A Russian Summer

by James Keogh


For the next week I avoided paying any visits to the Gabrelyanovs, I saw both Radomir and Vyacheslav calling on the Princess, sometimes together, at other times one or the other. You see I still could not help myself from keeping a lookout although I knew Konstantin would not come. He had sent me a note, which was delivered by the surly Bogdan, explaining he was called away and would not be able to see me for several days. He asked me to keep my eyes open and let him know whatever I saw in his absence, something I thought a little odd, but it caused me no inconvenience as I often spent time walking in the garden, in the old greenhouse, or sitting perched on the old stone wall. I knew I should have been applying myself to my studies, but I could not, my heart ached to see my handsome and gallant hussar, and I could not properly occupy myself with any other thoughts.

I met one morning with Vyacheslav who told me he had hired a coach and was taking the Princess Agnia to call on the Govenor-general. He did all this and yet he had apparently fallen out of favour with the young Princess Anoushka. Vyacheslav was not a person I found myself naturally drawn to, but I had come to appreciate he was not a bad fellow and I had grown to like him. We took a walk together through the garden and he started naming all the different plants, he was a veritable botanist, something I would never have imagined, and he impressed me with his knowledge. Then quite suddenly he spoke about Princess Anoushka, "I thought she held me in esteem," he said, "but it seems not. What a fool I am!"

I immediately felt sympathetic towards him. "What do you mean?" I asked.

"I don't mean to tell you anything," he replied rather abruptly.

There he was, his usual incomprehensible self, as if his riddles were a mask protecting his real self. I did not take his reply badly for I had grown accustomed to how he was and took no offence, I only wondered why he persisted with the Princess.

Konstantin's absence was not my only reason for avoiding the Gabrelyanovs, Princess Anoushka had grown cold towards me to, the whys and wherefores I did not understand, and so I decided to keep my distance. I avoided crossing her path, because she had as before become bizarre and seemed altogether different. I spotted her one late afternoon when sitting on a bench in the garden under a hazelnut tree, I had a view of the lodge and glimpsed her at the window. It was not my intention to spy on the Princess, but I happened to look up from the book I had been reading, and there she was. She paced across the room, or so I presume, she crossed in front of the window several times before stopping and peering out. I thought nothing much of it, only my sense of her being changed was confirmed, that she was agitated I noticed even from far away.

It was some three days later when I met her strolling through the garden, she told me, "I felt all of a sudden the need to take some air. Isn't it a beautiful day?"

"Yes it is," I replied, and stole a look at her face. She had regained her previous demeanour and a smile played across he lips. "You look to be in a happy mood," I ventured, and her smile grew broader.

"I am!" She clapped her hands together. "Lend me your arm, let us walk a while."

I did, and she rested her delicately small hand on my arm.

"I was very tired of late, but the sun today has lifted me spirits."

"Yes, indeed," I told her. "You are much more your usual self."

"And you, I have not been too kind, when you are all alone and Konstantin is absent."

I felt myself blush, and picked up the book I had stuffed into my pocket. I have this," I told her, "and have been reading almost everyday."

"Still," she turned her head towards me as we walked, "you miss him, as do I."

"Do you think me a child?" I asked her, and I don't know why I posed that question. Perhaps it was the way she treated me, it was different to how she was with Konstantin or Vyacheslav, and different again from when she had spoken with my father.

"Well yes, but a dear, clever, and lovely one. I am so much older than you, so much so, I could be an aunt or older sister. Look," she stopped, letting go of my arm, and bent to snap off the head of a deep red rose. Carefully she placed it into the buttonhole of my jacket and held both my arms in hers. "There, a token of my esteem. You shall be my confidant and aide."

"As your confidant, Princess, may I ask you a question?"

"Of course you may. You should share all your little worries and concerns with me. We are friends."

"Do you have feelings for Konstantin?" I asked her. "Do you miss his company?"

"Well, of course I do. Yes, to both your questions. But don't be jealous of your Princess, our Konstantin has a big heart, large enough for both of us."

And we strolled on in silence. Princess Anoushka did not seem to want to speak anymore and neither did I.

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