“I like the one in the Place de la Concorde better,” said Caterna, “and that is only in one piece.”
At this observation we left the mosque of Gour Emir, and as it was time to “hurry up,” as our actor said, the arba was driven briskly toward the station.
For my part, in spite of the observations of the Caternas, I was fully in tone with the local color due to the marvels of Samarkand, when I was roughly shaken back into modern reality.
In the streets—yes—in the streets near the railway station, in the very center of Tamerlane’s capital, I passed two bicyclists.
“Ah!” exclaimed Caterna. “Messrs. Wheeler!”
And they were Turkomans!
After that nothing more could be done than leave a town so dishonored by the masterpiece of mechanical locomotion, and that was what we did at eight o’clock.
We dined an hour after the train left. In the dining car were several newcomers, among others two negroes whom Caterna began to speak of as darkies.
None of these travelers, Popof told me, would cross the Russo-Chinese frontier, so that they interested me little or not at all.
During dinner, at which all my numbers were present—I have twelve now, and I do not suppose I shall go beyond that—I noticed that Major Noltitz continued to keep his eye on his lordship Faruskiar. Had he begun to suspect him? Was it of any importance in his opinion that this Mongol seemed to know, without appearing to do so, the three second-class travelers, who were also Mongols? Was his imagination working with the same activity as mine, and was he taking seriously what was only a joke on my part? That I, a man of letters, a chronicler in search of scenes and incidents, should be pleased to see in his personage a rival of the famous Ki Tsang, or Ki Tsang himself, could be understood; but that he, a serious man, doctor in the Russian army, should abandon himself to such speculations no one would believe. Never mind now, we shall have something more to say about it by and by.
As for me, I had soon forgotten all about the Mongol for the man in the case. Tired as I am after that long run through Samarkand, if I get a chance to visit him to-night I will.
Dinner being over, we all begin to make ourselves comfortable for the night, with the intention of sleeping till we reach Tachkend.
The distance from Samarkand to Tachkend is three hundred kilometres. The train will not get in there before seven o’clock in the morning. It will stop three times at small stations for water and fuel—circumstances favorable to the success of my project. I add that the night is dark, the sky overcast, no moon, no stars. It threatens rain; the wind is freshening. It is no time for walking on platforms, and nobody walks there. It is important to choose the moment when Popof is sound asleep.