Page:A Wayfarer in China.djvu/367

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NORTH TO THE SIBERIAN RAILWAY

were engaged in cattle raising, and seemed prosperous and contented. Their houses and sheds were built of timber and mud, and looked substantial and well suited to stand the cold and winds of North Mongolia. We were given a hearty welcome and taken at once into a large whitewashed room, kitchen, living-room, and bedroom in one. Everything was spotlessly clean; even under the bed there was no dust. I can testify to that, for I pursued Jack there. The mistress of the house was a very good-looking, dark-browed woman in a neat red gown with a red kerchief tied over her head. She promptly served us with delicious tea from the invariable samovar, and the freshest of eggs and good black bread, while a chicken, for me to take away, was set roasting on a spit before the fire. Two little tow-headed boys, put out of the way on the bed, stared stolidly at us as they munched raw parsnips, and a baby cradled in a basket suspended by a rope from the ceiling was kept swinging by a touch from the mother as she went to and fro. The people seemed to be on friendly terms with their Mongol neighbours, two or three of whom came in while I was there, but it must be a lonely life, a day's ride away from the nearest Russian family. When I asked Nicolai what the children did for school, he laughed scornfully. "Why should they learn to read? Their father and mother cannot."