Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 Next page
of the Daily Telegraph.
He again interrupted the clerk, who, quite unmoved, merely replied:
"It is his right, sir, it is his right--at ten copecks a word."
And he telegraphed the following news, just brought him
by Blount: "Russian fugitives are escaping from the town.
'Away went Gilpin--who but he? His fame soon spread around:
He carries weight! he rides a race! 'Tis for a thousand pound!'"
And Blount turned round with a quizzical look at his rival.
Alcide Jolivet fumed.
In the meanwhile Harry Blount had returned to the window, but this
time his attention was diverted by the interest of the scene
before him. Therefore, when the clerk had finished telegraphing
the last lines dictated by Blount, Alcide Jolivet noiselessly
took his place at the wicket, and, just as his rival had done,
after quietly depositing a respectable pile of roubles on the shelf,
he delivered his dispatch, which the clerk read aloud:
"Madeleine Jolivet, 10, Faubourg Montmartre, Paris.
"From Kolyvan, Government of Omsk, Siberia, 6th August.
"Fugitives are escaping from the town. Russians defeated.
Fiercely pursued by the Tartar cavalry."
And as Harry Blount returned he heard Jolivet completing his telegram
by singing in a mocking tone:
"II est un petit homme, Tout habille de gris, Dans Paris!"
Imitating his rival, Alcide Jolivet had used a merry refrain of Beranger.
"Hallo!" said Harry Blount.
"Just so," answered Jolivet.
In the meantime the situation at Kolyvan was alarming in the extreme.
The battle was raging nearer, and the firing was incessant.
At that moment the telegraph office shook to its foundations.
A shell had made a hole in the wall, and a cloud of dust
filled the office.
Alcide was just finishing writing his lines; but to stop, dart on
the shell, seize it in both hands, throw it out of the window,
and return to the wicket, was only the affair of a moment.
Five seconds later the shell burst outside. Continuing with
the greatest possible coolness, Alcide wrote: "A six-inch
shell has just blown up the wall of the telegraph office.
Expecting a few more of the same size."
Michael Strogoff had no doubt that the Russians were driven
out of Kolyvan. His last resource was to set out across
the southern steppe.
Just then renewed firing broke out close to the telegraph house,
and a perfect shower of bullets smashed all the glass in the windows.
Harry Blount fell to the ground wounded in the shoulder.
Jolivet even at such a moment, was about to add this postscript
to his dispatch: "Harry Blount, correspondent of the Daily Telegraph,
has fallen at my side struck by--" when the imperturbable clerk
said calmly: "Sir, the wire has broken." And, leaving his wicket,
he quietly took his hat, brushed it round with his sleeve, and,
still smiling, disappeared through a little door which Michael
had not before perceived.
The house was surrounded by Tartar soldiers, and neither Michael
nor the reporters could effect their retreat.
Alcide Jolivet, his useless dispatch in his hand, had run
to Blount, stretched on the ground, and had bravely lifted
him on his shoulders, with the intention of flying with him.
He was too late!
Both were prisoners; and, at the same time, Michael, taken unawares
as he was about to leap from the window, fell into the hands
of the Tartars!
END OF BOOK I
CHAPTER I 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, sword-belts 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