The prince, who had listened with deep and breathless attention to the words of his singular guest, started from his seat at his last words. “Imposter!” he cried, “can you dare thus to play with my credulity? Sixty years have flown since my grandsire died; were he living, he had passed his hundred and twentieth year; and you, whose old age is erect and vigorous, have the assurance to pretend to have been his contemporary! But you have imperfectly learned your tale. You know not, it seems, that my grandsire, wise and illustrious indeed, in all save his faith in a charlatan, was found dead in his bed, in the very hour when his colossal plans were ripe for execution, and that Mejnour was guilty of his murder.”
“Alas!” answered the stranger, in a voice of great sadness, “had he but listened to Mejnour,—had he but delayed the last and most perilous ordeal of daring wisdom until the requisite training and initiation had been completed,—your ancestor would have stood with me upon an eminence which the waters of Death itself wash everlastingly, but cannot overflow. Your grandsire resisted my fervent prayers, disobeyed my most absolute commands, and in the sublime rashness of a soul that panted for secrets, which he who desires orbs and sceptres never can obtain, perished, the victim of his own frenzy.”
“He was poisoned, and Mejnour fled.”
“Mejnour fled not,” answered the stranger, proudly—“Mejnour could not fly from danger; for to him danger is a thing long left behind. It was the day before the duke took the fatal draft which he believed was to confer on the mortal the immortal boon, that, finding my power over him was gone, I abandoned him to his doom. But a truce with this: I loved your grandsire! I would save the last of his race. Oppose not thyself to Zanoni. Yield not thy soul to thine evil passions. Draw back from the precipice while there is yet time. In thy front, and in thine eyes, I detect some of that diviner glory which belonged to thy race. Thou hast in thee some germs of their hereditary genius, but they are choked up by worse than thy hereditary vices. Recollect that by genius thy house rose; by vice it ever failed to perpetuate its power. In the laws which regulate the universe, it is decreed that nothing wicked can long endure. Be wise, and let history warn thee. Thou standest on the verge of two worlds, the past and the future; and voices from either shriek omen in thy ear. I have done. I bid thee farewell!”
“Not so; thou shalt not quit these walls. I will make experiment of thy boasted power. What, ho there!—ho!”
The prince shouted; the room was filled with his minions.
“Seize that man!” he cried, pointing to the spot which had been filled by the form of Mejnour. To his inconceivable amaze and horror, the spot was vacant. The mysterious stranger had vanished like a dream; but a thin and fragrant mist undulated, in pale volumes, round the walls of the chamber. “Look to my lord,” cried Mascari. The prince had fallen to the floor insensible. For many hours he seemed in a kind of trance. When he recovered, he dismissed his attendants, and his step was heard in his chamber, pacing to and fro, with heavy and disordered strides. Not till an hour before his banquet the next day did he seem restored to his wonted self.