"Ah!" I thought, "evidently I shall reach Urga. So I can be at ease during my trip, and in Urga I have many friends beside the presence there of the bold Polish soldiers whom I had worked with in Uliassutai and who had outdistanced me in this journey."
After the meeting with the Baron my Cossacks became very attentive to me and sought to distract me with stories. They told me about their very severe struggles with the Bolsheviki in Transbaikalia and Mongolia, about the battle with the Chinese near Urga, about finding communistic passports on several Chinese soldiers from Moscow, about the bravery of Baron Ungern and how he would sit at the campfire smoking and drinking tea right on the battle line without ever being touched by a bullet. At one fight seventy-four bullets entered his overcoat, saddle and the boxes by his side and again left him untouched. This is one of the reasons for his great influence over the Mongols. They related how before the battle he had made a reconnaissance in Urga with only one Cossack and on his way back had killed a Chinese officer and two soldiers with his bamboo stick or tashur; how he had no outfit save one change of linen and one extra pair of boots; how he was always calm and jovial in battle and severe and morose in the rare days of peace; and how he was everywhere his soldiers were fighting.
I told them, in turn, of my escape from Siberia and with chatting thus the day slipped by very quickly. Our camels trotted all the time, so that instead of the ordinary eighteen to twenty miles per day we made nearly fifty. My mount was the fastest of them all. He was a huge white animal with a splendid thick mane and had been presented to Baron Ungern by some Prince of Inner Mongolia with two black sables tied on the bridle. He was a calm, strong, bold giant of the desert, on whose back I felt myself as though perched on the tower of a building. Beyond the Orkhon River we came across the first dead body of a Chinese soldier, which lay face up and arms outstretched right in the middle of the road. When we had crossed the Burgut Mountains, we entered the Tola River valley, farther up which Urga is located. The road was strewn with the overcoats, shirts, boots, caps and kettles which the Chinese had thrown away in their flight; and marked by many of their dead. Further on the road crossed a morass, where on either side lay great mounds of the dead bodies of men, horses and camels with broken carts and military debris of every sort. Here the Tibetans of Baron Ungern had cut up the escaping Chinese baggage transport; and it was a strange and gloomy contrast to see the piles of dead besides the effervescing awakening life of spring. In every pool wild ducks of different kinds floated about; in the high grass the cranes performed their weird dance of courtship; on the lakes great flocks of swans and geese were swimming; through the swampy places like spots of light moved the brilliantly colored pairs of the Mongolian sacred bird, the turpan or "Lama goose"; on the higher dry places flocks of wild turkey gamboled and fought as they fed; flocks of the salga partridge whistled by; while on the mountain side not far away the wolves lay basking and turning in the lazy warmth of the sun, whining and occasionally barking like playful dogs.
Nature knows only life. Death is for her but an episode whose traces she rubs out with sand and snow or ornaments with luxuriant greenery and brightly colored bushes and flowers. What matters it to Nature if a mother at Chefoo or on the banks of the Yangtse offers her bowl of rice with burning incense at some shrine and prays for the return of her son that has fallen unknown for all time on the plains along the Tola, where his bones will dry beneath the rays of Nature's dissipating fire and be scattered by her winds over the sands of the prairie? It is splendid, this indifference of Nature to death, and her greediness for life!
On the fourth day we made the shores of the Tola well after nightfall. We could not find the regular ford and I forced my camel to enter the stream in the attempt to make a crossing without guidance. Very fortunately I found a shallow, though somewhat miry, place and we got over all right. This is something to be thankful for in fording a river with a camel; because, when your mount finds the water too deep, coming up around his neck, he does not strike out and swim like a horse will do but just rolls over on his side and floats, which is vastly inconvenient for his rider. Down by the river we pegged our tent.
Fifteen miles further on we crossed a battlefield, where the third great battle for the independence of Mongolia had been fought. Here the troops of Baron Ungern clashed with six thousand Chinese moving down from Kiakhta to the aid of Urga. The Chinese were completely defeated and four thousand prisoners taken. However, these surrendered Chinese tried to escape during the night. Baron Ungern sent the Transbaikal Cossacks and Tibetans in pursuit of them and it was their work which we saw on this field of death. There were still about fifteen hundred unburied and as many more interred, according to the statements of our Cossacks, who had participated in this battle. The killed showed terrible sword wounds; everywhere equipment and other debris were scattered about. The Mongols with their herds moved away from the neighborhood and their place was taken by the wolves which hid behind every stone and in every ditch as we passed. Packs of dogs that had become wild fought with the wolves over the prey.
At last we left this place of carnage to the cursed god of war. Soon we approached a shallow, rapid stream, where the Mongols slipped from their camels, took off their caps and began drinking. It was a sacred stream which passed beside the abode of the Living Buddha. From this winding valley we suddenly turned into another where a great mountain ridge covered with dark, dense forest loomed up before us.
"Holy Bogdo-Ol!" exclaimed the Lama. "The abode of the Gods which guard our Living Buddha!"