In the meantime some peasants, who had come from St. Petersburg, related to a group of servants rumors they had heard of the insurrection in that city. A fearful gloom oppressed all, and Peter was in such a state of terror that he feared to ask any questions. As they were standing thus mute with confusion and dismay, a countryman rode up, and making a profound bow to the tzar, presented him with a note. Peter ran his eyes hastily over it, and then read it aloud. It communicated the appalling intelligence which we have just recorded.
The consternation into which the whole imperial party was thrown no language can describe. The women were in tears. The courtiers could offer not a word of encouragement or counsel. One, the king’s chancellor, with the tzar’s consent, set off for St. Petersburg to attempt to rouse the partisans of the tzar; but he could find none there. The wretched Peter was now continually receiving corroborative intelligence of the insurrection, and he strode up and down the walks of the garden, forming innumerable plans and adhering to none.
The tzar had a guard of three thousand troops at his palace of Oranienbaum. At noon these approached Peterhof led by their veteran commander, Munich. This energetic officer urged an immediate march upon St. Petersburg.
“Believe me,” said Munich, “you have many friends in the city. The royal guard will rally around your standard when they see it approaching; and if we are forced to fight, the rebels will make but a short resistance.”
While he was urging this energetic measure, and the women and the courtiers were trying to dissuade him from the step, and were entreating him to go back to Oranienbaum, news arrived that the troops of the empress, twenty thousand in number, were on the march to arrest him.
“Well,” said Munich to the tzar, “if you wish to decline a battle, it is not wise at any rate to remain here, where you have no means of defense. Neither Oranienbaum nor Peterhof can withstand a siege. But Cronstadt offers you a safe retreat. Cronstadt is still under your command. You have there a formidable fleet and a numerous garrison. From Cronstadt you will find it easy to bring Petersburg back to duty.”
The fortresses of Cronstadt are situated on an island of the same name, at the mouth of a bay which presents the only approach to St. Petersburg. This fortress, distant about thirty miles west of St. Petersburg, may be said to be impregnable. In the late war with Russia it bade defiance to the combined fleets of France and England. As we have before mentioned, Peterhof and Oranienbaum were pleasure-palaces, situated on the eastern shore of the Bay of Cronstadt, but a few miles from the fortress and but a few miles from each other. The gardens of these palaces extend to the waters of the bay, where there are ever riding at anchor a fleet of pleasure-boats and royal yachts.