Danielle Steel: Zoya

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Zoya: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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“It was very foolish of you, Zoya. We will discuss it again after dinner.”

“Yes, Mama.” She lowered her eyes toward her plate, and the others carried on their conversation without her. it was only a moment later that she looked up and realized her grandmother was there, and a smile lit up her face as she saw her. “Hello, Grandmama. Aunt Alix said to send you her love.”

“Is she well?” It was her father who asked. Her mother sat looking silently beautiful, still obviously displeased with her daughter.

“She is always well when she tends the sick,” her grandmother answered for her. “It's an odd thing about Alix. She seems to suffer every possible malaise, until she is needed by someone sicker, and then she rises to the occasion remarkably.” The elderly Countess looked pointedly at her daughter-in-law, and then smiled proudly at Zoya. “Little Marie must have been happy to see you, Zoya.”

Zoya smiled gratefully. “She was, Grandmama.” And then to reassure her mother, “I never saw the others. They were all closeted somewhere. Even Madame Vyrubova is sick now,” she added, and then regretted it bitterly as her mother glanced up in obvious terror.

“How stupid of you, Zoya … I can't understand why you would go there. Do you wish to catch the measles?”

“No, Mama. I'm truly very sorry.” But there was nothing in her face to make one believe that she was. Only her words were filled with the expected contrition. “I didn't mean to be late. I was going to leave when Aunt Alix came in to have tea with us, and I didn't want to be rude to her….”

“As well you should not. She is, after all, our Empress as well as our cousin,” her grandmother said pointedly. Her own eyes were the same green as Zoya's, and her father's and brother's. Only Natalya's were a pale bluish gray, like a cold winter sky with no hope of summer. Her life had always been too demanding of her, her husband was energetic and robust, he had always loved her enthusiastically and well, and he had wanted more children than she was able to bear. Two had been stillborn, and she had had several miscarriages, and both Zoya and Nicolai had been difficult to bear. She had spent a year in bed for each of them, and now slept in her own apartments. Konstantin loved his friends, and he had also wanted to give innumerable balls and parties, but she found all of it far too exhausting, and used ill health as an excuse for her lack of joie de vivre and her almost overwhelming shyness. It gave her an air of icy disdain, behind which she hid the fact that people terrified her, and she was far happier reclining on a chair near the fire. But his daughter was far more like him, and after Zoya made her debut in the spring, Konstantin was looking forward to the prospect of having her accompany him to parties. They had talked for a long time about abandoning the idea of a ball, and Natalya had insisted that they shouldn't consider it with a war on, but finally Zoya's grandmother had decided the matter for them, and Konstantin was much relieved. There was to be a ball as soon as she graduated from the Smolny Institute in June, perhaps not as grand a ball as they might have given if there were no war going on, but it was still going to be a very lovely party.

“What news of Nicholas?” Konstantin inquired. “Did Marie say anything?”

“Not much. Aunt Alix says he's home from the front, but I think he's going back soon.”

“I know. I saw him last week. He's well, though, isn't he?” Konstantin looked concerned, as his handsome son watched him. He knew then that his father must have heard the same rumors he had heard in the barracks, that Nicholas was exhausted beyond what anyone knew, and that the strain of the war was wearing on him. Some even spoke in hushed whispers about the possibility of a breakdown. With the gentle kindness of the Tsar and his constant concern for everyone, that was almost impossible to imagine. It was difficult to think of him breaking down, or giving up. He was deeply loved by his peers, and most especially by Zoya's father. Like Zoya and Marie, they had been childhood friends, and he was godfather to Nicolai, who had been named after him, and Nicholas's own father had been extremely close to Konstantin's father. Their love for each other went beyond family, they had always been extremely close, and had teased each other about their both marrying German women, although Alix seemed to be a little hardier than Natalya. At least she was capable of rising to the occasion when necessary, as she did with her Red Cross work, and now when her children were sick. Natalya would have been constitutionally unable to do anything like it. The old Countess had been fiercely disappointed when her son had not married a Russian. The fact that a German had been good enough for the Tsar was only small consolation.

“What brings you here tonight, by the way?” Konstantin turned to Nicolai with a warm smile. He was proud of him, and pleased that he was with the Preobrajensky and not at the front, and he made no secret of it. He had no desire to lose his only son. Russian losses had already been great, from the Battle of Tannenberg in the summer of 1914 to the terrible reverses in Galicia's frozen fields, and he wanted Nicolai safely in St. Petersburg. That at least was a great relief to him, and to Natalya.

“I wanted to chat with you after dinner tonight, Papa.” His voice sounded quiet and strong, as Natalya glanced nervously at him. She hoped he didn't have something unnerving to share, she had heard from a friend recently that her son was involved with a dancer, and she was going to have a great deal to say if he told his father he was getting married. “Nothing important.” His grandmother watched him with wise old eyes, and knew that whatever it was he had to tell his father, he was lying about its importance. He was worried about something, worried enough to drop by and spend an evening with all of them, which was most unlike him. “Actually,” he smiled at the assembled troupe, “I came to make sure that the little monster here was behaving.” He glanced over at Zoya, and she shot him a look of extreme annoyance.

“I've grown up, Nicolai. I don't ‘misbehave’ anymore.” She sniffed primly and finished her dessert, as he laughed openly at her.

“Is that right? Imagine that … it seems like only moments ago when you were flying up the stairs, late for dinner as usual, wearing wet boots on the stairs, with your hair looking as though you'd combed it with a pitchfork….” He was fully prepared to go on and she threw her napkin at him, as her mother looked faint and glanced imploringly at their father.

“Konstantin, please make them stop it! They make me so terribly nervous.”

“It is only a love song, my dear,” the Countess Evgenia said wisely. “That is the only way they know to converse with each other at this point in their lives. My children were always pulling each other's hair, and throwing their shoes at each other. Didn't you, Konstantin?” He gave a crack of laughter as he looked sheepishly at his mother.

“I'm afraid I wasn't very well behaved when I was young either, my dear.” He looked lovingly at his wife, and then happily around the table as he stood up, bowed slightly to all of them, and preceded his son into a small adjoining sitting room, where they could converse in private. Like his wife, he hoped that Nicolai had not appeared to tell them he was getting married.

And as they sat down quietly near the fire, the elegant gold cigarette case Nicolai took from the pocket of his uniform did not go unnoticed. It was one of Carl Fabergo's more typical designs, in pink and yellow gold with a very pretty sapphire thumbpiece. Konstantin was almost certain that the workmaster was either Hollming or Wigstrom.

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