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Michael Strogoff

12. Irkutsk
IRKUTSK, the capital of Eastern Siberia, is a populous town, containing, in
ordinary times, thirty thousand inhabitants. On the right side of the Angara rises a
hill, on which are built numerous churches, a lofty cathedral, and dwellings
disposed in picturesque disorder.
Seen at a distance, from the top of the mountain which rises at about twenty
versts off along the Siberian highroad, this town, with its cupolas, its bell-towers,
its steeples slender as minarets, its domes like pot-bellied Chinese jars, presents
something of an oriental aspect. But this similarity vanishes as the traveler
enters.
The town, half Byzantine, half Chinese, becomes European as soon as he sees
its macadamized roads, bordered with pavements, traversed by canals, planted
with gigantic birches, its houses of brick and wood, some of which have several
stories, the numerous equipages which drive along, not only tarantasses but
broughams and coaches; lastly, its numerous inhabitants far advanced in
civilization, to whom the latest Paris fashions are not unknown.
Being the refuge for all the Siberians of the province, Irkutsk was at this time very
full. Stores of every kind had been collected in abundance. Irkutsk is the
emporium of the innumerable kinds of merchandise which are exchanged
between China, Central Asia, and Europe. The authorities had therefore no fear
with regard to admitting the peasants of the valley of the Angara, and leaving a
desert between the invaders and the town.
Irkutsk is the residence of the governor-general of Eastern Siberia. Below him
acts a civil governor, in whose hands is the administration of the province; a head
of police, who has much to do in a town where exiles abound; and, lastly, a
mayor, chief of the merchants, and a person of some importance, from his
immense fortune and the influence which he exercises over the people.
The garrison of Irkutsk was at that time composed of an infantry regiment of
Cossacks, consisting of two thousand men, and a body of police wearing helmets
and blue uniforms laced with silver. Besides, as has been said, in consequence
of the events which had occurred, the brother of the Czar had been shut up in the
town since the beginning of the invasion.
A journey of political importance had taken the Grand Duke to these distant
provinces of Central Asia. After passing through the principal Siberian cities, the
Grand Duke, who traveled en militaire rather than en prince, without any parade,
accompanied by his officers, and escorted by a regiment of Cossacks, arrived in
the Trans-Baikalcine provinces. Nikolaevsk, the last Russian town situated on the
shore of the Sea of Okhotsk, had been honored by a visit from him. Arrived on
the confines of the immense Muscovite Empire, the Grand Duke was returning
towards Irkutsk, from which place he intended to retake the road to Moscow,
when, sudden as a thunder clap, came the news of the invasion.
He hastened to the capital, but only reached it just before communication with
Russia had been interrupted. There was time to receive only a few telegrams
 
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