It was the day after the court ball. Princess Elizabeth was in her dressing-room, and occupied in enveloping herself in a very charming and seductive neglige. She was to-day in very good humor, very happy and free from care, for Alexis Razumovsky had, with the most solemn asserverations, assured her of his truth and devotion, and Elizabeth had been soothed and reconciled by his glowing language. It was for him that she wished to appear especially attractive to-day, that Alexis, by the sight of her, might be made utterly to forget the Countess Eleonore Lapuschkin. In these coquettish efforts of her vanity she had utterly forgotten all the plans and projects of her friends and adherents; she thought no more of becoming empress, but she would be the queen of beauty, and in that realm she would reign alone with an absolute sway.
A servant announced Lestocq.
A cloud of displeasure lowered on the brow of the princess. Startled from her sweet dreams by this name, she now for the first time recollected the fatal conversation she had had on the previous evening with the regent. In her love and jealousy she had totally forgotten the occurrence, but now that she was reminded of it, she felt her head throb with anxiety and terror.
Dismissing her attendants with an imperious nod, she hastened to meet the entering physician.
"Lestocq," said she, "it is well you have come at this moment, else, perhaps, I might have forgotten to say to you that it is all over with the conjuration spun and woven by you and the French marquis. We must give it up, for the affair is more dangerous than you think it, and I may say that you have reason to be thankful to me for having, by my foresight and intrepidity, saved you from the torture, and a possible transportation to Siberia. Ah, it is very cold in Siberia, my dear Lestocq, and you will do well silently and discreetly to build a warm nest here, instead of inventing ambitious projects dangerous to all of us."
"And whence do you foresee danger, princess?" asked Lestocq.
"The regent knows all! She knows our plans and combinations. In a word, she knows that we conspire, and that you are the principal agent in the conspiracy."
"Then I am lost!" sighed Lestocq, gliding down upon a chair.
"No, not quite," said Elizabeth, with a smile, "for I have saved you. Ah, I should never have believed that the playing of comedy was so easy, but I tell you I have played one in a masterly manner. Fear was my teacher; it taught me to appear so innocent, to implore so affectingly, that Anna herself was touched. Ah, and I wept whole streams of tears, I tell you. That quite disarmed the regent. But you must bear the blame if my eyes to-day are yet red with weeping, and not so brilliant as usual."
And Princess Elizabeth ran to the toilet-table to examine critically her face in the glass.
"Yes, indeed," she cried, with a sort of terror, "it is as I feared. My eyes are quite dull. Lestocq, you must give me a means, a quick and sure means, to restore their brightness."
Thus speaking, Elizabeth looked constantly in the glass, full of care and anxiety about her eyes.
"I shall appear less beautiful to him to-day," she murmured; "he will, in thought, compare me with Eleonore Lapuschkin, and find her handsomer than I. Lestocq, Lestocq!" she then called aloud, impatiently stamping with her little foot, "I tell you that you must immediately prescribe a remedy that will restore the brilliancy of my eyes."
"Princess," said Lestocq, with solemnity, "I beseech you for a moment to forget your incomparable beauty and the unequalled brilliancy of your eyes. Be not only a woman, but be, as you can, the great czar's great daughter. Princess, the question here is not only of the diminished brilliancy of your eyes, but of a real danger with which you are threatened. Be merciful, be gracious, and relate to me the exact words of your yesterday's conversation with the regent."
The princess looked up from her mirror, and turned her head toward Lestocq.
"Ah, I forgot," she carelessly said, "you are not merely my physician, but also a revolutionist, and that is of much greater importance to you."
"The question is of your head, princess, and as a true physician I would help you to preserve it. Therefore, dearest princess, I beseech you, repeat to me that conversation with the regent."
"Will you then immediately give me a recipe for my eyes?"
"Yes, I will."
"Well, listen, then."
And the princess repeated, word for word, to the breathless Lestocq, her conversation with Anna Leopoldowna. Lestocq listened to her with most intense interest, taking a piece of paper from the table and mechanically writing some unmeaning lines upon it with an appearance of heedlessness. Perhaps it was this mechanical occupation that enabled him to remain so calm and circumspect. During the narration of the princess his features again assumed their expression of firmness and determination; his eyes again flashed, and around his mouth played a saucy, scornful smile, such as was usually seen there when, conscious of his superiority, he had formed a bold resolution.
"This good regent has executed a stroke of policy for which Ostermann will never forgive her," said he, after the princess had finished her narration. "She should have kept silence and appeared unconstrained—then we should have been lost; but now it is she."
"No," exclaimed the princess, with generous emotion, "the regent has chosen precisely the best means for disarming us! She has manifested a noble confidence in me, she has discredited the whisperings of her minister and counsellors, and instead of destroying me, as she should have done, she has warned me with the kindness and affection of a sister. I shall never forget that, Lestocq; I shall ever be grateful for that! Henceforth the Regent or Empress Anna Leopoldowna shall have no truer or more obedient subject than I, the Princess Elizabeth!"
"By this you would not say, princess—"
"By this I mean to say," interposed Elizabeth, "that this conspiracy is brought to a bloodless conclusion, and that, from this hour, there is but one woman in this great Russian realm who has any claim to the title of empress, and that woman is the Regent Anna Leopoldowna!"
"You will therefore renounce your sacred and well-grounded claims to the imperial throne?" asked Lestocq, continuing his scribbling.
"Yes, that will I," responded Elizabeth. "I will no longer be plagued with your plans and machinations—I will have repose. In the interior of my palace I will be empress; there will I establish a realm, a realm of peace and enjoyable happiness; there will I erect the temple of love, and consecrate myself as its priestess! No, speak no more of revolutions and conspiracies. I am not made to sit upon a throne as the feared and thundering goddess of cowardly slaves, causing millions to tremble at every word and glance! I will not be empress, not the bugbear of a quaking, kneeling people, I will be a woman, who has nothing to do with the business and drudgery of men; I will not be plagued with labor and care, but will enjoy and rejoice in my existence!"
"For that you will be allowed no time!" said Lestocq, with solemnity. "When you give up your plans and renounce your rights, then, princess, it will be all over with the days of enjoyment and happiness. It will then no longer be permitted you to convert your palace into a temple of pleasure, and thenceforth you will be known only as the priestess of misfortune and misery!"
"You have again your fever-dreams," said Elizabeth, smiling. "Come, I will awaken you! I have told you my story; it is now for you to give me a recipe for my inflamed eyes."
"Here it is," earnestly answered Lestocq, handing to the princess the paper upon which he had been scribbling.
Elizabeth took it and at first regarded it with smiling curiosity; but her features gradually assumed a more serious and even terrified expression, and the roses faded from her cheeks.
"You call this a recipe for eyes reddened with weeping," said she, with a shudder, "and yet it presents two pictures which make my hair bristle with terror, and might cause one to weep himself blind!"
"They represent our future!" said Lestocq, with decision. "You see that man bound upon the wheel—that is myself! Now look at the second. This young woman who is wringing her hands, and whose head one of these nuns is shearing, while the other is endeavoring, in spite of her struggling resistance, to envelope her in that black veil;—that is you, princess. For you the cloister, for me the wheel! That will be our future, Princess Elizabeth, if you now hesitate in your forward march in the path upon which you have once entered.
"And to persevere in this conspiracy is to give ourselves up to certain destruction, for doubt not they will be able to convict us. Among Grunstein's enlisted friends there are drunkards enough who would betray you for a flask of brandy! Princess Elizabeth, would you be a nun or an empress? Choose between these two destinations. There is no middle course."
"Then I would be an empress!" said Elizabeth, with flashing eyes, trembling with anxiety and excitement, and still examining the two drawings. "Ah, you are an accomplished artist, Lestocq, you have designed this picture with a horrible truth of resemblance. How I stand there! how I wring my hands, the pale lips opened for a cry of terror, and yet silenced by a view of those dreadful shears before whose deadly operations my hair falls to the earth, and that veil entombs me while yet living!"
And casting away the drawings, the princess trod them under foot, declaring in a loud and imperious tone: "These drawings are false, Lestocq, and that will I prove to you—I, the Empress Elizabeth!"
"All hail, my empress!" cried Lestocq, throwing himself at her feet and kissing the hem of her robe; "blessings upon you, for you have now rescued me from the hands of the executioner! You have saved my life, in return for which I will this day place an imperial crown upon your heavenly brows."
"This day?" asked Elizabeth, with a shudder.
"Yes, it must be done this very night! We must improve the moment, for only the moment is ours. Every hour of delay but brings us nearer to our destruction. Yet one night of hesitation, and they will already have rendered our success impossible. Ah, the Regent Anna has sworn to believe only you, and never to doubt you, and yet she has ordered three battalions of the guards to march early in the morning to join the army in Viborg. Our friends and confidants are in these three battalions. Judge, then, how very much Anna Leopoldowna confides in you!"
"Ah, if it be really so," said Elizabeth, "then can I no longer have any regard for her. Anna will remove my friends from here, and that is a betrayal of the friendship she has sworn for me. I have therefore no further obligations toward her! I am free to act as I think best. Lestocq, I will be no nun, but an empress! You now have my word, and are at liberty to make all necessary arrangements. If it must be done, let it be done quickly and unhesitatingly. I have yet to-day the courage to dare any enormity, therefore let us utilize this day!"
"Expect me to-night at twelve o'clock!" said Lestocq, rising; "I will then be here to bring you the imperial crown."
This firm confidence made Elizabeth tremble again. Until now all had seemed like a dream, a play of the imagination; but when she read in Lestocq's bold and resolved features that it was a reality, she shook with terror, and an anxious fear overpowered her soul.
"And if it miscarry?" said she, thoughtfully.
"It will not and cannot miscarry!" responded Lestocq. "The right is on your side, and God will watch over the daughter of the great czar."
"And then, when I am really empress," said Elizabeth, thoughtfully, to herself, "what then? There is no happiness in it! They will give me another title, they will place a crown upon my head, and bind me to a throne. I shall no longer be free to act according to my will, to live as I would. Thousands of spies will lurk around me. Thousands of eyes will follow my steps, thousands of ears will listen for my every word, in order to interpret and attach a secret meaning to it! They will call me an empress, but I shall be a slave bound with golden fetters, upon whose head sits a golden crown of thorns. And this toil and weariness! These tiresome sittings of the ministers, this law-making and the signing of orders and commands! How horrible!—Lestocq," suddenly cried the princess aloud, "if I must always labor, and make laws, and subscribe my name, and command and govern, then I will be no empress, no, never!"
"You shall be empress only to enjoy life in its highest splendor. We, your servants and slaves, we will work and govern for you!" said Lestocq.
"Swear that to me! Swear to me that I shall not be constrained to labor, swear that you will govern for me, that I may devote my time to the enjoyment of life!"
"I swear it to you by all that is most sacred to me."
"Well, then, I will be your empress!" said Elizabeth, satisfied.
At this moment a secret door opened and gave admission to Alexis Razumovsky.
By his entrance Elizabeth was reminded of her inflamed eyes, and of the fair Countess Eleanore Lapuschkin.
She gave Alexis a searching, scrutinizing glance, and it seemed to her that he appeared less tender and ardent than usual.
"Oh," she proudly said, motioning her favorite to approach her and lightly kissing him upon the forehead, "oh, I will yet compel you to adore me. When an imperial crown encircles my brow, then will you be obliged to confess that I am the fairest of women! Alexis, on this night shall I become an empress!"
With a cry of joy Alexis sank to her feet.
"Hail to my adored empress!" he exclaimed, with enthusiasm. "Hail Elizabeth, the fairest of all women!"
"With the exception of the beautiful Countess Lapuschkin!" said Elizabeth, with a bitter smile—"ah, when I am empress, I shall at least have the power to render that woman harmless, and to annihilate her!—You turn pale, Alexis," she continued with more vehemence—"your hand trembles in mine! You must therefore love her very much, this exalted queen of godlike beauty? Ah, I shall know how to punish her for it!"
"Princess!" reproachfully exclaimed Alexis—"Elizabeth, you, my august and gentle empress, you will not sacrifice an innocent woman to a momentary jealous vagary!"
"Ah, he ventures to intercede for her!" cried Elizabeth, with a hoarse laugh, and, turning to Lestocq, she continued, with anger-flashing eyes: "Lestocq, I have yet a condition to make before consenting to become an empress."
"Name your condition, princess, and if it be within the compass of human power it shall be fulfilled."
Casting an angry glance at Razumovsky, Elizabeth said, with a sinister smile:
"Swear to me, by all you hold most sacred, to find some fault in this Countess Lapuschkin which shall give me the right to condemn her to death!"
"I swear it by all I hold most sacred," solemnly responded Lestocq.
"And you will do well in that!" exclaimed Alexis. "For when a crime rests upon her, and she, only with a word or look, offends against my fair and noble empress, she will deserve such condemnation."
"You will, then, defend her no longer?" asked the somewhat appeased princess, bending down to her kneeling lover.
"What is Countess Lapuschkin to me?" tenderly responded Alexis. "For me there is but one woman, one empress, and one beauty, and that is Elizabeth!"
The princess smiled with satisfaction. "Lestocq," said she, "this time I keep my word. I am ready to dare all, in order to place the imperial crown upon my head. I must and will be empress, that I may have the power to reward you all, and to raise you, my Alexis, to me!"
And drawing the handsome Alexis up to herself, she gave him her hand to kiss.
"I now go to make all necessary preparations," said Lestocq. "At midnight I will come for you. Be ready at that time, Elizabeth!"
"I will then be ready!" said Princess Elizabeth, nodding a farewell to Lestocq.
"At midnight!" she then thoughtfully continued. "Well, we have twelve hours until then, which will suffice for the invention of a suitable toilet. Alexis, tell me what sort of dress I shall wear. What color best becomes me and in what shall I please the soldiers? The toilet, my Alexis, is often decisive in such cases; an unsuitable costume might cause me to displease the conspirators, and lead them to give up the enterprise. You must aid me, Alexis, in choosing a costume. Come, let us repair to the wardrobe, and call my women. I will try on all my dresses, one after the other; then you shall decide which is most becoming, and that will we choose."
The princess and her lover betook themselves to the wardrobe, and called her women to assist in selecting a suitable revolution-toilet.
Night had come. The lights in palaces and houses were gradually extinguished. St. Petersburg began to sleep, or at least to give itself the appearance of sleeping. The regent, Anna Leopoldowna, also, had already dismissed her household and withdrawn into her private apartments.
It was a fine starlight night. Anna leaned upon the window-frame, thoughtfully and dreamily glancing up at the heavens. Her eyes gradually filled with tears, which slowly rolled down her cheeks and fell upon her hands. She was startled by the falling of these warm, glowing drops. She was thinking of Lynar, of the distant, warmly-desired one, to whom she would gladly have devoted her whole existence, but to whom she could belong only through falsehood. She thought it would be nobler and greater to renounce him, that her love might be consecrated by her abnegation, while actually devoting her life to the duties enjoined by the laws and the Church. But these thoughts filled her bosom with a nameless sorrow, and it was involuntarily that she wept.
"No," she murmured low, "I cannot make this sacrifice; I cannot make an offering of my love to my virtue; for this bugbear of a compulsory marriage I cannot give up a love which God Himself has inspired in my heart. Then let it be so! Let the world judge and the priests condemn me. I will not sacrifice my love to a prejudice. I know that this is sinful, but God will have compassion on the sinner who has no other happiness on earth than this only one—a love that controls her whole being. And if this sin must be punished, oh, my Maker, I pray you to pardon him, and let the punishment fall on me alone!"
Thus speaking, she raised her arms and directed her eyes toward the heavens in fervent prayer. Suddenly a brilliant light flashed through the air—a star had shot from its sphere, and, after a short course, had become extinguished.
"That bodes misfortune," said Anna, with a shudder, her head sinking upon her breast.
At this moment there was a loud knocking at her door, and Prince Ulrich, Anna's husband, earnestly demanded admission.
Anna hastened to open, asking with surprise the cause of his unusual visit.
"Anna," said the prince, hastily entering, "I come to warn you once more. Again has a warning letter been mysteriously conveyed to me. I have just found it upon my night-table. See for yourself. It implores us to be on our guard. It informs us that we are threatened with a frightful danger, that Elizabeth conspires, and that we are lost if we do not instantly take preventive measures."
Anna read the warning letter, and then smilingly gave it back to her husband.
"Always the same old song, the same croaking of the toad," said she. "Count Ostermann has taken it into his head that Elizabeth is conspiring, and doubtless all these warning letters come from him. Read them no more in future, my husband, and now let us retire to rest."
"And what if it were, nevertheless, true," said the prince, pressingly—"if we are really threatened with a great danger? A word from you can turn it away. Let us, therefore, be careful! Remember your son, Anna—his life is also threatened! Protect him, mother of the emperor! Allow me, the generalissimo of your forces, to take measures of precaution! Let me establish patrols, and cause a regiment, for whose fidelity I can be answerable, to guard the entrances of the palace!"
Anna smilingly shook her head. "No," said she, "nothing of all that shall be done! Such precautions manifest suspicion, and would wound the feelings of this good Elizabeth. She is innocent, believe me. I yesterday sharply observed her, and she came out from the trial pure. It would be ignoble to distrust her now. Moreover, she has my princely word that I will always listen only to herself, and believe no one but her. In the morning I will go to her and show her this letter, that she may have an opportunity to justify herself."
"You therefore consider her wholly innocent?" asked the prince, with a sigh.
"Yes, perfectly innocent. Her firm demeanor, her asseverations, her tears, have convinced me that it was unjust in us to believe the hateful rumors that had spread concerning her. Let us therefore retire in peace and quiet. No danger threatens us from Elizabeth!"
There was something convincing and tranquillizing in Anna's immovable conviction; the prince felt his inability to oppose her, and was ashamed of his feminine fears in the face of her masculine intrepidity.
With a sigh he took his leave and returned to his own room. At the door he turned once again.
"Anna," said he, with solemnity, "you have decided upon our destiny, and God grant that it may eventuate happily! But should it be otherwise, should the monstrous and terrible break in upon you, then, at least, remember this hour, in which I warned you, and confess that I am free from all blame!"
Without awaiting an answer, with a drooping head and deep sigh, the prince left the room.
Anna looked after him with a compassionate smile.
"Poor prince!" she murmured low, "he is always so timid and trembling; that indicates unhappiness! He loves me, and I cannot force my heart to return the feeling. Poor prince, it must be very sad to love and be unloved!"
With a sigh she closed the door through which her husband had passed.
"I will now sleep," said she. "Yes, sleep! Possibly Heaven may send me a pleasant dream, and I may see my Lynar! But no, I must first go to Ivan, to ascertain whether his slumber is tranquil."
With hasty steps she repaired to the adjacent chamber, which was that of the young emperor.
There all was still. Before the door opening upon the corridor she heard the regular step of the soldier on guard. The waiters upon the emperor were slumbering upon mattresses around him. It was a picture of profound tranquillity.
With light steps Anna approached the cradle of her son, and, bending down over him, regarded him with tender maternal glances, while his still and peaceful slumber seemed to touch her heart with a sweet emotion.
"Sleep, my dear child, my charming little emperor," she murmured—"sleep, and in your dreams may you play with angels as beautiful as yourself!"
Bending again over the cradle, she breathed a light kiss upon the rosy lips of her child, and then noiselessly returned to her own chamber.
"And now," said she, drawing a long breath, "now will I, also, sleep and dream! Good-night, my beloved; good-night, Lynar!"
With a happy smile she reclined upon her couch, and soon slumbered.
At this moment the clock in the next chamber struck the twelfth hour. Slowly and solemnly resounded the tones of the striking clocks that announced the midnight.
At this same hour a lively movement commenced in the palace of the Princess Elizabeth. Lights were seen glancing from window to window, hurrying shadows were seen coming and going in the rooms, every thing there announced an activity unusual for the hour, and certainly it was a signal good fortune for Elizabeth that Anna had forbidden her husband's sending a patrol through the streets. One single patrol passing the palace might have frustrated the whole conspiracy!
But the streets were perfectly quiet; nowhere was a sentinel or watchman to be seen.
The slight creaking and whizzing of a sledge upon the crackling snow was now heard; it came nearer and nearer, and then there was a knocking at the palace gate. The porter opened, and two sledges drove into the court.
The first, with a rich covering and magnificent ornaments, was empty. But Lestocq was seen to spring out of the second, and hurriedly enter the palace.
Elizabeth, splendidly dressed, sparkling with brilliants, was waiting in her small reception-room. No one but Alexis Razumovsky was with her. Neither of them spoke, and their visages plainly discovered that they were in a state of painfully uncomfortable suspense.
Elizabeth was pale and had a convulsive twitching about her mouth, her form trembled feverishly, and she was obliged to cling to Razumovsky, to prevent falling.
"Did you hear the opening of the court-yard gate?" she breathed low. "Lestocq is not yet here, and it is past midnight. Certainly he is arrested, all is discovered, and we are lost! I am fearfully anxious, Alexis; I already seem to feel the sword at my throat. Ah, hear you not steps in the corridor? They come this way. They are my pursuers. They come to conduct me to the scaffold! Save me, Alexis, save me!"
And with a shrill cry of anguish the princess clung to the neck of her favorite.
The door was now hastily opened, and upon the threshold appeared Lestocq and Woronzow.
"Princess Elizabeth!" exclaimed Lestocq, with solemnity, "I have come for you. The throne awaits its empress!"
"Up, Princess Elizabeth," said Alexis, "take courage, my fair empress, give us an example of spirit and resolution!"
The princess slowly raised her pale face from Razumovsky's shoulder, and looking around with timid glances, faintly said: "I suffer fearfully! This anguish will kill me! My destiny is so cruel, I am so tormented. Why must I be an empress?"
"That you may be no nun," laconically responded Lestocq.
"And to become the greatest and loftiest woman in the world!" said Woronzow.
"To raise to your own elevation the man you love," whispered Alexis.
With a glance of tenderness, Elizabeth nodded to him.
"Yes," said she, "for your sake, my Alexis, I will become an empress! Come, let us go. But where is Grunstein?"
"With his faithful followers he awaits us before the casern of his regiment. We go there first."
"Then let us go!" said Elizabeth, striding forward. But she stopped on seeing that Alexis followed with the other two.
"No," said she, "you must not go with us, Alexis. If I am to have courage to act and speak, I must know that you are not mingled in the strife—I must not have to tremble for your life! No, no, only when I know that you are concealed and in safety, can I have courage to struggle for an imperial crown. Promise me, therefore, Alexis, that you will quietly remain here until I send a messenger for you!"
Razumovsky begged and implored in vain—in vain he knelt before her, and covered her hands with tears and kisses.
Elizabeth remained inflexible, and, as Alexis yet persisted in his prayers, she earnestly and proudly said: "Alexis Razumovsky, I command you to remain here. You will obey the first command of your empress!"
"I will remain," sighed Alexis, "and the world will point the finger of scorn at me, calling me a coward!"
"And I will compel the world to honor you as a king!" said Elizabeth, with tenderness, beckoning to Lestocq and Woronzow to follow her from the room.
Silently they hastened down the stairs—silently was Elizabeth handed into her sledge, while Lestocq and Woronzow took their places in the second.
"Forward!" thundered Lestocq's powerful voice, and the train rushed through the dark and deserted streets.
St. Petersburg slept. No one appeared at the darkened windows of the silent palaces, no one boded that a new empress was passing through the streets,—an empress, who at this time had but two subjects in her train!
They had now reached the casern of the Peobrajensky regiment. There they halted. In the open door stands Grunstein with his thirty recruits.
They silently approached the sledge of the princess and prostrated themselves before her.
"Hail to our empress!" whispered Grunstein low, and as low was it repeated by the soldiers.
"Let us enter the casern, call the soldiers, and awaken the officers; I myself will address them!" said Elizabeth, alighting from her sledge. She was now full of courage and resolution. In the face of danger now no longer to be avoided, she had suddenly steeled her heart; her father's spirit was awakened in her.
With a firm step she entered the casern; the conspirators had already raised an alarm there, and the suddenly aroused soldiers rushed from all the corridors, with wonder and admiration staring at this noble and beautiful woman who, radiant in the splendor of her beauty, and sparkling with jewels, stood in their midst.
"Soldiers," cried Elizabeth, with a firm voice, "I come to implore your support in my attempt to obtain justice in the realm of my father! I am the daughter of the great Emperor Peter, the rightful heir to the throne of Russia, and I claim what is mine! I will no longer suffer a German princess to give laws to you, my beloved brethren and countrymen! Follow me, therefore, and let us drive away these foreign intruders who have usurped the throne of your lawful sovereign!"
"All hail, Elizabeth, our empress!" cried the conspirators, prostrating themselves.
Surprised, benumbed, and overpowered, the others made no opposition. Miserable slaves, they were accustomed to obey whoever dared assume the command over them,—and they therefore submitted. Falling upon their knees, they took the oath of allegiance to the new empress!
Elizabeth was now the empress of three hundred soldiers.
"Up, now, my friends, to the palace of the czar, where these usurpers dwell and inflict upon you the shame of calling a cradled infant your emperor. Come, and let us punish them for this insult, by thrusting them from their usurped power!"
"We will follow our empress in life and death!" cried the soldiers.
They therefore started again, and once more hastened through the silent streets until, at length, they reached the imperial palace, where dwelt the Emperor Ivan with his parents.
Elizabeth, with her confidential partisans in four sledges, had hastened on in advance of the others. With renewed courage they approached the principal entrance of the palace.
The guard took to their arms, and the drummer was preparing to beat an alarm, when a single blow of Lestocq's fist broke through the skin of the drum.
The terrified drummer fell, and over his body passed the band of conspirators, Elizabeth at their head.
No one ventured to oppose them; the slaves fell upon their knees in homage to her who announced herself as their mistress and empress!
Thus meeting with universal submission and obedience, they approached the wing of the palace occupied by the Emperor Ivan and his mother the regent. Here is stationed an officer of the guard. He alone ventures defiance to the intruders. He meets them with his sword drawn, and swears to strike down the first person who attempts to enter the corridor.
"Unhappy man, what is it you dare!" said Lestocq, boldly advancing. "You are guilty of high-treason. Fall upon your knees and implore pardon of your empress, Elizabeth!"
The officer shrank bank in terror. It was an empress who stood before him, and he had dared to defy her!
Begging forgiveness and mercy, he dropped his sword and fell upon his knees. The Russian slave was awakened in him, and he bent before the one who had the power to command.
Unobstructed, retained by no one, Elizabeth and her followers now strode through the corridor leading to the private apartments of the regent. Sentinels were placed at every door, with strict commands to strike down any one who should dare to oppose them.
In this manner they reached the anteroom of the regent's chamber.
Elizabeth had not the courage to go any farther. She hesitatingly stopped. A deep shame and repentance came over her when she thought of the noble confidence Anna had shown, and which she was now on the point of repaying with the blackest treason.
Lestocq, whose sharp, observing glances constantly rested upon her, divined her thoughts and the cause of her irresolution. He privately whispered some words to Grunstein, who, with thirty grenadiers, immediately approached the door of Anna's sleeping-room.
With a single push the door was forced, and with a wild cry the soldiers rushed to the couch upon which Anna Leopoldowna was reposing.
With a cry of anguish Anna springs up from her slumber, and shudderingly stares at the soldiers by whom she is encompassed, who, with rough voices, command her to rise and follow them. They scarcely give her time to put on a robe, and encase her little feet in shoes.
But Anna has become perfectly calm and self-possessed. She knows she is lost, and, too proud to weep or complain, she finds in herself courage to be tranquil.
"I beg only to be allowed to speak to Elizabeth," said she, aloud. "I will do all you command me. I will follow you wherever you wish, only let me first see your empress, Elizabeth."
Elizabeth, leaning against the door-post, had heard these words; yielding to an involuntary impulse of her heart, she pushed open the door and appeared upon the threshold of Anna Leopoldowna's chamber.
On perceiving her, a faint smile passed over Anna's features.
"Ah, come you thus to me, Elizabeth?" she said, reproachfully, with a proud glance at the princess.
Elizabeth could not support that glance. She cast down her eyes, and again Anna Leopoldowna smiled. She was conquered, but before her, blushing with shame, stood her momentarily subdued conqueror. But Anna now remembered her son, and, folding her hands, she said, in an imploring tone:
"Elizabeth, kill not my son! Have compassion upon him!"
Elizabeth turned away with a shudder, she felt her heart rent, she had not strength for an answer.
Lestocq beckoned the soldiers, and commanded them to remove the traitress, Anna Leopoldowna.
Thirty warriors took possession of the regent, who calmly and proudly submitted herself to them and suffered herself to be led away.
In the corridor they encountered another troop of soldiers, who were escorting the regent's husband, Prince Ulrich of Brunswick, and Anna's favorite, Julia von Mengden.
"Anna!" sorrowfully exclaimed the prince, "oh, had you but listened to my warning! Why did I not, in spite of your commands, what I ought to have done? I alone am to blame for this sad misfortune."
"It is no one's fault but mine," calmly responded Anna. "Pardon me, my husband, pardon me, Julia."
And so they descended to the sledges in waiting below. They placed the prince in one, and the regent, with Julia, in the other.
"Ah," said Julia, throwing her arms around Anna's neck, "we shall at least suffer together."
Anna reclined her head upon her friend's shoulder.
"God is just and good," said she. "He punishes me for my criminal love, and mercifully spares the object of my affections. I thank God for my sufferings. Julia, should you one day be liberated and allowed to see him again, then bear to him my warmest greetings; then tell him that I shall love him eternally, and that my last sigh shall be a prayer for his happiness. I shall never see him again. Bear to him my blessing, Julia!"
Julia dissolved in tears, and, clinging to her friend, she sobbed: "No, no, they will not dare to kill you."
"Then they will condemn me to a life-long imprisonment," calmly responded Anna.
"No, no, your head is sacred, and so is your freedom. They dare not attack either."
"Nothing is sacred in Russia," laconically responded Anna.
The sledges stopped at the palace of the Princess Elizabeth. Hardly two hours had passed since Elizabeth, in those same sledges, had left her palace as a poor, trembling princess; and now, as reigning empress, she sent them back to the dethroned regent.
The latter entered the palace of the princess as a prisoner, while Elizabeth, as empress, took possession of the palace of the czars.
THE SLEEP OF INNOCENCE
Anna Leopoldowna had hardly left the room in which she had been surprised and captured, when Lestocq turned to Grunstein with a new order.
"Now," said he, in an undertone to him—"now hasten to seize the emperor. This little Ivan must be annihilated."
Elizabeth had overheard these words, and remembering Anna's last prayer, she exclaimed with vehemence:
"No, no, I say, he shall not be annihilated! Woe to him who injures a hair of his head! I will not be the murderer of an innocent child! Take him prisoner, get him in your power, but in him respect the child and the emperor! Tear him not forcibly from his slumber, but protect his sleep! Poor child, destined to suffer so early!"
"No weakness now, princess," whispered Lestocq; "show yourself great and firm, else all is lost! Come away from here, that the sight of this child may not yet more enfeeble your heart. Come, much more remains to be done."
And, reverently taking Elizabeth's hand, he led her to the door.
"Now do your duty," said he to Grunstein. "Seize young Ivan."
"But remember my command, and spare him," said Elizabeth, slowly and hesitatingly leaving the chamber.
"Now to Ivan!" Grunstein commanded his soldiers, and with them he hastened to the sleeping-room of the young emperor.
There deep stillness and undisturbed peace yet prevailed. Only the waiting-women were awakened, and had hastily fled in search of concealment and safety. They had left the young emperor entirely alone, and he had not been awakened by the disturbance all around him.
He lay quietly in his splendid cradle, which was placed upon a sort of estrade in the centre of the room, dimly lighted by a lamp suspended from the ceiling by golden chains. This slumbering, smiling, childish face, peeping forth from the green silk coverings of the pillows, resembled a fresh, bursting rosebud. It was a sight that inspired respect even in those rough soldiers.
Devoutly staring, they at first remained at the door of the room; then slowly, and stepping on the points of their toes, they approached nearer and surrounded the cradle. But, remembering the words of their new empress, "Spare his sleep," no one dared to touch the child, or awaken him from his slumber.
In close order the bearded warriors pressed around the cradle of the imperial child, leaning upon their halberds, watching for his awaking.
It was a rare and admirable picture. In the centre, upon its estrade, was the splendid cradle of the slumbering child, and all around, upon the steps of this child-throne, these soldiers with their wild and threatening faces, all eyes expectantly resting upon the smiling infantile brow.
The door now opened, and, her face pallid with terror, Ivan's nurse rushed into the room and to the cradle of her imperial nursling. The soldiers, with imperious glances, beckoned her to await in silence, like themselves, the awakening of the emperor. The poor woman spoke not, but her fast-flowing tears indicated the depth of her grief.
Time passes. As if under enchantment, earnest, immovable, silent, stand the soldiers. Behind the cradle, her eyes and arms raised imploringly toward heaven, stands the nurse, while the child continues to slumber, smiling in its sleep.
At the expiration of an hour thus passed, the imperial infant moves, throws up its little rosy arms, opens its eyes—it is awake!
A cry of triumph escapes the lips of all the soldiers—all arms were stretched forth to seize him who, an hour before, had been their lord and emperor.
The child, frightened by the aspect of these rough soldiers, bursts out into a cry of alarm, and stretches out its little arms toward its nurse.
She takes him in her arms and weeps over him. The frightened child buries its little face in the bosom of his nurse, and the soldiers now convey them both to the waiting sledges. The dethroned emperor is quickly transported to the dethroned regent at Elizabeth's palace, who, with hot tears, clasps her son to her heart.
Meanwhile, Elizabeth had made herself absolute mistress of the imperial palace. Hastening to the throne-room, she had taken possession of the throne of her father, and administered the oath of allegiance to the guards surrounding her.
They lay upon their knees before her, these cowardly instruments of despotism; they bowed their heads in the dust, and these four or five thousand slaves, to which number the followers of the empress already amounted, swore fealty to Elizabeth, ready to strangle the regent and the young emperor at her command, or to serve her the same if, peradventure, the regent should regain a momentary power.
While the guards were doing homage in the palace, Grunstein and Woronzow, by Lestocq's command, led their men to Munnich's and Ostermann's, and both were imprisoned; with them, a great number of leading and suspected persons, who, perhaps, might have been disposed to draw the sword for Anna Leopoldowna. Lestocq had thought of every thing, had considered every thing; at the same time that he entered the regent's palace with Elizabeth, he sent to the printer the manifesto which proclaimed Elizabeth as empress. With the appearance of the sun in the horizon, Elizabeth was recognized as empress in the capital, and soon after throughout the whole empire. Who were they who recognized her? It was not the people, for in Russia there are no people—there are only masters and slaves. Elizabeth had become empress because fortune and Anna Leopoldowna's generous confidence had favored her; not the exigencies of the people, nor the tyranny of her predecessor had called her to the throne, but she had attained to it by the cunning and intrigues of some few confederates. She had become empress because Lestocq was tired of being only physician to a poor princess; because Grunstein thought the position of under-officer was far too humble for him, and because Alexis Razumovsky, the former precentor in the imperial chapel, found it desirable to add to his name the title of count or prince!
When St. Petersburg awoke it heard with astonishment the news of a new revolution. From mouth to mouth flew this astounding announcement: "We have changed our rulers! We are no longer the servants of the Emperor Ivan, but of the Empress Elizabeth! A new dynasty has arisen, and we have a new oath of allegiance to take!"
At first only a few ventured to spread this extraordinary intelligence, and these few were tremblingly and anxiously avoided; it was dangerous to listen to them; people fled from them without answering. But as the rumors became constantly louder and more significant, as at length their truth could no longer be doubted, as it became certain that the regent and her son were dethroned and Elizabeth was established in power, all the doubting and anxious faces were, as by an electric spark, lighted up with joy; then nothing was heard but the cry of triumph and jubilation; then was Anna Leopoldowna loudly cursed by those who had blessed her on the preceding day; then was the new Empress Elizabeth loudly lauded by those who yesterday had smiled with contempt at her powerlessness.
All again hastened to the imperial palace; the great and the noble again brought out their state coaches for the purpose of throwing themselves at the feet of the new possessor of power and swearing a new allegiance; again nothing was heard but the sound of universal rejoicing, nothing seen but faces lighted up by ecstasy and eyes glistening with tears of joy. And this was, in fourteen months, the third time that they had done homage to a new ruler who had as regularly dethroned his predecessor, and they had each time gone through the same ceremony with the same evidences of joy, the same ecstasies, the same slavish humility, not commiserating the defeated party, but professing love and devotion to the victor!
And as the day dawned on St. Petersburg, as it gloriously beamed upon the young empress, as she saw these thousands of worshipping slaves at her feet, Elizabeth's heart swelled with a proud joy, and looking down upon the masses of humble and devoted subjects, whose mistress she was, she felt herself momentarily overcome by a deep and holy emotion.
"I will be a mother to this people," thought she; "I will love and spare them; I will govern them with mildness; they shall not curse, but adore me!"
Yielding to this first generous impulse of her heart, Elizabeth rose from the throne, and with uplifted hands loudly and solemnly swore that she would be a mother to her subjects—a mother who, when compelled to punish, would never forget love and forbearance!
"No one, however great his crime," said she, with flashing eyes—"no one shall be punished with death so long as I sit upon this throne! From this day the punishment of death is abolished in my realm! I will punish crime, but I will spare the life of the criminal!"
When Elizabeth had thus spoken, the large hall again resounded with the rejoicing shouts of the great and noble—men breathed freer and deeper, they raised their heads more proudly; for centuries the all-powerful word of the czars had swept over the heads of Russians like the sword of Damocles—it now seemed to be removed, and to promise to each one a longer life, a longer unendangered existence. For where was there a subject of the czars who might not at any time be convicted of a crime—where an innocent person who might not at any moment be condemned to death? A glance, a smile, an inconsiderate word, had often sufficed to cause a head to fall! And now this eternally present danger seemed to be removed! What wonder, then, that they raised shouts of joy, that they embraced each other, that they loudly and solemnly called down the blessings of Heaven upon this noble and merciful empress!
During this time of general rejoicing among the great and noble of the realm in the brilliant imperial halls above, the palace was surrounded by dense masses of people looking up with curiosity at the bright windows, and listening with astonishment to the joyful shouts that reached their ears below. And when they heard the cause of the rejoicing above, they shrugged their shoulders and murmured low: "The empress will henceforth punish no one with death! What is that to us? That the great shall no more be put to death by the empress, is no concern of ours, the serfs of the great! The empress is powerful, but our lords and masters have yet more power over us. They will still scourge us to death, and the empress cannot hinder them!"
That a word of authority from the czarina had abolished the punishment of death, did not stir them up from their dull, expectant silence; but when a messenger from the empress came and announced that Elizabeth had ordered a flask of brandy to be given to each one of the crowd assembled below, that they might drink her health, then came life and movement to these stupid masses, then their dull faces were distorted into a friendly grin, then they screamed and howled with a brutish ecstasy, and they all rushed to the opened door to avail themselves of the promised benevolence of the empress and receive the divine liquor!
For the great, the abolition of capital punishment—for the people, a flask of brandy—these were the first rays that announced the appearance of the newly-rising sun Elizabeth in the horizon of her realm!
No,—Elizabeth did yet more!—in this hour she remembered with a grateful heart the faithful friends who had assisted her to the throne; to reward these was her next and most sacred duty!
A nod from her called to her presence the thirty grenadiers of the Preobrajensky regiment whom Grunstein had won over, and the empress with a gracious smile gave them her hand to kiss.
Then, rising from her throne, and glancing at the assembled magnates and princes, she said, in a clear and flattering tone: "It is service that ennobles, it is fidelity that lends fame and splendor. And service and fidelity have you rendered and shown to me, my faithful grenadiers! I will reward you as you deserve. From this hour you are free; nay, more, you are magnates of my realm; you belong, with the best of right, to their circle, for, in virtue of my imperial power, I raise you to the nobility by creating you barons, all of you, my thirty faithful grenadiers, and you, Grunstein, the leader of this faithful band! Receive them into your ranks, my counts and barons, they are worthy of you!"
Hesitating, not daring to mingle with those proud magnates, stood the new barons; but the princes and counts advanced to them with open arms, with exclamations of tenderness and assurances of friendship. The empress had spoken, the slaves must obey; and these princes and counts, these generals and field-marshals, who yesterday would hardly have thrown away a contemptuous glance upon these grenadiers, now called them friends and brothers, and were most happy to admit them into their circle.
Elizabeth gave a satisfied glance at these hearty greetings: she found it infinitely sweet and agreeable to make so many men happy in so easy a manner, and with pleasure she recollected that she had yet to reward her coachman who had guided her sledge in the great and decisive hour.
She ordered him to be called. A considerable time elapsed, and all were looking expectantly toward the door, which finally opened, and, led by four lackeys, the coachman stumbled into the hall. They had had some trouble in finding him, until at length he was discovered among the people in the court-yard, enjoying the brandy distributed by order of the empress. From this crowd they had withdrawn him in spite of his resistance, in order to bring him to his sovereign.
She received the staggering Petrovitch with a gracious smile, she praised the dauntlessness with which he had guided her sledge in that eventful night, and in gratitude for his good conduct she raised him, as she had the grenadiers, to the rank of a nobleman by naming him a baron of the Russian empire.
Petrovitch listened to her with a stupid laugh; and when the magnates crowded around him, offering their hands and assuring him of their friendship, he tremblingly and with effort stammered some unmeaning words, and falling upon his knees, he bowed his head in the dust before these great and powerful magnates, humbly kissing the hems of their garments, not suspecting that he was their equal in rank.
And constantly more brilliant and beautiful beamed the imperial grace. None of Elizabeth's faithful friends and servants were forgotten, for she possessed a virtue rare among princes—she was grateful.
She named Lestocq her first physician, president of the medical college, and member of her privy council. She made Grunstein an imperial aide-de-camp, with the rank of brigadier-general; and Woronzow a count and her first chamberlain.
Then, at last, she repeated the name of her friend Alexis Razumovsky. Her fair brow lighted up as with a reflected sunbeam on his approaching her throne, and, holding out to him both hands, she said aloud: "Alexis Razumovsky, I have you most to thank for my success in dispossessing the usurpers who have robbed me of my father's throne; for your wise counsels gave me courage and force: be then, henceforth, next to my throne, my chamberlain, Count Razumovsky!"
Bending a knee before her, Alexis gratefully kissed her beloved hand, and the counts and gentlemen surrounded him, loudly praising the great wisdom of the empress, whose divine penetration enabled her everywhere to discover and reward true service!
"Ah," sighed Elizabeth, when, on the evening of this glorious day, she was again alone with her confidential friends, "ah, my friends, I have now complied with your wishes and allowed you to make an empress of me! But forget not, Lestocq, that I have become empress only on condition that I am not to be troubled with business and state affairs. This has been a day of great exertion and fatigue, and I hope you will henceforth leave me in repose. I have done what you wished, I am empress, and have rewarded you for your aid, but now I also demand my reward, and that is undisturbed peace! Once for all, in my private apartments no one is to speak of state affairs, here I will have repose; you can carry on the government through your bureaux and chancelleries; I will have nothing to do with it! Here we will be gay and enjoy life. Come here, my Alexis,—come here and tell me if this imperial crown is becoming, and whether you found me fair in my ermine-trimmed purple mantle?"
"My lofty empress is always the fairest of women," tenderly responded Alexis.
"Call me not empress," said she, drawing him closer to her. "That brings again to mind all the hardships and wearinesses I have this day encountered."
"Only yet a moment, your majesty; let me remind you that you are now empress, and, as such, have duties to perform!" pressingly exclaimed Lestocq. "You have this day exercised the pleasantest right of your imperial power—the right of rewarding and making happy. But there remains another and not less important duty; your majesty must now think of punishing. The regent, and her husband and son, are prisoners; as, also are Munnich, Ostermann, Count Lowenwald, and Julia von Mengden. You must think of judging and punishing them."
Elizabeth had paid no attention to him. She was whispering and laughing with Alexis, who had let down her long dark hair, and was now playfully twining it around her white neck.
"Ah, you have not listened to me, your majesty," impatiently cried Lestocq. "You must, however, for a few moments remember your dignity, and direct what is to be done with the imprisoned traitors."
"Only see, Alexis, how this new lord privy counsellor teases me," sighed the princess, and, turning to Lestocq, she continued: "I think you should understand the laws better than I, and should know how traitors are punished."
"In all countries high-treason is punished with death," said Lestocq, gloomily.
"Well, let these traitors fare according to the common usage, and kill them," responded Elizabeth, comfortably extending herself upon the divan.
"But your majesty has this day abolished the punishment of death."
"Have I so? Ah, yes, I now remember. Well, as I have said it, I must keep my word."
"And the regent, Prince Ulrich, the so-called Emperor Ivan, Counts Ostermann, Munnich, Lowenwald, as well as Julia von Mengden, and the other prisoners, are all to remain unpunished?"
"Can they be punished in no other way than by death?" impatiently asked Elizabeth. "Have we not prisons and the knout? Have we not Siberia and the rack? Punish these traitors, then, as you think best. I give you full powers, and, if it must be so, will even take the trouble to affix my signature to your sentence."
"But we cannot scourge the regent or her son?"
"No," said Elizabeth, with vehemence, "these you must permit to go free and without hindrance to Germany; your judicial powers will not extend to them. It shall not be said that Elizabeth has delivered up her aunt and cousin to torture for the purpose of securing her own advantage. Let them go hence free and unobstructed! I tell you this is my express, imperial will!"
And Elizabeth, exhausted by so great an effort, leaned her head upon the shoulder of Alexis, mechanically playing with his locks.
"And Munnich and Ostermann?" asked Lestocq.
"Mon Dieu! will, then, this annoyance never cease?" impatiently exclaimed the empress. "What are Munnich and Ostermann to me? I know them not; they have never injured and are wholly indifferent to me. Do with them as you and your colleagues think best, I shall not trouble myself about it. Judge, condemn, punish them, it is all one to me—only their lives must be spared, as I have promised that no one shall be punished with death."
"I may, then, announce to the council that you will confirm their sentence?"
"Yes, yes, certainly," cried Elizabeth, springing up. "Scourge, banish them, do what you please, but leave me in peace! Come, my Alexis, this good Lestocq is insufferable to-day; he will annoy us to death if we remain any longer here! Come, we will escape from him and his serious face! Oh, we have much more serious subjects of conversation. To-morrow is my grand gala dinner, and we have my toilet to examine, to be certain that every thing is in the proper order. And then the ball toilet for the evening, which is far more important. I shall open the ball with a Polonnaise. You promised me, Alexis, to practice with me the new tour which the Marquis de la Chetardie describes as the latest Parisian mode. Come, let us essay this tour. For a new empress, at her first court ball, there is nothing more important than that she should perform her duty as leader of the dance with propriety and grace. Quick, therefore, to the work! Give me your hand—and now, Alexis, let us commence. Sing a melody to it, and then it will go better."
Alexis began to sing a Polonnaise, and, taking the hand of the empress, they commenced the practice of the new Polonnaise tour.
"So, that is right," said he, interrupting his singing, "that is very fine. Now let go my hand and turn proudly and majestically around. Beautifully done! Now a half turn sideward. One, two, three—la, la, la, tra la!"
"Yet one more question," interposed Lestocq; "may the council of state sit in judgment upon Lowenwald and de Mengden, and will you confirm their decision?"
"One, two, three—tra, la, la!" sang Alexis, and the empress whirled and made her graceful turn, as he had taught her.
Lestocq repeated his question to the empress.
Elizabeth was precisely in the most difficult tour.
"Yes, yes," she breathlessly cried, "I deliver them all over to you; scourge them, punish them, send them to Siberia—whatever you think best! Halt, Alexis, we must try this tour over again. But, indeed, I think I shall acquit myself very well in it."
"Heavenly!" cried Alexis. "Once more, then! One, two, three—la, la, la, tra la!"
"Punish them all, all!" had Elizabeth said, "but the regent, her husband, and her son—them you will permit to return to Germany!"
"We must accomplish the will of the empress, and therefore let them go!"
"We will obey her commands," said Lestocq to Alexis Razumovsky. "We must let them go free, but it would be dangerous to let them ever reach Germany. With their persons they would preserve their rights and their claims, and Elizabeth would always stand in fear of this regent and this young growing emperor, whose claims to the imperial Russian crown are incontestable. You alone, Razumovsky, can turn away this danger from the head of the empress, by convincing her of its reality, and inducing her to change her mind. Reflect that the safety of the empress is our own; reflect that, as we have risen with her, so shall we fall with her!"
"Rely upon me," said Alexis, with a confident smile; "this regent and her young Emperor Ivan shall never pass the Russian boundary! Let them now go, but send a strong guard with them, and travel by slow marches, that our couriers may be able to overtake them at a later period. That is all you have to do in the case."
And, humming a sentimental song, Alexis repaired to the apartments of the empress.
Before the back door of the palace Elizabeth had occupied as princess, a travelling-sledge was waiting. Gayly sounded and clattered the bells on the six small horses attached to the sledge; gayly did the postilions blow their horns, and with enticing calls resounded the thundering fanfares through the cold winter air.
To those for whom this sledge was destined, this call sounded like a greeting from heaven. It was to them the dove with the olive-branch, announcing to them the end of their torments; it was the messenger of peace, which gave them back their freedom, their lives, and perhaps even happiness. They were to return to Germany, their long-missed home; hastening through the Russian snow-fields, they would soon reach a softer climate, where they would be surrounded by milder manners and customs. What was it to Anna that she was to be deprived of earthly elevation and power—what cared she that she henceforth would no more have the pleasure of commanding others? She was free, free from the task of ruling slaves and humanizing barbarians; free from the constraint of greatness, and, finally free to live in conformity with her own inclinations, and perhaps, ah, perhaps, to found a happiness, the bare dreaming of which already caused her heart to tremble with unspeakable ecstasy.
Again and again the fanfares resounded without. Anna, weeping, tore herself from the arms of Julia. She had in vain implored the favor of taking Julia von Mengden with her. Elizabeth had refused it, and, in this refusal, she had pronounced the sentence of the favorite—this was understood by both Julia and Anna.
They held each other in a last embrace. Anna wept hot tears, but Julia remained calm, and even smiled.
"They may send me to Siberia, if they please, my heart will remain warm under the coldness of the Siberian climate, and this great happiness of knowing that you and yours are saved they cannot rend from me; that will be for me a talisman against all misfortunes!"
"But I," sadly responded Anna—"shall I not always be tortured by the reflection that it is I who have been the cause of your misfortunes? Are you not condemned because you loved and were true to me? Ah, does love, then, deserve so hard a punishment?"
"The punishment passes, but love remains," calmly responded Julia. "That will always be my consolation."
"And mine also," sighed Anna.
"You will not need it," said Julia, with a smile. "You, at least, will be happy."
Anna sighed again, and her cheek paled. A dark and terrible image arose in her soul, and she shudderingly whispered:
"Ah, would that we were once beyond the Russian boundary, for then, first, shall we be free."
"Then let us hasten our journey," said Prince Ulrich; "once in the sledge, and every minute brings us nearer to freedom and happiness. Only hear how the horns are calling us, Anna—they call us to Germany! Come, take your son, wrap him close in your furred mantle, and let us hasten away—away from here!" The prince laid little Ivan in the arms of his wife, and drew her away with him.
"Farewell, farewell, my Julia!" cried Anna, as she took he seat in the sledge.
"Farewell!" was echoed as a low spirit-breath from the palace.
Shuddering, Anna pressed her child to her bosom, and cast an anxiously interrogating glance at her husband, who was sitting by her.
"Be calm, tranquillize yourself—it will all be well," said the latter, with a smile.
The postilion blew his horn—the horses started; gayly resounded the tones of the silver bells; with a light whizzing, away flew the sledge over the snow. It bore thence a dethroned emperor and his overthrown family!
Rapidly did this richly-laden sledge pass through the streets, but, following it, was a troop of armed, grim-looking soldiers, like unwholesome ravens following their certain booty.
At about the same hour, another armed troop passed through the streets of St. Petersburg. With drawn swords they surrounded two closely-covered sledges, the mysterious occupants of which no one was allowed to descry! The train made a halt at the same gate through which the overthrown imperial family had just passed. The soldiers surrounded the sledges in close ranks; no one was allowed a glimpse at those who alighted from them.
But these extra precautions of the soldiery were unnecessary, as nobody wished to see the unfortunate objects. Every one timidly glanced aside, that they might not, by looking at the poor creatures, bring themselves into suspicion of favoring men suffering under the displeasure of the government. But though they looked not at them, every one knew who they were; though they dared not speak to each other, every one tremblingly said to himself: "There go Munnich and Ostermann to their trials!"
Munnich and Ostermann, the faithful servants of Peter the Great—Munnich, whom Prince Eugene called "his beloved pupil;" Ostermann, of whom the dying Czar Peter said he had never caught him in a fault; that he was the only honest statesman in Russia—Munnich and Ostermann, those two great statesmen to whom Russia was chiefly indebted for what civilization and cultivation she had acquired, were now accused of high-treason, and sent for trial before a commission commanded to find them guilty and to punish them. They were to be put out of the way because they were feared, and to be feared was held as a crime deserving death!
Firm and outrageous stood they before their judges. In this hour old Ostermann had shaken off his illness and thrown away the shield of his physical sufferings! He would not intrench himself behind his age and his sickness; he would be a man, and boldly offer his unprotected breast to the murderous weapons of his enemies!
For, that he was lost he knew! A single glance at his judges made him certain of it, and from this moment his features wore a calm and contemptuous smile, an unchangeable expression of scorn. With an ironic curiosity he followed his judges through the labyrinth of artfully contrived captious questions by which they hoped to entangle him; occasionally he gave himself, as it were for his own amusement, the appearance of voluntarily being caught in their nets, until he finally by a side spring tore their whole web to pieces and laughingly derided his judges for not being able to convict him!
He was accused of having, by his cabals alone, after the death of Catharine, effected the elevation to the throne of Anna, Duchess of Courland. And yet they very well knew that precisely at that time Ostermann had for weeks pretended to be suffering from illness, for the very purpose of avoiding any intermingling with state affairs. They accused him of having suppressed the testament of Catharine, and yet that testament had been published in all the official journals of the time!
Ostermann laughed loud at all of these childish accusations.
"Ah," said he, "should I be sitting in your places, and you all, though innocent, should be standing accused before me, my word for it, I would so involve you in questions and answers that you would be compelled to confess your guilt! But you do not understand questioning, and old Ostermann is a sly fox that does not allow himself to be easily caught! The best way will be for you to declare me guilty, though I am no criminal; for as your empress has commanded that I should be found guilty, it would certainly be in me a crime worthy of death not to be guilty."
"You dare to deride our empress!" cried one of the judges.
"Aha!" said Ostermann, laughing, "I have there thrown you a bait, and you, good judicial fishes, bite directly! That is very well, you are now in a good way! Only go on, and I will help you to find me guilty, if it be only of simple high-treason. It will then be left to the mercy of your empress to declare me convicted of threefold high-treason! Go on, go on!"
But Munnich showed himself less unruffled and sarcastic in the face of his judges. These never-ending questions, this ceaseless teasing about trifles, exhausted his patience at last. He wearied of continually turning aside these laughably trivial accusations, of convincing his judges of his innocence, and making them ashamed of the nature of the proofs adduced.
"Let it suffice," said he, at length to his judges; "after hours of vain labor, you see that in this way you will never attain your end. I will propose to you a better and safer course. Write down your questions, and append to each the answer you desire me to give; I will then sign the whole protocol and declare it correct."
"Are you in earnest?" joyfully asked the judges.
"Quite in earnest!" proudly answered Munnich.
They were shameless enough to accept his offer; they troubled him with no more questions, but wrote in the protocol such answers as would best suit the purpose of his judges. In these answers Munnich declared himself guilty of all the crimes laid to his charge, acknowledged himself to be a traitor, and deserving death.
When they had finished their artistic labor, they handed to Munnich the pen for his signature.
He calmly took the pen, and, while affixing his signature, said with a contemptuous smile: "Was I not right? In this way it is rendered much easier for you to make of me a very respectable criminal, and I have only the trouble of writing my name! I thank you, gentlemen, for this indulgence."
Quick and decisive as were the hearings, now followed the sentences. Ostermann was condemned to be broken on the wheel, Munnich to be quartered, and the two ministers, Lowenwald and Golopkin, to the axe!
But Elizabeth had promised her people that no one should be punished with death; she must abide by that promise, and she did. She commuted the punishment of the condemned, as also of Julia von Mengden, into banishment to Siberia for life. What a grace! and even this grace was first communicated to Ostermann after his old limbs had been bound to the wheel and his executioners were on the point of crushing him!
But even in this extreme moment Count Ostermann's calm heroism did not forsake him.
"I was convinced that such would be the result!" he calmly said, quietly stretching his released limbs; "this Empress Elizabeth has not the courage to break her oath by chopping off a few heads! It is a pity. On the wheel it might have become a little warm for me, but in Siberia it will be fearfully cold."
From the windows of her palace Elizabeth had witnessed the preparations for this pretended execution; and as she knew that at last their punishment would be commuted, she was amused to see the solemn earnestness and the death-shudder of the condemned. It was a very entertaining hour that she and her friends passed at that window, and the comical face of old Ostermann, the proud gravity of Count Munnich, the folded hands and heaven-directed glances of Golopkin and Lowenwald, had often made her laugh until the tears ran down her cheeks.
"That was a magnificent comedy!" said she, retreating from the window when the condemned were released from their bands and raised into the vehicles that were immediately to start with them for Siberia. "Yes, it was, indeed, very amusing! But tell me, Lestocq, where are they about to take old Count Ostermann?"
"To the most northerly part of Siberia!" calmly replied Lestocq.
"Poor old man!" signed Elizabeth; "it must be very sad for him thus to pass his last years in suffering and deprivation."
Lestocq seemed not to have heard her remark, and laughingly continued: "To Munnich I have thought to apply a jest of his own."
"Ah, a jest!" cried Elizabeth, suddenly brightening up. "Let me hear it. You know I love a jest, it is so amusing! Quick, therefore, let us hear it!"
"Perhaps your majesty may remember Biron, Duke of Courland," said Lestocq. "Count Munnich, as you know, overthrew him, and placed Anna Leopoldowna in the regency. Biron has ever since lived at Pelym in Siberia, and, indeed, in a house of which Munnich himself drew the plan, the rooms of which are so low that poor Biron, who is as tall as Munnich, could never stand erect in them. The good Munnich, he was very devoted to the duke, and hence in pure friendship invented this means of reminding him, every hour in the day, of the architect of his house, his friend Munnich!"
"Ah, you promised us a jest, and you are there repeating an old and well-known story!" interposed the empress, yawning.
"Now comes the joke!" continued Lestocq. "We have transferred Biron to another colony, and Herr Munnich will occupy the poetical pleasure-house of his friend Biron at Pelym."
"Ah, that is delightful, in fact!" cried Elizabeth, clapping her little hands. "How will Munnich curse himself for cruelty which now comes home to himself! That is very witty in you, Herr Lestocq; very laughable, is it not, Alexis? But, Alexis, you do not laugh at all; you look sad. What is the matter with you? Who has disobliged, who has wounded you?"
Alexis sighed. "You yourself!" he said, in a low tone.
"I?" exclaimed the astonished empress. "I could not be so inhuman!"
"No, only to wound me by refusing the first request I addressed to you!"
"Name your request once more, I have forgotten it!" said Elizabeth with vehemence.
Alexis Razumovsky fell upon his knees before her, and, imploringly raising his hands, said:
"Elizabeth, my empress, have compassion for my care and anxiety on your account; leave me not to tremble for your safety! Grant me the happiness of seeing you unthreatened and free from danger in your greatness and splendor! Oh, Elizabeth, listen to the prayer of your faithful servant—let not this Anna Leopoldowna pass the boundary of your realm—let not your most deadly enemy escape!"
"Oh, grant his prayer," cried Lestocq, kneeling beside Alexis; "there is wisdom in his words; listen to him rather than to the too great generosity of your own heart! Let not your enemies escape, but seize them while they are yet in your power!"
"Elizabeth, greatest and fairest woman on earth," implored Alexis, "have compassion for my anxiety; I shall never laugh again, never be cheerful, if you allow these your most dangerous enemies to withdraw themselves from your power!"
Elizabeth bent down to him with a smile of tenderness, and laid her left hand upon his locks, while with her right she gently raised his head to herself.
"Love you me, then, so very much, my Alexis," she asked, "that you suffer with anxiety for my safety? Ah, that makes me happy—that fills my whole heart with joy! Only look at him, Lestocq; see how beautiful he is, and then say whether one can refuse the prayer of those heavenly eyes, those pleading lips?"
"You will, then, grant my prayer?" exultingly asked Alexis.
"Well, yes," tenderly responded she, "since there is no other means of rendering you again cheerful and happy, I must, indeed, consent to the fulfilment of your wishes, and not let my enemies quit the country if it be yet possible to retain them."
"They have proceeded by slow marches, and can hardly now have arrived in Riga, where they are to rest several days," said Lestocq. "There will consequently be time for a courier yet to reach them with your counter-order."
"And he must be dispatched immediately!" said Alexis, pressing the hand of the empress to his lips. "In this hour will my kind and gracious empress sign the command for the arrest of Anna Leopoldowna, her husband, and her son!"
"Already another signature!" sighed Elizabeth. "How you annoy me with this eternal signing and countersigning! Will it, then, never have an end? I already begin to hate my name, because of being compelled so often to write it under your musty old documents. Why did the emperor, my dear deceased father, give me so long a name!—a shorter one would now relieve me of half my labor!"
But in spite of her lamentings, Elizabeth nevertheless, a quarter of an hour later, subscribed the order to arrest the regent, her husband, and son, and shut them up, preliminarily, in the citadel of Riga.
"So now I hope you will again be happy and cheerful," said she, throwing away the pen, and with a tender glance at Razumovsky. "Come, look at me—I have done all you wished; let us now be gay and take our pleasure."
And while Elizabeth was jesting and laughing with Alexis, Lestocq, taking the newly-signed order, hurried away to dispatch his courier.
At length they had reached the borders of this feared, pernicious Russian empire. They now needed no longer to tremble, no longer to fear at the slightest sound. Only a short quarter of an hour and the boundary will be passed and liberty secured!
They had made a halt at a small public house near the boundary. The horses were to be changed there, and there the soldiers of the escort were to get their last taste of Russian brandy before crossing the border.
Anna and her husband have remained in the sledge. She holds her son in her arms, she presses him to her bosom, full of exulting maternal joy: for he is now saved, this poor little emperor; Anna has now no longer to fear that her son will be torn from her—he is saved—he belongs to her; she can rejoice in his childish beauty, in the happy consciousness of safety.
She has thrown back the curtains of the sledge. She felt no cold. With joy-beaming eyes she looked forward to that blessed land beyond the boundary! There, where upon its tall staff the Russian flag floated high in the air, there freedom and happiness were to begin for her—there will she find again her youth and her maiden dreams, her cheerfulness and her pleasure—there is freedom—golden, heavenly freedom!
She is so happy at this moment that she loves all and every one. For the first time she feels a sort of tenderness for her husband, who patiently bearing all in silence, had complained and wept only for her. Gently she reclined her head upon his shoulder, and with a cry of ecstasy the prince encircled her neck with his arms.
"Oh, my husband," she whispered, with overflowing eyes, "look there, over there! There is our future, there will we seek for happiness. Perhaps we may unitedly find it in the same path, for we have here a sweet bond to hold our hands together. Look at him, your son. Ulrich, you are the father of my child! Grant my heart only a little repose, and perhaps we may yet be happy with each other."
Prince Ulrich's eyes were suffused with tears; he experienced a moment of the purest happiness. He impressed a kiss upon the brow of his wife, and in a low tone called her by the tenderest names.
The child awoke and smilingly looked up from Anna's bosom to both of his parents. Anna lifted up the little Ivan.
"Look there, my son," said she—"there you will no longer be an emperor, but you will have the right to be a free and happy man. No crown awaits you there, but freedom, worth more than all the crowns in the world."
Little Ivan exultingly stretched forth his tiny arms, as if he would draw down to his childish heart this future and this freedom so highly lauded by his mother.
And, like the child, the parents looked smilingly out upon the broad expanse that stretched away before them.
Look only forward, constantly forward, where the skies are clear, and dream of happiness! Look forward—no, turn not backward your glance, for the horizon darkens in your rear; misfortune is closely following upon your track! You see it not, you only look forward and still you smile.
It draws nearer and nearer, this black cloud of evil. It is the ravens, the booty-scenting ravens who are following you!
Look forward, dream yourselves happy, and smile yet. What would it help you to look back! You cannot escape the calamity.
Nearer and nearer, with a wild cry, rush these ravens of misfortune; the air already bears detached sounds to Anna's ears.
She trembles. It is as if her boding soul scented the approaching evil. Pressing her child closer to her bosom, she gives her husband her hand.
The horses are attached to the sledge, and the soldiers leave the public house. All is ready for the train to go on over the boundary. The postilions draw the rein! Now a wild cry of "Halt! halt!"
The soldiers bear up, the postilions halt!
"Forward! forward!" shrieks Prince Ulrich, in mortal anguish.
"Halt! in the name of the empress!" cried an officer who came rushing past upon a foaming steed, and he handed to the commander of the escort an open writing, furnished with the imperial seal.
The commander turned to the postilions.
"To the right about, toward Riga!" ordered he, and then, turning to the trembling princely pair, he said: "In the name of the empress, you are my prisoners! I am directed to conduct you to the citadel of Riga!"
With a loud groan, Anna sinks into the arms of her husband. He consoles her with the most soothing and affectionate words; he has thought, sorrow, only for her—he feels not for himself, but only for her.
For a moment Anna was overpowered by this unexpected horror; then she calmly rose erect, and pressed her son more closely to her bosom.
"We are all lost," whispered she, "prisoners forever! Poor child—poor, unhappy husband!"
"Despair not," said Prince Ulrich, "all may yet turn out well! Who knows how soon aid may reach us!"
Anna lightly shook her head, and thinking of the last words of her friend, she murmured low: "Punishment passes, but love remains!"
THE PALACE OF THE EMPRESS
The new empress, Elizabeth, had rewarded and punished, and with that thought she had finished her imperial labors and forever dismissed all her difficulties.
"I have shaken off my imperial burdens," said she to her friends; "let us now begin to enjoy the imperial pleasures. Ah! we shall lead a pleasant life in this splendid palace. My first law is this: No one shall speak to me of government business or state affairs. I will have nothing to do with such things, do you hear! For what purpose do I have my ministers and my council? Go you with such wearisome questions to my grand chancellor, Tscherkaskoy, and my minister, Bestuscheff; they shall govern for me. I can demand that of them, as I pay them for it. If you seek an office, if you have invented any thing for promoting the welfare of the country, if you have found any official abuse, or discovered any conspiracy, then go to Bestuscheff or to Woronzow, or also to Lestocq—spare me! But when you have a grace to demand, when you need money, when you desire a title or orders, then come to me, and I will satisfy your wishes. We have much money, many ribbons for orders, and as for titles, they are the cheapest and most convenient of all, as they cost absolutely nothing. Ah, a jest just now occurs to me. We will amuse ourselves a little to-day. We will have a title-auction. Call our courtiers, attendants, and servants. We shall have a gay time of it! We will have a game at dice. Bring the dice! I will at each throw announce the prize, and the dice shall then decide who is the winner!"
They all gathered around her; the noble gentlemen of her body-guard, consisting of the grenadiers who had been raised to nobility and created officers at the commencement of her reign. They came noisily, with singing and laughing, and saluting their empress, Elizabeth, with a thundering viva.
"First of all, let us drink your health, sir captain!" said she, ordering wine to be brought, as well as brandy of the costly sort she had lately received as a present from the greatest distiller of her capital, to which she herself was very partial.
Loudly clinked their glasses, loudly was shouted a viva to the empress, which Elizabeth laughingly accepted by offering them her hands to kiss, and was delighted when they fell into ecstasies over the beauty and freshness of those hands.
"Now, silence, gentlemen of the body-guard!" she cried. "I, your captain, command attention!"
And, when silence was established, she continued: "We will have a game at dice, and titles and orders, gold and brandy, shall be the prizes for which you shall contend!"
"Ah, that is magnificent, that is a glorious game!" exclaimed they all.
"The first prize," said Elizabeth, "is the position of privy councillor! Now take the dice, gentlemen!"
They began to throw the dice, with laughter and shouting when they had thrown a high number—with lamentations and stamping of the feet when it was a low one.
In the meanwhile Elizabeth listlessly stretched herself upon a divan, and laughingly said to Alexis, who sat by her side: "Oh, it is very pleasant to be an empress. Only see how happy they all are, and it is I alone who make them so; for out of these common soldiers I have created respectable officers, and have converted serfs into barons and gentlemen! I thank you, Alexis, for impelling me to become an empress. It is a noble pleasure, and I should now be unwilling to return to that still and uneventful life that formerly pleased me so well! I will so manage that the Empress Elizabeth shall be as little troubled with labor and business as the princess, and the empress can doubtlessly procure for herself more pleasures than could the princess! Yes, certainly, I will now remain what I am, am empress by the grace of God!"
A thundering shout and loud laughter here interrupted Elizabeth. The dice had decided! The cook of the empress had won, and become a councillor of state.
Elizabeth laughed. "These dice are very witty," said she, "for certainly the cook must be a privy councillor! I establish you in your dignity, Feodor, your title is recognized! Now for a new trial. Two thousand rubles is the prize, which I think of more value than a title!"
There was a zealous pressing and shoving, a pushing and puffing; every one desired to be the first to get hold of the dice and struggle for the rich prize. There were many ungentle encounters, many a thrust in the ribs, many invectives, many a gross, unseemly word; the empress saw all, heard all, laughed at all, and said to Alexis: "These gentlemen are very practical! Two thousand rubles are estimated by them at a higher rate than the proudest title! I comprehend that a title is a nonsensical thing, of which no real use can be made, but what beautiful dresses can be bought with two thousand rubles! And that reminds me that you have not yet told me how you like this dress of mine! You take so little notice of my toilet, dearest, and yet it is only for you that I change my dress seven or eight times a day; I would, every hour, please you better and better."
"Oh, no dressing is necessary for that," tenderly responded Alexis; and stooping, he whispered some words in her ear which pleased her well, and made her laugh heartily.
Meanwhile the dicing continued. Blind luck scattered her gifts in the strangest manner; under-officers of the palace attained to high titles, and high officers with laughing faces won pipes of brandy; barons of the body-guard made of men who but a few days before had been serfs, were seen approaching the mirrors with vain coxcombry to see the effect of orders just won by a cast of the dice, or with greedy avidity pocketing the rubles which fortune had thrown to them!
It was a jovial and brilliant evening, and, in dismissing her friends, Elizabeth promised them many repetitions of it.
And she kept her word. Frenzied merry-makings, pleasures and festivals of the roughest sorts were now the principal occupation of the new empress. The amusement of her court, the providing it with new festivals and pleasures, she considered as the first and most important of her imperial duties; and these alone she endeavored to fulfil.
But who composed her court, and of what elements did it consist?
Elizabeth found the presence of her serious official councillors very tiresome, as they knew not how to make themselves agreeable; she found the surrounding of herself with the respectable ladies of her court to be very incommodious, as there might some day be found among them one with a handsomer or more tasteful toilet than herself, or, indeed, one who might dare to be of a finer type of beauty than she! She therefore gladly avoided inviting the distinguished men of her court with their wives, or the higher class of state officials. It was far more convenient, far more agreeable, to surround herself with frivolous and handsome young men. They knew how to laugh and be cheerful, and she was thus sure that no other lady would be there to dispute with her the palm of beauty.
Elizabeth was not proud. She cared not whether noble blood flowed in the veins of those who were invited to her festivals. The youth, beauty, and agreeable qualities which the empress found in any person, alone decided the question of their admittance to the court.
Peasants, grooms, soldiers, servants, abandoned reprobates, who by their beauty had won the favor of the empress, were seen to attain to the highest stations.
On them were lavished the treasures of the state; they were adorned with orders and titles, and the magnates bowed to the ground before these potent favorites of the all-powerful empress, and the people shouted with transport when their beloved czarina, with her magnificent train of newly-created noblemen, made her appearance in the streets, and with gracious smiles returned the humble salutations of her kneeling slaves. That was the ruler in perfect accordance with Russian ideas; they sympathized with her inclinations and pleasures—she was blood of their blood and flesh of their flesh! The strangers were at length banished, and a real Russian sat upon the throne of the czars!
And yet Elizabeth trembled upon her imperial throne, surrounded by the band of magnates and nobles of whom she could truly say, "I am their creator—they are my work!" She trembled before those secret daggers, those lingering poisons, which always surround the imperial Russian throne as its truest satellites, and lay low many a high-born head; she trembled before Anna Leopoldowna, who was sighing away her days in the closed citadel of Riga, and before Anna's son, the infant Ivan, whom the Empress Anna in her testament had named as Emperor of all the Russias! She, indeed, would not work and trouble herself for her country and her people, this good empress by the grace of God, but yet she would be empress, that she might be enabled to enjoy life, and no cloud must obscure the heaven of her earthly glory!
She therefore tore herself for some short hours from the pleasures in which she was usually immersed, from the arms of her lover, the object of her deepest interest; her own safety and her own peace were concerned. That was well worth the effort to take the pen once more in hand, and affix the troublesomely long name of Elizabeth to some few official documents.
She consequently signed the command to bring back Anna Leopoldowna and her husband from the citadel of Riga to the interior of Russia, and place them in strict confinement in Raninburg.
She also signed another order, and that was to rend the young Ivan from the arms of his mother, to take him to the castle of Schlusselburg, and there to hold him in strict imprisonment, to grow up without teachers, or any kind of instruction, and without the least occupation or amusement.
"I well know," said she, with a sigh, as she signed the document—"I well know that it would be better for this Ivan to be executed for high-treason than to remain in this condition, but I lack the courage for it. It is so horrible to kill a poor, innocent child!"
"And in this way we attain our end more safely," said Lestocq, with a smile. "Your majesty has sworn to take the life of no one; very well, you keep your word as to physical life—we do not destroy the body but the spirit of this boy Ivan! We raise him as an idiot, which is the surest means of rendering him innoxious!"
Elizabeth had signed the order, and her command was executed. They took from Anna Leopoldowna her last joy, her only consolation—they took away her son, whose smiling face had lighted her prison as with sunbeams, whose childishly stammered words had sounded to her as the voice of an angel from heaven.
They took the poor weeping child to Schlusselburg, and his crushed and heart-broken parents first to Raninburg, and finally to the fortress Kolmogory, situated upon an island in the Dwina, near to that gulf which, on account of its never-melting ice, has obtained the name of the White Sea.
No one could rescue poor Anna Leopoldowna from that fortress—no one could release her son, the poor little Emperor Ivan, from Schlusselburg! They were rendered perfectly inoffensive; Elizabeth had not killed them, she had only buried them alive, this good Russian empress!
And, nevertheless, she still trembled upon her throne, she still felt unsafe in her imperial magnificence! She yet trembled on account of another pretender, the Duke Karl Peter Ulrich of Holstein, who, as the son of an elder daughter of Peter the Great, had a more direct claim to the throne than Elizabeth herself.
That no party might declare for him and invite him to Russia, her ministers advised the empress herself to send for him, and declare him her successor. Elizabeth followed this advice, and the young Duke Peter Ulrich of Holstein accepted her call. Declining the crown of Sweden, he professed the Greek religion in St. Petersburg, was clothed with the title of grand prince by Elizabeth, and declared her successor to the throne of the czars.
Elizabeth could now undisturbedly enjoy her imperial splendor. The successor to the throne was assured, Anna Leopoldowna languished in the fortress of Kolmogory, and in Schlusselburg the little Emperor Ivan was passing his childish dream-life! Who was there now to contest her rights—who would dare an attempt to shake a throne which rested upon such safe pillars of public favor, and which so many new-made counts and barons protected with their broad shoulders and nervous arms?
Elizabeth had no more need to govern, no more occasion to tremble. She let sink the hand which, with a single stroke of the pen, could give laws to millions of men, which could give them interminable sorrow and endless torments; she again took the heavy imperial crown from her head, replacing it with wreaths of myrtles and ever-fragrant roses. She permitted Tscherkaskoy to govern, and Bestuscheff to sell to England the dearest interests of Russia. She permitted her ministers to govern with unrestricted power, and was rejoiced when no one came to trouble her about affairs of state or the interests of her people.
Two years had elapsed since Elizabeth's accession to the throne; for her, two years of pleasure and enjoyment, only troubled here and there with occasional small clouds of ill-humor—but those clouds overshadowed only her domestic peace. It was not the affairs of state, not the interests of her people, that troubled and saddened Elizabeth; she asked not how many of her subjects the war with Sweden had swept away; how many had fallen a sacrifice to hunger in the southern provinces of her realm. She had quite other cares and anxieties than those which concerned only her ministers, not herself. What have princes to do with the happiness of their people.
Elizabeth was a consummate princess; she thought only of her own happiness, only of herself and her own sorrows. And it was a very severe, very incurable sorrow that visited her—a sorrow that often brought tears of anger into her eyes and curses upon her lips. Elizabeth was jealous—jealous not of this or that woman, but of the whole sex. She glowingly desired to be the fairest of all women, and constantly trembled lest some one should come to rob her of the prize of beauty. And were there not, in her own court, women who might venture to enter the lists with her? Was there not, before all, one woman whose aspect filled the heart of the empress with a thirst for vengeance, of whom she was compelled to say that she was younger, handsomer, and more attractive than herself—and this one, was it not Eleonore Lapuschkin?
For two long years had Elizabeth borne about with her this hatred and jealousy; for two long years had she in vain sought to discover some punishable fault in her rival; for two long years had she in vain reminded Lestocq of his promise to find Eleonore Lapuschkin guilty of some crime. She had come out pure from all these persecuting pursuits, and even the eyes of the most zealous spy could find no blot upon her escutcheon. Like a royal lily she proudly bloomed with undisputed splendor in the midst of this court, whose petty cabals and intrigues could not soil her fair fame. Her presence spread around her a sort of magic. The most audacious courtier, the most presumptuous cavalier, approached her with only reverence; they ventured not in her presence to use such words and jests as but too well pleased the empress; there was something in Eleonore's glance that commanded involuntary respect and awe; an elevation, a mildness, a soft feminine majesty was shed over her whole being that enchanted even those who were inimical to her. Elizabeth had perceived that, with her eyes sharpened by jealousy; her envy was yet more mighty than her vanity, and her envy told her Eleonore Lapuschkin is handsomer than the Empress Elizabeth; wherever Eleonore appears, there all hearts fly to meet her, all glances incline to her; every one feels a sort of ecstasy of adoration whom she greets with a word or a smile, for that word or that smile sanctifies him as it were, and enrolls him among the noblest and best.
And even Alexis had been unable to withstand this magic! Oh, Elizabeth narrowly watched him; she had analyzed his every word and every glance; she had seen how he always pressed near her, how he blushed with joy when she remarked his presence and returned his salutation! Yea, she, and perhaps only she, had seen Alexis covertly possess himself of the glove which Eleonore had lost the previous evening at the grand court ball, had seen him press that glove to his lips and afterward conceal it in his bosom.