A momentary pause followed. Princess Elizabeth silently motioned her friends to be seated, and drew her favorite Alexis nearer to her.
Lestocq, her physician and confidant, with a solemn countenance, took a place opposite her.
“We are ready to hear your bad news,” said the princess.
“The regent, Anna Leopoldowna, will have herself crowned as empress,” laconically responded Lestocq.
Elizabeth looked at him interrogatively and with curiosity for the continuation of his bad news. But as Lestocq remained silent, she asked with astonishment: “Is that all you have to tell us?”
“Preliminarily, that is all,” answered Lestocq.
Princess Elizabeth broke out with a joyous laugh.
“Well, this is, in fact, very comic. With a real Job’s mien you announce to us the worst news, and then inform us that Anna Leopoldowna is to be crowned empress! Let her be crowned! No one will interfere to prevent it, and she will be none the happier for it. No woman who has taken possession of the Russian throne as an independent princess has ever yet been happy. Or do you think that Catharine, my lofty step-mother, was so? Believe me, upon the throne she trembled with fear of assassins; for it is well known that this Russian throne is surrounded by murderers, awaiting only the favorable moment. Ah, whenever I have stood in front of this imperial throne, it has always seemed to me that I saw the points of a thousand daggers peeping forth from its soft cushions! And you would have me seat myself upon such a dagger-beset throne? No, no, leave me my peace and repose. Let Anna Leopoldowna declare herself empress—what should I care? I should have to bend before her with my congratulations. That is all!”
And the princess, letting her head glide upon Razumovsky’s shoulder, as if exhausted by this long speech, closed her fatigued eyelids.
“Ah, if Czar Peter, your great father, could hear you,” sadly said Lestocq, “he would spurn you for such pusillanimity, princess.”
“It is, therefore, fortunate for me that he is dead,” said the princess, with a smile. “And now, my dear Lestocq, if you know nothing further, let this suffice you: I tell you, once for all, that I have no desire for this imperial throne. I would crown my head with roses and myrtles, but not with that golden circle which would crush me to the earth. Therefore, trouble me no more on this subject. Be content with what I am, and if you cannot, well—then I must be reconciled to being abandoned by you!”
“I will never desert you, even if I must follow you to suffering and death!” exclaimed Alexis Razumovsky, casting himself at the feet of the princess.
“We will remain true and faithful to you unto death!” cried Woronzow and Grunstein.
“Well, and you alone remain silent, Lestocq?” asked the princess, with tears in her eyes.