A Russian Summer

by James Keogh


When I got up all the emotion of the previous day had gone, I was left with only questions as if given a puzzle which needed the pieces fitting together, but must surely have some bits missing because there was no clear picture. I thought I would find Konstantin at the Gabrelyanovs with the Princess and perhaps I should talk with him, or both of them, and explain what I saw last night. As I entered the lodge I had second thoughts, it would appear rather peculiar to say I had been hiding in the garden at midnight, and they would surely ask why.

As it happened I had no opportunity to say anything, much as this morning my mother had been occupied with herself, only remarking that I looked tired, and my father had sat quietly at the breakfast table, not even greeting me. Princess Anoushka rushed up to me as soon as I was through the door, taking me by the arm and leading me into the salon.

"Here," she said, "my dear Alexei, this is Spartak."

In the centre of the room, dressed in the smart uniform of a cadet, with gold braid and stiff high collar, stood a small boy of about twelve or thirteen. He turned to look at me and I saw at once a striking resemblance with the Princess, those same deep eyes.

"My brother, he's here from Saint Petersburg. For the holidays."

I nodded and the boy smiled, but neither he nor I moved.

"He will make a good companion for you," Princess Anoushka announced. "Come," she said, pulling me towards him.

I naturally extended my arm and somewhat awkwardly we shook hands. He had small soft hands.

"You will be nice to him, won't you?" She was telling me.

I nodded again.

"Please like him. He is shy, but has a good heart."

I noticed the boy looked a little embarrassed and lowered his eyes avoiding my gaze as I properly took in his features. He was a handsome young boy, just like his much older sister.

"Take him under your protection and show him around. Go for walks and become his friend. You're so good, you will do that won't you."

Not content with our awkward handshake she pushed us together, "Embrace each other," she instructed.

I looked in silence at the young cadet and he looked back at me. After a moment's hesitation we embraced and kissed on each cheek. "Would you like to visit the gardens?" I asked.

"Yes please," Spartak replied in his breaking, slight hoarse voice.

The Princess laughed softly and I noticed then how radiant she was, how she appeared to be in high spirits and quite happy. I led young Spartak out of the lodge and into the garden, taking a path that led to an old swing, which like the greenhouse, had seen better days, but was still sturdy enough to support us. I sat him down on the old plank and took hold of the ropes to swing him back and forth. "You better loosen your collar," I told him, and he looked up a at me and smiled. He had the same bright, captivating smile, as the Princess. Being there with him I felt like a child again, playing outside in the garden, but I knew in reality I had changed, I ached for something different. The simple childhood pleasures I knew very well, but whilst terribly familiar they were no longer fulfilling. Spartak reminded me so much of who I had been only a short time ago, I liked him a lot.

In the early evening I found Konstantin, he had come looking for me in the garden, and found me accompanied by the princess's brother. We were about to commence a game of tag, but I stopped as soon as I caught sight of Konstantin. I don't know why, but I became overcome with sadness and tears welled in my eyes. I stared at Konstantin who broke the silence and introduced himself to Spartak. Then I could contain myself no longer and asked, "Why do you always leave me alone and sad?"

"Oh, Alexei," he said, "I do not mean to see you sad, you must forgive me because I wish with all my soul you are happy and carefree, like your young companion here." He laid one hand on Spartak's shoulder and another on mine. His touch was a magic balm that calmed my spirit, and yet like so often simply a tiny moment, a short lived comfort, and not enough.

"Why do you play with me?" I whispered, and noticed how Spartak glanced at me.

"It is my fault. I am to blame, I have many things to regret, but I am not playing with you now. I love you; you don't even suspect why or how, still it is the truth."

I knew it was, he was not lying or misleading me about this, and I belonged to him, with all my heart. Spartak had turned away and was sitting swing his legs on the stone bench by the rose garden. I hadn't noticed the boy had left us but was thankful he had, although I wondered now what he had heard and what he thought.

"I must leave you for now," Konstantin announced. "Princess Anoushka has asked to see me before supper." He kissed me on both cheeks, glanced at Spartak and left.

When I joined the boy on the bench I asked, "What would you like to do now?"

He looked at me with a very serious expression on his face, he sat up straight and faced me directly. "Does he really love you?" He asked.

"Yes, I think he does," I smiled, and we both laughed.

He jumped up quickly and started off towards the old greenhouse, stopped and turned back, "Catch me if you can!" he shouted, and ran off.

I was immediately on my feet and sprinting after him, I caught him as he reached the greenhouse, I grabbed him around the waist and he was twisting and screaming, laughing with joy. I knew without asking this boy liked me as much as I liked him.

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