“I have not yet come to the end of my bad news,” said Lestocq, with a clouded brow.
“Ah!” jestingly interposed the princess, “you would, perhaps, as further bad news, inform us that the Emperor Ivan has cut his first tooth!”
“No,” said Lestocq, “I would only say to you, that the 18th of December, the day on which the regent is to be crowned as empress, the 18th of December is the day assigned for the marriage of Princess Elizabeth with Prince Louis of Brunswick, the new Duke of Courland!”
The princess sprang up from her seat as if stung by an adder. Alexis Razumovsky, who still knelt at her feet, uttered loud lamentations, in which Woronzow and Grunstein soon joined. With calm triumph Lestocq observed the effect produced by his words.
“What are you saying there?” at length Elizabeth breathlessly asked.
“I say that on the 18th of December the Princess Elizabeth is to be married to Prince Louis of Brunswick, who has already come to St. Petersburg for that purpose,” calmly answered Lestocq.
“And I say,” cried the princess, “that no such marriage will ever take place!”
Lestocq shrugged his shoulders. “Princess Elizabeth is a gentle, peace-loving, always suffering lamb,” he said.
“But Princess Elizabeth can become a tigress when it concerns the defence of her holiest rights!” exclaimed the princess, pacing the room in violent excitement.
“Ah,” she continued, “they are not then satisfied with delivering me over to poverty and abandonment; it does not suffice them to see me so deeply humiliated as to receive alms from this regent who occupies the throne that belongs to me. They would rob me of my last and only remaining blessing, my personal freedom! They would make my poor heart a prisoner, and bind it with the chains and fetters of a marriage which I abhor! No, no, I tell you that shall they never do.”
And the princess, quite beside herself with rage, stamped her feet and doubled up her little hands into fists. Now was she her father’s real and not unworthy daughter; Czar Peter’s bold and savage spirit flashed from her eyes, his scorn and courageous determination spoke from her wildly excited features. She saw not, she heard not what was passing around her; she was wholly occupied with her own angry thoughts, and with those dreadful images which the mere idea of marriage had conjured up.
Her four favorites stood together at some distance, observing her with silent sympathy.
“It is now for you, Alexis Razumovsky, to complete the work we have begun,” whispered Lestocq to him. “Elizabeth loves you; you must nourish in her this abhorrence of a marriage with the prince. You must make yourself so loved, that she will dare all rather than lose you! We have long enough remained in a state of abjectness; it is time to labor for our advancement. To the work, to the work, Alexis Razumovsky! We must make an empress of this Elizabeth, that she may raise us to wealth and dignities!”