Page:A Wayfarer in China.djvu/377

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303
NORTH TO THE SIBERIAN RAILWAY

crossing the Russian boundary unchallenged, drove quietly down the long main street of the town. I was too sleepy to notice anything, until I heard the men chuckling softly, and I waked up to find that we were past the custom house. "It would be too bad to disturb the sleepy sentinels, so we took off the bells," they explain. I imagine they had added to their other misdeeds by doing a bit of smuggling.

It seemed to me that we drove for hours through the dark, echoing streets of Kiakhta, but at last we stopped before the white wall of a long, low building, and in a moment I was in another world. Behind me were the wide, open plains of Mongolia and the starlit nights in tent or tarantass. Here was Russia, half Europe, half Asia, and wholly uninteresting. But at least there was a good bed awaiting me, and the most wonderful little supper ever served at midnight on short notice, delicious tea, good bread and butter, and the most toothsome small birds, served hot on toast in a casserole. Where in a Western frontier town could one find the like?

But it was not until I waked the next morning that I realized how very Western Kiakhta is: humble log houses side by side with pretentious stuccoed buildings, rickety wooden sidewalks or none at all, streets ankle-deep in dust one day, a bog the next; but the handful of fine residences, and above all the great white church costing fabulous sums in decorations,