Іван Корсак - The last lover of the Empress (сторінка 14)

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       And Vasiliy wanted to look if a fast runner was riding with a pardon, as in a fairy-tale, pardon which he saw with his eyes, a straw of saving, naive and ridiculous desire. But there isn’t any fairy-tale, there is only a scaffold, awkwardly made, painted in a hurry.

       Mirovich crossed himself and waved with his hand at the executioner – so it be… Blade glinted in the sun, the crowd cried and Vasiliy’s head was rolling on the platform, splashing blood. Executioner leaned and raised it up solemnly, stepping aside a bloody stream – he learned not in vain, he made a smart job…

      

29

 

       Potyomkin was the first who entered an empty temple, and just an echo of his footsteps caused unexpected excitement. His dream came true, his persistence outweighed, he would get married today. Empress with her matron-of-honour came after him, the czar’s gate opened, and a priest was bringing cross and Gospel.

       Invisible chorus sounded, because nobody could see this wedding according to the agreement, except for a priest. Potyomkin was standing near the empress and he couldn’t hide his excitement, he only felt sweat under band on the forehead, covering his sightless eye.

       The priest is coming up to them with two candles, blesses thrice, and when there was time to step on a wrap, Grigoriy stepped first, he even twitched. The empress who knew a sign (that who steps first, will be the head of the family), and burst out laughing softly, as if she choked, but pulled together at once.

       The priest is asking God and witnesses, in a tremulous voice, clearing his throat, to confirm the decision to join the church marriage, and he asks bride to vow daet.

       “I, Grigoriy, wive you, Catherine, and promise you husband’s grace, faith and civility, and we’ll be together till death, so we, God, in Holy Trinity, help and all saints.”

       “I, Catherine, promise you grace faith, civility and wife’s obedience.”

       The priest was reading The Epistle of Paul to the Ephesians in a firmer voice, but he stumbled at the word “obedience”, the ordinary text sounded in a head in an unexpected secular manner, “How the empress can obey her vassal even if he is her husband?” The priest looked at the bride, he didn’t dare read prayer, but the empress agreed to continue by a silent nod of the head.

        The wedding continued without adventures and surprises.

       “Lord, give slaves of God, Grigoriy and Catherine, many good years, in the health and salvation…”

       “Congratulate you, husband, I give you a general-in-chief and appoint a vice-president of the Military Collegium.”

       He was appointed a Governor-General of Mala Russia two months ago. Now he received one hundred thousand roubles on birthdays and holidays, and he lived in all imperial residences and was served free of charge by palace staff.

       Then the empress followed Potyomkin’s honours with German punctuality. She especially liked to get foreign orders for him. It was not always easy – wishers whispered how to give honours to the lover of murderer of czar, who occupied the throne? – But stubbornness of foreign rulers had capitulated under the skilful actions of diplomats.

       First of all Potyomkin was prized with Order of Alexander Nevsky and Order of the Polish White Eagle sent by Stanislav August. Things went better. The empress awarded Potyomkin with Order of St. Andrew, Frederick II sent the Prussian Order of White Eagle, Denmark sent Order of the White Elephant, Sweden presented the Order of St. Seraphim. It was humiliating, of course, that Louis XVI refused to give the Order of the Holy Spirit and the Golden Fleece, saying that only Catholics can be awarded with this Order. George II will make round eyes, when the ambassador in London gives the request of the Order of the Garter.

       Prince de Ligne once told Potyomkin that he could become Prince of Moldova and Wallachia.

       “These are the little nothings of life,” Potyomkin denied. “If I wanted, I would become a king of Poland, I would refuse from Duchy of Courland. I’m higher.”

       Catherine II is the empress. And she had the right to write Potyomkin orders for treasure-house on an occasional piece of paper, “Take how much you want.”

       The empress’s generosity didn’t get round Grigoriy’s relatives. Second cousin Pavel Potyomkin became the governor of the Caucasus, and Pavel’s brother Michael became a Chief Inspector of Military Office, sister’s nephew Alexander Samoilov received an appointment of Secretary of the State Council and the rank of general, other nephews became the empress’s adjutants.

 

30

 

       Bergman, Rontsov and Korsakov had been sitting in the empress’s reception-room for a long time, they felt constrained, from time to time they twitched with anticipation and unusual atmosphere for them all – first they had privilege to be in this hall. Three men were sitting side by side, each holding a bouquet of flowers and they were looking at each other askance, jealously, by a peripheral vision.

       At last the empress came, she moved her aging body not so easily as once, but she was smiling and cherubic – she never forgot to graze her face with a piece of ice before coming; officers stood at attention, holding bouquets on the right side, as muskets needed for fight right now.

        The empress came up to the officers, found some gentle words for everybody as mother empress should do, she only stood near Korsakov longer, looked at him up and down, as if capricious customer were evaluating unbroken stallion, trembling with impatience and fear, on the market.

       “I hope for soon meeting,” she only said to him.

       And then life twisted the officer as in spring rough and muddy stream, with sudden whirls of wells.  Korsakov was brought to a court physician Rogerson, who had been examining him nearly two hours. Rogerson put his ear to the back, then to the chest, bobbed on his knees and demanded to show tongue, he was going round the officer, purring an unknown song as if his main task was to pick at something, he tried to do his best, but in vain. In the end, he slapped with his palm on the back of the officer, maybe it meant approval, and pointed at the door, where long-term valet Zahariy Konstantinovich appeared like ghost at that moment.

       “You must demonstrate your abilities of a man first of all,” valet explained in the dining-room. “I advise to have a solid meal, because you have to pass exam for three nights to maid of honor Anna Stepanovna Protasova – she is very wise in love joys, she will twist you as an experienced soldier twists his leggings.”

       The valet didn’t lie, Protasova didn’t let him laze all three nights: he had enough of her, because she had halitosis, bandy hairy legs, and turning aside, was forced every time, he was trembling, as in the old cart on the road which was dirty and broken by autumn bad weather.

       “He is a good man for troop duty” – maid of honor sent recruit back to valet at last.

       And when he felt quite himself in some days, Anna Stepanovna and Zahariy Konstantinovich invited him to a dinner. Then the valet was smartening him up till evening, smoothed him over with something fragrant, and at ten o’clock lady’s-maid Maria Savvichna Perekusihina, with stern triumph on her face, led him, dressed in Chinese luxury dressing gown, to the empress’s bedroom to read books at nights.

       Korsakov read many pages, he was even reeling when he left the bedroom, but then he surprised at the world which changed during one night: valet who was talking down to him yesterday, today was bowing creepingly, leading him to his suite of rooms.

       Only once Korsakov was quivering. He had scarce found himself in new apartments as Petersburg metropolitan entered. “They may have decided to kill me if lord came to unction?” – Sinister suspicion flashed shackled body as tetanus. But lord began to sanctify the premises and he sprinkled Korsakov with holy water, removing his eyes, muttered a prayer under his breath, and he was sprinkling largely, even Korsakov could not restrain himself and wiped his moist forehead with a sleeve.

       “Her emperor’s majesty” – Zahariy didn’t stumble to tell – “condescended to appoint you as adjutant and gives you one hundred thousand roubles as the first pocket-money.”

       And he gave adjutant’s uniform with a diamond agraphia.

       Now Korsakov had an honour to walk with the empress arm-in-arm in the Hermitage in winter and in Czar Village in summer. The most senior government officials, who were busy on the personal and public issues, were awaiting his attention in the waiting room patiently; they came with greeting and bounties.

       “And everything is for one night” – one could think.

       Korsakov was wrong, simply he was lucky, because his successors had to pass exam, besides Protasova, countess Brus, Perekusiha and Utochkina.

 

31

 

       People in the Secret Expedition hesitated, whether to report this news to empress. On the one hand, it was tempting, you could earn high praise: everybody knew in Expedition. But on the other hand one could have trouble, especially if to meet a bad mood. “And what are you doing? Why do you eat state bread?”

       At last they risked and reported that metropolitan Arceniy was feted in Zabaikal no less than in Rostov and Yaroslavl, in his former dioceses.

       There were rumours that metropolitan was brought to Irkutsk, kept in  Ascension Monastery, then conveyed behind Baikal, to Troitskoye, then secretly to Nerchinsk untill there was a rescript to bring him back to Russia. Arceniy fell ill on the way and in one hundred and seventy miles from Verhneudinsk he asked a soldier to stop near the lake. The metropolitan washed there, put on fresh shirt, he threw away the old one, and he was praying on his knees long.

       Then he presented the soldier with a prayer book, signed personally, and a silver rouble.

       “I won’t reach Verhneudinsk,” metropolitan said. “I’ll die soon and remember monk Arceniy and bury at the place where the horses stop.”

       So it happened. The metropolitan came in Verhneudinsk, being already dead, coffin with his body was placed in the Church of the Transfiguration. But they had fear to bury this important prisoner without high permission, sent messengers to the bishop and the governor.

       The servant of God Arceniy had been lying for twenty five days, and in spite of a heat his body wasn’t spoiled, it was imperishable, and people told that many wonders had happened at that time.

       One night the church bells rang in alarm as during the fire.

       “The church is burning!” – Frightened people were running with pails and shovels.

       They came running – but there was nothing, silence in the church and round.

       “It’s curiosity” – parishioners were surprised – “but we heard with our own ears…”

       Suddenly somebody shouted in alarm, “And look, look up!”

       All raised heads and began to cross themselves: a new dawn shone high above the belfry, nobody had seen this before.

       “The metropolitan’s soul blesses us” – they were talking – “this man, metropolitan Arceniy was really saint…”

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