Іван Корсак - The last lover of the Empress (сторінка 18)

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       At last the door opened widely, and adjutant announced triumphantly, as about the second coming, “His lordship, Platon Alexandrovich Zubov invites!”

       The crowd rushed to the door, pushing and paying no attention to the ranks and uniforms, everybody wanted it quicker, they had been waiting for four hours, but instead of this suddenly a funny monkey appeared at the door before people, monkey was dressed in a short skirt and lacy panties, it began to ape, screaming fun.

       Platon Alexandrovich was sitting before a mirror, having put his foot on the edge of the table, he even didn’t move, because his wig was being crinkled and sprinkled with powder at the moment. Visitors with a bow at his feet politely took place, and lanky adjutant was commanding as if they were children in parochial school, “You, count, will be the first, you, general, after count, and you after general…”

       Zubov didn’t notice anybody while he was being brushed, he was breaking letters and gave them to adjutant to read – everybody saw that he was busy with affairs of state. If Zubov addressed himself to somebody in the queue, that man had right to approach only after five or six bows, and receiving the answer, he had to return to his place on tiptoe; those who weren’t lucky could take place in the queue for three years.

       But there was a real fun for the monkey in lacy panties. It was small, the size of a big cat, extremely agile, it was rushing on the ledges, chandeliers, curtains, visitors’ eyes could hardly follow it. It could jump form the chandelier on a hat of petitioner, accurately enter and stay there if it like, especially if it was the Greek Toope. Such lucky petitioner bent courteously and was waiting courteously untill the monkey was feasting on the headgear.

       “What do bankers need?” – Zubov closed one eye, as if powder fell there.

       “Deuce takes it!” – Suderland cursed inwardly – “do I need this?”

       “Your Highness, I beg your attention: we need a lot of money to settle lands of Mala Russia with foreigners…”

       “But you are there in the world” – duke was watching with narrowed eyes, as if he were aiming a musket.

       “Certainly, it’s my trouble, but provisions, percentage… His grace, Duke Grigoriy Potyomkin demands sooner.”

       “Potyomkin?!” – Zubov got angry and shook his head, so that even powder fluttered – hairdressers recoiled in fright, and the monkey rushed headlong for the curtain – “if he demands, let he gives!”

       Suderland was standing near Zubov without saying a word, waiting long, and he went away at last. He understood that only the empress could free him of the scourge, in which he got between the two favorites.

       When Suderland met the empress, fortunately, he found her in a good mood – she was feeding her parrot at the moment. Seeing the stranger, the bird flapped its wings with displeasure, and yelled, as if for help: “Pla-a-to-o-sha!”

       “Don’t worry, dear banker” – the empress calmed Suderland – “your conditions will be met, if only duke Potyomkin get money in time – he makes a big deal, settling the lands of Mala Rus with Greeks, Armenians or Volokhs. The duke confirms these lands to be Russian, because foreigners from any countries are subjects of the imperial throne there forever. And even if something changes: for example, history moves the boundaries, – Russia will have right to defend its people diplomatically, or with arms in case of need.”

        The parrot flapped its wings again, and vailing its head, stared suspiciously at Suderland.

       “It’s the most sincere favorite” – the empress smiled, nodding at the parrot – “all the previous betrayed, and this is the most true lover, it will always love me.”

       The parrot, as if understanding something, proudly stretched out his neck and cried, “Glory to Catherine!”

       Whether his teacher didn’t pronounce a letter “r”, or because of bird nature, but he said “Cathegine”.

       Eventually, words of the empress would come true: this bird would be the most loyal and reliable pet. A century would pass, after the October Revolution; Red Guards would confiscate estates of old families. They would take away all but the last in the house of prince Saltykov, and when they are already at the doorstep, a grandmother would cry then, “If you took everything, take the bird too – it’s also historical value.”

       “Revolution doesn’t need this” – Red Guard smiled of fun.

       “Don’t smile; it’s a parrot of Catherine II, for your information.”

       As to confirm the words of the old mistress, the bird tossed with wings, shabby with age and cried, “Glory to Cathe-g-g-ine!”

       Smiling, soldiers took the cage with the parrot which was shabby, with a cataract in the eye. But the bird either did not want to expect a world revolution, or from the food of Red Guard, but after three weeks it died.

       Thus the story of the last lover of the empress ended.




       At the beginning of the meeting of the State Council at the empress the prince Potyomkin’s eye, which was plucked out, suddenly itched – it itched so strongly as if a mote hit there. It was impossible, because it was always tied with a densely braid, but in spite of it, itching intensified and turned into pain at last. He rubbed his eyes with his hand over the tape and muted itch for a while.

       “Bad sign” – the prince thought – “people say it means tears. But these are inventions of old women.”

       Potyomkin had to report about the situation in Mala Rus today.

       “Victorious war is over, Zaporozhian Cossacks had done their work” – the prince’s memory was good and he exactly named number of troops, towns and villages where the heaviest fightings took place.

       “It’s time to eliminate Zaporozhian Sich. It is distemper for us – nobleman punishes his peasant and this peasant begins to look towards Zaporozhian steppes. The orders from Petersburg often are not performed, or they are performed with tricks characteristic for Ukrainians – it’s impossible to find out who is guilty. The settlement of foreigners in the south of Mala Rus especially troubles, because we are waiting for the arrival of one hundred thousand German families. And Kalnyshevskiy, obsequiously nodding in our direction, really he heavily colonizes the south with Zaporozhians – forty five villages and more than five thousand farms appeared only recently thanks to his efforts. That’s why it is necessary to cut Zaporozhian knot.”

       He spoke persuasively, because nobody traveled on the dusty southern roads as he did, and nobody knew better the situation in that country. Suddenly Potyomkin saw an old bishop among people, he was surprised, because State Council was not for bishops, not parish meeting; there was even buzzing in his head when the bishop dared to interrupt him:

       “Prince, don’t cause injustice to people, don’t step on the road of evil… You entered for kosh as a Kosh Otaman Gritsko Nechesa, but you called Kalnyshevskiy “dear father”, – bishop said reproachfully – “and if you worship injustice, land will not accept your bones, and descendants will call you the prince of darkness…”

       “I’m prince of Tauride!” – Potyomkin slipped out and pull together, rubbed his eye which was already healthy – there wasn’t any bishop, it seemed.

       Dignitaries in the Council looked at each other in surprise: why did he make boast of his title, reading a report, and the empress began to rally, surprised at a long break:

       “Prince, we know all your honourable titles. But what do you offer?”

       Having made excuses and complained of overwork, Potyomkin expanded how to use the troops of Tekeli and Prosorovskiy, what to do with Kalnyshevskiy. There weren’t big debates, because it was impossible to find better time, everybody was considering how to share vast lands and everything on them.

       …Agreements adopted at the State Council were performed under particular control, as never before. Five columns of troops of one hundred thousand soldiers of Peter Tekeli were going to Sich quickly, surrounding it from different sides. But Serbian Tekeli was afraid of any actions until Prosorovskiy occupy Cossacks’ tents with his troops – every invader knows that flame of rebellion can burst out very quickly, and it’s very difficult to blow out that flame even with soldiers’ overcoats.

       Meanwhile the council of fathers took place in the Sich.

       “Let them burn out our eyes, but we will not give the Sich-mother,” somebody was stubborn.

       “Brothers, there are some thousands of us, but there are much more Muscovites, they are like midges, which it is difficult to count” – more cautious people warned.

       “We will not give Zaporozhye till the sun shines…”

       Kalnyshevskiy didn’t interrupt anybody, even the hottest; he saw much for his eighty years. He parted with his life many times, and sometimes he didn’t have time even to part. But it was the most difficult time; it would be better not live to see that time… And if he was fated to live, he would have to adopt a decision, worthy of his old years, anyhow.

       He had a strange dream last night. He saw a bishop, very similar to the metropolitan Arceniy, it was as if the last conversation with him continued.

       “There will be time to gather stones, Peter” – Arceniy hadn’t changed since that time, only his face was grey as in the darkness – “you only need to believe and live.”

       A dispute broke out at the father’s council when they were discussing priest Vladimir who shared troubles and joy with the Cossacks.

       “Resignation will save us” – the priest said and the council began to boom indignantly and discomposedly, but the bishop didn’t pay attention  – “we’ll not compare ourselves with enemies, spill Christian blood.”

       The word of priest had always been a law for veteran Cossacks, but now they were ready to shred him.

       “He is a spy from Moscow! He is a ban-dog!”

       “Brothers” – Kalnyshevskiy said at last – “we are not strong enough to start a fight. Hear my grey head… If you die here, even as heroes, who will have children, who will run the show here…Foregners?”

       Kosh Otaman was silent, then he added cap in hand, “Moses with his people was going away from captivity for forty years, but you may do this even longer. I prefer not to talk what these gadders will do with Sich. Let your heart say you where to go…”

       The oldest went to Tekeli the next day, Solovki waited for Kosh Otaman, Turuhansk expected clerk Ivan Globa, and military judge Pavel Globa had to get in Tobolsk.

       Different people went to Sich as midges – they were bringing out ammunition, flags, archives of Zaporozhian military chancery, they earthed cannons. Many people came in the church; they were not praying but packing silver and gold from ornaments in their sacks in a hurry.

       Cossacks managed to save only the icon of Saint Sich Pokrova.

       “Go where you heart says,” Kosh Otaman advised his sworn brothers.

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