Eleonore could no longer speak with her tongue, but her eyes spoke, and those eyes continued to repeat the prayer for vengeance she had addressed to Heaven: “Grant to this Empress Elizabeth a daughter, and let that daughter’s sufferings be like mine.”
The people dispersed. The great returned to their palaces, and also Alexis Razumovsky, who, that he might not excite the anger of the empress, had likewise attended the execution, returned to the imperial palace.
Elizabeth was standing before a large Venetian mirror, scrutinizing a toilet which she had to-day changed for the fourth time.
“Well,” she asked of Alexis, as he entered, “was it an interesting spectacle? Was the handsome countess soundly whipped?”
And, while so asking, she was smilingly occupied in attaching a purple flower to her hair.
“She was flayed,” laconically replied Alexis. “Her blood streamed down a back that was as red as your beautiful lips, Elizabeth.”
Elizabeth offered him her lips to kiss.
“Now,” she jestingly asked, “who is now the handsomest woman in my realm?”
“You are and always were!” responded Alexis, embracing her.
“And now tell me,” said she, with curiosity, “what did this proud countess do? How did she behave, what did she say?”
Alexis, seating himself upon a tabouret at her feet, related to her all about the fair Eleonore, and what a terrible curse she uttered.
“Ah, nonsense!” replied Elizabeth, shrugging her shoulders, “How can one make such a stupid prayer to God! I shall never marry, and therefore never have a daughter to be scourged with the knout.”
But while thus speaking, her eyes suddenly became fixed and her cheek pale. She laid her trembling hand upon her heart—tears gushed from her eyes.
Under her heart she had felt a movement of a new and mysterious life! Heaven itself seemed to contradict her words! Elizabeth felt that she was a mother, and Eleonore’s words now filled her with awe and terror!
Fainting, she sank into Razumovsky’s arms.
A few weeks later, a great and magnificent court festival was celebrated at the imperial palace at St. Petersburg. It was not enough that Elizabeth had chosen a successor in the person of Peter, Duke of Holstein, she must also give this successor a wife, that the throne might be fortified and assured by a numerous progeny.
She chose for him the Princess of Anhalt-Zerbst, the young and beautiful Sophia Augusta, who, embracing the Greek religion, received the name of Catharine.