“Poor orphan!” said he, tenderly, “and canst thou think that I ask from thee one sacrifice,—still less the greatest that woman can give to love? As my wife I woo thee, and by every tie, and by every vow that can hallow and endear affection. Alas! they have belied love to thee indeed, if thou dost not know the religion that belongs to it! They who truly love would seek, for the treasure they obtain, every bond that can make it lasting and secure. Viola, weep not, unless thou givest me the holy right to kiss away thy tears!”
And that beautiful face, no more averted, drooped upon his bosom; and as he bent down, his lips sought the rosy mouth: a long and burning kiss,—danger, life, the world was forgotten! Suddenly Zanoni tore himself from her.
“Hearest thou the wind that sighs, and dies away? As that wind, my power to preserve thee, to guard thee, to foresee the storm in thy skies, is gone. No matter. Haste, haste; and may love supply the loss of all that it has dared to sacrifice! Come.”
Viola hesitated no more. She threw her mantle over her shoulders, and gathered up her dishevelled hair; a moment, and she was prepared, when a sudden crash was heard below.
“Too late!—fool that I was, too late!” cried Zanoni, in a sharp tone of agony, as he hurried to the door. He opened it, only to be borne back by the press of armed men. The room literally swarmed with the followers of the ravisher, masked, and armed to the teeth.
Viola was already in the grasp of two of the myrmidons. Her shriek smote the ear of Zanoni. He sprang forward; and Viola heard his wild cry in a foreign tongue. She saw the blades of the ruffians pointed at his breast! She lost her senses; and when she recovered, she found herself gagged, and in a carriage that was driven rapidly, by the side of a masked and motionless figure. The carriage stopped at the portals of a gloomy mansion. The gates opened noiselessly; a broad flight of steps, brilliantly illumined, was before her. She was in the palace of the Prince di —.
Ma lasciamo, per Dio,
Di parlar d’ ira, e di cantar di morte.
“Orlando Furioso,” Canto xvii. xvii.
(But leave me, I solemnly
conjure thee, signor, to speak of
wrath, and to sing of death.)
The young actress was led to, and left alone in a chamber adorned with all the luxurious and half-Eastern taste that at one time characterised the palaces of the great seigneurs of Italy. Her first thought was for Zanoni. Was he yet living? Had he escaped unscathed the blades of the foe,—her new treasure, the new light of her life, her lord, at last her lover?
She had short time for reflection. She heard steps approaching the chamber; she drew back, but trembled not. A courage not of herself, never known before, sparkled in her eyes, and dilated her stature. Living or dead, she would be faithful still to Zanoni! There was a new motive to the preservation of honour. The door opened, and the prince entered in the gorgeous and gaudy custume still worn at that time in Naples.