Prince Yuri Lubovedsky

‘According to the proposal of the doctor, we are all going to practise walking on stilts of different heights, but the stilts to be used on the journey itself, one pair of which each of us must take with him, will be not less than twenty feet long. Further, if we follow the proposal of Karpenko, we shall probably have a great many sheep and goats.

Now I think that when our stilts are not in use, instead of carrying them ourselves, we can very easily arrange for them to be carried by the sheep and goats. As you all know, a flock of sheep is in the habit of following the first sheep, or as it is called, the leader, and therefore it will only be necessary to direct and guide those sheep harnessed to the first pair of stilts, and the rest are bound to follow in a long line, one after the other.

‘In this way, apart from the advantage of not having to carry our own stilts, we can also arrange that our sheep should carry us as well. Between stilts twenty feet long placed parallel, we can easily put seven rows of sheep, three in a row, that is, twenty-one sheep in all, and for this number of sheep, the weight of one man is a trifle.

We need only harness the sheep to the stilts in such a way as to leave an empty place in the centre about five and a half feet long and three feet wide, which can be used to fix up a very comfortable couch. Then each of us, instead of toiling and sweating under the weight of his own stilts, can loll about like Moukhtar Pasha in his harem or ride like a rich parasite in his private carriage through the allées of the Bois de Boulogne Crossing the desert in such conditions, we can even, during this time, learn almost all the languages we shall need in our future expeditions.’

After the first two reports and this finale from Yelov, there was obviously no further need for other proposals. We were all so astounded at what we had heard that all of a sudden it seemed to us that the difficulties of crossing the Gobi had been intentionally exaggerated, and even the impossibility of it suggested expressly for the traveller.

And so, accepting these proposals, we all of us agreed, without any discussion, to conceal from the local inhabitants, for the time being, our impending departure into the desert—that world of hunger, death and uncertainty. Accordingly, we planned to pass off Professor Skridlov as a daring Russian merchant, who had come to this region on some wild commercial venture. He had come, supposedly, to buy up sheep to send to Russia, sheep being very dear there, whereas here they could be bought much more cheaply; and he intended at the same time to export strong, long, thin poles to the factories in Russia, where they would be made into frames for stretching calico. In Russia, such hard wood is unobtainable and the frames made of the wood there soon wear out, owing to the constant movement in the machines, so that poles of this quality would bring a high price. For these reasons, the daring merchant wished to embark on this risky commercial enterprise.