8. Going Up The Kama
THE next day, the 18th of July, at twenty minutes to seven in the morning, the
Caucasus reached the Kasan quay, seven versts from the town.
Kasan is situated at the confluence of the Volga and Kasanka. It is an important
chief town of the government, and a Greek archbishopric, as well as the seat of a
university. The varied population preserves an Asiatic character. Although the
town was so far from the landing-place, a large crowd was collected on the quay.
They had come for news. The governor of the province had published an order
identical with that of Nijni-Novgorod. Police officers and a few Cossacks kept
order among the crowd, and cleared the way both for the passengers who were
disembarking and also for those who were embarking on board the Caucasus,
minutely examining both classes of travelers. The one were the Asiatics who
were being expelled; the other, mujiks stopping at Kasan.
Michael Strogoff unconcernedly watched the bustle which occurs at all quays on
the arrival of a steam vessel. The Caucasus would stay for an hour to renew her
fuel. Michael did not even think of landing. He was unwilling to leave the young
Livonian girl alone on board, as she had not yet reappeared on deck.
The two journalists had risen at dawn, as all good huntsmen should do. They
went on shore and mingled with the crowd, each keeping to his own peculiar
mode of proceeding; Harry Blount, sketching different types, or noting some
observation; Alcide Jolivet contenting himself with asking questions, confiding in
his memory, which never failed him.
There was a report along all the frontier that the insurrection and invasion had
reached considerable proportions. Communication between Siberia and the
empire was already extremely difficult. All this Michael Strogoff heard from the
new arrivals. This information could not but cause him great uneasiness, and
increase his wish of being beyond the Ural Mountains, so as to judge for himself
of the truth of these rumors, and enable him to guard against any possible
contingency. He was thinking of seeking more direct intelligence from some
native of Kasan, when his attention was suddenly diverted.
Among the passengers who were leaving the Caucasus, Michael recognized the
troop of Tsiganes who, the day before, had appeared in the Nijni-Novgorod fair.
There, on the deck of the steamboat were the old Bohemian and the woman.
With them, and no doubt under their direction, landed about twenty dancers and
singers, from fifteen to twenty years of age, wrapped in old cloaks, which covered
their spangled dresses. These dresses, just then glancing in the first rays of the
sun, reminded Michael of the curious appearance which he had observed during
the night. It must have been the glitter of those spangles in the bright flames
issuing from the steamboat's funnel which had attracted his attention.
"Evidently," said Michael to himself, "this troop of Tsiganes, after remaining
below all day, crouched under the forecastle during the night. Were these gipsies
trying to show themselves as little as possible? Such is not according to the
usual custom of their race."