“The Marquis de la Chetardie has, in the name of his king, offered her an unlimited credit, and she is already provided with almost a million of silver rubles.”
“You have a reason for every thing,” laughed the regent. “The princess is poor; let the French ambassador quickly provide her with his millions. The good princess, I wish she had these millions, and then she could indulge her love of ornaments and magnificent dresses.”
“The marquis has brought her rich dresses and stuffs from Paris,” said Ostermann, laconically.
The regent burst into a clear, ringing laugh.
“The marquis is a real deus ex machina,” exclaimed she. “Wherever you need him, he appears and helps you out of your trouble. But seriously, my dear count, let it now suffice with these gloomy suspicions. They are already commencing the dance-music, and you will put me out of tune with your croaking. A ball, my dear count, requires that one should be in and not out of tune, and you are pursuing the best course to frighten the smiles from my lips.”
“Oh, could I but do that!” cried Ostermann, wringing his hands—“could I but cry in your ear with a voice of thunder: ’Princess, awake from this slumber of indifference, force yourself to act, save your son, your husband, your friends; for we are all, all lost with you!’”
“Oh, speaking of my son,” smilingly interposed the regent, “you must see a splendid present which the Emperor Ivan has this day received.”
With this she took from a carton a small child’s dress, embroidered with gold and sparkling with brilliants, which she handed to the count.
“Only look at this splendor,” said she. “The ladies of Moscow have embroidered this for the young emperor, and it has to-day been presented by a deputation. Will not the little emperor make a magnificent appearance in this brilliant dress?”
Count Ostermann did not answer immediately. His face had assumed a very painful expression, and deep signs escaped his agitated breast. Slowly rising from his seat, with a sad glance at the princess, he said:
“I see that your destruction is inevitable, and I cannot save you; you will be ruined, and we all with you. Well, I am an old man, and I pardon your highness, for you act not thus from an evil disposition, but because you have a noble and confiding heart. Believe me, generosity and confidence are the worst failings with which a man can be tainted in this world—failings which always insure destruction, and have only mockery and derision for an epitaph. You are no longer to be helped, duchess. You are on the borders of an abyss, into which you will smilingly plunge, dragging us all after you. Well, peace be with you! My sufferings have lately been so great, that I can only thank you for furnishing me with the means of quickly ending them! Madame, we shall meet again on the scaffold, or in Siberia! Until then, farewell!”