FROM MOSCOW TO IRKOUTSK,
by JULES VERNE.
CHAPTER I –A FETE AT THE NEW PALACE
“Sire, a fresh dispatch!”
“From what point?”
“The wire is cut beyond that village, is it not?”
“Cut since yesterday.”
a telegram to
“Yes, sire,” replied General Kissoff.
words were interchanged at two o’clock in the morning, at a moment when the ball in the
During that evening the music of the Preobrajensky and Pawlowsky regiments had kept up a series of polkas, mazurkas, schottishes and waltzes selected front the choicest works in their repertory. The pairs of dancers multiplied to infinity through the splendid saloons of the palace, erected some steps from the old stone house where so many terrible dramas bad been enacted in other days, and whose echoes were awakened this night to give response to the music of quadrillcs.
The grand-marshal of the court was, moreover, well seconded in his delicate functions; the grand dukes and their aides-de-camp, the chamberlains on duty, the officers of the palace, presided in person in organizing the dances. The grand duchesses, glittering with diamonds, the maids of honor, in their richest costumes, bravely set an example to the wives of the high military and civil functionaries of the ancient ‘ City of White Stone,” So, when the signal sounded for the polonaise, when the guests of every rank took part in that cadenced promenade which, on solemnities of this kind, has all the importance of a national dance, the mingling of long robes, with their rows of lace-flounces, and of uniforms studded with decorations, altered an indescribable vista, under the light of a hundred lusters which repeated tenfold the reflection of the mirrors,
It was dazzling.
The great saloon, too, the finest of all in the New Palace, formed a framework worthy of the magnificence of this array of noble personages und spindly attired women, The rich, gilded vault, now softened by the hand of time, was starry with luminous points; the drapery of the hangings, at door and window, falling in superb folds, was purpled with warm tones which broke abruptly at the angles formed by the heavy material.
Through the plate-glass of the vast ovals, rounded with a full arch, the light which filled the saloons, toned by a light mist, gleamed out like the reflection of a conflagration —contrasting vividly with the darkness which had for hours enveloped the glittering palace. The contrast was not unnoted by guests who were not won by the dance.
When they stood at the casement, they could perceive here and there a tower, dimly outlined in the shadow, throwing out its profile in an enormous silhouette.
Beneath sculptured balconies, numerous sentinels could be seen silently going their rounds, the musket straight over the shoulder, the pointed helmet feathered with an aigrette of flame by the gleams of fire from the windows. The guests heard, too, the steps of the patrol keeping better time on the stone flags than the feet of the dancers did on the floor of the saloons.
From time to time an order was repeated from post to post, and again a trumpet-call, mingling with the sound of the orchestra, sent its clear notes amid the general harmony.
Lower down before the façade, sombre masses crossed the pyramids of light that gleamed from the windows of the New Palace They were boats gliding down the current of a river whose waters, lit up by the wavering light of lanterns, revealed the lower range of terraces.
personage of the ball— in fact, the giver of the fete, and whom General Kissoff addressed with a term reserved to sovereigns —was attired simply in
the uniform of an officer of Chasseurs of the Imperial Guard. It was no
affectation on his part, but the habit of a man indifferent to the exquisite in
dress. Hence his whole keeping contrasted with the superb costumes which
mingled around him, and it was
thus indeed that he generally appeared amid his escort of Georgians, Cossacks,
Losghians, dazzling squadrons, splendidly attired in the brilliant uniforms of
This personage, tall, affable, calm of face, yet with careworn brow, moved from group to group but be spoke little, and seemed to give only a vague attention to the merry chat of the younger guests, or the graver words of the high functionaries, or members of the diplomatic corps who represented the principal States of Europe in Russia,
Two or three of these far-seeing political men, physiognomists by virtue of their office, had indeed detected, they thought, some shade of disquiet in their host, its cause escaped them, and not one ventured to question him.
It was clearly the intention of this officer of the Guards that his secret preoccupation should not in any degree disturb this fete, and as he was one of those rare sovereigns whom almost a world is wont to obey, even in thought, the gayety of the ball was not checked even momentarily.
General Kissoff awaited an order to withdraw from the officer to whom he had
just imparted the dispatch forwarded froms
Then we have no communication with the grand duke since yesterday?” said he, as lie led General Kissoff into the embrasure of a window.
No communication, sire; and we must expect that ere long not a dispatch can pass the Siberian frontier.”
“But the troops of the provinces of the Amour and Irkoutsk, as well as the Trans-Baikal, have received orders to move at once on Irkoutsk?”
That order was
forwarded in the last telegram
we were able to send beyond
has been kept up since the outbreak of the insurrection with the governments of
Yes, sire, our dispatches reach thenu, stud we are certain that up to this moment the Tai’tais have not crossed the Irtishi amid Obi.”
“Are there any tidings of the traitor, Ivan Ogareff
“None,” replied General Kissoff “The chief of police cannot tell whether he has crossed the border or not.”
description ot once to Nijni-Novgorod,
“Your majesty’s orders shall be executed instantly,” replied General Kissoff.
“Silence as to all this !“
With a sign of respectful obedience, the general, after bowing, glided among the crowd of guests, and soon left the saloon without attracting notice by his exit
As for the officer, he stood thoughtfully for a few moments and when he rejoined the groups of military and civil officials who had gathered at various points in the vast halls, his countenance had regained the wonted calm which had momentarily forsaken it.
But the grave though rapidly exchanged words which closed by his injunction had not been as completely unnoticed as the officer of the guards and General Kissoff may have supposed.
It was not indeed officially, or even officiously, discussed, for the lips were not free, but some high functionaries had been more or less exactly informed of flue stirring events beyond the frontiers
At all events, what they knew only partially— what they did not discuss even among the members of the diplomatic corps—two ununiformed and undecorated guests at this reception in the New Palace spoke of in low tones, stud apparently on very definite information,
By what means—by what agent—had these two private individuals learned what so many of rank and distinction scarcely suspected? It was impossible to say. Had they the gift of prescience or prevision? Did they possess a supplementary sense
which enabled them to see beyond that limited horizon which bounds all human scrutiny? Had they some particular sense for detecting the most secret intelligence? Had the habit become a second nature in them?. the habit of living on information and by information transformed their nature? One was tempted to believe it.
Of these two men. one was an Englishman, the other a Frenchman, both tall and thin-- the latter brown, like the natives of Southern Provence; the former as ruddy as a Lancashire gentleman. The Anglo-Norman, self-contained, cool, phlegmatic, chary of word and action, seemed to speak and gesticulate only by a spring that worked at regular intervals, The Gallo-Roman, on the other hand, quick, petulant, expressed his thought by eye, lip and hand, having twenty forms of expression, while his companion seemed to have but one, immovably stereotyped in his brain.
This physical contrast would easily strike the most inobservant of men; but a physyognomist, scrutinizing the two strangers a little more closely, would have condensed the physiological contrast which characterized them by saying that if the Frenchman was “all eyes,” the Englishman was “all ears.”
In fact, the optical apparatus of the one had been singularly perfected by use. The sensibility of his retina must have been as instantaneous as that of those prestidigitateurs who recognize a card in the rapid act of cutting, or simply by the position of a spot that would be unheeded by another. This Frenchman, then. possessed, in the highest degree, what may be styled “sight memory.”
The Englishman, on the other hand, seemed specially organized to listen and hear. When his organs of hearing had been struck by the sound of a voice, he could never forget it. Ten —nay twenty years later he would detect it amid a thousand. His ears had not, indeed, the faculty of moving like those of animals endowed with great hearing receptacles; but as the learned have decided that human ears are only almost immovable, we may affirm that this Englishman’s, pricking up, twisting, turning, sought to catch sounds in a manner unapparent to naturalists.
We must observe that this perfection of sight and hearing in these two men were of wondrous advantage in their calling, for the Englishman was the correspondent of the Daily Telegraph, and the Frenchman correspondent of the —. Of what journal or journals he said not, and when asked, he replied cheerfully that he corresponded with “his cousin Magdalen.” This Frenchman light as he seemed, was very clear-sighted and sharp. While talking somewhat at random, the better to hide his eagerness to learn, he never betrayed himself. His very loquacity served him an silence, and of the two he was perhaps more close-mouthed and discreet than his confrere of the Daily Telegraph.
the two attended this ball given at the
It is needless to say that these two men were passionately devoted to their mission in this world; that they loved to dart like ferrets on the track of unexpected intelligence, that, to achieve success, nothing repulsed or alarmed them; that they possessed the imperturbable self-possession and real courage of their calling.
Regular Jockeys in the race for news, they leaped hedges, crossed rivers, vaulted over obstacles, with the ardor of full-blooded hunters who will be in first or die.
Their Journals did not spare money—the surest, most rapid, perfect element of information known to this day. We must add, too, and to their honor, that neither of them ever looked or listened beyond the walls of private life, and that they acted only when political or social interests were involved. In a word, they devoted themselves to what is called of late years higher ethical and military reporting.
Only that we shall see, as we follow them closely, that they had generally a singular method of regarding facts, and especially their consequences, each having his own way of seeing and appreciating. But, after all, as they went in good earnest and without counting costs, we should do wrong to blame them.
correspondent was Alcide Jolivet; Harry Blount was the name of the English
correspondent. They met for the first time at the ball in the
The dissimilarity of character, with a dash of professional jealousy, was enough to destroy any sympathy between them. Still, they did not avoid each other, but rather sought to fathom each other as to the news of the day.
They were two hunters, after all. hunting on the same field, on the same reserves. What one lacked might be advantageously drawn by the other, and interest compelled each to see and hear the other.
This evening they were both on the watch. There was, in fact, ‘something in the air.
If it’s only a flock of wild duck,” said Alcide Jolivet to himself, “it’s worth a shot.”
The two correspondents were therefore naturally thrown into contact and conversation some moments after General Kissoff’s departure, and they began by sounding each other.
This is a charming little entertainment,” said Alcide Jolivet, amicably, deeming it best to open conversation by this eminently French expression.
“I have already telegraphed—splendid!” coldly replied Blount, employing the term which in English will express such a wide range of admiration.
“Nevertheless, I have felt it right to tell my fair cousin—“
“Your cousin !“ repeated Blount, in a tone of surprise, interrupting his rival.
“Well, to me he seemed radiant,” replied Blount, wishing perhaps to conceal his own opinions.
“Indeed! then you have made him radiant In the columns of the Daily Telegraph?”
“You recollect, Mr. Blount, what occurred at Zakret in 1812?’ said Jolivet.
“I remember it just as if I had been there,” replied the English reporter.
Jolivet, “you know that in the midst of a ball given in his honor, word was
brought to the Czar Alexander that Napoleon had jut crossed the
“Nor did our host when General Kissoff announced that the wires had been cut between the frontier and the government of Irkoutsk.”
“Ah! you know that fact?”
“ I do.”
“And it would not be easy for me not to be informed, as my last telegram went to Oudinsk,” observed Jolivet, with an air of self-satisfaction.
And mine to Krasnocarsk only,” replied Blount in an air fully as well pleased.
Then you know, too, that orders have been sent to the troops at Nikolaevsk ?‘
Yes, sir: at the same time that orders flashed over the wires to concentrate the Cossacks of the government of Tobolsk.”
“True as gospel, Mr. Blount; these steps, too, were known to me; and take my word, my amiable little cousin will know it all to-morrow !“
“Just as the readers of the Daily Telegraph will, Mr. .Jolivet.”
“Then, when men see all that is going on—”
“And hear every word that is said--
“An interesting campaign to follow, Mr. Blount.”
I shall follow it, Mr. .Jolivet.”
Then we shall probably meet on more dangerous ground than this ball-room floor!”
“More dangerous, yes, but—”
“But not quite so slippery,” replied Jolivet, who caught his rival just as the latter, by a false step, was tottering back.
And then the two correspondents parted, satisfied on the whole to know that neither had distanced the other. In fact, it was a drawn game.
At that moment
the doors of the halls adjoining the great saloon were thrown open. Immense
tables were set there, wonderfully served and loaded in profusion with precious
porcelain and vessels of gold. On the central table, reserved to princes,
princesses and members of the diplomatic corps, shone a central piece of
fabulous price from a
The guests of
“Well?” the latter demanded, in the same quick tone as before.
“A courier at once.”
left the great saloon, and entered a vast adjoining apartment. It was a
working-room, very simply furnished in old oak, and situated at the very corner
The officer quickly opened the window, as though his lungs needed oxygen, and he stepped out on a wide balcony to breathe the pure air that that fair July night distilled.
Beneath his eyes, bathed in the moonlight, stood a fortified inclosure, in which rose two cathedrals, three palaces and an arsenal. Around this inclosure lay three distinct cities : Kitaigorod, Beloigorod, Zemlianoigorod, immense European, Tartar or Chinese quarters, from which loomed up the towers, steeples, minarets and cupolas of three hundred churches, with green domes surmounted by a silver cross. A little meandering river reflected here and there the moon’s rays All this formed a curious mosaic of houses of various shades of color, inclosed in a vast ten-league frame.
The river was
the Moskowa; the city was
(To be continued)