The Adventure of Anna the Great, p.1Camille LaGuire / Actions & Adventure
THE ADVENTURE OF
ANNA THE GREAT
Copyright 2010 Camille LaGuire
* * *
The Adventure of Anna the Great
Chapter I - My Only Chance for Adventure
On a September evening in 1862, I stood in front of the mirror in my cousin Celeste’s room, snipping a pair of scissors in the air. I knew it was probably not the most important action of my life. It just felt like it.
I was fourteen, and even so, I did look more like a boy than a girl. Even with long hair—long, stringy, nut brown hair that hung limp as a rag mop. It would be no great loss. I grabbed a handful of it, raised my scissors and began to cut.
The door opened behind me. I wheeled around, expecting my Aunt Elfreda, but it was only Celeste, who was sneaking in loudly. Celeste was not good at the cloak and dagger side of things.
“Everything is just ready....” When she saw what I was doing she gasped. “Oh, Anna, no! Not your hair!”
A girl’s appearance was very important to Celeste, but then she was truly lovely. Her skin was translucent and glowing, like a pearl. Her eyes were large, and her little mouth was red and round. Her body was rounded too, and already quite feminine.
“They’ll never think I’m a boy with these beautiful flowing tresses,” I said firmly. I raised my hand to snip some more, but she floated across the room to stop me. I can’t describe Celeste’s walk any other way. The huge folds of silk and lace cover any sign of legs.
“No, no, Anna, please!” She shook her pretty yellow curls at me, and laid a hand on my wrist. “You could hide your hair up under your hat, as the ladies do in plays, when they pretend to be gentlemen.”
“And keep my hat on tight for three months?” I said. “What if it falls off? Besides, I’ve already cut some. See?”
“Oh, that’s all right. We can make it into bangs with some lovely little curls.”
I sighed and pulled my arm away from her, gently because I didn’t want to hurt her feelings. I turned to the mirror and began cutting quickly.
“At least you should let me do it,” she said. “You’re getting it all uneven.”
I surrendered the scissors to her, and she snipped away my main barrier to the male world, shaking her head as each lock fell. I admit she did a good job, except that she left it a little long. I don’t think she could help herself, and I didn’t mind, since it made me look a little rascally and unkempt.
When I was ready, she blew out the light and we stood together at the window, watching for the light in the stable to go out. Andre, our stableman, would go to bed soon. The moon was out, putting a blue and silver light on everything. Even in that cold light Celeste looked flushed. She had been working herself into a fever all afternoon, and now she trembled in an effort to contain herself.
“Calm down,” I whispered.
“I can’t help it,” she replied. “I’m so excited.”
“But tomorrow you’ll go on as normal. I’m the one who should be excited.”
“I don’t see how you’re not,” she squeaked. “Suppose we should be caught.”
I could not tell from her tone if getting caught would be horrible or thrilling. I think her nerves helped me with my own, though. I did not feel nervous at all, only slightly on edge. I was eager. I pressed against the glass. It was so cold it startled me. Perhaps I was a little fevered, too.
I had been preparing for this for months. No, I suppose it was for my whole life, really. I had read every adventure novel I could get—not that I was allowed to read such nasty things, but Celeste’s maid smuggled them in to me from her brother. I read them aloud to Celeste at night, when we were supposed to be in bed. Celeste wanted to be a heroine, but I wanted to be a hero. The heroine, after all, never got to do anything. But the heroes got to do wonderful things, like riding and fighting and climbing and spying. I learned to fence by butting in on my brother’s lessons. I learned to ride astride from Andre, our stableman, who didn’t care if I was a girl, as long as I rode right. I was ready for my own adventure. I could not wait for it any longer.
My real life was boring enough to kill me. My parents are the popular socialites Baron Fritz and Ariel von Halzig, very well known throughout the small Balkan nation of Lifbau, but not so well known to me. They left me to be raised by relatives and I didn’t even feel I belonged to them, or to anyone. Aunt Elfreda, who raised me, did not approve of me because I could not sew like Celeste, or dance like Celeste, or do anything at all girls were supposed to do as well as Celeste. I was too awkward, and I was left-handed, which was a sin in itself to my old fashioned aunt. I did try to please her, but I did not really care what she thought. I did not much care about anything, until I decided to run away and make my own adventure.
I had it well planned. For three months they would not even know I was gone. My parents had just left on one of their many voyages. Celeste had convinced Aunt Elfie that they had let me go with them this time. They, of course, thought I was home. All I needed was some of my brother’s clothes, and to cut my hair, and I was ready.
The moon was out full now. The white light fell harsh, defining each leaf on the trees and each blade of grass in the fields. All completely still. There was no wind. The whiteness of it looked as if a hard frost had fallen. The bricks in the stable yard shone like a mass of glass cubes. Two horses were out to pasture near the stable, gleaming like pewter. In all that sea of ice and silver, the small lighted window stood out warm and gold. It held our attention for some time, and then I saw an arm reach across it and it went black.
Celeste and I stood a moment longer, to be sure Andre was asleep. I moved away from the window and silently to the door of her room. There I stopped.
“Goodbye, Celeste,” I said, grabbing her and hugging her. I was suddenly afraid to leave. What if something happened? What if when I came back I was sent off to some dreadful school in punishment? I might not see her for a long time. “And thank you.”
“Goodbye, Anna,” she said, hugging me back and giving me a kiss on both cheeks.
“Albert,” I corrected. We were both reduced to nervous giggles.
“Yes, gallant Albert,” she said. “Goodbye, Albert!”
We again fell to giggling and I made leg with an expansive bow. Then we waved to one another and I reached for the door knob.
“I’ll go with you to the stable,” said Celeste, growing suddenly serious. “I’ll help you with Jupiter.”
“No, you’ll give us away,” I whispered. She looked so hurt that I added, “It’s easier for one to sneak by than two.”
“I’ll watch at the window then,” she said slowly.
“Don’t forget to wave!”
“Oh, wait! Good luck!”
I could see that this might go on for some time, and I felt another fit of giggles forcing its way up from my stomach. I abruptly threw myself out the door, in a manner I imagined some dashing hero might exit a window, and pulled it shut behind me.
With the closing of that door I became a boy. I would be, if anyone asked, the illegitimate son of a nobleman. Celeste and I made the story up on those long nights of waiting. The nobleman was the one who gave me my fine horse, boots and sword. I could always, if not strictly believed, imply that I was not really certain just who my father was, but whether I was believed or not about my parents did not matter. I only wanted to be taken as a boy, any boy. I had no fear of my body giving me away.
I swaggered out of that house. I was so cocky, I felt like laughing, or yelling. Instead I leapt over the mounting block and gave a skip step. I had no skirts to hinder me. I felt so free! I took one last look about the yard, which still shone with silver moonlight, but it no longer seemed cold or eerie. It was a clear light, a pure light, and it lit the road out, that thrilling silver strip that I would soon be on.
I slipped through the white door at the end of our low brick stable. It seemed like complete darkness after the brightness of the moon. A horse nickered quietly and some other answered her. I rode at night often, and I knew that it was common for horses to do this. Andre probably would not even notice, but I held still for a moment, to be sure.
The saddles and tack for each horse were kept across from his stall. I counted down three stalls to Jupiter’s tack. I had purchased an astride saddle, saying it was a gift for my brother. Nobody expected me to use it, so it was on the far side of my sidesaddle. I had to reach across and tug it out. It was not heavy, though, and I had run up the stirrups and bound them tightly so they would not jingle. I then groped for my bridles. I went past my double bridle, reluctantly, for it was my prize. It was really only for the finesse riding that Andre had taught me, and its bits and curb chain would clank together. I reached for my snaffle bridle, and my hand felt blank wall. I felt around. It was not there.
I thought for a moment I may have got my bridles on the wrong pegs, and that I was reaching too far, but then my hand came upon the empty peg. The bridle was gone.
I knew what had happened. Andre had not got around to cleaning it until late and had taken it into his room. I rested my hand on the remaining bridle and the bits tinkled, like a little bell.
The voice was loud and harsh, and slightly frightened. A flare of light came with it. I turned and shaded my eyes, holding my saddle in front of me like a shield. Andre stood, or rather crouched, in his nightshirt at the first stall. He was holding a lamp high with his right hand, and a riding crop in the other. He was a small, dark, foreign man, in his forties. He could hardly speak German, though he certainly communicated well enough, and his smile was clear in any language. Aunt Elfie thought him common because he had been a circus performer and a jockey, but I adored him.
“Who is zere?” he said again, coming closer and raising the lamp to get a better view. “Anna?”
He lowered the whip and straightened, still studying me. I lowered my hand and squinted at him, my eyes still not used to the light. I said nothing. He looked at my hair and my saddle.
“You are leaving Gus?”
“You are leaving us,” I corrected. He shrugged. He had no will to learn the language. “Please don’t tell.”
“Where are you going?”
“Away,” I said, as I evaded his eyes. “I’ll be back by Christmas.”
“You expect danger?” He pointed at my sword. It was my turn to shrug. “Have you money?”
I nodded. I had a pocket full of silver and gold hidden throughout my clothing and belongings.
“You have plans?”
Again I nodded. “You won’t tell, will you?”
He sighed and looked at the ground and shook his head. “When I was twelve, I run away to za circus. I have no money, no horse, no schooling. You are fourteen, and have all zis. I will not tell.”
“Thank you, Andre,” I said, moving to hug him, but the saddle got in the way. “You’re a dear.”
“I am,” he said, as I rushed to the stall. “What shall I say about za horse? He is gone. Zey will notice.”
I stopped and turned.
“You didn’t tink of zat,” he said.
“No, I didn’t,” I said, returning. “I’m sorry. I’m so stupid. I had a lot to think about.”
“I’ll tink of someting.” He retreated back into his room. I went to rouse Jupiter. In a moment Andre was back with my bridle, which he put on the horse himself, while I feverishly struggled with the saddle. He then produced a halter, which he put over the bridle.
“I tought you might need zis.”
“Thank you, Andre.”
He stroked Jupiter’s neck and said some words in French to him. Jupiter was a dark gelding, almost black, with only a sandy sheen at his fetlocks and face to say he was a chestnut. He was an intelligent animal, graceful and affectionate, bred for agility rather than speed. I think Andre would miss him as much as he did me.
“Why do you come back at Christmas?” Andre said, not looking up from Jup’s nose.
“I’ll be discovered by then. They’ll know I’m gone when my parents get back.”
“But tree monts gone, and zey’ll never find you.”
“I don’t know. They’ll worry.”
“You don’t want to make trouble, ah?”
“But I am trouble all the same. I hope I’m not getting you into trouble about Jupiter.”
“Ah,” he said. “I know trouble so well. We are old friends.”
I looked up at Andre. He was still rather young, but the experiences in that life must completely fill it. I knew that when I came back I would have to talk to him more, listen to him.
We led my steed from the stable, and before I mounted I hugged my friend.
“Take care of za horse.”
I swung into the saddle and waved to him. I could see a vague outline of Celeste at her window, hopping up and down, I suppose in worry at the presence of Andre. I waved enthusiastically to her, but rode away rather sadly. It was a happy sadness, though, for I had just said goodbye to two good friends, when I had expected to be leaving nothing at all behind. I would miss them, and I was angry at myself for missing them all along.