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Michael Strogoff

13. Duty Before Everything
NADIA, with the clear perception of a right-minded woman, guessed that some
secret motive directed all Michael Strogoff's actions; that he, for a reason
unknown to her, did not belong to himself; and that in this instance especially he
had heroically sacrificed to duty even his resentment at the gross injury he had
received.
Nadia, therefore, asked no explanation from Michael. Had not the hand which
she had extended to him already replied to all that he might have been able to
tell her?
Michael remained silent all the evening. The postmaster not being able to supply
them with fresh horses until the next morning, a whole night must be passed at
the house. Nadia could profit by it to take some rest, and a room was therefore
prepared for her.
The young girl would no doubt have preferred not to leave her companion, but
she felt that he would rather be alone, and she made ready to go to her room.
Just as she was about to retire she could not refrain from going up to Michael to
say good-night.
"Brother," she whispered. But he checked her with a gesture. The girl sighed and
left the room.
Michael Strogoff did not lie down. He could not have slept even for an hour. The
place on which he had been struck by the brutal traveler felt like a burn.
"For my country and the Father," he muttered as he ended his evening prayer.
He especially felt a great wish to know who was the man who had struck him,
whence he came, and where he was going. As to his face, the features of it were
so deeply engraven on his memory that he had no fear of ever forgetting them.
Michael Strogoff at last asked for the postmaster. The latter, a Siberian of the old
type, came directly, and looking rather contemptuously at the young man, waited
to be questioned.
"You belong to the country?" asked Michael.
"Yes."
"Do you know that man who took my horses?"
"No."
"Had you never seen him before?"
"Never."
"Who do you think he was?"
"A man who knows how to make himself obeyed."
Michael fixed his piercing gaze upon the Siberian, but the other did not quail
before it.
"Do you dare to judge me?" exclaimed Michael.
"Yes," answered the Siberian, "there are some things even a plain merchant
cannot receive without returning."
"Blows?"
"Blows, young man. I am of an age and strength to tell you so."
 
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