Page:A Wayfarer in China.djvu/332

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266
A WAYFARER IN CHINA

For about eight days we were crossing the desert, one day much like another. Sometimes the track was all up and down: we topped a swell of ground only to see before us another exactly like it. Then for many miles together the land was as flat and as smooth as a billiard table, no rocks, no roll; and we chased a never-ending line of telegraph poles over a never-ending waste of sand. Another day we were traversing from dawn till sundown an evil-looking land strewn with boulders and ribs of rock, bleak, desolate, forbidding.

Nowhere were there signs of life, nothing growing, nothing moving. For days together we saw no yurts, and more than one day passed without our meeting any one. Once there appeared suddenly on the white track before us a solitary figure, looking very pitiful in the great plain. When it came near it fell on its face in the sand at our feet, begging for food. It was a Chinese returning home from Urga, walking all the seven hundred miles across the desert to Kalgan. We helped him as best we could, but he was not the only one.

An old red lama, mounted on a camel and bound for Urga, kept near us for two or three days, sleeping at night with my men by the cart, and sometimes taking shelter under my tent at noon, where he sat quietly by the hour smoking my cigarettes. He was a nice old fellow with pleasant ways, nearly choking