-Goodbye. Goodbye and good luck.
-Au revoir, mes amis.
The train track turns and runs through low hills, the locomotive disappears, all that can be seen are puffs of steam; aboard it are Peter Fleming, Special Correspondent to The Times, and Ella Maillart, Swiss adventuress, they are at the beginning of a secretive--to the Chinese authorities, anyway--travel adventure. Their goal is British India.
Caroline treats Mingzhu to a playful wink and then looks up at the men as they approach.
"Ah, the prodigal sons return!"
Caroline's lip curls upward, almost like a tiger bearing a fang.
"Oh I find these rural markets exceedingly charming. The bustle, the smell, the sensation of all those bodies crawling over each other."
She smiles at the rest of the company and says a brighter voice.
"And naturally, when you're as tall as I am, you have the grandest view of everything."
"Um--yes, Miss Lamarr," says Renwick, "you certainly are that--tall, I mean." He changes the subject: "One of the guards, Bo is his name, is a refugee from Sinkiang province"--he looks at Santiago and Elisabeth, unsure about mentioning Sinkiang in the presence of Caroline--"my point is that this Bo speaks Turki and Mongol, which I presume no one amongst us does?"
"Yes, perhaps we can hire him as a guide," says Elisabeth. "But will he want to head out west? He might not want to go anywhere near the area he left behind."
Caroline's eyes narrow for the merest fraction of a second as she hears you mention Sinkiang, but she quickly regains her composure. She looks at Mingzhu with a charming smile.
I must admit, darling, that Mongolian isn't part of my repertoire, I do however speak Tibetan.
She leans back in her seat, making sure she can see everyone.
"But why would you want a guide to Sinkiang? If you plan on going there after Chengchow, I'd advise discretion. The area is forbidden and controls are very strict. You should be careful with strangers on trains, they could be very dangerous."
As she lingers on the last word, she looks at Santiago.
Santiago raises an eyebrow and smiles warmly at Caroline. "I am very much aware of that, Ms Lamarr. You never know what secret agenda a person may have no matter how personable and friendly they may appear to be. Thank you for the warning; I'm sure we'll all double our efforts to be vigilant." He looks at Elizabeth particularly.
Posie is sound asleep.
Mingzhu replies: "Tibetan will be a great help to us at the monastery of Kumbum and at lake Koko Nor where we plan to do some shooting." She hesitates, but continues as on delicate ground, so to speak: "Señor el Aguila, forgive me if I speak out of turn, we should include Miss Lamarr, Caroline, in our true intentions, otherwise our planning in Chengchow for the . . ."--she hesitates again--"the journey to Sinkiang will be impaired--and Caroline knows about expeditions--camp life--in this country, better than anyone!"
"Yes, dear," says Elisabeth, "I think we ought to include her. Besides, she already knows about our plans. Better that she stays with us."
"Ms Lamarr already knows of our plans?" Santiago turns grimly to Henry with a 'women will gossip' look before replying. "Well I suppose so long as Ms Lamarr finds it beneficial to her own plans then I don't see why not."
Caroline was rummaging through her pack when the conversation took an awkward turn. She looked up at them, her voice and expression cool.
"I find it all very fascination that you are going on this "family" excursion to Sinkiang, but why on Earth would you want to take a child there? Are you running from trouble? From the law?"
"She's smart enough to have figured things out from what she's heard us say," says Elisabeth, who then turns to Caroline. "We're not on the run from the law, but we are fleeing from trouble." She looks to her "husband" to see if he's okay with her saying more.
Santiago nods and smiles to Elisabeth, "We did run into some trouble, totally by accident." He agrees. "It seemed prudent to head west as it is a most unexpected direction for a family to take. Plus we have a few errands that way. And now that we have met you, I'm sure we'll find more reasons for heading that way; your monastery for starters, and hunting." He says to Caroline.
Caroline smiles affably.
"Since we're on the same train, I don't mind guiding you some of the way at least. But I would very much like to know what danger you are running from."
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