His presence has ever been reported in that part of Mongolia served by the Grand Transasiatic."
"Well, he ought to furnish a few paragraphs."
"The paragraphs Ki-Tsang will furnish you with may cost you too dearly."
"Bah! major, the _Twentieth Century_ is quite rich enough to pay for its glory."
"To pay with its money, perhaps, but we may have to pay with our lives! Luckily our companions have not heard you talk in this way, or they might come in a body and demand your expulsion from the train. So be careful, and keep a guard on your desires as a newspaper man in quest of adventures. Above all, don't have anything to do with this Ki-Tsang. It would be all the better in the interest of the passengers."
"But not of the passage, major."
We returned towards the station. The stoppage at Douchak had another half hour to last. As I walked on the quay, I observed something going on which would change the make-up of our train.
Another van had arrived from Teheran by the branch line to Mesphed, which puts the Persian capital in communication with the Transcaspian.
This van was bolted and barred, and accompanied by a squad of Persian police, whose orders seemed to be not to lose sight of it.
I don't know what made me think so, but it seemed as though this van had something mysterious about it, and as the major had left me, I went and spoke to Popof, who was watching over the proceedings.
"Popof, where is that van going?"
"And what has it got in it?"
"What has it got in it? An exalted personage."
"An exalted personage?"
"Are you surprised?"
"I am. In this van?"
"It is his own idea."
"Well, Popof, when this exalted personage gets out perhaps you will let me know?"
"He Will not get out."
"Because he is dead."
"Yes, and it is his body they are taking to Pekin, where he will be interred with all the honors due to him."
So that we were to have an important personage in our train--in the shape of a corpse, it is true. Never mind! I asked Popof to discover the name of the defunct. He ought to be some mandarin of mark. As soon as I knew it I would send a telegram to the _Twentieth Century_.
While I was looking at this van, a new passenger came up and examined it with no less curiosity than I did.
This traveler was a fine-looking man of about forty, wearing gracefully the costume of the richer Mongols, a tall fellow, with rather a gloomy look, a military moustache, tawny complexion, and eyes that never shut.
"Here is a splendid fellow," I said to myself. "I don't know if he will turn out the hero of the drama I am in search of, but, anyhow, I will number him twelve in my traveling troupe."
This leading star, I soon learned from Popof, bore the name of Faruskiar. He was accompanied by another Mongol, of inferior rank, of about the same age, whose name was Ghangir. As they looked at the van being attached to the tail of the train in front of the luggage van, they exchanged a few words. As soon as the arrangements were complete the Persians took their places in the second-class car, which preceded the mortuary van, so as to have the precious corpse always under their surveillance.
At this moment there was a shout on the station platform I recognized the voice. It was the Baron Weissschnitzerdörfer shouting:
This time it was not a train on the start, but a hat in distress. A sudden gust had swept through the station and borne off the baron's hat--a helmet-shaped hat of a bluish color. It rolled on the platform, it rolled on the rails, it skimmed the enclosure and went out over the wall, and its owner ran his hardest to stop it.
At the sight of this wild pursuit the Caternas held their sides, the young Chinaman, Pan Chao, shouted with laughter, while Dr. Tio-King remained imperturbably serious.
The German purple, puffling and panting, could do no more. Twice he had got his hand on his hat, and twice it had escaped him, and now suddenly he fell full length with his head lost under the folds of his overcoat; whereupon Caterna began to sing the celebrated air from "Miss Helyett":
"Ah! the superb point of view--ew--ew--ew! Ah! the view unexpected by you--you--you--you!"
I know nothing more annoying than a hat carried away by the wind, which bounds hither and thither, and spins and jumps, and glides, and slides, and darts off just as you think you are going to catch it.