“Can they be punished in no other way than by death?” impatiently asked Elizabeth. “Have we not prisons and the knout? Have we not Siberia and the rack? Punish these traitors, then, as you think best. I give you full powers, and, if it must be so, will even take the trouble to affix my signature to your sentence.”
“But we cannot scourge the regent or her son?”
“No,” said Elizabeth, with vehemence, “these you must permit to go free and without hindrance to Germany; your judicial powers will not extend to them. It shall not be said that Elizabeth has delivered up her aunt and cousin to torture for the purpose of securing her own advantage. Let them go hence free and unobstructed! I tell you this is my express, imperial will!”
And Elizabeth, exhausted by so great an effort, leaned her head upon the shoulder of Alexis, mechanically playing with his locks.
“And Munnich and Ostermann?” asked Lestocq.
“Mon Dieu! will, then, this annoyance never cease?” impatiently exclaimed the empress. “What are Munnich and Ostermann to me? I know them not; they have never injured and are wholly indifferent to me. Do with them as you and your colleagues think best, I shall not trouble myself about it. Judge, condemn, punish them, it is all one to me—only their lives must be spared, as I have promised that no one shall be punished with death.”
“I may, then, announce to the council that you will confirm their sentence?”
“Yes, yes, certainly,” cried Elizabeth, springing up. “Scourge, banish them, do what you please, but leave me in peace! Come, my Alexis, this good Lestocq is insufferable to-day; he will annoy us to death if we remain any longer here! Come, we will escape from him and his serious face! Oh, we have much more serious subjects of conversation. To-morrow is my grand gala dinner, and we have my toilet to examine, to be certain that every thing is in the proper order. And then the ball toilet for the evening, which is far more important. I shall open the ball with a Polonnaise. You promised me, Alexis, to practice with me the new tour which the Marquis de la Chetardie describes as the latest Parisian mode. Come, let us essay this tour. For a new empress, at her first court ball, there is nothing more important than that she should perform her duty as leader of the dance with propriety and grace. Quick, therefore, to the work! Give me your hand—and now, Alexis, let us commence. Sing a melody to it, and then it will go better.”
Alexis began to sing a Polonnaise, and, taking the hand of the empress, they commenced the practice of the new Polonnaise tour.
“So, that is right,” said he, interrupting his singing, “that is very fine. Now let go my hand and turn proudly and majestically around. Beautifully done! Now a half turn sideward. One, two, three—la, la, la, tra la!”
“Yet one more question,” interposed Lestocq; “may the council of state sit in judgment upon Lowenwald and de Mengden, and will you confirm their decision?”