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My father, George Doig, died of the plague. That was in 1903, when I was fourteen and he in the flower of his age. For many years he'd been the manager of their Moscow office for Hodge & Co., the big cotton-brokers. During this period he made himself attractive to Irina Rykov, and married her. She was the granddaughter of the Rykov who raised the loan that kept the Tsar's army going in 1812. In this way I was a direct descendant of the man who saved Russia from Napoleon.
Until recently, these were the principal facts in my life over which I've had no control. I must add a physical description of myself.
I can't remember having been small. Nanny Agafya sometimes sought to dominate me by saying that Mother had spat me out. "Five heaves and there you were, all slimy and bawling, no bigger than a gherkin." This has never been the sense I've had of my person. Some initial helplessness, suckling, infancy, these I concede, remarking that they belong to the period of the womb, which had nothing to do with me. It is from the age of my first complete memory, four years and two months, that I date myself.
It was the day that we moved into the fifth, the top, floor of an apartment building off the fashionable end of the Tverskaya. Moscow was entering its most capitalist phase. Accommodation was difficult to find, everything being half finished. It was a measure of Potter Hodge's satisfaction with my father that the firm was prepared to pay the premium on the Tverskaya.
To keep me quiet while the men were setting out our furniture, I was bribed with the gift of a troop of the 1st Sumsky Hussar Regiment in a polished chestnut box: black horses, the soldiers in brick-red breeches and blue dolmans with yellow braid. The brilliance of their colours and the evocation of Russia's martial glories made me shudder with excitement. Things got out of control. It was not my fault that a subaltern spoke dishonouringly of his senior officer, or that satisfaction was demanded. But it was I who whispered encouragement to the captain, I who set the two chargers and their riders at each other across the new tan linoleum, and I who plotted the melee. Sabres rang. The horses reared as if boxing each other. They snickered with fear. Voluble advice came from the seconds, both of whom I represented. At the exact moment that the subaltern's shako'd head flew off, my father, made testy by a week of packing and argument, was passing the door.
"Why, you little devil, I'll have you know that I scoured the city for those. The best, none better in all of Moscow, and see what you've done to them. Already!"
"What do you mean, of course they could be better," I countered. What were they for if not fighting? I threw the severed head at him. "Look at that."
For this I was walloped by Nanny Agafya with the back of a long-handled wooden clothes brush. It was my first meeting with physical force, mankind upon man, object on flesh. The scene has remained in my mind as an example to be followed. Pummel! Strap! Flog! It's the only way. The carrot is the solution of the dilettante. It's invariably construed as a sign of weakness. To offer it simply hedges the issue, defers everything.
From that day on I have been conscious only of being the Charlie Doig that I now am. Six foot two, strong in the shoulder and broad in the chest. Wide Russian face, straight dark hair, stubble. Eyes of blue: not the loony blue of the German philosopher but steadier, more brutal, with flecks of iron and schist. Powerful high-boned wrists. Mangling stride. A rugged obnoxious nose. And proper Russian balls that swing like the planets. Nothing of the gherkin down there.
My father left a sackful of debts, which of course made everything even more desperate for Mother. I loved them both. Not equally, that would have been too ideal. But Mother had an ample allocation, which she knew. We were happy together. It filled us with pleasure to be the family we were. There are no childhood grudges hanging in my mind like old meat.
Father's legacy to me was the unrequited portion of his ambition. Because he died so young this came to a sizable bequest, inferior in neither quantity nor zest. From the moment I got my hands on it I desired nothing less than complete success in everything that I did.
Top of my list was to honour the memory of my father, which I swore to do as I knelt praying for his soul.
Next: a mansion with a flagpole, sobbing fountains, a butler, footmen, cigars, concubines, racehorses, silken scarves and monogrammed underpants. A portrait of my woman done in crusty oils showing clearly her emerald rings and the richness of her bosom-salad, to be framed with the most glittering vulgarity my money could buy. This is for the front hall of the mansion, a knock-over to greet my visitors. I have wanted a blond birchwood desk in an office the size of a banqueting hall so that the butler bringing my coffee has to approach for sixty paces down a narrow red carpet. I have wanted a hothouse and its dusky perfumes, bushels of women's flesh and raw anchovies and French wines, to gorge myself on life, cramming everything in together, with both hands, as a man out of the desert goes at a swag of grapes.
Copyright © 2006 by James Fleming
Posted December 9, 2008
Naturalist Charlie Doig loves traveling the globe seeking new discoveries that support Darwin¿s theories almost as much as he enjoys discovering new women however Charlie also appreciates his respites at his family ¿Pink House¿ near Smolensk, Russia. In 1914, the Academy of Sciences sends him to Turkistan, but the war breaks out throughout Europe leaving him without funds and at least for the moment ending his latest pursuit to prove Darwinism is the only religion. His travels has delayed his plans to one day wed his beloved Cousin Elizaveta, but by 1917, he brings her into his home as his wife after her fiancé was assassinated. As civil war breaks out against Tsarist Russia, many come to the Pink House for refuge. When Bolshevik Prokhor Glebov arrives, Charlie recognizes the cunning ruthlessness of the Marxists he believes they will prove in the short run victorious as the barbarians always take the early triumphs because they understand survival of the fittest means innocent people must die. He also understands social Darwinism that in the long run civilization will return to defeat the barbarian Bolsheviks because they will prove to be the truely fittest, but Charlie doubts he will be there to see it. --- This is a superb historical thriller that uses Social Darwin theories to provide a powerful look at the survival of the fittest in Russia, which proves by 1917 to be the Bolsheviks as only the ruthlessly strong survive. The story line is action-packed whether Charlie is having adventures in the Far East seeks exotic species or at his Pink House where the prime three groups that make up the Russia struggle to rule converge. Genre readers will appreciate the contrasts between the competitors as each believes they will triumph in a brave new world. --- Harriet KlausnerWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 17, 2011
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