10. Baikal And Angara
LAKE BAIKAL is situated seventeen hundred feet above the level of the sea. Its
length is about six hundred miles, its breadth seventy. Its depth is not known.
Madame de Bourboulon states that, according to the boatmen, it likes to be
spoken of as "Madam Sea." If it is called "Sir Lake," it immediately lashes itself
into fury. However, it is reported and believed by the Siberians that a Russian is
never drowned in it.
This immense basin of fresh water, fed by more than three hundred rivers, is
surrounded by magnificent volcanic mountains. It has no other outlet than the
Angara, which after passing Irkutsk throws itself into the Yenisei, a little above
the town of Yeniseisk. As to the mountains which encase it, they form a branch of
the Toungouzes, and are derived from the vast system of the Altai.
In this territory, subject to peculiar climatical conditions, the autumn appears to
be absorbed in the precocious winter. It was now the beginning of October. The
sun set at five o'clock in the evening, and during the long nights the temperature
fell to zero. The first snows, which would last till summer, already whitened the
summits of the neighboring hills. During the Siberian winter this inland sea is
frozen over to a thickness of several feet, and is crossed by the sleighs of
Either because there are people who are so wanting in politeness as to call it "Sir
Lake," or for some more meteorological reason, Lake Baikal is subject to violent
tempests. Its waves, short like those of all inland seas, are much feared by the
rafts, prahms, and steamboats, which furrow it during the summer.
It was the southwest point of the lake which Michael had now reached, carrying
Nadia, whose whole life, so to speak, was concentrated in her eyes. But what
could these two expect, in this wild region, if it was not to die of exhaustion and
famine? And yet, what remained of the long journey of four thousand miles for
the Czar's courier to reach his end? Nothing but forty miles on the shore of the
lake up to the mouth of the Angara, and sixty miles from the mouth of the Angara
to Irkutsk; in all, a hundred miles, or three days' journey for a strong man, even
Could Michael Strogoff still be that man?
Heaven, no doubt, did not wish to put him to this trial. The fatality which had
hitherto pursued his steps seemed for a time to spare him. This end of the Baikal,
this part of the steppe, which he believed to be a desert, which it usually is, was
not so now. About fifty people were collected at the angle formed by the end of
Nadia immediately caught sight of this group, when Michael, carrying her in his
arms, issued from the mountain pass. The girl feared for a moment that it was a
Tartar detachment, sent to beat the shores of the Baikal, in which case flight
would have been impossible to them both. But Nadia was soon reassured.
"Russians!" she exclaimed. And with this last effort, her eyes closed and her
head fell on Michael's breast.