I begin to master my torpor. Staggering like a drunken man, I crawl to Kinko’s case. There, in a few words, I tell him what has passed, and I exclaim:
“We are lost!”
“No—perhaps” he replies.
Before I can move, Kinko is out of his box. He rushes towards the front door; he climbs on to the tender.
“Come along! Come along!” he shouts.
I do not know how I have done it, but here I am at his side, on the foot-plate, my feet in the blood of the driver and stoker, who have been thrown off on to the line.
Faruskiar and his accomplices are no longer here.
But before they went one of them has taken off the brakes, jammed down the regulator to full speed, thrown fresh coals into the fire-box, and the train is running with frightful velocity.
In a few minutes we shall reach the Tjon viaduct.
Kinko, energetic and resolute, is as cool as a cucumber. But in vain he tries to move the regulator, to shut off the steam, to put on the brake. These valves and levers, what shall we do with them?
“I must tell Popof!” I shout.
“And what can he do? No; there is only one way—”
“And what is that?”
“Rouse up the fire,” says Kinko, calmly; “shut down the safety valves, and blow up the engine.”
And was that the only way—a desperate way—of stopping the train before it reached the viaduct?
Kinko scattered the coal on to the fire bars. He turned on the greatest possible draught, the air roared across the furnace, the pressure goes up, up, amid the heaving of the motion, the bellowings of the boiler, the beating of the pistons. We are going a hundred kilometres an hour.
“Get back!” shouts Kinko above the roar. “Get back into the van.”
“And you, Kinko?”
“Get back, I tell you.”
I see him hang on to the valves, and put his whole weight on the levers.
“Go!” he shouts.
I am off over the tender. I am through the van. I awake Popof, shouting with all my strength:
“Get back! Get back!”
A few passengers suddenly waking from sleep begin to run from the front car.
Suddenly there is an explosion and a shock. The train at first jumps back. Then it continues to move for about half a kilometre.
Popof, the major, Caterna, most of the passengers are out on the line in an instant.
A network of scaffolding appears confusedly in the darkness, above the piers which were to carry the viaduct across the Tjon valley.
Two hundred yards further the train would have been lost in the abyss.
And I, who wanted “incident,” who feared the weariness of a monotonous voyage of six thousand kilometres, in the course of which I should not meet with an impression or emotion worth clothing in type!