Arm in arm the two princesses returned to the nearest hall. This was empty, no one daring to remain there lest they might incur the blame of having overheard and understood some word of the princesses, and thus acquired a knowledge of their private conversation. People had therefore withdrawn to the more distant rooms, where they still preserved a breathless silence.
Suddenly the two princesses, arm in arm, again appeared in the halls, pleasantly conversing, and instantly the scene was again changed, as if by the stroke of a magic wand. The chilling silence melted into an agreeable smile, and all recovered their breaths and former joviality.
All was again sunshine and pleasure, for the princesses were again there, and the princesses smiled—must they not laugh and be beside themselves with joy?
Elizabeth’s tender glances sought her friend, the handsome Alexis Razumovsky. Suddenly her brow as darkened and her cheeks paled, for she saw him and saw that his eyes did not seek hers!
He stood leaning against a pillar, his eyes fixed upon a lady who had just then entered the hall, and whose wonderful beauty had everywhere called forth a murmur of astonishment and admiration. This lady was the Countess Lapuschkin, the wife of the commissary-general of marine, from whose family came the first wife of Czar Peter the Great, the beautiful Eudoxia Lapuschkin.
Eleonore Lapuschkin was more beautiful than Eudoxia. An infinite magic of youth and loveliness, of purity and energy, was shed over her regular features. She had the traits of a Hebe, and the form of a Juno. When she smiled and displayed her dazzlingly white teeth, she was irresistibly charming. When, in a serious mood, she raised her large dark eyes, full of nobleness and spirit, then might people fall at her feet with adoration. Countess Lapuschkin had often been compared and equalled to the Princess Elizabeth, and yet nothing could be more dissimilar or incomparable than these two beauties. Elizabeth’s was wholly earthly, voluptuous, glowing with youth and love, but Eleonore’s was chaste and sublime, pure and maidenly. Elizabeth allured to love, Eleonore to adoration.
The princess had long hated the young Countess Eleonore Lapuschkin, and considered her as a rival; but that this rival should now gain an interest in the heart of her favorite, that filled Elizabeth’s soul with anger and agitation, that caused her eyes to flash and her blood to boil.
Staringly as Alexis Razumovsky’s eyes were fixed upon the countess, she, unconscious of this double observation, stood cheerful and unembarrassed in the circle of her admiring friends and adorers.
Anna Leopoldowna followed the glance of the princess, and, observing the beautiful Lapuschkin, said, without thinking of Elizabeth’s very susceptible vanity:
“Leonore Lapuschkin is an admirably beautiful woman, is she not? I never saw a handsomer one. To look at her is like a morning dream; her appearance diffuses light and splendor. Do you not find it so, Elizabeth?”