And while she said this, that animated smile deserted not Catharine’s lips for a moment, and her features constantly displayed the utmost cheerfulness.
“I think,” said she, turning to Gregory, “that is bringing an expiatory offering to the fair Eleonore Lapuschkin, and we here exercise justice in the name of God!—As to you,” she then said to Joseph Ribas, “we have reason to be satisfied with you, and you shall not go without your reward. Moreover, our beloved Alexis Orloff has especially recommended you to us, and spoken very highly of your information and talents. You shall be satisfied."(*)
(*) Joseph Ribas was rewarded by the empress with the place of an officer and teacher in the corps of cadets. Afterward, upon the recommendation of Betzkoi, he was made the tutor of Bobrinsky, one of the sons of the empress by Gregory Orloff. “He accompanied Bobrinsky in all his travels,” says Massen, “and inoculated the prince with all the terrible vices he himself possessed.” At a later period, as we have already said, he became an admiral and a favorite of Potemkin, the fourth of Catharine’s lovers.
It was a dark and dreadfully cold night. St. Petersburg slept; the streets were deserted and silent. But there, upon the place where Elizabeth once caused the beautiful Lapuschkin to be tortured, there torches glanced, there dark forms were moving to and fro, there a mysterious life was stirring. What was being done there?
No spectators are to-night assembled around these barriers. Catharine had commanded all St. Petersburg to sleep at this hour, and accordingly it slept. Nobody is upon the place—nobody but the cold, unfeeling executioners and their assistants—nobody but that pale, feeble, and shrunken woman, who, in her slight white dress, kneels at the feet of her executioners. She yet lives, it is true, but her soul has long since fled, her heart has long been broken. The chains and tortures of her imprisonment have done that for her. It was Alexis Orloff who murdered Natalie’s heart and soul. For him had she wept until her tears had been exhausted—for him had she lamented until her voice had become extinct. She now no longer weeps, no longer complains; glancing at her executioners, she smiles, and, raising her hands to God, she thanks him that at last she is about to die.
She is yet praying when her executioners approach and roughly raise her up, when they tear off her light robe, and devour with their brutal eyes her noble naked form. Her soul is with God, to whom she yet prays. But when they would rend from her bosom the chain to which Paulo’s papers are attached, she shudders, her eyes flash, and she holds the papers in her convulsively clinched hands.
“I have sworn to defend them with my life!” she exclaims aloud. “Paulo, Paulo, I will keep my word!”
And with the boldness of a lioness she defends herself against her executioners.