“How beautiful it yet is to be an empress—for an empress there is only joy and delight, and endless pleasures!”
SCENES AND PORTRAITS
Years passed—famous and glorious years for Russia. Peace within her borders, and splendid victories gained over foreign enemies, particularly over the Prussians. In songs of jubilee the people praised and blessed their empress, whose wisdom had brought all to such a glorious conclusion, and had made her country great, triumphant, and happy.
The good Elizabeth! What had she to do with the victories of her soldiers, with the happiness of her realm? She knew nothing of it, and if peace prevailed throughout the Russian empire, it was absolutely unknown in the imperial palace, where there was eternal war, a never-ending feud! There the young Catharine contended with her husband, whom she hated and abhorred; with Elizabeth, who saw in her a dangerous rival. But it was an unequal struggle in which these two women were engaged, for Elizabeth had on her side the power and dominion, while Catharine had only her youth, her beauty, and her tears!
Elizabeth hated Catharine because she dared to remain young and handsome, while she, the empress, saw that she was growing old, and her charms were withering; and Catharine hated Elizabeth because the latter denied her a right which the empress daily claimed for herself—the right to choose a lover, and to love him as long as he pleased her. She hated Elizabeth because the latter surrounded her with spies and watchers, and required of her a strict virtue, a never-violated matrimonial fidelity—fidelity to the husband who so far derided and insulted his wife as to demand that she should receive into her circle and treat with respect and kindness his own mistress, the Countess Woronzow—fidelity to this husband, who had never shown her any thing but contempt and neglect, and who had no other way of entertaining her than teaching her to march in military fashion, and stand as a sentinel at his door!
Wounded in her inmost being and her feminine honor, tired of the eternal pin-prickings with which Elizabeth tormented her, Catharine retreated into her most retired apartment, there in quiet to reflect upon her dishonorable greatness, and yearningly to dream of a splendid future. “For the future,” said she, with sparkling eyes to her confidante, Princess Daschkow, “the future is mine, they cannot deprive me of it. For that I labor and think and study. Ah, when my future shall have become the present, then will I encircle my brows with a splendid imperial diadem, and astonish you with all my greatness and magnificence.”
“But you forget your husband!” smilingly interposed Princess Daschkow. “He will a little obscure the splendor of your imperial crown, as he will always be the first in the realm. He is the all-powerful emperor, and you will be powerless, although an empress!”