“And how long will it take you to do the—the work?” asked Montevarchi in hesitating tones.
“Let me see,” Meschini began to make a calculation under his breath. “Ink, two days—preparing parchment for experiments, a week—writing, twice over, two days—giving age, drying and rubbing, three days, at least. Two, nine, eleven, fourteen. A fortnight,” he said aloud. “I cannot do it in less time than that. If the copy in the Chancery is by another hand it will take longer.”
“But how can you work at the Chancery?” asked the prince, as though a new objection had presented itself.
“Have no fear, Excellency. I will manage it so that no one shall find it out. Two visits will suffice. Shall I begin at once? Is it agreed?”
Montevarchi was silent for several minutes, and his hands moved uneasily.
“Begin at once,” he said at last, as though forcing himself to make a determination. He rose to go as he spoke.
“Twenty thousand scudi on the day the verdict is given in favour of the Signor Marchese. Is that it?”
“Yes, yes. That is it. I leave it all to you.”
“I will serve your Excellency faithfully, never fear.”
“Do, Meschini. Yes. Be faithful as you have always been. Remember, I am not avaricious. It is in the cause of sound justice that I stoop to assume the appearance of dishonesty. Can a man do more? Can one go farther than to lose one’s self-esteem by appearing to transgress the laws of honour in order to accomplish a good object; for the sake of restoring the birthright to the fatherless and the portion to the widow, or indeed to the widower, in this case? No, my dear friend. The means are more than justified by the righteousness of our purpose. Believe me, my good Meschini—yes, you are good in the best sense of the word—believe me, the justice of this world is not always the same as the justice of Heaven. The dispensations of providence are mysterious.”
“And must remain so, in this case,” observed the librarian with an evil smile.
“Yes, unfortunately, in this case we shall not reap the worldly praise which so kind an action undoubtedly deserves. But we must have patience under these trials. Good-bye, Meschini, good-bye, my friend. I must busy myself with the affairs of my household. Every man must do his duty in this world, you know.”
The scholar bowed his employer to the door, and then went back to the parchment, which he studied attentively for more than an hour, keeping a huge folio volume open before him, into which he might slip the precious deed in case he were interrupted in his occupation.