The Red Tulips of October

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

Chapter 5 (v.1) - Romance under the Rainbow

Submitted: June 30, 2018

Reads: 26

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Submitted: June 30, 2018



The quiet lodgings of Doctor Obnissky were in a quiet street-corner not far from where he had laboriously carried his young patient along for some minutes. On the afternoon of a certain fine Sunday when the waves of four months had roiled over the trial for rebellion, and carried it, as to the public interest and memory, far out to sea, he had worked himself out to save the life of his patient who had been in the pallet-bed for many an hour, and tended him with great skill and gentleness.

There was no way through it, and the front windows of Doctor Obnissky’s lodgings commanded a pleasant little vista of street that had a congenial air of retirement on it. There were few buildings then, north of the Nicholas Station, and trees but only with buds, and no flowers grew yet, and some near-to-death tall lime trees, in the now vanished fields. More months, to the number of twelve, had come and gone, and the Doctor had lived here as a lone man since one thousand eight hundred and seventy-seven after he lost his wife to Plague when she was merely a good age of thirty-nine, many a man died, many a women died, and many a children died.

The only precious remembrance, placed on a lumbering deal table, upon which a very clean white cloth was spread, he had inherited for ages, was an antiquated gramophone from his much beloved wife; it was even boastful of its eminence in those particulars, and he was proud of its eloquence, proud of its eminence, and proud of its endurance, and despite is yesteryears, it still did play well his wife’s cherished ‘Romeo and Juliet ? Fantasy Overture’ taking the old Doctor’s mind to the bygone days. And as such, he was accustomed to be with it as part and parcel of his furniture. Simple as it was, the furniture was set off by so many little adornments, of no value but for their taste and fancy, that its effect was delightful. The disposition of everything in the room, from the largest object to the least; the arrangement of colours, the elegant variety and contrast obtained by thrift in trifles, by delicate hands, clear eyes, and good sense; were at once pleasant in themselves, and expressive of their originator.

The pale young man’s black leather jacket had been laid aside; his chest inside his tunic-like sorochki shirt of linen was open and bandaged and partly wet with blood; and even the old haggard, faded surface of face had come back to him. And all this while, the Doctor, with his pipe in his mouth, had walked up and down in silence, complacently admiring, but never interfering; in which condition, indeed, as to the business and his domestic affairs, he had walked up and down through life, and observed him at intervals from the adjoining room. He paced up and down for a long time before he lay down; but, when he did finally lay himself down, he fell asleep in his chair.

The Doctor at times received such patients here as his old reputation, and its revival in the floating whispers of his story, brought him. His scientific knowledge, and his vigilance and skill in conducting ingenious experiments, brought him otherwise into moderate request, and he earned as much as he wanted. Nevertheless, he was well acquainted, more-over, with the circumstances of his country, and those were of ever-growing interest. So, with great perseverance and untiring industry, he prospered. Yet, even in the wealthy Palace of Yusupovs, he had expected neither to walk on pavements of gold, nor to lie on beds of roses; if he had had any such exalted expectation, he would not have prospered. He had expected labour, and he found it, and did it and made the best of it. In this, his prosperity consisted.

As for the young man, having made up his mind to that magnanimous bestowal of good fortune on the Doctor, he had now resolved to have his life changed, for better or worse. After some mental debating of the point, he had now come to the conclusion that it would be as well to lead a straight life, and the universal watchfulness so encompassed him, that if he had been taken in a net, or were being forwarded to his destination in a cage, he could not have felt his freedom more completely gone.

Now the young man had become conscious as sleep escaped him that day, turning to the Doctor after an uneasy pause, and asked in a low voice, ‘Where am I?’

The Doctor whiffed the compound of scents away as he put down his smoked-out pipe. He took off his spectacles, which made his face seem different and the good-natured expression still more apparent, and gazed at his patient in amazement for he was unaware of his wakening.

‘You are in my house … and you are my patient,’ the Doctor paused a second, ‘and I’m Doctor Nicholas Obnissky … And you are of course Andrea ...?’ asked the Doctor with a small smile.

The Doctor always spoke quietly, politely, and with great precision.

‘Zakharovich,’ returned the young man, in a low, weakling voice, and the craving air.

The faintness of the voice was pitiable and dreadful. It was not the faintness of physical weakness, though confinement and hard fare no doubt had their part in it. Its deplorable peculiarity was that it was the faintness of solitude and disuse. It was like the last feeble echo of a sound made long and long ago. So entirely had it lost the life and resonance of the human voice, that it affected the senses like a once beautiful colour faded away into a poor weak stain. So sunken and suppressed it was that it was like a voice underground. So expressive it was, of a hopeless and lost creature, wearied out by lonely wandering in a wilderness, would have remembered home and friends in such a tone before lying down to die.

But, he had never seen his patient in his present aspect: he had never at all known him in his present character. For the first time the Doctor felt, now, that his patient’s suffering was strength and power. For the first time he felt that in that short silence, he had slowly forged the iron which could break the prison door of his patient, and deliver him. Thus, the Doctor saw the kindled eyes, the resolute face, and the calm strong look and bearing of the young man whose life always seemed to him to have been stopped, like a clock, for so many years, and then set going again with an energy which had lain dormant during the cessation of its usefulness, he believed.

The Doctor raised his head thoughtfully, as if there were something in that too.

There was another silence only for the pacifying tune from the gramophone that had added more serenity.

Looking gently at the young man again, the Doctor handed him the pistol he had concealed from the young man. The young man opening his eyes fixed his steady and severe gaze straight on the Doctor’s face.

‘I believe this belongs to you,’ returned the Doctor, drawing himself up.

‘Not anymore, Doctor,’ said the young man, looking at the Doctor, prompting the Doctor to lift an eyebrow, and looking at the pistol, he slowly and softly stepped towards a side table within reach of the young man’s right hand, and placed it next to a large jug of water and a glass.

And as the Doctor feeling in the pocket of his high-buttoned waistcoat, he took out the picture he had earlier found on the young man, and giving him a quick look. Then he glanced at him with great apparent calmness and repose of spirit.

‘And this, I assume, belongs to you, too,’ said the Doctor, who had kept his bright eye and observantly upon the young man, handed it to him.

‘Yes, it is,’ the young man put in quietly, as he took it. His eyes did not even follow the hand he stretched out for a glass of water ? which often groped about, for a minute or more, before it found the glass for his lips.

Now looking at the picture for a while with a sober face, the young man then watched every movement of the Doctor, and before the old man began to speak, he smiled thinly and said, ‘How did you come across this, Doctor?’

‘Oh, this … Well, I came across it while you were lying in the street,’ said the Doctor, pausing in his looking at him. ‘Does this answer your question?’

‘Yes,’ said the young man turning to the Doctor, who, with a shrewd and respectful expression, looked observantly and sympathetically at him.

The young man was almost disconcerted by a question so hard to answer, that he could only look on, at a distance, with much feebler sympathy and humility.

‘Frankly, had I been an Imperial Guard, I would have you had shot for keeping that,’ interrupted the Doctor, pointing his finger at the picture in the young man’s hand, as the whiffs of smoke emerged from his pipe.

In the midst of a profound stillness, the young man faintly began: ‘Yes. But you wouldn’t, would you, Doctor?’

‘Frankly, no, I wouldn’t … I give life; I don’t take life,’ said the Doctor, with a smiling twinkle in his bright eye, as it looked kindly at him.

‘And the woman … that night?’ inquired the young man, with placidity.

Rather wishing his modest adjective away, the Doctor replied, ‘Oh the damsel … ,’ the Doctor suddenly paused at that moment, after noiseless footsteps and gentle knocks on the door resounded in the room.

There was a longer pause than usual, before the Doctor went on: ‘Excuse me, I assume we are expecting an unexpected guest.’

This dialogue had been held in so very low a whisper, that not a word of it had reached the unknown person’s ears. But, by this time the young man trembled under such strong emotion, and his face expressed such deep anxiety, and, above all, such dread and terror, that the Doctor felt it incumbent on him to speak a word or two of reassurance.

‘No worry there! Confidentiality is as good as my cure is,’ reassured the Doctor with a smile, as he turned to the door.

He timidly opened the door and the opened half-door was opened a little further, and secured at that angle for the time. The Doctor showed no surprise at seeing the meekly Christian look which never left the face of the damsel at the door, perhaps as a consequence of his foreknowledge, but the unsteady fingers of one of his hands strayed to his lips as he looked at it (his lips and his nails were of the same pale lead-colour), and then the hand dropped to his pocket.

As the damsel stood still at the door, the Doctor said with a smile, surprised: ‘Ah … Think of the angel and the angel is here!’

The door moved noiselessly and easily. The damsel paused at the entrance. She exchanged glances with the Doctor. The latter understood the purpose she was having. Not a word was spoken, not a sound was made. She stood, like a spirit, beside the Doctor, as she entered and the Doctor then continued:

‘Oh, I was just about to introduce you, my dear Princess, to our patient in common,’ said the Doctor, turning to the young man now, as the Princess stood still, surveying the young man in front of the closed door.

 ‘This is Princess Zenaida Nikolayevna Yusupov, and this is Monsieur Andrei Zakharovich,’ the Doctor paused for a second. ‘I do not need to go into the preliminaries, of course.’

For fear of the Royal family of such a great repute, the Princess had made her arrival a secret in a non-private carriage; her long, silky hair still appeared majestic even under that Orenburg shawl, which now had fallen upon her shoulders, she had hidden from the eyes of the mind, as from the eyes of the body, of the public outside, and of the highest society, making a general pretence of being a patient of the Doctor, with no more definite purpose than to escape the hazard of originating any kind of peril. Even in those olden days the Royals firmly kept aloof of society and social matters and as such they always kept their private lives locked behind the walls of the Palace.

Her manners had always been of that silent and meekness and the rabbit kind, that it was even rumoured that the words she spoke in public and private gatherings could be counted.

Donning a pair of pear-shaped ruby earrings, she was no longer in the loose gown she generally wore in the morning, but had on one of her best dresses. Her hair was carefully done and her face was animated, which, however, did not conceal its sunken and faded outlines. Dressed as she used to be in Peter’s City’s society, it was still more noticeable how much plainer she had become. She had eyes that even assorted very well with that decoration, being of a surface the cornflower blue eyes, with no depth in the colour or form, and much too near together ? as if they were afraid of being found out in something, singly, if they kept too far apart. Withal some unobtrusive touch had been added to the Doctor’s room which rendered her fresh and pretty face yet more attractive. Yet, she did not greatly alter in grandeur, wearing a Tam o'Shanter-like cap, and a light-coloured dress with the spyglass late Anno Domini one thousand and eight hundred and ninety sleeves; and with all that she still remained very pretty and comely.

Silence ensued. The Princess looked at the Doctor and the young man, smiling affably, her half-smile and twinkling eyes that sparkled as if they danced to the gramophone tune, but not concealing the fact that she would not be distressed if the Doctor now rose and took his leave.

There appeared a look of anxiety and fear, as at the sight of the Princess, came over the young man’s face when he saw her enter. The young man suddenly started up with the manners of an earlier date, as he hardly managed to make his formal bow in the bed. Her manner and her look quite astonished him, as the Princess curtseyed to him (damsels still made curtseys in those days), with a pretty desire to convey to him that she felt how much pleased she was than him; and as the eyes met, in an instant it appeared as love at first sight, she made him bow withal.

Her pretty little upper lip, on which a delicate dark down was just perceptible, was too short for her teeth, but it lifted all the more sweetly, and was especially charming when she occasionally drew it down to meet the lower lip. As is always the case with a thoroughly attractive woman, her upper lip and her half-open mouth seemed to be her own special and peculiar form of beauty. The young man brightened at the sight of her, so full of life and health, and carrying her burden so lightly. Her beauty was as such that even old men and dull dispirited young ones who looked at her, after being in her company and talking to her a little while, would feel as if they too were becoming, like her, full of life and health. All who would talk to her, and at each word see her bright smile and the constant gleam of her white teeth, think that they were in an especially amiable mood any time.

‘Strange, indeed,’ interrupted the Doctor, as he paused in his looking about, his glance now fell upon the young man first. ‘A man of such a great conviction,’ he paused again, shifting his glance upon the motionless Princess, as a soft smile emerged. ‘And a damsel of such a great strength.’ Then he went on: ‘Ne’er have I imagined such a mystery in my whole life.’

The Princess smiled in silence and with meekness and solemn interest and silent approval.

The Doctor stopping at the door on his way, and turning in the direction of them, ‘Well, I’m afraid I can’t be a companion of you two for long,’ said the Doctor, as he stepped towards the antiquated hat rack in the corner of the room next to the door, picked his top hat and put in on.

‘Good day to you both,’ said the Doctor with a pleased smile, as he tipped down the brim of his top hat, and departed.

The sunset struck so brilliantly, lighter and lighter, until it touched the tops of the still lime trees, and poured its radiance over the Summer Garden, after rain that was really falling in large drops. In the glow, the water of a chateau fountain seemed to turn to blood, and the stone faces crimsoned, and a rainbow had shone above it and though it still smiled, it never banished sadness from the Land, not from thousands of hungry faces, thousands of poor faces, and discontent faces. The carol of the birds was loud and high, and, on the weather-beaten sill of the great window of the bed-chamber of the Doctor, one little bird sang its sweetest song with all its might. Now, the sun was full up, and movement began in the city. Casement windows opened, crazy doors were unbarred, and people came forth shivering ? chilled, as yet, by the new sweet air, and then began the rarely lightened toil of the day among the most populace bereft of bread. Scanty and insufficient suppers those, and innocent of meat, as of most other sauce to wretched bread. Yet, human fellowship infused some nourishment into the flinty viands, and struck some sparks of cheerfulness out of them. Fathers and mothers who had had their full share in the worst of the day, played gently with their meagre children; and lovers, with such a world around them and before them, loved and hoped.

As the day declined into the late afternoon, and the air, which had been at intervals clear enough to allow the city to be seen, became again charged without mist, the young man's thoughts seemed to charge too. The Princess now nursed the young man whose energy which had at once supported him under his old sufferings and aggravated their sharpness, had been gradually restored to him. He was now a very energetic man indeed, with great firmness of purpose, strength of resolution, and vigour of action. In his recovered energy he was sometimes a little fitful and sudden, as he had at first been in the exercise of his other recovered faculties; but, this had never been frequently observable, and had grown more and more rare. He had developed compassion for the Princess, helping him in donning his outfits, from the hour of his danger. He had never heard a sound so sweet and dear as the sound of her compassionate voice; he had never seen a face so tenderly beautiful, as hers when it was confronted with his own on the edge of the grave that had been dug for him. And in his recovered energy he was sometimes a little fitful and sudden, as he had at first been in the exercise of his other recovered faculties; but, this had never been frequently observable, and had grown more and more rare.

And thus that very afternoon under the reigning rainbow they went out for a stroll in the Summer Garden, this oldest Garden of the bygone Masters, surrounded by the waters of three rivers, clad in the best in the word airy fence, and where grandeur sculpture remember one youthful and blessed; and so they strolled amid a tawny meadow of un-mown knee-high grass and clouded ponds, a chipped facade that looked like a lost soul from the Age of Reason —painted a pale dirty yellow and fronted with a soaring double colonnade of flaking Corinthian columns. A pair of bronze undressed athletes went around the short flight of palace steps, and there they sat between them for long hours, undisturbed by a thin crowd of men and women in colourful dresses and flower-trimmed hats, gazing out at the oval island of ageratum and begonias set in the drive. There, the Emperor and the Empress greeted parades of cavalry and processions of visiting heads of state. There, in the lingering twilight of Edwardian summers, the soundlessness of nature had impressed and solaced the young man and the Princess. Now, perfectly still and silent, the Princess walked along with him, utterly insensible; with her eyes open and fixed upon him, and with that last expression looking as if it were carved or branded into her forehead. So close was her hold upon his arm, that he feared to detach himself lest he should hurt her; therefore he called out for assistance without moving.

Arm in arm, they spoke on and smiled on about their bygone days, months and years and yet spoke on low, as people, barely recognising the Princess, watching and waiting mostly do; as people in a dark room, watching and waiting for lightning, always do. And as the young man’s eyes rested on the Princess, a pair of sparkling eyes that met his own with an inquiring look, and a forehead with a singular capacity (seeing how young and smooth it was), of rifting and knitting itself into an expression that was not quite one of perplexity, or wonder, or alarm, or merely of a bright fixed attention, though it included all the four expressions ? as his eyes rested on these things, a sudden vivid likeness passed before him, of a child whom he had held in his arms on the passage across that very Garden, one cold time, when the wind drifted lightly and the birds flew higher, and the faded leaves flew and time flew withal. And as they sat on a bench, the likeness passed away, like a breath along the surface of the water of the big stone fountain behind them. The fountain flowed unseen and unheard, melting away, like the minutes that were falling from the spring of Time ? through hours.

‘You’ve got something on your mysterious mind,’ the Princess calmly asked with a small smile, looking with attention at the young man’s eyes.

After a short silence, his eyes fell upon the Princess, and the placid voice replied, ‘‘And you’ve got something on your beautiful mind.’

‘An invitation,’ answered the Princess ? very sweetly indeed.

Her tone lingered in the air, almost like the tone of a musical instrument.

‘Yes, perhaps a dinner,’ returned the young man smilingly.

At length the sun rose so high that it struck a kindly ray as of hope or protection, directly down upon them. The favour was too much to bear; in an instant the barrier of faded leaves that had stood surprisingly long, went to the winds, and they came lumbering under the sunlight to that open gate with the golden motifs complementing the grille whereunto their journey naturally tended. The few hooded crows that, in their quest for herbs to eat and fragments of dead stick to burn, strayed within sight of the great gate, had it borne in upon their starved fancy that the expression of the faces was altered.

It was high noontide, January 20 of the year, 1916, when came echoes from a short distance that rumbled menacingly all through this space of time from a teenaged newspaper delivery lad, wretchedly clothed, in kosovorotka, soft high-booted, and a visored cap ? perhaps a peasant by his looks ? and he posed, standing, full-length, with a bundle of Gazeta-Kopeika newspapers, shouting above all the voices outside the gate:

‘?????????????! ?????????????! ???????? ??? ??? ... ????? ??????? ?????? ???????? ???????-?????????!’

(Extra! Extra! Read all about it … Boris Stürmer is now the Prime Minister!)

As the teenaged lad passed by them, the young man directed him to halt, and he did so.

‘Wait,’ said the young man, and the lad complied.

And as he instantly took the newspaper from the lad’s hands, he glanced darkly at the headline ran in black and white at the top of the newspaper ? clear as crystal ? and murmured to himself:

‘?? ????????? ???????-???????? ???????? ?????????? ????? ???????????? ??????? ... ‘

(‘Governor Boris Vladimirovich Stürmer is appointed Prime Minister … ’)

His face had become frozen, as it were, in a very curious look at the black-and-white picture of this Prime Minister: an intent look, deepening into a frown of dislike and distrust, not even unmixed with fear. With this strange expression on him his thoughts had wandered away.

‘What is it, Andrei?’ asked the Princess.

‘Stürmer has been appointed Prime Minister,’ replied the young man, in a low voice, as he pursued with reading on.

‘Stürmer?’ interrupted the Princess, in a high voice, with a stared lost look that instantly troubled her. ‘That old imbecile?’

‘Yes. Well, your “old imbecile” is now a young “imbecile”,’ returned the young man, carelessly, as he returned the newspaper to the waiting lad.

That ‘Old Imbecile’, whom the Princess spoke of, was as a matter of fact a Master of Ceremonies at the Court, a Master of Compromise, and withal a Governor; and as such it was publicly known that this old man of Landowners, a man who was in the usual habit of twirling his moustache, which was indeed remarkable, immaculately turned up and appearing to act as hooks to a lavish tongue of a beard, and whom the Empress and her Mad Monk had favoured, had been told by the now very much troubled Emperor to ‘take all measures’ to ensure that ‘the Empire avoided any conflicts’ with the Imperial Duma, and bestowed upon him ‘specific instructions to improve relations’ between the Empire and the Royals. And to this distressful emblem of a great distress that had long been growing worse, was now at its worst.

And as the lad returned to his usual business of shouting and went afar, with an exclamation of impatience, but with his unchangeable face, the young man looked at the Princess ? perhaps a little angry with the Masters, as well as with this ‘Old Imbecile’, the young man appeared to be quite sober, smiled then, and turned to the Princess:

‘Never mind that “imbecile”, my Princess,’ pursued the young man, with a small smile. ‘We must depart now.’

And as he embraced her gently, solemnly commended her to Heaven, and humbly thanked Heaven for having bestowed her on him, the Princess complied, but appeared to find the speaking on less easy.

‘But when shall I find you again,’ asked the Princess, in a low and sad voice.

There was another blank silence before the young man rejoined:

‘I shall find you.’

So strange was the way in which he faded into silence and so strange his fixed look when he had ceased to speak, that the Princess felt her own hand turn cold in the hand that slowly released and dropped it. Thus, by-and-bye, they separated. It was a hard parting, though it was not for long. He waved to her, and she was gone.

Dark clouds gathered around, and then came the ringing of church bells and the distant beating of the military drums in the Palace Courtyard, as the young lad continued with his shouting. Dark clouds encompassed the sun. Another darkness was closing in as surely, when the church bells, then ringing pleasantly in many an airy steeple over the city, should be melted into thundering cannon; when the military drums should be beating to drown a wretched voice, that night all potent as the voice of Power and Plenty, Freedom and Life.

Thus, the rustling of an Angel's wings got blended with the other echoes, and they were not wholly of earth, but had in them that breath of Heaven. Sighs of the winds that blew over the Garden were mingled with them also, and both were audible to all souls, in a hushed murmur ? like the breathing of a winter sea asleep upon a sandy shore ? as the poor souls chattered in the tongues of the city that were blended in their lives.

© Copyright 2018 Cyrus G. Robati. All rights reserved.


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