Marina knew why she was in St Petersburg, and why she was now standing in the Moorish drawing room of the Yusupov Palace. But why was Ivan here?
She was following a series of clues linked to her Aunt Ludmila who had fled St Petersburg as a young child, with her parents, just before the Bolsheviks arrived in November 1917. Marina didn’t know if the clues would lead to an amazing treasure or a harsh truth. But she did know she wouldn’t stop until she had exhausted the trail.
She looked at Ivan and feigned polite surprise, but the obvious question had to be asked: ‘Ivan, are you following me?’.
His smile didn’t extend to his eyes. ‘I wanted to show you around some of our superb palaces and historic sites. I thought you may appreciate having a guide with you?’ He extended his hand towards the inner palace, but Marina was neither charmed nor interested. She stood her ground.
‘Ivan, I do not believe in coincidences or the kindness of strangers. Nor do I believe that someone who claims to be from Siberia, and only in St Petersburg on holiday, can be my tour guide.’
She saw anger and irritation flash across his face. He looked away, the muscles around his jaw tightening, until finally he sighed and looked back at her having come to some inner resolution.
‘I think you and I have a common purpose. My name is Ivan Hendrikova. Do you recognise my name? Did your family ever mention it?’
Marina was intrigued but, no, the name meant nothing to her. She shook her head.
‘My great aunt was Countess Anastasia Hendrikova, lady in waiting to the Tsarina Alexandra of Russia. She was, like so many of them, murdered by the Bolsheviks in 1918. In those desperate months beforehand, they had tried to do what they could to save the Romanov family. The Tsarina had handed over jewels to help arrange her family’s escape, but the jewels were stolen, the family was betrayed and their fate sealed. Countess Anastasia Hendrikova was one of the people rumoured to be part of the theft. But she was an honourable lady, devoted to the Tsarina and her four daughters. She died for them.
‘You will know of Rasputin? It was his son in law, Boris Soloviev, who was behind the betrayal, He married Rasputin’s daughter, Maria, to gain the trust of the Rasputin supporters who were trying to finance a plot to rescue the Romanovs. It was he who betrayed the family and attempted to throw blame for the theft onto others, including my Aunt.
‘Before she was murdered, Anastasia hid some jewels of her own, gifts given to her by the Tsarina. She knew there was no such thing as a safe place in times of revolution, so she devised a plan.
‘The jewels were dispersed all over St Petersburg so that even if some were found, others priceless jewels would remain safe. A trusted friend, Pyotr Vyrubova, helped her. In return she helped him escape St Petersburg with his wife and little daughter, Ludmila, before the Bolsheviks invaded.
‘My family always believed one day we would find the treasure, but there were no clues in Anastasia’s documents so we hoped that Pyotr Vyrubova and his family knew more.
‘We have always been watching and waiting for someone to arrive. So when someone called Mrs Marina Sally Vyrubova Jordan checked into the Pushka Inn, I knew why you had come. I think between us we can solve the clues, find whatever the treasure may be, and ensure that my aunt’s good name and reputation is restored.’
Marina looked at Ivan, saw the desperation in his face, and knew what Ludmila would want her to do. ‘Ok . . . Perhaps it is our job to put right some of the wrongs of history and see what our families have left for us.’