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apparently overcome by terror. "The storm will soon send us
to the bottom of the mountain, and that by the shortest way."
"Take you that horse, coward," returned Michael, "I'll look
after this one."
A fresh burst of the storm interrupted him. The driver and he were
obliged to crouch upon the ground to avoid being blown down.
The carriage, notwithstanding their efforts and those of the horses,
was gradually blown back, and had it not been stopped by the trunk
of a tree, it would have gone over the edge of the precipice.
"Do not be afraid, Nadia!" cried Michael Strogoff.
"I'm not afraid," replied the young Livonian, her voice not betraying
the slightest emotion.
The rumbling of the thunder ceased for an instant, the terrible
blast had swept past into the gorge below.
"Will you go back?" said the iemschik.
"No, we must go on! Once past this turning, we shall have the shelter
of the slope."
"But the horses won't move!"
"Do as I do, and drag them on."
"The storm will come back!"
"Do you mean to obey?"
"Do you order it?"
"The Father orders it!" answered Michael, for the first time invoking
the all-powerful name of the Emperor.
"Forward, my swallows!" cried the iemschik, seizing one horse,
while Michael did the same to the other.
Thus urged, the horses began to struggle onward.
They could no longer rear, and the middle horse not being
hampered by the others, could keep in the center of the road.
It was with the greatest difficulty that either man or beasts
could stand against the wind, and for every three steps they took
in advance, they lost one, and even two, by being forced backwards.
They slipped, they fell, they got up again. The vehicle ran
a great risk of being smashed. If the hood had not been
securely fastened, it would have been blown away long before.
Michael Strogoff and the iemschik took more than two hours
in getting up this bit of road, only half a verst in length,
so directly exposed was it to the lashing of the storm.
The danger was not only from the wind which battered against
the travelers, but from the avalanche of stones and broken
trunks which were hurtling through the air.
Suddenly, during a flash of lightning, one of these masses was seen
crashing and rolling down the mountain towards the tarantass.
The iemschik uttered a cry.
Michael Strogoff in vain brought his whip down on the team,
they refused to move.
A few feet farther on, and the mass would pass behind them!
Michael saw the tarantass struck, his companion crushed;
he saw there was no time to drag her from the vehicle.
Then, possessed in this hour of peril with superhuman strength,
he threw himself behind it, and planting his feet on the ground,
by main force placed it out of danger.
The enormous mass as it passed grazed his chest, taking away his breath
as though it had been a cannon-ball, then crushing to powder the flints
on the road, it bounded into the abyss below.
"Oh, brother!" cried Nadia, who had seen it all by the light
of the flashes.
"Nadia!" replied Michael, "fear nothing!"
"It is not on my own account that I fear!"
"God is with us, sister!"
"With me truly, brother, since He has sent thee in my way!"
murmured the young girl.
The impetus the tarantass had received was not to be lost, and the tired
horses once more moved forward. Dragged, so to speak, by Michael and
the iemschik, they toiled on towards a narrow pass, lying north and south,
where they would be protected from the direct sweep of the tempest.
At one end a huge rock jutted out, round the summit of which whirled
an eddy. Behind the shelter of the rock there was a comparative calm;
yet once within the circumference of the cyclone, neither man nor beast
could resist its power.
Indeed, some firs which towered above this protection were in a trice
shorn of their tops, as though a gigantic scythe had swept across them.
The storm was now at its height. The lightning filled the defile,
and the thunderclaps had become one continued peal. The ground,
struck by the concussion, trembled as though the whole Ural chain
was shaken to its foundations.
Happily, the tarantass could be so placed that the storm might strike
it obliquely. But the counter-currents, directed towards it by the slope,
could not be so well avoided, and so violent were they that every
instant it seemed as though it would be dashed to pieces.
Nadia was obliged to leave her seat, and Michael, by the light
of one of the lanterns, discovered an excavation bearing the marks
of a miner's pick, where the young girl could rest in safety until
they could once more start.
Just then--it was one o'clock in the morning--the rain began to fall
in torrents, and this in addition to the wind and lightning,
made the storm truly frightful. To continue the journey at present
was utterly impossible. Besides, having reached this pass,
they had only to descend the slopes of the Ural Mountains, and to
descend now, with the road torn up by a thousand mountain torrents,
in these eddies of wind and rain, was utter madness.
"To wait is indeed serious," said Michael, "but it must certainly
be done, to avoid still longer detentions. The very violence
of the storm makes me hope that it will not last long.
About three o'clock the day will begin to break, and the descent,
which we cannot risk in the dark, we shall be able, if not with ease,
at least without such danger, to attempt after sunrise."
"Let us wait, brother," replied Nadia; "but if you delay,
let it not be to spare me fatigue or danger."
"Nadia, I know that you are ready to brave everything, but,
in exposing both of us, I risk more than my life, more than yours,
I am not fulfilling my task, that duty which before everything
else I must accomplish."
"A duty!" murmured Nadia.
Just then a bright flash lit up the sky; a loud clap followed.
The air was filled with sulphurous suffocating vapor, and a clump
of huge pines, struck by the electric fluid, scarcely twenty feet
from the tarantass, flared up like a gigantic torch.
The iemschik was struck to the ground by a counter-shock, but,
regaining his feet, found himself happily unhurt.
Just as the last growlings of the thunder were lost
in the recesses of the mountain, Michael felt Nadia's hand
pressing his, and he heard her whisper these words in his ear:
"Cries, brother! Listen!"
CHAPTER XI TRAVELERS IN DISTRESS
DURING the momentary lull which followed, shouts could be distinctly
heard from farther on, at no great distance from the tarantass.
It was an earnest appeal, evidently from some traveler in distress.
Michael listened attentively. The iemschik also listened,
but shook his head, as though it was impossible to help.
"They are travelers calling for aid," cried Nadia.
"They can expect nothing," replied the iemschik.
"Why not?" cried Michael. "Ought not we do for them what they
would for us under similar circumstances?"
"Surely you will not risk the carriage and horses!"
"I will go on foot," replied Michael, interrupting the iemschik.
"I will go, too, brother," said the young girl.
"No, remain here, Nadia. The iemschik will stay with you.
I do not wish to leave him alone."
"I will stay," replied Nadia.
"Whatever happens, do not leave this spot."
"You will find me where I now am."
Michael pressed her hand, and, turning the corner of the slope,
disappeared in the darkness.
"Your brother is wrong," said the iemschik.
"He is right," replied Nadia simply.
Meanwhile Strogoff strode rapidly on. If he was in a great hurry
to aid the travelers, he was also very anxious to know who it
was that had not been hindered from starting by the storm;
for he had no doubt that the cries came from the telga,
which had so long preceded him.
The rain had stopped, but the storm was raging with redoubled fury.
The shouts, borne on the air, became more distinct.
Nothing was to be seen of the pass in which Nadia remained.