Part 2 out of 7
undoubtedly affairs required their expulsion.
It is easy to understand the effect produced by these two thunder-claps
bursting over a town like Nijni-Novgorod, so densely crowded
with visitors, and with a commerce so greatly surpassing that of all
other places in Russia. The natives whom business called beyond
the Siberian frontier could not leave the province for a time at least.
The tenor of the first article of the order was express; it admitted
of no exception. All private interests must yield to the public weal.
As to the second article of the proclamation, the order of
expulsion which it contained admitted of no evasion either.
It only concerned foreigners of Asiatic origin, but these could do
nothing but pack up their merchandise and go back the way they came.
As to the mountebanks, of which there were a considerable number,
they had nearly a thousand versts to go before they could reach
the nearest frontier. For them it was simply misery.
At first there rose against this unusual measure a murmur
of protestation, a cry of despair, but this was quickly
suppressed by the presence of the Cossacks and agents of police.
Immediately, what might be called the exodus from the immense
plain began. The awnings in front of the stalls were folded up;
the theaters were taken to pieces; the fires were put out;
the acrobats' ropes were lowered; the old broken-winded
horses of the traveling vans came back from their sheds.
Agents and soldiers with whip or stick stimulated the tardy ones,
and made nothing of pulling down the tents even before the poor
Bohemians had left them.
Under these energetic measures the square of Nijni-Novgorod would,
it was evident, be entirely evacuated before the evening,
and to the tumult of the great fair would succeed the silence
of the desert.
It must again be repeated--for it was a necessary aggravation
of these severe measures--that to all those nomads chiefly concerned
in the order of expulsion even the steppes of Siberia were forbidden,
and they would be obliged to hasten to the south of the Caspian Sea,
either to Persia, Turkey, or the plains of Turkestan. The post
of the Ural, and the mountains which form, as it were, a prolongation
of the river along the Russian frontier, they were not allowed to pass.
They were therefore under the necessity of traveling six hundred
miles before they could tread a free soil.
Just as the reading of the proclamation by the head of the police
came to an end, an idea darted instinctively into the mind
of Michael Strogoff. "What a singular coincidence," thought he,
"between this proclamation expelling all foreigners of Asiatic origin,
and the words exchanged last evening between those two gipsies
of the Zingari race. 'The Father himself sends us where we wish
to go,' that old man said. But 'the Father' is the emperor!
He is never called anything else among the people. How could
those gipsies have foreseen the measure taken against them? how could
they have known it beforehand, and where do they wish to go?
Those are suspicious people, and it seems to me that to them
the government proclamation must be more useful than injurious."
But these reflections were completely dispelled by another
which drove every other thought out of Michael's mind.
He forgot the Zingaris, their suspicious words, the strange
coincidence which resulted from the proclamation.
The remembrance of the young Livonian girl suddenly rushed
into his mind. "Poor child!" he thought to himself.
"She cannot now cross the frontier."
In truth the young girl was from Riga; she was Livonian,
consequently Russian, and now could not leave Russian territory!
The permit which had been given her before the new
measures had been promulgated was no longer available.
All the routes to Siberia had just been pitilessly closed
to her, and, whatever the motive taking her to Irkutsk,
she was now forbidden to go there.
This thought greatly occupied Michael Strogoff. He said to himself,
vaguely at first, that, without neglecting anything of what was due
to his important mission, it would perhaps be possible for him to be
of some use to this brave girl; and this idea pleased him. Knowing how
serious were the dangers which he, an energetic and vigorous man,
would have personally to encounter, he could not conceal from himself
how infinitely greater they would prove to a young unprotected girl.
As she was going to Irkutsk, she would be obliged to follow the same
road as himself, she would have to pass through the bands of invaders,
as he was about to attempt doing himself. If, moreover, she had
at her disposal only the money necessary for a journey taken under
ordinary circumstances, how could she manage to accomplish it under
conditions which made it not only perilous but expensive?
"Well," said he, "if she takes the route to Perm,
it is nearly impossible but that I shall fall in with her.
Then, I will watch over her without her suspecting it;
and as she appears to me as anxious as myself to reach Irkutsk,
she will cause me no delay."
But one thought leads to another. Michael Strogoff had till now thought
only of doing a kind action; but now another idea flashed into his brain;
the question presented itself under quite a new aspect.
"The fact is," said he to himself, "that I have much more need of her
than she can have of me. Her presence will be useful in drawing
off suspicion from me. A man traveling alone across the steppe,
may be easily guessed to be a courier of the Czar. If, on the contrary,
this young girl accompanies me, I shall appear, in the eyes of all,
the Nicholas Korpanoff of my podorojna. Therefore, she must
accompany me. Therefore, I must find her again at any cost.
It is not probable that since yesterday evening she has been able
to get a carriage and leave Nijni-Novgorod. I must look for her.
And may God guide me!"
Michael left the great square of Nijni-Novgorod, where the tumult
produced by the carrying out of the prescribed measures had now
reached its height. Recriminations from the banished strangers,
shouts from the agents and Cossacks who were using them so brutally,
together made an indescribable uproar. The girl for whom he searched
could not be there. It was now nine o'clock in the morning.
The steamboat did not start till twelve. Michael Strogoff had
therefore nearly two hours to employ in searching for her whom
he wished to make his traveling companion.
He crossed the Volga again and hunted through the quarters
on the other side, where the crowd was much less considerable.
He entered the churches, the natural refuge for all who weep,
for all who suffer. Nowhere did he meet with the young Livonian.
"And yet," he repeated, "she could not have left Nijni-Novgorod yet.
We'll have another look." He wandered about thus for two hours.
He went on without stopping, feeling no fatigue, obeying a potent
instinct which allowed no room for thought. All was in vain.
It then occurred to him that perhaps the girl had not heard
of the order--though this was improbable enough, for such a
thunder-clap could not have burst without being heard by all.
Evidently interested in knowing the smallest news from Siberia,
how could she be ignorant of the measures taken by the governor,
measures which concerned her so directly?
But, if she was ignorant of it, she would come in an hour to the quay,
and there some merciless agent would refuse her a passage!
At any cost, he must see her beforehand, and enable her to avoid
such a repulse.
But all his endeavors were in vain, and he at length almost despaired
of finding her again. It was eleven o'clock, and Michael thought
of presenting his podorojna at the office of the head of police.
The proclamation evidently did not concern him, since the emergency
had been foreseen for him, but he wished to make sure that nothing
would hinder his departure from the town.
Michael then returned to the other side of the Volga,
to the quarter in which was the office of the head of police.
An immense crowd was collected there; for though all foreigners
were ordered to quit the province, they had notwithstanding
to go through certain forms before they could depart.
Without this precaution, some Russian more or less implicated
in the Tartar movement would have been able, in a disguise, to pass
the frontier--just those whom the order wished to prevent going.
The strangers were sent away, but still had to gain permission to go.
Mountebanks, gypsies, Tsiganes, Zingaris, mingled with merchants
from Persia, Turkey, India, Turkestan, China, filled the court
and offices of the police station.
Everyone was in a hurry, for the means of transport would be much
sought after among this crowd of banished people, and those who did
not set about it soon ran a great risk of not being able to leave
the town in the prescribed time, which would expose them to some
brutal treatment from the governor's agents.
Owing to the strength of his elbows Michael was able to cross the court.
But to get into the office and up to the clerk's little window was a much
more difficult business. However, a word into an inspector's ear and a
few judiciously given roubles were powerful enough to gain him a passage.
The man, after taking him into the waiting-room, went to call an
upper clerk. Michael Strogoff would not be long in making everything
right with the police and being free in his movements.
Whilst waiting, he looked about him, and what did he see?
There, fallen, rather than seated, on a bench, was a girl,
prey to a silent despair, although her face could scarcely
be seen, the profile alone being visible against the wall.
Michael Strogoff could not be mistaken. He instantly recognized
the young Livonian.
Not knowing the governor's orders, she had come to the police office
to get her pass signed. They had refused to sign it. No doubt
she was authorized to go to Irkutsk, but the order was peremptory--
it annulled all previous au-thorizations, and the routes to Siberia
were closed to her. Michael, delighted at having found her again,
approached the girl.
She looked up for a moment and her face brightened on recognizing
her traveling companion. She instinctively rose and, like a drowning
man who clutches at a spar, she was about to ask his help.
At that moment the agent touched Michael on the shoulder,
"The head of police will see you," he said.
"Good," returned Michael. And without saying a word to her for whom
he had been searching all day, without reassuring her by even a gesture,
which might compromise either her or himself, he followed the man.
The young Livonian, seeing the only being to whom she could look
for help disappear, fell back again on her bench.
Three minutes had not passed before Michael Strogoff reappeared,
accompanied by the agent. In his hand he held his podorojna,
which threw open the roads to Siberia for him. He again
approached the young Livonian, and holding out his hand:
"Sister," said he.
She understood. She rose as if some sudden inspiration prevented
her from hesitating a moment.
"Sister," repeated Michael Strogoff, "we are authorized to continue
our journey to Irkutsk. Will you come with me?"
"I will follow you, brother," replied the girl, putting her hand into
that of Michael Strogoff. And together they left the police station.
CHAPTER VII GOING DOWN THE VOLGA
A LITTLE before midday, the steamboat's bell drew to the wharf
on the Volga an unusually large concourse of people,
for not only were those about to embark who had intended to go,
but the many who were compelled to go contrary to their wishes.
The boilers of the Caucasus were under full pressure; a slight
smoke issued from its funnel, whilst the end of the escape-pipe
and the lids of the valves were crowned with white vapor.
It is needless to say that the police kept a close watch over
the departure of the Caucasus, and showed themselves pitiless to
those travelers who did not satisfactorily answer their questions.
Numerous Cossacks came and went on the quay, ready to assist
the agents, but they had not to interfere, as no one
ventured to offer the slightest resistance to their orders.
Exactly at the hour the last clang of the bell sounded,
the powerful wheels of the steamboat began to beat the water,
and the Caucasus passed rapidly between the two towns of which
Nijni-Novgorod is composed.
Michael Strogoff and the young Livonian had taken a passage on board
the Caucasus. Their embarkation was made without any difficulty.
As is known, the podorojna, drawn up in the name of Nicholas Korpanoff,
authorized this merchant to be accompanied on his journey
to Siberia. They appeared, therefore, to be a brother and
sister traveling under the protection of the imperial police.
Both, seated together at the stern, gazed at the receding town,
so disturbed by the governor's order. Michael had as yet
said nothing to the girl, he had not even questioned her.
He waited until she should speak to him, when that was necessary.
She had been anxious to leave that town, in which, but for
the providential intervention of this unexpected protector,
she would have remained imprisoned. She said nothing,
but her looks spoke her thanks.
The Volga, the Rha of the ancients, the largest river
in all Europe, is almost three thousand miles in length.
Its waters, rather unwholesome in its upper part, are improved
at Nijni-Novgorod by those of the Oka, a rapid affluent,
issuing from the central provinces of Russia. The system of
Russian canals and rivers has been justly compared to a gigantic
tree whose branches spread over every part of the empire.
The Volga forms the trunk of this tree, and it has for roots
seventy mouths opening into the Caspian Sea. It is navigable
as far as Rjef, a town in the government of Tver, that is,
along the greater part of its course.
The steamboats plying between Perm and Nijni-Novgorod rapidly perform
the two hundred and fifty miles which separate this town from the town
of Kasan. It is true that these boats have only to descend the Volga,
which adds nearly two miles of current per hour to their own speed;
but on arriving at the confluence of the Kama, a little below Kasan,
they are obliged to quit the Volga for the smaller river, up which
they ascend to Perm. Powerful as were her machines, the Caucasus
could not thus, after entering the Kama, make against the current
more than ten miles an hour. Including an hour's stoppage at Kasan,
the voyage from Nijni-Novgorod to Perm would take from between sixty
to sixty-two hours.
The steamer was very well arranged, and the passengers, according to
their condition or resources, occupied three distinct classes on board.
Michael Strogoff had taken care to engage two first-class cabins,
so that his young companion might retire into hers whenever she liked.
The Caucasus was loaded with passengers of every description.
A number of Asiatic traders had thought it best to leave
Nijni-Novgorod immediately. In that part of the steamer reserved
for the first-class might be seen Armenians in long robes and a sort
of miter on their heads; Jews, known by their conical caps; rich Chinese
in their traditional costume, a very wide blue, violet, or black robe;
Turks, wearing the national turban; Hindoos, with square caps,
and a simple string for a girdle, some of whom, hold in their hands
all the traffic of Central Asia; and, lastly, Tartars, wearing boots,
ornamented with many-colored braid, and the breast a mass of embroidery.
All these merchants had been obliged to pile up their numerous bales
and chests in the hold and on the deck; and the transport of their
baggage would cost them dear, for, according to the regulations,
each person had only a right to twenty pounds' weight.
In the bows of the Caucasus were more numerous groups of passengers,
not only foreigners, but also Russians, who were not forbidden
by the order to go back to their towns in the province.
There were mujiks with caps on their heads, and wearing
checked shirts under their wide pelisses; peasants of
the Volga, with blue trousers stuffed into their boots,
rose-colored cotton shirts, drawn in by a cord, felt caps;
a few women, habited in flowery-patterned cotton dresses,
gay-colored aprons, and bright handkerchiefs on their heads.
These were principally third-class passengers, who were,
happily, not troubled by the prospect of a long return voyage.
The Caucasus passed numerous boats being towed up the stream,
carrying all sorts of merchandise to Nijni-Novgorod. Then passed
rafts of wood interminably long, and barges loaded to the gunwale,
and nearly sinking under water. A bootless voyage they were making,
since the fair had been abruptly broken up at its outset.
The waves caused by the steamer splashed on the banks, covered with
flocks of wild duck, who flew away uttering deafening cries.
A little farther, on the dry fields, bordered with willows,
and aspens, were scattered a few cows, sheep, and herds of pigs.
Fields, sown with thin buckwheat and rye, stretched away to a
background of half-cultivated hills, offering no remarkable prospect.
The pencil of an artist in quest of the picturesque would have found
nothing to reproduce in this monotonous landscape.
The Caucasus had been steaming on for almost two hours,
when the young Livonian, addressing herself to Michael, said,
"Are you going to Irkutsk, brother?"
"Yes, sister," answered the young man. "We are going the same way.
Consequently, where I go, you shall go."
"To-morrow, brother, you shall know why I left the shores of the Baltic
to go beyond the Ural Mountains."
"I ask you nothing, sister."
"You shall know all," replied the girl, with a faint smile.
"A sister should hide nothing from her brother. But I cannot
to-day. Fatigue and sorrow have broken me."
"Will you go and rest in your cabin?" asked Michael Strogoff.
"Yes--yes; and to-morrow--"
He hesitated to finish his sentence, as if he had wished to end it
by the name of his companion, of which he was still ignorant.
"Nadia," said she, holding out her hand.
"Come, Nadia," answered Michael, "and make what use you like of your
brother Nicholas Korpanoff." And he led the girl to the cabin engaged
for her off the saloon.
Michael Strogoff returned on deck, and eager for any news
which might bear on his journey, he mingled in the groups
of passengers, though without taking any part in the conversation.
Should he by any chance be questioned, and obliged to reply,
he would announce himself as the merchant Nicholas Korpanoff,
going back to the frontier, for he did not wish it to be suspected
that a special permission authorized him to travel to Siberia.
The foreigners in the steamer could evidently speak of nothing
but the occurrences of the day, of the order and its consequences.
These poor people, scarcely recovered from the fatigue of a journey
across Central Asia, found themselves obliged to return, and if they
did not give loud vent to their anger and despair, it was because
they dared not. Fear, mingled with respect, restrained them.
It was possible that inspectors of police, charged with watching
the passengers, had secretly embarked on board the Caucasus,
and it was just as well to keep silence; expulsion, after all,
was a good deal preferable to imprisonment in a fortress.
Therefore the men were either silent, or spoke with so much caution
that it was scarcely possible to get any useful information.
Michael Strogoff thus could learn nothing here; but if mouths
were often shut at his approach--for they did not know him--
his ears were soon struck by the sound of one voice, which cared
little whether it was heard or not.
The man with the hearty voice spoke Russian, but with a French accent;
and another speaker answered him more reservedly. "What," said
the first, "are you on board this boat, too, my dear fellow;
you whom I met at the imperial fete in Moscow, and just caught
a glimpse of at Nijni-Novgorod?"
"Yes, it's I," answered the second drily.
"Really, I didn't expect to be so closely followed."
"I am not following you sir; I am preceding you."
"Precede! precede! Let us march abreast, keeping step,
like two soldiers on parade, and for the time, at least,
let us agree, if you will, that one shall not pass the other."
"On the contrary, I shall pass you."
"We shall see that, when we are at the seat of war;
but till then, why, let us be traveling companions.
Later, we shall have both time and occasion to be rivals."
"Enemies, if you like. There is a precision in your words,
my dear fellow, particularly agreeable to me. One may always
know what one has to look for, with you."
"What is the harm?"
"No harm at all. So, in my turn, I will ask your permission to state
our respective situations."
"You are going to Perm--like me?"
"And probably you will go from Perm to Ekaterenburg, since that is
the best and safest route by which to cross the Ural Mountains?"
"Once past the frontier, we shall be in Siberia, that is to say
in the midst of the invasion."
"We shall be there."
"Well! then, and only then, will be the time to say, Each for himself,
and God for--"
"For you, all by yourself! Very well! But since we have a week
of neutral days before us, and since it is very certain that news
will not shower down upon us on the way, let us be friends until
we become rivals again."
"Yes; that's right, enemies. But till then, let us act together,
and not try and ruin each other. All the same, I promise you
to keep to myself all that I can see--"
"And I, all that I can hear."
"Is that agreed?"
"It is agreed."
"Here it is." And the hand of the first speaker, that is to say,
five wide-open fingers, vigorously shook the two fingers coolly
extended by the other.
"By the bye," said the first, "I was able this morning to telegraph
the very words of the order to my cousin at seventeen minutes past ten."
"And I sent it to the Daily Telegraph at thirteen minutes past ten."
"Bravo, Mr. Blount!"
"Very good, M. Jolivet."
"I will try and match that!"
"It will be difficult."
"I can try, however."
So saying, the French correspondent familiarly saluted
the Englishman, who bowed stiffly. The governor's proclamation
did not concern these two news-hunters, as they were neither
Russians nor foreigners of Asiatic origin. However, being urged
by the same instinct, they had left Nijni-Novgorod together.
It was natural that they should take the same means of transport,
and that they should follow the same route to the Siberian steppes.
Traveling companions, whether enemies or friends, they had
a week to pass together before "the hunt would be open."
And then success to the most expert! Alcide Jolivet had made
the first advances, and Harry Blount had accepted them though
he had done so coldly.
That very day at dinner the Frenchman open as ever and even
too loquacious, the Englishman still silent and grave, were seen
hobnobbing at the same table, drinking genuine Cliquot, at six roubles
the bottle, made from the fresh sap of the birch-trees of the country.
On hearing them chatting away together, Michael Strogoff said to himself:
"Those are inquisitive and indiscreet fellows whom I shall probably
meet again on the way. It will be prudent for me to keep them
at a distance."
The young Livonian did not come to dinner. She was asleep in her cabin,
and Michael did not like to awaken her. It was evening before she
reappeared on the deck of the Caucasus. The long twilight imparted
a coolness to the atmosphere eagerly enjoyed by the passengers
after the stifling heat of the day. As the evening advanced,
the greater number never even thought of going into the saloon.
Stretched on the benches, they inhaled with delight the slight
breeze caused by the speed of the steamer. At this time of year,
and under this latitude, the sky scarcely darkened between sunset
and dawn, and left the steersman light enough to guide his steamer
among the numerous vessels going up or down the Volga.
Between eleven and two, however, the moon being new, it was almost dark.
Nearly all the passengers were then asleep on the deck, and the silence
was disturbed only by the noise of the paddles striking the water
at regular intervals. Anxiety kept Michael Strogoff awake.
He walked up and down, but always in the stern of the steamer.
Once, however, he happened to pass the engine-room. He then found
himself in the part reserved for second and third-class passengers.
There, everyone was lying asleep, not only on the benches,
but also on the bales, packages, and even the deck itself.
Some care was necessary not to tread on the sleepers, who were
lying about everywhere. They were chiefly mujiks, accustomed to
hard couches, and quite satisfied with the planks of the deck.
But no doubt they would, all the same, have soundly abused
the clumsy fellow who roused them with an accidental kick.
Michael Strogoff took care, therefore, not to disturb anyone.
By going thus to the end of the boat, he had no other idea
but that of striving against sleep by a rather longer walk.
He reached the forward deck, and was already climbing
the forecastle ladder, when he heard someone speaking near him.
He stopped. The voices appeared to come from a group of
passengers enveloped in cloaks and wraps. It was impossible
to recognize them in the dark, though it sometimes happened that,
when the steamer's chimney sent forth a plume of ruddy flames,
the sparks seemed to fall amongst the group as though thousands
of spangles had been suddenly illuminated.
Michael was about to step up the ladder, when a few words reached his ear,
uttered in that strange tongue which he had heard during the night
at the fair. Instinctively he stopped to listen. Protected by
the shadow of the forecastle, he could not be perceived himself.
As to seeing the passengers who were talking, that was impossible.
He must confine himself to listening.
The first words exchanged were of no importance--to him at least--but they
allowed him to recognize the voices of the man and woman whom he had heard
at Nijni-Novgorod. This, of course, made him redouble his attention.
It was, indeed, not at all impossible that these same Tsiganes,
now banished, should be on board the Caucasus.
And it was well for him that he listened, for he distinctly
heard this question and answer made in the Tartar idiom:
"It is said that a courier has set out from Moscow for Irkutsk."
"It is so said, Sangarre; but either this courier will arrive too late,
or he will not arrive at all."
Michael Strogoff started involuntarily at this reply,
which concerned him so directly. He tried to see if the man
and woman who had just spoken were really those whom he suspected,
but he could not succeed.
In a few moments Michael Strogoff had regained the stern of the vessel
without having been perceived, and, taking a seat by himself,
he buried his face in his hands. It might have been supposed
that he was asleep.
He was not asleep, however, and did not even think of sleeping.
He was reflecting, not without a lively apprehension:
"Who is it knows of my departure, and who can have any interest
in knowing it?"
CHAPTER VIII GOING UP THE KAMA
THE next day, the 18th of July, at twenty minutes to seven in the morning,
the Caucasus reached the Kasan quay, seven versts from the town.
Kasan is situated at the confluence of the Volga
and Kasanka. It is an important chief town of the government,
and a Greek archbishopric, as well as the seat of a university.
The varied population preserves an Asiatic character.
Although the town was so far from the landing-place, a large
crowd was collected on the quay. They had come for news.
The governor of the province had published an order identical
with that of Nijni-Novgorod. Police officers and a few Cossacks kept
order among the crowd, and cleared the way both for the passengers
who were disembarking and also for those who were embarking on
board the Caucasus, minutely examining both classes of travelers.
The one were the Asiatics who were being expelled; the other,
mujiks stopping at Kasan.
Michael Strogoff unconcernedly watched the bustle which occurs at
all quays on the arrival of a steam vessel. The Caucasus would stay
for an hour to renew her fuel. Michael did not even think of landing.
He was unwilling to leave the young Livonian girl alone on board,
as she had not yet reappeared on deck.
The two journalists had risen at dawn, as all good huntsmen should do.
They went on shore and mingled with the crowd, each keeping to his own
peculiar mode of proceeding; Harry Blount, sketching different types,
or noting some observation; Alcide Jolivet contenting himself with
asking questions, confiding in his memory, which never failed him.
There was a report along all the frontier that the insurrection and
invasion had reached considerable proportions. Communication between
Siberia and the empire was already extremely difficult.
All this Michael Strogoff heard from the new arrivals.
This information could not but cause him great uneasiness,
and increase his wish of being beyond the Ural Mountains,
so as to judge for himself of the truth of these rumors,
and enable him to guard against any possible contingency.
He was thinking of seeking more direct intelligence from some
native of Kasan, when his attention was suddenly diverted.
Among the passengers who were leaving the Caucasus, Michael
recognized the troop of Tsiganes who, the day before,
had appeared in the Nijni-Novgorod fair. There, on the deck
of the steamboat were the old Bohemian and the woman.
With them, and no doubt under their direction, landed about
twenty dancers and singers, from fifteen to twenty years of age,
wrapped in old cloaks, which covered their spangled dresses.
These dresses, just then glancing in the first rays of the sun,
reminded Michael of the curious appearance which he had observed
during the night. It must have been the glitter of those spangles
in the bright flames issuing from the steamboat's funnel
which had attracted his attention.
"Evidently," said Michael to himself, "this troop of Tsiganes, after
remaining below all day, crouched under the forecastle during the night.
Were these gipsies trying to show themselves as little as possible?
Such is not according to the usual custom of their race."
Michael Strogoff no longer doubted that the expressions he had heard,
had proceeded from this tawny group, and had been exchanged between
the old gypsy and the woman to whom he gave the Mongolian name
of Sangarre. Michael involuntarily moved towards the gangway,
as the Bohemian troop was leaving the steamboat.
The old Bohemian was there, in a humble attitude,
little conformable with the effrontery natural to his race.
One would have said that he was endeavoring rather to avoid
attention than to attract it. His battered hat, browned by the suns
of every clime, was pulled forward over his wrinkled face.
His arched back was bent under an old cloak, wrapped closely
round him, notwithstanding the heat. It would have been difficult,
in this miserable dress, to judge of either his size or face.
Near him was the Tsigane, Sangarre, a woman about thirty years old.
She was tall and well made, with olive complexion, magnificent eyes,
and golden hair.
Many of the young dancers were remarkably pretty, all possessing
the clear-cut features of their race. These Tsiganes are generally
very attractive, and more than one of the great Russian nobles,
who try to vie with the English in eccentricity, has not
hesitated to choose his wife from among these gypsy girls.
One of them was humming a song of strange rhythm, which might
be thus rendered:
"Glitters brightly the gold
In my raven locks streaming
Rich coral around
My graceful neck gleaming;
Like a bird of the air,
Through the wide world I roam."
The laughing girl continued her song, but Michael Strogoff ceased
to listen. It struck him just then that the Tsigane, Sangarre,
was regarding him with a peculiar gaze, as if to fix his features
indelibly in her memory.
It was but for a few moments, when Sangarre herself followed
the old man and his troop, who had already left the vessel.
"That's a bold gypsy," said Michael to himself.
"Could she have recognized me as the man whom she saw at
Nijni-Novgorod? These confounded Tsiganes have the eyes of a cat!
They can see in the dark; and that woman there might well know--"
Michael Strogoff was on the point of following Sangarre
and the gypsy band, but he stopped. "No," thought he,
"no unguarded proceedings. If I were to stop that old
fortune teller and his companions my incognito would run
a risk of being discovered. Besides, now they have landed,
before they can pass the frontier I shall be far beyond it.
They may take the route from Kasan to Ishim, but that affords
no resources to travelers. Besides a tarantass, drawn by good
Siberian horses, will always go faster than a gypsy cart!
Come, friend Korpanoff, be easy."
By this time the man and Sangarre had disappeared.
Kasan is justly called the "Gate of Asia" and considered as the center
of Siberian and Bokharian commerce; for two roads begin here and lead
across the Ural Mountains. Michael Strogoff had very judiciously
chosen the one by Perm and Ekaterenburg. It is the great stage road,
well supplied with relays kept at the expense of the government,
and is prolonged from Ishim to Irkutsk.
It is true that a second route--the one of which Michael had just spoken--
avoiding the slight detour by Perm, also connects Kasan with Ishim. It is
perhaps shorter than the other, but this advantage is much diminished
by the absence of post-houses, the bad roads, and lack of villages.
Michael Strogoff was right in the choice he had made, and if,
as appeared probable, the gipsies should follow the second route from
Kasan to Ishim, he had every chance of arriving before them.
An hour afterwards the bell rang on board the Caucasus,
calling the new passengers, and recalling the former ones.
It was now seven o'clock in the morning. The requisite fuel
had been received on board. The whole vessel began to vibrate
from the effects of the steam. She was ready to start.
Passengers going from Kasan to Perm were crowding on the deck.
Michael noticed that of the two reporters Blount alone had rejoined
the steamer. Was Alcide Jolivet about to miss his passage?
But just as the ropes were being cast off, Jolivet appeared,
tearing along. The steamer was already sheering off, the gangway
had been drawn onto the quay, but Alcide Jolivet would not stick
at such a little thing as that, so, with a bound like a harlequin,
he alighted on the deck of the Caucasus almost in his rival's arms.
"I thought the Caucasus was going without you," said the latter.
"Bah!" answered Jolivet, "I should soon have caught you up again,
by chartering a boat at my cousin's expense, or by traveling post
at twenty copecks a verst, and on horseback. What could I do?
It was so long a way from the quay to the telegraph office."
"Have you been to the telegraph office?" asked Harry Blount,
biting his lips.
"That's exactly where I have been!" answered Jolivet, with his
most amiable smile.
"And is it still working to Kolyvan?"
"That I don't know, but I can assure you, for instance,
that it is working from Kasan to Paris."
"You sent a dispatch to your cousin?"
"You had learnt then--?"
"Look here, little father, as the Russians say," replied Alcide Jolivet,
"I'm a good fellow, and I don't wish to keep anything from you.
The Tartars, and Feofar-Khan at their head, have passed Semipolatinsk,
and are descending the Irtish. Do what you like with that!"
What! such important news, and Harry Blount had not known it;
and his rival, who had probably learned it from some inhabitant of Kasan,
had already transmitted it to Paris. The English paper was distanced!
Harry Blount, crossing his hands behind him, walked off and seated
himself in the stern without uttering a word.
About ten o'clock in the morning, the young Livonian, leaving her cabin,
appeared on deck. Michael Strogoff went forward and took her hand.
"Look, sister!" said he, leading her to the bows of the Caucasus.
The view was indeed well worth seeing. The Caucasus had reached
the confluence of the Volga and the Kama. There she would leave
the former river, after having descended it for nearly three
hundred miles, to ascend the latter for a full three hundred.
The Kama was here very wide, and its wooded banks lovely.
A few white sails enlivened the sparkling water.
The horizon was closed by a line of hills covered with aspens,
alders, and sometimes large oaks.
But these beauties of nature could not distract the thoughts
of the young Livonian even for an instant. She had left her hand
in that of her companion, and turning to him, "At what distance
are we from Moscow?" she asked.
"Nine hundred versts," answered Michael.
"Nine hundred, out of seven thousand!" murmured the girl.
The bell now announced the breakfast hour. Nadia followed
Michael Strogoff to the restaurant. She ate little, and as a poor
girl whose means are small would do. Michael thought it best
to content himself with the fare which satisfied his companion;
and in less than twenty minutes he and Nadia returned on deck.
There they seated themselves in the stern, and without preamble,
Nadia, lowering her voice to be heard by him alone, began:
"Brother, I am the daughter of an exile. My name is
Nadia Fedor. My mother died at Riga scarcely a month ago, and I
am going to Irkutsk to rejoin my father and share his exile."
"I, too, am going to Irkutsk," answered Michael, "and I shall
thank Heaven if it enables me to give Nadia Fedor safe and sound
into her father's hands."
"Thank you, brother," replied Nadia.
Michael Strogoff then added that he had obtained a special
podorojna for Siberia, and that the Russian authorities could
in no way hinder his progress.
Nadia asked nothing more. She saw in this fortunate meeting with Michael
a means only of accelerating her journey to her father.
"I had," said she, "a permit which authorized me to go to Irkutsk,
but the new order annulled that; and but for you, brother, I should
have been unable to leave the town, in which, without doubt,
I should have perished."
"And dared you, alone, Nadia," said Michael, "attempt to cross
the steppes of Siberia?"
"The Tartar invasion was not known when I left Riga. It was only
at Moscow that I learnt the news."
"And despite it, you continued your journey?"
"It was my duty."
The words showed the character of the brave girl.
She then spoke of her father, Wassili Fedor. He was a much-esteemed
physician at Riga. But his connection with some secret society having
been asserted, he received orders to start for Irkutsk. The police
who brought the order conducted him without delay beyond the frontier.
Wassili Fedor had but time to embrace his sick wife and his daughter,
so soon to be left alone, when, shedding bitter tears, he was led away.
A year and a half after her husband's departure, Madame Fedor died in
the arms of her daughter, who was thus left alone and almost penniless.
Nadia Fedor then asked, and easily obtained from the Russian government,
an authorization to join her father at Irkutsk. She wrote and told him
she was starting. She had barely enough money for this long journey, and
yet she did not hesitate to undertake it. She would do what she could.
God would do the rest.
CHAPTER IX DAY AND NIGHT IN A TARANTASS
THE next day, the 19th of July, the Caucasus reached Perm,
the last place at which she touched on the Kama.
The government of which Perm is the capital is one of the largest
in the Russian Empire, and, extending over the Ural Mountains,
encroaches on Siberian territory. Marble quarries, mines of salt,
platina, gold, and coal are worked here on a large scale.
Although Perm, by its situation, has become an important town, it is
by no means attractive, being extremely dirty, and without resources.
This want of comfort is of no consequence to those going to Siberia,
for they come from the more civilized districts, and are supplied
with all necessaries.
At Perm travelers from Siberia resell their vehicles,
more or less damaged by the long journey across the plains.
There, too, those passing from Europe to Asia purchase carriages,
or sleighs in the winter season.
Michael Strogoff had already sketched out his programme.
A vehicle carrying the mail usually runs across the Ural Mountains,
but this, of course, was discontinued. Even if it had not been so,
he would not have taken it, as he wished to travel as fast as possible,
without depending on anyone. He wisely preferred to buy a carriage,
and journey by stages, stimulating the zeal of the postillions
by well-applied "na vodkou," or tips.
Unfortunately, in consequence of the measures taken against foreigners
of Asiatic origin, a large number of travelers had already left Perm,
and therefore conveyances were extremely rare. Michael was
obliged to content himself with what had been rejected by others.
As to horses, as long as the Czar's courier was not in Siberia,
he could exhibit his podorojna, and the postmasters would give him
the preference. But, once out of Europe, he had to depend alone
on the power of his roubles.
But to what sort of a vehicle should he harness his horses?
To a telga or to a tarantass? The telga is nothing
but an open four-wheeled cart, made entirely of wood,
the pieces fastened together by means of strong rope.
Nothing could be more primitive, nothing could be less comfortable;
but, on the other hand, should any accident happen on the way,
nothing could be more easily repaired. There is no want of firs
on the Russian frontier, and axle-trees grow naturally in forests.
The post extraordinary, known by the name of "perck-ladnoi,"
is carried by the telga, as any road is good enough for it.
It must be confessed that sometimes the ropes which fasten
the concern together break, and whilst the hinder part remains stuck
in some bog, the fore-part arrives at the post-house on two wheels;
but this result is considered quite satisfactory.
Michael Strogoff would have been obliged to employ a telga,
if he had not been lucky enough to discover a tarantass.
It is to be hoped that the invention of Russian coach-builders
will devise some improvement in this last-named vehicle.
Springs are wanting in it as well as in the telga;
in the absence of iron, wood is not spared; but its four wheels,
with eight or nine feet between them, assure a certain
equilibrium over the jolting rough roads. A splash-board
protects the travelers from the mud, and a strong leathern hood,
which may be pulled quite over the occupiers, shelters them
from the great heat and violent storms of the summer.
The tarantass is as solid and as easy to repair as the telga,
and is, moreover, less addicted to leaving its hinder part
in the middle of the road.
It was not without careful search that Michael managed to
discover this tarantass, and there was probably not a second
to be found in all Perm. He haggled long about the price,
for form's sake, to act up to his part as Nicholas Korpanoff,
a plain merchant of Irkutsk.
Nadia had followed her companion in his search after a suitable vehicle.
Although the object of each was different, both were equally
anxious to arrive at their goal. One would have said the same will
animated them both.
"Sister," said Michael, "I wish I could have found a more comfortable
conveyance for you."
"Do you say that to me, brother, when I would have gone on foot,
if need were, to rejoin my father?"
"I do not doubt your courage, Nadia, but there are physical fatigues
a woman may be unable to endure."
"I shall endure them, whatever they be," replied the girl.
"If you ever hear a complaint from me you may leave me in the road,
and continue your journey alone."
Half an hour later, the podorojna being presented by Michael,
three post-horses were harnessed to the tarantass. These animals,
covered with long hair, were very like long-legged bears.
They were small but spirited, being of Siberian breed.
The way in which the iemschik harnessed them was thus:
one, the largest, was secured between two long shafts, on whose
farther end was a hoop carrying tassels and bells; the two others
were simply fastened by ropes to the steps of the tarantass.
This was the complete harness, with mere strings for reins.
Neither Michael Strogoff nor the young Livonian girl had any baggage.
The rapidity with which one wished to make the journey, and the more than
modest resources of the other, prevented them from embarrassing themselves
with packages. It was a fortunate thing, under the circumstances,
for the tarantass could not have carried both baggage and travelers.
It was only made for two persons, without counting the iemschik,
who kept his equilibrium on his narrow seat in a marvelous manner.
The iemschik is changed at every relay. The man who drove
the tarantass during the first stage was, like his horses,
a Siberian, and no less shaggy than they; long hair, cut square
on the forehead, hat with a turned-up brim, red belt, coat with
crossed facings and buttons stamped with the imperial cipher.
The iemschik, on coming up with his team, threw an inquisitive
glance at the passengers of the tarantass. No luggage!--
and had there been, where in the world could he have stowed it?
Rather shabby in appearance too. He looked contemptuous.
"Crows," said he, without caring whether he was overheard or not;
"crows, at six copecks a verst!"
"No, eagles!" said Michael, who understood the iemschik's slang perfectly;
"eagles, do you hear, at nine copecks a verst, and a tip besides."
He was answered by a merry crack of the whip.
In the language of the Russian postillions the "crow" is the stingy
or poor traveler, who at the post-houses only pays two or three
copecks a verst for the horses. The "eagle" is the traveler
who does not mind expense, to say nothing of liberal tips.
Therefore the crow could not claim to fly as rapidly as
the imperial bird.
Nadia and Michael immediately took their places in the tarantass.
A small store of provisions was put in the box, in case at any time they
were delayed in reaching the post-houses, which are very comfortably
provided under direction of the State. The hood was pulled up,
as it was insupport-ably hot, and at twelve o'clock the tarantass
left Perm in a cloud of dust.
The way in which the iemschik kept up the pace of his team would
have certainly astonished travelers who, being neither Russians
nor Siberians, were not accustomed to this sort of thing.
The leader, rather larger than the others, kept to a steady
long trot, perfectly regular, whether up or down hill.
The two other horses seemed to know no other pace than the gallop,
though they performed many an eccentric curvette as they went along.
The iemschik, however, never touched them, only urging them on
by startling cracks of his whip. But what epithets he lavished
on them, including the names of all the saints in the calendar,
when they behaved like docile and conscientious animals!
The string which served as reins would have had no influence
on the spirited beasts, but the words "na pravo," to the right,
"na levo," to the left, pronounced in a guttural tone,
were more effectual than either bridle or snaffle.
And what amiable expressions! "Go on, my doves!" the iemschik
would say. "Go on, pretty swallows! Fly, my little pigeons!
Hold up, my cousin on the left! Gee up, my little father
on the right!"
But when the pace slackened, what insulting expressions,
instantly understood by the sensitive animals!
"Go on, you wretched snail! Confound you, you slug!
I'll roast you alive, you tortoise, you!"
Whether or not it was from this way of driving, which requires
the iemschiks to possess strong throats more than muscular arms,
the tarantass flew along at a rate of from twelve to fourteen
miles an hour. Michael Strogoff was accustomed both to the sort
of vehicle and the mode of traveling. Neither jerks nor jolts
incommoded him. He knew that a Russian driver never even tries
to avoid either stones, ruts, bogs, fallen trees, or trenches,
which may happen to be in the road. He was used to all that.
His companion ran a risk of being hurt by the violent jolts
of the tarantass, but she would not complain.
For a little while Nadia did not speak. Then possessed
with the one thought, that of reaching her journey's end,
"I have calculated that there are three hundred versts
between Perm and Ekaterenburg, brother," said she.
"Am I right?"
"You are quite right, Nadia," answered Michael; "and when we have
reached Ekaterenburg, we shall be at the foot of the Ural Mountains
on the opposite side."
"How long will it take to get across the mountains?"
"Forty-eight hours, for we shall travel day and night.
I say day and night, Nadia," added he, "for I cannot stop
even for a moment; I go on without rest to Irkutsk."
"I shall not delay you, brother; no, not even for an hour,
and we will travel day and night."
"Well then, Nadia, if the Tartar invasion has only left the road open,
we shall arrive in twenty days."
"You have made this journey before?" asked Nadia.
"During winter we should have gone more rapidly and surely,
should we not?"
"Yes, especially with more rapidity, but you would have suffered much
from the frost and snow."
"What matter! Winter is the friend of Russia."
"Yes, Nadia, but what a constitution anyone must have to endure
such friendship! I have often seen the temperature in the Siberian
steppes fall to more than forty degrees below freezing point!
I have felt, notwithstanding my reindeer coat, my heart
growing chill, my limbs stiffening, my feet freezing in triple
woolen socks; I have seen my sleigh horses covered with a
coating of ice, their breath congealed at their nostrils.
I have seen the brandy in my flask change into hard stone,
on which not even my knife could make an impression.
But my sleigh flew like the wind. Not an obstacle on the plain,
white and level farther than the eye could reach! No rivers
to stop one! Hard ice everywhere, the route open, the road sure!
But at the price of what suffering, Nadia, those alone could say,
who have never returned, but whose bodies have been covered up
by the snow storm."
"However, you have returned, brother," said Nadia.
"Yes, but I am a Siberian, and, when quite a child, I used to follow
my father to the chase, and so became inured to these hardships.
But when you said to me, Nadia, that winter would not have stopped you,
that you would have gone alone, ready to struggle against the frightful
Siberian climate, I seemed to see you lost in the snow and falling,
never to rise again."
"How many times have you crossed the steppe in winter?"
asked the young Livonian.
"Three times, Nadia, when I was going to Omsk."
"And what were you going to do at Omsk?"
"See my mother, who was expecting me."
"And I am going to Irkutsk, where my father expects me.
I am taking him my mother's last words. That is as much
as to tell you, brother, that nothing would have prevented me
from setting out."
"You are a brave girl, Nadia," replied Michael. "God Himself
would have led you."
All day the tarantass was driven rapidly by the iemschiks,
who succeeded each other at every stage. The eagles of the mountain
would not have found their name dishonored by these "eagles"
of the highway. The high price paid for each horse, and the tips
dealt out so freely, recommended the travelers in a special way.
Perhaps the postmasters thought it singular that, after the publication
of the order, a young man and his sister, evidently both Russians,
could travel freely across Siberia, which was closed to everyone else,
but their papers were all en regle and they had the right to pass.
However, Michael Strogoff and Nadia were not the only travelers on
their way from Perm to Ekaterenburg. At the first stages, the courier
of the Czar had learnt that a carriage preceded them, but, as there
was no want of horses, he did not trouble himself about that.
During the day, halts were made for food alone.
At the post-houses could be found lodging and provision.
Besides, if there was not an inn, the house of the Russian peasant
would have been no less hospitable. In the villages, which are
almost all alike, with their white-walled, green-roofed chapels,
the traveler might knock at any door, and it would be opened to him.
The moujik would come out, smiling and extending his hand to his guest.
He would offer him bread and salt, the burning charcoal would
be put into the "samovar," and he would be made quite at home.
The family would turn out themselves rather than that he should
not have room. The stranger is the relation of all.
He is "one sent by God."
On arriving that evening Michael instinctively asked the postmaster how
many hours ago the carriage which preceded them had passed that stage.
"Two hours ago, little father," replied the postmaster.
"Is it a berlin?"
"No, a telga."
"How many travelers?"
"And they are going fast?"
"Let them put the horses to as soon as possible."
Michael and Nadia, resolved not to stop even for an hour,
traveled all night. The weather continued fine, though the
atmosphere was heavy and becoming charged with electricity.
It was to be hoped that a storm would not burst whilst they
were among the mountains, for there it would be terrible.
Being accustomed to read atmospheric signs, Michael Strogoff
knew that a struggle of the elements was approaching.
The night passed without incident. Notwithstanding the jolting
of the tarantass, Nadia was able to sleep for some hours.
The hood was partly raised so as to give as much air as there
was in the stifling atmosphere.
Michael kept awake all night, mistrusting the iemschiks, who are
apt to sleep at their posts. Not an hour was lost at the relays,
not an hour on the road.
The next day, the 20th of July, at about eight o'clock in the morning,
they caught the first glimpse of the Ural Mountains in the east.
This important chain which separates Russia from Siberia was still
at a great distance, and they could not hope to reach it until
the end of the day. The passage of the mountains must necessarily
be performed during the next night. The sky was cloudy all day,
and the temperature was therefore more bearable, but the weather
was very threatening.
It would perhaps have been more prudent not to have ascended
the mountains during the night, and Michael would not have done so,
had he been permitted to wait; but when, at the last stage,
the iemschik drew his attention to a peal of thunder reverberating
among the rocks, he merely said:
"Is a telga still before us?"
"How long is it in advance?"
"Nearly an hour."
"Forward, and a triple tip if we are at Ekaterenburg to-morrow morning."
CHAPTER X A STORM IN THE URAL MOUNTAINS
THE Ural Mountains extend in a length of over two thousand miles
between Europe and Asia. Whether they are called the Urals,
which is the Tartar, or the Poyas, which is the Russian name,
they are correctly so termed; for these names signify "belt"
in both languages. Rising on the shores of the Arctic Sea,
they reach the borders of the Caspian. This was the barrier
to be crossed by Michael Strogoff before he could enter
Siberian Russia. The mountains could be crossed in one night,
if no accident happened. Unfortunately, thunder muttering
in the distance announced that a storm was at hand.
The electric tension was such that it could not be dispersed
without a tremendous explosion, which in the peculiar state
of the atmosphere would be very terrible.
Michael took care that his young companion should be as well protected
as possible. The hood, which might have been easily blown away,
was fastened more securely with ropes, crossed above and at the back.
The traces were doubled, and, as an additional precaution,
the nave-boxes were stuffed with straw, as much to increase the strength
of the wheels as to lessen the jolting, unavoidable on a dark night.
Lastly, the fore and hinder parts, connected simply by the axles to
the body of the tarantass, were joined one to the other by a crossbar,
fixed by means of pins and screws.
Nadia resumed her place in the cart, and Michael took his seat
beside her. Before the lowered hood hung two leathern curtains,
which would in some degree protect the travelers against the wind
and rain. Two great lanterns, suspended from the iemschik's seat,
threw a pale glimmer scarcely sufficient to light the way,
but serving as warning lights to prevent any other carriage
from running into them.
It was well that all these precautions were taken, in expectation
of a rough night. The road led them up towards dense masses of clouds,
and should the clouds not soon resolve into rain, the fog would
be such that the tarantass would be unable to advance without danger
of falling over some precipice.
The Ural chain does not attain any very great height,
the highest summit not being more than five thousand feet.
Eternal snow is there unknown, and what is piled up
by the Siberian winter is soon melted by the summer sun.
Shrubs and trees grow to a considerable height.
The iron and copper mines, as well as those of precious stones,
draw a considerable number of workmen to that region.
Also, those villages termed "gavody" are there met with
pretty frequently, and the road through the great passes is
easily practicable for post-carriages.
But what is easy enough in fine weather and broad daylight,
offers difficulties and perils when the elements are engaged
in fierce warfare, and the traveler is in the midst of it.
Michael Strogoff knew from former experience what a storm
in the mountains was, and perhaps this would be as terrible
as the snowstorms which burst forth with such vehemence
in the winter.
Rain was not yet falling, so Michael raised the leathern curtains
which protected the interior of the tarantass and looked out,
watching the sides of the road, peopled with fantastic shadows,
caused by the wavering light of the lanterns. Nadia, motionless,
her arms folded, gazed forth also, though without leaning forward,
whilst her companion, his body half out of the carriage,
examined both sky and earth.
The calmness of the atmosphere was very threatening, the air being
perfectly still. It was just as if Nature were half stifled,
and could no longer breathe; her lungs, that is to say those gloomy,
dense clouds, not being able to perform their functions.
The silence would have been complete but for the grindings of the
wheels of the tarantass over the road, the creaking of the axles,
the snorting of the horses, and the clattering of their iron
hoofs among the pebbles, sparks flying out on every side.
The road was perfectly deserted. The tarantass encountered neither
pedestrians nor horsemen, nor a vehicle of any description,
in the narrow defiles of the Ural, on this threatening night.
Not even the fire of a charcoal-burner was visible in the woods,
not an encampment of miners near the mines, not a hut
among the brushwood.
Under these peculiar circumstances it might have been
allowable to postpone the journey till the morning.
Michael Strogoff, however, had not hesitated, he had no right
to stop, but then--and it began to cause him some anxiety--
what possible reason could those travelers in the telga ahead
have for being so imprudent?
Michael remained thus on the look-out for some time.
About eleven o'clock lightning began to blaze continuously in the sky.
The shadows of huge pines appeared and disappeared in the rapid light.
Sometimes when the tarantass neared the side of the road, deep gulfs,
lit up by the flashes, could be seen yawning beneath them.
From time to time, on their vehicle giving a worse lurch than usual,
they knew that they were crossing a bridge of roughly-hewn planks
thrown over some chasm, thunder appearing actually to be rumbling
below them. Besides this, a booming sound filled the air,
which increased as they mounted higher. With these different
noises rose the shouts of the iemschik, sometimes scolding,
sometimes coaxing his poor beasts, who were suffering more from
the oppression of the air than the roughness of the roads.
Even the bells on the shafts could no longer rouse them,
and they stumbled every instant.
"At what time shall we reach the top of the ridge?" asked Michael
of the iemschik.
"At one o'clock in the morning if we ever get there at all,"
replied he, with a shake of his head.
"Why, my friend, this will not be your first storm in
the mountains, will it?"
"No, and pray God it may not be my last!"
"Are you afraid?"
"No, I'm not afraid, but I repeat that I think you were
wrong in starting."
"I should have been still more wrong had I stayed."
"Hold up, my pigeons!" cried the iemschik; it was his business to obey,
not to question.
Just then a distant noise was heard, shrill whistling
through the atmosphere, so calm a minute before.
By the light of a dazzling flash, almost immediately followed
by a tremendous clap of thunder, Michael could see huge pines
on a high peak, bending before the blast. The wind was unchained,
but as yet it was the upper air alone which was disturbed.
Successive crashes showed that many of the trees had been unable
to resist the burst of the hurricane. An avalanche of shattered
trunks swept across the road and dashed over the precipice
on the left, two hundred feet in front of the tarantass.
The horses stopped short.
"Get up, my pretty doves!" cried the iemschik, adding the cracking
of his whip to the rumbling of the thunder.
Michael took Nadia's hand. "Are you asleep, sister?"
"Be ready for anything; here comes the storm!"
"I am ready."
Michael Strogoff had only just time to draw the leathern curtains,
when the storm was upon them.
The iemschik leapt from his seat and seized the horses'
heads, for terrible danger threatened the whole party.
The tarantass was at a standstill at a turning of the road,
down which swept the hurricane; it was absolutely necessary
to hold the animals' heads to the wind, for if the carriage
was taken broadside it must infallibly capsize and be
dashed over the precipice. The frightened horses reared,
and their driver could not manage to quiet them. His friendly
expressions had been succeeded by the most insulting epithets.
Nothing was of any use. The unfortunate animals, blinded by
the lightning, terrified by the incessant peals of thunder,
threatened every instant to break their traces and flee.
The iemschik had no longer any control over his team.
At that moment Michael Strogoff threw himself from the tarantass
and rushed to his assistance. Endowed with more than common strength,
he managed, though not without difficulty, to master the horses.
The storm now raged with redoubled fury. A perfect avalanche of stones
and trunks of trees began to roll down the slope above them.
"We cannot stop here," said Michael.
"We cannot stop anywhere," returned the iemschik, all his energies
apparently overcome by terror. "The storm will soon send us
to the bottom of the mountain, and that by the shortest way."
"Take you that horse, coward," returned Michael, "I'll look
after this one."
A fresh burst of the storm interrupted him. The driver and he were
obliged to crouch upon the ground to avoid being blown down.
The carriage, notwithstanding their efforts and those of the horses,
was gradually blown back, and had it not been stopped by the trunk
of a tree, it would have gone over the edge of the precipice.
"Do not be afraid, Nadia!" cried Michael Strogoff.
"I'm not afraid," replied the young Livonian, her voice not betraying
the slightest emotion.
The rumbling of the thunder ceased for an instant, the terrible
blast had swept past into the gorge below.
"Will you go back?" said the iemschik.
"No, we must go on! Once past this turning, we shall have the shelter
of the slope."
"But the horses won't move!"
"Do as I do, and drag them on."
"The storm will come back!"
"Do you mean to obey?"
"Do you order it?"
"The Father orders it!" answered Michael, for the first time invoking
the all-powerful name of the Emperor.
"Forward, my swallows!" cried the iemschik, seizing one horse,
while Michael did the same to the other.
Thus urged, the horses began to struggle onward.
They could no longer rear, and the middle horse not being
hampered by the others, could keep in the center of the road.
It was with the greatest difficulty that either man or beasts
could stand against the wind, and for every three steps they took
in advance, they lost one, and even two, by being forced backwards.
They slipped, they fell, they got up again. The vehicle ran
a great risk of being smashed. If the hood had not been
securely fastened, it would have been blown away long before.
Michael Strogoff and the iemschik took more than two hours
in getting up this bit of road, only half a verst in length,
so directly exposed was it to the lashing of the storm.
The danger was not only from the wind which battered against
the travelers, but from the avalanche of stones and broken
trunks which were hurtling through the air.
Suddenly, during a flash of lightning, one of these masses was seen
crashing and rolling down the mountain towards the tarantass.
The iemschik uttered a cry.
Michael Strogoff in vain brought his whip down on the team,
they refused to move.
A few feet farther on, and the mass would pass behind them!
Michael saw the tarantass struck, his companion crushed;
he saw there was no time to drag her from the vehicle.
Then, possessed in this hour of peril with superhuman strength,
he threw himself behind it, and planting his feet on the ground,
by main force placed it out of danger.
The enormous mass as it passed grazed his chest, taking away his breath
as though it had been a cannon-ball, then crushing to powder the flints
on the road, it bounded into the abyss below.
"Oh, brother!" cried Nadia, who had seen it all by the light
of the flashes.
"Nadia!" replied Michael, "fear nothing!"
"It is not on my own account that I fear!"
"God is with us, sister!"
"With me truly, brother, since He has sent thee in my way!"
murmured the young girl.
The impetus the tarantass had received was not to be lost, and the tired
horses once more moved forward. Dragged, so to speak, by Michael and
the iemschik, they toiled on towards a narrow pass, lying north and south,
where they would be protected from the direct sweep of the tempest.
At one end a huge rock jutted out, round the summit of which whirled
an eddy. Behind the shelter of the rock there was a comparative calm;
yet once within the circumference of the cyclone, neither man nor beast
could resist its power.
Indeed, some firs which towered above this protection were in a trice
shorn of their tops, as though a gigantic scythe had swept across them.
The storm was now at its height. The lightning filled the defile,
and the thunderclaps had become one continued peal. The ground,
struck by the concussion, trembled as though the whole Ural chain
was shaken to its foundations.
Happily, the tarantass could be so placed that the storm might strike
it obliquely. But the counter-currents, directed towards it by the slope,
could not be so well avoided, and so violent were they that every
instant it seemed as though it would be dashed to pieces.
Nadia was obliged to leave her seat, and Michael, by the light
of one of the lanterns, discovered an excavation bearing the marks
of a miner's pick, where the young girl could rest in safety until
they could once more start.
Just then--it was one o'clock in the morning--the rain began to fall
in torrents, and this in addition to the wind and lightning,
made the storm truly frightful. To continue the journey at present
was utterly impossible. Besides, having reached this pass,
they had only to descend the slopes of the Ural Mountains, and to
descend now, with the road torn up by a thousand mountain torrents,
in these eddies of wind and rain, was utter madness.
"To wait is indeed serious," said Michael, "but it must certainly
be done, to avoid still longer detentions. The very violence
of the storm makes me hope that it will not last long.
About three o'clock the day will begin to break, and the descent,
which we cannot risk in the dark, we shall be able, if not with ease,
at least without such danger, to attempt after sunrise."
"Let us wait, brother," replied Nadia; "but if you delay,
let it not be to spare me fatigue or danger."
"Nadia, I know that you are ready to brave everything, but,
in exposing both of us, I risk more than my life, more than yours,
I am not fulfilling my task, that duty which before everything
else I must accomplish."
"A duty!" murmured Nadia.
Just then a bright flash lit up the sky; a loud clap followed.
The air was filled with sulphurous suffocating vapor, and a clump
of huge pines, struck by the electric fluid, scarcely twenty feet
from the tarantass, flared up like a gigantic torch.
The iemschik was struck to the ground by a counter-shock, but,
regaining his feet, found himself happily unhurt.
Just as the last growlings of the thunder were lost
in the recesses of the mountain, Michael felt Nadia's hand
pressing his, and he heard her whisper these words in his ear:
"Cries, brother! Listen!"
CHAPTER XI TRAVELERS IN DISTRESS
DURING the momentary lull which followed, shouts could be distinctly
heard from farther on, at no great distance from the tarantass.
It was an earnest appeal, evidently from some traveler in distress.
Michael listened attentively. The iemschik also listened,
but shook his head, as though it was impossible to help.
"They are travelers calling for aid," cried Nadia.
"They can expect nothing," replied the iemschik.
"Why not?" cried Michael. "Ought not we do for them what they
would for us under similar circumstances?"
"Surely you will not risk the carriage and horses!"
"I will go on foot," replied Michael, interrupting the iemschik.
"I will go, too, brother," said the young girl.
"No, remain here, Nadia. The iemschik will stay with you.
I do not wish to leave him alone."
"I will stay," replied Nadia.
"Whatever happens, do not leave this spot."
"You will find me where I now am."
Michael pressed her hand, and, turning the corner of the slope,
disappeared in the darkness.
"Your brother is wrong," said the iemschik.
"He is right," replied Nadia simply.
Meanwhile Strogoff strode rapidly on. If he was in a great hurry
to aid the travelers, he was also very anxious to know who it
was that had not been hindered from starting by the storm;
for he had no doubt that the cries came from the telga,
which had so long preceded him.
The rain had stopped, but the storm was raging with redoubled fury.
The shouts, borne on the air, became more distinct.
Nothing was to be seen of the pass in which Nadia remained.
The road wound along, and the squalls, checked by the corners,
formed eddies highly dangerous, to pass which, without being
taken off his legs, Michael had to use his utmost strength.
He soon perceived that the travelers whose shouts he had heard
were at no great distance. Even then, on account of the darkness,
Michael could not see them, yet he heard distinctly their words.
This is what he heard, and what caused him some surprise:
"Are you coming back, blockhead?"
"You shall have a taste of the knout at the next stage."
"Do you hear, you devil's postillion! Hullo! Below!"
"This is how a carriage takes you in this country!"
"Yes, this is what you call a telga!"
"Oh, that abominable driver! He goes on and does not appear
to have discovered that he has left us behind!"
"To deceive me, too! Me, an honorable Englishman! I will make
a complaint at the chancellor's office and have the fellow hanged."
This was said in a very angry tone, but was suddenly interrupted
by a burst of laughter from his companion, who exclaimed,
"Well! this is a good joke, I must say."
"You venture to laugh!" said the Briton angrily.
"Certainly, my dear confrere, and that most heartily.
'Pon my word I never saw anything to come up to it."
Just then a crashing clap of thunder re-echoed through the defile,
and then died away among the distant peaks. When the sound
of the last growl had ceased, the merry voice went on:
"Yes, it undoubtedly is a good joke. This machine certainly
never came from France."
"Nor from England," replied the other.
On the road, by the light of the flashes, Michael saw, twenty yards
from him, two travelers, seated side by side in a most peculiar vehicle,
the wheels of which were deeply imbedded in the ruts formed in the road.
He approached them, the one grinning from ear to ear, and the other
gloomily contemplating his situation, and recognized them as the two
reporters who had been his companions on board the Caucasus.
"Good-morning to you, sir," cried the Frenchman. "Delighted to see
you here. Let me introduce you to my intimate enemy, Mr. Blount."
The English reporter bowed, and was about to introduce in his turn
his companion, Alcide Jolivet, in accordance with the rules of society,
when Michael interrupted him.
"Perfectly unnecessary, sir; we already know each other,
for we traveled together on the Volga."
"Ah, yes! exactly so! Mr.--"
"Nicholas Korpanoff, merchant, of Irkutsk. But may I know
what has happened which, though a misfortune to your companion,
amuses you so much?"
"Certainly, Mr. Korpanoff," replied Alcide. "Fancy! our driver
has gone off with the front part of this confounded carriage,
and left us quietly seated in the back part! So here we
are in the worse half of a telga; no driver, no horses.
Is it not a joke?"
"No joke at all," said the Englishman.
"Indeed it is, my dear fellow. You do not know how to look
at the bright side of things."
"How, pray, are we to go on?" asked Blount.
"That is the easiest thing in the world," replied Alcide. "Go and
harness yourself to what remains of our cart; I will take the reins,
and call you my little pigeon, like a true iemschik, and you will trot
off like a real post-horse."
"Mr. Jolivet," replied the Englishman, "this joking is going too far,
it passes all limits and--"
"Now do be quiet, my dear sir. When you are done up, I will take
your place; and call me a broken-winded snail and faint-hearted
tortoise if I don't take you over the ground at a rattling pace."
Alcide said all this with such perfect good-humor that Michael could
not help smiling. "Gentlemen," said he, "here is a better plan.
We have now reached the highest ridge of the Ural chain,
and thus have merely to descend the slopes of the mountain.
My carriage is close by, only two hundred yards behind.
I will lend you one of my horses, harness it to the remains
of the telga, and to-mor-how, if no accident befalls us,
we will arrive together at Ekaterenburg."
"That, Mr. Korpanoff," said Alcide, "is indeed a generous proposal."
"Indeed, sir," replied Michael, "I would willingly offer you places
in my tarantass, but it will only hold two, and my sister and I
already fill it."
"Really, sir," answered Alcide, "with your horse and our demi-telga
we will go to the world's end."
"Sir," said Harry Blount, "we most willingly accept your kind offer.
And, as to that iemschik--"
"Oh! I assure you that you are not the first travelers who have met
with a similar misfortune," replied Michael.
"But why should not our driver come back? He knows perfectly
well that he has left us behind, wretch that he is!"
"He! He never suspected such a thing."
"What! the fellow not know that he was leaving the better half
of his telga behind?"
"Not a bit, and in all good faith is driving the fore
part into Ekaterenburg."
"Did I not tell you that it was a good joke, confrere?" cried Alcide.
"Then, gentlemen, if you will follow me," said Michael,
"we will return to my carriage, and--"
"But the telga," observed the Englishman.
"There is not the slightest fear that it will fly away, my dear Blount!"
exclaimed Alcide; "it has taken such good root in the ground,
that if it were left here until next spring it would begin to bud."
"Come then, gentlemen," said Michael Strogoff, "and we will bring
up the tarantass."
The Frenchman and the Englishman, descending from their seats, no longer
the hinder one, since the front had taken its departure, followed Michael.
Walking along, Alcide Jolivet chattered away as usual,
with his invariable good-humor. "Faith, Mr. Korpanoff,"
said he, "you have indeed got us out of a bad scrape."
"I have only done, sir," replied Michael, "what anyone would
have done in my place."
"Well, sir, you have done us a good turn, and if you are going
farther we may possibly meet again, and--"
Alcide Jolivet did not put any direct question to Michael
as to where he was going, but the latter, not wishing it to be
suspected that he had anything to conceal, at once replied,
"I am bound for Omsk, gentlemen."
"Mr. Blount and I," replied Alcide, "go where danger is certainly
to be found, and without doubt news also."
"To the invaded provinces?" asked Michael with some earnestness.
"Exactly so, Mr. Korpanoff; and we may possibly meet there."
"Indeed, sir," replied Michael, "I have little love for cannon-balls
or lance points, and am by nature too great a lover of peace to venture
where fighting is going on."
"I am sorry, sir, extremely sorry; we must only regret that we shall
separate so soon! But on leaving Ekaterenburg it may be our fortunate
fate to travel together, if only for a few days?"
"Do you go on to Omsk?" asked Michael, after a moment's reflection.
"We know nothing as yet," replied Alcide; "but we shall
certainly go as far as Ishim, and once there, our movements
must depend on circumstances."
"Well then, gentlemen," said Michael, "we will be fellow-travelers
as far as Ishim."
Michael would certainly have preferred to travel alone, but he could not,
without appearing at least singular, seek to separate himself
from the two reporters, who were taking the same road that he was.
Besides, since Alcide and his companion intended to make some stay
at Ishim, he thought it rather convenient than otherwise to make
that part of the journey in their company.
Then in an indifferent tone he asked, "Do you know, with any certainty,
where this Tartar invasion is?"
"Indeed, sir," replied Alcide, "we only know what they said
at Perm. Feofar-Khan's Tartars have invaded the whole province
of Semipolatinsk, and for some days, by forced marches,
have been descending the Irtish. You must hurry if you wish
to get to Omsk before them."
"Indeed I must," replied Michael.
"It is reported also that Colonel Ogareff has succeeded in passing
the frontier in disguise, and that he will not be slow in joining
the Tartar chief in the revolted country."
"But how do they know it?" asked Michael, whom this news,
more or less true, so directly concerned.
"Oh! as these things are always known," replied Alcide;
"it is in the air."
"Then have you really reason to think that Colonel Ogareff
is in Siberia?"
"I myself have heard it said that he was to take the road
from Kasan to Ekaterenburg."
"Ah! you know that, Mr. Jolivet?" said Harry Blount,
roused from his silence.
"I knew it," replied Alcide.
"And do you know that he went disguised as a gypsy!" asked Blount.
"As a gypsy!" exclaimed Michael, almost involuntarily, and he suddenly
remembered the look of the old Bohemian at Nijni-Novgorod, his voyage
on board the Caucasus, and his disembarking at Kasan.
"Just well enough to make a few remarks on the subject in a letter
to my cousin," replied Alcide, smiling.
"You lost no time at Kasan," dryly observed the Englishman.
"No, my dear fellow! and while the Caucasus was laying in her supply
of fuel, I was employed in obtaining a store of information."
Michael no longer listened to the repartee which Harry Blount
and Alcide exchanged. He was thinking of the gypsy troupe,
of the old Tsigane, whose face he had not been able to see,
and of the strange woman who accompanied him, and then of the
peculiar glance which she had cast at him. Suddenly, close by
he heard a pistol-shot.
"Ah! forward, sirs!" cried he.
"Hullo!" said Alcide to himself, "this quiet merchant who always
avoids bullets is in a great hurry to go where they are flying
about just now!"
Quickly followed by Harry Blount, who was not a man to be behind
in danger, he dashed after Michael. In another instant the three
were opposite the projecting rock which protected the tarantass
at the turning of the road.
The clump of pines struck by the lightning was still burning.
There was no one to be seen. However, Michael was not mistaken.
Suddenly a dreadful growling was heard, and then another report.
"A bear;" cried Michael, who could not mistake the growling.
"Nadia; Nadia!" And drawing his cutlass from his belt,
Michael bounded round the buttress behind which the young girl
had promised to wait.
The pines, completely enveloped in flames, threw a wild glare
on the scene. As Michael reached the tarantass, a huge animal
retreated towards him.
It was a monstrous bear. The tempest had driven it from the woods, and it
had come to seek refuge in this cave, doubtless its habitual retreat,
which Nadia then occupied.
Two of the horses, terrified at the presence of the enormous creature,
breaking their traces, had escaped, and the iemschik, thinking only
of his beasts, leaving Nadia face to face with the bear, had gone
in pursuit of them.
But the brave girl had not lost her presence of mind.
The animal, which had not at first seen her, was attacking
the remaining horse. Nadia, leaving the shelter in which she
had been crouching, had run to the carriage, taken one of
Michael's revolvers, and, advancing resolutely towards the bear,
had fired close to it.
The animal, slightly wounded in the shoulder, turned on the girl,
who rushed for protection behind the tarantass, but then,
seeing that the horse was attempting to break its traces,
and knowing that if it did so, and the others were not recovered,
their journey could not be continued, with the most perfect
coolness she again approached the bear, and, as it raised its paws
to strike her down, gave it the contents of the second barrel.
This was the report which Michael had just heard. In an instant he was
on the spot. Another bound and he was between the bear and the girl.
His arm made one movement upwards, and the enormous beast,
ripped up by that terrible knife, fell to the ground a lifeless mass.
He had executed in splendid style the famous blow of the Siberian hunters,
who endeavor not to damage the precious fur of the bear, which fetches
a high price.
"You are not wounded, sister?" said Michael, springing to the side
of the young girl.
"No, brother," replied Nadia.
At that moment the two journalists came up. Alcide seized
the horse's head, and, in an instant, his strong wrist mastered it.
His companion and he had seen Michael's rapid stroke.
"Bravo!" cried Alcide; "for a simple merchant, Mr. Korpanoff,
you handle the hunter's knife in a most masterly fashion."
"Most masterly, indeed," added Blount.
"In Siberia," replied Michael, "we are obliged to do a
little of everything."
Alcide regarded him attentively. Seen in the bright glare,
his knife dripping with blood, his tall figure, his foot firm
on the huge carcass, he was indeed worth looking at.
"A formidable fellow," said Alcide to himself.
Then advancing respectfully, he saluted the young girl.
Nadia bowed slightly.
Alcide turned towards his companion. "The sister worthy of the brother!"
said he. "Now, were I a bear, I should not meddle with two so brave
and so charming."
Harry Blount, perfectly upright, stood, hat in hand, at some distance.
His companion's easy manners only increased his usual stiffness.
At that moment the iemschik, who had succeeded in recapturing his
two horses, reappeared. He cast a regretful glance at the magnificent
animal lying on the ground, loth to leave it to the birds of prey,
and then proceeded once more to harness his team.
Michael acquainted him with the travelers' situation, and his intention
of loaning one of the horses.
"As you please," replied the iemschik. "Only, you know,
two carriages instead of one."
"All right, my friend," said Alcide, who understood the insinuation,
"we will pay double."
"Then gee up, my turtle-doves!" cried the iemschik.
Nadia again took her place in the tarantass. Michael and his
companions followed on foot. It was three o'clock. The storm still
swept with terrific violence across the defile. When the first
streaks of daybreak appeared the tarantass had reached the telga,
which was still conscientiously imbedded as far as the center
of the wheel. Such being the case, it can be easily understood
how a sudden jerk would separate the front from the hinder part.
One of the horses was now harnessed by means of cords
to the remains of the telga, the reporters took their place
on the singular equipage, and the two carriages started off.
They had now only to descend the Ural slopes, in doing which there
was not the slightest difficulty.
Six hours afterwards the two vehicles, the tarantass preceding
the telga, arrived at Ekaterenburg, nothing worthy of note having
happened in the descent.
The first person the reporters perceived at the door of the post-house
was their iemschik, who appeared to be waiting for them.
This worthy Russian had a fine open countenance, and he smilingly
approached the travelers, and, holding out his hand, in a quiet
tone he demanded the usual "pour-boire."
This very cool request roused Blount's ire to its highest pitch,
and had not the iemschik prudently retreated, a straight-out
blow of the fist, in true British boxing style, would have paid
his claim of "na vodkou."
Alcide Jolivet, at this burst of anger, laughed as he had
never laughed before.
"But the poor devil is quite right!" he cried.
"He is perfectly right, my dear fellow. It is not his fault
if we did not know how to follow him!"
Then drawing several copecks from his pocket, "Here my friend,"
said he, handing them to the iemschik; "take them.
If you have not earned them, that is not your fault."
This redoubled Mr. Blount's irritation. He even began to speak
of a lawsuit against the owner of the telga.
"A lawsuit in Russia, my dear fellow!" cried Alcide. "Things must
indeed change should it ever be brought to a conclusion!
Did you never hear the story of the wet-nurse who claimed payment
of twelve months' nursing of some poor little infant?"
"I never heard it," replied Harry Blount.
"Then you do not know what that suckling had become by the time
judgment was given in favor of the nurse?"
"What was he, pray?"
"Colonel of the Imperial Guard!"
At this reply all burst into a laugh.
Alcide, enchanted with his own joke, drew out his notebook,
and in it wrote the following memorandum, destined to
figure in a forthcoming French and Russian dictionary:
"Telga, a Russian carriage with four wheels, that is when it starts;
with two wheels, when it arrives at its destination."
CHAPTER XII PROVOCATION
EKATERENBURG, geographically, is an Asiatic city; for it is situated
beyond the Ural Mountains, on the farthest eastern slopes of the chain.
Nevertheless, it belongs to the government of Perm; and, consequently,
is included in one of the great divisions of European Russia. It is
as though a morsel of Siberia lay in Russian jaws.
Neither Michael nor his companions were likely to experience
the slightest difficulty in obtaining means of continuing their
journey in so large a town as Ekaterenburg. It was founded in 1723,
and has since become a place of considerable size, for in it
is the chief mint of the empire. There also are the headquarters
of the officials employed in the management of the mines.
Thus the town is the center of an important district,
abounding in manufactories principally for the working and refining
of gold and platina.
Just now the population of Ekaterenburg had greatly increased;
many Russians and Siberians, menaced by the Tartar invasion,
having collected there. Thus, though it had been so troublesome
a matter to find horses and vehicles when going to Ekaterenburg,
there was no difficulty in leaving it; for under present circumstances
few travelers cared to venture on the Siberian roads.
So it happened that Blount and Alcide had not the slightest trouble
in replacing, by a sound telga, the famous demi-carriage which had managed
to take them to Ekaterenburg. As to Michael, he retained his tarantass,