Michael Strogoff HTML version

9. Day And Night In A Tarantass
THE next day, the 19th of July, the Caucasus reached Perm, the last place at
which she touched on the Kama.
The government of which Perm is the capital is one of the largest in the Russian
Empire, and, extending over the Ural Mountains, encroaches on Siberian
territory. Marble quarries, mines of salt, platina, gold, and coal are worked here
on a large scale. Although Perm, by its situation, has become an important town,
it is by no means attractive, being extremely dirty, and without resources. This
want of comfort is of no consequence to those going to Siberia, for they come
from the more civilized districts, and are supplied with all necessaries.
At Perm travelers from Siberia resell their vehicles, more or less damaged by the
long journey across the plains. There, too, those passing from Europe to Asia
purchase carriages, or sleighs in the winter season.
Michael Strogoff had already sketched out his programme. A vehicle carrying the
mail usually runs across the Ural Mountains, but this, of course, was
discontinued. Even if it had not been so, he would not have taken it, as he
wished to travel as fast as possible, without depending on anyone. He wisely
preferred to buy a carriage, and journey by stages, stimulating the zeal of the
postillions by well-applied "na vodkou," or tips.
Unfortunately, in consequence of the measures taken against foreigners of
Asiatic origin, a large number of travelers had already left Perm, and therefore
conveyances were extremely rare. Michael was obliged to content himself with
what had been rejected by others. As to horses, as long as the Czar's courier
was not in Siberia, he could exhibit his podorojna, and the postmasters would
give him the preference. But, once out of Europe, he had to depend alone on the
power of his roubles.
But to what sort of a vehicle should he harness his horses? To a telga or to a
tarantass? The telga is nothing but an open four-wheeled cart, made entirely of
wood, the pieces fastened together by means of strong rope. Nothing could be
more primitive, nothing could be less comfortable; but, on the other hand, should
any accident happen on the way, nothing could be more easily repaired. There is
no want of firs on the Russian frontier, and axle-trees grow naturally in forests.
The post extraordinary, known by the name of "perck-ladnoi," is carried by the
telga, as any road is good enough for it. It must be confessed that sometimes the
ropes which fasten the concern together break, and whilst the hinder part
remains stuck in some bog, the fore-part arrives at the post-house on two
wheels; but this result is considered quite satisfactory.
Michael Strogoff would have been obliged to employ a telga, if he had not been
lucky enough to discover a tarantass. It is to be hoped that the invention of
Russian coach-builders will devise some improvement in this last-named vehicle.
Springs are wanting in it as well as in the telga; in the absence of iron, wood is
not spared; but its four wheels, with eight or nine feet between them, assure a
certain equilibrium over the jolting rough roads. A splash-board protects the
travelers from the mud, and a strong leathern hood, which may be pulled quite
over the occupiers, shelters them from the great heat and violent storms of the