The bells rang in St. Petersburg, the cannon roared; there were both joy and sorrow in what the bells and cannon announced!
The Empress Elizabeth was dead; the Emperor Peter III. ascended the throne of the czars as absolute ruler of the Russian realm. The first to bow before him was his wife. With her son of five years old in her arms, she had thrown herself upon her knees, and touching the floor with her forehead, she had implored grace and love for herself and her son; and Peter, raising her up, had presented her to the people as his empress.
In St. Petersburg the bells rang, the cannon thundered—“The empress is dead, long live the emperor!”
Before the villa stopped a foam-covered steed, from which dismounted a horseman, who knocked at the closed door. To the porter who looked out from a sliding window he showed the written order of Elizabeth for his admission. The porter opened the door, and with the loud cry, “Natalie, Natalie!” the Count Rasczinsky rushed into the hall of the house.
The bells continued to ring, the cannon to thunder. There was great rejoicing in St. Petersburg.
Issuing from the villa, Count Rasczinsky again mounted his foaming steed.
Like a storm-wind swept he over the plain—but not toward St. Petersburg, not toward the city where the people were saluting their new emperor!
Away, away, far and wide in the distance, his horse bounded and panted, bleeding with the spurs of his rider. Excited constantly to new speed, he as constantly bounds onward.
Like a nocturnal spectre flies he through the desert waste; the storm-wind drives him forward, it lifts the mantle that enwraps him like a cloud, and under that mantle is seen an angel-face, the smile of a delicate little girl, two tender childish arms clasping the form of the count, a slight elfish form tremblingly reposing upon the count’s breast.
“You weep not, my angel,” whispered the count, while rushing forward with restless haste.
“No, no, I neither weep nor tremble, for I am with you!” breathed a sweet, childish voice.
“Cling closer to me, my sweet blossom, recline your head against my breast. See, evening approaches!—Night will spread its protecting veil over us, and God will be our conductor and safeguard! I shall save you, my angel, my charming child!”
The steed continues his onward course.
The child smilingly reclines upon the bosom of the rider, over whom the descending sun sheds its red parting beams.
Like a phantom flies he onward, like a phantom he disappears there on the border of the forest. Was it only a delusive appearance, a fata morgana of the desert?
No, again and again the evening breeze raises the mantle of the rider, and the charming angelic brow is still seen resting upon the bosom of the count.
No, it is no dream, it is truth and reality!