The last lover of the Empress – Іван Корсак

“Banker Suderland, Your Majesty!” – Both halves of gilded door opened, Suderland entered, stepping out briskly as usual.

“I’m so glad to see you, my dear banker.” The empress smiled sincerely, really she became more cheerful from every meeting with this stranger who was educated and gallant, but he never went down to an annoying and ordinary at the court treacle of flattery.

“I celebrate the day of audience as a holiday in my calendar every time.” – Suderland was looking tenderly at the empress’s seal-ring with wonderful stone which was shimmering with an unusual, almost purple hue, – he hadn’t seen it before.

“You guess why bankers are invited – we need money.” Suderland was very easy for the empress, she was sure (she had checked it thoroughly many times) that not a word would pass from his lips outside the court. “We need much money.”

“Great people need much money,” a banker bowed because he tried to hide an acid uncertainty which could appear on his face and betray him, he had troubles with previous loan which hadn’t been returned.

“I see you master science of court flattery as a model bushel.”

“No, Your Majesty, I simply cite words said by Diderot, and by Voltaire, and by Grimm in all European crossroads.”

Although, Suderland had troubles with loans before, he was sure they would be repaid many times: the throne was strong, revolts were suppressed, and therefore they would pay.

“I like bankers not only for giving money but for the ability to put stupid questions: what is this money for?” the empress came up to the window and looked at a spring distance silently. Gloomy clouds were floating on an innocent and virtuous sky-blue, washed after winter, but clouds were glooming factitiously, not in earnest, they didn’t awake dreary autumnal sadness in a soul; a flock of rooks sat on unblown branches where greenness hardly appeared and didn’t glory – black flecks in greeny smoke as deliberately drawn in ink by clumsy child’s hand. And it is so every spring, and many, many springs, and hundreds of years changeless time of revival of nature will come; there won’t be the great empress on the earth but birds will be playing airily again on unblown branches. But she must have time, remain, it’s not nice – to power half of the world and dissappear without a trace, be covered with a grass.

“My glorious predecessor Peter I” – she turned to a banker again – “he spent almost three thirds of treasury on wars. And what? He remains Peter the Great in the memory of grateful Russians. Maybe I must reach this amount of expenses.

“The greater an aim, the bigger a need in money,” Suderland didn’t want to tell clever things, he had a toothache, but it wasn’t time for making faces.

“Sometimes I can’t, sometimes I have a fear to tell my thoughts to courtiers, because somebody will explain them wrong by all means,” the empress wanted to share her thoughts as if they were wallowing and aspiring to a wide world. “What remains after a man when he goes away?”

She looked at a banker so as if he was the only in the world who knew the answer. Surprised Suderland said in a prolonged voice: “I don’t kno-o-w. I have enough hardships in this life.”

“What remained after Persian King David? Or after Alexander of Macedon? Or after an owner of all the worlds Chingishan?” – she insisted as on an examination and a banker had to give the right answer – “where are towns built by them, where are palaces lovingly built by them? They aren’t. Where are the roads made by them? There is only an unbelievable number of foreign and our killed fighters. But their names – Dariy, Alexander of Macedon and Chingishan are floating proudly over the centuries like these clouds over a spring Petersburg. I’ll tell you what remains after the great in the world history: a myth remains. This is an unbelievable discovery for me… A myth is something ephemeral, ethereal, intangible, only myth is able to win incomprehensible flow of centuries. Time and wars will destroy palaces and towns, peoples will dissappear, but the myth of Dariy, Alexander of Macedon and Chingishan will remain forever.”

“But I don’t know the price of myths on the market… And is it possible to get them for money?” Suderland’s toothache even stopped.

“We need money, more and more,” – the empress didn’t take offence at an irony – “if destiny threw me into this country I must take the opportunity…I must be more Russian than the Russians themselves, expand the boundaries of the empire. And it costs something… I must create myth about great Russia from this dirty country of drunkards, thieves, beggars, from recent ulus of remote Chingishan’s province – they will remember who earned this greatness for centuries. I’ll build palaces too, of course, but I’m not sure that time and wars will save them. And myth about great Russia and its empress will be stronger than all prisons…”

“Conception is worth Your Majesty” – Suderland couldn’t hide his doubt – “but chroniclers had alredy written about the past at various parchments, I’m sorry, but not everything is so rose-coloured in Russia today because simple people don’t live in a luxury.”

The empress answered wearily, “Banker, it’s nonsense. My honied courtiers think that I don’t know how peasants eat acorns, marsh grass and straw in hungry winters, sleep in dirt with stock; landowners create harems of women serfs. But believe me, it will be forgotten, only the greatness remains. Grateful descendants will put monuments to me – I’ll be standing proudly on a high pedestal, and glorious men of the empire will be somewhere below, my assistants, my favorites, sculptors will understand themselves who to represent and in what posture… We’ll redact the past as we need, whatever chroniclers, witnesses, philosophers, statesmen and military men tell. We’ll put all chroniclers to rights – we’ll rewrite the history of Russia, real parchments will be burnt but their right lists remain. All historical documentaries will be cleaned thoroughly, beginning with Nestor the chronicler and up to nearest times, everything must correspond to the great myth, it will be impossible to prove something other. Not only foreign land but its history will be heroic history of Russia.”

“I suppose to agree with bank houses of Netherlands,” Suderland translated greatness of plans from one language into another, into his finance.

But the empress thought over the sum from a banker. Burden of military spendings was not easy, but there were many expectants. Separately, not for prying eyes, she kept records of gifts for those who comforted her in a bedroom, who could make her forget about back-breaking labour on the throne. She gave Orlov very little: one hundred roubles for building a house, a right for using wine-cellars and carriages of royal court during a year, left him all presented estates and one hundred and fifty thousand of annual pensions. She gave Zorich a town, Vasilchikov received fifty thousand roubles, a silver service, a house in Million street and a village in addition, Yermolov got one hundred and thirty roubles and four thousand bonds, Potyomkin today – one hundred thousand more… And petitioners from all sides, yesterday there were petitioners from Kiev-Mohyla Academy who asked for professors – thirteen copecks a day is enough for them. And Suderland isn’t idle to think – a banker is a nice man, he presented with such a pretty dog. He will try to converse with her if he is quickwitted. Expenses are very strange things, they grow as raised pastry. Once she wasn’t lazy and decided to count the sum of presents for lovers, except for current expenses, with German punctuality. Orlov brothers got seventeen million roubles, Vysotskiy didn’t cost more than three hundred thousand, but Vasilchikov – one million one hundred thousand, Zavadovskiy – one million three hundred eighty, Zorich was a great comforter – one million four hundred twenty, Korsakov was able to get only nine hundred and twenty thousand, Lanskoy, sweety child, she didn’t pity seven million twenty hundred and sixty thousand, Yermolov was worthy only five hundred and fifty thousand, Mamonov, who was a real beast in bed, cost one million eight hundred eighty thousand, Zubov brothers were over them with three million and a half. But nobody could be compared with Potyomkin: fifty million – this was without palaces, jewelry and tableware, without bonds. And the Orlovs got almost fifty thousand of those bonds, Vasilchikov received only seven, Zavadovskiy had six thousand in Malaya Rus and two in Poland, Korsakov was presented with four hundred Polish bonds. She couldn’t count them all because one must borrow money and then return it, and bonds are free of charge, they reproduce themselves.

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