“Fair and cruel one,” said he, advancing with a half-sneer upon his lip, “thou wilt not too harshly blame the violence of love.” He attempted to take her hand as he spoke.
“Nay,” said he, as she recoiled, “reflect that thou art now in the power of one that never faltered in the pursuit of an object less dear to him than thou art. Thy lover, presumptuous though he be, is not by to save thee. Mine thou art; but instead of thy master, suffer me to be thy slave.”
“Prince,” said Viola, with a stern gravity, “your boast is in vain. Your power! I am not in your power. Life and death are in my own hands. I will not defy; but I do not fear you. I feel—and in some feelings,” added Viola, with a solemnity almost thrilling, “there is all the strength, and all the divinity of knowledge—I feel that I am safe even here; but you—you, Prince di —, have brought danger to your home and hearth!”
The Neapolitan seemed startled by an earnestness and boldness he was but little prepared for. He was not, however, a man easily intimidated or deterred from any purpose he had formed; and, approaching Viola, he was about to reply with much warmth, real or affected, when a knock was heard at the door of the chamber. The sound was repeated, and the prince, chafed at the interruption, opened the door and demanded impatiently who had ventured to disobey his orders, and invade his leisure. Mascari presented himself, pale and agitated: “My lord,” said he, in a whisper, “pardon me; but a stranger is below, who insists on seeing you; and, from some words he let fall, I judged it advisable even to infringe your commands.”
“A stranger!—and at this hour! What business can he pretend? Why was he even admitted?”
“He asserts that your life is in imminent danger. The source whence it proceeds he will relate to your Excellency alone.”
The prince frowned; but his colour changed. He mused a moment, and then, re-entering the chamber and advancing towards Viola, he said,—
“Believe me, fair creature, I have no wish to take advantage of my power. I would fain trust alone to the gentler authorities of affection. Hold yourself queen within these walls more absolutely than you have ever enacted that part on the stage. To-night, farewell! May your sleep be calm, and your dreams propitious to my hopes.”
With these words he retired, and in a few moments Viola was surrounded by officious attendants, whom she at length, with some difficulty, dismissed; and, refusing to retire to rest, she spent the night in examining the chamber, which she found was secured, and in thoughts of Zanoni, in whose power she felt an almost preternatural confidence.
Meanwhile the prince descended the stairs and sought the room into which the stranger had been shown.
He found the visitor wrapped from head to foot in a long robe, half-gown, half-mantle, such as was sometimes worn by ecclesiastics. The face of this stranger was remarkable. So sunburnt and swarthy were his hues, that he must, apparently, have derived his origin amongst the races of the farthest East. His forehead was lofty, and his eyes so penetrating yet so calm in their gaze that the prince shrank from them as we shrink from a questioner who is drawing forth the guiltiest secret of our hearts.