The Settlement

ALEXANDER TOWERED OVER HIS DAUGHTER, eyes locked onto hers, brow furrowed. Kira sat upright and swallowed hard. He exhaled with a grunt then paced the room.

Kira longed to push her father into revealing his news, but knew enough to remain quiet. Instead, her mother interjected, “Alexander, please. What did you and Colonel Vershinin discuss?”

“He consented to dissolve the marriage agreement.”

Kira clapped her hands before using them to conceal a big smile that spread across her face. 

Alexander frowned and continued, “Under condition.”

Kira’s eyes widened. “Such as?”

He held up a finger. “First, I am to provide him with an allowance. It seems we will now be supporting his gambling. Second, Kira is not allowed to attend any social events where he might be present.”

“That suits me very well,” Kira interrupted.

Her father gave her a stern look. “Lastly, under no condition are you allowed to marry—the Lieutenant.” 

“What?” Kira bristled.  

Her mother held her hand up to silence Kira then spoke, “Alexander, I think you should approach the Tsar to find an honorable man with wealth for our daughter.” 

Kira jumped to her feet. “I refuse to marry anyone except Roman Pavlovitch.”

Alexander shook his head. “Between the Tsar’s beloved railroad project and an upcoming peace conference, he has no time to waste on such inconsequential matters. Besides, now that the gossip is out, no one with status would consider her suitable for marriage.”

Kira’s mother started to whine. “Maybe we can look towards France or God forbid, England.”

“I will elope,” Kira said

“If you dare to continue in that manner you will be cut off from your dowry,” her mother scolded.

“I don’t care.”

“You can’t possibly think you can live without money after having it all your life.”

“I can’t possibly imagine my life without him,” Kira replied.

“Ladies please, we won’t resolve anything with this bickering, And, I don’t want to lose my strong-minded daughter to an elopement. I’ve found out that the Lieutenant is being groomed for a high-ranking military career.” Alexander sighed, “He may be our only hope.”

“What of the last condition?” her mother said.

“It is my opinion that the Colonel is more afraid of the court gossip regarding his health should a leak occur than holding us accountable to a marriage.”

At the moment, Kira believed her father had acquiesced to her marrying Roman. Her body radiated with a warmth and joy that she had never experienced before.  

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A Discovery

“I DON’T BELIEVE IT.” Alexander’s ruddy complexion flushed more red than usual. “This report comes from sources who oppose my daughter’s betrothal to Colonel Vershinin.”

“I can assure you, Alexander,” the Countess said. “I’ve had my own people investigate him. The Tsar has funded Vershinin’s gambling debt for years.”

“Oh sister, what will people say?” Kira’s mother wrung her hands and paced the room.

Kira interrupted. “They will say I was fortunate to have found out in time.”     

Alexander strummed his fingers on the arm of the chair. Kira sat across from him her thoughts reverted to Roman’s recovery. She had visited him in the infirmary several times a day in the past week.  

Alexander cleared his throat. “We will have to manage.”

“Papa.” Kira, wide eyed, sat forward. “You can’t mean to carry on with this charade?”

“He is a Romanov, my dear. What can we do?” Alexander remained steadfast while his wife wept in the background.

“You can threaten to cut off my dowry,” Kira said. “If its fortune he wants, he shan’t gain it from me.”

“Impractical,” Alexander responded. “Gossip has reached the court. The scandal is on us.”

Kira’s mother exploded with a loud wail. “Woman—Silence,” he said. 

“You can go to the Tsar and ask for special consideration,” the Countess said. 

“Impossible.”

“You must implore the Colonel, Papa. Tell him the truth. I love another.”

Alexander raised one eyebrow and said, “That he already knows.” Kira’s mother continued to snivel.

“I had hoped to avoid telling you this, but now feel I have no choice,” the Countess said.

“My spies tell me that Vershinin has cavorted for years in brothels and is now diseased. Kira will surely succumb to blindness and insanity. Is this the life you wish for your daughter?”

Alexander rose from his seat. “Enough.” He pulled his fingers through what remained of his hair and looked around the room. “I shall speak with Mikhail Vershinin.”

Kira hugged her father and kissed both his cheeks. “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.”

“Daughter, there are no assurances. The dissolution must come from the Colonel.”

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The Aftermath

KIRA RUSHED TO ROMAN’S SIDE. He lay unconscious on the cold ground. “You’ve killed him,” she yelled and fell to her knees. “I’ll never forgive you.”

Mikhail, unscathed from the duel, gave her a hawkish stare and snarled. “I only wounded the bastard.” He stomped away.

Tears streamed down Kira’s cheeks. “Where’s the doctor?”  

“He’s right here.” The Countess lifted her niece from the ground.   

The doctor tore open Roman’s blood-soaked shirt while Kira held her breath. “It appears the bullet may have penetrated his left upper lung—just missing the clavicle.” 

Kira exhaled, “Will he live?”

“I’ll know more once we get him to the infirmary.” The doctor motioned for Uri, Boris, and Fëdor to help move Roman into the carriage.

Kira clutched her hands to her face. “Oh, Masha, what will I do if he dies?”

The Countess stroked her niece’s back. “The doctor is the finest surgeon in Moscow.” 

 

THE DINGY INFIRMARY WAITING ROOM, its cold linoleum floor and odor of disinfectant, made Kira think of death. The Countess sat beside Kira. Boris and Fëdor who chewed on his mustache, rested across the room. Uri paced up and down the hall. All remained silent awaiting news.

Hours later, the doctor entered the room in his stained surgical gown. “We removed the bullet and are optimistic about his recovery.” A shout of hoorah from the fellows ignited the room. “Be aware,” the doctor frowned. “He is sure to suffer from shortness of breath all his life.”

“It’s my fault.” Kira buried her face in her aunt’s chest. The Countess wrapped her arms around her niece. 

“May I see him?” Kira said.

“He is sleeping but you can go in for a few minutes. Try not to wake him.”

Kira stood by Roman’s bed, wiped the last of her tears, and put on a brave face. He looks so frail and helpless, she thought.

Roman slowly opened his eyes. Their lustrous hazel coloring had taken on a gray hue. His lips parted but no sound emitted.

“Hush, my love,” Kira said. “I’m here with you.”

The nurse came in and tried to usher Kira out of the room “I can’t leave him,” she pleaded.

“Come dear, the patient needs his rest.”

Reluctant, Kira left the room. She spotted Uri approach. “I think you should know something,” he said. “Colonel Vershinin is heavily in debt, gambling I’m afraid.” 

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A Duel

A GREY MIST BLANKETED THE LANDSCAPE. Dawn was about to break. The only sound was the river lapping against the shoreline and an occasional frog croak. The gloom only allowed the visibility of two lanterns that made their way towards one another.

Four men approached in silence, Roman, Uri, Mikhail, and Mikhail’s Second. Kira and the Countess stood nearby they had brought a doctor. Sunlight flickered above the horizon and the birds had begun their morning song.

The Second spoke to Roman. “It is within the rules if you wish to announce your sincere apology and dispense with the duel.”

“That would be more offensive than taking a bullet.” Roman said. Mikhail grunted. 

The Second opened a wooden box, Roman and Uri inspected the green velvet-lined box that held two pistols and ramrods. The pistol handles were made of dark walnut. The lock plate and butt of the gun were of polished brass. Roman could tell it was a 17th century set. French, he thought.

 “There will be no deloping or firing in the air.” Mikhail seemed to slur his words and stagger a bit. “If neither man is hit, there will be another challenge until one is wounded or killed. I have a stash of lead balls.” Kira gasped. Mikhail glared her way then continued. “We will set our pace at eight.”  Roman knew the shorter the steps the graver the insult.

Uri, as Roman’s Second and witness, checked each pistol then made his selection. He half-cocked the jaw, pushed the frizzen forward, loaded the flint into the flash pan, then placed a sufficient amount of black powder down the barrel. He wrapped the lead ball in a patch and dropped it down the muzzle. Taking the ramrod, he tamped down the powder and ball, primed the flash pan with a small amount of finely ground power, fully cocked the pistol, and handed it to Roman.

“Careful, it may be a hair trigger,” Uri said. 

Roman and Mikhail stood back to back with loaded weapons in hand. Mikhail’s Second counted down the steps. “One—two—three…” Roman wasn’t used to the extra weight of a dueling pistol, apprehension crept into his thoughts. “…seven—eight.”  Both men turned to face one another, presented their guns, and fired.

The songbirds went silent. Smoke curled up from both guns. Kira had not heard the explosion of the bullets as they left the barrels. She watched Roman’s body jerk, his blood splattered before he crumbled to the ground.

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