The last lover of the Empress – Іван Корсак

“What about him, Maria Savvichna, does he read well?” – she wondered, smiling, not without archness.

“Literate” – an old maid of honor answered earnestly, waring to praise too much at the same time.

In the morning the metropolitan was wearily sprinkling the new lucky with holy water, and a valet was giving respectfully a luxury adjutant’s uniform and told about substantial monetary reward.

Empress of fifty was resting heart with Lanskoy, it was seldom with his precursors. Twenty six-year old Sascha, four years younger than her son, could do in a bed in such a manner that empress didn’t remember Indian summer sunset. She may have forgotten some of her former lovers, but Zahariy Chernyshov remained in the memory by unrestrained power, how could she forget Grisha Orlov, – son, count Bobrinskiy is already adult, son from Sergey Saltykov can possibly take over the throne, daughter from Ponyatovskiy, unfortunately, died so early. Vasilchikov and Zavadovskiy flashed as a temporary toy, Zorich barely flickers in memory, Korsakov, Levashov and Vysotskiy are forgotten quickly though the recent ones, as if half a century passed. She tried Mordvinov and Yermolaev too, but she caught on and returned Lanskoy, no sense to conceal a sin.

“Stars of St. Anne and Alexander!” – courtiers were whispering at receptions, either enthusiastically, or with ill-concealed envy, having seen new shining awards at the Lanskoy’s chest.

“And two more were sent for him from Warsaw and one from Swedish capital…”

“There aren’t any wars, but orders are pouring as out of the bag” – the envious reviled.

“There aren’t wars only by day…”

Either the envious jinxed or something else happened, but Lanskoy noticed that trouble was approaching, approaching inexorably – his man’s force began to fade away. He ran to doctors, they were brought secretly, and they were using enchantments, whispering, rolling eggs, but in vain. Then an old fortune-teller appeared, like a rotting fungus which dried and shriveled on the vine, and she brought him a dark brew, smelling turpentine. And a wonder – the force returned, he could withstand a night again, only in the morning he became exhausted and twisted like a rag, hanging on a fence to dry. But wonder can’t be long, he had to drink that brew, beveling and pinching his nose, more and more, not to disgrace. Once he took a risk, drank too much and fell in a fever in the next morning.

Five days and nights he had been thrashing about in fever, barely regaining consciousness, he was lying as if not in a soft feather bed, but on the cinder, and on the sixth day, sobbing and greedily inhaling the air last, he died.

This happened on Day of Ivan the Baptist.


Radishchev considered him to be reserved, austere, maybe even with self-esteem, – it’s clear, publisher known in the whole empire who dared print rebellious journal “Shershen”, not durable “Pustomelya”, and now thoughtful people are snapping his “Painter”. Radishchev considered Nikolay Ivanovich Novikov to be other, not so cheerful, playful and sensitive. Radishchev has already printed some works in “Painter”, of course, not under his own name.

“Welcome to the brave and national defender” – Novikov uttered so that there wasn’t a drop of irony – “I long wanted to meet.”

“What the brave” – Radishchev languidly waved – “I’m hiding under a false name.”

“It’s not a sin, it’s a right of a man” – Novikov gave the latest issue of the journal – “you haven’t seen yet, I’m sorry, here is your publication.”

While Radishchev was thumbing through, holding children’s eagerness to see everything first, Novikov was stiring up tea with a spoon so that it nearly threw out.

“You write well, Alexander Ivanovich, but style is very scientific. Do not be afraid of old-vulgar words, because all our troubles are from oblivion, neglect of Russian antiquities… But we picked up foreign words, like fleas, we beat them bows… Sorry, I don’t mean you, I don’t blame you that you had studied in Leipzig, I tell about our life in general.”

“One can learn from foreigners too” – Radishchev found his publication at last, but it was awkward to stop on his place, he began to thumb through the remaining pages – “but we can only adopt a cut of pantaloons from foreigners. We do not have enough intelligence at rest.”

“Who must adopt? Who?” – Novikov jingled a teaspoon as if it caused his resentment – “a peasant, this slave in hopeless poverty? Landowner, the owner of the slaves, does he need it? The courtiers, who reached the inaccessible peaks of peculation? The empress who doesn’t have time because of lovers who she changes as gloves?”

“Really… People are laughing on back streets that she will put her genitals in the Russian coat of arms instead of the bicephalous eagle… You see, I wouldn’t like to keep silent, because it hurts, and I’m afraid to write. Shall I spit on this bad time, and print the history of the Church… I became interested in figure of Philaret the Merciful – what great people they were, the Church was so inofficial.”

“Did decent people live only in ancient times, at the dawn of Christianity?” – Novikov’s face darkled, he recalled his hard battles in publishing – “Catherine’s censorship banned to print article of St. Dimitri of Rostov “On the church estates”. Try to explain any sensible man if you are able: holy word is banned…”

“On a silver frame of Dimitriy of Rostov there are fairly words coined: “Having written “Life of saints” he was awarded a refinement to be a saint” – Radishchev was silent for a moment – “neither emperors, nor any state people can erase these words of Mikhail Lomonosov, even if they throw a stranglehold on the neck of the Church, doing crafty faces that the Church is so inofficial.”

“Forget about inofficial, three-quarters of the property confiscated from churches, went as if to the treasury, but it was given to the empress’s lovers in reality. A priest, who had always been a conscience, now is also official, because he is paid from treasury. And nobody will even squeak…”

“But why didn’t metropolitan Arceniy Matsievich break, he could tell truth openly, his letters and instructions are spread among people in secret. Don’t you know anything about his fate?”

“Even his name is not allowed to tell.”

“Only not to forget to amuse with you funny news” – Novikov took out a letter and gave it to Radishchev – “if a reader, loyal to the throne, awarded you with a bunch of letters with a brief assessment “Lies” for the publication in the fifth issue of “Painter”, they received a promotion in the eyes of sycophants after the fourteenth issue – a Kazan landowner is looking for you to duel. Isn’t it ghastly?”

Radishchev scanned a few lines, where there were not many fresh thoughts, except for some curses of the author, twisted the letter in the hands, not knowing what to do with it, and handed it back to Novikov.

“I have three small children, I’m afraid very much. Sin is for those who knows and remains silent.”

“And those who don’t remain” – Novikov smiled bitterly – “they will get Shlisselburg, Siberia, or poison. You only notice: no Russian, I underline, Russian artist, has risen with her to the top, no poet or architect, the empress needs only the others, and only as a decoration, one more stone on the brooch. My friend, the French historian, said frankly, “Michelangelo would not have survived more than three weeks at the court of Catherine.”

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