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"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.
CHAPTER II 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.
"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