What? Not an adventure from Tiflis to Pekin? Evidently that could only be my fault! And I resolved to do everything to avoid such a misfortune.
It is half-past ten when I sit down on one of the seats in the stern of the _Astara_. But with this increasing wind it is impossible for me to remain there. I rise, therefore, and make my way forward. Under the bridge, between the paddle boxes, the wind is so strong that I seek shelter among the packages covered by the tarpaulin. Stretched on one of the boxes, wrapped in my rug, with my head resting against the tarpaulin, I shall soon be asleep.
After some time, I do not exactly know how much, I am awakened by a curious noise. Whence comes this noise? I listen more attentively. It seems as though some one is snoring close to my ear.
"That is some steerage passenger," I think. "He has got under the tarpaulin between the cases, and he will not do so badly in his improvised cabin."
By the light which filters down from the lower part of the binnacle, I see nothing.
I listen again. The noise has ceased.
I look about. There is no one on this part of the deck, for the second-class passengers are all forward.
Then I must have been dreaming, and I resume my position and try again to sleep.
This time there is no mistake. The snoring has begun again, and I am sure it is coming from the case against which I am leaning my head.
"Goodness!" I say. "There must be an animal in here!"
An animal? What? A dog? A cat? Why have they hidden a domestic animal in this case? Is it a wild animal? A panther, a tiger, a lion?
Now I am off on the trail! It must be a wild animal on its way from some menagerie to some sultan of Central Asia. This case is a cage, and if the cage opens, if the animal springs out onto the deck--here is an incident, here is something worth chronicling; and here I am with my professional enthusiasm running mad. I must know at all costs to whom this wild beast is being sent; is it going to Uzon Ada, or is it going to China? The address ought to be on the case.
I light a wax vesta, and as I am sheltered from the wind, the flame keeps upright.
By its light what do I read?
The case containing the wild beast is the very one with the address:
"_Mademoiselle Zinca Klork, Avenue Cha-Coua, Pekin, China."_
_Fragile_, my wild beast! _Keep from damp_, my lion! Quite so! But for what does Miss Zinca Klork, this pretty--for the Roumanian ought to be pretty, and she is certainly a Roumanian--for what does she want a wild beast sent in this way?
Let us think about it and be reasonable. This animal, whatever it may be, must eat and drink. From the time it starts from Uzon Ada it will take eleven days to cross Asia, and reach the capital of the Celestial Empire. Well, what do they give it to drink, what do they give it to eat, if he is not going to get out of his cage, if he is going to be shut up during the whole of the journey? The officials of the Grand Transasiatic will be no more careful in their attentions to the said wild beast than if he were a glass, for he is described as such; and he will die of inanition!
All these things sent my brain whirling. My thoughts bewildered me. "Is it a lovely dream that dazes me, or am I awake?" as Margaret says in Faust, more lyrically than dramatically. To resist is impossible. I have a two-pound weight on each eyelid. I lay down along by the tarpaulin; my rug wraps me more closely, and I fall into a deep sleep.
How long have I slept? Perhaps for three or four hours. One thing is certain, and that is that it is not yet daylight when I awake.
I rub my eyes, I rise, I go and lean against the rail.
The _Astara_ is not so lively, for the wind has shifted to the northeast.
The night is cold. I warm myself by walking about briskly for half an hour. I think no more of my wild beast. Suddenly remembrance returns to me. Should I not call the attention of the stationmaster to this disquieting case? But that is no business of mine. We shall see before we start.