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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Schism, parts 3695 - 3698

 3695. This was a very dangerous question for Harriett to attempt to answer in any kind of an honest way. Why is it that if we have a secret grief, we can keep it hidden for years and never for an instant let our sorrow show, and yet if we just once begin to utter the words aloud, describing our pain to some friend, tears will rush to our eyes?

 3696. I do not know that answer to that question, but Harriett knew that she must not talk of her silly concern for her coach boy, because if she did her obsession would be known to her friends, and hence, known to everyone in the neighborhood.

 3697. It was at that moment that her dead Aunt Marfa came to her rescue. Having died, and having her death notice delivered at the critical moment, Harriett was able to cast her sorrow onto the death notice, and avoid at least for the moment, the coming catastrophe she faced.

3698. Harriett apologized for her abstraction, and then, showing the note she held in her hand to her friends, she said, “I just received a note saying that my dear Aunt Marfa has died after a tragic accident in her home. She was so dear to me that it has me deeply upset.” With that she rearranged the cards in her hand, took a deep breath, and prepared to continue the card game.

Monday, September 29, 2014

The Schism, parts 3691 - 3694

 3691. There were only two of these giant windows facing the lawn and gardens, and the crimson drapes against the pale yellow walls gave an effect distinctly Russian and reminiscent of the Saint Petersburg Palaces of the Tsar, before they was painted light green.

 3692. The ladies were seated at a round table in the middle of that room when a footman entered bearing a silver tray on which was a note in a little envelope sealed with a wax stamp. Harriett opened the note absentmindedly with one hand while taking a look at the winning hand of whist she had just been dealt. Setting her cards face down on the table, she read the note through, pushed a hand across her brow, and resumed playing cards.

 3693. One of Harriett’s friends of long standing was Natalie. Natalie was a chatterbox. She was known to run on endlessly about every subject from things like the most up to date drape colors and fabrics to the latest rising of the peasants in some remote province. She did not separate her sentences or her ideas into compartments, and might start out talking about a new style of shoe, and end by talking about the shortage of salt.

3694. Natalie interrupted a discussion about the price of butter to ask Harriett what was bothering her. “Harriett,” she said, “You look like one of your poodles just died dear, what is bothering you.”

Sunday, September 28, 2014

The Schism, parts 3687 - 3690

 3687. The news of the death of Aunt Marfa was brought to Harriett just after dinner on Saturday evening. It was a late dinner, with a few guests from a neighboring estate. When the dinner was over the men retired to their smoking room and the women sat down to a game of cards in the Lavender Room. The Lavender room was actually papered in pale yellow with vertical pink stripes alternating with miniature rosebuds.

 3688. The room had been lavender at one time, or so everyone thought, because the lavender color could be seen here and there where the yellow paper had chipped. The furniture was also upholstered in yellow, with white painted wood frames. Gold was not used on the furniture because it seemed to disappear and be rendered to no effect against the yellow of the walls.

 3689. You might picture the room to yourself as being about 15 feet in length and width, but with a ceiling 18 feet high. This oddly vertical looking room presented a problem to the interior designers who decorated it, but was solved with the use of a huge chandelier hung far down from the ceiling that nicely lowered the visual effect of the ceiling's height.

3690. The windows were of the floor to ceiling variety, and were so huge and awkward looking they had been covered with crimson maroon drapes of a thick velvet material through which not the slightest light could pass.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

The Schism, parts 3683 - 3686

 3683. I don’t want to say too much about this elderly aunt of Harriett’s, because it is unkind to speak ill of the dead. Aside from her numerous lawsuits filed against her relatives, and her legal proceedings against her neighbors over land disputes, several people thought her likable and were on speaking terms with her.

 3684. Who those people who were I can’t say, having never met any one of them, but she gave great joy to her many domestics who were fond of walking behind her in silence dragging one foot along the floor in imitation of her arthritic limp. 

 3685. Another thing her domestic servants loved about her were the plentiful opportunities for loud prolonged laughter she gave them as they took turns in the kitchen imitating her tendency to scream abuse at them at the top of her lungs, with he lisp and her fake French accent. 

3686.The news of the death of this venerated old aunt reached Harriett in the country on the evening of Saturday, of the weekend of Alexis’ detention at the military academy. The Minister was very surprised at his wife’s profoundly disturbed reaction to the death of this aunt because, for all intents and purposed it could have been considered a good thing as it would probably involve the termination of her law suit against them over the ownership of their country estates.

Friday, September 26, 2014

The Schism, parts 3679 - 3682

 3679. Fortunately an elderly aunt living in Moscow came to her timely rescue. Just about the time Alexis was being locked in the detention room of the military academy, the elderly aunt has halfway down a long flight of stairs in her elegant townhouse.

 3680. She was headed down the stairs in an awkward position however. She was backwards, traveling at a high rate of speed, and turning over and over in the air. Someone had left a rolling pin on the top stair and it was that object that precipitated her unnatural position and speed. It would turn out to be her last dramatic experience in an otherwise humdrum life. 

 3681. They say that when you are about to die your life seems to flash in front of you from beginning to end, but for Aunt Marfa that was not the case. What flashed before her eyes was the series of portraits of her ancestors that were hung in a row going up the walls of the staircase. She saw an uncle who was a famous General of the Napoleonic era. He passed by upside down, followed by an Aunt Bertha with her three favorite Borzoi hounds, all a blur.

3682. Her last vision was the huge family portrait almost four feet long that adorned a large space at the bottom of the stairs. It was framed with one of those thick ornamented gilded frames. It was one of the lion headed ornaments protruding from the corners of the frame that put an end to her life.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Schism, parts 3675 - 3678

 3675. He did not actually know what had happened to Alexis, but he was just indulging his secret wish that the little scoundrel would be sent to perdition. Meanwhile, Harriett’s distress became more and more acute. Doctor Herzenstube was sent for, but he pronounced that he could make nothing of the situation.

 3676. The information given to Harriett upset her and caused her such anguish that she was actually beyond tears and even beyond grief. She was incapable of taking it in because it did not seem possible or real to her. First of all she had no idea up until the very moment of his disappearance, that she was so attached to him.

 3677. All along she had thought, and told herself, that Alexis was like her favorite toy. You dress up the toy, you play with it all afternoon, but then some distraction arises and you don’t think about it for another month. That is exactly how she imagined she felt about her pretty servant.

3678. His sudden disappearance cause an emptiness to open inside her, the space between the bottom of her heart and the pit of her stomach seemed to have suddenly disappeared, and in its place she found an aching void. She was dry-eyed, silent and troubled by this unexpected grief and went around her afternoon meetings and appointments with a foreboding that the slightest thing could accidentally produce a flood of hysterical tears.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Schism, parts 3671 - 3674

 3671. Finally she sent for her principal carriage driver and asked him, point blank what had happened to her little Alexis, in a tone of voice trembling with emotion and fear. The driver explained everything that had transpired, coldly overlooking his Mistress’ distress.

 3672.  He concluded sententiously, “In a case like this, which smacks of a tendency to revolutionary attitudes, a serf is simply sent off into the army, and so you need not concern yourself over much about him because you certainly will not be seeing him for another twenty-five years.

 3673. What do you suppose caused the old coachman to dismiss Alexis in that way, and so deliberately compound the distress of his Mistress? Why, it was simply jealousy. He had watched over the past year the growing fondness of his Lady for the boy and knew for a fact that in time his apprentice would replace him.

3674. He had seen it so often before. He could not help but notice that Alexis was getting new coats and boots on a regular basis, and his own uniform was becoming threadbare in the most conspicuous places, and yet received no attention at all.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Schism, parts 3667 - 3670

 3667. Alexis was removed from his cell late in the morning of Tuesday, when the faculty, staff and students returned to the school. It was just luck that they found him there in the cell, because everyone had forgotten about him altogether. If a few weeks had gone by he surely would have died, but as luck would have it, one of the cadets had to be locked in the detention room because of an entire weekend of riotous behavior.

 3668. You can be sure that the staff, when they found him in the room unconscious, apologized to him profusely, fed his a good meal, and even sent him home in a carriage. Meanwhile, a curious event transpired during those three days, at the residence of the Minister and his wife who employed the boy as the door opener of their equipage.

 3669. When the minister and his wife arrived home after the long meeting at the Ministry of Financial affairs, the wife, whose name happened to be Harriett, noticed at once that it was not her attendant that opened the door when they arrived at their estate. They visited their estate in the country only in the summer during the heat of July and August. The day Alexis disappeared from his post was the first day of their summer vacation.

3670. At first Harriett made only a passing inquiry about the boy and concealed her anxiety about him. But the next day she became quite agitated and when her husband asked her what was wrong she said she thought she was coming down with “La Grippe,” a fashionable illness like a cold, going the rounds of the aristocracy because of its French origins.

Monday, September 22, 2014

The Schism, parts 3662 - 3666

 3662. The school administrators met after a few days to discuss what had happened, and quickly came to the conclusion that the entire blame had to fall, not on Alexis, but on the cadets who were unable to ascertain that the coachman’s boy was not a person ever allowed in a military establishment.

 3663. “What,” they asked rhetorically, “would happen in a encampment during war, if the enemy was mistaken for one of themselves and allowed to enter.” So it was a matter of military discipline and all the boys involved were assigned to find twelve examples in military history where battles were lost because of that sort of simple carelessness. 

 3664. Meanwhile, it was Friday afternoon and Alexis was locked in a room in the basement of the school. Everybody else had left the grounds and it was the beginning of a three-day weekend. The coachman’s boy assumed, as you also would assume, that some silly mistake had been made. He could see that he was locked up as in a jail, but the only explanation he could thing of was that he had been mistaken for some cadet who had to be disciplined. 

 3665. He heard voices and the footsteps of people moving around on the upper floors. He imagined that any second a key would turn in the lock of the door, and he would be released, even perhaps, with an apology. The sounds of commotion and movement became louder for a while, and then died away. Finally he heard the sound of the footsteps of one solitary person. A door closed in the distance, and there was complete silence.

3666. Then the lights were turned off. Then began three days during which Alexis did not eat or drink anything. He had a long period of time to give a great deal of thought to a great many things. The problem was that Alexis had no idea what those things were that he needed to think about.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

The Schism, parts 3658 - 3661

 3658. A few moments later the upperclassman who was about to thrash Alexis and teach him a lesson in class distinctions found himself on his back on the ground looking up at the blue sky. He saw clouds and they seemed unusually white and soft, and he also heard the song of birds although there were no birds.

 3659. Partially blocking his view of the sky was the face of a very concerned Alexis, whom, having knocked out his adversary stood over him offering him assistance in getting up. But before the boy could even get up Alexis was carted off and placed in a room used for detention at the school.

  3660. It was a locked cell, used for those cadets addicted to gambling and staying out all hours spending their rich parent’s money using letters of credit scribbled by hand onto napkins in the dark dens rich boys like to frequent. These notes of credit where a matter of honor among aristocratic families, and many a son used up his father’s estate before graduation with the practice.

3661. The detention cell was the last resort of punishment in such cases, where, at the request of an enraged father, a son might be detained for up to a month. But what Alexis was doing there he had no idea. All he had done, as for as he could tell, was follow the instructions of some friendly boys engaged in the sport of wrestling.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Schism, parts 3654 - 3657

3654. It took Alexis almost a full minute to recover from the blow, and even when he realized what had happened he could not quite believe it because it was so unexpected. As he regained his balance he could see clearly that his opponent had every intention of striking him again, since he was dancing before him, back and forth, with his fists forming small circles in the air.

3655. If you had asked Alexis what happened next, he could not have told you because he did not really know. One has to admit that ones body knows a great many things of which we are entirely ignorant. Our organs go about their business and never consult our conscious mind for direction or advice. The liver, the spleen, and the kidneys know just what to do all day and night, and even seem to have back up plans in place for emergency situations. 

 3656. It should not surprise anyone to hear that the body knows how to protect itself from an adversary, and will do so without the delay and inconvenience of consulting the conscious mind for directions and advice.

3657. As a matter of fact, when such consultation and advice is sought, it is almost always of no use, and even interferes with the smooth operations of  ones instinctive defense mechanisms that are inherent in people in the same degree as in any crocodile.

Friday, September 19, 2014

The Schism, parts 3650 - 3653

 3650. Of all the people there that afternoon it was only Alexis that had no awareness of the danger he was in. It sometimes happens that there exists a naive individual who is entirely unaware of social cast and class, and almost like an idiot, will treat an important personage, and a street sweeper is exactly the same way.

 3651. Some people find this simplicity charming, but to others it is insulting. The phenomena of the inability to distinguish class, cast, and personal importance in others is not always the blind spot of some simple person.

3652. Sometimes the inability or unwillingness to recognize ones superiors as superior is present in people of quite sophisticated intelligence, and in others it has a sarcastic and antagonistic element. But there was no element of antagonism in Alexis, he was simply quite uneducated.

3653. Alexis reached out his arms to place his hands on his opponent’s shoulders in his direct good-natured way but was met with by a brutal punch directly to his face. The blow did not knock his down, but shocked and staggered him. Surprisingly, the blow did not draw blood from his nose, and the upperclassman that had delivered it noticed that his fist felt like he had struck a bronze fencepost.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Schism, parts 3646 - 3649

3646. Alexis continued to defeat the cadets one after another, and it became unnecessary to wait for his opponents to make the first move. He found them so easy to defeat that he just began to throw them out of the ring one after another as if they were some bags of sand that needed moving from one place to another.

3647. All of this was just good fun and nobody was offended or upset. Actually the found it quite comical and all the boys were willing to accept Alexis as a champion. All of this would have ended without incident except for the interference of the master coachman who came looking for Alexis when the Minister called for his coach to be brought round to the portico.

3648. The coachman saw, to his horror what his apprentice was doing and instantly realized the tremendous danger inherent in the situation. He stood at the fence doing nothing, racking his brains for a way to extract his boy from his predicament.

3649. But it was too late. The instant that the cadets saw the expression on the face of the coachman standing there, they instantly realized the servile status of their champion. The upperclassman who was the umpire of the event held up his hand for silence, and said, “Lets give this little doorman one more round,” and with that he advanced to face Alexis.