In front of me was quite a different type with nothing of the Oriental about it; thirty-two to thirty-five years old, face with a reddish beard, very much alive in look, nose like that of a dog standing at point, mouth only too glad to talk, hands free and easy, ready for a shake with anybody; a tall, vigorous, broad-shouldered, powerful man. By the way in which he settled himself and put down his bag, and unrolled his traveling rug of bright-hued tartan, I had recognized the Anglo-Saxon traveler, more accustomed to long journeys by land and sea than to the comforts of his home, if he had a home. He looked like a commercial traveler. I noticed that his jewelry was in profusion; rings on his fingers, pin in his scarf, studs on his cuffs, with photographic views in them, showy trinkets hanging from the watch-chain across his waistcoat. Although he had no earrings and did not wear a ring at his nose I should not have been surprised if he turned out to be an American--probably a Yankee.
That is my business. To find out who are my traveling companions, whence they come, where they go, is that not the duty of a special correspondent in search of interviews? I will begin with my neighbor in front of me. That will not be difficult, I imagine. He is not dreaming or sleeping, or looking out on the landscape lighted by the last rays of the sun. If I am not mistaken he will be just as glad to speak to me as I am to speak to him--and reciprocally.
I will see. But a fear restrains me. Suppose this American--and I am sure he is one--should also be a special, perhaps for the _World_ or the _New York Herald_, and suppose he has also been ordered off to do this Grand Asiatic. That would be most annoying! He would be a rival!
My hesitation is prolonged. Shall I speak, shall I not speak? Already night has begun to fall. At last I was about to open my mouth when my companion prevented me.
"You are a Frenchman?" he said in my native tongue.
"Yes, sir," I replied in his.
Evidently we could understand each other.
The ice was broken, and then question followed on question rather rapidly between us. You know the Oriental proverb:
"A fool asks more questions in an hour than a wise man in a year."
But as neither my companion nor myself had any pretensions to wisdom we asked away merrily.
"_Wait a bit_," said my American.
I italicize this phrase because it will recur frequently, like the pull of the rope which gives the impetus to the swing.
"_Wait a bit_! I'll lay ten to one that you are a reporter!"
"And you would win! Yes. I am a reporter sent by the _Twentieth Century_ to do this journey."
"Going all the way to Pekin?"
"So am I," replied the Yankee.
And that was what I was afraid of.
"Same trade?" said I indifferently.
"No. You need not excite yourself. We don't sell the same stuff, sir."
"Claudius Bombarnac, of Bordeaux, is delighted to be on the same road as--"
"Fulk Ephrinell, of the firm of Strong, Bulbul & Co., of New York City, New York, U.S.A."
And he really added U.S.A.
We were mutually introduced. I a traveler in news, and he a traveler in--In what? That I had to find out.
The conversation continues. Ephrinell, as may be supposed, has been everywhere--and even farther, as he observes. He knows both Americas and almost all Europe. But this is the first time he has set foot in Asia. He talks and talks, and always jerks in _Wait a bit_, with inexhaustible loquacity. Has the Hunson the same properties as the Garonne?
I listen to him for two hours. I have hardly heard the names of the stations yelled out at each stop, Saganlong, Poily, and the others. And I really should have liked to examine the landscape in the soft light of the moon, and made a few notes on the road.
Fortunately my fellow traveler had already crossed these eastern parts of Georgia. He pointed out the spots of interest, the villages, the watercourses, the mountains on the horizon. But I hardly saw them. Confound these railways! You start, you arrive, and you have seen nothing on the road!
"No!" I exclaim, "there is none of the charm about it as there is in traveling by post, in troika, tarantass, with the surprises of the road, the originality of the inns, the confusion when you change horses, the glass of vodka of the yemtchiks--and occasionally the meeting with those honest brigands whose race is nearly extinct."