8. A Hare Crosses The Road
MICHAEL STROGOFF might at last hope that the road to Irkutsk was clear. He
had distanced the Tartars, now detained at Tomsk, and when the Emir's soldiers
should arrive at Krasnoiarsk they would find only a deserted town. There being
no communication between the two banks of the Yenisei, a delay of some days
would be caused until a bridge of boats could be established, and to accomplish
this would be a difficult undertaking. For the first time since the encounter with
Ivan Ogareff at Omsk, the courier of the Czar felt less uneasy, and began to
hope that no fresh obstacle would delay his progress.
The road was good, for that part of it which extends between Krasnoiarsk and
Irkutsk is considered the best in the whole journey; fewer jolts for travelers, large
trees to shade them from the heat of the sun, sometimes forests of pines or
cedars covering an extent of a hundred versts. It was no longer the wide steppe
with limitless horizon; but the rich country was empty. Everywhere they came
upon deserted villages. The Siberian peasantry had vanished. It was a desert,
but a desert by order of the Czar.
The weather was fine, but the air, which cooled during the night, took some time
to get warm again. Indeed it was now near September, and in this high region the
days were sensibly shortening. Autumn here lasts but a very little while, although
this part of Siberian territory is not situated above the fifty-fifth parallel, that of
Edinburgh and Copenhagen. However, winter succeeds summer almost
unexpectedly. These winters of Asiatic Russia may be said to be precocious,
considering that during them the thermometer falls until the mercury is frozen
nearly 42 degrees below zero, and that 20 degrees below zero is considered an
The weather favored our travelers. It was neither stormy nor rainy. The health of
Nadia and Michael was good, and since leaving Tomsk they had gradually
recovered from their past fatigues.
As to Nicholas Pigassof, he had never been better in his life. To him this journey
was a trip, an agreeable excursion in which he employed his enforced holiday.
"Decidedly," said he, "this is pleasanter than sitting twelve hours a day, perched
on a stool, working the manip-ulator!"
Michael had managed to get Nicholas to make his horse quicken his pace. To
obtain this result, he had confided to Nicholas that Nadia and he were on their
way to join their father, exiled at Irkutsk, and that they were very anxious to get
there. Certainly, it would not do to overwork the horse, for very probably they
would not be able to exchange him for another; but by giving him frequent rests--
every ten miles, for instance--forty miles in twenty-four hours could easily be
accomplished. Besides, the animal was strong, and of a race calculated to
endure great fatigue. He was in no want of rich pasturage along the road, the
grass being thick and abundant. Therefore, it was possible to demand an
increase of work from him.
Nicholas gave in to all these reasons. He was much moved at the situation of
these two young people, going to share their father's exile. Nothing had ever