The Nightingale of St. Petersburg

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Part III. Secrets Revealed. Chapters 1-2

Part III: Secrets Revealed.

Chapter 1

I feel the time has come for me to enter this story, enter it as an author. I did not know about Alexander visiting my goddaughter, I never even suspected such a thing possible. She never spoke of it, he never spoke of it, so there was never anything to give me even the faintest suspicion that they knew each other.

With the death of my mother, I could not bear to be in that house, it reminded me too much of her. I owned another one in the city, it wasn’t so secluded as this one, but that didn’t matter. I wanted to get away from the memory of my mother so I moved and took my poor goddaughter with me. But all this you already know.

It was the beginning to January, 1827. I remember it being already dark outside, but this is hardly surprising. During the winter it gets dark very early in St. Petersburg. I at my desk, attending to some business, when a knock on the door made me lift my head.

“Enter.” I called.

The door opened and my butler, Feodor came in.

“Pardon me, Master,” he said, “but there is a man asking for you at the door, says his name is Alexander and that he used to play music for your late mother.”

I was surprised to hear this. I had scarcely thought of the young man who used to entertain my mother.

“Did he say what he wants?” I asked.

“No, he didn’t. I told him that you had no business with him but he refused to leave and said that you would see him. He was admanite that I tell him you were here that he was the young man used to play the piano to your late mother.”

“What could he want?” I wondered as I rose and followed the butler to the door. Could he be here to ask me for money? I knew the boy to be poor, struggling musicians always are and what made it harder for him was the fact that he was blind. The public ball house isn’t a place where one can live comfortably. It’s a lot of work, but not that much pay. I figured it wouldn’t be very difficult for me to give him a little money, he had been a great source of comfort to my mother and I knew him to be an honest and hardworking boy. Not really the sort that would poke around asking for money, come to think of it, but perhaps his financial situation was driving him to it. I saw him standing patiently at the door of my house. Feodor hadn’t even asked him to come in. Standing beside him swas another man.

He was just about as thin as Alexander, but of stronger build and he wasn’t as pale as Alexander, whose skin looked white as a sheet.

“Why did you want to see me?” I asked him.

“Please sir, is Marina Pavlovna here?” he asked in a voice that was worried and excited all at the same time.

“Who?” I asked again, not quite sure that I had heard right. He couldn’t have said ‘Marina Pavlovna’ could he?

“Marnia Pavlovna,” he stated, “your goddaughter,” he added.

“How, how, how do you know about her? What do you want with her?” I was so taken back that he knew who she was I didn’t know what to think or how to react; I didn’t even have the ability to be suspicious.

“I’ve known her as a voice for a long time already,” he began explaining, but was interrupted by a deep cough that came straight from his chest. His friend thumped him on the back a little, too help him get over the coughing spell. Despite my being stunned beyond the power or reason, I remembered that he was standing out in the freezing cold and that he was dressed in a thin faded coat. I motioned with my hand for him and his friend to enter.

Once inside, I had the butler take their coats and led them to the sitting room, where his friend seated Alexander on a sofa and took a seat beside him. I signaled for tea to be brought, then taking my own seat, had him continue.

“I’ve known your goddaughter as a voice for a long time already,” he said, “I used to hear her sing in the streets.”

“In the streets?” I was confused. “Marina never went out into the streets, she never went anywhere out of her room.”

“She would sit by her window every night,” he was interrupted by another deep cough. “And sing a song,” he spoke once he regained his voice. “I would pass by that street and hear it. It was a beautiful song and her voice is the most beautiful the world has ever known. Then, sir, when your mother asked for someone to play the song of her dreams, I did not know what song was, but when she hummed it a little to me, I recognized it. It was the same song that your goddaughter would sing. I do not know how your mother came to know it, my guess is she would hear her sing in her sleep. While I was in your home, I heard the voice again and followed it and found your goddaughter. We got to know each other, but she has kept her identity hidden from me, never once identified as a person, never even gave me her name. I only knew her as 'The Nightingale'. Then, after the death of your mother, she disappeared. I didn’t know where or how to find her. I couldn’t ask about, there was no one to ask, and I didn’t quite feel comfortable knocking on the door and asking for a voice who called herself a Nightingale. Honestly sir, I was beginning to think that I had gone mad and then…” his voice trailed off a little as he searched his pocket.

“And then what?” I asked look at him earnestly, wondering how this man had found his way here.

“And then I a friend of mine gave me this.” He pulled out of his pocket a white, slightly crumpled envelope with something written on it. I took it from his hand and read “To Alexander, From the Nightingale.” The handwriting was shaky and poor, some letters were too big, others too small and those five words were the ugliest five words I had ever seen written on paper. Haltingly, I opened the envelope and found a folded piece of paper, which turned out to be a letter written in the same awful handwriting as the envelope. It took some effort for me to make out the words, but after studying it a while, this is what I made out:

Dearest Sasha,

 I have decided to write to you things that I have long kept a secret; things you have long tried to find out but which I have kept hidden. But today, as I watch the birds flying around my window, I am filled with a longing to tell you everything and so I write this letter. You do not know this, but besides you there are only four people on this earth who know of my wretched existence; wretched to it's very core. I am a monster kept forever hidden; hidden from you, hidden from the city, hidden rest of the world. You have longed wished to know what my history was, and I have no doubt that you thought it mysterious, as mysterious you thought me. But there is no mystery surrounding me or my history, only tragedy. Long ago, in the year 1812, Moscow burned and I burned with it. The scars have never healed and I became the creature I am now, melted, scarred, forever marred. The only lovely thing about me that remained was my voice, and that was the only lovely thing about me that you knew. You thought it strange that I should hide from you and I know I confused you, but what else would you have me do? I would rather you be confuse than repelled by me. Other than my godfather and his wife, in whose house I live, a maid and a priest, no one knows of me. You were the fifth and you are the only one who is not repulsed by me. You could not see me, you could only hear me and you liked what you heard.

I have to admit, I have felt bad keeping the secret from you and there have been time when I have thought, perhaps I should tell you why I hide, why I do not go out into the city. But I didn’t, I couldn’t. I will write all now, and in doing so, I hope I will ease my conscience. I will never see you again, for I have moved away and I feel it will only be fair to you if I tell you now.

I noticed you when you would stand under my window and hear me singing and I was flattered by it. A little ugly creature as me never thought that she would ever have an admirer, but I had one. You were always very faithful and I liked you, but I never thought that you would one day come through my door and meet me face to face. When you did, I was at first frightened, but when I found out that you were blind, I was comforted. You asked me who I was, but I didn’t want to tell you. What if you should go asking around, who I was.. Also, I am ashamed of myself and I didn’t want you to know that I was ugly. You thought me lovely, I wanted it to stay that way.

So I told you nothing, and when you said to me that I was as a nightingale, I thought, that was the identity I would take. I would not be Marina Pavlovna, the scarred, burned, ugly animal that I had become. I would be a bird with a lovely voice. You have no idea, Sasha, how much your visits meant to me. I live alone, locked up in that room, with no one but a maid as a friend. Now, at last, I had a friend, someone who wanted to talk to me, someone who was interested in me and someone who didn’t care that I was so terrible to behold. All thanks to the fact that this somone could not see. Truly, to me, your blindness was perhaps my greatest blessing.

I miss you, Sasha, I really do. I remember how you would come walking up my stairs, I remember your small tap on the door and how you would enter and take your seat. I remember how you used to reach out and try to find me. I would pull away each time, I didn’t want you to feel my ruined skin. I didn’t want you to know that I was disfigured for life. I wanted you to associate me with something that is lovely and since the only lovely thing about me is my voice, then I let you associate me with that.

I hope you are not angry with me for keeping myself a secret. I couldn’t help it. Do you wonder where I am? I sometimes think you might. I hadn’t meant to disappear the way I did, but you see, my godfather, Andrey Nickolievich, could not bear to live in that house anymore with his mother gone. So we all moved to a different house. I didn’t want to, I wanted to remain where I was, but that house has been sold. We now live on – street, on the number 56. It is a nice street and I would love it had it not meant separation from you. I would have told you where I was, but it all happened so suddenly.

Where are you now Sasha? Do you still go by the old house, wondering where I disappeared? Perhaps you think I flew away? How many times I wished that I could fly, fly to you but as I have told you, my wings have been clipped, not even clipped, they have burned off. I am not phantom, I am not ghost, I am nothing more than mere human. Or shall I say I was human, I am now just flesh and bone, with no reason to live and no purpose in life. I am useless and unneeded, and were it not for the pity of my godfather, I don’t think I would be living today.

Sasha, you once told me that I was the highlight of your day, I wonder, did you ever even think that you were the one light of my life. When you were with me, I would forget that I was an ugly creature, I would feel beautiful because you had a way of making me believe that I was beautiful. I longed to tell you how wonderful you were, how I was in love with you, how I could not imagine my life without you. But I felt silly saying that Once, once you told me that you didn’t know what ugly looked like, once you told me that you didn’t know what beauty looked like. I couldn’t make you see that which was beautiful, but I didn’t want to give you the mental picture of something that was ugly. I was afraid that if you were to feel me and find out what I looked like, you would turn away from me. You have no idea how lucky you are that you do not know what it means for something look ugly and I did not want to be the one to help you find out. I will never see you again but I wish for you to know that I miss you, and I wonder how you are doing, are you well, has your cough gotten better, will you be warm this winter, have you enough food? Do you have work? I guess I will never know, but wherever you are, I hope you are happy, as happy as a man like you deserves to be. Every girl wants to be thought of as beautiful, and thanks to you even the little, ugly, wretched me has been given that privilege. I thank you for that.

My undying love,

Marina.

I read it once, than twice, then three times. It is amazing how even the person who has nothing to hide can keep so many secrets. My Marina had been caring on an entire romance right under my very nose and I hadn’t suspected it.

I looked over at the blind youth sitting next to his friend. He was leaning a little forward, obviously listening to my every movement. Every crinkle the paper made, every time I breathed in or out, everything and anything was picked up by the sharp ears of a man who couldn’t see and thus relied on hearing as his main sense.

I wondered what to do. Should I take the boy up to where Marina was? Should I warn her ahead of time that the boy had found the letter she had sent him? What would her reaction be? It seemed pretty obvious that she wanted to remain a secret from the boy, and to a certain extent, I could understand why. How did she send this letter to him anyway, and what was more mysterious, how on earth did the letter reach him?

I cleared my throat and the boy sat up straight, waiting for me to say something.

“How did you get your hands on this letter?” I asked him, feeling that this was the best place to begin.

“One of my fellow musicians brought it to me. It started out as a joke. He had no idea who the letter was from, or that it was even me, he just wanted to tease me about not being able to read, but it turned out to be more than he thought. We found your address through letter and as soon as I had a free moment, Kolya said he would help me get here. Please, good sir, you have to allow me to see her. I’ve just got to see her.”

Here he broke into another deep cough. I felt a chill go down my back when he removed his hand from his mouth and I saw the unmistakable stain of blood on it. The boy was sick, very, very sick. My first reaction was to want to keep him as far away from Marina and the rest of the household as possible. He could be contagious. But then, the two of them were so miserable without each other. His voice had been so desperate, so pleading and I found I didn’t have the heart to send him away. Maybe it would be good for them, maybe it would be something of a miracle for them.

I drew a long breath and stated, “I will take you to see her, but your friend will remain her.”

It was obvious that his friend was not at all happy with this arrangement, but I was not going to expose Marina to the ridicule of others. Who knows what that young man would go around saying as soon as he left the walls of this house. Marina would never get over the shock of having someone see her. A blind boy whom she knew was one thing, a complete stranger off the street was quite another. I was about to reach over and take the boy’s hand when I once again noticed the stain of blood on the palm. Taking a handkerchief out of my pocket, I wiped the stain off. Then taking his arm I led him down the hall and a long narrow staircase that led to Marina’s secluded room.

Chapter 2

He tensed. I could tell by the way his arm twitched and he moved his head to the side a little, as if straining to hear something. At first I thought the behavior very strange but as I strained to hear what it was he was listening too, I suddenly understood why he got all excited. Ever so softly, from the upper floors, a gentle voice drifted. We didn’t hear it down below, but as we got closer to Marina’s door, the voice became audible and then clearer. Someone was singing, singing with the sweetest voice a person could hear.A voice that would put an angel’s to shame, a voice that the nightingales would envy. In the flash of a moment, I realized who the nightingale was, that is, I was able to put it all together and understand why he called her a nightingale and why she answered to the name.

I had never heard Marina sing. Strange as it may seem, with her living in my home and under my protection all these years, I never knew of the sweet voice she possessed. The little bird never sang when I was in her presence. How had the boy come to hear her singing, how was it that he had heard her voice and I hadn’t? Where had he heard it? When had he heard it? There were so many questions I wanted to ask; so many things I wanted to know, but I figured it could wait. We approached the door and I paused to open it. Sensing that we were going to meet her, he suddenly grabbed my hand.

“Son’t tell her that I’ve come to see her!” he stated in a voice barely above a whisper. “She can’t know I’m here.”

“Why not?” I was confused.

“Please sir,” he was struggling to keep his cough from coming out. “She can’t know. If she finds out that I’m here, she’ll run like she always did. The only way I’ll be able to catch her is if I take her by surprise.”

“Catch her?” The boy was confusing me more and more. “Why on earth would you want to catch her? What will you do with her once you caught her?”

“I, I just want to touch her hand,” he explained in an embarrassed voice. “For such a long time I’ve only known her as a voice, I just want to know for sure that she is, that she is, well, real.”

“I will be silent.” I found myself saying and opened the door. Marina was sitting by the window, softly singing to herself. Her voice was so soft that I could barely make out the words. How the boy had managed to hear her when we were at the bottom of the staircase, I don’t know. Sofia was not in the room, it was only Marina, who was so occupied with her thoughts and with her singing that she did not notice us enter.

The boy became very excited and he let go of my hand and began walking towards her, following her voice, feeling his way to where she sat. I was sure she would notice him, but she didn’t. It seemed as though she was in a world of her own, not noticing anything around her. I stood by the doorway, watching all that was taking place, wondering how it was going to end. Closer and closer he came to her until at last he was standing right in front of her, his arm outstretched and at last his fingers came in contacts with the stump that made up her left hand.

Marina felt something touch her hand and looking up she gave a sharp gasp and tried to jerk her hand away. But the moment he felt her moving he reached out and grasped her hand, kneeling at the same time and holding on to her for dear life.

In vain did my dearest Marina try and free herself from his grasp, with one hand he held tightly to her, while with the other he gently felt for her other hand. This one she successfully hid behind her back. When he could not find it, his arm slowly went upward in search for her face. Marina tried desperately to keep him from touching it, turning her head this way and that, but his fingers found it anyway.

He felt the wrinkled chin, the hollowed cheeks, the nose, half of which was missing, the stringy mass that made up her hair. He brushed the tears that were spilling out of her eyes and at last in a low, gentle voice he whispered, “long ago you gave beauty a voice, and now, at last, you have give it a face.”

Marina, freeing her hand from his grasp, buried her her hands and broke down into sobs. He collected her into his arms and she laid her head, still covered with her hands, on his shoulders and wept. I wept too. I don’t believe anyone watching that scene could have kept the tears away.

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Awwwwww :) I hope you liked these two chapters.

I'll be gone for the next three days (ironically enough, I'm going to go visit St. Petersburg ;) )

I'll be sure to have an update when I get back

Votes and comments are always appreciated :)

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