Іван Корсак - The last lover of the Empress (сторінка 15)

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       He was buried at the cemetry, on the mountain, near a cross; this mountain is in Troitsa, in Zabaikal, on the way to Nerchinsk. And now people gather there, read prayers and memorial services, many pilgrims come there… And they tell that dawn goes up at a lovely night, the same one that was seen above the belfry of the Church of the Transfiguration, and the candle lits on the grave.

       …The empress neither thanked nor scolded servants of the Secret Expedition. She only had been thinking for a long time: she had almost won the metropolitan, exiled to an incredible distance, and he is among people again. The empress surprised, she had great forces, the army and hundred of thousands soldiers, numerous cannons, not to mention muskets, and, besides, great number of policemen together with the Secret Expedition, and Arceniy didn’t have even a censer – and she couldn’t win him?!

       She is the empress Catherine II, and not simply the second but Catherine the Great. Already in the first year of ruling the Senate is discussing the creation of a monument to her and conferment of the title of “Mother of Motherland”. Let the senators are not very sincere, and not always, but this was. Less than four years passed when she was announced Catherine the Great. She knows how to act with Voltaire, she can propitiate Diderot – she bought his library and gave it him back for storage, paid Diderot fifty years ahead. Now philosopher and famous writer must tell in all European crossroads about her wisdom and education, and Voltaire would even call her “Our Lady of St. Petersburg”. And nobody would guess that her numerous letters to Voltaire, depth of thought and elegance of style of which was admired in many capitals, in fact were written by count Andrey Shuvalov, because she knew well neither Russian nor French… And Hrapovitskiy would write all necessary documents in Russian instead of her.

       She, the empress Catherine the Great, can remake European map as an old shabby kaftan, make a seat for her John wittily of royal throne of proud Poland.

       She is Catherine the Great, but who is this Arceniy, this Lier? What is the secret of his unconquerable force?

       Something is wrong here in nature – the empress thought.

       She strung thought by thought on a logical thread as a necklace of small beads, but nothing came to hand somehow: now the hole in beads was too small, now thread twisted and sometimes tore treacherously, and then the whole necklace was torn…

      

32

 

       Chief of Police Tolstoy had to acquaint newcomers with the court at a reception of the presentation of credentials.

       “Who is this handsome man with a scar across the face?” diplomats asked, trying to find their way around.

       “Prince Aleksey Orlov, influential statesman, the old pillar of the throne.”

       “And this must be Potyomkin, whose eye is tied up with a black ribbon?”

       “Yes, the empress relies on him especially, and you must have heard about the talant of general youselves.”

       “Their faces are so fearless; they must have suffered injury in battles…”

       “Oh, of course” – stamina never left Tolstoy, all the more so in difficult state affairs.

       “And who is that fair tall officer, standing a little aloof?”

       “His surname is Lanskoy, little-known newcomer.”

       Chief of Police kept on satisfying the curiosity of arrivals, telling or introducing famous court, but the empress called Tolstoy and ordered to introduce her handsome newcomer at the court, an officer.

       “Lanskoy, Your Majesty,” he said his surname and title and blushed as if he were asked something disgraceful.

       Fair husky with clumsy manners and modesty of a teenage girl stroke the empress’s eye, she hadn’t had such man before.

       After the meeting life twisted Lanskoy by such abrupt and unexpected twists, that he didn’t have time to look back at those turnings. Court physician tapped him as a pecker tapped dry wood, long and weary, Lanskoy had been swinging on Perekusiha for three nights, in the end he was nearly sick, but restrained, then he passed exam of two maids of honor, they were younger, till Perekusiha brought him to the empress’s bedroom to read the book.

       “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.

      

33

 

       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.

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