Ivan Ogareff had succeeded.
"Michael Strogoff!" cried he. Then advancing, "Ah, the man of Ichim?"
"Himself!" said Michael. And raising the knout he struck Ogareff a sharp blow across the face. "Blow for blow!" said he.
"Well repaid!" cried a voice concealed by the tumult.
Twenty soldiers threw themselves on Michael, and in another instant he would have been slain.
But Ogareff, who on being struck had uttered a cry of rage and pain, stopped them. "This man is reserved for the Emir's judgment," said he. "Search him!"
The letter with the imperial arms was found in Michael's bosom; he had not had time to destroy it; it was handed to Ogareff.
The voice which had pronounced the words, "Well repaid!" was that of no other than Alcide Jolivet. "Par-dieu!" said he to Blount, "they are rough, these people. Acknowledge that we owe our traveling companion a good turn. Korpanoff or Strogoff is worthy of it. Oh, that was fine retaliation for the little affair at Ichim."
"Yes, retaliation truly," replied Blount; "but Strogoff is a dead man. I suspect that, for his own interest at all events, it would have been better had he not possessed quite so lively a recollection of the event."
"And let his mother perish under the knout?"
"Do you think that either she or his sister will be a bit better off from this outbreak of his?"
"I do not know or think anything except that I should have done much the same in his position," replied Alcide. "What a scar the Colonel has received! Bah! one must boil over sometimes. We should have had water in our veins instead of blood had it been incumbent on us to be always and everywhere unmoved to wrath."
"A neat little incident for our journals," observed Blount, "if only Ivan Ogareff would let us know the contents of that letter."
Ivan Ogareff, when he had stanched the blood which was trickling down his face, had broken the seal. He read and re-read the letter deliberately, as if he was determined to discover everything it contained.
Then having ordered that Michael, carefully bound and guarded, should be carried on to Tomsk with the other prisoners, he took command of the troops at Zabediero, and, amid the deafening noise of drums and trumpets, he marched towards the town where the Emir awaited him.
CHAPTER IV THE TRIUMPHAL ENTRY
TOMSK, founded in 1604, nearly in the heart of the Siberian provinces, is one of the most important towns in Asiatic Russia. Tobolsk, situated above the sixtieth parallel; Irkutsk, built beyond the hundredth meridian-- have seen Tomsk increase at their expense.
And yet Tomsk, as has been said, is not the capital of this important province. It is at Omsk that the Governor-General of the province and the official world reside. But Tomsk is the most considerable town of that territory. The country being rich, the town is so likewise, for it is in the center of fruitful mines. In the luxury of its houses, its arrangements, and its equipages, it might rival the greatest European capitals. It is a city of millionaires, enriched by the spade and pickax, and though it has not the honor of being the residence of the Czar's representative, it can boast of including in the first rank of its notables the chief of the merchants of the town, the principal grantees of the imperial government's mines.
But the millionaires were fled now, and except for the crouching poor, the town stood empty to the hordes of Feofar-Khan. At four o'clock the Emir made his entry into the square, greeted by a flourish of trumpets, the rolling sound of the big drums, salvoes of artillery and musketry.
Feofar mounted his favorite horse, which carried on its head an aigrette of diamonds. The Emir still wore his uniform. He was accompanied by a numerous staff, and beside him walked the Khans of Khokhand and Koundouge and the grand dignitaries of the Khanats.
At the same moment appeared on the terrace the chief of Feofar's wives, the queen, if this title may be given to the sultana of the states of Bokhara.