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    Mark Arbour
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Northern Exposure - 34. Chapter 34

January 18, 1801

Hermann Castle

Narva, Governate of Estonia

 

 

“This journey has been much easier than I thought it would be, my lord,” Winkler said as he trimmed Granger’s hair.

“Indeed,” Granger agreed. With the vozok, it had been almost pleasant. They had traveled each day from dawn until they reached their next stopping point, which was usually a nice manor house, a castle, or a palace. It was obvious that von Beckendorf and his relatives had traveled this road many times by the way that their hosts were so friendly. There had been warm welcomes, with a hospitality Granger found to be as good as anywhere he’d traveled. Many of these places had saunas, and that had enabled Granger to refresh himself while recovering from the cold, although with the vozok, he remained warm for most of the journey.

“Please hold still, my lord,” Winkler admonished.

“I would hate to have you remove an ear, so I will comply with your request,” Granger said playfully. “I am hoping we can continue on our way today.” They’d been in Narva for three days now, having been forced to stop their journey as a snowstorm enveloped the lovely town.

The two of them simultaneously looked out the small window in their room. “It seems that the snow has stopped, my lord.”

“Then let us hope that is a good sign,” Granger said.

“There, my lord,” Winkler said, finishing up his trimming job. They both gazed at Granger’s handsome reflection in the mirror.

“You have become quite accomplished at cutting hair, Winkler,” Granger said, admiring his steward’s talents.

“Thank you, my lord,” Winkler said. There was a clattering of hooves in the courtyard, and the fact that the noise was heard despite the blanket of snow caused Granger to arise and walk to the window, with Winkler trailing after him. They looked into the courtyard and saw a dozen hussars along with a nice coach, which was just now coming to a halt. Granger watched as two men alighted from the vehicle, with one of them wearing insignias that suggested he was a general, while the other was much younger and was most likely a major. Granger assumed that the major was probably the general’s aide de camp. All of them wore dark green uniforms that were different than von Beckendorf’s.

“It appears we have a visitor,” Granger observed to Winkler.

“I will see if I can find out who that is, my lord,” Winkler said, and scurried out of the room. Granger shrugged, since there was nothing he could do about this new arrival, and after a quick glance in the mirror to make sure his appearance was correct, he sat down and continued with his writing. He used his spare time to work on a draft of his letter to the Tsar, which he planned to deliver to His Imperial Majesty once he was in the environs of St. Petersburg. It was frustrating work, trying to find the right balance between being slavishly apologetic while also not demeaning his position as a peer of the realm. He scanned the latest page of his efforts with disgust, wadded it up and threw it in the fire.

There was a scratch at his door, followed by the entry of von Beckendorf. “I noticed the arrival of a well-turned-out general,” Granger said with a smile.

“That general is von Driesen,” von Beckendorf said, his smile fading at the mention of this officer who was obviously senior to him. “He is demanding to meet you. He has already engaged in a heated argument with me in his efforts to steal our vozok.”

“I am hoping he was unsuccessful?” Granger asked.

“I told him that I was on a special mission for Count von der Pahlen to convey you to His Imperial Majesty,” von Beckendorf said. Granger stared at him, confused, wondering why an American merchant would warrant such treatment from the Tsar. “I told him you were a banker,” von Beckendorf added.

“Bankers are given such special treatment in Russia?” Granger asked with a chuckle.

“When His Imperial Majesty needs to raise money they are,” he replied. “He is not convinced, but the mention of the Count will probably persuade him to leave us alone.”

“Why is that?” Granger asked. He knew Count von der Pahlen was a person of some influence at Court, but not to the degree that he would warrant cautious treatment by a general.

“Count von der Pahlen heads up what is the Tsar’s personal police force, or secret police if you will,” von Beckendorf said. Granger hid his annoyance that von Beckendorf had not seen fit to tell him before of von der Pahlen’s true role in the Russian government.

“Why did that not matter to the general in Arensburg?” Granger asked.

“Because that general wasn’t aware of the extent of the Count’s influence, while this general is,” he replied. Even if Granger had fancied being annoyed with von Beckendorf, the young Colonel’s good humor would have stopped him.

“Do you have any guidance for me?” Granger asked.

“His aide has been to America, to New York, so I would expect they will try to discern if you are who you say you are,” he said. “Remember that their goal is to find something suspicious enough to commandeer our comfortable conveyance.”

“Then I will attempt to pass myself off as an American banker,” Granger said with a great degree of skepticism.

“I think your training sessions with Jacobs have worked well, but then again, I can’t understand what you’re saying,” von Beckendorf joked. Jacobs had coached Granger on the differences in American and British dialect, with the two biggest being the way the letters r and a were treated. Americans tended to pronounce the r, while the English did not. With the letter a, the English used an ‘ah’ sound while the Americans used a stronger ‘aaa’ like the bleating of a sheep. Jacobs had a much more casual way of speaking, but Granger was led to believe this was more of an indication of his social standing and his time in the wilderness, and that those in cities would form sentences much as he did. Not having to reinvent his grammar was a thankful relief.

“We shall see,” Granger said dubiously. He stood up and walked out of his room to find Winkler waiting for him and instructed him to make sure their things were packed and loaded into the vozok. Von Beckendorf augmented that order by conveying to his servants that they were to be ready to depart as well, dragoons and all, as soon as possible. After that, he followed von Beckendorf through the castle to a chamber where a dismounted hussar stood guard. The guard eyed them carefully, then opened the door to usher them in.

Von Beckendorf led them into the commandant’s office, a fact Granger was aware of because he had spent much time visiting with that interesting man during their stay. Evidently the General had opted to take it over, and the commandant had not objected, at least not effectively. It was probably significant that he was not in the room. “General von Driesen, Major Rostov, may I present Mr. Albert Ryde.” He spoke in French, which was the language Granger perceived as being almost exclusively used by the ruling class in Russia.

“Welcome, Mr. Ryde,” the general said with a wily tone.

“Thank you, General,” Granger replied. He didn’t have to worry about his accent when they spoke French, so that made things much easier.

“I understand you are an American,” Major Rostov said, speaking English well enough to convince Granger he was fluent. “I spent much time there.”

“How wonderful to be able to speak English,” Granger gushed in that language. “Where did you live when you were there?”

“I spent most of my time in New York, with a brief sojourn to Boston,” Rostov said.

“Those are big cities, but not as big as where I hail from,” Granger said. “I’m from Philadelphia.” Rostov questioned Granger about that city in an innocuous but probing way, but Granger’s stay there had given him more than enough knowledge to answer the man’s questions effectively. When their conversation was done, Rostov turned and yammered to von Driesen in German. Von Beckendorf gave Granger a sly wink to tell him he’d effectively convinced them he was a Yankee.

“And why are you going to St. Petersburg?” the general abruptly asked Granger.

“I was commanded to appear there in order to meet His Imperial Majesty, and to discuss my mission with no one, begging your pardon,” Granger said politely.

“Surely such caution isn’t necessary when talking to one of His Imperial Majesty’s generals,” von Driesen said arrogantly, with just a hint of malice.

“If that is the case, general, I would have thought His Imperial Majesty would have included such an exception in his directives to me,” Granger said, yielding not an inch.

“Quite so,” the general said, clearly irritated.

“And where are you bound?” Granger asked, just to make himself more annoying.

“We are heading to Mitau, to send the French pretender and his leeches packing. They will be leaving Russia immediately,” the general said. The general did not seem overly compassionate and he didn’t seem to have a strong sense of chivalry, making Granger feel sorry for the emigres and their monarch. Being turned out of Mitau by this man would undoubtedly be unpleasant.

“An unfortunate time to compel them to travel,” Granger noted boldly, all but accusing the general of being inhumane.

“That is not my concern,” he snapped. “I will do as His Imperial Majesty commands, as will they!” Granger almost laughed out loud at how horrified the French at Mitau would be if they heard this man declaring that the King of France, as they saw him, would obey the commands of the Tsar, true as that state of affairs may be.

“And that is what I am trying to do as well,” Granger said evenly.

“In any event, they will survive,” he said. “A good journey to both of you.”

“Thank you,” Granger said. He bowed politely, with the general and Rostov returning his gesture, then left the room.

“Trouble for your French friends,” von Beckendorf said as they headed to the courtyard.

“They knew this was coming,” Granger said fatalistically. “Let us hope they used that time to plan for such an event.”

“I am willing to guess that rules of etiquette blocked them from making much progress in that regard,” von Beckendorf said with a chuckle. “They are probably still arguing over who gets to hold the door to the king’s carriage when he leaves.”

Granger laughed at his pleasant German companion. “Or who is responsible for packing food for dinner on the trip,” he added. They paused to take their leave of the Commandant, then went into the courtyard to their waiting vozok. Von Beckendorf’s dragoons and von Driesen’s hussars were milling about, fraternizing with each other. The uniforms of the dragoons were much simpler and as a result seemed more warlike to Granger, while the hussars wore tunics that were so ornate it made them seem as if they were palace guards and not real soldiers. The camaraderie between the dragoons and hussars seemed to cause von Beckendorf much alarm.

He barked orders to his men and they departed with inordinate haste, tearing out of the courtyard and across the bridge into Russia proper. Von Beckendorf leaned forward and had his servant relay to the coachman to increase their speed. Granger stared at him, a bit surprised at their sudden need for urgency. “The dragoons with us know who you are, and it is likely they will have told their friends the hussars as well.”

Granger nodded, understanding quite clearly the reason for their haste. “And you are worried that riders will be coming after us to halt us?”

“That is exactly what I am worried about,” von Beckendorf said. He was in a panic, and as Granger had noted before, he tended to act a bit erratically when he was flustered. He tried to peer out the window, but he couldn’t see behind the vehicle.

“We are doing all that we can, so I would submit that you should relax and remain calm,” Granger admonished.

“If we are apprehended, you will be in grave danger, and I will most likely be shot,” von Beckendorf spat, his panic increasing.

“In a situation like this, it is important to anticipate what your enemy will do, such as the general is our foe,” Granger said calmly.

“I told you that he will send hussars after us and order us to halt, and he will follow at a more leisurely pace in his carriage,” von Beckendorf said, frustrated at restating the obvious.

“How will they search for us?” Granger asked.

“They will follow the road to St. Petersburg,” von Beckendorf told Granger, with a tone that suggested Granger was an idiot.

“His hussars will be faster than us, even in our speedy vozok,” Granger noted.

“You are telling me things are hopeless,” von Beckendorf said a bit despondently.

“No, I am telling you that we need to get off this road,” Granger said.

“This is the only road to St. Petersburg,” von Beckendorf objected.

“Then we will have to delay our trek,” Granger said. “We need to find a place where we can hide out, a place where we will not be revealed.”

“Won’t the hussars just continue to scout the road for us?” he asked.

“The General’s orders are to go to Mitau and evict King Louis from Russia,” Granger said. “I doubt they give him the leeway to spend a day or two searching around Narva for me.”

“That is probably true,” von Beckendorf agreed. “What is to prevent him from leaving a squad behind to arrest us?”

“Who would he leave that would be able to do that?” Granger asked. “You are senior to Rostov, so the troops will be faced with conflicting orders from a colonel and a major. Your dragoons will obey your orders, and the hussars will most likely obey as well.”

“They would,” von Beckendorf agreed.

“And ponder this,” Granger said, prefacing his next statement. “The general had us in his hands, and both he and his aide allowed us to deceive them and escape. I doubt he will spend noticeable time chasing us when his own role in this episode is not flattering. I suspect that he will search for the day, then press on and order his men to forget the whole affair.” Von Beckendorf stared at him in surprise as he digested Granger’s reasoning.

“I do not understand how you are so good at this,” von Beckendorf said to Granger, with the admiration dripping off his words. Predictably enough, such adoration made Granger uncomfortable.

“To win a battle, you must understand how your enemy thinks,” Granger said simply, then changed the subject. “Is there a place close to here that will serve our purposes?”

“Let me look at the map,” he said. Granger helped him spread out the one showing their current environs, then watched as he studied it carefully. “Here! Yamburg!”

“Yamburg?” Granger asked.

“It is only twelve miles distant. There is a cathedral there. My cousin is the bishop,” he said excitedly.

“How many of your men can you trust?” Granger asked him.

“I can trust my men,” von Beckendorf objected. Granger recognized that he’d slightly offended his friend, so he opted to take a different approach.

“Here is what I think we should do,” Granger said. “We should keep the most loyal of your troopers with us, those who would not reveal who I am or where we are. Men you would trust with your life.”

Von Beckendorf nodded. “I would keep seven of our twelve men with me.”

“Excellent,” Granger said. “Then we should send the other five back toward Narva, with orders to delay anyone who comes after us.”

“Should we not send the more loyal ones?” he asked.

“No,” Granger answered firmly. “They will not know where we are to reveal us, and they will probably obey orders initially to delay our pursuers. In any event, even explaining their orders and talking about us will cause them to waste time.”

“What of the others?” he asked.

“We will send two others ahead to the cathedral to make sure they are ready for us, and to make sure that there is a place to hide both us and our vozok. The others we will retain for our safety,” Granger said.

“I understand,” von Beckendorf said. He made to rap on the front window to stop the coach, when Granger stopped him.

“We will not have much time to explain things. I would recommend that you dispatch the five first, and then you can have one of the men from the forward group sit in here so we can talk while we are on our way.”

Von Beckendorf nodded. “I will do just that.” He rapped on the door and told the coachman to stop. The effect was immediate, with the vozok jerking and sliding a bit as the coachman put on the brakes a bit too zealously. As soon as the coach had ceased to move, von Beckendorf jumped out. Granger watched him through the window as he beckoned the dragoons over. It was impressive how quickly he managed to get the five least-reliable men to tackle their mission. As soon as they rode off, he spoke to one of the other men. Just as Granger was about to get frustrated at how much time they were wasting, those men pulled their horses around and dashed off in the opposite direction. A few more words, and then von Beckendorf hopped back into the vehicle, and it began moving, picking up its pace quickly.

“That was quite fast,” Granger said with a smile.

“I took your guidance to heart,” he replied. “I was able to relay the plan to the men easily enough, and that way I do not have to share this vozok with anyone but you.” He gave Granger a lustful look as he said that last phrase.

“That is a wonderful benefit,” Granger said, although his libido was seriously dampened by the urgency of the moment.

“The dragoons that are with us will follow the vozok,” he said.

“I am surprised you do not have some in front and some in back,” Granger mused.

“In this case, they will ride over our tracks, and hopefully obscure the sled marks,” von Beckendorf said with a proud grin.

“That is very good thinking on your part,” Granger said. Von Beckendorf smiled proudly at Granger, and his expression made Granger think he would try to initiate a sexual tryst, but in the end, it was not sex that was on his mind, but a focus on their current crisis. Granger pondered that von Beckendorf had the makings of an excellent first lieutenant, or whatever the Russian military equivalent was to that Royal Navy rank. He was quite capable of taking a plan, filling in the details, and executing it, but he lacked the steadiness to hatch one under fire. Von Beckendorf pulled out the maps of the remainder of their journey and began to plot out how to make it to St. Petersburg without being apprehended.

“I think that after today, we will be able to continue to make good time,” von Beckendorf concluded.

“Perhaps,” Granger said cautiously. Von Beckendorf looked at him with annoyance at having his rosy outlook marred. “If von Driesen does discover who I am, as I noted, he will probably not have the ability to wait around and hunt me down.”

“Exactly,” von Beckendorf said.

“It is possible that he may dispatch a few men to alert people along our route. He could do it in a way that does not reflect badly on him,” Granger noted.

“What makes you think that?” he challenged.

“Because that is what I would do,” Granger answered.

“Von Driesen is not as smart as you are,” von Beckendorf said, making both of them laugh.

“The general will not need much force to turn out the Bourbons in Mitau. He has more than enough men to do that and dispatch a small squad to at least shadow us. And since our destination is known, that will make their job that much easier.”

“Then how will we escape them?” he asked.

“I am not sure,” Granger said, staring at the maps in puzzlement. The road they’d traveled on was good by Eastern European standards, but there weren’t any other options than this route. “It seems that we must either try to outrun them, we must wait until they tire of looking for us, or we must travel at night.”

“At night?” he asked, stunned. “That would be very dangerous.”

“Perhaps,” Granger said, as he pondered that plan. “If there were enough moonlight, and we went at a slower pace, it may be possible.”

“Perhaps,” von Beckendorf said, repeating Granger’s word as he thought about that option.

They had made remarkably good time on their trip thus far, but today the going was much slower due to the considerable amounts of snow that had fallen. The blizzard they’d sat out at Narva had blanketed the roads and the countryside with precipitation, and the winds had blown it into drifts. The winds had continued on during the day, and would probably blow snow across the road behind them, doing more to cover their tracks than the dragoons’ horses did.

They arrived in Yamburg just as it was starting to get dark, which was very convenient since that way they attracted less attention. Granger mused that if they wouldn’t have been delayed by their meeting with von Driesen in the morning, they probably would have gotten here well before sunset, and been much more obvious. One of the dragoons from the advance party had returned to guide them in, so they were able to travel directly into the town, and into a barn adjacent to the cathedral.

They exited the vehicle and found that the barn was big enough to house their horses as well, and there was even some fodder for them. Von Beckendorf took some time to thank his men, and to give them orders to take care of the horses. Granger gave them some money to buy food and drink in the town, while von Beckendorf admonished them to keep their mouths shut about Granger’s presence. Having accomplished that, von Beckendorf led Granger out of that structure and into the blistering cold air of Yamburg.

As soon as they emerged from the barn, Granger saw a large cathedral with those uniquely Russian onion dome towers. It was too dark to identify much more than the towers, so he could not get a feel for what the rest of the structure looked like. Von Beckendorf did not lead him to the cathedral, but rather to the rectory next to it. It was a nice house with lights flickering through curtained windows and smoke coming from multiple chimneys, giving off a warm and inviting impression.

They entered the house, and the reception they received was just the opposite of what the outside appearance would have suggested. A young man wearing a simple black robe frowned at them and said nothing, just motioned for them to follow him into the next room. There they found a roaring fire, with the welcoming warmth offset by the frosty demeanor of an older man probably in his fifties, wearing a purple robe with a white mantle, who was sitting behind a table. He did not deign to rise to greet them, but instead stared at them in a hostile way. The young man who had escorted them into the room stood behind the older man, his arms folded, glaring just as hatefully. The old man began to speak in Russian, his volume rising with each word, until he was all but yelling at von Beckendorf, who stood there silently, an expression of contempt on his face. Von Beckendorf raised an eyebrow and looked at his fingernails in an amused way, all but ignoring this old man who finally ended his rant. Granger could not tell if the yelling stopped because he had finished, or because he had exhausted himself.

Von Beckendorf walked slowly toward the table, with Granger walking next to him, more to see what was going on than to be part of the discussion. Von Beckendorf put both of his hands on the table and leaned in so his face was within two feet of the older man’s and began to speak to him in Russian. Based on the stench of the older man’s breath and body, Granger thought von Beckendorf was sacrificing a lot for that gesture. Von Beckendorf’s tone was menacing and sinister, one that Granger would have found intimidating were he in the older man’s position. The two men on the other side of the table slowly began to change their attitudes. Their expressions went from being angry, to listening with skepticism, to one of increasing fear that ended almost in terror by the time von Beckendorf finished.

The old man snapped something to the young man, who hurried out of the room. Von Beckendorf stood erect and switched to French. “Lord Granger, I would like to introduce you to Bishop Dolokhov.”

“It is a pleasure to meet Your Grace,” Granger said. Von Beckendorf had used the time they’d spent in the vozok when they hadn’t been having sex to familiarize Granger with the customs and forms of address at the Russian Court. He found it odd that a bishop was accorded the same honorary address as a duke would receive in England.

“It is my pleasure, my lord,” the Bishop said obsequiously. “I am sorry if I did not provide you with a warmer welcome when you arrived, but I will endeavor to make up for it.”

“Think nothing of it, Your Grace,” Granger said politely.

“I have sent my aide to bring food and drink, and to see that your men have food and shelter,” he said.

“Your Grace is too kind,” von Beckendorf answered. “Would it be possible to repair to our rooms for a few minutes?”

“Of course,” he said bombastically, and rang a bell. That caused a young woman to appear. He belted out instructions to her in Russian, then Granger and von Beckendorf followed her up the stairs.

She led them into a chamber with a single bed that was the size of one and a half cots, nodded, and exited. While it was unlikely that this woman, who was to all appearances a chambermaid, spoke French, Granger waited until she was gone and the door was shut before he spoke to von Beckendorf. “Can you translate that conversation?”

Von Beckendorf chuckled. “He was unhappy that we were here and that we were being pursued, and he is probably even more unhappy that he will have to provide us with food and drink, as well as fodder.”

“He was afraid that he would be arrested?” Granger asked.

“Initially,” von Beckendorf said. “Then I explained that I worked for Count von der Pahlen, and that I was on a personal mission for him and the Tsar to bring you to St. Petersburg. I reminded him of what can happen to people, even bishops, who cross the secret police, and I explained to him the penalties should he or his people reveal our identities or presence.”

“You appeared to be convincing,” Granger said. “I thought he was a relative?”

Von Beckendorf shrugged. “A distant cousin, not so close that he could not spend time in Siberia.” Granger laughed at that. “Let us go down and see what he has decided to feed us.”

Granger was surprised to find that the food was good. He and von Beckendorf were joined by the bishop and his aide, who chattered away about the town and their cathedral. He had dined on largely Germanic dishes when traveling through Courland and when staying in Narva, but this was more native Russian fare, or at least that is what Granger assumed. The conversation was pleasant at first, then became tedious, then became outright challenging as the two men grilled Granger on the rites and customs of the Anglican church. Granger feared that he had not done a very good job of answering their queries, and that his lack of conviction about religion was apparent. It was a relieved George Granger who was finally able to escape upstairs with von Beckendorf to their room to engage in a very unholy sexual extravaganza.

Copyright © 2017 Mark Arbour; All Rights Reserved.
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The ability to think rationally and be cool under fire so to speak, is one George has honed well...and it serves him well too!

Good chapter. 

More please!

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Thanks for another riveting chapter! I'm glad Granger's familiarity with Philadelphia held up. Although, I was surprised that the British and American accents would already have drifted so far apart. 

 

Looking forward to the next installment. 

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Thanks for another wonderful chapter.  Granger is a master of getting out of difficult situations. 

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2 hours ago, jeff said:

Thanks for another wonderful chapter.  Granger is a master of getting out of difficult situations. 

He sort of has to be, given the number of positions Mr Arbour manages to get him into!

I'd rather like helping dear George in and out of his positions..... 😍😉

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With much gratitude.   As always a well told story. Your characters are a well balanced mix of likable sensual believable and fantasy  The mix of history and fiction works well for me.   I enjoy following along with google maps. Entertaining and educational 

mark

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I love this tale mostly because it includes lust and love between men in a time when most "decent people" would deny those interactions ever happened at all, ever in history. 

As to the political intrigue, it seems to me that little changes between, England, France, America, or Northern Europe. Language and customs may differ but if you were not at least landed gentry you and yours did not matter. Little has changed. Santayana must be LHAO! 

Write Faster, Post Sooner.

Jim

 

 

 

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