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Michael Strogoff; Or, The Courier of the Czar

Jules Verne

  Produced by Judy Boss



  by Jules Verne



  "SIRE, a fresh dispatch."


  "From Tomsk?"

  "Is the wire cut beyond that city?"

  "Yes, sire, since yesterday."

  "Telegraph hourly to Tomsk, General, and keep me informed of all thatoccurs."

  "Sire, it shall be done," answered General Kissoff.

  These words were exchanged about two hours after midnight, at the momentwhen the fete given at the New Palace was at the height of its splendor.

  During the whole evening the bands of the Preobra-jensky and Paulowskyregiments had played without cessation polkas, mazurkas, schottisches,and waltzes from among the choicest of their repertoires. Innumerablecouples of dancers whirled through the magnificent saloons of thepalace, which stood at a few paces only from the "old house ofstones"--in former days the scene of so many terrible dramas, theechoes of whose walls were this night awakened by the gay strains of themusicians.

  The grand-chamberlain of the court, was, besides, well seconded in hisarduous and delicate duties. The grand-dukes and their aides-de-camp,the chamberlains-in-waiting and other officers of the palace, presidedpersonally in the arrangement of the dances. The grand duchesses,covered with diamonds, the ladies-in-waiting in their most exquisitecostumes, set the example to the wives of the military and civildignitaries of the ancient "city of white stone." When, therefore, thesignal for the "polonaise" resounded through the saloons, and the guestsof all ranks took part in that measured promenade, which on occasionsof this kind has all the importance of a national dance, the mingledcostumes, the sweeping robes adorned with lace, and uniforms coveredwith orders, presented a scene of dazzling splendor, lighted by hundredsof lusters multiplied tenfold by the numerous mirrors adorning thewalls.

  The grand saloon, the finest of all those contained in the New Palace,formed to this procession of exalted personages and splendidly dressedwomen a frame worthy of the magnificence they displayed. The richceiling, with its gilding already softened by the touch of time,appeared as if glittering with stars. The embroidered drapery of thecurtains and doors, falling in gorgeous folds, assumed rich and variedhues, broken by the shadows of the heavy masses of damask.

  Through the panes of the vast semicircular bay-windows the light, withwhich the saloons were filled, shone forth with the brilliancy of aconflagration, vividly illuminating the gloom in which for some hoursthe palace had been shrouded. The attention of those of the guests nottaking part in the dancing was attracted by the contrast. Resting in therecesses of the windows, they could discern, standing out dimly in thedarkness, the vague outlines of the countless towers, domes, and spireswhich adorn the ancient city. Below the sculptured balconies werevisible numerous sentries, pacing silently up and down, their riflescarried horizontally on the shoulder, and the spikes of their helmetsglittering like flames in the glare of light issuing from the palace.The steps also of the patrols could be heard beating time on the stonesbeneath with even more regularity than the feet of the dancers on thefloor of the saloon. From time to time the watchword was repeated frompost to post, and occasionally the notes of a trumpet, mingling withthe strains of the orchestra, penetrated into their midst. Still fartherdown, in front of the facade, dark masses obscured the rays of lightwhich proceeded from the windows of the New Palace. These were boatsdescending the course of a river, whose waters, faintly illumined by afew lamps, washed the lower portion of the terraces.

  The principal personage who has been mentioned, the giver of the fete,and to whom General Kissoff had been speaking in that tone of respectwith which sovereigns alone are usually addressed, wore the simpleuniform of an officer of chasseurs of the guard. This was notaffectation on his part, but the custom of a man who cared little fordress, his contrasting strongly with the gorgeous costumes amid whichhe moved, encircled by his escort of Georgians, Cossacks, andCircassians--a brilliant band, splendidly clad in the glitteringuniforms of the Caucasus.

  This personage, of lofty stature, affable demeanor, and physiognomycalm, though bearing traces of anxiety, moved from group to group,seldom speaking, and appearing to pay but little attention either tothe merriment of the younger guests or the graver remarks of the exalteddignitaries or members of the diplomatic corps who represented at theRussian court the principal governments of Europe. Two or three of theseastute politicians--physiognomists by virtue of their profession--failednot to detect on the countenance of their host symptoms of disquietude,the source of which eluded their penetration; but none ventured tointerrogate him on the subject.

  It was evidently the intention of the officer of chasseurs that his ownanxieties should in no way cast a shade over the festivities; and, as hewas a personage whom almost the population of a world in itself was wontto obey, the gayety of the ball was not for a moment checked.

  Nevertheless, General Kissoff waited until the officer to whom he hadjust communicated the dispatch forwarded from Tomsk should give himpermission to withdraw; but the latter still remained silent. He hadtaken the telegram, he had read it carefully, and his visage became evenmore 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, thebetter to see into the recesses of his own mind.

  "We are, then," he continued, after having drawn General Kissoff asidetowards a window, "since yesterday without intelligence from the GrandDuke?"

  "Without any, sire; and it is to be feared that in a short timedispatches will no longer cross the Siberian frontier."

  "But have not the troops of the provinces of Amoor and Irkutsk, as thosealso of the Trans-Balkan territory, received orders to march immediatelyupon Irkutsk?"

  "The orders were transmitted by the last telegram we were able to sendbeyond Lake Baikal."

  "And the governments of Yeniseisk, Omsk, Semipolatinsk, and Tobolsk--arewe still in direct communication with them as before the insurrection?"

  "Yes, sire; our dispatches have reached them, and we are assured at thepresent moment that the Tartars have not advanced beyond the Irtish andthe Obi."

  "And the traitor Ivan Ogareff, are there no tidings of him?"

  "None," replied General Kissoff. "The head of the police cannot statewhether or not he has crossed the frontier."

  "Let a description of him be immediately dispatched to Nijni-Novgorod,Perm, Ekaterenburg, Kasirnov, Tioumen, Ishim, Omsk, Tomsk, and to allthe telegraphic stations with which communication is yet open."

  "Your majesty's orders shall be instantly carried out."

  "You will observe the strictest silence as to this."

  The General, having made a sign of respectful assent, bowing low,mingled with the crowd, and finally left the apartments without hisdeparture being remarked.

  The officer remained absorbed in thought for a few moments, when,recovering himself, he went among the various groups in the saloon, hiscountenance reassuming that calm aspect which had for an instant beendisturbed.

  Nevertheless, the important occurrence which had occasioned theserapidly exchanged words was not so unknown as the officer of thechasseurs of the guard and General Kissoff had possibly supposed. Itwas not spoken of officially, it is true, nor even officiously, sincetongues were not free; but a few exalted personages had been informed,more or less exactly, of the events which had taken place beyond thefrontier. At any rate, that which was only slightly known, that whichwas not matter of conversation even be
tween members of the corpsdiplomatique, two guests, distinguished by no uniform, no decoration,at this reception in the New Palace, discussed in a low voice, and withapparently very correct information.

  By what means, by the exercise of what acuteness had these two ordinarymortals ascertained that which so many persons of the highest rank andimportance scarcely even suspected? It is impossible to say. Hadthey the gifts of foreknowledge and foresight? Did they possess asupplementary sense, which enabled them to see beyond that limitedhorizon which bounds all human gaze? Had they obtained a peculiar powerof divining the most secret events? Was it owing to the habit, nowbecome a second nature, of living on information, that their mentalconstitution had thus become really transformed? It was difficult toescape from this conclusion.

  Of these two men, the one was English, the other French; both were talland thin, but the latter was sallow as are the southern Provencals,while the former was ruddy like a Lancashire gentleman. TheAnglo-Norman, formal, cold, grave, parsimonious of gestures and words,appeared only to speak or gesticulate under the influence of a springoperating at regular intervals. The Gaul, on the contrary, lively andpetulant, expressed himself with lips, eyes, hands, all at once,having twenty different ways of explaining his thoughts, whereas hisinterlocutor seemed to have only one, immutably stereotyped on hisbrain.

  The strong contrast they presented would at once have struck the mostsuperficial observer; but a physiognomist, regarding them closely, wouldhave defined their particular characteristics by saying, that if theFrenchman was "all eyes," the Englishman was "all ears."

  In fact, the visual apparatus of the one had been singularlyperfected by practice. The sensibility of its retina must have been asinstantaneous as that of those conjurors who recognize a card merely bya rapid movement in cutting the pack or by the arrangement only ofmarks invisible to others. The Frenchman indeed possessed in the highestdegree what may be called "the memory of the eye."

  The Englishman, on the contrary, appeared especially organized to listenand to hear. When his aural apparatus had been once struck by the soundof a voice he could not forget it, and after ten or even twenty years hewould have recognized it among a thousand. His ears, to be sure, had notthe power of moving as freely as those of animals who are provided withlarge auditory flaps; but, since scientific men know that human earspossess, in fact, a very limited power of movement, we should not be farwrong in affirming that those of the said Englishman became erect, andturned in all directions while endeavoring to gather in the sounds, ina manner apparent only to the naturalist. It must be observed that thisperfection of sight and hearing was of wonderful assistance to these twomen in their vocation, for the Englishman acted as correspondent of theDaily Telegraph, and the Frenchman, as correspondent of what newspaper,or of what newspapers, he did not say; and when asked, he replied in ajocular manner that he corresponded with "his cousin Madeleine." ThisFrenchman, however, neath his careless surface, was wonderfully shrewdand sagacious. Even while speaking at random, perhaps the better to hidehis desire to learn, he never forgot himself. His loquacity even helpedhim to conceal his thoughts, and he was perhaps even more discreet thanhis confrere of the Daily Telegraph. Both were present at this fetegiven at the New Palace on the night of the 15th of July in theircharacter of reporters.

  It is needless to say that these two men were devoted to their missionin the world--that they delighted to throw themselves in the track ofthe most unexpected intelligence--that nothing terrified or discouragedthem from succeeding--that they possessed the imperturbable sang froidand the genuine intrepidity of men of their calling. Enthusiasticjockeys in this steeplechase, this hunt after information, theyleaped hedges, crossed rivers, sprang over fences, with the ardor ofpure-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 thisday. It must also be added, to their honor, that neither the one northe other ever looked over or listened at the walls of private life,and that they only exercised their vocation when political or socialinterests were at stake. In a word, they made what has been for someyears called "the great political and military reports."

  It will be seen, in following them, that they had generally anindependent mode of viewing events, and, above all, their consequences,each having his own way of observing and appreciating.

  The French correspondent was named Alcide Jolivet. Harry Blount was thename of the Englishman. They had just met for the first time at thisfete in the New Palace, of which they had been ordered to give anaccount in their papers. The dissimilarity of their characters, added toa certain amount of jealousy, which generally exists between rivalsin the same calling, might have rendered them but little sympathetic.However, they did not avoid each other, but endeavored rather toexchange with each other the chat of the day. They were sportsmen,after all, hunting on the same ground. That which one missed might beadvantageously secured by the other, and it was to their interest tomeet and converse.

  This evening they were both on the look out; they felt, in fact, thatthere was something in the air.

  "Even should it be only a wildgoose chase," said Alcide Jolivet tohimself, "it may be worth powder and shot."

  The two correspondents therefore began by cautiously sounding eachother.

  "Really, my dear sir, this little fete is charming!" said Alcide Jolivetpleasantly, thinking himself obliged to begin the conversation with thiseminently French phrase.

  "I have telegraphed already, 'splendid!'" replied Harry Blount calmly,employing the word specially devoted to expressing admiration by allsubjects of the United Kingdom.

  "Nevertheless," added Alcide Jolivet, "I felt compelled to remark to mycousin--"

  "Your cousin?" repeated Harry Blount in a tone of surprise, interruptinghis brother of the pen.

  "Yes," returned Alcide Jolivet, "my cousin Madeleine. It is with herthat I correspond, and she likes to be quickly and well informed, doesmy cousin. I therefore remarked to her that, during this fete, a sort ofcloud had appeared to overshadow the sovereign's brow."

  "To me, it seemed radiant," replied Harry Blount, who perhaps, wished toconceal his real opinion on this topic.

  "And, naturally, you made it 'radiant,' in the columns of the DailyTelegraph."


  "Do you remember, Mr. Blount, what occurred at Zakret in 1812?"

  "I remember it as well as if I had been there, sir," replied the Englishcorrespondent.

  "Then," continued Alcide Jolivet, "you know that, in the middle of afete given in his honor, it was announced to the Emperor Alexander thatNapoleon had just crossed the Niemen with the vanguard of theFrench army. Nevertheless the Emperor did not leave the fete, andnotwithstanding the extreme gravity of intelligence which might cost himhis empire, he did not allow himself to show more uneasiness."

  "Than our host exhibited when General Kissoff informed him that thetelegraphic wires had just been cut between the frontier and thegovernment of Irkutsk."

  "Ah! you are aware of that?"

  "I am!"

  "As regards myself, it would be difficult to avoid knowing it, sincemy last telegram reached Udinsk," observed Alcide Jolivet, with somesatisfaction.

  "And mine only as far as Krasnoiarsk," answered Harry Blount, in a noless satisfied tone.

  "Then you know also that orders have been sent to the troops ofNikolaevsk?"

  "I do, sir; and at the same time a telegram was sent to the Cossacks ofthe government of Tobolsk to concentrate their forces."

  "Nothing can be more true, Mr. Blount; I was equally well acquaintedwith these measures, and you may be sure that my dear cousin shall knowof them to-morrow."

  "Exactly as the readers of the Daily Telegraph shall know it also, M.Jolivet."

  "Well, when one sees all that is going on...."

  "And when one hears all that is said...."

  "An interesting campaign to follow, Mr. Blount."

>   "I shall follow it, M. Jolivet!"

  "Then it is possible that we shall find ourselves on ground less safe,perhaps, than the floor of this ball-room."

  "Less safe, certainly, but--"

  "But much less slippery," added Alcide Jolivet, holding up hiscompanion, just as the latter, drawing back, was about to lose hisequilibrium.

  Thereupon the two correspondents separated, pleased that the one had notstolen a march on the other.

  At that moment the doors of the rooms adjoining the great receptionsaloon were thrown open, disclosing to view several immense tablesbeautifully laid out, and groaning under a profusion of valuablechina and gold plate. On the central table, reserved for the princes,princesses, and members of the corps diplomatique, glittered an epergneof inestimable price, brought from London, and around this chef-d'oeuvreof chased gold reflected under the light of the lusters a thousandpieces of most beautiful service from the manufactories of Sevres.

  The guests of the New Palace immediately began to stream towards thesupper-rooms.

  At that moment. General Kissoff, who had just re-entered, quicklyapproached the officer of chasseurs.

  "Well?" asked the latter abruptly, as he had done the former time.

  "Telegrams pass Tomsk no longer, sire."

  "A courier this moment!"

  The officer left the hall and entered a large antechamber adjoining. Itwas a cabinet with plain oak furniture, situated in an angle of the NewPalace. Several pictures, amongst others some by Horace Vernet, hung onthe wall.

  The officer hastily opened a window, as if he felt the want of air, andstepped out on a balcony to breathe the pure atmosphere of a lovely Julynight. Beneath his eyes, bathed in moonlight, lay a fortified inclosure,from which rose two cathedrals, three palaces, and an arsenal. Aroundthis inclosure could be seen three distinct towns: Kitai-Gorod,Beloi-Gorod, Zemlianai-Gorod--European, Tartar, and Chinese quarters ofgreat extent, commanded by towers, belfries, minarets, and the cupolasof three hundred churches, with green domes, surmounted by the silvercross. A little winding river, here and there reflected the rays of themoon.

  This river was the Moskowa; the town Moscow; the fortified inclosurethe Kremlin; and the officer of chasseurs of the guard, who, with foldedarms and thoughtful brow, was listening dreamily to the sounds floatingfrom the New Palace over the old Muscovite city, was the Czar.