I hope the fresh air will do them good. We are now only a dozen in the dining room, including the captain, with whom Major Noltitz is quietly conversing. Ephrinell and Miss Bluett seem to be thoroughly accustomed to these inevitable incidents of navigation. The German baron drinks and eats as if he had taken up his quarters in some bier-halle at Munich, or Frankfort, holding his knife in his right hand, his fork in his left, and making up little heaps of meat, which he salts and peppers and covers with sauce, and then inserts under his hairy lip on the point of his knife. Fie! What behavior! And yet he gets on splendidly, and neither rolling nor pitching makes him lose a mouthful of food or drink.
A little way off are the two Celestials, whom I watch with curiosity.
One is a young man of distinguished bearing, about twenty-five years old, of pleasant physiognomy, in spite of his yellow skin and his narrow eyes. A few years spent in Europe have evidently Europeanized his manners and even his dress. His mustache is silky, his eye is intelligent his hair is much more French than Chinese. He seems to me a nice fellow, of a cheerful temperament, who would not ascend the "Tower of Regret," as the Chinese have it, oftener than he could help.
His companion, on the contrary, whom he always appears to be making fun of, is of the type of the true porcelain doll, with the moving head; he is from fifty to fifty-five years old, like a monkey in the face, the top of his head half shaven, the pigtail down his back, the traditional costume, frock, vest, belt, baggy trousers, many-colored slippers; a China vase of the Green family. He, however, could hold out no longer, and after a tremendous pitch, accompanied by a long rattle of the crockery, he got up and hurried on deck. And as he did so, the younger Chinaman shouted after him, "Cornaro! Cornaro!" at the same time holding out a little volume he had left on the table.
What was the meaning of this Italian word in an Oriental mouth? Did the Chinaman speak the language of Boccaccio? The _Twentieth Century_ ought to know, and it would know.
Madame Caterna arose, very pale, and Monsieur Caterna, a model husband, followed her on deck.
The dinner over, leaving Ephrinell and Miss Bluett to talk of brokerages and prices current, I went for a stroll on the poop of the _Astara_. Night had nearly closed in. The hurrying clouds, driven from the eastward, draped in deep folds the higher zones of the sky, with here and there a few stars peeping through. The wind was rising. The white light of the steamer clicked as it swung on the foremast. The red and green lights rolled with the ship, and projected their long colored rays onto the troubled waters.
I met Ephrinell, Miss Horatia Bluett having retired to her cabin; he was going down into the saloon to find a comfortable corner on one of the couches. I wished him good night, and he left me after gratifying me with a similar wish.
As for me, I will wrap myself in my rug and lie down in a corner of the deck, and sleep like a sailor during his watch below.
It is only eight o'clock. I light my cigar, and with my legs wide apart, to assure my stability as the ship rolled, I begin to walk up and down the deck. The deck is already abandoned by the first-class passengers, and I am almost alone. On the bridge is the mate, pacing backward and forward, and watching the course he has given to the man at the wheel, who is close to him. The paddles are impetuously beating into the sea, and now and then breaking into thunder, as one or the other of the wheels runs wild, as the rolling lifts it clear of the water. A thick smoke rises from the funnel, which occasionally belches forth a shower of sparks.
At nine o'clock the night is very dark. I try to make out some steamer's lights in the distance, but in vain, for the Caspian has not many ships on it. I can hear only the cry of the sea birds, gulls and scoters, who are abandoning themselves to the caprices of the wind.
During my promenade, one thought besets me: is the voyage to end without my getting anything out of it as copy for my journal? My instructions made me responsible for producing something, and surely not without reason.