Requiem in the Snow by Catrin Collier by Catrin Collier - Read Online

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Summary

Following the death of her brother Victoria Pringle has lost touch with his fiancée so it is a surprise to learn that she has a nephew, Peter. In spite of his upbringing he has inherited his ancestor's love of the land but he faces fierce opposition if he follows his dream. Libby and Billy Lennox are eager to resolve the family feud with the Crainby's in order to help Charlotte find the security and love she so desperately needs. Willie Pringle is devastated when tragedy strikes. His daughter, Mimi, needs all her courage and determination to fight for her own future happiness.
Published: Accent Press on
ISBN: 9781681466378
List price: $2.99
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Requiem in the Snow - Catrin Collier

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Chapter One

Road from Taganrog to Alexandrovka

The Donbas, September 1870

Richard woke in broad daylight. He sensed he was moving and squinted up at the sky. By the height of the sun it was mid-afternoon. He turned his head and a stabbing pain shot through his eyes. His mouth was dry, his head hurt, and his stomach churned; nauseated by a barnyard smell, which wasn’t surprising as he was lying on damp, dirty sacks. He heard a bullock low and realised he was in the back of a cart.

‘How are you feeling?’

He tried to focus. The sun had never shone brighter. Something moved to block his vision. He looked up at Alexei.

‘Where am I?’

‘About two versts outside Taganrog. I carried you back to your room to prove to Mr Edwards and your sister that you were still alive. I packed your belongings but your sister checked I hadn’t left anything behind. I don’t think she approves of me.’

‘Right now, I don’t approve of you or me.’ Richard struggled upright.

‘Your head hurts?’

‘A dozen little men are clog dancing in my brain.’

‘Explain clog dancing?’

‘Another time.’

‘This should make you feel better.’ Alexei dropped the reins of his horse, reached down into his boot, and pulled out a silver flask. He passed it to Richard.

Richard unscrewed the top and sniffed the contents.

‘It’s water, you funny fellow.’

‘Just checking it’s not what we were drinking last night.

‘I bought a few pails of vodka for the journey. If you join me tonight we can continue our discussion without Misha and the Cossacks.’

‘I’m busy.’

‘Doing what, in a bullock train?’

‘I’ll think of something.’

‘Richard, about last night …’

‘I don’t remember much.’

Alexei leaned closer to Richard and lowered his voice. ‘You remember I had a fight with Misha?’

‘You shook hands afterwards.’

‘Don’t say anything about it to anyone. Or repeat what Misha said about the Jews.’

‘I didn’t understand half of what Misha said.’

‘Promise you won’t say anything, especially to Mr Edwards or Mr Hughes.’

Richard almost nodded then decided he’d only make his head ache even more. ‘Where’s my sister?’

‘With the driver and Mrs Edwards at the front of this cart.’

Head pounding, Richard clambered to his knees and climbed over the sacks to the bench seat where Anna was sitting with Mrs Edwards. He moved behind them.

Sarah greeted him. ‘Good morning – or rather afternoon, Richard.’

‘Mrs Edwards. I’m sorry.’

‘It’s your sister you should apologise to. She thought you’d been kidnapped when you didn’t return to the consulate last night.’

‘I was worried about you,’ Anna reproached.

‘We tried to convince her Alexei would look after you. It appears he did.’

‘I remember him advising me not to drink vodka with a Cossack. As we were both doing just that it seemed a peculiar thing for him to say. I promise you, Mrs Edwards,’ he sat alongside Anna and wrapped his arm around her. ‘I’ll never drink vodka again.’

‘Spoken like a man with a hangover who’s feeling sorry for himself. Your good intentions will be forgotten the moment your head clears.’

‘I won’t argue with you, Mrs Edwards, but I mean what I say.’

‘I’m certain at this moment you do.’

The convoy crawled slowly forward as far as Richard’s eye could see. At its head he made out the heavily built figures of John Hughes and Glyn Edwards. They’d reined in their horses and were watching the column. He turned. The line of carts behind them was endless as the one in front.

‘Two versts behind us, only another ninety-eight to go.’ Alexei was still riding alongside them. He tipped his cap to Sarah and Anna. ‘I have friends who live close by. I’ll ride ahead and see if they can provide accommodation for you ladies tonight.’

‘Please don’t trouble yourself, Alexei. I believe Mr Hughes has made provision for people to sleep in the carts.’

‘You’d be more comfortable in a house.’

‘I’d also miss my husband and Anna her brother.’

‘So we all camp, like gypsies?’

‘I believe that’s the intention – but thank you for the offer, Alexei.’

‘I hope the place we’re going to isn’t like this,’ Anna said.

‘In what way?’ Richard asked.

‘Flat and empty.’

‘Even if it is, it won’t be for long,’ Sarah predicted. ‘A few years of hard work and we’ll build a town as elegant and imposing as Taganrog.’

‘First we have to get there.’ Richard’s head was aching unbearably. He longed to stand somewhere still and quiet.

‘A few more days. We’re almost at journey’s end.’ Sarah waved to Peter who was walking ahead of the cart.

‘Journey’s end,’ Anna repeated. ‘That sounds good.’

Richard squeezed her hand. He hoped when they were settled in their new home they would regain the close familiarity that had bound them together in the basement house in the court. But for the moment he couldn’t help feeling Anna was slipping away from him.

As John had warned, and every emigrant in the convoy soon discovered, there were few roads over the steppe and none of any substance between Taganrog and Hughesovka. What John and Glyn hadn’t expected were the substantial tolls every landowner exacted before allowing their carts to cross their estates. Even with Alexei to negotiate, their progress was expensive – and slow.

Rain began to fall two days after they left the port. The Russians assured them rain at that time of year was rare and the weather would soon turn dry. But the downpour proved relentless. By the fifth day everyone and everything in the column was drenched.

The blankets they wrapped themselves in and their clothes, even the ones stored in trunks, were sodden. Most people saw no point in changing out of the dripping outfits they were wearing. The cooks did their best to make tea and warm soup under canvas in the back of the carts but as soon as the liquid was served it became so diluted by rainwater it lost all vestige of warmth.

John instructed the senior members of the party to remain resolutely cheerful, but by the fifth day even Glyn was beginning to show signs of strain. That night the camp was quieter than any evening since they’d left Taganrog. The drivers, too tired to talk let alone sing, huddled on top of the feed carts, sheltering as best they could beneath canvas, sharing their vodka pails. Glyn and John had taken their brandy flasks and retired early, crawling into a boiler they’d lined with straw and transformed into a temporary bedroom.

Peter alone braved the glutinous mud, tramping from cart to cart dispensing shots of brandy and cough syrup. By the time he finally struggled back to the cart he and Sarah were sharing with Richard, Anna, and Alexei he felt as though he’d been swimming fully clothed in a river. But there was nothing he could do other than wrap himself in a blanket slightly less sodden than his clothes and lie down next to his wife in the hope that sleep would come.

Three versts from Hughesovka, the Donbas

Late afternoon, day six, September 1870

‘Looks like this cart, along with a dozen others, will be staying here tonight – and probably, given the quagmire it’s sunk into, even longer, sweetheart.’ Peter squelched from the back of the cart loaded with his and Glyn’s luggage to the front where Sarah sat between Anna and the driver. ‘The axle is glued firm. As fast the men are shovelling out the mud it’s oozing back in.’

‘The two largest boilers are stuck.’ Glyn splashed towards them. ‘The drivers say we’ve no chance of shifting them until the ground freezes. Then we might be able pickaxe them out but there’ll only be a small window between the frost and the first snow. Apparently snow causes as much of a problem as mud.’

‘In which case I take it we’ll be camping here overnight?’ Sarah tried to sound matter-of-fact. They’d been forced to leave so many carts full of supplies behind that Glyn had lost count, and there was still no sign of civilization on the horizon. ‘Is there a relatively dry spot within wading distance?’ She looked at the black slime that caked Peter’s boots, trousers, and coat.

Glyn leaned against the cart. ‘Alexei left an hour ago to fetch fresh horses and carriages from his father’s house. Our destination is only three versts ahead. That’s not even two miles.’

‘Where?’ Sarah rose from the bench seat and peered all around. ‘I can’t see anything other than rain and a few trees.’

‘If our new home isn’t behind a tree I suppose it could be down a rabbit hole.’ Glyn tugged at his knee to heave his right foot out of the mud. He succeeded in freeing his leg, but at the