“I would close my eyes,” said he, “but then I should not see you, princess, and I have already so long languished for a sight of you!”
“Why, then, came you not sooner?” she asked, now feeling herself entirely cheerful and unembarrassed. “Oh, did you but know how impatiently I have awaited you!”
And with childish innocence she began to relate how much she had thought of him, how often she had dreamed of him, how she had sometimes spoken aloud to him, and almost thought she heard his answers!
Count Orloff listened to her with surprise and delight. Thus had he not expected to find her, so childishly cheerful, so charmingly innocent, and yet at the same time with so much maidenly reserve, so much natural dignity. Now she laughed like a child, now was her face serious and proud, now again tender and timid. She was at once a timid child and a glowing woman; she was innocent as an angel, and yet so full of sweet, unconscious maiden coquetry. She enchanted, while inspiring devotion, she excited passions and desires, while, with a natural maiden dignity, she kept one within the bounds of respect. She was entirely different from what Orloff had expected; perhaps less beautiful, less dazzling, but infinitely more lovely. She enchanted him with her smile, and her innocent childish face touched him.
“Speak on, speak on!” said he, when she became silent. “It is delightful to listen to you, princess.”
“Why do you call me so?” asked she, with a slight contraction of her brow. “It is such a strange cold word! It does not at all belong to me, and it is only within the last few months that I have been thus addressed. With wise and tender forbearance, Paulo long delayed informing me that I was a princess, and that was beautiful in him. To be a princess and yet an orphan, a poor, deserted, helpless child, living upon the charity of a friend, and tremulously clinging to his protecting hand! See, that is what I am, a poor orphan; why, then, do you call me princess!”
“Because you are so in reality,” responded Orloff, pressing the hem of her garment to his lips—“because I am come to lead you to your splendid and powerful future!—because I will glorify you above all women on earth, and make you mistress of this great empire.”
She regarded him with a dreamy smile. “You speak as Paulo often spoke to me,” said she. “He also swore to me that he would one day place an imperial crown upon my head, and elevate me to great power! I understood him as little as I understand you!”
A slight scornful smile momentarily passed over Orloff’s features. “Catharine has therefore rightly divined,” thought he, “and her wise mind rightly understood this Rasczinsky. There was, indeed, question of an imperial crown, and this was to have been the new little empress!”
Aloud he said: “You will soon understand me, princess, and it is time you knew of what crown Paulo spoke.”