Graf von Altenburg's breath was raspy and his skin was the color of porcelain clay; he lay in his massive bed, three quilts drawn up to his chin, his back supported on a pyramid of bolsters and pillows; the light from an oil-lamp provided a soft glow that made the dark beyond its reach appear to be illimitable and the room itself more like a cave than a bedchamber. He looked up at Saint-Germain and tried not to cough. "I suppose you will send word to my wife not to come in the spring? One of the couriers will have to carry the message."
"When a message is needed to be sent, your staff will surely do so," said Saint-Germain, holding out a cup of angelica root and elderberry tea to which an infusion of cough-weed, pine-bark, and feverfew had been added; around them the whole of the Residence was hushed, servants tip-toeing, the staff talking in whispers if they spoke at all. "But I will have a word with Schaft, if it will ease your mind."
"And you'll see that my bones are sent back to Prussia, not buried here? I want to lie in Prussian earth. Can you understand?" His voice was little more than a rustle of breath. In the last month he had lost flesh, and now there were hollows in his cheeks, his eyes were sunken, and his fingers lay like small bundles of twigs at the top of the quilts.
"Better than you know," said Saint-Germain.
He cleared his throat and did his best to suppress his coughing. "Then I am grateful to you, Hercegek."
"Please, Graf, drink this while it is still warm," said Saint-Germain.
"Don't waste your potions on me, Hercegek. I will soon have no use for them." He made a flapping motion with one hand to indicate that Saint-Germain should move away. "Give it to someone who can recover."
Saint-Germain remained where he was. "You might still do so."
Von Altenburg laughed, and gave way to a spasm of coughing, which took him some little time to overcome. "And the river might thaw in the night." He shook his head as if his skull weighed as much as an iron cauldron. "No, I know my time's up: my time's up and I've no complaint. Fifty-one is a very respectable age to attain." He studied Saint-Germain with owlish intensity. "My lungs are purulent, aren't they?"
"I fear so," Saint-Germain said evenly.
"And that means I have little hope of survival, with or without your elixirs." He sighed and fell silent for more than a minute. "I'd best thank you now for all you've done for me."
"You have no cause to thank me," said Saint-Germain.
"Not for this-that's what you've done for everyone. But for the information you provided to me when reliable reports"-he gagged and recovered-"were in short supply."
Saint-Germain was uncertain what von Altenburg meant by reports, but only responded, "If you have regarded our occasional discussions as a service, then I am glad to have been able to make myself available to you." He waited while von Altenburg stared away into the shadows; when he blinked and turned his oystery eyes on him, Saint-Germain added, "Is there any other service I can do for you?"
Von Altenburg considered. "Send for that minister at the English Residence-Bethune, his name is, as I recall."
"Thomas Bethune," said Saint-Germain, and signaled to Hroger, who stood on the far side of the room. "Are you certain you want to see him?"
"I am," said von Altenburg in a determined mutter. "I want to talk to a Protestant, not a Catholic or one of these Orthodox priests." A harsh cough brayed from him, and he once again made an effort to calm the urge. "Since our own Lutheran cleric left with the last boat, it is Bethune or no one." He stopped to gasp for air.
"I will send my manservant to do this for you, but I ask you to take the drink I offer you. It is not so much that it will deprive anyone beyond you of its virtue, and it should lessen your discomfort." He nodded to Hroger and saw him leave the room.
"What is the weather like?" von Altenburg asked, his eyes turning toward the shuttered window.
"It is snowing," said Saint-Germain, not adding that a blizzard was brewing over the vast expanse of marshland that surrounded Sankt Piterburkh on three sides.
Von Altenburg started to say something but was taken with another bout of coughing, this time hawking up yellow-green mucus into his embroidered handkerchief. "I can't breathe," he said hoarsely.
Saint-Germain offered the cup again. "It will put my mind at ease if you will drink this," he said calmly. "I will know I am doing all that I might to help you recover." There was one more thing he could do, but it was so desperate that he would be a fool to speak of it, he thought; he knew that von Altenburg would refuse such a life as those of his blood must lead.
Von Altenburg mumbled something.
"Would you repeat what you said, Graf? I did not quite understand you."
"Does it taste vile?" he asked, raising his voice as much as he could.
"It tastes of herbs and elderberries," said Saint-Germain, extending the cup so that von Altenburg could sniff.
"I like elderberries," he said, his eyes looking past him into the distance. "All right." His fingers scrabbled around the cup and he managed to drink half the contents before he began to cough again.
Saint-Germain took the cup and wiped von Altenburg's mouth with a soft linen cloth. "If you would like more, you have only to tell me."
Von Altenburg brought the focus of his gaze back to Saint-Germain. "I have taken too much of your time, Hercegek. You have other patients to attend to."
"Yes, I do; but not at this instant. I will remain here a while longer." He laid his hand on von Altenburg's brow, and felt the ominous combination of heat and chill. "When Bethune arrives, I will take my leave until tomorrow."
"Tomorrow!" von Altenburg scoffed, then clapped one hand to his mouth, all but choking on a cough. "Although I imagine you must say such things to your patients, but I know what I know." He looked at the cup. "I'll have the last of that, and-" He squinched his eyes closed and gave a low, painful groan.
Saint-Germain moved to steady the cup and offer his arm as support for the dying man. "Let me raise you up a little."
His breath coming in hard gasps that sounded like green wood being sawn, von Altenburg sat up and leaned forward, trying to get air into his lungs, his efforts making a noise like a razor being stropped. Four loud, tight, guttural coughs jarred through him, more mucus sprayed the quilt, and he sank back against his pillows. "The drink."
"Here. I will hold it," said Saint-Germain, and set the cup at a slight angle to his lips, tilting it slowly so that von Altenburg could finish it.
The Graf was panting shallowly as he let his head go back into the pillows. "What a wretched place this is to die, out on the edge of this marsh, among so many strangers, all for the whim of a mad Russian."
"It is a difficult location," Saint-Germain agreed, aware that von Altenburg's attention was drifting again. "If the Czar has his way, five years from now Sankt Piterburkh will be a more pleasant place."
"Not in November, unless he can change the weather as well as the island," von Altenburg growled, staring up at the shadowed ceiling. "My eyes long for … mountains." He gasped twice. "I won't see them again."
"Tell me about them," said Saint-Germain, knowing that the more von Altenburg wandered in his mind, the harder it would be to encourage him to live.
It took over a minute for him to comply. "Not imposing or formidable as the Alps, or as small as the … rolling Alsatian hills. Grand enough they are, with … rivers flowing through them. My home stands above a river, on … the brow of a long ridge." He succumbed to coughing once more, but not so wrenchingly as before; when he spoke again his voice was insubstantial as a spider's web. "It was begun in the time … of Great Karl as a watch … watchtower and be … came a castle in 1280 or so, when my family was given it along with the … lands from the river to the second … line of mountains. We have about half as much land … now as we did then." He stopped speaking, gulping for air.
"Try not to struggle, Graf; that makes it worse." He laid his hand on von Altenburg's shoulder, gently but firmly enough to bring about a lessening in his combat with his failing lungs. Gradually the tension went out of him and his breathing went back to a fluttering rasp.
"Why do you bother?" von Altenburg asked, just above a gnarl.
"Because you are not yet dead," said Saint-Germain, his blunt-ness softened by the kindness in his demeanor.
"Don't make … me laugh, Hercegek," he pleaded, ending with sporadic coughs.
"It is not my intent to make you laugh," said Saint-Germain, "it is my intent to make you better."
"That's a lost cause," said von Altenburg, his words fading as he lapsed into a fitful half-sleep that revealed the depth of his fatigue.
For almost five minutes, Saint-Germain stayed still, listening to von Altenburg's labored breathing. Then he began, very quietly, to speak. "I, too, come from mountains, not as friendly as your own, yet I know what it is to miss them; they are my native earth, and I am bound to them for all my days. In my travels, I have always found that the sight of mountains comforts me, other factors notwithstanding." Even during his long incarceration in South America, fifty years ago, the Andes had provided him a degree of solace beyond what he had experienced in deserts or grasslands, or marshes.
"Ummm?" von Altenburg responded.
"The Carpathians are magnificent, rising up like the fortresses of ancient, forgotten gods." Saint-Germain spoke a little louder. "Anyone who has seen them knows their majesty, and their dangers."
Von Altenburg's eyes flittered open. "I like mountains."
"Yes, Graf." He found a chair and brought it to the side of the bed. "Tell me what you like about mountains."
"Their stillness. We all buzz and … bustle about the world, hart and hind … and vermin are always on … the move, … rivers run down to the sea, the sea … is pulled about by … tides, but the mountains are … inviolate." He rubbed his lips together.
"Would you like some water?" Saint-Germain offered, aware that the gesture was futile, that water would do almost nothing for him now.
"I'm … not thirsty."
Saint-Germain closed his eyes for a moment, feeling life slipping away from his patient. Then he opened his eyes and said, "A little water and your throat would be less dry."
He shook his head. "Doesn't matter."
A flurry of noise at the front door penetrated to von Altenburg's room, only to be hushed by the servants. The sound of soft footsteps approached the door, and there was a hesitant tap on the planks.
"I believe Thomas Bethune is here," said Saint-Germain, rising from the chair. "Shall I go and let him in?"
Von Altenburg nodded, his fingers twitching.
Saint-Germain was half-way to the door when it opened and Hroger stepped through, Bethune immediately behind him. "You made good time, old friend."
"No reason to linger on the street," said Hroger, taking the end of his muffler and unwinding it from around the lower part of his head. "The wind is picking up, and the drifts are deeper."
Thomas Bethune wore his clerical bands spread on his slate-colored woolen coat, and the hair that hung around his shoulders was his own and not a wig; he was pale but for wind-ruddied spots on his face. He bowed slightly to Saint-Germain. "Hercegek. I understand Graf von Altenburg has asked to see me."
"Mister Bethune," said Saint-Germain. He stepped aside so that Bethune could see von Altenburg. "He will not last much longer."
"God have mercy on him," whispered Bethune.
"If you can assure him of that, he will depart this life with more peace than if you dwell on his shortcomings." Saint-Germain held up his hand before Bethune could respond. "I am concerned because so many Protestant divines dwell on sin and failings. For his sake, put your emphasis on grace."
Bethune nodded twice. "I am not his cleric, so I haven't the position to take him to task."
"Hroger and I have others whom we must visit." He bowed again and motioned Hroger to leave the room with him. In the next chamber they found Theophilius Schaft and Hugo Weissenkraft waiting with Echbert Gluck, the steward.
"Can you tell us anything?" Schaft was the first to speak, anxiety in every lineament of his body.
"I am sorry to tell you: another hour or two at most, and then you will have to alert the Guard and your courier." Saint-Germain could see shock and acceptance war within the three men.
"Hercegek, is there no chance?" Schaft asked, his expression so down-cast that Saint-Germain strove to provide him a little comfort.
"There is a very slim one, but it is not to be depended upon, I regret to say. The Graf is no longer clinging to life. If the Graf were younger, or if he had the will to stay alive, perhaps he could rally, but as it is-"
"Are you certain?" Gluck asked abruptly; he was new to his post, having arrived in Sankt Piterburkh in late September, and this development was more than he wanted to deal with.
"No; as I am not certain that a great flood will not inundate Sankt Piterburkh before morning. But I know he cannot live much longer." He studied the three men. "You will need to have your notifications ready; Schaft, I imagine you know the Graf's instructions for the disposal of his body."
"Boiled and the bones sent home to Prussia in the spring," he said with distaste.
"Yes. He seems concerned about it, so I urge you to have your arrangements made, and to comply with his request," said Saint-Germain, pausing before continuing, "Once he has been removed from the house, boil his bed-linen and such blankets as can be boiled, then burn his pillows, mattress, and bed-clothes. Have his room washed down with garlic water and lay out pots of camphor-I will send some to you-for three days."
"I'll fetch your medical case, my master," said Hroger, and went back into von Altenburg's room before anyone stopped him.
"Isn't that a bit extreme?" Weissenkraft asked.
"It lessens the chance of anyone else who may contract the influenza having his lungs turn putrid," said Saint-Germain steadily. "Be sure you watch the servants, to be sure they have not taken sick."
"Servants?" Gluck was shocked.
"They sleep under this roof, as you do, and they are often more tired than you: tired people are more likely to become ill than rested ones." Saint-Germain offered a half-bow to the three men. "I will come tomorrow, before nine o'clock. You may tell me then if anyone else in the household shows signs of the influenza."
Gluck clapped his hands. "The Hercegek's cloak and hat-and his servant's." He turned to Saint-Germain, speaking stiffly. "Thank you for telling us of your fears. We will see that the Graf isn't left alone at any time this night."
"A good precaution," said Saint-Germain.
"As soon as there is anything to tell, we'll send you word," said Schaft. "Will you want to see the … the Graf before he leaves the house?"
Saint-Germain thought carefully. "If he starts coughing up blood again, then let me see his body. If he does not, then I will not be needed to certify the nature of his death, and my statement of putrid lungs will stand."
"Very well," said Schaft.
"We thank you for easing his end," said Gluck, his tone much less cordial than his words.
Hroger came out of the Graf's room, Saint-Germain's case in his hand. "My master."
"If you have need of me, send to the care-house," said Saint-Germain as one of the servants handed him his wolf-skin-lined cloak, and gave Hroger his, of boiled wool lined in marten-fur. He bowed to the three men as he donned his cloak and raised the hood. "I am truly sorry that the Graf is not going to live."
Only Gluck looked at him. "You would be, wouldn't you?"
"Gluck," said Schaft. "This isn't the time."
"The Graf is going to die, and this isn't the time to place the blame for his death?" Gluck rounded on Schaft. "You don't mean you still think that this … this Hungarian could be trusted to treat Graf von Altenburg, do you?"
Weissenkraft flung up his hands and turned to Saint-Germain. "You must forgive him, Hercegek. He's upset."
"Are you apologizing to him?" Gluck expostulated. "If he hadn't come with his tinctures and his potions, the Graf would recover, as the servants have done."
"Gluck," whispered Schaft. "Please."
"If you're afraid to speak up, so be it. But I am not. I know what I know, and I will tell it to all the world." He pointed at Saint-Germain, who was now preparing to leave the Residence. "You are responsible. He's dying because he let you pour your substances down him. Left to his own, he would have-"
"Gluck, that's enough!" Weissenkraft snapped. "Hercegek Gyor has been attentive and careful with the Graf, as he has for many others, including our cook. They are all returning to health, and so do most of the men he treats. These accusations are baseless and insulting."
Saint-Germain approached the three men. "I know it would be less frightening if you had someone to hold accountable for von Altenburg's dying, Herr Gluck. But there is only the infection that settled in his weakened lungs that is responsible."
"So you say!"
"Ask any physician or apothecary, and he will tell you the same," said Hroger. He cocked his head toward the door. "If you will excuse my master? He has other patients to see."
"It probably would be best," said Schaft. "We'll have a word with Gluck when you've gone."
Ordinarily, Saint-Germain would have extended condolences again, but seeing the bellicose light in Gluck's eyes, he only nodded and went out the door into the small vestibule, Hroger close behind him. "Herr Gluck is upset."
"Gluck is a thoughtless fool with a temper: what can you expect of him," said Hroger in Spanish as they opened the outer door and stepped out into the keening wind where they stood, taking stock of the pelting snow. "Were you planning to stop at the Ksiezna's house on your way, to call in at the stable?"
"No; the winter makes too much of a demand on the horses. I will not use them for sustenance until spring."
"Then what?" Hroger asked. "You've said the Ksiezna is less inclined to provide you, and you've only had one encounter with Madame Svarinskaya. You mustn't starve yourself, my master, not at this time of year, in this place."
"And what choice is there?" Saint-Germain asked a bit more sharply than he had intended. "You know it would not be safe for me to visit a woman in her dreams, assuming it were possible to find a woman sufficiently unguarded that I could gain access to her." He squinted into the snow. "For now, I am at an impasse."
"You may have another meeting with Madame Svarinskaya, of course, if you can find a time when the care-house is quiet enough," Hroger persisted, his concern showing in his aggravation. "Or shall I find a deer for you to drink from? The care-house could use the venison."
"That is hardly necessary, at least not yet." Saint-Germain turned his shoulder into the wind and stepped carefully onto the icy street, glad for once that the snow had not been trampled by hooves and wheels so it would turn to ice. "Luckily we have only the sixth part of a league to go to the care-house."
"It may seem longer," said Hroger, also angling his body to put his shoulder into the wind. "Von Altenburg makes fourteen dead in the Foreign Quarter, as I count."
"Fifteen-the dressmaker for the English Residence died yesterday," said Saint-Germain, his thick-soled boots crunching on the slight declivity marking the middle of the road.
"Oh yes," said Hroger. "I'd forgotten about her."
"She was not well when she contracted the influenza; you said she wasn't strong enough to keep the disease from overtaking her. Nor was von Altenburg, for that matter." They were still speaking in Spanish. "The fever went right through her. But given that seventy-nine have contracted the illness that I know of, fifteen is not as high a death-toll as sometimes happens when the influenza breaks out."
"Nevertheless-poor woman," said Hroger, and stopped still.
"What is it?" Saint-Germain asked, peering into the night and the false brightness of the flailing snow.
"I thought I heard something."
"A sleigh coming, do you think? We should hear hoof-beats and bells if it is a sleigh," Saint-Germain observed, halting to listen with him; at first he heard nothing more than the whine of the wind, but this was not reassuring, for it was a reminder that although they were in the middle of the Foreign Quarter, they were essentially alone. "Should we get out of the road?"
"No, I don't think so," said Hroger.
"No," Saint-Germain agreed suddenly, striding to Hroger's side. "Four or five men running."
"Not Guards, then," said Hroger.
"No, not Guards, or Watchmen." Saint-Germain thrust his hands inside his cloak and into the pockets of his coat where two francizcas were concealed. Grasping the small throwing axes, he drew them out and said, "You have your stars?"
"Three of them," said Hroger, moving so that he and Saint-Germain stood back-to-back. "And a dagger."
"Let us hope you will not have to use it," said Saint-Germain, readying his francizcas as the sound of running grew louder.
"Gladly," said Hroger as the first of the gang burst from the cover of the house across the street; all carried cudgels and were ready to use them.
"Now," Saint-Germain ordered, and flung the first francizca expertly, so that its curved blade bit deep into the shoulder of the leader of the group.
The man howled and swore, staggering from the force of the impact and the pain. The man behind him tripped over him and went down in the snow.
Hroger used all his skill to send one of his Chinese stars slicing through the wind and into the forehead of the third man, then adjusted his stance to attack the next man.
"Leave now and we will not pursue you. Stay to fight and we will hunt all of you down: believe this," Saint-Germain said, loudly enough to be heard over the wind, his manner grimly confident.
The men behind the injured attackers faltered; Hroger threw his second star and saw it bite into one of the gang's eye. There was a shriek of anguish, and the man blundered backward, and fell, splayed and stunned, on the drift at the edge of the road. For several seconds only the wind moved, and then the rest of the gang broke and ran, rushing off along the side of the house across the street, leaving four of the attackers lying in the snow, three of them bleeding.
Saint-Germain approached the four. "Listen to me, because you are all in danger: if you get to the Guard station, you may escape freezing to death, but if you remain where you are, you will be ice by morning." He pulled his francizcas as gently as he could from the leader's shoulder. "I fear your muscle is badly damaged, and you may not recover the use of your arm. Press your hand against the wound," he recommended. "Otherwise you will lose too much blood. I will help you to your feet so that you may start for the Guard station-"
The man pulled back from him, swearing at him, calling him a fucker of demons and a son of a harlot and a rabid wolf.
Hroger retrieved his throwing stars, and came back to Saint-Germain's side. "Do you think there's any point in asking who sent them?" he inquired in Spanish. "It's fairly clear they were waiting for us."
"No; they would tell us nothing." Saint-Germain wiped his small axe on the snow to clean it, then straightened up. "But we had best inform the Guards ourselves, before we go to the care-house."
Hroger looked over the four fallen men. "Then you do think they were sent."
Saint-Germain gave a tired sigh. "Oh, yes," he said. "As you said, it is too much of a coincidence otherwise."
Text of a report from Jeremye Kristostomovich Belayov, the Clerk of the Foreign Quarter for the Archives of the Czar, written in Russian and delivered to the central station of the Sankt Piterburkh Guard.
To the Archivist of the city of Sankt Piterburkh, Modeste Mileifich Dihally, serving at the pleasure of the Czar, Piotyr Alexeievich Romanov, the respectful greetings of Jeremye Kristostomovich Belayov, Clerk of the Foreign Quarter.
My most esteemed Archivist:
This being the third week of my duties here, I wish to remark that this last week has been more filled with incident than the previous two put together. It may be that the presence of the Czar has had some impact on events in the Foreign Quarter, and now that he has left, there are wider activities to consider: as I have only been resident here for five weeks, I am not in any position to make such an evaluation. That said, I am inclined to believe that the presence of the Czar has made a great impact on the community here, as does his absence.
Deaths from the epidemic disease have continued: not only did the Prussian Envoy, the Graf von Altenburg, die this last week, but so did three work-gang supervisors, nine household servants, and a Guardsman. Among the work-gangs there are no firm numbers, but the current estimate is approximately three hundred thirty have succumbed. This is based on accounts from supervisors, and may not be wholly accurate, particularly among those work-gangs dispatched to cut down trees in the nearest pine forest. Those work-gangs, of necessity, sleep in tents, and therefore when illness takes them, it is often far more dangerous than among those enjoying the safety and warmth of houses and the care of servants. Those who die in those work-gangs are often abandoned in the woods, in spite of orders not to do so, since such bodies attract wolves and all manner of scavengers. Already we have had reports of wolves crossing the ice of the Neva to our islands, and some of them have endangered the work-gangs guarding the levees and dykes.
Twenty-two work-gangs are employed now in finishing off a number of new buildings, including four warehouses, nine barracks, and four three-room houses for the first of the spring's arrivals from European ports. There have been a total of sixty-seven new residents-masters and servants-in the Foreign Quarter since the beginning of October, and not all of them have moved into completed houses, and those whose houses will be taken down have not yet been provided new houses to occupy. The Czar left specific instructions regarding the removal of nine houses and the redirection of Spasky Street so that two more cross-streets may be put in place. The Czar has ordered that the lumber taken from the buildings to be removed be saved and used in the new buildings or in the roadway sidewalks. The work-gangs can do little about the street, but six of them are taking down the buildings the Czar has marked for removal. Progress is slow, in large part because of the weather, which has been marked by snowstorms for four days out of the last seven. Yesterday saw an easing in the storm and today the sky was clear. With daylight so limited, it will not be until the end of February that we can have light enough to make for a productive working day.
The darkness is becoming a problem, for we have had to ration candles and lamp-oil, and even those work-gangs laboring indoors have to do so with limited amounts of light, which contributes to the slowness of execution that has marked the last two weeks. With this problem, darkness brings other problems: among the work-gangs, idleness has led to violence. Fighting is becoming commonplace, as is gambling, neither of which is desirable; drunkenness, of course, is found everywhere, and yesterday three men were discovered frozen dead where they had fallen in their stupor the night before. The criminal gangs from Moscow and Kazan have been the worst in turning the long night to mischief, often spending part of the night out in the streets, waylaying unwary persons abroad at night. So far this week, eight residents of the Foreign Quarter have been set upon, and one of them killed by these gangs. If the criminal gangs might be moved to the forest to cut trees, then the streets of the Foreign Quarter would be safer. Many residents of the Foreign Quarter have requested more firewood, for their supplies are running low at a more rapid rate than originally expected. If one of the work-gangs in the forest could be assigned to providing more cut wood for the household stoves, it would be a deeply appreciated act, and one that would lessen the various complaints that have been voiced in this last week. The Hessians, so newly arrived here, are the least prepared; their need is clearly the greatest. To be here just two months in a house that is still unfinished has seemed a hardship to them, and one that there is merit in addressing. However, the appearance of showing favor to them over longer residents may lead to acrimony among the people in the Foreign Quarter, which is not a development any of us could want.
There has been a request from the care-house for permission to add another room to the building, and beds for another twenty patients. With the various injuries and ills that have been so prevalent here in the last months, it is not an unreasonable request. I have two days since visited the care-house, and I can say from my own observation that the care-house is overcrowded, and there is little that we can do to improve their situation without enlarging the building itself. It could be moved to the large barrack being built a short distance away, but that would mean that the care-house should be torn down and its site chosen for other uses. If this problem could be set before the Czar as soon as possible, we might be able to have the room the care-house requires by June.
Given that the weather is improving at present, it is a good time to mount hunting expeditions to resupply the larders of the Foreign Quarter with meat. I am proposing to ask a dozen of the foreign men to assist in the hunt. Since the foreigners do not observe the same fast-days we Orthodox do, it may require some negotiating to agree on a time, but since there are dwindling reserves in most houses, I trust that this proposed venture will meet with garrison approval. The provision-trains from Novgorod and Moscow will not arrive until early January, and that being the case, we must do something to bridge the gap. Let me know if this plan is approved as soon as you may, and if it is not, then propose some other way for the Foreign Quarter to avoid hunger between now and Epiphany.
Submitted with full respect,
Jeremye Kristostomovich Belayov
Clerk of the Foreign Quarter
November 29th, 1704