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Michael Strogoff by Jules Verne - HTML preview

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II

1. A Tartar Camp

AT a day's march from Kolyvan, several versts beyond the town of Diachinks, stretches a wide plain, planted here and there with great trees, principally pines and cedars. This part of the steppe is usually occupied during the warm season by Siberian shepherds, and their numerous flocks. But now it might have been searched in vain for one of its nomad inhabitants. Not that the plain was deserted. It presented a most animated appearance.
There stood the Tartar tents; there Feofar-Khan, the terrible Emir of Bokhara, was encamped; and there on the following day, the 7th of August, were brought the prisoners taken at Kolyvan after the annihilation of the Russian force, which had vainly attempted to oppose the progress of the invaders. Of the two thousand men who had engaged with the two columns of the enemy, the bases of which rested on Tomsk and Omsk, only a few hundred remained. Thus events were going badly, and the imperial government appeared to have lost its power beyond the frontiers of the Ural--for a time at least, for the Russians could not fail eventually to defeat the savage hordes of the invaders. But in the meantime the invasion had reached the center of Siberia, and it was spreading through the revolted country both to the eastern, and the western provinces. If the troops of the Amoor and the province of Takutsk did not arrive in time to occupy it, Irkutsk, the capital of Asiatic Russia, being insufficiently garrisoned, would fall into the hands of the Tartars, and the Grand Duke, brother of the Emperor, would be sacrificed to the vengeance of Ivan Ogareff.
What had become of Michael Strogoff? Had he broken down under the weight of so many trials? Did he consider himself conquered by the series of disasters which, since the adventure of Ichim, had increased in magnitude? Did he think his cause lost? that his mission had failed? that his orders could no longer be obeyed?
Michael was one of those men who never give in while life exists. He was yet alive; he still had the imperial letter safe; his disguise had been undiscovered. He was included amongst the numerous prisoners whom the Tartars were dragging with them like cattle; but by approaching Tomsk he was at the same time drawing nearer to Irkutsk. Besides, he was still in front of Ivan Ogareff.
"I will get there!" he repeated to himself.
Since the affair of Kolyvan all the powers of his mind were concentrated on one object--to become free! How should he escape from the Emir's soldiers? Feofar's camp presented a magnificent spectacle.
Numberless tents, of skin, felt, or silk, glistened in the rays of the sun. The lofty plumes which surmounted their conical tops waved amidst banners, flags, and pennons of every color. The richest of these tents belonged to the Seides and Khodjas, who are the principal personages of the khanat. A special pavilion, ornamented with a horse's tail issuing from a sheaf of red and white sticks artistically interlaced, indicated the high rank of these Tartar chiefs. Then in the distance rose several thousand of the Turcoman tents, called "karaoy," which had been carried on the backs of camels.
The camp contained at least a hundred and fifty thousand soldiers, as many foot as horse soldiers, collected under the name of Alamanes. Amongst them, and as the principal types of Turkestan, would have been directly remarked the Tadjiks, from their regular features, white skin, tall forms, and black eyes and hair; they formed the bulk of the Tartar army, and of them the khanats of Khokhand and Koundouge had furnished a contingent nearly equal to that of Bokhara. With the Tadjiks were mingled specimens of different races who either reside in Turkestan or whose native countries border on it. There were Usbecks, red-bearded, small in stature, similar to those who had pursued Michael. Here were Kirghiz, with flat faces like the Kalmucks, dressed in coats of mail: some carried the lance, bows, and arrows of Asiatic manufacture; some the saber, a matchlock gun, and the "tschakane," a little short-handled ax, the wounds from which invariably prove fatal. There were Mongols--of middle height, with black hair plaited into pigtails, which hung down their back; round faces, swarthy complexions, lively deep-set eyes, scanty beards-- dressed in blue nankeen trimmed with black plush, swordbelts of leather with silver buckles, coats gayly braided, and silk caps edged with fur and three ribbons fluttering behind. Brown-skinned Afghans, too, might have been seen. Arabs, having the primitive type of the beautiful Semitic races; and Turcomans, with eyes which looked as if they had lost the pupil,--all enrolled under the Emir's flag, the flag of incendiaries and devastators.
Among these free soldiers were a certain number of slave soldiers, principally Persians, commanded by officers of the same nation, and they were certainly not the least esteemed of Feofar-Khan's army.
If to this list are added the Jews, who acted as servants, their robes confined with a cord, and wearing on their heads instead of the turban, which is forbidden them, little caps of dark cloth; if with these groups are mingled some hundreds of "kalenders," a sort of religious mendicants, clothed in rags, covered by a leopard skin, some idea may be formed of the enormous agglomerations of different tribes included under the general denomination of the Tartar army. Nothing could be more romantic than this picture, in delineating which the most skillful artist would have exhausted all the colors of his palette.
Feofar's tent overlooked the others. Draped in large folds of a brilliant silk looped with golden cords and tassels, surmounted by tall plumes which waved in the wind like fans, it occupied the center of a wide clearing, sheltered by a grove of magnificent birch and pine trees. Before this tent, on a japanned table inlaid with precious stones, was placed the sacred book of the Koran, its pages being of thin gold-leaf delicately engraved. Above floated the Tartar flag, quartered with the Emir's arms.
In a semicircle round the clearing stood the tents of the great functionaries of Bokhara. There resided the chief of the stables, who has the right to follow the Emir on horseback even into the court of his palace; the grand falconer; the "housch-begui," bearer of the royal seal; the "toptschi-baschi," grand master of the artillery; the "khodja," chief of the council, who receives the prince's kiss, and may present himself before him with his girdle untied; the "scheikh-oul-islam," chief of the Ulemas, representing the priests; the "cazi-askev," who, in the Emir's absence settles all disputes raised among the soldiers; and lastly, the chief of the astrologers, whose great business is to consult the stars every time the Khan thinks of changing his quarters.
When the prisoners were brought into the camp, the Emir was in his tent. He did not show himself. This was fortunate, no doubt. A sign, a word from him might have been the signal for some bloody execution. But he intrenched himself in that isolation which constitutes in part the majesty of Eastern kings. He who does not show himself is admired, and, above all, feared.
As to the prisoners, they were to be penned up in some enclosure, where, illtreated, poorly fed, and exposed to all the inclemencies of the weather, they would await Feofar's pleasure.
The most docile and patient of them all was undoubtedly Michael Strogoff. He allowed himself to be led, for they were leading him where he wished to go, and under conditions of safety which free he could not have found on the road from Kolyvan to Tomsk. To escape before reaching that town was to risk again falling into the hands of the scouts, who were scouring the steppe. The most eastern line occupied by the Tartar columns was not situated beyond the eighty-fifth meridian, which passes through Tomsk. This meridian once passed, Michael considered that he should be beyond the hostile zones, that he could traverse Genisci without danger, and gain Krasnoiarsk before Feofar-Khan had invaded the province.
"Once at Tomsk," he repeated to himself, to repress some feelings of impatience which he could not entirely master, "in a few minutes I should be beyond the outposts; and twelve hours gained on Feofar, twelve hours on Ogareff, that surely would be enough to give me a start of them to Irkutsk."
The thing that Michael dreaded more than everything else was the presence of Ivan Ogareff in the Tartar camp. Besides the danger of being recognized, he felt, by a sort of instinct, that this was the traitor whom it was especially necessary to precede. He understood, too, that the union of Ogareff's troops with those of Feofar would complete the invading army, and that the junction once effected, the army would march en masse on the capital of Eastern Siberia. All his apprehensions came from this quarter, and he dreaded every instant to hear some flourish of trumpets, announcing the arrival of the lieutenant of the Emir. To this was added the thought of his mother, of Nadia,-- the one a prisoner at Omsk; the other dragged on board the Irtych boats, and no doubt a captive, as Marfa Strogoff was. He could do nothing for them. Should he ever see them again? At this question, to which he dared not reply, his heart sank very low. At the same time with Michael Strogoff and so many other prisoners Harry Blount and Alcide Jolivet had also been taken to the Tartar camp. Their former traveling companion, captured like them at the telegraph office, knew that they were penned up with him in the enclosure, guarded by numerous sentinels, but he did not wish to accost them. It mattered little to him, at this time especially, what they might think of him since the affair at Ichim. Besides, he desired to be alone, that he might act alone, if necessary. He therefore held himself aloof from his former acquaintances.
From the moment that Harry Blount had fallen by his side, Jolivet had not ceased his attentions to him. During the journey from Kolyvan to the camp--that is to say, for several hours--Blount, by leaning on his companion's arm, had been enabled to follow the rest of the prisoners. He tried to make known that he was a British subject; but it had no effect on the barbarians, who only replied by prods with a lance or sword. The correspondent of the Daily Telegraph was, therefore, obliged to submit to the common lot, resolving to protest later, and obtain satisfaction for such treatment. But the journey was not the less disagreeable to him, for his wound caused him much pain, and without Alcide Jolivet's assistance he might never have reached the camp.
Jolivet, whose practical philosophy never abandoned him, had physically and morally strengthened his companion by every means in his power. His first care, when they found themselves definitely established in the enclosure, was to examine Blount's wound. Having managed carefully to draw off his coat, he found that the shoulder had been only grazed by the shot.
"This is nothing," he said. "A mere scratch! After two or three dressings you will be all to rights."
"But these dressings?" asked Blount.
"I will make them for you myself."
"Then you are something of a doctor?"
"All Frenchmen are something of doctors."
And on this affirmation Alcide, tearing his handkerchief, made lint of one piece, bandages of the other, took some water from a well dug in the middle of the enclosure, bathed the wound, and skillfully placed the wet rag on Harry Blount's shoulder.
"I treat you with water," he said. "This liquid is the most efficacious sedative known for the treatment of wounds, and is the most employed now. Doctors have taken six thousand years to discover that! Yes, six thousand years in round numbers!"
"I thank you, M. Jolivet," answered Harry, stretching himself on a bed of dry leaves, which his companion had arranged for him in the shade of a birch tree. "Bah! it's nothing! You would do as much for me."
"I am not quite so sure," said Blount candidly.
"Nonsense, stupid! All English are generous."
"Doubtless; but the French?"
"Well, the French--they are brutes, if you like! But what redeems them is that they are French. Say nothing more about that, or rather, say nothing more at all. Rest is absolutely necessary for you."
But Harry Blount had no wish to be silent. If the wound, in prudence, required rest, the correspondent of the Daily Telegraph was not a man to indulge himself. "M. Jolivet," he asked, "do you think that our last dispatches have been able to pass the Russian frontier?"
"Why not?" answered Alcide. "By this time you may be sure that my beloved cousin knows all about the affair at Kolyvan."
"How many copies does your cousin work off of her dispatches?" asked Blount, for the first time putting his question direct to his companion.
"Well," answered Alcide, laughing, "my cousin is a very discreet person, who does not like to be talked about, and who would be in despair if she troubled the sleep of which you are in need."
"I don't wish to sleep," replied the Englishman. "What will your cousin think of the affairs of Russia?"
"That they seem for the time in a bad way. But, bah! the Muscovite government is powerful; it cannot be really uneasy at an invasion of barbarians." "Too much ambition has lost the greatest empires," answered Blount, who was not exempt from a certain English jealousy with regard to Russian pretensions in Central Asia.
"Oh, do not let us talk politics," cried Jolivet. "It is forbidden by the faculty. Nothing can be worse for wounds in the shoulder-- unless it was to put you to sleep."
"Let us, then, talk of what we ought to do," replied Blount. "M. Jolivet, I have no intention at all of remaining a prisoner to these Tartars for an indefinite time." "Nor I, either, by Jove!"
"We will escape on the first opportunity?"
"Yes, if there is no other way of regaining our liberty."
"Do you know of any other?" asked Blount, looking at his companion. "Certainly. We are not belligerents; we are neutral, and we will claim our freedom."
"From that brute of a Feofar-Khan?"
"No; he would not understand," answered Jolivet; "but from his lieutenant, Ivan Ogareff."
"He is a villain."
" No doubt; but the villain is a Russian. He knows that it does not do to trifle with the rights of men, and he has no interest to retain us; on the contrary. But to ask a favor of that gentleman does not quite suit my taste."
"But that gentleman is not in the camp, or at least I have not seen him here," observed Blount.
"He will come. He will not fail to do that. He must join the Emir. Siberia is cut in two now, and very certainly Feofar's army is only waiting for him to advance on Irkutsk."
"And once free, what shall we do?"
"Once free, we will continue our campaign, and follow the Tartars, until the time comes when we can make our way into the Russian camp. We must not give up the game. No, indeed; we have only just begun. You, friend, have already had the honor of being wounded in the service of the Daily Telegraph, whilst I--I have as yet suffered nothing in my cousin's service. Well, well! Good," murmured Alcide Jolivet; "there he is asleep. A few hours' sleep and a few cold water compresses are all that are required to set an Englishman on his legs again. These fellows are made of cast iron."
And whilst Harry Blount rested, Alcide watched near him, after having drawn out his note book, which he loaded with notes, determined besides to share them with his companion, for the greater satisfaction of the readers of the Daily Telegraph. Events had united them one with the other. They were no longer jealous of each other. So, then, the thing that Michael Strogoff dreaded above everything was the most lively desire of the two correspondents. Ivan Ogareff's arrival would evidently be of use to them. Blount and Jolivet's interest was, therefore, contrary to that of Michael. The latter well understood the situation, and it was one reason, added to many others, which prevented him from approaching his former traveling companions. He therefore managed so as not to be seen by them.
Four days passed thus without the state of things being in anywise altered. The prisoners heard no talk of the breaking up of the Tartar camp. They were strictly guarded. It would have been impossible for them to pass the cordon of foot and horse soldiers, which watched them night and day. As to the food which was given them it was barely sufficient. Twice in the twenty-four hours they were thrown a piece of the intestines of goats grilled on the coals, or a few bits of that cheese called "kroute," made of sour ewe's milk, and which, soaked in mare's milk, forms the Kirghiz dish, commonly called "koumyss." And this was all. It may be added that the weather had become detestable. There were considerable atmospheric commotions, bringing squalls mingled with rain. The unfortunate prisoners, destitute of shelter, had to bear all the inclemencies of the weather, nor was there the slightest alleviation to their misery. Several wounded women and children died, and the prisoners were themselves compelled to dig graves for the bodies of those whom their jailers would not even take the trouble to bury. During this trying period Alcide Jolivet and Michael Strogoff worked hard, each in the portions of the enclosure in which they found themselves. Healthy and vigorous, they suffered less than so many others, and could better endure the hardships to which they were exposed. By their advice, and the assistance they rendered, they were of the greatest possible use to their suffering and despairing fellow-captives.
Was this state of things to last? Would Feofar-Khan, satisfied with his first success, wait some time before marching on Irkutsk? Such, it was to be feared, would be the case. But it was not so. The event so much wished for by Jolivet and Blount, so much dreaded by Michael, occurred on the morning of the 12th of August.
On that day the trumpets sounded, the drums beat, the cannon roared. A huge cloud of dust swept along the road from Kolyvan. Ivan Ogareff, followed by several thousand men, made his entry into the Tartar camp.

2. Correspondents In Trouble

IVAN OGAREFF was bringing up the main body of the army of the Emir. The cavalry and infantry now under him had formed part of the column which had taken Omsk. Ogareff, not having been able to reduce the high town, in which, it must be remembered, the governor and garrison had sought refuge, had decided to pass on, not wishing to delay operations which ought to lead to the conquest of Eastern Siberia. He therefore left a garrison in Omsk, and, reinforcing himself en route with the conquerors of Kolyvan, joined Feofar's army.
Ivan Ogareff's soldiers halted at the outposts of the camp. They received no orders to bivouac. Their chief's plan, doubtless, was not to halt there, but to press on and reach Tomsk in the shortest possible time, it being an important town, naturally intended to become the center of future operations.
Besides his soldiers, Ogareff was bringing a convoy of Russian and Siberian prisoners, captured either at Omsk or Kolyvan. These unhappy creatures were not led to the enclosure--already too crowded--but were forced to remain at the outposts without shelter, almost without nourishment. What fate was Feofar-Khan reserving for these unfortunates? Would he imprison them in Tomsk, or would some bloody execution, familiar to the Tartar chiefs, remove them when they were found too inconvenient? This was the secret of the capricious Emir. This army had not come from Omsk and Kolyvan without bringing in its train the usual crowd of beggars, freebooters, pedlars, and gypsies, which compose the rear-guard of an army on the march.
All these people lived on the country traversed, and left little of anything behind them. There was, therefore, a necessity for pushing forward, if only to secure provisions for the troops. The whole region between Ichim and the Obi, now completely devastated, no longer offered any resources. The Tartars left a desert behind them.
Conspicuous among the gypsies who had hastened from the western provinces was the Tsigane troop, which had accompanied Michael Strogoff as far as Perm. Sangarre was there. This fierce spy, the tool of Ivan Ogareff, had not deserted her master. Ogareff had traveled rapidly to Ichim, whilst Sangarre and her band had proceeded to Omsk by the southern part of the province.
It may be easily understood how useful this woman was to Ogareff. With her gypsy-band she could penetrate anywhere. Ivan Ogareff was kept acquainted with all that was going on in the very heart of the invaded provinces. There were a hundred eyes, a hundred ears, open in his service. Besides, he paid liberally for this espionage, from which he derived so much advantage.
Once Sangarre, being implicated in a very serious affair, had been saved by the Russian officer. She never forgot what she owed him, and had devoted herself to his service body and soul.
When Ivan Ogareff entered on the path of treason, he saw at once how he might turn this woman to account. Whatever order he might give her, Sangarre would execute it. An inexplicable instinct, more powerful still than that of gratitude, had urged her to make herself the slave of the traitor to whom she had been attached since the very beginning of his exile in Siberia.
Confidante and accomplice, Sangarre, without country, without family, had been delighted to put her vagabond life to the service of the invaders thrown by Ogareff on Siberia. To the wonderful cunning natural to her race she added a wild energy, which knew neither forgiveness nor pity. She was a savage worthy to share the wigwam of an Apache or the hut of an Andaman.
Since her arrival at Omsk, where she had rejoined him with her Tsiganes, Sangarre had not again left Ogareff. The circumstance that Michael and Marfa Strogoff had met was known to her. She knew and shared Ogareff's fears concerning the journey of a courier of the Czar. Having Marfa Strogoff in her power, she would have been the woman to torture her with all the refinement of a RedSkin in order to wrest her secret from her. But the hour had not yet come in which Ogareff wished the old Siberian to speak. Sangarre had to wait, and she waited, without losing sight of her whom she was watching, observing her slightest gestures, her slightest words, endeavoring to catch the word "son" escaping from her lips, but as yet always baffled by Marfa's taciturnity. At the first flourish of the trumpets several officers of high rank, followed by a brilliant escort of Usbeck horsemen, moved to the front of the camp to receive Ivan Ogareff. Arrived in his presence, they paid him the greatest respect, and invited him to accompany them to Feofar-Khan's tent.
Imperturbable as usual, Ogareff replied coldly to the deference paid to him. He was plainly dressed; but, from a sort of impudent bravado, he still wore the uniform of a Russian officer.
As he was about to enter the camp, Sangarre, passing among the officers approached and remained motionless before him. "Nothing?" asked Ogareff. "Nothing."
"Have patience."
"Is the time approaching when you will force the old woman to speak?" "It is approaching, Sangarre."
"When will the old woman speak?"
"When we reach Tomsk."
"And we shall be there--"
"In three days."
A strange gleam shot from Sangarre's great black eyes, and she retired with a calm step. Ogareff pressed his spurs into his horse's flanks, and, followed by his staff of Tartar officers, rode towards the Emir's tent.
Feofar-Khan was expecting his lieutenant. The council, composed of the bearer of the royal seal, the khodja, and some high officers, had taken their places in the tent. Ivan Ogareff dismounted and entered.
Feofar-Khan was a man of forty, tall, rather pale, of a fierce countenance, and evil eyes. A curly black beard flowed over his chest. With his war costume, coat of mail of gold and silver, cross-belt and scabbard glistening with precious stones, boots with golden spurs, helmet ornamented with an aigrette of brilliant diamonds, Feofar presented an aspect rather strange than imposing for a Tartar Sardana-palus, an undisputed sovereign, who directs at his pleasure the life and fortune of his subjects.
When Ivan Ogareff appeared, the great dignitaries remained seated on their gold-embroidered cushions; but Feofar rose from a rich divan which occupied the back part of the tent, the ground being hidden under the thick velvet-pile of a Bokharian carpet.
The Emir approached Ogareff and gave him a kiss, the meaning of which he could not mistake. This kiss made the lieutenant chief of the council, and placed him temporarily above the khodja.
Then Feofar spoke. "I have no need to question you," said he; "speak, Ivan. You will find here ears very ready to listen to you."
"Takhsir," answered Ogareff, "this is what I have to make known to you." He spoke in the Tartar language, giving to his phrases the emphatic turn which distinguishes the languages of the Orientals. "Takhsir, this is not the time for unnecessary words. What I have done at the head of your troops, you know. The lines of the Ichim and the Irtych are now in our power; and the Turcoman horsemen can bathe their horses in the now Tartar waters. The Kirghiz hordes rose at the voice of Feofar-Khan. You can now push your troops towards the east, and where the sun rises, or towards the west, where he sets." "And if I march with the sun?" asked the Emir, without his countenance betraying any of his thoughts.
"To march with the sun," answered Ogareff, "is to throw yourself towards Europe; it is to conquer rapidly the Siberian provinces of Tobolsk as far as the Ural Mountains."
"And if I go to meet this luminary of the heavens?"
"It is to subdue to the Tartar dominion, with Irkutsk, the richest countries of Central Asia."
"But the armies of the Sultan of St. Petersburg?" said Feofar-Khan, designating the Emperor of Russia by this strange title.
"You have nothing to fear from them," replied Ivan Ogareff. "The invasion has been sudden; and before the Russian army can succor them, Irkutsk or Tobolsk will have fallen into your power. The Czar's troops have been overwhelmed at Kolyvan, as they will be everywhere where yours meet them."
"And what advice does your devotion to the Tartar cause suggest?" asked the Emir, after a few moments' silence.
"My advice," answered Ivan Ogareff quickly, "is to march to meet the sun. It is to give the grass of the eastern steppes to the Turcoman horses to consume. It is to take Irkutsk, the capital of the eastern provinces, and with it a hostage, the possession of whom is worth a whole country. In the place of the Czar, the Grand Duke his brother must fall into your hands."
This was the great result aimed at by Ivan Ogareff. To listen to him, one would have taken him for one of the cruel descendants of Stephan Razine, the celebrated pirate who ravaged Southern Russia in the eighteenth century. To seize the Grand Duke, murder him pitilessly, would fully satisfy his hatred. Besides, with the capture of Irkutsk, all Eastern Siberia would pass to the Tartars. "It shall be thus, Ivan," replied Feofar.
"What are your orders, Takhsir?"
"To-day our headquarters shall be removed to Tomsk."
Ogareff bowed, and, followed by the housch-begui, he retired to execute the Emir's orders.
As he was about to mount his horse, to return to the outposts, a tumult broke out at some distance, in the part of the camp reserved for the prisoners. Shouts were heard, and two or three shots fired. Perhaps it was an attempt at revolt or escape, which must be summarily suppressed.
Ivan Ogareff and the housch-begui walked forward and almost immediately two men, whom the soldiers had not been able to keep back appeared before them. The housch-begui, without more information, made a sign which was an order for death, and the heads of the two prisoners would have rolled on the ground had not Ogareff uttered a few words which arrested the sword already raised aloft. The Russian had perceived that these prisoners were strangers, and he ordered them to be brought to him.
They were Harry Blount and Alcide jolivet.
On Ogareff's arrival in the camp, they had demanded to be conducted to his presence. The soldiers had refused. In consequence, a struggle, an attempt at flight, shots fired which happily missed the two correspondents, but their execution would not have been long delayed, if it had not been for the intervention of the Emir's lieutenant.
The latter observed the prisoners for some moments, they being absolutely unknown to him. They had been present at that scene in the post-house at Ichim, in which Michael Strogoff had been struck by Ogareff; but the brutal traveler had paid no attention to the persons then collected in the common room. Blount and Jolivet, on the contrary, recognized him at once, and the latter said in a low voice, "Hullo! It seems that Colonel Ogareff and the rude personage of Ichim are one!" Then he added in his companion's ear, "Explain our affair, Blount. You will do me a service. This Russian colonel in the midst of a Tartar camp disgusts me; and although, thanks to him, my head is still on my shoulders, my eyes would exhibit my feelings were I to attempt to look him in the face." So saying, Alcide Jolivet assumed a look of complete and haughty indifference. Whether or not Ivan Ogareff perceived that the prisoner's attitude was insulting towards him, he did not let it appear. "Who are you, gentlemen?" he asked in Russian, in a cold tone, but free from its usual rudeness.
"Two correspondents of English and French newspapers," replied Blount laconically.
"You have, doubtless, papers which will establish your identity?"
"Here are letters which accredit us in Russia, from the English and French chancellor's office."
Ivan Ogareff took the letters which Blount held out, and read them attentively. "You ask," said he, "authorization to follow our military operations in Siberia?" "We ask to be free, that is all," answered the English correspondent dryly. "You are so, gentlemen," answered Ogareff; "I am curious to read your articles in the Daily Telegraph."
"Sir," replied Blount, with the most imperturbable coolness, "it is sixpence a number, including postage." And thereupon he returned to his companion, who appeared to approve completely of his replies.
Ivan Ogareff, without frowning, mounted his horse, and going to the head of his escort, soon disappeared in a cloud of dust.
"Well, Jolivet, what do you think of Colonel Ivan Ogareff, general-in-chief of the Tartar troops?" asked Blount.
"I think, my dear friend," replied Alcide, smiling, "that the housch-begui made a very graceful gesture when he gave the order for our heads to be cut off." Whatever was the motive which led Ogareff to act thus in regard to the two correspondents, they were free and could rove at their pleasure over the scene of war. Their intention was not to leave it. The sort of antipathy which formerly they had entertained for each other had given place to a sincere friendship. Circumstances having brought them together, they no longer thought of separating. The petty questions of rivalry were forever extinguished. Harry Blount could never forget what he owed his companion, who, on the other hand, never tried to remind him of it. This friendship too assisted the reporting operations, and was thus to the advantage of their readers.
"And now," asked Blount, "what shall we do with our liberty?"
"Take advantage of it, of course," replied Alcide, "and go quietly to Tomsk to see what is going on there."
"Until the time--very near, I hope--when we may rejoin some Russian regiment?" "As you say, my dear Blount, it won't do to Tartarise ourselves too much. The best side is that of the most civilized army, and it is evident that the people of Central Asia will have everything to lose and absolutely nothing to gain from this invasion, while the Russians will soon repulse them. It is only a matter of time." The arrival of Ivan Ogareff, which had given Jolivet and Blount their liberty, was to Michael Strogoff, on the contrary, a serious danger. Should chance bring the Czar's courier into Ogareff's presence, the latter could not fail to recognize in him the traveler whom he had so brutally treated at the Ichim post-house, and although Michael had not replied to the insult as he would have done under any other circumstances, attention would be drawn to him, and at once the accomplishment of his plans would be rendered more difficult.
This was the unpleasant side of the business. A favorable result of his arrival, however, was the order which was given to raise the camp that very day, and remove the headquarters to Tomsk. This was the accomplishment of Michael's most fervent desire. His intention, as has been said, was to reach Tomsk concealed amongst the other prisoners; that is to say, without any risk of falling into the hands of the scouts who swarmed about the approaches to this important town. However, in consequence of the arrival of Ivan Ogareff, he questioned whether it would not be better to give up his first plan and attempt to escape during the journey.
Michael would, no doubt, have kept to the latter plan had he not learnt that Feofar-Khan and Ogareff had already set out for the town with some thousands of horsemen. "I will wait, then," said he to himself; "at least, unless some exceptional opportunity for escape occurs. The adverse chances are numerous on this side of Tomsk, while beyond I shall in a few hours have passed the most advanced Tartar posts to the east. Still three days of patience, and may God aid me!"
It was indeed a journey of three days which the prisoners, under the guard of a numerous detachment of Tartars, were to make across the steppe. A hundred and fifty versts lay between the camp and the town-- an easy march for the Emir's soldiers, who wanted for nothing, but a wretched journey for these people, enfeebled by privations. More than one corpse would show the road they had traversed.
It was two o'clock in the afternoon, on the 12th of August, under a hot sun and cloudless sky, that the toptschi-baschi gave the order to start.
Alcide and Blount, having bought horses, had already taken the road to Tomsk, where events were to reunite the principal personages of this story. Amongst the prisoners brought by Ivan Ogareff to the Tartar camp was an old woman, whose taciturnity seemed to keep her apart from all those who shared her fate. Not a murmur issued from her lips. She was like a statue of grief. This woman was more strictly guarded than anyone else, and, without her appearing to notice, was constantly watched by the Tsigane Sangarre. Notwithstanding her age she was compelled to follow the convoy of prisoners on foot, without any alleviation of her suffering.
However, a kind Providence had placed near her a courageous, kind-hearted being to comfort and assist her. Amongst her companions in misfortune a young girl, remarkable for beauty and taciturnity, seemed to have given herself the task of watching over her. No words had been exchanged between the two captives, but the girl was always at the old woman's side when help was useful. At first the mute assistance of the stranger was accepted with some mistrust. Gradually, however, the young girl's clear glance, her reserve, and the mysterious sympathy which draws together those who are in misfortune, thawed Marfa Strogoff's coldness.
Nadia--for it was she--was thus able, without knowing it, to render to the mother those attentions which she had herself received from the son. Her instinctive kindness had doubly inspired her. In devoting herself to her service, Nadia secured to her youth and beauty the protection afforded by the age of the old prisoner.
On the crowd of unhappy people, embittered by sufferings, this silent pair--one seeming to be the grandmother, the other the grand-daughter--imposed a sort of respect.
After being carried off by the Tartar scouts on the Irtych, Nadia had been taken to Omsk. Kept prisoner in the town, she shared the fate of all those captured by Ivan Ogareff, and consequently that of Marfa Strogoff.
If Nadia had been less energetic, she would have succumbed to this double blow. The interruption to her journey, the death of Michael, made her both desperate and excited. Divided, perhaps forever, from her father, after so many happy efforts had brought her near him, and, to crown her grief, separated from the intrepid companion whom God seemed to have placed in her way to lead her. The image of Michael Strogoff, struck before her eyes with a lance and disappearing beneath the waters of the Irtych, never left her thoughts. Could such a man have died thus? For whom was God reserving His miracles if this good man, whom a noble object was urging onwards, had been allowed to perish so miserably? Then anger would prevail over grief. The scene of the affront so strangely borne by her companion at the Ichim relay returned to her memory. Her blood boiled at the recollection.
"Who will avenge him who can no longer avenge himself?" she said. And in her heart, she cried, "May it be I!" If before his death Michael had confided his secret to her, woman, aye girl though she was, she might have been able to carry to a successful conclusion the interrupted task of that brother whom God had so soon taken from her.
Absorbed in these thoughts, it can be understood how Nadia could remain insensible to the miseries even of her captivity. Thus chance had united her to Marfa Strogoff without her having the least suspicion of who she was. How could she imagine that this old woman, a prisoner like herself, was the mother of him, whom she only knew as the merchant Nicholas Korpanoff? And on the other hand, how could Marfa guess that a bond of gratitude connected this young stranger with her son?
The thing that first struck Nadia in Marfa Strogoff was the similarity in the way in which each bore her hard fate. This stoicism of the old woman under the daily hardships, this contempt of bodily suffering, could only be caused by a moral grief equal to her own. So Nadia thought; and she was not mistaken. It was an instinctive sympathy for that part of her misery which Marfa did not show which first drew Nadia towards her. This way of bearing her sorrow went to the proud heart of the young girl. She did not offer her services; she gave them. Marfa had neither to refuse nor accept them. In the difficult parts of the journey, the girl was there to support her. When the provisions were given out, the old woman would not have moved, but Nadia shared her small portion with her; and thus this painful journey was performed. Thanks to her companion, Marfa was able to follow the soldiers who guarded the prisoners without being fastened to a saddlebow, as were many other unfortunate wretches, and thus dragged along this road of sorrow.
"May God reward you, my daughter, for what you have done for my old age!" said Marfa Strogoff once, and for some time these were the only words exchanged between the two unfortunate beings.
During these few days, which to them appeared like centuries, it would seem that the old woman and the girl would have been led to speak of their situation. But Marfa Strogoff, from a caution which may be easily understood, never spoke about herself except with the greatest brevity. She never made the smallest allusion to her son, nor to the unfortunate meeting.
Nadia also, if not completely silent, spoke little. However, one day her heart overflowed, and she told all the events which had occurred from her departure from Wladimir to the death of Nicholas Korpanoff.
All that her young companion told intensely interested the old Siberian. "Nicholas Korpanoff!" said she. "Tell me again about this Nicholas. I know only one man, one alone, in whom such conduct would not have astonished me. Nicholas Korpanoff! Was that really his name? Are you sure of it, my daughter?" "Why should he have deceived me in this," replied Nadia, "when he deceived me in no other way?"
Moved, however, by a kind of presentiment, Marfa Strogoff put questions upon questions to Nadia.
"You told me he was fearless, my daughter. You have proved that he has been so?" asked she.
"Yes, fearless indeed!" replied Nadia.
"It was just what my son would have done," said Marfa to herself. Then she resumed, "Did you not say that nothing stopped him, nor astonished him; that he was so gentle in his strength that you had a sister as well as a brother in him, and he watched over you like a mother?"
"Yes, yes," said Nadia. "Brother, sister, mother--he has been all to me!" "And defended you like a lion?"
"A lion indeed!" replied Nadia. "A lion, a hero!"
"My son, my son!" thought the old Siberian. "But you said, however, that he bore a terrible insult at that post-house in Ichim?"
"He did bear it," answered Nadia, looking down.
"He bore it!" murmured Marfa, shuddering.
"Mother, mother," cried Nadia, "do not blame him! He had a secret. A secret of which God alone is as yet the judge!"
"And," said Marfa, raising her head and looking at Nadia as though she would read the depths of her heart, "in that hour of humiliation did you not despise this Nicholas Korpanoff?"
"I admired without understanding him," replied the girl. "I never felt him more worthy of respect."
The old woman was silent for a minute.
"Was he tall?" she asked.
"Very tall."
"And very handsome? Come, speak, my daughter."
"He was very handsome," replied Nadia, blushing.
"It was my son! I tell you it was my son!" exclaimed the old woman, embracing Nadia.
"Your son!" said Nadia amazed, "your son!"
"Come," said Marfa; "let us get to the bottom of this, my child. Your companion, your friend, your protector had a mother. Did he never speak to you of his mother?"
"Of his mother?" said Nadia. "He spoke to me of his mother as I spoke to him of my father--often, always. He adored her."
"Nadia, Nadia, you have just told me about my own son," said the old woman. And she added impetuously, "Was he not going to see this mother, whom you say he loved, in Omsk?"
"No," answered Nadia, "no, he was not."
"Not!" cried Marfa. "You dare to tell me not!"
"I say so: but it remains to me to tell you that from motives which outweighed everything else, motives which I do not know, I understand that Nicholas Korpanoff had to traverse the country completely in secret. To him it was a question of life and death, and still more, a question of duty and honor." "Duty, indeed, imperious duty," said the old Siberian, "of those who sacrifice everything, even the joy of giving a kiss, perhaps the last, to his old mother. All that you do not know, Nadia--all that I did not know myself--I now know. You have made me understand everything. But the light which you have thrown on the mysteries of my heart, I cannot return on yours. Since my son has not told you his secret, I must keep it. Forgive me, Nadia; I can never repay what you have done for me."
"Mother, I ask you nothing," replied Nadia.
All was thus explained to the old Siberian, all, even the conduct of her son with regard to herself in the inn at Omsk. There was no doubt that the young girl's companion was Michael Strogoff, and that a secret mission in the invaded country obliged him to conceal his quality of the Czar's courier.
"Ah, my brave boy!" thought Marfa. "No, I will not betray you, and tortures shall not wrest from me the avowal that it was you whom I saw at Omsk." Marfa could with a word have paid Nadia for all her devotion to her. She could have told her that her companion, Nicholas Korpanoff, or rather Michael Strogoff, had not perished in the waters of the Irtych, since it was some days after that incident that she had met him, that she had spoken to him.
But she restrained herself, she was silent, and contented herself with saying, "Hope, my child! Misfortune will not overwhelm you. You will see your father again; I feel it; and perhaps he who gave you the name of sister is not dead. God cannot have allowed your brave companion to perish. Hope, my child, hope! Do as I do. The mourning which I wear is not yet for my son."

3. Blow For Blow

SUCH were now the relative situations of Marfa Strogoff and Nadia. All was understood by the old Siberian, and though the young girl was ignorant that her much-regretted companion still lived, she at least knew his relationship to her whom she had made her mother; and she thanked God for having given her the joy of taking the place of the son whom the prisoner had lost.
But what neither of them could know was that Michael, having been captured at Kolyvan, was in the same convoy and was on his way to Tomsk with them. The prisoners brought by Ivan Ogareff had been added to those already kept by the Emir in the Tartar camp. These unfortunate people, consisting of Russians, Siberians, soldiers and civilians, numbered some thousands, and formed a column which extended over several versts. Some among them being considered dangerous were handcuffed and fastened to a long chain. There were, too, women and children, many of the latter suspended to the pommels of the saddles, while the former were dragged mercilessly along the road on foot, or driven forward as if they were animals. The horsemen compelled them to maintain a certain order, and there were no laggards with the exception of those who fell never to rise again.
In consequence of this arrangement, Michael Strogoff, marching in the first ranks of those who had left the Tartar camp-- that is to say, among the Kolyvan prisoners--was unable to mingle with the prisoners who had arrived after him from Omsk. He had therefore no suspicion that his mother and Nadia were present in the convoy, nor did they suppose that he was among those in front. This journey from the camp to Tomsk, performed under the lashes and spearpoints of the soldiers, proved fatal to many, and terrible to all. The prisoners traveled across the steppe, over a road made still more dusty by the passage of the Emir and his vanguard. Orders had been given to march rapidly. The short halts were rare. The hundred miles under a burning sky seemed interminable, though they were performed as rapidly as possible.
The country, which extends from the right of the Obi to the base of the spur detached from the Sayanok Mountains, is very sterile. Only a few stunted and burnt-up shrubs here and there break the monotony of the immense plain. There was no cultivation, for there was no water; and it was water that the prisoners, parched by their painful march, most needed. To find a stream they must have diverged fifty versts eastward, to the very foot of the mountains.
There flows the Tom, a little affluent of the Obi, which passes near Tomsk before losing itself in one of the great northern arteries. There water would have been abundant, the steppe less arid, the heat less severe. But the strictest orders had been given to the commanders of the convoy to reach Tomsk by the shortest way, for the Emir was much afraid of being taken in the flank and cut off by some Russian column descending from the northern provinces.
It is useless to dwell upon the sufferings of the unhappy prisoners. Many hundreds fell on the steppe, where their bodies would lie until winter, when the wolves would devour the remnants of their bones.
As Nadia helped the old Siberian, so in the same way did Michael render to his more feeble companions in misfortune such services as his situation allowed. He encouraged some, supported others, going to and fro, until a prick from a soldier's lance obliged him to r‚sum‚ the place which had been assigned him in the ranks.
Why did he not endeavor to escape?
The reason was that he had now quite determined not to venture until the steppe was safe for him. He was resolved in his idea of going as far as Tomsk "at the Emir's expense," and indeed he was right. As he observed the numerous detachments which scoured the plain on the convoy's flanks, now to the south, now to the north, it was evident that before he could have gone two versts he must have been recaptured. The Tartar horsemen swarmed-- it actually appeared as if they sprang from the earth--like insects which a thunderstorm brings to the surface of the ground. Flight under these conditions would have been extremely difficult, if not impossible. The soldiers of the escort displayed excessive vigilance, for they would have paid for the slightest carelessness with their heads.
At nightfall of the 15th of August, the convoy reached the little village of Zabediero, thirty versts from Tomsk.
The prisoners' first movement would have been to rush into the river, but they were not allowed to leave the ranks until the halt had been organized. Although the current of the Tom was just now like a torrent, it might have favored the flight of some bold or desperate man, and the strictest measures of vigilance were taken. Boats, requisitioned at Zabediero, were brought up to the Tom and formed a line of obstacles impossible to pass. As to the encampment on the outskirts of the village, it was guarded by a cordon of sentinels.
Michael Strogoff, who now naturally thought of escape, saw, after carefully surveying the situation, that under these conditions it was perfectly impossible; so, not wishing to compromise himself, he waited.
The prisoners were to encamp for the whole night on the banks of the Tom, for the Emir had put off the entrance of his troops into Tomsk. It had been decided that a military fete should mark the inauguration of the Tartar headquarters in this important city. Feofar-Khan already occupied the fortress, but the bulk of his army bivouacked under its walls, waiting until the time came for them to make a solemn entry.
Ivan Ogareff left the Emir at Tomsk, where both had arrived the evening before, and returned to the camp at Zabediero. From here he was to start the next day with the rear-guard of the Tartar army. A house had been arranged for him in which to pass the night. At sunrise horse and foot soldiers were to proceed to Tomsk, where the Emir wished to receive them with the pomp usual to Asiatic sovereigns. As soon as the halt was organized, the prisoners, worn out with their three days' journey, and suffering from burning thirst, could drink and take a little rest. The sun had already set, when Nadia, supporting Marfa Strogoff, reached the banks of the Tom. They had not till then been able to get through those who crowded the banks, but at last they came to drink in their turn.
The old woman bent over the clear stream, and Nadia, plunging in her hand, carried it to Marfa's lips. Then she refreshed herself. They found new life in these welcome waters. Suddenly Nadia started up; an involuntary cry escaped her. Michael Strogoff was there, a few steps from her. It was he. The dying rays of the sun fell upon him.
At Nadia's cry Michael started. But he had sufficient command over himself not to utter a word by which he might have been compromised. And yet, when he saw Nadia, he also recognized his mother.
Feeling he could not long keep master of himself at this unexpected meeting, he covered his eyes with his hands and walked quickly away.
Nadia's impulse was to run after him, but the old Siberian murmured in her ear, "Stay, my daughter!"
"It is he!" replied Nadia, choking with emotion. "He lives, mother! It is he!" "It is my son," answered Marfa, "it is Michael Strogoff, and you see that I do not make a step towards him! Imitate me, my daughter."
Michael had just experienced the most violent emotion which a man can feel. His mother and Nadia were there!
The two prisoners who were always together in his heart, God had brought them together in this common misfortune. Did Nadia know who he was? Yes, for he had seen Marfa's gesture, holding her back as she was about to rush towards him. Marfa, then, had understood all, and kept his secret.
During that night, Michael was twenty times on the point of looking for and joining his mother; but he knew that he must resist the longing he felt to take her in his arms, and once more press the hand of his young companion. The least imprudence might be fatal. He had besides sworn not to see his mother. Once at Tomsk, since he could not escape this very night, he would set off without having even embraced the two beings in whom all the happiness of his life was centered, and whom he should leave exposed to so many perils.
Michael hoped that this fresh meeting at the Zabediero camp would have no disastrous consequences either to his mother or to himself. But he did not know that part of this scene, although it passed so rapidly, had been observed by Sangarre, Ogareff's spy.
The Tsigane was there, a few paces off, on the bank, as usual, watching the old Siberian woman. She had not caught sight of Michael, for he disappeared before she had time to look around; but the mother's gesture as she kept back Nadia had not escaped her, and the look in Marfa's eyes told her all.
It was now beyond doubt that Marfa Strogoff's son, the Czar's courier, was at this moment in Zabediero, among Ivan Ogareff's prisoners. Sangarre did not know him, but she knew that he was there. She did not then attempt to discover him, for it would have been impossible in the dark and the immense crowd. As for again watching Nadia and Marfa Strogoff, that was equally useless. It was evident that the two women would keep on their guard, and it would be impossible to overhear anything of a nature to compromise the courier of the Czar. The Tsigane's first thought was to tell Ivan Ogareff. She therefore immediately left the encampment. A quarter of an hour after, she reached Zabediero, and was shown into the house occupied by the Emir's lieutenant. Ogareff received the Tsigane directly.
"What have you to tell me, Sangarre?" he asked.
"Marfa Strogoff's son is in the encampment."
"A prisoner?"
"A prisoner."
"Ah!" exclaimed Ogareff, "I shall know--"
"You will know nothing, Ivan," replied Tsigane; "for you do not even know him by sight."
"But you know him; you have seen him, Sangarre?"
"I have not seen him; but his mother betrayed herself by a gesture, which told me everything."
"Are you not mistaken?"
"I am not mistaken."
"You know the importance which I attach to the apprehension of this courier," said Ivan Ogareff. "If the letter which he has brought from Moscow reaches Irkutsk, if it is given to the Grand Duke, the Grand Duke will be on his guard, and I shall not be able to get at him. I must have that letter at any price. Now you come to tell me that the bearer of this letter is in my power. I repeat, Sangarre, are you not mistaken?"
Ogareff spoke with great animation. His emotion showed the extreme importance he attached to the possession of this letter. Sangarre was not at all put out by the urgency with which Ogareff repeated his question. "I am not mistaken, Ivan," she said.
"But, Sangarre, there are thousands of prisoners; and you say that you do not know Michael Strogoff."
"No," answered the Tsigane, with a look of savage joy, "I do not know him; but his mother knows him. Ivan, we must make his mother speak."
"To-morrow she shall speak!" cried Ogareff. So saying, he extended his hand to the Tsigane, who kissed it; for there is nothing servile in this act of respect, it being usual among the Northern races.
Sangarre returned to the camp. She found out Nadia and Marfa Strogoff, and passed the night in watching them. Although worn out with fatigue, the old woman and the girl did not sleep. Their great anxiety kept them awake. Michael was living, but a prisoner. Did Ogareff know him, or would he not soon find him out? Nadia was occupied by the one thought that he whom she had thought dead still lived. But Marfa saw further into the future: and, although she did not care what became of herself, she had every reason to fear for her son. Sangarre, under cover of the night, had crept near the two women, and remained there several hours listening. She heard nothing. From an instinctive feeling of prudence not a word was exchanged between Nadia and Marfa Strogoff. The next day, the 16th of August, about ten in the morning, trumpet-calls resounded throughout the encampment. The Tartar soldiers were almost immediately under arms.
Ivan Ogareff arrived, surrounded by a large staff of Tartar officers. His face was more clouded than usual, and his knitted brow gave signs of latent wrath which was waiting for an occasion to break forth.
Michael Strogoff, hidden in a group of prisoners, saw this man pass. He had a presentiment that some catastrophe was imminent: for Ivan Ogareff knew now that Marfa was the mother of Michael Strogoff.
Ogareff dismounted, and his escort cleared a large circle round him. Just then Sangarre approached him, and said, "I have no news."
Ivan Ogareff's only reply was to give an order to one of his officers. Then the ranks of prisoners were brutally hurried up by the soldiers. The unfortunate people, driven on with whips, or pushed on with lances, arranged themselves round the camp. A strong guard of soldiers drawn up behind, rendered escape impossible.
Silence then ensued, and, on a sign from Ivan Ogareff, Sangarre advanced towards the group, in the midst of which stood Marfa.
The old Siberian saw her, and knew what was going to happen. A scornful smile passed over her face. Then leaning towards Nadia, she said in a low tone, "You know me no longer, my daughter. Whatever may happen, and however hard this trial may be, not a word, not a sign. It concerns him, and not me." At that moment Sangarre, having regarded her for an instant, put her hand on her shoulder.
"What do you want with me?" said Marfa.
"Come!" replied Sangarre, and pushing the old Siberian before her, she took her to Ivan Ogareff, in the middle of the cleared ground. Michael cast down his eyes that their angry flashings might not appear.
Marfa, standing before Ivan Ogareff, drew herself up, crossed her arms on her breast, and waited.
"You are Marfa Strogoff?" asked Ogareff.
"Yes," replied the old Siberian calmly.
"Do you retract what you said to me when, three days ago, I interrogated you at Omsk?"
"No!"
"Then you do not know that your son, Michael Strogoff, courier of the Czar, has passed through Omsk?"
"I do not know it."
"And the man in whom you thought you recognized your son, was not he your son?"
"He was not my son."
"And since then you have not seen him amongst the prisoners?"
"No."
"If he were pointed out, would you recognize him?"
"No."
On this reply, which showed such determined resolution, a murmur was heard amongst the crowd.
Ogareff could not restrain a threatening gesture.
"Listen," said he to Marfa, "your son is here, and you shall immediately point him out to me."
"No."
"All these men, taken at Omsk and Kolyvan, will defile before you; and if you do not show me Michael Strogoff, you shall receive as many blows of the knout as men shall have passed before you."
Ivan Ogareff saw that, whatever might be his threats, whatever might be the tortures to which he submitted her, the indomitable Siberian would not speak. To discover the courier of the Czar, he counted, then, not on her, but on Michael himself. He did not believe it possible that, when mother and son were in each other's presence, some involuntary movement would not betray him. Of course, had he wished to seize the imperial letter, he would simply have given orders to search all the prisoners; but Michael might have destroyed the letter, having learnt its contents; and if he were not recognized, if he were to reach Irkutsk, all Ivan Ogareff's plans would be baffled. It was thus not only the letter which the traitor must have, but the bearer himself.
Nadia had heard all, and she now knew who was Michael Strogoff, and why he had wished to cross, without being recognized, the invaded provinces of Siberia. On an order from Ivan Ogareff the prisoners defiled, one by one, past Marfa, who remained immovable as a statue, and whose face expressed only perfect indifference.
Her son was among the last. When in his turn he passed before his mother, Nadia shut her eyes that she might not see him. Michael was to all appearance unmoved, but the palm of his hand bled under his nails, which were pressed into them.
Ivan Ogareff was baffled by mother and son.
Sangarre, close to him, said one word, "The knout!"
"Yes," cried Ogareff, who could no longer restrain himself; "the knout for this wretched old woman--the knout to the death!"
A Tartar soldier bearing this terrible instrument of torture approached Marfa. The knout is composed of a certain number of leathern thongs, at the end of which are attached pieces of twisted iron wire. It is reckoned that a sentence to one hundred and twenty blows of this whip is equivalent to a sentence of death. Marfa knew it, but she knew also that no torture would make her speak. She was sacrificing her life.
Marfa, seized by two soldiers, was forced on her knees on the ground. Her dress torn off left her back bare. A saber was placed before her breast, at a few inches' distance only. Directly she bent beneath her suffering, her breast would be pierced by the sharp steel.
The Tartar drew himself up. He waited. "Begin!" said Ogareff. The whip whistled in the air.
But before it fell a powerful hand stopped the Tartar's arm. Michael was there. He had leapt forward at this horrible scene. If at the relay at Ichim he had restrained himself when Ogareff's whip had struck him, here before his mother, who was about to be struck, he could not do so. Ivan Ogareff had succeeded. "Michael Strogoff!" cried he. Then advancing, "Ah, the man of Ichim?" "Himself!" said Michael. And raising the knout he struck Ogareff a sharp blow across the face. "Blow for blow!" said he.
"Well repaid!" cried a voice concealed by the tumult.
Twenty soldiers threw themselves on Michael, and in another instant he would have been slain.
But Ogareff, who on being struck had uttered a cry of rage and pain, stopped them. "This man is reserved for the Emir's judgment," said he. "Search him!" The letter with the imperial arms was found in Michael's bosom; he had not had time to destroy it; it was handed to Ogareff.
The voice which had pronounced the words, "Well repaid!" was that of no other than Alcide Jolivet. "Par-dieu!" said he to Blount, "they are rough, these people. Acknowledge that we owe our traveling companion a good turn. Korpanoff or Strogoff is worthy of it. Oh, that was fine retaliation for the little affair at Ichim." "Yes, retaliation truly," replied Blount; "but Strogoff is a dead man. I suspect that, for his own interest at all events, it would have been better had he not possessed quite so lively a recollection of the event."
"And let his mother perish under the knout?"
"Do you think that either she or his sister will be a bit better off from this outbreak of his?"
"I do not know or think anything except that I should have done much the same in his position," replied Alcide. "What a scar the Colonel has received! Bah! one must boil over sometimes. We should have had water in our veins instead of blood had it been incumbent on us to be always and everywhere unmoved to wrath."
"A neat little incident for our journals," observed Blount, "if only Ivan Ogareff would let us know the contents of that letter."
Ivan Ogareff, when he had stanched the blood which was trickling down his face, had broken the seal. He read and re-read the letter deliberately, as if he was determined to discover everything it contained.
Then having ordered that Michael, carefully bound and guarded, should be carried on to Tomsk with the other prisoners, he took command of the troops at Zabediero, and, amid the deafening noise of drums and trumpets, he marched towards the town where the Emir awaited him.

4. The Triumphal Entry

TOMSK, founded in 1604, nearly in the heart of the Siberian provinces, is one of the most important towns in Asiatic Russia. Tobolsk, situated above the sixtieth parallel; Irkutsk, built beyond the hundredth meridian-- have seen Tomsk increase at their expense.
And yet Tomsk, as has been said, is not the capital of this important province. It is at Omsk that the Governor-General of the province and the official world reside. But Tomsk is the most considerable town of that territory. The country being rich, the town is so likewise, for it is in the center of fruitful mines. In the luxury of its houses, its arrangements, and its equipages, it might rival the greatest European capitals. It is a city of millionaires, enriched by the spade and pickax, and though it has not the honor of being the residence of the Czar's representative, it can boast of including in the first rank of its notables the chief of the merchants of the town, the principal grantees of the imperial government's mines.
But the millionaires were fled now, and except for the crouching poor, the town stood empty to the hordes of Feofar-Khan. At four o'clock the Emir made his entry into the square, greeted by a flourish of trumpets, the rolling sound of the big drums, salvoes of artillery and musketry.
Feofar mounted his favorite horse, which carried on its head an aigrette of diamonds. The Emir still wore his uniform. He was accompanied by a numerous staff, and beside him walked the Khans of Khokhand and Koundouge and the grand dignitaries of the Khanats.
At the same moment appeared on the terrace the chief of Feofar's wives, the queen, if this title may be given to the sultana of the states of Bokhara. But, queen or slave, this woman of Persian origin was wonderfully beautiful. Contrary to the Mahometan custom, and no doubt by some caprice of the Emir, she had her face uncovered. Her hair, divided into four plaits, fell over her dazzling white shoulders, scarcely concealed by a veil of silk worked in gold, which fell from the back of a cap studded with gems of the highest value. Under her blue-silk petticoat, fell the "zirdjameh" of silken gauze, and above the sash lay the "pirahn." But from the head to the little feet, such was the profusion of jewels-- gold beads strung on silver threads, chaplets of turquoises, "firouzehs" from the celebrated mines of Elbourz, necklaces of cornelians, agates, emeralds, opals, and sapphires-- that her dress seemed to be literally made of precious stones. The thousands of diamonds which sparkled on her neck, arms, hands, at her waist, and at her feet might have been valued at almost countless millions of roubles.
The Emir and the Khans dismounted, as did the dignitaries who escorted them. All entered a magnificent tent erected on the center of the first terrace. Before the tent, as usual, the Koran was laid.
Feofar's lieutenant did not make them wait, and before five o'clock the trumpets announced his arrival. Ivan Ogareff-- the Scarred Cheek, as he was already nicknamed--wearing the uniform of a Tartar officer, dismounted before the Emir's tent. He was accompanied by a party of soldiers from the camp at Zabediero, who ranged up at the sides of the square, in the middle of which a place for the sports was reserved. A large scar could be distinctly seen cut obliquely across the traitor's face.
Ogareff presented his principal officers to the Emir, who, without departing from the coldness which composed the main part of his dignity, received them in a way which satisfied them that they stood well in the good graces of their chief. At least so thought Harry Blount and Alcide Jolivet, the two inseparables, now associated together in the chase after news. After leaving Zabediero, they had proceeded rapidly to Tomsk. The plan they had agreed upon was to leave the Tartars as soon as possible, and to join a Russian regiment, and, if they could, to go with them to Irkutsk. All that they had seen of the invasion, its burnings, its pillages, its murders, had perfectly sickened them, and they longed to be among the ranks of the Siberian army. Jolivet had told his companion that he could not leave Tomsk without making a sketch of the triumphal entry of the Tartar troops, if it was only to satisfy his cousin's curiosity; but the same evening they both intended to take the road to Irkutsk, and being well mounted hoped to distance the Emir's scouts.
Alcide and Blount mingled therefore in the crowd, so as to lose no detail of a festival which ought to supply them with a hundred good lines for an article. They admired the magnificence of Feofar-Khan, his wives, his officers, his guards, and all the Eastern pomp, of which the ceremonies of Europe can give not the least idea. But they turned away with disgust when Ivan Ogareff presented himself before the Emir, and waited with some impatience for the amusements to begin. "You see, my dear Blount," said Alcide, "we have come too soon, like honest citizens who like to get their money's worth. All this is before the curtain rises, it would have been better to arrive only for the ballet."
"What ballet?" asked Blount.
"The compulsory ballet, to be sure. But see, the curtain is going to rise." Alcide Jolivet spoke as if he had been at the Opera, and taking his glass from its case, he prepared, with the air of a connoisseur, "to examine the first act of Feofar's company."
A painful ceremony was to precede the sports. In fact, the triumph of the vanquisher could not be complete without the public humiliation of the vanquished. This was why several hundreds of prisoners were brought under the soldiers' whips. They were destined to march past Feofar-Khan and his allies before being crammed with their companions into the prisons in the town. In the first ranks of these prisoners figured Michael Strogoff. As Ogareff had ordered, he was specially guarded by a file of soldiers. His mother and Nadia were there also.
The old Siberian, although energetic enough when her own safety was in question, was frightfully pale. She expected some terrible scene. It was not without reason that her son had been brought before the Emir. She therefore trembled for him. Ivan Ogareff was not a man to forgive having been struck in public by the knout, and his vengeance would be merciless. Some frightful punishment familiar to the barbarians of Central Asia would, no doubt, be inflicted on Michael. Ogareff had protected him against the soldiers because he well knew what would happen by reserving him for the justice of the Emir.
The mother and son had not been able to speak together since the terrible scene in the camp at Zabediero. They had been pitilessly kept apart--a bitter aggravation of their misery, for it would have been some consolation to have been together during these days of captivity. Marfa longed to ask her son's pardon for the harm she had unintentionally done him, for she reproached herself with not having commanded her maternal feelings. If she had restrained herself in that post-house at Omsk, when she found herself face to face with him, Michael would have passed unrecognized, and all these misfortunes would have been avoided.
Michael, on his side, thought that if his mother was there, if Ogareff had brought her with him, it was to make her suffer with the sight of his own punishment, or perhaps some frightful death was reserved for her also.
As to Nadia, she only asked herself how she could save them both, how come to the aid of son and mother. As yet she could only wonder, but she felt instinctively that she must above everything avoid drawing attention upon herself, that she must conceal herself, make herself insignificant. Perhaps she might at least gnaw through the meshes which imprisoned the lion. At any rate if any opportunity was given her she would seize upon it, and sacrifice herself, if need be, for the son of Marfa Strogoff.
In the meantime the greater part of the prisoners were passing before the Emir, and as they passed each was obliged to prostrate himself, with his forehead in the dust, in token of servitude. Slavery begins by humiliation. When the unfortunate people were too slow in bending, the rough guards threw them violently to the ground.
Alcide Jolivet and his companion could not witness such a sight without feeling indignant.
"It is cowardly--let us go," said Alcide.
"No," answered Blount; "we must see it all."
"See it all!--ah!" cried Alcide, suddenly, grasping his companion's arm. "What is the matter with you?" asked the latter.
"Look, Blount; it is she!"
"What she?"
"The sister of our traveling companion--alone, and a prisoner! We must save her."
"Calm yourself," replied Blount coolly. "Any interference on our part in behalf of the young girl would be worse than useless."
Alcide Jolivet, who had been about to rush forward, stopped, and Nadia-- who had not perceived them, her features being half hidden by her hair-- passed in her turn before the Emir without attracting his attention.
However, after Nadia came Marfa Strogoff; and as she did not throw herself quickly in the dust, the guards brutally pushed her. She fell.
Her son struggled so violently that the soldiers who were guarding him could scarcely hold him back. But the old woman rose, and they were about to drag her on, when Ogareff interposed, saying, "Let that woman stay!"
As to Nadia, she happily regained the crowd of prisoners. Ivan Ogareff had taken no notice of her.
Michael was then led before the Emir, and there he remained standing, without casting down his eyes.
"Your forehead to the ground!" cried Ogareff.
"No!" answered Michael.
Two soldiers endeavored to make him bend, but they were themselves laid on the ground by a buffet from the young man's fist.
Ogareff approached Michael. "You shall die!" he said.
"I can die," answered Michael fiercely; "but your traitor's face, Ivan, will not the less carry forever the infamous brand of the knout."
At this reply Ivan Ogareff became perfectly livid.
"Who is this prisoner?" asked the Emir, in a tone of voice terrible from its very calmness.
"A Russian spy," answered Ogareff. In asserting that Michael was a spy he knew that the sentence pronounced against him would be terrible.
The Emir made a sign at which all the crowd bent low their heads. Then he pointed with his hand to the Koran, which was brought him. He opened the sacred book and placed his finger on one of its pages.
It was chance, or rather, according to the ideas of these Orientals, God Himself who was about to decide the fate of Michael Strogoff. The people of Central Asia give the name of "fal" to this practice. After having interpreted the sense of the verse touched by the judge's finger, they apply the sentence whatever it may be. The Emir had let his finger rest on the page of the Koran. The chief of the Ulemas then approached, and read in a loud voice a verse which ended with these words, "And he will no more see the things of this earth."
"Russian spy!" exclaimed Feofar-Kahn in a voice trembling with fury, "you have come to see what is going on in the Tartar camp. Then look while you may."

5. "Look While You May!"

MICHAEL was held before the Emir's throne, at the foot of the terrace, his hands bound behind his back. His mother overcome at last by mental and physical torture, had sunk to the ground, daring neither to look nor listen.
"Look while you may," exclaimed Feofar-Kahn, stretching his arm towards Michael in a threatening manner. Doubtless Ivan Ogareff, being well acquainted with Tartar customs, had taken in the full meaning of these words, for his lips curled for an instant in a cruel smile; he then took his place by Feofar-Khan. A trumpet call was heard. This was the signal for the amusements to begin. "Here comes the ballet," said Alcide to Blount; "but, contrary to our customs, these barbarians give it before the drama."
Michael had been commanded to look at everything. He looked. A troop of dancers poured into the open space before the Emir's tent. Different Tartar instruments, the "doutare," a long-handled guitar, the "kobize," a kind of violoncello, the "tschibyzga," a long reed flute; wind instruments, tom-toms, tambourines, united with the deep voices of the singers, formed a strange harmony. Added to this were the strains of an aerial orchestra, composed of a dozen kites, which, fastened by strings to their centers, resounded in the breeze like AEolian harps.
Then the dancers began. The performers were all of Persian origin; they were no longer slaves, but exercised their profession at liberty. Formerly they figured officially in the ceremonies at the court of Teheran, but since the accession of the reigning family, banished or treated with contempt, they had been compelled to seek their fortune elsewhere. They wore the national costume, and were adorned with a profusion of jewels. Little triangles of gold, studded with jewels, glittered in their ears. Circles of silver, marked with black, surrounded their necks and legs. These performers gracefully executed various dances, sometimes alone, sometimes in groups. Their faces were uncovered, but from time to time they threw a light veil over their heads, and a gauze cloud passed over their bright eyes as smoke over a starry sky. Some of these Persians wore leathern belts embroidered with pearls, from which hung little triangular bags. From these bags, embroidered with golden filigree, they drew long narrow bands of scarlet silk, on which were braided verses of the Koran. These bands, which they held between them, formed a belt under which the other dancers darted; and, as they passed each verse, following the precept it contained, they either prostrated themselves on the earth or lightly bounded upwards, as though to take a place among the houris of Mohammed's heaven.
But what was remarkable, and what struck Alcide, was that the Persians appeared rather indolent than fiery. Their passion had deserted them, and, by the kind of dances as well as by their execution, they recalled rather the calm and self-possessed nauch girls of India than the impassioned dancers of Egypt. When this was over, a stern voice was heard saying:
"Look while you may!"
The man who repeated the Emir's words--a tall spare Tartar-- was he who carried out the sentences of Feofar-Khan against offenders. He had taken his place behind Michael, holding in his hand a broad curved saber, one of those Damascene blades which are forged by the celebrated armorers of Karschi or Hissar.
Behind him guards were carrying a tripod supporting a chafing-dish filled with live coals. No smoke arose from this, but a light vapor surrounded it, due to the incineration of a certain aromatic and resinous substance which he had thrown on the surface.
The Persians were succeeded by another party of dancers, whom Michael recognized. The journalists also appeared to recognize them, for Blount said to his companion, "These are the Tsiganes of Nijni-Novgorod."
"No doubt of it," cried Alcide. "Their eyes, I imagine, bring more money to these spies than their legs."
In putting them down as agents in the Emir's service, Alcide Jolivet was, by all accounts, not mistaken.
In the first rank of the Tsiganes, Sangarre appeared, superb in her strange and picturesque costume, which set off still further her remarkable beauty. Sangarre did not dance, but she stood as a statue in the midst of the performers, whose style of dancing was a combination of that of all those countries through which their race had passed--Turkey, Bohemia, Egypt, Italy, and Spain. They were enlivened by the sound of cymbals, which clashed on their arms, and by the hollow sounds of the "daires"--a sort of tambourine played with the fingers. Sangarre, holding one of those daires, which she played between her hands, encouraged this troupe of veritable corybantes. A young Tsigane, of about fifteen years of age, then advanced. He held in his hand a "doutare," strings of which he made to vibrate by a simple movement of the nails. He sung. During the singing of each couplet, of very peculiar rhythm, a dancer took her position by him and remained there immovable, listening to him, but each time that the burden came from the lips of the young singer, she resumed her dance, dinning in his ears with her daire, and deafening him with the clashing of her cymbals. Then, after the last chorus, the remainder surrounded the Tsigane in the windings of their dance. At that moment a shower of gold fell from the hands of the Emir and his train, and from the hands of his officers of all ranks; to the noise which the pieces made as they struck the cymbals of the dancers, being added the last murmurs of the doutares and tambourines.
"Lavish as robbers," said Alcide in the ear of his companion. And in fact it was the result of plunder which was falling; for, with the Tartar tomans and sequins, rained also Russian ducats and roubles.
Then silence followed for an instant, and the voice of the executioner, who laid his hand on Michael's shoulder, once more pronounced the words, which this repetition rendered more and more sinister:
"Look while you may"
But this time Alcide observed that the executioner no longer held the saber bare in his hand.
Meanwhile the sun had sunk behind the horizon. A semi-obscurity began to envelop the plain. The mass of cedars and pines became blacker and blacker, and the waters of the Tom, totally obscured in the distance, mingled with the approaching shadows.
But at that instant several hundreds of slaves, bearing lighted torches, entered the square. Led by Sangarre, Tsiganes and Persians reappeared before the Emir's throne, and showed off, by the contrast, their dances of styles so different. The instruments of the Tartar orchestra sounded forth in harmony still more savage, accompanied by the guttural cries of the singers. The kites, which had fallen to the ground, once more winged their way into the sky, each bearing a parti-colored lantern, and under a fresher breeze their harps vibrated with intenser sound in the midst of the aerial illumination.
Then a squadron of Tartars, in their brilliant uniforms, mingled in the dances, whose wild fury was increasing rapidly, and then began a performance which produced a very strange effect. Soldiers came on the ground, armed with bare sabers and long pistols, and, as they executed dances, they made the air reecho with the sudden detonations of their firearms, which immediately set going the rumbling of the tambourines, and grumblings of the daires, and the gnashing of doutares.
Their arms, covered with a colored powder of some metallic ingredient, after the Chinese fashion, threw long jets--red, green, and blue-- so that the groups of dancers seemed to be in the midst of fireworks. In some respects, this performance recalled the military dance of the ancients, in the midst of naked swords; but this Tartar dance was rendered yet more fantastic by the colored fire, which wound, serpent-like, above the dancers, whose dresses seemed to be embroidered with fiery hems. It was like a kaleidoscope of sparks, whose infinite combinations varied at each movement of the dancers.
Though it may be thought that a Parisian reporter would be perfectly hardened to any scenic effect, which our modern ideas have carried so far, yet Alcide Jolivet could not restrain a slight movement of the head, which at home, between the Boulevard Montmartre and La Madeleine would have said--"Very fair, very fair." Then, suddenly, at a signal, all the lights of the fantasia were extinguished, the dances ceased, and the performers disappeared. The ceremony was over, and the torches alone lighted up the plateau, which a few instants before had been so brilliantly illuminated.
On a sign from the Emir, Michael was led into the middle of the square. "Blount," said Alcide to his companion, "are you going to see the end of all this?" "No, that I am not," replied Blount.
"The readers of the Daily Telegraph are, I hope, not very eager for the details of an execution a la mode Tartare?"
"No more than your cousin!"
"Poor fellow!" added Alcide, as he watched Michael. "That valiant soldier should have fallen on the field of battle!"
"Can we do nothing to save him?" said Blount.
"Nothing!"
The reporters recalled Michael's generous conduct towards them; they knew now through what trials he must have passed, ever obedient to his duty; and in the midst of these Tartars, to whom pity is unknown, they could do nothing for him. Having little desire to be present at the torture reserved for the unfortunate man, they returned to the town. An hour later, they were on the road to Irkutsk, for it was among the Russians that they intended to follow what Alcide called, by anticipation, "the campaign of revenge."
Meantime, Michael was standing ready, his eyes returning the Emir's haughty glance, while his countenance assumed an expression of intense scorn whenever he cast his looks on Ivan Ogareff. He was prepared to die, yet not a single sign of weakness escaped him.
The spectators, waiting around the square, as well as Feofar-Khan's body-guard, to whom this execution was only one of the attractions, were eagerly expecting it. Then, their curiosity satisfied, they would rush off to enjoy the pleasures of intoxication.
The Emir made a sign. Michael was thrust forward by his guards to the foot of the terrace, and Feofar said to him, "You came to see our goings out and comings in, Russian spy. You have seen for the last time. In an instant your eyes will be forever shut to the day."
Michael's fate was to be not death, but blindness; loss of sight, more terrible perhaps than loss of life. The unhappy man was condemned to be blinded. However, on hearing the Emir's sentence Michael's heart did not grow faint. He remained unmoved, his eyes wide open, as though he wished to concentrate his whole life into one last look. To entreat pity from these savage men would be useless, besides, it would be unworthy of him. He did not even think of it. His thoughts were condensed on his mission, which had apparently so completely failed; on his mother, on Nadia, whom he should never more see! But he let no sign appear of the emotion he felt. Then, a feeling of vengeance to be accomplished came over him. "Ivan," said he, in a stern voice, "Ivan the Traitor, the last menace of my eyes shall be for you!"
Ivan Ogareff shrugged his shoulders.
But Michael was not to be looking at Ivan when his eyes were put out. Marfa Strogoff stood before him.
"My mother!" cried he. "Yes! yes! my last glance shall be for you, and not for this wretch! Stay there, before me! Now I see once more your well-beloved face! Now shall my eyes close as they rest upon it . . . !"
The old woman, without uttering a word, advanced.
"Take that woman away!" said Ivan.
Two soldiers were about to seize her, but she stepped back and remained standing a few paces from Michael.
The executioner appeared. This time, he held his saber bare in his hand, and this saber he had just drawn from the chafing-dish, where he had brought it to a white heat. Michael was going to be blinded in the Tartar fashion, with a hot blade passed before his eyes!
Michael did not attempt to resist. Nothing existed before his eyes but his mother, whom his eyes seemed to devour. All his life was in that last look. Marfa Strogoff, her eyes open wide, her arms extended towards where he stood, was gazing at him. The incandescent blade passed before Michael's eyes. A despairing cry was heard. His aged mother fell senseless to the ground. Michael Strogoff was blind.
His orders executed, the Emir retired with his train. There remained in the square only Ivan Ogareff and the torch bearers. Did the wretch intend to insult his victim yet further, and yet to give him a parting blow?
Ivan Ogareff slowly approached Michael, who, feeling him coming, drew himself up. Ivan drew from his pocket the Imperial letter, he opened it, and with supreme irony he held it up before the sightless eyes of the Czar's courier, saying, "Read, now, Michael Strogoff, read, and go and repeat at Irkutsk what you have read. The true Courier of the Czar is Ivan Ogareff."
This said, the traitor thrust the letter into his breast. Then, without looking round he left the square, followed by the torch-bearers.
Michael was left alone, at a few paces from his mother, lying lifeless, perhaps dead. He heard in the distance cries and songs, the varied noises of a wild debauch. Tomsk, illuminated, glittered and gleamed.
Michael listened. The square was silent and deserted. He went, groping his way, towards the place where his mother had fallen. He found her with his hand, he bent over her, he put his face close to hers, he listened for the beating of her heart. Then he murmured a few words.
Did Marfa still live, and did she hear her son's words? Whether she did so or not, she made not the slightest movement. Michael kissed her forehead and her white locks. He then raised himself, and, groping with his foot, trying to stretch out his hand to guide himself, he walked by degrees to the edge of the square. Suddenly Nadia appeared. She walked straight to her companion. A knife in her hand cut the cords which bound Michael's arms. The blind man knew not who had freed him, for Nadia had not spoken a word.
But this done: "Brother!" said she.
"Nadia!" murmured Michael, "Nadia!"
"Come, brother," replied Nadia, "use my eyes whilst yours sleep. I will lead you to Irkutsk."

6. A Friend On The Highway

HALF an hour afterwards, Michael and Nadia had left Tomsk.
Many others of the prisoners were that night able to escape from the Tartars, for officers and soldiers, all more or less intoxicated, had unconsciously relaxed the vigilant guard which they had hitherto maintained. Nadia, after having been carried off with the other prisoners, had been able to escape and return to the square, at the moment when Michael was led before the Emir. There, mingling with the crowd, she had witnessed the terrible scene. Not a cry escaped her when the scorching blade passed before her companion's eyes. She kept, by her strength of will, mute and motionless. A providential inspiration bade her restrain herself and retain her liberty that she might lead Marfa's son to that goal which he had sworn to reach. Her heart for an instant ceased to beat when the aged Siberian woman fell senseless to the ground, but one thought restored her to her former energy. "I will be the blind man's dog," said she.
On Ogareff's departure, Nadia had concealed herself in the shade. She had waited till the crowd left the square. Michael, abandoned as a wretched being from whom nothing was to be feared, was alone. She saw him draw himself towards his mother, bend over her, kiss her forehead, then rise and grope his way in flight.
A few instants later, she and he, hand in hand, had descended the steep slope, when, after having followed the high banks of the Tom to the furthest extremity of the town, they happily found a breach in the inclosure.
The road to Irkutsk was the only one which penetrated towards the east. It could not be mistaken. It was possible that on the morrow, after some hours of carousal, the scouts of the Emir, once more scattering over the steppes, might cut off all communication. It was of the greatest importance therefore to get in advance of them. How could Nadia bear the fatigues of that night, from the l6th to the 17th of August? How could she have found strength for so long a stage? How could her feet, bleeding under that forced march, have carried her thither? It is almost incomprehensible. But it is none the less true that on the next morning, twelve hours after their departure from Tomsk, Michael and she reached the town of Semilowskoe, after a journey of thirty-five miles.
Michael had not uttered a single word. It was not Nadia who held his hand, it was he who held that of his companion during the whole of that night; but, thanks to that trembling little hand which guided him, he had walked at his ordinary pace. Semilowskoe was almost entirely abandoned. The inhabitants had fled. Not more than two or three houses were still occupied. All that the town contained, useful or precious, had been carried off in wagons. However, Nadia was obliged to make a halt of a few hours. They both required food and rest.
The young girl led her companion to the extremity of the town. There they found an empty house, the door wide open. An old rickety wooden bench stood in the middle of the room, near the high stove which is to be found in all Siberian houses. They silently seated themselves.
Nadia gazed in her companion's face as she had never before gazed. There was more than gratitude, more than pity, in that look. Could Michael have seen her, he would have read in that sweet desolate gaze a world of devotion and tenderness.
The eyelids of the blind man, made red by the heated blade, fell half over his eyes. The pupils seemed to be singularly enlarged. The rich blue of the iris was darker than formerly. The eyelashes and eyebrows were partly burnt, but in appearance, at least, the old penetrating look appeared to have undergone no change. If he could no longer see, if his blindness was complete, it was because the sensibility of the retina and optic nerve was radically destroyed by the fierce heat of the steel.
Then Michael stretched out his hands.
"Are you there, Nadia?" he asked.
"Yes," replied the young girl; "I am close to you, and I will not go away from you, Michael."
At his name, pronounced by Nadia for the first time, a thrill passed through Michael's frame. He perceived that his companion knew all, who he was. "Nadia," replied he, "we must separate!"
"We separate? How so, Michael?"
"I must not be an obstacle to your journey! Your father is waiting for you at Irkutsk! You must rejoin your father!"
"My father would curse me, Michael, were I to abandon you now, after all you have done for me!"
"Nadia, Nadia," replied Michael, "you should think only of your father!" "Michael," replied Nadia, "you have more need of me than my father. Do you mean to give up going to Irkutsk?"
"Never!" cried Michael, in a tone which plainly showed that none of his energy was gone.
"But you have not the letter!"
"That letter of which Ivan Ogareff robbed me! Well! I shall manage without it, Nadia! They have treated me as a spy! I will act as a spy! I will go and repeat at Irkutsk all I have seen, all I have heard; I swear it by Heaven above! The traitor shall meet me one day face to face! But I must arrive at Irkutsk before him." "And yet you speak of our separating, Michael?"
"Nadia, they have taken everything from me!"
"I have some roubles still, and my eyes! I can see for you, Michael; and I will lead you thither, where you could not go alone!"
"And how shall we go?"
"On foot."
"And how shall we live?"
"By begging."
"Let us start, Nadia."
"Come, Michael."
The two young people no longer kept the names "brother" and "sister." In their common misfortune, they felt still closer united. They left the house after an hour's repose. Nadia had procured in the town some morsels of "tchornekhleb," a sort of barley bread, and a little mead, called "meod" in Russia. This had cost her nothing, for she had already begun her plan of begging. The bread and mead had in some degree appeased Michael's hunger and thirst. Nadia gave him the lion's share of this scanty meal. He ate the pieces of bread his companion gave him, drank from the gourd she held to his lips.
"Are you eating, Nadia?" he asked several times.
"Yes, Michael," invariably replied the young girl, who contented herself with what her companion left.
Michael and Nadia quitted Semilowskoe, and once more set out on the laborious road to Irkutsk. The girl bore up in a marvelous way against fatigue. Had Michael seen her, perhaps he would not have had the courage to go on. But Nadia never complained, and Michael, hearing no sigh, walked at a speed he was unable to repress. And why? Did he still expect to keep before the Tartars? He was on foot, without money; he was blind, and if Nadia, his only guide, were to be separated from him, he could only lie down by the side of the road and there perish miserably. But if, on the other hand, by energetic perseverance he could reach Krasnoiarsk, all was perhaps not lost, since the governor, to whom he would make himself known, would not hesitate to give him the means of reaching Irkutsk.
Michael walked on, speaking little, absorbed in his own thoughts. He held Nadia's hand. The two were in incessant communication. It seemed to them that they had no need of words to exchange their thoughts. From time to time Michael said, "Speak to me, Nadia."
"Why should I, Michael? We are thinking together!" the young girl would reply, and contrived that her voice should not betray her extreme fatigue. But sometimes, as if her heart had ceased to beat for an instant, her limbs tottered, her steps flagged, her arms fell to her sides, she dropped behind. Michael then stopped, he fixed his eyes on the poor girl, as though he would try to pierce the gloom which surrounded him; his breast heaved; then, supporting his companion more than before, he started on afresh.
However, amidst these continual miseries, a fortunate circumstance on that day occurred which it appeared likely would considerably ease their fatigue. They had been walking from Semilowskoe for two hours when Michael stopped. "Is there no one on the road?"
"Not a single soul," replied Nadia.
"Do you not hear some noise behind us? If they are Tartars we must hide. Keep a good look-out!"
"Wait, Michael!" replied Nadia, going back a few steps to where the road turned to the right.
Michael Strogoff waited alone for a minute, listening attentively.
Nadia returned almost immediately and said, "It is a cart. A young man is leading it."
"Is he alone?"
"Alone."
Michael hesitated an instant. Should he hide? or should he, on the contrary, try to find a place in the vehicle, if not for himself, at least for her? For himself, he would be quite content to lay one hand on the cart, to push it if necessary, for his legs showed no sign of failing him; but he felt sure that Nadia, compelled to walk ever since they crossed the Obi, that is, for eight days, must be almost exhausted. He waited.
The cart was soon at the corner of the road. It was a very dilapidated vehicle, known in the country as a kibitka, just capable of holding three persons. Usually the kibitka is drawn by three horses, but this had but one, a beast with long hair and a very long tail. It was of the Mongol breed, known for strength and courage. A young man was leading it, with a dog beside him. Nadia saw at once that the young man was Russian; his face was phlegmatic, but pleasant, and at once inspired confidence. He did not appear to be in the slightest hurry; he was not walking fast that he might spare his horse, and, to look at him, it would not have been believed that he was following a road which might at any instant be swarming with Tartars.
Nadia, holding Michael by the hand, made way for the vehicle. The kibitka stopped, and the driver smilingly looked at the young girl.
"And where are you going to in this fashion?" he asked, opening wide his great honest eyes.
At the sound of his voice, Michael said to himself that he had heard it before. And it was satisfactory to him to recognize the man for his brow at once cleared. "Well, where are you going?" repeated the young man, addressing himself more directly to Michael.
"We are going to Irkutsk," he replied.
"Oh! little father, you do not know that there are still versts and versts between you and Irkutsk?"
"I know it."
"And you are going on foot?"
"On foot."
"You, well! but the young lady?"
"She is my sister," said Michael, who judged it prudent to give again this name to Nadia.
"Yes, your sister, little father! But, believe me, she will never be able to get to Irkutsk!"
"Friend," returned Michael, approaching him, "the Tartars have robbed us of everything, and I have not a copeck to offer you; but if you will take my sister with you, I will follow your cart on foot; I will run when necessary, I will not delay you an hour!"
"Brother," exclaimed Nadia, "I will not! I will not! Sir, my brother is blind!" "Blind!" repeated the young man, much moved.
"The Tartars have burnt out his eyes!" replied Nadia, extending her hands, as if imploring pity.
"Burnt out his eyes! Oh! poor little father! I am going to Krasnoiarsk. Well, why should not you and your sister mount in the kibitka? By sitting a little close, it will hold us all three. Besides, my dog will not refuse to go on foot; only I don't go fast, I spare my horse."
"Friend, what is your name?" asked Michael.
"My name is Nicholas Pigassof."
"It is a name that I will never forget," said Michael.
"Well, jump up, little blind father. Your sister will be beside you, in the bottom of the cart; I sit in front to drive. There is plenty of good birch bark and straw in the bottom; it's like a nest. Serko, make room!"
The dog jumped down without more telling. He was an animal of the Siberian race, gray hair, of medium size, with an honest big head, just made to pat, and he, moreover, appeared to be much attached to his master.
In a moment more, Michael and Nadia were seated in the kibitka. Michael held out his hands as if to feel for those of Pigassof. "You wish to shake my hands!" said Nicholas. "There they are, little father! shake them as long as it will give you any pleasure."
The kibitka moved on; the horse, which Nicholas never touched with the whip, ambled along. Though Michael did not gain any in speed, at least some fatigue was spared to Nadia.
Such was the exhaustion of the young girl, that, rocked by the monotonous movement of the kibitka, she soon fell into a sleep, its soundness proving her complete prostration. Michael and Nicholas laid her on the straw as comfortably as possible. The compassionate young man was greatly moved, and if a tear did not escape from Michael's eyes, it was because the red-hot iron had dried up the last!
"She is very pretty," said Nicholas.
"Yes," replied Michael.
"They try to be strong, little father, they are brave, but they are weak after all, these dear little things! Have you come from far."
"Very far."
"Poor young people! It must have hurt you very much when they burnt your eyes!"
"Very much," answered Michael, turning towards Nicholas as if he could see him. "Did you not weep?"
"Yes."
"I should have wept too. To think that one could never again see those one loves. But they can see you, however; that's perhaps some consolation!" "Yes, perhaps. Tell me, my friend," continued Michael, "have you never seen me anywhere before?"
"You, little father? No, never."
"The sound of your voice is not unknown to me."
"Why!" returned Nicholas, smiling, "he knows the sound of my voice! Perhaps you ask me that to find out where I come from. I come from Kolyvan." "From Kolyvan?" repeated Michael. "Then it was there I met you; you were in the telegraph office?"
"That may be," replied Nicholas. "I was stationed there. I was the clerk in charge of the messages."
"And you stayed at your post up to the last moment?"
"Why, it's at that moment one ought to be there!"
"It was the day when an Englishman and a Frenchman were disputing, roubles in hand, for the place at your wicket, and the Englishman telegraphed some poetry."
"That is possible, but I do not remember it."
"What! you do not remember it?"
"I never read the dispatches I send. My duty being to forget them, the shortest way is not to know them."
This reply showed Nicholas Pigassof's character. In the meanwhile the kibitka pursued its way, at a pace which Michael longed to render more rapid. But Nicholas and his horse were accustomed to a pace which neither of them would like to alter. The horse went for two hours and rested one--so on, day and night. During the halts the horse grazed, the travelers ate in company with the faithful Serko. The kibitka was provisioned for at least twenty persons, and Nicholas generously placed his supplies at the disposal of his two guests, whom he believed to be brother and sister.
After a day's rest, Nadia recovered some strength. Nicholas took the best possible care of her. The journey was being made under tolerable circumstances, slowly certainly, but surely. It sometimes happened that during the night, Nicholas, although driving, fell asleep, and snored with a clearness which showed the calmness of his conscience. Perhaps then, by looking close, Michael's hand might have been seen feeling for the reins, and giving the horse a more rapid pace, to the great astonishment of Serko, who, however, said nothing. The trot was exchanged for the amble as soon as Nicholas awoke, but the kibitka had not the less gained some versts.
Thus they passed the river Ichirnsk, the villages of Ichisnokoe, Berikylokoe, Kuskoe, the river Marunsk, the village of the same name, Bogostowskoe, and, lastly, the Ichoula, a little stream which divides Western from Eastern Siberia. The road now lay sometimes across wide moors, which extended as far as the eye could reach, sometimes through thick forests of firs, of which they thought they should never get to the end. Everywhere was a desert; the villages were almost entirely abandoned. The peasants had fled beyond the Yenisei, hoping that this wide river would perhaps stop the Tartars.
On the 22d of August, the kibitka entered the town of Atchinsk, two hundred and fifty miles from Tomsk. Eighty miles still lay between them and Krasnoiarsk. No incident had marked the journey. For the six days during which they had been together, Nicholas, Michael, and Nadia had remained the same, the one in his unchange-able calm, the other two, uneasy, and thinking of the time when their companion would leave them.
Michael saw the country through which they traveled with the eyes of Nicholas and the young girl. In turns, they each described to him the scenes they passed. He knew whether he was in a forest or on a plain, whether a hut was on the steppe, or whether any Siberian was in sight. Nicholas was never silent, he loved to talk, and, from his peculiar way of viewing things, his friends were amused by his conversation. One day, Michael asked him what sort of weather it was. "Fine enough, little father," he answered, "but soon we shall feel the first winter frosts. Perhaps the Tartars will go into winter quarters during the bad season." Michael Strogoff shook his head with a doubtful air.
"You do not think so, little father?" resumed Nicholas. "You think that they will march on to Irkutsk?"
"I fear so," replied Michael.
"Yes . . . you are right; they have with them a bad man, who will not let them loiter on the way. You have heard speak of Ivan Ogareff?"
"Yes."
"You know that it is not right to betray one's country!"
"No . . . it is not right . . ." answered Michael, who wished to remain unmoved. "Little father," continued Nicholas, "it seems to me that you are not half indignant enough when Ivan Ogareff is spoken of. Your Russian heart ought to leap when his name is uttered."
"Believe me, my friend, I hate him more than you can ever hate him," said Michael.
"It is not possible," replied Nicholas; "no, it is not possible! When I think of Ivan Ogareff, of the harm which he is doing to our sacred Russia, I get into such a rage that if I could get hold of him--"
"If you could get hold of him, friend?"
"I think I should kill him."
"And I, I am sure of it," returned Michael quietly.

7. The Passage Of The Yenisei

AT nightfall, on the 25th of August, the kibitka came in sight of Krasnoiarsk. The journey from Tomsk had taken eight days. If it had not been accomplished as rapidly as it might, it was because Nicholas had slept little. Consequently, it was impossible to increase his horse's pace, though in other hands, the journey would not have taken sixty hours.
Happily, there was no longer any fear of Tartars. Not a scout had appeared on the road over which the kibitka had just traveled. This was strange enough, and evidently some serious cause had prevented the Emir's troops from marching without delay upon Irkutsk. Something had occurred. A new Russian corps, hastily raised in the government of Yeniseisk, had marched to Tomsk to endeavor to retake the town. But, being too weak to withstand the Emir's troops, now concentrated there, they had been forced to effect a retreat. Feofar-Khan, including his own soldiers, and those of the Khanats of Khokhand and Koundouze, had now under his command two hundred and fifty thousand men, to which the Russian government could not as yet oppose a sufficient force. The invasion could not, therefore, be immediately stopped, and the whole Tartar army might at once march upon Irkutsk. The battle of Tomsk was on the 22nd of August, though this Michael did not know, but it explained why the vanguard of the Emir's army had not appeared at Krasnoiarsk by the 25th.
However, though Michael Strogoff could not know the events which had occurred since his departure, he at least knew that he was several days in advance of the Tartars, and that he need not despair of reaching before them the town of Irkutsk, still six hundred miles distant.
Besides, at Krasnoiarsk, of which the population is about twelve thousand souls, he depended upon obtaining some means of transport. Since Nicholas Pigassof was to stop in that town, it would be necessary to replace him by a guide, and to change the kibitka for another more rapid vehicle. Michael, after having addressed himself to the governor of the town, and established his identity and quality as Courier of the Czar--which would be easy-- doubted not that he would be enabled to get to Irkutsk in the shortest possible time. He would thank the good Nicholas Pigassof, and set out immediately with Nadia, for he did not wish to leave her until he had placed her in her father's arms. Though Nicholas had resolved to stop at Krasnoiarsk, it was only as he said, "on condition of finding employment there." In fact, this model clerk, after having stayed to the last minute at his post in Kolyvan, was endeavoring to place himself again at the disposal of the government. "Why should I receive a salary which I have not earned?" he would say.
In the event of his services not being required at Krasnoiarsk, which it was expected would be still in telegraphic communication with Irkutsk, he proposed to go to Oudinsk, or even to the capital of Siberia itself. In the latter case, he would continue to travel with the brother and sister; and where would they find a surer guide, or a more devoted friend?
The kibitka was now only half a verst from Krasnoiarsk. The numerous wooden crosses which are erected at the approaches to the town, could be seen to the right and left of the road. It was seven in the evening; the outline of the churches and of the houses built on the high bank of the Yenisei were clearly defined against the evening sky, and the waters of the river reflected them in the twilight. "Where are we, sister?" asked Michael.
"Half a verst from the first houses," replied Nadia.
"Can the town be asleep?" observed Michael. "Not a sound strikes my ear." "And I cannot see the slightest light, nor even smoke mounting into the air," added Nadia.
"What a queer town!" said Nicholas. "They make no noise in it, and go to bed uncommonly early!"
A presentiment of impending misfortune passed across Michael's heart. He had not said to Nadia that he had placed all his hopes on Krasnoiarsk, where he expected to find the means of safely finishing his journey. He much feared that his anticipations would again be disappointed.
But Nadia had guessed his thoughts, although she could not understand why her companion should be so anxious to reach Irkutsk, now that the Imperial letter was gone. She one day said something of the sort to him. "I have sworn to go to Irkutsk," he replied.
But to accomplish his mission, it was necessary that at Krasnoiarsk he should find some more rapid mode of locomotion. "Well, friend," said he to Nicholas, "why are we not going on?"
"Because I am afraid of waking up the inhabitants of the town with the noise of my carriage!" And with a light fleck of the whip, Nicholas put his horse in motion. Ten minutes after they entered the High Street. Krasnoiarsk was deserted; there was no longer an Athenian in this "Northern Athens," as Madame de Bourboulon has called it. Not one of their dashing equipages swept through the wide, clean streets. Not a pedestrian enlivened the footpaths raised at the bases of the magnificent wooden houses, of monumental aspect! Not a Siberian belle, dressed in the last French fashion, promenaded the beautiful park, cleared in a forest of birch trees, which stretches away to the banks of the Yenisei! The great bell of the cathedral was dumb; the chimes of the churches were silent. Here was complete desolation. There was no longer a living being in this town, lately so lively!
The last telegram sent from the Czar's cabinet, before the rupture of the wire, had ordered the governor, the garrison, the inhabitants, whoever they might be, to leave Krasnoiarsk, to carry with them any articles of value, or which might be of use to the Tartars, and to take refuge at Irkutsk. The same injunction was given to all the villages of the province. It was the intention of the Muscovite government to lay the country desert before the invaders. No one thought for an instant of disputing these orders. They were executed, and this was the reason why not a single human being remained in Krasnoiarsk.
Michael Strogoff, Nadia, and Nicholas passed silently through the streets of the town. They felt half-stupefied. They themselves made the only sound to be heard in this dead city. Michael allowed nothing of what he felt to appear, but he inwardly raged against the bad luck which pursued him, his hopes being again disappointed.
"Alack, alack!" cried Nicholas, "I shall never get any employment in this desert!" "Friend," said Nadia, "you must go on with us."
"I must indeed!" replied Nicholas. "The wire is no doubt still working between Oudinsk and Irkutsk, and there-- Shall we start, little father?"
"Let us wait till to-morrow," answered Michael.
"You are right," said Nicholas. "We have the Yenisei to cross, and need light to see our way there!"
"To see!" murmured Nadia, thinking of her blind companion.
Nicholas heard her, and turning to Michael, "Forgive me, little father," said he. "Alas! night and day, it is true, are all the same to you!"
"Do not reproach yourself, friend," replied Michael, pressing his hand over his eyes. "With you for a guide I can still act. Take a few hours' repose. Nadia must rest too. To-morrow we will recommence our journey!"
Michael and his friends had not to search long for a place of rest. The first house, the door of which they pushed open, was empty, as well as all the others. Nothing could be found within but a few heaps of leaves. For want of better fodder the horse had to content himself with this scanty nourishment. The provisions of the kibitka were not yet exhausted, so each had a share. Then, after having knelt before a small picture of the Panaghia, hung on the wall, and still lighted up by a flickering lamp, Nicholas and the young girl slept, whilst Michael, over whom sleep had no influence, watched.
Before daybreak the next morning, the 26th of August, the horse was drawing the kibitka through the forests of birch trees towards the banks of the Yenisei. Michael was in much anxiety. How was he to cross the river, if, as was probable, all boats had been destroyed to retard the Tartars' march? He knew the Yenisei, its width was considerable, its currents strong. Ordinarily by means of boats specially built for the conveyance of travelers, carriages, and horses, the passage of the Yenisei takes about three hours, and then it is with extreme difficulty that the boats reach the opposite bank. Now, in the absence of any ferry, how was the kibitka to get from one bank to the other?
Day was breaking when the kibitka reached the left bank, where one of the wide alleys of the park ended. They were about a hundred feet above the Yenisei, and could therefore survey the whole of its wide course.
"Do you see a boat?" asked Michael, casting his eyes eagerly about from one side to the other, mechanically, no doubt, as if he could really see. "It is scarcely light yet, brother," replied Nadia. "The fog is still thick, and we cannot see the water."
"But I hear it roaring," said Michael.
Indeed, from the fog issued a dull roaring sound. The waters being high rushed down with tumultuous violence. All three waited until the misty curtain should rise. The sun would not be long in dispersing the vapors.
"Well?" asked Michael.
"The fog is beginning to roll away, brother," replied Nadia, "and it will soon be clear."
"Then you do not see the surface of the water yet?"
"Not yet."
"Have patience, little father," said Nicholas. "All this will soon disappear. Look! here comes the breeze! It is driving away the fog. The trees on the opposite hills are already appearing. It is sweeping, flying away. The kindly rays of the sun have condensed all that mass of mist. Ah! how beautiful it is, my poor fellow, and how unfortunate that you cannot see such a lovely sight!"
"Do you see a boat?" asked Michael.
"I see nothing of the sort," answered Nicholas.
"Look well, friend, on this and the opposite bank, as far as your eye can reach. A raft, even a canoe?"
Nicholas and Nadia, grasping the bushes on the edge of the cliff, bent over the water. The view they thus obtained was extensive. At this place the Yenisei is not less than a mile in width, and forms two arms, of unequal size, through which the waters flow swiftly. Between these arms lie several islands, covered with alders, willows, and poplars, looking like verdant ships, anchored in the river. Beyond rise the high hills of the Eastern shore, crowned with forests, whose tops were then empurpled with light. The Yenisei stretched on either side as far as the eye could reach. The beautiful panorama lay before them for a distance of fifty versts. But not a boat was to be seen. All had been taken away or destroyed, according to order. Unless the Tartars should bring with them materials for building a bridge of boats, their march towards Irkutsk would certainly be stopped for some time by this barrier, the Yenisei.
"I remember," said Michael, "that higher up, on the outskirts of Krasnoiarsk, there is a little quay. There the boats touch. Friend, let us go up the river, and see if some boat has not been forgotten on the bank."
Nadia seized Michael's hand and started off at a rapid pace in the direction indicated. If only a boat or a barge large enough to hold the kibitka could be found, or even one that would carry just themselves, Michael would not hesitate to attempt the passage! Twenty minutes after, all three had reached the little quay, with houses on each side quite down to the water's edge. It was like a village standing beyond the town of Krasnoiarsk.
But not a boat was on the shore, not a barge at the little wharf, nothing even of which a raft could be made large enough to carry three people. Michael questioned Nicholas, who made the discouraging reply that the crossing appeared to him absolutely impracticable.
"We shall cross!" answered Michael.
The search was continued. They examined the houses on the shore, abandoned like all the rest of Krasnoiarsk. They had merely to push open the doors and enter. The cottages were evidently those of poor people, and quite empty. Nicholas visited one, Nadia entered another, and even Michael went here and there and felt about, hoping to light upon some article that might be useful. Nicholas and the girl had each fruitlessly rummaged these cottages and were about to give up the search, when they heard themselves called. Both ran to the bank and saw Michael standing on the threshold of a door.
"Come!" he exclaimed. Nicholas and Nadia went towards him and followed him into the cottage.
"What are these?" asked Michael, touching several objects piled up in a corner. "They are leathern bottles," answered Nicholas.
"Are they full?"
"Yes, full of koumyss. We have found them very opportunely to renew our provisions!"
"Koumyss" is a drink made of mare's or camel's milk, and is very sustaining, and even intoxicating; so that Nicholas and his companions could not but congratulate themselves on the discovery.
"Save one," said Michael, "but empty the others."
"Directly, little father."
"These will help us to cross the Yenisei."
"And the raft?"
"Will be the kibitka itself, which is light enough to float. Besides, we will sustain it, as well as the horse, with these bottles."
"Well thought of, little father," exclaimed Nicholas, "and by God's help we will get safely over . . . though perhaps not in a straight line, for the current is very rapid!" "What does that matter?" replied Michael. "Let us get across first, and we shall soon find out the road to Irkutsk on the other side of the river."
"To work, then," said Nicholas, beginning to empty the bottles.
One full of koumyss was reserved, and the rest, with the air carefully fastened in, were used to form a floating apparatus. Two bottles were fastened to the horse's sides to support it in the water. Two others were attached to the shafts to keep them on a level with the body of the machine, thus transformed into a raft. This work was soon finished.
"You will not be afraid, Nadia?" asked Michael.
"No, brother," answered the girl.
"And you, friend?"
"I?" cried Nicholas. "I am now going to have one of my dreams realized-- that of sailing in a cart."
At the spot where they were now standing, the bank sloped, and was suitable for the launching of the kibitka. The horse drew it into the water, and they were soon both floating. As to Serko, he was swimming bravely.
The three passengers, seated in the vehicle, had with due precaution taken off their shoes and stockings; but, thanks to the bottles, the water did not even come over their ankles. Michael held the reins, and, according to Nicholas's directions, guided the animal obliquely, but cautiously, so as not to exhaust him by struggling against the current. So long as the kibitka went with the current all was easy, and in a few minutes it had passed the quays of Krasnoiarsk. It drifted northwards, and it was soon evident that it would only reach the opposite bank far below the town. But that mattered little. The crossing would have been made without great difficulty, even on this imperfect apparatus, had the current been regular; but, unfortunately, there were whirlpools in numbers, and soon the kibitka, notwithstanding all Michael's efforts, was irresistibly drawn into one of these.
There the danger was great. The kibitka no longer drifted, but spun rapidly round, inclining towards the center of the eddy, like a rider in a circus. The horse could scarcely keep his head above water, and ran a great risk of being suffocated. Serko had been obliged to take refuge in the carriage.
Michael knew what was happening. He felt himself drawn round in a gradually narrowing line, from which they could not get free. How he longed to see, to be better able to avoid this peril, but that was no longer possible. Nadia was silent, her hands clinging to the sides of the cart, which was inclining more and more towards the center of depression.
And Nicholas, did he not understand the gravity of the situation? Was it with him phlegm or contempt of danger, courage or indifference? Was his life valueless in his eyes, and, according to the Eastern expression, "an hotel for five days," which, whether one is willing or not, must be left the sixth? At any rate, the smile on his rosy face never faded for an instant.
The kibitka was thus in the whirlpool, and the horse was nearly exhausted, when, all at once, Michael, throwing off such of his garments as might impede him, jumped into the water; then, seizing with a strong hand the bridle of the terrified horse, he gave him such an impulse that he managed to struggle out of the circle, and getting again into the current, the kibitka drifted along anew. "Hurrah!" exclaimed Nicholas.
Two hours after leaving the wharf, the kibitka had crossed the widest arm of the river, and had landed on an island more than six versts below the starting point. There the horse drew the cart onto the bank, and an hour's rest was given to the courageous animal; then the island having been crossed under the shade of its magnificent birches, the kibitka found itself on the shore of the smaller arm of the Yenisei.
This passage was much easier; no whirlpools broke the course of the river in this second bed; but the current was so rapid that the kibitka only reached the opposite side five versts below. They had drifted eleven versts in all. These great Siberian rivers across which no bridges have as yet been thrown, are serious obstacles to the facility of communication. All had been more or less unfortunate to Michael Strogoff. On the Irtych, the boat which carried him and Nadia had been attacked by Tartars. On the Obi, after his horse had been struck by a bullet, he had only by a miracle escaped from the horsemen who were pursuing him. In fact, this passage of the Yenisei had been performed the least disastrously.
"That would not have been so amusing," exclaimed Nicholas, rubbing his hands, as they disembarked on the right bank of the river, "if it had not been so difficult." "That which has only been difficult to us, friend," answered Michael Strogoff, "will, perhaps, be impossible to the Tartars."