Suzanne Slayton on January 6, 2013 in Uncategorized
“How dare you!” Tom had seized her shoulders; he was shaking her. hurting her. The famous Byrne temper, scourge of his red-haired ancestors since Domesday. blazed in his eyes. “How dare you talk to me like that! You are insulting me!” “What do you mean?”
“How dare you suppose that 1 don’t know who you are or what you are? It is unspeakable! You could weigh as much as a hippopotamus and shave your head and wear a wig and it wouldn’t make any difference to me. I never said you were beautiful. I never thought it. I said that you were you.”
SUS1E loosened his hands. Then she smiled. The wise, tender smile that made nonsense of her ugliness. “Well. in that case we must just hope that our children don’t inherit your awful temper. Or my nose.” “Oi, Gewalt!” said the Noble Spanish Lady, Susie’s mother, seeing their faces as they returned to the ballroom. “Look, Leo ! It has happened ! What shall 1 tel! Moshe and Rachel? And Cousin Steffi? You know she wanted Susie for her Isaac !” “To mind their own business,” said that stout bullfighter, Leo Rabinovich, hitching up his cummerbund.
Anna stayed for a while in the garden, standing with her back to a great cedar as though thereby she could draw in some of its strength.
Rupert had gone. She must live without him. It was done. There were just a few things to do, still, before she slipped away. Explain to the dowager that she was leaving. thank the Byrnes, say goodbye to 011ie . . . And after that, Mersham, to pick up her things and wait for the milk trajo to London.
But first, Petya. She had promised him a dance.
He had been searching for her. “Ah, there you are, Annoushka.” he said, beginning to talk excitedly in Russian. “You’ve missed such an exciting thing! Tom is engaged to marry Susie Rabinovich and they stopped the music and announced it and everyone clapped. Tom’s very happy and Susie’s really nice and there’s going to be lots and lots of champagne. And Lady Byrne’s going to ask you to stay here instead of Mersham—she says you’ve been there long enough as a guest and it’s her turn to have you, so do come, ‘Noushka, because they’re so nice and their horses are fabulous!”
“Petya, 1 must go back to town,” said Anna.
“Oh, no! We’d have such fun! There’s the wedding too—you must stay for that!”
“1 can’t, love. Maybe I’ll come back,” she liad, “but it’s Pinny’s birthday next week and you know 1 like to be there for that : she’s done so much for us. So now let’s have our dance and then l’II slip away quietly. Listen, it’s a polka! We’ll show them how to dance!-
And they did. But when it was over and Anna, under cover of the supper break, tried to gain the double doors, she was suddenly prevented—for sweeping into the ballroom carne the Ballet Russe!
They came in costumes borrowed from Firebird and Scheherazade and immediately all the other costumes looked drab and uninteresting. They came as guests, not performers, but instantly all eyes were on them, such was their vitality, their “otherness”. There was La Slavina, darling of the Maryin sky for two decades and still, in her forties, a woman from whom it was almost impossible to avert one’s eyes. There was the ineffable stylish designer, Lapin, with drooping eyes and a white streak in hisjet-black hair.
THEY surged forward to greet their hostess, embracing everybody in their path, seizing glasses of champagne from the passing footmen —and the temperature of the party soared. Then La Slavina paused, threw out an arm, and let out a small scream.
“Mon Dieu! C’est la petite Grazinsky!”
“You look charming, Countess,” said Lapin approvingly, “But not, 1 think, the cap. One wishes only to suggest a costurne.” He unpinned Anna’s cap. Tossed it away, plucked a white poppy from an urn and tucked it unerringly into her hair.
“You have lost everything, I have heard?” said La Slavina. Anna shrugged. “We’re all right.”
“Ah, you have courage. And a fine brother.” She pinched Petya’s cheek. “Tell me . . .” Her voice, this time, dropped half an octave, her splendid boudoir eyes became veiled in a profound and personal nostalgia. “What has happened to your so beautiful Cousin Sergei?”
“He is working in the north, somewhere,” said Anna cautiously.
“As a chauffeur, I have heard! C’est possible?”
They had collected, inevitably, a crowd—and, among its members, the Nettlefords who had closed ranks after the dreadful news of Tom’s engagement and were conveying a stunned Lavinia to the supper room. La Slavina threw out an arm to include the company. “Ah, if you could see the Prince! Never, never have 1 seen a man so ‘andsome. And fearless, too.” She broke off to say with her enchanting smile : “I beg your pardon, mademoiselle.”