I need scarcely say that the offer was gladly accepted.
Our train more and more resembled a small rolling town It had even its casino, this dining-car in which we were gathered at the moment. And it was thus in the eastern part of Turkestan, four hundred kilometres from the Pamir plateau, at dessert after our excellent dinner served in a saloon of the Grand Transasiatic, that the _Obsession_ was given with remarkable talent by Monsieur Caterna, grand premier comique, engaged at Shanghai theater for the approaching season.
"Monsieur," said Pan Chao, "my sincere compliments. I have heard young Coquelin--"
"A master, monsieur; a master!" said Caterna.
"Whom you approach--"
The bravos lavished on Caterna had no effect on Sir Francis Trevellyan, who had been occupying himself with onomatopic exclamations regarding the dinner, which he considered execrable. He was not amused--not even sadly, as his countrymen have been for four hundred years, according to Froissart. And yet nobody took any notice of this grumbling gentleman's recriminations.
Baron Weissschnitzerdörfer had not understood a single word of this little masterpiece, and had he understood it, he would not have been able to appreciate this sample of Parisian monologomania.
As to my lord Faruskiar and his inseparable Ghangir, it seemed that in spite of their traditional reserve, the surprising grimaces, the significant gestures, the comical intonations, had interested them to a certain extent.
The actor had noticed it, and appreciated this silent admiration.
As he rose from the table he said to me:
"He is magnificent, this seigneur! What dignity! What a presence! What a type of the farthest East! I like his companion less--a third-rate fellow at the outside! But this superb Mongol! Caroline, cannot you imagine him as 'Morales' in the _Pirates of the Savannah_?"
"Not in that costume, at any rate," said I.
"Why not, Monsieur Claudius? One day at Perpignan I played 'Colonel de Montéclin' in the _Closerie des Genets_ in the costume of a Japanese officer--"
"And he was applauded!" added Madame Caterna.
During dinner the train had passed Kastakos station, situated in the center of a mountainous region. The road curved a good deal, and ran over viaducts and through tunnels--as we could tell by the noise.
A little time afterward Popof told us that we were in the territory of Ferganah, the name of the ancient khanate of Kokhan, which was annexed by Russia in 1876, with the seven districts that compose it. These districts, in which Sarthes are in the majority, are administered by prefects, sub-prefects, and mayors. Come, then, to Ferganah, to find all the machinery of the constitution of the year VIII.
Beyond there is an immense steppe, extending before our train. Madame de Ujfalvy-Bourdon has justly compared it to a billiard table, so perfect in its horizontality. Only it is not an ivory ball which is rolling over its surface, but an express of the Grand Transasiatic running at sixty kilometres an hour.
Leaving the station of Tchontchai behind, we enter station at nine o'clock in the evening. The stoppage is to last two hours. We get out onto the platform.
As we are leaving the car I am near Major Noltitz, who asks young Pan Chao:
"Have you ever heard of this mandarin Yen Lou, whose body is being taken to Pekin?"
"But he ought to be a personage of consideration, to be treated with the honor he gets."
"That is possible," said Pan Chao; "but we have so many personages of consideration in the Celestial Empire."
"And so, this mandarin, Yen Lou?"
"I never heard him mentioned."
Why did Major Noltitz ask the Chinaman this question? What was he thinking about?
Kokhan, two hours to stop. It is night. The majority of the travelers have already taken up their sleeping quarters in the car, and do not care to alight.
Here am I on the platform, walking the deck as I smoke. This is rather an important station, and from the engine house comes a more powerful locomotive than those which have brought the train along since we left Uzun Ada.