“Nay, why not enter the house itself?—the situation is lonely, and the door is not made of iron.”
“But what if, on her return home, she tell the tale of our violence? A house forced,—a virgin stolen! Reflect; though the feudal privileges are not destroyed, even a Visconti is not now above the law.”
“Is he not, Mascari? Fool! in what age of the world, even if the Madmen of France succeed in their chimeras, will the iron of law not bend itself, like an osier twig, to the strong hand of power and gold? But look not so pale, Mascari; I have foreplanned all things. The day that she leaves this palace, she will leave it for France, with Monsieur Jean Nicot.”
Before Mascari could reply, the gentleman of the chamber announced the Signor Zanoni.
The prince involuntarily laid his hand upon the sword placed on the table, then with a smile at his own impulse, rose, and met his visitor at the threshold, with all the profuse and respectful courtesy of Italian simulation.
“This is an honour highly prized,” said the prince. “I have long desired to clasp the hand of one so distinguished.”
“And I give it in the spirit with which you seek it,” replied Zanoni.
The Neapolitan bowed over the hand he pressed; but as he touched it a shiver came over him, and his heart stood still. Zanoni bent on him his dark, smiling eyes, and then seated himself with a familiar air.
“Thus it is signed and sealed; I mean our friendship, noble prince. And now I will tell you the object of my visit. I find, Excellency, that, unconsciously perhaps, we are rivals. Can we not accommodate out pretensions!”
“Ah!” said the prince, carelessly, “you, then, were the cavalier who robbed me of the reward of my chase. All stratagems fair in love, as in war. Reconcile our pretensions! Well, here is the dice-box; let us throw for her. He who casts the lowest shall resign his claim.”
“Is this a decision by which you will promise to be bound?”
“Yes, on my faith.”
“And for him who breaks his word so plighted, what shall be the forfeit?”
“The sword lies next to the dice-box, Signor Zanoni. Let him who stands not by his honour fall by the sword.”
“And you invoke that sentence if either of us fail his word? Be it so; let Signor Mascari cast for us.”
“Well said!—Mascari, the dice!”
The prince threw himself back in his chair; and, world-hardened as he was, could not suppress the glow of triumph and satisfaction that spread itself over his features. Mascari took up the three dice, and rattled them noisily in the box. Zanoni, leaning his cheek on his hand, and bending over the table, fixed his eyes steadfastly on the parasite; Mascari in vain struggled to extricate from that searching gaze; he grew pale, and trembled, he put down the box.
“I give the first throw to your Excellency. Signor Mascari, be pleased to terminate our suspense.”