Catherine the Great had taken to her bath the way only powerful monarchs of the oldest school could ever do such things: completely and resolutely. No one was quite sure what had prompted her obsession with cleanliness (or was it fear of the outside world?), but after a week spent in her oversized claw-foot tub, a great number of friends, family members and royal subjects had questions that required explanations.
Catherine, however, refused all callers, unless they would join her in her sumptuous bathroom, fully nude. She had arranged for her lady’s maid, Maria Perekusikhina, to act as a kind of secretary, directing callers on the monarch to try again next week. Maria also read her messages aloud in order to evade the trials and tribulations of a full dunking in the bathwater, as well as the slightly corrosive effects of the bath salts Catherine favored, which clung to her hands. Eight days after she had taken to her bath, Maria read Catherine a note, written on high-quality parchment in a slightly feminine hand, informing her that her cousin, King Gustav, wished to speak with her.
Catherine calmly dictated her response to Maria, who jotted the message in shorthand, then retired to Catherine’s writing desk to rewrite the missive on royal letterhead, and finally sealed it with Catherine’s own ring. Maria then posted the letter via the Empress’s fastest ship, bound for Sweden.
King Gustav was nonplussed by these theatrics, having anticipated a negative response. He appeared at Catherine’s castle gates, demanding an audience, finally pushing Maria aside and calling out to his cousin. Maria chased after Gustav, shouting that Catherine did not wish to be disturbed, that she was in the bath, couldn’t His Royal Highness return later?
His Royal Highness could not return later.
And thus Catherine and her cousin, Gustav, found themselves both sitting in their birthday suits in Catherine’s bathroom, attempting to discuss the cause of this nude tête-á-tête. Catherine, for her part, was partially obscured by the thick foam of bubbles she had recently added to the tub, but Gustav had only a lengthy beard to cover himself. Had there been any prying eyes, the scene would surely have been splashed about, causing quite the royal ruckus.
Gustav attempted to convey the proper mood, asking after Catherine’s health – both physical and mental. Catherine demurred, muttering something about a desire to float. Gustav inquired about taking a vacation to a seaside town in England, known for its healing waters, where perhaps they might float together. He proposed a trip to the Orient, where the sulfuric mists of Japanese hot springs might soothe her mind and body. Catherine remained noncommittal, frustrating Gustav, who muttered something savage under his breath. Catherine repressed a smile, knowing she had muddled her well-meaning cousin.
After a long silence, Gustav asked whether Catherine was perhaps peeved by something he had recently said or done. Something like, say, his refusal to marry her granddaughter, Alexandra? Catherine ignored his impertinence, as well as his broach of conduct by referencing her humiliation at having arranged a full-scale ball in his honor, which he had forsaken, leaving her and her court – not to mention poor Alexandra – looking completely ridiculous. Instead, she played with the rapidly fading bubbles.
Gustav could not fathom the reason for his cousin’s strange decision to warp her body in this manner. He noted the pruned look of Catherine’s fingertips, as well as the pale and sickly shade of her protruding skin. Was she ill? She didn’t seem to be, though depression surely took many forms. Could she be coaxed from the bath to enjoy a hot cup of tea with His Majesty?
She could not.
At last King Gustav let out a distinctly un-royal sob and grabbed his cousin by the arm, attempting to haul her bodily from the tub in which she was ensconced. Catherine resorted to a childhood trick she had learned, which allowed her to heavily stick to the floor (or bathtub bottom, in this case) no matter how fiercely people larger than she attempted to lift her. She made herself into a boulder of immeasurable weight, and could not be removed from her gilded bath by anyone short of Atlas.
King Gustav, a rather scrawny fellow, soon admitted defeat and let go of his cousin’s arm, his eyes moist with tears as Catherine slipped below the water’s surface and remained, blowing bubbles, for a minute and a half, mocking his presence as well as his attempt to defy her wishes.
Catherine the Great was formidably immovable. And there, in the great bath, did she remain until her death.
Laura Roberts is the editor of Black Heart Magazine, the publisher behind Buttontapper Press, and the author of several humorous erotica books, including her latest, Naked Montreal. You can find out more at https://buttontapper.com.