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Across Mongolian Plains by Roy Chapman Andrews

Especially when it is a very dead chameau


The

wolf we had killed was shedding its hair and presented a most dilapidated, moth-eaten appearance; moreover, it had just been feeding on the carcass of a dead camel, which subsequently we discovered a mile away. When we reached camp I directed the two taxidermists to prepare the skeleton of the wolf, but to keep well away from the tents.

Charles and I had been talking a good deal about antelope steak, and for tiffin I had cut the fillets from one of the young gazelle. We were very anxious to "make good" on all that had been promised, so we cooked the steak ourselves. Just when the party was assembled in the tent for luncheon the Chinese began work upon the wolf. They had obediently gone to a considerable distance to perform the last rites, but had not chosen wisely in regard to the wind. As the antelope steak was brought in, a gentle breeze wafted with it a concentrated essence of defunct camel. Yvette put down her knife and fork and looked up. She caught my eye and burst out laughing. Mrs. Mac had her hand clasped firmly over her mouth and on her face was an expression of horror and deathly nausea.

Although I am a great lover of antelope steak, I will admit that when accompanied by _parfum de chameau_, especially when it is a very dead _chameau_, there are other things more attractive. Moreover, the antelope which we killed on the Panj-kiang plain really were very strong indeed. I have never been able to discover

what was the cause, for those farther to the north were as delicious as any we have ever eaten. The introduction was such an unfortunate one that the party shied badly whenever antelope meat was mentioned during the remainder of the trip to Urga. Coltman, who had charge of the commissary, quite naturally expected that we would depend largely on meat and had not provided a sufficiency of other food. As a result we found that after the third day rations were becoming very short.

We camped that night at a well in a sandy river bottom about ten miles beyond Ude, the halfway point on the trip to Urga. It had been a bad day, with a bitterly cold wind which drove the dust and tiny pebbles against our faces like a continual storm of hail. As soon as the cars had stopped every one of us set to work with soap and water before anything had been done toward making camp. Our one desire was to remove a part of the dirt which had sifted into our eyes, hair, mouths, and ears. In half an hour we looked more brightly upon the world and began to wonder what we would have for dinner. It was a discussion which could not be carried on for very long since the bread was almost gone and only macaroni remained. Just then a demoiselle crane alighted beside the well not forty yards away. "There's our dinner," Charles shouted, "shoot it."

Two minutes later I was stripping off the feathers, and in less than five minutes it was sizzling in the pan. That was a bit too much for Mrs. Mac, hungry as she was. "Just think," she said, "that bird was walking about here not ten minutes ago and now it's on my plate. It hasn't stopped wiggling yet. I can't eat it!"

Poor girl, she went to bed hungry, and in the night waked to find her face terribly swollen from wind and sunburn. She was certain that she was about to die, but decided, like the "good sport" she is, to die alone upon the hillside where she wouldn't disturb the camp. After half an hour of wandering about she felt better, and returned to her sleeping bag on the sandy river bottom.

Just before dark we heard the _dong_, _dong_, _dong_ of a camel's bell and saw the long line of dusty yellow animals swing around a sharp earth-corner into the sandy space beside the well. Like the trained units of an army each camel came into position, kneeled upon the ground and remained quietly chewing its cud until the driver removed the load. Long before the last straggler had arrived the tents were up and a fire blazing, and far into the night the thirsty beasts grunted and roared as the trough was filled with water.


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