A Russian Summer

by James Keogh


The next morning I saw Princess Anoushka leaving the lodge and shortly after as I walked through the garden I found Vyacheslav, he had some plants in his hand. "Good morning," I greeted, and he turned to look at me.

"Fennel and rosemary," he said, stretching out his arm.

I looked at him bemused.

"Sniff the scent," he pushed the bunch of greenery under my nose and I breathed in the sweet odour. "Herbs, these are good for changing the air."

I stood still, looking at him, a rather stupid grin on my face. He was once again speaking in riddles.

"I apologise if I upset you yesterday evening. Never my intention," he assured, a look of consternation burrowing his brow. "The Princess is a strange creature and you have become close to her, yet you must support her moods."

He started walking. "Come, walk with me."

We strolled through the garden in the direction of the old ruined greenhouse. I was silent.

"She has taken you as a confidant, but do not be beguiled. Being close you should keep an eye on things."

"What things?" I asked.

"In the daytime there are people about, but after dark, that is when you should keep your eyes open. You must stay awake and not sleep, "You know the fountain by the rose garden?"

I nodded.

"It is a favourite spot where the Princess goes. You will thank me," he said.

I was puzzled, I knew she was fond of roses, but she would not stroll through the garden at night, and why should I watch over her? He was talking nonsense again and I had no time for his games. I had I thought come to appreciate Vyacheslav, but now his conversation was nothing more than an annoyance I had no time for.

"I doubt I could stay awake all night," I told him. "In any case, I would need to sleep and my mother would not be very well pleased to find me sleeping through the day when I should be studying. How might I explain that?"

"Ah well! We must all make sacrifices," he replied and left to return in the direction of the lodge, carrying his aromatic herbs.

Was the man teasing me? Was he boasting a tryst with the Princess at night in the gardens? Was there something else? Someone else? I had had my fill of tales and games, it would be the worse for anyone if I did come across them, he had somewhat spoiled my day.

I returned home and went straight for the drawer of my dresser, pulling it open I rummaged for what I was searching, found it, an pulled it out. I held up the hunting knife I had bought recently, I extracted it from the tough leather shield and felt the sharpness of the blade. I turned it in my hand before sheaving the blade and thrusting the knife into my pocket. I kept touching the weapon with my hand in my pocket. All day I wandered around in a gloomy desperation, a state Vyacheslav had stirred up in me, himself and the Princess, it had all started the evening before. Now, I would not let things go, I would prove myself. My father was absent, but my mother noticed my odd behaviour and commented, asking what had put me in such a foul mood. I made no reply, only to excuse myself, if only she knew I thought. It was eleven o'clock when I went upstairs to bed, but I did not undress, I waited, sitting on the edge of my bed, for midnight to strike. I put on my coat, felt in the pocket for the thing I knew was hidden there, and made my way down into the garden. I already knew the spot from where I would keep watch.

The night was silent, still, no breeze, nothing moved, only the moonlight cast changing shadows which played across the garden as the clouds drifted above. For these slowly rolling clouds I glimpsed in the dark sky and yet no wind reached me hidden behind a thick bush near to the gate. I felt in my pocket and fingered the knife that lay there sheaved, I wondered what I would do should I discover someone. Would I accost them and demand to know what they were doing? If they did not reply, would I produce my weapon, unsheathe the blade and threaten them? I listened intent for any sound that might be a person approaching, but I heard not a whisper, nothing than the silence and still of the night. How much time had past, a few minutes, an hour, I fell to dreaming, my thick coat like a blanket pulled up tight around me. With a start I was suddenly alert, a crack of a twig, footsteps.

They were approaching. I had not expected there would be more than one person, although it was obvious now how a couple might meet in the cover of the dark, I felt a little stupid for imagining otherwise. The footsteps grew nearer, but as they did the clouds high in the sky seemed to conspire to conceal the light. Then, suddenly, a man came into view. I recognised him at once. I did not need the light of day to know the man was my father! He walked softly, carefully, passing me by, and the other, if there was indeed another there with him, I did not see, they must not have been together.

I was shocked, why was my father out wandering in the depths of the night, although he appeared to walk with a purpose. I felt like a stupid schoolboy with a pocket knife out on an adventure when I should be in bed. The silent night returned as the footsteps faded, I had not moved from my spot, and my father had walked by without noticing me. It was only on my return to the house as I climbed into bed did odd thoughts strike me. However, I could make no sense of seeing my father, and yet what was it that Vyacheslav knew, for it was he who told me to keep watch.

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