The last lover of the Empress – Іван Корсак

Everything was prepared quickly but well-thought. The first note as a document on emergence was short not to suspect future empress, “Mother dear Empress, we all wish you health… Our monster is ill… Lest he should die today.”

Aleksey Orlov with light smiling face and the celebrity guests came in the house where arrested emperor Peter III was kept.

“We brought nice news” – the guests told the prisoner immediately – “you will soon be released.”

Peter III was invited to the repast about an expected freedom. They all were joking, laughing, valet Bressan was outside the door at the moment, and insensibly for the emperor Orlov he poured poison, prepared before by their doctor, into a goblet.

After the first goblet the second one was poured but Peter III began to guess because of a sudden, strong pain.

The cramped emperor said, “They kept me out of Swedish throne, stole my Russian crown, in addition they want to take my life.”

At that moment there wasn’t any need to play bo-peep: they all sprang at the emperor and began to strangle him with a pillow. He fought desperately, but poison was taking away his forces inexorably. Quickwitted Baratynskiy made a loop of napkins and slipped the noose around the emperor’s neck. Peter Fedorovich tried to free, but it was in vain, they firmly grabbed his arms and legs, and quard sergeant Engelgardt tightened the noose around Peter’s neck.

Emperor’s body jerked several times, defying death, went limp immediately and was quiet for ever.

“Horses!” Orlov cried, poured one fuller goblet and began to write on grey and dirty sheet of paper, which turned up, “Mother, Gracious Majesty! How can I explain, describe what happened. You won’t believe your faithful slave but I say as before God. Mother, prepare me to die. I can’t understand how this grief happened. We’ll die if you don’t have mercy on us. Mother, he isn’t alive. Nobody planned this, nobody thought to lay hands on the emperor, but it happened, we were drunk, he too, he began to argue with prince Fedor at the table, we couldn’t set them apart and it happened, we didn’t remember what we were doing but we all were quilty – all are worthy of punishment. Have mercy on me for the sake of brother; I confessed everything and there is nothing to find out – forgive or order to kill sooner, light is not nice, we angered you and destroyed our souls forever!”

As a secretary of French enambassador Ryuler, a contemporary of those events wrote, on that very day Catherine II sat at the table with her approximate “in a merry pin”. Suddenly Orlov came running at the moment of animated talks: he was dishevelled sweaty and begrimed with dust, in lacerated clothes. The empress saw him, stood up silently and went to the cabinet, Orlov followed her. They called count Panin in some minutes too.

“The emperor is dead. How to tell people about this?” Catherine II asked directly.

“It’s nessesary to wait the night” – count considered, he wasn’t surprised very much, judging by his imperturbable face – “only in the morning.”

Everybody returned to their places and gay and lively dinner continued.

In the morning the capital was rocked by sad news – his Majesty Emperor died from “haemorrhoids colic”.

Graph Orlov beared yellow and stormy malice against Arceniy Matsievich, not only for telling the secret of throne to successors aloud, but for ingratitude, the eruption even was out all over him. He and his brother were sure that if the life changed, Peter’s backing wouldn’t sleep. Peter managed to liquidate the Secret chancellery which was so necessary for the throne (thank God, the empress reestablished it, having given only new name, the Secret expedition), he allowed to go abroad, he promised to establish public trial (but hadn’t time)… Everything could happen, and in that case his and his brother’s heads would be cut and would roll hopping and splashing, with not roped blood, among cries and admiring hoots under foot of onlookers who were eager to circuses.

…During the short break of trial Orlov said to the empress in a voice as cold as Epiphany ice, “He has deprived himself of life right.”

“There he told Dimitriy about the tongue” – Glebov turned his head, loosing his collar because he felt it became tight – “but if his tongue can move, he will tell much more…”

The empress kept silent – life taught her to be careful. She wanted to remember herself at last, to get peace of mind, because her heart was thumping from nerve-strain, temples roared like a long wistful rain…

7

The Eempress Catherine II was not offended by the metropolitan for “lovers”, she even smiled proudly at her heart – old Matsievich would never dream of such pleasure and enjoyment. She couldn’t accuse herself of changing her relations with a husband, even not in the least. Bright love which flamed in the youth warmed them both, and the whole world seemed them to be rosy from that love and the years seemed rosy – Peter wasn’t crying, he was sobbing when she was ill, he didn’t hide, smearing the tears on the face with his hand. Eventually love was replaced by simple friendship, which turned into indifference, then into circumspection, then she took a fancy for other men, as if she desired fragrant, tender, melting roast so much after long eating tasteless and lean food.

She became pregnant by Grigoriy Orlov by surprise, not even knowing it, but when understood it was already late. She hid the pregnancy with ease, under the magnificent gowns and fancy dresses with laces. The exposure tormented her more than labor pains.

She was lucky, only faithful servant Vasiliy Sckurin heard the first cries, the pregnancy wasn’t a secret for him; he understood everything in Catherine’s eyes, because he saw not only birth pangs, but first of all a fear in the eyes, which was a fear of frightened animal, back-breaking and terrible fear.

“Don’t be afraid… Everything will be well-done” – an idea suddenly struck Sckurin and he darted to the door – “I’ll do my best, maybe you won’t forget me,” he said already at the doorstep…

Catherine didn’t know where the servant ran, she didn’t care – labor pains alternated by burning heartache and fear before terrible near future. Catastrophe of her life was inexorably approaching: husband would make her take the veil because of his character; a child would be taken to a prison as Ivan Antonovich was taken, Grigoriy, her beloved and darling Orlov, would be put to death of a surety. And her body was flinching, labor pains again, terrible cramps were twisting and she tried to restrain a cry of mothers’ last legs.

Suddenly something shone in the windows, red reflection was twinkling on the glass, and Catherine looked at unknown shine.

The house of butler Sckurin, which was situated not very far from the palace, was burning. The fire burst out of the windows, climbed rapidly upward, as if trying to lick the roof several times, then the whole building was blazing and crackling, showered angry sparks into the sky…

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