Alexandra by Carolly Erickson Read Free Book Online

Book: Alexandra by Carolly Erickson Read Free Book Online
Authors: Carolly Erickson
amorous? To a certain extent, yes.’ 6
    Amorous Nicky was – partly because of his age, partly because of his emotional, sensitive nature, and partly, one suspects, because he was given too little to do. All but prevented by his
father from preparing for his future role as tsar – Alexander III had little respect for Nicky, and preferred his son Michael – Nicky lived the feckless life of a young officer with
very light military duties, staying out too late at night, drinking too much, whiling away his days socializing and his nights in dining, gambling and flirting. He often felt lethargic; his mind
was perpetually underoccupied and although he occasionally attended a session of the imperial council, he was inattentive and emerged unenlightened.
    His education had been poor – a smattering of science, a whiff of law and economics, a heavy concentration on the basics of military strategy and command – artillery training,
surveying and topography, the art of fortification. He had an interest in history, but hardly pursued it, beyond leafing through a historical journal on occasion. He was bored, understimulated,
often on the verge of falling asleep. At times, reduced to complete inactivity, he gazed out through the railings of the palace grounds ‘for something to do’. 7
    In his idleness he daydreamed about Alix, about Matilda Kchessinsky – and, before many months had passed, he acquired a new love, Olga Dolgoruky. 8
    Unaware of the course Nicky’s emotional life was taking, caught up in her own infatuation for him, Alix counted the days until September 18, while in the fields around Illinsky the grain
ripenedand in the orchards the branches of the trees drooped low, heavy with apples, pears and plums. Ella took Alix and Ernie to Moscow – their first sight of the
wondrous city of the golden domes and clanging bells – and led them on expeditions through country markets, where old toothless women sold green, yellow and pink mushrooms in homemade
birchbark baskets and choruses of red-shirted peasant boys sang and danced to the accompaniment of accordions and tambourines. The rich exuberance of peasant life, the abundance and variety of the
crops, the warm late-summer evenings lit with coloured lanterns and enlivened with dancing bears and twirling gypsies, all delighted her. This was Russia, Nicky’s inheritance. This was where
she hoped to make her home, as Ella had.
    But Ella, she was forced to acknowledge, had made a flawed bargain. Serge, who on his visits to Darmstadt had always seemed to be a benign, avuncular presence, was turning out to be someone else
entirely. Now that he was Ella’s husband, Serge had become her jailer. He controlled where she went, whom she saw, how she spent her time. His jealousy of her companions made him hateful,
even cruel. Ella could not write a letter or read a book without running the gauntlet of his suspicions. Tolstoy’s
Anna Karenina
, with its Russian background and theme of adulterous
love, was forbidden to Ella because, according to Serge, it might arouse ‘unhealthy curiosity and violent emotion’. 9
    Even more troubling was the way Serge criticized Ella, sometimes in front of others, calling her ‘my child’ in a scathing voice. Strained in each other’s presence, Ella and
Serge appeared to avoid spending time together, especially when Serge was in one of his surly moods. Alix watched her tall, gaunt brother-in-law, his eyes cold and his lips pressed tightly
together, nervously turning a jewelled ring he wore on his little finger, and was thoughtful. This too was a part of Nicky’s inheritance: haughty, scornful Serge, and the others in
Nicky’s very large extended family. What would it be like to live among these people? 10
    Although Ella professed to be content with her life, and Serge’s fearsome, domineering side was not always in evidence, what Alixcould observe of the troubled
relationship between her sister and her husband must have

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