The quality of Russia's determination to win victory, despite serious reverses in the field, was well indicated by an announcement made in Petrograd, May 1, 1916. A railroad from the capital to Soroka, on the White Sea, begun since the war started, had just reached completion.
For a day and a half the soroka conveyed them on their way; during which time they spent the night at a roadside inn, crossed a river, dined off cold pie and roast mutton, and eventually arrived at the county town. To the lad the streets presented a spectacle of unwonted brilliancy, and he gaped with amazement.
It covered a distance of 386 miles and made accessible a port that hitherto had been practically useless, where it was proposed to divert commercial shipments. This left free for war purposes the port of Archangel, sole window of Russia looking upon the west until Soroka was linked with Petrograd. German activity had halted all shipping to Russian Baltic ports.
At the moment announcement was made of this event more than 100 ships were waiting for the ice to break up, permitting passage to Archangel and Soroka, which are held in the grip of the north for many months of each year. A majority of these vessels carried guns, ammunition, harness, auto trucks and other things sorely needed by the Czar's armies.
But in this world everything is liable to swift and sudden change; and, one day in early spring, when the rivers had melted, the father set forth with his little son in a teliezshka drawn by a sorrel steed of the kind known to horsy folk as a soroka, and having as coachman the diminutive hunchback who, father of the only serf family belonging to the elder Chichikov, served as general factotum in the Chichikov establishment.