This was the reason why Elizabeth resolved to marry Alexis Razumovsky; this was the reason why she, in a solitary chapel, accompanied only by Lestocq and the priest, stood before the marriage-altar with Alexis, and became his wife.
She breathed freer when the priest had pronounced his blessing upon her; an oppressive weight was lifted from her heart; the child she was about to bear was saved and sheltered, and Eleonore’s curse had no longer any power over it!
On the next day Elizabeth appointed Alexis field-marshal, and raised him in the ranks of the nobility.
“We must at any rate give our son a respectable father,” said she. “I hope we shall have a son, who will be as beautiful as his father; whom I will overload with honors, and place high above all the magnates of my court. Ah, a son! No daughter, Alexis!”
“And why no daughter?” smilingly asked Razumovsky.
Elizabeth shuddered, and, clinging to her beloved, whispered:
“Has not Eleonore Lapuschkin said, ’Give her a daughter, and let her, before the eyes of her mother, experience what I now suffer!’ Oh, Alexis, wish me therefore no daughter! I shall always tremble for her!”
And God seemed to have listened to the anxious prayer of the empress. Again she bore a son, but again the son died shortly after his birth.
“It is very sad to lose a child, and especially a son,” sighed Elizabeth, and involuntarily she thought of Anna, that poor mother whom she had robbed of her son, that he might grow up in eternal joyless imprisonment, that he might be morally murdered, and from a man be converted into an idiot!
“This is God’s vengeance!” whispered something in her breast, but Elizabeth shrank from these low whisperings of her conscience, and she tremulously said: “I will not listen to it! Away, ye intrusive thoughts! I am an empress—for me there are no crimes, no laws! An empress is exalted above all law, and whatever she does is right! Away, away, therefore, ye troublesome thoughts! This boy Ivan must remain in prison; I cannot restore him to his mother. May she bear other children, and then new joys will bloom for her!”
But these thoughts would not be thus be banished, they constantly haunted her; they left not her nightly couch; they constantly renewed their dismal, awful whisperings; and this all-powerful empress would loudly shriek with mortal anguish, and she was dismayed at being left alone with her thoughts.
“I will have society around me,” said she, “and will never be alone; the people about me shall always laugh and jest, to cheer me and distract my thoughts. Hasten, hasten—call my court; the most jovial men shall be most welcome! And, do you hear, above all things, bring me wine, the best and strongest wine. When I drink plenty of it, I shall again become gay and happy; it drives away all cares, and renders the heart light and free!”
And they came, the merriest gentlemen of the court; it also came, the strong, fiery wine; and, after an hour, Elizabeth’s brow beamed with renewed pleasure, while her heavy tongue with difficulty stammered: