It was a small cabinet; the walls were covered with pictures, one of which was worth more than the whole lineage of the owner of the palace. Oh, yes! Zanoni was right. The painter is a magician; the gold he at least wrings from his crucible is no delusion. A Venetian noble might be a fribble, or an assassin,—a scoundrel, or a dolt; worthless, or worse than worthless, yet he might have sat to Titian, and his portrait may be inestimable,—a few inches of painted canvas a thousand times more valuable than a man with his veins and muscles, brain, will, heart, and intellect!
In this cabinet sat a man of about three-and-forty,—dark-eyed, sallow, with short, prominent features, a massive conformation of jaw, and thick, sensual, but resolute lips; this man was the Prince di —. His form, above the middle height, and rather inclined to corpulence, was clad in a loose dressing-robe of rich brocade. On a table before him lay an old-fashioned sword and hat, a mask, dice and dice-box, a portfolio, and an inkstand of silver curiously carved.
“Well, Mascari,” said the prince, looking up towards his parasite, who stood by the embrasure of the deep-set barricadoed window,—“well! the Cardinal sleeps with his fathers. I require comfort for the loss of so excellent a relation; and where a more dulcet voice than Viola Pisani’s?”
“Is your Excellency serious? So soon after the death of his Eminence?”
“It will be the less talked of, and I the less suspected. Hast thou ascertained the name of the insolent who baffled us that night, and advised the Cardinal the next day?”
“Sapient Mascari! I will inform thee. It was the strange Unknown.”
“The Signor Zanoni! Are you sure, my prince?”
“Mascari, yes. There is a tone in that man’s voice that I never can mistake; so clear, and so commanding, when I hear it I almost fancy there is such a thing as conscience. However, we must rid ourselves of an impertinent. Mascari, Signor Zanoni hath not yet honoured our poor house with his presence. He is a distinguished stranger,—we must give a banquet in his honour.”
“Ah, and the Cyprus wine! The cypress is a proper emblem of the grave.”
“But this anon. I am superstitious; there are strange stories of Zanoni’s power and foresight; remember the death of Ughelli. No matter, though the Fiend were his ally, he should not rob me of my prize; no, nor my revenge.”
“Your Excellency is infatuated; the actress has bewitched you.”
“Mascari,” said the prince, with a haughty smile, “through these veins rolls the blood of the old Visconti—of those who boasted that no woman ever escaped their lust, and no man their resentment. The crown of my fathers has shrunk into a gewgaw and a toy,—their ambition and their spirit are undecayed! My honour is now enlisted in this pursuit,—Viola must be mine!”
“Another ambuscade?” said Mascari, inquiringly.