The Grand Duchess of Nowhere

The Grand Duchess of Nowhere by Laurie Graham Read Free Book Online

Book: The Grand Duchess of Nowhere by Laurie Graham Read Free Book Online
Authors: Laurie Graham
hardly needed to tell her anything. She wasn’t at all surprised about Ernie. In fact she said she’d always felt in her bones that he wasn’t good marriage material. So you see?’
    I didn’t see. What was there to see? It was too late.
    Missy said, ‘Oh for heaven’s sake, must I spell it out? Cyril’s here, you’re here. Have a little flirtation. Where’s the harm? A six-hour Coronation. I’m sure we’re all entitled to a little pleasure after that ordeal.’
    I hardly slept, but no one slept much in Moscow that night. The Kremlin was lit up with the new electric lights and carts were on the move well before dawn. Some people were starting their long journey home, but many of them were going to Khodynka Meadow for free beer and gingerbread and souvenir Coronation cups.
    I lay awake thinking of Cyril. There was to be one party after another that week. I was bound to be in his company again. I could have borne it, just seeing him. I could have carried it off. But Missy had ruined everything. She meant well, but the trouble with Missy was she was a stranger to embarrassment. She couldn’t begin to imagine how mortified I felt.
    The household was on the move early. Servants’ voices, footsteps, doors slamming, and then I heard a carriage going off at speed. I dozed until nine, then Aunt Ella came in with my breakfast tray. Her hair was down and she’d been crying. There had been a terrible accident, she said. A crush of people out at Khodynka, pushing to be near the front when the beer was given out. Some had died. Uncle Serge had gone there as soon as he heard the news.
    ‘Poor Serge,’ she kept saying. ‘And after everything went off so well yesterday.’
    Aunt Ella was worried that Uncle Serge would be blamed for the accident, and with good reason. When arrangements go perfectly to plan no one asks who should be thanked, but when things go wrong they must have someone to blame. That was what a Governor-General was for. Uncle Serge came back from Khodynka Meadow and shut himself away in his study. All morning the telephone rang and people came and went, grave-faced. The news got worse by the hour. Fifty dead. Two hundred. Five hundred. That was when Uncle Serge went to see Emperor Nicky.
    There was the urgent question of the Coronation celebrations.
    Should everything be cancelled? The French ambassador was meant to be giving a ball that evening. He needed to know what to do. Uncle Serge thought the main thing was for Nicky and Sunny to visit the injured and meet the bereaved, to offer their condolences. After that they should make a brief appearance at the ball. Uncle Paul agreed that the ball should go ahead but he felt that Nicky and his suite should stay away, out of respect for the dead. Uncle Vladimir said it was madness to think of anyone giving or attending a ball when the dead were stacked up like so many log piles. Emperor Nicky didn’t know what he thought. He was discussing it with his wife and his mother.
    Aunt Ella said, ‘If it’s left to Sunny all the festivities will certainly be cancelled. She hates these occasions at the happiest of times.’
    The day wore on. Eight hundred dead, we heard. Ernie went out to the Alexander Gardens with Elli and little Marie Pavlovna and came back with a number of different opinions he’d heard expressed by other families’ governesses and nursery maids.
The tragedy at Khodynka was the fault of the authorities who had failed to keep order.
No. It was the fault of the peasants who’d trample their own mother underfoot for a free drink.
It was an omen. A reign that starts with a tragedy was sure to end badly.
The Emperor should go to the ball but look solemn and not dance.
The Emperor should go to a monastery.
The food for the ball supper should be distributed among the bereaved.
Bereaved persons have no appetite. They should be given money.
    We never did know for sure how many had died. More than a thousand, anyway. They were to be buried quickly, because

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