Several other people were seated at the table, among them the assistant of Kanine, a tall blonde man with a white face, who talked like a Gatling gun about everything imaginable. He was half crazy and his semi-madness expressed itself when any loud talking, shouting or sudden sharp report led him to repeat the words of the one to whom he was talking at the time or to relate in a mechanical, hurried manner stories of what was happening around him just at this particular juncture. The wife of Kanine, a pale, young, exhausted-looking woman with frightened eyes and a face distorted by fear, was also there and near her a young girl of fifteen with cropped hair and dressed like a man, as well as the two small sons of Kanine. We made acquaintance with all of them. The tall stranger called himself Gorokoff, a Russian colonist from Samgaltai, and presented the short-haired girl as his sister. Kanine's wife looked at us with plainly discernible fear and said nothing, evidently displeased over our being there. However, we had no choice and consequently began drinking tea and eating our bread and cold meat.
Kanine told us that ever since the telegraph line had been destroyed all his family and relatives had felt very keenly the poverty and hardship that naturally followed. The Bolsheviki did not send him any salary from Irkutsk, so that he was compelled to shift for himself as best he could. They cut and cured hay for sale to the Russian colonists, handled private messages and merchandise from Khathyl to Uliassutai and Samgaltai, bought and sold cattle, hunted and in this manner managed to exist. Gorokoff announced that his commercial affairs compelled him to go to Khathyl and that he and his sister would be glad to join our caravan. He had a most unprepossessing, angry-looking face with colorless eyes that always avoided those of the person with whom he was speaking. During the conversation we asked Kanine if there were Russian colonists near by, to which he answered with knitted brow and a look of disgust on his face:
"There is one rich old man, Bobroff, who lives a verst away from our station; but I would not advise you to visit him. He is a miserly, inhospitable old fellow who does not like guests."
During these words of her husband Madame Kanine dropped her eyes and contracted her shoulders in something resembling a shudder. Gorokoff and his sister smoked along indifferently. I very clearly remarked all this as well as the hostile tone of Kanine, the confusion of his wife and the artificial indifference of Gorokoff; and I determined to see the old colonist given such a bad name by Kanine. In Uliassutai I knew two Bobroffs. I said to Kanine that I had been asked to hand a letter personally to Bobroff and, after finishing my tea, put on my overcoat and went out.
The house of Bobroff stood in a deep sink in the mountains, surrounded by a high fence over which the low roofs of the houses could be seen. A light shone through the window. I knocked at the gate. A furious barking of dogs answered me and through the cracks of the fence I made out four huge black Mongol dogs, showing their teeth and growling as they rushed toward the gate. Inside the court someone opened the door and called out: "Who is there?"
I answered that I was traveling through from Uliassutai. The dogs were first caught and chained and I was then admitted by a man who looked me over very carefully and inquiringly from head to foot. A revolver handle stuck out of his pocket. Satisfied with his observations and learning that I knew his relatives, he warmly welcomed me to the house and presented me to his wife, a dignified old woman, and to his beautiful little adopted daughter, a girl of five years. She had been found on the plain beside the dead body of her mother exhausted in her attempt to escape from the Bolsheviki in Siberia.
Bobroff told me that the Russian detachment of Kazagrandi had succeeded in driving the Red troops away from the Kosogol and that we could consequently continue our trip to Khathyl without danger.
"Why did you not stop with me instead of with those brigands?" asked the old fellow.