“Yes, it is fulfilled! My property is sequestrated; they refuse to send me the money I required; they command my immediate return to Russia, as my conge has expired and my respite is at an end!”
“And you are lost, my lord, if you do not obey this command!” said Cecil.
“And Natalie?” reproachfully asked the count. “Can I, dare I leave her?”
“She is much safer without than with you! They may not yet suspect who she is! It is very possible that it in reality only is because your leave of absence has expired, as the laws of Russia require that every absentee should return to his country once in every four years. Fulfil, therefore, this hard duty. Pretend to suppose that your recall is for no other reason than the renewal of your passport, and the giving you an opportunity to pay your homage to the empress. Appear innocent and unconcerned, and all may yet go well!”
“No,” gloomily replied the count, “nothing will go well any more! The whole future stands before me in clear and distinct traits—a future full of shame and horror! Oh, would it not be better to flee from that future and seek in some remote and hidden valley a place where, perhaps, misfortune cannot reach, nor destruction overtake us!”
“How?” reproachfully asked Cecil. “Is it Count Paulo who speaks thus? Is it the pupil whom I taught to defy misfortune and rise superior to disaster with courageous self-confidence? Is it the son of my heart for whom I have left all, sacrificed all, for whom I have offered up my fatherland, my freedom, and my independence; whom I shall love until my last breath? Paulo, pluck up a good heart, my son! You have proposed to yourself a great end, which was only to be reached by thorny and dangerous paths; will you now stop at the first cross-road and return upon your steps, instead of pressing forward sword in hand! No, no, I know you better, my son; this momentary hesitation will pass away, and you will again be great and strong for the struggle and the victory!”
With a faint smile Count Paulo gave him his hand. “You know not, my friend, how great is the sacrifice you demand of me!” said he, in a subdued tone. “I must leave Natalie. I must never see her more, never more draw consolation from her glance, nor hope from her charming smile! Oh, Cecil, you have not idea of what Natalie is to me; you know not that I—”
“I know,” interposed Cecil, solemnly, “I know that you have sworn upon the holy book to protect her with your life from every injury; I know that you have sworn never to give rest to yourself until you have reinstated her in her inherited rights, and that, until then, she shall be sacred to you, sacred as a sister, sacred as a daughter whose honor you will protect and defend against every outrage, against even every sinful thought. That have you sworn, and I know you will hold your word sacred and keep your oath!”
Count Paulo dropped his head upon his breast and sighed deeply.