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Chapter 39 Venetian Masque by Rafael Sabatini

When he came back to the salon, Isotta, warned of his approach by his brisk step, was standing near the door.

With a laugh that was almost a sob she stepped straight into his arms, and frankly and openly before them all she kissed him on the lips.

'That is for the mercy that you practised, Marc.'

He kissed her in his turn. 'And this is for the love I bear you. Each an earnest to the other of what must follow.'

The Count advanced, smiling through a natural impatience.

'Let it suffice for today if you are to make sure of the sequel,' he said. 'You have no time to lose, Marc.'

'And I will lose none. Life has just become of great importance. I must preserve it, so as to enjoy the fruits of a Venetian year that yesterday I deemed so barren.'

The Count signed. 'Fruits gathered in the twilight of our Venice.'

'But from a tree that flourished whilst the sun was high, and rich with the fragrance and sustenance that Venice sheds upon her fruits. That will remain, Lord Count, as long as memory survives in man.'

Rapid steps approached the door. A lackey opened it, and Philibert precipitated himself, plump and breathless, into the room.

'Monsieur! Monsieur!' He ran to Marc-Antoine. 'Save yourself, monsieur. Monsieur the Major Sanfermo is at the Inn of the Swords with six men, waiting to arrest you.'

'Then, how did you get away?'

'He sent me, monsieur.'

'Sent you?'

'To tell you that his orders are to seek you at the Inn of the Swords and that if you should not be there he is to await your return. Faithful to those orders he awaits your return. Wherefore he begs you not to return; but to depart at once from Venice; because in the nature of things he will be unable to wait at the inn for ever. Those are the Major's exact words. So save yourself, monsieur, while there is time. I've brought a valise with some clothes for you.'

'Oh, most thoughtful of valets. You see, Domenico. We had best be going.'

'Where do we go, monsieur?' Philibert inquired.

'We? Do you come with me, then, Philibert?'

'Certainly, monsieur. Anywhere, if only you will abandon this habit of disappearing.'

'Very well, my lad. It will be England, I think.' He turned to Domenico. 'I am in your hands now. You will have to be my sponsor to your friend the Admiral. After that, if he will send us in a galley to this British squadron at Pola, I'll be your sponsor there, and carry you back with me to Avonford.'

'It is more alluring than Vienna, if you can suffer me.'

With a hand on Domenico's shoulder, he put an arm round Isotta's waist, and drew her to him.

'Suffer you! You are a hostage: to be redeemed by your parents when they come to exchange you for their daughter.'

Domenico looked at his father. 'I warned you, sir, that he might take you at your word when you told him that you possessed nothing that was not his for the asking.'

In the breathless moments of farewell, Isotta appeared utterly to have forgotten that once she had harboured a notion of taking the veil.


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