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Michael Strogoff

14. Mother And Son
OMSK is the official capital of Western Siberia. It is not the most important city of
the government of that name, for Tomsk has more inhabitants and is larger. But it
is at Omsk that the Governor-General of this the first half of Asiatic Russia
resides. Omsk, properly so called, is composed of two distinct towns: one which
is exclusively inhabited by the authorities and officials; the other more especially
devoted to the Siberian merchants, although, indeed, the trade of the town is of
small importance.
This city has about 12,000 to 13,000 inhabitants. It is defended by walls, but
these are merely of earth, and could afford only insufficient protection. The
Tartars, who were well aware of this fact, consequently tried at this period to
carry it by main force, and in this they succeeded, after an investment of a few
days.
The garrison of Omsk, reduced to two thousand men, resisted valiantly. But
driven back, little by little, from the mercantile portion of the place, they were
compelled to take refuge in the upper town.
It was there that the Governor-General, his officers, and soldiers had entrenched
themselves. They had made the upper quarter of Omsk a kind of citadel, and
hitherto they held out well in this species of improvised "kreml," but without much
hope of the promised succor. The Tartar troops, who were descending the Irtych,
received every day fresh reinforcements, and, what was more serious, they were
led by an officer, a traitor to his country, but a man of much note, and of an
audacity equal to any emergency. This man was Colonel Ivan Ogareff.
Ivan Ogareff, terrible as any of the most savage Tartar chieftains, was an
educated soldier. Possessing on his mother's side some Mongolian blood, he
delighted in deceptive strategy and ambuscades, stopping short of nothing when
he desired to fathom some secret or to set some trap. Deceitful by nature, he
willingly had recourse to the vilest trickery; lying when occasion demanded,
excelling in the adoption of all disguises and in every species of deception.
Further, he was cruel, and had even acted as an executioner. Feofar-Khan
possessed in him a lieutenant well capable of seconding his designs in this
savage war.
When Michael Strogoff arrived on the banks of the Irtych, Ivan Ogareff was
already master of Omsk, and was pressing the siege of the upper quarter of the
town all the more eagerly because he must hasten to Tomsk, where the main
body of the Tartar army was concentrated.
Tomsk, in fact, had been taken by Feofar-Khan some days previously, and it was
thence that the invaders, masters of Central Siberia, were to march upon Irkutsk.
Irkutsk was the real object of Ivan Ogareff. The plan of the traitor was to reach
the Grand Duke under a false name, to gain his confidence, and to deliver into
Tartar hands the town and the Grand Duke himself. With such a town, and such
a hostage, all Asiatic Siberia must necessarily fall into the hands of the invaders.
Now it was known that the Czar was acquainted with this conspiracy, and that it
was for the purpose of baffling it that a courier had been intrusted with the
 
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