No, not that. But writing again – in a few hours I have of my own.
Nikolai did not like what he saw, as he got through all the locks and then opened one part of the mansion door.
At least she is not that dirty beggar … but she is so pale, so obviously she is ill. What could it be?
He looked back over his shoulder and thought he could hear Natasha chiding her young brother about something, but in good fun, as always – somewhere from the upper floor.
It would not do for the Natasha or Pierre – or any of them – to fall ill. Especially not now, when everything was in disarray. None of the hospitals worked anymore, he was sure of it – except perhaps the Anglo-Russian. (But how to get there when the city was like this?)
As if an echo of his gloomy thoughts he saw a lone truck coming down the English Embankment, with Red soldiers loafing on its bed.
Probably tired from plundering the Winter Palace …
However, even if Nikolai Bolkonsky had a hard time accepting that the only life he saw on the once teeming English Embankment was a truck with traitors and robbers, they did present him with … an option.
He quickly got rid of his pistol holster and stuffed the pistol in the back of his trousers. Then he stepped carefully past the unconscious Tatiana and got out on the street and waved his hands.
The truck came to a halt, quite close to Nikolai.
He didn’t move.
He wasn’t in his uniform. That would have been too dangerous, obviously. Even if the Reds – stupid as they were – would have no problem guessing that he was one of the remaining occupants of the once proud mansions lining the Embankment.
But he couldn’t just leave the girl on the stairs. On the other hand he could definitely not take her into the house – for the sake of the rest of the family.
The driver stuck out his head. He was a middle-aged man with a large mustache that Nikolai seldom saw on other people than officers.
“What’s up, lad?” the driver asked.
The others on the bed moved restlessly. Only some of them wore the semblance of a proper uniform, Nikolai noted. But they all had caps with red stars quickly sewn on.
He sighed: “Look, I have found this girl her on my stairs – ” he nodded towards Tatiana. “You’ve got to take her with you.”
“Why?” asked one of the younger soldiers on the truck bed.
“Because she needs help,” Nikolai answered with ill-disguised irritation.
“What kind of help?” asked the driver. “If she is frozen from having had to spend the night here, maybe you should take her in and light op the fire place for her and give her some hot tea.”
“I’m … afraid she might have a fever,” Nikolai said, deciding he had to somehow trust the man enough to confide this in him – Red or not. “I do not want my little sister and brother to catch it.”
Nikolai had always prided himself on having a good sense of who was a man of integrity and who was not. This man, he decided quickly, was obviously some leader and might therefore have enough integrity to be sympathetic, even if he had chosen to lead greedy rabble for indeterminable reasons of his own.
It was a strange logic that suddenly took over, but Nikolai had a number of officers at school he looked up to and wanted to emulate and it wasn’t really that much of a stretch for him to make this rather forced interpretation that he was dealing with men of integrity, even though he had nothing to base it on with this particular driver. Or with any of the Tsarist officers who was above him, for that matter.
But it seemingly paid off.
“We can take her down to the post office, where there is a makeshift hospital,” said the driver calmly.
“Thank you,” Nikolai replied, not succeeding entirely in hiding the strain in his voice.
Some of the Red Guards on the bed grumbled but the driver got out quickly and yelled at them:
“Anyone who is afraid of a little fever can get off and walk beside the truck. The rest of you, keep your asses in the seat. This daughter of the revolution is now under our protection.”
“It’s a frozen metal bed, comrade,” one of the men shot back, “our asses will never get off.”
“Then there is no problem, is there now, Piotr?” the driver replied with a grin.
He looked at Nikolai, sizing him up and waited for a brief moment as he was about to ask him something. But then decided against it …
The driver went up to the stairs, picked up Tatiana as is she weighed nothing and carried her to the back of the truck where two of the men received her and pulled her up. None of the men had decided to get down and walk.
Nikolai looked down, and felt like saying something more, but then he made his decision and quickly motioned for the mansion door. He just wanted to get inside now.
The truck started up again, but the wheels had barely turned over the cobblestones when somebody called at them from the door:
“Stop – please stop!”
Nikolai stared at Natalia Ladovna in bewilderment.
“What are you doing down here, Talia? Aren’t you supposed to clean the tables now?”
“The girl – ” she waved towards the truck ” – don’t take her. It is my niece!”
That wasn’t entirely accurate but Natalia Ladovna had not been able to just keep clearing tables in the lone dining room when she knew that cousin Oleg’s daughter was supposed to be here and had not arrived. The city was dangerous. Anything could have happened.
And so she had to see what was going on at the stairs.
Perhaps it was some authority who had shown up with … terrible news.
Natalia Ladovna was always prone to worry, but in this case there was plenty to worry about. Although the commotion from the street that Nikolai had gone to check could only be interpreted as a “policeman knocking on the door with news” by the most hopeful of hearts.
Or perhaps by a woman who had already lost too much in this life.
Nikolai stared angrily at her:
“Go back inside, Talia – that is an order.”
The driver came quietly over and placed himself uncomfortably close to Nikolai.
“This girl is your niece?” he asked. “Are you sure?”
“Yes!” Natalia cried, tears in her eyes “She has come all the way from Rovnoye to stay with us and work.”
Natalia pointed to the big suitcase which lay on its side on the street, right where Tatiana had dropped it after the beggar-soldier had attacked her.
“Looks like the girl might have a place at your house’s fireplace after all?” He eyed Nikolai.
Nikolai wanted to say something, to take the man down. What had been some imagined admiration before that had served its purpose briefly in allowing him to trust the driver and not lie about the fever – that feeling had now turned on its head and become … hate.
For Nikolai Bolkonsky hated to be put down by anyone. He hated it with all his heart.
But he wasn’t stupid:
“I did not know … ” he said ” … er, what this niece of yours looked like,” he said to Natalia. “There have been so many beggars lately … ”
“Once the new government of the people gets firmly in place, I’m sure you will see less of them,” the driver commented and did not bother to hide a smile beneath the great mustache. Then he turned towards the Red Guards on the truck:
“Get her down again – carry her into the house.”
“No – wait!” Nikolai exclaimed.
The driver looked at him, raising a bushy eyebrow.
“Take the girl around the house – ” Nikolai nodded to a gate on the left side ” – there is a yard, where the servants’ quarters are located. It’s … the first door on the left once you get in.”
He went ahead and fetched his keys to open the gate for them.
“Over there?” the driver asked after he came over and had cast a look into the yard. “The door to the basement?”
“Yes.” Nikolai steeled himself and looked at the older man with defiance now.
“All right,” the man said and signaled the others. “Get her over here and inside, so we can be done with this. We have important battles ahead of us and too little time for the games of children … ”
Yes, Nikolai thought darkly, and in a couple of days when the true children of mother Russia strike back then you will see just how little time you have left …
He watched as the Red Guards carried Tatiana to the servant’s room in the mansion basement and then left in their truck.
Very well, he had had to concede this one. But he would not accept any danger to Natasha and Pierre. He sourly remembered now that mother had spoken of this … family visit from the country.
But if that Tatiana Tjertjenko – or whatever the name of Anatoly Ladovna’s cousin’s offspring was – had not woken up in full health in the evening, then he would make sure that things with her got … taken care of.
There was still time before old Anatoly got back from that trip to get more bread and meat. If he got back … who could know on a day like this?! And if he came back before the evening, well, it did not matter. He would know his place …
Nikolai grit his teeth and went inside again, through the main door, to see to Natasha and Pierre. And to tell his mother what had been going on, reluctant as he was about it.
He just longed to be back at Nikolayevskoye School and continue the planning for the counter strike. But perhaps it was the best that he had come home Saturday evening after all the Winter Palace business. His family lived too close by and if he did not do all of this for them, then what was the point.
The mother country was one thing, but the country was also the people who were its rightful children – and who were loyal. Everything had its natural order.
He couldn’t wait until it was restored.