There was a vacant seat near him; he beckoned to me to occupy it, and I hastened to take possession.
Was it by chance? I know not; but the Englishwoman was seated on Ephrinell's left and talking to him. He introduced me.
"Miss Horatia Bluett," he said.
Opposite I saw the French couple conscientiously studying the bill of fare.
At the other end of the table, close to where the food came from--and where the people got served first--was the German passenger, a man strongly built and with a ruddy face, fair hair, reddish beard, clumsy hands, and a very long nose which reminded one of the proboscidean feature of the plantigrades. He had that peculiar look of the officers of the Landsturm threatened with premature obesity.
"He is not late this time," said I to Ephrinell.
"The dinner hour is never forgotten in the German Empire!" replied the American.
"Do you know that German's name?"
"And with that name is he going to Pekin?"
"To Pekin, like that Russian major who is sitting near the captain of the _Astara_."
I looked at the man indicated. He was about fifty years of age, of true Muscovite type, beard and hair turning gray, face prepossessing. I knew Russian: he ought to know French. Perhaps he was the fellow traveler of whom I had dreamed.
"You said he was a major, Mr. Ephrinell?"
"Yes, a doctor in the Russian army, and they call him Major Noltitz."
Evidently the American was some distance ahead of me, and yet he was not a reporter by profession.
As the rolling was not yet very great, we could dine in comfort. Ephrinell chatted with Miss Horatia Bluett, and I understood that there was an understanding between these two perfectly Anglo-Saxon natures.
In fact, one was a traveler in teeth and the other was a traveler in hair. Miss Horatia Bluett represented an important firm in London, Messrs. Holmes-Holme, to whom the Celestial Empire annually exports two millions of female heads of hair. She was going to Pekin on account of the said firm, to open an office as a center for the collection of the Chinese hair crop. It seemed a promising enterprise, as the secret society of the Blue Lotus was agitating for the abolition of the pigtail, which is the emblem of the servitude of the Chinese to the Manchu Tartars. "Come," thought I, "if China sends her hair to England, America sends her teeth: that is a capital exchange, and everything is for the best."
We had been at the table for a quarter of an hour, and nothing had happened. The traveler with the smooth complexion and his blonde companion seemed to listen to us when we spoke in French. It evidently pleased them, and they were already showing an inclination to join in our talk. I was not mistaken, then; they are compatriots, but of what class?
At this moment the _Astara_ gave a lurch. The plates rattled on the table; the covers slipped; the glasses upset some of their contents; the hanging lamps swung out of the vertical--or rather our seats and the table moved in accordance with the roll of the ship. It is a curious effect, when one is sailor enough to bear it without alarm.
"Eh!" said the American; "here is the good old Caspian shaking her skin."
"Are you subject to seasickness?" I asked.
"No more than a porpoise," said he. "Are you ever seasick?" he continued to his neighbor.
"Never," said Miss Horatia Bluett.
On the other side of the table there was an interchange of a few words in French.
"You are not unwell, Madame Caterna?"
"No, Adolphe, not yet; but if this continues, I am afraid--"
"Well, Caroline, we had better go on deck. The wind has hauled a point to the eastward, and the _Astara_ will soon be sticking her nose in the feathers."
His way of expressing himself shows that "Monsieur Caterna"--if that was his name--was a sailor, or ought to have been one. That explains the way he rolls his hips as he walks.
The pitching now becomes very violent. The majority of the company cannot stand it. About thirty of the passengers have left the table for the deck.