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Michael Strogoff

2. Russians And Tartars
THE Czar had not so suddenly left the ball-room of the New Palace, when the
fete he was giving to the civil and military authorities and principal people of
Moscow was at the height of its brilliancy, without ample cause; for he had just
received information that serious events were taking place beyond the frontiers of
the Ural. It had become evident that a formidable rebellion threatened to wrest
the Siberian provinces from the Russian crown.
Asiatic Russia, or Siberia, covers a superficial area of 1,790,208 square miles,
and contains nearly two millions of inhabitants. Extending from the Ural
Mountains, which separate it from Russia in Europe, to the shores of the Pacific
Ocean, it is bounded on the south by Turkestan and the Chinese Empire; on the
north by the Arctic Ocean, from the Sea of Kara to Behring's Straits. It is divided
into several governments or provinces, those of Tobolsk, Yeniseisk, Irkutsk,
Omsk, and Yakutsk; contains two districts, Okhotsk and Kamtschatka; and
possesses two countries, now under the Muscovite dominion-- that of the Kirghiz
and that of the Tshouktshes. This immense extent of steppes, which includes
more than one hundred and ten degrees from west to east, is a land to which
criminals and political offenders are banished.
Two governor-generals represent the supreme authority of the Czar over this
vast country. The higher one resides at Irkutsk, the far capital of Eastern Siberia.
The River Tchouna separates the two Siberias.
No rail yet furrows these wide plains, some of which are in reality extremely
fertile. No iron ways lead from those precious mines which make the Siberian soil
far richer below than above its surface. The traveler journeys in summer in a
kibick or telga; in winter, in a sledge.
An electric telegraph, with a single wire more than eight thousand versts in
length, alone affords communication between the western and eastern frontiers
of Siberia. On issuing from the Ural, it passes through Ekaterenburg, Kasirnov,
Tioumen, Ishim, Omsk, Elamsk, Kolyvan, Tomsk, Krasnoiarsk, Nijni-Udinsk,
Irkutsk, Verkne-Nertschink, Strelink, Albazine, Blagowstenks, Radde,
Orlomskaya, Alexandrowskoe, and Nikolaevsk; and six roubles and nineteen
copecks are paid for every word sent from one end to the other. From Irkutsk
there is a branch to Kiatka, on the Mongolian frontier; and from thence, for thirty
copecks a word, the post conveys the dispatches to Pekin in a fortnight.
It was this wire, extending from Ekaterenburg to Nikolaevsk, which had been cut,
first beyond Tomsk, and then between Tomsk and Kolyvan.
This was why the Czar, to the communication made to him for the second time
by General Kissoff, had answered by the words, "A courier this moment!"
The Czar remained motionless at the window for a few moments, when the door
was again opened. The chief of police appeared on the threshold.
"Enter, General," said the Czar briefly, "and tell me all you know of Ivan Ogareff."
"He is an extremely dangerous man, sire," replied the chief of police.
"He ranked as colonel, did he not?"
"Yes, sire."