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Authors: Dinah Dean

Tags: #Romance

The Ice King

 

Masquerade edition published July 1980 ISBN 0-373-30045-X

Originally published in 1980 by Mills & Boon Limited

Copyright 1980 by Dinah Dean. Philippine copyright 1980. Australian copyright 1980. All rights reserved. Except for use in any review, the reproduction or utilization of this work in whole or in part in any form by an electronic, mechanical or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including xerography, photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, is forbidden without the permission of the publisher, Worldwide Library, 225 Duncan Mill Road, Don Mills, Ontario, M38 1 Z3, Canada.

The Masquerade trademark, consisting of the word MASQUERADE and the drawing of a mask, is registered in the United States Patent Office and the Canada Trade Marks Office.

Printed in Canada

 

 

CHAPTER
ONE

TANYA KIROVA decided at quite an early age that she would be foolish to expect very much from life, which was wise as it seemed that the older she grew, the more limited the possibilities became.

Her father was an officer in the Imperial Russian Army and served with modest distinction under Suvorov in the great Italian campaign of 1799, but unfortunately failed to survive the fearful hardships of the winter crossing of the Alps at the end of it. Her mother waited with diminishing hope for his return, or for news that he had been taken prisoner, until the following summer, then went into a gentle decline and died soon after, leaving Tanya, an orphan at the age of six, to the care of her father's uncle, an elderly General living in retirement on his estates beyond Yaroslavl.

The General and his wife were childless, and, looking back from the advanced age of twenty-five, Tanya realised that they had been very kind to her, considering that she had been wished on them without any thought of their possible unwillingness, or, indeed, ability, to look after her, or any means for her support. The General himself had undertaken her general education, while his wife had instructed her quite thoroughly in the domestic arts, and filled any possible idle moments with the unending stitching of garments for the poor, visiting the villagers in order to distribute the finished work, and the reading aloud of Improving Books.

Fortunately for Tanya, who was an intelligent girl with a lively and enquiring mind, the General's ideas of education were broader and more liberal. He taught her to speak French fluently and correctly, in case she should ever go into Society, and so that she would not shame him before the visitors who came occasionally to stay for a week or two of country air and military reminiscence; and gave her a very thorough grounding in history, mathematics (he was an artilleryman), European geography, and architecture, which was his own principal interest. In addition, he gave her the run of his library, which contained most of the leading works of Western literature legally available in Russia, a few which he had obtained more or less illegally or before they were censored, and a large selection of illustrated works on the architectural and decorative arts, to which he added from time to time the latest publications on developments in St. Petersburg and elsewhere. There were also some very curious and unsuitable volumes which he had probably forgotten he owned, from which Tanya, in all innocence, gleaned some information which her Great-Aunt was too prudish to impart.

By the time she was eighteen, Tanya could calculate the charge and elevation necessary to fire a shell from a Unicorn howitzer on a given trajectory, or plan a route of march for an army from Brest-Litovsk to Barcelona, and could have found her way about the principal buildings of Moscow or St. Petersburg, if she ever managed to visit either city, which seemed unlikely as the General and his wife never travelled. To more immediate purpose, she was able to take over the checking of the household accounts from her Great-Aunt, whose eyesight and arithmetic were not strong, and her schooling in military history enabled her to listen to the reminiscences of her Great-Uncle and his friends with genuine interest. She met no young people of her own age and class, and so felt no great loss in being unable to chatter inanities or to waltz, although occasionally she caught sight of herself in a mirror and thought fleetingly that it seemed a pity that the not unattractive young lady she saw was doomed eventually to grow into an old maid.

When the General's tales grew more than usually tedious or the endless round of good works fatiguing, when her Great-Aunt was made more than usually irritable by the heat and flies in summer or her chilblains in winter, Tanya could always escape through the only windows on to the outside world which she could reach, the books in the library. She was reasonably content, for she expected nothing more, and had only to look about her as she passed among the General's serfs to see how much less fortunate her lot might have been.

Then, one evening in the late summer of 1816, when Tanya was twenty-two, things took a decided turn for the worse. The General ate a good dinner at five o'clock, smoked a cigar with his brandy, and then played a game of chess with Tanya, who skilfully allowed him to win. He leaned forward to bang down his queen with a triumphant "Checkmate!", sat back with a contented sigh, and quietly expired.

Unfortunately his pensions died with him, and the Great-Aunt, after several lengthy discussions with the General's man of business, who came out each time from Yaroslavl in a very elegant carriage, informed Tanya that she must be prepared for some small changes in their way of life.

“Of course," she concluded, "I shall continue to provide you with a home, for I consider it my duty to carry on such of my late husband's charitable works as I am able.”

Tanya's gold-flecked hazel eyes widened a little at that. The General had always treated her as a much-loved great-niece and she was surprised to find herself labelled a "charitable work", but she sensibly murmured a few words of thanks, feeling genuinely grateful that this new and unexpected coldness in her Great-Aunt at least stopped short of casting her out into the world.

A few weeks later, her Great-Aunt informed her that her widowed sister had invited her to stay for the winter, while the General's man of business sorted out the estate and made a few necessary alterations, and that Tanya was to accompany her. Tanya was delighted, never having had the opportunity to travel anywhere in all the years she had lived in the General's house, and enquired with ill-concealed excitement where they were going. Her Great-Aunt replied "Taganrog," and seemed surprised at Tanya's startled echoing of the name.

“What of it?" she asked.

“But it must be a thousand miles away!" Tanya exclaimed. "Nonsense. Less than seven hundred," she was informed, which indeed was true.

The journey was quite appalling. Tanya was buoyed up with hope during the first part of it that they might pass through Moscow, but they did not. As they reached the more southerly parts of Russia, the roads became worse, the inns dirtier, and the bitter north wind howled over the unending flatness of the steppes. All that kept Tanya from crying with weariness and vexation was the expectation that the winter would at least be less cold than in the north, and the hope that she might see the sea, for Taganrog was a port on the Sea of Azov.

She was disappointed even in these respects. The Great-Aunt's sister lived more than fifty miles from the town and never went there. Indeed, she never went anywhere, being crippled with arthritis. Her house was a very plain, foursquare box, with no trees to break the eternal wind, nothing but a few stunted bushes for a garden, rooms furnished with the simplest necessities, and not a book or a picture or an ornament to break the monotony of the bare whitewashed walls except for one small, cheap icon in each room. As winter drew on, Tanya found that the weather here was as cold as ever it had been at Yaroslavl; for the wind hurled the snow down over the steppes, and it was only in the narrow coastal plain around the city, where hills cut off the wind, that the mildness which was beginning to make the place a winter resort could be found.

The days were passed in knitting and sewing and reading the Bible. The only variety in the whole week occurred each Sunday, when the village priest came to say a service, and he, being only the son of one of the serf families on the estate, was too humble and servile to do more than bid the ladies "Good day" on arrival and before departure.

The visit lasted five months, but seemed like eternity to Tanya, and even the long journey back to Yaroslavl seemed pleasant by comparison. On the way home her Great-Aunt said to her, "You must realise that there can be no luxuries in future. There will be no money for new dresses and such frippery, no wine with dinner, and we shall not entertain visitors.”

Tanya, who had enjoyed the luxury of one new dress a year in the past, thought philosophically that it was a good thing she had stopped growing. Wine she could dispense with, and visitors too, as long as she had books to read. She was looking forward with happy anticipation to re-reading all her favourites when they reached home.

The first intimation that her Great-Aunt had not told her all came as they drove up to the house. All the trees had gone. The General had spent a good deal of time and trouble on the artistic arrangement of little copses and groups of various trees to provide shelter and improve the views from the house, but all had been felled and removed. Timber, it appeared, fetched quite a good price, even in Russia, where there were so many trees.

A further shock awaited Tanya inside the house. All the pictures had been sold, and all the curios and ornaments which the General had brought back from his travels and campaigns. Tanya ran from one room to another, wringing her hands in distress to find all the pretty and interesting things gone, leaving the house strangely cold and bare. Then, with a sudden sick dread, she went to the library.

It, too, was bare. All her magic casements had gone, all the shelves stood empty. Not a single volume had been left. She sank down on the wide windowsill and wept as if her heart was broken.

For nearly three years, Tanya endured a life so circumscribed that at times she could hardly find the heart to go on with it. Those few months at Taganrog had only been bearable because their term was limited, but now life at home was much the same, and would go on so indefinitely. The deadly monotony wore down her spirits, and her Great-Aunt's death early in the winter of 1819 came as a relief in the end, despite the uncertainty it cast upon her own future.

During the first few days there was so much to do that Tanya had no time to worry about herself. The funeral had to be arranged and endured, neighbours called to offer condolences. One neighbour, a fat, lecherous, slovenly fellow whose few hundred acres bordered the General's estate, surprised Tanya by proposing marriage, probably assuming that she was the heiress. She refused him politely and calmly, but hardly knew whether to laugh or cry when he had gone. The General's man of business came several times and spoke kindly to her, but said that he would rather defer discussion of the Great-Aunt's will until other members of the family arrived. Tanya was surprised at first, knowing of none other than the old lady at Taganrog, who would hardly come so far, but then she recalled that all through her childhood she had regularly received a small gift on her name-day and at Christmas from someone the General had always referred to as "your poor Uncle Alexei", who was, it appeared, her own father's younger brother.

Tanya could not remember her father very well, but when Count Alexei Kirov arrived, she felt a faint stirring of recollection which made her ask him if he resembled his brother, and the Count said smilingly that he did. "As you do too," he added.

He was a kindly-looking man in his late forties, his brown hair greying at the sides, and he brought with him his wife, Maria Nikolaevna, a slightly faded but still pretty fair-haired lady a few years younger than the Count. Tanya took an immediate liking to them both.

The General's man of business came again the next day, and a formal and rather solemn meeting was held in the dining-room, where the large table provided space for all the papers he had brought with him. The gist of his announcements was that the house and its contents and the estates and serfs were all to be sold and the money divided into three equal portions. One of these was to go to the Church, one to an orphanage in Moscow, and the third was to be used to pay a number of small legacies to various old friends of the Great-Aunt's youth. For Tanya, there was one hundred roubles and her Great-Aunt's blessing.

Tanya sat stunned, and it was Countess Maria who gasped, "Is that all?"

“I'm afraid so," the man of business said sadly. "I pointed out to her when she made the will that the most frugal lady could barely live as long as a year on it, and in what a difficult position Countess Tanya would be placed, but she was quite adamant, for she said that whatever further sum might be considered due to the young lady had already been spent on her upkeep and education in the past. I'm very sorry.”

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