Michael Strogoff HTML version

4. From Moscow To Nijni-Novgorod
THE distance between Moscow and Irkutsk, about to be traversed by Michael
Strogoff, was three thousand four hundred miles. Before the telegraph wire
extended from the Ural Mountains to the eastern frontier of Siberia, the dispatch
service was performed by couriers, those who traveled the most rapidly taking
eighteen days to get from Moscow to Irkutsk. But this was the exception, and the
journey through Asiatic Russia usually occupied from four to five weeks, even
though every available means of transport was placed at the disposal of the
Czar's messengers.
Michael Strogoff was a man who feared neither frost nor snow. He would have
preferred traveling during the severe winter season, in order that he might
perform the whole distance by sleighs. At that period of the year the difficulties
which all other means of locomotion present are greatly diminished, the wide
steppes being leveled by snow, while there are no rivers to cross, but simply
sheets of glass, over which the sleigh glides rapidly and easily.
Perhaps certain natural phenomena are most to be feared at that time, such as
long-continuing and dense fogs, excessive cold, fearfully heavy snow-storms,
which sometimes envelop whole caravans and cause their destruction. Hungry
wolves also roam over the plain in thousands. But it would have been better for
Michael Strogoff to face these risks; for during the winter the Tartar invaders
would have been stationed in the towns, any movement of their troops would
have been impracticable, and he could consequently have more easily performed
his journey. But it was not in his power to choose either weather or time.
Whatever the circumstances, he must accept them and set out.
Such were the difficulties which Michael Strogoff boldly confronted and prepared
to encounter.
In the first place, he must not travel as a courier of the Czar usually would. No
one must even suspect what he really was. Spies swarm in a rebellious country;
let him be recognized, and his mission would be in danger. Also, while supplying
him with a large sum of money, which was sufficient for his journey, and would
facilitate it in some measure, General Kissoff had not given him any document
notifying that he was on the Emperor's service, which is the Sesame par
excellence. He contented himself with furnishing him with a "podorojna."
This podorojna was made out in the name of Nicholas Korpanoff, merchant,
living at Irkutsk. It authorized Nicholas Korpanoff to be accompanied by one or
more persons, and, moreover, it was, by special notification, made available in
the event of the Muscovite government forbidding natives of any other countries
to leave Russia.
The podorojna is simply a permission to take post-horses; but Michael Strogoff
was not to use it unless he was sure that by so doing he would not excite
suspicion as to his mission, that is to say, whilst he was on European territory.
The consequence was that in Siberia, whilst traversing the insurgent provinces,
he would have no power over the relays, either in the choice of horses in
preference to others, or in demanding conveyances for his personal use; neither