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Michael Strogoff

12. Provocation
EKATERENBURG, geographically, is an Asiatic city; for it is situated beyond the
Ural Mountains, on the farthest eastern slopes of the chain. Nevertheless, it
belongs to the government of Perm; and, consequently, is included in one of the
great divisions of European Russia. It is as though a morsel of Siberia lay in
Russian jaws.
Neither Michael nor his companions were likely to experience the slightest
difficulty in obtaining means of continuing their journey in so large a town as
Ekaterenburg. It was founded in 1723, and has since become a place of
considerable size, for in it is the chief mint of the empire. There also are the
headquarters of the officials employed in the management of the mines. Thus the
town is the center of an important district, abounding in manufactories principally
for the working and refining of gold and platina.
Just now the population of Ekaterenburg had greatly increased; many Russians
and Siberians, menaced by the Tartar invasion, having collected there. Thus,
though it had been so troublesome a matter to find horses and vehicles when
going to Ekaterenburg, there was no difficulty in leaving it; for under present
circumstances few travelers cared to venture on the Siberian roads.
So it happened that Blount and Alcide had not the slightest trouble in replacing,
by a sound telga, the famous demi-carriage which had managed to take them to
Ekaterenburg. As to Michael, he retained his tarantass, which was not much the
worse for its journey across the Urals; and he had only to harness three good
horses to it to take him swiftly over the road to Irkutsk.
As far as Tioumen, and even up to Novo-Zaimskoe, this road has slight inclines,
which gentle undulations are the first signs of the slopes of the Ural Mountains.
But after Novo-Zaimskoe begins the immense steppe.
At Ichim, as we have said, the reporters intended to stop, that is at about four
hundred and twenty miles from Ekaterenburg. There they intended to be guided
by circumstances as to their route across the invaded country, either together or
separately, according as their news-hunting instinct set them on one track or
another.
This road from Ekaterenburg to Ichim--which passes through Irkutsk-- was the
only one which Michael could take. But, as he did not run after news, and
wished, on the contrary, to avoid the country devastated by the invaders, he
determined to stop nowhere.
"I am very happy to make part of my journey in your company," said he to his
new companions, "but I must tell you that I am most anxious to reach Omsk; for
my sister and I are going to rejoin our mother. Who can say whether we shall
arrive before the Tartars reach the town! I must therefore stop at the post-houses
only long enough to change horses, and must travel day and night."
"That is exactly what we intend doing," replied Blount.
"Good," replied Michael; "but do not lose an instant. Buy or hire a carriage
whose--"
 
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