(*) Of the tragic and horrible events connected with Catharine’s accession to the throne, and of the strangulation of Peter, in which he took so active a part, Orloff spoke in Rome with the greatest freedom and evident pleasure.
“My little opening murder has, indeed, less significance,” sighed Joseph Ribas. “What was it but to help a humble musician to the blessedness and harmony of the spheres!”
“But that musician was your brother!”
Ribas shrugged his shoulders. “That is, he was so considered; but in reality I believe he was only a half-brother. My mother, of blessed memory, had many little adventures, and I think Carlo’s birth was somewhat connected with them. Nor am I sure that it was not a necessary work to kill him, as it was surely my duty to avenge my father’s injured honor, which is all I have done! Upon these grounds has a good, honest priest this day given me absolution, and I now stand before you pure and sinless as a maiden! We can therefore begin anew, your excellency. Have you still any commands for me?”
“You now have a very noble and sublime part to play,” said Orloff, laughing. “You must now appear as the benefactor of our Russian princess, and as the mediating forerunner of my own person!”
“That will be indeed a charming role,” said Ribas, rubbing his hands with delight. “I shall admirably acquit myself as benefactor and mediator. But give me some details, Sir Count!”
“You shall have them,” said Orloff, “from the mouth of Stephano.—Stephano!”
The person called immediately appeared at the door of a side-room.
“Stephano,” said Orloff, “now to work, friend. The courier who arrived to-day has brought us good news and full powers. Count Paul Rasczinsky is sent to Siberia for high-treason—his property is confiscated and falls to the state. I have an unlimited power, signed by the empress herself, to seize and sell his possessions here in the name of the empress. Take with you some attorney and officers and go to his villa. But, first of all, help our little Joseph Ribas to his uniform and epaulets, that he may be properly costumed for a rescuer and benefactor. And now, away with you! Instruct him well, Stephano. Ah, I should like to be present at this delightful comedy!”
And Count Orloff broke out into a hearty laugh.
“This whole affair is very entertaining and romantic,” he said to himself, as soon as he was alone. “I am truly very thankful to Catharine for intrusting it to me. I love the adventurous and romantic. Indeed, whom else could she have chosen for this business? I should like to know who would dare to enter the lists with me, the Russian Hercules, and who would be so bold as to contend with me for this prize?”
Thus speaking, he rose from the divan and stepped to the great Venetian mirror, before which he long remained attentively viewing himself.