Count Munnich’s brow beamed with inward satisfaction. “I shall, then, attain my ends,” thought he. Aloud he said: “Your highness, I have but one wish and one request; if you are willing to fulfil this, then will there be nothing left on earth for me to desire.”
“Then name your request at once, that I may grant it in advance!” said the princess, with a smile.
“The man is getting on rapidly, and will even now get the appointment of generalissimo,” thought Ostermann. “That must never be; I must prevent it!”
And just as Munnich was opening his mouth to prefer his request, Ostermann suddenly uttered so loud and piteous a cry of anguish that the compassionate and alarmed princess hastened to offer him her sympathy and aid.
At this moment the clock upon the wall struck four. That was the hour for which Munnich was invited to dine with the regent. It would not do to fail of his engagement to-day—he must be punctual, to avoid exciting suspicion. He, therefore, had no longer the time to lay his request before the princess; consequently Count Ostermann had accomplished his object, and secretly triumphing, he loudly groaned and complained of his sufferings.
Count Munnich took his leave.
“I go now,” he smilingly said, “to take my last dinner with the Duke of Courland. I shall return this night at the appointed hour. We shall then convert the duke into a Siberian convict, which, at all events, will be a very interesting operation.”
Thus he departed, with a horrible laugh upon his lips, to keep his appointment with the regent.
Count Ostermann had again attained his end—he remained alone with the princely pair. Had Munnich been the first who came, Ostermann was the last to go.
“Ah,” said he, rising with apparent difficulty, “I will now bear my old, diseased body to my dwelling, to repose and perhaps to die upon my bed of pain.”
“Not to die, I hope,” said Anna.
“You must live, that you may see us in our greatness,” said the prince.
Ostermann feebly shook his head. “I see, I see it all,” said he. “You will liberate yourself from one tyrant, your highness, to become the prey of another. The eyes of the dying see clear, and I tell you, duchess, you were already on the point of giving away the power you have attained. Know you what Munnich’s demand will be?”
“He will demand what Biron refused him, and for which refusal Munnich became his enemy. He will ask you to appoint him generalissimo of all your forces by land and sea.”
“Then will he demand what naturally belongs to me,” said the prince, excitedly, “and we shall of course refuse it.”
“Yes, we must refuse it,” repeated the princess.
“And in that you will do well,” said Count Ostermann. “I may venture to say so, as I have no longer the least ambition—death will soon relieve me from all participation in affairs of state. I am a feeble old man, and desire nothing more than to be allowed occasionally to impart good counsels to my benefactors. And this is now my advice: Guard yourselves against the ambition of Count Munnich.”