The last lover of the Empress – Іван Корсак

“Potyomkin is in a hurry” – Suderland read the letter down to the last page – “the prince is afraid lest local Cossacks should settle in these lands. But it’s not my trouble; I’d like to earn money on the prince’s haste.”

Suderland went to the Winter Palace the next day to discuss the conditions of such large-scale project, but there he was sent to a new favorite Platon Zubov, referring to the empress’s business.

It was found out in prince Zubov’s rooms that there were too many people. In white marble rooms near the empress’s hall nearly fifty petitioners were looking at the white door, where important person had to appear to decide fates. Somebody was expecting his hapless child to be appointed to the state office, somebody hoped for estates, the others wanted to attract the empress’s attention, but first it was necessary to honor the almighty prince. Honorable ambassador in a turban patiently fingered the rosary, French nobleman, judging by their clothes, was looking with amazement at those present at the reception, perhaps, he was a newcomer there, only one thick general with an eye bandaged with black braid, complained impatiently, “And coffee will be cooled completely…”

Suderland was introduced to Lieutenant-General, man of the world, already famous general, who considered for the honor to come every morning, an hour before Zubov woke up, to cook and serve coffee for the prince in bed personally.

At last the door opened widely, and adjutant announced triumphantly, as about the second coming, “His lordship, Platon Alexandrovich Zubov invites!”

The crowd rushed to the door, pushing and paying no attention to the ranks and uniforms, everybody wanted it quicker, they had been waiting for four hours, but instead of this suddenly a funny monkey appeared at the door before people, monkey was dressed in a short skirt and lacy panties, it began to ape, screaming fun.

Platon Alexandrovich was sitting before a mirror, having put his foot on the edge of the table, he even didn’t move, because his wig was being crinkled and sprinkled with powder at the moment. Visitors with a bow at his feet politely took place, and lanky adjutant was commanding as if they were children in parochial school, “You, count, will be the first, you, general, after count, and you after general…”

Zubov didn’t notice anybody while he was being brushed, he was breaking letters and gave them to adjutant to read – everybody saw that he was busy with affairs of state. If Zubov addressed himself to somebody in the queue, that man had right to approach only after five or six bows, and receiving the answer, he had to return to his place on tiptoe; those who weren’t lucky could take place in the queue for three years.

But there was a real fun for the monkey in lacy panties. It was small, the size of a big cat, extremely agile, it was rushing on the ledges, chandeliers, curtains, visitors’ eyes could hardly follow it. It could jump form the chandelier on a hat of petitioner, accurately enter and stay there if it like, especially if it was the Greek Toope. Such lucky petitioner bent courteously and was waiting courteously untill the monkey was feasting on the headgear.

“What do bankers need?” – Zubov closed one eye, as if powder fell there.

“Deuce takes it!” – Suderland cursed inwardly – “do I need this?”

“Your Highness, I beg your attention: we need a lot of money to settle lands of Mala Russia with foreigners…”

“But you are there in the world” – duke was watching with narrowed eyes, as if he were aiming a musket.

“Certainly, it’s my trouble, but provisions, percentage… His grace, Duke Grigoriy Potyomkin demands sooner.”

“Potyomkin?!” – Zubov got angry and shook his head, so that even powder fluttered – hairdressers recoiled in fright, and the monkey rushed headlong for the curtain – “if he demands, let he gives!”

Suderland was standing near Zubov without saying a word, waiting long, and he went away at last. He understood that only the empress could free him of the scourge, in which he got between the two favorites.

When Suderland met the empress, fortunately, he found her in a good mood – she was feeding her parrot at the moment. Seeing the stranger, the bird flapped its wings with displeasure, and yelled, as if for help: “Pla-a-to-o-sha!”

“Don’t worry, dear banker” – the empress calmed Suderland – “your conditions will be met, if only duke Potyomkin get money in time – he makes a big deal, settling the lands of Mala Rus with Greeks, Armenians or Volokhs. The duke confirms these lands to be Russian, because foreigners from any countries are subjects of the imperial throne there forever. And even if something changes: for example, history moves the boundaries, – Russia will have right to defend its people diplomatically, or with arms in case of need.”

The parrot flapped its wings again, and vailing its head, stared suspiciously at Suderland.

“It’s the most sincere favorite” – the empress smiled, nodding at the parrot – “all the previous betrayed, and this is the most true lover, it will always love me.”

The parrot, as if understanding something, proudly stretched out his neck and cried, “Glory to Catherine!”

Whether his teacher didn’t pronounce a letter “r”, or because of bird nature, but he said “Cathegine”.

Eventually, words of the empress would come true: this bird would be the most loyal and reliable pet. A century would pass, after the October Revolution; Red Guards would confiscate estates of old families. They would take away all but the last in the house of prince Saltykov, and when they are already at the doorstep, a grandmother would cry then, “If you took everything, take the bird too – it’s also historical value.”

“Revolution doesn’t need this” – Red Guard smiled of fun.

“Don’t smile; it’s a parrot of Catherine II, for your information.”

As to confirm the words of the old mistress, the bird tossed with wings, shabby with age and cried, “Glory to Cathe-g-g-ine!”

Smiling, soldiers took the cage with the parrot which was shabby, with a cataract in the eye. But the bird either did not want to expect a world revolution, or from the food of Red Guard, but after three weeks it died.

Thus the story of the last lover of the empress ended.

37

At the beginning of the meeting of the State Council at the empress the prince Potyomkin’s eye, which was plucked out, suddenly itched – it itched so strongly as if a mote hit there. It was impossible, because it was always tied with a densely braid, but in spite of it, itching intensified and turned into pain at last. He rubbed his eyes with his hand over the tape and muted itch for a while.

“Bad sign” – the prince thought – “people say it means tears. But these are inventions of old women.”

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