“Alexis!” she anxiously cried.
“He follows us, your highness,” whispered the wife of Consul Dyke, while taking her place near the princess. “It would be contrary to etiquette for him to appear at the side of the empress at this moment. See, he is close behind us, in the second gondola!”
“Shove off!” cried Admiral Gluck, he himself taking the rudder in honor of the empress.
The boats moved from the land. First, the admiral’s boat, with the princess, the admiral, and the Englishwoman; and then, in brilliant array, the innumerable crowd of adorned gondolas containing the officers of the fleet.
It was a magnificent sight. The people who crowded the shore could not sufficiently admire the splendid spectacle.
When they reached the admiral’s ship the richly-gilded arm-chair was let down for Natalie’s reception. She tremblingly rose from her seat—a strange, inexplicable fear came over her, and she anxiously glanced around for Orloff. He sat in the second boat, not far from her, but he looked not toward her, not even for a moment, and upon his lips there was a wild, triumphant smile.
“Princess, they wait for you; seat yourself in the arm-chair!” said Madame Dyke, in a tone which to Natalie seemed to have nothing of the former humility and devotion—all seemed to her to be suddenly changed, all! Shudderingly she took her seat in the swinging chair—but, nevertheless, she took it.
The chair was drawn up, the cannon thundered anew, the flags were waved, and again shouted the masses of people on the shore.
Suddenly it seemed as if, amid the shouts of joy and the thundering of the cannon, a shriek of terror was heard, loud, penetrating, and heartrending. What was that? What means the tumult upon the deck of the admiral’s ship? Seems it not as if they had roughly seized this princess whose feet had just now touched the ship? as if they had grasped her, as if she resisted, stretching her arms toward heaven! and hark, now this frightful cry, this heart-rending scream!
Shuddering and silent stand the people upon the shore, staring at the ships. And the cannon are silenced, the flags are no longer waved, all is suddenly still.
Once more it seems as if that voice was heard, loudly shrieking the one name—“Alexis!”
Trembling and quivering, Alexis Orloff orders his boat to return to the shore!
In the admiral’s ship all is now still. The princess is no longer on the deck. She has disappeared! The people on shore maintained that they had seen her loaded with chains and then taken away! Where?
All was still. The boats returned to the shore. Count Orloff gave his hand to the handsome Madame Dyke, to assist her in landing.
“To-morrow, madame,” he whispered, “I will wait upon you with the thanks of my empress. You have rendered us an essential service.”
The people at the landing received them with howls, hisses, and curses!—but Count Orloff, with a contemptuous smile, strewed gold among them, and their clamors ceased.