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Former prima ballerina Matilda Kshesinskaya, who lived to be 100 years old in her Parisian home, shares her memories with a reporter from America. After her death, fatal events begin to occur with those whom she told about the location of the hidden treasures, and only the reporter manages to avoid the temptation to find these treasures, for which fate treats him mercifully.
Letters from beyond
— Do you think it's right to torture an old woman?
Don't be afraid, Robert. She is alive. During the interview, he definitely will not die.
Robert, who was accustomed to the medical cynicism of his doctor friend, nevertheless exclaimed:
— She's almost 100 years old!
— So what? She'll catch a cold at our funeral. Ballerinas get sick a little. Life in motion is the key to health.
What's the point of sharing her past?
— Nu this, my friend, already your problems. Here you have to show your talent as a journalist. My business is to bring you together, well, then let your ingenuity work.
Robert shuddered, anticipating a difficult journalistic job. Marek sensed his friend's concern.
— You're not very shy. Recently, in addition to other ailments, she began to experience such phenomena typical of eldership as memories of long-forgotten events. Kshesinskaya may not remember what she ate during yesterday's breakfast, but she will accurately describe what Grand Duke Sergei Mikhailovich gave her for Easter 1905. Yes Yes! Do not be surprised. This is very characteristic of the senile brain, and you should take advantage of it.
— Shall we take my assistant? She will keep records.
— It's not a very good idea.
— In what sense?
— In the most direct. Matilda cannot stand the presence of girls of increased cuteness. Your assistant is a pretty chick, isn't she?
— Well, she has such a disadvantage.
— And certainly not an old woman?
— Years that way 23.
— You see now.
— But I need someone to write accurately.
— You'll get by with nothing. Remember — Kshesinskaya living history of Russian ballet, autocracy, revolution and emigration — in short, the primary source of everything that has happened in Russia over the past 100 years. She is the personification of an entire era. There is enough information in it for 10 reports.
They drove up to a luxurious house located on one of the central streets of Paris.
— Wow! — Robert raised his eyebrows, getting out of the car, — and the prima of the royal court in Paris was not in poverty at all. You told me that until recently she gave ballet lessons to rich Russian offspring. Why did she do this being a wealthy woman?
— For the soul, probably, — Marek answered evasively and added already quietly, — or maybe for averting eyes. Okay let's go to the house. I will introduce you to the person closest to Kshesinskaya.
— With Madame Josephine? I've heard about her. Listen, then I have a question. How, then, does Kshesinskaya endure Josephine next to her? After all, she certainly is not old and by no means a fearful person.
— Good question. Well, firstly, Zhozya is her close relative, whom she has known since childhood, and secondly, an effect is triggered, which is called “mirror nostalgia” in psychology.
— Don't be silly, explain plainly.
— Well, this is when a person already in old age is looking for his young likeness in someone else.
— Are you saying that Matilda sees herself in Josephine in her younger years?
— Well, sort of. And this is close to the truth. Josya really reminds her of those glorious years in everything, when the men of the imperial family, including the heir to the throne, swore love to her.
Dr. Marek politely let Robert go ahead.
The interior decoration of the house is quite consistent with its external appearance. Luxury was felt in everything: expensive floor carpets, golden stucco on the ceilings, artsy porcelain vases everywhere, figurines along the stairs, picturesque paintings on the walls — all this indicated that the hostess of the house was not in poverty at all, but, on the contrary, spared no expense to live in luxury and splendor.
From the second floor, down the stairs, Josephine herself descended to them — an elegantly dressed, well-groomed woman of about forty, with a penetrating look of a sly fox.
— Welcome, Robert! I heard a lot of flattering things about you and not only from Marek.
— Nice to hear about it, ma'am.
— You are a well-known person in wide journalistic circles both in America and in Europe. Robert Jackson Jr. is the successor to the work of his grandfather Robert Jackson Sr., a renowned journalist.
The three of them sat down on easy chairs by the fireplace, and the servants began to serve drinks and refreshments.
— I have prepared Matilda for today's conversation. Its main condition is no recording device. I mean the tape recorder, she hates it. God forbid you poke her in the face with a microphone.
— I wanted to involve my assistant for the record, but Marek was categorically against it.
Marek is right. Your young assistant would have affected her worse than a tape recorder with a microphone.
— You're scaring me. Is Madame Kshesinskaya really so withdrawn that I won’t be able to arrange a sincere conversation with her?
— Why so pessimistic? Your respectable appearance and professional skill will play the right role, and it will open up to you. After all, at one time your grandfather managed to talk to the Russian Emperor Alexander III himself.
— Do you know how this interview ended?
— Yes, the emperor died by the end of it. But don't worry, Mali's health won't let you down. If she lived to be a hundred years old, then the interview with you will somehow survive too.
For many years, this incident with the Russian Tsar hung like a sword of Damocles over the reputation of the Jackson publishing house. However, the glory of Robert Jackson, Sr., as an interviewer of the Russian emperor, did not fade because of this accident.
— I have this question. In what language will our communication with Mrs. Kshesinskaya be? Robert asked.
— For her, Polish and Russian are native, but of course she will communicate with you in French, but I warn you — her French is different from Parisian.