"You are a Roumanian, I think," I add, "and I am a Frenchman."
"Frenchman? You are a Frenchman?"
And this reply was given in my own language, with a foreign accent.
One more bond between us.
The panel slips along its groove, and by the light of a little lamp I can examine my No. 11, to whom I shall be able to give a less arithmetical designation.
"No one can see us, nor hear us?" he asked in a half-stifled voice.
My new friend takes my hands, he clasps them. I feel that he seeks a support. He understands he can depend on me. And he murmurs:
"Do not betray me--do not betray me."
"Betray you, my boy? Did not the French newspapers sympathize with that little Austrian tailor, with those two Spanish sweethearts, who sent themselves by train in the way you are doing? Were not subscriptions opened in their favor? And can you believe that I, a journalist--"
"You are a journalist?"
"Claudius Bombarnac, special correspondent of the _Twentieth Century."_
"A French journal--"
"Yes, I tell you."
"And you are going to Pekin?"
"Through to Pekin."
"Ah! Monsieur Bombarnac, Providence has sent you onto my road."
"No, it was the managers of my journal, and they delegated to me the powers they hold from Providence, courage and confidence. Anything I can do for you I will."
"What is your name?"
"Kinko? Excellent name!"
"For my articles! You are a Roumanian, are you not?"
"Roumanian of Bucharest."
"But you have lived in France?"
"Four years in Paris, where I was apprentice to an upholsterer in the Faubourg Saint Antoine."
"And you went back to Bucharest?"
"Yes, to work at my trade there until the day came when it was impossible for me to resist the desire to leave--"
"To leave? Why?"
"To marry--Mademoiselle Zinca--"
"Yes, Mademoiselle Zinca Klork, Avenue Cha-Coua, Pekin, China!"
"Certainly. The address is on the box."
"As to Mademoiselle Zinca Klork--"
"She is a young Roumanian. I knew her in Paris, where she was learning the trade of a milliner. Oh, charming--"
"I am sure upon it. You need not dwell on that."
"She also returned to Bucharest, until she was invited to take the management of a dressmaker's at Pekin. We loved, monsieur; she went--and we were separated for a year. Three weeks ago she wrote to me. She was getting on over there. If I could go out to her, I would do well. We should get married without delay. She had saved something. I would soon earn as much as she had. And here I am on the road--in my turn--for China."
"In this box?"
"What would you have, Monsieur Bombarnac?" asked Kinko, reddening. "I had only money enough to buy a packing case, a few provisions, and get myself sent off by an obliging friend. It costs a thousand francs to go from Tiflis to Pekin. But as soon as I have gained them, the company will be repaid, I assure you."
"I believe you, Kinko, I believe you; and on your arrival at Pekin?"
"Zinca has been informed. The box will be taken to Avenue Cha-Coua, and she--"
"Will pay the carriage?"
"And with pleasure, I will answer for it."
"You may be sure of it, for we love each other so much."
"And besides, Kinko, what would one not do for a sweetheart who consents to shut himself up in a box for a fortnight, and arrives labelled 'Glass,' 'Fragile,' 'Beware of damp--'"
"Ah, you are making fun of a poor fellow."
"Not at all; and you may rest assured I will neglect nothing which will enable you to arrive dry and in one piece at Mademoiselle Zinca Klork's--in short, in a perfect state of preservation!"
"Again I thank you," said Kinko, pressing my hands. "Believe me, you will not find me ungrateful."
"Ah! friend Kinko, I shall be paid, and more than paid!"
"By relating, as soon as I can do so without danger to you, the particulars of your journey from Tiflis to Pekin. Think now--what a heading for a column:
'A LOVER IN A BOX! ZINCA AND KINKO!! 1,500 LEAGUES THROUGH CENTRAL ASIA IN A LUGGAGE VAN!!!'"
The young Roumanian could not help smiling.