Іван Корсак - The last lover of the Empress (сторінка 20)

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       The prince Potyomkin’s matters shaped well for long… Battle successes in the south brought new orders and estates, and besides, charming Sophia Witt, another of his passions, was heady. Potyomkin was seriously thinking about marriage with her and coronation for new realm. He saw revived Byzantine Empire in his unrestrained dreams. According to legend, the ancient Greek civilization was born in the Northern Black Sea, and it spread on the lands of historical Hellas from that place. The capital of new empire had to be near ancient Olbia, it would be better in Nikolaev, his favourite town.

       Although the new designs didn’t have place for the empress Catherine, she continued to send caring letters, she even sent young doctor for Potyomkin from Petersburg.

       Strange obscure events began to occur unexpectedly. At the funeral of prince of Virtenberg, brother of princesses Maria Fedorovna, in town of Halacha, after the ceremony a funeral coach came up to Potyomkin instead of his luxurious coach.

       The prince was scared, he even stepped back and crossed, his back was cold as if somebody spilled water: he understood that it was somebody’s mistake, but horror did not diminish.

       The prince died suddenly in the desert. He had bouts of fever on that day, but he wasn’t afraid of road, he even prepared an entire goose for it.

       But he was buried not in his favourite Nikolaev, but in Kherson, he didn’t like this town and called it “coffin”.

       Archbishop Ambrose was speaking with sincerity and emotion in a memorial speech over the body of the deceased,

       “The empress is now without counselor, associate and friend.”

       Shrewd tongues were whispering: “Prince was poisoned, that young doctor did it, doctor who was sent by Catherine.” But there are not people who were not discussed.

       The other thing was unexpected. Potyomkin’s vision about plan of destruction of the Zaporozhian Sich at the The Council of State came true: stories about his actions issued first in Hamburg journal “Minerva”, but then in a separate Gelbig’s book “Potyomkin of Tauride”, subsequently the book was reprinted many times in Germany, France and England, at last it was translated into Russian under the title “Pansalvin is the prince of darkness”, then it began to roam on the spaces of empire. The name “the prince of darkness”, given Grigoriy by the author, stuck to the Potyomkin’s surname by firm and inseparable epithet for centuries.

       Strange adventures happened to the body of prince Grigoriy too. He was put in a coffin in the church of Saint Catherine, the empress had commissioned a marble tombstone, but it wasn’t made for five years even during her life, and Potyomkin remained not buried. The next emperor Pavel I signed the order for Attorney-General Alexander Kurakin, “that his body must be buried in the same coffin in special pit without taking air, and the pit must be covered with soil so flatly as if it wasn’t there”. And they told Kurakin the other things,

       “Everything that reminds of Potyomkin must be destroyed, and his bones must be spread out in the Devil’s Canyon.”

       So strange name for a canyon… And Ukrainian land hadn’t taken the prince Potyomkin’s body for six years. The grave was dug under the moon and buried empty.

       The next emperor Alexander I ordered to erect a monument to Potyomkin in Kherson. A famous painter I. Martos had to prepare a draft, but the work didn’t come to hand, heirs squabbled over money. Official commission opened the coffin many times, checking the remains; Potyomkin was buried eight times, as historians estimated, and every time there were reasons for abruption of his dust.

       A writer Boris Lavrenev in 1930 entered former church with a plate on the door “Museum of Atheism” and examined the exhibits. In a showcase under glass he saw a human skull, darkened by the time, and a table “Skull of Potyomkin, lover of Catherine II”. In the second showcase – remains of clothes, stockings and shoes, in the other – human skeleton with a rotted pieces of muscles. The same table: “Bones of Potyomkin, lover of Catherine II”.

       The local priest had been keeping yellow photos of excavation of graves for a long time: farmers are standing above the skeletons in the remnants of Catherine uniforms, and leather jacket of chekist is seen near by – worthy successor of the Secret Expedition of Catherine II and prince Grigoriy Potyomkin.

 

40

 

       Everything faded away in the palace of the late autumn night, daily hustle and bustle of the court subsided, empress had long been in the bedchamber, only the maids of honor did not sleep on duty. Only light and calm crackle of firewood occasionally broke the silence of the huge building.

       Suddenly the door of the bedchamber opened, empress came out with a candle in her hands and went to throne room. Maids of honor were surprised at such late visit and long absence of the empress. Bell for servants from the bedchamber broke their hesitations and whisperings.

       Maids of honor entered and were numb with fright. The empress who had just passed them in a night clothes and with a candle in her hands, really was lying in her bed as if she didn’t come out.

       “Who is mooching and making noise?” she blinked her eyes sleepily and discontentedly, looking at maids of honor.

        They lost courage and were making excuses and humming, fueling Catherine’s curiosity that suspected something and made them tell the truth.

       Maids of honor had to tell everything they saw.

       “Help me to dress! Quickly!” – Empress lost her sleep immediately.

       They went together to the throne room, door was opened, and they petrified, barely crossing the threshold.

       A huge hall was illuminated by an unusual greenish, ghostly and shimmering light, and on the throne… Empress Catherine II was sitting.

       Timid, seized with terror, from which the skin on the head tightened and body was frozen, empress was looking with bewitched gaze at herself, at her double who was sitting on the throne moveless under unusually greenish otherworldly light; she was looking and couldn’t revert the eyes as if she was bewitched by a witch, or unseen, unknown and powerful magnets held that gaze until she fainted.

       And in a minute ghostly light and vision disappeared, throne room was empty, as well as the throne. The empress came to.

       Maids of honor crossed themselves and swore never to tell about it.

       The empress came to herself only in two days, when she woke up cheerful, with renewed forces, ready to new efforts. She drank coffee, joked with a valet, and went to a lavatory. Cosing on the throne of Polish kings which was used as a seat in toilet, she tried to releive herself, when suddenly something happened; sparks were quacking in a temple. Then there was buzzing in her head, the world lurched and began to tremble, drifted uncontrollably like a boat which got in a violent whirlwind of a river; flocks of crows came over her, even not crows, they only superficially resembled them, they were quicker than sinister bats with webbed wings: they circled over her with a terrible cry, showed large black claws, trying to catch her, but she was able to dodge and wriggle for a while till dusk and night.

       Valet Zahariy Zotov had been waiting for the empress patiently for a long time until his heart jumped and he dared: smashing the door with a shoulder, he broke into lavatory.

       The empress was lying in the floor, her face was florid, and painful rale broke from her throat.

       There was an anxiety, courtiers ran up and pulled heavy body from the lavatory, but even six men couldn’t put it on the bed, that’s why they put morocco mattress on the floor and laid dying empress on it.

       Then palace was buzzing like a hive: carriers were running, runners were rushing with reports to son Pavel to Gatchina, courtiers were arriving.

       Doctors were bothering near the body. They put blister-beetles on her feet, let her blood from a hand. But there wasn’t any hope in doctors’ eyes.

       At nine in the evening a surgeon in ordinary to the Empress told that the empress was dying. Lord was waiting in vain, he had to confess the empress, but she didn’t regain consciousness. He tried to communicate her too but failed, “because of foam from the mouth” as eyewitness wrote.

       Lord recalled words of metropolitan Matsievich, words said reproachfully on that age-old trial, “You will die without Christian confession and communion.”

       And in the next few days there were familiar and at the same time unusual preparations for the funeral of the empress.

       Unprecedented spectacle took place in front of thousands of people. Emperor Peter III rose from the grave. Son knew that his mother had killed father, as many people in Russia knew. Taking the throne, he decided not to bury mother until he paid his last respects to his father – now he would crown him, because Peter II had been strangled before coronation. Catherine II had been lying in a coffin unburied for a month.

       Runners were rushing to Moscow for the royal regalia, and at this time excavated coffin was brought from the cemetery of the Alexander Nevsky Monastery and it was put near the coffin of the empress Catherine II. Murderer and victim, husband and wife still met.

       “Who will carry the crown?” – they asked emperor Pavel at the beginning of ceremony.

       “Orlov” – he answered without hesitation, he uttered words which were conceived long ago, that was lurking in the soul for long years.

       Alexey Orlov took the crown as if it was white-hot, and it really burned his fingers and palms, calling unnatural, unconscious animal terror which was curdling the blood. “You will crown that whose blood is on your hands” – words said by metropolitan on the trial sounded for Alexey from the distance of three decades, came, reached as if a distant echo was rolling through the woods and thickets.

      

41

      

       They broke into the emperor’s hall rapidly, being red and excited of drinks, they acted without caution.

       Hearing crash, emperor Pavel could hide and he was standing in underwear in surprise near curtains.

       “You are arrested, Your Majesty!”

       Emperor began to understand that it was so unexpectedly, began to wake, stood straight and cried at Zubov in usual dictatorial voice.

       “Are you out of your mind, Platon Alexandrovich!”

       “You aren’t the emperor any more” – Zubov said at once, red from running on the stairs – “Alexander is our emperor!”

       Conspirators tumbled one after another in the bedroom – Benigsen, Platon’s brother Nikolay, Yashvil, Tatarinov, and Platon took out pre-prepared text of abdication when they surrounded the emperor by a semicircle.

       The emperor, exasperated by unheard and incredible arrogance, was going to aim a blow at Platon, but brother Nikolay stroke his hand so that it hung like a wiper. Pavel managed to rush to the window and to strike window glass with a healthy hand – the glass clinked, but the emperor was knocked down immediately, and he found himself in a semicircle of conspirators. Platon was looking for something proper, and suddenly he saw gold snuffbox: pick at the temple, and Pavel        reeled, his feet wore, and fell on the floor.

       “If he is alive, we won’t live!” – Benigsen cried.

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