And Count Orloff hurried into his toilet-chamber, to the trembling slaves who there awaited him.
With a sly smile Joseph Ribas returned to the villa. As he had previously said, he found Natalie dreaming in the garden, the guitar upon her arm.
“You ought to go into the house this evening,” said he, “the air is damp and cold, and may injure you.”
“Of what consequence would that be?” she sadly responded. “Who would ask whether I was ill nor not? Who would weep for my death?”
“Oh, he!” sighed she. “He hates all women!”
“Excepting you!” whispered Ribas. “Princess, go into the house! Take care of your precious life. It is not I who beg it of you!”
“Who is it then?” she hastily interposed.
“It is he! He begs it of you!”
Natalie, springing up, hurried into the house.
“I will never again go into the garden in the evening!” said she. “It is his command! Thank God, there is yet something in which I can obey, and he commands it of me! But why these lights?” asked she, almost blinded by the brilliancy of the girandoles and chandeliers, the mirrors, and jewels.
“The count has so commanded!” said Ribas. “He loves a bright light! But, princess, cannot you remain in this boudoir for one evening? Only see how beautiful it is, how enticingly cool, with these fountains that refresh the air and diffuse fragrance! How delightfully still and snug it is! Reposing upon these velvet cushions, you can look through the whole suite of rooms, which in fact, tonight, flash and sparkle like the heavens, and yet in this boudoir there is a sweet twilight, refreshing to eye and heart!”
“No, no,” said she, with a charming smile. “I also like brightness and light! It is too dusky here!”
“Nevertheless, remain here!”
“He wishes it!” said Ribas mysteriously.
“He wishes it?” cried Natalie, turning pale, and trembling. Then, suddenly, a purple flush spread over her brow, and, reeling, she was obliged to hold by a chair to prevent falling. “Ah,” she stammered, “can it be possible? Can this happiness be intended? Is it true, what I read in your eyes? Is it? Comes he here?”
“Hope always!” said Ribas, suddenly disappearing through a side-door.
Natalie, benumbed by surprise, sank down upon the divan. A feeling of boundless anxiety, of immeasurable ecstasy suddenly overcame her. She could have fled, but she felt as if spell-bound; she could have concealed herself from him, and yet was joyfully ready to purchase with her life the happiness of seeing him. It was a strange mixture of delight and terror, of happiness and despair. She spread her arms toward heaven, she sought to pray, but she had no words, no thoughts, not even tears!
A slight rustle made her rise. Almost with terror flew her glance through the suite of rooms. There below she saw the approach of something strange, singular, magical. It was a never-before-seen form, but surrounded by a wonderfully bright halo, enveloped in rich, glittering garments, such as she had never before seen. It was a strange, unknown face, but of a sublime, heroic beauty, proud and noble, bold and mild.