Suzanne Slayton on January 19, 2013 in Uncategorized
But the fault had not been the ballerina’s. A tall and avidlooking girl covered in scales had cannoned into her, en route for the open French window through which she now vanished. There was a short pause, then with assorted exclamations of fury, four more girls in an extraordinary collection of clothes raced after her.
“Dróle!” said La Slavina, raising her eyebrows. Then she tucked her arm through Anna’s and led her entourage towards the supper room.
Anxious to avoid the servants’ hall with its backbiting and gossíp, Sergei had spent the evening in the King’s Head down in the village. Now he was smoking a quiet cigarette in the paddock which adjoined the stable yard until he should be summoned to take the Lady Lavinia and her fellow bridesmaid back to Mersham.
“Sergei ! Sergei ! Where are you?”
“Here, my lady.”
The Lady Lavinia, in full tilt, careered round the corner of the stables and panted up to him. Her scales caught the moonlight; an even fiercer glítter lit up her eyes.
“Do you wish to leave early, my lady? The car is ready.”
“No, no Sergei ! The night is young !” She carne closer. “But I’m very cross with you, Sergei ! Very, very cross,” said Lavínia, waggling a bony finger in his face.
Sergei looked round for a way of escape but short of simply leaping the fence and racing away across the paddock there was nothing he could do.
“Why didn’t you tell us your real name?” said Lavinia, now fixing his arm in a vice-like grip.
“But I did, my lady.”
“No, you didn’t ! Not all of it !”
“I’m afraid I don’t understa nd.”
“Oh, naughty, naughty !” said Lavinia, entranced by her proximity to Ibis devastating man. “What about the Prince, hey?” You didn’t tell us that!” “Lavvy! Where are you?” The pack was closing in. Furious at Lavinia’s head start, her sisters had rushed off down the terrace steps in hot pursuit. Unfortunately Salome’s ankle bangle had caught in the turnedup spike of Cleopatra’s golden sandal, eliminating the Ladies Hermione and Priscilla who rolled down the remaíning steps in a vituperative and flaying tangle. But Gwendolyn, and the headless daffodil that now was Beatrice, had reached the stable yard.
“Ah, there you are! You’ve found him. You’re a crafty one, Lavvy! Just as soon as you found out he was a prince you carne running after him. Don’t Cake any notice, Sergei.”
But Sergei now had had enough. His accent very pronounced. he bowed and said: “Ladies, I have two things to say to you. Firstly, as from this moment I resign absolutely my post as chauffeur to your family and you may tell the Duke and Duchess this. Secondly, I am engaged to be married.”
And before the girls could recover themselves, he had vaulted over the five-bar gate and vanished into the trees. After the arrival of the Russians, no-one could doubt that the ball was a triumph. But at its heart was not Muriel Hardwicke, stiff and disapprovíng in her elaborate dress: at its heart, her escape cut off, was Anna. Anna dancing a tango with Lapin, Anna drinking champagne with Mr Bartorolli, Anna and Vladimir demonstrating a polonaise . . . Anna besieged by partners and never, not for one minute, looking at Rupert who never, for one minute, looked at her.
“That girl seems determined to make an exhibition of herself,” said Muriel, frigidly executing a two-step in the arms of her fiancé. “I hope you don’t expect me to have her back at Mersham after this?”
Rupert did not answer. Anna had paused at the end of her dance to thank her partner and straighten the flower in her tumbled hair. Caught off his guard for an instant, Rupert gazed at her just as her control, snapped and she raised her eyes, brilliant with fatigue and excitement, to his.
And at that moment it became clear to him with an absolute and blinding certainty that he could not live without her and that he must break his engagement even if it meant disgrace and ruin—and that he must break it that very night.
Sergei had taken refuge in the Italian Garden whose statues and arbours gave shelter even in the bright moonlight. Here he would wait quietly till the Nettleford girls returned to the ballroom and then pick up his things from the coach house and make his way to the station.
He was just beginning to make his way back when he heard a sound : forlorn and small and infinitely sad; the sound of someone resolutely not crying. And turning aside he saw, framed by a trellis of jasmine, a girl sitting on the rim of a fountain, her head in her hands. A girl whose pose, whose slender outline, seemed heart-rendingly familiar.
Rupert’s glance had cut through Anna’s mood like a sword, and excusing herself from her latest partner she had slipped away, wanting, now, only that this long night should end at last.
“Annoushka! Mylienkaya! Eto ti?”
The voice, known and loved since childhood, the tender Russían words, brought her to her feet— and into the arms of the tall man coming towards her. “Seriosha!”
For a moment they stood locked together in an embrace of homesickness and love. If there was one person in the world that Anna needed at this hour it was the cousin who was now brother and father, friend and protector. If there was one person who could make him think well again of women, it was thís girl with her steadfastness and courage, her spiritual grace.
It was thus that Rupert, looking for Anna in the garden, found them. Leaning against each other as if they were one substance, the man bending over her, holding her close, while she turned to him in total trustand her long dark hair, now loosened by the dance, streamed across them both.