Tatiana (parts 1-2 of 3)
‘Oft staring through the window pane
Would she in silence long remain…
With an imagination wild,
With intellect and strong volition
And a determined disposition,
An ardent heart and yet so mild
Doth love's incautiousness in her
So irremissible appear?’ 
It was clear how Lensky felt about her. Olga basked in the adoration, as delighted and unquestioning as an Orchid drinks in sunlight. Our families had been friends for years, so it was as natural as the budding of the crocuses when the poet fell for the smiles and songs of my younger sister. Soon, his boyish presence in our widowed mother’s home became more frequent than his absences. I’d often sit with mother and watch the couple play and sing, if with more enthusiasm than fluency, while gathered around his guitar. Or play chess, which more often than not halted when Lensky tried to take his own rook rather than take his gaze off of Olga. Or, even more often, both lean over the books of verse he’d read aloud to her. Here, I’d leave them to it, in favour of rereading the novels disapproved of by mother, or retreading the walks enjoyed by father. I’d usually return to find them in the same pose, which came to be perceived by my girlish fancy as a timeless tribute to youthful passion.
Returning after another ramble about the nearby linden wood and lake, I spied through the glass my future brother-in-law with Olga and mother. And another gentleman. I’d never seen the stranger before and I was at once drawn by his palpable aura of sophistication. The beautifully fitted morning coat, glorious brocade waistcoat and wonderfully knotted cravat could have waltzed straight out of one of the Richardsons loaned to me by my old neighbour. Yet it was his manner that held me as I strained for a better view. His pale fingers gripped the glass of mother’s lingonberry water with perfect poise, and yet also itched to hold something else and would have slipped just as elegantly around a brush or a lorgnette. His eyes above the glass bearing the bitter substance were the colour of the clouds I’d seen reflected in the lake in their most turbulent times, quick to break for brief bursts of brilliance or hover together in a heavy humour. The same eyes which now locked on mine. I paused, leaning into the doorway in spite of myself and his mouth parted as if he would speak, but I turned away, conscious that I wasn’t in the proper state to greet such a man.
Later, once I’d removed what Olga laughing called my ‘old woman’s’ scarf and changed the shoes I’d worn while walking, mother carelessly introduced her other daughter Tatiana to Monsieur Onegin. He rose and bowed gravely while I quietly returned his gaze, unfaltering after my otherwise unnoticed entry.
He spoke even less than I usually did at dinner, except (I noted with amused approval) to subtly check the pompous pronouncements of Triquet our French tutor, or to give vague answers to Petrovich, another guest, regarding the neighbouring estate that Onegin had just inherited from his late uncle and my former literary benefactor. His languor was even unperturbed by my sole comment in censure of serfdom. Rather, he added that he was likely to rent his estate to the serfs, deflecting the others’ ensuing dismay by claiming he was too ignorant of country ways and too lazy to farm it himself. His confidence even in his inabilities only heightened his appeal, and I wondered what he really thought of Petersburg and how long he planned to stay in Praskovya.
His words and looks grew in lustre as I preserved them with the polish of memory, like rare gemstones. He was unlike any other man I’d met, including Olga’s precious Göttingen graduate, and I found myself craving my next glimpse of Onegin during those summer days, riding near the woods or reclining on the causeways of the lake with his new younger friend. But these stolen snippets were not enough. I was acutely disappointed when he didn’t accompany Lensky on his next visit and, shamefully, I confess I found the couple’s subsequent flirtations positively irritating. That same evening I resolved to visit his estate myself, like I had done countless times since my father’s passing to borrow novels from his kindly uncle, or later to read them aloud to the ailing old man. Telling myself this was no different to those times, I set off the next day.
Alone? He was surprised but pleased (or amused? Surely not dissatisfied!) to see me and accepting my reason content to show me his inherited collection. To this he had already added, to my delight, new English and French novels. I greedily drank in his opinions and couldn’t help adding my own, such as on Richardson’s verboseness, to my guide’s further amusement as hinted at by his smirk. Cradling his newly procured copy of Rousseau’s ‘La Nouvelle Héloise’ and conscious of not wanting to take up his time, I left him leaning half in the shadows of his towering shelves, his small smile still visible before I turned and felt his pale eyes follow me back out into the sunlight.
That evening I was plagued by restlessness. I couldn’t even get past the first page of my precious novel; my fingers halted each time to trace the sketch of its elegant author, whom I fancied resembled our new neighbour. I gave up and sought diversion in the ancient legends of my aged nurse, but even Nyanya noticed my inattentiveness and was at a loss at my sudden desire to hear of her youthful days when she was in love. Back then, love was simply a stranger, denied entrance by the familiar figures of faith and duty. Dissatisfied by Nyanya’s unhelpful prattle, a resolution kindled and caught light as my eyes were drawn by the candle flame highlighting the ink bottles I’d carefully preserved with the things on father’s writing desk.
So, as the rest of the house passed a more fitful night unaffected by the fever and palpitations that accompanied mine, I fatefully began,
‘I write to you! Is more required? Can lower depths beyond remain? 'Tis in your power now…’ 
The pale moonlight had long since waned and the dull new day was barely born when I finished my letter and roused Nyanya’s grandson Yuri to deliver it. My heart raced with him through the waking trees that lined his way to the grand house and I could almost see the rough roots and branches trying to trip him and tear my bold letter from his grasp. My relief at the confession was soon eclipsed by the growing consequences of my daring, in which I was so caught up that I almost missed the object of my meanderings making his way toward our house while I was out walking later. Quick as a thought, I fled to the gazebo at the rear of the grounds, bewildered as to why Onegin had come in person and alone. However, to my intense embarrassment, he soon entered the gazebo while I reminded myself how to sit and breathe.
Mercifully he was brief, yet through my haze of nerves it didn’t escape me that he seemed less composed than usual. He proceeded to thank me for the frank and touching expression of my feelings, but was sorry that he could not return my affection. He declared that he was not made for love. Though he was fond of me and I was just what he should hope for in a wife, he could not promise not to be bored or faithful in marriage. Misery could only follow such a union and he was also certain that in time I would forget my youthful fancies and find a more deserving man… It was not so much his words as his cool cynicism that squeezed me like a hand of ice. I wondered again, nay despaired, at that warped self-awareness that buried him deeper beneath me and from my faith in him as a better man than his self-directed curses had him believe.
Finally, he left. I don’t know how long I sat there, my head skimming my knees, before I dragged myself back to the house and was lost amidst Olga and mother’s excitement over their latest plans. I must have succeeded in appearing to listen, for they were swiftly finalising the details of my coming name day celebration, an occasion which father had particularly loved sharing with me. I would of course help, even if this time only I appreciated the irony of celebrating while mourning for something I’d never have, something as beautiful but breathless as a smothered babe.
Too soon, the celebrations were underway and, among the late arrivals, was the man I longed and feared to see again. Before I could compose myself for the meeting after the rejection before, I was further distressed by the expression of our elegant neighbour as he was met and seated by a mischievous Lensky and the two commenced the briefest of whispered conversations. Judging by the sweep of his eyes around the heaving room and the faint curl of his lip, the misanthrope had been lead to believe that it would be a more intimate gathering. But despite Lensky’s tipsy smiles, the clouds were back in Onegin’s calculating gaze and as the floor was cleared and the band struck up the Mazurka, I feared how the evening would unfold.
My fears were realized when the gentleman whom I still couldn’t take my eyes off of for long, seized the hand of my sister on her way to find Lensky and swiftly lead her in the Cotillion. Unobserved by any seeking to be so bold with the name day girl herself, I clung behind a pillar and watched with growing horror how the fine figures threw themselves into the steps and flourishes, but none more so than my sister and her partner. His arms and eyes held her much too close and the thoughtless girl’s flattered responses were not lost on others, least of all my brother-to-be. Lensky promptly accosted them and with barely restrained anger ripped the gentleman away from my sister and commenced another rapid low exchange. Onegin’s triumphant eyes did nothing to placate the younger man. Instead, he gestured dismissively to Olga, who was already dancing with a lancer from the local garrison, as if to prove his point. A point that Lensky didn’t take well, for he tore his wounded eyes from the lady in question and stormed past me and out of the makeshift ballroom. As the dancers settled into a dizzying Waltz, the offender’s gleaming gaze found mine, appeared momentarily softened as he took in my rare finery that must have contrasted ironically with my grave expression, and bowed before he too made a premature exit.
The evening could not finish soon enough. At its close, I wordlessly reigned in my frustration when a desperate Olga asked, too late, if anyone had seen Lensky. It was very late when the last of the sleeping arrangements for the guests had been settled by my oblivious mother, neither of whose daughters would get any rest that night.
The next day dawned dull and chilly, summer having long since fled, and still brought no news of Lensky. Olga reluctantly confirmed this when I pressed her, at which she dropped her cheery façade and reproached me for reading too much into things. No Lensky, of course, meant no Onegin, and the day dragged miserably for the both of us. I was even denied my usual walk due to the frosty showers that habitually hit the hard ground through the long hours and made venturing out on the uneven surfaces by the lake a hazard. As I stared out of the glass at the turbulent skies above the dying garden, an oppressive apprehension took root like a poisonous weed and spread within me.
Like a silent Cassandra, once again my forebodings were realised. The second morning after that fateful party arrived murky and freezing and, once the bloody sun had barely crawled above the barren treetops, the news arrived. The narrative was only too simple, the clichés sickeningly familiar. Insult and dishonour afflicted. A challenge issued. A duel fought. And lost. The only outcomes being the premature termination of a naïve youth and the regret-fuelled exile of another.
My sister’s grief was shared by all who had grown fond of the pretty girl and her doting local-born lad. I once again knew what it was to lose a man who was, as far as the rest of us were concerned, part of our family. Thus, in those dark days that followed, our shared tears drew my sister and I closer again, for our lost lover and brother. To all appearances. For, as fond of Lensky as I was, my shameless tears were really for his murderer. For the man who was loved that summer and exiled that winter. The man I would never see again.
 A. Pushkin (trans. H. Spalding), ‘Eugene Onegin’, Cantos II-III.
 ‘Eugene Onegin’, Canto III.