And, without waiting for an answer from the regent, the old man, groaning, tottered out of the room.
“Thank Heaven that he is gone!” said Anna, drawing a long breath when the door closed behind him. “This old ghost-seer has tormented me for months with his strange vagaries, which weigh upon his soul like the nightmare! Happily, thy letter, my beloved, has filled my whole heart with the ecstasy of joy, else would his dark and foolish prophecies be sufficient to sadden me.”
Thus speaking, the princess again drew Count Lynar’s letter from her bosom and pressed it to her lips. Then she called her women to dress her for the ball.
Some hours later the elite of the higher Russian nobility were assembled in the magnificent halls of the regent. Princes and counts, generals and diplomatists, beautiful women and blooming maidens, all moved in a confused intermixture, jesting and laughing with each other. They were all very gay on this evening, as the regent had herself set the example. With the most unconstrained cheerfulness, radiant with joy, did she wander through the rooms, dispensing smiles and agreeable words among all whom she approached. She bore in her bosom the glowing and cherished letter of her lover, and at its lightest rustling she seemed to feel the immediate presence of the writer. That was the secret of her gayety and her joyous smiles. People, perhaps, knew not this secret, but they saw its effects, and, as the all-powerful regent deigned this day to be cheerful and smiling, it was natural for this host of slavish nobility, who breathe nothing but the air of the court, to adopt for this evening’s motto, “Gayety and smiles.”
As we have said, only smiling lips and faces beaming with joy were to be seen; all breathed pleasure and enjoyment, all jested and laughed; it seemed as if all care and sorrow had fled from this happy, select circle, to give place to the delights of life. They had, with submissive humility, repressed all discontent and disaffection, all envyings and enmities; they chatted and laughed, while every one knew or suspected that they were standing on a volcano, whose overwhelming eruptions might be expected at any moment, and yet every one feigned the most perfect innocence and unconstraint. The ladies scrutinized each other’s magnificent and costly toilets, jesting and exchanging amorous glances with the gentlemen displaying orders and diamond crosses.
A movement suddenly arose in the rooms, the crowd divided and respectfully withdrew to the sides, and through the rows of smiling, humbly bowing courtiers passed the Princess Elizabeth, followed by her chamberlain Woronzow, her private secretary Alexis Razumovsky, and her physician Lestocq, in the splendor of her beauty and grace, all kindness, all smiles. She was to-day wonderfully charming in her gold-spangled lace dress, which flowed like a breath over her under-dress