THE DAUGHTER OF AN EMPRESS
By Louise Muhlbach
Countess Natalie Dolgorucki Count Munnich Count Ostermann The Night of the Conspiracy Hopes Deceived The Regent Anna Leopoldowna The Favorite No Love Princess Elizabeth A Conspiracy The Warning The Court Ball The Pencil-Sketch The Revolution The Sleep of Innocence The Recompensing Punishment The Palace of the Empress Eleonore Lapuschkin A Wedding Scenes and Portraits Princes also must die The Charmed Garden The Letters Diplomatic Quarrels The Fish Feud Pope Ganganelli (Clement XIV.) The Pope's Recreation Hour A Death-Sentence The Festival of Cardinal Bernis The Improvisatrice The Departure An Honest Betrayer Alexis Orloff Corilla The Holy Chafferers "Sic transit gloria mundi" The Vapo The Invasion Intrigues The Dooming Letter The Russian Officer Anticipation He! The Warning The Russian Fleet Conclusion
THE DAUGHTER OF AN EMPRESS
COUNTESS NATALIE DOLGORUCKI
"No, Natalie, weep no more! Quick, dry your tears. Let not my executioner see that we can feel pain or weep for sorrow!"
Drying her tears, she attempted a smile, but it was an unnatural, painful smile.
"Ivan," said she, "we will forget, forget all, excepting that we love each other, and thus only can I become cheerful. And tell me, Ivan, have I not always been in good spirits? Have not these long eight years in Siberia passed away like a pleasant summer day? Have not our hearts remained warm, and has not our love continued undisturbed by the inclement Siberian cold? You may, therefore, well see that I have the courage to bear all that can be borne. But you, my beloved, you my husband, to see you die, without being able to save you, without being permitted to die with you, is a cruel and unnatural sacrifice! Ivan, let me weep; let your murderer see that I yet have tears. Oh, my God, I have no longer any pride, I am nothing but a poor heart-broken woman! Your widow, I weep over the yet living corpse of my husband!" With convulsive sobs the trembling young wife fell upon her knees and with frantic grief clung to her husband's feet.
Count Ivan Dolgorucki no long felt the ability to stand aloof from her sorrow. He bent down to his wife, raised her in his arms, and with her he wept for his youth, his lost life, the vanishing happiness of his love, and the shame of his fatherhood.
"I should joyfully go to my death, were it for the benefit of my country," said he. "But to fall a sacrifice to a cabal, to the jealousy of an insidious, knavish favorite, is what makes the death-hour fearful. Ah, I die for naught, I die that Munnich, Ostermann, and Biron may remain securely in power. It is horrible thus to die!"
Natalie's eyes flashed with a fanatic glow. "You die," said she, "and I shall live, will live, to see how God will avenge you upon these evil-doers. I will live, that I may constantly think of you, and in every hour of the day address to God my prayers for vengeance and retribution!"
"Live and pray for our fatherland!" said Ivan.
"No," she angrily cried, "rather let God's curse rest upon this Russia, which delivers over its noblest men to the executioner, and raises its ignoblest women to the throne. No blessing for Russia, which is cursed in all generations and for all time—no blessing for Russia, whose bloodthirsty czarina permits the slaughter of the noble Ivan and his brothers!"
"Ah," said Ivan, "how beautiful you are now—how flash your eyes, and how radiantly glow your cheeks! Would that my executioner were now come, that he might see in you the heroine, Natalie, and not the sorrow-stricken woman!"
"Ah, your prayer is granted; hear you not the rattling of the bolts, the roll of the drum? They are coming, Ivan, they are coming!"
"Farewell, Natalie—farewell, forever!"
And, mutually embracing, they took one last, long kiss, but wept not.
"Hear me, Natalie! when they bind me upon the wheel, weep not. Be resolute, my wife, and pray that their torments may not render me weak, and that no cry may escape my lips!"
"I will pray, Ivan."
In half an hour all was over. The noble and virtuous Count Ivan Dolgorucki had been broken upon the wheel, and three of his brothers beheaded, and for what?—Because Count Munnich, fearing that the noble and respected brothers Dolgorucki might dispossess him of his usurped power, had persuaded the Czarina Anna that they were plotting her overthrow for the purpose of raising Katharina Ivanovna to the imperial throne. No proof or conviction was required; Munnich had said it, and that sufficed; the Dolgoruckis were annihilated!
But Natalie Dolgorucki still lived, and from the bloody scene of her husband's execution she repaired to Kiew. There would she live in the cloister of the Penitents, preserving the memory of the being she loved, and imploring the vengeance of Heaven upon his murderers!
It was in the twilight of a clear summer night when Natalie reached the cloister in which she was on the next day to take the vows and exchange her ordinary dress for the robe of hair-cloth and the nun's veil.
Foaming rushed the Dnieper within its steep banks, hissing broke the waves upon the gigantic boulders, and in the air was heard the sound as of howling thunder and a roaring storm.
"I will take my leave of nature and of the world," murmured Natalie, motioning her attendants to remain at a distance, and with firm feet climbing the steep rocky bank of the rushing Dnieper. Upon their knees her servants prayed below, glancing up to the rock upon which they saw the tall form of their mistress in the moonlight, which surrounded it with a halo; the stars laid a radiant crown upon her pure brow, and her locks, floating in the wind, resembled wings; to her servants she seemed an angel borne upon air and light and love upward to her heavenly home! Natalie stood there tranquil and tearless. The thoughtful glances of her large eyes swept over the whole surrounding region. She took leave of the world, of the trees and flowers, of the heavens and the earth. Below, at her feet, lay the cloister, and Natalie, stretching forth her arms toward it, exclaimed: "That is my grave! Happy, blessed Ivan, thou diedst ere being coffined; but I shall be coffined while yet alive! I stand here by thy tomb, mine Ivan. They have bedded thy noble form in the cold waves of the Dnieper, whose rushing and roaring was thy funeral knell, mine Ivan! I shall dwell by thy grave, and in the deathlike stillness of my cell shall hear the tones of the solemn hymn with which the impetuous stream will rock thee to thine eternal rest! Receive, then, ye sacred waves of the Dnieper, receive thou, mine Ivan, in thy cold grave, thy wife's vow of fidelity to thee. Again will I espouse thee—in life as in death, am I thine!"
And drawing from her finger the wedding-ring which her beloved husband had once placed upon it, she threw it into the foaming waves.
Bending down, she saw the ring sinking in the waters and murmured: "I greet thee, Ivan, I greet thee! Take my ring—forever am I thine!"
Then, rising proudly up, and stretching forth her arms toward heaven, she exclaimed aloud: "I now go to pray that God may send thee vengeance. Woe to Russia, woe!" and the stream with its boisterous waves howled and thundered after her the words: "Woe to Russia, woe!"
The Empress Anna was dead, and—an unheard-of case in Russian imperial history—she had even died a natural death. Again was the Russian imperial throne vacated! Who is there to mount it? whom has the empress named as her successor? No one dared to speak of it; the question was read in all eyes, but no lips ventured to open for the utterance of an answer, as every conjecture, every expression, if unfounded and unfulfilled, would be construed into the crime of high-treason as soon as another than the one thus indicated should be called to the throne!
Who will obtain that throne? So asked each man in his heart. The courtiers and great men of the realm asked it with shuddering and despair. For, to whom should they now go to pay their homage and thus recommend themselves to favor in advance? Should they go to Biron, the Duke of Courland? Was it not possible that the dying empress had chosen him, her warmly-beloved favorite, her darling minion, as her successor to the throne of all the Russias? But how if she had not done so? If, instead, she had chosen her niece, the wife of Prince Anton Ulrich, of Brunswick, as her successor? Or was it not also possible that she had declared the Princess Elizabeth, the daughter of Czar Peter the Great, as empress? The latter, indeed, had the greatest, the most incontestable right to the imperial throne of Russia; was she not the sole lawful heir of her father? How, if one therefore went to her and congratulated her as empress? But if one should make a mistake, how then?
The courtiers, as before said, shuddered and hesitated, and, in order to avoid making a mistake, did nothing at all. They remained in their palaces, ostensibly giving themselves up to deep mourning for the decease of the beloved czarina, whom every one of them secretly hated so long as she was yet alive.
There were but a few who were not in uncertainty respecting the immediate future, and conspicuous among that few was Field-Marshal Count Munnich.
While all hesitated and wavered in anxious doubt, Munnich alone was calm. He knew what was coming, because he had had a hand in shaping the event.
"Oh," said he, while walking his room with folded arms, "we have at length attained the object of our wishes, and this bright emblem for which I have so long striven will now finally become mine. I shall be the ruler of this land, and in the unrestricted exercise of royal power I shall behold these millions of venal slaves grovelling at my feet, and whimpering for a glance or a smile. Ah, how sweet is this governing power!
"But," he then continued, with a darkened brow, "what is the good of being the ruler if I cannot bear the name of ruler?—what is it to govern, if another is to be publicly recognized as regent and receive homage as such? The kernel of this glory will be mine, but the shell,—I also languish for the shell. But no, this is not the time for such thoughts, now, when the circumstances demand a cheerful mien and every outward indication of satisfaction! My time will also come, and, when it comes, the shell as well as the kernel shall be mine! But this is the hour for waiting upon the Duke of Courland! I shall be the first to wish him joy, and shall at the same time remind him that he has given me his ducal word that he will grant the first request I shall make to him as regent. Well, well, I will ask now, that I may hereafter command."
The field-marshal ordered his carriage and proceeded to the palace of the Duke of Courland.
A deathlike stillness prevailed in the streets through which he rode. On every hand were to be seen only curtained windows and closed palaces; it seemed as if this usually so brilliant and noisy quarter of St. Petersburg had suddenly become deserted and desolate. The usual equipages, with their gold and silver-laced attendants, were nowhere to be seen.
The count's carriage thundered through the deserted streets, but wherever he passed curious faces were seen peeping from the curtained windows of the palaces; all doors were hastily opened behind him, and he was followed by the runners of the counts and princes, charged with the duty of espying his movements.
Count Munnich saw all that, and smiled.
"I have now given them the signal," said he, "and this servile Russian nobility will rush hither, like fawning hounds, to bow before a new idol and pay it their venal homage."
The carriage now stopped before the palace of the Duke of Courland, and with an humble and reverential mien Munnich ascended the stairs to the brilliant apartments of Biron.
He found the duke alone; absorbed in thought, he was standing at the window looking down into streets which were henceforth to be subjected to his sway.
"Your highness is surveying your realm," said Munnich, with a smile. "Wait but a little, and you will soon see all the great nobility flocking here to pay you homage. My carriage stops before your door, and these sharp-scenting hounds now know which way to turn with their abject adoration."
"Ah," sadly responded Biron, "I dread the coming hour. I have a misfortune-prophesying heart, and this night, in a dream, I saw myself in a miserable hut, covered with beggarly rags, shivering with cold and fainting with hunger!"
"That dream indicated prosperity and happiness, your highness," laughingly responded Munnich, "for dreams are always interpreted by contraries. You saw yourself as a beggar because you were to become our ruler—because a purple mantle will this day be placed upon your shoulders."
"Blood also is purple," gloomily remarked the duke, "and a sharp poniard may also convert a beggar's blouse into a purple mantle! Oh, my friend, would that I had never become what I am! One sleeps ill when one must constantly watch his happiness lest it escape him. And think of it, my fortunes are dependent upon the eyes of a child, a nurseling, that with its mother's milk imbibes hatred to me, and whose first use of speech will be, perhaps, to curse me!"
"Then it must be your task to teach the young emperor Ivan to speak," exclaimed Munnich—"in that case he will learn to bless you."
"I shall not be able to snatch him from his parents," said Biron. "But those parents certainly hate me, and indeed very naturally, as they, it seems, were, next to me, designated as the guardians of their son Ivan. The Duchess Anna Leopoldowna of Brunswick is ambitious."
"Bah! for the present she is in love," exclaimed Munnich, with a laugh, "and women, when in love, think of nothing but their love. But only look, your highness, did I not prophesy correctly? Only see the numerous equipages now stopping before your door! The street will soon be too narrow to contain them."
And in the street below was really to be seen the rapid arrival of a great number of the most splendid equipages, from which alighted beautiful and richly-dressed women, whose male companions were covered with orders, and who were all hastening into the palace. There was a pressing and pushing which produced the greatest possible confusion. Every one wished to be the first to congratulate the new ruler, and to assure him of their unbounded devotion.
The duke's halls were soon filled with Russian magnates, and when at length the duke himself made his appearance among them, he everywhere saw only happy, beaming faces, and encountered only glances of love and admiration. The warmest wishes of all these hundreds seemed to have been fulfilled, and Biron was precisely the man whom all had desired for their emperor.
And, standing in the centre of these halls, they read to Biron the testament of the deceased Empress Anna: that testament designated Ivan, the son of the Duchess Anna Leopoldowna and Prince Ulrich of Brunswick, as emperor, and him, Duke Biron of Courland, as absolute regent of the empire during the minority of the emperor, who had now just reached the age of seven months. The joy of the magnates was indescribable; they sank into each other's arms with tears of joy. At this moment old enemies were reconciled; women who had long nourished a mutual hatred, now tenderly pressed each other's hands; tears of joy were trembling in eyes which had never before been known to weep; friendly smiles were seen on lips which had usually been curled with anger; and every one extolled with ecstasy the happiness of Russia, and humbly bowed before the new sun now rising over that blessed realm.
With the utmost enthusiasm they all took the oath of fidelity to the new ruler, and then hastened to the palace of the Prince of Brunswick, there with the humblest subjection to kiss the delicate little hand of the child-emperor Ivan.
Munnich was again alone with the duke, who, forgetting all his ill-boding dreams, now gave himself up to the proud feeling of his greatness and power.
"Let them all go," said he, "these magnates, to kiss the hand of this emperor of seven months, and wallow in the dust before the cradle of a whimpering nurseling! I shall nevertheless be the real emperor, and both sceptre and crown will remain in my hands!"
"But in your greatness and splendor you will not forget your faithful and devoted friends," said Munnich; "your highness will remember that it was I who chiefly induced the empress to name you as regent during the minority of Ivan, and that you gave me your word of honor that you would grant me the first request I should make to you."
"I know, I know," said Biron, with a sly smile, thoughtfully pacing the room with his hands behind his back. But, suddenly stopping, he remained standing before Munnich, and, looking him sharply in the eye, said: "Shall I for once interpret your thoughts, Field-Marshal Count Munnich? Shall I for once tell you why you used all your influence to decide the Empress Anna to name me for the regency? Ah, you had a sharp eye, a sure glance, and consequently discovered that Anna had long since resolved in her heart to name me for the regency, before you undertook to confirm her in this resolve by your sage counsels. But you said to yourself: 'This good empress loves the Duke of Courland; hence she will undoubtedly desire to render him great and happy in spite of all opposition, and if I aid in this by my advice I shall bind both parties to myself; the empress, by appearing to be devoted to her favorite, and the favorite, by aiding him in the accomplishment of his ambitious plans. I shall therefore secure my own position, both for the present and future!' Confess to me, field-marshal, that these were your thoughts and calculations."
"The regent, Sir Duke of Courland, has a great knowledge of human nature, and hence I dare not contradict him," said Munnich, with a constrained laugh. "Your highness therefore recognizes the service that I, from whatever motive, have rendered you, and hence you will not refuse to grant my request."
"Let me hear it," said the duke, stretching himself out on a divan, and negligently playing with a portrait of the Empress Anna, splendidly ornamented with brilliants, and suspended from his neck by a heavy gold chain.
"Name me generalissimo of all the troops," said Munnich, with solemnity.
"Of all the troops?" asked Biron. "Including those on the water, or only those on land?"
"The troops on the water as well as those on land."
"Ah, that means, I am to give you unlimited power, and thus place you at the head of all affairs!" Then, suddenly rising from his reclining position, and striding directly to Munnich, the duke threateningly said: "In my first observation I forgot to interpret a few of your thoughts and plans. I will now tell you why you wished for my appointment as regent. You desired it for the advancement of your own ambitious plans. You knew Biron as an effeminate, yielding, pleasure-seeking favorite of the empress—you saw him devoted only to amusement and enjoyment, and you said to yourself: 'That is the man I need. As I cannot myself be made regent, let it be him! I will govern through him; and while this voluptuous devotee of pleasure gives himself up to the intoxication of enjoyments, I will rule in his stead.' Well, Mr. Field-Marshal, were not those your thoughts!"
Munnich had turned very pale while the duke was thus speaking, and a sombre inquietude was depicted on his features.
"I know not," he stammered, with embarrassment.
"But I know!" thundered the duke, "and in your terror-struck face I read the confirmation of what I have said. Look in the glass, sir count, and you will make no further attempt at denial."
"But the question here is not about what I might have once thought, but of what you promised me. Your highness, I have made my first request! It is for you to grant it. I implore your on the strength of your ducal word to name me as the generalissimo of your troops!"
"No, never!" exclaimed the duke.
"You gave me your word!"
"I gave it as Duke of Courland! The regent is not bound by the promise of the duke."
"I made you regent!"
"And I do not make you generalissimo!"
"You forfeit your word of honor?"
"No, ask something else, and I will grant it. But this is not feasible. I must myself be the generalissimo of my own troops, or I should no longer be the ruler! Ask, therefore, for something else."
Munnich was silent. His features indicated a frightful commotion, and his bosom heaved violently.
"I have nothing further to ask," said he, after a pause.
"But, I will confer upon you a favor without your asking it!" proudly responded the duke. "Count Munnich, I confirm you in your offices and dignities, and, to prove to you my unlimited confidence, you shall continue to be what you were under the Empress Anna, field-marshal in the Russian army!"
"I thank you, sir duke," calmly replied Munnich. "It is very noble in you that you do not send me into banishment for my presumptuous demand."
Clasping the offered hand of the duke, he respectfully pressed it to his lips.
"And now go, to kiss the hand of the young emperor, that you may not be accused of disrespect," smilingly added Biron; "one must always preserve appearances."
Munnich silently bowed, while walking backward toward the door.
"We part as friends?" asked the duke, nodding an adieu.
"As friends for life and death!" said Munnich, with a smile.
But no sooner had the door closed behind him than the smile vanished from his features, and was replaced by an expression of furious rage. He threateningly shook his fist toward the door which separated him from the duke, and with convulsively compressed lips and grating teeth he said: "Yes, we now part as friends, but we shall yet meet as enemies! I shall remember this hour, sir duke, and shall do my best to prevent your forgetting it. Ah, you have not sent me to Siberia, but I will send you there! And now to the Emperor Ivan. I shall there meet his parents, the shamefully-slighted Ulrich of Brunswick, and his wife Anna Leopoldowna. I think they will welcome me."
With a firm step, rage and vengeance in his heart, but outwardly smiling and submissive, Field-Marshal Count Munnich betook himself to the palace of the Duke of Brunswick to kiss the hand of the cradled Emperor Ivan.
Four weeks had passed since Biron, Duke of Courland, had commenced his rule over Russia, as regent, in the name of the infant Emperor Ivan. The Russian people had with indifference submitted to this new ruler, and manifested the same subjection to him as to his predecessor. It was all the same to them whoever sat in godlike splendor upon the magnificent imperial throne—what care that mass of degraded slaves, who are crawling in the dust, for the name by which their tyrants are called? They remain what they are, slaves; and the one upon the throne remains what he is, their absolute lord and tyrant, who has the right to-day to scourge them with whips, to-morrow to make them barons and counts, and perhaps the next day to send them to Siberia, or subject them to the infliction of the fatal knout. Whoever proclaims himself emperor or dictator, is greeted by the Russian people, that horde of creeping slaves, as their lord and master, the supreme disposer of life and death, while they crawl in the dust at his feet.
They had sworn allegiance to the Regent Biron, as they had to the Empress Anna; they threw themselves upon the earth when they met him, they humbly bared their heads when passing his palace; and when the magnates of the realm, the princes and counts of Russia, in their proud equipages, discovered the regent's carriage in the distance, they ordered a halt, descended from their vehicles, and bowed themselves to the ground before their passing lord. In Russia, all distinctions of rank cease in the presence of the ruler; there is but one lord, and one trembling slave, be he prince or beggar, and that lord must be obeyed, whether he commands a murder or any other crime. The word and will of the emperor purify and sanctify every act, blessing it and making it honorable.
Biron was emperor, although he bore only the name of regent; he had the power and the dominion; the infant nurseling Ivan, the minor emperor, was but a shadow, a phantom, having the appearance but not the reality of lordship; he was a thing unworthy of notice; he could make no one tremble with fear, and therefore it was unnecessary to crawl in the dust before him.
Homage was paid to the Regent Biron, Duke of Courland; the palace of Prince Ulrich of Brunswick, and his son, the Emperor Ivan, stood empty and desolate. No one regarded it, and yet perhaps it was worthy of regard.
Yet many repaired to this quiet, silent palace, to know whom Biron would perhaps have given princedoms and millions! But no one was there to betray them to the regent; they were very silent and very cautious in the palace of the Prince of Brunswick and his wife the Princess Anna Leopoldowna.
It was, as we have said, about four weeks after the commencement of the regency of the Duke of Courland, when a sedan-chair was set down before a small back door of the Duchess Anna Leopoldowna's palace; it had been borne and accompanied by four serfs, over whose gold-embroidered liveries, as if to protect them from the weather, had been laid a tolerably thick coat of dust and sweat. Equally splendid, elegant, and unclean was the chair which the servants now opened for the purpose of aiding their age-enfeebled master to emerge from it. That person, who now made his appearance, was a shrunken, trembling, coughing old gentleman; his small, bent, distorted form was wrapped in a fur cloak which, somewhat tattered, permitted a soiled and faded under-dress to make itself perceptible, giving to the old man the appearance of indigence and slovenliness. Nothing, not even the face, or the thin and meagre hands he extended to his servants, was neat and cleanly; nothing about him shone but his eyes, those gray, piercing eyes with their fiery side-glances and their now kind and now sly and subtle expression. This ragged and untidy old man might have been taken for a beggar, had not his dirty fingers and his faded neck-tie, whose original color was hardly discoverable, flashed with brilliants of an unusual size, and had not the arms emblazoned upon the door of his chair, in spite of the dust and dirt, betrayed a noble rank. The arms were those of the Ostermann family, and this dirty old man in the ragged cloak was Count Ostermann, the famous Russian statesman, the son of a German preacher, who had managed by wisdom, cunning, and intrigue to continue in place under five successive Russian emperors or regents, most of whom had usually been thrust from power by some bloody means. Czar Peter, who first appointed him as a minister of state, and confided to him the department of foreign affairs, on his death-bed said to his successor, the first Catherine, that Ostermann was the only one who had never made a false step, and recommended him to his wife as a prop to the empire. Catherine appointed him imperial chancellor and tutor of Peter II.; he knew how to secure and preserve the favor of both, and the successor of Peter II., the Empress Anna, was glad to retain the services of the celebrated statesman and diplomatist who had so faithfully served her predecessors. From Anna he came to her favorite, Baron of Courland, who did not venture to remove one whose talents had gained for him so distinguished a reputation, and who in any case might prove a very dangerous enemy.
But with Count Ostermann it had gone as with Count Munnich. Neither of them had been able to obtain from the regent any thing more than a confirmation of their offices and dignities, to which Biron, jealous of power, had been unwilling to make any addition. Deceived in their expectations, vexed at this frustration of their plans, they had both come to the determination to overthrow the man who was unwilling to advance them; they had become Biron's enemies because he did not show himself their friend, and, openly devoted to him and bowing in the dust before him, they had secretly repaired to his bitterest enemy, the Duchess Anna Leopoldowna, to offer her their services against the haughty regent who swayed the iron sceptre of his despotic power over Russia.
A decisive conversation was this day to be held with the duchess and her husband, Prince Ulrich of Brunswick, and therefore, an unheard-of case, had even Count Ostermann resolved to leave his dusty room for some hours and repair to the palace of the Duchess Anna Leopoldowna.
"Slowly, slowly, ye knaves," groaned Ostermann, as he ascended the narrow winding stairs with the aid of his servants. "See you not, you hounds, that every one of your movements causes me insufferable pain? Ah, a fearful illness is evidently coming; it is already attacking my limbs, and pierces and agonizes every part of my system! Let my bed be prepared at home, you scamps, and have a strengthening soup made ready for me. And now away, fellows, and woe to you if, during my absence, either one of you should dare to break into the store-room or wine-cellar! You know that I have good eyes, and am cognizant of every article on hand, even to its exact weight and measure. Take care, therefore, take care! for if but an ounce of meat or a glass of wine is missing, I will have you whipped, you hounds, until the blood flows. That you may depend upon!"
And, dismissing his assistants with a kick, Count Ostermann ascended the last steps of the winding stairs alone and unaided. But, before opening the door at the head of the stairs, he took time for reflection.
"Hem! perhaps it would have been better for me to have been already taken ill, for if this plan should miscarry, and the regent discover that I was in the palace to-day, how then? Ah, I already seem to feel a draught of Siberian air! But no, it will succeed, and how would that ambitious Munnich triumph should it succeed without me! No, for this time I must be present, to the vexation of Munnich, that he may not put all Russia in his pocket! The good man has such large pockets and such grasping hands!"
Nodding and smiling to himself, Ostermann opened the door of the anteroom. A rapid, searching glance satisfied him that he was alone there, but his brow darkened when he observed Count Munnich's mantle lying upon a chair.
"Ah, he has preceded me," peevishly murmured Ostermann. "Well, well, we can afford once more to yield the precedence to him. To-day he—to-morrow I! My turn will come to-morrow!"
Quite forgetting his illness and his pretended pains, he rapidly crossed the spacious room, and, throwing his ragged fur cloak upon Munnich's mantle, said:
"A poor old cloak like this is yet in condition to render that resplendent uniform invisible. Not a spangle of that magnificent gold embroidery can be seen, it is all overshadowed by the ragged old cloak which Munnich so much despises! Oh, the good field-marshal will rejoice to find his mantle in such good company, and I hope my cloak may leave some visible memento upon its embroidered companion. Well, the field-marshal is a brave man, and I have given him an opportunity to make a campaign against his own mantle! The fool, why does he dislike these good little animals, and would yet be a Russian!"
As, however, he opened the door of the next room, his form again took its former shrunken, frail appearance, and his features again bore the expression of suffering and exhaustion.
"Ah, it is you," said Prince Ulrich, advancing to meet the count, while Munnich stood near a writing-table, in earnest conversation with Anna Leopoldowna, to whom he seemed to be explaining something upon a sheet of paper.
"We have waited long for you, my dear count," continued the prince, offering his hand to the new-comer, with a smile.
"The old and the sick always have the misfortune to arrive too late," said Count Ostermann, "pain and suffering are such hinderances, your grace. And, moreover, I have only come in obedience to the wishes of your highness, well knowing that I am superfluous here. What has the feeble old man to do in the councils of the strong?"
"To represent wisdom in council," said the prince, "and for that, you are precisely the man, count."
"Ah, Count Ostermann," at this moment interposed Munnich, "it is well you have come. You will be best able to tell their excellencies whether I am right or not."
"Field-Marshall Munnich is always right," said Ostermann, with a pleasant smile. "I unconditionally say 'yes' to whatever you may have proposed, provided that it is not a proposition of which my judgment cannot approve."
"That is a very conditional yes!" exclaimed the duchess, laughing.
"A 'yes,' all perforated with little back doors through which a 'no' may conveniently enter," laughed the prince.
"The back doors are in all cases of the greatest importance," said Count Ostermann, earnestly. "Through back doors one often attains to the rooms of state, and had your palace here accidentally had no back door for the admission of us, your devoted servants, who knows, your highness Anna, whether you would on this very night become regent!"
"On this night!" suddenly exclaimed Munnich. "You see, your highness, that Count Ostermann is wholly of my opinion. It must be done this night!"
"That would be overhaste," cried the duchess; "we are not yet prepared!"
"Nor is the regent, Biron of Courland," thoughtfully interposed Ostermann; "and, therefore, our overhaste would take Biron by surprise."
"Decidedly my opinion," said Munnich. "All is lost if we give the regent time and leisure to make his arrangements. If we do not annihilate him to-day, he may, perhaps, send us to Siberia to-morrow."
The duchess turned pale; a trembling ran through her tall, noble form.
"I so much dread the shedding of blood!" said she.
"Oh, I am not at all vain," said Ostermann. "I find it much less unpleasant to see the blood of others flowing than my own. It may be egotism, but I prefer keeping my blood in my veins to exposing it to the gaping curiosity of an astonished crowd!"
"You think, then, that he already suspects, and would murder us?"
"You, us, and also your son, the Emperor Ivan."
"Also my son!" exclaimed Leopoldowna, her eyes flashing like those of an enraged lioness. "Ah, I should know how to defend my son. Let Biron fall this night!"
"So be it!" unanimously exclaimed the three men.
"He has driven us to this extremity," said the princess. "Not enough that he has banished our friends and faithful servants, surrounding us with his miserable creatures and spies—not enough that he wounds and humiliates us in every way—he would rend the young emperor from us, his parents, his natural protectors. We are attacked in our holiest rights, and must, therefore, defend ourselves."
"But what shall we do with this small Biron, when he is no longer the great regent?" asked Ostermann.
"We will make him by a head smaller," said Munnich, laughing.
"No," vehemently exclaimed Leopoldowna—"no, no blood shall flow! Not with blood shall our own and our son's rights be secured! Swear this gentlemen, or I will never give my consent to the undertaking."
"I well knew that your highness would so decide," said Munnich, with a smile, drawing a folded paper from his bosom. "In proof of which I hand this paper to your highness."
"Ah, what is this?" said the duchess, unfolding the paper; "it is the ground plan of a house!"
"Of the house we will have built for Biron in Siberia," said Munnich; "I have drawn the plan myself."
"In fact, you are a skilful architect, Count Munnich," said Ostermann, laughing, while casting an interrogating glance at the paper which Anna was still thoughtfully examining. "How well you have arranged it all! How delightful these snug little chambers will be! There will be just space enough in them to turn around in. But these small chambers seem to be a little too low. They are evidently not more than five feet high. As Biron, however, has about your height, he will not be able to stand upright in them."
"Bah! for that very reason!" said Munnich, with a cruel laugh. "He has carried his head high long enough; now he may learn to bow."
"But that will be a continual torment!" exclaimed the Duke of Brunswick.
"On, has he not tormented us?" angrily responded Munnich. "We need reprisals."
"How strange and horrible!" said Anna Leopoldowna, shuddering; "this man is now standing here clothed with unlimited power, and we are already holding in our hands the plan of his prison!"
"Yes, yes, and with this plan in his pocket will Count Munnich now go to dine with Biron and enjoy his hospitality!" laughingly exclaimed Ostermann. "Ah, that must make the dinner particularly piquant! How agreeable it must be to press the regent's hand, and at the same time feel the rustling in your pocket of the paper upon which you have drawn the plan of his Siberian prison! But you are in the right. The regent has deeply offended you. How could he dare refuse to make you his generalissimo?"
"Ah, it is not for that," said Munnich with embarrassment; and, seeking to give the conversation a different turn, he continued—"ah, see, Count Ostermann, what a terrible animal is crawling there upon your dress!"
"Policy, nothing but policy," tranquilly responded Ostermann, while the princess turned away with an expression of repugnance.
"Well," cried the prince, laughing, "explain to us, Count Ostermann, what those disgusting insects have to do with policy or politics?"
"We are all four Germans," said Ostermann, "and consequently are all familiar with the common saying, 'Tell me the company you keep, and I will tell you what you are!' I have always kept that in mind since I have been in Russia; and to make this good people forget that I am a foreigner, I have taken particular pains to furnish myself with a supply of their dirt and of these delicate insects. If any one asks me who I am, I show him these creatures with whom I associate, and he immediately concludes that I am a Russian."
Ostermann joined in the laugh that followed this explanation, but suddenly he uttered a piercing cry, and sank down upon a chair.
"Ah, these pains will be the death of me!" he moaned—"ah, I already feel the ravages of death in my blood; yes, I have long known that a dangerous malady was hovering over me, and my death-bed is already prepared at home! I am a poor failing old man, and who knows whether I shall outlive the evening of this day?"
While Ostermann was thus lamenting, and the prince with kindly sympathy was occupied about him, Munnich had returned the drawing to his pocket, and was speaking in a low tone to the duchess of some yet necessary preparations for the night. Count Ostermann, notwithstanding his lamentations and his pretended pains, had yet a sharp ear for every word they spoke. He very distinctly heard the duchess say: "Well, I am satisfied! I shall expect you at about two o'clock in the morning, and if the affair is successful, you, Count Munnich, may be sure of my most fervent gratitude; you will then have liberated Russia, the young emperor, and myself, from a cruel and despotic tyrant, and I shall be eternally beholden to you."
Count Munnich's brow beamed with inward satisfaction. "I shall, then, attain my ends," thought he. Aloud he said: "Your highness, I have but one wish and one request; if you are willing to fulfil this, then will there be nothing left on earth for me to desire."
"Then name your request at once, that I may grant it in advance!" said the princess, with a smile.
"The man is getting on rapidly, and will even now get the appointment of generalissimo," thought Ostermann. "That must never be; I must prevent it!"
And just as Munnich was opening his mouth to prefer his request, Ostermann suddenly uttered so loud and piteous a cry of anguish that the compassionate and alarmed princess hastened to offer him her sympathy and aid.
At this moment the clock upon the wall struck four. That was the hour for which Munnich was invited to dine with the regent. It would not do to fail of his engagement to-day—he must be punctual, to avoid exciting suspicion. He, therefore, had no longer the time to lay his request before the princess; consequently Count Ostermann had accomplished his object, and secretly triumphing, he loudly groaned and complained of his sufferings.
Count Munnich took his leave.
"I go now," he smilingly said, "to take my last dinner with the Duke of Courland. I shall return this night at the appointed hour. We shall then convert the duke into a Siberian convict, which, at all events, will be a very interesting operation."
Thus he departed, with a horrible laugh upon his lips, to keep his appointment with the regent.
Count Ostermann had again attained his end—he remained alone with the princely pair. Had Munnich been the first who came, Ostermann was the last to go.
"Ah," said he, rising with apparent difficulty, "I will now bear my old, diseased body to my dwelling, to repose and perhaps to die upon my bed of pain."
"Not to die, I hope," said Anna.
"You must live, that you may see us in our greatness," said the prince.
Ostermann feebly shook his head. "I see, I see it all," said he. "You will liberate yourself from one tyrant, your highness, to become the prey of another. The eyes of the dying see clear, and I tell you, duchess, you were already on the point of giving away the power you have attained. Know you what Munnich's demand will be?"
"He will demand what Biron refused him, and for which refusal Munnich became his enemy. He will ask you to appoint him generalissimo of all your forces by land and sea."
"Then will he demand what naturally belongs to me," said the prince, excitedly, "and we shall of course refuse it."
"Yes, we must refuse it," repeated the princess.
"And in that you will do well," said Count Ostermann. "I may venture to say so, as I have no longer the least ambition—death will soon relieve me from all participation in affairs of state. I am a feeble old man, and desire nothing more than to be allowed occasionally to impart good counsels to my benefactors. And this is now my advice: Guard yourselves against the ambition of Count Munnich."
"We shall bear your counsel in mind," said the prince.
"We will not appoint him generalissimo!" exclaimed the princess. "He must never forget that he is our servant, and we his masters."
"And now permit me to go, your highness," said Ostermann. "Will you have the kindness, prince, to command your lackeys to bear me to my sedan-chair? It is impossible for me to walk a step. Yes, yes, while you are this night contending for a throne, I shall, perhaps, be struggling with death."
And with a groan, sinking back into the arms of the lackeys whom the prince had called, Ostermann suffered himself to be carried down to his chair, which awaited him at the door. He groaned and cried out as they placed him in it, but as soon as its doors were closed and his serfs were trotting with him toward his own palace, the suffering expression vanished from Ostermann's face, and a sly smile of satisfaction played upon his lips.
"I think I have well employed my time," he muttered to himself. "The good Munnich will never become generalissimo, and poor old failing Ostermann may now, unsuspected, go quietly to bed and comfortably await the coming events. Such an illness, at the right time, is an insurance against all accidents and miscarriages. I learned that after the death of Peter II. Who knows what would then have become of me had I not been careful to remain sick in bed until Anna had mounted the throne? I will, therefore, again be sick, and in the morning we shall see! Should this conjuration succeed, very well; then, perhaps, old Ostermann will gradually recover sufficient health to take yet a few of the burdens of state upon his own shoulders, and thus relieve the good Munnich of a part of his cares!"
THE NIGHT OF THE CONSPIRACY
It was a splendid dinner, that which the regent had this day prepared for his guests. Count Munnich was very much devoted to the pleasures of the table, and, sitting near the regent, he gave himself wholly up to the cheerful humour which the excellent viands and delicate wines were calculated to stimulate. At times he entirely forgot his deep-laid plans for the coming night, and then again he would suddenly recollect them in the midst of his gayest conversation with his host, and while volunteering a toast in praise of the noble regent, and closing it by crying—"A long life and reign to the great regent, Biron von Courland!" he secretly and with a malicious pleasure thought: "This is thy last dinner, sir duke! A few hours, and those lips, now smiling with happiness, will be forever silenced by our blows!"
These thoughts made the field-marshal unusually gay and talkative, and the regent protested that Munnich had never been a more agreeable convive than precisely to-day. Therefore, when the other guests retired, he begged of Munnich to remain with him awhile; and the field-marshal, thinking it might possibly enable him to prevent any warning reaching the regent, consented to stay.
They spoke of past times, of the happy days when the Empress Anna yet reigned, and when all breathed of pleasure and enjoyment at that happy court; and perhaps it was these recollections that rendered Biron sad and thoughtful. He was absent and low-spirited, and his large, flashing eyes often rested with piercing glances upon the calm and smiling face of Munnich.
"You all envy me on account of my power and dominion," said he to Munnich; "of that I am not ignorant. But you know not with what secret pain and anguish these few hours of splendor are purchased!—the sleepless nights in which one fears seeing the doors open to give admission to murderers, and then the dreams in which blood is seen flowing, and nothing is heard but death-shrieks and lamentations! Ah, I hate the nights, which are inimical to all happiness. In the night will misfortune at some time overtake me—in the night the evil spirit reigns!"
With a drooping head the regent had spoken half to himself; but suddenly raising his head and looking Munnich sharply in the eyes, he said: "Have you, Mr. Field-Marshal, during your campaigns, never in the night foreseen any important event?"
Munnich shuddered slightly, and the color forsook his cheeks. "He knows all, and I am lost," thought he, and his hand involuntarily sought his sword. "I will defend myself to the last drop of my blood," was his first idea.
But Biron, although surprised, saw nothing of the field-marshal's strange commotion—he was wholly occupied with his own thoughts, and only awaited an answer to his question.
"Well, Mr. Field-Marshal," he repeated, "tell me whether in the night you have ever had the presentiment of any important event?"
"I was just considering," he calmly said. "At this moment I do not recollect ever having foreseen any extraordinary event by night. But it has always been a principle of mine to take advantage of every favorable opportunity, whether by day or night."
Munnich remained with the regent until eleven o'clock in the evening, and then they separated with the greatest kindness and the heartiest assurances of mutual friendship and devotion.
"Ah, that was a hard trial!" said Munnich, breathing easier and deeper, as he left the palace of the duke behind him. "I was already convinced that all was lost, but this Biron is unsuspecting as a child! Sleep now, Biron, sleep!—in a few hours I shall come to awaken you, and realize your bloody dream!"
With winged steps he hastened to his own palace. Arrived there, he summoned his adjutant, Captain von Mannstein, and, after having briefly given him the necessary orders, took him with him into his carriage for the purpose of repairing to the palace of the Prince of Brunswick.
It was a cold November night of the year 1740. The deserted streets were hushed in silence, and no one of the occupants of the dark houses, no one on earth, dreamed that this carriage, whose rumbling was only half heard in sleep, was in a manner the thundering herald of new times and new lords.
Munnich had chosen his time well. For if it was forbidden to admit any one whatever, during the night, to the palace occupied by the young czar, and if also the regent had given the guards strict orders to shoot any one who might attempt, in spite of these commands, to penetrate into the forbidden precincts, this day made an exception for Munnich, as a portion of one of his own regiments was to-day on duty at the imperial palace.
Unimpeded, stayed by no one, Munnich penetrated to the apartments of Anna Leopoldowna. She was awaiting him, and at his side she descended to receive the homage of the officers and soldiers, who had been commanded by Munnich to submit themselves to her.
With glowing words she described to the listening soldiers all the insults and injuries to which the regent had subjected herself, her husband, and their son the emperor.
"Who can say that this miserable low-born Biron is called to fill so exalted a place, and to lord it over you, my beloved friends and brothers? To me, as the niece of the blessed Empress Anna, to me, as the mother of Ivan, chosen as emperor by Anna, to me alone belongs the regency, and by Heaven I will reconquer that of which I have been nefariously robbed! I will punish this insolent upstart whose shameful tyranny we have endured long enough, and I hope you, my friends, will stand by me and obey the commands of your generals."
A loud viva followed this speech of Anna Leopoldowna, who tenderly embraced the enraptured officers, commanding them to follow her.
Accompanied by Marshal Munnich and eighty soldiers, Anna then went out into the streets. In silence they advanced to within a hundred steps of Biron's palace. Here, making a halt, Mannstein alone approached the palace to command the officers of the guard in the name of the new regent, Anna Leopoldowna, to submit and pay homage to her. No opposition was made; accustomed always to obey, they had not the courage to dispute the commands of the new ruler, and declared themselves ready to assist her in the arrest of the regent.
Mannstein returned to Anna and Munnich with this joyful intelligence, and received orders to penetrate into the palace with twenty men, to capture the duke, and even kill him if he made resistance.
Without opposition Mannstein again returned to the palace with his small band, carefully avoiding making the least noise in his approach. All the soldiers in the palace knew him; and as the watch below had permitted him to pass, they supposed he must have an important message for the duke, and no one stopped him.
He had already wandered through several rooms, when an unforeseen difficulty presented itself. Where is the sleeping-room of the duke? Which way must he turn, in order to find him? He stood there undecided, not daring to ask any of the attendants in the anterooms, lest perhaps they might suspect him and awaken the duke! He finally resolved to go forward and trust to accident. He passed two or three chambers—all were empty, all was still!
Now he stands before a closed door! What if that should prove the chamber of the duke? He thinks he hears a breathing.
He cautiously tries the door. Slightly closed, it yields to his pressure, and he enters. There stands a huge bed with hanging curtains, which are boldly drawn aside by Mannstein.
Before him lies the regent, Duke Biron of Courland, with his wife by his side.
"Duke Biron, awake!" called Mannstein, with a loud voice. The ducal pair started up from their slumber with a shriek of terror.
Biron leaps from the bed, but Mannstein overpowers him and holds him fast until his soldiers come. The duke defends himself with his hands, but is beaten down with musket-stocks. They bind his hands with an officer's scarf, they wrap him in a soldier's mantle, and so convey him down to Field-Marshal Munnich's carriage which is waiting, below, to transport him to the winter palace.
While Mannstein and the soldiers were occupied with the duke, his duchess had found an opportunity to make her escape. With only her light night-dress, shrieking and lamenting, she had rushed into the street.
She was seized by a soldier, who, conducting her to Mannstein, asked what he should do with her.
"Take her back into the palace!" said Mannstein, hastening past.
But the soldier, only anxious to rid himself of an encumbrance, threw the now insensible duchess into the snow, and hurried away.
In this situation she was found by a captain of the guard, who lifted her up and conveyed her into the palace to give her over to the care of her women, that she might be restored to consciousness and dressed. But she no longer had either women or servants! Her reign is over; they have all fled in terror, as from the house of death, that they may not be involved in the disaster of those whose good fortunes they have shared. The slaves had all decamped in search of new masters, and the regent's palace, so often humbly and reverently sought, is now avoided as a pest-house.
With trembling hands the duchess enveloped herself in her clothes, and then followed her husband into the winter palace.
And while all this was taking place the court and nation yet trembled at the names of these two persons who had just been so deeply humbled. The Princess Anna Leopoldowna, accompanied by the shouting soldiery, made a triumphant progress through the streets of the city, stopping at all the caserns to receive the oaths and homage of the regiments.
This palace-revolution was consummated without the shedding of blood, and the awaking people of St. Petersburg found themselves with astonishment under a new regency and new masters!
But a population of slaves venture no opposition. Whoever may have the power to declare and maintain himself their ruler, he is their master, and the slavish horde bow humbly before him.
As, hardly four weeks previously, the great magnates of the realm had hurried to the Duke of Courland to pay their homage and prostrate themselves in the dust before him, so did they now hasten to the palace of the new regent, humbly to pay their court to her. The same lips that even yesterday swore eternal fidelity to the Regent Biron, and sounded his praise to the skies, now condemned him, and as loudly commended their august new mistress, Anna Leopoldowna! The same knees which had yesterday bent to Biron, now bent before Anna; and, with tears of joy, men now again sank into the arms of each other, loudly congratulating their noble Russia upon which the sun of happiness had now risen, given her Anna Leopoldowna as regent!
And while all was jubilation in the palace of the new regent, that of the great man of yesterday stood silent and deserted—no one dared to raise a voice in his favor! Those who yesterday revelled at his table and sang his praises were to-day his bitterest enemies, cursing him the louder the more they had lauded him yesterday.
Magnificent festivals were celebrated in St. Petersburg in honor of the new regent, while they were at the same time trying the old one and condemning him to death. But Anna Leopoldowna mitigated his punishment—what a mitigation!—by changing the sentence of death into that of perpetual banishment to Siberia!
Tranquillity was again established in Russia. Once again all faces were lighted up with joy at this new state of affairs, and again the people congratulated themselves on the good fortune of the Russian empire! All this was done four weeks previously, when Biron took upon himself the regency, and the same will be done again when another comes to overthrow the Regent Anna!
It was on the day after this new revolution, when Munnich, entering the palace with a proud step and elevated head, requested an interview with the regent.
"Your highness," he said, not bending the knee before his sovereign as custom demanded, but only slightly pressing her hand to his lips—"your highness, I have redeemed my word and fulfilled my promise. I promised to liberate you from Biron and make you regent, and I have kept my word. Now, madame, it is for you to fulfil your pledge! You solemnly promised that when I should succeed in making you regent, you would immediately and unconditionally grant me whatever I might demand. Well, now, you are regent, and I come to proffer my request!"
"It will make me happy, field-marshal, to discharge a small part of my obligations toward you, by yielding to your demand. Ask quickly, that I may the sooner give!" said Anna Leopoldowna, with an engaging smile.
"Make me the generalissimo of your forces!" responded Munnich in an almost commanding tone.
A cloud gathered over the smiling features of the regent.
"Why must you ask precisely this—this one only favor which it is no longer in my power to bestow?" she sadly said. "There are so many offices, so many influential positions—ah, I could prove my gratitude to you in so many ways! Ask for money, treasures, landed estates—all these it is in my power to give. Why must you demand precisely that which is no longer mine!"
Munnich stared at her with widely opened eyes, trembling lips, and pallid cheeks. His head swam, and he thought he could not have rightly heard.
"I hope this is only a misunderstanding!" he stammered. "I must have heard wrong; it cannot be your intention to refuse me."
"Would to God it were yet in my power to gratify you!" sighed the regent. "But I cannot give what is no longer mine! Why came you not a few hours earlier, field-marshal? then it would have been yet possible to comply with your request. But now it is too late!"
"You have, then, appointed another generalissimo?" shrieked Munnich, quivering with rage.
"Yes," said Anna, smiling; "and see, there comes my generalissimo!"
It was the regent's husband, Prince Ulrich von Brunswick, who that moment entered the room and calmly greeted Munnich.
"You have here a rival, my husband," said the princess, without embarrassment; "and had I not already signed your diploma, it is very questionable whether I should now do it, now that I know Count Munich desires the appointment."
"I hope," proudly responded the prince, "Count Munnich will comprehend that this position, which places the whole power of the empire in the hands of him who holds it, is suitable only for the father of the emperor!"
Count Munnich made no answer. Already so near the attainment of his end, he saw it again elude his grasp. Again had he labored, struggled, in vain. This was the second revolution which he had brought about, with this his favorite plan in view: two regents were indebted to him for their greatness, and both had refused him the one thing for which he had made them regents; neither had been willing to create him generalissimo!
In this moment Munnich felt unable to conceal his rage under an assumed tranquillity; pretending a sudden attack of illness, he begged permission to retire.
Tottering, scarcely in possession of his senses, he hastened through the hall thronged with petitioners. All bowed before him, all reverently saluted him; but to him it seemed that he could read nothing but mockery and malicious joy upon all those smiling faces. Ah, he could have crushed them all, and trodden them under his feet, in his inextinguishable rage!
When he finally reached his carriage, and his proud steeds were bearing him swiftly away—when none could any longer see him—then he gave vent to furious execrations, and tears of rage flowed from his eyes; he tore out his hair and smote his breast; he felt himself wandering, frantic with rage and despair. One thought, one wish had occupied him for many long years; he had labored and striven for it. He wished to be the first, the most powerful man in the Russian empire; he would control the military force, and in his hands should rest the means of giving the country peace or war! That was what he wanted; that was what he had labored for—and now. . . .
"Oh, Biron, Biron," he faintly groaned, "why must I overthrow you? You loved me, and perhaps would one day have accorded me what you at first refused! Biron, I have betrayed you with a kiss. It is your guardian angel who is now avenging you!"
Thus he reached his palace, and the servants who opened the door of his carriage started back with alarm at the fearful expression of their master's face. It had become of an ashen gray, his blue lips quivered, and his gloomily-gleaming eyes seemed to threaten those who dared approach him.
Alighting in silence, he strode on through the rows of his trembling servants. Suddenly two of his lackeys fell upon their knees before him, weeping and sobbing; they stretched forth their hands to him, begging for mercy.
"What have they done?" asked he of his major-domo.
"Feodor has had the misfortune to break your excellency's drinking-cup, and Ivanovitch bears the blame of suffering your greyhound Artemisia to escape."
A strange joy suddenly lighted up the brow of the count.
"Ah," said he, breathing more freely, and stretching himself up—"ah, I thank God that I now have some one on whom I can wreak my vengeance!"
And kicking the unfortunate weeping and writhing servants, who were crawling in the dust before him, Munnich cried:
"No mercy, you hounds—no, no mercy! You shall be scourged until you have breathed out your miserable lives! The knout here! Strike! I will look on from my windows, and see that my commands are executed! Ah, I will teach you to break my cups and let my hounds escape! Scourge them unto death! I will see their blood—their red, smoking blood!"
The field-marshal stationed himself at his open window. The servants had formed a close circle around the unhappy beings who were receiving their punishment in the court below. The air was filled with the shrieks of the tortured men, blood flowed in streams over their flayed backs, and at every new stroke of the knout they howled and shrieked for mercy; while at every new shriek Munnich cried out to his executioners:
"No, no mercy, no pity! Scourge the culprits! I would, I must see blood! Scourge them to death!"
Trembling, the band of servants looked on with folded hands; with a savage smile upon his face, stood Count Munnich at his window above.
Weaker and weaker grew the cries of the unhappy sufferers—they no longer prayed for mercy. The knout continued to flay their bodies, but their blood no longer flowed—they were dead!
The surrounding servants folded their hands in prayer for the souls of the deceased, and then loudly commended the mild justice of their master!
Retiring from the window, Count Munnich ordered his breakfast to be served!(*)
(*) Such horribly cruel punishments of the serfs were at that time no uncommon occurrence in Russia. Unhappy serfs were daily scourged to death at the command of their masters. Moreover, princes and generals, and even respectable ladies, were scourged with the knout at the command of the emperor. Yet these punishments in Russia had nothing dishonoring in them. The Empress Catharine II. had three of her court ladies stripped and scourged in the presence of the whole court, for having drawn some offensive caricatures of the great empress. One of these scourged ladies, afterward married to a Russian magnate, was sent by Catharine as a sort of ambassadress to Sweden, for the purpose of inducing the King of Sweden to favor some of her political plans.—"Memoires Secrets sur la Russie, par Masson," vol. iii., p. 392.
From that time forward, however, Munnich's life was a continuous chain of vexations and mortifications. As his inordinate ambition was known, he was constantly suspected, and was reprehended with inexorable severity for every fault.
It is true the regent raised him to the post of first minister; but Ostermann, who recovered his health after the successful termination of the revolutionary enterprise, by various intrigues attained to the position of minister of foreign affairs; while to Golopkin was given the department of the interior, so that only the war department remained to the first minister, Munnich. He had originated and accomplished two revolutions that he might become generalissimo, and had obtained nothing but mortifications and humiliations that embittered every moment of his life!
THE REGENT ANNA LEOPOLDOWNA
Anna had succeeded, she was regent; she had shaken off the burden of the Bironic tutelage, and her word was all-powerful throughout the immeasurable provinces of the Russian empire. Was she now happy, this proud and powerful Anna Leopoldowna? No one had ever yet been happy and free from care upon this Russian throne, and how, then, could Anna Leopoldowna be so? She had read the books of Russian political history, and that history was written with blood! Anna was a woman, and she trembled when thinking of the poison, the dagger, the throttling hands, and flaying sword, which had constantly beset the throne of Russian, and in a manner had been the means in the hands of Providence of clearing it from one tyrant, only, indeed, to make room for another. Anna, as we have said, trembled before this means of Providence; and when her eyes fell upon Munnich—upon his dark, angry brow and his secretly threatening glance—she then with inward terror asked herself: "May not Providence have chosen him for my murderer? Will he not overthrow me, as he overthrew his former master and friend Duke Biron?"
Anna now feared him whom she had chiefly to thank for her greatness. At the time when he had made her regent he had satisfactorily shown that his arm was sufficiently powerful to displace one regent and hurl him to the dust! What he had once done, might not he now be able to accomplish again?
She surrounded this feared field-marshal with spies and listeners; she caused all his actions to be watched, every one of his words to be repeated to her, in order to ascertain whether it had not some concealed sense, some threatening secret; she doubled the guards of her palace, and, always trembling with fear, she no longer dared to occupy any one of her apartments continuously. Nomadically wandered they about in their own palace, this Regent Anna Leopoldowna and her husband Prince Ulrich of Brunswick; remembering the sleeping-chamber of Biron, she dared not select any one distinct apartment for constant occupation; every evening found her in a new room, every night she reposed in a different bed, and even her most trusted servant often knew not in which wing of the castle the princely pair were to pass the night.
She, before whom these millions of Russian subjects humbled themselves in the dust, trembled every night in her bed at the slightest rustling, at the whisperings of the wind, at every breath of air that beat her closed and bolted doors.
She might, it is true, have released herself from these torments with the utterance of only one word of command; it required only a wave of her hand to send this haughty and dangerous Munnich to Siberia! Nor was an excuse for such a proceeding wanting. Count Munnich's pride and presumption daily gave occasion for anger; he daily gave offence by his reckless disregard and disrespect for his chief, the generalissimo, Prince Ulrich; daily was it necessary to correct him and to confine him within his own proper official boundaries.
And such refractory conduct toward a Russian master, had it not in all times been a terrible and execrable crime—a crime for which banishment to Siberia had always been considered a mild punishment?
Poor Anna! called to rule over Russia, she lacked only the first and most necessary qualification for her position—a Russian heart! There was, in this German woman's disposition, too much gentleness and mildness, too much confiding goodness. To a less barbarous people she might have been a blessing, a merciful ruler and gracious benefactor!
But her arm was too weak to wield the knout instead of the sceptre over this people of slaves, her heart too soft to judge with inexorable severity according to the barbarous Russian laws which, never pardoning, always condemn and flay.
It was this which gradually estranged from her the hearts of the Russians. They felt that it was no Russian who reigned over them; and because they had no occasion to tremble and creep in the dust before her, they almost despised her, and derided the idyllic sentiments of this good German princess who wished to realize her fantastic dreams by treating a horde of barbarians as a civilized people!
The slaves longed for their former yoke; they looked around them with a feeling of strangeness, and to them it seemed unnatural not everywhere to see the brandished knout, the avenging scaffold, and the transport-carriages departing for Siberia!
Much as Ostermann importuned her, often as her own husband warned her, Anna nevertheless refused; she would not banish Field-Marshal Munnich to Siberia, but remained firm in her determination to leave him in possession of his liberty and his dignities.
But when Munnich himself, excited and fatigued with these never-ending annoyances, and moreover believing that Anna could not do without him, and therefore would not grant his request, finally demanded his dismission, Anna granted it with joy; and Munnich, deceived in all his ambitious plans and expectations, angrily left the court to betake himself to his palace beyond the Neva.
Anna now breathed easier; she now felt herself powerful and free, for Munnich was as least removed farther from her; his residence was no longer separated from hers only by a wall, she had no longer to fear his breaking through in the night—ah, Munnich dwelt beyond the Neva, and a whole regiment guarded its banks and bridges by night! Munnich could no longer fall upon her by surprise, as she could have him always watched.
Anna no longer trembled with fear; she could yield to her natural indolence, and if she sometimes, from fear of Munnich, troubled herself about state affairs and labored with her ministers, she now felt it to be an oppressive burden, to which she could no longer consent to subject herself.
Satiated and exhausted, she in some measure left the wielding of the sceptre to her first and confidential minister, Count Golopkin. He ruled in her name, as Count Ostermann was generalissimo in the name of her husband the Prince of Brunswick. Why trouble themselves with the pains and cares of governing, when it was permitted them to only enjoy the pleasures of their all-powerful position?
The minister might flourish the knout and proclaim the Siberian banishment over the trembling people; the scourged might howl, and the banished might lament, the great and powerful might dispose of the souls and bodies of their serfs; rare honesty might be oppressed by consuming usury; offices, honors, and titles might be gambled for; justice and punishment might be bought and sold; vice and immorality might universally prevail—Anna would not know it. She would neither see nor hear any thing of this outside world! The palace is her world, in which she is happy, in which she revels!
Ah, that charming, silent little boudoir, with is soft Turkish carpet, with its elastic divans and heavily curtained windows and doors—that little boudoir is now her paradise, the temple of her happiness! In it she lingers, and in it is she blessed. There she reposes, dreaming of past delightful hours, or smiling with the intoxication of the still more delightful present in the arms of the one she loves.
See how her eyes flash, how her heart beats—how beautiful she is in the warm glow of excitement, this beautiful Anna Leopoldowna.
The door opens, and a smiling young maiden looks in with many a nod of her little head.
"Ah, is it you, my Julia?" calls the princess, opening her arms to press the young girl to her heart. "Come, I will kiss you, and imagine it is he who receives the kiss! Ah, what would this poor Anna Leopoldowna be if deprived of her dear friend, Julia von Mengden?" And drawing her favorite down into her lap, she continued: "Now relate to me, Julia. Set your tongue in motion, that I may hear one of your very pleasantest stories. That will divert me, and cause the long hours before his coming to pass more quickly."
Julia von Mengden roguishly shook her beautifully curling locks with a comic earnestness, and, very aptly and unmistakably imitating the somewhat hoarse and nasal voice of Prince Ulrich, said:
"Your grace forgets that you are regent, and have to hold the reins of government in the name of the illustrious imperial squaller, your son, since his imperial grace still remains in his swaddling-clothes, and has much less to do with state affairs than with many other little occupations!"
Anna Leopoldowna, breaking out in joyous laughter, exultingly clapped her little hands, which were sparkling with brilliants.
"This is superb," said she. "You play the part of my very worthy husband to perfection. It is as if one saw and heard him. Ah, I would that he resembled you a little, as he would then be less insupportable, and it would be somewhat easier to endure him."
Julia von Mengden, making no answer to this remark, continued with her nasal voice and comic pathos:
"Your grace, this is not the time to analyze our diverting little domestic dissensions, and occupy ourselves with the quiet joys of our happy union! Your grace is, above all things, regent, and must give your attention to state affairs. Without are standing three most worthy, corpulent, tobacco-scented ambassadors, who desire an audience. Your grace is, above all things, regent, and must receive them."
"Must!" exclaimed Anna, suddenly contracting her brows. "We will first hear what they desire of us."
"The first is the envoy of the great Persian conqueror, Thamas-Kouli-Khan, who comes to lay at your feet the magnificent presents of his master."
"Bah! they are presents for the young Emperor Ivan. He may, therefore, be conducted to the cradle of my son, and there display his presents. It does not interest me."
"The second is a messenger from our camp. He brings news of a great victory obtained by one of your brave generals over the Swedes!"
"But what does that concern me?" angrily cried the regent. "Let them conquer or be defeated, it is all the same to me. That concerns my husband the generalissimo! Let me be spared the sight of the warlike and blood-dripping messenger!"
"The third is the ambassador of the wavering and shaking young Austrian Empress Maria Theresa. He comes, he says, upon a secret mission, and pretends to have discovered a sort of conspiracy that is hatching against you."
"Let him go with his discovery to Golopkin, our minister of the interior. That is his business!"
"Your grace is, above all things, regent, and should remember—"
"Nothing—I will remember nothing!" exclaimed Anna Leopoldowna, interrupting her favorite. "I will not be annoyed, that is all."
"Well, thank God!" now cried Julia von Mengden, in her natural tone—"thank God, that such is your determination, princess! you are, then, in earnest, and I am to send these three amiable persons to the devil, or, what is just the same, to your husband?"
"That is my meaning."
"And this is beautiful in you," continued Julia, cowering down before her mistress. "These eternal, tiresome and intolerable state affairs would make your face prematurely old and wrinkled, my dear princess. Ah, there is nothing more tedious than governing. I am heartily sick of it! At first I was amused when we two sat together and settled who should be sent to prison and who should be pardoned; whom we should make counts and princes, or degrade to the ranks as common soldiers. But all that pleased only for a short time; now it is annoying, and why should we take upon ourselves this trouble? Have we not the power to act and live according to our own good pleasure? Bah! that is the least compensation you should receive for allowing these horrid Russians the privilege of calling you their regent and mistress!"
"But, my little chatterer, you forget the three envoys who are waiting without," said Anna, with a smile.
"Ah, that is true! I must first send those wig-blocks away!" said Anna, tenderly looking after her departing favorite. "She is, indeed, my good genius, who drives away the cares from my poor brain."
"So, it is done!" cried Julia, quickly returning to the room. "I have sent the gentlemen away. To the Persian envoy I said: 'Go to our emperor, Ivan. He feeds upon brilliants, and, as he has had no breakfast this morning, his appetite will be good. Go, therefore, and give him your diamonds for breakfast. Anna Leopoldowna wants them not; she is already satiated with them!'—To the second I said: 'Go and announce your glorious victory to our sublime generalissimo. He is at his toilet, and as he every morning touches his noble cheeks with rouge, your new paint, prepared from the purple blood of the enemy, will doubtless be very welcome to him!'—'And as to what concerns your secret mission and your discovered conspiracy,' said I to the Austrian ambassador, 'I am sorry that you cannot here give birth to the dear children of your inventive head; go with them to our midwife, Minister Golopkin, and hasten a little, for I see in your face that you are already in the pangs of parturition!'"
"Well," asked Anna Leopoldowna, loudly laughing, "what said their worships to that?"
"What did they say? They said nothing! They were dumb and looked astonished. They made exactly such eyes as I have seen made at home, upon my father's estate in Liefland, by the calves when the butcher knocked them upon the head. But now," continued Julia, nestling again at the feet of her mistress, "now give me a token of your favor, and forget for a while that you are regent. Let us chat a little like a couple of real genuine women—that is, of our husbands and lovers. Oh, I have very important news for you!"
"Well, speak quickly," said Anna, with eagerness. "What have you to tell me?"
Julia assumed a very serious and important countenance. "The first and most important piece of news is, that your husband, Prince Ulrich of Brunswick, is very jealous of me, and yet of one other!"
"Bah!" said Anna, contemptuously, "let him be jealous. I do not trouble myself about it, and shall always do as I please."
"No, no, that will not do," seriously responded Julia. "It is so tiresome to always hear the wrangling and growling of a jealous husband! I tell your grace that I must have quiet in his presence; I can no longer bear his grim looks and his constant anger and abuse. You must soothe him, Princess Anna, or I will run away from this horrible court, where a poor maiden is not allowed to have her friend and mistress, the charming Princess Anna Leopoldowna, with all her heart and soul!"
The regent's eyes filled with tears. "My Julia," she tremulously said, "can you seriously think of leaving me? See you not that I should be thereby rendered very solitary and miserable?"
And, raising up her favorite into her arms, she kissed her.
Julia's bright eyes also filled with tears. "Think you, then, princess, that I could ever leave, ever be separated from you?" she tenderly asked. "No, my Princess Anna has such entire possession of my heart, that it has no room for any other feeling than the most unbounded love and devotion to my dear, my adored princess. But for the very reason that I love you, I cannot bear to have your husband fill the palace with his jealous complaints, and thus publishing to St. Petersburg and all the world your unfaithfulness and criminal intrigues. Oh, I tell you I see through this generalissimo, I know all his plans and secret designs. He would gladly be able to convict you of infidelity to him—then, with the help of the army he commands, declare his criminal wife unfit for the regency, and then make himself regent! He has a cunningly devised plan, but which my superior cunning shall bring to naught! I will play him a trick!—But no, I will tell you no more now! At the right time you shall know all. Now, Princess Anna, now answer me one question. Do you, then, so very much love this Count Lynar?"
The princess looked up with a dreamy smile. "Do I love him!" she then murmured low. "Oh, my God, Thou knowest how truly, how glowingly my heart clings to him. Thou knowest that of all the world I have never loved any other man than him alone! And you, Julia, you who know every emotion and palpitation of my heart, you yet ask me if I love him—when he stood before me in all his proud manly beauty, with his conquering glance, his heart-winning smile? Ah, my whole heart already then flew to meet him. I revelled in the sight of him, I thought only of him, I spoke to him in my thoughts, and my prayers, I loved only when I saw him; and that happy, that never-to-be-forgotten day when he confessed his love, when he lay at my feet and swore eternal truth to me—ah, why could I not have died on that day? I was then so happy!"
"Poor Princess Anna," said Julia, sympathetically, "they soon grudged you that happiness!"
"Yes," continued Anna with a bitter smile, "yes, the virtuous Empress Anna blushed in the arms of her lover, Biron, at this aberration of her sold and coupled niece. She found it very revolting that the poor sixteen-year-old Anna Leopoldowna dared to have a heart of her own and to feel a real love. They must therefore rob her of the only happiness Heaven had vouchsafed her. Consequently, they wrote to Warsaw, asking, nay, commanding the recall of the ambassador, and Lynar was compelled to leave me."
"Ah, I well know how unhappy you were at that time," said Julia, pressing the hand of the princess to her bosom; "how you wept, how you wrung your hands—"
"And how I nowhere found mercy or commiseration," interposed Anna, with bitterness, "neither on earth nor in heaven. I was and remained deserted and solitary, and was compelled to marry this Prince Ulrich of Brunswick, for whom I felt nothing but a chilling, mortal indifference. But you must know, Julia, that when I stood with this man at the altar, and was compelled to become his wife, I thought only of him I loved; I vowed eternal love only to Lynar, and when the prince folded me in his arms as his wife, then was my God gracious to me, and in a happy deception it seemed to me that it was my lover who held me in his arms—I thought only of him and breathed only his name, and loved him, kissed him, and became his wife, although he was far, alas, so immeasurably far from me! And when I felt a second self under my heart, I then loved with redoubled warmth the distant one whom I had not seen for years; and when Ivan was born, it seemed to me that the eyes of my lover looked at me through his, and blessed my son whose spiritual father he was! And, my child, what think you gave me the courage to overthrow Biron and assume the regency? Ah, it was only that I might have the power to recall Lynar to my side! I would and must be regent, that I might demand the return of Lynar as ambassador from Warsaw. That gave me courage and decision; that enabled me to overcome all timidity and anxiety. I thought only of him, and when the end was attained, when I was declared regent, the first exercise of my power was to recall Lynar to Court. Julia, what a happy day was that when I saw him again!"
And the princess, wholly absorbed in her delightful reminiscences, smilingly and silently reclined upon the cushions of the divan.
"Ah, it must be love that so thinks and feels," thoughtfully observed Julia. "I no longer ask you, Princess Anna, if you love the count, I now know you do. But answer me yet one question. Have you confidence in me—full, unlimited confidence? Will you never mistake, never doubt me?"
"Never!" said Anna Leopoldowna, confidently. "And if all the world should tell me that Julia von Mengden is a traitress, I would nevertheless firmly rely upon you, and reply to the whole world: 'That is false! Julia von Mengden is true and pure as gold. I shall always love her.'"
Julia gratefully glanced up to the heavens, and her eyes filled with tears.
"I thank you, princess," she then said, with a happy smile. "I now have courage for all. You shall now be enabled to love your Lynar without fear or trembling, and your husband's clouded brow and reproaching tongue shall molest us no more. Confide in me and ask no questions. It is all decided and arranged in my mind. But hark! do you hear nothing?"
Anna's face was transfused with a purple glow, and her eyes flashed.
"It is my beloved," said she. "Yes, it is he. I know his step!"
Julia smilingly opened the concealed door, and Count Lynar, with a cry of joy, rushed to the feet of his beloved.
"At length!" he exclaimed, clasping her feet, and pressing them to his bosom.
"Yes, at length!" murmured Anna, looking down upon him with a celestial smile.
Julia stood at a distance, contemplating them with thoughtful glances.
"They should be happy," she murmured low, and then asked aloud: "Count Lynar, did you receive my letter?"
"I did receive it," said the count, "and may God reward you for the sacrifice you are so generously disposed to make for us! Anna, your friend Julia is our good angel. To her we shall owe it if our happiness is henceforth indestructible and indissoluble. Do you know the immense sacrifice this young maiden proposes to make for us?"
"No, Princess Anna knows nothing, and shall know nothing of it," said Julia, with a grand air. "Princess Anna shall only know that I love her, and am ready to give my life for her. And now," she continued, with her natural gayety, "forget me, ye happy lovers! Lull yourselves in the sweet enjoyment of nameless ecstasies! I go to watch the spies, and especially your husband, lest he break in upon you without notice!"