Part 4 out of 5
That is why my lord Faruskiar, who was aware of it in consequence of
his position as general manager of the company, had joined the train at
Douchak so as to accompany the treasure to its destination. That is why
he and Ghangir--and the three other Mongols--had so carefully watched
this precious van, and why they had shown themselves so anxious when it
had been left behind by the breakage of the coupling, and why they were
so eager for its recovery. Yes, all is explained!
That is also why a detachment of Chinese soldiers has taken over the
van at Kachgar, in relief of the Persians! That is why Pan-Chao never
heard of Yen Lou, nor of any exalted personage of that name existing in
the Celestial Empire!
We started to time, and, as may be supposed, our traveling companions
could talk of nothing else but the millions which were enough to enrich
every one in the train.
"This pretended mortuary van has always been suspicious to me," said
Major Noltitz. "And that was why I questioned Pan-Chao regarding the
"I remember," I said; "and I could not quite understand the motive of
your question. It is certain now that we have got a treasure in tow."
"And I add," said the major, "that the Chinese government has done
wisely in sending an escort of twenty well-armed men. From Kothan to
Lan Teheou the trains will have two thousand kilometres to traverse
through the desert, and the safety of the line is not as great as it
might be across the Gobi."
"All the more so, major, as the redoubtable Ki-Tsang has been reported
in the northern provinces."
"Quite so, and a haul of fifteen millions is worth having by a bandit
"But how could the chief be informed of the treasure being sent?"
"That sort of people always know what it is their interest to know."
"Yes," thought I, "although they do not read the _Twentieth Century._"
Meanwhile different opinions were being exchanged on the gangways. Some
would rather travel with the millions than carry a corpse along with
them, even though it was that of a first-class mandarin. Others
considered the carrying of the treasure a danger to the passengers. And
that was the opinion of Baron Weissschnitzerdoerfer in a furious attack
"You ought to have told us about it, sir, you ought to have told us
about it! Those millions are known to be in the train, and they will
tempt people to attack us. And an attack, even if repulsed, will mean
delay, and delay I will not submit to! No, sir, I will not!"
"No one will attack us," replied Popof. "No one will dream of doing it!"
"And how do you know that? how do you know that?"
"Be calm, pray."
"I will not be calm; and if there is a delay, I will hold the company
That is understood; a hundred thousand florins damages to Monsieur le
Baron Tour de Monde.
Let us pass to the other passengers.
Ephrinell looked at the matter, of course, from a very practical point
"There can be no doubt that our risks have been greatly increased by
this treasure, and in case of accident on account of it, the _Life
Travelers' Society_, in which I am insured, will, I expect, refuse to
pay, so that the Grand Transasiatic Company will have all the
"Of course," said Miss Bluett; "and if they had not found the missing
van the company would have been in a serious difficulty with China.
Would it not, Fulk?"
Horatia and Fulk--nothing less.
The Anglo-American couple were right, the enormous loss would have had
to be borne by the Grand Transasiatic, for the company must have known
they were carrying a treasure and not a corpse--and thereby they were
As to the Caternas, the millions rolling behind did not seem to trouble
them. The only reflection they inspired was, "Ah! Caroline, what a
splendid theater we might build with all that money!"
But the best thing was said by the Reverend Nathaniel Morse, who had
joined the train at Kachgar.
"It is never comfortable to be dragging a powder magazine after one!"
Nothing could be truer, and this van with its imperial treasure was a
powder magazine that might blow up our train.
The first railway was opened in China about 1877 and ran from Shanghai
to Fou-Tcheou. The Grand Transasiatic followed very closely the Russian
road proposed in 1874 by Tachkend, Kouldja, Kami, Lan Tcheou, Singan
and Shanghai. This railway did not run through the populous central
provinces which can be compared to vast and humming hives of bees--and
extaordinarily prolific bees. As before curving off to Lan Tcheou; it
reaches the great cities by the branches it gives out to the south and
southeast. Among others, one of these branches, that from Tai Youan to
Nanking, should have put these two towns of the Chan-Si and Chen-Toong
provinces into communication. But at present the branch is not ready
for opening, owing to an important viaduct not having finished building.
The completed portion gives me direct communication across Central
Asia. That is the main line of the Transasiatic. The engineers did not
find it so difficult of construction as General Annenkof did the
Transcaspian. The deserts of Kara Koum and Gobi are very much alike;
the same dead level, the same absence of elevations and depressions,
the same suitability for the iron road. If the engineers had had to
attack the enormous chain of the Kuen Lun, Nan Chan, Amie, Gangar Oola,
which forms the frontier of Tibet, the obstacles would have been such
that it would have taken a century to surmount them. But on a flat,
sandy plain the railway could be rapidly pushed on up to Lan Tcheou,
like a long Decauville of three thousand kilometres.
It is only in the vicinity of this city that the art of the engineer
has had a serious struggle with nature in the costly and troublesome
road through the provinces of Kan-Sou, Chan-Si and Petchili.
As we go along I must mention a few of the principal stations at which
the train stops to take in coal and water. On the right-hand side the
eye never tires of the distant horizon of mountains which bounds the
tableland of Tibet to the north. On the left the view is over the
interminable steppes of the Gobi. The combination of these territories
constitutes the Chinese Empire if not China proper, and we shall only
reach that when we are in the neighborhood of Lan Tcheou.
It would seem, therefore, as though the second part of the journey
would be rather uninteresting, unless we are favored with a few
startling incidents. But it seems to me that we are certainly in the
possession of the elements out of which something journalistic can be
At eleven o'clock the train left Kothan station, and it was nearly two
o'clock in the afternoon when it reached Keria, having left behind the
small stations of Urang, Langar, Pola and Tschiria.
In 1889-90 this road was followed by Pevtsoff from Kothan to Lob-Nor at
the foot of the Kuen Lun, which divides Chinese Turkestan from Tibet.
The Russian traveler went by Keria, Nia, Tchertchen, as we are doing so
easily, but then his caravan had to contend with much danger and
difficulty--which did not prevent his reporting ten thousand kilometres
of surveys, without reckoning altitude and longitude observations of
the geographical points. It is an honor for the Russian government to
have thus continued the work of Prjevalsky.
From Keria station you can see to the southwest the heights of Kara
Korum and the peak of Dapsang, to which different geographers assign a
height of eight thousand metres. At its foot extends the province of
Kachmir. There the Indus rises in a number of inconsiderable sources
which feed one of the greatest rivers of the Peninsula. Thence from the
Pamir tableland extends the mighty range of the Himalaya, where rise
the highest summits on the face of the globe.
Since we left Kothan we have covered a hundred and fifty kilometres in
four hours. It is not a high rate of speed, but we cannot expect on
this part of the Transasiatic the same rate of traveling we experienced
on the Transcaspian. Either the Chinese engines are not so fast, or,
thanks to their natural indolence, the engine drivers imagine that from
thirty to forty miles an hour is the maximum that can be obtained on
the railways of the Celestial Empire.
At five o'clock in the afternoon we were at another station, Nia, where
General Pevtsoff established a meterological observatory. Here we
stopped only twenty minutes. I had time to lay in a few provisions at
the bar. For whom they were intended you can imagine.
The passengers we picked up were only Chinese, men and women. There
were only a few for the first class, and these only went short journeys.
We had not started a quarter of an hour when Ephrinell, with the
sferious manner of a merchant intent on some business, came up to me on
"Monsieur Bombarnac," he said, "I have to ask a favor of you."
Eh! I thought, this Yankee knows where to find me when he wants me.
"Only too happy, I can assure you," said I. "What is it about?"
"I want you to be a witness--"
"An affair of honor? And with whom, if you please?"
"Miss Horatia Bluett."
"You are going to fight Miss Bluett!" I exclaimed, with a laugh.
"Not yet. I am going to marry her."
"Yes! a treasure of a woman, well acquainted with business matters,
holding a splendid commission--"
"My compliments, Mr. Ephrinell! You can count on me--"
"And probably on M. Caterna?"
"He would like nothing better, and if there is a wedding breakfast he
will sing at your dessert--"
"As much as he pleases," replied the American. "And now for Miss
"Do you think Major Noltitz would consent?"
"A Russian is too gallant to refuse. I will ask him, if you like."
"Thank you in advance. As to the second witness, I am rather in a
difficulty. This Englishman, Sir Francis Trevellyan--"
"A shake of the head is all you will get from him."
"Ask that of a man who is doing a tour of the globe, and who would
never get through a signature of a name of that length!"
"Then I can only think of Pan-Chao, unless we try Popof--"
"Either would do it with pleasure. But there is no hurry, Mr.
Ephrinell, and when you get to Pekin you will have no difficulty in
finding a fourth witness."
"What! to Pekin? It is not at Pekin that I hope to marry Miss Bluett!"
"Where, then? At Sou Tcheou or Lan Tcheou, while we stop a few hours?"
"Wait a bit, Monsieur Bombarnac! Can a Yankee wait?"
"Then it is to be--"
"In the train?"
"In the train."
"Then it is for me to say, Wait a bit!"
"Not twenty-four hours."
"But to be married you require--"
"An American minister, and we have the Reverend Nathaniel Morse."
"As if he would not! He would marry the whole train if it asked him!"
"Bravo, Mr. Ephrinell! A wedding in a train will be delightful."
"We should never put off until to-morrow what we can do to-day."
"Yes, I know, time is money."
"No! Time is time, simply, and I do not care to lose a minute of it."
Ephrinell clasped my hand, and as I had promised, I went to take the
necessary steps regarding the witnesses necessary for the nuptial
It needs not be said that the commercials were of full age and free to
dispose of themselves, to enter into marriage before a clergyman, as is
done in America, and without any of the fastidious preliminaries
required in France and other formalistic countries. Is this an
advantage or otherwise? The Americans think it is for the best, and, as
Cooper says, the best at home is the best everywhere.
I first asked Major Noltitz, who willingly agreed to be Miss Bluett's
"These Yankees are astonishing," he said to me.
"Precisely because they are astonished at nothing, major."
I made a similar proposition to Pan-Chao.
"Delighted, Monsieur Bombarnac," he replied. "I will be the witness of
this adorable and adored Miss Bluett! If a wedding between an
Englishwoman and an American, with French, Russian and Chinese
witnesses, does not offer every guarantee of happiness, where are we
likely to meet with it?"
And now for Caterna.
The actor would have consented for any number of weddings.
"What a notion for a vaudeville or an operetta!" he exclaimed. "We have
the _Mariage au tambour_, the _Mariage aux olives_, the _Mariage aux
lanternes_--well, this will be the _Mariage en railway_, or the
Marriage by Steam! Good titles, all those, Monsieur Claudius! Your
Yankee can reckon on me! Witness old or young, noble father or first
lover, marquis or peasant, as you like, I am equal to it--"
"Be natural, please," said I. "It will have a good effect, considering
"Is Madame Caterna to come to the wedding?"
"Why not--as bridesmaid!"
In all that concerns the traditional functions we must have no
difficulties on the Grand Transasiatic.
It is too late for the ceremony to take place to-day. Ephrinell
understood that certain conventionalities must be complied with. The
celebration could take place in the morning. The passengers could all
be invited, and Faruskiar might be prevailed on to honor the affair
with his presence.
During dinner we talked of nothing else. After congratulating the happy
couple, who replied with true Anglo-Saxon grace, we all promised to
sign the marriage contract.
"And we will do honor to your signatures," said Ephrinell, in the tone
of a tradesman accepting a bill.
The night came, and we retired, to dream of the marriage festivities of
the morrow. I took my usual stroll into the car occupied by the Chinese
soldiers, and found the treasure of the Son of Heaven faithfully
guarded. Half the detachment were awake and half were asleep.
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
"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
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
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.
I was recalled to reality by the Reverend Nathaniel Morse, who said to
me, "It is fixed for to-day, at nine o'clock; do not forget."
That meant the marriage of Fulk Ephrinell and Horatia Bluett. Really, I
was not thinking of it. It is time for me to go and dress for the
occasion. All I can do will be to change my shirt. It is enough that
one of the husband's witnesses should be presentable; the other,
Caterna, will be sure to be magnificent!
In fact, the actor had gone into the luggage van--how I trembled for
Kinko!--and there, with Popof's assistance, had got out of one of his
boxes a somewhat free-and-easy costume, but one certain of success at a
wedding: A primrose coat with metal buttons, and a buttonhole, a sham
diamond pin in the cravat, poppy-colored breeches, copper buckles,
flowered waistcoat, clouded stockings, thread gloves, black pumps, and
white beaver hat. What a number of bridegrooms and uncles of
bridegrooms our friend had been in this traditional attire! He looked
superb, with his beaming face, his close-shaven chin, and blue cheeks,
and his laughing eyes and rosy lips.
Madame Caterna was quite as glorious in her array. She had easily
discovered a bridesmaid's costume in her wardrobe, bodice with
intercrossing stripes, short petticoat in green woolen, mauve
stockings, straw hat with artificial flowers, a suspicion of black on
the eyelids and of rouge on the cheeks. There you have the provincial
stage beauty, and if she and her husband like to play a village piece
after the breakfast, I can promise them bravos enough.
It was at nine o'clock that this marriage was to take place, announced
by the bell of the tender, which was to sound full clang as if it were
a chapel bell. With a little imagination, we could believe we were in a
village. But whither did this bell invite the witnesses and guests?
Into the dining car, which had been conveniently arranged for the
ceremony, as I had taken good care.
It was no longer a dining car; it was a hall car, if the expression is
admissible. The big table had been taken away, and replaced by a small
table which served as a desk. A few flowers bought at Tchertchen had
been arranged in the corners of the car, which was large enough to hold
nearly all who wished to be present--and those who could not get inside
could look on from the gangways.
That all the passengers might know what was going on, we had put up a
notice at the doors of the first and second-class cars, couched in the
"Mr. Fulk Ephrinell, of the firm of Messrs. Strong, Bulbul & Co., of
New York City, has the honor to invite you to his wedding with Miss
Horatia Bluett, of the firm of Messrs. Holmes-Holme, London, which will
take place in the dining car on this the 22d of May, at nine o'clock
precisely. The Reverend Nathaniel Morse, of Boston, U.S.A., will
"Miss Horatia Bluett, of the firm of Messrs. Holmes-Holme, of London,
has the honor to invite you to her wedding with Mr. Fulk Ephrinell, of
the firm of Messrs. Strong, Bulbul & Co., of New York City, etc., etc."
If I do not make half a dozen pars out of all this I am no newspaper
Meanwhile I learn from Popof the precise spot where the ceremony will
Popof points it out on the map. It is a hundred and fifty kilometres
from Tcharkalyk station, in the middle of the desert, amid the plains
which are traversed by a little stream which flows into the Lob Nor.
For twenty leagues there is no station, and the ceremony is not likely
to be interrupted by any stoppage.
It need hardly be said that at half-past eight I and Caterna were ready
for the call.
Major Noltitz and Pan-Chao had got themselves up in all due form for
the solemnity. The major looked as serious as a surgeon who was going
to cut off a leg. The Chinaman looked as gay as a Parisian at a village
Doctor Tio-King and Cornaro, one carrying the other, were to be at this
little festivity. The noble Venetian was a bachelor, if I am not
mistaken, but I do not think he gives any opinion on marriage, at least
I have no recollection of its being in the chapter headed "Safe and
easy means of promptly remedying the different accidents that threaten
"And," added Pan-Chao, who has just quoted this Cornarian phrase, "I
suppose marriage ought to be included among those accidents!"
A quarter to nine. No one has yet seen the happy couple. Miss Bluett is
in one of the toilet cabinets in the first van, where she is probably
preparing herself. Fulk Ephrinell is perhaps struggling with his cravat
and giving a last polish to his portable jewelry. I am not anxious. We
shall see them as soon as the bell rings.
I have but one regret, and that is that Faruskiar and Ghangir should be
too busy to join us. Why do they continue to look out over the immense
desert? Before their eyes there stretches not the cultivated steppe of
the Lob Nor region, but the Gobi, which is barren, desolate and gloomy,
according to the reports of Grjimailo, Blanc and Martin. It may be
asked why these people are keeping such an obstinate lookout.
"If my presentiments do not deceive me," said Major Noltitz, "there is
some reason for it."
What does he mean? But the bell of the tender, the tender bell, begins
its joyous appeal. Nine o'clock; it is time to go into the dining car.
Caterna comes near me, and I hear him singing:
"It is the turret bell,
Which sud-denly is sounding."
While Madame Caterna replies to the trio of the _Dame Blanche_ by the
refrain of the _Dragons de Villars_:
"And it sounds, sounds, sounds,
It sounds and resounds--"
The passengers move in a procession, the four witnesses first, then the
guests from the end of the village--I mean of the train; Chinese,
Turkomans, Tartars, men and women, all curious to assist at the
ceremony. The four Mongols remain on the last gangway near the treasure
which the Chinese soldiers do not leave for an instant.
We reach the dining car.
The clergyman is seated at the little table, on which is the
certificate of marriage he has prepared according to the customary
form. He looks as though he was accustomed to this sort of thing, which
is as much commercial as matrimonial.
The bride and bridegroom have not appeared.
"Ah!" said I to the actor, "perhaps they have changed their minds."
"If they have," said Caterna, laughing, "the reverend gentleman can
marry me and my wife over again. We are in wedding garments, and it is
a pity to have had all this fuss for nothing, isn't it, Caroline?"
But this pleasing second edition of the wedding of the Caternas did not
come off. Here is Mr. Fulk Ephrinell, dressed this morning just as he
was dressed yesterday--and--detail to note--with a pencil behind the
lobe of his left ear, for he has just been making out an account for
his New York house.
Here is Miss Horatia Bluett, as thin, as dry, as plain as ever, her
dust cloak over her traveling gown, and in place of jewelry a noisy
bunch of keys, which hangs from her belt.
The company politely rise as the bride and bridegroom enter. They "mark
time," as Caterna says. Then they advance toward the clergyman, who is
standing with his hand resting on a Bible, open probably at the place
where Isaac, the son of Abraham, espouses Rebecca, the daughter of
We might fancy we were in a chapel if we only had a harmonium.
And the music is here! If it is not a harmonium, it is the next thing
to it. An accordion makes itself heard in Caterna's hands. As an
ancient mariner, he knows how to manipulate this instrument of torture,
and here he is swinging out the andante from _Norma_ with the most
It seems to give great pleasure to the natives of Central Asia. Never
have their ears been charmed by the antiquated melody that the
pneumatic apparatus was rendering so expressively.
But everything must end in this world, even the andante from _Norma_.
and the Reverend Nathaniel Morse began to favor the young couple with
the speech which had clone duty many times before under similar
circumstances. "The two souls that blend together--Flesh of my
flesh--Increase and multiply--"
In my opinion he had much better have got to work like a notary:
"Before us, there has been drawn up a deed of arrangement regarding
Messrs. Ephrinell, Bluett & Co.--"
My thought remained unfinished. There are shouts from the engine. The
brakes are suddenly applied with a scream and a grind. Successive
shocks accompany the stoppage of the train. Then, with a violent bump,
the cars pull up in a cloud of sand.
What an interruption to the nuptial ceremony!
Everything is upset in the dining car, men, furniture, bride,
bridegroom and witnesses. Not one kept his equilibrium. It is an
indescribable pell-mell, with cries of terror and prolonged groans. But
I hasten to point out that there was nothing serious, for the stoppage
was not all at once.
"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 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
"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
"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
The major said to me in a low voice: "Why Ki-Tsang? Why not my lord
"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
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.
Suddenly there is a burst of shouting, the thicket has given passage to
the gang in ambush--some sixty Mongols, nomads of the Gobi. If these
rascals beat us, the train will be pillaged, the treasure of the Son of
Heaven will be stolen, and, what concerns us more intimately, the
passengers will be massacred without mercy.
And Faruskiar, whom Major Noltitz so unjustly suspected? I look at him.
His face is no longer the same; his fine features have become pale, his
height has increased, there is lightning in his eyes.
Well! If I was mistaken about the mandarin Yen Lou, at least I had not
mistaken the general manager of the Transasiatic or the famous bandit
However, as soon as the Mongols appeared, Popof hurried Madame Caterna,
Miss Horatia Bluett, and the other women into the cars. We took every
means for putting them in safety.
My only weapon was a six-shot revolver, and I knew how to use it.
Ah! I wanted incidents and accidents, and impressions of the journey!
Well, the chronicler will not fail to chronicle, on condition that he
emerges safe and sound from the fray, for the honor of reporting in
general and the glory of the _Twentieth Century_ in particular.
But is it not possible to spread trouble among the assailants, by
beginning with blowing out Ki-Tsang's brains, if Ki-Tsang is the author
of this ambuscade? That would bring matters to a crisis.
The bandits fire a volley, and begin brandishing their arms and
shouting. Faruskiar, pistol in one hand, kandijar in the other, has
rushed onto them, his eyes gleaming, his lips covered with a slight
foam. Ghangir is at his side, followed by four Mongols whom he is
exciting by word and gesture.
Major Noltitz and I throw ourselves into the midst of our assailants.
Caterna is in front of us, his mouth open, his white teeth ready to
bite, his eyes blinking, his revolver flourishing about. The actor has
given place to the old sailor who has reappeared for the occasion.
"These beggars want to board us!" said he. "Forward, forward, for the
honor of the flag! To port, there, fire! To starboard, there, fire! All
And it was with no property daggers he was armed, nor dummy pistols
loaded with Edouard Philippe's inoffensive powder. No! A revolver in
each hand, he was bounding along, firing, as he said, right and left
Pan-Chao also exposed himself bravely, a smile on his lips, gallantly
leading on the other Chinese passengers. Popof and the railwaymen did
their duty bravely. Sir Francis Trevellyan, of Trevellyan Hall, took
matters very coolly, but Ephrinell abandoned himself to true Yankee
fury, being no less irritated at the interruption to his marriage as to
the danger run by his forty-two packages of artificial teeth.
And in short, the band of robbers met with a much more serious
resistance than they expected.
And Baron Weissschnitzerdoerfer? Well, he is one of the most furious of
us all. He sweats blood and water, his fury carries him away at the
risk of his being massacred. Many times we have to rescue him. These
rails lifted, this train stopped, this attack in the open Gobi desert,
the delays that it will all occasion, the mailboat lost at Tientsin,
the voyage round the world spoiled, his plan come to grief before he
had half accomplished it! What a shock to his German self-esteem!
Faruskiar, my hero--I cannot call him anything else--displays
extraordinary intrepidity, bearing himself the boldest in the struggle,
and when he had exhausted his revolver, using his kandijar like a man
who had often faced death and never feared it.
Already there were a few wounded on both sides, perhaps a few dead
among the passengers who lay on the line. I have had my shoulder grazed
by a bullet, a simple scratch I have hardly noticed. The Reverend
Nathaniel Morse does not think that his sacred character compels him to
cross his arms, and, from the way he works, one would not imagine that
it was the first time he has handled firearms. Caterna has his hat shot
through, and it will be remembered that it is his village bridegroom's
hat, the gray beaver, with the long fur. He utters a gigantic maritime
oath, something about thunder and portholes, and then, taking a most
deliberate aim, quietly shoots stone dead the ruffian who has taken
such a liberty with his best headgear.
For ten minutes or so the battle continues with most alarming
alternations. The number of wounded on both sides increases, and the
issue is still doubtful. Faruskiar and Ghangir and the Mongols have
been driven back toward the precious van, which the Chinese guard have
not left for an instant. But two or three of them have been mortally
wounded, and their officer has just been killed by a bullet in the
head. And my hero does all that the most ardent courage can do for the
defence of the treasure of the Son of Heaven.
I am getting uneasy at the prolongation of the combat. It will continue
evidently as long as the chief of the band--a tall man with a black
beard--urges on his accomplices to the attack on the train. Up till now
he has escaped unhurt, and, in spite of all we can do, he is gaining
ground. Shall we be obliged to take refuge in the vans, as behind the
walls of a fortress, to entrench ourselves, to fight until the last has
succumbed? And that will not be long, if we cannot stop the retrograde
movement which is beginning on our side.
To the reports of the guns there are now added the cries of the women,
who in their terror are running about the gangways, although Miss
Bluett and Madame Caterna are trying to keep them inside the cars. A
few bullets have gone through the panels, and I am wondering if any of
them have hit Kinko.
Major Noltitz comes near me and says: "This is not going well."
"No, it is not going well," I reply, "and I am afraid the ammunition
will give out. We must settle their commander-in-chief. Come, major--"
But what we are about to do was done by another at that very instant.
This other was Faruskiar. Bursting through the ranks of the assailants,
he cleared them off the line, in spite of the blows they aimed at him.
He is in front of the bandit chief, he raises his arm, he stabs him
full in the chest.
Instantly the thieves beat a retreat, without even carrying off their
dead and wounded. Some run across the plain, some disappear in the
thickets. Why pursue them, now that the battle has ended in our favor?
And I must say that without the admirable valor of Faruskiar, I do not
expect any of us would have lived to tell the story.
But the chief of the bandits is not dead, although the blood flows
abundantly from his chest.
He has fallen with one knee on the ground, one hand up, with the other
he is supporting himself.
Faruskiar stands over him, towering above him.
Suddenly he rises in a last effort, his arm threatens his adversary, he
looks at him.
A last thrust of the kandijar is driven into his heart.
Faruskiar returns, and in Russian, with perfect calmness, remarks:
"Ki-Tsang is dead! So perish all who bear weapons against the Son of
And so it was Ki-Tsang who had just attacked the Grand Transasiatic on
the plains of Gobi. The pirate of Vunnan had learned that a van
containing gold and precious stones of enormous value had formed part
of this train! And was there anything astonishing in that, considering
that the newspapers, even those of Paris, had published the fact many
days before? So Ki-Tsang had had time to prepare his attempt, and had
lifted a portion of the rails, and would probably have succeeded in
carrying off the treasure if Faruskiar had not brought him to his feet.
That is why our hero had been so uneasy all the morning; if he had been
looking out over the desert so persistently, it was because he had been
warned of Ki-Tsang's plans by the last Mongol who had joined the train
at Tchertchen! Under any circumstances we had now nothing to fear from
Ki-Tsang. The manager of the company had done justice on the
bandit--speedy justice, I admit. But we are in the midst of the deserts
of Mongolia, where there are no juries as yet, which is a good thing
for the Mongols.
"Well," said I to the major, "I hope you have abandoned your suspicions
with regard to my lord Faruskiar?"
"To a certain extent, Monsieur Bombarnac!" Only to a certain extent?
Evidently Major Noltitz is difficult to please.
But let us hasten on and count our victims. On our side there are three
dead, including the Chinese officer, and more than twelve wounded, four
of them seriously, the rest slightly, so that they can continue their
journey to Pekin. Popof escaped without a scratch, Caterna with a
slight graze which his wife insists on bathing.
The major has the wounded brought into the cars and does the best for
them under the circumstances. Doctor Tio-King offers his services, but
they seem to prefer the Russian army surgeon, and that I understand. As
to those who have fallen it is best for us to take them on to the next
station and there render them the last services.
The thieves had abandoned their dead. We covered them over with a
little sand, and that is all we need say.
The place where we had been stopped was halfway between Tcharkalyk and
Tchertchen, the only two stations from which we could procure help.
Unfortunately they were no longer in telegraphic communication,
Ki-Tsang having knocked down the posts at the same time as he lifted
Hence a discussion as to what was the best thing to be done, which was
not of long duration.
As the engine had run off the rails, the very first thing to do was
evidently to get it onto them again; then as there was a gap in the
line, the simplest thing to do was to run back to Tchertchen, and wait
there until the company's workmen had repaired the damage, which they
could easily do in a couple of days.
We set to work without losing a moment. The passengers were only too
glad to help Popof and the officials who had at their disposal a few
tools, including jacks, levers and hammers, and in three hours the
engine and tender were again on the line.
The most difficult business is over. With the engine behind we can
proceed at slow speed to Tchertchen. But what lost time! What delays!
And what recriminations from our German baron, what donnervetters and
teufels and other German expletives!
I have omitted to say that immediately after the dispersal of the
bandits we had in a body thanked Faruskiar. The hero received our
thanks with all the dignity of an Oriental.
"I only did my duty as general manager of the company," he replied,
with a truly noble modesty.
And then at his orders the Mongols had set to work, and I noticed that
they displayed indefatigable ardor, for which they earned our sincere
Meanwhile Faruskiar and Ghangir were often talking together in a
whisper, and from these interviews arose a proposition which none of us
"Guard," said Faruskiar, addressing Popof, "it is my opinion that we
had much better run on to Tcharkalyk than go back; it would suit the
passengers much better."
"Certainly, sir, it would be preferable," said Popof; "but the line is
broken between here and Tcharkalyk, and we cannot get through."
"Not at present, but we could get the cars through if we could
temporarily repair the line."
That was a proposal worth consideration, and we assembled to consider
it, Major Noltitz, Pan-Chao, Fulk Ephrinell, Caterna, the clergyman,
Baron Weissschnitzerdoerfer, and a dozen others--all who understood
Faruskiar spoke as follows:
"I have been looking at the portion of the line damaged by the band of
Ki-Tsang. Most of the sleepers are still in place. As to the rails, the
scoundrels have simply thrown them onto the sand, and by replacing them
end to end it would be easy to get the train over to the uninjured
track. It would not take a day to do this, and five hours afterward we
should be at Tcharkalyk."
Excellent notion, at once approved of by Popof, the driver, the
passengers, and particularly by the baron. The plan was possible, and
if there were a few rails useless, we could bring to the front those we
had already run over, and in this way get over the difficulty.
Evidently this Faruskiar is a man, he is our true chief, he is the
personage I was in want of, and I will sound his name over the entire
universe in all the trumpets of my chronicle!
And yet Major Noltitz is mistaken enough to see in him only a rival to
this Ki-Tsang, whose crimes have just received their final punishment
from his hand!
We set to work to replace the sleepers that had been shifted aside from
where they had left their mark, and we continued our task without
Having no fear of being noticed amid the confusion which followed the
attack, I went into the luggage van to assure myself that Kinko was
safe and sound, to tell him what had passed, to caution him on no
account to come put of his box. He promised me, and I was at ease
It was nearly three o'clock when we began work. The rails had been
shifted for about a hundred yards. As Faruskiar remarked, it was not
necessary for us to fix them permanently. That would be the task of the
workmen the company would send from Tcharkalyk when we reached that
station, which is one of the most important on the line.
As the rails were heavy we divided ourselves into detachments.
First-class and second-class, all worked together with good will. The
baron displayed tremendous ardor. Ephrinell, who thought no more of his
marriage than if he had never thought about it, devoted strict
attention to business. Pan-Chao was second to nobody, and even Doctor
Tio-King strove to make himself useful--in the fashion of the
celebrated Auguste, the fly on the chariot wheel.
"It is hot, this Gobi sun!" said Caterna.
Alone sat Sir Francis Trevellyan of Trevellyanshire, calm and impassive
in his car, utterly regardless of our efforts.
At seven o'clock thirty yards of the line had been repaired. The night
was closing in. It was decided to wait until the morning. In half a day
we could finish the work, and in the afternoon we could be off again.
We were in great want of food and sleep. After so rude a task, how rude
the appetite! We met in the dining car without distinction of classes.
There was no scarcity of provisions, and a large breach was made in the
reserves. Never mind! We can fill up again at Tcharkalyk.
Caterna is particularly cheery, talkative, facetious, communicative,
overflowing. At dessert he and his wife sang the air--appropriate to
the occasion--from the _Voyage en Chine_, which we caught up with more
power than precision:
"China is a charming land
Which surely ought to please you."
Oh! Labiche, could you ever have imagined that this adorable
composition would one day charm passengers in distress on the Grand
Transasiatic? And then our actor--a little fresh, I admit--had an idea.
And such an idea! Why not resume the marriage ceremony interrupted by
the attack on the train?
"What marriage?" asked Ephrinell.
"Yours, sir, yours," replied Caterna. "Have you forgotten it? That is
rather too good!"
The fact is that Fulk Ephrinell, on the one part, and Horatia Bluett,
on the other part, seemed to have forgotten that had it not been for
the attack of Ki-Tsang and his band they would now have been united in
the gentle bonds of matrimony.
But we were all too tired. The Reverend Nathaniel Morse was unequal to
the task; he would not have strength enough to bless the pair, and the
pair would not have strength enough to support his blessing. The
ceremony could be resumed on the day after to-morrow. Between
Tcharkalyk and Lan Tcheou there was a run of nine hundred kilometres,
and that was quite long enough for this Anglo-American couple to be
linked together in.
And so we all went to our couches or benches for a little refreshing
sleep. But at the same time the requirements of prudence were not
Although it appeared improbable, now that their chief had succumbed,
the bandits might still make a nocturnal attack. There were always
these cursed millions of the Son of Heaven to excite their
covetousness, and if we are not on our guard--
But we feel safe. Faruskiar in person arranges for the surveillance of
the train. Since the death of the officer he has taken command of the
Chinese detachment. He and Ghangir are on guard over the imperial
treasure, and according to Caterna, who is never in want of a quotation
from some comic opera:
"This night the maids of honor will be guarded well."
And, in fact, the imperial treasure was much better guarded than the
beautiful Athenais de Solange between the first and second acts of the
_Mousquetaires de la Reine_.
At daybreak next morning we are at work. The weather is superb. The day
will be warm. Out in the Asian desert on the 24th of May the
temperature is such that you can cook eggs if you only cover them with
a little sand.
Zeal was not wanting, and the passengers worked as hard as they had
done the night before. The line was gradually completed. One by one the
sleepers were replaced, the rails were laid end to end, and about four
o'clock in the afternoon the gap was bridged.
At once the engine began to advance slowly, the cars following until
they were over the temporary track and safe again. Now the road is
clear to Tcharkalyk; what do I say? to Pekin.
We resume our places. Popof gives the signal for departure as Caterna
trolls out the chorus of victory of the admiral's sailors in _Haydee_.
A thousand cheers reply to him. At ten o'clock in the evening the train
enters Tcharkalyk station.
We are exactly thirty hours behind time. But is not thirty hours enough
to make Baron Weissschnitzerdoerfer lose the mail from Tient-Tsin to
I, who wanted an incident, have had one to perfection. I am thankful
enough not to have been one of the victims. I have emerged from the
fray safe and sound. All my numbers are intact, barring two or three
insignificant scratches. Only No. 4 has been traversed by a bullet
clean through--his hat.
At present I have nothing in view beyond the Bluett-Ephrinell marriage
and the termination of the Kinko affair. I do not suppose that
Faruskiar can afford us any further surprises. I can reckon on the
casual, of course, for the journey has another five days to run. Taking
into account the delay occasioned by the Ki-Tsang affair that will make
thirteen days from the start from Uzun Ada.
Thirteen days! Heavens! And there are the thirteen numbers in my
notebook! Supposing I were superstitious?
We remained three hours at Tcharkalyk. Most of the passengers did not
leave their beds. We were occupied with declarations relative to the
attack on the train, to the dead which the Chinese authorities were to
bury, to the wounded who were to be left at Tcharkalyk, where they
would be properly looked after. Pan-Chao told me it was a populous
town, and I regret I was unable to visit it.
The company sent off immediately a gang of workmen to repair the line
and set up the telegraph posts; and in a day everything would be clear
I need scarcely say that Faruskiar, with all the authority of the
company's general manager, took part in the different formalities that
were needed at Tcharkalyk. I do not know how to praise him
sufficiently. Besides, he was repaid for his good offices by the
deference shown him by the staff at the railway station.
At three in the morning we arrived at Kara Bouran, where the train
stopped but a few minutes. Here the railway crosses the route of
Gabriel Bonvalot and Prince Henri of Orleans across Tibet in 1889-90, a
much more complete journey than ours, a circular trip from Paris to
Paris, by Berlin, Petersburg, Moscow, Nijni, Perm, Tobolsk, Omsk,
Semipalatinsk, Kouldja, Tcharkalyk, Batong, Yunnan, Hanoi, Saigon,
Singapore, Ceylon, Aden, Suez, Marseilles, the tour of Asia, and the
tour of Europe.
The train halts at Lob Nor at four o'clock and departs at six. This
lake, the banks of which were visited by General Povtzoff in 1889, when
he returned from his expedition to Tibet, is an extensive marsh with a
few sandy islands, surrounded by two or three feet of water. The
country through which the Tarim slowly flows had already been visited
by Fathers Hue and Gabet, the explorers Prjevalski and Carey up to the
Davana pass, situated a hundred and fifty kilometres to the south. But
from that pass Gabriel Bonvalot and Prince Henri of Orleans, camping
sometimes at fifteen thousand feet of altitude, had ventured across
virgin territories to the foot of the superb Himalayan chain.
Our itinerary lay eastwards toward Kara Nor, skirting the base of the
Nan Chan mountains, behind which lies the region of Tsaidam. The
railway dare not venture among the mountainous countries of the
Kou-Kou-Nor, and we were on our way to the great city of Lan Tcheou
along, the base of the hills.
Gloomy though the country might be, there was no reason for the
passengers to be so. This glorious sun, with its rays gilding the sands
of the Gobi as far as we could see, announced a perfect holiday. From
Lob Nor to Kara Nor there are three hundred and fifty kilometres to
run, and between the lakes we will resume the interrupted marriage of
Fulk Ephrinell and Horatia Bluett, if nothing occurs to again delay
The dining car has been again arranged for the ceremony, the witnesses
are ready to resume their parts, and the happy pair cannot well be
otherwise than of the same mind.
The Reverend Nathaniel Morse, in announcing that the marriage will take
place at nine o'clock, presents the compliments of Mr. Ephrinell and
Major Noltitz and I, Caterna and Pan-Chao are under arms at the time
Caterna did not think it his duty to resume his costume, nor did his
wife. They were dressed merely for the grand dinner party which took
place at eight o'clock in the evening--the dinner given by Ephrinell to
his witnesses and to the chief first-class passengers. Our actor,
puffing out his left cheek, informed me that he had a surprise for us
at dessert. What? I thought it wise not to ask.
A little before nine o'clock the bell of the tender begins to ring. Be
assured it does not announce an accident. Its joyous tinkling calls us
to the dining car, and we march in procession toward the place of
Ephrinell and Miss Bluett are already seated at the little table in
front of the worthy clergyman, and we take our places around them.
On the platforms are grouped the spectators, anxious to lose nothing of
the nuptial ceremony.
My lord Faruskiar and Ghangir, who had been the object of a personal
invitation, had just arrived. The assembly respectfully rises to
receive them. They will sign the deed of marriage. It is a great honor,
and if it were my marriage I should be proud to see the illustrious
name of Faruskiar figure among the signatures to the deed.
The ceremony begins, and this time the Reverend Nathaniel Morse was
able to finish his speech, so regrettably interrupted on the former
The young people rise, mud the clergyman asks them if they are mutually
agreed as to marriage.
Before replying, Miss Bluett turns to Ephrinell, and says:
"It is understood that Holmes-Holme will have twenty-five per cent. of
the profits of our partnership."
"Fifteen," said Ephrinell, "only fifteen."
"That is not fair, for I agree to thirty per cent, from Strong, Bulbul
"Well, let us say twenty per cent., Miss Bluett."
"Be it so, Mr. Ephrinell."
"But that is a good deal for you!" whispered Caterna in my ear.
The marriage for a moment was in check for five per cent.!
But all is arranged. The interests of the two houses have been
safeguarded. The Reverend Nathaniel Morse repeats the question.
A dry "yes" from Horatia Bluett, a short "yes" from Fulk Ephrinell, and
the two are declared to be united in the bonds of matrimony.
The deed is then signed, first by them, then by the witnesses, then by
Faruskiar, and the other signatures follow. At length the clergyman
adds his name and flourish, and that closes the series of formalities
according to rule.
"There they are, riveted for life," said the actor to me, with a little
lift of his shoulder.
"For life--like two bullfinches," said the actress, who had not
forgotten that these birds are noted for the fidelity of their armours.
"In China," said Pan-Chao, "it is not the bullfinch but the mandarin
duck that symbolizes fidelity in marriage."
"Ducks or bullfinches, it is all one," said Caterna philosophically.
The ceremony is over. We compliment the newly married pair. We return
to our occupation, Ephrinell to his accounts, Mrs. Ephrinell to her
work. Nothing is changed in the train. There are only two more married
Major Noltitz, Pan-Chao and I go out and smoke on one of the platforms,
leaving to their preparations the Caternas, who seem to be having a
sort of rehearsal in their corner. Probably it is the surprise for the
There is not much variety in the landscape. All along is this
monotonous desert of Gobi with the heights of the Humboldt mountains on
the right reaching on to the ranges of Nan Chan. The stations are few
and far between, and consist merely of an agglomeration of huts, with
the signal cabin standing up among them like a monument. Here the
tender fills up with water and coal. Beyond the Kara Nor, where a few
towns appear, the approach to China Proper, populous and laborious,
becomes more evident.
This part of the desert of Gobi has little resemblance to the regions
of Eastern Turkestan we crossed on leaving Kachgar. These regions are
as new to Pan-Chao and Doctor Tio-King as to us Europeans.
I should say that Faruskiar no longer disdains to mingle in our
conversation. He is a charming man, well informed and witty, with whom
I shall become better acquainted when we reach Pekin. He has already
invited me to visit him at his yamen, and I will then have an
opportunity of putting him to the question--that is, to the interview.
He has traveled a good deal, and seems to have an especially good
opinion of French journalists. He will not refuse to subscribe to the
_Twentieth Century._ I am sure--Paris, 48 francs, Departments, 56,
While the train is running at full speed we talk of one thing and
another. With regard to Kachgaria, which had been mentioned, Faruskiar
gave us a few very interesting details regarding the province, which
had been so greatly troubled by insurrectionary movements. It was at
this epoch that the capital, holding out against Chinese covetousness,
had not yet submitted to Russian domination. Many times numbers of
Celestials had been massacred in the revolts of the Turkestan chiefs,
and the garrison had taken refuge in the fortress of Yanghi-Hissar.
Among these insurgent chiefs there was one, a certain
Ouali-Khan-Toulla, whom I have mentioned with regard to the murder of
Schlagintweit, and who for a time had become master of Kachgaria. He
was a man of great intelligence, but of uncommon ferocity. And
Faruskiar told us an anecdote giving us an idea of these pitiless
"There was at Kachgar," he said, "an armorer of repute, who, wishing to
secure the favors of Ouali-Khan-Toulla, made a costly sword. When he
had finished his work he sent his son, a boy of ten, to present the
sword, hoping to receive some recompense from the royal hand. He
received it. The Khan admired the sword, and asked if the blade was of
the first quality. 'Yes,' said the boy. 'Then approach!' said the Khan,
and at one blow he smote off the head, which he sent back to the father
with the price of the blade he had thus proved to be of excellent
This story he told really well. Had Caterna heard it, he would have
asked for a Turkestan opera on the subject.
The day passed without incident. The train kept on at its moderate
speed of forty kilometres an hour, an average that would have been
raised to eighty had they listened to Baron Weissschnitzerdoerfer. The
truth is that the Chinese driver had no notion of making up the time
lost between Tchertchen and Tcharkalyk.
At seven in the evening we reach Kara Nor, to stay there fifty minutes.
This lake, which is not as extensive as Lob Nor, absorbs the waters of
the Soule Ho, coming down from the Nan Chan mountains. Our eyes are
charmed with the masses of verdure that clothe its southern bank, alive
with the flight of numerous birds. At eight o'clock, when we left the
station, the sun had set behind the sandhills, and a sort of mirage
produced by the warming of the lower zones of the atmosphere prolonged
the twilight above the horizon.
The dining car has resumed its restaurant appearance, and here is the
wedding banquet, instead of the usual fare. Twenty guests have been
invited to this railway love feast, and, first of them, my lord
Faruskiar. But for some reason or other he has declined Ephrinell's
I am sorry for it, for I hoped that good luck would place me near him.
It occurred to me then that this illustrious name was worth sending to
the office of the _Twentieth Century_, this name and also a few lines
relative to the attack on the train and the details of the defense.
Never was information better worth sending by telegram, however much it
might cost. This time there is no risk of my bringing a lecture down on
myself. There is no mistake possible, as in the case of that pretended
mandarin, Yen-Lou, which I shall never forget--but then, it was in the
country of the false Smerdis and that must be my excuse.
It is agreed that as soon as we arrive at Sou-Tcheou, the telegraph
being repaired at the same time as the line, I will send off a
despatch, which will reveal to the admiration of Europe the brilliant
name of Faruskiar.
We are seated at the table. Ephrinell has done the thing as well as
circumstances permit. In view of the feast, provisions were taken in at
Tcharkalyk. It is not Russian cookery, but Chinese, and by a Chinese
chef to which we do honor. Luckily we are not condemned to eat it with
chopsticks, for forks are not prohibited at the Grand Transasiatic
I am placed to the left of Mrs. Ephrinell, Major Noltitz to the right
of her husband. The other guests are seated as they please. The German
baron, who is not the man to refuse a good dinner, is one of the
guests. Sir Francis Trevellyan did not even make a sign in answer to
the invitation that was tendered him.
To begin with, we had chicken soup and plovers' eggs, then swallows'
nests cut in threads, stewed spawn of crab, sparrow gizzards, roast
pig's feet and sauce, mutton marrow, fried sea slug, shark's fin--very
gelatinous; finally bamboo shoots in syrup, and water lily roots in
sugar, all the most out-of-the-way dishes, watered by Chao Hing wine,
served warm in metal tea urns.
The feast is very jolly and--what shall I say?--very confidential,
except that the husband takes no notice of the wife, and reciprocally.
What an indefatigable humorist is our actor? What a continuous stream
of wheezes, unintelligible for the most part, of antediluvian puns, of
pure nonsense at which he laughs so heartily that it is difficult not
to laugh with him. He wanted to learn a few words of Chinese, and
Pan-Chao having told him that "tching-tching" means thanks, he has been
tching-tchinging at every opportunity, with burlesque intonation.
Then we have French songs, Russian songs, Chinese songs--among others
the "Shiang-Touo-Tching," the _Chanson de la Reverie_, in which our
young Celestial repeats that the flowers of the peach tree are of
finest fragrance at the third moon, and those of the red pomegranate at
The dinner lasts till ten o'clock. At this moment the actor and
actress, who had retired during dessert, made their entry, one in a
coachman's overcoat, the other in a nurse's jacket, and they gave us
the _Sonnettes_ with an energy, a go, a dash--well, it would only be
fair to them if Claretie, on the recommendation of Meilhac and Halevy,
offers to put them on the pension list of the Comedie Francaise.
At midnight the festival is over. We all retire to our sleeping places.
We do not even hear them shouting the names of the stations before we
come to Kan-Tcheou, and it is between four and five o'clock in the
morning that a halt of forty minutes retains us at the station of that
The country is changing as the railway runs south of the fortieth
degree, so as to skirt the eastern base of the Nan Shan mountains. The
desert gradually disappears, villages are not so few, the density of
the population increases. Instead of sandy flats, we get verdant
plains, and even rice fields, for the neighboring mountains spread
their abundant streams over these high regions of the Celestial Empire.
We do not complain of this change after the dreariness of the Kara-Koum
and the solitude of Gobi. Since we left the Caspian, deserts have
succeeded deserts, except when crossing the Pamir. From here to Pekin
picturesque sites, mountain horizons, and deep valleys will not be
wanting along the Grand Transasiatic.
We shall enter China, the real China, that of folding screens and
porcelain, in the territory of the vast province of Kin-Sou. In three
days we shall be at the end of our journey, and it is not I, a mere
special correspondent, vowed to perpetual movement, who will complain
of its length. Good for Kinko, shut up in his box, and for pretty Zinca
Klork, devoured by anxiety in her house in the Avenue Cha-Coua!
We halt two hours at Sou-Tcheou. The first thing I do is to run to the
telegraph office. The complaisant Pan-Chao offers to be my interpreter.
The clerk tells us that the posts are all up again, and that messages
can be sent through to Europe.
At once I favor the _Twentieth Century_ with the following telegram:
"Sou-Tcheou, 25th May, 2:25 P.M.
"Train attacked between Tchertchen and Tcharkalyk by the gang of the
celebrated Ki-Tsang; travelers repulsed the attack and saved the
Chinese treasure; dead and wounded on both sides; chief killed by the
heroic Mongol grandee Faruskiar, general manager of the company, whose
name should be the object of universal admiration."
If this telegram does not gratify the editor of my newspaper, well--
Two hours to visit Sou-Tcheou, that is not much.
In Turkestan we have seen two towns side by side, an ancient one and a
modern one. Here, in China, as Pan-Chao points out, we have two and
even three or four, as at Pekin, enclosed one within the other.
Here Tai-Tchen is the outer town, and Le-Tchen the inner one. It
strikes us at first glance that both look desolate. Everywhere are
traces of fire, here and there pagodas or houses half destroyed, a mass
of ruins, not the work of time, but the work of war. This shows that
Sou-Tcheou, taken by the Mussulmans and retaken by the Chinese, has
undergone the horrors of those barbarous contests which end in the
destruction of buildings and the massacre of their inhabitants of every
age and sex.
It is true that population rapidly increases in the Celestial Empire;
more rapidly than monuments are raised from their ruins. And so
Sou-Tcheou has become populous again within its double wall as in the
suburbs around. Trade is flourishing, and as we walked through the
principal streets we noticed the well-stocked shops, to say nothing of
the perambulating pedlars.
Here, for the first time, the Caternas saw pass along between the
inhabitants, who stood at attention more from fear than respect, a
mandarin on horseback, preceded by a servant carrying a fringed
parasol, the mark of his master's dignity.
But there is one curiosity for which Sou-Tcheou is worth a visit. It is
there that the Great Wall of China ends.
After descending to the southeast toward Lan-Tcheou, the wall runs to
the northeast, covering the provinces of Kian-Sou, Chan-si, and
Petchili to the north of Pekin. Here it is little more than an
embankment with a tower here and there, mostly in ruins. I should have
failed in my duty as a chronicler if I had not noticed this gigantic
work at its beginning, for it far surpasses the works of our modern
"Is it of any real use, this wall of China?" asked Major Noltitz.
"To the Chinese, I do not know," said I; "but certainly it is to our
political orators for purposes of comparison, when discussing treaties
of commerce. Without it, what would become of the eloquence of our
I have not seen Kinko for two days, and the last was only to exchange a
few words with him to relieve his anxiety.
To-night I will try and visit him. I have taken care to lay in a few
provisions at Sou-Tcheou.
We started at three o'clock. We have got a more powerful engine on.
Across this undulating country the gradients are occasionally rather
steep. Seven hundred kilometres separate us from the important city of
Lan-Tcheou, where we ought to arrive to-morrow morning, running thirty
miles an hour.
I remarked to Pan-Chao that this average was not a high one.
"What would you have?" he replied, crunching the watermelon seeds. "You
will not change, and nothing will change the temperament of the
Celestials. As they are conservatives in all things, so will they be
conservative in this matter of speed, no matter how the engine may be
improved. And, besides, Monsieur Bombarnac, that there are railways at
all in the Middle Kingdom is a wonder to me."
"I agree with you, but where you have a railway you might as well get
all the advantage out of it that you can."
"Bah!" said Pan-Chao carelessly.
"Speed," said I, "is a gain of time--and to gain time--"
"Time does not exist in China, Monsieur Bombarnac, and it cannot exist
for a population of four hundred millions. There would not be enough
for everybody. And so we do not count by days and hours, but always by
moons and watches."
"Which is more poetical than practical," I remark.
"Practical, Mr. Reporter? You Westerners are never without that word in
your mouth. To be practical is to be the slave of time, work, money,
business, the world, everybody else, and one's self included. I confess
that during my stay in Europe--you can ask Doctor Tio-King--I have not
been very practical, and now I return to Asia I shall be less so. I
shall let myself live, that is all, as the cloud floats in the breeze,
the straw on the stream, as the thought is borne away by the
"I see," said I, "we must take China as it is."
"And as it will probably always be, Monsieur Bombarnac. Ah! if you knew
how easy the life is--an adorable _dolce far niente_ between folding
screens in the quietude of the yamens. The cares of business trouble us
little; the cares of politics trouble us less. Think! Since Fou Hi, the
first emperor in 2950, a contemporary of Noah, we are in the
twenty-third dynasty. Now it is Manchoo; what it is to be next what
matters? Either we have a government or we have not; and which of its
sons Heaven has chosen for the happiness of four hundred million
subjects we hardly know, and we hardly care to know."
It is evident that the young Celestial is a thousand and ten times
wrong, to use the numerative formula; but it is not for me to tell him
At dinner Mr. and Mrs. Ephrinell, sitting side by side, hardly
exchanged a word. Their intimacy seems to have decreased since they
were married. Perhaps they are absorbed in the calculation of their
reciprocal interests, which are not yet perfectly amalgamated. Ah! they
do not count by moons and watches, these Anglo-Saxons! They are
practical, too practical!
We have had a bad night. The sky of purple sulphury tint became stormy
toward evening, the atmosphere became stifling, the electrical tension
excessive. It meant a "highly successful" storm, to quote Caterna, who
assured me he had never seen a better one except perhaps in the second
act of _Freyschuetz_. In truth the train ran through a zone, so to
speak, of vivid lightning and rolling thunder, which the echoes of the
mountains prolonged indefinitely. I think there must have been several
lightning strokes, but the rails acted as conductors, and preserved the
cars from injury. It was a fine spectacle, a little alarming, these
fires in the sky that the heavy rain could not put out--these
continuous discharges from the clouds, in which were mingled the
strident whistlings of our locomotive as we passed through the stations
of Yanlu, Youn Tcheng, Houlan-Sien and Da-Tsching.
By favor of this troubled night I was able to communicate with Kinko,
to take him some provisions and to have a few minutes' conversation
"Is it the day after to-morrow," he asked, "that we arrive at Pekin?"
"Yes, the day after to-morrow, if the train is not delayed."
"Oh, I am not afraid of delays! But when my box is in the railway
station at Pekin, I have still to get to the Avenue Cha-Coua--"
"What does it matter, will not the fair Zinca Klork come and call for
"No. I advised her not to do so."
"Women are so impressionable! She would want to see the van in-which I
had come, she would claim the box with such excitement that suspicions
would be aroused. In short, she would run the risk of betraying me."
"You are right, Kinko."
"Besides, we shall reach the station in the afternoon, very late in the
afternoon perhaps, and the unloading of the packages will not take
place until next morning--"
"Well, Monsieur Bombarnac, if I am not taking too great a liberty, may
I ask a favor of you?"
"What is it?"
"That you will be present at the departure of the case, so as to avoid
"I will be there, Kinko, I will be there. Glass fragile, I will see
that they don't handle it too roughly. And if you like I will accompany
the case to Avenue Cha-Coua--"
"I hardly like to ask you to do that--"
"You are wrong, Kinko. You should not stand on ceremony with a friend,
and I am yours, Kinko. Besides, it will be a pleasure to me to make the
acquaintance of Mademoiselle Zinca Klork. I will be there when they
deliver the box, the precious box. I will help her to get the nails out
"The nails out of it, Monsieur Bombarnac? My panel? Ah, I will jump
through my panel!"
A terrible clap of thunder interrupted our conversation. I thought the
train had been thrown off the line by the commotion of the air. I left
the young Roumanian and regained my place within the car.
In the morning--26th of May, 7 A.M.--we arrived at Lan-Tcheou. Three
hours to stop, three hours only.
"Come, Major Noltitz, come, Pan-Chao, come, Caterna, we have not a
minute to spare."
But as we are leaving the station we are stopped by the appearance of a
tall, fat, gray, solemn personage. It is the governor of the town in a
double robe of white and yellow silk, fan in hand, buckled belt, and a
mantilla--a black mantilla which would have looked much better on the
shoulders of a manola. He is accompanied by a certain number of
globular mandarins, and the Celestials salute him by holding out their
two fists, which they move up and down as they nod their heads.
"Ah! What is this gentleman going to do? Is it some Chinese formality?
A visit to the passengers and their baggage? And Kinko, what about him?"
Nothing alarming, after all. It is only about the treasure of the Son
of Heaven. The governor and his suite have stopped before the precious
van, bolted and sealed, and are looking at it with that respectful
admiration which is experienced even in China before a box containing
I ask Popof what is meant by the governor's presence, has it anything
to do with us?
"Not at all," says Popof; "the order has come from Pekin to telegraph
the arrival of the treasure. The governor has done so, and he is
awaiting a reply as to whether he is to send it on to Pekin or keep it
provisionally at Lan-Tcheou."
"That will not delay us?"
"I don't think so."
"Then come on," said I to my companions. But if the imperial treasure
was a matter of indifference to us, it did not seem to be so to
Faruskiar. But whether this van started or did not start, whether it
was attached to our train or left behind, what could it matter to him?
Nevertheless, he and Ghangir seemed to be much put about regarding it,
although they tried to hide their anxiety, while the Mongols, talking
together in a low tone, gave the governor anything but friendly glances.
Meanwhile the governor had just heard of the attack on the train and of
the part that our hero had taken in defence of the treasure, with what
courage he had fought, and how he had delivered the country from the
terrible Ki-Tsang. And then in laudatory terms, which Pan-Chao
translated to us, he thanked Faruskiar, complimented him, and gave him
to understand that the Son of Heaven would reward him for his services.
The manager of the Grand Transasiatic listened with that tranquil air
that distinguished him, not without impatience, as, I could clearly
see. Perhaps he felt himself superior to praises as well as
recompenses, no matter from how great a height they might come. In that
I recognized all the Mongol pride.
But we need not wait. The treasure van may remain here or go on to
Pekin, but it makes no difference to us! Our business is to visit
What we did briefly I will more briefly tell.
There is an outer town and an inner one. No ruins this time. A very
lively city, population swarming like ants and very active,
familiarized by the railway with the presence of strangers whom they do
not follow about with indiscreet curiosity as they used to do. Huge
quarters occupy the right of the Hoang Ho, two kilometres wide. This
Hoang Ho is the yellow river, the famous yellow river, which, after a
course of four thousand four hundred kilometres, pours its muddy waters
into the Gulf of Petchili.
"Is not its mouth near Tien Tsin, where the baron thinks of catching
the mail for Yokohama?" asks the major.
"That is so," I reply.
"He will miss it," says the actor.
"Unless he trots, our globe-trotter."
"A donkey's trot does not last long," says Caterna, "and he will not
catch the boat."
"He will catch it if the train is no later," said the major. "We shall
be at Tien Tsin on the 23d at six o'clock in the morning, and the
steamer leaves at eleven."
"Whether he misses the boat or not, my friends, do not let us miss our
A bridge of boats crosses the river, and the stream is so swift that
the footway rises and falls like the waves of the sea. Madame Caterna,
who had ventured on it, began to turn pale.
"Caroline, Caroline," said her husband, "you will be seasick! Pull
yourself together; pull yourself together!"
She "pulled herself together," and we went up towards a pagoda which
rises over the town.
Like all the monuments of this kind, the pagoda resembles a pile of
dessert dishes placed one on the other, but the dishes are of graceful
form, and if they are in Chinese porcelain it is not astonishing.
We get an outside view of a cannon foundry, a rifle factory, the
workmen being natives. Through a fine garden we reach the governor's
house, with a capricious assemblage of bridges, kiosks, fountains and
doors like vases. There are more pavilions and upturned roofs than
there are trees and shady walks. Then there are paths paved with
bricks, among them the remains of the base of the Great Wall.
It is ten minutes to ten when we return to the station, absolutely
tired out; for the walk has been a rough one, and almost suffocating,
for the heat is very great.
My first care is to look after the van with the millions. It is there
as usual behind the train under the Chinese guard.
The message expected by the governor has arrived; the order to forward
on the van to Pekin, where the treasure is to be handed over to the
Where is Faruskiar? I do not see him. Has he given us the slip?
No! There he is on one of the platforms, and the Mongols are back in
Ephrinell has been off to do a round of calls--with his samples, no
doubt--and Mrs. Ephrinell has also been out on business, for a deal in
hair probably. Here they come, and without seeming to notice one
another they take their seats.
The other passengers are only Celestials. Some are going to Pekin; some
have taken their tickets for intermediate stations like Si-Ngan, Ho
Nan. Lou-Ngan, Tai-Youan. There are a hundred passengers in the train.
All my numbers are on board. There is not one missing. Thirteen, always
We were still on the platform, just after the signal of departure had
been given, when Caterna asked his wife what was the most curious thing
she had seen at Lan-Tcheou.
"The most curious thing, Adolphe? Those big cages, hung on to the walls
and trees, which held such curious birds--"
"Very curious, Madame Caterna," said Pan-Chao. "Birds that talk--"
"No; criminals' heads."
"Horrible!" said the actress, with a most expressive grimace.
"What would you have, Caroline?" said Caterna. "It is the custom of the
On leaving Lan-Tcheou, the railway crosses a well-cultivated country,
watered by numerous streams, and hilly enough to necessitate frequent
curves. There is a good deal of engineering work; mostly bridges,
viaducts on wooden trestles of somewhat doubtful solidity, and the
traveler is not particularly comfortable when he finds them bending
under the weight of the train. It is true we are in the Celestial
Empire, and a few thousand victims of a railway accident is hardly
anything among a population of four hundred millions.
"Besides," said Pan-Chao, "the Son of Heaven never travels by railway."
So much the better.
At six o'clock in the evening we are at King-Tcheou, after skirting for
some time the capricious meanderings of the Great Wall. Of this immense
artificial frontier built between Mongolia and China, there remain only
the blocks of granite and red quartzite which served as its base, its
terrace of bricks with the parapets of unequal heights, a few old
cannons eaten into with rust and hidden under a thick veil of lichens,
and then the square towers with their ruined battlements. The
interminable wall rises, falls, bends, bends back again, and is lost to
sight on the undulations of the ground.
At six o'clock we halt for half an hour at King-Tcheou, of which I only
saw a few pagodas, and about ten o'clock there is a halt of
three-quarters of an hour at Si-Ngan, of which I did not even see the
All night was spent in running the three hundred kilometres which
separate this town from Ho Nan, where we had an hour to stop.
I fancy the Londoners might easily imagine that this town of Ho Nan was
London, and perhaps Mrs. Ephrinell did so. Not because there was a
Strand with its extraordinary traffic, nor a Thames with its prodigious
movement of barges and steamboats. No! But because we were in a fog so
thick that it was impossible to see either houses or pagodas.
The fog lasted all day, and this hindered the progress of the train.
These Chinese engine-drivers are really very skilful and attentive and
We were not fortunate in our last day's journey before reaching Tien
Tsin! What a loss of copy! What paragraphs were melted away in these
unfathomable vapors! I saw nothing of the gorges and ravines, through
which runs the Grand Transasiatic; nothing of the valley of Lou-Ngan,
where we stopped at eleven o'clock; nothing of the two hundred and
thirty kilometres which we accomplished amid the wreaths of a sort of
yellow steam, worthy of a yellow country, until we stopped about ten
o'clock at night at Tai-Youan.
Ah! the disagreeable day.
Luckily the fog rose early in the evening. Now it is night--and a very
dark night, too.
I go to the refreshment bar and buy a few cakes and a bottle of wine.
My intention is to pay a last visit to Kinko. We will drink to his
health, to his approaching marriage with the fair Roumanian. He has
traveled by fraud, I know, and if the Grand Transasiatic only knew! But
the Grand Transasiatic will not know.
During the stoppage Faruskiar and Ghangir are walking on the platform
and looking at the train. But it is not the van at the rear that is
attracting their attention, but the van in front, and they seem to be
much interested in it.
Are they suspicious of Kinko? No! the hypothesis is unlikely. The
driver and stoker seem to be the object of their very particular
attention. They are two brave Chinamen who have just come on duty, and
perhaps Faruskiar is not sorry to see men in whom he can trust, with
this imperial treasure and a hundred passengers behind them!
The hour for departure strikes, and at midnight the engine begins to
move, emitting two or three loud whistles.
As I have said, the night is very dark, without moon, without stars.
Long clouds are creeping across the lower zones of the atmosphere. It
will be easy for me to enter the van without being noticed. And I have
not been too liberal in my visits to Kinko during these twelve days on
At this moment Popof says to me:
"Are you not going to sleep to-night, Monsieur Bombarnac?"
"I am in no hurry," I reply; "after this foggy day, spent inside the
car, I am glad of a breath of fresh air. Where does the train stop
"At Fuen-Choo, when it has passed the junction with the Nanking line."
"Good night, Popof."
"Good night, Monsieur Bombarnac."
I am alone.
The idea occurs to me to walk to the rear of the train, and I stop for
an instant on the gangway in front of the treasure van.
The passengers, with the exception of the Chinese guard, are all
sleeping their last sleep--their last, be it understood, on the Grand
Returning to the front of the train, I approach Popof's box, and find
him sound asleep.
I then open the door of the van, shut it behind me, and signal my
presence to Kinko.
The panel is lowered, the little lamp is lighted. In exchange for the
cakes and wine I receive the brave fellow's thanks, and we drink to the
health of Zinca Klork, whose acquaintance I am to make on the morrow.
It is ten minutes to one. In twelve minutes, so Popof says, we shall
pass the junction with the Nanking branch. This branch is only
completed for five or six kilometres, and leads to the viaduct over the
Tjon valley. This viaduct is a great work--I have the details from
Pan-Chao--and the engineers have as yet only got in the piers, which
rise for a hundred feet above the ground.
As I know we are to halt at Fuen-Choo, I shake hands with Kinko, and
rise to take my leave.
At this moment I seem to hear some one on the platform in the rear of
"Look out, Kinko!" I say in a whisper.
The lamp is instantly extinguished, and we remain quite still.
I am not mistaken. Some one is opening the door of the van.
"Your panel," I whisper.
The panel is raised, the car is shut, and I am alone in the dark.
Evidently it must be Popof who has come in. What will he think to find
me here? The first time I came to visit the young Roumanian I hid among
the packages. Well, I will hide a second time. If I get behind
Ephrinell's boxes it is not likely that Popof will see me, even by the
light of his lantern.
I do so; and I watch.
It is not Popof, for he would have brought his lantern.
I try to recognize the people who have just entered. It is difficult.
They have glided between the packages, and after opening the further
door, they have gone out and shut it behind them.
They are some of the passengers, evidently; but why here--at this hour?
I must know. I have a presentiment that something is in the wind
Perhaps by listening?
I approach the front door of the van, and in spite of the rumbling of
the train I hear them distinctly enough--
Thousand and ten thousand devils! I am not mistaken! It is the voice of
my lord Faruskiar. He is talking with Ghangir in Russian. It is indeed
Faruskiar. The four Mongols have accompanied him. But what are they
doing there? For what motive are they on the platform which is just
behind the tender? And what are they saying?
What they are saying is this.
Of these questions and answers exchanged between my lord Faruskiar and
his companions, I do not lose a word.
"When shall we be at the junction?"
"In a few minutes."
"Are you sure that Kardek is at the points?"
"Yes; that has been arranged."
What had been arranged? And who is this Kardek they are talking about?
The conversation continues.
"We must wait until we get the signal," says Faruskiar.
"Is that a green light?" asks Ghangir.
"Yes--it will show that the switch is over."
I do not know if I am in my right senses. The switch over? What switch?
A half minute elapses. Ought I not to tell Popof? Yes--I ought.
I was turning to go out of the van, when an exclamation kept me back.
"The signal--there is the signal!" says Ghangir.
"And now the train is on the Nanking branch!" replies Faruskiar.
The Nanking branch? But then we are lost. At five kilometres from here
is the Tjon viaduct in course of construction, and the train is being
precipitated towards an abyss.
Evidently Major Noltitz was not mistaken regarding my lord Faruskiar. I
understand the scheme of the scoundrels. The manager of the Grand
Transasiatic is a scoundrel of the deepest dye. He has entered the
service of the company to await his opportunity for some extensive
haul. The opportunity has come with the millions of the Son of Heaven I
Yes! The whole abominable scheme is clear enough to me. Faruskiar has
defended the imperial treasure against Ki-Tsang to keep it from the
chief of the bandits who stopped the train, whose attack would have
interfered with his criminal projects! That is why he had fought so
bravely. That is why he had risked his life and behaved like a hero.
And thou, poor beast of a Claudius, how thou hast been sold! Another
howler! Think of that, my friend!
But somehow we ought to prevent this rascal from accomplishing his
work. We ought to save the train which is running full speed towards
the unfinished viaduct, we ought to save the passengers from a
frightful catastrophe. As to the treasure Faruskiar and his accomplices
are after, I care no more than for yesterday's news! But the
passengers--and myself--that is another affair altogether.
I will go back to Popof. Impossible. I seem to be nailed to the floor
of the van. My head swims--
Is it true we are running towards the abyss? No! I am mad. Faruskiar
and his accomplices would be hurled over as well. They would share our
fate. They would perish with us!
But there are shouts in front of the train. The screams of people being
killed. There is no doubt now. The driver and the stoker are being
strangled. I feel the speed of the train begin to slacken.
I understand. One of the ruffians knows how to work the train, and he
is slowing it to enable them to jump off and avoid the catastrophe.
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
"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