She was not only his wife, she was also his empress. Such he called her, as such he respected her, and surrounded her with more than imperial splendor.
The house of the English Consul Dyke was changed into an imperial palace for Natalie, and the young and beautiful wife of the consul was her first lady of honor. She established a court for the young imperial princess, she surrounded her with numerous servants and a splendid train of attendants whose duty it was to follow the illustrious young empress everywhere, and never to leave her!
And Natalie suspected not that this English consul received from the Empress of Russia a million of silver rubles, and that his wife was rewarded with a costly set of brilliants for the hospitality shown to this Russian princess, which was so well calculated to deceive not only Natalie herself, but also the European courts whose attention had been aroused. Natalie suspected not that her splendid train, her numerous servants—that all these who apparently viewed her as their sublime mistress, were really nothing more than spies and jailors, who watched her every step, her every word, her every glance. Poor child, she suspected nothing! They honored and treated her as an empress, and she believed them, smiling with delight when the people of Leghorn—whenever she with her splendid retinue appeared at her husband’s side—shouted with every demonstration of respect for her as an empress.
And finally, one day the long-expected Russian fleet arrived!
Radiant with joy, Alexis Orloff rushed into Natalie’s apartment.
“We have now attained our end,” said he, dropping upon one knee before his wife; “I can now in truth greet you as my empress and mistress! Natalie, the Russian fleet is here, and only waits to convey you in triumph to your empire, to the throne that is ready for you, to your people who are languishing for your presence! Ah, you are now really an empress, and marvellous will you be when the imperial crown encircles your noble head!”
“I shall be an empress,” said Natalie, “but you, Alexis, will always be my lord and emperor!”
“Natalie,” continued the count, “your people call for you!—your soldiers languish for you, the sailors of all these ships direct their eyes to the shore where their empress lingers. The admiral’s ship will be splendidly adorned for your reception, and Admiral Gluck will be the first to pay homage to you. Therefore adorn yourself, my charming, beautiful empress—adorn yourself, and show yourself to your faithful subjects in all the magnificence of your imperial position. Ah, it will be a wonderful and intoxicating festival when you celebrate the first day of your greatness!”
And Count Orloff called her attendants. Smiling, perfectly happy at seeing the pleasure and satisfaction of her husband, Natalie suffered herself to be adorned, to be enveloped in that costly gold-embroidered robe, those pearls and diamonds, that sparkling diadem, those chains and bracelets.