"Next day," that is, Wednesday, 22d "the Czar and his Spouse came to return the Queen's visit; and I saw the Court myself." Palace Grand-Apartments; Queen advancing a due length, even to the outer guard-room; giving the Czarina her right hand, and leading her into her audience-chamber in that distinguished manner: King and Czar followed close;--and here it was that Wilhelmina's personal experiences began. "The Czar at once recognized me, having seen me before, five years ago [March, 1713]. He caught me in his arms; fell to kissing me, like to flay the skin off my face. I boxed his ears, sprawled, and struggled with all my strength; saying I would not allow such familiarities, and that he was dishonoring me. He laughed greatly at this idea; made peace, and talked a long time with me. I had got my lesson: I spoke of his fleet and his conquests;--which charmed him so much, that he said more than once to the Czarina, 'If he could have a child like me, he would willingly give one of his Provinces in exchange.' The Czarina also caressed me a good deal. The Queen [Mamma] and she placed themselves under the dais, each in an arm-chair" of proper dignity; "I was at the Queen's side, and the Princesses of the Blood," Margravines above spoken of, "were opposite to her,"-- all in a standing posture, as is proper.
"The Czarina was a little stumpy body, very brown, and had neither air nor grace: you needed only look at her, to guess her low extraction." It is no secret, she had been a kitchen-wench in her Lithuanian native country; afterwards a female of the kind called unfortunate, under several figures: however, she saved the Czar once, by her ready-wit and courage, from a devouring Turkish Difficulty, and he made her fortunate and a Czarina, to sit under the dais as now. "With her huddle of clothes, she looked for all the world like a German Play-actress; her dress, you would have said, had been bought at a second-hand shop; all was out of fashion, all was loaded with silver and greasy dirt. The front of her bodice she had ornamented with jewels in a very singular pattern: A double-eagle in embroidery, and the plumes of it set with poor little diamonds, of the smallest possible carat, and very ill mounted. All along the facing of her gown were Orders and little things of metal; a dozen Orders, and as many Portraits of saints, of relics and the like; so that when she walked, it was with a jingling, as if you heard a mule with bells to its harness."--Poor little Czarina; shifty nutbrown fellow-creature, strangely chased about from the bottom to the top of this world; it is evident she does not succeed at Queen Sophie Dorothee's Court!--
"The Czar, on the other hand, was very tall, and might be called handsome," continues Wilhelmina: "his countenance was beautiful, but had something of savage in it which put you in fear." Partly a kind of Milton's-Devil physiognomy? The Portraits give it rather so. Archangel not quite ruined, yet in sadly ruinous condition; its heroism so bemired,--with a turn for strong drink, too, at times! A physiognomy to make one reflect." His dress was of sailor fashion, coat, altogether plain."
"The Czarina, who spoke German very ill herself, and did not understand well what the Queen said, beckoned to her Fool to come near,"--a poor female creature, who had once been a Princess Galitzin, but having got into mischief, had been excused to the Czar by her high relations as mad, and saved from death or Siberia, into her present strange harbor of refuge. With her the Czarina talked in unknown Russ, evidently "laughing much and loud," till Supper was announced.
"At table," continues Wilhelmina, "the Czar placed himself beside the Queen. It is understood this Prince was attempted with poison in his youth, and that something of it had settled on his nerves ever after. One thing is certain, there took him very often a sort of convulsion, like Tic or St.-Vitus, which it was beyond his power to control. That happened at table now. He got into contortions, gesticulations; and as the knife was in his hand, and went dancing about within arm's-length of the Queen, it frightened her, and she motioned several times to rise. The Czar begged her not to mind, for he would do her no ill; at the same time he took her by the hand, which he grasped with such violence that the Queen was forced to shriek out. This set him heartily laughing; saying she had not bones of so hard a texture as his Catherine's. Supper done, a grand Ball had been got ready; but the Czar escaped at once, and walked home by himself to Monbijou, leaving the others to dance."
Wilhelmina's story of the Cabinet of Antiques; of the Indecent little Statue there, and of the orders Catherine got to kiss it, with a "KOPF AB (Head off, if you won't)!" from the bantering Czar, whom she had to obey,--is not incredible, after what we have seen. It seems, he begged this bit of Antique Indecency from Friedrich Wilhelm; who, we may fancy, would give him such an article with especial readiness. That same day, fourth of the Visit, Thursday, 23d of the month, the august Party went its ways again; Friedrich Wilhelm convoying "as far as Potsdam;" Czar and Suite taking that route towards Mecklenburg, where he still intends some little pause before proceeding homeward. Friedrich Wilhelm took farewell; and never saw the Czar again.
It was on this Journey, best part of which is now done, that the famous Order bore, "Do it for six thousand thalers; won't allow you one other penny (
Peter's, VIATICUM, the Antique Indecency, Friedrich Wilhelm did not grudge to part with; glad to purchase the Czar's good-will by coin of that kind. Last year, at Havelberg, he had given the Czar an entire Cabinet of Amber Articles, belonging to his late Father. Amber Cabinet, in the lump; and likewise such a Yacht, for shape, splendor and outfit, as probably Holland never launched before;-- Yacht also belonging to his late Father, and without value to Friedrich Wilhelm. The old King had got it built in Holland, regardless of expense,--15,000 pounds, they say, perhaps as good as 50,000 pounds now; --and it lay at Potsdam: good for what? Friedrich Wilhelm sent it down the Havel, down the Elbe, silk sailors and all, towards Hamburg and Petersburg, with a great deal of pleasure. For the Czar, and peace and good-will with the Czar, was of essential value to him. Neither, at any rate, is the Czar a man to take gifts without return. Tall fellows for soldiers: that is always one prime object with Friedrich Wilhelm; for already these Potsdam Guards of his are getting ever more gigantic. Not less an object, though less an ideal or POETIC one (as we once defined), was this other, to find buyers for the Manufactures, new and old, which he was so bent on encouraging. "It is astonishing, what quantities of cloth, of hardware, salt, and all kinds of manufactured articles the Russians buy from us," say the old Books;--"see how our 'Russian Company' flourishes!" In both these objects, not to speak of peace and good-will in general, the Czar is our man.