“Quick!” said the major. “Out of the train!”
* * * * *
In a moment the passengers, more or less bruised and alarmed, were out on the track. Nothing but complaints and questions uttered in three or four different languages, amid general bewilderment.
Faruskiar, Ghangir and the four Mongols were the first to jump off the cars. They are out on the line, kandijar in one hand, revolver in the other. No doubt an attack has been organized to pillage the train.
The rails have been taken up for about a hundred yards, and the engine, after bumping over the sleepers, has come to a standstill in a sandhill.
“What! The railroad not finished—and they sold me a through ticket from Tiflis to Pekin? And I came by this Transasiatic to save nine days in my trip round the world!”
In these phrases, in German, hurled at Popof, I recognized the voice of the irascible baron. But this time he should have addressed his reproaches not to the engineers of the company, but to others.
We spoke to Popof, while Major Noltitz continued to watch Faruskiar and the Mongols.
“The baron is mistaken,” said Popof, “the railway is completed, and if a hundred yards of rails have been lifted here, it has been with some criminal intention.”
“To stop the train!” I exclaim.
“And steal the treasure they are sending to Pekin!” says Caterna.
“There is no doubt about that,” says Popof. “Be ready to repulse an attack.”
“Is it Ki-Tsang and his gang that we have to do with?” I asked.
Ki-Tsang! The name spread among the passengers and caused inexpressible terror.
The major said to me in a low voice: “Why Ki-Tsang? Why not my lord Faruskiar?”
“He—the manager of the Transasiatic?”
“If it is true that the company had to take several of these robber chiefs into its confidence to assure the safety of the trains—”
“I will never believe that, major.”
“As you please, Monsieur Bombarnac. But assuredly Faruskiar knew that this pretended mortuary van contained millions.”
“Come, major, this is no time for joking.”
No, it was the time for defending, and defending one’s self courageously.
The Chinese officer has placed his men around the treasure van. They are twenty in number, and the rest of the passengers, not counting the women, amount to thirty. Popof distributes the weapons which are carried in case of attack. Major Noltitz, Caterna, Pan-Chao, Ephrinell, driver and stoker, passengers, Asiatic and European, all resolve to fight for the common safety.
On the right of the line, about a hundred yards away, stretches a deep, gloomy thicket, a sort of jungle, in which doubtless are hidden the robbers, awaiting the signal to pounce upon us.