They spoke of past times, of the happy days when the Empress Anna yet reigned, and when all breathed of pleasure and enjoyment at that happy court; and perhaps it was these recollections that rendered Biron sad and thoughtful. He was absent and low-spirited, and his large, flashing eyes often rested with piercing glances upon the calm and smiling face of Munnich.
“You all envy me on account of my power and dominion,” said he to Munnich; “of that I am not ignorant. But you know not with what secret pain and anguish these few hours of splendor are purchased!—the sleepless nights in which one fears seeing the doors open to give admission to murderers, and then the dreams in which blood is seen flowing, and nothing is heard but death-shrieks and lamentations! Ah, I hate the nights, which are inimical to all happiness. In the night will misfortune at some time overtake me—in the night the evil spirit reigns!”
With a drooping head the regent had spoken half to himself; but suddenly raising his head and looking Munnich sharply in the eyes, he said: “Have you, Mr. Field-Marshal, during your campaigns, never in the night foreseen any important event?”
Munnich shuddered slightly, and the color forsook his cheeks. “He knows all, and I am lost,” thought he, and his hand involuntarily sought his sword. “I will defend myself to the last drop of my blood,” was his first idea.
But Biron, although surprised, saw nothing of the field-marshal’s strange commotion—he was wholly occupied with his own thoughts, and only awaited an answer to his question.
“Well, Mr. Field-Marshal,” he repeated, “tell me whether in the night you have ever had the presentiment of any important event?”
“I was just considering,” he calmly said. “At this moment I do not recollect ever having foreseen any extraordinary event by night. But it has always been a principle of mine to take advantage of every favorable opportunity, whether by day or night.”
Munnich remained with the regent until eleven o’clock in the evening, and then they separated with the greatest kindness and the heartiest assurances of mutual friendship and devotion.
“Ah, that was a hard trial!” said Munnich, breathing easier and deeper, as he left the palace of the duke behind him. “I was already convinced that all was lost, but this Biron is unsuspecting as a child! Sleep now, Biron, sleep!—in a few hours I shall come to awaken you, and realize your bloody dream!”
With winged steps he hastened to his own palace. Arrived there, he summoned his adjutant, Captain von Mannstein, and, after having briefly given him the necessary orders, took him with him into his carriage for the purpose of repairing to the palace of the Prince of Brunswick.
It was a cold November night of the year 1740. The deserted streets were hushed in silence, and no one of the occupants of the dark houses, no one on earth, dreamed that this carriage, whose rumbling was only half heard in sleep, was in a manner the thundering herald of new times and new lords.