The door opens, and a smiling young maiden looks in with many a nod of her little head.
“Ah, is it you, my Julia?” calls the princess, opening her arms to press the young girl to her heart. “Come, I will kiss you, and imagine it is he who receives the kiss! Ah, what would this poor Anna Leopoldowna be if deprived of her dear friend, Julia von Mengden?” And drawing her favorite down into her lap, she continued: “Now relate to me, Julia. Set your tongue in motion, that I may hear one of your very pleasantest stories. That will divert me, and cause the long hours before his coming to pass more quickly.”
Julia von Mengden roguishly shook her beautifully curling locks with a comic earnestness, and, very aptly and unmistakably imitating the somewhat hoarse and nasal voice of Prince Ulrich, said:
“Your grace forgets that you are regent, and have to hold the reins of government in the name of the illustrious imperial squaller, your son, since his imperial grace still remains in his swaddling-clothes, and has much less to do with state affairs than with many other little occupations!”
Anna Leopoldowna, breaking out in joyous laughter, exultingly clapped her little hands, which were sparkling with brilliants.
“This is superb,” said she. “You play the part of my very worthy husband to perfection. It is as if one saw and heard him. Ah, I would that he resembled you a little, as he would then be less insupportable, and it would be somewhat easier to endure him.”
Julia von Mengden, making no answer to this remark, continued with her nasal voice and comic pathos:
“Your grace, this is not the time to analyze our diverting little domestic dissensions, and occupy ourselves with the quiet joys of our happy union! Your grace is, above all things, regent, and must give your attention to state affairs. Without are standing three most worthy, corpulent, tobacco-scented ambassadors, who desire an audience. Your grace is, above all things, regent, and must receive them.”
“Must!” exclaimed Anna, suddenly contracting her brows. “We will first hear what they desire of us.”
“The first is the envoy of the great Persian conqueror, Thamas-Kouli-Khan, who comes to lay at your feet the magnificent presents of his master.”
“Bah! they are presents for the young Emperor Ivan. He may, therefore, be conducted to the cradle of my son, and there display his presents. It does not interest me.”
“The second is a messenger from our camp. He brings news of a great victory obtained by one of your brave generals over the Swedes!”
“But what does that concern me?” angrily cried the regent. “Let them conquer or be defeated, it is all the same to me. That concerns my husband the generalissimo! Let me be spared the sight of the warlike and blood-dripping messenger!”
“The third is the ambassador of the wavering and shaking young Austrian Empress Maria Theresa. He comes, he says, upon a secret mission, and pretends to have discovered a sort of conspiracy that is hatching against you.”