Іван Корсак - The last lover of the Empress (сторінка 13)

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       He could barely cross the threshold of his cell, even climbed, because his legs bent badly as if somebody tied rough sticks to them; quietly limped to a chair and sat so carefully as if there were needles. Mirovich touched his head with hands and he was sitting moveless for a long time – time stopped suddenly as an hour-glass which was broken for unknown reason and a thin trickle of fine sand fell away and ended up. Properly, he didn’t need time now – man doesn’t need a thing he can’t use. Not because he is in prison, in a fast stone cage, in a clap-net (he caught himself!), but because he can’t change circumstances even a little.

       He was judged yesterday. Therefore, is it all?

       In a cell, which was spacious and dry and didn’t look as a blind and musty cell of the late emperor Ivan Antonovich, Vasiliy Mirovich had time to think over all last events. All the more so, first he wasn’t called anywhere, nobody came to him, Mirovich felt as if he were on a desert island.

       What happened? Why? What did these unexpected, unpredictable, not contracted events foreshow?

       He began to skim page by page in the memory, as quickly read book, and to consider not only separate line but separate letter and sign – each could conceal an answer.

       First of all, why did count Orlov and the empress choose him? If they plotted not noble matter from the very beginning and wanted to commit an abomination, an ordinary bloodhound of a Secret Expedition could come in handy more. Why him?

       Having arrived in Petersburg from obscurity, Mirovich became famous in two years. Vasiliy was pleased that his verses were wandering in manuscripts in a capital, he was cited. Incorruptible Mikhail Lomonosov, who was walking in corridors of university, both in winter and in summer, dressed in his eastern felt boots        decorated with glass which he made himself, he cited Vasiliy Mirovich’s verses as an example of the newest poetic school. And when there was competition for the picture of rail bridges in St. Petersburg declared, Vasiliy Mirovich won it. He, a man of family, eight emperors and eight convocations of a Senate had been engaged in his capital more than half a century, he dared judge with a Senate, that very Mirovich dared, whose grandfather was still alive, bothered about independence of Ukraine from Warsaw, solicits European diplomats. Petersburg had troubles too: French King Louis XV had not recognized the title of Empress II Catherine the Great, and when he wanted to joke at a lady he said that she was dressed like Catherine…

       So why did Orlov and the empress choose him? It seemed that at the beginning everything was according to agreements. Instead of expected punishment for complain of Senate, the empress promoted Mirovich to the rank of lieutenant rank ahead of schedule on the 1st of October, 1763.

       Something ended up in his soul when he saw Ivan Antonovich’s body on a  moist floor, in the shadow, in twinkling of purblind candle, dead body in a pool of blood, with intersected obliquely throat – blood was running from a wound.

       He was praying every time he went to regular meeting of the High Court, Petersburg didn’t know higher Court: forty-eight dignitaries in gold coats and spiritual hierarchy in fluffy robes – he was praying to control himself and not to tell a secret of agreement; he was mistaken and he had to be responsible before God.

       And only today, when a sentence was passed, he allowed himself to tell sly judges, “Peter III had been on the throne not long, his wife became his murderer. She stole unhappy Ivan Antonovich’s throne, she was robbing this land. Don’t you know that at her direction, ships with gold and silver for twenty five million were sent to her brother, Prince Friedrich August? They were taken from those who were eating today bark from trees and straw. Catherine won’t be able to excuse herself before God.”

       That’s all. Tomorrow sentence will be executed. And maybe runner on a horse will come at the last moment, and he will read a pardon gaspingly? The same pardon with sprawling signature of the empress, which he saw in count Orlov’s hands with his own eyes?

 

27

      

       A banker Suderland wrote a letter hard, he was writing forcedly, and a pen was scratching and squirting ink with displeasure as if it felt the host’s mood.

       It was his third letter to the Netherlands about credit for the empress, because the previous two letters came with refusal because of delay in payment.

       “A police-officer came,” a valet appeared at the doorstep, interrupting his stray thoughts.

       A police-officer doubted long under an inquiring look of the banker, he couldn’t come to the scratch to explain his presence there.

       “Mr Suderland, I must execute the empress’s order,” he said at last, stumbling. “I don’t know the reason for the empress’s displeasure, but punishment is smart.”

       “Maybe she is angry because I didn’t bring her money in time” – it was the first banker’s thought – “but why I’m quilty if banking houses fear.”

       “Will you arrest me?”

       “Even worse, Mr Suderland, I shrink from telling you this punishment.”

       “Will you send me to Siberia?”

       “Maybe the empress understood that she had told many unwanted things in the last conversation… And she had to dispose of an eyewitness of her revelations concerning the Great Russian myth?”

       “But what did she order?” – Banker lost his temper – “won’t they beat me with a stick and pull the nostrils as you usually do here?!”

       “Her Majesty” – a policeman cringed – “ordered to make a jack-straw of you.”

        Even Suderland’s hands were stiff, he couldn’t get it, understand what it meant.

       “What does it mean – a jack-straw? If you are drunk, go to bed at once, and if you are crazy, go to the doctor.”

       “I can’t feel quite myself too,” a policeman was complaining. “I tried to explain the empress how to do it with an alive man, but she got angry with me, cried and put me out, saying, “Your obligation is to perform my order!”

       Banker couldn’t remember himself long from unprecedented attack, in which he got unknowingly, but he had to go, because he had only fifteen minutes. He began to ask a policeman to write a letter for the empress and find any explanation to this unprecedented and terrible curiosity.

       “I can’t” – a policeman was shaking his head perplexedly – “I’m afraid…”

        Ultimately, Suderland managed to persuade him, but a policeman refused to bring a letter to the empress flatly, only to count Brus.

       Having read the letter, count was winking as if he had a mote in his eyes, then he turned round to see if there was nobody of servants near, and shook his finger to his temple, “You are crazy for a long time…”

       Brus jumped into a coach and rushed to the Winter Palace, not wasting time.

       Having heard the count, the empress only caught her head.

       “My God, this policeman is really crazy! Count, run quickly to prevent that fool from trouble, and calm the banker.”

       Count turned sharply, but at the door the empress’s laughing reached him.

       “Now I understand what happened. I had a pretty dog, I loved and petted it, but, unfortunately, it died today. I called it Suderland, because it was banker’s present. I didn’t want to part with a dog, so I ordered to make a jack-straw of it… And I cried at a policeman because I thought that he didn’t want to do it, supposing this order to be beneath his dignity…”

        Suderland, who was pardoned, couldn’t write the letter to the Netherlands up to the end for long, his head was splitting as if after heavy prolonged drinking bout. It was as Orlov had treated him after the ball recently, “If you don’t drink, they will pour it into your collar.” And he drank the whole glass and he prefered to drink then.

       “Destiny brought me to a gay country,” a banker thought. “They will make make a jack-straw of you willingly… And maybe it’s well, it’s easier to earn on such people.”

       And it was his only comfort.

 

28

 

       Axes of carpenters clattered across, echo of that sound was rolling on adjacent sleepy streets of Petersburg. Carpenters were hurrying to catch the morning, in a weak light of fires, joining and crackling, disgruntled with wet branches. They managed to repair the scaffold somehow before sunrise, painters even smeared paint – it was one-off deal, so no sense to do their best.

       Vasiliy Mirovich was brought beforehand, in a closed booth, and guard was put immediately from twenty dull and sleepy soldiers. Vasiliy didn’t see what happened outside, he was in his thoughts, bitterness and resentment of fraud left him, remained in a cell, he didn’t commit any evil, he only tried to dismiss an innocent man who had become a prisoner of stone casemates since young years.

       He was released from a dark booth when human roar filled all around, Vasiliy stepped in the opened door and even blinked. Innocent blue sky, sweeping, incredible blue space was rising over a bright crowd, humming and crying, waiting for bloody show, over trees burnt with orange flame by autumn.

       The crowd was silent for a minute, and first executioner began to climb the stairs to the scaffold. He was dressed in a red-black sweatshirt with a hood, only narrow slits for the eyes, he was going uncertainly, as if he was not convinced of the strength of steps made in a hurry, he had never been an executioner, he was an ordinary soldier who was engaged in misconduct and was simply forced. But when he began to refuse, they made him learn, cutting off the sheeps’ heads.

       A priest didn’t have usual solemnity too, he was hunched and subdued, looked as if an ax, shining ominously on the shoulder of the executioner, had to  fall on his head.

       Vasiliy looked around last as if he tried to measure bottomlessness of serene sky with his eyes, he was looking a little longer at the South where the land of his great-grandfather was.

       Mirovich was looking at people who gathered, pushing and striving to get ahead, closer to the scaffold, at the children who were sitting on fences like sparrows, and who even climbed on the trees, looking with interest among yellow leaves which hadn’t fallen down. Suddenly he noticed Vlasev and Checkin in the crowd, both with shining faces, gay and smiling. “How?” – surprise, maybe the last in Mirovich life, touched him very much. “They were arrested with me as murderers of the emperor.”

       And he understood everything. The empress sent Mirovich to make Ivan Antonovich free, but she sent them to kill him. By one stroke of the razor across  the throat of the legitimate claimant to the throne, she got rid of a competitor, and of possible Cossack chieftain, whose generation still bothered the throne.

       And Vlasev and Checkin only winked merrily, they had reason to rejoice. Each of them, tacit scammers of Secret Expedition, got seven thousand roubles,  today in the morning, army captain had only fifty roubles a year, but they earned for one hundred and forty years ahead by one stroke of the razor. They worked hard a little while writing secret denunciations, Record Office will keep forty secret denunciations up to the day of Ivan Antonovich’s death.

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