Blount, on the contrary, having in vain hunted for a supper, had been obliged to find a resting-place in the open air. He therefore looked at it all from another point of view, and was preparing an article of the most withering character against a town in which the landlords of the inns refused to receive travelers who only begged leave to be flayed, "morally and physically."
Michael Strogoff, one hand in his pocket, the other holding his cherry-stemmed pipe, appeared the most indifferent and least impatient of men; yet, from a certain contraction of his eyebrows every now and then, a careful observer would have seen that he was burning to be off.
For two hours he kept walking about the streets, only to find himself invariably at the fair again. As he passed among the groups of buyers and sellers he discovered that those who came from countries on the confines of Asia manifested great uneasiness. Their trade was visibly suffering. Another symptom also was marked. In Russia military uniforms appear on every occasion. Soldiers are wont to mix freely with the crowd, the police agents being almost invariably aided by a number of Cossacks, who, lance on shoulder, keep order in the crowd of three hundred thousand strangers. But on this occasion the soldiers, Cossacks and the rest, did not put in an appearance at the great market. Doubtless, a sudden order to move having been foreseen, they were restricted to their barracks.
Moreover, while no soldiers were to be seen, it was not so with their officers. Since the evening before, aides-decamp, leaving the governor's palace, galloped in every direction. An unusual movement was going forward which a serious state of affairs could alone account for. There were innumerable couriers on the roads both to Wladimir and to the Ural Mountains. The exchange of telegraphic dispatches with Moscow was incessant.
Michael Strogoff found himself in the central square when the report spread that the head of police had been summoned by a courier to the palace of the governor-general. An important dispatch from Moscow, it was said, was the cause of it.
"The fair is to be closed," said one.
"The regiment of Nijni-Novgorod has received the route," declared another.
"They say that the Tartars menace Tomsk!"
"Here is the head of police!" was shouted on every side. A loud clapping of hands was suddenly raised, which subsided by degrees, and finally was succeeded by absolute silence. The head of police arrived in the middle of the central square, and it was seen by all that he held in his hand a dispatch.
Then, in a loud voice, he read the following announcements: "By order of the Governor of Nijni-Novgorod.
"1st. All Russian subjects are forbidden to quit the province upon any pretext whatsoever.
"2nd. All strangers of Asiatic origin are commanded to leave the province within twenty-four hours."
CHAPTER VI BROTHER AND SISTER
HOWEVER disastrous these measures might be to private interests, they were, under the circumstances, perfectly justifiable.
"All Russian subjects are forbidden to leave the province;" if Ivan Ogareff was still in the province, this would at any rate prevent him, unless with the greatest difficulty, from rejoining Feofar-Khan, and becoming a very formidable lieutenant to the Tartar chief.
"All foreigners of Asiatic origin are ordered to leave the province in four-and-twenty hours;" this would send off in a body all the traders from Central Asia, as well as the bands of Bohemians, gipsies, etc., having more or less sympathy with the Tartars. So many heads, so many spies-- undoubtedly affairs required their expulsion.
It is easy to understand the effect produced by these two thunder-claps bursting over a town like Nijni-Novgorod, so densely crowded with visitors, and with a commerce so greatly surpassing that of all other places in Russia. The natives whom business called beyond the Siberian frontier could not leave the province for a time at least. The tenor of the first article of the order was express; it admitted of no exception.