Here, then, was Michael Strogoff, strolling through the town and quietly looking out for some inn in which to pass the night. However, he troubled himself little on this score, and, but that hunger pressed him, he would probably have wandered on till morning in the streets of Nijni-Novgorod. He was looking for supper rather than a bed. But he found both at the sign of the City of Constantinople. There, the landlord offered him a fairly comfortable room, with little furniture, it is true, but not without an image of the Virgin, and a few saints framed in yellow gauze.
A goose filled with sour stuffing swimming in thick cream, barley bread, some curds, powdered sugar mixed with cinnamon, and a jug of kwass, the ordinary Russian beer, were placed before him, and sufficed to satisfy his hunger. He did justice to the meal, which was more than could be said of his neighbor at table, who, having, in his character of "old believer" of the sect of Raskalniks, made the vow of abstinence, rejected the potatoes in front of him, and carefully refrained from putting sugar in his tea.
His supper finished, Michael Strogoff, instead of going up to his bedroom, again strolled out into the town. But, although the long twilight yet lingered, the crowd was already dispersing, the streets were gradually becoming empty, and at length everyone retired to his dwelling.
Why did not Michael Strogoff go quietly to bed, as would have seemed more reasonable after a long railway journey? Was he thinking of the young Livonian girl who had been his traveling companion? Having nothing better to do, he WAS thinking of her. Did he fear that, lost in this busy city, she might be exposed to insult? He feared so, and with good reason. Did he hope to meet her, and, if need were, to afford her protection? No. To meet would be difficult. As to protection--what right had he--
"Alone," he said to himself, "alone, in the midst of these wandering tribes! And yet the present dangers are nothing compared to those she must undergo. Siberia! Irkutsk! I am about to dare all risks for Russia, for the Czar, while she is about to do so--For whom? For what? She is authorized to cross the frontier! The country beyond is in revolt! The steppes are full of Tartar bands!"
Michael Strogoff stopped for an instant, and reflected.
"Without doubt," thought he, "she must have determined on undertaking her journey before the invasion. Perhaps she is even now ignorant of what is happening. But no, that cannot be; the merchants discussed before her the disturbances in Siberia-- and she did not seem surprised. She did not even ask an explanation. She must have known it then, and knowing it, is still resolute. Poor girl! Her motive for the journey must be urgent indeed! But though she may be brave--and she certainly is so--her strength must fail her, and, to say nothing of dangers and obstacles, she will be unable to endure the fatigue of such a journey. Never can she reach Irkutsk!"
Indulging in such reflections, Michael Strogoff wandered on as chance led him; being well acquainted with the town, he knew that he could easily retrace his steps.
Having strolled on for about an hour, he seated himself on a bench against the wall of a large wooden cottage, which stood, with many others, on a vast open space. He had scarcely been there five minutes when a hand was laid heavily on his shoulder.
"What are you doing here?" roughly demanded a tall and powerful man, who had approached unperceived.
"I am resting," replied Michael Strogoff.
"Do you mean to stay all night on the bench?"
"Yes, if I feel inclined to do so," answered Michael Strogoff, in a tone somewhat too sharp for the simple merchant he wished to personate.
"Come forward, then, so I can see you," said the man.
Michael Strogoff, remembering that, above all, prudence was requisite, instinctively drew back. "It is not necessary," he replied, and calmly stepped back ten paces.
The man seemed, as Michael observed him well, to have the look of a Bohemian, such as are met at fairs, and with whom contact, either physical or moral, is unpleasant.