This type is occasionally so insupportable, even to his compatriots, that Dickens, Thackeray and others have often made fun of it. How he turned up his nose at the station at Uzun Ada, at the train, at the men, at the car in which he had secured a seat by placing in it his traveling bag! Let us call him No. 8 in my pocketbook.
There seem to be no personages of importance. That is a pity. If only the Emperor of Russia, on one side, or the Son of Heaven, on the other, were to enter the train to meet officially on the frontier of the two empires, what festivities there would be, what grandeur, what descriptions, what copy for letters and telegrams!
It occurs to me to have a look at the mysterious box. Has it not a right to be so called? Yes, certainly. I must really find out where it has been put and how to get at it easily.
The front van is already full of Ephrinell's baggage. It does not open at the side, but in front and behind, like the cars. It is also furnished with a platform and a gangway. An interior passage allows the guard to go through it to reach the tender and locomotive if necessary. Popof's little cabin is on the platform of the first car, in the left-hand corner. At night it will be easy for me to visit the van, for it is only shut in by the doors at the ends of the passage arranged between the packages. If this van is reserved for luggage registered through to China, the luggage for the Turkestan stations ought to be in the van at the rear.
When I arrived the famous box was still on the platform.
In looking at it closely I observe that airholes have been bored on each of its sides, and that on one side it has two panels, one of which can be made to slide on the other from the inside. And I am led to think that the prisoner has had it made so in order that he can, if necessary, leave his prison--probably during the night.
Just now the porters are beginning to lift the box. I have the satisfaction of seeing that they attend to the directions inscribed on it. It is placed, with great care, near the entrance to the van, on the left, the side with the panels outward, as if it were the door of a cupboard. And is not the box a cupboard? A cupboard I propose to open?
It remains to be seen if the guard in charge of the luggage is to remain in this van. No. I find that his post is just outside it.
"There it is, all right!" said one of the porters, looking to see that the case was as it should be, top where top should be, and so on.
"There is no fear of its moving," said another porter; "the glass will reach Pekin all right, unless the train runs off the metals."
"Or it does not run into anything," said the other; "and that remains to be seen."
They were right--these good fellows--it remained to be seen--and it would be seen.
The American came up to me and took a last look at his stock of incisors, molars and canines, with a repetition of his invariable "Wait a bit."
"You know, Monsieur Bombarnac," he said to me, "that the passengers are going to dine at the Hôtel du Czar before the departure of the train. It is time now. Will you come with me?"
"I follow you."
And we entered the dining room. All my numbers are there: 1, Ephrinell, taking his place as usual by the side of 2, Miss Horatia Bluett. The French couple, 4 and 5, are also side by side. Number 3, that is Major Noltitz, is seated in front of numbers 9 and 10, the two Chinese to whom I have just given numbers in my notebook. As to the fat German, number 6, he has already got his long nose into his soup plate. I see also that the Guard Popol, number 7, has his place at the foot of the table. The other passengers, Europeans and Asiatics, are installed, _passim_ with the evident intention of doing justice to the repast.
Ah! I forgot my number 8, the disdainful gentleman whose name I don't yet know, and who seems determined to find the Russian cookery inferior to the English.
I also notice with what attention Monsieur Caterna looks after his wife, and encourages her to make up for the time lost when she was unwell on board the _Astara_.