galloping before and after, and a Russian flag carried by the herald in front. Even in the Kuldja post-office a heavily armed picket stands guard over the money-chest. This postal caravan we now overtook encamped by a small stream, during the glaring heat of the afternoon. We found that we had been expected several days before, and that quarters had been prepared for us in the postal station at the town of Suidun. Here we spent the night, and continued on to Kuldja the following morning.
Although built by the Chinese, who call it Nin-yuan, Kuldja, with its houses of beaten earth, strongly resembles the towns of Russian Turkestan. Since the evacuation by the Russians the Chinese have built around the city the usual quadrangular wall, thirty feet in height and twenty feet in width, with parapets still in the course of construction. But the rows of poplars, the whitewash, and the telegas were still left to remind us of the temporary Russian occupation. For several days we were objects of excited interest to the mixed population. The doors and windows of our Russian quarters were besieged by crowds. In defense of our host, we gave a public exhibition, and with the consent of the Tootai made the circuit on the top of the city walls. Fully 3000 people lined the streets and housetops to witness the race to which we had been challenged by four Dungan horsemen, riding below on the encircling roadway. The distance around was two miles. The horsemen started with a rush, and at the end of the first mile were ahead. At the third turning we overtook them, and came to the finish two hundred yards ahead, amid great excitement. Even the commander of the Kuldja forces was brushed aside by the chasing rabble.
OVER THE GOBI DESERT AND THROUGH THE WESTERN GATE OF THE GREAT WALL
Russian influence, which even now predominates at Kuldja, was forcibly indicated, the day after our arrival, during our investigations as to the validity of our Chinese passports for the journey to Peking. The Russian consul, whose favor we had secured in advance through letters from Governor Ivanoff at Vernoye, had pronounced them not only good, but by far the best that had been presented by any traveler entering China at this point. After endeavoring to dissuade us from what he called a foolhardy undertaking, even with the most valuable papers, he sent us, with his interpreter, to the Kuldja Tootai for the proper vise.
That dignitary, although deeply interested, was almost amused at the boldness of our enterprise. He said that no passport would insure success by the method we proposed to pursue; that, before he could allow us to make the venture, we must wait for an order from Peking. This, he said, would subject us to considerable delay and expense, even if the telegraph and post were utilized through Siberia and Kiakhta. This was discouraging indeed. But when we discovered, a few minutes later, that his highness had to call in the learned secretary to trace our proposed route for him on the map of China, and even to locate the capital, Peking, we began to question his knowledge of Chinese diplomacy. The matter was again referred to the consul, who reported back the following day that his previous assurances were reliable, that the Tootai would make the necessary vises, and send away at once, by the regular relay post across the empire, an open letter that could be read by the officials along the route, and be delivered long before our arrival at Peking. Such easy success we had not anticipated. The difficulty, as well as necessity, of obtaining the proper credentials for traveling in China was impressed upon us by the arrest the previous day of three Afghan visitors, and by the fact that a German traveler had been refused, just a few weeks before, permission even to cross the Mozart pass into Kashgar. So much, we thought, for Russian friendship.
Upon this assurance of at least official consent to hazard the journey to Peking, a telegram was sent to the chief of police at Tomsk, to whose care we had directed our letters, photographic material, and bicycle supplies to be sent from London in the expectation of being forced to take the Siberian route. These last could not have been dispensed with much longer, as our cushion-tires, ball-bearings, and axles were badly worn, while the rim of one of the rear wheels was broken in eight places for the lack of spokes. These supplies, however, did not reach us till six weeks after the date of our telegram, to which a prepaid reply was received, after a week's delay, asking in advance for the extra postage. This, with that prepaid from London, amounted to just fifty dollars. The warm weather, after the extreme cold of a Siberian winter, had caused the tires to stretch so much beyond their intended size that, on their arrival, they were almost unfit for use. Some of our photographic material also had been spoiled through the useless inspection of postal officials.
The delay thus caused was well utilized in familiarizing ourselves as much as possible with the language and characteristics of the Chinese, for, as we were without guides, interpreters, or servants, and in some places lacked even official assistance, no travelers, perhaps, were ever more dependent upon the people than ourselves. The Chinese language, the most primitive in the world, is, for this very reason perhaps, the hardest to learn. Its poverty of words reduces its grammar almost to a question of syntax and intonation. Many a time our expressions, by a wrong inflection, would convey a meaning different from the one intended. Even when told the difference, our ears could not detect it.
Our work of preparation was principally a process of elimination. We now had to prepare for a forced march in case of necessity. Handle-bars and seat-posts were shortened to save weight, and even the leather baggage-carriers, fitting in the frames of the machines, which we ourselves had patented before leaving England, were replaced by a couple of sleeping-bags made for us out of woolen shawls and Chinese oiled-canvas. The cutting off of buttons and extra parts of our clothing, as well as the shaving of our heads and faces, was also included by our friends in the list of curtailments. For the same reason one of our cameras, which we always carried on our backs, and refilled at night under the bedclothes, we sold to a Chinese photographer at Suidun, to make room for an extra provision-bag. The surplus film, with our extra baggage, was shipped by post, via Siberia and Kiakhta, to meet us on our arrival in Peking.
And now the money problem was the most perplexing of all. "This alone," said the Russian consul, "if nothing else, will defeat your plans." Those Western bankers who advertise to furnish "letters of credit to any part of the world" are, to say the least, rather sweeping in their assertions. At any rate, our own London letter was of no use beyond the Bosporus, except with the Persian imperial banks run by an English syndicate. At the American Bible House at Constantinople we were allowed, as a personal favor, to buy drafts on the various missionaries along the route through Asiatic Turkey. But in central Asia we found that the Russian bankers and merchants would not handle English paper, and we were therefore compelled to send our letter of credit by mail to Moscow. Thither we had recently sent it on leaving Tashkend, with instructions to remit in currency to Irkutsk, Siberia. We now had to telegraph to that point to re-forward over the Kiakhta post-route to Peking. With the cash on hand, and the proceeds of the camera, sold for more than half its weight in silver, four and one third pounds, we thought we had sufficient money to carry us, or, rather, as much as we could carry, to that point; for the weight of the Chinese money necessary for a journey of over three thousand miles was, as the Russian consul thought, one of the greatest of our almost insurmountable obstacles. In the interior of China there is no coin except the chen, or sapeks, an alloy of copper and tin, in the form of a disk, having a hole in the center by which the coins may be strung together. The very recently coined liang, or tael, the Mexican piaster specially minted for the Chinese market, and the other foreign coins, have not yet penetrated from the coast. For six hundred miles over the border, however, we found both the Russian money and language serviceable among the Tatar merchants, while the tenga, or Kashgar silver-piece, was preferred by the natives even beyond the Gobi, being much handier than the larger or smaller bits of silver broken from the yamba bricks. All, however, would have to be weighed in the tinza, or small Chinese scales we carried with us, and on which were marked the fuen, tchan, and liang of the monetary scale. But the value of these terms is reckoned in chen, and changes with almost every district. This necessity for vigilance, together with the frequency of bad silver and loaded yambas, and the propensity of the Chinese to "knock down" on even the smallest purchase, tends to convert a traveler in China into a veritable Shylock. There being no banks or exchanges in the interior, we were obliged to purchase at Kuldja all the silver we would need for the entire journey of over three thousand miles. "How much would it take?" was the question that our past experience in Asiatic travel now aided us to answer. That our calculations were close is proved by the fact that we reached Peking with silver in our pockets to the value of half a dollar. Our money now constituted the principal part of our luggage, which, with camera and film, weighed just twenty-five pounds apiece. Most of the silver was chopped up into small bits, and placed in the hollow tubing of the machines to conceal it from Chinese inquisitiveness, if not something worse. We are glad to say, however, that no attempt at robbery was ever discovered, although efforts at extortion were frequent, and sometimes, as will appear, of a serious nature.
The blowing of the long horns and boom of the mortar cannon at the fort awoke us at daylight on the morning of July 13. Farewells had been said the night before. Only our good-hearted Russian host was up to put an extra morsel in our provision-bag, for, as he said, we could get no food until we reached the Kirghiz aouls on the high plateau of the Talki pass, by which we were to cut across over unbeaten paths to the regular so-called imperial highway, running from Suidun. From the Catholic missionaries at Kuldja we had obtained very accurate information about this route as far as the Gobi desert. The expression Tian Shan Pe-lu, or northern Tian Shan route, in opposition to the Tian Shan Nan-lu, or southern Tian Shan route, shows that the Chinese had fully appreciated the importance of this historic highway, which continues the road running from the extreme western gate of the Great Wall obliquely across Mongolian Kan-su, through Hami and Barkul, to Urumtsi. From here the two natural highways lead, one to the head-waters of the Black Irtish, the other to the passes leading into the Ili valley, and other routes of the Arolo-Caspian depression. The latter route, which is now commanded at intervals by Chinese forts and military settlements, was recently relinquished by Russia only when she had obtained a more permanent footing on the former in the trading-posts of Chuguchak and Kobdo, for she very early recognized the importance of this most natural entry to the only feasible route across the Chinese empire. In a glowing sunset, at the end of a hot day's climb, we looked for the last time over the Ili valley, and at dusk, an hour later, rolled into one of the Kirghiz aouls that are here scattered among the rich pasturage of the plateau.
Even here we found that our reputation had extended from Kuldja. The chief advanced with amans of welcome, and the heavy-matted curtains in the kibitka doorway were raised, as we passed, in token of honor. When the refreshing kumiss was served around the evening camp-fire, the dangers of the journey through China were discussed among our hosts with frequent looks of misgiving. Thus, from first to last, every judgment was against us, and every prediction was of failure, if not of something worse; and now, as we stole out from the tent by the light of the rising moon, even the specter-like mountain-peaks around us, like symbols of coming events, were casting their shadows before. There was something so illusive in the scene as to make it very impressive. In the morning, early, a score of horsemen were ready to escort us on the road. At parting they all dismounted and uttered a prayer to Allah for our safety; and then as we rode away, drew their fingers across their throats in silence, and waved a solemn good-by. Such was the almost superstitious fear of these western nomads for the land which once sent forth a Yengiz Khan along this very highway.
Down the narrow valley of the Kuitun, which flows into the Ebi-nor, startling the mountain deer from the brink of the tree-arched rivulet, we reached a spot which once was the haunt of a band of those border-robbers about whom we had heard so much from our apprehensive friends. At the base of a volcano-shaped mountain lay the ruins of their former dens, from which only a year ago they were wont to sally forth on the passing caravans. When they were exterminated by the government, the head of their chief, with its dangling queue, was mounted on a pole near-by, and preserved in a cage from birds of prey, as a warning to all others who might aspire to the same notoriety. In this lonely spot we were forced to spend the night, as here occurred, through the carelessness of the Kuldja Russian blacksmith, a very serious break in one of our gear wheels. It was too late in the day to walk back the sixteen miles to the Kirghiz encampment, and there obtain horses for the remaining fifty-eight miles to Kuldja, for nowhere else, we concluded, could such a break be mended. Our sleeping-bags were now put to a severe test between the damp ground and the heavy mountain dew. The penetrating cold, and the occasional panther-like cry of some prowling animal, kept us awake the greater part of the night, awaiting with revolvers in hand some expected attack.
Five days later we had repassed this spot and were toiling over the sand and saline-covered depression of the great "Han-Hai," or Dried-up Sea. The mountain freshets, dissolving the salt from their sandy channels, carry it down in solution and deposit it with evaporation in massive layers, forming a comparatively hard roadway in the midst of the shifting sand-dunes. Over these latter our progress was extremely slow. One stretch of fifteen miles, which it took us six hours to cover, was as formidable as any part of the Turkoman desert along the Transcaspian railway. At an altitude of only six hundred feet above the sea, according to our aneroid barometer, and beneath the rays of a July sun against which even our felt caps were not much protection, we were half-dragging, half-pushing, our wheels through a foot of sand, and slapping at the mosquitos swarming upon our necks and faces. These pests, which throughout this low country are the largest and most numerous we have ever met, are bred in the intermediate swamps, which exist only through the negligence of the neighboring villagers. At night smoldering fires, which half suffocate the human inmates, are built before the doors and windows to keep out the intruding insects. All travelers wear gloves, and a huge hood covering the head and face up to the eyes, and in their hands carry a horse-tail switch to lash back and forth over their shoulders. Being without such protection we suffered both day and night.
The mountain freshets all along the road to Urumtsi were more frequent and dangerous than any we had yet encountered. Toward evening the melting snows, and the condensing currents from the plain heated during the day, fill and overflow the channels that in the morning are almost dry. One stream, with its ten branches, swept the stones and boulders over a shifting channel one mile in width. It was when wading through such streams as this, where every effort was required to balance ourselves and our luggage, that the mosquitos would make up for lost time with impunity. The river, before reaching Manas, was so swift and deep as to necessitate the use of regular government carts. A team of three horses, on making a misstep, were shifted away from the ford into deep water and carried far down the stream. A caravan of Chinese traveling-vans, loaded with goods from India, were crossing at the time, on their way to the outlying provinces and the Russian border. General Bauman at Vernoye had informed us that in this way English goods were swung clear around the circle and brought into Russia through the unguarded back door.
With constant wading and tramping, our Russian shoes and stockings, one of which was almost torn off by the sly grab of a Chinese spaniel, were no longer fit for use. In their place we were now obliged to purchase the short, white cloth Chinese socks and string sandals, which for mere cycling purposes and wading streams proved an excellent substitute, being light and soft on the feet and very quickly dried. The calves of our legs, however, being left bare, we were obliged, for state occasions at least, to retain and utilize the upper portion of our old stockings. It was owing to this scantiness of wardrobe that we were obliged when taking a bath by the roadside streams to make a quick wash of our linen, and put it on wet to dry, or allow it to flutter from the handle-bars as we rode along. It was astonishing even to ourselves how little a man required when once beyond the pale of Western conventionalities.
From Manas to Urumtsi we began to strike more tillage and fertility. Maize, wheat, and rice were growing, but rather low and thin. The last is by no means the staple food of China, as is commonly supposed, except in the southern portion. In the northern, and especially the outlying, provinces it is considered more a luxury for the wealthy. Millet and coarse flour, from which the mien or dough-strings are made, is the foundation, at least, for more than half the subsistence of the common classes. Nor is there much truth, we think, in the assertion that Chinamen eat rats, although we sometimes regretted that they did not. After a month or more without meat a dish of rats would have been relished, had we been able to get it. On the other hand we have learned that there is a society of Chinamen who are vegetarians from choice, and still another that will eat the meat of no animal, such as the ass, horse, dog, etc., which can serve man in a better way.
Urumtsi, or Hun-miao (red temple) of the Chinese, still retains its ancient prestige in being the seat of government for the viceroyalty of Sin-tsiang, which includes all that portion of western China lying without the limit of Mongolia and Tibet. Thanks to its happy position, it has always rapidly recovered after every fresh disaster. It now does considerable trade with Russia through the town of Chuguchak, and with China through the great gap which here occurs in the Tian Shan range. It lies in a picturesque amphitheater behind the solitary "Holy Mount," which towers above a well-constructed bridge across its swiftly flowing river. This city was one of our principal landmarks across the empire; a long stage of the journey was here completed.
On entering a Chinese city we always made it a rule to run rapidly through until we came to an inn, and then lock up our wheels before the crowd could collect. Urumtsi, however, was too large and intricate for such a manoeuver. We were obliged to dismount in the principal thoroughfare. The excited throng pressed in upon us. Among them was a Chinaman who could talk a little Russian, and who undertook to direct us to a comfortable inn at the far end of the city. This street parade gathered to the inn yard an overwhelming mob, and announced to the whole community that "the foreign horses" had come. It had been posted, we were told, a month before, that "two people of the new world" were coming through on "strange iron horses," and every one was requested not to molest them. By this, public curiosity was raised to the highest pitch. When we returned from supper at a neighboring restaurant, we were treated to a novel scene. The doors and windows of our apartments had been blocked with boxes, bales of cotton, and huge cart-wheels to keep out the irrepressible throng. Our host was agitated to tears; he came out wringing his hands, and urging upon us that any attempt on our part to enter would cause a rush that would break his house down. We listened to his entreaties on the condition that we should be allowed to mount to the roof with a ladder, to get away from the annoying curiosity of the crowd. There we sat through the evening twilight, while the crowd below, somewhat balked, but not discouraged, stood taking in every move. Nightfall and a drizzling rain came at last to our relief.
The next morning a squad of soldiers was despatched to raise the siege, and at the same time presents began to arrive from the various officials, from the Tsongtu, or viceroy, down to the superintendent of the local prisons. The matter of how much to accept of a Chinese present, and how much to pay for it, in the way of a tip to the bearer, is one of the finest points of that finest of fine arts, Chinese etiquette; and yet in the midst of such an abundance and variety we were hopelessly at sea. Fruits and teas were brought, together with meats and chickens, and even a live sheep. Our Chinese visiting-cards—with the Chinese the great insignia of rank—were now returned for those sent with the presents, and the hour appointed for the exhibition of our bicycles as requested.
Long before the time, the streets and housetops leading from the inn to the viceroy's palace at the far end of the city began to fill with people, and soldiers were detailed at our request to make an opening for us to ride through abreast. This, however, did not prevent the crowd from pushing us against each other, or sticking sticks in the wheels, or throwing their hats and shoes in front of us, as we rode by. When in sight of the viceroy's palace, they closed in on us entirely. It was the worst jam we had ever been in. By no possibility could we mount our machines, although the mob was growing more and more impatient. They kept shouting for us to ride, but would give us no room. Those on the outside pushed the inner ones against us. With the greatest difficulty could we preserve our equilibrium, and prevent the wheels from being crushed, as we surged along toward the palace gate; while all the time our Russian interpreter, Mafoo, on horseback in front, continued to shout and gesticulate in the wildest manner above their heads. Twenty soldiers had been stationed at the palace gate to keep back the mob with cudgels. When we reached them, they pulled us and our wheels quickly through into the inclosure, and then tried to stem the tide by belaboring the heads and shoulders in reach, including those of our unfortunate interpreter, Mafoo. But it was no use. Everything was swept away before this surging wave of humanity. The viceroy himself, who now came out to receive us, was powerless. All he could do was to request them to make room around the palace courtyard for the coming exhibition. Thousands of thumbs were uplifted that afternoon, in praise of the wonderful twee-tah-cheh, or two-wheeled carts, as they witnessed our modest attempt at trick riding and special manoeuvering. After refreshments in the palace, to which we were invited by the viceroy, we were counseled to leave by a rear door, and return by a roundabout way to the inn, leaving the mob to wait till dark for our exit from the front.
The restaurant or tea-house in China takes the place of the Western club-room. All the current news and gossip is here circulated and discussed over their eating or gambling. One of their games of chance, which we have frequently noticed, seems to consist in throwing their fingers at one another, and shouting at the top of their voices. It is really a matching of numbers, for which the Chinamen make signs on their fingers, up to the numeral ten. Our entry into a crowded dungan, or native Mohammedan restaurant, the next morning, was the signal for exciting accounts of the events of the previous day. We were immediately invited to take tea with this one, a morning dish of tung-posas, or nut and sugar dumplings, with another, while a third came over with his can of sojeu, or Chinese gin, with an invitation "to join him." The Chinese of all nations seem to live in order to eat, and from this race of epicures has developed a nation of excellent cooks. Our fare in China, outside the Gobi district, was far better than in Turkey or Persia, and, for this reason, we were better able to endure the increased hardships. A plate of sliced meat stewed with vegetables, and served with a piquant sauce, sliced radishes and onions with vinegar, two loaves of Chinese mo-mo, or steamed bread, and a pot of tea, would usually cost us about three and one quarter cents apiece. Everything in China is sliced so that it can be eaten with the chop-sticks. These we at length learned to manipulate with sufficient dexterity to pick up a dove's egg—the highest attainment in the chop-stick art. The Chinese have rather a sour than a sweet tooth. Sugar is rarely used in anything, and never in tea. The steeped tea-flowers, which the higher classes use, are really more tasty without it. In many of the smaller towns, our visits to the restaurant would sometimes result in considerable damage to its keepers, for the crowd would swarm in after us, knocking over the table, stools, and crockery as they went, and collect in a circle around us to watch the "foreigners" eat, and to add their opium and tobacco smoke to the suffocating atmosphere.
A visit to the local mint in Urumtsi revealed to us the primitive method of making the chen, or money-disks before mentioned. Each is molded instead of cut and stamped as in the West. By its superintendent we were invited to a special breakfast on the morning of our departure.
The Chinese are the only people in the Orient, and, so far as we know, in the European and Asiatic continents, who resemble the Americans in their love for a good, substantial morning meal. This was much better adapted to our purpose than the Russian custom, which compelled us to do the greater part of our day's work on merely bread and weak tea.
From Urumtsi we had decided to take the northern route to Hami, via Gutchen and Barkul, in order to avoid as much as possible the sands of the Tarim basin on the southern slope of the Tian Shan mountains. Two guards were commissioned by the viceroy to take us in charge, and hand us over to the next relay station. Papers were given them to be signed by the succeeding authorities on our safe arrival. This plan had been adopted by every chief mandarin along the route, in order, not only to follow out the request of the London minister as written on the passport, but principally to do us honor in return for the favor of a bicycle exhibition; but many times we would leave our discomfited guards to return with unsigned papers. Had we been traveling in the ordinary way, not only these favors might not have been shown us, but our project entirely defeated by local obstructions, as was the case with many who attempted the same journey by caravan. To the good-will of the mandarins, as well as the people, an indispensable concomitant of a journey through China, our bicycles were after all our best passports. They everywhere overcame the antipathy for the foreigner, and made us cordially welcome.
The costumes of our soldiers were strikingly picturesque. Over the front and back of the scarlet waistcoats were worked in black silk letters their military credentials. Over their full baggy trousers were drawn their riding overalls, which cover only the front and sides of the legs, the back being cut out just above the cloth top of their Chinese boots. Instead of a cap, they wear a piece of printed cloth wrapped tightly around the head, like the American washerwomen. Their well-cushioned saddles did not save them from the constant jolting to which our high speed subjected them. At every stopping-place they would hold forth at length to the curious crowd about their roadside experiences. It was amusing to hear their graphic descriptions of the mysterious "ding," by which they referred to the ring of the cyclometer at every mile. But the phrase quai-ti-henn (very fast), which concluded almost every sentence, showed what feature impressed them most. Then, too, they disliked very much to travel in the heat of the day, for all summer traveling in China is done at night. They would wake us up many hours before daylight to make a start, despite our previous request to be left alone. Our week's run to Barkul was made, with a good natural road and favoring conditions, at the rate of fifty-three miles per day, eight miles more than our general average across the empire. From Kuldja to the Great Wall, where our cyclometer broke, we took accurate measurements of the distances. In this way, we soon discovered that the length of a Chinese li was even more changeable than the value of the tael. According to time and place, from 185 to 250 were variously reckoned to a degree, while even a difference in direction would very often make a considerable difference in the distance. It is needless to say that, at this rate, the guards did not stay with us. Official courtesy was now confined to despatches sent in advance. Through this exceptionally wild district were encountered several herds of antelope and wild asses, which the natives were hunting with their long, heavy, fork-resting rifles. Through the exceptional tameness of the jack-rabbits along the road, we were sometimes enabled to procure with a revolver the luxury of a meat supper.
At Barkul (Tatar) the first evidence of English influence began to appear in the place of the fading Russian, although the traces of Russian manufacture were by no means wanting far beyond the Great Wall. English pulverized sugar now began to take the place of Russian lump. India rubber, instead of the Russianized French elastique, was the native name for our rubber tires. English letters, too, could be recognized on the second-hand paper and bagging appropriated to the natives' use, and even the gilded buttons worn by the soldiers bore the stamp of "treble gilt." From here the road to Hami turns abruptly south, and by a pass of over nine thousand feet crosses the declining spurs of the Tian Shan mountains, which stand like a barrier between the two great historic highways, deflecting the westward waves of migration, some to Kashgaria and others to Zungaria. On the southern slope of the pass we met with many large caravans of donkeys, dragging down pine-logs to serve as poles in the proposed extension of the telegraph-line from Su-Chou to Urumtsi. In June of this year the following item appeared in the newspapers:
"Within a few months Peking will be united by wire with St. Petersburg; and, in consequence, with the telegraph system of the entire civilized world. According to the latest issue of the Turkestan 'Gazette,' the telegraph-line from Peking has been brought as far west as the city of Kashgar. The European end of the line is at Osh, and a small stretch of about 140 miles now alone breaks the direct telegraph communication from the Atlantic to the Pacific."
Hami is one of those cities which may be regarded as indispensable. At the edge of the Great Gobi and the converging point of the Nan-lu and Pe-lu—that is, the southern and northern routes to the western world—this oasis is a necessary resting-place. During our stop of two days, to make necessary repairs and recuperate our strength for the hardships of the desert, the usual calls were exchanged with the leading officials. In the matter of social politeness the Chinese, especially the "literati," have reason to look down upon the barbarians of the West. Politeness has been likened generally to an air-cushion. There is nothing in it, but it eases the jolts wonderfully. As a mere ritual of technicalities it has perhaps reached its highest point in China. The multitude of honorific titles, so bewildering and even maddening to the Occidental, are here used simply to keep in view the fixed relations of graduated superiority. When wishing to be exceptionally courteous to "the foreigners," the more experienced mandarins would lay their doubled fists in the palms of our hands, instead of raising them in front of their foreheads, with the usual salutation Homa. In shaking hands with a Chinaman we thus very often had our hands full. After the exchange of visiting-cards, as an indication that their visits would be welcome, they would come on foot, in carts, or palanquins, according to their rank, and always attended by a larger or smaller retinue. Our return visits would always be made by request, on the wheels, either alone or with our interpreter, if we could find one, for our Chinese was as yet painfully defective. Russian had served us in good stead, though not always directly. In a conversation with the Tootai of Schicho, for instance, our Russian had to be translated into Turki and thence interpreted in Chinese. The more intelligent of these conversations were about our own and other countries of the world, especially England and Russia, who, it was rumored, had gone to war on the Afghanistan border. But the most of them generally consisted of a series of trivial interrogations beginning usually with: "How old are you?" Owing to our beards, which were now full grown, and which had gained for us the frequent title of yeh renn, or wild men, the guesses were far above the mark. One was even as high as sixty years, for the reason, as was stated, that no Chinaman could raise such a beard before that age. We were frequently surprised at their persistence in calling us brothers when there was no apparent reason for it, and were finally told that we must be "because we were both named Mister on our passports."
It was already dusk on the evening of August 10 when we drew up to the hamlet of Shang-loo-shwee at the end of the Hami oasis. The Great Gobi, in its awful loneliness, stretched out before us, like a vast ocean of endless space. The growing darkness threw its mantle on the scene, and left imagination to picture for us the nightmare of our boyhood days. We seemed, as it were, to be standing at the end of the world, looking out into the realm of nowhere. Foreboding thoughts disturbed our repose, as we contemplated the four hundred miles of this barren stretch to the Great Wall of China. With an early morning start, however, we struck out at once over the eighty-five miles of the Takla Makan sands. This was the worst we could have, for beyond the caravan station of Kooshee we would strike the projecting limits of Mongolian Kan-su. This narrow tract, now lying to our left between Hami and the Nan Shan mountains, is characterized by considerable diversity in its surface, soil, and climate. Traversed by several copious streams from the Nan Shan mountains, and the moisture-laden currents from the Bay of Bengal and the Brahmaputra valley, its "desert" stretches are not the dismal solitudes of the Tarim basin or the "Black" and "Red" sands of central Asia. Water is found almost everywhere near the surface, and springs bubble up in the hollows, often encircled by exterior oases. Everywhere the ground is traversable by horses and carts. This comparatively fertile tract, cutting the Gobi into two great sections, has been, ever since its conquest two thousand years ago, of vast importance to China, being the only feasible avenue of communication with the western provinces, and the more important link in the only great highway across the empire. A regular line of caravan stations is maintained by the constant traffic both in winter and summer. But we were now on a bit of the genuine Gobi—that is, "Sandy Desert"—of the Mongolian, or "Shamo" of the Chinese. Everywhere was the same interminable picture of vast undulating plains of shifting reddish sands, interspersed with quartz pebbles, agates, and carnelians, and relieved here and there by patches of wiry shrubs, used as fuel at the desert stations, or lines of hillocks succeeding each other like waves on the surface of the shoreless deep. The wind, even more than the natural barrenness of the soil, prevents the growth of any vegetation except low, pliant herbage. Withered plants are uprooted and scattered by the gale like patches of foam on the stormy sea. These terrible winds, which of course were against us, with the frequently heavy cart-tracks, would make it quite impossible to ride. The monotony of many weary hours of plodding was relieved only by the bones of some abandoned beast of burden, or the occasional train of Chinese carts, or rather two-wheeled vans, loaded with merchandise, and drawn by five to six horses or mules. For miles away they would see us coming, and crane their necks in wondering gaze as we approached. The mulish leaders, with distended ears, would view our strange-looking vehicles with suspicion, and then lurch far out in their twenty-foot traces, pulling the heavily loaded vehicles from the deep-rutted track. But the drivers were too busy with their eyes to notice any little divergence of this kind. Dumb with astonishment they continued to watch us till we disappeared again toward the opposite horizon. Farther on we would meet a party of Chinese emigrants or exiles, on their way to the fertile regions that skirt the northern and southern slopes of the Tian Shan mountains. By these people even the distant valley of the Ili is being largely populated. Being on foot, with their extraordinary loads balanced on flexible shoulder-poles, these poor fellows could make only one station, or from twelve to twenty miles a day. In the presence of their patience and endurance, we were ashamed to think of such a thing as hardship.
The station-houses on the desert were nothing more than a collection of mud huts near a surface well of strongly brackish water. Here, most of the caravans would put up during the day, and travel at night. There was no such thing as a restaurant; each one by turn must do his own cooking in the inn kitchen, open to all. We, of course, were expected to carry our own provisions and do our own culinary work like any other respectable travelers. This we had frequently done before where restaurants were not to be found. Many a time we would enter an inn with our arms filled with provisions, purchased at the neighboring bazaars, take possession of the oven and cooking utensils, and proceed to get up an American meal, while all the time a hundred eyes or more would be staring at us in blank amazement. But here on the desert we could buy nothing but very coarse flour. When asked if they had an egg or a piece of vegetable, they would shout "Ma-you" ("There is none") in a tone of rebuke, as much as to say: "My conscience! man, what do you expect on the Gobi?" We would have to be content with our own tea made in the iron pot, fitting in the top of the mud oven, and a kind of sweetened bread made up with our supply of sugar brought from Hami. This we nicknamed our "Gobi cake," although it did taste rather strongly of brackish water and the garlic of previous contents of the one common cooking-pot. We would usually take a large supply for road use on the following day, or, as sometimes proved, for the midnight meal of the half-starved inn-dog. The interim between the evening meal and bedtime was always employed in writing notes by the feeble, flickering light of a primitive taper-lamp, which was the best we had throughout the Chinese journey.
A description of traveling in China would by no means be complete without some mention of the vermin which infest, not only inns and houses, but the persons of nearly all the lower classes. Lice and fleas seem to be the sine qua non of Chinese life, and in fact the itching with some seems to furnish the only occasion for exercise. We have seen even shopkeepers before their doors on a sunny afternoon, amusing themselves by picking these insidious creatures from their inner garments. They are one of the necessary evils it seems, and no secret is made of it. The sleeping kangs of the Chinese inns, which are made of beaten earth and heated in winter like an oven, harbor these pests the year round, not to mention the filthy coverlets and greasy pillows that were sometimes offered us. Had we not had our own sleeping-bags, and used the camera, provision-bag, and coats for pillows, our life would have been intolerable. As it was there was but little rest for the weary.
The longest station on the desert was thirty-one miles. This was the only time that we suffered at all with thirst. In addition to the high mean elevation of the Gobi, about four thousand feet, we had cloudy weather for a considerable portion of the journey, and, in the Kan-su district, even a heavy thunder-shower. These occasional summer rains form, here and there, temporary meres and lakes, which are soon evaporated, leaving nothing behind except a saline efflorescence. Elsewhere the ground is furrowed by sudden torrents tearing down the slopes of the occasional hills or mountains. These dried up river-beds furnished the only continuously hard surfaces we found on the Gobi; although even here we were sometimes brought up with a round turn in a chuck hole, with the sand flying above our heads.
Our aneroid barometer registered approximately six thousand five hundred feet, when we reached at dusk the summit of the highest range of hills we encountered on the desert journey. But instead of the station-hut we expected to find, we were confronted by an old Mongolian monastery. These institutions, we had found, were generally situated as this one, at the top of some difficult mountain-pass or at the mouth of some cavernous gorge, where the pious intercessors might, to the best advantage, strive to appease the wrathful forces of nature. In this line of duty the lama was no doubt engaged when we walked into his feebly-lighted room, but, like all Orientals, he would let nothing interfere with the performance of his religious duties. With his gaze centered upon one spot, his fingers flew over the string of beads in his lap, and his tongue over the stereotyped prayers, with a rapidity that made our head swim. We stood unnoticed till the end, when we were at once invited to a cup of tea, and directed to our destination, five li beyond. Toward this we plodded through the growing darkness and rapidly cooling atmosphere; for in its extremes of temperature the Gobi is at once both Siberian and Indian, and that, too, within the short period of a few hours. Some of the mornings of what proved to be very hot days were cold enough to make our extremities fairly tingle.
A constant diet of bread and tea, together with the hard physical exercise and mental anxiety, caused our strength at length to fail.
The constant drinking of brackish water made one of us so ill that he could retain no food. A high fever set in on the evening of August 15, and as we pulled into the station of Bay-doon-sah, he was forced to go to bed at once. The other, with the aid of our small medicine supply, endeavored to ward off the ominous symptoms. In his anxiety, however, to do all that was possible he made a serious blunder. Instead of antipyrin he administered the poison, sulphate of zinc, which we carried to relieve our eyes when inflamed by the alkali dust. This was swallowed before the truth was discovered. It was an anxious moment for us both when we picked up the paper from the floor and read the inscription. We could do nothing but look at each other in silence. Happily it was an overdose, and the vomiting which immediately followed relieved both the patient and the anxious doctor. What to do we did not know. The patient now suggested that his companion should go on without him, and, if possible, send back medical aid or proper food; but not to remain and get worse himself. He, on the other hand, refused to leave without the other. Then too, the outlying town of Ngan-si-chou, the first where proper food and water could be obtained, was only one day's journey away. Another effort was decided upon. But when morning came, a violent hurricane from the southeast swept the sand in our faces, and fairly blew the sick man over on his wheel. Famishing with thirst, tired beyond expression, and burning with fever as well as the withering heat, we reached at last the bank of the Su-la-ho. Eagerly we plunged into its sluggish waters, and waded through under the walls of Ngan-si-chou.
Ngan-si-chou was almost completely destroyed during the late Dungan rebellion. Little is now to be seen except heaps of rubbish, ruined temples, and the scattered fragments of idols. The neglected gardens no longer check the advancing sands, which in some places were drifting over the ramparts. Through its abandoned gateway we almost staggered with weakness, and directed our course to the miserable bazaar. The only meat we could find was pork, that shibboleth between Mohammedanism and Confucianism. The Dungan restaurant-keeper would not cook it, and only after much persuasion consented to have it prepared outside and brought back to be eaten beneath his roof. With better water and more substantial food we began, from this time on, to recuperate. But before us still a strong head wind was sweeping over the many desert stretches that lay between the oases along the Su-la-ho, and with the constant walking our sandals and socks were almost worn away. For this reason we were delayed one evening in reaching the town of Dyou-min-shan. In the lonely stillness of its twilight a horseman was approaching across the barren plain, bearing a huge Chinese lantern in his hand, and singing aloud, as is a Chinaman's custom, to drive off the evil spirits of the night. He started back, as we suddenly appeared, and then dismounted, hurriedly, to throw his lantern's glare upon us. "Are you the two Americans?" he asked in an agitated manner. His question was surprising. Out in this desert country we were not aware that our identity was known, or our visit expected. He then explained that he had been instructed by the magistrate of Dyou-min-shan to go out and look for us, and escort us into the town. He also mentioned in this connection the name of Ling Darin—a name that we had heard spoken of almost with veneration ever since leaving Urumtsi. Who this personage was we were unable to find out beyond that he was an influential mandarin in the city of Su-chou, now only a day's journey away.
Near that same fortieth parallel of latitude on which our Asiatic journey was begun and ended, we now struck, at its extreme western limit, the Great Wall of China. The Kiayu-kuan, or "Jade Gate," by which it is here intersected, was originally so called from the fact that it led into the Khotan country, whence the Chinese traders brought back the precious mineral. This, with the Shanghai-kuan near the sea, and the Yuamin-kuan, on the Nankow pass, are the principal gateways in this "wall of ten thousand li," which, until forced by Yengiz Khan, protected the empire from the Mongolian nomads for a period of fourteen hundred years. In its present condition the Great Wall belongs to various epochs. With the sudden and violent transitions of temperature in the severe Mongolian climate, it may be doubted whether any portion of Shi Hoangti's original work still survives. Nearly all the eastern section, from Ordos to the Yellow Sea, was rebuilt in the fifth century, and the double rampart along the northwest frontier of the plains of Peking was twice restored in the fifteenth and sixteenth. North of Peking, where this prodigious structure has a mean height of about twenty-six feet, and width of twenty feet, it is still in a state of perfect repair, whereas in many western districts along the Gobi frontier, as here before us, it is little more than an earthen rampart about fifteen feet in height, while for considerable distances, as along the road from Su-chou to Kan-chou, it has entirely disappeared for miles at a stretch. Both the gate and the wall at this point had been recently repaired. We could now see it rising and falling in picturesque undulations as far as the Tibetan ranges. There it stops altogether, after a westward course of over fifteen hundred miles. In view of what was before us, we could not but smile as we thought of that French abbe who undertook, in an elaborate volume, to prove that the "Great Wall of China" was nothing more than a myth.
We were now past another long anticipated land-mark, and before us, far down in the plain, lay the city of Su-chou, which, as the terminal point of the Chinese telegraph-line, would bring us again into electric touch with the civilized world. But between us and our goal lay the Edzina river, now swollen by a recent freshet. We began to wade cautiously through with luggage and wheels balanced on our shoulders. But just at that moment we perceived, approaching from the distance, what we took to be a mounted Chinese mandarin, and his servant leading behind him two richly caparisoned and riderless horses. At sight of us they spurred ahead, and reached the opposite bank just as we passed the middle of the stream. The leader now rose in his stirrups, waved his hat in the air and shouted, in clear though broken English, "Well, gentlemen, you have arrived at last!" To hear our mother tongue so unexpectedly spoken in this out-of-the-way part of the world, was startling. This strange individual, although clad in the regular mandarin garb, was light-complexioned, and had an auburn instead of a black queue dangling from his shaven head. He grasped us warmly by the hand as we came dripping out of the water, while all the time his benevolent countenance fairly beamed with joy. "I am glad to see you, gentlemen," he said. "I was afraid you would be taken sick on the road ever since I heard you had started across China. I just got the news five minutes ago that you were at Kiayu-kuan, and immediately came out with these two horses to bring you across the river, which I feared would be too deep and swift for you. Mount your ponies, and we will ride into the city together."
It was some time before the idea flashed across our minds that this might indeed be the mysterious Ling Darin about whom we had heard so much. "Yes," said he, "that is what I am called here, but my real name is Splingard." He then went on to tell us that he was a Belgian by birth; that he had traveled extensively through China, as the companion of Baron Richthofen, and had thus become so thoroughly acquainted with the country and its people that on his return to the coast he had been offered by the Chinese government the position of custom mandarin at Su-chou, a position just then established for the levying of duty on the Russian goods passing in through the northwest provinces; that he had adopted the Chinese dress and mode of living, and had even married, many years ago, a Chinese girl educated at the Catholic schools in Tientsin. We were so absorbed in this romantic history that we scarcely noticed the crowds that lined the streets leading to the Ling Darin's palace, until the boom of a cannon recalled us to our situation. From the smile on the jolly face beside us, we knew at once whom we could hold responsible for this reception. The palace gates were now thrown open by a host of servants, and in our rags and tatters we rolled at once from the hardships of the inhospitable desert into the lap of luxury.
A surplus is not always so easily disposed of as a deficit—at least we were inclined to think so in the case of our Su-chou diet. The Ling Darin's table, which, for the exceptional occasion, was set in the foreign fashion with knives and forks, fairly teemed with abundance and variety. There was even butter, made from the milk of the Tibetan yak, and condensed milk for our coffee, the first we had tasted since leaving Turkey, more than a year before. The Ling Darin informed us that a can of this milk, which he once presented to Chinese friends, had been mistaken for a face cosmetic, and was so used by the ladies of the family. The lack of butter has led many of the missionaries in China to substitute lard, while the Chinese fry their fat cakes in various oils. The Ling Darin's wife we found an excellent and even artistic cook, while his buxom twin daughters could read and write their own language—a rare accomplishment for a Chinese woman. Being unaccustomed to foreign manners, they would never eat at the same table with us, but would come in during the evening with their mother, to join the family circle and read aloud to us some of their father's official despatches. This they would do with remarkable fluency and intelligence.
As guests of our highly respected and even venerated host, we were visited by nearly all the magistrates of the city. The Ling Darin was never before compelled to answer so many questions. In self-defense he was at last forced to get up a stereotyped speech to deliver on each social occasion. The people, too, besieged the palace gates, and clamored for an exhibition. Although our own clothes had been sent away to be boiled, we could not plead this as an excuse. The flowing Chinese garments which had been provided from the private wardrobe of the Ling Darin fluttered wildly in the breeze, as we rode out through the city at the appointed hour. Our Chinese shoes, also, were constantly slipping off, and as we raised the foot to readjust them, a shout went up from the crowd for what they thought was some fancy touch in the way of riding.
From the barrenness of the Gobi to the rank vegetation of the Edzina valley, where the grass and grain were actually falling over from excessive weight, was a most relieving change. Water was everywhere. Even the roadway served in many places as a temporary irrigating-canal. On the journey to Kan-chou we were sometimes compelled to ride on the narrow mud-wall fences that separated the flooded fields of wheat, millet, and sorghum, the prevailing cereals north of the Hoang-ho river. Fields of rice and the opium poppy were sometimes met with, but of the silk-worm and tea-plant, which furnish the great staples of the Chinese export trade, we saw absolutely nothing on our route through the northern provinces. Apart from the "Yellow Lands" of the Hoang-ho, which need no manure, the arable regions of China seem to have maintained their fecundity for over four thousand years, entirely through the thoughtful care of the peasantry in restoring to the soil, under another form, all that the crops have taken from it. The plowing of the Chinese is very poor. They scarcely do more than scratch the surface of the ground with their bent-stick plows, wooden-tooth drills, and wicker-work harrows; and instead of straight lines, so dear to the eye of a Western farmer, the ridges and furrows are as crooked as serpents. The real secret of their success seems to lie in the care they take to replenish the soil. All the sewage of the towns is carried out every morning at daybreak by special coolies, to be preserved for manure; while the dried herbs, straw, roots, and other vegetable refuse, are economized with the greatest care for fuel. The Chinese peasant offsets the rudeness of his implements with manual skill. He weeds the ground so carefully that there is scarcely a leaf above the ground that does not appertain to the crop. All kinds of pumps and hydraulic wheels are worked, either by the hand, animals, or the wind. The system of tillage, therefore, resembles market-gardening rather than the broad method of cultivation common in Europe and America. The land is too valuable to be devoted to pasture, and the forests nearly everywhere have been sacrificed to tillage to such an extent that the material for the enormously thick native coffins has now to be imported from abroad.
Streams and irrigating-ditches were so frequent that we were continually saturated with water or covered with mud. Our bare arms and legs were so tanned and coated that we were once asked by a group of squalid villagers if "foreigners" ever bathed like themselves. On dashing down into a village, we would produce consternation or fright, especially among the women and children, but after the first onset, giggling would generally follow, for our appearance, especially from the rear, seemed to strike them as extremely ridiculous. The wheel itself presented various aspects to their ignorant fancies. It was called the "flying machine" and "foot-going carriage," while some even took it for the "fire-wheel cart," or locomotive, about which they had heard only the vaguest rumors. Their ignorance of its source of motive power often prompted them to name it the "self-moving cart," just as the natives of Shanghai are wont to call the electric-light "the self-coming moon."
In one out-of-the-way village of northwestern China, we were evidently taken for some species of centaurs; the people came up to examine us while on the wheel to see whether or no rider and wheel were one. We became so harassed with importunities to ride that we were compelled at last to seek relief in subterfuge, for an absolute refusal, we found, was of no avail. We would promise to ride for a certain sum of money, thinking thus to throw the burden of refusal on themselves. But, nothing daunted, they would pass round the hat. On several occasions, when told that eggs could not be bought in the community, an offer of an exhibition would bring them out by the dozen. In the same way we received presents of tea, and by this means our cash expenses were considerably curtailed. The interest in the "foreign horses" was sometimes so great as to stop business and even amusements. A rather notable incident of this kind occurred on one of the Chinese holidays. The flag-decked streets, as we rode through, were filled with the neighboring peasantry, attracted by some traveling theatrical troupe engaged for the occasion. In fact, a performance was just then in progress at the open-air theater close at hand. Before we were aware of it we had rolled into its crowded auditorium. The women were sitting on improvised benches, fanning and gossiping, while the men stood about in listless groups. But suddenly their attention was aroused by the counter attraction, and a general rush followed, to the great detriment of the temporary peddlers' stands erected for the occasion. Although entirely deserted, and no doubt consumed with curiosity, the actors could not lose what the Chinese call "face." They still continued their hideous noises, pantomimes, and dialogues to the empty seats.
The last fifty miles into Liang-chou, a city founded by a Catholic Chinaman over two hundred years ago, we were compelled to make on foot, owing to an accident that caused us serious trouble all through the remainder of our Chinese journey. In a rapid descent by a narrow pathway, the pedal of one of the machines struck upon a protuberance, concealed by a tuft of grass, snapping off the axle, and scattering the ball-bearings over the ground. For some miles we pushed along on the bare axle inverted in the pedal-crank. But the wrenching the machine thus received soon began to tell. With a sudden jolt on a steep descent, it collapsed entirely, and precipitated the rider over the handle-bars. The lower part of the frame had broken short off, where it was previously cracked, and had bent the top bar almost double in the fall. In this sad plight, we were rejoiced to find in the "City under the Shade" the Scotch missionary, Mr. Laughton, who had founded here the most remote of the China Inland Missions. But even with his assistance, and that of the best native mechanic, our repairs were ineffective. At several points along the route we were delayed on this account. At last the front and rear parts of the machine became entirely separated. There was no such thing as steel to be found in the country, no tools fit to work with, and no one who knew the first principles of soldering. After endeavoring to convince the native blacksmiths that a delicate bicycle would not stand pounding like a Chinese cart-wheel, we took the matter into our own hands. An iron bar was placed in the hollow tubing to hold it in shape, and a band of telegraph wire passed round from front to rear, along the upper and lower rods, and then twisted so as to bring the two parts as tightly together as possible. With a waddling frame, and patched rear-wheel describing eccentric revolutions, we must have presented a rather comical appearance over the remaining thousand miles to the coast.
Across the Yellow Hoang-ho, which is the largest river we encountered in Asia, a pontoon bridge leads into the city of Lan-chou-foo. Its strategical position at the point where the Hoang-ho makes its great bend to the north, and where the gateway of the West begins, as well as its picturesque location in one of the greatest fruit-bearing districts of China, makes it one of the most important cities of the empire. On the commanding heights across the river, we stopped to photograph the picturesque scene. As usual, the crowd swarmed in front of the camera to gaze into the mysterious lens. All the missionaries we had met cautioned us against taking photographs in China, lest we should do violence to the many popular superstitions, but the only trouble we ever experienced in this respect was in arousing popular curiosity. We soon learned that in order to get something besides Chinese heads in our pictures it was necessary first to point the camera in the opposite direction, and then wheel suddenly round to the scene we wished to take. As we crossed the river, the bridge of boats so creaked and swayed beneath the rushing rabble, that we were glad to stand once more upon the terra firma of the city streets, which were here paved with granite and marble blocks. As we rode down the principal thoroughfare, amid the usual din and uproar, a well-dressed Chinaman rushed out from one of the stores and grabbed us by the arm. "Do you speak English?" he shouted, with an accent so like an American, that we leaped from our wheels at once, and grasped his hand as that of a fellow countryman. This, in fact, he proved to be in everything but birth. He was one of that party of mandarins' sons which had been sent over to our country some years ago, as an experiment by the Chinese government, to receive a thorough American training. We cannot here give the history of that experiment, as Mr. Woo related it—how they were subsequently accused of cutting off their queues and becoming denationalized; how, in consequence, they were recalled to their native land, and degraded rather than elevated, both by the people and the government, because they were foreign in their sentiments and habits; and how, at last, they gradually began to force recognition through the power of merit alone. He had now been sent out by the government to engineer the extension of the telegraph-line from Su-chou to Urumtsi, for it was feared by the government that the employment of a foreigner in this capacity would only increase the power for evil which the natives already attributed to this foreign innovation. The similarity in the phrases, telegraph pole and dry heaven, had inspired the common belief that the line of poles then stretching across the country was responsible for the long-existing drought. In one night several miles of poles were sawed short off, by the secret order of a banded conspiracy. After several decapitations, the poles were now being restored, and labeled with the words, "Put up by order of the Emperor."
In company with the English missionary, Mr. Redfern, while attempting to get out of the city on the way to his mountain home, we were caught in another jam. He counseled us to conceal the weapons we were carrying in our belts, for fear the sight of them should incite the mob to some act of violence. Our own experience, however, had taught us that a revolver in China was worth nothing if not shown. For persistence, this mob surpassed any we had ever seen. They followed us out of the city and over the three miles' stretch to the mission premises, and there announced their intention of remaining indefinitely. Again Mr. Redfern feared some outbreak, and counseled us to return to the city and apply to the viceroy himself for protection. This proved a good move. A special exhibition on the palace parade-grounds gained for us the valuable favor of one who was only fourth in rank to the emperor himself. A body-guard of soldiers was furnished, not only during our sojourn in the city, but for the journey to Singan-foo, on which a good reception was everywhere insured by an official despatch sent in advance. In order to secure for us future respect, a small flag with the government stamp and of yellow color was given us to fly by the side of our "stars and stripes." On this was inscribed the title of "The Traveling Students," as well as answers to the more frequent of the common questions—our nationality, destination, and age. The best mechanic in the local cannon-foundry was then ordered to make, at government expense, whatever repairs were possible on our disabled machines. This, however, as it proved, was not much; most of his time was spent in taking measurements and patterns for another purpose. If his intentions have been carried out, Lan-chou-foo is to-day possessed of a "foot-moving carriage" of home production.
Our sojourn in this city is especially associated with the three names of Woo, Choo, and Moo—names by no means uncommon in Chinese nomenclature. We heard of a boy named the abstract numeral, "sixty-five," because his grandfather happened to reach that age on the very day of his birth. Mr. Moo was the local telegraph operator, with whom we, and our friends Woo and Choo, of Shanghai, associated. All operators in the Chinese telegraph system are required to read and write English. The school established for this purpose at Lan-chou we occasionally visited, and assisted the Chinese schoolmaster to hear the recitations from Routledge's spelling-book. He, in turn, was a frequent partaker of our "foreign chows," which our English-speaking friends served with knives and forks borrowed from the missionaries. Lily and bamboo roots, sharks' fins and swallows' nests, and many other Chinese delicacies, were now served in abundance, and with the ever-accompanying bowl of rice. In the matter of eating and drinking, Chinese formality is extreme. A round table is the only one that can be used in an aristocratic household. The seat of honor is always the one next to the wall. Not a mouthful can be taken until the host raises his chop-sticks in the air, and gives the signal. Silence then prevails; for Confucius says: "When a man eats he has no time for talk." When a cup of tea is served to any one in a social party, he must offer it to every one in the room, no matter how many there are, before proceeding to drink himself. The real basis of Chinese politeness seems to be this: They must be polite enough to offer, and you must be polite enough to refuse. Our ignorance of this great underlying principle during the early part of the Chinese journey led us into errors both many and grievous. In order to show a desire to be sociable, we accepted almost everything that was offered us, to the great chagrin, we fear, of the courteous donors.
AN INTERVIEW WITH THE PRIME MINISTER OF CHINA
Our departure from Lan-chou was not, we thought, regretted by the officials themselves, for we heard that apprehension was expressed lest the crowds continuing to collect around the telegraph-office should indulge in a riot. However, we were loath to leave our genial friends for the society of opium-smokers, for we were now in that province of China which, next to Sechuen, is most addicted to this habit. From dusk till bed-time, the streets of the villages were almost deserted for the squalid opium dens. Even our soldier attendant, as soon as the wooden saddle was taken from his sore-backed government steed, would produce his portable lamp, and proceed to melt on his needle the wax-like contents of a small, black box. When of the proper consistency, the paste was rolled on a metal plate to point it for the aperture in the flute-shaped pipe. Half the night would be given to this process, and a considerable portion of the remaining half would be devoted to smoking small pinches of tobacco in the peculiar Chinese water-pipe. According to an official note, issued early in 1882, by Mr. Hart, Inspector-General of Chinese Customs, considerably less than one per cent. of the population is addicted to opium-smoking, while those who smoke it to excess are few. More to be feared is the use of opium as a poison, especially among Chinese women. The government raises large sums from the import duty on opium, and tacitly connives at its cultivation in most of the provinces, where the traders and mandarins share between them the profits of this officially prohibited drug.
This part of the great historic highway on which we were now traveling, between the two bends of the Hoang-ho, was found more extensively patronized than heretofore. Besides the usual caravans of horses, donkeys, and two-wheeled vans, we occasionally met with a party of shaven-headed Tibetans traveling either as emissaries, or as traders in the famous Tibetan sheep-skins and furs, and the strongly-scented bags of the musk-deer. A funeral cortege was also a very frequent sight. Chinese custom requires that the remains of the dead be brought back to their native place, no matter how far they may have wandered during life, and as the carriage of a single body would often be expensive, they are generally interred in temporary cemeteries or mortuary villages, until a sufficient number can be got together to form a large convoy. Mandarins, however, in death as in life, travel alone and with retinue. One coffin we met which rested upon poles supported on the shoulders of thirty-two men. Above on the coffin was perched the usual white rooster, which is supposed to incorporate, during transportation, the spirit of the departed. In funeral ceremonies, especially of the father, custom also requires the children to give public expression to their grief. Besides many other filial observances, the eldest son is in duty bound to render the journey easy for the departed by scattering fictitious paper-money, as spirit toll, at the various roadside temples.
Singan-foo, the capital of the Middle Kingdom, under the Tsin dynasty, and a city of the first importance more than two thousand years ago, is still one of the largest places in the empire, being exceeded in population probably by Canton alone. Each of its four walls, facing the cardinal points, is over six miles long and is pierced in the center by a monumental gate with lofty pavilions. It was here, among the ruins of an old Nestorian church, built several centuries before, that was found the famous tablet now sought at a high price by the British Museum. The harassing mobs gathered from its teeming population, as well as the lateness of the season, prompted us to make our sojourn as short as possible. Only a day sufficed to reach Tong-quan, which is the central stronghold of the Hoang-ho basin, and one of the best defended points in China. Here, between precipitous cliffs, this giant stream rushes madly by, as if in protest against its sudden deflection. Our ferry this time was not the back of a Chinese coolie nor a jolting ox-cart, but a spacious flat-boat made to accommodate one or two vehicles at a time. This was rowed at the stern, like the gondolas of Venice. The mob of hundreds that had been dogging our foot-steps and making life miserable, during our brief stop for food, watched our embarkation. We reached the opposite shore, a mile below the starting-point, and began to ascend from the river-basin to the highlands by an excavated fissure in the famous "yellow earth." This gives its name, not only to the river it discolors, but, from the extensive region comprised, even to the emperor himself, who takes the title of "Yellow Lord," as equivalent to "Master of the World." The thickness of this the richest soil in China, which according to Baron Richthofen is nothing more than so much dust accumulated during the course of ages by the winds from the northern deserts, is in some places at least two thousand feet. Much ingenuity has been displayed in overcoming the difficulties offered to free communication by the perpendicular walls of these yellow lands. Some of the most frequented roads have been excavated to depths of from forty to one hundred feet. Being seldom more than eight or ten feet wide, the wheeled traffic is conducted by means of sidings, like the "stations" in the Suez Canal. Being undrained or unswept by the winds, these walled-up tracks are either dust-beds or quagmires, according to the season; for us, the autumn rains had converted them into the latter. Although on one of the imperial highways which once excited the admiration of Marco Polo, we were now treated to some of the worst stretches we have ever seen. The mountain ascents, especially those stair-like approaches to the "Heavenly Gates" before reaching the Pe-chili plains, were steep, gradeless inclines, strewn with huge upturned blocks of stone, over which the heavy carts were fairly lifted by the sheer force of additional horse-flesh. The bridges, too, whose Roman-like masonry attests the high degree of Chinese civilization during the middle ages, have long since been abandoned to the ravages of time; while over the whole country the late Dungan rebellion has left its countless ruins.
The people of Shan-si province are noted for their special thrift, but this quality we observed was sometimes exhibited at the expense of the higher virtue of honesty. One of the most serious of the many cases of attempted extortion occurred at a remote country town, where we arrived late one evening, after learning to our dismay that one of our remarkably few mistakes in the road had brought us just fifty miles out of the way. Unusually wearied as we were by the cross-country cuts, we desired to retire early. In fact, on this account, we were not so observant of Chinese formality as we might have been. We did not heed the hinted requests of the visiting officials for a moon-light exhibition, nor go to the inn-door to bow them respectfully out. We were glad to take them at their word when they said, with the usual hypocritical smirk, "Now, don't come out any farther." This indiscretion on our part caused them, as well as ourselves, to suffer in the respect of the assembled rabble. With official connivance, the latter were now free, they thought, to take unusual liberties. So far, in our dealings with the Chinese, we had never objected to anything that was reasonable even from the native point of view. We had long since learned the force of the Chinese proverb that, "in order to avoid suspicion you must not live behind closed doors"; and in consequence had always recognized the common prerogative to ransack our private quarters and our luggage, so long as nothing was seriously disturbed. We never objected, either, to their wetting our paper windows with their tongues, so that they might noiselessly slit a hole in them with their exceptionally long finger nails, although we did wake up some mornings to find the panes entirely gone. It was only at the request of the innkeeper that we sometimes undertook the job of cleaning out the inn-yard; but this, with the prevalent superstition about the "withering touch of the foreigner," was very easily accomplished. Nor had we ever shown the slightest resentment at being called "foreign devils"; for this, we learned, was, with the younger generation at least, the only title by which foreigners were known. But on this particular night, our forbearance being quite exhausted, we ejected the intruders bodily. Mid mutterings and threats we turned out the lights, and the crowd as well as ourselves retired. The next morning the usual exorbitant bill was presented by the innkeeper, and, as usual, one half or one third was offered and finally accepted, with the customary protestations about being under-paid. The innkeeper's grumblings incited the crowd which early assembled, and from their whispers and glances we could see that trouble of some kind was brewing. We now hastened to get the wheels into the road. Just then the innkeeper, at the instigation of the crowd, rushed out and grabbed the handle-bars, demanding at the same time a sum that was even in advance of his original price. Extortion was now self-evident, and, remonstrance being of no avail, we were obliged to protect ourselves with our fists. The crowd began to close in upon us, until, with our backs against the adjoining wall, we drew our weapons, at which the onward movement changed suddenly to a retreat. Then we assumed the aggressive, and regained the wheels which had been left in the middle of the road. The innkeeper and his friend now caught hold of the rear wheels. Only by seizing their queues could we drag them away at all, but even then before we could mount they would renew their grasp. It was only after another direct attack upon them that we were able to mount, and dash away.