“Oh, yes, I find it so,” said Elizabeth, with a constrained smile. “She is the handsomest woman in your realm.”
“Yourself excepted, Elizabeth,” kindly subjoined the regent.
“Oh, no, she is handsomer than I!” murmured Elizabeth.
Poor Leonore! In this moment hath the princess pronounced your sentence of condemnation, and in her heart subscribed the stern order for your execution.
A longer view of this triumph of the countess became insufferable; alleging a sudden attack of illness, she immediately took leave of the regent, and ordered her carriage.
Tears of anger and love stood in her eyes as Razumovsky approached to aid her in entering it. Hurling away his hand, she entered the carriage without assistance.
“And may I not accompany you in the carriage as usual?” asked Alexis, with tenderness in his tone.
“No,” she curtly said, “go back into the hall, and again admire the handsomest woman in the empire!”
Then, jealousy getting the better of anger, she beckoned to Alexis, who was about departing in sadness, and commanded him to enter the carriage without delay.
As soon as the carriage door was closed, with an angry movement she seized both of Razumovsky’s hands.
“Look at me,” said she—“look me directly in the eye, and then tell me, is Eleonore Lapuschkin handsomer than I?”
It was the day after the court ball. Princess Elizabeth was in her dressing-room, and occupied in enveloping herself in a very charming and seductive neglige. She was to-day in very good humor, very happy and free from care, for Alexis Razumovsky had, with the most solemn asserverations, assured her of his truth and devotion, and Elizabeth had been soothed and reconciled by his glowing language. It was for him that she wished to appear especially attractive to-day, that Alexis, by the sight of her, might be made utterly to forget the Countess Eleonore Lapuschkin. In these coquettish efforts of her vanity she had utterly forgotten all the plans and projects of her friends and adherents; she thought no more of becoming empress, but she would be the queen of beauty, and in that realm she would reign alone with an absolute sway.
A servant announced Lestocq.
A cloud of displeasure lowered on the brow of the princess. Startled from her sweet dreams by this name, she now for the first time recollected the fatal conversation she had had on the previous evening with the regent. In her love and jealousy she had totally forgotten the occurrence, but now that she was reminded of it, she felt her head throb with anxiety and terror.
Dismissing her attendants with an imperious nod, she hastened to meet the entering physician.