National Geographic : 1936 Jan
WITH THE NOMADS OF CENTRAL ASIA Twenty people inside a yurt made quar ters far too crowded for a quarrel, so the group poured outside. The chief was loudly upbraiding the Turki soldier; the latter, rollicking drunk, had a long gash under one eye and his clothes were splotched with blood from head to foot. I looked around and found the massive Foo Ben Yee beside me. He looked none too sober, but serious. "The Turki soldier got into a playful squabble with one of the Kalmucks; they had both drunk too much, and before they knew what they were doing they had drawn knives and started to fight. They were finally separated, but not before the soldier had received a cut on the cheek; when the chief saw the bloody wound he became infuriated." The commanding voice of Sayjan Beg rose above the babble of the crowd and silenced it. "Come! Strip off his saber! Take his hat! Give me his gun! He is no fit person to dispense justice." "Vakh, Vakh!" exclaimed the peace loving Foo Ben Yee. "There will be much unpleasantness trying to patch up this mat ter tomorrow." Laying hands on the first scared-looking Kalmuck servant within reach, Sayjan Beg clapped the soldier's cap on his head, handed him the rifle, and ordered the bronze-handled saber to be buckled on. "This Turki soldier is your prisoner!" he shouted to the frightened Kalmuck. Then, on an unfortunate inspiration, Yacup Beg spoke up. "This is unneces sary, Sayjan Beg." In a moment the chief turned his ungov ernable wrath on Yacup Beg. Everyone gasped. The chief's whip flashed out and struck Yacup Beg full across one shoulder. The Beg straightened up, scarcely having flinched. Twice more the whip came down on his shoulder and then with the butt of his whip the chief knocked Yacup Beg's hat off. "Soldier!" The poor amazed Kalmuck jumped from gaping astonishment to a half-mechanical salute. "Here is your sec ond prisoner; you will bring these two men to my yurt in the morning. Now be off!" Sayjan pointed with his whip across the grasslands. The group of three filed off on foot- Yacup Beg and the blood-stained Turki soldier in front; the dazed Kalmuck, gun trailing, behind. There was nothing left for the rest of us to do but to thank our host, the little Arduch, and depart. The inimitable Ala Beg engineered a hasty retreat, encounter ing difficulty in getting some of the younger Begs into their saddles. Then we were off at a long, hard gallop in the gathering dusk, mile after mile over rolling grasslands. Suddenly Sayjan Beg, sobered, called a halt. AGAIN, "NEVER AGAIN" "What a mess we've made of things to night! Why do we always let these devil ish Kalmucks steal our wits with their devil water? We must not drink too much again." There were muffled grunts of agreement from the rest of the party. "How can we make amends to our friends, the Turki soldier and Yacup Beg?" mut tered the chief, then lapsed into silence as we rode over the few remaining hills to his yurt. I thought of the long trek of that queer party of three on foot. It never occurred to Sayjan Beg to send horses after them. What the chief had said, he had said; in due time the matter would be righted with all due regard for dignity and honor. Momentous news awaited me at the chief's yurt. As I tumbled off my horse at the hitching post, a servant thrust an en velope into my hand. In the yurt by the light of an oil wick lamp I made out the writing: a note from my Tatar friends in the city and inside the envelope a letter from the Russian consul. My permission to leave the country, now five long months overdue, had at last arrived. It meant that in the morning I must start my trek back across the Chinese border into Russian Turkistan; through Tashkent, Samarkand, and Bukhara to Iran (Persia). As I lay in my blankets, feet toward the fire, looking out through the round hole in the yurt top, it seemed as if life in the Tekes were the only reality-the rest of the world revolved in a realm apart. Russia, Iran, Baluchistan, India, Shanghai, Tokyo, and Seattle-what were they? They seemed eerie and unreal, infinitely distant and unnecessary. INDEX FOR JULY-DECEMBER, 1935, VOLUME READY Index for Volume LXVIII (July-December, 1935) of the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE will be mailed upon request to members who bind their copies as works of reference.