And if that should happen to me I will forgive those who laugh at the comic endeavor.
But the baron was in no mood for forgiveness. He bounded here, and bounded there, he jumped on to the line. They shouted to him, "Look out! look out!" for the Merv was coming in at some speed. It brought death to the hat, the engine smashed it pitilessly, and it was only a torn rag when it was handed to the baron. And then began again a series of imprecations on the Grand Transasiatic.
The signal is given. The passengers, old and new, hurry to their places. Among the new ones I notice three Mongols, of forbidding appearance, who get into the second-class car.
As I put my foot on the platform I hear the young Chinese say to his companion:
"Well, Dr. Tio-King, did you see the German with his performing hat? How I laughed!"
And so Pan Chao speaks French. What do I say? Better than French--he speaks Persian! Most extraordinary! I must have a talk with him.
We started to time. The baron could not complain this time. After all, I understood his impatience; a minute's delay might cause him to lose the mail boat from Tien Tsin to Japan.
The day looked promising, that is to say, there might have been a wind strong enough to put out the sun as if it were a candle, such a hurricane as sometimes stops the locomotives of the Grand Transasiatic, but to-day it is blowing from the west, and will be supportable, as it blows the train along. We can remain out on the platforms.
I want to enter into conversation with Pan Chao. Popof was right; he must be the son of some family of distinction who has been spending some years in Paris for education and amusement. He ought to be one of the most regular visitors at the _Twentieth Century_ "five o'clocks."
Meanwhile I will attend to other business. There is that man in the case. A whole day will elapse before I can relieve his anxiety. In what a state he must be! But as it would be unwise for me to enter the van during the day, I must wait until night.
I must not forget that an interview with the Caternas is included in the programme. There will be no difficulty in that, apparently.
What will not be so easy is to get into conversation with my No. 12, his superb lordship Faruskiar. He seems rather stiff, does this Oriental.
Ah! There is a name I must know as soon as possible, that of the mandarin returning to China in the form of a mortuary parcel. With a little ingenuity Popof may manage to ascertain it from one of the Persians in charge of his Excellency. If it would only be that of some grand functionary, the Pao-Wang, or the Ko-Wang, or the viceroy of the two Kiangs, the Prince King in person!
For an hour the train is running through the oasis. We shall soon be in the open desert. The soil is formed of alluvial beds extending up to the environs of Merv. I must get accustomed to this monotony of the journey which will last up to the frontier of Turkestan. Oasis and desert, desert and oasis. As we approach the Pamir the scenery will change a little. There are picturesque bits of landscape in that orographic knot which the Russians have had to cut as Alexander cut the gordian knot that was worth something to the Macedonian conqueror of Asia. Here is a good augury for the Russian conquest.
But I must wait for this crossing of the Pamir and its varied scenery. Beyond lay the interminable plains of Chinese Turkestan, the immense sandy desert of Gobi, where the monotony of the journey will begin again.
It is half-past ten. Breakfast will soon be served in the dining car. Let us take a walk through the length of the train.
Where is Ephrinell? I do not see him at his post by the side of Miss Horatia Bluett, whom I questioned on the subject after saluting her politely.
"Mr. Ephrinell has gone to give an eye to his cases," she replies.
In the rear of the second car Faruskiar and Ghangir have installed themselves; they are alone at this moment, and are talking together in a low tone.
As I return I meet Ephrinell, who is coming back to his traveling companion.