Then, as he looked more attentively through the dusk, he perceived, near the cottage, a large caravan, the usual traveling dwelling of the Zingaris or gypsies, who swarm in Russia wherever a few copecks can be obtained.
As the gypsy took two or three steps forward, and was about to interrogate Michael Strogoff more closely, the door of the cottage opened. He could just see a woman, who spoke quickly in a language which Michael Strogoff knew to be a mixture of Mongol and Siberian.
"Another spy! Let him alone, and come to supper. The papluka is waiting for you."
Michael Strogoff could not help smiling at the epithet bestowed on him, dreading spies as he did above all else.
In the same dialect, although his accent was very different, the Bohemian replied in words which signify, "You are right, Sangarre! Besides, we start to-morrow."
"To-morrow?" repeated the woman in surprise.
"Yes, Sangarre," replied the Bohemian; "to-morrow, and the Father himself sends us--where we are going!"
Thereupon the man and woman entered the cottage, and carefully closed the door.
"Good!" said Michael Strogoff, to himself; "if these gipsies do not wish to be understood when they speak before me, they had better use some other language."
From his Siberian origin, and because he had passed his childhood in the Steppes, Michael Strogoff, it has been said, understood almost all the languages in usage from Tartary to the Sea of Ice. As to the exact signification of the words he had heard, he did not trouble his head. For why should it interest him?
It was already late when he thought of returning to his inn to take some repose. He followed, as he did so, the course of the Volga, whose waters were almost hidden under the countless number of boats floating on its bosom.
An hour after, Michael Strogoff was sleeping soundly on one of those Russian beds which always seem so hard to strangers, and on the morrow, the 17th of July, he awoke at break of day.
He had still five hours to pass in Nijni-Novgorod; it seemed to him an age. How was he to spend the morning unless in wandering, as he had done the evening before, through the streets? By the time he had finished his breakfast, strapped up his bag, had his podorojna inspected at the police office, he would have nothing to do but start. But he was not a man to lie in bed after the sun had risen; so he rose, dressed himself, placed the letter with the imperial arms on it carefully at the bottom of its usual pocket within the lining of his coat, over which he fastened his belt; he then closed his bag and threw it over his shoulder. This done, he had no wish to return to the City of Constantinople, and intending to breakfast on the bank of the Volga near the wharf, he settled his bill and left the inn. By way of precaution, Michael Strogoff went first to the office of the steam-packet company, and there made sure that the Caucasus would start at the appointed hour. As he did so, the thought for the first time struck him that, since the young Livonian girl was going to Perm, it was very possible that her intention was also to embark in the Caucasus, in which case he should accompany her.
The town above with its kremlin, whose circumference measures two versts, and which resembles that of Moscow, was altogether abandoned. Even the governor did not reside there. But if the town above was like a city of the dead, the town below, at all events, was alive.
Michael Strogoff, having crossed the Volga on a bridge of boats, guarded by mounted Cossacks, reached the square where the evening before he had fallen in with the gipsy camp. This was somewhat outside the town, where the fair of Nijni-Novgorod was held. In a vast plain rose the temporary palace of the governor-general, where by imperial orders that great functionary resided during the whole of the fair, which, thanks to the people who composed it, required an ever-watchful surveillance.
This plain was now covered with booths symmetrically arranged in such a manner as to leave avenues broad enough to allow the crowd to pass without a crush.