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!”