But these men of the "Albatross" were no children.
"Gentlemen," said the engineer, "when people, have the pleasure of traveling with Robur the Conqueror, as you have so well named him, on board his admirable "Albatross," they do not leave him in that way. I may add you never leave him."
Phil Evans drew away his colleague, who was about to commit some act of violence. They retired to their cabin, resolved to escape, even if it cost them their lives.
Immediately the "Albatross" resumed her course to the west. During the day at moderate speed she passed over the territory of Cabulistan, catching a momentary glimpse of its capital, and crossed the frontier of the kingdom of Herat, nearly seven hundred miles from Cashmere.
In these much-disputed countries, the open road for the Russians to the English possessions in India, there were seen many columns and convoys, and, in a word, everything that constitutes in men and material an army on the march. There were heard also the roar of the cannon and the crackling of musketry. But the engineer never meddled with the affairs of others where his honor or humanity was not concerned. He passed above them. If Herat as we are told, is the key of Central Asia, it mattered little to him if it was kept in an English or Muscovite pocket. Terrestrial interests were nothing to him who had made the air his domain.
Besides, the country soon disappeared in one of those sandstorms which are so frequent in these regions. The wind called the "tebbad" bears along the seeds of fever in the impalpable dust it raises in its passage. And many are the caravans that perish in its eddies.
To escape this dust, which might have interfered with the working of the screws, the "Albatross" shot up some six thousand feet into a purer atmosphere.
And thus vanished the Persian frontier and the extensive plains. The speed was not excessive, although there were no rocks ahead, for the mountains marked on the map are of very moderate altitude. But as the ship approached the capital, she had to steer clear of Demavend, whose snowy peak rises some twenty-two thousand feet, and the chain of Elbruz, at whose foot is built Teheran.
As soon as the day broke on the 2nd of July the peak of Demavend appeared above the sandstorm, and the "Albatross" was steered so as to pass over the town, which the wind had wrapped in a mantle of dust.
However, about six o'clock her crew could see the large ditches that surround it, and the Shah's palace, with its walls covered with porcelain tiles, and its ornamental lakes, which seemed like huge turquoises of beautiful blue.
It was but a hasty glimpse. The "Albatross" now headed for the north, and a few hours afterwards she was over a little hill at the northern angle of the Persian frontier, on the shores of a vast extent of water which stretched away out of sight to the north and east.
The town was Ashurada, the most southerly of the Russian stations. The vast extent of water was a sea. It was the Caspian.
The eddies of sand had been passed. There was a view of a group of European houses rising along a promontory, with a church tower in the midst of them.
The "Albatross" swooped down towards the surface of the sea. Towards evening she was running along the coast-which formerly belonged to Turkestan, but now belongs to Russia--and in the morning of the 3rd of July she was about three hundred feet above the Caspian.
There was no land in sight, either on the Asiatic or European side. On the surface of the sea a few white sails were bellying in the breeze. These were native vessels recognizable by their peculiar rig--kesebeys, with two masts; kayuks, the old pirate-boats, with one mast; teimils, and smaller craft for trading and fishing. Here and there a few puffs of smoke rose up to the "Albatross" from the funnels of the Ashurada streamers, which the Russians keep as the police of these Turcoman waters.
That morning Tom Turner was talking to the cook, Tapage, and to a question of his replied, "Yes; we shall be about forty-eight hours over the Caspian."
"Good!" said the cook; "Then we can have some fishing."
They were to remain for forty-eight hours over the Caspian, which is some six hundred and twenty-five miles long and two hundred wide, because the speed of the "Albatross" had been much reduced, and while the fishing was going on she would be stopped altogether.