Іван Корсак - The last lover of the Empress (сторінка 17)

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       An executioner cut Pugachev’s head by a wide stroke of the ax, and raised it high, bloody, on a stick, over heads of frightened people, but then a pretender came up. She called herself a sister of the rebel, bastard daughter of the dead empress Elizabeth Petrovna. People said that Elizabeth had given birth to her from Razumovskiy.

       “I wonder what her real background is,” the empress thought aloud, going home from ponds by nice alley.

       “Hell knows” – only the remembrance of her was unpleasant for Grigoriy – “One people say that she is a daughter of publican from Prague, the others say – from Nuremberg baker.”

       “They say she is unusually beautiful and clever…”

       “I don’t know if she is beautiful. But the Secret Expedition reports she is clever enough to send manifests to Sultan, even to Orlov, to count Panin…”

       “I’m fed up with five dead husbands who put the empire on its hind legs, and now their sisters appear. By the way, where is she now?”

       “She was travelling all over Europe; they say she is in Italy at present, in town Ragusi.”

       “Arrest this tramp. Who is able to do it neatly, properly, so that nobody of any Regal Court can guess?”

       “Orlov,” Grigoriy said at once as if he knew the question before.

       The empress only shook her head – Grigoriy didn’t forget who had deformed his eye.

       “Let it be so…”

       Potyomkin understood that he exposed count Orlov-Chesmenskiy, his offender, and what a grand European scandal could happen in a case of failure. But Grigoriy was wrong this time. Orlov, being very adventurous, coped with the request brilliantly.

       First Alexey pretended to be in love, soon the princess reciprocated, then a fortune helped. British Consul in Leghorn had sent a letter, telling about a fighting between Russian and English sailors, he asked Orlov to get outside of it personally. Alexey didn’t know English and he asked the princess to translate and was going to start. She was sad and she wanted to go with him.

       “The empress should see her future fleet…”

       It was only required. As soon as she climbed aboard the flagship, they came up to her,

       “In the name of her Imperial Majesty, you are arrested!”

       Then the princess’s fate was clear: tiring road of prisoner, Petropavlovsk Fortress.

       In stone walls of the fortress the princess quickly burned from tuberculosis, and took to the grave the secret of her birth. Therefore, the entire extended Razumovsky family was present at crowded funeral.

 

35

 

       Moscow rang bands, festively dressed people filled the squares in fine morning, on the 13th of July 1775, even more fun had been in bars and taverns – Moscow was celebrating Kuchuk Kaynarzhinsky peace.

       People were arriving even in the morning in emergency rooms of the Prechistinskiy palace, where the empress was, to congratulate on his victory. One people came, the others had already gone, diamonds were throwing playful gleams on the sweaty wigs, but unfortunately, none of the respectful guests won an audience.

       “The empress feels bad” – the same answer was for the curious.

        A rumor about the empress’s indigestion spread among the famous visitors quickly. She was given badly washed fruit because of inattention of servants who were unnecessarily spoiled, and that was the result…

       “They deserve not only the whip for this…”

       “Goodness of the sovereign led to such consequences,” the courties were resenting.

       The empress was indifferent to festive thunder of bands and gossips of respectful people in emergency rooms, she had to give birth. Labor pains began in the morning, besides the pain, she was tormented by the fear. Be that as it may, but she was forty six, it was late, it was different earlier from Ponyatovskiy, Saltykov or Grigoriy Orlov.

       Nobody knew about birth, nobody had to know, as well as about the wedding with Potyomkin – so, people were whispering in the corners and no more.

       To her surprise, she gave birth quickly and easily, she even didn’t cry much – a pretty girl drew the first breath. The empress didn’t have to suckle babies, that’s why it was washed and swaddled, then brought secretly to Potyomkin’s sister, Maria Alexeevna Samoilova. The baby was named Elizaveta Temkina, the Samoilovs brought her up, then she was brought to a boarding-house, she would become a mistress of large estates in the province of Kherson.

       Meanwhile, court life moved in a groove: receptions of foreign guests, dinner parties, after dinner they went to a hall, where the empress played cards, whist or pharaoh, arranged drillabilities or charades. Once in the end of May, in 1777, she visited new Potyomkin’s estate in Ozerki. The owner honored guests in a big way, guns fired in their honor at dinner, nearly thirty first state persons sat at the table. But the empress often paid attention not to Grigoriy’s second cousins or the Engelgarts, she was interested in a novice most of all, Hussar Major, thirty-year-old dark Serb, curly husky Semen Zorich. But Grigoriy and all the rest at the table had the impression that they had known each other before.

       Soon Zorich occupied apartments of the official favorite in the Winter Palace.

       Having heard about the new rival, Zavadovskiy quickly returned to Petersburg, he was suffering, rushing, not knowing what to do until he was advised to keep silent. Zavadovskiy obeyed, the empress adequately appreciated his courtesy. He would get four thousand people, and for the empress’s money he would build a palace in Yekaterinburg, palace with two hundred fifty rooms and cupro-nickel fireplaces.

        The empress felt as usual, passed notes to her lover Sima, as she named Zorich, with the help of Grigoriy. Sometimes Potyomkin went to wars, sometimes he went to fulfil different tasks, but he could return to Winter Palace at any time, to his apartments connected with the empress’s bedroom by a direct corridor. Grigoriy was attentive to every new favorite, who were mostly his former adjutants, he didn’t forget to send them presents from far places. He sent Zorich feather with a luxurious diamond on a hat and an expensive stick, even the empress was glad and wrote in the letter, “Sima is sporting, by your grace, you sent him an excellent stick, he looks like King of Sweden, but he surpasses him in gratitude to you.”

       Only once Grigoriy’s temper ran away with him, when he entered the bedroom as usual and saw the empress with Zavadovskiy in bed; he turned red in the face, looked around the room with wild eyes, seized massive candlestick and threw at a couple who didn’t expect the visit.  The empress mewed like a cat, as if somebody set foot on a cat’s paw, rolled off the bed at once, and bare Zavadovskiy rushed to the door       like a bullet.

       Potyomkin had other problems, of course: cunning Panin, and especially an old lover Orlov, tried to put their man in a bed. Basically, their tricks were in vain, Grigoriy selected the reliable and consistent himself, appointing them to adjutants for a month or two. When he invited Alexander Dmitriev-Mamonov after adjutant term, Alexander couldn’t guess what waited for him.

       “Undress!” the prince ordered sternly.

       Mamonov’s eyes were round as saucers.

       “Fully, fully,” Potyomkin told.

       He walked around bare Alexander, examining him, as if he were choosing goods and looking for a flaw in order to fault and slow down the price. And when he pressed pressed the desired location, Mamonov’s body became firm and rose up, Potyomkin only smacked, “You will delight the empress.”

       Not only Mamonov’s face, but also his back turned red with a shame, he wanted to curse without paying attention to the prince, but he restrained at the last minute because of incredible thought, “If it is true?”

       Then everything was as usual in the court: all three women, testing Mamonov, were pleased with him, especially Perekusiha, “Honey, amused me very much, so you would delight the empress even better!”

 

36

 

       “Mr Richard Suderland?” – Courier, a young officer, asked, just in case, jingled with his spurs dashingly – “it is ordered at the hands personally.”

       The banker only looked at a packet covered with wafers; he knew who had sent it without reading.

       This packet was from Potyomkin. “As her Majesty deigned to give privileges to mennonites who wanted to settle in Ekaterinoslav Province, I ask you to give them the required amounts in Danzig, Riga, Kherson.”

       The banker read some more lines and his eyebrows went up in surprise – it would be difficult for him to find these sums, especially in several towns at the same time. “It’s the prince’s manner” – Suderland rubbed his temples reflectively – “he has schemes of vast dimensions, and I must think where to find money for the next adventure.”

       Two hundred and twenty eight families of mennonites were going from Danzig to Ukrainian steppes, and a group of Swedes were going to Kherson to a settlement, there were houses built for them, Moldavians, Wallachians, Romanians were flocking across the Turkish border. They all were exempted from taxes for ten years; they were given cattle and agricultural instruments, allowed to be engaged in wine… Russian embassies abroad vigorously recruited new settlers.

       “European papers praise the new settlements in Mala Rus” – the prince reported the empress.

       “Privileges of Greek, Armenian and other settlements attracted a lot of people: poor landowners and peasants, retired soldiers, serfs-escapees who had run away to other countries, religious dissenters, and poor Orthodox priests from remote Russian provinces went there from Russia, sometimes they went to fertile regions by the whole beggarly villages.”

       “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.

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