Danielle Steel: Zoya

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Zoya: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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Feodor climbed from his seat while two young boys held the prancing horses, and the snow whirled past his head as he carefully held out a hand to Zoya. Her heavy fur coat was encrusted with snow and her cheeks were red from the cold and the two-hour drive from St. Petersburg. She would have just enough time for tea with her friend, she thought to herself, then disappeared into the awesome entranceway of the Alexander Palace, and Feodor hurried back to his horses. He had friends in the stables there and always enjoyed bringing them news from town, whenever he spent time with them, waiting for his mistress.

Two maids took her coat while Zoya slowly pulled the large sable hat from her head, releasing a mane of fiery hair that often made people stop and stare when she wore it loose, which she did often at Livadia in the summer. The Tsarevich Alexis loved to tease her about her shining red hair, and he would stroke it gently in his delicate hands, whenever she hugged him. To Alexis, Zoya was almost like one of his sisters. Born two weeks before Marie, she was of the same age, and they had similar dispositions, and both of them babied him constantly, as did the rest of his sisters. To them, and his mother, and the close family, he was almost always referred to as “Baby.” Even now that he was twelve, they still thought of him that way, and Zoya inquired about him with a serious face as the elder of the two maids shook her head.

“Poor little thing, he is covered with spots and has a terrible cough. Mr. Cilliard has been sitting with him all day today. Her Highness has been busy with the girls.” Olga, Tatiana, and Anastasia had caught the measles from him and it was a virtual epidemic, which was why Zoya's mother had wanted her to stay away. But Marie had showed no sign whatsoever of the illness, and her note to Zoya the day before had begged her to come. … Come to see me, my darling Zoya, if your mother will only let you, …

Zoya's green eyes danced as she shook out her hair, and straightened her heavy wool dress. She had changed out of her school uniform after her ballet lesson, and she walked swiftly down the endless hall to the familiar door that would lead her upstairs to Marie and Anastasia's spartan bedroom. On her way, she walked silently past the room where the Tsar's aide-de-camp, Prince Meshchersky, always sat working. But he didn't notice her as, even in her heavy boots, she walked soundlessly up the stairs, and a moment later, she knocked on the bedroom door, and heard the familiar voice.


With one slender, graceful hand, she turned the knob, and a sheaf of red hair seemed to precede her as she poked her head in, and saw her cousin and friend standing quietly by the window. Marie's huge blue eyes lit up instantly and she rushed across the room to greet her, as Zoya darted in and threw her arms wide to embrace her. “I've come to save you, Mashka, my love!” “Thank God! I thought I would die of boredom. Everyone here is sick. Even poor Anna came down with the measles yesterday. She's staying in the rooms adjoining my mother's apartment, and Mama insists on taking care of everyone herself. She's done nothing but carry soup and tea to them all day, and when they're asleep she goes next door to take care of the men. It seems like two hospitals here now instead of one….” She pretended to pull her soft brown hair as Zoya laughed. The Catherine Palace next door had been turned into a hospital at the beginning of the war, and the Empress worked there tirelessly in her Red Cross uniform and she expected her daughters to do the same, but of all of them, Marie was the least fond of those duties. “I can hardly bear it! I was afraid you wouldn't come. And Mama would be so angry if she knew I had asked you.” The two young women strolled across the room arm in arm and sat down next to the fireplace. The room she normally shared with Anastasia was simple and austere. Like their other sisters, Marie and Anastasia had plain iron beds, crisp white sheets, a small desk, and on the fireplace was a neat row of delicately made Easter eggs. Marie kept them from year to year, made for her by friends, and given to her by her sisters. They were malachite, and wood, and some of them were beautifully carved or encrusted with stones. She cherished them as she did her few small treasures. The children's rooms, as they were still called, showed none of the opulence or luxury of her parents’ rooms, or the rest of the palace. And cast over one of the room's two chairs was an exquisite embroidered shawl that her mother's dear friend, Anna Vyrubova, had made her. She was the same woman Marie had referred to when Zoya came in. And now her friendship had been rewarded with a case of measles. The thought of it made both girls smile, feeling superior to have escaped the illness.

“But you're all right?” Zoya eyed her lovingly, her tiny frame seeming even smaller in the heavy gray wool dress she had worn to keep her warm on the drive from St. Petersburg. She was smaller than Marie, and even more delicate, although Marie was considered the family beauty. She had her father's startling blue eyes, and his charm. And she loved jewels and pretty clothes far more than her sisters. It was a passion she shared with Zoya. They would spend hours talking of the beautiful dresses they'd seen, and trying on Zoya's mother's hats and jewels whenever Marie came to visit.

“I'm fine … except that Mama says I can't go to town with Aunt Olga this Sunday.” It was a ritual she above all adored. Each Sunday their aunt the Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna took them all to town, for lunch with their grandmother at the Anitchkov Palace, and visits to one or two of their friends, but with her sisters sick, everything was being curtailed. Zoya's face fell at the news.

“I was afraid of that. And I so wanted to show you my new gown. Grandmama brought it to me from Paris.” Zoya's grandmother, Evgenia Peterovna Ossupov, was an extraordinary woman. She was tiny and elegant and her eyes still danced with emerald fire at eighty-one. And everyone insisted that Zoya looked exactly like her. Zoya's mother was tall and elegant and languid, a beauty with pale blond hair and wistful blue eyes. She was the kind of woman one wanted to protect from the world, and Zoya's father had always done just that. He treated her like a delicate child, unlike his exuberant daughter. “Grand-mama brought me the most exquisite pink satin gown all sewn with tiny pearls. I so wanted you to see it!” Like children, they talked of their gowns as they would of their teddy bears, and Marie clapped her hands in delight.

“I can't wait to see it! By next week everyone should be well. We'll come then. I promise! And in the meantime, I shall make you a painting for that silly mauve room of yours.”

“Don't you dare say rude things about my room! It's almost as elegant as your mother's!” The two girls laughed, and Joy, the children's cocker spaniel bounded into the room and yipped happily around Zoya's feet as she warmed her hands by the fire, and told Marie all about the other girls at the Smolny. Marie loved to hear her tales, secluded as she was, living amongst her brother and sisters, with Pierre Gilliard to tutor them, and Mr. Gibbes to teach them English.

“At least we don't have classes right now. Mr. Gilliard has been too busy, sitting with Baby. And I haven't seen Mr. Gibbes in a week. Papa says he is terrified he'll catch the measles.” The two girls laughed again and Marie began affectionately to braid Zoya's mane of bright red hair. It was a pastime they had shared since they were small children, braiding each other's hair as they chatted and gossiped about St. Petersburg and the people they knew, although things had been quieter since the war. Even Zoya's parents didn't give as many parties as they once had, much to Zoya's chagrin. She loved talking to the men in brightly hued uniforms and looking at the women in elegant gowns and lovely jewelry. It gave her fresh tales to bring to Marie and her sisters, of the flirtations she had observed, who was beautiful, who was not, and who was wearing the most spectacular diamond necklace. It was a world that existed nowhere else, the world of Imperial Russia. And Zoya had always lived happily right at its center, a countess herself like her mother and grandmother before her, distantly related to the Tsar on her father's side, she and her family enjoyed a position of privilege and luxury, related to many of the nobles. Her own home was but a smaller version of the Anitchkov Palace, and her playmates were the people who made history, but to her it all seemed commonplace and normal.

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