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ended by putting the Byzantine crown on her
head. On the morning of the revolution, he
was an ensign. Orlov gone, he was vice-em-
peror. Between those sentences there are years.
There is also an ascent from nowhere to every-
thing. Catherine made him prince, premier,
plutocrat, generalissimo. With the Crimea and
the Black Sea, royally he repaid her.

Women admire the brave but they prefer the
audacious. Saltykov was a ladies' man. Pon-
iatowski was a lady. Orlov was a devil, Po-
temkin was a demon. The cotillon which Cath-
erine danced with these and with other men and
in which she displayed a temperamental intem-
perance more extravagant than any that the mod-
ern world has beheld, represents the spacious-
ness of her heart, which many entered and none
could fill. Saltykov surprised her. Poniatow-
ski charmed her. Orlov carried her off her feet.
Potemkin held her in the air. Her interest in



Venus Victrix 141

Saltykov and in Poniatowski was that of the ama-
teur in experimental physiology. But it was
Orlov who taught her to love and Potemkin
who taught her to reign. If neither became her
master, it was because no man could be that.

Potemkin was also a giant, a giant with one
eye. In a tavern brawl he had lost the other.
Alexis Orlov knocked it out. Gregori Orlov
was gigantic and violent. Alexis Orlov was gi-
gantic and brutal. Potemkin was gigantic and
terrible. A dark cyclops with the air of a jackal
and the negligences of a pasha, he was the only
one of Catherine's partners whom she had not
selected for his looks, but also he was the only
one who spared her the advances which she
was always obliged to make, the only one who
dared. That won her to this man, who loved her
with the tenderness of an amant and the poetry
of a troubadour. She was his mistress and his
glory. When satiety came, ambition linked them
still.

Incidentally, she was pushing the frontiers
back, extending her little household, at the
north, to the aurora; at the east to the dawn;
at the south, nearly to the gates of Stamboul.

In the extension, Potemkin greatly aided. To
her menage he added the Crimea and then took
her to see it.



142 The Imperial Orgy-

It would have been interesting to have ac-
companied her in the Arabian Night entertain-
ment that he devised and through which in a
sleigh — Cleopatra's barge on runners and for
which, and for her suite that followed, there
were five hundred horses at each relay — she
passed down from polar ice to a tropical sun,
from Petersburg to the Euxine, from surprise
to enchantment, from the emptied thrones of Ta-
tar khans to the abandoned divans of Ottoman
viceroys, from fallen palaces of kings of the
Bosphorus to the crumbled temples of Hercules
and Diana, from memories of Mithridates to
the myths of Greece, from illusion to illusion,
through scenery painted on canvas, through pan-
oramas that vanished as she passed, through
trained ballets of acclaiming crowds, through
cascading fireworks, through uninterrupted
fetes, down into glowing gardens where Walla-
chian hospodars, Circassian princes, dispossessed
Georgian lords genuflected to the Star of the
North, who, at the end of the route, saw a tri-
umphal arch on which blazed an inscription —
"The Way to Stamboul."

At one halt, Catherine was greeted by the
Austrian emperor, disguised as a gentleman; at
another by Poniatowski, disguised as a king.
Segur — French minister to the court of Semi-



Venus Victrix 143

ramis — who went with her, said that the meet-
ing between the ex-amants was formal. What
did he expect? But presently the two retired
into privacy where they probably talked of old
times as old people do. On emerging, Ponia-
towski had mislaid his hat. Catherine found and
restored it.

"Ah!" said Poniatowski with his Chateau
Yquem smile. "You gave me once a far finer



one."



Segur said that Catherine's conversation was
very banal. Poniatowski may have copied it.

Near Moscow, on the return flight, an opera
was given in the private theatre of a resident
count. The composer, the librettist, the singers,
the musicians, the corps de ballet, everybody
connected with the representation — except the
count's guests — were his serfs. Earlier that day
the tenor, who took the part of a king, had been
flogged. At a supper which followed, Segur
noted that the goblets, enough for a hundred,
were incrusted with jewels.

Potcmkin surpassed the count. In magnifi-
cence, he exceeded Catherine. His entertain-
ments bewilder the pen. The paragraphs that
tell of them dazzle. The Crimean junket, the
unequalled journey through the antique Tau-
rida, was but one of the many flowers that he



144 The Imperial Orgy-

put at his sovereign's feet. At a ball which he
gave for her, lackeys handed about goblets filled
with diamonds to the brim.

Hero and lover, doubly triumphant, he too
thought of marrying his queen. It seemed to
him, as it had seemed to Orlov, the simplest
thing in the world. Catherine regarded the mat-
ter as before. He threatened to become a monk.
For a cyclops and a jackal, the threat was ridicu-
lous. Catherine laughed. The charm was
broken. Friendship remained. Potemkin, fan-
tastic in all things, demonstrated his in a man-
ner that was perhaps original. He made lists
of eligible young men and, with the lists, sub-
mitted their portraits. It was for Catherine to
choose. For a while, she did. But Zubov, who
succeeded them all, she selected unassisted.

Saltykov entered her life when she was young,
Zubov when she was old. Young she was de-
licious. Age moldered her. Seen across a
room she was still imperial. Close to, was a
toothless woman with furtive eyes, a quavering
voice and passions still unappeased. Yet, far
or near, her power was predominant. The
splendour of her court, the pomp of her princes,
the extent of her dominions, created an admi-
ration that was stupefying. Her prestige sur-
passed the forgotten glories of Louis XIV. But



Venus Victrix 145

in the same manner that her fame transcended
his, her bacchanals exceeded Faustine's. There
are planes beneath which there is perhaps noth-
ing deeper. Tiberius devised vices for which
names had to be coined. The Winter Palace
became a Tiberian villa. Zubov, young enough
to be her grandson, had companions in arms,
and in his and in their company, while her troops
beat the Turks, fought the Swedes, devastated
Poland, the sinister and prodigious woman
achieved the ultimate descent.

Zubov's portrait was not submitted by Po-
temkin, it was self-presented. He put himself
where Catherine could see him. Any officer
who had, or who thought he had, a well-turned
leg did the same. The state apartments were
lined with fetching young men. They formed
a hedge along which the sovereign passed,
looked, smiled, passed on. Zubov followed the
smile. It led him far and high. Another sub-
altern was a fille entretenue. With none of Or-
lov's dash, without a spark of Potemkin's abil-
ity, he obtained from her more power than
either, more wealth than both. In the last years
of her reign, Zubov was automatically and au-
tocratically tsar.

His portrait, which Potemkin neglected, Mas-
son displayed. It shows a youth in a dressing-



146 The Imperial Orgy

gown and not a very decent one, waited on by
his valets, the lords and princes of the realm.
His back is turned. But in a mirror before
him, his face appears, cold, vain, empty. In
his hand is a book; on his shoulder a monkey.
Meanwhile his valets stand and wait, wait and
stand until he deigns to turn, deigns to look.
At that condescension, instantly they prostrated
themselves before the Pompadour who had been
emptying the treasury, filling the prisons and
whom no one, unpermitted, dared to address.
There were those who were there on matters
of state. Day in, day out, month after month
they came before the permission was accorded.
Then negligently, in that negligee, the tsar dis-
missed them.

Slight of body and slimmer of soul, he may
have possessed, Masson, for finishing touch, con-
cludes, occult qualities which only Catherine
could appreciate. No doubt. Besides, to the
old woman that she was, he was spring, fair
skies, youth's return and she a girl again, loved
as Poniatowski had loved her, for her charm
alone. There is sorcery in that and in the first
enthrallment of it she regarded him as a genius.
Afterward she saw him more after the manner
of a sultana on whose neck is a eunuch's heel.

Potemkin, at the time, was at Jassy. He



Venus Victrix 147

started for Petersburg. On a highway he died.
It was reported that Zubov had had him
poisoned. Perhaps he had. But an annalist
says that during a fever that overtook him en
route, he ate a whole ham, a smoked goose, three
chickens, drank liquor by the quart, drenching
himself alternately with ice-water and cologne.
Gigantic and fantastic in life, fantastically and
gigantically he died. At the news of it, the sul-
tana leered at the eunuch.

Zubov is the smear on the chronicles of a
woman sovereignly enabled to do as she liked
and who was very polite about it. One after an-
other she killed the last three Romanovs and ran
Poland through the heart. To-day, these things
are forgotten. The blood has dried, only dust
remains and the fading memory of an empress
whose life was a decameron to be read with
pursed lips. But in her were Alexandrine am-
bitions. The route which Potemkin blazed the
way, she would have followed to St. Sophia and
beyond it to Delhi and the peacock throne. She
had the will, the ability, the power. What she
lacked was time. Apoplexy battened on her as
she had on Warsaw. It is said that she gave
up the ghost with a shriek. Was it Poland that
she saw?

Indulgent and cruel, prodigal and mean, a



148 The Imperial Orgy

woman in whom every contradiction was re-
sumed, Catherine was an empress who made
enormous an empire already vast; a tsaritsa who
enumerated her victories and could not count
her amours; a conqueror who had Adonis for
secretary of the treasury and Apollo for min-
ister of war; a cynic who slaughtered Poland
and called herself a pupil of Voltaire; a sov-
ereign before whom the entire pageant of pas-
sion and glory unrolled; a tyrant and a lesbian
who passed through history dripping with blood
and exhaling the perfume of Eros.

Succinctly, a great temperament; concisely, a
great man; summarily, the least detestable des-
pot of the lot, and yet, primarily, a German
girl who had come to Russia without a penny
and without a friend.

Shortly after she reached Petersburg her
father died. He died on his barren farm, which
was called a principality.

"It is ridiculous of you to cry," Elisabeth
told her. "You ought to know better. Your
father was nobody."

Elisabeth was too civil to add "and a pauper."
Besides, as she perhaps divined, the girl was
superiorly endowed. Catherine had assets. The
assets were appetites. She gorged them. Dur-
ing a reign that lasted from the middle of the



Venus Victrix 149

eighteenth century to the beginning of the nine-
teenth, an empty-handed nobody gave her lovers
the equivalent of half a billion and ruled fifty
different races with a despotism that was iden-
tical for each.

Previously Psyche, she was Venus Victrix
then. At her feet lay all the Russias. To her
the whole of Europe bowed. At her left was
a son whom she hated ; at her right a lover whom
she paid. Seated between them on the tallest
of earthly thrones, covered and crowned with
diamonds and with gold, she knew, as no other
woman has known, how love and glory taste.
The bitterness of them filled her toothless mouth.



VII

PAUL

CATHERINE, who entered history with
a swoon, departed with a shriek. At
the shriek, Night unfurled her great
black fan. Another reign of terror had begun.

The shriek proclaimed Paul emperor. The
proclamation was involuntary. Catherine did
not want Paul to rule. She had arranged other-
wise. He ruled, none the less, and in such a
manner that at his own exit he also shrieked.
With that shriek for motif, Bovery composed
an opera, and Petersburg a Te Deum.

Paul's coronation robe should have been a
straitjacket. Ivan was mad. Peter was mad.
Their madness appals, but it fascinates. In hor-
ror raised to the ultimate degree there is gran-
deur. Paul's insanity took the form of micro-
philia. Domitian was a microphile. He spe-
cialised in flies. Heliogabalus was a microphile.
He collected cobwebs. Microphilia is the in-
sanity of the petty.

The maladies and particularly the deaths of

150



Paul 151

those emperors should have instructed Paul.
Besides, since their day, times had changed.
They had changed, too, since the days of Ivan
and of Peter. Catherine's reign had been a lib-
eral education. She scandalised Europe, mur-
dered her husband, killed Peter's nephew, cru-
cified Elisabeth's daughter, slaughtered Prague,
assassinated Warsaw, destroyed Poland and
hated her son. She was a well-bred woman. But
men no longer had their heads chopped off for
a yes or a no. Women's tongues might w T ag,
they were not torn out for that reason. Cath-
erine was indulgent. Paul was modest.

"I will thank you to understand," he told an
envoy who had spoken of some boiar as an im-
portant person, "that there is but one important
person in Russia. That is the person whom I
happen to address and his importance lasts only
while I am addressing him."

The microphile was a megalomaniac. That
was not his mother's fault. Catherine dwarfed
and hated him, as she hated and dwarfed her
husband. The hatred that she had for her son
is the sole evidence that he was legitimate.
Psychologically, the evidence had its weight.

Paul examined it and turned to Poniatowski.
"Are you my father? 1 '

The problem was delicate, the solution ob-



152 The Imperial Orgy

scure. Poniatovvski, who was then old, fat, rheu-
matic and a king no longer, shook his head and
sat down.

With imperial brevity, Paul again addressed
him. "Standi"

He turned anew to the evidence. It seemed con-
clusive. He gave orders accordingly. The or-
ders, spectacular in their theatrical effect, will
be recited in a moment.

When Catherine shrieked, Paul was married,
middle-aged, the father of three sons," two of
whom successively succeeded him. The shriek
reached him at Gatchina, a country fortress near
Petersburg, where he lived with a Wtirtemburg
woman, who was his wife; with an embittered
young Russian, who was the dearer one yet, and
with a regiment which he dressed and drilled,
Prussian fashion, whip in hand. The fashion
was otherwise observed. The uniform was Prus-
sian, But one that Prussia had long since aban-
doned. Paul loved it. He loved the past. Ex-
cept such torture as he could inflict, it was the
only thing that he did love.

The atmosphere of Gatchina was grand-ducal,
pestilential and penitentiary. Travellers avoided
it. Above, in a turret, was a telescope. There
Paul sat. Any one whom he could spy afar
making a detour to keep out of his way, he sent



Paul 1 53

cavalry to overtake and imprison. "Let me be
hated," said Caligula. "But let me be feared."

Paul was Caligula in miniature. Like him,
he was hideous but, excessive in every form of
hideousnesss, he was more hideous. He had
the face of a cat, a dead cat, a dead Kalmuck
skunk, and with that death's-head on a short
pudgy body, he strutted. After Catherine's exit,
he strutted crowned. In his palaces, he was
the monarch that the old pictures show. On pa-
rade, he was the drill-sergeant, but everywhere
the bully. In behalf of some one, Alexander, his
son, at the time but a boy, fell at his feet, begged
him to be merciful. Paul kicked him in the
face.

"Sacha, was it you who killed him?" that
boy's mother afterward asked.

At Gatchina, he spied a giant on horseback
racing toward the fortress. The giant was Niko-
lai Zubov, brother of the Pompadour en titre.
The shock of the sight of him gave Paul the
colic. He thought he had come to arrest him.
Zubov had been hastening to announce that
Catherine was in extremis. The colic passed,
but another fear gripped him. To allay it, off
he rode.

At the Winter Palace, Catherine was uncon-
scious. Up the great stairway, through a double



154 The Imperial Orgy

hedge of Circassians, and on through high halls
rilled with courtiers and lackeys, Paul passed to
her apartments. Before he reached them, the
death-rattle had begun.

In one room was an escritoire and near it
an open fire. Paul opened the desk. Among
the papers was an order for his arrest. He gave
it to the flames. Another paper was a will in
which his mother appointed his son, Alexander,
her successor. That also he destroyed.

He turned. Before him was the Pompadour.
Behind Zubov was a throng of nobles. Paul
lifted his dead-cat face. With a pudgy hand
he gestured.

"I am your emperorl"

Instantly Zubov, to w r hom all Russia cringed,
was cringing. Instantly the nobles were on their
knees.

It was then that Night unfurled her great
black fan. A reign of terror had begun.

The old courtesan that history is, had her at-
tenuations for Paul, as she had her myopia for
Ivan, her cecity for Peter. An age-long supper
on abominations made her indulgent. Youth
is always intolerant. Tacitus branded, Juvenal
flayed. History then was a debutante. To-day
she candies her tales, throws orange blossoms
on the tomb of Lucrezia Borgia and immortelles



Paul 155

on Paul's. Beneath the weeds, Paul has the
faded air of a noble character thwarted and mis-
understood. But pulled down a chimney by his
bandy legs and run through for his crimes? No-
where in Russian history is that recorded. His-
tory is the one book that has no end.

Sixty years later, a boy, afterward Alexander
III., told a comrade that he had discovered a
state secret — the Emperor Paul was assassi-
nated!

Among the attenuations put on Paul's tomb
was his grand-ducal existence. Catherine made
it a long humiliation. A man who is a man
rises from an insult refreshed. It is perhaps a
tonic. In a microphile it secretes venom, of
which the chemical precipitate is spite. When
Catherine's crown passed to Paul he spat on it
and ordered another.

Masson, an idler in Petersburg, says that in
the processions of peoples, the ark of the cove-
nant was not surrounded by greater pomp than
was that new crown during its journey from the
jeweller's to the palace. At the palace, the jew-
eller-Pygmalion was compelled to kneel in wor-
ship to it.

It was in that crown that the misunderstood
lunatic strutted. Always a comic figure — at a
safe distance — his mother made him ridiculous.



156 The Imperial Orgy

While lovers of hers, who were younger than
his sons, governed Russia and waded in gold, he
was put on an allowance, put in a corner, treated
as nobody. Night after night, he and his sons
with him, had seen her dismiss the court and
march off with some Pompadour who always
ignored them. For less than that, Catherine
had put her husband in the grave. Paul could
have put her in the street. It was not natural
affection or filial respect that restrained him.
He loathed her as completely as she abominated
him. But Catherine, with all her faults, with
all her sins, and all her crimes, was brave. Paul,
a born bully and, for that reason, a born coward,
was afraid of her. With her husband, with Ivan
VI. and Elisabeth's daughter for examples, he
had cause. He was not a match for her.

He was not a match for anyone. Since Pul-
towa, everywhere the Russian arms were vic-
torious. During Paul's reign, generally they
were defeated.

Immortelles, however plentiful, cannot alter
that. None the less the circumstances of his
pre-monarchal career may have prepared him to
be what he became, a tyrant, conceited, fantastic,
implacable, mad as a hatter, his pockets stuffed
with ukases about nothing at all. To say as
much, or rather as little, was impossible. In holy



Paul 157

Russia, a tsar was sacrosanct, an abyss of knowl-
edge, a star of truth. It was quite in that light
that Paul regarded himself. All lunatics are
imaginative. With power added, sometimes
they are spectacular. It is then that they be-
come interesting.

Catherine's body was embalmed and put on a
great bed in the throne-room. The embalming,
very artistically effected, made her black and
orange. People who had beheld her in her
splendour, marvelled then at her hideousness.
They did not realise that for the first time they
saw her as she really was.

Beside her, on that bed, Paul put another
corpse. The watchman whom he selected to
stand guard at night was Alexis Orlov. Cath-
erine's bedfellow was her husband's skeleton. It
was Alexis Orlov who had killed him. In the
vast room, which candles feebly lit, Orlov's vigil
must have been Dantesque. But the ghosts of
that couple, surprised enough to find themselves
again together, what spectral secrets they must
have muttered, not only to each other, but at
him!

The scene, thoroughly TEschylean, was suc-
ceeded by another that did not surpass it, per-
haps nothing could, but which Hugo should
have painted. During the funeral that followed,



158 The Imperial Orgy

Orlov was compelled to walk, carrying the
crown he had wrenched from Peter the Little,
and to walk directly behind the coffin into which
he had strangled him. Such stagecraft deserves
applause.

From the funeral, Paul turned to affairs of
state. Catherine's reign had been a golden age.
The massacres committed by her indemnified
those who had missed the butcheries of anterior
tsars. But the beautiful custom of throwing
yourself from your conveyance and grovelling
in the snow, in the mud, to the sovereign that
passed, Semiramis abolished. With a ukase,
Paul revived it.

Presently, a woman drove by. She had not
heard of the ukase. She had never seen Paul.
She lived in the country. There, her husband
was dying. She was hurrying for a physician.
She did not notice a madman on horseback. She
was thinking of her husband, of the physician
who might save him. On she drove.

Paul, twisting in the saddle, motioned. "Ar-
rest her!"

Explanations, excuses, prayers, tears, these
things availed her nothing. Afar her husband
waited, wondered, hoped, despaired, agonised
and died. In the stone sack where she was



Paul 159

thrown, mercifully a fever came in which she
joined him.

Paul dealt with the army as he dealt with
that woman. For the slightest inadvertence, ar-
rest. Generals came to the daily drill with trav-
elling bags. They never knew at what moment
or for what reason Paul would order them seized
and carted away. On one occasion a line wav-
ered. "Halt!" Paul ordered. "March!" he con-
tinued and added: — "To Siberia!"

Discipline first, accoutrements next. Since
Peter's day, the uniform of the Russian soldier
had been warm without being heavy, easy with-
out being loose. Paul trussed the troops in a
uniform so tight that if a soldier fell he could
barely rise unassisted. On one occasion a horse
stumbled. Paul had the animal starved to death.
On another occasion a horse threw an officer.
"Get up, you scoundrel!" Paul shouted. The
officer's leg was broken. Paul spat on him.

Discipline at any cost. The cost was perhaps
excessive. In trussing the troops and exiling
the generals, there was an invitation to defeat.
The thrashings that ensued made Paul morose.
But mobile as madmen are, his humour veered
and he shook a fist at Europe.

"I will fight any sovereign in single combat.
I will fight all of them."



160 The Imperial Orgy

Incidentally, he had become grand-master of
the Knights of Malta. The office was useful.
When visiting his harem where, with the punc-
tuality of kings, he went every afternoon at four
precisely, the office enabled him to wear the
Holy Order of St. John of Jerusalem. It was
otherwise serviceable. It prompted. With it,
he planned to be pope, successor of Pius VI. and
the twelve apostles. A decent, unassuming tsar.

A busy one also. The form of a hat, the size
of a neckcloth, the colour of a feather, the cut
of a coat, one's boots, one's gaiters, a coachman's
livery, a horse's harness, became affairs of state,
the subjects of ukase. The only printing-press
that he permitted to function was one that pub-
lished his edicts. For a disregard of anyone of
them, Siberia!

The droves he sent there, for no reason what-
ever, except the pleasure of it, perplexed the for-
eign legates. One of them wrote that, barring
the prisons, which were full, Petersburg was be-
coming a desert, everybody was being exiled.


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