That is a natural gasometer within the reach of all purses.
I should have liked to visit the famous sanctuary of Atesh Gah; but it is twenty-two versts from the town, and time failed me. There burns the eternal fire, kept up for centuries by the Parsee priests from India, who never touch animal food.
This reminds me that I have not yet breakfasted, and as eleven o'clock strikes, I make my way to the restaurant at the railway, where I have no intention of conforming myself to the alimentary code of the Parsees of Atesh Gah.
As I am entering, Ephrinell rushes out.
"Breakfast?" say I.
"I have had it," he replies.
"And your cases?"
"I have still twenty-nine to get down to the steamer. But, pardon, I have not a moment to lose. When a man represents the firm of Strong, Bulbul & Co., who send out every week five thousand cases of their goods--"
"Go, go, Monsieur Ephrinell, we will meet on board. By the by, you have not met our traveling companion?"
"What traveling companion?"
"The young lady who took my place in the carriage."
"Was there a young lady with us?"
"Well you are the first to tell me so, Mr. Bombarnac. You are the first to tell me so."
And thereupon the American goes out of the door and disappears. It is to be hoped I shall know before we get to Pekin what it is that Strong, Bulbul & Co. send out in such quantities. Five thousand cases a week--what an output, and what a turnover!
I had soon finished my breakfast and was off again. During my walk I was able to admire a few magnificent Lesghians; these wore the grayish tcherkesse, with the cartridge belts on the chest, the bechmet of bright red silk, the gaiters embroidered with silver, the boots flat, without a heel, the white papak on the head, the long gun on the shoulders, the schaska and kandijar at the belt--in short men of the arsenal as there are men of the orchestra, but of superb aspect and who ought to have a marvelous effect in the processions of the Russian emperor.
It is already two o'clock, and I think I had better get down to the boat. I must call at the railway station, where I have left my light luggage at the cloakroom.
Soon I am off again, bag in one hand, stick in the other, hastening down one of the roads leading to the harbor.
At the break in the wall where access is obtained to the quay, my attention is, I do not know why, attracted by two people walking along together. The man is from thirty to thirty-five years old, the woman from twenty-five to thirty, the man already a grayish brown, with mobile face, lively look, easy walk with a certain swinging of the hips. The woman still a pretty blonde, blue eyes, a rather fresh complexion, her hair frizzed under a cap, a traveling costume which is in good taste neither in its unfashionable cut nor in its glaring color. Evidently a married couple come in the train from Tiflis, and unless I am mistaken they are French.
But although I look at them with curiosity, they take no notice of me. They are too much occupied to see me. In their hands, on their shoulders, they have bags and cushions and wraps and sticks and sunshades and umbrellas. They are carrying every kind of little package you can think of which they do not care to put with the luggage on the steamer. I have a good mind to go and help them. Is it not a happy chance--and a rare one--to meet with French people away from France?
Just as I am walking up to them, Ephrinell appears, drags me away, and I leave the couple behind. It is only a postponement. I will meet them again on the steamboat and make their acquaintance on the voyage.
"Well," said I to the Yankee, "how are you getting on with your cargo?"
"At this moment, sir, the thirty-seventh case is on the road."
"And no accident up to now?
"And what may be in those cases, if you please?
"In those cases? Ah! There is the thirty-seventh!" he exclaimed, and he ran out to meet a truck which had just come onto the quay.
There was a good deal of bustle about, and all the animation of departures and arrivals.