“Oh, I know you are Lestocq’s friend, and share his dreams,” said the princess. “But let us not now speak of impossibilities, nor idly jest, while I am deeply touched by the generous friendship of your sovereign. That I accept his offer, may prove to him and you how much I love and respect him; for we willingly incur obligations only to those who are so highly estimated that we gratefully subordinate ourselves to them. Write this to your king.”
“And may I also write to him,” asked the marquis, “that this conversation will remain a secret, of which, above all things, the regent, Anna Leopoldowna, is to know nothing?”
“My imperial word of honor,” said the princess, “that no one except ourselves and Lestocq, whom you yourself propose as a medium, shall know anything of this great generosity of your sovereign. God grant that a time may one day come when I may loudly and publicly acknowledge my great obligations to him!”
“That time will have come when you are Empress of Russia!” said the ambassador, taking his leave.
“Already one more who has taken it into his head to make an empress of me,” said the princess, as her three favorites again entered. “Foolish people that you are! It does not satisfy you to be the friend of a Princess Elizabeth, but I must become an empress for your sakes.”
“How well the diadem would become that proud pure brow!” exclaimed Alexis, with animation.
“How happy would this poor Russia be under your mild sceptre!” said the chamberlain, Woronzow.
“Yes, you owe it to all of us, to yourself and your people, to mount the throne of your fathers,” said Grunstein.
“But if I say to you that I will not?” cried the princess, reclining again upon her divan. “The duties of an empress are very difficult and wearing. I love quiet and enjoyment; and, moreover, this throne of my father, of which you speak so pathetically, is already occupied, and awaits me not. See you not your sublime Emperor Ivan, whom the regent-mother is rocking in his cradle? That is your emperor, before whom you can bow, and leave me unmolested with your imperial crown. Come, Alexis, sit down by me upon this tabouret. We will take another look at these magnificent presents. Ah! truly they are dearer to me than the possession of empire.”
“The Princess Elizabeth can thus speak only in jest,” said an earnest voice behind them.
“Ah, Lestocq!” said the princess, with a friendly nod. “You come very late, my friend.”
“And yet too soon to bring you bad news!” said Lestocq, with a profound and respectful bow to the princess.
“Bad news?” repeated Elizabeth, turning pale. “Mon Dieu, am I, then, one too many for them here? Would they kill me, or send me in exile to Siberia?”
“Yet worse!” laconically responded Lestocq. “But, first of all, let us be cautious, and take care that we have no listeners.” And, crossing the room, Lestocq closed all the doors, and carefully looked behind the window curtains to make sure that no one was concealed there. “Now, princess,” he commenced, in a tone of solemnity, “now listen to what I have to say to you.”