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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Heart Of Rome - Chapter 12
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The Heart Of Rome - Chapter 12 Post by :Reseller_Center Category :Long Stories Author :F. Marion Crawford Date :May 2011 Read :1973

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The Heart Of Rome - Chapter 12


Malipieri was beginning to realize that his work in the vaults had been watched with much more interest than he had supposed possible, and that in some way or other news of his progress had reached various quarters. In the first place, his reputation was much wider than he knew, and many scholars and archaeologists throughout Europe had been profoundly impressed both by what he had discovered and by the learning he had shown in discussing his discoveries. It followed that many were curious to see what he would do next, and there were paragraphs about him in grave reviews, and flattering references to him in speeches made at learned conventions. He had friends whose names he had never heard, and enemies, too, ready to attack him on the one side and to defend him on the other. Some praised his modesty, and others called it affectation. His experience of the wider world was short, so far, and he did not understand that it had taken people a year to appreciate his success. He had hoped for immediate recognition of his great services to archaeology, and had been somewhat disappointed because that recognition had not been instantaneous. Like most men of superior talent, in the same situation, when praise came in due time and abundantly, he did not care for it because he was already interested in new work. To the man of genius the past is always insignificant as compared with the future. When Goethe, dying, asked for "more light," he may or may not have merely meant that he wished the window opened because the room seemed dark to his failing eyes; the higher interpretation which has been put upon his last words remains the true one, in the spirit, if not in the letter. He died, as he had lived, the man of genius looking forward, not backward, to the last, crying for light, more light, thinking not of dying and ending, but of living, hoping, doing, winning.

Besides the general body of students and archaeologists, the Italian government was exceedingly interested in Malipieri's explorations. The government is rightly jealous in such matters, and does its very best to keep all artistic objects of real value in the country. It is right that this should be so. The law relating to the matter was framed by Cardinal Pacca, under the papal administration many years ago, and the modern rulers have had the intelligence to maintain it and enforce it. Like other laws it is frequently broken. In this it resembles the Ten Commandments and most other rules framed by divine or human intelligence for the good of mankind and the advancement of civilization. The most sanguine lovers of their fellow-men have always admitted the existence of a certain number of flagitious persons who obstinately object to being good. David, who was hasty, included a large proportion of humanity amongst "the wicked"; Monsieur Drumont limited the number to David's descendants; and Professor Lombroso, whatever he may really mean, conveys the impression that men of genius, criminals and lunatics are different manifestations of the same thing; as diamonds, charcoal and ham fat are all carbon and nothing else. We should be thankful for the small favours of providence in excepting us from the gifted minority of madmen, murderers and poets and making us just plain human beings, like other people.

There is no international law forbidding a man from making digressions when he is telling a story.

Malipieri was watched by the government, as Volterra had told him, because it was feared in high quarters that if he found anything of value under the palace, he would try to get it out of the country. He had always hated the government and had got himself into trouble by attacking the monarchy. Besides, it was known in high quarters that Senator Baron Volterra held singular views about the authenticity of works of art. It would be inconvenient to have a scandal in the Senate about the Velasquez and the other pictures; on the other hand, if anything more of the same sort should happen, it would be very convenient indeed to catch a pair of culprits in the shape of Malipieri, a pardoned political offender, and his ex-convict servant.

Then, too, in quite another direction, the Vatican was very anxious to buy any really good work of art which might be discovered, and would pay quite as much for it as the government itself. Therefore the Vatican was profoundly interested in Malipieri on its own account.

As if this were not enough, Sabina's brother, the ruined Prince Conti, had got wind of the excavations and scented some possible advantage to himself, with the vague chance of more money to throw away on automobiles, at Monte Carlo, and in the company of a cosmopolitan young person of semi-Oriental extraction whose varied accomplishments had made her the talk of Europe.

Lastly, the Russian embassy was on the alert, for the dowager Princess had heard from her maid, who had heard it from her sister in Rome, who had learned it from the washerwoman, who had been told the secret by the porter's wife, that the celebrated Malipieri was exploring the north-west foundations of the palace. The Princess had repeated the story, and the legend which accounted for it, to her brother Prince Rubomirsky, who was a very great personage in his own country. And the Prince, though good-natured, foresaw that he might in time grow tired of giving his sister unlimited money; and it occurred to him that something might turn up under the palace, after all, to which she might have some claim. So he had used his influence in Saint Petersburg with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, and the latter had instructed the Russian Ambassador in Rome to find out what he could about the excavations, without attracting attention; and Russian diplomatists have ways of finding out things without attracting attention, which are extremely great and wonderful. Also, if Russia puts her paw upon anything and declares that it is the property of a Russian subject, it often happens that smaller people take their paws away hastily.

It follows that there must have been a good deal of quiet talk, in Rome, not overheard in society, about what Malipieri was doing in the Palazzo Conti, and as the people who occupied themselves with his affairs were particularly anxious that he should not know what they said, he was in ignorance of it. But Volterra was not. He had valuable friends, because his influence was of value, and he was informed of much that was going on. If he was anxious to get rid of the architect, it was not so much because he wanted for himself the whole price which the statue or statues might bring, as because he feared lest the government should suddenly descend upon Malipieri and make an enquiry which would involve also the question of the pictures. So far, Volterra had created the impression that the young man had been concerned with a dealer in smuggling them out of the country; but in case of an investigation it could easily be proved that they were gone before Malipieri had arrived in Rome in answer to Volterra's invitation. Besides, the Senator had discovered that the young archaeologist was much more celebrated than was convenient. In private affairs there is nothing so tiresome and inconvenient as the presence of a celebrity. Burglars, when exercising their professional functions, are not accompanied by a brass band.

Toto was very docile and quiet all that day. Masin thought him philosophical, and continued to like him, after his fashion, providing him with a plentiful supply of tobacco, a good meal at noon, and a bottle of wine. The man's stony face was almost placid. At rare intervals he made a remark. After eating he looked out of the window and said rather regretfully that he thought the rain was over for the day.

Masin took this to mean that he wished he might go out, and offered him more wine by way of consolation. But Toto refused. He was a moderate man. Then he asked Masin how many rooms Malipieri occupied, and learned that the whole of the little apartment was rented by the architect. The information did not seem to interest him much.

In the morning, when Malipieri had come back from his visit to Sassi, he had given Masin the keys of the vaults, and had told him to buy a stout ladder and take it into the dry well. But Toto said that this was a useless expense.

"There is a strong ladder about the right length, lying along the wall at the other end of the west cellar," he said. "You had better take that."

Malipieri looked at him and smiled.

"For a prisoner, you are very obliging," he said, and he gave him a five-franc note, which Toto took with a grunt of thanks.

Masin was gone an hour, during which time Malipieri busied himself in the next room, leaving the door open. He went out when Masin came back. When the two men were together Toto produced the five francs.

"Can you change?" he enquired.

"Why?" asked Masin with some surprise.

"Half is two francs fifty," answered Toto. "That is your share."

Masin laughed and shook his head.

"No," he said. "What is given to you is not given to me. Why should I share with you?"

"It is our custom," Toto replied. "Take your half."

Masin refused stoutly, but Toto insisted and grew angry at last. So Masin changed the note and kept two francs and fifty centimes for himself, reflecting that he could give the money back to Malipieri, since he had no sort of right to it. Toto was at once pacified.

When Malipieri returned, Masin went out and got dinner for all three, bringing it as usual in the three tin cases strapped one above the other.

Toto supposed that he was not to be left alone in the apartment that day; but at half-past four Malipieri entered the room, with a padlock and a couple of screw-eyes in his hand.

"You would not think it worth while to risk jumping out," he said in a good-humoured tone. "But you might take it into your head to open the window, and the porter might be there, and you might talk to him. Masin and I shall be out together for a little while."

Masin shut the tall window, screwed the stout little eye-bolts into the frame and ran the bolt of the padlock through both. He gave the key to Malipieri. Toto watched the operation indifferently.

"If you please," he said, "I am accustomed to have a little wine about half-past five every day. I will pay for it."

He held out half a franc to Masin and nodded.

"Nonsense!" interposed Malipieri, laughing. "You are my guest, Master Toto." Masin brought a bottle and a glass, and a couple of cigars.

"Thank you, sir," said Toto politely. "I shall be very comfortable till you come back."

"You will find the time quite as profitable as if you were working," said Malipieri.

He nodded and went out followed by Masin, and Toto heard the key turned twice in the solid old lock. The door was strong, and they would probably lock the front door of the apartment too. Toto listened quietly till he heard it shut after them in the distance. Then he rose and flattened his face against the window pane.

He waited some time. He could see one half of the great arched entrance, but the projecting stone jamb of the window hindered him from seeing more. It was very quiet, and he could hear footsteps below, on the gravel of the courtyard, if any one passed.

At the end of ten minutes he heard a man's heavy tread, and knew that it was Masin's. Masin must have come out of the great archway on the side of it which Toto could not see. The steps went on steadily along the gravel. Masin was going to the vaults.

Toto waited ten minutes, and began to think that no one else was coming, and that Malipieri had left the palace, though he had been convinced that the architect and his man meant to go down to the vaults together. Just as he was beginning to give up the idea, he saw Sassi under the archway, in a tall hat, a black coat and gloves, and Malipieri was just visible for a moment as he came out too. He was unmistakably speaking to some one on his right, who was hidden from Toto's view by the projecting stonework. His manner was also distinctly deferential. The third person was probably Baron Volterra.

The footsteps took a longer time to reach the other end of the court than Masin had occupied. After all was silent, Toto listened breathlessly for five minutes more. There was not a sound.

He looked about him, then took up a chair, thrust one of the legs between the bolt and the body of the padlock and quietly applied his strength. The wood of the frames was old, and the heavy strain drew the screw-eyes straight out.

Toto opened the window noiselessly and looked out with caution. No one was in sight. By this time the three were in the vaults, with Masin.

Toto knew every inch of the palace by heart, inside and out, and he knew that one of the cast-iron leaders that carried the rain from the roof to the ground was within reach of that particular window, on the left side. He looked out once more, up and down the courtyard, and then, in an instant, he was kneeling on the stone sill, he had grasped the iron leader with one hand, then with the other, swinging himself to it and clutching it below with his rough boots. A few moments later he was on the ground, running for the great entrance. No one was there, no one saw him.

He let himself out quietly, shut the postern door after him, and slouched away towards the Vicolo dei Soldati.

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