The Nightingale of St. Petersburg

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Chapters 3-4

Chapter 3

For the longest while the two of them remained sitting there. I stood in the doorway, silently observing them. Part of me said that I ought to leave but a desire to find out what will be the outcome of the story kept me where I was.

At last he pulled away and gently ran his hands over her face again, brushing away a thin little strand of hair that had fallen over her face.

“Where, how, how did you find me?” Marina asked in a broken voice as she made him sit in the chair that was opposite hers. He kept her hand in his, almost as though he was afraid that should he let go, she would disappear again.

“You wrote me a letter,” he replied.

“You got it?” Marina was surprised beyond words. "But that is impossible! The letter was never meant to get into your hands. I wrote it simply to get it all off my chest, I never ever meant for you to actually read it. I simply tossed it out my window, figuring the elements would destroy it before long. I never meant for you to read it.”

“Don't worry, I didn’t read it.” Alexander replied with a little laugh. “Remember,I I can't read. I had a friend read it to me.”

“That's not the point I was trying to get across. What I am trying to say is it was never suppose to get to you."

“But it did get to me. By a miracle of God it found it's way straight into my hands. One of my fellow musicians found it and brought it over. It was all meant to be a joke. You addressed the letter simply to Alexander and he stumbled upon it in the streets and seeing as I was someone who was the least likely to get a letter, he thought he would bring it to me. Once I read it I knew I had to find you. Why would you want to hide from me? Why wouldn’t you tell me the full truth? Did you honestly think that I would care about what you looked like? Did you honestly think that it would make any difference to me?”

Here he broke off and the cough he had been controlling for so long burst free in all its fury. His shoulders shook and he gasped for breath. He was faithful to keep his mouth covered and when at last he calmed down and removed his hand from his mouth I heard a gasp of horror come from Marina Not only was the poor boy’s hand covered in blood, some of it had smeared across his mouth.

Marina pulled out her handkerchief and as with a gentleness that I didn’t know my usually clumsy goddaughter possessedsheleaned over and wiped the blood from his mouth, the proceeded to clean his hand. “Your cough is worse!” She spoke in a worried voice. “I was so afraid that it would get worse and how my fears were confirmed.”

“It’s really not that bad,” he said in a careless voice.

“Not that bad? Sashinka, dearest, (oh, she called him “Sashinka”, and “dearest”!) you’re hand is covered in blood. Don’t you realize that you are coughing up BLOOD!”

He only gave a bit of a sigh and shook his head. “How do you like your new home?” He changed the subject.

“It’s very nice though the view is not what it once was. All I see is the street in front of me. What I missed having you come over.I was so sure I would never see you again.”

“But Providence made sure you did,” he said with the kindest smile. At this point the clock struck and he half rose, cocking his head in the direction of the noise. “

I must go,” he said in a rather sad voice, “I have to get to the public ball house, soon it will be time for me to work. I’ve stayed longer than I should have.”

“You can’t go work today!” Marina reached out and grabbed his other hand. “Sashinka, you are sick, you’re deathly pale, you are in no state of health to go to work, you need to stay and rest!”

“I’ve got to pay the bills,” he calmly replied. “It’s not just me, Martha Ivanovna depends on me. I’ve got to go, but I’ll come tomorrow, I promise.”

“Wait, you won’t have to walk, I’ll ask my godfather to take you by carriage. It’s nearly winter out there, with that cough you must not walk in the cold.” She turned to pull the string that was attached to a bell that would call Sofia, but stopped short when she saw me standing by the open door.

“Oh,” she sort of choked, “you’re here…” her voice trailed off as she tried to think of what to say.

“Someone had to bring him up,” I replied in a gentle voice, “don’t be afraid my dear, you are not in trouble, I understand everything. Sasha and his friend will most certainly be allowed to take the carriage.”

“His friend?” Marina asked in surprise.

“Someone had to bring me here,” Sasha replied, not realizing that he used the same words I had. “I didn’t know the way, so I had one of my friends, he is a fellow musician who works with me, help me find the place. He’s sitting downstairs. Don’t worry, he was not brought up here.”

“But…but he knows about me?” Marina asked in a tense voice.

“I’m afraid he does, you see, he was the one who read the letter to me!”

“Oooooh,” she drew a long breath, “so he knows ALL about me.”

“Yes,” Sasha and I said in one voice.

Marina only nodded but said nothing.

“Come Alexander,” I said, feeling that perhaps it would be best to leave Marina alone to digest this rather unpleasant information that I had hoped she wouldn’t have to know, “You must be going.” He gave a nod of his head and slowly rose, having another strong coughing spell. I could tell by Marina’s gaze that she was very upset with how strong his cough was. There was blood again this time, but not as much as the last. He was about to wipe it with his sleeve, but she stopped him, rising up (with some difficulty).

“Here,” she spoke softly, in a voice that I can honestly say was filled with love and concern,“Use this.” She wiped the blood from his lips (there wasn’t much this time), then pressed the hanky into his hand. “Keep it, you will probably need it today. Come tomorrow, I will be waiting.”

He gave a nod and turned to leave, then as though struck with a sudden thought, he turned back to her and feeling for her face, leaned forward and placed a kiss on her cracked, bruised lips. Marina’s eyes widened from surprise. He gave an awkward smile and reached out to find my hand. I led him back down the stairs and to his friend who was impatiently waiting in the drawing room. 

***

I should have been furious about that kiss! I really should have. That boy was sick with something, I didn’t even know what. What if it was contagious and what if he passed it on to Marina? But if I had been angry, the moment I walked back up the stairs to see just how she was getting along, the light on her face made me forget any anger I may have had. I had never seen my goddaughter in such a state of joy. She was bewildered and surprised and happy all at the same time. She had been leaning out the window, watching the carriage drive away and had turned when I came in.

“You will let him come tomorrow, won’t you?” she asked in a somewhat fearful voice.

“I don’t think hell and high water could keep him away from you,” I replied, “much less a mere mortal like myself.”

“Oh, thank you, thank you,” she sighed and resumed her seat. “It’s all really nothing short of a miracle.” She said.

“Maybe you wouldn’t mind telling me about this miracle.” I stated, taking the seat opposite her. “And just how this miracle started!”

Marina looked down, “oh I don’t know where to begin, didn’t he tell you anything?”

“Not really, no.”

“I don’t think I can talk about it, not yet, but I will tell you godfather, I will! You have been so good to me and I hate keeping secrets from you, I just don’t feel ready to relate it all to someone. I’ve got to sort of go through it myself first. Do you think I could tell you the whole story some other time?”

“I suppose so,” I replied with a resigned air. No pointed in trying t force the story out of her, I knew she would relate the whole thing to me when she was ready and I would just have to be patient till them. “It’s getting closer to dinner time now, Sofia will come up with your meal.”

“Oh, I’m too excited to eat,” Marina said as a smile spread across her face. I had never seen her smile, not a glad smile. Sure, she had given me the sort of sad smile when I would tell her to cheer up; one of those smiles that was only there to try and convince me she believed what I was saying, but in reality only made me realize just how miserable the little creature was. Now her smile was one of excitement and joy; a smile of young love. 

I was worried as I walked back down the stairs to the floors beneath. I had heard the cough, I had seen the blood and I didn’t know how long this young love would last. I didn’t want my little Marina’s heart, which was already cracked into so many pieces, to be shattered to bits. But there was no keeping that boy away. I knew that if I kept him away Marina would not understand, she would be hurt and angry at me. Either way this was a losing game. Letting him come to her was exposing her to pain and keeping him away was exposing her to pain. Neither of the options would protect her. I didn’t know what to do. I figured I would let the boy come tomorrow and we would just take it from there. But it all turned out quite differently.

Chapter 4

He never showed up the next day. Marina had been waiting for him since morning, but even after the clock had struck four and five in the evening he still wasn’t there. When it finally struck six, Sofia came down and told me that Marina wished to see me.

“I need to go visit him!” Marina stated in a determined voice. I didn’t quite understand what she was trying to tell me.

“You need to what?” I asked in a vague voice.

“I need to go and see him, see Sasha!” she repeated.

“Go and see him?” Now I wasn’t sure if I was hearing right, she wanted to go and see him? Go as in leave the house?

“Yes, he hasn’t come and that can mean only one thing.”

“That he forgot?”

“Sasha would never have forgotten, nothing would have kept him away.”

“But something obviously has.”

“He is bedridden!”

“Is he now?”

“That is the only reason why he wouldn’t have come. You saw him cough yesterday didn’t you? The way his shoulders shook, the way he could hardly breath, the blood that would just pour out of his mouth. Do you remember how pale he was? White as winter snow! He’s very sick godfather, very sick, too sick to rise out of his bed. He’s probably moaning and worrying about the fact that he can’t come and see me. He’s afraid that I will have gotten sad and lonely, that I would feel forgotten and unloved. Godfather, I have to go and tell him that I understand, I have to go and visit him.”

“I’m sure a note will do just as well, we can have one of the servants send it!” I really wasn’t sure I wanted Marina to go anywhere, much less to the low home of some sick, blind musician. She might pick up whatever it was that he had.

“No, a note won’t do. I have to see him in person. Oh godfather, you must try and understand, he loves me, he really does. That pure and tender heart found a place for the ugly, unwanted little creature.”

“Marina!” I didn’t like the way she always talked of herself.

“But it’s true, who would ever find it in their heart to love me other than a blind man? But you know what, godfather, that I don’t mind, I don’t mind at all. I am hardly worthy of that man, of his ability to love and care. I have to go and see him, I must tell him how I feel about him. Godfather you have to let me go. I will use the covered carriage and travel in a veil; like I did when I moved here. Please let me go to him!”

I looked at her scarred, ruined figure and the brown eyes looking so pleadingly at me. How could I say no/ What if the boy really was dying, what if he died soon? Marina would be crushed to the heart and soul that she hadn't been able to say goodbye. I would let her go, let her at least part with him in a way that will leave a kind memory in her heart.

“Alright,” I said, “alright you can go, but I will go with you. I just want to make sure you will be safe.” I also wanted to find out more about this mysterious blind musician who had managed to steal the heart of my goddaughter from right under my very nose. I decided the only way I was going to really solve this mystery would be to go down there and try and figure it out myself.

The carriage was called for and Marina was dressed in a black dress and a black veil placed over her head. My only problem was how to get her out of the house without anyone suspecting. My son was not at home, but my wife and daughter were. I figured I would take Marina out the servants door and hopefully my wife and daughter wouldn’t notice anything. My children didn't know of Marina, my wife had made me promise that  I would not tell them and the monster living in our house. I had given her my word and kept my goddaughter a secret from almost everyone in the house. I don’t know if it was right of wrong of me, but it was what I thought to be best.

The driver of the carriage was the one who had taken Marina when we had moved. I didn’t tell him much about her, just enough to let him know that he mustn’t talk about her to anyone.

My mother, when she had still been alive, had insisted that we take the boy home when he would come to play for us, so it was not hard to locate the house in which he lived. Just as I suspected, it was in the poorer part of the city, where the buildings are squished together and the streets are narrow. At last we got to the building that was his. I got out and asked a dirty little child who was sitting by the door where exactly did a blind musician by the name of Alexander Stansky lived. She pointed into the building and muttered, “second floor, first door on the right.” I thanked her and slipped a kopeck into her palm. Then I lifted Marina out of the carriage and carried her up the stairs. The building seemed quiet and deserted, which seemed a little strange to me, but at the same time I was very grateful. I didn’t want to attract more attention than necessary. At the door I put Marina down. She took a deep breath then knocked on the door.

A frail voice that I recognized to be the Alexander's said to “Come in.” Marina took another deep breath and opened the door. I followed her silently, determining not to get in the way but simply to be a spectator.

“Godfather, could you wait outside,” she had suddenly turned and said in such a low whisper I barely heard her. Obviously being a spectator wasn’t going to be easy. I gave a nod and took a step back. She went forward again, while remained by the door, which in her excitement Marina had left open. Partially concealed behind it, I was able to see her limp to the bed, only a part of which I could see.

“Who is it,” I heard him ask the question followed a blood chilling cough.

“Only a nightingale,” I heard Marina say in a slightly playful voice.  I could not believe that Marina, who only spoke in a mournful, tearful tones, would ever use a playful one. I saw him reach out and feel for her hand and I saw her reach out, pull off the glove that covered her ruined hand and give it to him. She was turned away from me and I couldn't see her face, but I knew that she was smiling.

"What are you doing down here?" He asked in a sickly, frail voice.

 “I figured that it was unfair for you to always have to come to me,” Marina said, “so I figured why not fly over to you and see how you are doing.”

"I'm doing just fine."

“Fine, you call this fine? If this is fine then I don’t ever want to know what bad or terrible is. You don’t even have a decent pillow, and there’s a draft and you’re blanket is threadbare and, and…” her voice trailed off and I saw her lean over and I knew she was giving him a kiss. I tried not to mind, I tried not to think about how sick he was and how I might have to find a doctor to tend to Marina. This was a pure and innocent love, a love beautiful to it's very core; who should mind if the boy was poor and terribly sick. Well, I minded, I minded very much!that is, I didn’t mind the poor but I did mind the sick. Still, I did nothing, just watched and listened.

“How did you get here? I thought you said your wings were clipped.”

“That’s why carriages were invented.” She replied.

His voice became fainter. “Why didn’t you use it before?”

“I didn’t have a reason to go anywhere before. Now, you must not talk, it taxes your strength."

"But I like talking to you."

"Too bad!" Marina gave a little giggled at this. "You must be quiet and rest, but if you like, I can sing to you."

And she began to sing. Her voice rang out clear and sweet, in this abandoned lonely place. She sang of spring and of the sun, of the snow melting and of warmth returning to the land. It was a beautiful song, and even I found myself forgetting where I was and of how miserable the circumstances around me where. She had just finished her song when a woman entered the room. She brushed past me as though she didn’t care that I was there. What was more, she slammed the door shut right in my face. This was strange for me, I am used to being acknowledged and treated with respect. I had barely caught a glimpse of her, only that she was old and poorly dressed. I didn’t dare open the door again, so I just pressed my ear and listened. There was silence; then I heard a raspy voice gruffly speak out.

“Where did this monster come from?” There was another spell of silence then I heard his feeble voice ask in a sort of bewildered tone.

 “Did she just call you a monster?”

She giggled, she giggled. I couldn't believe it. Marina was laughing at the very thing she had feared the most, another person seeing her and being utterly repulsed by her.

“I suppose she just did. I told you that was what most of the word would think of me.”

“Who are you?” I heard the raspy lady speak again, in a demanding, angry tone. “What do you want from Sashinka, can’t you see he is too ill to entertain visitors. Get your ugly self out of here, whoever you are and leave him alone.”

“No, no, don’t go.” Alexander sounded desperate. “Martha Ivanovna, she has to stay.”

“No,” Marina spoke up, “Martha Ivanovna is right, you are tired and I…”

“No,” he cut her off, “no, don’t go, please don’t go. If you dare go I will get right up out of this bed and follow you!”

“Sasha, who is this?”

“This,” he voice became gentle, “this is my nightingale.”

“You’re who?”

“Really, Sasha, what a way to introduce me!”

“Sashinka, do you even know what is sitting next to you! It’s certainly not a bird!”

“That is because, because…” he broke out coughing suddenly, unable to finish his sentence. Things were obviously getting out of hand and I felt it was probably a good time for me to enter. I knocked on the door and opened it.

“Who is it now?” the old lady, whom he had addressed as Martha Ivanovna looked up and became very surprised. “Who are you?” she asked in a rather awed voice.

“Forgive the intrusion,” I said, walking up to the bed. I froze for a moment when I looked down and for the first time saw the boy without his dark shades. His eyes had no pupils in them, they were just a blank, yellowish white mixture. I tried my best to regain my composure in front of everyone and not let my horror and shock come out too openly. “My name is Andrey Belizhov and I am the godfather of the nightingale, who really goes by the name Marina Pavlovna.”

“Good sir, what is your, your goddaughter doing here?”

“My goddaughter and the boy know each other from a long time back.”

“But he is sick and she is only bothering…”

“Martha Ivanovna,” he was so pale, it was almost frightful, “please, let her stay, good sir, you have not come to take her away have you?”

“No, no I have not,” I replied, “I am here to try and explain to this dear woman who Marina is. I can imagine that this is all a great surprise to her. Come my dear woman, let the two of them be.”

“But he needs to eat something!”

“Thank you, Martha Ivanovna, I am not hungry.”

“But you must drink!”

“Maybe a little later.”

“Let them talk,” I took her by the hand and led her to a corner of the room where a chair stood, “let them talk and I will explain.”

“But he mustn’t talk, he will get tired and…”

“He won’t talk much,” I reassured. "There will be a little discussion then I won't be surprised if she sings to him again.”

“She sings?” Martha Ivanovna gazed suspiciously at the creature who was my poor goddaughter.

“There is a reason why your Sasha called her the nightingale.” I replied.

“Where did the two of you come from?”

“Alexander used to play music for my mother. While at my home he discovered my goddaughter, Marina. When she was but a child she was severely burned by the fire that swept through Moscow in the winter of 1812. I have kept her a secret to try and keep her safe from people who would make her an outcast. They met quite often without my knowing it and fell in love. When he didn’t come today Marina figured he was sick and came to visit him.” I stopped talking here for Marina had again started to sing again and a hush came over the room.

We left the place rather late that day and Marina had promised to come back the next day.

“Godfather, we have to get him to a doctor,” Marina spoke to me in the carriage, “we have to get him medicine.”

“Marina, dearest,” I took her hand in mine, “I will send for a doctor if it will make you feel better but I should warn you that I'm afraid its a little too late.”

She looked at me strangely.

“I don’t think a doctor will be able to help him, I don’t think anything will. I didn’t want you to ever have to go through this, I didn’t want you to have to know such things, but I guess I couldn’t keep you safe from everything. Marina, one look at that boy and it’s obvious he is beyond help. He is dying my child. A doctor may be able to give him something to ease the pain a little, but it is really only a matter of time.”

“Only a matter of time…” Marina echoed and grew thoughtful. She was silent the entire ride home. I carried her to her room and left her there in the same silent pensive state.

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