Danielle Steel: Zoya

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Zoya: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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“Awful as usual. But Mama is terribly glad he's with the Preobrajensky Guard here and not off at the front somewhere. Crandmama says he stayed here so he wouldn't miss any parties.” They both laughed and the serious moment passed, as the door opened quietly and a tall woman silently entered the room, watching them for a moment before they became aware of her presence. A large gray cat had followed her into the room and also stood watching beside her. It was the Empress Alexandra, fresh from the sickroom where she had been ministering to her three other daughters.

“Good afternoon, girls.” She smiled as Zoya turned, and both girls immediately stood up, and Zoya ran to kiss her. The Tsarina herself had had the measles years before, and she knew there was no danger of infection.

“Auntie! How is everyone?”

She gave Zoya a fond hug and sighed with a tired smile. “Well, they're certainly not well. Poor Anna seems to be the worst of all.” She was speaking of her own dearest friend, Anna Vyrubova. She and Lili Dehn were her closest companions. “And you, little one? Are you well?”

“I am, thank you very much.” She blushed as she often did. It was what she hated most of all about having a redhead's complexion, that and the fact that she was always getting sunburned on the royal yacht, or when they went to Livadia.

“I'm surprised your mother let you visit us today.” She knew how desperately afraid the Countess was of infection. But Zoya's even deeper blush told her what Zoya had done, even without a confession, and the Tsarina laughed and wagged a finger at her. “So! Is that what you've done? And what will you tell her? Where have you been today?”

Zoya laughed guiltily, and then admitted to Marie's mother what she planned to tell her own. “I have been hours and hours at ballet class, working very hard with Madame Nastova.”

“I see. It's shocking for girls your age to tell such lies, but I should have known we couldn't keep you two apart.” And then she turned her attention to her daughter. “Have you given Zoya her gift yet, my love?” The Empress smiled at them both. She was usually restrained, but her fatigue seemed to make her both more vulnerable and warmer.

“Yes!” Zoya spoke up instantly with delight, waving toward the bottle of “Lilas” on the table. “It's my very favorite!” The Tsarina's eyes sought Marie's with a question, and her daughter giggled and left the room swiftly, while Zoya chatted with her mother. “Is Uncle Nicholas well?”

“He is, although I have barely seen him. The poor man came home from the front for a rest, and instead he finds himself here in the midst of a siege of measles.” They both laughed as Marie returned again, carrying something wrapped in a wisp of blanket. There was a strange little peep, almost as though it were a bird, and a moment later, a brown and white face appeared, with long silky ears, and shining onyx eyes. It was one of their own dog's puppies.

“Oh, he's so sweet! I haven't seen any of them in weeks!” Zoya held out a hand and he let out a series of squeaks and licked her fingers.

“It's a she, and her name is Sava,” Marie said proudly, looking at Zoya with excited eyes. “Mama and I want you to have her.” She held the puppy out to her as Zoya stared at her.

“For me? Oh my … what will …” She had been about to say, “What will I tell my mother?” but she didn't want them to take back the gift so she stopped instantly, but the Empress had understood all too clearly.

“Oh, dear … your mother's not fond of dogs, is she, Zoya? I had forgotten. Will she be very cross at me?”

“No! … no … not at all.” She fibbed happily, taking the puppy in her own hands and holding her close, as Sava licked her nose and her cheeks and her eyes, and Zoya tried to duck her head before the little spaniel could gobble at her hair. “Oh, she's so lovely! Is she really mine?”

“You would be doing me a great service, my dear, if you took her.” The Empress smiled and sank down in one of the two chairs with a sigh. She looked extremely tired, and Zoya noticed then that she was wearing her Red Cross uniform. She wondered if she'd worn it to take care of the sick children and her friend, or if she'd worked at the hospital that day as well. She felt strongly about her hospital work, and always insisted that her daughters do it too.

“Mama, would you like some tea?”

“Very much, thank you, Mashka.” Marie rang for the maid, who came quickly, knowing that the Tsarina was there with them, and a cup and fresh pot of tea arrived almost at once. Marie poured, and the two women joined her. “Thank you, darling.” And then she turned to her husband's distant cousin. “So, is your grandmother well these days, Zoya? I haven't seen her in months. I've been so busy here. I never seem to get into St. Petersburg anymore.”

“She's very well, thank you, Aunt Alix.”

“And your parents?”

“Fine. Mother's always worried that Nicolai will be sent to the front. Papa says it makes her terribly nervous.” Everything made Natalya Ossupov nervous, she was terribly frail, and her husband catered to her every whim and turn. The Tsarina had often said to Marie in private that she thought it was unhealthy for him to indulge her so constantly, but at least Zoya had never put on languid airs. She was full of life and fire, and there was nothing of the shrinking violet about her. Alexandra always had an image of Zoya's mother, reclining on a chair, dressed all in white silk, with her pale skin and blond hair, with her incredible pearls, and a look of terror in her eyes, as though life was simply too much for her. At the beginning of the war, she had asked her to help with her Red Cross work, and Natalya had simply said that she couldn't bear it. She was not one of life's sturdier specimens, but the Tsarina refrained from comment now and only nodded.

“You must give her my love when you go home.” And as she said it, Zoya glanced outside and saw how dark it had gotten. She leapt to her feet and looked at her watch in horror.

“Oh! I must go home! Mama will be furious!”

“As well she should!” The Tsarina laughed and wagged a finger at her as she rose to her feet, towering over the young girl. “You mustn't lie to your mother about where you are! And I know she'd be most upset about your being exposed to our measles. Have you had them?”

Zoya laughed. “No, I have not, but I won't catch them now, and if I do …” She shrugged with another burst of laughter as Mashka grinned. It was one of the things Marie loved about her, her courage and sense of devil-may-care. They had gotten into considerable mischief together over the years, but nothing dangerous or truly harmful.

“I shall send you home now. And I must go back to the children, and poor Anna….” She kissed them both and left the room, as Marie swept up the puppy from where she was hiding and wrapped her in the blanket again, and handed her to Zoya.

“Don't forget Sava!”

Their eyes met again and Zoya's were filled with love for her. “Can I really have her?”

“She's yours. She was always meant to be, but I wanted to surprise you. Keep her in your coat on the way home. You'll keep her warm that way.” She was only seven weeks old, born on Russian Christmas. Zoya had been wildly excited when she saw her on Christmas Day for the first time, when their family came to visit the Tsar and his family for dinner. “Your mother will be furious, won't she?” Marie laughed, and Zoya laughed with her.

“Yes, but I'll tell her your mother will be frightfully put out if we send her back. Mama will be too afraid to offend her.”

The girls both laughed as Marie followed her downstairs and helped her on with her coat, as she held the puppy in the blanket in place. She pulled the sable hat back over her red hair, and the two girls embraced.

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