He had unfolded and explained all to her. He had told her of her mother, the good Empress Elizabeth, who had made Russia so great and happy; he had explained to her how Count Paulo Rasczinsky had flown with her on the day of her mother’s death, in order to preserve her from the pursuits of her mother’s successor, the cunning and cruel Peter III., and to insure to her the realm at a later period. He had then spoken to her of Catharine, who had forcibly possessed herself of the throne of her unworthy husband, and taken the reins of government into her own hands. He had spoken to her of Catharine’s cruelty and despotic tyranny; he had told her that all Russia groaned under the oppression of this foreigner, and that a universal cry was heard through the whole realm, of lamentation and longing, a cry for her, the Russian princess, the grand-daughter of Peter the Great, the daughter of the beloved Elizabeth.
“You are called for by all these millions of your oppressed subjects now trodden in the dust,” said he; “toward you they stretch forth their trembling hands, from you they expect relief and consolation, from you they expect happiness!”
“And I will bring them happiness,” exclaimed Natalie, with emotion. “I will dry the tears of misery and console the suffering. Oh, my people shall love me as my mother once did!”
“The noblest of the land have pledged their property and their lives to give you back to your people,” said Orloff; “we have solemnly sworn it upon the altar of God, and for the attainment of this end no one of us will shun want or death, treason or revolt. Look at me, Natalie! I stand before you a traitor to this empress, to whom I have sworn faith and obedience; she has heaped favors upon me, and at one time I was even passionately devoted to her! But Count Paulo awoke me from that intoxication; he roused me from the condition of a favorite of the empress; he taught me to see the cruel, bloodthirsty empress in her true form; he spoke to me of your sacred rights, and when I recognized and comprehended them, I collected myself, vowed myself your knight, devoting myself to the defence of your rights, and swore to leave no artifices, no dissimulation, nor even treason itself, unessayed for the promotion of this great, this sublime object! Princess Natalie, for your sake I have become a traitor! The admiral of the Russian fleet, he whom the world calls the favorite of the empress, Count Alexis Orloff, lies at your feet and swears to you eternal faith, devotion, and adoration!”
“Alexis Orloff!” she joyfully exclaimed, “at length, then, I have a name by which I can call you! Alexis, was not that the name of my father? Oh, that is a good omen! You bear the name of my father, whom my mother so dearly loved!”
“And whom the empress, impelled by love, raised to the position of her husband,” whispered Orloff, bending nearer to her and pressing her hand to his bosom. “Could you, indeed, love as warmly and devotedly as your mother loved her Alexis?”