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Some were sent to the mines for calling a yacht
a schooner. The yacht was a schooner, but it
was Paul's and, by imperial ukase, a frigate.
Others went for saying that they had the liberty
to do this or that. The use of the word lib-
erty was forbidden. It was forbidden to speak



Paul 161

of any revolution, even and including that of
the earth.

That is an exaggeration. Nothing was for-
bidden. Tsaral Russia had no synonym for the
Hun Verboten. The imperial formula was
either Prikazeno — It is ordered, or Ne prika-
zeno — It is not ordered. Simple formulae and
yet so magical that it was inconceivable that
they should not be observed and logically incon-
ceivable. At any infraction, the knout. But
an infraction was not a prerequisite. Anything
sufficed. Paul thought he would take a walk
and said so to a general who remarked that it
might rain. What an unpleasant person! The
knout!

The knout for him, for everybody, for any-
thing, for nothing at all. After the knout, Si-
beria, the pilgrimage undertaken in chains. The
chains irked. So much the better! The chains
made sores. Better yet! For any dog of a Sa-
maritan that attempted to comfort the sufferer,
to anoint his sores, to bandage his wounds, the
knout!

The writhings under that knout were joys to
Paul. "Flog," he ordered. "Flog without
mercy." Then gloatingly he would ask: — "Did
they howl? Tell me about it." The details sup-



162 The Imperial Orgy

plied, he patted his stomach. "Now send them
where they won't find their bones."

A Frenchman was asked what he did during
the Terror. "I lived," he replied. During the
Pauline terror, Petersburg shammed death as
Muscovy had under the khans. When it passed,
delight was as insane as Paul. In the frozen
streets, beneath the frigid sky, people kissed and
romped and danced and sang. An officer ran his
horse up on the sidewalk. "Now," he exclaimed,
"we can do what we like!" In the first year of
the nineteenth century, that was a Russian offi-
cer's idea of liberty.

Kant, in defining liberty, said that it consists
in obeying those laws only to which we have
given our assent. In any autocracy, particularly
in the United States, where one has all the forms
of liberty and none of the substance, assent is im-
plied. Under the tsars and under the Ca?sars,
even the forms were lacking. "Your god and
master orders it," Domitian, in addressing the
servile senate, negligently remarked. Paul's atti-
tude was identical. To heighten it was his dead-
cat face. Medievally, death was a grinning
skull topping a nightmare frame of bones, to
which philosophy added a scythe and poetry
wings. From its eyries it swooped, spectral and
sinister. Deduct the rictus and replace the



Paul 163

scythe with a knout and that is the manner in
which Paul appeared. High and low quaked
if he but looked. The sullen streets were empty.

Those who had to be in them, made them-
selves small, fled at a footstep, dematerialised
into shadows. Whatever they did, however they
hid, terror stalked them. It stalked all the Rus-
sians of all the Russias. It spread as disease
spreads, from cities to hamlets, from the prov-
inces to the steppes, from the septentrion to the
sea. Ashen-faced, along the roads it ran, call-
ing, "I am Fear!"

Throughout Russia, life, then, was a panic and
panic is contagious. Breathe it and even auto-
crats are infected. It infected Nero. To escape
it, he killed himself. It infected Paul. The
terror he exuded returning back to its spring,
terrorised him. To escape it, he who made
others hide, hid from them.

Nero also hid, but he could not hide from
himself. Paul fancied that where that monster
failed, he could succeed. By day, he did. He
got behind ukases, screened himself with them.
But at night, the furies were waiting. The crea-
ture needed a disguise and he invented one. He
discovered, or said he had, how to look seven-
teen years younger.

One disguise is always inadequate. Another



164 The Imperial Orgy

occurred to him, a domino of granite. He put
it on, as soon, that is, as it could be made for him.
In the tailoring, an army of masons was em-
ployed. The result, the Michel Palace, was a
threat in stone, a dungeon surrounded by moats,
a fortress so vast that it discouraged adventure
and so sombre that even the furies might lose
their way. Once a day only and then at high
noon, the drawbridges were lowered. To the
yodel of horns and the crack of postilions' whips,
the mail was brought. That service completed,
the drawbridges were raised, the mask was re-
sumed, a threat in stone confronted you.

The threat was effective. Terror could not
scale it. Paul was safe. Yet was he? From
without, certainly. But from within? There
was his wife. There were his sons. Who knew
what they might be plotting? Well, he too could
plot. At the slightest sign, the axe! The axe
for all of them. Meanwhile, a hint.

The hint resumed itself in a History of Peter
the Great, which he placed on a table in a room
occupied by his son Alexander. Paul left the
book open at a page which told of the death of
a tsarevitch, executed for treason, killed at his
father's command.

In spite of the hint, in spite of the threat, in
spite of the disguise, in spite of moats, guards,






Paul 165

sentinels, in spite of all, the furies found him.
Paul's nights were terrible. Clearly something
else was needed; the iron hand, perhaps. At
once, every avenue that led to the palace was
barricaded. Martial law was proclaimed. Pe-
tersburg became a city abandoned by God, a
polar hell, peopled with phantoms but peopled,
too, by terror.

Terror, intangible, fluidic, hung in shadows,
crept in darkness, lived in silence, sprang from
nowhere, vaulted the barriers, leaped at Paul,
tore his mask off. Paul, sidling and crouching,
screamed. The scream brought Pahlen.

Pahlen, military governor of Petersburg, had
a fabulous nose, a cheerful air, nerves of bronze.
At the moment he needed them.

"There are conspirators here," the crouching
thug spat at him.

How does he know? Pahlen must have won-
dered.

How he did know is explicable only by the
unfathomable acumen which madmen some-
times possess. Yet, there was no secret about
it. Everybody, even to the man in the Nevski,
knew that a drama was being staged, though
not the lines. Those terror wrote and badly as
terror always does write. Alexander had
adapted them. Pahlen was stage-manager. In



166 The Imperial Orgy

the cast were Plato Zubov, ex-Pompadour;
Bennigsen, former page of Elisabeth, and a
dozen officers, with a regiment for scene-shift-
ers.

With sudden suspicion, Paul pointed. "And
you are one of them."

Pahlen saluted. "For your better protection,
sir." He fumbled and produced a paper. "Here
is the list."

Without looking at the names, Paul straight-
ened. "The axe!"

Pahlen bowed. "They would have had it al-
ready, sir, but two of them are your sons."

"Arrest them."

Pahlen wheeled. It was time to act. Before-
hand there was supper.

It would have been interesting to have been
there. In addition to Paul and his wife, there
were a dozen people at table, none of whom was
permitted to speak. Elsewhere, in other palaces,
there was that rarity, laughter. With it was
champagne, lifted glasses, toasts to the actors in
the drama staged for that night.

In the supper-room at the Michel Palace
there was silence. Presently Paul related a
dream he had had and in which he thought he
was suffocating. He looked at his wife. Was
she on that list? No matter, the scaffold was



Paul 167

neighbourly. Comforted by the reflection, he
began throwing creams and pastries on the floor.
The pages could eat them.

Lampridius, or, more exactly, the brute who
abridged him, gave the story of an emperor's
death. The lines ring with yells. There is the
sudden pretorian rush, the clatter through the
Roman palace, the gleam of quick knives.

After supper, Paul went to his apartment,
which was on the floor below. Composed of a
vestibule, an antechamber, a library and a bed-
room, the one entrance was through the vesti-
bule. The bedroom, which was beyond the li-
brary, had an exit but that, as additional pre-
caution, had been barricaded. Nearby was a
fireplace and before it a screen. At the right
was a bed. Above the bed was a picture of a
knight of St. John. Opposite was a bust, badly
executed, of Frederick II. The room was large,
high-ceiled, panelled in white. On the walls
were landscapes by Vernet and Van der Meer.
In the library there was nothing literary. In
the antechamber, two servants, both armed.

On leaving the supper-table, Paul went to bed,
to sleep, to dream, to wake, to shriek, to die.

"My God!" said Zubov, "how that man does
shriek."

Zubov and the others, all of them, except



168 The Imperial Orgy

Paul's sons, Alexander and Constantine, who
were under arrest, had, through interior con-
nivance, crossed the moat, entered the- palace,
seized and disarmed the guards; after which,
rushing up a stairway, they broke into the ante-
chamber and cut down the servants.

Most of them were drunk. The noise they
made wakened Paul. When they reached the
bedroom they could not find him. They thought
he had escaped. But in the rush the screen was
overturned. Back of it, up the chimney, Paul's
bare feet protruded. They pulled him down.
One of them struck him with a gold snuff-box.
He shrieked. They ran him through, cutting
off three of his fingers while they were at it,
he shrieking all the time. In a moment he fell.
Another of them, taking him by the head, dashed
it against the fireplace, dashed it again and again
and then once more.

Afar, a Te Deum mounted. Night refurled
her great black fan.



VIII

THE LAST DESPOT

IN Greece, death was a girl. The child of
Night, the sister of Sleep, less funereal than
narcotic, she beckoned and consoled. In
epicurean Rome, death was a marionette that in-
vited you to wreathe yourself with roses before
they could fade. In the Muslim east, death was
Azrael, who was an angel. In Vedic India it
was Yama, who was a god. In Iran it was
Mairya, who was a fiend.

That last, and long since forgotten conception,
the tsars revived and adopted for others. Else-
where death had been gracious. In Russia it
was horrible.

Alexander altered that. Already Elisabeth
had abolished the axe. It was not clemency that
actuated her. It was the selfish commonsense
which political economy is. Hands without
heads cannot work, but heads with hands can
and did. They worked for Elisabeth. Instead
of a swift decapitation on the scaffold, prison-
ers were given the slow guillotine of the mines.

[69



170 The Imperial Orgy

The axe which Elisabeth buried there, Nicholas
replaced with the gallows. But under Alex-
ander torture ceased.

One may applaud him and very greatly for
that, particularly as there is nothing else to his
credit. Nothing whatever, except that he was
less Asiatic than Paul and more European than
Nicholas. Suavity was his note. It is the note
of every hypocrite.

Nominally under arrest while Paul was being
killed, he pretended to be asleep when the news
of it, which he was awaiting, was brought to
him. Afterward he pretended that he had noth-
ing to do with it. The pretence served as hot-
house for the usual immortelles. Among other
garlands is one to the effect that Paul was not
his father. However false or true that may be,
he did not resemble him. Paul had the sour look
of a skunk with a stomach-ache. Alexander
looked like a cherub in an overcoat. His
brothers, Constantine and Nicholas, did not re-
semble Paul either, physically, that is, though
otherwise they were quite as Tatar, which is
not remarkable if their reported geneology be
correct. Alexander's father is said to have been
an Alsatian grenadier. Their father was a Prus-
sian.

Catherine, who generally knew what she was




\l EXANDER I



The Last Despot 171

about, brought Alexander up to succeed her.
Constantine, she brought up to occupy Constan-
tinople. Nicholas, the youngest of the breed,
she left to his own devices and very unoriginal
they were. At the time of Paul's death he was
a brat, the despot in embryo, ruling tin sol-
diers as he was to rule Russia.

At that time, the earth was oscillating beneath
the tread of a human volcano beside whom no
nation could live. Hugo, with his usual so-
briety, said that Napoleon inconvenienced God.
Napoleon would have taken the remark very
seriously. Humour, which is Satan's saving
grace, he contrived to lack. Napoleon did not
inconvenience God, but he disturbed the equi-
librium of Europe.

A little before he had run literally from school
into a riot, leaped on a horse and made him-
self general. After which he conquered Italy,
conquered Egypt, attacked everybody and van-
quished everywhere. A simple tale, it still
astounds. In the echoes of his passage come the
crash of falling cities, the cries of the conquered,
the death-rattle of nations, the surge and roar
of seas of blood. Through their reverberations,
Napoleon looms, dragging destruction after him,
hurling it like a bomb in the face of kings that
were cowering still from the spectacle of the



172 The Imperial Orgy

Revolution and of which he was the appalling
issue.

At the time of Paul's death, he was planning
a bout with England. Turning suddenly on
Austria, he sent the old Germanic empire
sprawling. Prussia came next. Then it was
Russia's turn. On a raft in the muddy Nieman,
Alexander pledged him eternal friendship.

Friendship may cover a multitude of rob-
beries. Over the usual question of booty, the
two fell out. Napoleon, meanwhile, had be-
come impersonal. In lieu of the volcanic there
was virulence. He was spreading, as cholera
spreads, from one end of the continent to the
other. In the contagion, was the totter of dynas-
ties, the reversal of thrones. There too was the
victor, pale, impassible as destiny, confronting
fate like an equal, provoking it almost with dis-
dain, peering through magic casements at the
universal monarchy which he dreamed was to
be his.

Into that dream another entered, a minor
dream, the dream of a parvenu. There was
barely a royal residence on the continent which
he had not occupied. There was hardly a sov-
ereign in whose bed he had not slept. For the
vulgar satisfaction of sleeping in one other, he



The Last Despot 173

entered the Kreml. There, beneath a mattress,
he left his crown.

In his northern progress, it had been imag-
ined that he would not advance beyond Lithua-
nia, but when he had taken Smolensk, the key
to the empire, the eldest town in Russia, Alex-
ander's generals realised that another conver-
sation was inevitable and any resistance vain.
Instead of contending, they circumvented. The
outlying lands were laid bare. The result is
epic. Famine began what ice completed. Na-
poleon found himself in an empty refrigerator.
That refrigerator Alexander burned.

Then began the conversation that continued
all along the road to Paris. For climax it had
Elba, with Waterloo for finale.

The conversation was not a tete-a-tete. The
flames had been a signal. All Europe took part.
But in the great debacle, Alexander greatly rose.
He acquired the palms of a hero, the nimbus of
a god, a dignity quite Roman, before which the
flunkeys of history have solemnly salaamed.

A Greek of the Lower Empire, Napoleon
called him, which being translated means a
swindler. Good-looking, though, a middle-aged
Cupid in whiskers, the burglar tastes of his
problematic house fused in him with a sancti-
moniousness that was all his own. After the



174 . The Imperial Orgy-

proper tsaral fashion, he had married a Ger-
man, Betty of Baden. The Comtesse de Choi-
seul-Gouffier, who wrote of both with a maid-
servant's ecstasy, described her as a pathetic an-
gel, tear-stained by the handkerchiefs which, in
the exercise of his droit du seigneur, he tossed
here and there, yet always' so discreetly! Turpi-
tudes in the dark, but never a scandal. Tartuf-
fianism above all.

An oleaginous mummer, Uriah Heep and the
Artful Dodger combined, indulgently he agreed
to rule in accordance with the law — which he
made. With the same benevolence he built
schools and universities — on paper, not omitting
to stuff his pockets with everything he could lay
his hands on, with Finland, of which he robbed
Sweden; with the plunder of further burglaries
to the south and east; promising a lift to Aus-
tria and leaving her in the lurch; doing quite
as well by Prussia, who deserved it; hoodwink-
ing everybody, including history, the world and
the devil; hoodwinking Napoleon and it was
an archcrook who could do that; deceiving per-
haps even himself and ending his robber rule
in mystic projects and Swedenborgian beliefs.

He might have done worse. Swedenborg
lifted fringes of the curtain which recent oc-
cultism has partially raised. Alexander's in-



The Last Despot 175

troduction to the Arcana Celestia was due to a
woman, the Baroness Krudner, whose forte, to
put it delicately, had been her weakness. Apo-
plexy battened on her husband when he learned
its extent. The passing of the man brought her
the light. The amoureuse became a voyante.
She saw. In seeing she foretold the return from
Elba, the hundred days, the restoration. Time
verified the clairvoyance, which interested Alex-
ander, as well it might, yet particularly per-
haps because, in an interview that ensued, the
baroness told the emperor — what he already sus-
pected — that he was predestined to accomplish
God's will on earth. So are autocrats and mum-
mers won. Alexander took her to Paris, where
it is history that she inspired the Holy Alliance,
a chimerical imbecility on which, over a cen-
tury later, the outlines of the League of Nations
were ignorantly framed.

Alexander was the silver lining between Paul,
who was mad and Nicholas, who was insane.
Every silver lining has a cloud. Alexander had
brains, a will of his own, the power to use it, the
ability to make Russia as preponderant in Eu-
rope as Peter had made her preponderant in
the north. During the better part of his reign,
he drove the empire straight on with the ease
of a whip tooling a drag. Personally he had



176 The Imperial Orgy

his graces. In spite of a mediaeval idea of his
own dignity, he could unbend, and, when he
did, he charmed. Though a robber, he was a big
one. Though a crook, he was great. Even in
hypocrisy he contrived to be large. He inspired
confidence, and very naturally, he was a confi-
dence man. There is the silver lining.

Here is the cloud. Bossuet defined a heretic
as a person who has ideas of his own. Alex-
ander adopted that very advanced view. Al-
ready, in connection with the course of the stars,
Paul had forbidden the use of the word revo-
lution. Alexander ukased the Copernican sys-
tem out of the realm. He made it a felony to
think. Like Paul, he was mad. The army was
sane. In tramping after Napoleon the officers
had seen strange things — liberty, which they did
not know could be; freedom, which had been
unimagined.

These things astounded. Constitutional gov-
ernment amazed. Amazement is the beginning
of truth. For the first time, perhaps, officers re-
alised the iniquity of a despotism that made pa-
triotism treason, the folly of having but the right
to obey, the nonsense of rescuing Europe from
one tyranny while Russia endured another.
Such views disorganise.

When they got back, their easy ways and care-



The Last Despot 177

less talk bewildered. The astounding sans-gene
was incomprehensible. As understanding came,
the regeneration which foreign marvels effect
was whispered, talked about, talked always a
bit louder.

Tsardom had never known a revolution. The
hydra waiting for it then was to be killed. Like
Dmitri, it had more lives than one.

In the barracks, a plot was hatched. Alex-
ander was to be offered honey on the point of
a sword — either a constitution or the fate of
Paul. He could take his choice. In sharpening
the sword and ladling the* honey, the plotters
may have been too amateur to appreciate that
an autocrat, however autocratic, cannot grant a
constitution. An autocrat who is not absolute
is a contradiction of terms. Nicholas the Last
tried it. He granted a constitution which was
so liberal that at any time any Russian could
be shot. Among the unconsidered Russians was
himself. With him tsardom ceased to be.
But though an autocrat must be absolute, he
can die. Alexander pretended to. The pomp
and pageantry of imperial rites were given to
a bogus corpse. Meanwhile, hidden in a mon-
astery at Tomsk, where neither honey-ladlers
or history could follow, he cheated amateurs as
he had swindled experts.



178 The Imperial Orgy

Night again unfurled her great black fan.

The next in line was Constantine. He re-
fused to move up. He said he lacked the talent.
Certainly he did, but he lacked, 'too, the courage.
He was afraid of being assassinated. The fear
was not unreasonable. At a review, to show a
foreign prince how agreeable it is to be a Rus-
sian grand-duke, he drew his sword, marched up
to a general and, without a word, ran him
through.

Nicholas was next. Like Alexander, he was
unlike Paul. But there was nothing cherubic
in his appearance. He had the face of the fallen,
the scowl of a fiend, a despot's sinister de-
meanour. History used to regard him as a
great man. History saw but the facade. His
mind, a rendezvous of zeros, functioned, he be-
lieved, altitudinously and only. He had other
beliefs, equally inoffensive, yet principally that
he was the direct and incarnated emanation of
God, the source from which everything pro-
ceeded and to which all returned. He believed
himself not merely autocrat but omnipotent.
Anywhere else, except where he happened to
be, he would have been clapped in an asylum.

At this distance, you see the lunatic. On the
day he became tsar, he was a hero, to himself
that is, yet also to de Custine, a looker-on in



The Last Despot 179

Verona, to whom he related the incidents of the
accession, though not all of them, and a few
of those which he did relate, he dreamed.

The streets of Petersburg used to be the dreari-
est and the emptiest in the world. In winter
the cold is paralysing. More crippling than
cold was dread. The cold came from the pole.
It was from the palace that fear's icier fingers
stretched.

On that day the Neva was frozen. Flakes
of snow were falling, little petals of white roses
that were to change to red. But momentarily
the sleet of fear had lifted. In addition to
roses there was rebellion in the air. Before the
palace, suddenly the great square filled. The
conspirators that had been eyeing Alexander
brought their bayonets there. Beyond, in the
converging streets, was that rarity, a crowd. Not
one of the crowd, and none of the troopers knew
that Constantine had refused to be tsar. In such
minds as they had, Nicholas was not next in
line, he was out of place. Their leaders had
told them that, told them other things also,
which, without understanding much of it, they
believed.

In front of the palace, on a high pedestal, was
a bronze chariot, drawn by winged horses which
an enigmatic figure, perhaps that of destiny, led.



180 The Imperial Orgy

On that day its gilded face seemed gay. Per-
haps it was. Perhaps, with eyes that saw and
foresaw, it was considering, not the pigmy rebels
massed below, but a giant that was approaching.

Hoarsely, meanwhile, the prompted pigmies
shouted: — "Konstitusia! Konstitusia! Live the
Constitution!"

From a window opposite, Nicholas stared. He
did not understand. How could he? Coups
d'etat and palace revolutions there may have
been, but soldiers and civilians mutinying in the
open streets, that was impossible. It was a mo-
ment before his dull brain could grasp it. Dur-
ing that moment, the imperial lupercalia might
have ended forever. God save the tsar! About
the palace, a sapper regiment was summoned
and aligned. Then, from the cavernous porte
cochere, out the hero rode. Fancy a shepherd
contemplating bleating sheep. That was his
attitude. That was the attitude that he dreamed
for de Custine's pen.

"On your knees!" he commanded.

In the dream he was obeyed. What followed
was not dream, it was in the order of things.
Instantly the little white roses changed to red.
Mitrailleuses were mowing criminals whose
crime was not that they were sheep but that they
were parrots. They had been crying for a con-



The Last Despot 181


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