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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Heart Of Rome - Chapter 10
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The Heart Of Rome - Chapter 10 Post by :ej_fan0119 Category :Long Stories Author :F. Marion Crawford Date :May 2011 Read :2144

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The Heart Of Rome - Chapter 10

CHAPTER X

Malipieri was convinced that Volterra not only knew exactly how far the work under the palace had proceeded, but was also acquainted with the general nature of the objects found in the inner chamber, beyond the well shaft. The apparent impossibility of such a thing was of no importance. The Baron would never have been so anxious to get rid of Malipieri unless he had been sure that the difficult part of the work was finished and that the things discovered were of such dimensions as to make it impossible to remove them secretly. Malipieri knew the man and guessed that if he could not pocket the value of everything found in the excavations by disposing of the discoveries secretly, he would take the government into his confidence at once, as the surest means of preventing any one else from getting a share.

What was hard to understand was that Volterra should know how far the work had gone before Malipieri had told him anything about it. That he did know, could hardly be doubted. He had practically betrayed the fact by the mistake he had made in assuring himself that Malipieri was willing to leave the house, before even questioning him as to the progress made since they had last met. He had been a little too eager to get rid of the helper he no longer needed. It did not even occur to Malipieri that Masin could have betrayed him, yet so far as it was possible to judge, Masin was the only living man who had looked into the underground chamber. As he walked home, he recalled the conversation from beginning to end, and his conviction was confirmed. Volterra had been in a bad temper, nervous, a little afraid of the result and therefore inclined to talk in a rough and bullying tone. As soon as he had ascertained that Malipieri was not going to oppose him, he had become oily to obsequiousness.

On his part Malipieri had accepted everything Volterra proposed, for two reasons. In the first place he would not for the world have had the financier think that he wanted a share of the treasure, or any remuneration for what he had done. Secondly, he knew that possession is nine points of the law, and that if anything could ever be obtained for Sabina it would not be got by making a show of violent opposition to the Baron's wishes. If Malipieri had refused to leave his lodging in the palace, Volterra could have answered by filling the house with people in his own employ, or by calling in government architects, archaeologists and engineers, and taking the whole matter out of Malipieri's hands.

The first thing to be ascertained was, who had entered the vaults and reported the state of the work to Volterra. Malipieri might have suspected the porter himself, for it was possible that there might be another key to the outer entrance of the cellar; but there was a second door further in, to which Masin had put a patent padlock, and even Masin had not the key to that. The little flat bit of steel, with its irregular indentations, was always in Malipieri's pocket. As he walked, he felt for it, and it was in its place, with his silver pencil-case and the small penknife he always carried for sharpening pencils.

The porter could not possibly have picked that lock; indeed, scarcely any one could have done so without injuring it, and Malipieri had locked it himself at about seven o'clock that evening. Even if the porter could have got in by any means, Malipieri doubted whether he could have reached the inner chamber of the vaults. There was some climbing to be done, and the man was old and stiff in the joints. The place was not so easy to find as might have been supposed, either, after the first breach in the Roman wall was past. Malipieri intended to improve the passage the next morning, in order to make it more practicable for Sabina.

He racked his brains for an explanation of the mystery, and when he reached the door of the palace, after eleven o'clock, he had come to the conclusion that in spite of appearances there must be some entrance to the vaults of which he knew nothing, and it was all- important to find it. He regretted the quixotic impulse which had restrained him from exploring everything at once. It would have been far better to go to the end of his discovery, and he wondered why he had not done go. He would not have insulted himself by supposing that Sabina could believe him capable of taking the gem from the ring of the statue, in other words, of stealing, since whoever the rightful owner might be, nothing in the vault could possibly belong to him, and he regarded it all as her property, though he doubted whether he could ever obtain for her a tenth part of the value it represented. He had acted on an impulse, which was strengthened until it looked plausible by the thought of the intense pleasure he would take in showing her the wonderful discovery, and in leading her safely through the mysterious intricacies of the strange place. It had been a very selfish impulse after all, and if he really let her come the next day, there might even be a little danger to her.

He let himself in and locked the postern door behind him. The porter and his wife were asleep and the glass window of the lodge door was quite dark. Malipieri lighted a wax taper and went upstairs.

Masin was waiting, and opened when he heard his master's footsteps on the landing. As a rule, he went to bed, if Malipieri went out in the evening; both men were usually tired out by their day's work.

"What is the matter?" Malipieri asked.

"There is somebody in the vaults," Masin answered. "I had left my pipe on a stone close to the padlocked door and when you were gone I took a lantern and went down to get it. When I came near the door I was sure I heard some one trying it gently from the other side. I stopped to listen and I distinctly heard footsteps going away. I ran forward and tried to find a crack, to see if there were a light, but the door is swollen with the dampness and fits tightly. Besides, by the time I had reached it the person inside must have got well away."

"What time was it?" asked Malipieri, slipping off his light overcoat.

"You went out at nine o'clock, sir. It could not have been more than half an hour later."

"Light both lanterns. We must go down at once. See that there is plenty of oil in them."

In five minutes both men were ready.

"You had better take your revolver, sir," suggested Masin.

Malipieri laughed.

"I have had that revolver since I was eighteen," he said, "and I have never needed it yet. Our tools are there, and they are better than firearms."

They went down the staircase quietly, fearing to wake the porter, and kept close to the north wall till they reached the further end of the courtyard. When they had passed the outer door at the head of the winding staircase, Malipieri told Masin to lock it after them.

"We cannot padlock the other door from the inside," he explained, "for there are no hasps. If the man managed to pass us he might get out this way."

He led the way down, making as little noise as possible. Masin held up his lantern, peering into the gloom over Malipieri's shoulder.

"No one could pass the other door without breaking it down," Malipieri said.

They reached the floor of the cellars, which extended in both directions from the foot of the staircase, far to the left by low, dark vaults like railway tunnels, and a short distance to the right, where they ended at the north-west corner. The two men turned that way, but after walking a dozen yards, they turned to the left and entered a damp passage barely wide enough for them both abreast. It ended at the padlocked door, and before unlocking the latter Malipieri laid his ear to the rough panel and listened attentively. Not a sound broke the stillness. He turned the key, and took off the padlock and slipped it into his pocket before going on. Without it the door could not be fastened.

The passage widened suddenly beyond, in another short tunnel ending at the outer foundation wall of the palace. In this tunnel, on the right- hand side, was the breach the two men had first made in order to gain access to the unexplored region. Now that there was an aperture, the running water on the other side could be heard very distinctly, like a little brook in a rocky channel, but more steady. Both men examined the damp floor carefully with their lanterns, in the hope of finding some trace of footsteps; but the surface was hard and almost black, and where there had been a little slime their own feet had rubbed it off, as they came and went during many days. The stones and rubbish they had taken from the wall had been piled up and hardened to form an inclined causeway by which to reach the irregular hole. This was now just big enough to allow a man to walk through it, bending almost double. Masin lighted one of the lamps, which they generally left at that place, and set it on a stone.

Malipieri began to go up, his stick in his right hand, the lantern in his left.

"Let me go first, sir," said Masin, trying to pass him.

"Nonsense!" Malipieri answered sharply, and went on.

Masin kept as close to him as possible. He had picked up the lightest of the drilling irons for a weapon. It must have weighed at least ten pounds and it was a yard long. In such a hand as Masin's a blow from it would have broken a man's bones like pipe stems.

The wall was about eight feet thick, and when Malipieri got to the other end of the hole he stopped and looked down, holding out his lantern at arm's length. He could see nothing unusual, and he heard no sound, except the gurgle of the little black stream that ran ten feet below him. He began to descend. The masonry was very irregular, and sloped outwards towards the ground, so that some of the irregularities made rough steps here and there, which he knew by heart. Below, several large fragments of Roman brick and cement lay here and there, where they had fallen in the destruction of the original building. It was not hard to get down, and the space was not large. It was bounded by the old wall on one side, and most of the other was taken up by a part of a rectangular mass of masonry, of rough mediaeval construction, which projected inward.

The place was familiar, but Malipieri looked about him carefully, while Masin was climbing down. Along the base of the straight wall there was a channel about two feet wide, through which the dark water flowed rapidly. It entered from the right-hand corner, by a low, arched aperture, through which it seemed out of the question that a man could crawl, or even an ordinary boy of twelve. When they had first come to this place Masin had succeeded in poking in a long stick with a bit of lighted wax taper fastened to it, and both men had seen that the channel ran on as far as it could be seen, with no widening. At the other end of the chamber it ran out again by a similar conduit. What had at first surprised Malipieri had been that the water did not enter from the side of the foundations near the Vicolo dei Soldati, but ran out that way. He had also been astonished at the quantity and speed of the current. A channel a foot deep and two feet wide carries a large quantity of water if the velocity be great, and Malipieri had made a calculation which had convinced him that if the outflow were suddenly closed, the small space in which he now stood would in a few minutes be full up to within three or four feet of the vault. He would have given much to know whence the water came and whither it went, and what devilry had made it rise suddenly and drown a man when the excavations had been made under Gregory Sixteenth.

From below, the place where an entrance had then been opened was clearly visible. The vault had been broken into and had afterwards been rebuilt from above. The bits of timber which had been used for the frame during the operation were still there, a rotting and mouldy nest for hideous spiders and noisome creatures that haunt the dark.

The air was very cold, and was laden with the indescribable smell of dried slime which belongs to deep wells which have long been almost quite dry. It was clearly a long time since the little stream had overflowed its channel, but at the first examination he had made Malipieri had understood that in former times the water had risen to within three feet of the vault. Up to that height there was a thin coating of the dry mud, which peeled off in irregular scales if lightly touched. The large fragments of masonry that half covered the floor were all coated in the same way with what had once been a film of slime.

The air, though cold, could be breathed easily, and the lights did not grow dim in it as they do in subterranean places where the atmosphere is foul. The stream of water, flowing swiftly in its deep channel from under the little arch, brought plentiful ventilation into it. Above, there was no aperture in the vaulting, but there was one in the mediaeval masonry that projected into the chamber. There, on the side towards the right, where the water flowed in, Malipieri had found a narrow slit, barely wide enough to admit a man's open hand and wrist, but nearly five feet high, evidently a passage intended for letting the water flow into the interior of the construction when it overflowed its channel and rose above the floor of the chamber.

At first Malipieri had supposed that this aperture communicated with some ancient and long-forgotten drain by which the water could escape to the Tiber; it was not until he had gained an entrance to the hollow mass of masonry that he understood the hideous use to which it had been applied.

It had not been hard to enlarge it. Any one who has worked among ruins in Italy could tell, even blindfold, the difference between the work done in ancient times and that of the middle ages. Roman brickwork is quite as compact as solid sandstone, but mediaeval masonry was almost invariably built in a hurry by bad workmen, of all sorts of fragments embedded in poorly mingled cement, and it breaks up with tolerable ease under a heavy pickaxe.

In half a day Malipieri and Masin had widened the slit to a convenient passage, but as soon as it had been possible to squeeze through, the architect had gone in. He never forgot what he felt when he first looked about him. Masin could not follow him until many blows of the pick had widened the way for his bulkier frame.

Malipieri stopped at the entrance now, holding his lantern close to the ground, and looking for traces of footsteps. He found none, but as he was about to move forward he uttered an exclamation of surprise, and picked up a tiny object which he held close to the light. It was only a wax match, of which the head had been broken off when it had been struck, so that it had not been lighted. That was all, but neither he nor Masin carried wax matches in the vaults, because the dampness soon made them useless. They took common sulphur matches in tin match-boxes. Besides, this was an English wax light, as any one could tell at a glance, for it was thicker, and stiffer, and longer than the cheaper Italian ones.

Malipieri drew back and showed it to his man, who examined it, understood, and put it into his pocket without a word. Then they both went in through the aperture in the wall.

The masonry outside was rectangular, as far as it could be seen. Inside, it was built like a small circular cistern, smoothly cemented, and contracting above in a dome, that opened by a square hole to the well-shaft above. Like the stones in the outer chamber, the cement was coated with scales of dried mud. The shaft was now certainly closed at the top, for in the daytime not a ray of light penetrated into its blackness.

The lanterns illuminated the place completely, and the two men looked about, searching for some new trace of a living being. The yellow light fell only on the remains of men dead long ago. Some of the bones lay as they had lain since then, when the drowned bodies had gently reached the floor as the "lost water" subsided. Malipieri had not touched them, nor Masin either. Two skeletons lay at full length, face downwards, as a drowned body always sinks at last, when decay has done its loathsome work. A third lay on its side, in a frightfully natural attitude, the skull a little raised up and resting against the cemented wall, the arms stretched out together, the hands still clutching a rusty crowbar. This one was near the entrance, and if, in breaking their way in, Malipieri and Masin had not necessarily destroyed the cement on each side of the slit, they would have found the marks where the dead man's crowbar had worked desperately for a few minutes before he had been drowned. Malipieri had immediately reflected that the unfortunate wretch, who was evidently the mason of whom Sassi had told him, had certainly not entered through the aperture formerly made from above in the outer chamber, since the narrow slit afforded no possible passage to the well. That doubtless belonged to some other attempt to find the treasure, and the fact that the mason's skeleton lay inside would alone have shown that he had got in from above, most likely through a low opening just where the dome began to curve inward. A further search had discovered some bits of wood, almost rotted to powder, which had apparently once been a ladder.

A much less practised eye than the architect's would have understood at a glance that if a living man were let down through the shaft in the centre of the dome, and left on the floor, he could not possibly get up even as far as the other hole, since the smooth cement offered not the slightest hold; and that if the outflow of the stream from the first chamber were arrested, the water would immediately fill it and rise simultaneously in the well, to drown the victim, or to strip his bones by its action, if he had been allowed to die of hunger or thirst. It was clear, too, that if the latter form of death were chosen, he must have suffered to the last minute of his life the agony of hearing the stream flowing outside, not three paces from him, beyond the slit. Human imagination could hardly invent a more hideously cruel death-trap, nor one more ingeniously secret from the world without.

The unhappy mason's ladder had perhaps broken with his weight, or his light had gone out, and he had then been unable to find the horizontal aperture, but he had probably entered through the latter, when he had met his fate. The fact was, as Malipieri afterwards guessed, that the hole through the vault outside had been made hastily after the accident, in the hope of recovering the man's body, but that it had been at once closed again because it appeared to open over a deep pit full of still water.

A stout rope ladder now dangled from the lateral aperture in the dome, which Malipieri had immediately understood to have been made to allow the water to overflow when the well was full. He had also felt tolerably sure that the well itself had not been originally constructed for the deadly use to which it had evidently been put in later times, but for the purpose of confining the water in a reservoir that could be easily cleaned, since it could be easily emptied, and in which the supply could be kept at a permanent level, convenient for drawing it from above. In the days when all the ancient aqueducts of Rome were broken, a well of the "lost water" was a valuable possession in houses that were turned into fortresses at a moment's notice and were sometimes exposed to long and desperate sieges.

In order to reach the horizontal opening, Malipieri had climbed upon Masin's sturdy shoulders, steadying himself as well as he might till he had laid his hands on the edge of the orifice. As he hung there, Masin had held up the handle of a pickaxe as high as he could reach against the smooth wall, as a crossbar on which Malipieri had succeeded in getting a slight foothold, enough for a man who was not heavy and was extraordinarily active. A moment later he had drawn himself up and inward. At the imminent risk of his life, as he afterwards found, he had crawled on in total darkness till the way widened enough for him to turn round and get back. He had then lowered a string he had with him, and had drawn up a lantern first, then the end of a coil of rope, then the tools for carrying on the exploration. The rest had been easy. Masin had climbed up by the rope, after making knots in it and when Malipieri had called out, from the inner place to which he had retired with the end, that it was made fast. But the light showed the architect that in turning round, he had narrowly escaped falling into an open shaft, of which he could not see the bottom, but which was evidently meant for the final escape of the overflowing water.

There was room to pass this danger, however, and they had since laid a couple of stout boards over it, weighted with stones to keep them in place. Beyond, the passage rose till it was high enough for a man to walk upright. Judging from the elevation now reached this passage was hollowed in the thickness of one of the main walls of the palace, and it was clear that the water could not reach it. A few yards from the chasm, it inclined quickly downwards, and at the end there were half a dozen steps, which evidently descended to a greater depth than the floor of the first outer chamber.

So far as it had hitherto been possible to judge, there was no way of getting to these last steps, except that opened by the two men, and leading through the dry well. In former times, there might have been an entrance through the wall at the highest level, but if it had ever existed it had been so carefully closed that no trace of it could now be found.

This tedious explanation of a rather complicated construction has been necessary to explain what afterwards happened. Reducing it to its simplest terms, it becomes clear that if the water rose, a person in the passage, or anywhere beyond the overflow shaft, could not possibly get back through the well, though he would apparently be safe from drowning if he stayed where he was; and to the best of Malipieri's knowledge there was no other way out. Any one caught there would have to wait till the water subsided, and if that did not happen he would starve to death.

The two men stood still and listened. They could still distinguish the faint gurgling of the water, very far off, but that was all.

"I believe you heard a rat," said Malipieri, discontentedly, after a long pause.

"Rats do not carry English wax matches," observed Masin.

"They eat them when they can find them," answered Malipieri. "They carry them off, and hide them, and drop them, too. And a big rat running away makes a noise very like a man's footsteps."

"That is true," assented Masin. "There were many of them in the prison, and I sometimes thought they were the keepers when I heard them at night." "At all events, we will go to the end," said Malipieri, beginning to walk down the inclined way, and carrying his lantern low, so as not to be dazzled by the light.

Masin followed closely, grasping his drilling-iron, and still expecting to use it. The end of the passage had once been walled up, but they had found the fragments of brick and mortar lying much as they had fallen when knocked away. It was impossible to tell from which side the obstacle had been destroyed.

Going further, they stepped upon the curve of a tunnel vault, and were obliged to stoop low to avoid striking against another overhead. The two vaults had been carefully constructed, one outside the other, leaving a space of about five feet between them. The one under their feet covered the inner chamber in which Malipieri had seen the bronze statue. He and Masin had made a hole a little on one side of the middle, in order not to disturb the keystones, working very carefully lest any heavy fragments should fall through; for they had at once been sure that if any thing was to be found, it must be concealed in that place. Before making the opening, they had thoroughly explored the dark curved space from end to end and from side to side, but could discover no aperture. The inner vault had never been opened since it had been built.

Malipieri, reconstructing the circumstances of the accident in the last century, came to the conclusion that the mason who had been drowned had been already between the vaults, when some of the men behind had discovered that the water was rising in the well, and that they had somehow got out in time, but that their unfortunate companion had come back too late, or had perished while trying to break his way out by the slit, through which the water must have been rushing in. How they had originally entered the place was a mystery. Possibly they had been lowered from above, down the well-shaft, but it was all very hard to explain. The only thing that seemed certain was that the treasure had never been seen by any one since it had been closed in under the vault, ages ago. Malipieri had not yet found time to make a careful plan of all the places through which he had passed. There were so many turns and changes of level, that it would be impossible to get an accurate drawing without using a theodolite or some similar instrument of precision. From the measurements he had taken, however, and the rough sketches he had made, he believed that the double vault was not under the palace itself, but under the open courtyard, at the depth of about forty feet, and therefore below the level of the Tiber at average high water.

Both men now knelt by the hole, and Masin thrust his lantern down to the full length of his arm. The light shone upon the vast hand of the statue, and made a deep reflection in the great ruby of the ring, as if the gem was not a stone, but a little gold cup filled with rich wine. The hand itself, the wrist and the great muscles of the chest on which it lay, seemed of pure gold. But Malipieri's eyes fixed themselves on something else. There were marks on the bright surface of the metal which had not been there when he had looked at it in the afternoon; there were patches of dust, and there were several small scratches, which might have been made by the nails of heavy shoes.

"You were right after all," said Malipieri, withdrawing the lantern and setting it down beside him. "The man is here."

Masin's china-blue eyes brightened at the thought of a possible fight, and his hold tightened again on his drill.

"What shall we do with him?" he asked, looking down into the hole.

Cunning, as the Italian peasant is by nature, Masin made a sign to his master that the man, if he were really below, could hear all that was said.

"Shall I go down and kill him, sir?" Masin enquired with a quiet grin and raising his voice a little.

"I am not sure," Malipieri answered, at once entering into his man's scheme. "He is caught in his own trap. It is not midnight yet, and there is plenty of time to consider the matter. Let us sit here and talk about it."

He now turned himself and sat beside the hole, placing his lantern near the edge. He took out a cigar and lit it carefully. Masin sat on the other side, his drill in his hand.

"If he tries to get out while we are talking," he said, "I can break his skull with a touch of this."

"Yes," Malipieri answered, puffing at his cigar. "There is no hurry. Keep your iron ready."

"Yes, sir." Masin made the heavy drill ring on the stones of the vault.

A pause followed.

"Have you got your pipe with you?" asked Malipieri presently. "We must talk over this quietly."

"Yes, sir. Will you hold the iron while I get a light? He might try to jump out, and he may have firearms. Thank you, sir."

Masin produced a short black pipe, filled it and lighted it.

"I was thinking, sir," he said, as he threw away the wooden match, "that if we kill him here we may have trouble in disposing of his body. Thank you, sir," he added as he took over the drill again and made it clang on the stones.

"There will be no trouble about that," Malipieri answered, speaking over the hole. "We can drop him down the overflow shaft in the passage."

"Where do you think the shaft leads, sir?" asked Masin, grinning with delight.

"To some old drain and then to the Tiber, of course. The body will be found in a week or two, jammed against the pier of some bridge, probably at the island of Saint Bartholomew."

"Yes, sir. But the drain is dry now. The body will lie at the bottom of the shaft, where we drop it, and in a few days the cellars will be perfumed."

He laughed roughly at his horrible joke, which was certainly calculated to affect the nerves of the intruder who was meant to hear it. Malipieri began to wonder when the man would give a sign of life.

"We can fill the well by plugging the arch in the outer chamber," he suggested. "Then the water will pour down the shaft and wash the body away."

"Yes, sir," assented Masin. "That is a good idea. Shall I go down and kill him now, sir?"

"Not yet," Malipieri answered, knocking the ash from his cigar. "We have not finished smoking, and there is no hurry. Besides, it occurs to me that if we drive anything into the hole when the water runs out, we shall not be able to get the plug away afterwards. Then we ourselves could never get here again."

A long silence followed. From time to time Masin made a little noise with the drill.

"Perhaps the fellow is asleep," he observed pleasantly at last. "So much the better, he will wake in Paradise!"

"It is of no use to run any risks," said Malipieri. "If we go down to kill him he may kill one of us first, especially if he has a revolver. There is no hurry, I tell you. Do you happen to know how long it takes to starve a man to death?"

"Without water, a man cannot live a week, sir. That is the best idea you have had yet."

"Yes. We will wall him up in the vault. That is easy enough. Those boards that are over the shaft will do to make a little frame, and the stones are all here, just as we got them out. We can fasten up the frame with ends of rope."

"We have no mortar, sir."

"Mud will do as well for such a small job," answered Malipieri. "We can easily make enough. Give me your iron, in case he tries to get out, and go and get the boards and the rope."

Masin began to rise.

"In a week we can come and take him out," he remarked in a matter-of- fact way. "By that time he will be dead, and we can have his grave ready."

He laughed again, as he thought of the sensations his cheerful talk must produce in the mind of the man below.

"Yes," said Malipieri. "We may as well do it at once and go to bed. It is of no use to sit up all night talking about the fellow's body. Go and get the rope and the boards."

Masin was now on his feet and his heavy shoes made a grinding noise on the stones. At that moment a sound was heard from below, and Malipieri held up a finger and listened. Somebody was moving in the vault.

"You had better stay where you are," said Malipieri, speaking down. "If you show yourself I will drop a stone on your head."

A hollow voice answered him from the depths.

"Are you Christians," it asked, "to wall a man up alive?"

"That is what we are going to do," Malipieri answered coolly. "Have you anything to say? It will not take us long to do the job, so you had better speak at once. How did you get in?"

"If I am to die without getting out, why should I tell you?" enquired the voice.

Malipieri looked at Masin.

"There is a certain sense in what the man says, sir," Masin said thoughtfully.

"My good man," said Malipieri, speaking down, "we do not want anybody to know the way to this place for a few days, and as you evidently know it better than we do, we intend to keep you quiet."

"If you will let me out, I can serve you," answered the man below. "There is nobody in Rome who can serve you as I can."

"Who are you?" asked Malipieri.

"Are you going to let me out, Signor Malipieri?" enquired the man. "If you are, I will tell you."

"Oh, you know my name, do you?"

"Perfectly. You are the engineer engaged by the Senator Volterra to find the treasure."

"Yes. Quite right. What of that?"

"You have found it," answered the other. "Of what use will it be to kill me? I cannot take that statue away in my waistcoat pocket, if you let me out, can I?"

"You had better not make too many jokes, my man, or we will put the boards over this hole in five minutes. If you can really be of use to me, I will let you out. What is your name?"

"Toto," answered the voice sullenly.

"Yes. That means Theodore, I suppose. Now make haste, for I am tired of waiting. What are you, and how did you get in?"

"I was the mason of the palace, until the devil flew away with the people who lived in it. I know all the secrets of the house. I can be very useful to you."

"That changes matters, my friend. I have no doubt you can be useful if you like, though we have managed to find one of the secrets without you. It happens to be the only one we wanted to know."

"No," answered Toto. "There are two others. You do not know how I got in, and you do not know how to manage the 'lost water.'"

"That is true," said Malipieri. "But if I let you out you may do me harm, by talking before it is time. The government is not to know of this discovery until I am ready."

"The government!" exclaimed Toto contemptuously, from his hiding- place. "May an apoplexy seize it! Do you take me for a spy? I am a Christian."

"I begin to think he is, sir," put in Masin, knocking the ash from his pipe.

"I think so, too," said Malipieri. "Throw away that iron, Masin. He shall show himself, at all events, and if we like his face we can talk to him here."

Masin dropped the drill with a clang. Toto's hairy hand appeared, grasping the golden wrist of the statue, as he raised himself to approach the hole.

"He is a mason, as he says," said Masin, catching sight of the rough fingers.

"Did you take me for a coachman?" enquired Toto, thrusting his shaggy head forward cautiously, and looking up through the aperture.

"Before you come up here," Malipieri answered, "tell me how you got in."

"You seem to know so much about the overflow shaft that I should think you might have guessed. If you do not believe that I came that way, look at my clothes!"

He now crawled upon the body of the statue, and Malipieri saw that he was covered with half-dried mud and ooze.

"You got through some old drain, I suppose, and found your way up."

"It seems so," answered Toto, shaking his shoulders, as if he were stiff.

"Are you going to let him go free, sir?" asked Masin, standing ready. "If you do, he will be down the shaft, before you can catch him. These men know their way underground like moles."

"Moles, yourselves!" answered Toto in a growl, putting his head up above the level of the vault.

Masin measured him with his eye, and saw that he was a strong man, probably much more active than he looked in his heavy, mud-plastered clothes.

"Get up here," said Malipieri.

Toto obeyed, and in a moment he sat on the edge of the hole, his legs dangling down into it.

"Not so bad," he said, settling himself with a grunt of satisfaction.

"I like you, Master Toto," said Malipieri. "You might have thought that we really meant to kill you, but you did not seem much frightened."

"There is no woman in the affair," answered Toto. "Why should you kill me? And I can help you."

"How am I to know that you will?" asked Malipieri.

"I am a man of honour," Toto replied, turning his stony face to the light of the lanterns.

"I have not a doubt of it, my friend," returned Malipieri, without conviction. "Just now, the only help I need of you, is that you should hold your tongue. How can I be sure that you will do that? Does any one else know the way in through the drain?"

"No. I only found it to-night. If there is a day's rain in the mountains, and the Tiber rises even a little, nobody can pass through it. The lower part is barely above the level of the river now."

"How did you guess that you could get here by that way?"

"We know many secrets in our trade, from father to son," answered Toto gruffly.

"You must have lifted the boards, with the stones on them, to get out of the shaft. Why did you put them back in their place?"

"You seem to think I am a fool! I did not mean to let you know that I had been here, so I put them back, of course. I supposed that I could get out through the cellars, but you have put a padlock on the inner door."

"Is there any way of turning water into that shaft?"

"Only by filling the well, I think. If the Tiber rises, the water will back up the shaft through the drain. That is why the ancients who built the well made another way for the water to run off. When the river is swollen in a flood it must be much higher in the shaft than the bottom of the well, and if the 'lost water' were running in all the time, the air would probably make it back, so that the shaft would be useless and the well would be soiled with the river water."

"You evidently know your trade, Master Toto," said Masin, with some admiration for his fellow-craftsman's clear understanding.

"You know yours," retorted Toto, who was seldom at a loss, "for just now you talked of killing like a professional assassin."

This pleasing banter delighted Masin, who laughed heartily, and patted Toto on the back.

"We shall be good friends," he said.

"In this world one never knows," Toto answered philosophically. "What are you going to do?"

"You must come back with as to my apartment," said Malipieri, who had been considering the matter, "You must stay there a couple of days, without going out. I will pay you for your time, and give you a handsome present, and plenty to eat and drink. After that you will be free to go where you please and say what you like, for the secret will be out."

"Thank you," answered Toto without enthusiasm. "Are you going to tell the government about the treasure?"

"The Senator will certainly inform the government, which has a right to buy it."

To this Toto said nothing, but he lifted his legs out of the hole and stood up, ready to go. Malipieri and Masin took up their lanterns.

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CHAPTER XIMasin led the way back, Toto followed and Malipieri went last, so that the mason was between his two captors. They did not quite trust him, and Masin was careful not to walk too fast where the way was so familiar to him, while Malipieri was equally careful not to lag behind. In this order they reached the mouth of the overflow shaft, covered with the loaded boards. Masin bent down and examined them, for he wished to convince himself that the stones had been moved since he had himself placed them there. A glance showed that this was the
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CHAPTER IXOne evening it chanced that the Volterra couple were dining out, and that Sabina, having gone up to her room to spend the evening, had forgotten the book she was reading and came downstairs half-an-hour later to get it. She opened the drawing-room door and went straight to the table on which she had left the volume. As she turned to go back she started and uttered a little cry, almost of terror. Malipieri was standing before the mantelpiece, looking at her. "I am afraid I frightened you," he said quietly. "Pray forgive me." "Not at all," Sabina answered, resting
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