And while Elizabeth was jesting and laughing with Alexis, Lestocq, taking the newly-signed order, hurried away to dispatch his courier.
At length they had reached the borders of this feared, pernicious Russian empire. They now needed no longer to tremble, no longer to fear at the slightest sound. Only a short quarter of an hour and the boundary will be passed and liberty secured!
They had made a halt at a small public house near the boundary. The horses were to be changed there, and there the soldiers of the escort were to get their last taste of Russian brandy before crossing the border.
Anna and her husband have remained in the sledge. She holds her son in her arms, she presses him to her bosom, full of exulting maternal joy: for he is now saved, this poor little emperor; Anna has now no longer to fear that her son will be torn from her—he is saved—he belongs to her; she can rejoice in his childish beauty, in the happy consciousness of safety.
She has thrown back the curtains of the sledge. She felt no cold. With joy-beaming eyes she looked forward to that blessed land beyond the boundary! There, where upon its tall staff the Russian flag floated high in the air, there freedom and happiness were to begin for her—there will she find again her youth and her maiden dreams, her cheerfulness and her pleasure—there is freedom—golden, heavenly freedom!
She is so happy at this moment that she loves all and every one. For the first time she feels a sort of tenderness for her husband, who patiently bearing all in silence, had complained and wept only for her. Gently she reclined her head upon his shoulder, and with a cry of ecstasy the prince encircled her neck with his arms.
“Oh, my husband,” she whispered, with overflowing eyes, “look there, over there! There is our future, there will we seek for happiness. Perhaps we may unitedly find it in the same path, for we have here a sweet bond to hold our hands together. Look at him, your son. Ulrich, you are the father of my child! Grant my heart only a little repose, and perhaps we may yet be happy with each other.”
Prince Ulrich’s eyes were suffused with tears; he experienced a moment of the purest happiness. He impressed a kiss upon the brow of his wife, and in a low tone called her by the tenderest names.
The child awoke and smilingly looked up from Anna’s bosom to both of his parents. Anna lifted up the little Ivan.
“Look there, my son,” said she—“there you will no longer be an emperor, but you will have the right to be a free and happy man. No crown awaits you there, but freedom, worth more than all the crowns in the world.”
Little Ivan exultingly stretched forth his tiny arms, as if he would draw down to his childish heart this future and this freedom so highly lauded by his mother.
And, like the child, the parents looked smilingly out upon the broad expanse that stretched away before them.