Michael strogoff or the.., p.1
Michael Strogoff; Or the Courier of the Czar: A Literary Classic, p.1Jules Verne
MICHAEL AND SHE GLIDED RAPIDLY OVER THE FLOE
First Published 1876
First Skyhorse Publishing edition 2015
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is available on file.
Cover design by Owen Corrigan
Cover photo credit Didier Baertschiger
Print ISBN: 978-1-63220-629-9
Ebook ISBN: 978-1-63220-776-0
Printed in the United States of America
Editor’s Note: This is a facsimile of the original edition, first published in 1876. Skyhorse is committed to preserving works of cultural importance and, as such, has elected to keep the text as close to the original as possible, despite some imperfections and antiquated cultural expressions. Though the editors have made minor adjustments to fill in missing or severely damaged text, none of the original language has been altered.
I. A FÊTI AT THE NEW PALACE
II. RUSSIANS AND TARTARS
III. MICHAEL STROGOFF INTRODUCED TO THE CZAR
IV. FROM MOSCOW TO NIJNI-NOVGOROD
V. THE TWO ANNOUNCEMENTS
VI. BROTHER AND SISTER
VII. GOING DOWN THE VOLGA
VIII. GOING UP THE KAMA
IX. DAY AND NIGHT IN A TARANTASS
X. A STORM IN THE URAL MOUNTAINS
XI. TRAVELLERS IN DISTRESS
XIII. DUTY BEFORE EVERYTHING
XIV. MOTHER AND SON
XV. THE MARSHES OF THE BARA
XVI. A FINAL EFFORT
XVII. THE RIVALS
I. A TARTAR CAMP
II. CORRESPONDENTS IN TROUBLE
III. BLOW FOR BLOW
IV. THE TRIUMPHAL ENTRY
V. “LOOK WHILE YOU MAY!”
VI. A FRIEND ON THE HIGHWAY
VII. THE PASSAGE OF THE YENISEÏ
VIII. A HARE CROSSES THE ROAD
IX. IN THE STEPPE
X. BAÏKAL AND ANGARA
XI. BETWEEN TWO BANKS
XIII. THE CZAR’S COURIER
XIV. THE NIGHT OF THE FIFTH OF OCTOBER
A FÊTE AT THE NEW PALACE.
“SIRE, a fresh despatch.”
“Is the wire cut beyond that city?”
“Yes, sire, since yesterday.”
“Telegraph hourly to Tomsk, General, and let me be kept au courant of all that occurs.”
“Sire, it shall be done,” answered General Kissoff.
These words were exchanged about two hours after midnight, at the moment when the fête given at the New Palace was at the height of its splendour.
During the whole evening the bands of the Préobrajensky and Paulowsky regiments had played without cessation polkas, mazurkas, schottisches, and waltzes from among the choicest of their repertories. Innumerable couples of dancers whirled through the magnificent saloons of the palace, which stood at a few paces only from the “old house of stones”—in former days the scene of so many terrible dramas, and the echoes of whose walls wert this night awakened by the gay strains of the musicians.
The grand-chamberlain of the court was, besides, well seconded in his arduous and delicate duties. The grand-dukes and their aides-de-camp, the chamberlains-in-waiting and other officers of the palace, presided personally in the arrangement of the dances. The grand-duchesses, covered with diamonds, the ladies-in-waiting in their most exquisite costumes, set the example to the wives of the military and civil dignitaries of the ancient “city of white stone.” When, therefore, the signal for the “polonaise” resounded through the saloons, and the guests of all ranks took part in that measured promenade, which on occasions of this kind has all the importance of a national dance, the mingled costumes, the sweeping robes adorned with lace, and uniforms covered with orders, presented a scene of dazzling and indescribable splendour, lighted by hundreds of lustres multiplied tenfold by reflection in the numerous mirrors adorning the walls.
The grand saloon, the finest of all those contained in the New Palace, formed to this procession of exalted personages and splendidly dressed women a frame worthy of the magnificence they displayed. The rich ceiling, with its gilding already softened by the touch of time, appeared as if glittering with stars. The embroidered drapery of the curtains and doors, falling in gorgeous folds, assumed rich and varied hues, broken by the shadows of the heavy masses of damask.
Through the panes of the vast semicircular bay-windows the light, with which the saloons were filled, shone forth with the brilliancy of a conflagration, vividly illuminating the gloom in which for some hours the palace had been shrouded. The attention of those of the guests not taking part in the dancing was attracted by the contrast Resting in the recesses of the windows, they could discern, standing out dimly in the darkness, the vague outlines of the countless towers, domes, and spires which adorn the ancient city. Below the sculptured balconies were visible numerous sentries, pacing silently up and down, their rifles, carried horizontally on the shoulder, and the spikes of their helmets glittering like flames in the glare of light issuing from the palace. The steps also of the patrols could be heard beating time on the stones beneath with even more regularity than the feet of the dancers on the floor of the saloons. From time to time the watchword was repeated from post to post, and occasionally the notes of a trumpet, mingling with the strains of the orchestra, penetrated into their midst Still farther down, in front of the façade, dark masses obscured the rays of light which proceeded from the windows of the New Palace. These were boats descending the course of a river, whose waters, faintly illumined by the twinkling light of a few lamps, washed the lower portion of the terraces.
The principal personage who has been mentioned, the giver of the fête, and to whom General Kissoff had been speaking in that tone of respect with which sovereigns alone are usually addressed, wore the simple uniform of an officer of chasseurs of the guard. This was not affectation on his part, but the custom of a man who cared little for dress, his contrasting strongly with the gorgeous costumes amid which he moved, encircled by his escort of Georgians, Cossacks, and Circassians—a brilliant band, splendidly clad in the glittering uniforms of the Caucasus.
This personage, of lofty stature, affable demeanour, and physiognomy calm, though bearing traces of anxiety, moved from group to group, seldom speaking, and appearing to pay but little attention either to the merriment of the younger guests or the graver remarks of the exalted dignitaries or members of the diplomatic corps who represented at the Russian court the principal
It was evidently the intention of the officer of chasseurs that his own anxieties should in no way cast a shade over the festivities; and, as he was one of those few personages whom almost the population of a world in itself was wont to obey, the gaiety of the ball was not for a moment checked.
“Nevertheless, General Kissoff waited until the officer to whom he had just communicated the despatch forwarded from Tomsk should give him permission to withdraw; but the latter still remained silent He had taken the telegram, he had read it carefully, and his visage became even more clouded than before. Involuntarily he sought the hilt of his sword, and then passed his hand for an instant before his eyes, as though, dazzled by the brilliancy of the light, he wished to shade them, the better to see into the recesses of his own mind.
“We are, then,” he continued, after having drawn General Kissoff aside towards a window, “since yesterday without intelligence from the Grand Duke?”
“Without any, sire; and it is to be feared that shortly despatches will no longer cross the Siberian frontier.”
“But have not the troops of the provinces of Amoor and Irkutsk, as those also of the Trans-Balkan territory, received orders to march immediately upon Irkutsk?”
“The orders were transmitted by the last telegram we were able to send beyond Lake Baikal.”
“And the governments of Yeniseisk, Omsk, Semipolatinsk, and Tobolsk—are we still in direct communication with them as before the insurrection?”
“Yes, sire; our despatches have reached them, and we are assured at the present moment that the Tartars have not advanced beyond the Irtish and the Obi.”
“And the traitor Ivan Ogareff, are there no tidings of him?”
“None,” replied General Kissoff. “The head of the police cannot state whether or not he has crossed the frontier.”
“Let a description of him be immediately despatched to Nijni-Novgorod, Perm, Ekaterenburg, Kasimov, Tioumen, Ishim, Omsk, Elamsk, Kalyvan, Tomsk, and to all the telegraphic stations with which communication is yet open.”
“Your majesty’s orders shall be instantly carried out,” answered General Kissoff.
“You will observe the strictest silence as to this.”
The General, having made a sign of respectful assent, bowing low, mingled for a short time with the crowd, and finally left the apartments without his departure being remarked.
The officer remained absorbed in thought for a few moments, when, recovering himself, he went among the various groups formed in different parts of the saloon, his countenance reassuming that calm aspect which had for an instant been disturbed.
Nevertheless, the important occurrence which had occasioned these rapidly exchanged words was not so unknown as the officer of chasseurs of the guard and General Kissoff had possibly supposed. It was not spoken of officially, it is true, nor even officiously, since tongues were not free; but a few exalted personages had been informed, more or less exactly, of the events which had taken place beyond the frontier. At any rate, that which was only slightly known, that which was not matter of conversation even between members of the corps diplomatique, to guests, distinguished by no uniform, no decoration, at this reception in the New Palace, discussed in a low voice, and with apparently very correct information.
By what means, by the exercise of what acuteness had these two ordinary mortals ascertained that which so many persons of the highest rank and importance scarcely even suspected? It is impossible to say. Had they the gifts of foreknowledge and foresight? Did they possess a supplementary sense, which enabled them to see beyond that limited horizon which bounds all human gaze? Had they obtained a peculiar power of divining the most secret events? Was it owing to the habit, now become a second nature, of living on information, and by information, that their mental constitution had thus become really transformed? It was difficult to escape from this conclusion.
Of these two men, the one was English, the other French; both were tall and thin, but the latter was sallow as are the southern Provençals, while the former was ruddy like a Lancashire gentleman. The Anglo-Norman, formal, cold, grave, parsimonious of gestures and words, appearing only to speak or gesticulate under the influence of a spring operating at regular intervals. The Gaul, on the contrary, lively and petulant, expressed himself with lips, eyes, hands, all at once, having twenty different ways of explaining his thoughts, whereas his interlocutor seemed to have only one, immutably stereotyped on his brain.
The strong contrast they presented would at once have struck the most superficial observer; but a physiognomist, regarding them more closely, would have defined their particular characteristics by saying, that if the Frenchman was “all eyes,” the Englishman was “all ears.”
In fact, the visual apparatus of the one had been singularly perfected by practice. The sensibility of its retina must have been as instantaneous as that of those conjurors who recognise a card merely by a rapid movement in cutting the pack, or by the arrangement only of marks invisible to others. The Frenchman indeed possessed in the highest degree what may be called “the memory of the eye.”
The Englishman, on the contrary, appeared, especially organised to listen and to hear. When his aural apparatus had been once struck by the sound of a voice he could not forget it, and after ten or even twenty years he would have recognised it among a thousand. His ears, to be sure, had not the power of moving as freely as those of animals who are provided with large auditory flaps; but, since scientific men know that human ears possess, in fact, a very limited power of movement, we should not be far wrong in affirming that those of the said Englishman became erect, and turned in all directions while endeavouring to gather in the sounds, in a manner apparent only to the naturalist. It must be observed that this perfection of sight and hearing was of wonderful assistance to these two men in their vocation, for the Englishman acted as correspondent of the Daily Telegraph, and the Frenchman, as correspondent of the. . . . . of what newspaper, or of what newspapers, he did not say; and when asked, he replied in a jocular manner that he corresponded with “his cousin Madeleine.” This Frenchman, however, beneath his careless surface, was wonderfully shrewd and sagacious. Even while speaking at random, perhaps the better to hide his desire to learn, he never forgot himself. His loquacity even helped him to conceal his thoughts, and he was perhaps even more discreet than his confrère of the Daily Telegraph. Both were present at this fête given at the New Palace on the night of the 15th of July in their character of reporters, and for the greater edification of their readers.
It is needless to say that these two men were devoted to their mission in the world—that they delighted to throw themselves in the track of the most unexpected intelligence—that nothing terrified or discouraged them from succeeding—that they possessed the imperturbable sang-froid and the genuine intrepidity of men of their calling. Enthusiastic jockeys in this steeplechase, this hunt after information, they leaped hedges, crossed rivers, sprang over fences, with the ardour of pure-blooded racers, who will run “a good first” or die!
Their journals did not restrict them with regard to money—the surest, the most rapid, the most perfect element of information known to this day. It must also be added, to their honour, that neither the one nor the other ever looked over or listened at the walls of private life, and that they only exercised their vocation when political or social interests were at stake. In a word, they made what has been for some years called “the great political and military reports.”
It will be seen, in following them, that they had generally an independent mode of viewing events, and, above all, their consequences, each having his own way of observing and appreciating. The object to be obtained being of adequate value, they never failed to expend the money
The French correspondent was named Alcide Jolivet. Harry Blount was the name of the Englishman. They had just met for the first time at this fête in the New Palace, of which they had been ordered to give an account in their papers. The dissimilarity of their characters, added to a certain amount of jealousy, which generally exists between rivals in the same calling, might have rendered them but little sympathetic. However, they did not avoid one another, but endeavoured rather to exchange with each other the news of the day. They were two sportsmen, after all, hunting on the same ground, in the same preserves. That which one missed might be advantageously secured by the other, and it was to their interest to meet and converse together.
This evening they were both on the look out; they felt, in fact, that there was something in the air.
“Even should it be only a wildgoose chase,” said Alcide Jolivet to himself, “it may be worth powder and shot.”
The two correspondents were therefore led to chat together during the ball, a few minutes after the departure of General Kissoff, and they began by cautiously sounding each other.
“Really, my dear sir, this little fête is charming!” said Alcide Jolivet pleasantly, thinking himself obliged to begin the conversation with this eminently French phrase.
“I have telegraphed already, ‘splendid!’” replied Harry Blount calmly, employing the word specially devoted to expressing admiration by all subjects of the United Kingdom.
“Nevertheless,” added Alcide Jolivet, “I felt compelled to remark to my cousin——”
“Your cousin?” repeated Harry Blount in a tone of surprise, interrupting his brother of the pen.
“Yes,” returned Alcide Jolivet, “my cousin Madeleine. . . . . It is with her that I correspond, and she likes to be quickly and well informed, does my cousin. . . . . I therefore remarked to her that, during this fête, a sort of cloud had appeared to overshadow the sovereign’s brow.”
“To me, it seemed radiant,” replied Harry Blount, who perhaps wished to conceal his real opinion on this topic.
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