S O F Y A ’ S




1 8 6 2

Scenario I

St. Petersburg, 100 Sts. Peter and Paul Street. The young couple, Count Lev Nikolayevich and Sofya Andreyevna Bers, affianced and dressed to the nines, were permitted the grand parlor of the prospective father-in-law and mother-in-law, while servants looked discreetly in on them from time to time.

Sofya Bers Courted by Leo Tolstoy

Sofya glanced up demurely at her dark, dashing fiance. As usual, he looked absolutely magnificent! She was pleased at the effect they must have made on inquistive eyes--the dimmness of the pillared, red velvet-curtained room giving her face a flawless, pale complection and a sparkle to her normally hard, dark eyes, and her darling Lev in his hussar’s dress uniform.

“Darling Lev, there is something I should tell you before we are married.”

Lev slipped his newspaper back into his coat's inner pocket hurriedly, for he was following the latest races following some rather large betting losses in which he had, with bank holdings totally 2,000,000 rubles, also lost the somewhat decayed family mansion at Yasnaya Polyana in Tula (not a brick would be left of it when he returned, if he ever did go back to face the angry peasants and the mostly elderly, long-term household staff whom nobody else would employ). He had nothing left to bet now, unless he mortgaged his remaining estate property, the land and its serfs. Of course, if there was a horse that promised to win back all he had lost, he would stake everything! everything! To the last kopeck!

Had she found out? he wondered, that he had this bad habit? Surely she knew of his gambling vice. Surely her friends and even his family, who were well aware he was nearly impoverished, had informed her! What could she be divulging now, just three days before the nuptials set to take place in the cathedral. Women were always coming up with these things at the worst times! He had only chosen her to find a little peace of marital domesticity amidst the unrestricted bedlam of his bachelor vices and lusts--now was she about to take it away?

She gave him a startled look. “Don’t look so at me! It is nothing so bad as you seem to think! She laughed. “I haven’t been acting like a greengrocer’s daughter, running after men in the streets, or anything like that! I just wanted to tell you I know all about your--your--”

Lev’s mind raced. What had they told this innocent, unblemished, spotless lamb? What poison about him had the old serpents in gowns and lace tiaras whispered into her tender white ears? Yes, he had fallen asleep with his own groom in the same bed once or twice after a drinking bout. Surely not--?

He sprang up before she could get the terrible words out. He was a man, he thought. A man with red blood in his veins should be man enough to take charge and clear himself of so low a charge.

He laid a finger lightly on her stuttering lips. “Don’t trouble yourself so much, beloved. I will tell you myself. Yes! I will tell you--everything! absolutely everything!”

Going first to the doors, and setting chairs against them, he returned to find his fiance looking pale and bewildered.

Then he told her all as he had promised--to erase every lie against his manhood, he portrayed to her every last disgusting tryst in the gutter with a nameless seamstress and every last adultery with high society’s widows, wives and debutantes. Whose bed and boudoir hadn’t he visited? It took quite some time too, for he couldn’t remember them all on the spot, and the names were the most difficult, though he could recall every detail of their bodies.

When he had finished, glad he had relieved his own horribly burdened conscience and cleared the way for complete understanding between them, he found Sofya looking not so much shocked as she had at the first dozen or so affairs but studiously thoughtful and determined. It was a successful move, he thought. Now he might reward her with a little romance--after all, a little romance was expected of them during the courtship period.

His looks, noble title, and reputation did all the work, all he had to do was watch them perform. He sat down beside her and began to stroke her hand, the way he always began with women. A certain worshipful look in his big dark eyes shining like diamonds between long, curly lashes, a little hand-stroking, seemingly so innocent, was the way to disarm the scruples of women and get his way with them, he had found since he was fifteen in a barn with milk maids at the family’s country estate.

As though it cost her some pain to do the right thing, she grimaced as she pulled her hand away, surprising him for he had thought she would swoon in dead faint into his arms, as most women of her type always did.

“A ruble for your highly valuable thoughts,” he said, putting on his most winning smile that meant he was pleased she was putting up a bit of resistance.

She rose ever so slowly as Madame Bernhardt was supposed to arise from a chair, put her sewing and embroidery basket down, and took a few steps away, turning her back. “I thank you kindly for telling me those terrible things, darling. I do so admire your honesty, it is most noble of you, though I don’t see it was all your fault as you have made it out. No no no! Those women, they saw how handsome you are, and so willing to please--”

Behind her Lev was shaking his head. What an innocent! what an boobie she is! he was thinking in amazement. Nothing he had said had penetrated--the sheer enormity of the evil he had committted, beyond anything committed by any of his hundreds of friends and acquaintances. After hearing everything she still believed in his essential human goodness of heart--when he was proven from Moscow to St. Petersburg the most vile creature alive on the earth! His name was a byword in a thousand bordellos and bawdy taverns for debauched youth. What was he to do? What was he to do with her?

“But you see it really was my fault, not theirs, and--” he began lamely, the impossibility of his task crippling his normally facile tongue.

She turned around, her face a mask of perfect control and refined, ladylike composure. “No, it is not! You are too much a gentleman, to be taking the full blame. Oh, I know women’s hearts. After all, I have one myself! You do not know us, the weaker sex and our deep, hidden secrets, as well as you think. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, that one of our kind will not do to gain a man she has admired! She will even--even” Then, waving her hand in a manner indicating inability to describe it in words, she left off, having suggested the most terrible acts imaginable.

Satisfied with her handling of her most difficult interview with her fiance so far, she turned her back to him and took a few "sweeping" dramatic steps away as she had seen it done somewhere on the screen or stage, paused, then went toward the door, turning to lean on it. This gesture also she had seen in an imported French or American film or on the stage or the opera in St. Petersburg or Moscow.

But at this point she had utterly exhausted her knowledge of choreography and tragedian dramaturgy. Now what will I say or do next? she was wondering, feeling too hot even in her stiff silk dress. But the goddess of love was looking favorably on her in her need, and words came she hadn’t rehearsed, saving her performance from her lover’s laughter after he realized she couldn’t follow up with anything plausible.

The dark goddess breathed the words into her ears, and she repeated them as fast as they came: “I too am like those women! Don’t you deny it. I am not the pure and innocent girl I appear. Oh yes, I want you for my own, my darling Lev. Above all the other men you shine like a star! a divine star! Yes, I know all about those other women, but it is they who were unfaithful, not you. You merely fell prey to their wicked allurements, unable to resist what was offered. The wretches knew your weakness for the beauty of our sex, and used that weakness to overcome your magnificent will and strength, just like Eve in the Garden! And no woman of that kind, ever again, I swear before the heavens, will have you but me. I will kill for you, and I will take a woodsman's ax to anyone who--”

Actually, the words, though stilted and prim coming from her lips, were quite true of her feelings of Lev. She had wanted him, above all the other handsome young men, the moment she saw him at a ball! No other woman, she had determined then, would steal him from her. The last daring words, those about killing for him, those were meant with all, all her heart!

Where the dark goddess left off with a bloody ax on the neck of her rival, now other words--phrases from various musical comedies she adored and the more serious “instructive and moral-building” English operas (not the racy French and Italian ones!) to which she had been forced by her parents and grandparents--seemed to come naturally from her, as if she had practiced them, surprising her with their sophistication.

“--Your only failing I see, my dearest darling Lev, other than excessive weakness for women’s beauty, is pride, a man’s pride to think that he can claim the chief blame for the evil in women’s hearts. No! We are all sinners under heaven’s tree and vasty dome. If sinners, then, our supreme duty to each other must be love and understanding. So let us love one another in our infirmities--allying your great noble strength to my despicable womanly weakness--and the sacred wings of love will carry us in Phoebus Apollo’s many-horsed car to a splendid, golden destiny!”

A little bewildered by her rather distressing vengefulness mixed with a frightfully posed, theatrical manner and diction worthy of a third-rate, provincial Russian melodrama, Lev rose, and took some time doing it, for he was tall enough to bump his head on chandeliers in some of the houses of women he was pursuing. And despite all his experience in refined society, he wasn’t completely at home with women on their own terms and the strict rules of propriety governing formal relations. The rough and ready relations of army bordellos suited him perfectly, along with the society of thoroughbred horses and men’s gaming and betting sports, far more than these stuffy, bourgeois drawing rooms and parlors which all looked the same to his eye. Yet he recalled his gentleman’s training whenever it was necessary to display male courting plummage--even to wearing his cockaded parade hat when calling on such as Miss Bers.

He went to the door, removing the chair so she could pass through.

Without another word on the subject, they proceeded formally into the other room, and faced the inquiring glances of the older generation and the undisguised amusement of younger members of the families gathered to celebrate the announcement of the coming nuptials. Fleeing to the men’s bar and refreshment tables, Leo took a glass of his favorite vodka and some Caspian Sea caviar and then went out to the terrace to get some air. His favorite sporting cousins, titled counts like himself, joined him, giving him a gift of a French novelty picture that framed in gold and enamel a photograph of Madame Sarah Bernhardt’s crimson, pouting lips, with the inscription, “Love is Eternal, But Fools for Love Come and Go.” A legend was also put to verse and tucked into the frame, in naughty French, that more or less said: the goddess of love will give you luck to get you any beautiful, rich woman you wanted. Conquest was assured by the goddess of love being named--since everyone knew that Sarah Bernhardt was her close confidante these days. A mere suggestion from her was supposed to be better than a love potion, which no one cultured person in high circles put much stock in anymore.

When he returned, still laughing over his cousin’s bawdyhouse jokes and enjoying a jasmine-scented French cigarello--one cousin drank a toast with the other to him, wishing him luck with so proper and gauche a virgin as Miss Sofya Bers!--he found his fiance left word that she had gone up to her room to rest for a few minutes and would return presently to rejoin him.

In her bedroom done up in the latest French decor, a full floor above the busy, crowded drawingrooms where she felt so hot and uncertain about herself, the young woman had locked the door and had gone to her mirror and sat down. It was spring, and the window was opened to the breezes and fragrances of the lilac gardens below. But she sat, cold as ice at her tall, Versaille-style mirror, her dress pulled down to her waist, studying her face and bosom like a museum specimen insect's thorax.

Despite her recent brave performance, love’s dark goddess had left her a bitter taste in her mouth. And her feelings had dropped down and she thought the musical comedies and the English dramas had failed her, draining away all her confidence as the full meaning of Lev’s revelations sank finally into her heart, terrifying her. She was convinced, oh now she was utterly convinced he had told the truth. She couldn’t accept it at the moment when he told her how it was with him, but she accepted it now. What if he wouldn’t stop doing what he had done in the past? Were her face and breasts good enough to satisfy him? How long could she interest him before he began running off after women again?

“No,” she thought, with the absolute certainty you find early in the morning, when all hopes die and the chill light of morning cuts like a dagger through every illusion born of candlelight and shadow. “No, I am just too plain, too ordinary to keep him from the embraces of the others. He will be unfaithful to me, grossly so, and I shall look an utter fool in the eyes of everyone in society. They will even excuse him, saying that it is all my fault, being so boring and plain that it drives him to his excesses. It is hopeless for me. What will I say to their lies?”

Drawing up her dress, she turned away from the hateful mirror. What was she to do? She couldn’t bear the thought of calling off the wedding. Her parents would be appalled at such a thing, and refuse to do it. Her whole circle would be appalled as well. They would think she had lost her wits. Everything was planned and prepared for the wedding, which was the talk of the season, appearing in all the St. Petersburg- Moscow papers and society columns. She had to go throught with it. It was death not to do it, and death to do it.

In her distress, as tears streamed from her eyes and flooded her fairly good but unremarkable features, she thought she might even seize a knife and plunge it in her heart--just like Lucretia Borgia, or somebody like that in an Italian sculpture she had seen once at the Imperial Hermitage--just to spare herself the agony she knew would be hers living in daily hell as a wife continually humiliated and betrayed by Leo’s countless, future amours. But she had no knife. Would a letter opener, pearl-handled, do? Yes!

She grasped the letter opener and, pulling down her dress again, pointed it at a breast, which she knew was a bit too plump and shapeless to warrant a naughty French gown with a low-cut decolletage she would love to have worn for Lev instead of the proper fashions her family forced on her.

She wept even more, not for herself, but for the wonderful life she had thought would be hers as Lev’s wife but which could never be--never be!

Then the first and last vision of her life occurred. The goddess of unrequited love herself appeared. Sofya gazed transfixed at a larger-than-life woman in garments of heavy dark silk girded with a chain of keys, her face narrow and showing the bones in her face appearing from the hooded cape, who was standing in the shadows behind her.

Sofya stared at the apparition, her eyes streaming, and the image wavered a moment, then vanished.

It took her a minute or two to recover from her shock. Then she wondered, What was the meaning of this vision? Had she seen a genuine goddess? Did the old gods and goddesses really exist? Or was it a fever of the overly excited brain?

She knew it wasn’t her imagination! Oh, no, she knew who it was she had seen: the Goddess was Destiny, come to tell her way fate had ordained that she must go. What was the goddess saying? Why, it was one thing: Duty! A Woman’s Duty! It was a woman’s Duty to suffer at the hands of an unfaithful husband. It was always that way, since the time of Adam and Eve. Poor, pretty little Eve was weak and had been seduced by the Serpent, and sinned. Who could deny that? Since then, all men--to punish their wives--had given themselves to other women, who were all serpents in fleshly form. It had been this way since the Creation, and how could she change the order of the Universe? No, she must bow to it, and serve the destiny prepared for all married womankind. She must bow--and suffer. Marriage was, beyond argument, a frigid and unavoidable "White Martrydom" for young women like herself.

Her hopes frozen still-born in her breast, with her chin and lips compressed in a thin line, she rose and checked herself at the mirror, adding some Parisian powder and some rouge to her pallid, nun-like cheeks, and went to the door with the key. She opened the door and paused. Her next thought was simple.

"Martyr though I be, I will never forgive them! Never! I have to be dutiful, and suffer as a wife must--there can be no escape for me--but I don’t have to forgive! No one, not even God in heaven, will ever force me to forgive them! I will marry him, I will give him a woman’s love and an heir and children, but I won’t forgive him either! Lev'll pay me back, he won't get away!"

Then she went out, slamming the door somewhat, an act that precipitated a certain chain of strange and unhappy events much like a certain theory would later describe.

It so happened that the molecules in the slammed door vibrated those in the air and the floor. The molecules in the air and floor caused those in the walls and window to vibrate. A fly on the window sill, about to enter, was shaken just enough to fly back out instead of into the room.

But this was not the end, by any means. In the twinkling of an eye, 11 hundredths of a second, the window became a door through which a dark, howling goddess flew with World Destiny clutched in her ashen, icy fingers.

Howso? As the fly escaped from the disturbance in the room, a bird spied breakfast on the wing and swooped. The swallow ate the fly, then turned toward its nest, but a boy’s slingshot, its missile flying up from the avenue in front of the mansions skirting Sts. Peter and Paul, interrupted its flight, and the bird fell. The boy was called back by his fellows, who were also out hunting birds, and he carried the bird homeward--quite a distance into the city in a poor district of factories and warehouses. He was late for dinner, having waited long enough to get that one swallow, and received a tongue-lashing from his grandmother at the back door. To escape her, he ran back into the street--and a passing lumber freight wagon caught him as he was hurrying round a corner of the city street to find his friends.

The chain of events continued. The accident was reported, the parents were visited by the constables and authorities, the body was taken away to the boy’s home for preparation for the funeral, and the matter seemed laid to rest. Another factory worker’s boy had found a early grave--run over in the street. It was a common occurrence in a metropolis like St. Petersburg.

Then a few days later, a young woman, newly married and on her honeymoon, picked through the society columns, missing the small article that mentioned the boy’s death in a commercial district.

She couldn’t know there was any connection. She couldn’t know that the freight wagon, delayed by the accident, had its freight taken to the wrong warehouse, since the driver was detained by the police for questioning, and when he finally found its whereabouts he couldn’t afford the bribe demanded for its release, and so it went to the courts, where nobody but the lawyers would benefit, and he was thrown off his job, and wandered the streets looking for anything he could pick up.

Finally, starving, and his family starving, he heard about shipyard work being offered, only you had to know something more than ordinary about fine wood-working, and since he knew a thing or two he applied at the foreign hiring agent’s office and was accepted. He didn’t have the money to go, of course, but relatives always helped in a pinch, and he got almost enough for the train tickets to Hamburg, Germany, where the job was offered at a factory producing interiors for large steamships.

He needed just a little more--160 rubles, that’s all--but it was not forthcoming. They had sold the house and their worthless sticks of furniture, borrowed all they could from relations, and still lacked enough for the fares!

It was maddening. It was so maddening that the drayman took the matter into his hands forcibly. Taking a Cossack’s rifle from his grandfather’s trunk, the only thing he had kept back from the sales, he went out at night and waylaid a passer-by who looked rich enough to carry cash on him.

He couldn’t get the man--a stubborn German, by his accent and speech--to agree to give the money peacefully, so he had--well, what was a man to do in his circumstances?

He wasn’t going to starve in the streets with his family! He clubbed the man to death with butt of his rifle, then took the money, watch, and rings, and fled. But eyes abounded in St. Petersburg, and his name was given to the authorities. He never reached Hamburg, and landed with his family in Siberia instead, down in a gold mine, with no possible parole.

Meanwhile, the murdered man’s family, without a breadwinner, moved back to the Motherland, Germany.

The widow remarried after, producing a son for her second mate, and he grew up to become someone of importance in shipping--the whole town was connected with shipping and world trade. He had big ideas, and he sent some to his superiors.

They called him in, liked what he submitted, promoted him, and began plans to build the world-class line of ships he had drawn out for them, ships big enough to seize the North Atlantic lanes away from the British and the Americans.

But shipping syndicate spies were everywhere, and word reached Harland and Wolff. It was immediately decided that the Germans would not be allowed to take away what was rightfully Britain’s, and an even bigger class of ships was ordered from the draughtsmen.

Three sister ships--the like the world had never seen--were planned and begun--all thanks, originally, to the Tolstoy newlyweds and Sofya’s secret decision.

ANNO STELLAE 1909, Belfast, Ireland. The chain of events begun in St. Petersburg had led, finally, to Great Britain! Some say the Trojans--the royal prince Aeneas leading, founded this land, brought their civilization on ships this far, and established the first cities and the first royal line. This land is old, as the stones of Stonehenge testify to the ages since they were laid.

People come, then go, like players on a Shakespearean play. However mighty they are, their time to depart, and leave their glories behind, inevitably comes. Trojans may have come, refugees from the Mycenaean Greek siege and sack of Troy. Maybe not. But there were great kingdoms well before Julius Caesar attempted (but did not succeed) the conquest of the British Isles. Rome returned under the Emperor Claudius a hundred years later, and partially succeeded. Scotland and Ireland remained free of the Romans, though England succumbed, and flourished as a Roman province until the 5th Century. After that, the legions withrew, and the Romanized British country was up for grabs by barbarian tribes--Angles, Jutes, and Saxons--gathering just across the Channel.

Everyone knows, or should know, how England was invaded many times, over a time period of many centuries. Anglo-Saxons, Vikings, finally the Normans (Vikings that had absorbed French and Latin in a conquest of northern France, the province of Normandy). Yet life went on there, preserved somehow. Greatness never departed the land, which was sea-girt, open to all, but also open to all the world’s possibilities.

Men of possibility and genius throve there from the earliest times. There was just enough good soil to grow enough food, even with a northern climate that left agriculture in the lurch at unexpected times, but the sea was limitless--wealth could be gained out there, beyond reckoning, if men's hearts were brave and their ships were stout enough.

Britain learned to make ships from earliest times, ships that could conquer the worst seas and storms because they had to. Britain’s destiny--it was apparent to all who lived there--was on the water. To achieve it she must have ships, and so she learned to fashion even great ships surpassing anything any other nations could boast.

There was none, until then, greater than the TITANIC, whose construction began in 1909. One of a set of triplets planned by the builders and financiers, she was given the best of everything--other ships of the White Star Line were even raided at the last moment before her maiden voyage to provide her the best of everything--from state-of-the-luxury trade stateroom accoutrements to the wine list to the electric lighting throughout the ship to the wireless telegraph in the radio shack on A-Deck to the perfectly-trained officers and stewards of the staff to the royal mail department, and to the music department, consisting of three bands playing music that was nearly continuous the whole voyage out from Queenstown, her last port of call in the British Isles, early in April of 1912.

Back in 1909, however, the ship was being built in Belfast, Ireland according to the instructions and ambitions of titans of the sea and land--such “captains” of world trade and industry as Lord Ismay and J. Pierpont Morgan, who looked to seize a world trade monopoly at a critical moment even as the Rothschilds had seized Europe’s continental wealth in the upset of Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo in the first decade of the 19th century.

To achieve this monopoly--which hinged on the busiest, most lucrative sea lane strung between Britain and Europe and the Americas--the one that stretched from Southhampton, England to New York City--they needed the world’s greatest ships, all like this one called TITANIC--some forty thousand tons of her equipped with over 100 boilers and the latest electric and communications gear.

Only she would not be christened--the owners and builders just built her and then, in longshoremen’s parlance, “shoved ‘her in!”

The ship was outfitted, and then she sailed--the world’s greatest, most luxurious liner afloat. Everything was first-class, everything superlative, surpassing all other ships.

She was Pierpont Morgan’s darling--he had bought the White Star Line, adding it to his IMC conglommerate. With her and her two sisters, the OLYMPIC and the GIGANTIC, he planned to sweep aside all competition on the northern sea lanes between Europe and America.

Alas! as they say in old plays. The dark and twisting chain of events, looking much like Chaos on one side, did not stop here. The end of it was not in Imperial Russia, or Imperial Britain, or even America the coming New World Titan. Ismay and Morgan may have had in mind to seize the greatest prize of world trade, the North Atlantic route, but utterly unknown to their grasping finite minds a much vaster prize was at stake--the World, the Solar System, and the whole Universe.


Retro Star Directory and Linking Page

Copyright (c) 2005, Butterfly Productions, All Rights Reserved