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    Mark Arbour
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Northern Exposure - 43. Chapter 43

 

February 15, 1801

St. Michael’s Castle

St. Petersburg, Russia

 

Granger stood with the Stroganovs in the same reception room as he had last Sunday, and as he looked around, he could see that the same people were here in their same places. “No one moves around?” Granger asked Pavel.

He shook his head with a slight smile. “You must remember that His Imperial Majesty likes military order, which means that everyone has an assigned place.”

Granger pondered that. “I would assume that would also make it easier for him to ascertain who was here and who was not, since he could memorize that order.”

“You are correct,” he agreed. “In this room are the first families of the Empire. As one goes to the rooms further from the chapel, the social status of those individuals declines. It is quite an honor and a sign of success to be in this position.”

“I owe my place here to you and your family,” Granger said, winking at him.

“You will repay me later,” the randy young Russian replied. They stopped talking and assumed a formal pose as the drums began to ring out, announcing the procession of the Tsar. As he entered each room, trumpets blared out a flourish. It was quite easy to thus know how far along his route the Tsar had gone.

Closer and closer came the drums and trumpets until the trumpeters made their entrance into Granger’s gallery and blasted out their flourish, while the drummers marched ahead, setting the time in military precision. The Tsar followed, escorting the Tsarina, as they walked down the center of the gallery with all their loyal sycophants bowing to them as they went. Granger noted that as they walked together, they were on the side that would be closest to the Tsarina and furthest from the Tsar.

Slowly the Russian Emperor made his way through the gallery, pausing to exchange words with someone only rarely, which made Granger realize how significant the Tsar’s words to him the prior Sunday had been. Only this time, as they approached, the Tsar said nothing to them, but merely scowled. Granger noticed that the scowl was even more pronounced when aimed at Daventry. The Tsarina looked at them with an altogether different expression, her animated eyes giving away the lust she held back. She even deigned to wink at Daventry, which almost made Granger laugh, but fortunately he managed to stifle that into a mere grin.

“He seems annoyed with you,” Pavel said with concern.

“I suspect his level of annoyance with me will depend upon which day it is,” Granger said fatalistically, acknowledging how erratic this monarch was.

“The Tsarina, on the other hand, seemed to like Charles quite a bit,” Pavel said to Granger and Daventry.

Daventry looked at them in annoyance. “Our rendezvous on Friday was quite good, and now it is to become a regular thing.”

Granger bit his tongue to avoid laughing. “I am so glad my match-making skills are good.”

“Someday, George, I will find a way to get even with you for this,” Daventry said in a jocular way.

They were distracted as the Empress’s maids of honor followed her. Granger was stunned to see Countess von Lieven and her mother visibly fighting yet failing to restrain their tears. As soon as they passed, and the parties in their gallery began to follow the Tsar into the chapel, Granger looked to Pavel in a questioning manner. He answered Granger’s nonverbal inquiry. “I do not know, but it must be some sort of tragedy. They would otherwise not behave that way.”

There was considerable murmuring as people entered the chapel, sounds that were silenced when the Tsar turned around and aimed his furious eyes at the crowd. “Do you think everyone is talking about Countess von Lieven and her mother?” Granger asked, using that silent whisper that was aimed like a rifle at Pavel’s ear.

“That is the most likely reason,” he responded. The Orthodox ceremony was duller because it was a repetition of last Sunday, which removed the novelty and the challenge of following the correct maneuvers. When it was over, the Tsar and Tsarina exited the chapel, followed in the same order as those who had entered.

Granger was of a mind to track down Countess von Lieven but was instead relieved to find her waiting for them. “I would speak with you,” she said to Granger frigidly.

“Of course,” Granger said, and nodded to Pavel, then followed the Countess from the gallery and into an anteroom that looked out over the grounds. “You seem distraught,” he said tenderly.

“We just received news this morning,” she said, and began to cry. Granger put his arm around her in a supportive manner, one that turned into a hug as he tried to comfort her over whatever tragedy had happened.

“What news?” Granger asked soothingly.

“Fritz died in Astrakhan, of the fever,” she said, and began sobbing again. Granger felt the pain of losing the young man who had been his friend, his lover, and his guide. He cried with the Countess as he held her.

“No,” Granger said, as if his words could erase the loss. “It cannot be.”

“It is true,” she said, sobbing some more. Granger was filled with grief even as memories of Fritz flashed through his mind. He remembered their first meeting, when he had looked so handsome in his antiquated uniform, and that first reception, when Granger had been seething with jealousy over his mistress. He remembered their intimate relationship, and the countless number of times they had sex. He recalled their long journey to St. Petersburg, and how capably Fritz had guided them. Granger and the Countess cried together as he held her, until the initial wave of grief passed, and they were able to compose themselves. Granger led her over to an area where conveniently enough, there were two chairs next to each other. Even as they walked over and sat down, Granger’s grief was replaced with guilt, as he began to worry that Fritz was banished to Moscow because of him and had died because of his banishment.

“Where is Astrakhan?” he asked her, even as his mind tried to pull up a mental map of Russia.

“It is in the south, in the land of the Cossacks,” she explained. “He was serving under General Orlov-Denisov, who is the Ataman of the Don Cossacks.”

Granger blinked at that, since he had no idea that there were different Cossacks and had no clue what an Ataman was. “I was told he was sent to Moscow,” he replied.

“You must say nothing of this to anyone,” she hissed. “He was to help Orlov with his invasion plans.”

“Who would they be invading?” Granger asked, confused. “Persia?”

“Persia was to be only a transit point,” she said quietly. Granger may not have known much about Cossacks, the Don river, or Atamans, but he did know where Persia was. And then the reasoning was perfectly clear to him.

“They are going to invade India,” he concluded.

“Yes, 30,000 Cossacks are assembled on the Volga to do just that,” she said, keeping her voice quiet. “That is why this is such a secret.”

“That must mean that the Tsar has concluded an alliance with France,” Granger presumed, horrified. It was one thing for Russia to be a hostile neutral; it was an entirely different and much worse situation for Britain if she became an ally of France and a full-fledged enemy of Britain.

“I do not know if that is the case, but I do know that envoys from Russia and France have been meeting in Berlin and even Paris,” she said.

“That is so unfortunate,” he said, for so many different reasons.

“Your presence in Russia will become more and more dangerous with each day that passes,” she said to Granger.

“You’re telling me this, sharing these secrets, because you are worried about me?” he asked, stunned.

She gave him an annoyed look. “I shared this information with you because I knew that you and Fritz were very close,” she said in an accusatory manner.

“We were,” Granger said sadly. His agreement to her assertion stunned her for a minute, but Granger had nothing to lose at this point by being open with her. Besides, she would be hard pressed to hold his relationship with her brother against him without soiling his memory.

“That is why I told you,” she said, then hesitated before continuing. “And because he loved you, that is why I care about you.”

He took her hands in his. “Thank you,” he said sincerely.

She made to get up, so he stood up and lent her his hand. She leaned in and kissed him on the cheek. “I will try to find out if he left any letters for you, and to deliver them to you.”

“I would be most grateful,” Granger said. He led her back to the door to the main area but stayed behind in the anteroom to consider what she had told him. Could 30,000 Cossacks really seize India from the Honorable East India Company? There were 50,000 Sepoys and Regulars at the Battle of Seringapatam alone, when the Company had crushed Hyderabad, and that was but a portion of their military strength. 30,000 mounted soldiers would be quite a challenge, but could they subdue a whole sub-continent? Presumably the Russians would send more troops after the Cossacks to seal their victory. Granger recalled that Napoleon had purportedly invaded Egypt as a way to attack India overland. Thanks to the dominance of the Royal Navy over the seas, it was really the only feasible way for him to strike at Britain’s crown jewel. The last Granger knew, there were still French troops in Egypt. Could those troops combine with Russian Cossacks to invade India?

He began to pace back and forth in the gallery as he ruminated on what that would mean for Britain. England had maintained her fleets and subsidized European armies in the fight against France with the riches from her trade. With the exception of the West Indies, India represented the biggest portion of that activity, especially if one expanded that to include the East Indies and China. If the Tsar’s Cossacks and Napoleon’s grenadiers could combine to throw Britain out of India, she would be at their mercy. They would have to sue for peace, and accept unfavorable terms much as the Austrians had been forced to do.

The door opened gently and Pavel peered in, then he entered when he saw that Granger was alone. “Countess von Lieven had left this room and has vanished, but you never came out, so I came to check on you.”

“I just needed some time to digest the news she has conveyed to me,” he said, and found himself getting choked up again. “Fritz died in Astrakhan, of the fever.”

“No!” Pavel said, a bit too loudly.

“Yes,” Granger said gently. And then, much as he had done for the Countess, he held Pavel as he sobbed, and Granger cried with him. As if to repeat the entire scenario, once the tears had stopped flowing, Granger led him over to the chairs.

“No wonder they were so upset,” Pavel said, shaking his head.

“This must be especially hard on you,” Granger said sympathetically.

“We were not on good terms,” he replied, then gazed off as he thought of Fritz. “I am not sure if that makes things better or worse.”

“Neither am I,” Granger agreed. They sat there in silence for a few moments, until Pavel stood up, with Granger doing the same.

“We must go back out and take our leave, then go home,” he said authoritatively.

“Let us go,” Granger said. They paused in front of a mirror to work on their appearance, which meant trying to make it seem as if tears had not been cascading from their eyes and straightening their wigs. “Have I told you how handsome you look today?”

“You have not,” Pavel said. “You may tell me again later.”

“I will show you later,” Granger said. With that bit of humorous banter, they recharged their social attitudes and returned to the reception room.

Granger scanned the gallery, which was much less crowded as the chapel-goers had dispersed, and ended up focusing on the other side of the room where two older men were chatting, two men who were most definitely not Russian. That they glanced over at Granger from time to time made Granger curious. “Who are those men?”

“The one on the right is Rosenkratz, the ambassador from Denmark,” Pavel said with a bit of a smile. “You would be wise not to consider him a friend.”

“Then I will be cautious when we meet,” Granger said, storing that bit of knowledge.

“The other man you will find more agreeable,” Pavel said. “That is the Swedish ambassador, Count von Stedingk. You will also find that he speaks English fluently, probably due to the time he spent in America fighting against your king.”

“That war is long over,” Granger said, to let Pavel know such references didn’t bother him. “I would like to meet him.”

“I will let you do that on your own,” Pavel said. “While you are doing that, I will bid my farewells and attempt to gather our party.” With that, he strolled off to talk to some other people. Granger walked toward the two diplomats, focusing on the older Swedish man who was looking at him with interest. His appearance and his service in the American War made him most likely at least 50 years of age, and his years of military service had made him seem older and more rigid even than one would expect.

“I hope you gentlemen will pardon me for interrupting your conversation,” Granger said with a bow. “As a foreigner here in St. Petersburg, I am naturally drawn to others for whom this is not their homeland. I am Viscount Granger.”

“Rosenkranz,” the Danish ambassador said abruptly and rudely, barely returning Granger’s bow. The Swedish ambassador returned Granger’s bow in a courtly way. Rosenkranz muttered some words to the Swedish ambassador in German, bowed in what could almost be a rude way, and then scurried off.

“He does not seem to like me very much,” Granger joked. The Swede chuckled, then became more formal.

“My lord, I am Count von Stedingk, His Swedish Majesty’s Ambassador to the Russian Empire,” he said in English, bowing gracefully.

“What a pleasure to meet Your Excellency,” Granger said, switching to his native tongue, “and how convenient that you speak English as fluently as if you were a Briton.” His English was not as good as that, but a little flattery in diplomacy was usually a good thing.

“I learned your language when I was helping your American brothers escape from British rule,” he said, with a bit of a taunt.

“That war happened when I was but a child not even out of swaddling clothes,” Granger said, to rub his youth into this older man’s face. “It is of no concern to me.”

Von Stedingk smiled broadly. “It is good not to carry grudges,” he noted. “I have heard of your time in Sweden. The King found you to be quite charming.”

“That is a fulsome compliment His Majesty pays me, and you as well for relaying his kind words,” Granger said.

“You are staying at Stroganov Palace, I understand,” he said.

“I have that honor,” Granger answered.

Von Stedingk looked around furtively. “I would ask your permission to call on you there, if it is not an imposition.”

“It would be no imposition, and I would be glad to spend time with you,” Granger said.

“Then, if it meets with your approval, I will call on you tomorrow morning,” he responded.

“I will see you then,” Granger said. They bowed to each other, then Granger went off to find Pavel and to socialize more with the crème of Russian nobility. Countess von Lieven’s mother had vanished as soon as the religious service was over, and word quickly flew around that Granger had been the only one to talk to the Countess Lieven herself before her exit. That got him many curious glances and veiled questions, as people tried to determine what was going on, but Granger deflected them easily by talking of their friendship. He made it seem as if she was just expressing concern about how he was enjoying St. Petersburg. Unfortunately, that excuse did nothing but convince the Court that he was having an affair with the Countess, but Granger knew that such rumors could arise and die out quickly enough if there was no evidence to support them, and since her husband, who was to all accounts a bit of a dilettante, was with the army, such rumors would do him no harm.

It was a tired group that entered the vozok for their return trip to Stroganov Palace. They were tired because despite the glittering galleries and social conversation, they had felt the underlying tension and it had become exhausting. As soon as the door was closed and the vehicle began to move, Granger explained the reason for all those bad feelings. “The Countess von Lieven told me that her brother, Fritz von Beckendorf, died of the fever in Astrakhan,” Granger said sadly. “You will remember that he was the one who so adeptly guided me here.”

“That is most unfortunate,” Daventry said with real sympathy, understanding that he had been Granger’s friend, and that losing him was painful. In a particularly touching way, Sophia reached over and held Pavel’s hand in a supportive way.

“It is,” she agreed, with less conviction. They said nothing for a few minutes, as they all digested this loss.

“If it does not discommode you, Count von Stendingk, the Swedish Ambassador, has asked to call on me tomorrow,” Granger said, to get them away from their focus on the sadness of losing Fritz.

“He is most welcome,” Alexei said. “He has only been to our house for large galas, but his appearance should not arouse too much suspicion.” In a moment of clairvoyance, Granger was starting to understand how difficult it was to live in a society like this, with a despotic ruler and a mildly effective secret police force.

“If you feel it is dangerous, I will be happy to meet with him elsewhere,” Granger said.

“It will be fine, but I do appreciate you allowing me to have a say in whom you receive, lest it reflect badly on us and become even more dangerous for you,” Alexei said smoothly.

“What do you think he wants?” Daventry asked.

“I would assume he wants to ask me about my time in Stockholm,” Granger said, even though he did not think that was the reason. “I will tell him it was cold.”

They laughed at that, with their laughter ending as the vozok arrived at Stroganov Palace and they exited into the frigid cold. Once inside, they indulged themselves in a large dinner, then everyone largely disappeared into their own rooms.

Granger found Winkler waiting for him, of course. “Let me get that wig off of you, my lord,” he said, as he began to remove the pins that held it in place.

“How I detest these things,” Granger grumbled. “They make my hair feel dirty and my scalp itchy.”

“A solution to that, my lord, would most likely be a bath,” Winkler said logically.

“An excellent idea,” Granger said, then got somber. “I received some sad news today.”

“My lord?” Winkler asked nervously.

“Count von Beckendorf died of the fever in Southern Russia,” Granger said.

He watched as Winkler swallowed, then wiped away a tear. He really was a sweet and sentimental man. “That is truly a shame, my lord. He was a good man.”

“He was indeed, and I will miss him,” Granger said sadly. Winkler knew how close they had been, and knew how hard this was on Granger. He also knew that Granger would not want to dwell on it.

“I’ll have your bath readied,” he said, and helped Granger into a dressing gown.

“Thank you,” he said, as he patted Winkler on the back. “While you are doing that, I will go bother Daventry.”

Winkler smirked at that, no doubt because they’d all heard how Granger had positioned him as the Empress’s concubine. Granger strode out of his room, through the common room, and scratched on Daventry’s door.

“Enter,” Daventry said. Granger walked in to find him removing his wig while Boles helped him. “You have forgotten a few pieces of your wardrobe, George.”

“Rather, I am going to shed the memory of wearing this damnable wig by taking a bath,” Granger said. “While it is being made ready, I opted to come and annoy you.”

“As if you have not already done enough to torture me,” Daventry grumbled. Boles grinned, which reminded Granger to address him.

“I am very glad to see that you and McGillivray were able to join us here.”

“Thank you, my lord,” Boles said shyly. “It’s a bit nicer here than at Kiryanovo.”

“It is indeed,” Granger agreed. Boles finished helping Daventry remove his wig, and took his jacket, then Daventry led Granger back out into their sitting area and poured them a glass of wine.

“That’s a damnably sad thing, losing von Beckendorf,” Daventry said more sincerely, since they were alone.

“It is,” Granger agreed. “I cannot think that I would have made it here without his help.”

‘You probably would have had to travel like I did and in that case, it would have been you that died of the fever,” Daventry said.

“I seem to be a hard man to kill,” Granger joked, then got serious. “The Countess von Lieven shared other news that is disturbing.”

“And you chose not to reveal it in front of our Russian hosts?” Daventry asked, lowering his voice in case there were people eavesdropping on them, even though that seemed highly unlikely.

“I did not,” Granger said, matching Daventry’s volume, “primarily because I have sworn not to reveal it to anyone. But in this mission, we are one.”

“I agree,” Daventry said, then looked curiously at Granger, asking him to share his news.

“Count von Beckendorf was serving as an aide to General Orlov, who is the Ataman of the Don Cossacks.”

“That is a very powerful position,” Daventry said, referring to Orlov. “He is all but the ruler of those lands and people.”

“He has assembled some 30,000 Cossacks on the banks of the Volga, and they are soon to launch an invasion,” Granger said.

“Of Persia?” Daventry asked, drawing the same conclusions Granger had.

“Of India,” Granger replied. He watched Daventry’s mouth drop open in surprise as he digested all that was implied in that move. “I would suspect this means they have made common cause with the French, and that it is possible that the French troops in Egypt may ultimately take part in such a scheme.”

“That is quite an interesting piece of news you have brought me,” Daventry said.

“Do you think Russia can wrest India from John Company with 30,000 Cossacks?” Granger asked skeptically.

“No,” Daventry replied. “I suspect they are just the vanguard.”

“More troops will follow,” Granger agreed.

“They will,” Daventry said. “What makes this so dangerous is that the Cossacks themselves will be a dangerous, mobile, and disciplined force, but what they leave behind is an even scarier prospect.”

“I don’t understand,” Granger said. “They will loot and burn as they go?”

“I think they will be quite civilized, in an attempt to show the natives that they are nicer overlords than we are, but on their trek they will establish a route, almost like a highway, which will then be much easier for reinforcements to follow. They will know where food can be acquired, where to find water and lodging, and they will make allies who will ultimately provide them with a base of operation,” Daventry stated. Granger was impressed at his knowledge of this type of warfare, and decided that his experience in the Secret Service had taught him much.

“John Company has well over a hundred thousand troops in India,” Granger said. “Surely they can thrash a troop of Russian horsemen who will undoubtedly be reduced in strength by their journey.”

“John Company has more than a hundred thousand troops, but they will find it hard to defeat such a mobile enemy,” Daventry noted. “You must remember, George, that to win they don’t really have to conquer India. If that becomes impossible or too ambitious, they can merely raid and torment our people there.”

“I suspect that would facilitate looting,” Granger observed drily.

“Yes, and that is how Russian generals get so rich,” Daventry said. “John Company will find themselves fighting a guerilla war in India, and even if no reinforcements arrive, that force will drain John Company’s strength and, more importantly to them, their profits.”

“And India is supposedly not all that prosperous anyway,” Granger said ruefully.

Daventry started to say something, then hesitated. Granger glared at him, annoyed that he would hold back when Granger did not. “Your brother is changing that.”

“Bertie?” Granger asked, amazed yet again at how his disreputable older brother continued to haunt him.

“His trade in Opium with China is quite lucrative, and is stemming the flow of silver out of Britain’s coffers,” Daventry said. “Most of the opium is grown in India, so they have a new cash crop besides cotton.”

“And once again I am reminded what a dirty business trade is,” Granger said, with the true arrogance of an aristocrat. “What must we do?”

“I must accelerate our plans, while you must remain charming and respectable to shield me from the Tsar’s wrath,” Daventry said.

“I would think the Tsarina would be of more help with that,” Granger teased.

“Perhaps,” Daventry said in annoyance.

“I am surprised that you are so annoyed that she has taken a fancy to you,” Granger said. “I would have thought you would have found this to be an interesting romantic interlude.”

“I am probably not as annoyed as I seem,” Daventry admitted. “But I am a bit disappointed in that her demands on my body make it more difficult for me to engage in affairs with other, more attractive members of the Court.”

“I had not thought of that,” Granger said. “I am sorry about that.”

“It is probably for the best,” Daventry said. “I will make sure to enjoy my freedom that much more should we make it back to London.”

“You think we will be forced to stay here, all but imprisoned?” Granger asked incredulously.

“If the Tsar is allied with Bonaparte, I cannot see why he would let us go,” Daventry said.

There was a scratch at the door, which opened to reveal Winkler nervously peeking in. “My lord, your bath is ready.”

“Go remove the toxins that wig has put on your body,” Daventry said with a chuckle. “I will ruminate over our conversation.”

“As will I,” Granger said, then went off to take his bath.

Copyright © 2017 Mark Arbour; All Rights Reserved.
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What an important chapter and nothing happened except Granger went to chapel with the Tsar and had a chat with Daventry. I am sure the news he received in such a way was typically court news mongering. The fact that the countess chose Granger to speak about it will keep the gossip going for a long time.

Considering Napolean will invade Russia albeit with disastrous results only shows how things change as quickly as they do. One more month goes by before Tsar Paul is murdered. Granger and Daventry are definitely in perilous times and dangerous territory. Good chapter!

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Another great chapter, I agree with Will Hawkins...as an educated Yank, I am remis on my European history. I was completely unaware of the plans for the invasion of India and can now better understand Napoleon's decision to invade Russia after those plans fell thru, I am beginning to see the wheels turning upon wheels and decisions made. Those decisions spawning unforetold consequences. 

I would also like to take a moment to sincerely wish you continued health and nimble fingers at the keyboard.

Thanks for your stories and effort, this ametuar history buff continues to be enthralled!!! 

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So sorry you felt the need to kill off von Beckendorf. In addition to a lover and good friend, Granger has lost a key component of his limited support network in Russia. 

Thanks for a very thought-provoking chapter. Glad to have you back. 

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