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The Daughter of an Empress
by Louise Muhlbach
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And Julia suddenly left the room, shutting the door upon Anna Leopoldowna and her lover, the Polish Count Lynar.



NO LOVE

Prince Ulrich of Brunswick, the husband of the regent, had assembled the officers of his general staff for a secret conference. Their dark, threatening glances were prophetic of mischief, and angrily flashed the eyes of the prince, who, standing in their midst, had spoken to them in glowing words of his domestic unhappiness, and of the idle, dreamy, and amatory indolence into which the regent had fallen.

"She writes amorous complainings," he now said, with a voice of rage, in closing his long speech—"she writes sonnets to her lover, instead of governing and reading the petitions, reports, and other documents that come to her from the different ministries and bureaus, which she constantly returns unread. You are men, and are you willing to bear the humiliation of being governed by a woman who dishonors you by disregarding her first and holiest duties, and setting before your wives and daughters the shameful example of a criminal love, thus disgracing her own son, your emperor and master?"

"No, no, we will not bear it!" cried the wildly excited men, grasping the hilts of their swords. "Give us proof of her unfaithfulness, and we shall know how to act as becomes men over whom an adulterous woman would reign!"

"It is an unnatural and unendurable law that commands man to obey a woman. It is contrary to nature that the mother should rule in the name of her son, when the father is living—the father, whom nature and universal custom acknowledge as the lord and head of his wife and children!" cried the prince.

"Give us proof of her guilt," cried the soldiers, "and we will this very hour proclaim you regent in her stead!"

A confidential servant of the prince, who entered at this moment, now whispered a few words in his ear.

The prince's face flamed up. "Well, then, gentleman," said he, straightening himself up, "you demand proof. In this very hour will I furnish it to you. But I do it upon one condition. No personal violence! In the person of your present regent you must respect the mother of your emperor, the wife of your future regent! Anna will yield to our just representations, and voluntarily sign the act of abdication in my favor. That is all we ought to demand of her. She will retain her sacred and inviolable rights as the wife of your regent, as the mother of your emperor. Forget not that!"

"First of all, give us the proof of her guilt!" impatiently cried the men.

"I shall, alas, be able to give it you!" said the prince, with dignity. "Far be it from me to desire the conviction of an innocent person! Believe me, nothing but her guilt could induce me to take action against her; were she innocent, I would be the first to kneel and renew to her my oath of fidelity and obedience. But you cannot desire that I, your generalissimo, should be the subject of a wife who shamefully treads under foot her first and holiest duty! The honor of you all is wounded in mine. Come, follow me now. I will show you Count Lynar in the arms of his mistress, the Regent Anna Leopoldowna!"

The prince strode forth, cautiously followed by his generals. They thus passed noiselessly through the long corridor leading from the wing of the palace inhabited by the prince to that occupied by the regent.

In the boudoir of the Regent Anna a somewhat singular scene was now presented.

The tender caresses of the lovers were suddenly interrupted by Julia von Mengden, who slipped in through the secret door in a white satin robe, and with a myrtle crown upon her head.

"Princess Anna, it is time for you to know all!" she hurriedly said. "Your husband is now coming here through the corridor with his generals; they hope to surprise you in your lover's arms, that they may have an excuse for deposing you from the regency and substituting your husband. Struggle against struggle! We will outwit them, and cure your husband of his jealousy! From this hour he shall be compelled to acknowledge that he was mistaken, and that it is for him to implore your pardon. Anna Leopoldowna, I love no one in the world but you, and therefore I am ready to do all that love can do for you. I will marry Count Lynar for the purpose of preserving you from suspicion and slander. I will bear the name of his wife, as a screen for the concealment of your loves."

Anna's eyes overflowed with tears of emotion and transport.

"Weep not, my love," whispered the count, "be strong and great in this eventful hour! Now will you be forever mine, for this magnanimous friend veils and protects our union."

Julia opened the door and waved her hand.

A Russian pope in sacred vestments, followed by two other servants of the church, entered the room. With them came the most trusted maid-servants of Julia.

Clasping the count's hand and advancing to Anna, Julia said: "Grant, illustrious princess, that we may celebrate our solemn espousal in thy high presence, which is the best blessing of our union!"

Anna opened wide her arms to her favorite, and, pressing her to her bosom, whispered: "I will never forget thee, my Julia. My blessing upon thee, my angel!"

"I will be a true sister to him," whispered Julia in return; "always believe in me and trust me. And now, my Anna, calmness and self-possession! I already hear your husband's approach. Be strong and great. Let no feature of your dear face betray your inward commotion!"

And, stepping back to the count, Julia made a sign to the priest to commence the marriage ceremony.

Hand in hand the bridal pair knelt before the priest, the servants folded their hands in prayer, and, proudly erect, with a heavenly transfiguration of her noble face, stood Anna Leopoldowna—the priest commenced the ceremony.

A slight noise was heard at the closed, concealed door. The priest calmly continued to speak, the bridal pair remained in their kneeling position, and, calmly smiling, stood the regent by their side.

The door opened, and, followed by his generals, the enraged prince appeared upon the threshold.

No one suffered himself to be disturbed; the priest continued the service, the parties remained upon their knees, Anna Leopoldowna stood looking on with a proud and tranquil smile.

Motionless, benumbed, as if struck by lightning, remained the prince upon the threshold; behind him were seen the astonished faces of his generals, who, on tiptoe, stretched their necks to gaze, over each other's shoulders, upon this singular and unexpected spectacle!

At length a murmur arose, they pressed farther forward toward the door, and, overcoming his momentary stupefaction, the prince ventured into the room.

An angry glance of the priest commanded silence; with a louder voice he continued his prayer. Anna Leopoldowna smilingly beckoned her husband to her side, and slightly nodded to the generals.

They bowed to the ground before their august mistress, the regent.

Now came the closing prayer and the dispensation of the blessing. The priest pronounced it kneeling,—the regent also bent the knee, and drew the prince down beside her. Following the example of the generalissimo, the other generals also sank upon their knees,—it was a general prayer, which no one dared disturb.

The ceremony was ended. The priest kissed and blessed the bridal pair, and then departed with his assistants; he was followed by the servants of the favorite.

Anna now turned with a proud smile to the prince.

"Accident, my husband, has made you a witness of this marriage," said she. "May I ask your highness what procures me this unexpected and somewhat intrusive visit, and why my generals, unannounced, accompany you to their regent and mistress?"

The embarrassed prince stammered some unintelligible words, to which Anna paid no attention.

Stepping forward, she motioned the generals to enter, and with her most fascinating smile said: "Ah, I think I now know the reason of your coming, gentlemen! Your loyal and faithful hearts yearn for a sight of your young emperor. It is true, his faithful subjects have not seen him for a long time! Even a sovereign is not guaranteed against the evil influences of the weather, which has lately been very rough, and for that reason the young czar has been unable to show himself to his people. Ah, it pleases me that you have come, and I am obliged to my husband for bringing you to me so unexpectedly. You may now satisfy yourselves that the emperor lives and is growing fast. Julia, bring us the young emperor!"

Julia von Mengden silently departed, while Count Lynar, respectfully approaching the regent, said a few words to her in a low tone.

"You are quite right, sir count," said the regent aloud, and, turning to her husband and the generals, continued: "Count Lynar is in some trouble about the unexpected publicity given to his marriage. There are, however, important reasons for keeping it still a secret. The family of my maid of honor are opposed to this alliance with the foreigner, and insist that Julia shall marry another whom they have destined for her. On the other hand, certain family considerations render secrecy the duty of the count. Julia, oppressed by her inexorable relations, disclosed the state of affairs to me, and as I love Julia, and as I saw that she was wasting away with grief without the possession of her lover, I favored her connection with Count Lynar. They daily saw each other in my apartments, and, finally yielding to their united prayers, I consented that they should this day be legally united by the priest, and thus defeat the opposition of their respective families.

"This, gentlemen," continued Anna, raising her voice, "is the simple explanation of this mystery. I owe this explanation to myself, well knowing that secret slander and malicious insinuations might seek to implicate me in this affair, and that a certain inimical and evil-disposed party, displeased that you should have a woman for regent, would be glad to prove to you that all women are weak, faulty, and sinful creatures! Be careful how you credit such miserable tales!"

Silent, with downcast eyes, stood the generals under the flashing glance of the regent, who now turned to her husband with a mocking smile. "You, my prince and husband," said she, "you I have to thank!—your tenderness of heart induced you generously to furnish me with this opportunity to justify my conduct to my most distinguished and best-beloved subjects and servants, and thus to break the point of the weapon with which calumny threatened my breast! I therefore thank you, my husband. But see! there comes the emperor."

In fact, the folding-doors were at this moment thrown open, and a long train of palace officials and servants approached. At the head of the train was Julia von Mengden, bearing a velvet cushion bespangled with brilliants, upon which reposed the child in a dress of gold brocade. On both sides were seen the richly adorned nurses and attendants, and near them the major-domo, bearing upon a golden cushion the imperial crown and other insignia of empire.

Anna Leopoldowna took young Ivan in her arms; the child smiled in her face, and stretched forth his hand toward the sparkling crown.

With her son upon her arm, Anna majestically advanced to the centre of the hall, and, lifting up the child, said: "Behold your emperor! Respect and reverence for your illustrious master! Upon your knees in the presence of your emperor!"

It was as if all, servants, attendants, and generals, had been struck with a magic wand. They all fell upon their knees, and bowed their heads to the earth—venal slaves, one word from their ruler sufficed to set them all grovelling in the dust!

With a proud smile Anna enjoyed this triumph. Near her stood the prince, the father of the emperor, with rage and shame in his heart.

"Long live the emperor!" resounded from all lips, and the child Ivan, Emperor of all the Russias, screeched for joy at the noise and at the splendor of the assemblage.

"Long live our noble regent, Anna Leopoldowna!" now loudly cried Julia von Mengden.

Like a thundering cry of jubilation it was instantly echoed through the hall.

The generals were the first to join in this enthusiastic viva!

A quarter of an hour later the generals were permitted to retire, and the emperor was reconveyed to his apartments.

Anna Leopoldowna remained alone with her husband and the newly-married pair, who had retreated to the recess of a window and were whispering together.

Anna now turned to her husband, and, with cutting coldness in her tone, said:

"You must understand, my husband, that I am very generous. It was in my power to arrest you as a traitor, but I preferred to shame you, because you, unhappily, are the father of my child."

"You think, then," asked the prince, with a scornful smile, "that I shall take the buffoonery you have just had played before us for truth?"

"That, my prince, must wholly depend upon your own good pleasure. But for the present I must request you to retire to your own apartments! I feel myself much moved and exhausted, and have also to prepare some secret dispatches for Count Lynar to take with him in his journey."

"Count Lynar is, then, to leave us?" quickly asked the prince, in an evidently more friendly tone.

"Yes," said Anna, "he leaves us for some weeks to visit the estate in Liefland which I have given to Julia as a bridal present, and to make there the necessary preparations for the proper reception of his wife."

Julia clasped the hands of her mistress, and bathed them with tears of joy and gratitude.

"Anna," whispered Prince Ulrich, "I did you wrong. Pardon me."

Anna coldly responded: "I will pardon you if you will be generous enough to allow me a little repose."

The prince silently and respectfully withdrew.

Anna finally, left alone with her lover and her favorite, sank exhausted upon a divan.

"Close the doors, Julia, that no one may surprise us," she faintly murmured. "I will take leave. Oh, I would be left for at least a quarter of an hour undisturbed in my unhappiness."

"Then it is quite true that you intend to drive me away?" asked Count Lynar, kneeling and clasping her hands. "You are determined to send me into banishment?"

Anna gave him a glance of tenderness.

"No," said she, "I will send myself into banishment, for I shall not see you dearest. But I felt that this sacrifice was necessary. Julia has sacrificed herself for us. With another love in her heart, she has magnanimously thrown away her freedom and given up her maiden love for the promotion of our happiness. We owe it to her to preserve her honor untarnished, that the calumnious crowd may not pry into the motives of her generous act. For Julia's sake, the world must and shall believe that she is in fact your wife, and that it was love that united you. We must, therefore, preserve appearances, and you must conduct your wife to your estate in triumph. Decency requires it, and we cannot disregard its requirements."

"Princess Anna is in the right," said Julia; "you must absent yourself for a few weeks—not for my sake, who little desire any such triumph, but that the world may believe the tale, and no longer suspect my princess."

It was a sweetly painful hour—a farewell so tearful, and yet so full of deeply-felt happiness. On that very night was the count to commence his journey to Liefland and Warsaw. As they wished to make no secret of the marriage, the count needed the consent of his court and his family.

Anna provided him with letters and passports. The best and fairest of the estates of the crown in Liefland was assigned to Julia as a bridal present, and the count was furnished with the proper documents to enable him to take possession of it.

And finally came the parting moment! For the last time they lay in each other's arms; they mutually swore eternal love, unconquerable fidelity—all that a loving couple could swear!

Tearing himself from her embrace, he rushed to the door.

Anna stretches out her arms toward him, her brow is pallid, her eyes fixed. The door opens, he turns for one last look, and nods a farewell. Ah, with her last glance she would forever enchain that noble and beautiful face—with her extended arms she would forever retain that majestic form.

"Farewell, Anna, farewell!"

The door closes behind him—he is gone!

A cold shudder convulsed Anna's form, a bodeful fear took possession of her mind. It lay upon her heart like a dark mourning-veil.

"I shall never, never see him again!" she shrieked, sinking unconscious into Julia's arms.



PRINCESS ELIZABETH

While a Mecklenburg princess had attained to the regency of Russia, and while her son was hailed as emperor, the Princess Elizabeth lived alone and unnoticed in her small and modestly-furnished throne, and yet in St. Petersburg was living the only rightful heir to the empire, the daughter of Czar Peter the Great! And as she was young, beautiful, and amiable, how came she to be set aside to make room for a stranger upon the throne of her father, which belonged to her alone?

Princess Elizabeth had voluntarily kept aloof from all political intrigues and all revolutions. In the interior of her palace she passed happy days; her world, her life, and her pleasures were there. Princess Elizabeth desired not to reign; her only wish was to love and be loved. The intoxicating splendor of worldly greatness was not so inviting to her as the more intoxicating pleasure of blessed and happy love. She would, above all things, be a woman, and enjoy the full possession of her youth and happiness.

What cared she that her own rightful throne was occupied by a stranger—what cared she for the blinding shimmer of a crown? Ah, it troubled her not that she was poor, and possessed not even the means of bestowing presents upon her favorites and friends. But she felt happy in her poverty, for she was free to love whom she would, to raise to herself whomsoever she might please.

It was a festival day that they were celebrating in the humble palace of the emperor's daughter Elizabeth—certainly a festival day, for it was the name-day of the princess.

The rooms were adorned with festoons and garlands, and all her dependants and friends were gathered around her. Elizabeth saw not the limited number of this band; she enjoyed herself with those who were there, and lamented not the much greater number of those who had forgotten her.

She was among her friends, in her little reception-room. Evening had come, the household and the less trusted and favored of her adherents had withdrawn, and only the most intimate, most favored friends now remained with the princess.

They had conversed so long that they now recurred to the enjoyment of that always-ready, always-pleasing art, music. A young man sang to the accompaniment of a guitar.

Elizabeth listened, listlessly reclining upon her divan. Behind her stood two gentlemen, who, like her, were delightedly listening to the singing of the youth.

Elizabeth was a blooming, beautiful woman. She was to-day charming to the eye in the crimson-velvet robe, embroidered with silver, that enveloped her full, voluptuous form, leaving her neck and gorge free, and displaying the delicate whiteness of her skin in beautiful contrast with the purple of her robe. Perhaps a severe judge might not have pronounced her face handsome according to the rules of the antique, but it was one of those faces that please and bewitch the other sex; one of those beauties whose charm consists not so much in the regularity of the lines as in the ever-varying expression. There was so much that was winning, enticing, supercilious, much-promising, and warm-glowing, in the face of this woman! The full, swelling, deep-red lips, how charming were they when she smiled; those dark, sparkling eyes, how seducing were they when shaded by a soft veil of emotional enthusiasm; those faintly-blushing cheeks, that heaving bosom, that voluptuous form, yet resplendent with youthful gayety—for Elizabeth had not yet reached her thirtieth year—whom would she not have animated, excited, transported?

Elizabeth knew she was beautiful and attractive, and this was her pride and her joy. She could easily pardon the German princess, Anna Leopoldowna, for occupying the throne that was rightfully her own, but she would never have forgiven the regent had she been handsomer than herself. Anna Leopoldowna was the most powerful woman in Russia, but she, Elizabeth, was the handsomest woman in Russia, which was all she coveted, and she had nothing more to desire.

But at this moment she thought neither of Anna Leopoldowna nor of her own beauty, but only of the singer who was warbling to her those Russian popular songs so full of love and sadness that they bring tears into the eyes and fill the heart with yearning.

Elizabeth had forgotten all around her—she heard only him, saw only him; her whole soul lay in the glances with which she observed him, and around her mouth played one of those bewitching smiles peculiar to her in moments of joy and satisfaction, and which her courtiers knew and observed.

He was very handsome, this young singer, and as Elizabeth saw him in this moment, she congratulated herself that her connoisseur-glance had quickly remarked him, when, some weeks previously, she had first seen him as the precentor of the imperial chapel.

Surprised and excited by the beauty of his form and the sweetness of his voice, Elizabeth had begged him of the lord-marshal for her private service, and since then Alexis Razumovsky had entered her house as her private secretary and the manager of her small estate.

While Alexis was singing with his sweetly-melting tones, Elizabeth turned her swimming eyes to the two men who were standing in respectful silence behind her.

"You must acknowledge," said she in a low tone, and as if oppressed by internal commotion, "that you never saw nor heard say any thing finer than my Alexis."

"Oh, yes," said one of these men, with a low bow, "we have seen you!"

"And did we not yesterday hear you sing this same charming slumber-song, princess?" asked the other.

Elizabeth smiled. "It is already well known that Woronzow and Grunstein must always flatter!" said she.

"No, we do not flatter," responded Woronzow, the chamberlain of the princess, "we only love truth! You ask if we have ever seen any thing more beautiful than your private secretary, and we answer that we have seen you!"

"Well, now, you have all so often assured me that I am the handsomest woman in Russia, that at length I am compelled to believe you. But Alexis is fortunately a man, and therefore not my rival; you may, then, fearlessly confess that Alexis is the handsomest of all men! But how is this?" exclaimed the princess, interrupting herself, as the handsome young singer suddenly sprang up and threw his guitar aside with an indignant movement; "do you sing no more, Alexis?"

"No," frowardly responded the young man, "I sing no more, when my princess no longer listens!"

"There, see the ungrateful man," said the princess, with a charming smile—"he was occupying all my thoughts, and yet he dares complain! You are a malefactor deserving punishment. Come here to me, Alexis; kneel, kiss my hand, and beg for pardon, you calumniator!"

"That is a punishment for which angels might be grateful!" responded Alexis Razumovsky, kneeling to the princess and pressing her hand to his burning lips. "Ah, that I might oftener incur such punishment!"

"Do you then prefer punishment to reward?" asked Elizabeth, tenderly bending down to him and looking deep into his eyes.

"She loves him!" whispered Grunstein to the chamberlain Woronzow. "She certainly loves him!"

Elizabeth's fine ear caught these words, and, slowly turning her head, she slightly nodded. "Yes," said she, "Grunstein is right—she loves him! Congratulate me, therefore, my friends, that the desert void in my heart is at length filled—congratulate me for loving him. Ah, nothing is sweeter, holier, or more precious than love; and I can tell you that we women are happy only when we are under the influence of that divine passion. Congratulate me, then, my friends, for, thank God, I am in love! Now, Alexis, what have you to say?"

"There are no words to express such a happiness," cried Alexis, pressing the feet of the princess to his bosom.

"Happiness, then, strikes you dumb," laughed the princess, "and will not allow you to say that you love me? Such are all you men. You envelope yourselves with a convenient silence, and would make us poor women believe the superabundance of feeling deprives you of utterance."

At this moment the door was softly opened, and a lackey, who made his appearance at the threshold, beckoned to Woronzow.

"What is it, Woronzow?" asked the princess, while, wholly unembarrassed by the presence of the lackey, she played with the profuse dark locks of the kneeling Razumovsky.

"An invitation from the Regent Anna to a court-ball, which is to take place fourteen days hence," said Woronzow.

"Ah, our good cousin is, then, so gracious as to remember us," cried the princess, with a somewhat clouded brow. "It will certainly be a very magnificent festival, as we are invited so many days in advance. How sad that I cannot have the pleasure of being present!"

"And why not, if one may be allowed to ask, princess?" asked Woronzow.

"Why?" sighed Elizabeth. "Ask my waiting-woman; she will tell you that the Princess Elizabeth, daughter of the great Czar Peter, has not one single robe splendid enough to render her presentable, without mortification, at a court-ball of the regent."

"Whatever robe you may wear," passionately interposed Alexis, "you will still be resplendent, for your beauty will impart a divine halo to any dress!"

That was precisely the kind of flattery pleasing to Elizabeth.

"Think you so, flatterer?" asked Elizabeth. "Well, for once I will believe your words, and assume that the Princess Elizabeth may be fair without the aid of splendor in dress. We therefore accept the invitation, Woronzow. Announce that to the regent's messenger. But still it is sad and humiliating," continued Elizabeth after a pause, a cloud passing over her usually so cheerful countenance, "yes it is still a melancholy circumstance for the daughter of the great Peter to be so poor that she is not able to dress herself suitably to her rank. Ah, how humiliating is the elevation of my high position, when I cannot even properly reward you, my friends, for your fidelity and attachment!"

"You will one day be able to reward us," significantly remarked Grunstein. "One day, when an imperial crown surmounts your fair brows, then will your generous heart be able to act according to its noble instincts."

"Still the same old dreams!" said Elizabeth, shaking her head and letting Razumovsky's long locks glide through her fingers. "Pay no attention to him, Alexis, he is an enthusiast who dreams of imperial crowns, while I desire nothing but a ball-dress, that in it I may please you, my friend!"

"Oh, you always please me," whispered Alexis, "and most pleasing are you when—"

The conclusion of his flattering speech he whispered so low that it was heard by no one but the princess.

Patting his cheek with her little round hand, she blushed, but not for shame, as she did not cast down her eyes, but answered with a glowing glance the tender looks of her lover. She blushed only from an internal passionate excitement, while her bosom stormily rose and fell.

"You are very saucy, Alexis," said she, but at the same time lightly kissing him upon the forehead, and smiling; but then her brow was suddenly clouded, for the door was again opened and once more the lackey appeared upon the threshold.

"The French ambassador," said he, "the Marquis de la Chetardie, begs the favor of an audience."

"Ah, the good marquis!" cried the princess, rising from her reclining position. "Conduct him in, he is very welcome."

The lackey opened both wings of the folding-door, and the marquis entered, followed by several servants with boxes and packets.

"Ah, you come very much like a milliner," laughingly exclaimed Elizabeth, graciously advancing to receive the ambassador.

Dropping upon one knee, the marquis kissed her offered hand.

"I come, illustrious Princess Elizabeth, to beg a favor of you!" he said.

"You wish to mortify me," responded Elizabeth. "How can the ambassador of a great and powerful nation have a favor to ask of the poor, repudiated, and forgotten Princess Elizabeth?"

"In the name of the king my master come I to demand this favor!" solemnly answered the marquis.

"Well, if you really speak in earnest," said the princess, "then I have only to respond that it will make me very happy to comply with any request which your august king or yourself may have to make of me."

"Then I may be allowed, on this occasion of the celebration of your name-day, to lay at your feet these trifling presents of my royal master," said the ambassador of France, rising to take the boxes and packages from the lackeys and place them before Elizabeth.

"They are only trifles," continued he, while assiduously occupied in opening the boxes, "trifles of little value—only interesting, perhaps, because they are novelties that have as yet been worn in Paris by no lady except the queen and madame!

"This mantelet of Valenciennes lace," continued the busy marquis, unfolding before the princess a magically fine lace texture, "this mantelet is sent by the Queen of France to the illustrious Princess Elizabeth. Only two such mantelets have been made, and her majesty has strictly commanded that no more of a similar pattern shall be commenced."

Princess Elizabeth's eyes sparkled with delight. Like a curious child she fluttered from one box to the other, and in fact they were very costly, tasteful, and charming things which their majesties of France had sent to the Princess Elizabeth, who prized nothing higher than splendor in dress and ornaments.

There were the most beautiful gold-embroidered velvet robes, light crape and lace dresses, and hats and topknots of charming elegance.

Elizabeth examined and admired all; she clapped her hands with delight when any one of these precious presents especially pleased her, calling Alexis, Grunstein, and Woronzow to share her joy and admiration.

"Now it will be a triumph for me to appear at this ball!" said Elizabeth, exultingly; "ah, how beautiful it is of your king that he has sent me these magnificent presents to-day, and not eight days later! I shall excite the envy of the regent and all the court ladies with these charming things, which no one besides myself will possess."

And the princess was constantly renewing her examination of the presents, and breaking out into ecstasies over their beauty.

The Marquis de la Chetardie smilingly listened to her, told her much about Paris and its splendors, declaring that even in Paris there was no lady who could be compared to the fair Princess Elizabeth.

"Ah," remarked Elizabeth, smilingly threatening him with her finger, "you would speak differently if the queen or some other lady of your court were standing by my side!"

"No," seriously replied the marquis, "I would fall at the feet of my queen and say: 'You are my queen, judge me, condemn me, my life is in your hand. You are the Queen of France, and as such I bend before you; but Princess Elizabeth is the queen of beauty, and as such I adore her!'"

Princess Elizabeth smiled, and with harmless unconstraint chatted yet a long time with the shrewd and versatile ambassador of the French king.

"I have yet one more request to make," said the marquis, when about to take leave. "But it is a request that no one but yourself must hear, princess!"

Elizabeth signed to her friends to withdraw into the open anteroom.

"Well, marquis," she then said with some curiosity, "let me now hear what else you have to ask."

"My king and master has learned with regret that the noble Princess Elizabeth is not surrounded with that wealth and splendor which is her due as the daughter of the great emperor and the rightful heir to the Russian throne. My king begs the favor of being allowed to make good the delinquency toward you of the present Russian regency, and that he may have the pleasure of providing you with the means necessary to enable you to establish a court suitable to your birth and position. I am provided with sufficient funds for these purposes. You have only to send me by your physician in ordinary, Lestocq, a quittance signed by you, and any sum you may require will be immediately paid!"

"Oh," said the princess, with emotion, "I shall never be able sufficiently to testify my gratitude to the generous King of France. I am a poor, insignificant woman, who can thankfully accept but never requite his kindness."

"Who knows?" said the marquis significantly. "You may one day become the most powerful woman in Europe, for your birth and your destiny call you to the throne."

"Oh, I know you are Lestocq's friend, and share his dreams," said the princess. "But let us not now speak of impossibilities, nor idly jest, while I am deeply touched by the generous friendship of your sovereign. That I accept his offer, may prove to him and you how much I love and respect him; for we willingly incur obligations only to those who are so highly estimated that we gratefully subordinate ourselves to them. Write this to your king."

"And may I also write to him," asked the marquis, "that this conversation will remain a secret, of which, above all things, the regent, Anna Leopoldowna, is to know nothing?"

"My imperial word of honor," said the princess, "that no one except ourselves and Lestocq, whom you yourself propose as a medium, shall know anything of this great generosity of your sovereign. God grant that a time may one day come when I may loudly and publicly acknowledge my great obligations to him!"

"That time will have come when you are Empress of Russia!" said the ambassador, taking his leave.

"Already one more who has taken it into his head to make an empress of me," said the princess, as her three favorites again entered. "Foolish people that you are! It does not satisfy you to be the friend of a Princess Elizabeth, but I must become an empress for your sakes."

"How well the diadem would become that proud pure brow!" exclaimed Alexis, with animation.

"How happy would this poor Russia be under your mild sceptre!" said the chamberlain, Woronzow.

"Yes, you owe it to all of us, to yourself and your people, to mount the throne of your fathers," said Grunstein.

"But if I say to you that I will not?" cried the princess, reclining again upon her divan. "The duties of an empress are very difficult and wearing. I love quiet and enjoyment; and, moreover, this throne of my father, of which you speak so pathetically, is already occupied, and awaits me not. See you not your sublime Emperor Ivan, whom the regent-mother is rocking in his cradle? That is your emperor, before whom you can bow, and leave me unmolested with your imperial crown. Come, Alexis, sit down by me upon this tabouret. We will take another look at these magnificent presents. Ah! truly they are dearer to me than the possession of empire."

"The Princess Elizabeth can thus speak only in jest," said an earnest voice behind them.

"Ah, Lestocq!" said the princess, with a friendly nod. "You come very late, my friend."

"And yet too soon to bring you bad news!" said Lestocq, with a profound and respectful bow to the princess.

"Bad news?" repeated Elizabeth, turning pale. "Mon Dieu, am I, then, one too many for them here? Would they kill me, or send me in exile to Siberia?"

"Yet worse!" laconically responded Lestocq. "But, first of all, let us be cautious, and take care that we have no listeners." And, crossing the room, Lestocq closed all the doors, and carefully looked behind the window curtains to make sure that no one was concealed there. "Now, princess," he commenced, in a tone of solemnity, "now listen to what I have to say to you."



A CONSPIRACY

A momentary pause followed. Princess Elizabeth silently motioned her friends to be seated, and drew her favorite Alexis nearer to her.

Lestocq, her physician and confidant, with a solemn countenance, took a place opposite her.

"We are ready to hear your bad news," said the princess.

"The regent, Anna Leopoldowna, will have herself crowned as empress," laconically responded Lestocq.

Elizabeth looked at him interrogatively and with curiosity for the continuation of his bad news. But as Lestocq remained silent, she asked with astonishment: "Is that all you have to tell us?"

"Preliminarily, that is all," answered Lestocq.

Princess Elizabeth broke out with a joyous laugh.

"Well, this is, in fact, very comic. With a real Job's mien you announce to us the worst news, and then inform us that Anna Leopoldowna is to be crowned empress! Let her be crowned! No one will interfere to prevent it, and she will be none the happier for it. No woman who has taken possession of the Russian throne as an independent princess has ever yet been happy. Or do you think that Catharine, my lofty step-mother, was so? Believe me, upon the throne she trembled with fear of assassins; for it is well known that this Russian throne is surrounded by murderers, awaiting only the favorable moment. Ah, whenever I have stood in front of this imperial throne, it has always seemed to me that I saw the points of a thousand daggers peeping forth from its soft cushions! And you would have me seat myself upon such a dagger-beset throne? No, no, leave me my peace and repose. Let Anna Leopoldowna declare herself empress—what should I care? I should have to bend before her with my congratulations. That is all!"

And the princess, letting her head glide upon Razumovsky's shoulder, as if exhausted by this long speech, closed her fatigued eyelids.

"Ah, if Czar Peter, your great father, could hear you," sadly said Lestocq, "he would spurn you for such pusillanimity, princess."

"It is, therefore, fortunate for me that he is dead," said the princess, with a smile. "And now, my dear Lestocq, if you know nothing further, let this suffice you: I tell you, once for all, that I have no desire for this imperial throne. I would crown my head with roses and myrtles, but not with that golden circle which would crush me to the earth. Therefore, trouble me no more on this subject. Be content with what I am, and if you cannot, well—then I must be reconciled to being abandoned by you!"

"I will never desert you, even if I must follow you to suffering and death!" exclaimed Alexis Razumovsky, casting himself at the feet of the princess.

"We will remain true and faithful to you unto death!" cried Woronzow and Grunstein.

"Well, and you alone remain silent, Lestocq?" asked the princess, with tears in her eyes.

"I have not yet come to the end of my bad news," said Lestocq, with a clouded brow.

"Ah!" jestingly interposed the princess, "you would, perhaps, as further bad news, inform us that the Emperor Ivan has cut his first tooth!"

"No," said Lestocq, "I would only say to you, that the 18th of December, the day on which the regent is to be crowned as empress, the 18th of December is the day assigned for the marriage of Princess Elizabeth with Prince Louis of Brunswick, the new Duke of Courland!"

The princess sprang up from her seat as if stung by an adder. Alexis Razumovsky, who still knelt at her feet, uttered loud lamentations, in which Woronzow and Grunstein soon joined. With calm triumph Lestocq observed the effect produced by his words.

"What are you saying there?" at length Elizabeth breathlessly asked.

"I say that on the 18th of December the Princess Elizabeth is to be married to Prince Louis of Brunswick, who has already come to St. Petersburg for that purpose," calmly answered Lestocq.

"And I say," cried the princess, "that no such marriage will ever take place!"

Lestocq shrugged his shoulders. "Princess Elizabeth is a gentle, peace-loving, always suffering lamb," he said.

"But Princess Elizabeth can become a tigress when it concerns the defence of her holiest rights!" exclaimed the princess, pacing the room in violent excitement.

"Ah," she continued, "they are not then satisfied with delivering me over to poverty and abandonment; it does not suffice them to see me so deeply humiliated as to receive alms from this regent who occupies the throne that belongs to me. They would rob me of my last and only remaining blessing, my personal freedom! They would make my poor heart a prisoner, and bind it with the chains and fetters of a marriage which I abhor! No, no, I tell you that shall they never do."

And the princess, quite beside herself with rage, stamped her feet and doubled up her little hands into fists. Now was she her father's real and not unworthy daughter; Czar Peter's bold and savage spirit flashed from her eyes, his scorn and courageous determination spoke from her wildly excited features. She saw not, she heard not what was passing around her; she was wholly occupied with her own angry thoughts, and with those dreadful images which the mere idea of marriage had conjured up.

Her four favorites stood together at some distance, observing her with silent sympathy.

"It is now for you, Alexis Razumovsky, to complete the work we have begun," whispered Lestocq to him. "Elizabeth loves you; you must nourish in her this abhorrence of a marriage with the prince. You must make yourself so loved, that she will dare all rather than lose you! We have long enough remained in a state of abjectness; it is time to labor for our advancement. To the work, to the work, Alexis Razumovsky! We must make an empress of this Elizabeth, that she may raise us to wealth and dignities!"

"Rely upon me," whispered Alexis, "she must and shall join in our plans."

He approached the princess, who was walking the room in a state of the most violent agitation, giving vent to her internal excitement and anger in loud exclamations and bitter curses.

"I must therefore die!" sighed Alexis, pressing Elizabeth's trembling hand to his lips. "Kill me, princess, thrust a dagger in my heart, that I at least may not live to see you married to another!"

"No, you shall not die," cried Elizabeth, with fierce vehemence, throwing her arms around Razumovsky's neck. "I will know how to defend you and myself, Alexis! Ah, they would shackle me,—they would force me to marry, because they know I hate marriage. Yes, I hate those unnatural fetters which could command my heart, force it into obedience to an unnatural law, and degrade divine free love, which would flutter from flower to flower, into a necessity and a duty. It is an unnatural law which would compel us forever to love a man because he pleased us yesterday or may please us to-day, and who perhaps may not please us to-morrow, while on the next day he may excite only repugnance! Would they forge these matrimonial chains for me? Ah, Regent Anna, you are this time mistaken; you may be all-powerful in this empire, but you cannot and shall not extend that power over me!"

"And how," asked Lestocq, shrugging his shoulders, "how will Princess Elizabeth oppose the regent or empress? What weapon has she with which to contend?"

"If it must be so, I will oppose power to power!" passionately exclaimed the princess. "Yes, when it comes to the defence of my freedom and my personal rights I will then have the courage to dare all, defy all; then will I shake off the lethargy of contented mediocrity, and upon the throne will find that freedom which Anna would tread under foot!"

"Long live our future empress! Long live Elizabeth!" cried the men with wild excitement.

"I have long withstood you, my friends," said Elizabeth, "I have not coveted this imperial Russian crown, but much less have I desired that crown of thorns a compulsory marriage. I am now ready for the struggle, and, if it must be so, let a revolution, let streams of blood decide whether the Regent Anna Leopoldowna or the daughter of Peter the Great has the best right to govern this land and prescribe its laws!"

"Ah, now are you really your great father's great daughter!" cried Lestocq, and bending a knee before the princess, he continued: "Let me be the first to pay you homage, the first to swear eternal fidelity to you, our Empress Elizabeth."

"Receive also my oath, Empress Elizabeth," said Alexis, falling upon his knees before her, "receive the oaths of your slaves who desire nothing but to devote their bodies and souls to your service!"

"Let me, also, do homage to you, Empress Elizabeth!" exclaimed Woronzow, falling to the earth.

"And I, too, will lie at your feet and declare myself your slave, Empress Elizabeth!" said Grunstein, kneeling with the others.

But Elizabeth's anger was already past; only a momentary storm-wind had lashed her gently flowing blood into the high foaming waves of rage; now all again was calm within her, and consequently this solemn homage scene of her four kneeling friends made only a comic impression upon her.

She burst into a loud laugh; astonished and half angry, the kneeling men looked up to her, and that only increased her hilarity.

"Ah, this is infinitely amusing," said the princess, continuing to laugh; "there lie my vassals, and what vassals! Herr Lestocq, a physician; Herr Grunstein, a bankrupt shopkeeper and now under-officer; Herr Woronzow, chamberlain; and Alexis Razumovsky, my private secretary. And here I am, the empress of such vassals, and what sort of an empress? An empress of four subjects, an empress without a throne and without a crown, without land and without a people—an empress who never was and never will be an empress! And in this solemn buffoonery you cut such serious faces as might make one die with laughter."

The princess threw herself upon the divan and laughed until the tears ran down her cheeks.

"Princess," said Lestocq, rising, "these four men, at whom you now laugh, will make you empress, and then it will be in your power to convert this chirurgeon into a privy councillor and court physician, this bankrupt merchant into a rich banker, this chamberlain into an imperial lord-marshal, and your private secretary into a count or prince of the empire."

The eyes of the princess shone yet brighter, and with a tender glance at Alexis Razumovsky she said: "Yes, I will make him a prince and overload him with presents and honors. Ah, that is an object worth the pains of struggling for an imperial crown."

"No, no," interposed Alexis, kissing her hand, "I need neither wealth nor titles; I need nothing, desire nothing but to be near you, to be able to breathe the air that has fanned your cheek. I desire nothing for myself, but everything for my friends here, with whose faithful aid we shall soon be enabled to greet you a real empress."

Elizabeth's brow beamed with the purest blessedness. "You are as unselfish as the angels in heaven, my Alexis," said she. "It suffices you that I am Elizabeth, you languish not for this imperial title which these others would force upon me."

Alexis smilingly shook his fine head. "You err, princess," said he; "I would freely and joyfully give my heart's blood, could I this day but salute you as empress! I should then, at least, have no more to fear from this strange prince whom they would compel you to marry!"

A cloud passed over the brow of the princess. "Yes, you are right," said she, "we must avoid that at all events, and if there are no other means, very well, I shall know what to decide upon—I shall venture an attempt to dethrone the regent and make myself empress! But, my friends, let that now suffice. I need rest. Call my women to undress me, Woronzow. Good-night, good-night, my high and lofty vassals, your great and powerful empress allows you to kiss her hand!"

With a pleasing graciousness she extended her fair hands to her friends, who respectfully pressed them to their lips and then departed.

"Alexis!" called the princess, as Razumovsky was about to withdraw with the others—"Alexis, you will remain awhile. While my women are undressing me, you shall sing me to sleep with that charming slumber-song you sing so splendidly!"

Alexis smiled and remained.

A quarter of an hour later deep silence prevailed in the dark palace of Elizabeth, and through the stillness of the night was heard only the sweetly-melodious voice of the handsome Alexis, who was singing his slumber-song to the princess.

From this day forward her four trusted friends left the princess no peace. They so stormed her with prayers and supplications, Alexis so well knew how to represent his despair at her approaching and unavoidable marriage, that the amiable princess, to satisfy her friends and be left herself at peace, declared herself ready to sanction the plans of her confidants and enter into a conspiracy against the regent.

Soon a small party was formed for the cause of the princess. Grunstein—who, as the princess had said, from a bankrupt merchant had attained the position of subordinate officer—Grunstein had succeeded in winning for the cause of the princess some fifty grenadiers of the Preobrajensky regiment, to which he belonged; and these people, drunkards and dissolute fellows, were the principal props upon which Elizabeth's throne was to be established! They were neither particular about the means resorted to for the accomplishment of the proposed revolution, nor careful to envelop their movements in secrecy.

Elizabeth soon began to find pleasure and distraction in exciting the enthusiasm of the soldiers. She often repaired to the caserns of the guards, and her mildness and affability won for her the hearts of the rough soldiers accustomed to slavish subjection. When she rode through the streets, it was not an unusual occurrence to see common soldiers approach her sledge and converse familiarly with her. Wherever she showed herself, there the soldiers received her with shouts, and the palace of the princess was always open to them. In this way Elizabeth made herself popular, and the Regent Anna, who was informed of it, smiled at it with indifference.

Just as incautiously did Elizabeth's fanatical political manager, Lestocq, set about his work. He made no secret of his intercourse with the French ambassador, and in the public coffee-houses he was often heard in a loud voice to prophesy an approaching political change.

But with regard to all these imprudences it seemed as if the court and the regent were blinded by the most careless confidence, as if they could not see what was directly before their eyes. It was as if destiny covered those eyes with a veil, that they might not see, and against destiny even the great and the powerful of the earth struggle in vain.



THE WARNING

The 4th of December, the day of the court-ball, to which Elizabeth had looked forward with a longing heart because of her anxiety to display at court her new Parisian dresses, at length had come. A most active movement prevailed in the palace of the regent. The lord-marshal and the chamberlains on service passed up and down through the rooms, overlooking with sharp eyes the various ornaments, festoons, garlands, and draperies, to make sure that all was splendid, and tasteful, and magnificent.

Anna Leopoldowna troubled herself very little about these busy movements in her palace. She was in her boudoir, delightedly reading a letter from her distant lover, which had just been received under Julia's address. She had already read this letter several times, but ever recommenced it, and ever found some new word, some new phrase that proved to her the glowing love of her absent friend.

"Ah, he still loves me," murmured she, pressing the letter to her lips; "he really loves me, and this short separation will not estrange his heart, but cause it to glow with warmer passion! Oh, what a happiness will it be when he again returns! And he will return! Yes, he will be with me again on the 18th of December, and, animated by his glances, I shall for the first time appear in all the splendor of an imperial crown. Ah, they have no presentiment, my councillors and ministers, that I have selected the 18th of December for the ceremony precisely because it is the birthday of my beloved! He will know it, he will understand why his Anna has chosen this particular day, and he will thank me with one of those proud and glowing glances which always made my heart tremulous with overpowering happiness. Oh, my Lynar, what a blessed moment will be that when I see you again!"

A slight knock at the door interrupted the imaginings of the princess. It was Julia von Mengden, who came to announce the old Count Ostermann.

"And is it for him that you disturb my delightful solitude?" asked the princess, somewhat reproachfully. "Is this Count Ostermann, is this whole miserable realm of so much importance to me as the sweet contemplation of a letter from my friend? When I am reading his letter it seems to me that my beloved himself is at my side, and therefore you must clearly see that I cannot receive Count Ostermann, as Lynar is with me!"

"Put your letter and your lover in your bosom," said Julia, with a laugh; "he will be very happy there, and then you can receive the old count without betraying your lover's presence! The count has so pressingly begged for an audience that I finally promised to intercede with you for him."

"Ah, this eternal business!" angrily exclaimed the princess. "They will never let me have any peace; they harass me the whole day. Even now, when it is time to be making my toilet for the ball—even now I must be tormented with affairs of state."

"Shall I, then, send away Count Ostermann?" sulkily asked Julia.

"That I may, consequently, for the whole evening see you with a dissatisfied face? No, let him come; but forget not that I submit to this annoyance only to please you."

With a grateful smile, Julia kissed the regent's hand, and then hastened to bear to Count Ostermann the favorable answer.

In a few minutes, Count Ostermann, painfully supporting himself upon two crutches, entered the regent's cabinet.

Anna Leopoldowna received him, sitting in an armchair, and listlessly rummaging in a band-box filled with various articles of dress and embroidery, which had just been brought to her.

"Well," said she, raising her eyes for a moment to glance at Ostermann, "you come at a very inconvenient hour, Herr Minister Count Ostermann. You see that I am already occupied with my toilet, and am endeavoring to find a suitable head-dress. Will you aid me in the choice, sir count?"

Ostermann had until now, painfully and with many suppressed groans, sustained himself upon his feet; at a silent nod from the princess he glided down into a chair, and staring at Anna with his piercing and wonderfully-flashing eyes, he said:

"You highness would select a head-dress? Well, as you ask my advice in the matter, I will give it; choose a head-dress so firm and solid as to prove a fortification for the defence of your head. Choose a head-dress that will protect you against conspiracies and revolutions, against false friends and smiling enemies! Choose a head-dress that will keep your head upon your shoulders!"

"Count Ostermann speaks in riddles," said Anna, smiling, and at the same time arranging a wreath of artificial roses. "Or no, it was not Count Ostermann, but a toad singing his hoarse song. Drive away that toad, Ostermann, it is broad day—why, then, have we the croaking of such night-birds?"

"Listen to the croaking of this toad," anxiously responded the old man. "Believe me, princess, when the toads croak in broad daylight, it betokens an approaching misfortune. Let it warn you, Madame Regent Anna! You have called me a toad—very well, toads always have correctly prophesied misfortune, and if they can never avert it, it is because otherwise people will not listen to such oracular voices of all-wise Nature! Let me be your toad, your highness, and listen to me! I foresee misfortune for you. Believe my prophecy, and that misfortune may yet be averted. Mark the signs by which fate would warn you! Did you not yesterday see Elizabeth driving through the streets, chatting and jesting with the soldiers, who crowded around her sledge? Have you not heard how the grenadiers of the Preobrajensky regiment shouted after her? Has it not been told you that Lestocq holds secret intercourse with the French ambassador, and know you not that Lestocq is the confidential servant of the princess? Guard yourself against Princess Elizabeth, your highness!"

"Are you in earnest?" smilingly asked Anna, drawing her silver toilet-glass nearer to her person, and placing a bouquet of flowers in her hair to examine its effect in the glass.

"Oh, Heavens!" cried Count Ostermann, "you adorn yourself with flowers, while I am telling you that you are threatened with a conspiracy!"

"A conspiracy!" laughed the regent, "and Princess Elizabeth to be at the head of it! Believe me, you overwise men, with all your wisdom, never learn rightly to understand women. I, however, am a woman, and I understand Elizabeth. You think that when she kindly chats with the soldiers, and admits the handsome stately grenadiers into her house, it is done for the purpose of conspiring with them. Go to, Count Ostermann, you are very innocent. Princess Elizabeth has but one passion, but it is not the desire of ruling; and when she chats with handsome men, she speaks not of conspiracy, believe me." And, laughing, the regent essayed a new head-dress.

"And how do you explain the secret meetings of Lestocq and the Marquis de la Chetardie?" asked Ostermann, with painfully-suppressed agitation.

"Explain? Why should I seek an explanation for things that do not at all interest me? What is it to me what the surgeon Lestocq has to do with the constantly-ailing French ambassador? Or do you think I should trouble myself about the lavements administered to an ambassador by a surgeon?"

"Well, then, your highness will allow me to explain their meetings from a less medical point of view? France is your enemy, France meditates your destruction, and the Marquis de la Chetardie is exciting the princess and Lestocq to an insurrection."

"And to what end, if I may be allowed to ask?" scornfully inquired Anna.

"France, struggling with internal and foreign enemies, at war with Austria, involved in disputes with Holland and Spain, France would wish at any price to see the Russian government so occupied with her own domestic difficulties as to have no time to devote to international affairs. She would provide you with plenty of occupation at home, that you may not actively interfere with the affairs of the rest of the world. That is the shrewd policy of France, and it would fill me with admiration were it not fraught with the most terrible danger to us. The Marquis de la Chetardie has it in charge to bring about a revolution here at any price, and as an expert diplomatist, he very well comprehends that Princess Elizabeth is the best means he can employ for that purpose; for she, as the daughter of Czar Peter, has the sympathies of the old Russians in her favor, and they will flock to her with shouts of joy whenever she may announce to the people that she is ready to drive the foreign rulers from Russia!"

"Ah, our good Russians," laughingly exclaimed the regent, "they shout only for those who make them drunk, and for that the poor princess lacks the means!"

"The Marquis de la Chetardie has, in the name of his king, offered her an unlimited credit, and she is already provided with almost a million of silver rubles."

"You have a reason for every thing," laughed the regent. "The princess is poor; let the French ambassador quickly provide her with his millions. The good princess, I wish she had these millions, and then she could indulge her love of ornaments and magnificent dresses."

"The marquis has brought her rich dresses and stuffs from Paris," said Ostermann, laconically.

The regent burst into a clear, ringing laugh.

"The marquis is a real deus ex machina," exclaimed she. "Wherever you need him, he appears and helps you out of your trouble. But seriously, my dear count, let it now suffice with these gloomy suspicions. They are already commencing the dance-music, and you will put me out of tune with your croaking. A ball, my dear count, requires that one should be in and not out of tune, and you are pursuing the best course to frighten the smiles from my lips."

"Oh, could I but do that!" cried Ostermann, wringing his hands—"could I but cry in your ear with a voice of thunder: 'Princess, awake from this slumber of indifference, force yourself to act, save your son, your husband, your friends; for we are all, all lost with you!'"

"Oh, speaking of my son," smilingly interposed the regent, "you must see a splendid present which the Emperor Ivan has this day received."

With this she took from a carton a small child's dress, embroidered with gold and sparkling with brilliants, which she handed to the count.

"Only look at this splendor," said she. "The ladies of Moscow have embroidered this for the young emperor, and it has to-day been presented by a deputation. Will not the little emperor make a magnificent appearance in this brilliant dress?"

Count Ostermann did not answer immediately. His face had assumed a very painful expression, and deep signs escaped his agitated breast. Slowly rising from his seat, with a sad glance at the princess, he said:

"I see that your destruction is inevitable, and I cannot save you; you will be ruined, and we all with you. Well, I am an old man, and I pardon your highness, for you act not thus from an evil disposition, but because you have a noble and confiding heart. Believe me, generosity and confidence are the worst failings with which a man can be tainted in this world—failings which always insure destruction, and have only mockery and derision for an epitaph. You are no longer to be helped, duchess. You are on the borders of an abyss, into which you will smilingly plunge, dragging us all after you. Well, peace be with you! My sufferings have lately been so great, that I can only thank you for furnishing me with the means of quickly ending them! Madame, we shall meet again on the scaffold, or in Siberia! Until then, farewell!"

And, without waiting for an answer from the regent, the old man, groaning, tottered out of the room.

"Thank Heaven that he is gone!" said Anna, drawing a long breath when the door closed behind him. "This old ghost-seer has tormented me for months with his strange vagaries, which weigh upon his soul like the nightmare! Happily, thy letter, my beloved, has filled my whole heart with the ecstasy of joy, else would his dark and foolish prophecies be sufficient to sadden me."

Thus speaking, the princess again drew Count Lynar's letter from her bosom and pressed it to her lips. Then she called her women to dress her for the ball.



THE COURT BALL

Some hours later the elite of the higher Russian nobility were assembled in the magnificent halls of the regent. Princes and counts, generals and diplomatists, beautiful women and blooming maidens, all moved in a confused intermixture, jesting and laughing with each other. They were all very gay on this evening, as the regent had herself set the example. With the most unconstrained cheerfulness, radiant with joy, did she wander through the rooms, dispensing smiles and agreeable words among all whom she approached. She bore in her bosom the glowing and cherished letter of her lover, and at its lightest rustling she seemed to feel the immediate presence of the writer. That was the secret of her gayety and her joyous smiles. People, perhaps, knew not this secret, but they saw its effects, and, as the all-powerful regent deigned this day to be cheerful and smiling, it was natural for this host of slavish nobility, who breathe nothing but the air of the court, to adopt for this evening's motto, "Gayety and smiles."

As we have said, only smiling lips and faces beaming with joy were to be seen; all breathed pleasure and enjoyment, all jested and laughed; it seemed as if all care and sorrow had fled from this happy, select circle, to give place to the delights of life. They had, with submissive humility, repressed all discontent and disaffection, all envyings and enmities; they chatted and laughed, while every one knew or suspected that they were standing on a volcano, whose overwhelming eruptions might be expected at any moment, and yet every one feigned the most perfect innocence and unconstraint. The ladies scrutinized each other's magnificent and costly toilets, jesting and exchanging amorous glances with the gentlemen displaying orders and diamond crosses.

A movement suddenly arose in the rooms, the crowd divided and respectfully withdrew to the sides, and through the rows of smiling, humbly bowing courtiers passed the Princess Elizabeth, followed by her chamberlain Woronzow, her private secretary Alexis Razumovsky, and her physician Lestocq, in the splendor of her beauty and grace, all kindness, all smiles. She was to-day wonderfully charming in her gold-spangled lace dress, which flowed like a breath over her under-dress of heavy white satin. Her widely-bared, full and luxuriant shoulders were partially covered by a costly lace mantelet, the present of the French queen, and her long, floating ringlets were surmounted by a wreath of white roses such as only Parisian artistic skill could offer in such perfect imitation of nature. Thus enveloped as it were in a veil of white mist and floating vapors, Elizabeth's beauty appeared only the more full and voluptuous. She looked like a purple rose standing out from a cloud of fluttering snow-flakes, wonderfully charming, wonderfully seductive. Princess Elizabeth was fully conscious of the impression she made, and this internal satisfaction manifested itself in a sweet smile which increased the charm of her appearance. With pride and pleasure she enjoyed the triumph of being the fairest of all the beauties present, and this triumph contented her heart.

The princess now approached her cousin, the Regent Anna, who came from the adjoining room to meet and welcome her, and for one short moment the courtiers forgot her smiles and her inoffensiveness. All eyes were with the most intense anxiety directed toward those two women; all conversation, jesting, and laughing were at once suspended. There was a deep pause, all breathing was smothered, all feared that the loud beating of their hearts might betray them and cause them to be suspected.

The two princesses now approached each other—Princess Elizabeth would have bent a knee to the regent—Anna, with charming kindness, raising and kissing her, tenderly reproached her for coming so late.

"I feared coming too early," said Elizabeth, pressing the regent's hand to her lips, "for I doubted whether my fair cousin would find time to bestow a friendly word upon her poor relation, Princess Elizabeth!"

"How could Elizabeth fear that, when she knows I love her like a sister?" tenderly asked the regent, and, taking the arm of the princess, she made with her a round through the rooms.

Now again came life and movement in this lately so silent and anxiously expectant assemblage; they now knew how they were to deport themselves: Princess Elizabeth was in the good graces of the regent, and therefore they could receive her polite greetings with the most reverential thankfulness; they could approach her and admire her beauty without incurring suspicion. The stereotyped smile had reappeared upon all faces, cheerful and lively conversation was again resumed, and wherever the two arm-in-arm wandering princesses appeared, they were greeted with endless shouts of ecstasy.

As we have said, it was a gay and very splendid festival. Only occasionally did something like a dark shadow pass through the rooms; only here and there did the chattering guests forget their wonted smiles; only occasionally did the mask of cheerfulness fall from many a face, discovering serious, anxious features, and suspicious, lurking glances. Every one felt that a catastrophe was impending, but, as no one could know its result in advance, all wished to keep as clear of it as possible, and seem perfectly unconscious and unaffected by these things. As they could not foresee which party would triumph, they found it advisable to join neither while awaiting coming events, after which they would hail as lords and masters those who might succeed in attaining to power.

For the present, Anna Leopoldowna was the ruler, and, as they were her subjects, they must in humble submission pay homage to her; but Elizabeth might become empress, and therefore they must likewise pay homage to her, with a prudent avoidance of the too much, which might cause them to be suspected in case the regent should still continue in power.

These were the dangerous rocks between which this proud and elegant assemblage had to find their winding way, and they did it with smiles and outward ease, with open admiration of both princesses, before whom they bowed to the ground with slavish submission.

But suddenly something like a panic-terror, like an unnatural awe, flew through all these splendid halls; the smiles were arrested on all faces, the harmless jests on all lips; the pallor of beautiful women became visible through their paint, and generals staggered to and fro as if a thunderbolt had fallen. As if touched by a magic wand, every one stood motionless like statues modelled in clay, no one daring to speak to his neighbor or make a sign to a friend. They would not see, they would not hear, they only wished to seem to be indifferent and unobserving.

As we said, a panic-terror pervaded the halls, and like an evil-announcing night-spectre passed over the heads of the stiffened, lifeless crowd the dismal rumor—"The regent and the princess are at variance; the regent is speaking to her with vehemence, and the princess weeps!"

This certainly was a terrible announcement. But if the regent was angry, it must be because she knew of the intrigues and machinations of the princess, and knowing them she could counteract and nullify them; consequently the plans of the princess were upset, Anna Leopoldowna would remain ruler, and her son Ivan the Czar of all the Russias.

Now the touch, the vicinity of Elizabeth's friends became an evil-breathing pest, a death-bringing terror; they anxiously avoided the vicinity of Lestocq, they crowded back from Woronzow and Razumovsky, whom they had before sought with every demonstration of friendliness; they even avoided looking at the French ambassador; for, if the regent knew all, she must know of the intimate relations of Lestocq with the Marquis de la Chetardie, and he was therefore doomed like the other three.

And moreover, this pernicious rumor had not lied; the two princesses were at this moment no longer so tender and friendly disposed as shortly before.

They had long wandered through the halls, confidingly chatting and smiling, and Anna, leaning upon Elizabeth's arm—Anna who this day saw every thing couleur de rose—felt a sort of disquiet that people should suspect her who was walking by her side with such innocent candor and unconstraint, seeming not to have the least presentiment of the dark cloud gathering over her head.

"She is inconsiderate," thought the regent; "she allows herself to be carried away by her temperament, and behind her inclination and her weakness for handsome grenadiers and soldiers, her enemies seek to discover an insidious and well-considered conspiracy; this is cruel and unjust! This good Elizabeth must be warned, that she may become more cautious, and give her numerous enemies no occasion for suspecting her. Poor innocent child, so gay and ingenuous, she plays with roses under which serpents lie concealed! It is my duty to warn her, and I will."

Wholly penetrated with this noble and generous resolution, the regent drew her cousin Elizabeth into the little boudoir which lay at the end of the hall, offering a convenient resting-place for a confidential conversation.

But at this moment Anna's eyes fell upon the lace mantelet of the princess, and quite involuntarily came to her mind the warning words of Ostermann, who had said to her: "The French ambassador, by command of his government, provides the princess not only with money, but also with the newest modes and most costly stuffs." This lace mantelet could surely only come from Paris; nothing similar to it had been seen in St. Petersburg; it certainly required especial sources and especial means for the procurement of such a rare and magnificent exemplar.

A cloud drew over the regent's brow, and in a rather sharp and cutting tone she said; "One question, princess! How came you by this admirable lace veil, the like of which I have not seen here in St. Petersburg?"

While putting this question, the regent's eyes were fixed with a piercing, interrogating expression upon the face of the princess: she wished to observe the slightest shrinking, the least movement of her features.

But Elizabeth was prepared for the question; she had already considered her answer with the marquis and Lestocq. Her features therefore betrayed not the least disturbance or disquiet; raising her bright and childlike eyes, she said, with an unconstrained smile: "You wonder, do you not, how I came by this costly ornament? Ah, I have for the last eight days rejoiced in the expectation of surprising you to-day with the sight of it!"

"But you have not yet told me whence you have these costly laces?" asked the regent in a sharper tone.

"It is a wager I have won of the good Marquis de la Chetardie," said Elizabeth, without embarrassment, "and your highness must confess that this French ambassador has paid his wager with much taste."

The regent had constantly become more serious and gloomy. A dark, fatal suspicion for a moment overclouded her soul, and in her usually unsuspicious mind arose the questions: "What if Ostermann was right, if Elizabeth is really conspiring, and the French ambassador is her confederate?"

"And what, if one may ask, was the subject of the wager?" she asked, with the tone of an inquisitor.

"Ah, this good marquis," said the princess, laughing, "had never yet experienced the rigor of a Russian winter, and he would not believe that our Neva with its rushing streams and rapid current would in winter be changed into a very commodious highway. I wagered that I would convince him of the fact, and be the first to cross it on the ice; he would not believe me, and declared that I should lack the courage. Well, of course I did it, and won my wager!"

The regent had not turned her eyes from the princess while she was thus speaking. This serene calmness, this unembarrassed childishness, completely disarmed her. The dark suspicion vanished from her mind; Anna breathed freer, and laid her hand upon her heart as if she would restrain its violent beating. The letter of Lynar slightly rustled under her hand.

A ray of sunshine became visible in Anna's face; she thought of her beloved; she felt his presence, and immediately all the vapors of mistrust were scattered—Anna feared no more, she suspected no more, she again became cheerful and happy—for she thought of her distant lover, his affectionate words rested upon her bosom—how, therefore, could she feel anger?

She only now recollected that she had intended to warn Elizabeth. She therefore threw her arms around the neck of the princess, and, sitting with her upon the divan, said: "Do you know, Elizabeth, that you have many enemies at my court, and that they would excite my suspicions against you?"

"Ah, I may well believe they would be glad to do so, but they cannot," said Elizabeth, laughing; "I am a foolish, trifling woman, who, unfortunately for them, do nothing to my enemies that can render me suspected, as, in reality, I do nothing at all. I am indolent, Anna, very indolent; you ought to have raised me better, my dear lady regent!"

And with an amiable roguishness Elizabeth kissed the tips of Anna's fingers.

"No, no, be serious for once," said Anna; "laugh not, Elizabeth, but listen to me!"

And she related to the listening princess how people came from all sides to warn her; that she was told of secret meetings which Lestocq, in Elizabeth's name, held with the French ambassador, and that the object of these meetings was the removal of the regent and her son, and the elevation of Elizabeth to the imperial throne.

Elizabeth remained perfectly cheerful, perfectly unembarrassed, and even laughingly exclaimed—"What a silly story!"

"I believe nothing of it," said Anna, "but at last my ministers will compel me to imprison Lestocq and bring him to trial, in order to get the truth out of him."

"Ah, they will torture him, and yet he is innocent!" cried Elizabeth, bursting into tears. And, clasping the regent's neck, she anxiously exclaimed: "Ah, Anna, dear Anna, save me from my enemies! Let them not steal away my friends and ruin me! They would also torture me and send me to Siberia; Anna, my friend, my sovereign, save me! You alone can do it, for you know me, and know that I am innocent! The idea that I should conspire against you, against you whom I love, and to whom, upon the sacred books of our religion, I have sworn eternal fidelity and devotion! Anna, Anna, I swear to you by the soul of my father, I am innocent, as also is my friend. Lestocq has never passed the threshold of the French ambassador's hotel! Oh, dear, dear Anna, have mercy on me, and do not permit them to torture me and wrench my poor members!"

With a loud cry of anguish, with streaming tears, pale and trembling, Elizabeth sank down at the regent's feet.

It was this cry of anguish that rang through the hall, and spread everywhere astonishment and consternation. And this shrieking, and weeping, and trembling, was no mask, but truth. Elizabeth was frightened, she wept and trembled from fear, but she had sufficient presence of mind not to betray herself in words. It was fear even that gave her that presence of mind and enabled her to play her part in a manner so masterly that the regent was completely deceived. Taking the princess in her arms, she pressed her to her bosom, at the same time endeavoring to reassure and console her with tender and affectionate words, with reiterated promises of her protection and her love.

But it was a long time before the trembling and weeping princess could be tranquillized—before she could be made to believe Anna's asseverations that she had always loved and never mistrusted her.

"What most deeply saddens me," said Elizabeth, with feeling, "is the idea that you, my Anna, could believe these calumnies, and suppose me capable of such black treason. Ah, I should be as bad as Judas Iscariot could I betray my noble and generous mistress."

Tears of emotion stood in Anna's eyes. She impressed a tender kiss upon Elizabeth's lips, and with her own hand wiped the tears from the cheeks of the princess.

"Weep no more, Elizabeth," she tenderly said—"nay, I beg of you, weep no more. It is indeed all right and good between us, and no cloud shall disturb our love or our mutual confidence. Come, let us smile and be cheerful again, that this listening and curious court may know nothing of your tears. They would make a prodigious affair of it, and we will not give them occasion to say we have been at variance."

"No, they shall all see that I love, that I adore you," said Elizabeth, covering Anna's hand with kisses.

"They shall see that we love each other," said Anna, taking the arm of the princess. "Be of good cheer, my friend, and take my imperial word for it that I, whatever people may say of you, will believe no one but yourself; that I will truly inform you of all calumnies, and give you an opportunity to disarm your enemies and defend yourself. Now come, and let us make another tour through the halls."

Arm in arm the two princesses returned to the nearest hall. This was empty, no one daring to remain there lest they might incur the blame of having overheard and understood some word of the princesses, and thus acquired a knowledge of their private conversation. People had therefore withdrawn to the more distant rooms, where they still preserved a breathless silence.

Suddenly the two princesses, arm in arm, again appeared in the halls, pleasantly conversing, and instantly the scene was again changed, as if by the stroke of a magic wand. The chilling silence melted into an agreeable smile, and all recovered their breaths and former joviality.

All was again sunshine and pleasure, for the princesses were again there, and the princesses smiled—must they not laugh and be beside themselves with joy?

Elizabeth's tender glances sought her friend, the handsome Alexis Razumovsky. Suddenly her brow as darkened and her cheeks paled, for she saw him and saw that his eyes did not seek hers!

He stood leaning against a pillar, his eyes fixed upon a lady who had just then entered the hall, and whose wonderful beauty had everywhere called forth a murmur of astonishment and admiration. This lady was the Countess Lapuschkin, the wife of the commissary-general of marine, from whose family came the first wife of Czar Peter the Great, the beautiful Eudoxia Lapuschkin.

Eleonore Lapuschkin was more beautiful than Eudoxia. An infinite magic of youth and loveliness, of purity and energy, was shed over her regular features. She had the traits of a Hebe, and the form of a Juno. When she smiled and displayed her dazzlingly white teeth, she was irresistibly charming. When, in a serious mood, she raised her large dark eyes, full of nobleness and spirit, then might people fall at her feet with adoration. Countess Lapuschkin had often been compared and equalled to the Princess Elizabeth, and yet nothing could be more dissimilar or incomparable than these two beauties. Elizabeth's was wholly earthly, voluptuous, glowing with youth and love, but Eleonore's was chaste and sublime, pure and maidenly. Elizabeth allured to love, Eleonore to adoration.

The princess had long hated the young Countess Eleonore Lapuschkin, and considered her as a rival; but that this rival should now gain an interest in the heart of her favorite, that filled Elizabeth's soul with anger and agitation, that caused her eyes to flash and her blood to boil.

Staringly as Alexis Razumovsky's eyes were fixed upon the countess, she, unconscious of this double observation, stood cheerful and unembarrassed in the circle of her admiring friends and adorers.

Anna Leopoldowna followed the glance of the princess, and, observing the beautiful Lapuschkin, said, without thinking of Elizabeth's very susceptible vanity:

"Leonore Lapuschkin is an admirably beautiful woman, is she not? I never saw a handsomer one. To look at her is like a morning dream; her appearance diffuses light and splendor. Do you not find it so, Elizabeth?"

"Oh, yes, I find it so," said Elizabeth, with a constrained smile. "She is the handsomest woman in your realm."

"Yourself excepted, Elizabeth," kindly subjoined the regent.

"Oh, no, she is handsomer than I!" murmured Elizabeth.

Poor Leonore! In this moment hath the princess pronounced your sentence of condemnation, and in her heart subscribed the stern order for your execution.

A longer view of this triumph of the countess became insufferable; alleging a sudden attack of illness, she immediately took leave of the regent, and ordered her carriage.

Tears of anger and love stood in her eyes as Razumovsky approached to aid her in entering it. Hurling away his hand, she entered the carriage without assistance.

"And may I not accompany you in the carriage as usual?" asked Alexis, with tenderness in his tone.

"No," she curtly said, "go back into the hall, and again admire the handsomest woman in the empire!"

Then, jealousy getting the better of anger, she beckoned to Alexis, who was about departing in sadness, and commanded him to enter the carriage without delay.

As soon as the carriage door was closed, with an angry movement she seized both of Razumovsky's hands.

"Look at me," said she—"look me directly in the eye, and then tell me, is Eleonore Lapuschkin handsomer than I?"

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