A Dangerous Climate (Saint-Germain #22)

2,350
05.03.2019

Text of a letter from Niklos Aulirios near Orleans, France, to Francesco Saint-Germain Ragoczy at Lecco on Lake Como, written in first-century Greek and carried by private messenger.

From Niklos Aulirios to Saint-Germain, greetings, on this, the 19th day of October, 1711.

My dear Conte,

A most unusual encounter occurred two weeks ago while I was in Paris, and after weighing the matter for six days, I have decided to tell you about it: I had gone to Paris to settle the last of my inheritance claims, and while I was there, I encountered Colonel Broughton, who has been back from Russia for six months or so, and is about to be posted to Boston in North America come April. He is thicker of body, his skin is more florid, and his hair is going gray, but he is otherwise the same man as you introduced to me in Sankt Piterburkh; he told me that he came to Paris to have a little of the pleasures of civilization before he was once again condemned to the wilderness; he will be in Paris for a month, then he will return to England to begin his preparation for Boston. He accepted my explanation of traveling incognito, and we spent an interesting evening at the Hotel de Ville, where he lost a large amount of money and drank a prodigious quantity of Champagne.

Among the many things he imparted in his rambling discourse, he informed me that the Ksiezna ordered Gronigen back to Germany in April after you and I left, and he set sail on the first boat with Prussian ports of call. A good number of the residents of the Foreign Quarter had come to believe that he was Saari's killer, possibly the murderer of Lajos Ragoczi, as well, who remains missing, and she wanted to spare him the Russian version of justice. No one else other than you, Rogerian, and I has ever been questioned in regard to the crime. Ksiaze Radom has been at pains to say it is his conviction that Gronigen is guilty, and because of his assertions, Captain Fet has endorsed his position.

Ksiaze Radom has also taken over most of his sister's duties for Poland; the rumor is that he has taken to whoring out his sister to those diplomats who have no women to satisfy their fleshly needs; he has charged her with choosing only the most powerful and well-established lovers, who are in a position to do Poland a great deal of good; at the time when Broughton left, he had arranged for his sister to entertain Alexander Menshikov, since his family has not yet moved to Sankt Piterburkh. The Ksiezna has complied with her brother's orders, but it is rumored that she has become somewhat more volatile than she was when you and she arrived in Sankt Piterburkh. I was shocked but not surprised to learn of what he has required of her, being that he is the kind of man who tends to value women according to what lies between their legs.

When I asked him about the care-house, he said it was now situated in quite a large building. There are more than ninety beds in it, a surgery-room, a pharmatical preparations room, its own steam-bath, and a staff of ten. Broughton told me that two years ago, when the Czar had dissolved Ludmilla Borisevna Svarinskaya's marriage and Heer van Hoek received notification that his wife had died, that the two married, and pledged to continue caring for the sick and injured of the city. The Czar is still promising a school of anatomy to van Hoek, and has ordered a number of major civic buildings to be constructed, including two large schools, one of which is supposed to be the anatomy school promised to Heer van Hoek and his Russian wife.

From what he described to me, you and I would not recognize Sankt Piterburkh today, had we permission to go there. Broughton tells me that there are over five hundred Europeans in the Foreign Quarter, that the harbor has been dredged and protected, permanent docks are built. The Russian part of the city now boasts six hundred houses and nineteen barracks. Work-gangs have tents in summer and barracks in winter, and there are more than eighty thousand of them. The embankments, which were lined with wood, are now being lined with stone; the streets are paved, at least the main ones. Draining of the marshes has progressed to beyond a ninth levee, and gravel and soil have been brought to fill in the drained parts. There are more than twenty stone buildings in the city-in fact, the Czar has forbidden building with stone anywhere else in Russia until his city is finished.

Mungo Laurie has been able to bring his wife to the city and has been promoted, along with Harald Nyland, Graf Horens, to the position of harbor-master. There is a new Prussian Resident, one Helmut Kowenwald, Herzog von Luftensee, a very efficient man. The Dutch have more men in the city, and there is even a troupe of Italian musicians to entertain at celebrations, and a family of Italian architects is expected in the spring. Thomas Bethune has been sent back to England to care for his ailing wife. Those are all the names I remember, yet they seem sufficient.

Ever since his victory at Poltava, the Czar has redoubled his efforts to complete his city. Now that Sweden is all but defeated, Piotyr is concentrating on making Sankt Piterburkh as fine a city as any in Europe. He, himself, continues to occupy his four-room wooden house, but he entertains in Menshikov's new stone house, and occasionally spends his evenings at the Four Frigates, which is now two stories tall and has twelve rooms. He enjoys the company of seafaring men, and prefers easy company to formal Court occasions. Marfa Skavronskaya has more of a taste for grand entertainment, and has been known to join with the Prussians to hold a grand fete. Broughton says that winter supplies remain a problem, but the Czar now has three resupply-trains sent in November, January, and March, and has hired a clan of hunters to remain in the distant woods to hunt game and bring it to the city.

Of course Broughton asked after you, as Arpad Arco-Tolvay, and I said we had not been in contact for some time. I assumed you were still in Hungary, but I could tell him nothing more. He asked that the next time I wrote to you that I should include his good wishes to you. I suspect he is embarrassed for you because of how the Ksiezna is behaving, although he said nothing specific to make me think so.

How is the new house at Lecco coming? The sketches Rogerian sent me are very handsome. I think Olivia would like the new design with its columns like those of Roma, and the long loggia facing the lake. Perhaps one day-some decades from now-you and I will meet there and recall our other meetings over the centuries.

Until then

I remain your grateful comrade,

Niklos Aulirios