"But why should not our driver come back? He knows perfectly well that he has left us behind, wretch that he is!"
"He! He never suspected such a thing."
"What! the fellow not know that he was leaving the better half of his telga behind?"
"Not a bit, and in all good faith is driving the fore part into Ekaterenburg."
"Did I not tell you that it was a good joke, confrere?" cried Alcide.
"Then, gentlemen, if you will follow me," said Michael, "we will return to my carriage, and--"
"But the telga," observed the Englishman.
"There is not the slightest fear that it will fly away, my dear Blount!" exclaimed Alcide; "it has taken such good root in the ground, that if it were left here until next spring it would begin to bud."
"Come then, gentlemen," said Michael Strogoff, "and we will bring up the tarantass."
The Frenchman and the Englishman, descending from their seats, no longer the hinder one, since the front had taken its departure, followed Michael.
Walking along, Alcide Jolivet chattered away as usual, with his invariable good-humor. "Faith, Mr. Korpanoff," said he, "you have indeed got us out of a bad scrape."
"I have only done, sir," replied Michael, "what anyone would have done in my place."
"Well, sir, you have done us a good turn, and if you are going farther we may possibly meet again, and--"
Alcide Jolivet did not put any direct question to Michael as to where he was going, but the latter, not wishing it to be suspected that he had anything to conceal, at once replied, "I am bound for Omsk, gentlemen."
"Mr. Blount and I," replied Alcide, "go where danger is certainly to be found, and without doubt news also."
"To the invaded provinces?" asked Michael with some earnestness.
"Exactly so, Mr. Korpanoff; and we may possibly meet there."
"Indeed, sir," replied Michael, "I have little love for cannon-balls or lance points, and am by nature too great a lover of peace to venture where fighting is going on."
"I am sorry, sir, extremely sorry; we must only regret that we shall separate so soon! But on leaving Ekaterenburg it may be our fortunate fate to travel together, if only for a few days?"
"Do you go on to Omsk?" asked Michael, after a moment's reflection.
"We know nothing as yet," replied Alcide; "but we shall certainly go as far as Ishim, and once there, our movements must depend on circumstances."
"Well then, gentlemen," said Michael, "we will be fellow-travelers as far as Ishim."
Michael would certainly have preferred to travel alone, but he could not, without appearing at least singular, seek to separate himself from the two reporters, who were taking the same road that he was. Besides, since Alcide and his companion intended to make some stay at Ishim, he thought it rather convenient than otherwise to make that part of the journey in their company.
Then in an indifferent tone he asked, "Do you know, with any certainty, where this Tartar invasion is?"
"Indeed, sir," replied Alcide, "we only know what they said at Perm. Feofar-Khan's Tartars have invaded the whole province of Semipolatinsk, and for some days, by forced marches, have been descending the Irtish. You must hurry if you wish to get to Omsk before them."
"Indeed I must," replied Michael.
"It is reported also that Colonel Ogareff has succeeded in passing the frontier in disguise, and that he will not be slow in joining the Tartar chief in the revolted country."
"But how do they know it?" asked Michael, whom this news, more or less true, so directly concerned.
"Oh! as these things are always known," replied Alcide; "it is in the air."
"Then have you really reason to think that Colonel Ogareff is in Siberia?"
"I myself have heard it said that he was to take the road from Kasan to Ekaterenburg."
"Ah! you know that, Mr. Jolivet?" said Harry Blount, roused from his silence.
"I knew it," replied Alcide.
"And do you know that he went disguised as a gypsy!" asked Blount.
"As a gypsy!" exclaimed Michael, almost involuntarily, and he suddenly remembered the look of the old Bohemian at Nijni-Novgorod, his voyage on board the Caucasus, and his disembarking at Kasan.