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assorted couple who never spoke. A grave his-
torian remarked of Louis XV., qu'il fit a sa
fcmme sept enfants sans lui dire un mot. The
Brunswick pair, equally reserved, were less pro-
lific. The boy sufficed.



ioo The Imperial Orgy

The girlhood of the princess had been var-
iegated by a duo with a man named Lynar.
Why he consented to sing with her seems mys-
terious. An equivocal young person with classic
inclinations, she was plain, vain and stupid.
Presently, as a result of the duo's lilt, she was
married to an imbecile. Subsequently this boy
was born. Big Nan being childless, the happy
family was invited to the annex of Berlin that
Petersburg had become and where the mystery
of Lynar's civility was dissolved. About the
otherwise avoidable madchen he had foreseen
the sables. What Biihren was to the aunt, he
might become to the niece and, as it happened,
he did.

A few years later, the greater Catherine
etched him: — "A fine looking fellow, with the
dress and the airs of a fop, I hear he sleeps in a
complexion mask and boasts of eighteen chil-
dren." Catherine added details, graphic cer-
tainly, but not in conformity with present taste.
That is hardly to her discredit. Formerly, pre-
lates employed in the pulpit expressions which
to-day a coster would avoid.

In the interim, affairs of state occurred. Big
Nan, overcome by drink, took to her bed. The
extreme unction was suggested. "Don't fright-
en me," she irritably retorted. But death was



Imperial Sables 101

eyeing her. It may be she did not know it.
Biihren did. So also did the Brunswickers
whose complete nullity appealed to him. Since
their boy was to be tsar, he saw no reason why
the curtains of Nan's alcove should not be mod-
elled for him into a robe of sables. He pre-
pared a ukase to that effect.

"Do you want to be regent?" Nan asked.
Those were her last words. She signed the
ukase. That was her final gesture.

The gesture was a signal. The clowns and
cripples who could think and hate prepared to
act. But already two generals, long since pre-
pared, were acting.

It had been Buhren's ambition to be regent.
He gratified it for twenty-two days and expiated
it for twenty-two years. On the twenty-second
night of his regency, his daughter, a lass quite
as lovely as her discreet mamma, woke to sudden
cries. In an adjoining room, her father, half
naked, was struggling with grenadiers whom the
two generals, Ostermann and Munnich, com-
manded. Biihren, knocked on the head, was
carried senseless to the street, where his wife
and daughter, both in chemise, were carried with
him.

The next day, charged with having attempted
the life of the late empress by taking her to



102 The Imperial Orgy

drive in the rain, he and his started for a prison
which Munnich had personally designed and
which later, the designer occupied with him.

It was Elisabeth who put him there and Oster-
mann also. Meanwhile the little palace revolu-
tiori had succeeded. Nominally, the Brunswick
woman ruled.

Ann of Mecklenburg and of Brunswick was
as vacuous as Big Nan, in addition to being more
indolent. With weak gestures she trailed the
sables that Nan had bedrabbled. Perhaps less
Mecklenburg than Mytilene, her tastes, such as
they were, were exotic. Apart from Lynar, she
had companions of a category that Brantome
ignored and Kraft-Ebbing described. Through
her brief paragraph in history, she moved lan-
guidly to Lesbian airs.

To Petersburg that mattered little. The
woman's regency was objectionable but not at
all on that account. The reigns that preceded
hers had inured to anything, no matter what. It
was the deepening German atmosphere that an-
noyed. The woman was half German and her
child, Ivan VI., Mecklenburg on her side and
Brunswick on his father's, was German to the
core. There was some one else who was not
German, some one who was Russian through
and through. But also there was the scaffold.



Imperial Sables 103

Subterraneanly a conspiracy was formed that,
silent at first, confined to a few, presently showed
its teeth. One night, to the clatter of arms, the
Brunswick woman awoke. Elisabeth stood
before her.



Q



THE NORTHERN MESSALINA

UINTILLIAN said that history and
poetry are sisters. He was dreaming.
Yet that dream of his Elisabeth exem-
plified. To-day her face, her figure, her reign
are vague. In the great penumbra she has
greatly faded. Vers libre remain. They
tell of a woman who beat the fat Frederick
to his knees, nearly crushed the tgg from
which Bismarck hatched a Kaiser, and whose
many loves were briefer and more burning than
the wick of her alabaster lamp. They tell of a
war-woman who was a lady of pleasure.

The housemaids of history have tidied her
alcove, burnished her morals and locked the
door. Excellent method. Elisabeth, who had
a grain of humour, would have enjoyed it. It is
quite in accordance with her own ideas which
she entirely neglected to observe. If she had a
broom, she did not use it and she left her door
wide open. To look in on her is not good man-
ners. Real history never had any.

104



The Northern Messalina 105

Nor had she. Ignorant, irascible, cruel and,
in her later years, always drunk, autocratically
she did as she liked. A great privilege, it was
part of the orgy, the best part. Without it the
feast would have had no savour, the wine no
taste. It enabled her and the rest of the lot to do
things for which there are no words in any dic-
tionary and no penalty in any code.

Lomonosov, a poet of her day, compared her
to a goddess on a cloud. Well, yes, perhaps.
But she was a trifle heavy for it. The earth ap-
pealed to her more than the sky, more even than
the throne which was offered to her and which,
for a delicate reason, she refused. Engaged at
the time in a fervent amour, she feared the cere-
monial would interrupt it. A young woman so
retiring was bound to win hearts and she did by
the regimentful. Besides, her mind was as
changeable as her affections. In addition she
was Peter's daughter. Over and above all she
was Russian.

One night, a corps of grenadiers, laughing
mightily at the adventure, carried her, laughing
also, to the palace, where she pulled the regent
out of bed, sent her and hers to the devil and, in
the same lively manner, ran up the steps of her
father's throne.

The fashion in which her reign began must



io6 The Imperial Orgy

have interested Sardou. During the Brunswick
management, during that also of Big Nan, many
people, but two in particular, had been thought-
less enough to annoy her. The two she ordered
broken on the wheel. The stage with its red
carpet and black draperies was prepared. Avidly
the crowd assembled. Munnich, in full uni-
form, a scarlet cloak about him, a smile for every
one, a nod to those he knew, gallantly ascended
the steps, threw off his cloak, partially un-
dressed and, still with that smile, listened while
he was told that torture had been commuted to
decapitation. Then, just as the axe was raised,
more theatricals. Instead of decapitation, exile.

To the crowd's immense disgust, Ostermann
was treated similarly. Both went to Siberia.
Hundreds followed them. The hundreds
became thousands. The thousands multiplied.
Before Elisabeth died she recalled them all, all
that still lived that is, except two. These were
women. How and why they went will be told
in a minute.

Elisabeth was very beautiful. She knew it
and it delighted her. She loved life, loved
pleasure, loved her beauty best. Time had the
impertinence to touch her. Her beauty de-
parted. At that, this sovereign whom admira-
tion had lifted, like a divinity, to the skies, could




Illl I MPRESS ELISAB1 III



The Northern Messalina 107

not, as a mortal might, fall from them. A god-
dess still, she disappeared.

When a girl and a beauty, there was question
of her becoming queen of France. The idea,
originally Peter's, Versailles considered and,
other things being equal, a Russian instead of a
Pole might have been the thrice-blessed wife of
Louis XV. But Elisabeth had not been born
in the pomps of matrimony. It was afterward
that Peter married her mother. In the eyes of
legitimate France, Elisabeth was illegitimate.
That was sufficient. There was more. Elisa-
beth, who even as a lass loved life, dressed like a
man and hunted hyenas and lovers.

Her first affair, a Slav eclogue, was with a
shepherd whom she pursued and overtook. Very
presuming of him, none the less. To teach him
the respect due to a tsarevna, his tongue was cut
out. Along the tundras of the Siberian coast,
thereafter he meditated on that lesson.

The shepherd was succeeded by a tenor, the
tenor by a regiment. Highly temperamental,
Elisabeth changed her chosen only less fre-
quently than her costumes, of which, in the
course of her volatilely voluptuous reign, she
accumulated nineteen thousand, together with
a few less than five thousand pair of shoes. In-
cidentally there was a child. About Elisabeth



108 The Imperial Orgy

romance clung. About the child there is trag-
edy. That also will be told in a moment.

In the long illness that Russian history is, the
romance of the woman and of her reign relaxes.
Set between the hysteria that had gone and the
relapses to come, the pages of the imperial an-
nals turn to airs that are almost blythe, to a gaiety
sickly but convalescent. From windows that
gave to the south and west, the patient beheld
defeats and massacres. The defeats were those
of Frederick the Pseudo-Great; the massacres,
those of Prussians. Medicaments like these in-
vigourate. Accompanying them were gusts of
culture, a trifle uncertain, the hesitant preludes
of freer life. Heads were still shaky. They
were no longer cut off for a yes or a no.

These restoratives were apprehensible from
the upper storeys only. Beneath them, the soul
of the nation, narcotised at birth, slept restlessly.
Sleep was Russia's normal condition. No Euro-
pean nation slept longer. Peter shook her,
kicked her to her feet, put her at work. Russia
laboured at his bidding, toiled beneath his lash,
writhed on his rack and, he gone, fell asleep
again. Conscious she was but conscious of night-
mare. She knew that she agonised but how or
why she could no more tell than a child with the
croup. The subsequent shrieks of the Terror,



The Northern Messalina 109

the amputations of the austere guillotine, the
festivals and convulsions of France, passed her
unheeded. Somnambulistic, automaton, hyp-
notised by absolutism's basilisk stare, night held
her and continued to hold her until the Crimean
war.

The shock of that ignoble scramble stirred
her. From her cot that was at once a cage and
a coffin, she showed a few poisoned fangs, but
only to have them drawn. They have grown
afresh since then. Since then, from being af-
frighted, she frightened the world. But mean-
while her brain was still heavy, her pulse was
slow. She suffered without knowing why.
Time, the great pathologist, was occupied else-
where. Even otherwise, it is not until a nation
can diagnose her own maladies that the indicated
remedies are applied.

They were not applied then. On the upper
storeys of the hospital, a pale daylight fell. Else-
where, darkness persisted. In the isbas, where
even vermin starved, serfs cried for bread and
died. In the schools, problems on the nature of
angels' thoughts were anxiously discussed. In
the streets, sudden cutthroats did for you and
vanished. Yet one of them, Vanka Ka'fn, the
tsar of cutthroats, managed to be quite as sur-
prising and infinitely more poetic than the



no The Imperial Orgy

anointed bandits with whom these pages deal.
That is the grave inconvenience of history. In
writing it, the historian may not sing the kings of
the highroad. He must harp of the great car-
nivora. The bestiarium will reopen imme-
diately.

For the people, in those days, existence was
tragic. For the boiars it was gay. Shackled
by Peter, they were halt. Under Elisabeth they
could move. Provided they did not affront the
imperial stare, they could live. In this epoch
they began to. About them, from the toil of
serfs, wealth had been accumulating. Splen-
didly they squandered it. In France, red-heeled
seigneurs were similarly engaged. There, pres-
ently, the poor, bled to death to defray the follies
of the rich, sent in their bill. History calls that
bill the Terror. In Russia, the addition took
longer. But when finally it was presented, the
terror that resulted reduced that of France to the
proportions of a farandole. It assembled all the
terrors of tsardom and turned them upside down.

Muscovite follies began in the reign of this
good Queen Bess. To encourage them, a great
novelty had been introduced. The novelty was
champagne. Other novelties followed: pine-
apples, Irish hunters, French literature, Italian
music and the parage of princely display. When



The Northern Messalina in

a gentleman drove, two heiduques and ten lack-
eys accompanied him. If he took snuff, he had
three hundred and sixty-five jewelled snuff-boxes
to choose from. His coats were gorgeous and,
in the court of Elisabeth, his existence was Paph-
ian.

For the court, Elisabeth built the Winter Pal-
ace, the largest in Europe, precisely as Bucking-
ham is the ugliest and Versailles the least com-
fortable.

Versailles had other attributes. In that El
Dorado of gallantry, vice was ennobled. Created
a marquis, it acquired a dignity ceremonial and
amusingly pompous. Gallantry, which is the
parody of love, became its style and title. Legit-
imate and royalist as the king, there was no
hypocrisy about it. It was cynical but not per-
verse. The perverse was there also, but hidden,
veiled by gold brocade, buried under fleurs-de-
lys.

The Winter Palace parodied Versailles as gal-
lantry parodies love. Lampsacene hymns, Les-
bian songs, the rites of the gods of the cities that
mirrored their lunar towers in the Bitter Sea,
these, the ritual of halls that a league of candles
lit, made up in fervourwhat they lacked in grace.
The fault was Peter's who, without considering



112 The Imperial Orgy

the preliminary and very imperative educational
steps, had ukased a social world into being.

The fault was not regarded as such. It was a
sesame to the cave of forbidden fruit and re-
sulted in a sans-gene that no modern court has
known, even behind the arras. As a conse-
quence, the advent, elevation and passing of
Elisabeth's grenadiers — lads of the moment they
were called — young men lifted from the bar-
racks to the couch of imperial amours, consti-
tuted a parade that was viewed with understand-
ing, not with censure, except once. Two women
presumed to sit in judgment. That was a serious
matter. The beauty of one of the women ex-
ceeded Elisabeth's. That was more serious
still. What followed is horrible.

The women were taken to the theatre. On
the stage, one of them, the Countess Bestoujev,
gave the executioner a handful of diamonds.
The lash fell lightly on her back. The knife bare-
ly scratched her tongue. The other, the beauty,
Countess Lapoukhin, screamed and fought with
the man, bit his hand, resisted him as best she
might. He tore her clothes off and, before ap-
plying the lash, cut her tongue out. Then, jeer-
ing at her nakedness, he offered the bloody mor-
sel for a rouble. He turned to beat the beauty.
She had fainted. The lash revived her. Pres-



The Northern Messalina 113

ently for her and the other woman, the journey-
to Siberia began. Of all whom Elisabeth sent
there, these two only she neglected to recall.

In the private life of the nobles there were
incidents equally abominable. A woman of rank,
angered by a serf, got her fingers in his mouth
and tore it back to the ears. In the bedroom of
another woman, a serf lived in a cage. The
serf was a barber and the woman did not wish it
known that, when loosened, he dyed her hair.
Another woman, personally and unaided, killed
a hundred of her human chattels. Another
woman — but here the pen balks. Gautier said
that the inexpressible does not exist. Gautier
did not live in eighteenth-century Russia.

In sending the Brunswickers to the devil,
Elisabeth directed them to the north, from
which, years later, they reached Denmark, minus
the boy tsar. Ivan VI. was taken from them,
brought back, put in one prison, then in another,
though where and in what prison he never knew.
No one was allowed to tell him. It was for-
bidden to speak to him. To look at him was for-
bidden. The Iron Mask of Russia, for twenty
years he reigned in an oubliette. For crown, he
had cobwebs; for subjects, spiders; for kingdom,
a cell.

That grandeur was excessive. It menaced



114 The Imperial Orgy

Elisabeth's. To annoy her, Frederick threat-
ened to put him on the throne. "I'll chop his
head off first," Elisabeth retorted. More finely,
she nearly chopped Prussia's. In the interim
she forgot Ivan. What she forgot, Catherine
II. recalled. The Star of the North could not
endure the rivalry even of a phantom. An at-
tempt was made to rescue him. The keepers
had their orders. The shadow tsar was killed.
That was Catherine's doing. Elisabeth ob-
jected to rivals also but not to shadows, only to
women. With these she was merciless. Other-
wise she enjoyed herself hugely. She hunted
all day and danced all night. At some of the
dances she appeared as a man. On such occa-
sions it was etiquette for all court young women
to appear as men and for all young men to ap-
pear as women. Elisabeth liked that. She liked
young men in women's clothes. Moreover, that
they might be properly sent out, she acted as
dresser, selecting in the process those that
pleased her most. In regard to her own mas-
querade she had a reason quite as interesting.
Her leg was well turned, she knew she looked
well as a man, kne*vv, too, that women generally
look the reverse. To be merely empress was
insufficient. After the manner of a chatelaine
in the days and in the lands of chivalry, she



The Northern Messalina 115

wanted to be Queen of Beauty and of Love.

In these diversions, age had the insolence to
approach her. Illness dared to touch her. On
her beauty they laid a smearing hand. That
was crime, a crime long since codified — crimen
lessee majestatis divince.

The woman loved life, loved love, but she
loved her beauty best. To it, to her gowns, her
coiffure, her mirror, she gave contented hours.
She never wore the same frock twice. No one
was permitted to copy her coiffure until she had
adopted another arrangement. One night she
put a rose in her hair. The Countess Lapouk-
hin did the same. She got her face slapped for
it, with the knout and Siberia to follow. As
Elisabeth dealt it to that woman, the high fates
dealt it to her. The knout was her mirror, her
prison a darkened room. There, the goddess
passed from sight, the sovereign disappeared.
Like the countess, she was in the house of the
dead.

There were hours when she meditated escape.
The lustres were lighted and in a fresh Paris-
ianism, her hair redressed, her face rerouged,
her neck circled with emeralds as big and as
naked as eggs, the illusion of lost beauty re-
turned. But who was that rancid horror that
stood and stared? From the mirror she turned,



Ii6 The Imperial Orgy

the illusion had gone and, weeping, she drank.

Her sins were scarlet. They might have been
remitted if she had lived long enough. With
longer life she would have washed them in the
paler crimson of Frederick's blood. Her troops
entered Berlin. East Prussia was theirs. Pom-
merania was theirs. Elisabeth directed them.
More exactly, a thousand miles from the front,
she shook her pen at her generals. "If any man
wavers," that pen told Saltykov, "send him to
me in chains."

They might have sent her the incompetent
parvenu whom the lackeys of history call the
Great, and who, serving as model for Wilhelm
II., fled in fright from the battlefield as that fel-
low fled; bombarded cathedrals as he did under
pretext that they served as conning towers; re-
garded treaties as the same scraps of paper; or-
dered the same frightfulness and pretended he
had not; pretended also, precisely as that scrof-
ulous dwarf pretended, that he did not want
war and warred only because Europe was jeal-
ous. England, credulous as her lackeys, believed
him. Just prior to Rossbach, he told d'Argens
that, if he lost it, he would practise medicine.
D'Argens nodded: — "Toujours assassin."

Elisabeth lacked the time to snuff him out but,
for the remainder of the century, she snuffed



The Northern Messalina 117

Prussia. That was the war-woman. The lady
of pleasure had other ideals. There was her
namesake, the first good Queen Bess. She
wanted to reserrtble her. She, too, wanted to par-
ade as a. Virgin Queen. The task was difficult,
but that made it all the more commendable.
Consequently, when she took it into*- her head to
marry, the ceremony was performed sub rosa.
The rose was not very tenebrous. The court,
Petersburg, everybody, even the dvorniks, looked
through it at the ceremony, which she had so
often omitted that it was thought highly original
of her to observe it at all.

The happy man was Russian. It is said that
she induced herself to accept him out of patriot-
ism, in order that she and the throne might not
become the prey of some foreign prince. Every-
thing is possible and it may be true. But the
compatriot whom she selected for her country's
sake, she had already selected for her own. He
was the tenor who preceded the regiment and,
though a tenor, not in the least ferocious, on the
contrary, an amiable, heavy-witted peasant in
Sunday clothes.

His name was Razoumovski. His father
kept a pothouse where his mother was waitress.
Good, plain, natural people, their son was the
proper mate for a servant-girl's daughter.



1 1 8 The Imperial Orgy-

Known after the ceremony as the nocturnal em-
peror, his mother came to call. Suitably, or at
all events ornamentally attired beforehand, she
saw herself in a mirror, mistook what she saw
for her daughter-in-law and fell on her knees.

The picture is Arcadian. To embellish it
Razoumovski's behaviour was Boetian. He had
none of Menchikov's pretensions, no Biihren
ambitions, no Lynar airs. Years later, when
Elisabeth was dead, he said that he had never
been other than the most humble of her majesty's
subjects. It was quite true. No jealousy of any
kind. No interference of any sort. No views.
The art of loving people as though you hated
them was too complicated for this peasant who
presented, in its perfection, a picture, life-size,
of the mari sage, or rather would have, were it
not that, like Amanda, he had one defect. He
drank. But then the regiment that single file
marched through the boudoir of his lady, any
husband, however discreet, might wish to for-
get.

Drink aiding, he so thoroughly succeeded
that, though made count, prince, field-marshal,
his native simplicity remained unimpaired. Al-
ways and everywhere, in public, in private, in
life and in death, he was the most humble of her
majesty's subjects, except once, when, excited



The Northern Messalina ng

by liquor, he hit Saltykov over the head. What
made the incident particularly awkward was
Saltykov's inability to hit back. A nocturnal
emperor was sacred. But that incident, the
marriage itself, Razoumovski included, would
not merit a footnote, were it not for a drama
that ensued.

Paris, years later, became interested in a visi-
tor of whom nothing was known and everything
could be imagined. Young, fair, rich and mys-
terious, about her was the atmosphere of the far-
away, a flavour that was heightened by her eyes
which, like Ann Boleyn's, were of different col-
ours. One was dark amber, the other deep blue.
Her name, equally strange and oddly undulant,
was Aly Emettee de Vlodomir, Princess Tara-
kanov.

What and where was Vlodomir? Who and
what were the Tarakanovs? There was then
no Almanach de Gotha to reply. But in the
young woman's household there were those who
did as well. Vlodomir and Tarakanov were
domains of which their lady was lord. She may
have been, but servants sometimes embroider.

Yet she had that air, remote, gracious, triste,
which, in fairyland, poets and royals display.
Estates, domains, patents of nobility, robes et
manteaux, these things may be had. But that



i2o The Imperial Orgy

air, never 1 It is nowhere on sale. This girl
exhaled it and, with it, the gift of the strange
gods which innate charm is.

Whether she were or were not what she after-


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