The Gardens of Marlborough Estate were close to an acre in size. Broken and discarded paving stones were used to make the Estate's walking paths, with small benches and cozy alcoves built in the later years for reading, talking, (perhaps an evening tryst during one of the many gala Balls), the benches lined up along the footpaths and under the cover of a dozen willow trees. Built nearly a hundred and fifty years ago, time has helped establish the natural wonders of the Gardens more handily than any landscaper, or gardener, employed by the Estate could have ever hoped to accomplish.
The Garden had been constructed because a small ditch had been dug out of the soft landscape once upon a time, for use as a latrine by the original workers erecting the estate more than two hundred years before. The stream had been diverted from a larger tributary feeding into the Chumley, but had not been properly refilled after the completion of the project. It may have been an argument about wages, we will never know. Over time, it created a large swampy mire. The Gardens had been built of necessity, as the pond became a wading pool for toddlers in the summer, and a skating pond in the winter.
The tiny rivulet carved into the smooth rolling landscape eventually became a pond one hundred feet across and one foot deep. Over the years, it was re-enforced with brick and mortar, built up and re-shaped, as the ground was eventually pulled away from beneath it, so that it formed a low laying escarpment. The water gathered in the pool before spilled over the edge and onto the rocks of a second pool below. Here, a stream had been created, with a grade sloping down ten feet over the course of one hundred yards, to a small, child sized village with dozens of toys buildings, doll houses, and shops, that opened up to reveal hand-made furnishings inside. The houses and buildings sat on top of masonry bricks slickened with the moss and lichen of a hundred years. A working water-wheel spun endlessly at the bottom of the stream, as water droplets capturing the afternoon sun as it tangled with the willows let slip a gentle rainbow of colours.
It had proven to be a delight as each successive generation added to the project. The pond would some days be festooned with paper boats, ceremonies and celebrations, and later—as both the children and the centuries grew—more experimental boats were built to meet future demands as the Industrial Revolution took rise. The small paper sailboats floating down the stream had children laughing behind them, screaming in delight on the banks of the small, narrow stream, eagerly following the boats through the pool to the very edge, where ten feet below lay the imaginary city built to entertain the generations
Chernetsov stepped out of the library, briefly looking up at the clear sky as he strolled across the garden, looking at the colours of the trees where they dotted the distant landscape. He could see a lark, or something like it—a bird at least, he could see that—soaring silent and solitary, watching for prey. Perhaps it's a raptor of some sort, he thought? He wondered if his eyes were that bad, and looked out across the endless acre of landscape.
My landscape, he reminded himself; all of it mine.
It was always nice at this time of the year to remind himself as to why he liked the Spring instead. He’d had a small American designed, locally made and glass encased gazebo, erected on a low rise over-looking what was now the Children’s Village. The side panels were made of etched glass, and had recently been replaced in an effort to prepare for the up-coming party—the last party of the season, which always culminated with a drinking party and bragging rights as to who would possess Cromwell’s skull.
Oh God, the party, he thought. He'd forgotten all about it during the intense interrogation of Alexsandr Antonov.
He’d already told them to hide the body, and wondered where they’d taken it. If the police begin looking for the thief, they may stumble across the body instead, he told himself. It was the kind of complication he did not need right now.
He stood at the table, looking at his watch again. It was precisely one o’clock. Lunch was always served at one o’clock, and he was always the first one to arrive; without fail, it seemed. Bubbi was the next to arrive, holding tight to Dasha’s arm, looking stunning in a white tea dress. Dasha was their youngest son; being with him made her look years younger. She was a modern, vibrant woman on the go. It seemed to him she was always doing something with her time, whether it was organizing socials for the ladies, or collecting scrap clothing for the villages. He’d always thought the Cromwell Costume Ball was a complete waste of time except for the money collected to help feed the village poor through the coming winter months. It was the latest in a long line of what he thought of as simple sycophancy to the Upper class, until he realized he was probably more Upper class than all of them.
“Oh, Darling, you’re here,” Bubbi said, holding Dasha’s arm. Dasha was their youngest son. She stopped, looking at her husband and smiling, recognizing the lustful look in his eyes.
“Do you like it?” she asked, letting go of her son’s arm and dancing a quick pirouette in place.
“You look stunning,” Chernetsov said, pulling her chair out and helping her to sit. He bent low and kissed her neck. She smiled, and then looked down when she caught the sneer on her son’s face.
“Maybe if you paid as much attention to your wife as your father does your mother, she might not be up in her room complaining of womanly cramps, and a headache?” Bubbi said, unfolding her napkin and placing it on her lap without another word. She reached for a glass of wine, noticed that the glass was empty, and waited as Reynolds—who seemed to appear out of nowhere—filled her glass.
She smiled and thanked him.
“Why do you always do that?” Dasha asked as soon as Reynolds was out of earshot.
“Thank the help?”
“Where are your brothers?” Chernetsov asked, sounding gruff as he looked at the empty place settings. The sunlight crackled through the stemware; dancing in the water jug, and he looked up, distracted for the moment, as everyone seemed to arrive at the same time: Anatoly, his eldest, along with his wife, Magda, and their two children; Katja, his daughter—a war widow since the last days of the War—his second oldest, with her two sons; Dasha, alone and childless, his wife sulking upstairs; and then Misha, single and not interested in marriage at the moment, and finally Jaleena, his youngest, and soon to be married.
“I fail to see why you must all be so continuously late for lunch?” Chernetsov said, trying to sound irritable and failing as his grandchildren rushed to his side.
“Late?” Anatoly laughed. “We’re not late, Poppa,” he said, looking around the table at all the nodding heads and laughing.
“No? Lunch is set for 1:00 pm, precisely,” Chernetsov said, looking at Bubbie.
“No,” Anatoly said with a slow smile and an equally slow shake of his head as he waited for Reynolds to pour him a glass of wine.
“And what do you mean by that?” Chernetsov asked, looking past Reynolds.
“Lunch is set for 1:15,” Anatoly said. “And has been for some time.”
“What are you talking about?” Chernetsov said with some confusion. He looked at Bubbi.
“Lunch is set for 1:00, Dearest,” she said, reaching for his hand, “but only for you and I.”
“I thought it would give us some much needed time together, but it never seems to work out that way, does it?” she laughed uneasily, pulling her hand back and sitting up straight.
“I’m sorry, you what?”
“We seldom have the time to see each other, so I told them they had a different lunch time. And dinner, as well.”
“You’ve never noticed before, because there’s always been someone about, talking to you about something that has nothing to do with any one, or anything. So I suppose it didn’t work out at all, did it? I still don’t get to have you to myself.”
“I apologize—to all of you,” he added. He looked at his wife. “I’m sorry, Bubbi. I shall try to make more of an effort to spend time with you, I have been preoccupied with what’s been happening back home—”
“And what has been happening, Poppa?” Anatoly was quick to ask.
“It seems that the Civil War is over, and that Lenin is dying,” he said slowly.
“Oh, that’s nothing new,” Dasha said with a laugh. “The newspapers have been saying that for a week. Pull our troops out, the headlines say. You haven’t seen the headlines? It’s been on all of the front pages in big, black blocks. Reds rout Whites! Allies withdraw!”
“On a lighter note, have you seen the new Scaramouch movie?” Misha asked.
“Who’s that, dear?” Bubbie asked.
“Scaramouch? It was a book. They always make movies out of the best sellers. Ben Hur? Zorro?”
“Oh, I know him! He’s the thief.”
“He’s not a thief. He’s like a Mexican Robin Hood. He’s there to help the poor.”
“Cynthia says there’s a thief about,” Jaleena said.
“Who says that?” her sister asked.
“I was on the telephone with Cynthia—”
“Who’s that?” Chernetsov asked.
“You know who that is, Dearest,” Bubbi said.
“They’ve been friends since they were seven.”
“Never mind him,” Bubbi said, looking at Jaleena. "Go on."
“Why are you interested in a thief, Bubbi?” Katja asked, reaching for her water glass.
“Why wouldn’t I be? The last thing we need out here is someone breaking into houses and robbing us blind.”
“We could lock the doors,” Misha laughed.
“That won’t stop this man.”
“Why, is he like Nosferatu, appearing out of thin air?” Misha laughed again.
“Who’s Nosferatu?” Bubbi asked.
“Another one of his movies,” Anatoly explained. “It’s about a vampire.”
“Oh dear, no,” Bubbi said with a shake of her head.
“There are no real vampires, Mother,” he laughed.
“I know that!” she said, but not too convincingly.
Anatoly laughed again, at his mother’s expense.
“This man’s nothing like that,” Jaleena went on. “Cynthia said he beat poor Roger Ashcroft half to death.”
“Ashcroft?” Chernetsov asked, taken by surprise.
“How did he get in?” Magda asked.
“This is the best part,” Jaleena said, leaning forward so they all might hear her. “Cynthia says he climbed up the side of the building and broke one of the windows. That’s what woke Mr. Ashcroft up.”
“Woke him up? He wasn’t even home last night,” Dasha scoffed, laughing the story off.
“And how do you know that?” Jaleena asked.
“Because I gave him a ride home last night.”
“You did? Then the Constable’s going to want to talk to you.”
“The Constable?” Chernetsov said with a shake of his head. “They do not come here.”
“You cannot say no, Poppa,” Anatoly smiled. “Besides, the police here are not the same as they are in Russia.”
“How do you know that?”
“They cannot arrest you and send you into exile, for one thing.”
“Have you never heard of Australia?”
“That was two hundred years ago!” Anatoly scoffed at the idea.
“Never mind, you two,” Magda said, looking at Jaleena. "What happened?”
“Apparently the thief attacked him in the bedroom. Cynthia says he was naked—”
“The man came in naked?” Misha laughed. “Now, that would make a good movie! The Naked Thief! I’d pay to see that.”
“Not the thief, you dolt! Roger Ashcroft!”
“Why was he naked?” Bubbi asked.
“Oh, Bubbi, come on!” Anatoly laughed. “Most people are naked when they want to do it with their wives.”
“Do it?” she asked.
“Have you seen Jenny Ashcroft?” Dasha smiled. “I’m surprised he doesn’t keep her naked and tied to the bed every night. I would.”
“There’s no need for that kind of talk at the table,” Chernetsov said.
“You haven’t seen Jenny Ashcroft,” Misha grinned.
"Which would explain keeping her tied to the bed," Dasha laughed.
“She really is quite beautiful,” Katja offered.
“The man took a small fortune in jewels belonging to her sister-in-law,” Jaleena went on.
“Which one is she?” Magda asked.
“The mousey one,” Jaleena said.
“Oh, with the dark hair?”
“Oh, she’s not very nice,” Magda said, sitting back in her seat as if to say it couldn't have happened to a better girl.
“What else did he take?” Anatoly asked. “I mean, that’s a big house. He must have taken more than just that?”
“Unless Roger Ashcroft came home and caught him in the act,” Dasha said. “He was pretty drunk, though. Said he’d settled some huge account across the way, in America. Seems there’s this investor looking for clients in a sure to hit deal guaranteed to make a profit. Some Italian name. I can’t quite remember. So did he get hurt bad?”
“Bad enough from what Cynthia said.”
“All of this excitement over a single bag of jewels?” Anatoly laughed.
“Oh no. He stole a violin, too.”
“It’s a Stradivarius,” Chernetsov said softly.
“How do you know that?” Jaleena asked.
“I was going to buy it three years ago, but they wanted to keep it at a reminder of their boy.”
“That’s not the best of it!” Jaleena laughed.
“He took a horse out of the stables and rode away.”
“I don’t like the idea of a thief being in the area,” Bubbi said.
“The police are bound the catch him,” Chernetsov said.
“Have you seen the local Constabulary?” Dasha asked.
“I’m sure London will send someone,” Bubbi added.
“London? They don’t care about what goes on out here. They have enough to deal with.”
“So he stole a horse, too?” Misha laughed.