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1776. Patiomkin in his bureau in the Winter Palace, St.
Petersburgh. Huge palatial apartment: style, Russia in the
eighteenth century imitating the Versailles du Roi Soleil.
Extravagant luxury. Also dirt and disorder.
Patiomkin, gigantic in stature and build, his face marred by the
loss of one eye and a marked squint in the other, sits at the end
of a table littered with papers and the remains of three or four
successive breakfasts. He has supplies of coffee and brandy at
hand sufficient for a party of ten. His coat, encrusted with
diamonds, is on the floor. It has fallen off a chair placed near
the other end of the table for the convenience of visitors. His
court sword, with its attachments, is on the chair. His
three-cornered hat, also bejewelled, is on the table. He himself
is half dressed in an unfastened shirt and an immense
dressing-gown, once gorgeous, now food-splashed and dirty, as it
serves him for towel, handkerchief, duster, and every other use
to which a textile fabric can be put by a slovenly man. It does
not conceal his huge hairy chest, nor his half-buttoned knee
breeches, nor his legs. These are partly clad in silk stockings,
which he occasionally hitches up to his knees, and presently
shakes down to his shins, by his restless movement. His feet are
thrust into enormous slippers, worth, with their crust of jewels,
several thousand roubles apiece.
Superficially Patiomkin is a violent, brutal barbarian,
an upstart despot of the most intolerable and dangerous type,
ugly, lazy, and disgusting in his personal habits. Yet
ambassadors report him the ablest man in Russia, and the one who
can do most with the still abler Empress Catherine II, who is not
a Russian but a German, by no means barbarous or intemperate in
her personal habits. She not only disputes with Frederick the
Great the reputation of being the cleverest monarch in Europe,
but may even put in a very plausible claim to be the cleverest
and most attractive individual alive. Now she not only tolerates
Patiomkin long after she has got over her first romantic
attachment to him, but esteems him highly as a counsellor and a
good friend. His love letters are among the best on record. He
has a wild sense of humor, which enables him to laugh at himself
as well as at everybody else. In the eyes of the English visitor
now about to be admitted to his presence he may be an outrageous
ruffian. In fact he actually is an outrageous ruffian, in no
matter whose eyes; but the visitor will find out, as everyone
else sooner or later fends out, that he is a man to be reckoned
with even by those who are not intimidated by his temper, bodily
strength, and exalted rank.
A pretty young lady, Yarinka, his favorite niece, is lounging on
an ottoman between his end of the table and the door, very sulky
and dissatisfied, perhaps because he is preoccupied with his
papers and his brandy bottle, and she can see nothing of him but
his broad back.
There is a screen behind the ottoman.
An old soldier, a Cossack sergeant, enters.
THE SERGEANT [softly to the lady, holding the door handle].
Little darling honey, is his Highness the prince very busy?
VARINKA. His Highness the prince is very busy. He is singing out
of tune; he is biting his nails; he is scratching his head; he is
hitching up his untidy stockings; he is making himself disgusting
and odious to everybody; and he is pretending to read state
papers that he does not understand because he is too lazy and
selfish to talk and be companionable.
PATIOMKIN [growls; then wipes his nose with his dressing-gown]!!
VARINKA. Pig. Ugh! [She curls herself up with a shiver of disgust
and retires from the conversation.]
THE SERGEANT [stealing across to the coat, and picking it up to
replace it on the back of the chair]. Little Father, the English
captain, so highly recommended to you by old Fritz of Prussia, by
the English ambassador, and by Monsieur Voltaire (whom [crossing
himself] may God in his infinite mercy damn eternally!), is in
the antechamber and desires audience.
PATIOMKIN [deliberately]. To hell with the English captain; and
to hell with old Fritz of Prussia; and to hell with the English
ambassador; and to hell with Monsieur Voltaire; and to hell with
THE SERGEANT. Have mercy on me, Little Father. Your head is bad
this morning. You drink too much French brandy and too little
good Russian kvass.
PATIOMKIN [with sudden fury]. Why are visitors of consequence
announced by a sergeant? [Springing at him and seizing him by the
throat.] What do you mean by this, you hound? Do you want five
thousand blows of the stick? Where is General Volkonsky?
THE SERGEANT [on his knees]. Little Father, you kicked his
PATIOMKIN [flinging him dawn and kicking him]. You lie, you dog.
THE SERGEANT. Little Father, life is hard for the poor. If you
say it is a lie, it is a lie. He FELL downstairs. I picked him
up; and he kicked me. They all kick me when you kick them. God
knows that is not just, Little Father!
PATIOMKIN [laughs ogreishly; then returns to his place at the
VARINKA. Savage! Boot! It is a disgrace. No wonder the French
sneer at us as barbarians.
THE SERGEANT [who has crept round the table to the screen, and
insinuated himself between Patiomkin's back and Varinka]. Do you
think the Prince will see the captain, little darling?
PATIOMKIN. He will not see any captain. Go to the devil!
THE SERGEANT. Be merciful, Little Father. God knows it is your
duty to see him! [To Varinka.] Intercede for him and for me,
beautiful little darling. He has given me a rouble.
PATIOMKIN. Oh, send him in, send him in; and stop pestering me.
Am I never to have a moment's peace?
The Sergeant salutes joyfully and hurries out, divining that
Patiomkin has intended to see the English captain all along, and
has played this comedy of fury and exhausted impatience to
conceal his interest in the visitor.
VARINKA. Have you no shame? You refuse to see the most exalted
persons. You kick princes and generals downstairs. And then you
see an English captain merely because he has given a rouble to
that common soldier. It is scandalous.
PATIOMKIN. Darling beloved, I am drunk; but I know what I am
doing. I wish to stand well with the English.
VARINKA. And you think you will impress an Englishman by
receiving him as you are now, half drunk?
PATIOMKIN [gravely]. It is true: the English despise men who
cannot drink. I must make myself wholly drunk [he takes a huge
draught of brandy.]
The Sergeant returns ushering a handsome strongly built young
English officer in the uniform of a Light Dragoon. He is
evidently on fairly good terms with himself, and very sure of his
social position. He crosses the room to the end of the table
opposite Patiomkin's, and awaits the civilities of that statesman
with confidence. The Sergeant remains prudently at the door.
THE SERGEANT [paternally]. Little Father, this is the English
captain, so well recommended to her sacred Majesty the Empress.
God knows, he needs your countenance and protec-- [he vanishes
precipitately, seeing that Patiomkin is about to throw a bottle
at him. The Captain contemplates these preliminaries with
astonishment, and with some displeasure, which is not allayed
when, Patiomkin, hardly condescending to look at his visitor, of
whom he nevertheless takes stock with the corner of his one eye,
says gruffly]. Well?
EDSTASTON. My name is Edstaston: Captain Edstaston of the Light
Dragoons. I have the honor to present to your Highness this
letter from the British ambassador, which will give you all
necessary particulars. [He hands Patiomkin the letter.]
PATIOMKIN [tearing it open and glancing at it for about a
second]. What do you want?
EDSTASTON. The letter will explain to your Highness who I am.
PATIOMKIN. I don't want to know who you are. What do you want?
EDSTASTON. An audience of the Empress. [Patiomkin contemptuously
throws the letter aside. Edstaston adds hotly.] Also some
civility, if you please.
PATIOMKIN [with derision]. Ho!
VARINKA. My uncle is receiving you with unusual civility,
Captain. He has just kicked a general downstairs.
EDSTASTON. A Russian general, madam?
VARINKA. Of course.
EDSTASTON. I must allow myself to say, madam, that your uncle had
better not attempt to kick an English officer downstairs.
PATIOMKIN. You want me to kick you upstairs, eh? You want an
audience of the Empress.
EDSTASTON. I have said nothing about kicking, sir. If it comes to
that, my boots shall speak for me. Her Majesty has signified a
desire to have news of the rebellion in America. I have served
against the rebels; and I am instructed to place myself at the
disposal of her Majesty, and to describe the events of the war to
her as an eye-witness, in a discreet and agreeable manner.
PATIOMKIN. Psha! I know. You think if she once sets eyes on your
face and your uniform your fortune is made. You think that if she
could stand a man like me, with only one eye, and a cross eye at
that, she must fall down at your feet at first sight, eh?
EDSTASTON [shocked and indignant]. I think nothing of the sort;
and I'll trouble you not to repeat it. If I were a Russian
subject and you made such a boast about my queen, I'd strike you
across the face with my sword. [Patiomkin, with a yell of fury,
rushes at him.] Hands off, you swine! [As Patiomkin, towering
over him, attempts to seize him by the throat, Edstaston, who is
a bit of a wrestler, adroitly backheels him. He falls, amazed, on
VARINKA [rushing out]. Help! Call the guard! The Englishman is
murdering my uncle! Help! Help!
The guard and the Sergeant rush in. Edstaston draws a pair of
small pistols from his boots, and points one at the Sergeant and
the other at Patiomkin, who is sitting on the floor, somewhat
sobered. The soldiers stand irresolute.
EDSTASTON. Stand off. [To Patiomkin.] Order them off, if you
don't want a bullet through your silly head.
THE SERGEANT. Little Father, tell us what to do. Our lives are
yours; but God knows you are not fit to die.
PATIOMKIN [absurdly self-possessed]. Get out.
THE SERGEANT. Little Father--
PATIOMKIN [roaring]. Get out. Get out, all of you. [They
withdraw, much relieved at their escape from the pistol.
Patiomkin attempts to rise, and rolls over.] Here! help me up,
will you? Don't you see that I'm drunk and can't get up?
EDSTASTON [suspiciously]. You want to get hold of me.
PATIOMKIN [squatting resignedly against the chair on which his
clothes hang]. Very well, then: I shall stay where I am, because
I'm drunk and you're afraid of me.
EDSTASTON. I'm not afraid of you, damn you!
PATIOMKIN [ecstatically]. Darling, your lips are the gates of
truth. Now listen to me. [He marks off the items of his statement
with ridiculous stiff gestures of his head and arms, imitating a
puppet.] You are Captain Whatshisname; and your uncle is the Earl
of Whatdyecallum; and your father is Bishop of Thingummybob; and
you are a young man of the highest spr--promise (I told you I was
drunk), educated at Cambridge, and got your step as captain in
the field at the GLORIOUS battle of Bunker's Hill. Invalided home
from America at the request of Aunt Fanny, Lady-in-Waiting to the
Queen. All right, eh?
EDSTASTON. How do you know all this?
PATIOMKIN [crowing fantastically]. In er lerrer, darling,
darling, darling, darling. Lerrer you showed me.
EDSTASTON. But you didn't read it.
PATIOMKIN [flapping his fingers at him grotesquely]. Only one
eye, darling. Cross eye. Sees everything. Read lerrer
inceince-istastaneously. Kindly give me vinegar borle. Green
borle. On'y to sober me. Too drunk to speak porply. If you would
be so kind, darling. Green borle. [Edstaston, still suspicious,
shakes his head and keeps his pistols ready.] Reach it myself.
[He reaches behind him up to the table, and snatches at the green
bottle, from which he takes a copious draught. Its effect is
appalling. His wry faces and agonized belchings are so
heartrending that they almost upset Edstaston. When the victim at
last staggers to his feet, he is a pale fragile nobleman, aged
and quite sober, extremely dignified in manner and address,
though shaken by his recent convulsions.] Young man, it is not
better to be drunk than sober; but it is happier. Goodness is not
happiness. That is an epigram. But I have overdone this. I am too
sober to be good company. Let me redress the balance. [He takes a
generous draught of brandy, and recovers his geniality.] Aha!
That's better. And now listen, darling. You must not come to
Court with pistols in your boots.
EDSTASTON. I have found them useful.
PATIOMKIN. Nonsense. I'm your friend. You mistook my intention
because I was drunk. Now that I am sober--in moderation--I will
prove that I am your friend. Have some diamonds. [Roaring.] Hullo
there! Dogs, pigs: hullo!
The Sergeant comes in.
THE SERGEANT. God be praised, Little Father: you are still spared
PATIOMKIN. Tell them to bring some diamonds. Plenty of diamonds.
And rubies. Get out. [He aims a kick at the Sergeant, who flees.]
Put up your pistols, darling. I'll give you a pair with gold
handgrips. I am your friend.
EDSTASTON [replacing the pistols in his boots rather
unwillingly]. Your Highness understands that if I am missing, or
if anything happens to me, there will be trouble.
PATIOMKIN [enthusiastically]. Call me darling.
EDSTASTON. It is not the English custom.
PATIOMKIN. You have no hearts, you English! [Slapping his right
breast.] Heart! Heart!
EDSTASTON. Pardon, your Highness: your heart is on the other
PATIOMKIN [surprised and impressed]. Is it? You are learned! You
are a doctor! You English are wonderful! We are barbarians,
drunken pigs. Catherine does not know it; but we are. Catherine's
a German. But I have given her a Russian heart [he is about to
slap himself again.]
EDSTASTON [delicately]. The other side, your Highness.
PATIOMKIN [maudlin]. Darling, a true Russian has a heart on both
The Sergeant enters carrying a goblet filled with precious
PATIOMKIN. Get out. [He snatches the goblet and kicks the
Sergeant out, not maliciously but from habit, indeed not noticing
that he does it.] Darling, have some diamonds. Have a fistful.
[He takes up a handful and lets them slip back through his
fingers into the goblet, which he then offers to Edstaston.]
EDSTASTON. Thank you, I don't take presents.
PATIOMKIN [amazed]. You refuse!
EDSTASTON. I thank your Highness; but it is not the custom for
English gentlemen to take presents of that kind.
PATIOMKIN. Are you really an Englishman?
PATIOMKIN. You are the first Englishman I ever saw refuse
anything he could get. [He puts the goblet on the table; then
turns again to Edstaston.] Listen, darling. You are a wrestler: a
splendid wrestler. You threw me on my back like magic, though I
could lift you with one hand. Darling, you are a giant, a
EDSTASTON [complacently]. We wrestle rather well in my part of
PATIOMKIN. I have a Turk who is a wrestler: a prisoner of war.
You shall wrestle with him for me. I'll stake a million roubles
EDSTASTON [incensed]. Damn you! do you take me for a
prize-fighter? How dare you make me such a proposal?
PATIOMKIN [with wounded feeling]. Darling, there is no pleasing
you. Don't you like me?
EDSTASTON [mollified]. Well, in a sort of way I do; though I
don't know why I should. But my instructions are that I am to see
the Empress; and--
PATIOMKIN. Darling, you shall see the Empress. A glorious woman,
the greatest woman in the world. But lemme give you piece 'vice--
pah! still drunk. They water my vinegar. [He shakes himself;
clears his throat; and resumes soberly.] If Catherine takes a
fancy to you, you may ask for roubles, diamonds, palaces, titles,
orders, anything! and you may aspire to everything:
field-marshal, admiral, minister, what you please--except Tsar.
EDSTASTON. I tell you I don't want to ask for anything. Do you
suppose I am an adventurer and a beggar?
PATIOMKIN [plaintively]. Why not, darling? I was an adventurer. I
was a beggar.
EDSTASTON. Oh, you!
PATIOMKIN. Well: what's wrong with me?
EDSTASTON. You are a Russian. That's different.
PATIOMKIN [effusively]. Darling, I am a man; and you are a man;
and Catherine is a woman. Woman reduces us all to the common
denominator. [Chuckling.] Again an epigram! [Gravely.] You
understand it, I hope. Have you had a college education, darling?
EDSTASTON. Certainly. I am a Bachelor of Arts.
PATIOMKIN. It is enough that you are a bachelor, darling:
Catherine will supply the arts. Aha! Another epigram! I am in the
EDSTASTON [embarrassed and a little offended]. I must ask your
Highness to change the subject. As a visitor in Russia, I am the
guest of the Empress; and I must tell you plainly that I have
neither the right nor the disposition to speak lightly of her
PATIOMKIN. You have conscientious scruples?
EDSTASTON. I have the scruples of a gentleman.
PATIOMKIN. In Russia a gentleman has no scruples. In Russia we
EDSTASTON. In England, sir, a gentleman never faces any facts if
they are unpleasant facts.
PATIOMKIN. In real life, darling, all facts are unpleasant.
[Greatly pleased with himself.] Another epigram! Where is my
accursed chancellor? these gems should be written down and
recorded for posterity. [He rushes to the table: sits down: and
snatches up a pen. Then, recollecting himself.] But I have not
asked you to sit down. [He rises and goes to the other chair.] I
am a savage: a barbarian. [He throws the shirt and coat over the
table on to the floor and puts his sword on the table.] Be
EDSTASTON Thank you.
They bow to one another ceremoniously. Patiomkin's tendency to
grotesque exaggeration costs him his balance; he nearly falls
over Edstaston, who rescues him and takes the proffered chair.
PATIOMKIN [resuming his seat]. By the way, what was the piece of
advice I was going to give you?
EDSTASTON. As you did not give it, I don't know. Allow me to add
that I have not asked for your advice.
PATIOMKIN. I give it to you unasked, delightful Englishman. I
remember it now. It was this. Don't try to become Tsar of Russia.
EDSTASTON [in astonishment]. I haven't the slightest intention--
PATIOMKIN. Not now; but you will have: take my words for it. It
will strike you as a splendid idea to have conscientious scruples
--to desire the blessing of the Church on your union with
EDSTASTON [racing in utter amazement]. My union with Catherine!
PATIOMKIN [unmoved]. The day you hint at such a thing will be the
day of your downfall. Besides, it is not lucky to be Catherine's
husband. You know what happened to Peter?
EDSTASTON [shortly; sitting down again]. I do not wish to discuss
PATIOMKIN. You think she murdered him?
EDSTASTON. I know that people have said so.
PATIOMKIN [thunderously; springing to his feet]. It is a lie:
Orloff murdered him. [Subsiding a little.] He also knocked my eye
out; but [sitting down placidly] I succeeded him for all that.
And [patting Edstaston's hand very affectionately] I'm sorry to
say, darling, that if you become Tsar, I shall murder you.
EDSTASTON [ironically returning the caress]. Thank you. The
occasion will not arise. [Rising.] I have the honor to wish your
Highness good morning.
PATIOMKIN [jumping up and stopping him on his way to the door].
Tut tut! I'm going to take you to the Empress now, this very
EDSTASTON. In these boots? Impossible! I must change.
PATIOMKIN. Nonsense! You shall come just as you are. You shall
show her your calves later on.
EDSTASTON. But it will take me only half an hour to--
PATIOMKIN. In half an hour it will be too late for the petit
lever. Come along. Damn it, man, I must oblige the British
ambassador, and the French ambassador, and old Fritz, and
Monsieur Voltaire and the rest of them. [He shouts rudely to the
door.] Varinka! [To Edstaston, with tears in his voice.] Varinka
shall persuade you: nobody can refuse Varinka anything. My niece.
A treasure, I assure you. Beautiful! devoted! fascinating!
[Shouting again.] Varinka, where the devil are you?
VARINKA [returning]. I'll not be shouted for. You have the voice
of a bear, and the manners of a tinker.
PATIOMKIN. Tsh-sh-sh. Little angel Mother: you must behave
yourself before the English captain. [He takes off his
dressing-gown and throws it over the papers and the breakfasts:
picks up his coat: and disappears behind the screen to complete
EDSTASTON. Madam! [He bows.]
VARINKA [courtseying]. Monsieur le Capitaine!
EDSTASTON. I must apologize for the disturbance I made, madam.
PATIOMKIN [behind the screen]. You must not call her madam. You
must call her Little Mother, and beautiful darling.
EDSTASTON. My respect for the lady will not permit it.
VARINKA. Respect! How can you respect the niece of a savage?
EDSTASTON [deprecatingly]. Oh, madam!
VARINKA. Heaven is my witness, Little English Father, we need
someone who is not afraid of him. He is so strong! I hope you
will throw him down on the floor many, many, many times.
PATIOMKIN [behind the screen]. Varinka!
PATIOMKIN. Go and look through the keyhole of the Imperial
bed-chamber; and bring me word whether the Empress is awake yet.
VARINKA. Fi donc! I do not look through keyholes.
PATIOMKIN [emerging, having arranged his shirt and put on his
diamonded coat]. You have been badly brought up, little darling.
Would any lady or gentleman walk unannounced into a room without
first looking through the keyhole? [Taking his sword from the
table and putting it on.] The great thing in life is to be
simple; and the perfectly simple thing is to look through
keyholes. Another epigram: the fifth this morning! Where is my
fool of a chancellor? Where is Popof?
EDSTASTON [choking with suppressed laughter]!!!!
PATIOMKIN [gratified]. Darling, you appreciate my epigram.
EDSTASTON. Excuse me. Pop off! Ha! ha! I can't help laughing:
What's his real name, by the way, in case I meet him?
VARINKA [surprised]. His real name? Popof, of course. Why do you
laugh, Little Father?
EDSTASTON. How can anyone with a sense of humor help laughing?
Pop off! [He is convulsed.]
VARINKA [looking at her uncle, taps her forehead significantly]!!
PATIOMKIN [aside to Varinka]. No: only English. He will amuse
Catherine. [To Edstaston.] Come, you shall tell the joke to the
Empress: she is by way of being a humorist [he takes him by the
arm, and leads him towards the door].
EDSTASTON [resisting]. No, really. I am not fit--
PATIOMKIN. Persuade him, Little angel Mother.
VARINKA [taking his other arm]. Yes, yes, yes. Little English
Father: God knows it is your duty to be brave and wait on the
EDSTASTON. No. I had rather--
PATIOMKIN [hauling him along]. Come.
VARINKA [pulling him and coaxing him]. Come, little love: you
can't refuse me.
EDSTASTON. But how can I?
PATIOMKIN. Why not? She won't eat you.
VARINKA. She will; but you must come.
EDSTASTON. I assure you--it is quite out of the question--my
VARINKA. You look perfect.
PATIOMKIN. Come along, darling.
EDSTASTON [struggling]. Impossible--
VARINKA. Come, come, come.
EDSTASTON. No. Believe me--I don't wish--I--
VARINKA. Carry him, uncle.
PATIOMKIN [lifting him in his arms like a father carrying a
little boy]. Yes: I'll carry you.
EDSTASTON. Dash it all, this is ridiculous!
VARINKA [seizing his ankles and dancing as he is carried out].
You must come. If you kick you will blacken my eyes.
PATIOMKIN. Come, baby, come.
By this time they have made their way through the door and are
out of hearing.
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