Nadia asked nothing more. She saw in this fortunate meeting with Michael a means only of accelerating her journey to her father.
"I had," said she, "a permit which authorized me to go to Irkutsk, but the new order annulled that; and but for you, brother, I should have been unable to leave the town, in which, without doubt, I should have perished."
"And dared you, alone, Nadia," said Michael, "attempt to cross the steppes of Siberia?"
"The Tartar invasion was not known when I left Riga. It was only at Moscow that I learnt the news."
"And despite it, you continued your journey?"
"It was my duty."
The words showed the character of the brave girl.
She then spoke of her father, Wassili Fedor. He was a much-esteemed physician at Riga. But his connection with some secret society having been asserted, he received orders to start for Irkutsk. The police who brought the order conducted him without delay beyond the frontier.
Wassili Fedor had but time to embrace his sick wife and his daughter, so soon to be left alone, when, shedding bitter tears, he was led away. A year and a half after her husband's departure, Madame Fedor died in the arms of her daughter, who was thus left alone and almost penniless. Nadia Fedor then asked, and easily obtained from the Russian government, an authorization to join her father at Irkutsk. She wrote and told him she was starting. She had barely enough money for this long journey, and yet she did not hesitate to undertake it. She would do what she could. God would do the rest.
CHAPTER IX DAY AND NIGHT IN A TARANTASS
THE next day, the 19th of July, the Caucasus reached Perm, the last place at which she touched on the Kama.
The government of which Perm is the capital is one of the largest in the Russian Empire, and, extending over the Ural Mountains, encroaches on Siberian territory. Marble quarries, mines of salt, platina, gold, and coal are worked here on a large scale. Although Perm, by its situation, has become an important town, it is by no means attractive, being extremely dirty, and without resources. This want of comfort is of no consequence to those going to Siberia, for they come from the more civilized districts, and are supplied with all necessaries.
At Perm travelers from Siberia resell their vehicles, more or less damaged by the long journey across the plains. There, too, those passing from Europe to Asia purchase carriages, or sleighs in the winter season.
Michael Strogoff had already sketched out his programme. A vehicle carrying the mail usually runs across the Ural Mountains, but this, of course, was discontinued. Even if it had not been so, he would not have taken it, as he wished to travel as fast as possible, without depending on anyone. He wisely preferred to buy a carriage, and journey by stages, stimulating the zeal of the postillions by well-applied "na vodkou," or tips.
Unfortunately, in consequence of the measures taken against foreigners of Asiatic origin, a large number of travelers had already left Perm, and therefore conveyances were extremely rare. Michael was obliged to content himself with what had been rejected by others. As to horses, as long as the Czar's courier was not in Siberia, he could exhibit his podorojna, and the postmasters would give him the preference. But, once out of Europe, he had to depend alone on the power of his roubles.
But to what sort of a vehicle should he harness his horses? To a telga or to a tarantass? The telga is nothing but an open four-wheeled cart, made entirely of wood, the pieces fastened together by means of strong rope. Nothing could be more primitive, nothing could be less comfortable; but, on the other hand, should any accident happen on the way, nothing could be more easily repaired. There is no want of firs on the Russian frontier, and axle-trees grow naturally in forests. The post extraordinary, known by the name of "perck-ladnoi," is carried by the telga, as any road is good enough for it. It must be confessed that sometimes the ropes which fasten the concern together break, and whilst the hinder part remains stuck in some bog, the fore-part arrives at the post-house on two wheels; but this result is considered quite satisfactory.