A Russian Summer

by James Keogh


I found myself overcome by passion. It properly began from that evening or before, perhaps the day I first saw Konstantin, but that evening of fun and frolicking confirmed my feelings. In his absence I was miserable, I kept trying to find ways to see him, even just to glimpse him. I was jealous of the young Princess and how she could so easily be with him, and the others. She had all these young men dancing around her, she controlled them, and she revelled in her manipulations. She led them in a merry circle and they could not refuse her whims, they indulged her every request as if unaware of how she played with them. I too was inexorably drawn into her company if only to be close to him, and I believe she was aware of this. Something in the way she regarded me, a certain look, and how she treated me. She was not unkind, but still she toyed with me like a cat with a mouse. I was unable to hide my affections and during this time I suffered. I suffered terribly, caught prisoner by my uncontrollable emotions.

Konstantin, I think tried to warn me, certainly he was aware of how I felt. How could he not be? But like the other young men he was necessary to the Princess and kept within her reach, never allowed to wander from her circle. Princess Anoushka had a carelessness and simplicity, she was both delicate and sly, above all she allowed everyone their freedom to exhibit themselves carefree.

Radomir was besotted with her, he would do anything for her, she need only suggest something and he was there ready at her feet. I think he would have thrown himself into the fire had she said so. Perhaps he had the most to gain from winning her hand, I am not sure. It was certain he was passionate, she would call him her "wild beast." Vyacheslav was perhaps the strongest, he stood against her and she respected him more than the others. Yet, he paid a price when she was particularly malicious and took delight in tormenting him, on occasion inflicting actual pain. The relationship Konstantin carried on with the Princess was yet again different. He was clever and articulate, and always the charmer. Yet despite how enamoured I was with him, in much the same way I am sure Anoushka was, still I as a sixteen year old boy could see something false in him, and I was amazed she did not see this too.

Perhaps she did see it and ignored it, because her own life was full of disorder. The poverty of the family created an insecurity so at any time anything might happen. Her life was ruled by the accompaniment of her mother, and whilst she enjoyed much liberty, and revelled in her rank and status, it was a life of chaos. Whatever happened she was used to these sudden changes and the unexpected, "What does it matter?" she would say and completely ignore any inconvenience.

I can admit I became fired with jealousy when Konstantin approached her like a sly fox, whispering words in her ear, touching her arm, a beautiful smile set on his face. At those times I was sure he cared not a jot for me, but she told me later, "You needn't think I care for him, I cannot have cares for anyone."

"But you," she smiled. "Don't I love you?" She flicked her long white silk glove against the tip of my nose.

Konstantin amused himself with me when we found time alone together, which we always did. For three weeks I spent a lot of time at the Gabrelyanovs, visiting the lodge nearly everyday. My handsome hussar was usually always there, sometimes with his companions and rivals, other times alone with the Princess.

I was afraid that my mother would see through my visits to the Gabrelyanovs and in some way discover my closeness to Konstantin. She did not like our neighbours and didn't care for me spending my time with the Princess. Of course, I could not tell her the purpose of my visits were not to see Anoushka. My father I was less concerned about, he didn't pay too much attention to my comings and goings, and he always treated Princess Anoushka amicably, although he did not speak to her very often.

I was always reluctant to leave the lodge and could not very well hide my disappointment if Konstantin was not there. One time Radomir and Vyacheslav were there with Anoushka, but Konstantin was absent, all three made fun of my predicament which had become so obvious between all of us. Other times the Princess would shoo me away, growing tired of my presence or simply she was not in the mood and had other matters to be occupied with.

When I was locked out of the neighbours lodge I would lie desolate in my bedroom, or walk around the garden hoping I might see someone. I would go into the old greenhouse and sit on the little wooden bench, then climb on the stone wall, sit there with my legs dangling, looking at the lane in case someone might arrive or leave. At those times I felt excluded and alone, my heart ached, and I tried to imagine ways in which I might again pay a visit or see the young man I dreamt about.

I spent hours alone outside, much more time alone than I ever spent with the Princess and her suitors. Butterflies flitted around the garden and flapped their wings on the debris inside the greenhouse. This part of the garden was abandoned, adorned with nettles and other wild plants, the red brickwork which formed the foundation of the greenhouse was crumbling, held together no doubt by the ivy, its dark green leaves spreading everywhere.

Overcome by strange emotions and desires I listened to the humming insects and tried not to tumble into gloom and sadness. I knew at once that I wanted to be beside Konstantin and at the same time I knew that would never be possible. He was not understandable either, when I was with him I could not comprehend him. I took whatever tiny scrap he sent in my direction, he flirted with me, but I knew nothing about how I should be, how I should react, what to do.

For several days I had not come close to Konstantin, we had seen each other, but he had kept a distance. This change completely crushed me, I tried to ask what had happened, demanding to know if I had acted badly in some way, he gave no reply, simply looked away and moved off.

One day I caught sight of him approaching the lodge, I had been sitting moodily watching the deserted lane. As he drew near me he beckoned me over to join him, and I jumped up and was instantly by his side. He said nothing and I was so overcome by my pent up emotions I thought I might burst into tears. "What is wrong?" I asked him.

"You're in love with me."

I made no answer. What was there to say?

"I know, I can see it in your eyes. Yes!" he declared. "And I am lost. I feel so wretched, because this is not playing." He moved back a pace and looked away, he had his back to me. "I can't bear it, and I am unable to get over it."

His voice was fainter as he spoke to the distant horizon.

"Why do you feel wretched?" I asked with genuine concern, for it was not my intention to cause any pain or misadventure to any person, least of all to Konstantin. I reached for his hand and touched it. I wanted to hold it, to offer reassurance, this was an odd conversation, not at all how I imagined.

He turned back to face me. A crow screeched from some place high in the trees and then took flight. I gazed into his eyes, at that instant I would gladly have given my life, if only I might placate his woes. I could not understand why he felt this way, since our discovery, the one for the other, I had felt only joy except when we were not together.

"Read me some verse," he said, breaking our mutual regard, looking away.

The day was warm, the sky blue, and we were alone.

"Come," I said, and we clambered over the old stone wall. I led him to the ruined greenhouse, where we sat, side by side, on the little wooden bench. I suppose he must have noticed the little book stuffed into my pocket, I took it out, and turned back the pages. It was no chance that I carried with me the greatest poet of all time. I read, "In ecstasy the heart is beating, old joys for it anew revive; inspired and God-filled, it is greeting, the fire, and tears, and love alive."

"I love Pushkin," he told me, to which words I convinced myself, he loves me.

I smiled.

"Poetry is so fine, it says what is and what is better than what is. It tells a truth, one cannot chose love, one might not want it, but it is there all the same."

He fell silent, I put away the book and moved off the bench to kneel on the ground in front of him. I took both his hands in mine and raised his palms to press them against my rudy cheeks until after a long while I let them down and kissed his finger tips, looking into those dark eyes.

"Radomir and Vyacheslav will arrive shortly," he said, and got up. "I went ahead and should be there before they get here."

I did not argue or object. I watched him leave and with him he took a little piece of me.

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