13. The Czar's Courier
ALL the members of the council simultaneously started forward. A courier from
the Czar arrived in Irkutsk! Had these officers for a moment considered the
improbability of this fact, they would certainly not have credited what they heard.
The Grand Duke advanced quickly to his aide-de-camp. "This courier!" he
A man entered. He appeared exhausted with fatigue. He wore the dress of a
Siberian peasant, worn into tatters, and exhibiting several shot-holes. A
Muscovite cap was on his head. His face was disfigured by a recently-healed
scar. The man had evidently had a long and painful journey; his shoes being in a
state which showed that he had been obliged to make part of it on foot.
"His Highness the Grand Duke?" he asked.
The Grand Duke went up to him. "You are a courier from the Czar?" he asked.
"Yes, your Highness."
"You left Moscow?"
"On the 15th of July."
It was Ivan Ogareff. He had taken the designation of the man whom he believed
that he had rendered powerless. Neither the Grand Duke nor anyone knew him
in Irkutsk, and he had not even to disguise his features. As he was in a position
to prove his pretended identity, no one could have any reason for doubting him.
He came, therefore, sustained by his iron will, to hasten by treason and
assassination the great object of the invasion.
After Ogareff had replied, the Grand Duke signed to all his officers to withdraw.
He and the false Michael Strogoff remained alone in the saloon.
The Grand Duke looked at Ivan Ogareff for some moments with extreme
attention. Then he said, "On the 15th of July you were at Moscow?"
"Yes, your Highness; and on the night of the 14th I saw His Majesty the Czar at
the New Palace."
"Have you a letter from the Czar?"
"Here it is."
And Ivan Ogareff handed to the Grand Duke the Imperial letter, crumpled to
almost microscopic size.
"Was the letter given you in this state?"
"No, your Highness, but I was obliged to tear the envelope, the better to hide it
from the Emir's soldiers."
"Were you taken prisoner by the Tartars?"
"Yes, your Highness, I was their prisoner for several days," answered Ogareff.
"That is the reason that, having left Moscow on the 15th of July, as the date of
that letter shows, I only reached Irkutsk on the 2d of October, after traveling