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Michael Strogoff

9. In The Steppe
MICHAEL STROGOFF and Nadia were once more as free as they had been in
the journey from Perm to the banks of the Irtych. But how the conditions under
which they traveled were altered! Then, a comfortable tarantass, fresh horses,
well-kept post-horses assured the rapidity of their journey. Now they were on
foot; it was utterly impossible to procure any other means of locomotion, they
were without resources, not knowing how to obtain even food, and they had still
nearly three hundred miles to go! Moreover, Michael could now only see with
Nadia's eyes.
As to the friend whom chance had given them, they had just lost him, and fearful
might be his fate. Michael had thrown himself down under the brushwood at the
side of the road. Nadia stood beside him, waiting for the word from him to
continue the march.
It was ten o'clock. The sun had more than three hours before disappeared below
the horizon. There was not a house in sight. The last of the Tartars was lost in
the distance. Michael and Nadia were quite alone.
"What will they do with our friend?" exclaimed the girl. "Poor Nicholas! Our
meeting will have been fatal to him!" Michael made no response.
"Michael," continued Nadia, "do you not know that he defended you when you
were the Tartars' sport; that he risked his life for me?"
Michael was still silent. Motionless, his face buried in his hands; of what was he
thinking? Perhaps, although he did not answer, he heard Nadia speak.
Yes! he heard her, for when the young girl added, "Where shall I lead you,
Michael?"
"To Irkutsk!" he replied.
"By the highroad?"
"Yes, Nadia."
Michael was still the same man who had sworn, whatever happened, to
accomplish his object. To follow the highroad, was certainly to go the shortest
way. If the vanguard of Feofar-Khan's troops appeared, it would then be time to
strike across the country.
Nadia took Michael's hand, and they started.
The next morning, the 13th of September, twenty versts further, they made a
short halt in the village of Joulounov-skoe. It was burnt and deserted. All night
Nadia had tried to see if the body of Nicholas had not been left on the road, but it
was in vain that she looked among the ruins, and searched among the dead.
Was he reserved for some cruel torture at Irkutsk?
Nadia, exhausted with hunger, was fortunate enough to find in one of the houses
a quantity of dried meat and "soukharis," pieces of bread, which, dried by
evaporation, preserve their nutritive qualities for an indefinite time.
Michael and the girl loaded themselves with as much as they could carry. They
had thus a supply of food for several days, and as to water, there would be no
want of that in a district rendered fertile by the numerous little affluents of the
Angara.
 
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