In the first ranks of these prisoners figured Michael Strogoff. As Ogareff had ordered, he was specially guarded by a file of soldiers. His mother and Nadia were there also.
The old Siberian, although energetic enough when her own safety was in question, was frightfully pale. She expected some terrible scene. It was not without reason that her son had been brought before the Emir. She therefore trembled for him. Ivan Ogareff was not a man to forgive having been struck in public by the knout, and his vengeance would be merciless. Some frightful punishment familiar to the barbarians of Central Asia would, no doubt, be inflicted on Michael. Ogareff had protected him against the soldiers because he well knew what would happen by reserving him for the justice of the Emir.
The mother and son had not been able to speak together since the terrible scene in the camp at Zabediero. They had been pitilessly kept apart--a bitter aggravation of their misery, for it would have been some consolation to have been together during these days of captivity. Marfa longed to ask her son's pardon for the harm she had unintentionally done him, for she reproached herself with not having commanded her maternal feelings. If she had restrained herself in that post-house at Omsk, when she found herself face to face with him, Michael would have passed unrecognized, and all these misfortunes would have been avoided.
Michael, on his side, thought that if his mother was there, if Ogareff had brought her with him, it was to make her suffer with the sight of his own punishment, or perhaps some frightful death was reserved for her also.
As to Nadia, she only asked herself how she could save them both, how come to the aid of son and mother. As yet she could only wonder, but she felt instinctively that she must above everything avoid drawing attention upon herself, that she must conceal herself, make herself insignificant. Perhaps she might at least gnaw through the meshes which imprisoned the lion. At any rate if any opportunity was given her she would seize upon it, and sacrifice herself, if need be, for the son of Marfa Strogoff.
In the meantime the greater part of the prisoners were passing before the Emir, and as they passed each was obliged to prostrate himself, with his forehead in the dust, in token of servitude. Slavery begins by humiliation. When the unfortunate people were too slow in bending, the rough guards threw them violently to the ground.
Alcide Jolivet and his companion could not witness such a sight without feeling indignant.
"It is cowardly--let us go," said Alcide.
"No," answered Blount; "we must see it all."
"See it all!--ah!" cried Alcide, suddenly, grasping his companion's arm.
"What is the matter with you?" asked the latter.
"Look, Blount; it is she!"
"The sister of our traveling companion--alone, and a prisoner! We must save her."
"Calm yourself," replied Blount coolly. "Any interference on our part in behalf of the young girl would be worse than useless."
Alcide Jolivet, who had been about to rush forward, stopped, and Nadia-- who had not perceived them, her features being half hidden by her hair-- passed in her turn before the Emir without attracting his attention.
However, after Nadia came Marfa Strogoff; and as she did not throw herself quickly in the dust, the guards brutally pushed her. She fell.
Her son struggled so violently that the soldiers who were guarding him could scarcely hold him back. But the old woman rose, and they were about to drag her on, when Ogareff interposed, saying, "Let that woman stay!"
As to Nadia, she happily regained the crowd of prisoners. Ivan Ogareff had taken no notice of her.
Michael was then led before the Emir, and there he remained standing, without casting down his eyes.
"Your forehead to the ground!" cried Ogareff.
"No!" answered Michael.
Two soldiers endeavored to make him bend, but they were themselves laid on the ground by a buffet from the young man's fist.