“But,” he then continued, with a darkened brow, “what is the good of being the ruler if I cannot bear the name of ruler?—what is it to govern, if another is to be publicly recognized as regent and receive homage as such? The kernel of this glory will be mine, but the shell,—I also languish for the shell. But no, this is not the time for such thoughts, now, when the circumstances demand a cheerful mien and every outward indication of satisfaction! My time will also come, and, when it comes, the shell as well as the kernel shall be mine! But this is the hour for waiting upon the Duke of Courland! I shall be the first to wish him joy, and shall at the same time remind him that he has given me his ducal word that he will grant the first request I shall make to him as regent. Well, well, I will ask now, that I may hereafter command.”
The field-marshal ordered his carriage and proceeded to the palace of the Duke of Courland.
A deathlike stillness prevailed in the streets through which he rode. On every hand were to be seen only curtained windows and closed palaces; it seemed as if this usually so brilliant and noisy quarter of St. Petersburg had suddenly become deserted and desolate. The usual equipages, with their gold and silver-laced attendants, were nowhere to be seen.
The count’s carriage thundered through the deserted streets, but wherever he passed curious faces were seen peeping from the curtained windows of the palaces; all doors were hastily opened behind him, and he was followed by the runners of the counts and princes, charged with the duty of espying his movements.
Count Munnich saw all that, and smiled.
“I have now given them the signal,” said he, “and this servile Russian nobility will rush hither, like fawning hounds, to bow before a new idol and pay it their venal homage.”
The carriage now stopped before the palace of the Duke of Courland, and with an humble and reverential mien Munnich ascended the stairs to the brilliant apartments of Biron.
He found the duke alone; absorbed in thought, he was standing at the window looking down into streets which were henceforth to be subjected to his sway.
“Your highness is surveying your realm,” said Munnich, with a smile. “Wait but a little, and you will soon see all the great nobility flocking here to pay you homage. My carriage stops before your door, and these sharp-scenting hounds now know which way to turn with their abject adoration.”
“Ah,” sadly responded Biron, “I dread the coming hour. I have a misfortune-prophesying heart, and this night, in a dream, I saw myself in a miserable hut, covered with beggarly rags, shivering with cold and fainting with hunger!”
“That dream indicated prosperity and happiness, your highness,” laughingly responded Munnich, “for dreams are always interpreted by contraries. You saw yourself as a beggar because you were to become our ruler—because a purple mantle will this day be placed upon your shoulders.”