“Then let them crush us,” she quietly said. “It is better to be crushed at once than to be slowly and lingeringly wasted!”
“But you hear me not, princess,” shrieked Marianne, wringing her hands. “They will drive us from here, I tell you; they will expel you from your house!”
“And who will do that?” asked the young maiden, proudly rising with flashing eyes. “Who dares threaten me in my own house?”
“Without are soldiers and bailiffs and the officers of the Russian embassy. They have made a forcible entrance, and with force they will expel you from the house. They are already sealing the doors and seizing everything in the house.”
A dark purple glow for a moment overspread Natalie’s cheeks, and her glance was flame. “I will see,” said she, “who has the robber-like boldness to dispute my possession of my own property!”
With proud steps and elevated head she strode through the room to the door opening upon the corridor.
The bailiffs and soldiers, who had been placed there, respectfully stood aside. Natalie paid no attention to them, but immediately advanced to the officer who, with a loud voice, was just then commanding them to seal all the doors and see that nothing was taken from the rooms.
“I wish to know,” said Natalie, with her clear, silver-toned voice—“I wish to know by what right people here force their way into my house, and what excuse you have for this shameless conduct?”
The officer, who was no other than Stephano, bowed to her with a slightly ironical smile.
“Justice needs no excuse,” said he. “On the part and by command of her illustrious majesty, the great Empress Catharine, I lay an attachment upon this house and all it contains. It is from this hour the sacred possession of her Russian majesty.”
“It is the exclusive property of the Count Paulo!” proudly responded Natalie.
“It was the property of Count Paul Rasczinsky,” said Stephano. “But convicted traitors have no property. This criminal count has been convicted of high-treason. The mercy of the empress has indeed changed the sentence of death into one of eternal banishment to Siberia, but she has been pleased to approve the confiscation of all he possessed. In virtue of this approval, and by permission of the holy Roman government, I attach this house and its contents!”
Natalie no longer heard him. Almost unconscious lay she in Marianne’s arms. Paulo was lost, sentenced to death, imprisoned, and banished for life—that was all she had heard and comprehended—this terrible news had confused and benumbed her senses.
“Sir!” implored Marianne, pressing Natalie to her bosom, “you will at least have some mercy upon this young maiden; you will not thrust us out upon the streets; you will grant us a quiet residence in this house until we can collect our effects and secure what is indisputably ours!”
“Every thing in this house is the indisputable property of the empress!” roughly responded Stephano.