The other day, I went to the American hospital for a check-up. I came across Dr Ribadeau-Dumas. I remembered his surname because it was the same as one of my schoolmates as a child. He remembered me because he examined my arteries ten years ago.
“You gave me the book about your great-uncle that you had just published, The White Night of St. Petersburg.”
It was the barely romanticized biography of my great-grandmother Olga’s brother, the Grand Duke Nicholas Konstantinovich. Young, handsome and intelligent – very intelligent, too intelligent – he was falsely accused of stealing the diamonds right off his mother’s icons to gift to his American mistress.
He was sent into exile by the Tsar in Tashkent, at the time a godforsaken place in the middle of the desert. He was never forgiven, justified, or pardoned. He knew too many of the imperial family’s secrets, and he had a big mouth.
However, he did not remain inactive. Being immensely wealthy, he transformed Tashkent into a modern city. The desert province became an agricultural paragon. He founded industries and factories. His being trigamous was but a minor detail. He died at the height of the revolution and was given two funerals. One by the orthodox clergy, with all the pomp owed a member of the imperial family, and the other organized by the revolutionary authorities as a victim of the Tsar.
What did Dr Ribadeau-Dumas tell me during my check-up? “Did you see that we have found his treasure?”. I leapt up, “What treasure?”.
Two years ago, in 2019, Russian researchers excavated the basement of the small palace Nicholas had built for himself in Tashkent, which had since become the government’s festival palace. They indeed found his treasure: jewellery, it seems, as well as silverware, precious objects, icons, archives etc. In short, not only a cashable treasure but a historical treasure with innumerable value. Not a single photo. No inventory. No description. Not even information about the fate of the treasure or where it can be found now.
It got me thinking. I knew that these collections had been transported to the local museum. In particular, the marble statue of the mistress he had been sent into exile for, that he gazed upon at the moment of his death after having covered the statue’s marble in sumptuous jewellery.
Suddenly, my curiosity was piqued to learn more about this treasure and how he had hidden it. Would I ever uncover the secret?