A hand which holds a cigar, is stretched out toward him. Popof smiles and soon his perfumed puffs are mingling voluptuously with mine.
For fifteen years I think I said our guard had been in the Transcaspian service. He knows the country up to the Chinese frontier, and five or six times already he has been over the whole line known as the Grand Transasiatic.
Popof was on duty on the section between Mikhailov and Kizil Arvat when the line opened--a section which was begun in the December of 1880 and finished in ten months, in November, 1881. Five years later the locomotive entered Merv, on the 14th July, 1886, and eighteen months later it was welcomed at Samarkand. Now the road through Turkestan joins the road through the Celestial Empire, and the ribbon of iron extends without interruption from the Caspian Sea to Pekin.
When Popof had given me this information, I asked if he knew anything of our fellow travelers, I meant those who were going through to China. And in the first place of Major Noltitz?
"The major," said Popof, "has lived a long time in the Turkestan provinces, and he is going to Pekin to organize the staff of a hospital for our compatriots, with the permission of the Czar, of course."
"I like this Major Noltitz," I said, "and I hope to make his acquaintance very soon."
"He would be equally pleased to make yours," replied Popof.
"And these two Chinese, do you know them?"
"Not in the least, Monsieur Bombarnac; all I know is the name on the luggage."
"What is that?"
"The younger man's name is Pan-Chao, the elder's is Tio-King. Probably they have been traveling in Europe for some years. As to saying where they come from, I cannot. I imagine that Pan-Chao belongs to some rich family, for he is accompanied by his doctor."
"Yes, Doctor Tio-King."
"And do they only speak Chinese?"
"Probably; I have not heard them speak any other language together."
On this information from Popof, I will keep to the number nine I have given to young Pan-Chao, and to the ten with which I have labelled Doctor Tio-King.
"The American," began Popof.
"Ephrinell?" I exclaimed, "and Miss Horatia Bluett, the Englishwoman? Oh! You can tell me nothing about them I don't know."
"Shall I tell you what I think about that couple, Monsieur Bombarnac?"
"What do you think?"
"That as soon as they reach Pekin, Miss Bluett will become Mrs. Ephrinell."
"And may Heaven bless their union, Popof, for they are really made for each other."
I saw that on this subject Popof and I held similar ideas.
"And the two French people, that couple so affectionate." I asked, "who are they?"
"Have they not told you?"
"You need not be anxious, Monsieur Bombarnac. Besides, if you wish to know their profession, it is written at full length on all their luggage.
"And that is?"
"Stage people who are going to a theater in China."
Stage people! If that explains the attitudes, and mobile physiognomy, and demonstrative gestures of Caterna, it does not explain his maritime allusions.
"And do you know what line these players are in?"
"The husband is comic lead."
"And the wife?"
"She is leading lady."
"And where are these lyrical people going?"
"To Shanghai, where they have an engagement at the French theater."
That is capital. I will talk about the theater, and behind the scenes, and such matters, and, as Popof said, I shall soon make the acquaintance of the cheery comedian and his charming wife. But it is not in their company that I shall discover the hero of romance who is the object of my desire.
As to the scornful gentleman, our guide knew nothing beyond that his luggage bore the address in full: Sir Francis Trevellyan, Trevellyan Hall, Trevellyanshire.
"A gentleman who does not answer when he is spoken to!" added Popof.
Well, my number eight will have to be dumb man, and that will do very well.
"Now we get to the German," said I.
"He is going to Pekin, I think."
"To Pekin and beyond."
"Yes; he is on a trip round the world."
"A trip round the world?"
"In thirty-nine days."
And so after Mrs.