17. The Rivals
MICHAEL was in comparative safety, though his situation was still terrible. Now
that the faithful animal who had so bravely borne him had met his death in the
waters of the river, how was he to continue his journey?
He was on foot, without provisions, in a country devastated by the invasion,
overrun by the Emir's scouts, and still at a considerable distance from the place
he was striving to reach. "By Heaven, I will get there!" he exclaimed, in reply to
all the reasons for faltering. "God will protect our sacred Russia."
Michael was out of reach of the Usbeck horsemen. They had not dared to pursue
him through the river.
Once more on solid ground Michael stopped to consider what he should do next.
He wished to avoid Tomsk, now occupied by the Tartar troops. Nevertheless, he
must reach some town, or at least a post-house, where he could procure a horse.
A horse once found, he would throw himself out of the beaten track, and not
again take to the Irkutsk road until in the neighborhood of Krasnoiarsk. From that
place, if he were quick, he hoped to find the way still open, and he intended to go
through the Lake Baikal provinces in a southeasterly direction.
Michael began by going eastward. By following the course of the Obi two versts
further, he reached a picturesque little town lying on a small hill. A few churches,
with Byzantine cupolas colored green and gold, stood up against the gray sky.
This is Kolyvan, where the officers and people employed at Kamsk and other
towns take refuge during the summer from the unhealthy climate of the Baraba.
According to the latest news obtained by the Czar's courier, Kolyvan could not be
yet in the hands of the invaders. The Tartar troops, divided into two columns, had
marched to the left on Omsk, to the right on Tomsk, neglecting the intermediate
Michael Strogoff's plan was simply this--to reach Kolyvan before the arrival of the
Usbeck horsemen, who would ascend the other bank of the Obi to the ferry.
There he would procure clothes and a horse, and r‚sum‚ the road to Irkutsk
across the southern steppe.
It was now three o'clock in the morning. The neighborhood of Kolyvan was very
still, and appeared to have been totally abandoned. The country population had
evidently fled to the northwards, to the province of Yeniseisk, dreading the
invasion, which they could not resist.
Michael was walking at a rapid pace towards Kolyvan when distant firing struck
his ear. He stopped, and clearly distinguished the dull roar of artillery, and above
it a crisp rattle which could not be mistaken.
"It is cannon and musketry!" said he. "The little Russian body is engaged with the
Tartar army! Pray Heaven that I may arrive at Kolyvan before them!"
The firing became gradually louder, and soon to the left of Kolyvan a mist
collected--not smoke, but those great white clouds produced by discharges of
The Usbeck horsemen stopped on the left of the Obi, to await the result of the
battle. From them Michael had nothing to fear as he hastened towards the town.