Page:A Wayfarer in China.djvu/378

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A WAYFARER IN CHINA

tell of Kiakhta's great commercial past, a history that goes back two hundred years, when Gobi was alive with the long lines of camel caravans coming and going between the Great Wall and the Russian border. Those were the days when the great tea merchants of Kiakhta heaped up huge fortunes, to squander them in ways common to the suddenly rich all over the world. But with the building of the railway, trade turned aside, and to-day the town bears the marks of decaying fortunes. The storehouses are half empty, many of the great merchant families have gone away or are ruined, and were it not for the regiments stationed at this frontier post, Kiakhta would be wrapped in the silence of the desert. It remains to be seen what will be the effect of the railway Russia proposes to build between Verchneudinsk and Urga. It may give new life to the town, but of course it is military and political in its purpose rather than commercial. During my four days' trip from Urga there was very little traffic coming or going, and unless Mongolia's resources prove unexpectedly rich, the days of Kiakhta's prosperity are gone beyond recall.

But I did not stop long to investigate either the past or the present interest of Kiakhta, for by the next afternoon I was off again, finally ending my tarantass journey some eighteen miles north of the town, in a great lumberyard on the right bank of