“In the high school of the galleys, your excellency,” said Ribas. “Only there is one taught such precious things. We had a priest there, a real consecrated priest, who was sentenced for life. From ennui he gave lessons to the smartest among us in his art, and taught us how to fold the hands, roll the eyes, and render the voice tremulous. But now, your excellency, one thing! You desired to know who it was that warned your princess to-day. I can now give you information on that point. It was the French Cardinal Bernis!”
“They are, therefore, beginning to observe our movements,” thoughtfully remarked Orloff, “and these gentlemen diplomatists wish to take a hand in the game. Ah, we understand the French policy. It is the same now that it was when they helped to make the Princess Elizabeth empress. At that time they interposed, that Russia might be so occupied with her own affairs as to have no time for looking into those of France. Precisely so is it to-day. They would compassionate the daughter as they did the mother. With the help of Natalie they would again bless Russia with a revolution, that we might not have time to observe the events now fermenting in France. But this time we shall be more cautious, my shrewd French cardinal. Stephano, let every preparation be made for our immediate departure. We are no longer safe and unobserved here. Therefore we will go to Leghorn.”
“We alone, or with the princess?” asked Stephano.
“My wife will naturally accompany me,” said Orloff, with a derisive smile.
“Will she consent to leave Rome?” asked Joseph Ribas.
“I shall request her to do so,” proudly replied Orloff, “and I think my request will be a command to her.”
And the proud count was not mistaken. His request was a command for her. He told her she must leave Rome because she was no longer in safety there, and Princess Natalie believed him.
“We will go to Leghorn, and there await the arrival of the Russian fleet,” said he. “When that fleet shall have safely arrived, then our ends will be attained, then we shall have conquered, for then it will be evident that the empress has conceived no suspicion; and I am the commander of that fleet, which is wholly manned with conspirators who all await you as their empress. Will you follow me to Leghorn, Natalie?”
She clung with tender submissiveness to his bosom.
“I will follow you everywhere,” murmured she, “and any place to which you conduct me will be a paradise for me!”
THE RUSSIAN FLEET
Unsuspectingly had she followed Orloff to Leghorn; full of devoted tenderness, full of glowing love, she was only anxious to fulfil all his wishes and to constantly afford him new proofs of her affection.
And how? Did he not deserve that love? Was he not constantly paying her the most delicate attentions? Was he not always as humbly submissive as he was tender? Did it not seem as if the lion was subdued, that the Hercules was tamed, by his tender Omphale, whom he adored, at whose feet he lay for the purpose of looking into her eyes, to read in them her most secret thoughts and wishes?