Sam was a quiet person who became wary and conservative whenever he appeared in public. But his wife Melissa was tall and daring, an extravagant woman who dressed in extraordinary fashions and colors and whom other men found very attractive. Melissa adored Sam. They lived in a very nice house on the side of a hill in an expensive neighborhood and had two school age children, daughters, whom they encouraged and disciplined in positive manners. Many people thought the reason for Melissa’s devotion was because Sam, as a sensitive and astute person, was a stabilizing influence on her life, which had been quite wild when she was younger. But people who knew them well realized there was much more to it. When Sam was twenty years old and studying for his degree, he had suddenly dropped out of school to vainly pursue a lovely French exchange student all the way across the Atlantic to a small town near the Swiss border. Upon returning, all his credits were lost and he had to retake the entire semester. Not long afterward, when his feelings were back intact, his actions puzzled him: though the girl had really been something and he had fallen hard, he admitted to his friends, “How could I have ever done that.”
Sam developed interests and kept a journal which recorded much of what he did in a broad general way. Melissa liked reading the journal and Sam liked it when she read it. Most of what he did, at least by the journal, was to observe people. Sam did not hide much, but some thoughts he did like to have for himself, particularly regarding his interests. These very private thoughts of his elicited tenderness from Melissa. Sometimes when he was quieter than usual and spending more time by himself, she knew he was off on one of these perusals, or fantasies, and understood it to be a form of reverie with which he relaxed from his exacting work. More often than not, he eventually shared these things with her, or at least what might be called the technical parts of them.
In the winter of their twentieth year together Sam took another keen interest, this time about the final years of Imperial Russia. He read many books about the last Tsar and his family and acquired a huge book of photographs, which remained open on his desk upstairs nearly every day. He was very moved by the story and shared it with his family. Nicholas and Alexandra were both first cousins of King George V of England, he told them, and that through a German branch they, themselves, were more distantly related, having the same great-grandmother, Wilhelmine Luise of Baden. They had four daughters and a son, Alexei the Tsarovich, who was a hemophiliac through the bloodline of his mother, Alexandra, who was a granddaughter of Queen Victoria.
Melissa and the children were very interested Looking off toward the window by the table where they sat, Sam observed fatefully, “because of the nature of the boy’s disease – he could bleed to death at any time – and because he was very beautiful and the heir to a great throne, the parents probably had few serene days after his birth and,” Sam looked thoughtfully at his brood, “this definitely contributed to their tragic end.”
The mother and the girls delighted in these stories and wanted to hear more. Melissa also knew that after a certain point she would have to pull it out of her husband because, if it really meant a lot to him, he would strangely begin keeping it to himself. But that had not yet happened, sometimes it never did, and he continued to speak openly and in detail about the Romanov family: the great palaces where they lived, their fabulous jewels, the yachts, the regiments that guarded them, World War I and a poor restless population seething, the Tsar’s abdication, their imprisonment, the revolutions, being shuffled out to Siberia where, sadly, in a cellar room they lost their lives. The girls almost cried out in pain from hearing the end of the story and wanted to know more about the family, particularly about the Grand Duchesses. And so, with a touch of sadness, Sam returned to his books and read more about the princesses and looked at their pictures.
The daughters were named Olga, Tatiana, Marie, and Anastasia and, as the parents were very much in love with each other and the Tsaritsa a very beautiful woman, they were good looking children raised in a thoughtful manner. In fact, the closer Sam stared at the photographs, and he scrutinized them all, the higher his appraisal. Despite being princesses, they lived rather Spartan lives, sleeping on folding cots at night with their days purposefully well regulated. Their mother selected their clothing and they all dressed very similar, even the hats might be the same. But the ways they wore their clothing, the beautiful dresses and coats and sashes and hats and jewels, and the poses they would take on decks and balconies or clearings in the woods of palace estates, were always unique. Though truly Russian and part of the Pageantry of State, their bloodlines were mostly German. But, definitely, there was still more than just a bit of Slav in their genetic makeup and this could be seen the most in the long auburn hair and round broad face of the eldest daughter, Olga Nicholaevna Romanova, sometimes called Olishka.
Tatiana looked English and was tall with regal bearing; Marie, with large dark eyes, cupid mouth and figure, was a great beauty; Anastasia, though a girl, was animated and lively. But it remained for Olga, maybe not as beautiful as her sisters, to capture the affections of Sam the most. She wore her hair up and looked most like her father, the Tsar, when he had been a young man. She thought like him, too, and was contemplative with a strong love of literature, especially the Russian literature of Tolstoy, Pushkin, and Gogol to which on many nights she listened raptly as her father read from their works. Looking at the pictures, Sam, too, began to feel personal about the Tsar and not like he was just a historical figure in military uniform surrounded by Officers and Ministers of State. He especially felt personal about this father in the pictures of him with his gorgeous daughters.
There is a picture of Olga in a white lacey dress on the deck of the Imperial yacht STANDART leaning on the rail looking out to sea with the wind in her hair and face. Sam was at first frightened when he saw this picture because he thought he saw a look of terror in the profile of her face. But there is not: as she looks kindly to the shore beyond, this elegant young woman folds her hands peacefully together. Along with her refined stylish beauty, Sam saw a niceness to this girl which he found very attractive and, slipping into that silent reverie his wife found so curious, he began to imagine himself in her life. It was a challenge to do so. He set about it in the evenings when it was quiet and everyone settled.
Living in a great palace in a royal village patrolled by Cossack regiments, the girls’ existence was tightly buffered. They were not able to meet too many people, but when they did they made the most of it. They knew all the names of the families of their guards and servants and asked them about them often. And outside the palace grounds in the actual village when riding in a carriage, Olga would sometimes stop and inquire of someone walking along the street. Sam at first tried to imagine himself as one of these obscure people, but it did not work because it did not give him enough of an opportunity to truly get to know her. The only way he could have truly met Olga, besides being an officer, which was too restrictive, would be to have been a very rich Russian nobleman, and this he did not care to imagine himself being. So, looking at her pictures and studying the final years of her life after her father had abdicated the crown, he thought that as an American he might somehow rescue this exquisite girl and all of her family from their terrible fate on that horrible night when Bolsheviks shot them dead.
As a statistician, Sam liked possibilities, but he could not find one with the Romanovs. During their time in captivity they were always too well guarded. When moved to Siberia on a train, they were accompanied by a whole regiment of soldiers. And in Tobolsk and Ekaterinburg the restrictions became even tighter as they were hardly let out of the houses into which they were put. But Sam kept imagining Olga Nicholaievna, her lovely face and hair and neck, as she became thinner and envisioned her walking solemnly along with her sisters and father during their time as prisoners. He read that the last time they were seen by anyone, other than their killers, was during a mass given by a local priest and that one of the girls was crying. He imagined Olga being roused by executioners on a pale summer night, not quite knowing her fate, and with the rest of her family lead down to a room on the bottom floor where they were arranged before a wall. In his mind, he watched as menacing faces entered the small room, pulled out firearms, and then the deafening bursts of gunfire in the small enclosed area and the screaming of innocent people.
Melissa heard a loud sudden holler and a thump in the study upstairs. She and her oldest daughter quickly stood up and rushed up to see what had happened. They found Sam sprawled on the floor, his legs entangled with the chair he had fallen back on and his face in a painful grimace. Gently they helped him up. “Are you all right?” Melissa asked tenderly. Then she noticed the top of his desk uncharacteristically cluttered, bare of all but scores of scattered pictures. Drawing closer she saw that the pictures were cleanly cut from his great Romanov book and that all, everyone of them, were Olishka.