“I shall remember your wise suggestion in time of need!” seriously responded Joseph Ribas, bowing to the count.(*) “And where, your excellency, is to be the scene of my present activity? Where am I to gain my epaulets?”
(*) And, in fact, Ribas did remember it! At a later period, having become a Russian admiral, he was intrusted with the command of the flotilla which was to descend the Danube to aid in the capture of Kilia and Ismail. But during the investment of Ismail (December 21, 1790), Ribas concealed himself among the reeds on the bank of the Danube, and did not reappear until the danger was over and he could in safety share in the booty taken by his sailors. But this cowardice and avarice of their admiral very nearly caused a mutiny among the sailors. It was not suppressed without the greatest efforts.
“I will myself conduct you to the spot and show you the house where a rich set of diamonds and some thousands of scudi are lying in company with your epaulets!”
“And as I have rather long fingers, I shall be able to grasp both the epaulets and the treasure,” laughingly responded Ribas.
It was in the evening after this conversation of Orloff with Joseph Ribas, a wonderfully brilliant evening, such as is known only under Italian skies.
Natalie inhaled the soft air with delight, and drank in the intoxicating odor of the flowers which poured out their sweetest fragrance in the cool of the evening. She was on this evening unusually cheerful; with the smiling brow and childish gayety, as in happier days, she skipped down the alleys, or, with her guitar upon her arm, reposed upon her favorite seat under the myrtle-bush near the murmuring fountains.
“I am to-day so happy, ah, so happy,” said she, “in consequence of having dreamed of Paulo—in my dream he was near me, spoke to me, and that is a sure sign of his speedy return! Oh, certainly, certainly! In my dream he announced it to me, and I distinctly heard him say: ’We shall meet again, Natalie. I shall soon be with you!’”
“Ah, may this dream but prove true!” sighed Marianne, Natalie’s faithful companion. She was standing, not far from her mistress, with Carlo, and both were tenderly observing the young maiden, who now smilingly grasped her guitar and commenced a song of joy for Paulo’s expected return!
“I have no faith in our count’s return!” whispered Marianne while Natalie was singing. “It is a bad sign that no news, not a line, nor even the shortest message, had yet come from him. Something unusual, some great and uncontrollable misfortune, must have prevented his writing!”
“You do not think they have imprisoned him?” asked Carlo.
“I fear it,” sighed Marianne. “And if so, what fate then awaits our poor princess? Helpless, alone, without means! For if the count is imprisoned, he will no longer be in a condition to send money as he promised. And we now possess only a thousand scudi, with double that amount in diamonds!”