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    James K
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 

An Awkward Revolutionary - 3. Chapter III

There was no line of servants on the steps to greet them, instead a young lad who looked very like Milan, came out of the house. He wore a grey jacket with gold crested buttons: this was Feliks Vanya Nikolaev's valet. He opened the carriage door and stood to the side. Daniil climbed down from the box and followed Novel Vanya and Aleksander into the house and the dark almost empty hall. Through a doorway they caught site of a young woman as they entered the drawing room.

"Home, finally," said Novel Vanya, as he removed his heavy coat. "We will have supper."

Daniil suddenly became aware he was hungry, but wouldn't mind an aperitif whilst they waited. As they were settling into the chairs and sofa an elderly grey haired man of about sixty appeared carrying a tray with three glasses.

"Ah! Klement, very well thought."

The butler served them each a glass of medovukha. "Supper will be served shortly if you're pleased?" He addressed Noval.

"Yes, fine. If you wish to refresh yourselves Milan will show you your rooms."

"You haven't moved my bedroom have you papa?" Aleksander smiled broadly.

"No, no, of course not. But perhaps for Daniil?"

"No need," Daniil replied, "If you just put this old thing in there."

He held up an well used old leather bag which Klement took and regarded in a somewhat reticent manner as if picking up something one might be loath to touch. "Very well, sir," he said, and left carrying the bag.

As Klement left an elderly man with grey almost silver hair and dressed in a dark suit entered the drawing room. Feliks Vanya Nikolaev was forty-eight years old and cut a fine figure, upright and solid, his good looks had not deserted him with age. He walked up to Aleksander and placing both hands on his upper arms he kissed him on each cheek, "Welcome home," he said.

Novel Vanya introduced his brother to Daniil, and Feliks acknowledged their guest.

"I was almost beginning to think you would not come today, delayed by something or other, the weather," Feliks said, looking about the room as if something was not quite in its place.

"We did get held up a bit, but as you see we're here, safe and sound. If you'll excuse me, I am just going to wash away the dust from travelling, before we eat."

"Wait, I'll come with you. You can show me your room." Daniil followed Aleksander out.

When they were alone Feliks asked his brother, "Who was that young man?"

"A friend of Aleksander's, he's staying with us."

"Ah! For how long?" Feliks asked, stretching his hand and regarding his fingers. It was a mannerism which at once showed a lack of interest and at the same time disdain.

Supper was an odd affair with at first little conversation until Novel Vanya began relating his thoughts on farm life, the need to modernise, and government programmes with committees and delegations, everything which made up the farmer's lot. Feliks did not eat so much as he drank, dark red wine, he had a glass in his exquisitely manicured hand practically all evening. Aleksander whilst glad to be home, also felt at odds with himself, he was a young man in the company of men for whom he was still a boy. He talked too much about life at university and living in the capital, he could not shake off the awkwardness he felt and he poured much more wine into his glass than he wanted too. Klement stood over all this, watching Aleksander and seeing to their service. Daniil said very little and occupied himself with eating, occasssionally nodding or otherwise expressing agreement to something Aleksander had said. He lent a kind of absent support to the friend who had shared his apartment in Saint Petersburg and invited him to stay at the house in the country.

Sitting on the edge of Aleksander's bed he remarked, "Your uncle is a peculiar character. Those dashingly smart clothes, and so we'll groomed, not how you would imagine someone living in such a rural place."

"Ah, yes," Aleksander smiled, "but you don't know how much he has always cut a dash with the ladies, he used to turn quite a few heads."

"It's a sort of reminiscing of the past then, because really there are no hearts to conquer here. But don't you find it a little ridiculous?"

"Perhaps, but he is a good man and one shouldn't judge others too harshly."

Aleksander stared intently at his friend.

"No, you're right, and your father is most welcoming, a decent fellow."

"Yes he is."

"Yet a little shy."

"Do you think so?" The observation made Aleksander turn his focus upon himself, he thought of the old adage, 'like father, like son," and wondered if he didn't suffer a little of the same lack of confidence with people.

"Anyway, it's been a long day, so I'll bid you goodnight." He stood up and kissed Aleksander on the cheek.

"You could stay," he looked up at Daniil.

"I think it better if I retire to my own room, after all, your father has gone to the trouble of preparing it, and what would old Klement think? I'm sure he knows everything that goes on in this house."

Daniil went out and despite missing the company of his friend, Aleksander realised he was very tired. Getting undressed and into bed he felt a wonderful joy, the sort of feeling one gets from the familiar, finding himself in his old room, at home, and in familiar surroundings.

Both he and Daniil were soon fast to sleep, but others were not, Feliks Vanya sat up in his room, staring at the dying embers in the fireplace until well after midnight. Whatever he was thinking about that kept him awake, those thoughts were not only of the past. Novel Vanya did not fall immediately asleep either, he was a little concerned about his son's return, something niggled and disturbed him.

In another small room at the rear of the house sat Natasha, with her door open so as to keep a watchful eye on the sleeping infant and listen to his soft breathing.

 


Daniil was awake early before anyone else was up and he had already made a tour of the property, the gardens, the lake and most of the rest of the property. It was on passing the stable that he made the acquaintance of two young farm boys. He was not by any means a great artist, but neither was he terrible, this seemed like a perfect opportunity to put pencil to paper and make some sketches. What better subject than a couple of young models in the midst of nature, such as it was. For he had noticed that neither lake nor gardens were of any particular merit and the trees which had been planted were struggling to thrive.
He had no trouble winning the trust of the humblest of people and quickly made friends with the boys. Daniil was studying the history of art but was very interested in modern artists, in particular the Romanticism style of paintings such as those by Alexander Ivanov. The weather was too cold outside even with the rising sun, but he could not forego sketching the lads, and decided the stables would provide his backdrop.

"Will you pose for me?" He plucked two coins from his jacket pocket and held them up. "A reward for your endeavours."

"What would we have to do?" The elder of the two asked, looking both curious and tempted.

"A half an hour of your time and keep perfectly still. It sounds easy does it not?"

They both nodded.

"Come. Here will do just fine."

The boys put down their pitch fork and barrow, and stood looking at Daniil.

"You need to strip off, it's not too cold."

He waited whilst the boys undressed, they had no inhibition about being naked in front of him. Daniil removed a small sketch book which he often carried with him, he stood leaning against a pillar and directed the boys to pose lying on the bank of hay. The elder was on his left side supported on one arm looking at the other boy whom he had laying on his back, eyes closed. He set to work sketching, and exactly as he had said he spent a half hour making several pencil drawings.

"May we see, sir?" The elder boy asked once Daniil was finished.

"Why not?" Daniil smiled and showed them the sketches.

"Not terrible at all," said the elder boy, and Daniil laughed. He ruffled the boy's hair, "Get dressed you little imp." As the boys got dressed he slapped the eldest boy on his behind. "Get off back to work, and if anyone asks what you were doing, say you were aiding your master's guest, Daniil Vinogradov. He handed each boy a coin, turned and strolled off, sketch book tucked under his arm.

Novel Vanya went to find his son and together they entered the glass covered veranda which faced east, overlooking the gardens, and captured the early morning sun which imbued the room with light. The samovar was already boiling and a small fireplace at one end of the room was quickly dispelling the chill from the air. A small girl entered the room as Aleksander strolled over to the large windows and looked out at the frosty morning. Nothing moved outside, with no cold wind and a clear sky, there were large patches of wet grass where the ice had quickly melted. One might imagine it was warm outside beneath the Sun's rays, he thought he might take a walk later, to find Daniil, he was certain his companion was outside somewhere wandering around. He had not been in bed when Aleksander looked in on him after getting dressed.

"Natasha is a little unwell," the young maid announced, "she asks if you might serve yourselves tea, or do you wish me to fetch Dmitri?"

"No, no, that's fine. We will serve ourselves."

His father moved to occupy himself with the samovar. "How would you like your tea?"

Aleksander turned from gazing out through the windows.

"Cream or lemon?"

"Cream, please," he replied. "Papa, I should wish to be perfectly frank with you, exactly as you have been with me."

Novel Vanya poured two cups of tea and replaced the teapot on the top of the samovar. Aleksander sat down with his cup of tea, lifting the cup and pouring the tea into the saucer to sip it.

"Too hot?" Novel smiled at his son, feeling content and happy he was here to share morning tea with, but at the same time he was a little anxious as to what Aleksander wanted to say.

"Yes, a little," he replied. "Papa, I think perhaps Natasha is not really unwell, but rather avoiding me. I should go to see her and tell her there is nothing to be concerned about. It is not I who would question my father, and if you have deemed her loyal and trustworthy to bring into your house, I would not disagree."

"Thank you, Aleksander. She is a good person and were it not so I would not have her here in the house living with me. It is no passing fancy, but still, I feel somewhat awkward with the situation. It was difficult for her to meet you on your first day here."

"I shall go and she her then. It's settled." And with that said Aleksander stood and left the breakfast table, before his father had any chance to say more.

Novel Vanya sat alone in silence, his heart beating with an axiousness he found difficult to control and which reached a peek of apprehension on his son's return.

Aleksander came striding into the room. "Natasha really is not feeling well," he confirmed. "But why didn't you tell me I have a little brother? I would have showered him with kisses when I arrived, just as I did one moment ago."

His father was taken aback by this declaration and wanted to say something, but Aleksander flung his arms around his neck and pulled them together in an embrace.

"What's this?" The deep voice of his uncle interrupted them. "Embracing again?"

Novel Vanya was a little releaved by his brother's appearance, because Aleksander broke their embrace to kiss his uncle good morning. Feliks was dressed in an English style, an elegant morning suit and porting a fez, he wore a bright, multi-coloured shirt.

"Where's your new friend?" he asked Aleksander.

"I'm sure he has taken a walk, he's not in the house, and his room was empty when I got up. In any case, Daniil is not a person who judges others or takes a position or moral stance, he is relaxed and quite free thinking."

"Ah! Indeed, that is not a surprise," Feliks commented. He took his tea with lemon and started to butter some bread. "Will he being staying for long?"

"I'm not sure, I invited him and hadn't thought to specify a duration." Aleksander frowned at his uncle.

"Quite so." Feliks drank his tea, ignoring his nephew's disdain. "His name is Vinogradov, is it not?"

Aleksander nodded, but his frown had not disappeared.

"Wasn't there a doctor with that name in Papa's regiment?" Feliks asked Novel.

"Yes, I think you may be right there."

"So your Daniil's father was a doctor in the regiment. And what does his son do?"

"He's an artist," Aleksander said, with a hint of proud defiance.

"An artist! Really!" Feliks raised an eyebrow. "Can one make a living from that?"

"He is studying the history of art." Aleksander found it difficult to hide his annoyance.

"Ah, yes, you said so when you arrived," Novel Vanya confirmed.

"He must be something of an idealist then, a bird of passage." Feliks picked up his bread and waved it in the air as if demonstrating a point.

"A free thinker is perhaps the description you were looking for," Aleksander said.

"And so, is that a good thing?" his father asked.

"It depends entirely on your point of view, Papa. For some it is, others not."

"Is not for you?" Novel Vanya asked him.

"Yes, I think so. I think it is. One needs to challenge the moral high ground and established ways."

"Really? I don't find anything wrong with established ways," his uncle interrupted. "Our generation, us older people, need stability for things to function. Too much free thinking might be a dangerous thing. At the least it ought to be the prerogative of the noble classes, we don't want a revolution here!"

Before this argument could go further Natasha walked into the breakfast room. She was young, only a little older than Aleksander himself, and quite beautiful, with pale skin highlighted by long blond hair and deep blue eyes. She walked with a hesitancy, as though not certain about making an appearance, she lowered her eyes and stood at the edge of the table.

"Good morning," she said softly, and glanced at Aleksander who gave her a friendly smile.

Feliks virtually ignored her, saying nothing, giving only the slightest nod of the head as recognition.

Novel Vanya was embarrassed and muttered an almost inaudible, "Good morning."

Silence reigned supreme until Daniil arrived.

"Here's our free thinking, idealist," Feliks announced.

Daniil strolled across the room to join them. "I'm sorry I am late for tea. I took a walk around your lovely gardens and was distracted by finding a subject for my work." He removed the sketch book from under his arm and stuck it back in his jacket pocket.

"Ah, yes! Your work," replied Feliks, "and that would be what exactly?"

"This morning inspiration took me to sketching. I'm afraid it's a habit I have, almost a compulsion to put pencil to paper."

Feliks moved the conversation on, disinterested in Daniil's artwork, he asked Novel how the new farm manager was getting on. Daniil took a moment to introduce himself to Natasha, who smiled politely and commented on how different it was to have an artist staying with them.

There is an image of the sketch which Daniil made in the stables, unfortunately this cannot be included here. I hope your imagination serves to conjure up the artwork.
Copyright © 2021 James K; All Rights Reserved.
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 
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