He shakes my hand Yankee fashion. I tell him that Miss Horatia Bluett has given me news of him.
"Oh!" says he, "what a woman yonder! What a splendid saleswoman! One of those English--"
"Who are good enough to be Americans!" I add.
"Wait a bit!" he replies, with a significant smile.
As I am going put, I notice that the two Chinamen are already in the dining car, and that Dr. Tio-King's little book is on the table.
I do not consider it too much of a liberty for a reporter to pick up this little book, to open it and to read the title, which is as follows:
The temperate and regular life, Or the art of living long in perfect health. Translated from the Italian of Louis Cornaro, a Venetian noble. To which is added the way of correcting a bad constitution, and enjoying perfect felicity to the most advanced years. and to die only from the using up of the original humidity in extreme old age. Salerno, 1782.
And this is the favorite reading of Dr. Tio-King! And that is why his disrespectful pupil occasionally gives him the nickname of Cornaro!
I have not time to see anything else in this volume than _Abstinentia adjicit vitam_; but this motto of the noble Venetian I have no intention of putting in practice, at least at breakfast time.
There is no change in the order in which we sit down to table. I find myself close to Major Noltitz, who is looking attentively at Faruskiar and his companion, placed at the extremity of the table. We are asking ourselves who this haughty Mongol could be.
"Ah!" said I, laughing at the thought which crossed my mind, "if that is--"
"Who?" asked the major.
"The chief of the brigands, the famous Ki-Tsang."
"Have your joke, Monsieur Bombarnac, but under your breath, I advise you!"
"You see, major, he would then be an interesting personage and worth a long interview!"
We enjoyed our meal as we talked. The breakfast was excellent, the provisions having come freshly on board at Askhabad and Douchak. For drink we had tea, and Crimean wine, and Kazan beer; for meat we had mutton cutlets and excellent preserves; for dessert a melon with pears and grapes of the best quality.
After breakfast I went to smoke my cigar on the platform behind the dining car. Caterna almost immediately joins me. Evidently the estimable comedian has seized the opportunity to enter into conversation with me.
His intelligent eyes, his smooth face, his cheeks accustomed to false whiskers, his lips accustomed to false moustaches, his head accustomed to wigs red, black, or gray, bald or hairy, according to his part, everything denoted the actor made for the life of the boards. But he had such an open, cheery face, such an honest look, so frank an attitude, that he was evidently a really good fellow.
"Sir," said he to me, "are two Frenchmen going all the way from Baku to Pekin without making each other's acquaintance?"
"Sir," I replied, "when I meet a compatriot--"
"Who is a Parisian--"
"And consequently a Frenchman twice over," I added, "I am only too glad to shake hands with him! And so, Monsieur Caterna--"
"You know my name?"
"As you know mine, I am sure."
"Of course, Monsieur Claudius Bombarnac, correspondent of the _Twentieth Century_."
"At your service, believe me."
"A thousand thanks, Monsieur Bombarnac, and even ten thousand, as they say in China, whither Madame Caterna and I are bound."
"To appear at Shanghai in the French troupe at the residency as--"
"You know all that, then?"
"I may add, from sundry nautical phrases I have noticed, that you have been to sea."
"I believe you, sir. Formerly coxswain of Admiral de Boissondy's launch on board the _Redoubtable_."
"Then I beg to ask why you, a sailor, did not go by way of the sea?"
"Ah, there it is, Monsieur Bombarnac. Know that Madame Caterna, who is incontestably the first leading lady of the provinces, and there is not one to beat her as a waiting maid or in a man's part, cannot stand the sea.