About one o’clock in the morning I visited Kinko, and handed him over my purchases at Nia. The young Roumanian was in high spirits. He anticipated no further obstacles, he would reach port safely, after all.
“I am getting quite fat in this box,” he told me.
I told him about the Ephrinell-Bluett marriage, and how the union was to be celebrated next morning with great pomp.
“Ah!” said he, with a sigh. “They are not obliged to wait until they reach Pekin!”
“Quite so, Kinko; but it seems to me that a marriage under such conditions is not likely to be lasting! But after all, that is the couple’s lookout.”
At three o’clock in the morning we stopped forty minutes at Tchertchen, almost at the foot of the ramifications of the Kuen Lun. None of us had seen this miserable, desolate country, treeless and verdureless, which the railway was now crossing on its road to the northeast.
Day came; our train ran the four hundred kilometres between Tchertchen and Tcharkalyk, while the sun caressed with its rays the immense plain, glittering in its saline efflorescences.
When I awoke I seemed to have had an unpleasant dream. A dream in no way like those we interpret by the Clef d’Or. No! Nothing could be clearer. The bandit chief Ki Tsang had prepared a scheme for the seizure of the Chinese treasure; he had attacked the train in the plains of Gobi; the car is assaulted, pillaged, ransacked; the gold and precious stones, to the value of fifteen millions, are torn from the grasp of the Celestials, who yield after a courageous defence. As to the passengers, another two minutes of sleep would have settled their fate—and mine.
But all that disappeared with the vapors of the night. Dreams are not fixed photographs; they fade in the sun, and end by effacing themselves.
In taking my stroll through the train as a good townsman takes his stroll through the town, I am joined by Major Noltitz. After shaking hands, he showed me a Mongol in the second-class car, and said to me, “That is not one of those we picked up at Douchak when we picked up Faruskiar and Ghangir.”
“That is so,” said I; “I never saw that face in the train before.”
Popof, to whom I applied for information, told me that the Mongol had got in at Tchertchen. “When he arrived,” he said, “the manager spoke to him for a minute, from which I concluded that he also was one of the staff of the Grand Transasiatic.”
I had not noticed Faruskiar during my walk. Had he alighted at one of the small stations between Tchertchen and Tcharkalyk, where we ought to have been about one o’clock in the afternoon?
No, he and Ghangir were on the gangway in front of our car. They seemed to be in animated conversation, and only stopped to take a good look toward the northeastern horizon. Had the Mongol brought some news which had made them throw off their usual reserve and gravity? And I abandoned myself to my imagination, foreseeing adventures, attacks of bandits, and so on, according to my dream.