Іван Корсак - The last lover of the Empress (сторінка 10)

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        Second lieutenant Mirovich didn’t recognize his voice, which was calm now, even too ordinary.

       Just a drop of moisture fell from the ceiling, slamming, in silence, which set in suddenly.

       “We have an oath” – Chenckin sniffed like a schoolboy and backed – “we performed our duty.”

       Now everything that happened in Mirovich’s head was in the same mist, which wrapped up the whole top of the fortress. Soldiers carried the body of the dead former emperor on the ground, lined up in silence.

       It was daylight, the sun could not possibly get through the gloom, and only the contours of the casemates were outlined against the background of a light sky.

       “Weapon to the guard!”

       The rustle of clothing, movements, memorized to subconscious as of mechanical toys.

       “Last respects to the Emperor – discharge!”

       Shots were heard almost at the same time as a rolling thunder, that thunder was darting on the ground, it overcame a squeeze of the ground at last, broke away from a fortress and rolled over the river, hollows, and it was rolling and calling to one another.

       “You are arrested” – commandant of the prison guards, dressed in a uniform, came up to Mirovich – “your arms, second lieutenant. And you, Vlasev and Checkin, you are arrested too. Handcuff them.”

 

20

 

       Kosh Otaman’s mace returned to Kalnishevskiy’s hand unexpectedly – elections fell as a white snow on his white head.

       “Kalnishevskiy must be Kosh Otaman!”

       “He knows well, we agree!”

       He began to exhort society, “Brothers, why shall we change one man into another one?”

       There was nothing to prove: Cossacks were booming, crying out objections, cackling like disturbed geese.

       Then he began to tell about more important reasons.

       “One can’t do this without edict of the empress. It’s bad to quarrel for a mace. And time is not the best for it.”

       “We can do without somebody’s guidance! Somebody foreign has been stringing us as blind beasts for a long time…”

       “Be afraid of God, we can elect from ours!”

       “Kalnysh! Peter, don’t neglect us!”

       It would be better warm the bones, these bones deserved rest, they worked hard, but people were crying so loud that he agreed at last.

       First years flashed as one day. And Kosh Otaman began the matter discussed with Matsievich, matter he got angry for and advised – for economy. Appletrees and pears raised in the gardens on new farms, bushed, animals were bleating in those backyards; eventually land was covered not only with hamlets but with whole settlements.

       And when new clouds hung over Sich, he invited war clerk Glob and captain Golovatyy, because Christmas continued, mummers didn’t leave doosteps.

       Kosh Otaman called Jura by a bell when they had dinner and drank a glass.

       “Don’t let anybody!”

       And then he took out paper, quill with ink, put it before Glob, “Write!”

       Everything may happen in state matters, it doesn’t always look through calendars, that’s why he sat comfortable and dunked quill.

       “Peter, what to write?”

       “Write a report about me for the empress.”

       Glob even bowed head and narrowed his lids as if he were going to pull the thread into a small eye of a needle.

       “Peter, we’ve drunk only one glass.”

       “Write, write. And if you think that I’m bored one in a report, add something about you, about Pavel for company.”

       Glob was still looking, narrowing his lids as if he were aiming at that invisible needle and began to understand Kosh Otaman.

       “Ivan, write a report that Kosh Otaman Kalnishevskiy together with the same villain war clerk Glob and captain Golovatyy are going to commit an evil deed. If in the nearest time the empress disobeys the Cossacks in dispute between Zaporozhian Kosh Otaman and Russia for borderlands, Kosh Otaman will be going to Crimean Khan with a deputation. They will choose nearly twenty people and will ask there to receive them under the patronage of Khan. And sign “Pavel Savitskiy”, I agreed with him yesterday.

       Golovatyy only scratched behind his ear.

       “Peter, isn’t it a bit thick? Siberian frost is stronger than ours” – he put his finger in the window glass with ornate pattern which flourished as fabulous ferns.

       “Brothers, I’m old, it’s late to be afraid. And you decide whose name to strike out – I don’t force, and there is enough paper to rewrite.”

       “Who are you taking us for?” – Glob growled and looked at Golovatyy who only shook his head.

       “Peter, did you consider everything to be well? If they don’t believe, we say, and call trouble for an innocent man?”

       “No, Pavel, after Iskra and Kochubey who were executed in vain, in their opinion, nobody would seize an executioner’s ax.”

       “But if they take us? Why to prevaricate?”

       “Investigation has to prove it. A man heard a bell, but didn’t know where, so he curried favor with the empress, wrote sincerely.”

       “Eventually, one can call big trouble to Sich. Nobody knows what slanderer or another lover has on mind…”

       Kosh Otaman didn’t answer at once, only closed his eyes as if he were sleepy.

       “They won’t go now to fight with us. But some day or other Petersburg will cut our Sich at the root; I’ve never told you this, brothers. But not now: they need us in a war with Turkey.”

       Kalnishevskiy raised his bell again.

       “Runner!” he said to smart Jura.

       Tramp of horses’ hoofs, that raced from the place abruptly, moved away, calmed down and finally stopped.

 

21

 

       Two foreigners came unexpectedly late in the evening in a confined room over a hall, room taken by lieutenant Mirovich, with obsolete walls and cracked stove. He didn’t have money for better accommodation, because he hadn’t received pay for eighteen months.

       “A grandee calls you,” guests told, introducing themselves, but they asked in a firm unquestioned tone.

       Mirovich didn’t understand where he was brought in a coach with blinded windows. He managed to look around when he entered: marble stairs of luxurious palace, chiselled fancy banister… “What does this invitation mean?” – Vasiliy was surprised.

       Young well-built man was waiting for him in a spacious hall, dressed in an embroidered kaftan.

       “Sit down, second lieutenant.”

       “Count Grigoriy Orlov! Powerful favourite, not crowned sovereign of the empire” – Mirovich ran cold.

       They remained double.

       “We’ll discuss state business now,” count said silently, but underlining each word as if he were standing in front of soldiers’ rank. “You’ll help to fawn her Majesty, your Cossacks’ land, yourself personally. If you are ready, I’ll continue, if not, so audience is over. But don’t forget that there isn’t return after the word “yes”.”

       Mirovich felt as if somebody threw two cold douches on him, he hardly came himself after sudden meeting with that personality and new order at once as “go there you don’t know where, do that you don’t know”…

       Vasiliy didn’t know what to answer, he stood like a string, he was only blinking, then said, “Your Grace, I can’t so… Or maybe I’m not able; maybe it contradicts my nature and honour, maybe…”

       “Enough!” count washed out as if he sabered. “Fortune gives everybody his chance, it’s yours now.”

       “Your Grace, we would like to specify…”

       Graph shook his head nervously; he didn’t want to keep on talking.

       Mirovich begged mentally, “Good gracious, you give me whether reward, or trial, or cunning temptation. How to understand, not to commit unrecoverable evil?”

       At the same time Vasiliy has many examples when a man takes the only chance to change his life, these examples are near by, here is count Orlov.

       And if it’s such a chance, why not to take it airily? He could continue glory and power of the previous Miroviches, its consequence and honest name. His ancestor, colonel Mirovich was spiked on tarred boards during execution of Hetman Ostryanitsa, was burning on a small fire, but he uttered neither cry nor groan. Great-grandfather Ivan, Mazepa’s companion, married his sister to him. When nonconformity of Cossacks’ land was concerned, Fedor Mirovich gave his capital, he wasn’t afraid of stamp of betrayer, got in emigration with Orlick, was in a great engagement up to the end of his life, caring for his land, wandering in Turkey and living in Warsaw. Peter I took away all family property to treasury, deported family to Siberia. And children were allowed to return to Ukraine long after, to their uncle, Hetman Pavel Polubotock. Grandmother was dismissed two years after children, and she gave her last money to construction of cathedral which was begun by her father-in-law and husband.

       Grandmother had been writing numerous petitions for years in vain, asking to return her portion even though. And he, Vasiliy Mirovich, must be worthy his family and he must not wander in foreign flea-pits, in foreign lands and stand at attention before drunk major.

       “Yes,” Mirovich said at last with a deep expiration, as if he jumped in a gulf with closed eyes and didn’t know if it was deep.

       “So, listen” – a shadow from a cloud seemed to run across count’s stout red face – “Ivan Antonovich, a former emperor, emperor since infancy, had been kept in Shlisselburg fortress for many years. The empress Catherine wants to dismiss him, bring him out and release. Kind heart of the empress can’t stand this injustice, all the more so, Ivan Antonovich is her remote relative.”

       “And who will dare go against her Majesty’s will, who opposes her?”

       “Everybody has his enemies, she has many enemies too. Ivan Antonovich must be released under arms, guard is not big, less than twenty bayonets. You’ll have twice as many soldiers when you mount guard.”

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