The princess and her lover betook themselves to the wardrobe, and called her women to assist in selecting a suitable revolution-toilet.
Night had come. The lights in palaces and houses were gradually extinguished. St. Petersburg began to sleep, or at least to give itself the appearance of sleeping. The regent, Anna Leopoldowna, also, had already dismissed her household and withdrawn into her private apartments.
It was a fine starlight night. Anna leaned upon the window-frame, thoughtfully and dreamily glancing up at the heavens. Her eyes gradually filled with tears, which slowly rolled down her cheeks and fell upon her hands. She was startled by the falling of these warm, glowing drops. She was thinking of Lynar, of the distant, warmly-desired one, to whom she would gladly have devoted her whole existence, but to whom she could belong only through falsehood. She thought it would be nobler and greater to renounce him, that her love might be consecrated by her abnegation, while actually devoting her life to the duties enjoined by the laws and the Church. But these thoughts filled her bosom with a nameless sorrow, and it was involuntarily that she wept.
“No,” she murmured low, “I cannot make this sacrifice; I cannot make an offering of my love to my virtue; for this bugbear of a compulsory marriage I cannot give up a love which God Himself has inspired in my heart. Then let it be so! Let the world judge and the priests condemn me. I will not sacrifice my love to a prejudice. I know that this is sinful, but God will have compassion on the sinner who has no other happiness on earth than this only one—a love that controls her whole being. And if this sin must be punished, oh, my Maker, I pray you to pardon him, and let the punishment fall on me alone!”
Thus speaking, she raised her arms and directed her eyes toward the heavens in fervent prayer. Suddenly a brilliant light flashed through the air—a star had shot from its sphere, and, after a short course, had become extinguished.
“That bodes misfortune,” said Anna, with a shudder, her head sinking upon her breast.
At this moment there was a loud knocking at her door, and Prince Ulrich, Anna’s husband, earnestly demanded admission.
Anna hastened to open, asking with surprise the cause of his unusual visit.
“Anna,” said the prince, hastily entering, “I come to warn you once more. Again has a warning letter been mysteriously conveyed to me. I have just found it upon my night-table. See for yourself. It implores us to be on our guard. It informs us that we are threatened with a frightful danger, that Elizabeth conspires, and that we are lost if we do not instantly take preventive measures.”
Anna read the warning letter, and then smilingly gave it back to her husband.
“Always the same old song, the same croaking of the toad,” said she. “Count Ostermann has taken it into his head that Elizabeth is conspiring, and doubtless all these warning letters come from him. Read them no more in future, my husband, and now let us retire to rest.”