"You need not be in too much of a hurry!" he said.
"Never fear! Prudence and discretion, as they say at the matrimonial agencies."
Then I went to the door of the van to see that we were in no danger of surprise, and then the conversation was resumed. Naturally, Kinko asked me how I had discovered his secret. I told him all that had passed on the steamer during the voyage across the Caspian. His breathing had betrayed him. The idea that at first I took him for a wild beast seemed to amuse him. A wild beast! A faithful poodle, rather! Then with a sneeze he went up the animal scale to human rank.
"But," said he to me, lowering his voice, "two nights ago I thought all was lost. The van was closed. I had just lighted my little lamp, and had begun my supper when a knock came against the panel--"
"I did that, Kinko, I did that. And that night we should have become acquainted if the train had not run into a dromedary."
"It was you! I breathe again!" said Kinko. "In what dreams I have lived! It was known that some one was hidden in this box. I saw myself discovered, handed over to the police, taken to prison at Merv or Bokhara, and my little Zinca waiting for me in vain; and never should I see her again, unless I resumed the journey on foot. Well, I would have resumed, yes, I would."
And he said it with such an air of resolution that it was impossible not to see that the young Roumanian had unusual spirit.
"Brave Kinko!" I answered. "I am awfully sorry to have caused you such apprehensions. Now you are at ease again, and I fancy your chances have improved now we have made friends."
I then asked Kinko to show me how he managed in his box.
Nothing could be simpler or better arranged. At the bottom was a seat on which he sat with the necessary space for him to stretch his legs when he placed them obliquely; under the seat, shut in by a lid, were a few provisions, and table utensils reduced to a simple pocket knife and metal mug; an overcoat and a rug hung from a nail, and the little lamp he used at nighttime was hooked onto one of the walls.
The sliding panel allowed the prisoner to leave his prison occasionally. But if the case had been placed among other packages, if the porters had not deposited it with the precautions due to its fragility, he would not have been able to work the panel, and would have had to make a friend somehow before the end of the journey. Fortunately, there is a special Providence for lovers, and divine intervention in favor of Kinko and Zinca Klork was manifested in all its plenitude. He told me that very night he had taken a walk either in the van or else on the station platform where the train had stopped.
"I know that, Kinko. That was at Bokhara. I saw you!"
"You saw me?"
"Yes, and I thought you were trying to get away. But if I saw you, it was because I knew of your presence in the van, and I was there watching you, no one else having an idea of spying on you. Nevertheless, it was dangerous; do not do it again; let me replenish your larder when I get an opportunity."
"Thank you, Monsieur Bombarnac, thank you! I do not believe I am in danger of being discovered, unless at the Chinese frontier--or rather at Kachgar."
"The custom house is very keen on goods going into China. I am afraid they will come round the packages, and that my box--"
"In fact, Kinko," I replied, "there are a few difficult hours for you."
"If they find me out?"
"I shall be there, and I will do all I can to prevent anything unpleasant happening."
"Ah! Monsieur Bombarnac!" exclaimed Kinko, in a burst of gratitude. "How can I repay you?"
"Very easily, Kinko."
"And in what way?"
"Ask me to your marriage with the lovely Zinca."
"I will! And Zinca will embrace you."
"She will be only doing her duty, friend Kinko, and I shall be only doing mine in returning two kisses for one."
We exchanged a last grip of the hand; and, really, I think there were tears in the good fellow's eyes when I left him. He put out his lamp, he pushed back the panel, then through the case I heard one more "thanks" and an "_au revoir_."
I came out of the van, I shut the door, I assured myself that Popof was still asleep.