Іван Корсак - The last lover of the Empress (сторінка 7)

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New trouble burst out and flamed like a fire at the harvest time. That icon was ordered to be taken to the Church of John and Kir by somebody to stop plague, and priests had to be brought to ecclesiastic command. Annoyed people defended priests by force, and soldiers tried to take away the chest with contributions.

The bells were ringing anxiously near Spass Gates and their sounds were floating over frightened Moscow streets.

“They rob Our Lady!” this cry raised thousands of people, some of them grabbed oak pile, the others took any stones they saw.

The rebels broke into Chudov monastery in the search of guilties, smeared merchant Ptitsin’s wine-cellars, dashed to revenge on hateful general Yeropkin.

Huge hordes of people streamed to Kremlin, intentions of rebels were unquestioned.

There was a command, “Drive   cannons up to Spassky Gate, Borovitskiy and Nikolskiy Gates!”

The white flag, carried by officers to rebels, was treaded down and torn up, and the truce agents could hardly save.

       The order sounded, “Fire by buck-shot!”

       Cannons hammered away almost together, cannon-balls were falling, arcing, with evil whistle among people: cries, groans, crippled bodies and a new command “Aim!” stopped the rebels.

       On the next day cavalry went on the attack, shining with swords in September sun.

       Rebellion was suppressed. Clerk wrote on the paper an urgent report to Petersburg, splashing ink nervously after the events, “78 people are killed, 279 are arrested, 72 are beaten with whips and lagged, 91 are beaten with whips and sent to official works, 4 are hung.”

       Meanwhile craftsmen were bothering in foundries in Petersburg and metal was melted for the urgent order. The empress ordered to make service medal for suppressing of the rebellion “For releasing Moscow from canker” in honour of general Orlov. Prince Grigoriy was greeted in the court with music, ceremonies as a real hero.

       But Moscow didn’t care an orchestra – the carts were groaning, bodies of killed people and those who died from plague were brought away, new cemeteries were built – Vagankovsk, Dorogomilovsk, Danilovsk, Miusk, Preobrazhensk, Vvedensk… Two thousand Muscovites died, almost as many inhabitants as there were at the beginning of that century in the town, and they died from plague which was brought from victorious war with Turkey, which was celebrated loudly with parties, balls and high honours.

 

15

 

She was sure that she would never meet this metropolitan (former metropolitan, for luck) who was really wrinkled from years of living, like a dried pear, sharp-tongued old man, with mangy hair from old scurvy, unpleasant and acid monk: fast horses brought him far to the North. If recollections about Arceniy flitted through her mind, the empress tried to sponge them out like an intruder.

First she couldn’t divest herself of the recollection about Matsievich. At that time there was unexpected news about sudden death of bishop Gedeon on the way to Pskov – he could only clutch at his heart and cry, a cabman couldn’t even stop the cart. “All in a lifetime, annoying and unexpected things happen” – she divested herself of the evil recollection: Arceniy’s prediction about Gedeon in the court – “concourse of circumstances, that’s all.”

In less than two months the second sad news came in Petersburg, news was strange, unforeseen, and obscure.

The Dome of holy Three Church, near Cross Chamber in the Kremlin where the metropolitan was judged, fell. The building wasn’t very old, it was built by good workers, and even foreigners were invited to control.

The church ruined; thank God a service wasn’t being said, and there was nobody there, it ruined without rhyme or reason, without wind and storm, without earthquake: only the land jumped and clubs of grey dust like ashes rose into the sky.

Could it be coincidence? People were surprised – their fathers and grandfathers didn’t remember falling churches, rumours were spreading.

“For our sins…”

“Maybe not ours.”

“The righteous was judged here.”

“But the metropolitan warned…”

“This is the end of the world: God shows signs.”

 The crowd was thickening, the ring round people was narrowing, they were even mobbing on broken brick, only a powder soared from under the feet.

“Dismiss!” guard cried and aimed a blow as if they were going to hit, but they cried so timidly and uncertainly because they were horror-struck themselves.

“And they mocked metropolitan Arceniy,” people were gossiping in low voices, looking around carefully, were afraid of strangers near them, because one could smell not only this powder of bricks, but casemate mold for careless words.

The empress couldn’t divest herself of the recollections and bitter unwilled Matsievich’s words. Dignitaries, called urgently, could just spread their arms, only Sheshkovskiy dared express his opinion.

“Somebody is reported to give the Lier relics of Dimitriy… That’s why he has inexplicable strength now.”

Sheshkovskiy told and stumbled, he was sorry for his hastiness: the empress’s face was transforming and      he became red in the face, the spots appeared on his face.

“You have to guard sparrows but not the state criminal!” – The courtiers have never seen their empress in this state; usually she was deliberate and composed – “Find out who is quilty!”

 Sheshkovskiy was quietly hiding behind the court, a goose-skin appeared on his body as if he got out of water to a cold wind – he could get in prison in this situation where his prisoners were kept earlier.

Several nights after it she dreamed of unusual picture of the church which was breaking down, earth groans and clouds of dust in the sky; she awoke shivering, tried even to read, but at the moment she was going to sleep the church dome began to turn and fall…

Misfortunes never come alone. There were many alarm reports from Sheshkovskiy who began to bumble or to get a habit of thinking longer than usually after that conversation. Her secret enemies, who considered Ivan Antonovich to be fair pretender for throne, became very active.

Next day after her enthronement Catherine II sent major-general Silin her decree.

“On receiving this letter you must, on that day or the next one, bring the prisoner kept in Shlisselburg Fortress to Kexholm under your control and to prepare, according to the decree, to clean and tidy up the best rooms in Shlisselburg.”

On July, 4 major-general reported about unusual adventure from village Morya, in three dozen miles from Shlisselburg. A storm broke their simple boat on the lake and they were waiting for another boat with a prisoner to get to Kexholm. Ivan Antonovich was delivered back to Shlisselburg at last.

The new empress visited her rival in casemates of evil glory with an unknown obscure compassion. She looked, shook her head and calmed down. “He is crazy, let he linger out his life.”

Now she couldn’t calm down, she couldn’t be light-headed to new reports; it would be an unforgivable error.

“And there are those who envy my luck.” She made a face as if she had a toothache and this dull pain didn’t stop.

“If somebody wants to dismiss Ivan Antonovich – even the smallest attempt…” – the empress ordered in such a voice that nobody wanted to find out the details.

 

16

 

Music sounded in Saxon pub, nice Gipsies were dancing in Saxon pub, Gipsies were dark-complexioned and slim, one were more beautiful than others; if one of them turned her waist and began to twist her bright skirt, officer Shvanchich was seized with languor, a blush mounted to his face and his young body was boiling and springing. Officers liked to come here, Shvanchich didn’t avoid it either. He tasted red wine brought from far Spanish lands, quick music excited him, and it called to dance, but he was interested in one Gipsy who was winking at him. Shining and hot, she winking at everybody, but Shvanchich, heated with wine, thought that she was winking particularly.

Brothers Orlov tumbled in the pub as in their own house, Fedor and Aleksey, both were tall and square-built, drunk, went to Shvanchich’s table, seeing him, Aleksey managed to pinch Gipsy who was smiling and winking at Shvanchich, on the way.

Shvanchich muttered genially, “Don’t touch, it’s mine.”

“Did you buy her on the market?” Aleksey asked, showing his teeth.

“Gipsy tribe belongs to the world,” Aleksey continued joking. “And they belong to those who are stronger.”

Husky understood the challenge and roared like an angry bear awaked in winter. He was not shorter or weaker than all five Orlov brothers, he could break a brick in the wall and he took to fight like a duck to water – fought for dear life, smiling.

“Go to hell,” he said and pronounced swear word as twisted as sheep’s horns.

 Aleksey landed a blow on his ear, without long thinking, but poorly, the rival beated a hand back and, in his turn, Aleksey got the kick and fell  head over heels.

In a moment a ball of three bodies was rolling among tables, bundled out at the doorstep, broken door cracked; Shvanchich managed to spring to his feet and beat both brothers, his back was turned towards the wall.

Wine was mixed with blood, adding fever in the fight, he was holding long against two, till Aleksey stroke just in the face: very strong, he even felt the hand in his shoulder, the hand which could cut off a head of an old beef at one fling of sword.

When Shvanchich fell there was a real fun for Fedor and Aleksey – he was kicked in the pope and ribs, they stroke his hands which covered the face, they beat him vilently together, and in turn, untill the body was silent and didn’t move.

Shvanchich lay in the dirt long, under a night rain, he was breathing hard and groaning till Aleksey, overfull with foreign wine, came out to wind.

Shvanchich managed to stand up, straining every nerve, whipped out his sword and cut Aleksey’s face. He could be splitted, but for Shvanchich’s beaten hand (he was lucky), the blade cut only the cheek from ear to mouth. Fedor managed to bring bloody, insensible brother to a surgeon – a scar like a deep rut remained which now became blue, now turned purple.

That event was the only Aleksey’s defeat. He could do what he liked and he was sure in impunity – there was a broad back of brother Grigoriy behind him. Catherine noticed Grigoriy when she was a great princess, long before enthronement. Having taken Grigoriy from her good cummer countess Bryus, great princess appreciated countess’s taste – young and tough Grigoriy’s body was  fumbling her violently, was throwing her into rage, into desperation, she forgot her husband and previous lovers, she was carried by stormy waves and she wanted this headlong flow never to stop. Truthful valet Vasiliy Shkurin opened the door every time softly, without lighting up, and Grigoriy stealed in a bedroom.

But once, enjoying young and tough lover’s body and incurving like a fish thrown on the bank, she touched gently his cheek in the ecstasy of caress. She touched and ran cold; she felt a deep Aleksey’s scar under fingers.

She jumped out of bed and lighted a candle.

“How dared you?” – Indignant half cry – half whisper didn’t affect Aleksey.

“Isn’t it all the same to you” – tired Aleksey began to put on his pants – “you shouldn’t quarrel with the Orlovs because they are guardsmen not only in the bed but…” he didn’t finish.

Aleksey’s words became predictive if there was a need to hide a man.

Grigoriy really turned out to be smart not only in bed, he was a sharp man.

When the empress became very gentle with Grigoriy Potyomkin who carved out a career for himself quickly from a corporal to a bedchamber, and Potyomkin  was looking at plump empress’s body with languishing look, the Orlovs found him alone.

“This flesh isn’t for your teeth,” Grigoriy Orlov said and punched Potyomkin’s teeth so that they even crunched.

“This is nice pestle but for another mortar,” Aleksey smiled with wry smile and smashed him in the pope.

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