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The Mysterious Necklace - Ch 6 - 10

I am very grateful to my precious beta-readers Cybelle and Kleindog. Thank you!

 

Chapter 6

It was Sunday evening and Karl Modestovich had come to play cards, as usual.

“Good evening, Modestovich,” the inn-keeper greeted him. “They are already awaiting you in the parlour. Would you like vodka, as usual?” he asked, as he led Modestovich to the private room in the back.

“As usual,“ Karl Modestovich responded and entered the parlour, where Baron Vladimir Ivanovich Korf was seated at the table.

“Baron,“ exclaimed the custodian with surprise. “What brings you here? Are you here to join my friends and I for a game of cards?”

“Exactly. However, you must pardon me as I sent your friends home. They were so kind as to grant my request. Tonight, I would like just the two of us to play cards,“ the Baron said.

“Well, as you wish, Baron. Perhaps you have something important to talk about with me, am I right?“ asked the custodian.

“I have. But first, let us drink. Tonight, it will be at my expense.“

“Oh, excellent, I do not think I can refuse such an offer, sir.“

The inn-keeper entered the parlour and served vodka to the gentlemen. Vladimir took a deep breath and started his second important conversation of that day. “I have to inform you that I am going to leave for Sankt-Peterburg in a few days. Therefore, I will be leaving the manor in your excellent hands, again. And, as I appreciate your good work, I will increase your wages.“

“Vladimir Ivanovich, what an honour! I must confess that a higher wage would be very useful to me now, for I am going to get married soon,“ said Karl Modestovich.

“Oh yes, this is another point of our conversation. I am afraid I must disappoint you, Karl Modestovich, as I am determined to take your intended bride to my house in Sankt-Peterburg with me. I have to extend the household and I have no time to seek for any new serfs. Anna will not be missed here at the estate, whereas she will be very useful in Sankt-Peterburg,“ the Baron said and took a sip from his glass.

“You are going to take Anna away? Does this mean you will not allow us to marry?“ asked the custodian, a bit shocked.

“Exactly. I know I may be causing you some inconvenience, though I suppose this will be the best thing for all concerned. Surely, Karl Modestovich, you are an honourable man. You must concede that the girl does not love you,” the Baron said, giving Modestovich a penetrating look. “And I am quite confident,“ continued the Baron, “that you will find another wife who will make you very happy.”

The custodian knew that the Baron spoke the truth. It was unlikely that Anna would ever fall in love with him. After a moment of consideration, he said, “Well, if it is so, I will not press my plans. Perhaps Anushka will find her happiness with someone else instead of me. However, I do not want to stay alone. So, have you any advice for me, Baron?“

The custodian put the question to himself, but the Baron gave him a prompt answer, “I might know of someone for you,” he replied, pausing as he appeared to consider the question for a moment. “Svietlana. What do you say, hmmm?“

“Do you mean that widow? Svietlana Alexeievna Bielinska?“ asked Karl Modestovich, chuckling as he thought of the woman.

“Yes, I just saw her in the village yesterday. People say she is a good woman. She is neither too young, nor too old; she would be good for you, Karl Modestovich. I believe such a wolf as you may win her heart. Well, what do you say?“ The Baron encouraged his custodian.

“You have really good taste, Baron,“ Modestovich chuckled. “We were always friends, me and Svietlana. She is alone, so am I... I think I will try it.“ The smile on his face broadened. Finally he added, “And if I imagine her borsh*, Vladimir Ivanovich.... hmmm.“

“And what about her...,“ whispered the Baron to his custodian.

“Oh, oh, Baron. Surely, you do not intend to entice my second bride away too?“ Modestovich asked as though displeased. Nevertheless, both men laughed loudly. They raised their glasses of vodka to the happy future, and then to Sankt-Peterburg, then to Anna, to Svietlana...

The deck of cards stayed untouched that night.

The next morning, Vladimir Ivanovich slept in later than usual. When he woke up, he smiled bitterly at the memory of the night before, unable to count the vodka glasses he had ended up drinking with the custodian. But then he smiled with satisfaction. He had been able to save little Anna from the unwanted marriage. In the end, it was easier than he had thought. He stretched himself, groaning at his pounding head, and realized he should go and tell Anna the good news.

Vladimir quickly dressed and left his bedroom. Deciding first to get something to read with his breakfast, he approached the library where he found Anna dusting the room.

She turned at the sound of the door opening and saw her master. “I am almost done with the cleaning, Vladimir Ivanovich. Should I leave?“ she asked, trying to hide her embarrassment as her eyes wandered about the room.

“Oh no, I was searching for you. Leave the work and go pack your things. We are leaving for Sankt-Peterburg the day after tomorrow,“ Vladimir said casually, as if he was talking about the most ordinary thing in the world.

Anna cried out with pleasure and rushed to the Baron. Completely forgetting that Vladimir Ivanovich was no longer the young man who used to play with her, she threw her arms around his neck.

“Thank you, Vladimir Ivanovich. Thank you,“ she exclaimed, still staying very close to Vladimir. Looking down at her reprovingly he said, “Why, is this the way a maid should deal with her master?“

“Forgive me,” Anna exclaimed, quickly removing her arms and taking a step backwards. “I ... I am so glad... I know, I am behaving silly and inappropriate. Forgive me, please,“ she stammered, a blush spreading across her face.

“Nothing happened, Anushka. I am glad, too. If I were you, I would also try to run away from that marriage,“ he said and winked at her cheerfully. In no time at all, he switched to an earnest tone, “I must confess, it wasn’t easy at all. I had to persuade Varvara... and find a new bride for Modestovich, and spend some roubles, too…“ Vladimir reckoned.

“Sir, I will repay you for everything. I promise,“ Anna said quietly.

“With what money? I want something else,“ Vladimir said seriously and took the girl’s chin in his hand.

Upon hearing his words, Anna started to tremble, Oh Lord, no! This cannot be true. Vladimir is a proper man, to be sure. Surely, he did not save me from Modestovich only to... such a shame...
Vladimir realized that his words had frightened Anna, and, not wanting to distress her any further, quickly said with a twinkle in his eyes, “I want you to bake a strawberry pie for me.“

It took a moment for Anna to realize that he had been teasing her. Relieved, she burst out laughing, “Just a pie, Baron?“ She wanted to make sure she had heard him correctly.

“Just the pie, but it must be ready today and you must prepare it with your own hands. Nobody is allowed to help you, understand? I will be in my study, most likely late into the night.“

Anna sighed with relief and said, “If that is all, allow me to leave, Vladimir Ivanovich.“

“You may go.“

Anna quickly walked towards the door. Vladimir was surprised and believed Anna had misunderstood his command. He had to make sure about it, “Anna, surely, did you really understand what to do?“

“Of course, sir. You want me to bake you a strawberry pie with my own hands and to bring it to you in the study while it is still warm, as you have always liked it,“ said Anna smiling.

“Very well, but do not forget – the pie must be on the table by midnight.“

“Do not worry, Vladimir Ivanovich. Tonight you will eat the best pie in the world!“ said Anna and made a graceful bow.

“I wonder what it will be like,“ the Baron said in a low voice after the door was shut behind her. “Surely, I don’t know how you will manage it, Anushka.“

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*Traditional Russian soup made from cabbage, beet, meat, and cream.


Chapter 7

With a happy smile on her face, Anna ran dancing into the kitchen. She was determined to start baking at once. However, she felt a bit ashamed for she herself should have thought of some way to thank Vladimir for rescuing her. She was just about to pour the flour onto the baking-board as Varvara stepped into the kitchen. Anna rushed to her heartily.

“My dearest Varia, I feel so happy!” Anna rejoiced.

The look on Varia’s face, however, turned her joy to sadness. She did not know what to say that would prevent Varia from crying. She had spent her whole life in the kitchen with Varia and now she was going to leave her.

But Varia herself helped Anna make this conversation easier, “The Baron has already told you the news, I see. You will soon leave me for Sankt-Peterburg, won’t you?“ She nodded, her look expressing a mixture of joy and grief. It was the same with Anna’s expression.

The girl sounded a bit surprised, “So you already know about it, Varia?“

“I do. Vladimir Ivanovich is a good man. I, being only his servant, have no say in anything he chooses to do, and yet, he came to ask me to let you go to Sankt-Peterburg. My girl, I wish you this, to be sure. You’re young and will experience the world. And you’ll be under the best care,“ said Varia as tears started to roll down her cheeks.

“Oh, do not cry, Varia. I will write to you and visit you often, I promise. I am sure Vladimir Ivanovich won’t protest,“ said Anna winking.

“Of course you will write me, my girl. And come to me as soon as possible. But stop it, I cannot detain you any longer, now,“ said Varia and wiped her tears with her apron. She then looked about her in puzzlement. “But Anna, I have to wonder what are you doing here in the kitchen? You should be busy packing your things, eh?”

“It can wait. First I shall bake a pie for the Master,“ said Anna decidedly.

“A pie, I see. Well, that is a good way to show your gratitude. You have to repay him somehow, my dear. Come, let me help you,“ Varvara said, reaching for the barrel of flour.

“Oh no, Varia. I will bake it on my own. You mind your own work.“

“All right, do it on your own. You are already much better at baking than I am. Just tell me what kind of pie will you make? I suppose a quince pie? “ asked the prying cook.

“No, Varia, I’ll make a strawberry one, the Master’s favourite,“ said Anna triumphant.

Varvara burst out laughing, “Oh, Anna, your jokes will surely be the death of me. Where are you going to get the strawberries, dear?“

Anna’s hands, busy kneading the dough, suddenly froze as she realized with horror that she had completely overlooked that one important detail. How had she not thought about it? Where was she to get the strawberries now, in September? “Varia, what shall I do?” cried Anna with distress. “It was Vladimir Ivanovich himself who ordered a strawberry pie. Maybe he forgot it would be too late for them to grow. He has been away from the manor for ages,“ Anna continued, hardly believing her own words.

In her mind, she went through the whole conversation with the Baron. So this was to be the hard task she would need to fulfill. All the joy left Anna as she realized she would fail at this single, important task. The air in the kitchen was stifling. She untied her apron and ran out to the garden, running quickly as if trying to run off all the thoughts in her head, until she reached the place where the last of the roses bloomed. She sat down on the grass and, with a sad look, caressed the roses.

Anna paid no attention to the time and had no idea how long she had been sitting in the garden, hidden from sight. As the chill evening air descended upon her, she recalled the Baron’s wish. Suddenly, an idea came into her mind. Oh, it was so simple, indeed! The Baron was just trying to test her. Why did she not realize it earlier?

She gave a last glance to the rose-bush and breathed in the sweet smell of its blooms before she hurried back to the kitchen. She had lost too much time to be able to make the pie by midnight.

“Varvara, do we still have enough quinces?“ she asked the cook firmly.

“So, finally you came to your senses and are going to bake a quince pie? That’s good. We’ve got plenty of quinces. Help yourself to all of them, my girl, and make sure you choose the very best ones.“

Anna let out a smile and thought to herself, Oh no, Varia, as the Master ordered a strawberry pie, that is what he is going to get. Who cares if the pie will be with quinces instead? There is only one thing left, to persuade Vladimir that the quinces on the pie are in fact strawberries. Anna Petrovna Platonova should be able to manage such a thing!

 

©2011, Dzana, All Rights Reserved.

 

Chapter 8

Anna grabbed the bowl of quinces and was just about to leave the cellar when a shelf on the right side of the door caught her eye. She laid down the bowl of fruit and curiously browsed the jars full of marmalade which were stacked on the shelf. Among the jars she found one with strawberry jam. She smiled to herself and thought, “It seems I am a lucky girl, after all.”

She returned to the kitchen, frantically thinking, it would be too simple to cover the pie with the strawberry jam. And certainly it would not make for a surprise. I have to do it some other way.

Therefore, she tried an experiment – she cut open one of the quinces and put a small amount of jam on the inside. It tasted very good and she was pleased with the marked strawberry flavour.

Oh yes, that’s it! A quince pie with a remarkably different taste .... What a mystery, Sir! She would rather sing and dance as usual, but time was running out. She had to bake the pie in time, of course. Her face relaxed into a contented expression, Anna skilfully halved the quinces and filled their cores with the marmalade. Afterwards, she put the fruit on the pie with the red side down. She was quite delighted, for nothing about her pie appeared unusual.

It was almost half an hour to midnight when Anna took the baked pie from the oven. A lovely aroma enveloped the kitchen. The cook was very satisfied with her work. She removed her apron and hastily arranged her dress and hair. Then, she carefully covered the pie and carried the tray to the Baron’s study. She paused for a moment before knocking on the door.

“Come in!“ sounded the Master’s voice from inside.

Vladimir Ivanovich was completely engrossed in some strange book full of numbers, and did not bother to raise his eyes from the book. He was so occupied with revising the ledger that he had completely forgotten both Anna and the task which he had given her that morning.

Anna was disappointed with the Baron’s lack of interest and did not dare to approach him. The silence finally struck that Baron as odd. He looked up from his book and with surprise gazed at the girl who was carrying a tray. In no time he recalled the curious task he had given her just for fun. At that moment, he smelled a special aroma in the air. He could not make it out, but it was a remarkably similar odour to strawberries. He smiled at his imaginings and thought he must be hallucinating from hunger. Finally, he spoke, “So, you have brought the pie?”

“Yes, I have, Vladimir Ivanovich. Your strawberry pie, as you wished. I managed to bake it by midnight. It’s still hot, but I will cut a piece for you, if you like,“ Anna responded, holding her breath in anticipation of the Baron’s reaction. Again, she felt very uncertain, for she could not sense anything from Vladimir’s expression.

Vladimir eyed Anna pensively. She stood there so calmly, which both pleased and astonished him at the same time. He expected that she would beg him to relieve her from the task, but she had not. And, what was more, it seemed that Anna had fulfilled the task.

How calm she looked. She did not deserve any more teasing. If the pie was made of cabbage, he would eat it, thought Vladimir to himself. He again breathed in the pleasant smell which flowed through the air and waved at Anna for her to come closer. He realised he had not had a bite to eat all evening and was quite hungry.

Anna approached the desk and laid down the tray with the pie on it. Then she carefully removed the cloth covering.

Vladimir, observing the quinces on the pie, felt puzzled; the strawberry scent was now even more intense.

Suddenly, his previous decision to have mercy on the girl evaporated. Surely, he had to play his part in this comedy to the very end. “What a strange pie it is! And where are the promised strawberries?“ he asked Anna, pretending anger.

Anna calmly pointed to the yellow tops of quinces and said, “Why, you are looking directly at them, Vladimir Ivanovich.“

“You are saying that these are strawberries? Well ... they look like quinces, to be sure. And the colour is also strange.“

“It’s a new variety, Sir. It was very difficult for me to get strawberries in this season, you know. But people from the nearby estate were so kind to me. They had planted this strawberry variety last year. And I would say it was a success,“ said Anna, glancing at Vladimir with a smile on her face.

Vladimir could not help but applaud Anna in his mind. He was amused by the way she tried to pass the quinces off as strawberries. But his hunger grew greater and greater, so he said, “The pie looks really wonderful. And I hope it will taste even more wonderful. Let me try it.“

Anna cut the pie, which by now had cooled down a bit, and gave the Baron an appetizing piece. Vladimir took the first bite and looked up with surprise at the maid.

“Is something amiss, Baron? You don’t like it?“ Anna asked, as if alarmed.

“No, not at all. Quite the opposite; it is delicious. But I do not understand .... Anna, how did you manage this? I did not expect….“

“You did not expect me to be able to bake an ordinary pie?“

“This is not an ordinary pie and you know it,“ said Vladimir in disagreement. ”Indeed, I have never eaten such a delicious cake. Even Varvara cannot make something like this, I believe. So tell me, how did you manage it?“

Anna took a breath and, looking into Vladimir´s eyes, she told him with pride, “Do not be angry, Vladimir Ivanovich. I will bake this pie for you thousands of times again, if you want. But I really cannot reveal my secret to you. It is a family recipe from my mother. So you must understand that....“ Anna lied quite convincingly.

Vladimir, knowing too well that Anna had fabricated this story, sensed he would not be able to coax the secret from her. At least not now. So he let her go with these words, “Very well. A family recipe is to be guarded like gold, I understand. You did a good job fulfilling my request. You may go now.“

As Anna left the room, Vladimir stuck the fork into the pie so clumsily that a piece of quince flipped over and showed its sweet red core. The secret of the cake was revealed. Vladimir let out a contented smile.

Smart girl she is. Any other would give the task up or just put jam on the pie. Not so Anna. I see I was right thinking she would fight until she won.

And with satisfaction he took another piece of the pie.

Chapter 9

Sankt-Peterburg


“Daria, show Miss Anna to her quarters,” said Vladimir Ivanovich.

“Of course, Sir,” the maid responded, giving Anna a smile. “If you will kindly follow me, Miss.”

Anna obediently and silently followed Daria, who led her into a brightly lit room.

“Your bedroom, Miss—would you like me to unpack your belongings?” the maid asked, interrupting Anna who was lost in her thoughts.

“No, thank you, Daria, I think I can manage it by myself. Anyway, my name is Anna and I do not think calling me Miss will be necessary,” said Anna with a smile.

“Master told me to behave my best to you,” Daria insisted.

“Oh, yes, master is such a considerate man. So we should be considerate of his wishes, shouldn’t we?” Anna let out a resigned sigh.

“Master ordered me to be at your disposal,” the maid continued. Would you like anything else now, Miss?”

“No, thank you, Daria, you may go. I should have a rest after the journey.”

“I understand, Miss. I will call upon you before supper.” With that, Daria curtsied and left the room.

Anna sat down on a comfortable-looking sofa. It was the first time that day that she had been alone and could thus fully settle into her own thoughts.

So, Miss... Well, is this not what you dreamed of, dear Anna Petrovna? Why do you feel so uncomfortable about it now? Have you not yearned for such a position?

So many things had changed during the past seven days. Today was the beginning of her new life – a life in Sankt-Peterburg. Before their departure, Vladimir had ordered a beautiful travelling dress for her as well as a new coat and hat. Anna rightly sensed this to be just a modest beginning. She would have to change not only her dress if she wanted to become a true companion to Vladimir. And, as was now becoming apparent, it would not be easy at all. In fact, she hardly knew what her new position would involve. But she was ready to do her best for she did not want to disappoint her patron.

Suddenly a smile spread across Anna’s face as she recalled the story of the strawberry pie. Obviously, the Baron liked it very much. And how he did wish to find out her secret... but no, she would never tell. There would be nobody else who could bake this pie; not a cook or any other of the Baron’s maids. Only Anna Petrovna would have the right to prepare this pleasure for Vladimir Ivanovich.

But why did he do it exactly? Why did he take her under his protection so naturally? True, he was like an older brother to her, and a childhood friend. But that was so long ago. Now both of them were grown and the children’s games were over... Well, it seemed as if Vladimir Ivanovich had not forgotten their common adventures from the past. Yet Anna felt like she hardly knew him. He had changed during the long years he had been away.


In her mind, fear of the weeks to come was mixed with joyful expectation.

Vladimir stepped into his study and immediately took out several documents before calling for a servant and ordering him to deliver the documents. Although there was time enough before supper would be served, Vladimir did not intend to leave his study.

As he sat there comfortably, he reminded himself of all the events of the last few days that he had spent at the estate. He could see Anna laughing, Anna colliding with him, Anna scared and pleading for protection, Anna stubborn and fighting and Anna looking sad as she prepared to part from her home. How touching that moment was to him!

Feeling somewhat unsettled, Vladimir pushed these thoughts away and reminded himself of the merry times that he had spent with her. He loved her cat-like nature; the mixture of trust and wildness, fear and courage. That is why he had brought her to Sankt-Peterburg with him. Certainly, he would never be bored with her at his side. Though, it would be quite some trouble teaching her good manners and how to behave in high society.

I have survived battles on the front line, so I will surely survive a battle with a spirited young lady. If I have my way, Anna will be indistinguishable from a real noblewoman by Christmas!

A moment later, Vladimir took out a small card and wrote a short message on it. Afterwards he called for Daria and ordered her, “Take this to Anna Petrovna.“

Anna was thinking over her present situation when a quiet knock on the door interrupted her.
“Come in,” she called after a moment.

“I was asked to bring you this, Miss,” Daria said, and immediately left Anna’s room.

Anna’s eyes rested on the vase full of light-coloured roses that Daria had placed on the table. The roses seemed so familiar to her... as she approached the table to breathe in their scent, she discovered a small card hidden beneath the stems. The short note written on it stated:

Anna, I can imagine how you may feel right now; a bit lonely and so far from your home where you have spent your whole life. Still, I hope that you will accept this house as your new home. Perhaps this little present will help you...
V.I.


"So it’s true. These are the roses from our garden,” Anna whispered in exultation. Her eyes filled with tears and she hardly knew whether it was the reminder of the Korf’s estate or Vladimir’s thoughtfulness that touched her more.


Chapter 10

Later, as nightfall descended upon the city, Anna sat calm and relaxed in her chamber. She was not thinking of anything in particular; she was just sitting in silence and enjoying the unfamiliar environment. The elegantly furnished room appealed to her, and Anna thought that soon it would become her new home. She had already grown fond of this place. Slowly, she rose from the armchair, lightly caressing the fabric with her palm, and walked the length of the wardrobe to sit at the desk and open all of its drawers one by one. She pulled out a sheet of paper as if she were going to write a letter, but immediately changed her mind.

A moment later, she approached the window and observed life beyond the walls of the house. Unable to see anything but the branches of a tree dancing in the autumn wind, she looked around the room and let herself again enjoy the sight of the vase of roses. Her thoughts of the Korf estate and garden were interrupted by another knock on the door.

“I have brought a dress for you, Miss,” explained Daria, who carried a beautiful dark green gown in her hands. “You are going to dine with Master for the first time tonight. Therefore, you must look particularly lovely,” the maid continued, smiling.

Anna silently gazed at the exquisite gown the maid held. Remembering herself, she exclaimed, “Oh, it is very kind of you, Daria.”

“It is only my duty, Miss. But I like to work for you, it is a pleasure. And I am glad the Master gave me this work. Please, come here, Miss. We have no time to waste. Dinner will be served in an hour. I will help you get dressed.”

Anna could see that Daria was an experienced helper. The young miss observed herself in a large mirror and could not believe her own eyes. The dress fit perfectly and its green colour radiated on her. Anna looked grown up, like a true lady. She was no longer the servant she had been yesterday. She wanted to thank to Daria for all of her help, but apparently the maid was not yet leaving.

“And now we must arrange your hair, Miss,” Daria said, taking a comb in her hand.

“Is that necessary? You do not like my hair the way it is?” asked Anna with a hint of disappointment in her voice.

“Oh, forgive me, Anna Petrovna. Hair may be combed simply in the country, but you are here in Sankt-Peterburg now. Do not worry, I will arrange your hair in the manner of the local fashion,“ Daria tried to persuade her mistress.

She acted very carefully so as not to exasperate her young mistress.

Anna let out a sigh. She was not used to having her hair brushed by strange hands. However, she knew she had no choice but to submit to Daria’s help. Perhaps the maid was right; an ordinary bun would not match the fashionable dress that Anna had just put on.

“Alright, you can start combing. Sometimes even the master has to obey his serf, right?” Anna said with a laugh.

Within a few minutes, Daria’s skilled hands had created a simple yet elegant hairstyle. To finish it off, the maid braided several ornaments into her hair that matched the dress colour perfectly.

“Done! You may look now, Miss. But please, do not admire yourself for too long. It is time for dinner,” said Daria with grinning eyes. She sensed that she could be less formal with her mistress than usual. After all, her mistress was not a real noblewoman and had such sympathy with the servants.

Anna was grateful for the maid’s apparent trust. So, she smiled at Daria and replied, “Of course, we can leave immediately. I did not realize how hungry I am.”

Moments later, Anna found herself in the dining room. This room had also made a good impression on her. Though expensively furnished, it appeared homey and cosy. Suddenly, she was interrupted from her contemplation by Vladimir Ivanovich, who had until that moment stayed quietly in the corner of the room, admiring her transformation. Although he knew Anna was a pretty girl, he was certainly not prepared to see such a beauty. But there was no time for such thoughts. Therefore, he approached Anna and kissed her hand respectfully.

“Good evening, Anna Petrovna,” he said.

“Good evening, Vladimir Ivanovich,” Anna replied with a slight blush. The Baron’s behaviour still embarrassed her. Trying to keep herself calm, she added immediately, “Oh, the dining-room is really gorgeous. I think the meal will taste similarly wonderful to me.”

These amiable words pleased Vladimir. He was smiling as he escorted his companion to the table. He pulled her chair out for her before seating himself at the opposite side of the table.

“Hopefully, you will enjoy the dinner tonight. I have ordered meals that you like. I did not want to rush you with so many unfamiliar things. You will have time enough to enjoy all the good things your new life has to offer.”

Anna’s stomach was already rumbling when at last the meal was served. She picked up her spoon with some uncertainty and dipped it into the soup. It was delicious. Without any further hesitation, the young lady delved into her meal like a hungry beast.

The Baron observed Anna gorging herself on the soup with amusement for some while; he did not want to scold her for her behaviour at the moment. “I must be careful not to alarm her for she seems to be like a feline; fighting but timid at the same time,” he thought.

“I see that you are quite hungry after our travels,” he said easily.

“Oh, certainly,” Anna replied with her mouth full. It appeared that the soup sitting in front of her was the most important thing in the world now...

“Be careful everything goes down as it should. I would not like to call for the doctor tonight. Rather, I would prefer to have a pleasant conversation with you.”

Anna paused, took the last spoonful of soup and swallowed slowly. She understood perfectly his words and suddenly felt ashamed.

“I’m so sorry. I know my behaviour must be very inappropriate,” she whispered, lowering her eyes.

“It is alright, Anna. I will give you time to get used to your present position. After all, I am glad you are enjoying the meal so much.”

His last remark made Anna a bit happier and her discomfort quickly disappeared.

“Next time, try to eat a bit more slowly, alright? Step by step you will learn how to grow into a respectable young lady. I believe you will succeed. And yes, proper table manners are one of the skills you will have to manage. “

“Of course, I will try my best not to disappoint you,” said Anna humbly. She greatly appreciated Vladimir’s polite behaviour to her. He treated her like a good friend, not a stranger, and that made her calm and trustful.

The dinner continued in an easy atmosphere. Vladimir conversed with Anna on quite unimportant topics. He asked her for her opinion on the colours of the chambers, on the taste of wine and meals, on the weather... Anna had no notion that she would have to endure such dull-witted conversations in the future. She did not even notice that the Baron had just started to give her lectures on conversation in noble society. In fact, with Vladimir at her side, she was enjoying everything, so she daringly answered all of his ridiculous questions.

However, when the Baron emptied his wine glass he spoke seriously, “It is time to end our dinner. You must have a good rest. Tomorrow, we will start with your education.”

“Oh, and what kind of education will it be, my Lord?” asked Anna with merriment.

“We will start with walks. The courtyard would be a good place for your training. After you master the correct walking technique, we may leave the boundaries of this house.”

Her vanity injured, Anna could not hold back her quick words. “What? I mean... pardon me, you think I cannot walk? Good Lord! Oh, I can walk, and what is more, I can run faster than a hare. And you say...”

With one movement of his hand, Vladimir made her pause. “Now, now, Anna, you really cannot just walk. You seem to be on the run in any case, as I can see. However, a noblewoman does not run; her walking is slow and elegant. That is what I was talking about.”

“What did you say? A noblewoman?” asked Anna, her mouth falling open.

“Yes, a noblewoman or Baron’s companion; it does not make any difference. By and large, you must change your walking style. Do not worry. I am sure you will like it. Surely, we can have good fun while walking slowly; we can talk. And conversation would be quite impossible if I had to run after you through the city parks as a hunter hunting for a hare,” said Vladimir with some irony.

Anna, however, did not notice the easy tone of the Baron’s words, and so she responded with some anger, “I see, the noblemen have time enough to be dull while their servants have to be in a hurry to grant their orders.” She shook her head to express her disgust with the noble walking style.

“You may be right, Anna. Alas, the Etiquette is our law and we can hardly change it. So, do not be rebellious. Or have you already forgotten? I have saved you from marriage with Modestovich. It is time you paid back my help, don’t you think?” Vladimir continued calmly.

“Why, Baron, you need to be rescued from something as well?” cried Anna. “You were in the war and returned alive and healthy, didn’t you? What use could a serf girl be to you?”

“As I have said, I rescued you from an unwanted marriage and you will do the same for me. I love walking through the city. I love to go to the theatre or out for dinner or to a ball from time to time. Unfortunately, there are crowds of unmarried young ladies with their cunning mothers at these places. But I do not want to marry, you know. Or to be more precise, I really cannot imagine spending my life with some silly lady whom I would not love but would have married just out of a sense of stupid duty. I hope you understand me.” He poured himself another glass of wine and continued with a slower and more serious tone, “That is why I need a companion. If you give me the honour to accompany me at these events, I doubt any of the young ladies would be brave enough to speak a word about marriage.”

Vladimir knew quite well how to achieve his objective. He was sure Anna would feel complimented by his request, and he was right. Anna felt happy thinking how important she was in Vladimir’s life. She could pay him back for his kindness to her. At last, she would be really useful. She would be a heroine... .

“All right, Vladimir Ivanovich, I apologize for my insolence. I grew up in the kitchen, as you know... but I promise to do my very best in order to pay you back for your kindness.” And with these words, she looked directly into his eyes.

“I am happy to hear that, Anna,” said Vladimir with a hint of smile. “Let me escort you to your chambers.”

©2011, Dzana, All Rights Reserved.

 

Náhledy fotografií ze složky The Mysterious Necklace

 

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