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Michael Strogoff

7. Going Down The Volga
A LITTLE before midday, the steamboat's bell drew to the wharf on the Volga an
unusually large concourse of people, for not only were those about to embark
who had intended to go, but the many who were compelled to go contrary to their
wishes. The boilers of the Caucasus were under full pressure; a slight smoke
issued from its funnel, whilst the end of the escape-pipe and the lids of the valves
were crowned with white vapor. It is needless to say that the police kept a close
watch over the departure of the Caucasus, and showed themselves pitiless to
those travelers who did not satisfactorily answer their questions.
Numerous Cossacks came and went on the quay, ready to assist the agents, but
they had not to interfere, as no one ventured to offer the slightest resistance to
their orders. Exactly at the hour the last clang of the bell sounded, the powerful
wheels of the steamboat began to beat the water, and the Caucasus passed
rapidly between the two towns of which Nijni-Novgorod is composed.
Michael Strogoff and the young Livonian had taken a passage on board the
Caucasus. Their embarkation was made without any difficulty. As is known, the
podorojna, drawn up in the name of Nicholas Korpanoff, authorized this merchant
to be accompanied on his journey to Siberia. They appeared, therefore, to be a
brother and sister traveling under the protection of the imperial police. Both,
seated together at the stern, gazed at the receding town, so disturbed by the
governor's order. Michael had as yet said nothing to the girl, he had not even
questioned her. He waited until she should speak to him, when that was
necessary. She had been anxious to leave that town, in which, but for the
providential intervention of this unexpected protector, she would have remained
imprisoned. She said nothing, but her looks spoke her thanks.
The Volga, the Rha of the ancients, the largest river in all Europe, is almost three
thousand miles in length. Its waters, rather unwholesome in its upper part, are
improved at Nijni-Novgorod by those of the Oka, a rapid affluent, issuing from the
central provinces of Russia. The system of Russian canals and rivers has been
justly compared to a gigantic tree whose branches spread over every part of the
empire. The Volga forms the trunk of this tree, and it has for roots seventy
mouths opening into the Caspian Sea. It is navigable as far as Rjef, a town in the
government of Tver, that is, along the greater part of its course.
The steamboats plying between Perm and Nijni-Novgorod rapidly perform the
two hundred and fifty miles which separate this town from the town of Kasan. It is
true that these boats have only to descend the Volga, which adds nearly two
miles of current per hour to their own speed; but on arriving at the confluence of
the Kama, a little below Kasan, they are obliged to quit the Volga for the smaller
river, up which they ascend to Perm. Powerful as were her machines, the
Caucasus could not thus, after entering the Kama, make against the current
more than ten miles an hour. Including an hour's stoppage at Kasan, the voyage
from Nijni-Novgorod to Perm would take from between sixty to sixty-two hours.
The steamer was very well arranged, and the passengers, according to their
condition or resources, occupied three distinct classes on board. Michael Strogoff