"Well," answered Alcide, laughing, "my cousin is a very discreet person, who does not like to be talked about, and who would be in despair if she troubled the sleep of which you are in need."
"I don't wish to sleep," replied the Englishman. "What will your cousin think of the affairs of Russia?"
"That they seem for the time in a bad way. But, bah! the Muscovite government is powerful; it cannot be really uneasy at an invasion of barbarians."
"Too much ambition has lost the greatest empires," answered Blount, who was not exempt from a certain English jealousy with regard to Russian pretensions in Central Asia.
"Oh, do not let us talk politics," cried Jolivet. "It is forbidden by the faculty. Nothing can be worse for wounds in the shoulder-- unless it was to put you to sleep."
"Let us, then, talk of what we ought to do," replied Blount. "M. Jolivet, I have no intention at all of remaining a prisoner to these Tartars for an indefinite time."
"Nor I, either, by Jove!"
"We will escape on the first opportunity?"
"Yes, if there is no other way of regaining our liberty."
"Do you know of any other?" asked Blount, looking at his companion.
"Certainly. We are not belligerents; we are neutral, and we will claim our freedom."
"From that brute of a Feofar-Khan?"
"No; he would not understand," answered Jolivet; "but from his lieutenant, Ivan Ogareff."
"He is a villain."
" No doubt; but the villain is a Russian. He knows that it does not do to trifle with the rights of men, and he has no interest to retain us; on the contrary. But to ask a favor of that gentleman does not quite suit my taste."
"But that gentleman is not in the camp, or at least I have not seen him here," observed Blount.
"He will come. He will not fail to do that. He must join the Emir. Siberia is cut in two now, and very certainly Feofar's army is only waiting for him to advance on Irkutsk."
"And once free, what shall we do?"
"Once free, we will continue our campaign, and follow the Tartars, until the time comes when we can make our way into the Russian camp. We must not give up the game. No, indeed; we have only just begun. You, friend, have already had the honor of being wounded in the service of the Daily Telegraph, whilst I--I have as yet suffered nothing in my cousin's service. Well, well! Good," murmured Alcide Jolivet; "there he is asleep. A few hours' sleep and a few cold water compresses are all that are required to set an Englishman on his legs again. These fellows are made of cast iron."
And whilst Harry Blount rested, Alcide watched near him, after having drawn out his note book, which he loaded with notes, determined besides to share them with his companion, for the greater satisfaction of the readers of the Daily Telegraph. Events had united them one with the other. They were no longer jealous of each other. So, then, the thing that Michael Strogoff dreaded above everything was the most lively desire of the two correspondents. Ivan Ogareff's arrival would evidently be of use to them. Blount and Jolivet's interest was, therefore, contrary to that of Michael. The latter well understood the situation, and it was one reason, added to many others, which prevented him from approaching his former traveling companions. He therefore managed so as not to be seen by them.
Four days passed thus without the state of things being in anywise altered. The prisoners heard no talk of the breaking up of the Tartar camp. They were strictly guarded. It would have been impossible for them to pass the cordon of foot and horse soldiers, which watched them night and day. As to the food which was given them it was barely sufficient. Twice in the twenty-four hours they were thrown a piece of the intestines of goats grilled on the coals, or a few bits of that cheese called "kroute," made of sour ewe's milk, and which, soaked in mare's milk, forms the Kirghiz dish, commonly called "koumyss." And this was all. It may be added that the weather had become detestable. There were considerable atmospheric commotions, bringing squalls mingled with rain.