At last we return to Natalie, for Chapter 8. The next installment will go up Thursday night.
Near Kiev, Russian Ukraine. July-August, 1914. No sooner had Natalie begun to settle into the routine of the Luterek household than she was uprooted again, though this time happily. At the beginning of July the entire family retired for a eight week holiday in a summer house north east of Kiev.
The dacha itself had been newly constructed in 1903 by a Prince Sangushko, who was one of the patrons of the hospital. The good prince was spending his summer at a much grander estate outside Odessa, and the loan of this little retreat which he had only had the time to visit a handful of times had seemed an appropriate reward for the famous surgeon that his new hospital had managed to lure away from Warsaw. What to the Prince was a humble getaway cottage, to Doctor Luterek’s eyes seemed to represent all that was to be gained by edging from the professional class into the gentry. Already he had his elder son serving as a cavalry officer alongside the sons of noblemen. If in a few years he could buy a country house such as this… Who knew, perhaps some day he might even be granted a title for his medical work. Surely, there was no limit to what could be achieved by a man of drive and ability in the new Russia.
To Natalie, the vacation seemed not the promise of some future chance to rise in status but as if she really had become a noblewoman. The house itself, a builder’s fantasy of a medieval cottage with a round tower, steep red tiled roof, faux timbering, and all the modern conveniences including a large indoor bathroom on the second floor where at the turn of a faucet steaming hot water poured into the bathtub which stood on clawed brass feet amid an expanse of white tiled floor. She had her own room, as large and as well furnished as those of the Luterek daughters, and two sitting rooms, the library, and the extensive gardens in which to take her ease.
Her charges’ lessons were in abeyance for the course of the vacation and so her duties were little more than seeing that they did not completely forget their French and German. As the two girls were happy to treat her as something closer to an older sister than a teacher, this goal was easily enough achieved by joining them in daylong rambles through the countryside with a picnic hamper on the pony cart, or staging tableaux based on their favorite reading.
To say that the Lutereks had become like family to her would have been going too far, and yet it was very near to true. On the train from Warsaw to Kiev, a journey which took all of a day and a night, she had spent staring out the window of the first class railway carriage and thinking about her future. She had imagined the full range of possibilities. Would the doctor and his wife prove to be the welcoming parents that she had never had, that her father had, despite his generosity, refused to be? Or would they treat her as a servant, make her sleep in a dingy attic while leaving her to the mercies of children who knew that any naughtiness they perpetrated would be blamed on her failure to control them?
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