Pro Patria by Achmed Abdullah
MICHAEL CRANE cut through the other's subdued buzz of bland,
philosophic similes with a hairy hand, stabbing sideways through the
opium-scented shadows, and words, bubbling out with the bitterness of
their own utter futility:
"What are you going to do? That's what I would like to know, old
"What are you going to do?" he repeated dully, after a pause.
Even as he said it, he knew that there would be, could be, no
answer except the same one which the other, Tzu Po, Amban of Outer
Mongolia, who sat facing him--his fabulously obese bulk squeezed into
a stilted, tulip wood and marble mosaic chair, his heavy-lidded eyes
bilious with too much poppy juice, and his ludicrously small, white
silk--stockinged feet twitching nervously--had given him nearly every
day these last six weeks or so; ever since Professor Hans Mengel had
dropped serenely and sardonically out of the nowhere, atop a shaggy
Bactrian camel, and, within a day of his arrival, had struck up an
incongruous friendship with the abbots and monks of the Buddhist
lamasery that squatted on the hogback, porphyry hill above the flat,
drab city of Urga, the capital of Outer Mongolia, with all the
distressing weight of ancient thaumaturgical hypocrisy and bigotry.
Be it remembered that the spiritual and theological politics of all
Buddhist central Asia, from Kamchatka to the burned steppes of the
Buriat Cossacks, from the arctic Siberian tundras to the borders of
sneering, jealous Tibet, were being shouted by thin-lipped,
copper-faced, yellow--capped lama priests behind the bastioned
battlements of the old convent and that these spiritual politics were
frequently running counter to the dictates and desires of Peking's
secular suzerainty, embodied--ironic thought!--by Mandarin Tzu
The same old answer, day after day, accompanied by a shrugging of
fat shoulders, a deep, apologetic intake of breath, and a melancholy
gesture of pudgy hands so that the ruddy light of the charcoal ball
in its openwork brass container danced fitfully on his long,
"Who am I to know?"--with the fatalistic, slightly supercilious
modesty of all Asia.
"Who are you to know?" The American, fretting with impatience,
picked up the mock-meek counter-question like a battle gage. "Why,
man, you are the high-and-mighty governor of this stinking,
disgusting neck o' the woods! You are the honorable amban--entitled
to I don't know how many kowtows and how much graft!"
"Indeed, Mr. Crane. And you are the American consul, eh?
And"--with low, gliding laughter--"you are also entrusted with the
interests of your honorable allies--France, Great Britain, Italy--"
"Don't I know it, though? But what can I do? I am as helpless
"As I!" gently interrupted the Chinaman, kneading agilely the
brown opium cube against the stem of his tasseled bamboo pipe.
Another pause, broken presently by the American's chafing. "You
are supposed to have some power here, and you know just as well as I
that this measly German professor--"
"I know nothing!" Tzu Po fidgeted unhappily in his chair. He half
closed his bilious eyes like a man in pain. "I wish to know nothing!
I insist on knowing nothing!"
"Ostrich!" Crane leaned forward in his chair and emphasized his
words with a didactic finger. "You know perfectly well that Mengel is
playing a lot of dirty, rotten, underhand politics, that he and the
"Professor Mengel is the leading European authority on early
Buddhism. It is natural that he should take an interest in this old
"I know all that, Tzu Po! The chief Lama of Urga is second only to
the Dalai Lama of Tibet in holiness. He is a continuous reincarnation
of some damned Buddhist saint or other, and Mengel, as you say, does
know a lot more about Buddhism than the priests do themselves. But,
man, this is war! Not even a single-minded German professor will
cross all Russia and half of Asia, these days, simply to swap
theological lies with some old yellow-capped priests! I tell you--and
I needn't tell you, since you know it yourself--that that Hun is up
to some deviltry!"
The Chinaman sighed. "Admitting that you are right," he replied,
"there are religious reasons why I can't interfere with the monks and
abbots who have befriended him."
"Religious reasons be hanged!" scoffed Michael Crane. "You are a
Chinaman and, being a Chinaman, you are about as religious as the
"But these people here whom I--ah--rule"---Tzu Po smiled gently at
the implied jest--"they are not Chinese. They are Mongols, Tibetans,
Buriats, Turkis, and what not. They are devout Buddhists--"
"Subject races--all of them!"
"Exactly. We Chinese are like the English. We do not attempt to
interfere with the home life, the home laws, the home religions of
our subject peoples. And to all Buddhist central Asia the words of
the yellow-capped abbot in the convent up there are--"
"Sure. Divine commands. Sort of--oh--direct from the Lord Gautama
Buddha's deceased and sanctified bones. That's why I say it's up to
you to do something," said Crane, "to assert yourself, to grease your
"You know what I mean. You've spent years in America. Send to
Peking for a company or two of roughneck soldiers. Show these
stinking, sniveling, shave-tail priests who is the boss of the ranch.
Call their bluff. Pop the Herr Professor into a nice, comfy
"For what reason?" inquired Tzu Po.
"Because he's up to some deviltry--as I told you--as you know
yourself--if you weren't such a confounded Chinese Pharisee!"
"I can prove nothing against him!" Tzu Po filled his lungs with
gray, acrid opium smoke. "Can you, my friend?"
"Prove? The devil! You don't have to prove. You can arrest him on
suspicion--shoot him out of the country if you want to--"
"It would be against the law."
"Laws are rather in abeyance these days. You have some leeway in
"China is not at war--yet. China and Germany are still at peace.
No, no!" Tzu Po made a gesture of finality. "I can't help you, my
friend--except"---he winked elaborately at nothing in particular--"if
"What?" whispered Michael Crane. "If I should do--what?"
The other was not caught so easily. "If you should do--anything!"
he countered. "Yes--if you should do anything at all, I should be
deaf and dumb and blind!"
"But what can I do? Gosh! I wish I'd never seen this darned hole
in the ground! I don't belong here!"
"Nor do I!" rejoined the other with a melancholy smile.
And then, as always at the end of their daily bickerings, the two
men looked at each other, feeling singularly foolish, and impotent
THE one an American, lean, angular, long of limb, pink and tan as
to complexion, red-haired, gray-eyed, freckled. The other a Pekingese
Chinaman, yellow, silky, urbane, smooth, fat, with bluish-black hair
and sloe eyes. The one of the West, Western--the other of the East,
Yet there was a certain similarity in the fateful pendulum of
their careers; the promising beginnings--the drab, flat
endings--here, in Urga, at the very back of the beyond.
Michael Crane had been a brilliant young lawyer and politician in
his native city, Chicago, with the Supreme Court, the Presidency
itself, shining like a Holy Grail in the autumnal distance of his
full life. Ward politics came first, of course, slapping people on
the back, kissing little grubby babies, gossiping with their women,
and--yes!---occasionally a little, sociable nip in some saloon the
other side of Dexter Hall.
Yearly his thirst had increased while, proportionately, his
earlier promises of great, lasting achievement had decreased. Still,
he had not lost all his hold on his favorite ward. The marshaling of
that curious phenomenon called public opinion had become second
nature to him. His fertile eloquence, chiefly when he was in his
cups, had not suffered, nor his readiness to close a tolerant eye
when one of his underlings resorted to more primitive, more abysmal
methods in convincing Doubting Thomases that his party was the right
party when the nation was voting for president several years earlier,
he had been able to swing a block of votes into the ballot boxes of
the party which came out victorious. And reward had been his.
"Mike Crane has to be taken care of," a certain bigwig in
Washington had said. "His ward was rather ticklish, but he turned the
"Sure," another bigwig had replied, "but--you know--well--"
"Yes, yes." The first speaker had left his seat and had walked to
a large map of the world that was spread on the wall. He had studied
it with a saturnine twinkle in his sharp brown eyes.
"Ever hear of Urga?" he had asked over his shoulder.
"No. What is it? A new soft drink--with a kick--you're going to
recommend to Mike Crane? Perhaps a new liquor cure guaranteed
"Cut out the joshing. It seems to be a town in--" Again he had
studied the map. "Let me see. Yes, it is the capital of Outer
Mongolia, steen million miles from nowhere. Jack," he had continued,
lighting a cigar, "I have a hunch that the United States of America
needs a consul out yonder. What do you say?"
"I say yes. And I nominate Mike Crane for the job."
"Seconded and carried. Perhaps he won't be able to get whisky in
Urga. Anyway, he won't do much harm there!"
Thus Michael Crane had become United States consul in Urga seven
Urga! Outer Mongolia! Central Asia! Quite unimportant! It was all
so very far away from Broadway and Fifth Avenue and State Street and
the White House, and the salary was not much of a burden on the
generous American taxpayer!
Tzu Po's career had been similar. The scion of an excellent
burgess family of Peking, he had passed high in the examinations of
the literati, and had received the degree of chen-shih, or Eminent
Doctor, at the Palace of August and Happy Education, to the west of
the Ch'ien Men Gate in the Forbidden City. Afterward, he had passed a
no less brilliant examination at Harvard, had been attached as
secretary to several Chinese legations and embassies, had tried to
stimulate his brain with opium--until, one day, perhaps giving way to
an atavistic weakness, he had surrendered, body and soul and
ambition, to the curling black smoke.
Still, to him, too, was due a certain measure of gratitude on the
part of those in power since. At the time when young China arose in
the yellow, stinking slums of Canton and brushed away, with the
lusty, impatient fist of Democracy, the gray Bourbon cobwebs of
Manchu autocracy, he had been one of the younger leaders, and one of
the most fearless, the most constructive.
Like Crane, he had been sent to a sort of honorable exile--to
"He cannot do much harm there," one mandarin had said.
"Indeed!" another had replied.
Thus, both men had been sent to the same laggard, dronish end of
Thus, both men had promptly been forgotten by their respective,
paternal governments--except by the yawning clerks, in Washington or
in Peking, who made out the monthly stipend checks.
Had come seven indolent, drowsy, passive years; years which sealed
a strange, though not unhappy, friendship between Michael Crane and
Tzu Po, the more so since the latter felt a greater cultural kinship
and, in consequence, a greater sympathy for the American than for his
uncouth racial cousins who peopled Urga and the surrounding country,
while Crane--the only white man, since no other country deemed Outer
Mongolia important enough to keep there a consular
representative--was glad of the company of a man who had a more or
less intelligent, but at all events personal, acquaintance with State
Street, baseball, dry martinis, and the difference between the
Republican and Democratic parties. Nothing, during all this time, had
ever happened to disturb the even tenor of the passing, swinging
years. Occasionally, of course, there had been a row or a fight
between the two opposing parties--red-cap lama priests and yellow
cap--who claimed the spiritual suzerainty of northern Buddhism. But
the American had been an amused and slightly cynical onlooker, while
Tzu Po, though he was the governor, would shut himself up in his
palace with a liberal supply of opium cubes and a volume of archaic
poetry or two and only leave it when the priests had settled the
argument among themselves--after which, he would report to the
ministry of the outer provinces in Peking that everything was serene
Three years earlier, there had been a little more excitement. For
the chief lama--a yellow cap, he---had died, and the priests had set
about electing another earthly representative, another incarnation of
Subhuti, the disciple of the Lord Gautama Buddha, whose soul and
spirit are said to migrate into the body of each successive Urga
abbot. For centuries, the Lara family, who had been Tibetans
originally, had monopolized the saintly dignity, including its divers
and rather more worldly emoluments until, to all intents and
purposes, it had become almost hereditary. Always the yellow-cap
priests, to whom the Lara clan belonged, had been the decisive factor
in the mazes of northern Buddhism.
But, that year, due it was said to the intrigues of a Russian
Buddhist from the shores of Lake Baikal, who had acted under orders
of the czar's government with the intention of undermining the
Pekingese prestige in that part of the world, the red--cap lamas had
for once put forward and backed a candidate of their own. However,
being vastly in the minority, they had been defeated and yellow--cap
Tengso Punlup of the Lara clan had been elected chief abbot.
Michael Crane, comparing the sacerdotal election with voting
contests as he had seen and handled them in his favorite Chicago
ward, had looked on with cynical, slightly nostalgic amusement.
Again Tzu Po had locked himself up in the innermost chamber of his
The election had passed. A number of red caps and yellow caps had
had their tough skulls cracked with brass inkstands and massive
teakwood prayer wheels. And then there was peace once more, the
bottle for Crane, and the amber-colored poppy juice for Tzu
Po--until, overnight it seemed, out of the diseased brain of modern
Germany rose the crimson monstrosity of lust and cruelty that
threatened to drown the world in an avalanche of hissing, darkening
War--east, north, south, and west! War of white man and black and
red and brown! War on land and on sea! War of might and of brain! War
from the smiling fields of France to the miasmic jungles of west
And even here, in the sluggish, comatose heart of Asia, war was
showing its fangs. A few weeks earlier, Professor Hans Mengel, suave,
clean shaven, serene, had dropped out of the nowhere, riding a smelly
Bactrian camel, speaking the local dialects like a native, well
supplied with money, familiar with the intricate labyrinth of
Buddhism. And, too, there were the thin-lipped yellow caps in the old
lamasery whispering, whispering--and Tengso Punlup, the chief abbot,
was on his deathbed--and it was gossiped in the bazaars and the
market place that again the red caps would put a candidate of their
own into the field and that more than the mere spiritual succession
of northern Buddhism would be decided when the old abbot's soul had
joined Buddha's greater soul in the fields of the blessed.
Crane knew it.
So did Tzu Po.
"We're helpless, we two," murmured the American, turning and
looking from the window.
OUTSIDE, the solitary pollard willow that guarded the amban's
palace like a grim sentinel of ill omen, bending under white
hummocks, was draped with shimmering, glistening, gauze frost. Snow
was everywhere, thudding softly in moist, flaky crystals, hurling
fitfully across a sunset of somber, crushed pink that was trying to
show its heart of color through the gray, drifting cloud banks,
mantling the peacock blue of pagoda roof and the harsh, crass red of
Buddhist wayside shrine, etching tiny points of silver on the
voluminous, coarse fur coats of the Manchus, Tartars, Tibetans, and
occasional Nepalese who were ambling in all directions, their stout
legs encased in knee-high felt boots, enormous hats covering them to
their quilted, padded shoulders, their faces glimpsing beneath with a
ludicrous blue and green sheen, their noses wrinkled like rabbits'
against the biting wind that came booming out of the north, their
thin, drooping mustaches white-frosted into icicles.
Here and there, yellow-capped priests moved through the crowd,
brutally serene in the superstitious awe with which they were
regarded, clicking their prayer wheels, talking to each other in
gentle, gliding undertones, and smiling, always smiling.
Michael Crane clenched his fists in impotent fury.
The others--the cattle drovers and camel men, the fur and salt
traders, the peasants, hunters, trappers, and fishermen--they did not
matter. They were just the incoherent, unthinking, inert mass who
danced to the piping of the sneering, wrinkled abbot up there behind
the bastioned walls of the lamasery.
But, Crane told himself bitterly, these yellow--capped priests
were the intellectual aristocracy of this vast land that stretched
its religious feelers all over central Asia. They were in the "know,"
every last one of them. They all belonged to the same mysterious,
sinister lodge, understood the same unspoken passwords and furtive
high signs--they and the German professor who was lording it in their
councils--while he, Michael Crane, United States consul, once a
brilliant lawyer and a skillful politician in the city of Chicago,
and Tzu Po, who was supposed to be the governor--why---
He rose and stretched himself. "I guess I'll run along home," he
said. "So long. See you tomorrow. Drop in for breakfast if the spirit
moves you," he added hospitably.
The other did not reply. He had fallen asleep over the sizzling,
bubbling opium lamp. A beatific smile wreathed his bland, yellow
features, and his breath came evenly.
"You're the sensible lad all right, all right," said Crane. And he
slipped into his heavy coat, rammed his fur cap down over his ears,
and stepped out into the biting cold night.
He turned in the direction of his house, a short distance away.
His "boy" would have made a fire by this time, prepared supper, and
set out a bottle and glasses and some of the treasured home papers
and magazines which he received with each mail, once every two
months, and which he apportioned jealously so that they should last
him until the next mail came along.
AS he walked stiffly aslant against the booming northern wind, he
tried to marshal his thoughts, tried to dovetail for himself a
picture of what had happened behind the grim, bastioned walls of the
lamasery and of what was going to happen, viewing the whole situation
instinctively through the spectacles of his former politician's
There were certain outstanding facts: The main one being that
Tengso Punlup, the chief abbot, was on his deathbed. Furthermore,
that a successor to his saintly honors would have to be chosen, and
that the yellow caps, as by ancient traditions, would advance the
claims of a member of the Lara family, while it was whispered in the
bazaars that again the red caps would contest the election with a
candidate of their own.
There was the subsidiary fact that these latter were in the
majority, either British subjects from Little Tibet, Kashmere, and
the Shan states, or from southern Tibet and those independent
Himalaya principalities, like Nepal and Bhopal, the inhabitants of
which were under British protection and overlordship. And Michael
Crane knew, from the perusal of certain papers which he received,
notably from the North China Gazette of Shanghai, that in the present
world war these people had been uncompromisingly loyal. It was,
therefore, to be assumed, by logical juxtaposition, that the others,
the yellow caps, who were in the majority, favored the cause of the
Central Powers as much as they thought about such a remote matter at
And right here, the mysterious, suave, immaculate figure of Herr
Professor Hans Mengel came into the focus.
He was a favorite with the yellow caps. He stood high in their
councils. He would doubtless play a big role during the coming
election, as soon as Tengso Punlup had died. Though a European, a
white man, he was acknowledged to be the leading authority on
northern Buddhism and, as such, looked up to by the lama priests.
But--mused Michael Crane--given the fact that the yellow caps were
in the majority, that one of the Lara clan was practically certain to
be chosen chief abbot, why had the Berlin government, which Mengel
doubtless represented, gone to the trouble of sending him here, to
Just to make assurance doubly sure?
Or was it perhaps---
He shook his head. His thoughts became confused, muddled. He only
knew that for some vague reason, which he could not quite decipher,
it was important for the cause of America and her allies, whom he
represented, that the yellow caps should be defeated at the coming
election to Subhuti's saintly succession.
Back in his old Chicago ward, he would have known how to handle
the situation. At least, he might have made an attempt. There he knew
the ropes that controlled the political machine of the ward, and they
were simple enough; eloquence of tongue and, occasionally, the
passive gift of seeing nothing and hearing nothing when a
too--enthusiastic underling relied on clenched fist or even blackjack
to lend force to his patriotic arguments.
As to eloquence, he had lived here a number of years and had
learned just about enough Mongol to ask for food and drink and carry
on an ordinary conversation. But right there his knowledge stopped.
He knew nothing of those finer nuances and twists of language which
make for power, and less of the theological undercurrents of northern
Buddhism, while, on the other hand, Professor Hans Mengel spoke the
local dialects like a native and was an authority in the mazes of
their fantastic religion.
As to the other argument, that of brawny fist and significantly
Tzu Po, the governor, had said something of the kind.
"If you should do anything at all," he had said with an elaborate
wink, "I should be deaf and dumb and blind!"
But--had he meant that?
Michael Crane shook his head.
Of course, there were certain other tricks which he had learned in
his earlier Chicago career, though he denied ever having used them,
preferring to claim that he had become familiar with them through
having watched and investigated the political tactics of the other
great national party. There was for instance a clever and rather
humorous method of stuffing the ballot boxes.
Ballot boxes! Here--in Outer Mongolia!
He laughed aloud at the thought, and then again, hopelessly,
helplessly, despondently, he told himself that there was nothing,
nothing he could do.
His lips relaxed into a melancholy smile. There was a precious
bottle of French brandy he had received from Hongkong a few weeks
HE could see the lighted windows of his low, warm stone house
twinkling invitingly through the gathering night, and he pushed on,
as fast as he could, through the crowds of priests, yellow caps and
red caps, that were becoming denser with every step. They were all
hurrying up the steep, slippery incline that led to the lamasery, and
he knew what their hurry portended.
The chief abbot was on his deathbed, and it was the ancient rule
of their faith that his successor should be chosen within half an
hour of his death. For, since his spirit, which was the spirit of
Subhuti, the Disciple of the Lord Gautama Buddha, migrated into the
body of each successive chief abbot, it was not fitting that this
same spirit should be homeless for a longer period than could be
helped. Doubtless, the whisper had gone forth that Tengso Punlup
might die almost any minute, and so they were hurrying, hurrying.
"Like vultures after carrion," the unpleasant simile came to
Michael Crane as he pushed on.
Then, quite suddenly, the whirling limbs separated, the mass
pushed on more hurriedly, more hectically than before, as, from the
square tower that flanked the lamasery, a tremendous blending of
sounds drifted down, a savage clash of cymbals and gongs, a hollow
beating of drums, and the sobbing, intolerable, long-drawn wailing of
human voices. "The abbot is dead! Tengso Punlup is dead! The spirit
of Subhuti is clamoring for a home!" a gigantic yellow-capped priest
chanted in a gurgling fervor of excitement.
Immediately, the cry was taken up:
"The abbot is dead--dead!"--in a mad refrain, an echoing monstrous
chorus, high-pitched, quivering, swelling and decreasing in turns,
dying away in thin, quavery, ludicrous tremolos, again bursting forth
in thick, palpable fervency:
"Tengso Punlup is dead--dead! The spirit of Subhuti is clamoring
for a home!"
And they pushed on, on, ever more of them pouring out of the
little squat stone houses, from the streets and alleys, the
low-roofed bazaars and the market place, regardless of the bitter
cold, of the snow that thudded down moist-hissing into the flickering
torches, of elbow and fist and foot, and occasionally, pricking
dagger point. Only one thing mattered to them. They must reach the
council hall of the lamasery as quickly as possible before the
half-hour during which the spirit of Subhuti was permitted to roam in
the outer ether was over, and muster there a sufficient number of
priests to decide who should be the next chief abbot--yellow cap or
And the case of the latter was hopeless.
True, Crane noticed that so far they were in the majority. For
they were mostly mountaineers from the Himalayas and the Shan states,
fleet of foot, active and strong of arm, lean, agile, hard-bitten,
while their enemies, who lived on the fat of this fertile northern
land, rich in wheat and maize and cattle, were more sluggish and
moved more slowly, more ponderously. But in another minute or two the
yellow caps would outnumber the red caps five to one.
For a moment, the mad thought came to him to put himself squarely
beneath this gate, to defend it against the yellow caps as a picked
regiment, fighting a critical rearguard action, might defend a
Almost immediately, he gave up the idea. They would be up and at
him like an avalanche. They would brush him aside like so much chaff.
He would not be able to stay their progress for more than the
fraction of a minute.
It was hopeless, and he turned to go back to his comfortable, warm
house, the open fire, the magazines and newspapers, and the brandy
bottle when, twenty yards or so down the street, the brass--studded
portals of one of the temples were flung wide and out stepped
Professor Hans Mengel at the head of a procession of hundreds of
yellow caps, his lean, highbred features sharply outlined in the
flickering light of the torches.
Hard and ultra-efficient he seemed; sure of himself, his destiny,
his country; serenely sure of success and achievement and
Michael Crane stifled a sob. He saw himself as he had been once: a
young lawyer and politician of brilliant promises; and as he was
today, in the autumn of his life: a drone, a failure, a drunkard.
Entrusted with the interests of America and her allies in this
remote, half-forgotten corner of the world, utterly alone, convinced
in his own heart that the election of a yellow-cap abbot would mean
another German victory, he found himself helpless--and the thought,
the knowledge was as bitter as gall.
On they came, the professor at the head. They were less than a
dozen yards away from the marble gate through which they had to pass
by ancient, unbreakable rule. Another minute, and they would be well
up toward the lamasery. Five more minutes, and they would crowd the
council hall, outnumbering the red caps who, somehow--and Crane never
knew how--stood for the interests of America and her allies.
And he was helpless, helpless, and a great, choking rage rose in
THEN, with utter suddenness, a thought came to him. He laughed
loudly, triumphantly, so that the German professor, now five or six
yards away, looked up, astonished, slightly sneering.
"Drunk again, Mister American Consul?" he asked, his voice
stabbing clear above the shuffling of feet and the murmuring voices
of the priests.
But Michael Crane did not reply.
Quickly, he looked over his shoulder. He saw that the red caps
were still in the majority--the red caps--who, somehow, were the
friends of America and of her allies. Then he stepped squarely
beneath the marble gate through which all priests who wished to go to
the lamasery had to pass. He drew his revolver and, even as Professor
Mengel, who understood too late, jumped forward, he pulled the
trigger and shot himself through the heart.
At the very last moment, he had remembered the ancient Buddhist
law that the body of a suicide means pollution unspeakable, that a
priest may neither touch it nor step over it, and that the spot where
the deed has been done must be made clean with many and lengthy
ceremonies before priest or worshiper may set foot on or across
And so he died there--for his country---
"Pro Patria--for his country!"
That's what Tzu Po said, recollecting his Harvard Latinities,
three days later, when a red-cap priest, a friend of America and her
allies, was ceremoniously installed as chief abbot of Outer Mongolia
amid the booming of the gongs and the braying of the conches.