“How much?” asked Montevarchi in a thick voice. His heart misgave him, for he had placed himself in the man’s power, and Meschini’s authoritative tone showed that the latter knew it, and meant to use his advantage.
“I will be moderate, for I am a poor man. You shall give me twenty thousand scudi in cash, on the day the verdict is given in favour of Don Giovanni Saracinesca, Marchese di San Giacinto. That is your friend’s name, I believe.”
Montevarchi started as the librarian named the sum, and he turned very pale, passing his bony hand upon the edge of the table.
“I would not have expected this of you!” he exclaimed.
“You have your choice,” returned the other, bringing his yellow face nearer to his employer’s and speaking very distinctly. “You know what it all means. Saracinesca, Sant’ Ilario, and Barda to your son-in-law, besides all the rest, amounting perhaps to several millions. To me, who get you all this, a paltry twenty thousand. Or else—” he paused and his bright eyes seemed to penetrate into Montevarchi’s soul. The latter’s face exhibited a sudden terror, which Meschini understood.
“Or else?” said the prince. “Or else, I suppose you will try and intimidate me by threatening to expose what I have told you?”
“Not at all, Excellency,” replied the old scholar with sudden humility. “If you do not care for the bargain let us leave it alone. I am only your faithful servant, Signor Principe. Do not suspect me of such ingratitude! I only say that if we undertake it, the plan will be successful. It is for you to decide. Millions or no millions, it is the same to me. I am but a poor student. But if I help to get them for you—or for your son-in-law—I must have what I asked. It is not one per cent—scarcely a broker’s commission! And you will have so much. Not but what your Excellency deserves it all, and is the best judge.”
“One per cent?” muttered Montevarchi. “Perhaps not more than half per cent. But is it safe?” he asked suddenly, his fears all at once asserting themselves with a force that bewildered him.
“Leave all that to me,” answered Meschini confidently. “The insertion shall be made, unknown to any one, in this parchment and in the one in the Chancery. The documents shall be returned to their places with no observation, and a month or two later the Marchese di San Giacinto can institute proceedings for the recovery of his birthright. I would only advise you not to mention the matter to him. It is essential that he should be quite innocent in order that the tribunal may suspect nothing. You and I, Signor Principe, can stay at home while the case is proceeding. We shall not even see the Signor Marchese’s lawyers, for what have we to do with it all? But the Signor Marchese himself must be really free from all blame, or he will show a weak point. Now, when all is ready, he should go to the Cancellaria and examine the papers there for himself. He himself will suspect nothing. He will be agreeably surprised.”