It authorized Nicholas Korpanoff to be accompanied by one or more persons, and, moreover, it was, by special notification, made available in the event of the Muscovite government forbidding natives of any other countries to leave Russia.
The podorojna is simply a permission to take post-horses; but Michael Strogoff was not to use it unless he was sure that by so doing he would not excite suspicion as to his mission, that is to say, whilst he was on European territory. The consequence was that in Siberia, whilst traversing the insurgent provinces, he would have no power over the relays, either in the choice of horses in preference to others, or in demanding conveyances for his personal use; neither was Michael Strogoff to forget that he was no longer a courier, but a plain merchant, Nicholas Korpanoff, traveling from Moscow to Irkutsk, and, as such exposed to all the impediments of an ordinary journey.
To pass unknown, more or less rapidly, but to pass somehow, such were the directions he had received.
Thirty years previously, the escort of a traveler of rank consisted of not less than two hundred mounted Cossacks, two hundred foot-soldiers, twenty-five Baskir horsemen, three hundred camels, four hundred horses, twenty-five wagons, two portable boats, and two pieces of cannon. All this was requisite for a journey in Siberia.
Michael Strogoff, however, had neither cannon, nor horsemen, nor foot-soldiers, nor beasts of burden. He would travel in a carriage or on horseback, when he could; on foot, when he could not.
There would be no difficulty in getting over the first thousand miles, the distance between Moscow and the Russian frontier. Railroads, post-carriages, steamboats, relays of horses, were at everyone's disposal, and consequently at the disposal of the courier of the Czar.
Accordingly, on the morning of the 16th of July, having doffed his uniform, with a knapsack on his back, dressed in the simple Russian costume--tightly-fitting tunic, the traditional belt of the Moujik, wide trousers, gartered at the knees, and high boots-- Michael Strogoff arrived at the station in time for the first train. He carried no arms, openly at least, but under his belt was hidden a revolver and in his pocket, one of those large knives, resembling both a cutlass and a yataghan, with which a Siberian hunter can so neatly disembowel a bear, without injuring its precious fur.
A crowd of travelers had collected at the Moscow station. The stations on the Russian railroads are much used as places for meeting, not only by those who are about to proceed by the train, but by friends who come to see them off. The station resembles, from the variety of characters assembled, a small news exchange.
The train in which Michael took his place was to set him down at Nijni-Novgorod. There terminated at that time, the iron road which, uniting Moscow and St. Petersburg, has since been continued to the Russian frontier. It was a journey of under three hundred miles, and the train would accomplish it in ten hours. Once arrived at Nijni-Novgorod, Strogoff would either take the land route or the steamer on the Volga, so as to reach the Ural Mountains as soon as possible.
Michael Strogoff ensconced himself in his corner, like a worthy citizen whose affairs go well with him, and who endeavors to kill time by sleep. Nevertheless, as he was not alone in his compartment, he slept with one eye open, and listened with both his ears.
In fact, rumor of the rising of the Kirghiz hordes, and of the Tartar invasion had transpired in some degree. The occupants of the carriage, whom chance had made his traveling companions, discussed the subject, though with that caution which has become habitual among Russians, who know that spies are ever on the watch for any treasonable expressions which may be uttered.
These travelers, as well as the large number of persons in the train, were merchants on their way to the celebrated fair of Nijni-Novgorod;--a very mixed assembly, composed of Jews, Turks, Cossacks, Russians, Georgians, Kalmucks, and others, but nearly all speaking the national tongue.