10. A Storm In The Ural Mountains
THE Ural Mountains extend in a length of over two thousand miles between
Europe and Asia. Whether they are called the Urals, which is the Tartar, or the
Poyas, which is the Russian name, they are correctly so termed; for these names
signify "belt" in both languages. Rising on the shores of the Arctic Sea, they
reach the borders of the Caspian. This was the barrier to be crossed by Michael
Strogoff before he could enter Siberian Russia. The mountains could be crossed
in one night, if no accident happened. Unfortunately, thunder muttering in the
distance announced that a storm was at hand. The electric tension was such that
it could not be dispersed without a tremendous explosion, which in the peculiar
state of the atmosphere would be very terrible.
Michael took care that his young companion should be as well protected as
possible. The hood, which might have been easily blown away, was fastened
more securely with ropes, crossed above and at the back. The traces were
doubled, and, as an additional precaution, the nave-boxes were stuffed with
straw, as much to increase the strength of the wheels as to lessen the jolting,
unavoidable on a dark night. Lastly, the fore and hinder parts, connected simply
by the axles to the body of the tarantass, were joined one to the other by a
crossbar, fixed by means of pins and screws.
Nadia resumed her place in the cart, and Michael took his seat beside her.
Before the lowered hood hung two leathern curtains, which would in some
degree protect the travelers against the wind and rain. Two great lanterns,
suspended from the iemschik's seat, threw a pale glimmer scarcely sufficient to
light the way, but serving as warning lights to prevent any other carriage from
running into them.
It was well that all these precautions were taken, in expectation of a rough night.
The road led them up towards dense masses of clouds, and should the clouds
not soon resolve into rain, the fog would be such that the tarantass would be
unable to advance without danger of falling over some precipice.
The Ural chain does not attain any very great height, the highest summit not
being more than five thousand feet. Eternal snow is there unknown, and what is
piled up by the Siberian winter is soon melted by the summer sun. Shrubs and
trees grow to a considerable height. The iron and copper mines, as well as those
of precious stones, draw a considerable number of workmen to that region. Also,
those villages termed "gavody" are there met with pretty frequently, and the road
through the great passes is easily practicable for post-carriages.
But what is easy enough in fine weather and broad daylight, offers difficulties and
perils when the elements are engaged in fierce warfare, and the traveler is in the
midst of it. Michael Strogoff knew from former experience what a storm in the
mountains was, and perhaps this would be as terrible as the snowstorms which
burst forth with such vehemence in the winter.
Rain was not yet falling, so Michael raised the leathern curtains which protected
the interior of the tarantass and looked out, watching the sides of the road,
peopled with fantastic shadows, caused by the wavering light of the lanterns.
Nadia, motionless, her arms folded, gazed forth also, though without leaning