“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!”