I need not worry about them, and I will lose no time in studying them. Suppose one of them proves interesting, I may pump him and peg away at him, and just at the critical moment he will get out.
No! All my attention I must devote to those who are going through with me. I have already secured Ephrinell, and perhaps that charming Englishwoman, who seems to me to be going to Pekin. I shall meet with other traveling companions at Uzun Ada. With regard to the French couple, there is nothing more at present, but the passage of the Caspian will not be accomplished before I know something about them. There are also these two Chinamen who are evidently going to China. If I only knew a hundred words of the "Kouan-hoa," which is the language spoken in the Celestial Empire, I might perhaps make something out of these curious guys. What I really want is some personage with a story, some mysterious hero traveling _incognito_, a lord or a bandit. I must not forget my trade as a reporter of occurrences and an interviewer of mankind--at so much a line and well selected. He who makes a good choice has a good chance.
I go down the stairs to the saloon aft. There is not a place vacant. The cabins are already occupied by the passengers who are afraid of the pitching and rolling. They went to bed as soon as they came on board, and they will not get up until the boat is alongside the wharf at Uzun Ada. The cabins being full, other travelers have installed themselves on the couches, amid a lot of little packages, and they will not move from there.
As I am going to pass the night on deck, I return up the cabin stairs. The American is there, just finishing the repacking of his case.
"Would you believe it!" he exclaims, "that that drunken moujik actually asked me for something to drink?"
"I hope you have lost nothing, Monsieur Ephrinell?" I reply.
"May I ask how many teeth you are importing into China in those cases?"
"Eighteen hundred thousand, without counting the wisdom teeth!"
And Ephrinell began to laugh at this little joke, which he fired off on several other occasions during the voyage. I left him and went onto the bridge between the paddle boxes.
It is a beautiful night, with the northerly wind beginning to freshen. In the offing, long, greenish streaks are sweeping over the surface of the sea. It is possible that the night may be rougher than we expect. In the forepart of the steamer are many passengers, Turkomans in rags, Kirghizes wrapped up to the eyes, moujiks in emigrant costume--poor fellows, in fact, stretched on the spare spars, against the sides, and along the tarpaulins. They are almost all smoking or nibbling at the provisions they have brought for the voyage. The others are trying to sleep and forget their fatigue, and perhaps their hunger.
It occurs to me to take a stroll among these groups. I am like a hunter beating the brushwood before getting into the hiding place. And I go among this heap of packages, looking them over as if I were a custom house officer.
A rather large deal case, covered with a tarpaulin, attracts my attention. It measures about a yard and a half in height, and a yard in width and depth. It has been placed here with the care required by these words in Russian, written on the side, "Glass--Fragile--Keep from damp," and then directions, "Top--Bottom," which have been respected. And then there is the address, "Mademoiselle Zinca Klork, Avenue Cha-Coua, Pekin, Petchili, China."
This Zinca Klork--her name showed it--ought to be a Roumanian, and she was taking advantage of this through train on the Grand Transasiatic to get her glass forwarded. Was this an article in request at the shops of the Middle Kingdom? How otherwise could the fair Celestials admire their almond eyes and their elaborate hair?
The bell rang and announced the six-o'clock dinner. The dining-room is forward. I went down to it, and found it already occupied by some forty people.
Ephrinell had installed himself nearly in the middle.