By Sledge to the Middle Ages. Ii
SIBERIA, February 9, 1927
DEAREST FAMILY, —
It has stormed for two days and two nights and I have never been so cold. I stay under cover all the time for fear of freezing my nose.
Kitaiski has given me a dreadful scare about my nose. The morning after we started he gave me a horrified look and said excitedly, ‘Mrs., you have frozen your nose. The tip of it will certainly fall off.’ Sure enough, there was no feeling in it at all. I began frantically rubbing it, and pretty soon feeling came back, a great deal of feeling. But he is convinced that I shall freeze it on this trip and says I must carry a mirror with me and keep looking at it to see if it is white. So I have been nursing it carefully, and the few times I have had the courage to take a hand out from under cover to fish the mirror out it has been very red indeed.
At the beginning of every march I climb into my sleeping bag, — fur suit, fur coat, big felt boots and all. — then the men tuck me in, put all sorts of things over me, and pull the canvas over my head. I feel suffocated and can’t move. We ride six or eight hours at a time. After about the fourth hour I get so stiff and cramped that it seems as if I had to move. With a mighty effort I turn a little to one side. This makes a crack somewhere for the cold and I begin slowly to congeal. It starts with my toes and sends little shivers of cold up through my bones, and I get gradually shiverier and stiffer until I wonder which will happen first — that we arrive or I stiffen completely. I move everything that’s movable, toes, fingers, and nose, but it does n’t help much.
Last night I tried thinking of other times in my life when I have been as physically uncomfortable— when I was on my back with flu in a little pesthouse on the Idaho sagebrush; when I was very seasick on the Empress of Asia: riding all day on a donkey across a hot Shansi plain and being bitten with flics and mosquitoes; thirty hours on a crowded troop train from Kalgan to Peking. That’s about all I could think of.
I lie cold and cramped for hours thinking of people and places and happenings I had n’t thought about for years. And all the while I listen, listen for a sleigh that might be coming past with Owen in it, and then for the barking of dogs, which means the end of the stage and a fire and food and sleep.
Long before we reach a hut we hear the barking, and it cheers me so that I scarcely mind that the dogs are fierce and leap at me when I climb out of my sledge. Then there is the stumbling on numb feet through the stable and fumbling for the little door into the hut. The door is always padded heavily with felt so that it fits tightly into the door frame, and is tugged open and shut with handles of leather thong. When I find the handle in the dark and yank, it opens suddenly to reveal the little smoke-filled room and a frowzy woman starting to build a fire. I find a broom of twigs in a corner to brush the snow from my felt boots before it melts to make them soggy, and step around the lambs and kids and babies to deposit my bed roll in a corner.
There are sudden gusts of cold as the men climb in from the dark after tending to their horses. They throw their boots and sheepskins by the fire and start unwinding their feet. Next to their horses their feet are their chief concern, and each has his pet device for keeping warm. One encases his in camel’s wool, another wraps his in bits of newspaper, and a third in a dreadful assortment of dirty rags. Kitaiski’s felt boots turn up at the toes, and last night he cut up his pet fur hat, a sort of Cossack affair with a scarlet top and a swathe of long curly black astrakhan, to make himself additional stockings.
Then, sitting on the felts with a border of bare feet about the eightinch-high table, we drink bowl after bowl of tea and eat hard hunks of bread which one of the men has poured on to the table from a grain sack. One of the Kazak women makes the tea with chips scraped from a hard black brick. She rakes coals from the fire to set the pot on and works steadily to keep our bowls all filled. Whenever one has had enough to eat and drink he flops back where he is to go to sleep, and soon the room is full of snoring till the one who is watching outside comes in to call the drivers loudly and kick them hard till they get up to tend to their horses.
We reached here at one, after going steadily but oh, so slowly since seven this morning. The wind has almost died, and all morning the sun struggled to shine through a gray sky. It is the first time I’ve been able to ride with my head out from under cover and the first time I have n’t been cold since we started, and just as we drove into the inn yard the sun really broke through and turned the sky blue. I did n’t want to stop at all. It is being a beautiful afternoon, but the drivers had a chance to buy some mutton here and it is not nearly cooked yet, at 4.30, so heaven knows when we shall be on the way again.
This is the end of the sixth day and w e have gone about two hundred versts instead of the three hundred and sixty we should have gone. I try not to be impatient, for it is being a gorgeous trip. If I only knew where Owen was and that I was really going toward him I should be hugely enjoying myself.
We passed two covered sleighs today, trotting along at an enviable pace. I called ‘Owen’ at them at the top of my lungs, to the amazement of my driver. It gave me a sinking feeling to watch them drive out of sight and to think he might have been inside. It is almost better to be under cover and not see the sleighs that pass, since there is nothing I can do about it anyway. When we got here I walked up the street and looked at all the sleighs in all the yards, and when I got back the drivers and Kitaiski were squatting around the low table guzzling tea and munching bread. They are burning branches of cedar in the little stove, which makes the room very fragrant.
The men have been teasing my driver about some escapade of his last night, which I don’t quite get. In spite of Kitaiski’s noblest efforts to explain, it is not hard for me to feign complete ignorance and thus maintain my reputation as a perfect lady. All I could gather was that this driver had suggested that the daughter of the house make room for him near the fire where she was sleeping and had even gone so far as to offer five kopecks for the privilege. She at once got the giggles and shouted, ‘Five kopecks are not enough! Give me half a ruble and no less!’ thereby waking everybody in the house. The poor driver will never hear the end of it. They are already calling him ‘Five Kopecks.’
The hut we stayed at last night had gorgeously colored felts on the floor and especially gaudy beds and a glowing Russian samovar, but the room was unbearably hot. ‘House warm, bugs many,’ remarked Kitaiski. He scratches perpetually, but fortunately I am not yet infested.
An old hag who sat up on top of the stove with a baby demanded to know if I were Kitaiski’s wife. ‘Of course not,’ said Kitaiski. ‘Can’t you see that she is a foreigner?’ ‘Is she Russian?’ the old woman asked. ‘She’s not a Kazak nor a Mongol, so she must be Chinese or Russian. And if you ’re not married why are you traveling with her?’
Horses are being hitched at last, and we have had our mutton. A great platter of boiled hunks was put in the middle of the low table and the two drivers who own knives cut it into little bits. We carefully waited till they had finished to give them an equal chance with us, then sat around on the floor and set to with our fingers. Unappetizing as it was, it was welcome after six days of frozen bread and bad tea and I ate heartily. We finished by drinking the water it was cooked in, which made a very good soup.
One of our horses died this morning. Our carts were already overloaded, but its load was distributed among them to make them go a litlle slower. And when we got here at two we found two Chinese men with a two-horse sleigh and no luggage who have already been on the road ten days from Chuguchak.
It is now five and the men are starting to cook more mutton. Last night we rode from seven to one and I got very cold. To-night it will probably be eight or nine to two or three.
We slept last night in an awful little hole, barely room for us all on the floor like sardines. Everyone snored and the air got unbearable. The men drank tea till three and were up at five to tend to the horses. We were off at seven, still windy but bright sun, and I tried walking some. Too many clothes to make much progress.
Day after day after day of nothing but snow. I’m having a good dose of the ‘great open spaces.’ To-day I loved it, jogging endlessly along and being able to look forever and ever into space, never seeing anyone but the driver of my cart, never saying a word to anyone.
Two or three times a day we pass a string of carts bringing cotton or skins from Chuguchak. We pass them in silence, and except for them there is complete solitude.
I was awakened this morning by dogs barking and knew we had arrived at another stopping place. We had ridden all night and I had slept in the sledge. We didn’t get started till eleven last night, the reason being that the drivers sent a man back to skin the dead horse. He will get the meat, — great feasting in the village, — and the drivers paid him two rubles to get the skin for them.
I spent the evening discussing life with Kitaiski. He thinks that China is several times as civilized as Russia, with which he is inclined to class all foreign countries, and makes Turkestan out a veritable paradise. There are no wars, because it is surrounded by deserts and mountains. There are no robbers, because, if a man is caught robbing, the governor immediately executes him, even though he has stolen only a loaf of bread. There are no poor people and everyone has plenty to eat. Even the poorest eat only fine white flour, and every kind of fruit is very cheap. Nor does it get cold as it does in Siberia. In Siberia the people are all thieves and liars and there is no justice. A murderer is punished with only a year or two in jail, and it costs a whole ruble to get a bath.
The drivers and Kitaiski are very nice to me. They are crude, of course, and have a lot of vulgar jokes at my expense, but they don’t know that I understand them at all and are always polite and respectful to me. They tease Kitaiski about me, but he takes it good-naturedly.
A little brown lamb has just jumped off the bed on to my lap. The old hag here is spinning wool on to a twirling stick. Her daughter has a four-day-old baby that bleats like a little lamb when it cries. She has rigged up a little cradle for it dug out of a log of wood. She herself works around the house as if nothing had happened to her, building fires and waiting on the drivers.
There is a beautiful greyhound here that looks astoundingly like Lanta. We have seen greyhounds all along the way and they are used by the Kazaks not, as one might think, for catching hares and rabbits, but for catching foxes. They say that the price of a good greyhound is as high as that of a good horse. They seem the only dainty graceful things about this rough country and among these rough people. Some of the children are sweet and gentle, but they are grubby dirty beside the greyhounds, who always look clean.
I walked again yesterday, not for long at a time. My clothes are too hampering. But long enough to get far ahead of the sledges and have the thrill of feeling completely alone in a wide white world. No sign of life, never any sign of life but the occasional silent strings of sledges piled with bales of cotton in that lovely homespun brown and tan striped sacking, and only one train of them all yesterday.
The sunset turned the snow into a sea of opal. We went from two till dark, rested till one, and went again till dawn. Dawn was in Sergiopol, the first town on the road and halfway to Chuguchak.
I had counted the hours to Sergiopol, not only because it marked half the journey done, but because I hoped it might hold something better than a dirty Kazak hut and that I might be able to wash and change my clothes. So I wanted to weep when, after driving through bare streets of clean little Russian log houses, we turned in at the same kind of filthy pigsty we’d found at every tiny village.
Kitaiski has often remarked that our drivers are infallible in their knack of picking the dirtiest corner of every village. ‘But those foreigners,’ he would say deprecatingly, ‘they don’t know clean from dirty.’ It was true, they did n’t, and it never occurred to them that I might mind the squalor or long to wash my face. They had been reluctant in the first place to take a woman along, but, having accepted me, they treated me as one of them. I liked that and would not for worlds have been a poor sport about it. They did do little extra things to make me comfortable and always gave me the best place to sleep, but nevertheless it was a communistic group and I could picture their scorn if I tried to put on any extra airs like face washing.
They always shared their food with me, so I shared mine with them. Naturally their lusty appetites made short work of the little I had brought, so that I have been living with them on sour, coarse, frozen bread, bad tea, and hunks of boiled mutton.
So the Sergiopol hut seemed worse than usual. All the town came to stare at the strange foreign woman, and, being town folk, were sophisticated. The Kazaks often remind me of the gypsies who used to camp on our corner lots at home, the women especially, with their dirty cotton clothes, full ruffled skirts, tight jackets, and gay kerchiefs, their dark skins and barbaric jewelry. And they beg like gypsies, too. They beg for my bread, my tea, money, my bracelet. And they are dreadful thieves. Kitaiski is always warning me to watch my belongings, and all the way along our men have taken turns guarding the sleighs and horses day and night.
Misfortune again. The horse on my sledge has been about to die for two days. He keeps falling down all the time and it gives me the creeps, He has the colic, and they have strangled him and stuck him with needles and beaten him and he gets worse all the time. One good point — they’ve taken all the cargo off my sledge, so it has only me to pull, and I’ve been able to stretch out for the first time.
At four yesterday, after a day of snowing and blowing and the horse dying, we came to our first trees in all the eleven days — a clump of elms. That was a real thrill. But the hut where we stayed was, if possible, the filthiest yet, just big enough for us all to get in, hot and smelly and crawling with lice.
We ate more greasy mutton and expected to get on by midnight, but the poor old horse got worse and could n’t walk, so we had to stay till morning. There was n’t room for everyone to lie down and the house was so stuffy and crawly that I ventured to try sleeping in my sledge. It was terrifically cold, but freezing to death seemed to be preferable to being eaten and suffocated in a smelly, smoky room of dirty men, all of whom snored or coughed or spit or scratched.
I have had a queer kind of pleasure out of suffering from the filth and squalor and discomfort of this trip. It is so awful that it’s funny. And in a way it’s rather glorious. I like knowing I can have a grand time in spite of it. And it’s glorious because it’s real and human. It’s all ‘experience.’ I can’t explain it exactly, but it seems a great experience to me. And I think I’ll never be squeamish about anything again. I’m sure a good many of our ‘sensibilities’ are very artificial.
Well, I was cold sleeping in the cart, and when they dug me out in the morning there was an inch or two of snow all over me. But at least I was clean and did n’t itch.
At last even Kitaiski has rebelled against the filthy places where we have been stopping. He turned back at the door of the one to-day, saying that he was going to find a cleaner place for us to stay. And sure enough he did, and he and I have now set up housekeeping in a comparatively sweet and pleasant little house. I have had a good wash, the first for days. We have had Chinese tea he fished out of his bag and some dates and sweet chocolate I fished out of mine, and he is feeling very pleased with himself that his sensibilities are fine enough to appreciate cleanliness. ‘Those dirty Russians,’ says he, ‘don’t know the difference.’
Alas, Five Kopecks has just come to tell us we are leaving at six. This is the shortest stop we’ve made yet, just because we have a nice place for once. How really ironical!
A sunny day yesterday, and the country is getting hilly — rugged hills, so that, all covered with snow, they look like real mountains. We went from one till after sunset and I walked a lot. A young moon was lighting the snow palely when we stopped. I’d love to have gone on all night. But I ate mountains of bread and tea and went to sleep. Kitaiski wakened me at one to ‘eat meat.’ I can’t care for large amounts of tasteless mutton in the middle of the night, but I drank two bowls of soup. And at 2.30 we started again.
Such a road I ’ve never seen nor dreamed of. It got worse and worse, till by morning we were just floundering along. There was deep powdery snow and underneath it holes in the road as high as your head. There was one stretch of half a mile along a hillside that took us four hours. In eight hours we had made about two miles. The horses were always falling into drifts to their necks and the sledges tumbling quite over, and it took ages to dig them out. It was all I could do to get myself over that stretch, one step snow to my ankles and the next step to my hips. I scrambled along with feet and hands both and was worn out when we arrived at three — over twelve hours on the way and only sixteen miles. The horses are worn out, too, and if there is much more road like this we’ll never get to Chuguchak. We are in a nasty little hole of a hut now and will probably have to rest the beasts till morning.
Sledge drivers lead a wonderful life, dealing with each day as it comes, never seeming to care where they go or how long it takes them, much less where they sleep or what they have to eat.
Another horse died to-day. Makes me feel like Sven Iledin crossing the Himalayas. They have readjusted the loads and put the cargo back on my sledge, so that now I have less room than ever.
Real style in Kazak gentlemen’s headgear seems to be a sort of flowered calico bonnet that ties under the chin and is lined with thick white fur that frames their brown faces and decidedly detracts from the fierce appearance one expects them to have. They swagger about in their leather suits, bright sashes, and high boots, with their fierce clucking noises, and all the time they look like gentle little rabbits because of their white fur bonnets. The bonnets are a great mistake. The women wear various versions of what look like oldfashioned high-necked nightdresses.
Mutton to-night was more tough and tasteless than ever, but the men licked their fingers with the usual relish. The biggest driver, a sort of fee-fi-fo-fum individual, always cracks the bones open with a hatchet and sucks out the marrow with as loud noises as possible.
Curiouser and curiouser. I seem suddenly to have been deposited in a picture-book Russian cottage and left here with no one I ever saw before. Just why I am here and how long I am to stay and what’s to happen next remains to be seen. Meanwhile it is very entertaining.
We rode all day in a whirling snowstorm, the kind where you can’t see the horse’s tail in front of your face, and about three we drove into what might have been a town if one could have seen it, and into a sort of yard. One of the drivers appeared out of a whirl of snow and brought me in here and I’ve seen none of them since. That was three hours ago.
I discovered myself in a two-roomed cottage with a huge white plaster stove, mud floors, and little ruffled curtains at the windows. A merry old lady and two young girls rushed to take off my snow-caked coat and cap and boots and mittens and bring me water to wash with. Then they started the samovar and soon I was sitting at a table with a homespun cloth, devouring a great bowl of borsch and hunks of black bread and boiled eggs and tea with cream in it. Nothing ever tasted so good as the eggs and cream.
The cottage is neat as a pin and has plants growing in tin cans on all the window sills. The girls have long braids and print kerchiefs and long dresses, and are knitting by the window and singing Russian songs.
This has been the wildest day of all. We started at three this morning and battled twelve hours with the road and made less distance than we did yesterday.
After my horse died they gave me an erratic mare who had upset more loads than all the other horses put together. She is such a dumb-bell. She sees that the road looks rough whereas on either side of the road the deep unbroken snow is as level and smooth as can be. Every few minutes she is tempted to try it and of course she goes into a drift to her neck and has to be hauled out by the tail, with much struggling and beating. We have only five drivers for our fourteen sledges and they walk along at intervals and try to guide the horses by yelling at them. The driver and I both yelled ourselves hoarse at that fool mare this morning, but it did n’t seem to have much effect. And I was getting cold and the snow was beginning to get down my neck and run in icy rivulets, so I decided to retire under cover and pray.
I had been under cover only about five minutes, bouncing and jouncing around, when all of a sudden I found myself face down in a snowdrift with my belongings on top of me. After that I begged some rope from a driver and made some reins and have been driving the nag myself all day. It has worked very well, except that she has a hard mouth and I consequently have a lame arm. I ought to be drawing wages for this trip.
Driving meant that I had to perch precariously on the front of the sledge in the snow. It is the heaviest, wettest snow we have had and I got caked all over, thicker and thicker, including my face. My coat remained fairly waterproof, but the scarf around my neck got saturated and little rivers of ice ran down inside my clothes. It is n’t as bitter cold to-day as it has been, but I was well chilled when we arrived.
To-day Kitaiski rebelled again. I love to see Kitaiski rebel — it relieves my feelings so. It takes a lot to make him do it, but when he gets worked up to it he is a man of action. He told me this morning that we should get to a village to-day, — I suppose that is where we are now, — and that here he would hire a good sleigh and take me to Bakti on the Turkestan border in two days. If we stay with these fellows it will take at least five
He talked a great deal about what a good fellow he was and how he knew I wanted to get there soon. I suggested that he was probably eager to get there too. ‘Oh, no,’ said he, ‘fast or slow is all the same to me, but a few dollars more or less does n’t make any difference and I’ll take you on if you want me to.’
In later conversation, however, it developed that the consul at Semipalatinsk had given him a month to make the round trip to Chuguchak, and that if he had to spend all the time on the road he would n’t have any time with his friends there. So this is n’t entirely a Boy-Scout move on his part. He had honestly thought we should make the trip in nine or ten days. He had told me that he had traveled this road many times, but it appears he had never done it before in the winter.
Now I am wondering if he has given me the slip and gone his own way. The snow is still coming down in clouds. It looks as if we were snowed in here for weeks and I’m only sixty-five miles from Owen. I could go quite mad thinking about that.
The blessed Kitaiski finally did appear, covered with snow, to ask if I really did want him to hire us a good sleigh to take us on to-morrow. I told him I most certainly did. The sledges we came in are about wrecked now. One of them fell all to pieces to-day. And we could n’t go slower; so, while I don’t entirely believe in Kitaiski, we can’t really lose by changing. He talked big, of course, about how he had a lot of Chinese friends here and they all begged him to slay with them a few days and said he really should n’t go on in all this snow, but he told them that he had an American woman in his charge who was quite helpless without him and that her husband was waiting for her in Chuguchak and it would be pu hao kan (‘not good looking’) if he did n’t give up his good times with his friends and take me all the way. So I told him he was a good boy and he’s gone off now to hire the sleigh, which I won’t count on until I see, as, what with the weather and the roads, it may not be so simple.
I just discovered a small boy on top of the stove, lying on his tummy eating sunflower seeds.
It is snowing again this morning, hard, and I could weep.
Kitaiski showed up again last night to say that we might be able to go this afternoon if it stopped snowing. We have gone every day until now in the snow, but I suppose there is a limit to how deeply the roads can be buried and still be possible.
This is a sweet cottage. We had a supper last night of tea and black bread, sour cream, salt fish, salt pork, and pickles. The old couple insisted on giving me their big wooden bed, and two of the drivers slept on the floor beside me. The family slept in layers on the stove and the other drivers stayed at an inn. The old lady was up at five making bread. We had a kind of stew for breakfast made of dough boiled with potatoes and a little salt pork. I wish I could walk to Chuguchak.
As I was writing just now I heard a great shrieking and yelling outside and looked out of the window to see men tearing down the street on horses, with great sticks and clubs in their hands, and men, women, and children pouring after them, calling excitedly. It looked like the entire town. And just as I was dying of curiosity to know what it was all about Kitaiski appeared and told me they were driving a huge wolf out of town.
The old lady is spinning in a corner at a spinning wheel, mark of advanced civilization. All the spinning I have seen on the road has been done on a twirling stick.
All the town came to see me yesterday — first two officials for my passport, then a dressy Kirghiz gentleman with a snappy little moustache, and then a whole sewing circle of applecheeked girls in white kerchiefs. Finally, about two, up drove Kitaiski with two sledges and announced that we were going, and I realized that it had stopped snowing at last and the sun was breaking through the clouds. And out of the window I saw appear a whole town of little white plaster houses and green domes of a church and people coming out of their houses after the storm and ploughing through the snow-filled streets.
The old lady rushed around and fed us soup and cold fish and gave me a fresh loaf of bread for the journey. And after much packing and roping and paying off our old drivers we were off at four.
Kitaiski had produced two sledges, one for us and one for our belongings. A Tatar driver drove the luggage and Kitaiski stowed me in the back of our sledge, on the bed rolls, and squatted in front to drive it himself, feeling very important and pleased with himself.
We had a felt rigged up on branches to canopy us and looked very stylish. And the road was much better than it had been. There were stretches where the horses could almost trot.
We reached a Kazak hut at nine and stayed there till four in the morning. The most attractive Kazak woman I have seen yet climbed out of bed to make us tea. She made the usual coy remarks about Kitaiski and me and offered us her bed. How did I dare travel without, my husband and with another man? Kitaiski explained that it was because we were both ‘educated,’ which was a little beyond her comprehension.
I get awfully annoyed at not being able to talk. There are so many things I want to know. Of course, traveling with six men, not being able to talk with them has been in a way a protection, especially against a good many embarrassing conversations. They are pretty crude animals and the Kazak women in the huts where we have stopped are certainly not much in the way of chaperones. They seem to be completely unmoral creatures.
I had heard of travelers being embarrassed by the hospitality of Kazak households which pressed upon them the services of their women and were offended if they were not accepted, and that any Kazak woman was considered to be at the disposal of any passing traveler, and from bits I did understand of the conversations of the drivers .1 can well believe this to be true.
While we were drinking tea at two in the morning, just before our start, Kitaiski asked me if I had heard this woman chattering to him in the night. It seemed that, although he was my protector, he had been quite willing to forsake my company for hers. She, however, had even refused to eat with him, saying that this was the fast of Ramazan and therefore it was against her religion. He had tried to persuade her, saying that it would n’t matter, as her man was away and would n’t know she had broken the fast, but much to his surprise she still refused.
We reached here at nine, ‘here’ being the home of our driver, a white plaster house heavily beamed but furnished inside much like the Kazak huts. His wife has three children, a three-day-old baby, a cute small boy who looks like his father, and a yellowhaired, blue-eyed little girl who looks like hospitality to a Russian traveler.
The driver had promised to get us to Bakti on the Turkestan border tonight, but home seems to be proving too inviting, as it is now after noon and we still have forty miles to go.
Our new sledges have no bells. I miss them.
BAKTI, February 22
The Turkestan border at last, and only twelve miles across the border is Chuguchak. After all, Chuguchak is probably an ordinary little town. Its importance has assumed ridiculously undue proportions in my mind ever since the day in Peking when this reunion was arranged, and has increased in magnitude during the months of waiting for the wireless message which would set the date for me to start; and as the difficulties of the journey have accumulated it has assumed the significance of a Mecca or a Jerusalem or a rainbow’s end.
And now that I am almost there I have a sinking fear. Perhaps the journey’s end will be an anticlimax after all, and my pot-of-gold husband not arrived. So I’m trying not to be too excited. But it is exciting. And how can Kitaiski be so casual? He has gone off now to find us another sleigh, as the ones we have are not allowed to cross the border.
Bakti is a fair-sized town, and I hoped vainly to the end that here 1 might clean up a bit for Chuguchak, having changed no clothes and scarcely washed for sixteen days. But here we have still the inevitable one-roomed Kazak house with much too large an audience for anything of the sort.
Even yet I don’t dare count on reaching my journey’s end to-night. There are still two possible obstacles to delay me: the Russian border officials, for my visa has expired, and the Turkestan border officials, for foreigners are none too welcome in that stronghold of the Middle Ages and I don’t know yet how Owen has been received.
It is silly how I always think of Chuguchak as my ' journey’s end ’ when really it is only the beginning. But all the difficulties of the little-traveled roads through Turkestan and across the Himalayas, and even the trips we are planning that no white woman has done before, seem so simple when I’ll be no longer a ‘woman traveling alone.’
CHUGUCHAK, February 23
I must mail these letters to you quickly while I still have an envelope large enough to contain them, and I hope you’ll read the last one first to know that I am here.
There were two impatient hours at the Russian customs while the officials looked at everything I owned. They’d never seen so many nice and interesting things before and had to ask a great many questions. I even put on a demonstration of how solidified alcohol burns. But there was no trouble about either my things or my expired visa.
Then we trotted out across the snow fields to the Gate of Turkestan, which was a wrecky-looking pai-lou of unpainted crumbling wood across the road between two ramshackle shanties. We went into one of the shanties, a small room full of what looked like ordinary Chinese coolies all chattering and drinking tea. One of them, at a table, seemed to be able to read and write, for he inspected our documents and asked many questions and exhibited the queer American passport to all his pals, who tried four ways up to read the words and then decided they were foreign characters; then he remembered he had orders to admit me.
Then two hours across snow fields toward black and white mountains at the foot of which was Chuguchak. Then into muddy streets, and Kitaiski scouting about to discover if Owen had arrived, while I waited perched on the loaded sleigh, and Owen coming round the corner — and there was Chuguchak.