After three days' rest the Russian's feet were so much better that he said h_hould be able to make a start the next morning. Godfrey, however, would no_isten to the proposal.
"We are getting on all right," he said. "I am not much of a shot, but at an_ate I am able to bag enough birds to keep us going, and though I have onl_ucceeded in shooting one fish as yet, it was a good big one and was a rea_elp to us. It is no use going on till your feet get really hard, for yo_ould only be laming yourself again. It will be quite time enough to tal_bout making a start in three days' time."
The next morning Godfrey was roughly awakened by a violent kick. Starting u_e saw a group of six Buriats standing round them. Three of them had guns, which were pointed at the prisoners, the others were armed with spears.
Resistance was evidently useless; their guns had been removed to a distanc_nd the knives taken from their belts before they were roused. Godfrey hel_ut his hands to show that he surrendered, and addressed the usual Russia_alutation to them. The men were short, square-built figures, with larg_kulls, low foreheads, flat noses, and long eyes like those of the Chinese.
Their cheek-bones were high and wide apart, the complexion a yellow-brown, an_he hair jet black and worn in a platted tail down the back. They made sign_o their prisoners to accompany them. Alexis pulled on his boots. Two of th_en with guns stood guard over them while the others examined the stores, an_ere evidently highly pleased with the two brightly polished knives.
"Rather an abrupt termination to our journey, Godfrey."
"Painfully so. I was almost afraid everything was going on too well with us, Alexis. It began to look so easy that one could not understand why ther_hould not be hundreds of prisoners every year make their way across."
"I should not have minded so much," Alexis said, "if we had not got such _atisfactory kit together. We had everything we really wanted for a journe_cross Asia."
"Except food and water, Alexis."
"Well, yes, those are important items certainly, and if we had difficult_bout it here in a decent sort of country, what might be expected on farther?
Well, we have had our outing; I only hope they won't give us up at Irkutsk. _uppose it depends where their grazing-grounds are. There are another tw_onths of summer; I wish we could have had our fling till then."
Half a mile along the valley they came upon a tent, evidently belonging to th_en who had taken them. They talked a good deal among themselves as the_pproached it, but went straight on without making a stop.
"I expect they are taking us down to some chief or other, if they call the_hiefs," Alexis said. "I expect they came out to hunt for horses or cattl_hat have strayed."
Seven or eight miles farther the valley opened on to a plain, and a shor_istance in front of them, on the stream, stood ten tents, one of which wa_onsiderably larger than the others. Great flocks of sheep grazed on th_lain, and at a distance they could see numbers of cattle, while some horse_ith their saddles on were hobbled near the tents.
"I think we are lucky, Godfrey. The owner of all this must be a rich man, an_an hardly covet the roubles he would get for giving us up. Besides, he i_ure to talk Russian."
As they came up to the huts they saw that their occupants were all gathered, talking excitedly in front of a large tent. One of the men ran on and the_eturned; the news he gave was evidently bad. He talked excitedly, pointing t_is own leg about half-way between the knee and the ankle. The men broke int_xclamations of regret.
"I wonder what is the matter, Alexis; something has happened. I should thin_hat someone must have met with an accident."
"Without wishing ill to anyone, Godfrey, I sincerely wish it may be so, then _ight be able to win their good-will."
Little attention was paid to the party when they joined the group, all wer_oo busy in discussing some event or other. Three or four minutes later a ma_ame to the door of the tent and waved his hand, and gave some order. Hi_ress was a handsome one. The little crowd fell back, but one of the men wh_ad brought the captives in went up and spoke to him. He again waved his han_mpatiently, and was turning to enter the tent when Alexis cried loudly: "I a_ doctor, if anyone has been hurt I may be of service to him."
The man stepped hastily forward. "Do you say you are a doctor?"
"Come in then," he said abruptly, and entered the tent.
"I will call you if you can be of any use," Alexis said to Godfrey as h_ollowed him.
The tent was a large one. Some handsome Koord carpets covered the ground.
Facing the door was another opening leading into a small tent serving as th_omen's apartment.
There were several piles of sheep-skins round the tent, and by one of thes_hree women were standing. Two of these were richly dressed in gowns o_andsome striped materials. They wore head-dresses of silver work with bead_f malachite and mother-of-pearl, and had heavy silver ornaments hanging o_heir breasts. Their hair fell down their backs in two thick braids. The othe_oman was evidently of inferior rank. All were leaning over a pile of skin_overed with costly furs, on which a boy of seven or eight years old wa_ying. His father, for such the man evidently was, said something in his ow_anguage, and the women turned eagerly to Alexis.
"You are a Russian doctor!" one of the women exclaimed joyfully.
"I am, lady," he said. "I graduated at St. Petersburg."
"Can you do anything for my son?" she asked. "Half an hour ago he went u_ncautiously behind a young horse that had been driven in from the herd onl_esterday and it kicked him. See, it is terrible," and she burst into tears.
Alexis went forward and lifted a wet cloth that had been placed on the leg. _light exclamation broke from his lips as he did so. The bone was evidentl_ompletely smashed, and one of the splintered ends projected through the skin.
"He must die," the mother sobbed, "nothing can save him."
The father did not speak, but looked inquiringly at Alexis. The latter made _ign to him to move to the other side of the tent.
"Well," the Buriat asked, "must he die?"
"There is no reason for his dying," Alexis said, "but there is no possibilit_f saving his leg, it must be amputated."
"What would be the use of living without a leg?" the Buriat exclaimed.
"A great deal of use," Alexis said quietly. "There are hundreds, ay_housands, of men in Russia who have lost a leg, some from an accident lik_his, or from a waggon going over them, some from a wound in battle. In som_ases the leg is taken off much above the knee, but even then they are able t_et about and enjoy their lives; but when it is below the knee, like this, they are able to do everything just the same as if they had both feet. The_an walk and ride, and, in fact, do everything like others; besides, for suc_en there are people at St. Petersburg who make feet of cork, and when thes_re on, with a boot and trousers, or with a high boot, no one could tell tha_he wearer had not two feet. I have met men who had lost a leg, and the_alked so well that I did not know till I was told that they had not tw_egs."
"I will speak to his mother," the Buriat said, and returning to the women h_poke to them in their own language. At first they appeared shocked and eve_errified at the idea, but as he went on, evidently repeating what Alexis ha_old him, the expression of their faces changed. The Buriat called Alexi_cross.
"You cannot hesitate, lady," he said, "when your child's life is at stake. N_ussian mother would do so for a moment. It may seem to you dreadful that h_hould have but one foot, but in a little time, even with so rough a limb as _ould make for him, he would be running about and playing again, and, as _ave been telling his father, he can obtain from St. Petersburg a foot s_erfect that when wearing a high boot no one would suspect the misfortune tha_as happened to him."
"Can he not be cured without that?"
"No, lady. If it had been a simple fracture his leg might be bandaged up s_hat it would heal in time, but, as you can see for yourself, the bone is al_plintered and broken, and unless something is done mortification will set in, and in a few days he will cease to live."
"But are you sure that he will live if you do it?"
"I am sure, lady, that the operation will not kill him. I believe that he wil_ive, but that is in the hands of God. You see him now, the shock ha_rostrated him. He has but little life in him, and if he dies he will die fro_hat and not from the taking off of his foot. But I do not think he will die, he is young and hardy, and on my faith as a Russian gentleman I believe tha_e will live."
"It shall be tried," the Buriat said abruptly. "God has doubtless sent yo_ere at this moment. Why otherwise should a doctor be brought to my door whe_his has happened? Do as you will."
Alexis felt the boy's pulse. "I must wait," he said, "until he has recovere_omewhat from the shock. Give him some warm milk with a spoonful, not more, o_odka in it. Your men have taken the knives that I and my friend carried; the_ere specially made for this, and we shall need them. Do not fear as to th_peration, it is the most simple in surgery. Let him have the milk at once.
Let him remain quiet upon his back, and do not let him attempt to move hi_eg. Do not tell him about this, it would frighten and agitate him. If I ha_edicines that we use in our hospitals I could send him to sleep so that h_ould know nothing about it, and when he woke up would be ignorant that hi_oot had been removed; but as there is none of it within a hundred miles of u_e must manage it as we best can. Please tell your men to release my friend, _hall need his assistance."
After bidding the woman heat some milk at once the Buriat went out and ordere_odfrey's guards to release him at once, and to restore to them their knive_nd all their other possessions. Alexis informed Godfrey of what had take_lace, and what he proposed to do.
"The operation would be a very easy one if we had chloroform and prope_mplements. Unfortunately there is no chance of their having such a thing as _ine saw, and how in the world I am to make a clean cut through the bone I d_ot know. The knife that you carry is just the right thing for the job; bu_ow about a saw? If we could have chloroformed him, we could, after making th_uts through the flesh, have put the leg on a log of wood and have cut clea_hrough the bone with a chopper. It would not be a good plan, for it woul_robably splinter the bone, but it might have been tried, but withou_hloroform it is not to be thought of."
Godfrey thought for a moment. "The knives are of a very good steel, Alexis?"
"Oh yes, of the very best steel!"
"Is it hard steel like that of a razor?"
"Yes, very much the same."
"Then I should think it could be managed. I know the least thing will notch _azor. Now I should think if we took the large knife, and with my pocket-knif_r with the edge of a hard stone notch the edge carefully all the way down, i_ould make a very good saw."
"I should think it might do anyhow, Godfrey, and the idea is a very good one.
Well, let us set about it at once. I can get a piece of fresh bone to try on; no doubt they kill a sheep here every day."
They set to work and in ten minutes had notched the blade of the knife all th_ay down. Alexis had, as he expected, no trouble in obtaining a freshly-picke_one, and they found that the knife sawed through it very cleanly. Then Alexi_ent in to see the boy again. Before, he had been lying with his eyes half- closed, without a vestige of colour in his cheeks; the warm milk had done it_ork almost instantaneously, and he was perfectly conscious and there was _light colour in his cheeks. His pulse had recovered strength wonderfully.
Alexis nodded approvingly to the Buriat. He drew him outside the tent.
"If I were you," he said, "I would send away all the people from the othe_uts. If the poor child screams they may get excited and rush in, and it i_etter that everything should be perfectly quiet. I should send away also th_adies, unless of course his mother particularly wishes to be with him; but i_ill be trying for her, and I own that I would rather not have anyone in th_ent but you and my friend."
The Buriat went inside; he returned in two or three minutes. "My wife wil_tay; my sister and the attendant will go." Then he called to the men who wer_tanding at the doors of their huts:
"The doctor says there must be silence for some time; he is going to d_omething and he wishes that all shall retire to a distance until I wave m_and for them to return. Will there be anything you want?" he asked Alexis.
"A large jug of warm water," he said, "a bowl, and some soft rag—that is all.
By the time that is ready I shall be. You will have to hold his leg, Godfrey,"
he went on as the Buriat returned to his tent. "You must hold it just unde_he knee as firmly as possible, so as to prevent the slightest movement. But _m going to try to mesmerize him. I have seen it done with perfect success, and at any rate it is worth trying. In the weak state he is in I ought to b_ble to succeed without difficulty. Now I want a couple of small flat stone_ith rounded edges, a strip of soft skin, and a bit of stick three or fou_nches long and as thick as your finger, to make a tourniquet with."
By the time that these were ready a perfect stillness reigned in the camp. Th_hole of the natives had gone away to a distance of over a quarter of a mile, and were sitting in a group watching the tents, and, Godfrey had no doubt, debating hotly as to the folly of allowing a stranger to have anything to d_ith the son of their employer. He now followed Alexis into the tent, wher_ll was in readiness. The child's head was slightly raised by a skin folde_nd placed under it. His mother knelt beside him.
"What do you wish me to do?" the Buriat asked.
"I wish you to stand beside him and aid his mother to hold him should h_truggle, and I may need you to dip the rag into the warm water, squeeze i_ut, and give it me."
"Of course he will struggle," the Buriat said; "we men can bear pain, but _hild cannot."
"I am going to try to put him to sleep," Alexis replied; "a sleep so soun_hat he will not wake with the pain. I do not say that I shall be able to, bu_ will try."
The Buriat looked at Alexis as if he doubted his sanity. That a Russian docto_hould be able to take off the child's leg was within his comprehension. H_ad once seen a man in the street of Irkutsk with only one arm, but tha_nyone could make a child sleep so soundly that he would not wake under suc_n operation seemed to him beyond the bounds of possibility.
"Tell the child that I am going to do him good," Alexis said to the mother,
"and that he is to look at my eyes steadily." He placed himself at the side o_he couch and gazed down steadily at the child; then he began to make passe_lowly down his face. For three or four minutes the black eyes looked into hi_nwinkingly, then the lids closed a little. Alexis continued his efforts, th_ids drooped more and more until they closed completely. He continued th_otions of his hand for another minute or two, then stooping he lifted a_yelid; the eye was turned upwards, so that the iris was no longer visible.
"Thank God, he has gone off!" he said. "Now for the tourniquet. That is right; twist gradually now, Godfrey, and place the stone on the main artery. Now," h_aid to the Buriat, "hold this stick firm with one hand and place the other o_is chest to prevent his moving. Do you lay your arm across him," this to th_other; "that is right. Kneel with your face against his. Now, Godfrey, gras_he leg just below the knee and hold it firmly."
Godfrey did so, and then shut his eyes as he saw the doctor about to use th_nife, expecting to hear a piercing scream from the child. There was no sound, however, and in a very few seconds he heard Alexis utter a low exclamation o_atisfaction. He looked now; the flesh was already cut through and no cry ha_scaped the child. Another moment the foot and the lower portion of the le_ame away at the point where the bone was crushed; then Alexis pushed th_lesh upwards so as to expose another inch of the shin-bone, and then took th_aw and cut through it. Some strands of silk lay close to his hand; with _ong needle he took up the ends of the arteries and tied them with the silk; then he took hold of the stick of the tourniquet and loosened it a little. Th_esult was satisfactory; the arteries were securely tied. Then he tightened i_gain and gave it to the Buriat to hold, wiped the wound with the damp rag, drew down the flesh over the end of the bone, brought up the flap of fles_rom behind, and with a few stitches sewed it in its place.
"It is all done," he said, rising to his feet. Then he passed his hand severa_imes across the child's forehead. "Tell him softly, when he opens his eyes,"
he said to the mother, "that he will soon be well now, and that he must go t_leep." He continued the passes for some time, occasionally lifting th_yelid. "He is coming round now," he said at last. A few more passes and th_hild drowsily opened its eyes. His mother spoke to him softly, and with _aint smile he closed them again. Alexis stood quietly for another minute o_wo. "He is asleep now," he said to the Buriat; "you need hold him no longer."
The tears were running down the man's cheeks; he seized one of the hands o_lexis and pressed it to his lips, while the mother, sobbing with joy, did th_ame to the other. To them it seemed almost a miracle.
"Have some milk kept warm," Alexis said, "and give it to him when he awakes.
Do not tell him anything about his foot having been taken off. Keep a blanke_ying over him so that he will not see it It is well that he should not b_gitated, but tell him that he must lie perfectly quiet and not move his leg, as it would hurt him if he did so. Now, chief, it would be as well if yo_alled the others back and told your servant to get some breakfast, for m_riend and I have had nothing to eat since your men woke us this morning."
The Buriat went outside the tent and waved a blanket, and the others cam_unning in at the signal.
"Tell them not to make a noise," Alexis said; "the longer the child sleep_uietly the better."
The Buriats uttered exclamations of the most profound astonishment when th_hief told them that the Russian doctor had taken off the leg of the chil_ithout his feeling the slightest pain, and that there was every hope of hi_peedily recovering, whereupon they looked at Alexis with a feeling of respec_mounting to awe. A sheep was at once killed, skinned, cut up, and placed in _reat cooking pot over a fire; but long before this was done two great bowl_f hot milk were brought out by the Buriat to Alexis and Godfrey, to enabl_hem to hold on until the meal was prepared. At his order the men at once se_bout erecting a tent for them close to his own, and as soon as this was up, piles of soft skins were brought in.
"That has been a lucky stroke indeed, Godfrey," Alexis said as they too_ossession of their new abode.
"It has indeed, Alexis. Nothing could have been more providential. We are i_lover as long as we choose to stop here. Do you think the child wil_ecover?"
"I think there is every hope of his doing so. These natives are as hard a_ails. I don't suppose the child has ever had a day's illness in his life, an_n this pure dry air there is little fear of the wound doing badly. The nex_hing to do is to make him a pair of crutches to get about with till he ca_ear to have a wooden stump on. The only nuisance is that we shall be delayed.
As a doctor, I cannot very well leave my patient till he is fairly on the roa_owards recovery."
"Certainly not," Godfrey agreed. "Well, I daresay we shall put away the tim_leasantly enough here."
Half an hour later two horses were brought up, and these with their saddle_nd bridles were presented by the Buriat to his guests, and were picketed b_heir tent. The next three weeks passed pleasantly; they rode, hunted, an_hot. The little patient made rapid progress towards recovery, and at the en_f that time was able to get about on two crutches Godfrey had made for him.
"It is better that you should make them, Godfrey, and also the wooden leg whe_e is ready for it," Alexis had said. "It is just as well that their gratitud_hould be divided a little, so I will hand that part of the work over to you."
The Buriats were delighted indeed when they saw the child hopping about th_amp with his crutches, and their gratitude knew no bounds to their guests.
Alexis had made no secret to the Buriat of their intention of trying to mak_heir way to Pekin. He endeavoured in every way to dissuade them from it.
"You will never find your way across the desert," he said, "and will die fo_ant of water. The people are wild and savage. They are ruled by their lamas, and if they do not put you to death, which they would be likely to do for wha_ou have, they will certainly send you back to Kiakhta and hand you over t_he Russians there; and even if you got through the desert the Chinese woul_eize you and send you back. It would be madness to try. It would be bette_han that to go south and make for Thibet, although even that would be _esperate expedition. The tribes are wild and savage, the desert is terribl_or those who do not know it. You would never find the wells, and would peris_iserably of thirst even if you escaped being killed by the tribesmen. Stil_our chances would be greater than they would be of reaching Pekin. But yo_ad far better make up your minds to live here. I will give you flocks an_erds. You should be as of my family, and you, Alexis, should marry my sister, who is rich as well as pretty, for she owns a third of all the flocks an_erds you see."
Alexis warmly thanked the Buriat for the offer, but said they must take tim_o consider it. "One might do worse," he said, laughing, to Godfrey when the_ere alone. "The women are certainly a great deal better-looking than the men, and the girl would be considered fair-looking even in Russia. At any rate i_ould be vastly better being a Buriat here than being inside that prison a_rkutsk."
"I agree with you there, Alexis; but it would be horrible being cut off her_rom the world for life."
"But one is cut off in prison, Godfrey; and though I agreed to share you_ttempt I have never been very hopeful about its success, and I am still les_opeful now from what I hear of the difficulties ahead of us. As I said whe_ou first talked of it, there must be some frightful difficulties here, o_his would be the way by which convicts would always try to escape, and yet w_ave never heard of one doing so."
"Yes, I begin to think myself I have made a mistake, Alexis, in choosing thi_oute instead of a northern one. Besides, we shall have winter upon us in _ery few weeks now, which would of course add tremendously to ou_ifficulties. But you are not seriously thinking of stopping here, are you?"
"I don't know, Godfrey. You see you have got a home and friends waiting fo_ou if you do get away, I have nothing but exile. I do believe we shall neve_ucceed in getting out through China, and I think we couldn't do better tha_top here for a year or two. By the end of that time we may succeed i_stablishing relations by means of this Buriat with some of the tea merchant_t Kiakhta, and getting one of them to smuggle us through with a caravan; but, at any rate, if you still hold to going I shall go too. I have no intention o_eserting you, I can assure you."
In another fortnight Godfrey had made a stump for the child. The hollow wa_ined with sheepskin to take off the jar, and it strapped firmly on to th_imb. The wound was not quite sufficiently healed yet for the child to use i_egularly, but when on first trying it he walked across the tent the joy o_is father and mother knew no bounds.
They had only been waiting for this to make a move, for the pasture had fo_ome time been getting short, and on the following day the tents were pulle_own, and for three days they journeyed east, and then finding a suitable spo_gain pitched their tents. They were now, as the Buriat told them, only som_hirty miles from Kiakhta. Godfrey and Alexis had talked matters over durin_he journey. They agreed that the season was now too late for them to think o_ttempting the journey until the following spring, and had almost conclude_hat the attempt to get through China should be altogether abandoned. Goin_orth there were the rigour of the climate and the enormous distances a_bstacles, but the passage would be chiefly by water. There was no danger fro_he tribes they would have to pass through, no difficulties such as they migh_eet with from the opposition of the Chinese, and they had pretty wel_esolved to pass the winter with the Buriats and to make a start in th_pring.
Their host was greatly pleased when they informed him of their intention a_ny rate to spend the winter with them, for he hoped that before the sprin_lexis would have made up his mind to accept his offer, and to settle down a_ member of the tribe.
The day after the Buriats pitched their fresh camp one of the men reporte_hat he had seen a large bear at the edge of a forest two miles from the huts.
Alexis and Godfrey at once took their guns, borrowed a couple of long spear_nd two hunting knives, and started for the wood, the native going with the_o show them the exact spot where he had seen the bear. There was a good dea_f undergrowth about, and they thought it probable that the animal was not fa_ff. The Buriat had brought a dog with him, and the animal at once bega_niffing the ground. His master encouraged it, and presently it started, sniffing the ground as it went. It had gone but a few hundred yards when i_topped before a thick clump of bushes and began growling furiously. They ha_ short consultation, and then the two friends took up their post one at eac_orner of the bushes, while the Buriat went round to the rear of the clum_ith his dog and began beating the bushes with his stick, while the dog barke_nd yelped. A minute later a bear broke out of the bushes within four yards o_lexis.
The Russian levelled his gun. Godfrey heard a report far louder than usual, and something flew close to his head. A moment later he saw Alexis struck t_he ground by the bear. Godfrey rushed up, and fired when within two paces o_he animal, which with a fierce growl turned upon him. He sprang aside an_lunged his spear deep into its side. The bear struck at the handle and brok_t in two, and then rose on its hind-legs. Godfrey drew his knife and awaite_ts rush, but it stood stationary for half a minute, swayed to and fro, an_hen fell on its side. Godfrey leaned over it and plunged his knife in dee_ehind its shoulders, pressing it until the blade disappeared. Then feelin_ertain it was dead he ran to Alexis, who lay motionless on the ground. By th_ide of him lay the stock of the gun and a portion of the barrel; it ha_xploded, completely shattering the Russian's left hand. But this was not hi_nly or even his most serious injury. The bear had struck him on the side o_he head, almost tearing off a portion of the scalp and ear.
The Buriat had by this time come round, and Godfrey bade him run to the cam_t the top of his speed to fetch assistance. Feeling in his friend's pocket h_rew out the bandage which Alexis always carried, and wrapped up as well as h_ould his shattered hand, of which the thumb and two first fingers wer_ltogether missing; the wound on the head was, he felt, altogether beyond him.
In less than half an hour the chief Buriat and four of his men dashed up o_orseback. They had brought with them two poles and a hide to form a litter.
The chief was deeply concerned when he saw how serious were the Russian'_njuries. No time was lost in lashing the hides to the poles. Alexis wa_ifted and laid upon the litter, and two of the Buriats took the poles whil_he others led back the horses. As soon as he arrived in camp Godfrey bathe_he wounds with warm water, and poured some spirits between the lips of th_ounded man, but he gave no signs of consciousness.
"I am afraid," he said to the Buriat, who was looking on anxiously, "that hi_kull is injured or there is concussion of the brain. The only thing that _an see will be for him to be carried at once to Kiakhta. There is sure to b_ hospital there and doctors."
"That would be best," the Buriat said; "but I will take a house there, and m_ife and sister shall nurse him."
"That will be better than going into the hospital," Godfrey agreed, "for tw_easons. In the first, because Alexis would certainly get more careful nursin_mong his friends than in a hospital, and he might then avoid, if he survive_is injuries, being again imprisoned."
No time was lost. Four Buriats took the poles, Godfrey walked beside th_itter, and the Buriat, his wife and sister, mounted and rode off to hav_verything ready for them when they arrived at Troitzkosavsk, the suburb o_iakhta. It was late before they reached it. The Buriat met them half a mil_utside the town, and at once conducted them to a house that he had hired fro_ friend established there. As soon as Alexis was laid upon a couch Godfre_nd the Buriat went out and ascertained where one of the surgeons of th_ilitary hospital lived. On reaching the house they were shown by the Cossac_ho acted as the doctor's servant to his room.
"A friend of mine has been badly injured by a bear," the Buriat said; "I wis_ou to come and see him at once. He is in a house I have taken near this. _ill be responsible for all charges."
The doctor looked keenly at Godfrey and then said, "I will come. You are not _uriat?" he said to Godfrey as they started.
"I am not, doctor; though I have been living with them for some time."
"And the man who is ill, is he a Buriat?"
"No, sir; he is a Russian, and a member of your own profession."
"He is clever," the Buriat said. "He saved the life of my child by taking of_is leg, and he is running about again now. He is as a brother to me, and _ould gladly give a thousand cattle rather than that he should die."
No other words were spoken until they arrived at the house. The surgeo_tooped over Alexis, lifted one of his eyelids, and felt his pulse.
"Concussion of the brain," he said; "a serious case. Bring me rags and ho_ater." He bathed the wound for some time and then carefully examined it.
"There is a fracture of the skull," he said to Godfrey, "and I fancy there i_ piece of bone pressing on the brain. Put wet cloths round his head for th_resent; I will go and fetch my colleague, and I will send down some ice fro_he hospital. His hand is bandaged up, what is the matter with that?"
"His gun burst, doctor, and has mangled his hand dreadfully. That was how i_as the bear got at him and struck him."
The surgeon removed the bandages and examined it. "Keep it bathed with war_ater until I return," he said.
Half an hour later he came back with the other surgeon, a man older tha_imself, both carrying cases of instruments. The wound on the head was agai_xamined. They then proceeded to operate, and in a few minutes removed _ortion of splintered bone. Then the flap of skin was carefully replaced i_ts position, and a few stitches put in to hold it. The hand was then attende_o.
"No, I don't think it need come off," the senior surgeon said; "we may sav_he third and little fingers. At any rate we will try; if it does not do w_an take the whole off afterwards."
The operation was performed, then ordering the ice that had just been brough_o be applied to the head, the surgeons left.
"We will look in again early in the morning," one of them said to Godfrey,
"and then we will have a chat with you."
The women took it by turns to watch, and Godfrey, worn out by the excitemen_f the day, slept until morning. Alexis was restless, moving uneasily an_uttering to himself. His eyes were open, but he took no notice of what wa_oing on around him. The surgeon they had first seen came alone.
"He is better," he said to the Buriat, "but he is very far from being out o_anger yet. It will be a long illness, but I hope that we may be able to brin_im round. I will send him some medicine presently. Keep cloths with col_ater and ice to his head." He beckoned to Godfrey to follow him out of th_oom.
"I don't want to ask any questions," he said, "about my patient. I have bee_alled in by this Buriat to see a friend of his, and it does not concern m_ho or what he may be; but it is different with you. As a Russian officer _annot be seeing you daily without reporting that I have met a person wh_carcely appears to be what he seems. It is painful to me to be obliged to sa_o. I do not give advice any way. I only say that if you do not wish to b_sked questions, it would be best for you to leave here after nightfall; unti_hen, I shall not consider it necessary to make any report. I shall be bac_gain once or twice to-day; you had better think the matter over."
Godfrey had been thinking the matter over as he walked beside the litter, an_ad already arrived at a decision. It was evident that many weeks, if no_onths, must elapse before Alexis would be fit to sustain the hardships tha_ould attend an attempt to escape, and he thought it probable that more tha_ver he would be inclined to throw in his lot with the wandering Buriats; h_ad therefore only himself to think about. He had foreseen that he would no_e able to stop at Kiakhta without being exposed to being questioned, and tha_here remained therefore only the option of living with the Buriats during th_inter or of giving himself up. The former plan would be the most advantageou_n the event of his trying to reach Pekin; but the difficulties in tha_irection appeared to him so great that he shrank from the thought of facin_hem, especially as he should now be alone, and he preferred the idea o_rying to escape by the north.
In this case a further sojourn among the Buriats would be useless; in _ussian prison he would be able to pick up many valuable hints from the me_ith whom he would work, and might find someone ready to make the attempt wit_im. The difficulties of escape from prison did not seem very great, an_ould, he thought, be even less at one of the penal settlements than i_onfined in an ordinary jail. When, however, the doctor spoke to him, Godfre_nly thanked him, and said he would speak with him again when he next called.
The Buriat saw that he was looking serious when he returned to the room.
"What did he say to you?" he asked. "Did he threaten to report you?"
"He spoke very kindly," Godfrey replied. "But he said that it would be hi_uty to do so if I remained here."
The Buriat shook his head. "I was thinking of that yesterday, and was afrai_or you. Out on the plains there would have been none to question you; bu_ere in the town a stranger is noticed at once, for every resident is known.
You must make off at once. You can take my horse, we will watch over you_riend. Once in my tents you will be safe."
Godfrey thanked him warmly, but told him that he had not quite decided as t_hat he should do, but would let him know later on. Then, as he could d_othing for Alexis, he threw himself down on a pile of skins, and thought th_atter over in every light.