“Why then,” said I, “the only hope lies in abstracting that letter in such a manner that he shall not suspect the loss; and that seems a very desperate hope.”
We sat in silence for some moments, during which I thought intently to little purpose.
“Does he sleep yet, think you?” I asked presently.
“Assuredly he must.”
“And if I were to go to the gallery, is there any fear that I should be discovered by others?”
“None. All at Cesena are asleep by now.”
“Then,” said I, rising, “let us take a look at him. Who knows what may suggest itself? Come.” I moved towards the door, and he took up his lanthorn and followed me, enjoining me to tread lightly.
On tiptoe I crept down that corridor to the gallery above the banqueting-hall, secure from sight in the enveloping darkness, and intent upon allowing no sound to betray my presence, lest Ramiro should have awakened. Behind me, treading as lightly, came Messer Mariani.
Thus we gained the gallery. I leaned against the stout oaken balustrade, and looked down into the black pit of the hall, broken in the centre by the circle of light from the two tapers that burnt upon the table. The other torches had all been quenched.
At the table sat Messer Ramiro, his head fallen forward and sideways upon his right arm which was outstretched and limp along the board. Before him lay a paper which I inferred to be the letter whose possession might mean so much.
I could hear the old man breathing heavily beside me as I leaned there in the dark, and sought to devise a means by which that paper might be obtained. No doubt it would be the easiest thing in the world to snatch it away without disturbing him. But there was always to be considered that when he waked and missed the letter we should have to reckon with his measures to regain possession of it.
It became necessary, therefore, to go about it in a manner that should leave him unsuspicious of the theft. A little while I pondered this, deeming the thing desperate at first. Then an idea came to me on a sudden, and turning to Mariani I asked him could he find me a sheet of paper of about the size of that letter held by Ramiro. He answered me that he could, and bade me wait there until he should return.
I waited, watching the sleeper below, my excitement waxing with every second of the delay. Ramiro was snoring now—a loud, sonorous snore that rang like a trumpet-blast through that vast empty hall.
At last Mariani returned, bringing the sheet of paper I had asked for, and he was full of questions of what I intended. But neither the place nor the time was one in which to stand unfolding plans. Every moment wasted increased the uncertainty of the success of my design. Someone might come, or Ramiro might awaken despite the potency of the wine he had been given—for on so well-seasoned a toper the most potent of wines could have but a transient effect.