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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Heart Of Rome - Chapter 22
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The Heart Of Rome - Chapter 22 Post by :laketahoeusa Category :Long Stories Author :F. Marion Crawford Date :May 2011 Read :2935

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The Heart Of Rome - Chapter 22


Volterra had not explained to the Princess the reason why her acceptance of his offer would make it so much easier for him to help her out of her difficulty. He had only said that it would, for he never explained anything to a woman if an explanation could be avoided, and he had found that there are certain general ways of stating things to which women will assent rather than seem not to understand. If the Princess had asked questions, he would have found plausible answers, but she did not. She refused his offer, saying that she had other views for her daughter. She promptly invented a rich cousin in Poland, who had fallen in love with Sabina's photograph and was only waiting for her to be eighteen years old in order to marry her.

She had gone to Malipieri as a last resource, not thinking it probable that he could help her, or that he would change his mind and try to free himself in order to marry Sabina. She came back with the certainty that he would not do the latter and could not give any real assistance. So far, she had not spoken to Sabina of her interview with the Baron, but she felt that the time had come to sound her on the subject of the marriage, since there might not be any other way. She had not lost time since her arrival, for she had at once seen one of the best lawyers in Rome, who looked after such legal business as the Russian Embassy occasionally had; and he had immediately applied for a revision of the settlement of the Conti affairs, on the ground of large errors in the estimates of the property, supporting his application with the plea that many of the proceedings in the matter had been technically faulty because certain documents should have been signed by Sabina, as a minor interested in the estate, and whose consent was necessary. He was of opinion that the revision would certainly be granted, but he would say nothing as to the amount which might be recovered by the Conti family. As a matter of fact, the settlement had been made hastily, between Volterra, old Sassi and a notary who was not a lawyer; and Volterra, who knew what he was about, and profited largely by it, had run the risk of a revision being required. For the rest, Malipieri's explanation of his motives was the true one.

At the first suggestion of a marriage with Volterra's son Sabina flatly refused to entertain the thought. She made no outcry, she did not even raise her voice, nor change colour; but she planted her little feet firmly together on the footstool before her chair, folded her hands in her lap and looked straight at her mother.

"I will not marry him," she said. "It is of no use to try to make me. I will not."

Her mother began to draw a flattering though imaginary portrait of the young cavalry officer, and enlarged upon his fortune and future position. Volterra was immensely rich, and though he was not quite one of themselves, society had accepted him, his sons had been admirably brought up, and would be as good as any one. There was not a prince in Rome who would not be glad to make such a match for his daughter,

"It is quite useless, mother," said Sabina. "I would not marry him if he were Prince Colonna and had the Rothschilds' money."

"That is absurd," answered the Princess. "Just because you have taken a fancy to that Malipieri, who cannot marry you because he has done the most insane thing any one ever heard of."

"It was splendid," Sabina retorted.

"Besides," her mother said, "you do not know that it is true."

Sabina's eyes flashed.

"Whatever he says, is true," she answered, "and you know it is. He never lied in his life!"

"No," said the Princess, "I really think he never did."

"Then why did you suggest such a thing, when you know that I love him?"

"One says things, sometimes," replied the Princess vaguely. "I did not really mean it, and I cannot help liking the man. I told him so this morning. Now listen. Volterra is a perfect beast, and if you refuse, he is quite capable of letting that story get about, and you will be ruined."

"I will go into a convent."

"You know that you hate Clementina," observed the Princess.

"Of course I do. She used to beat me when I was small, because she said I was wicked. Of course I hate her. I shall join the Little Sisters of the Poor, or be a Sister of Charity. Even Clementina could not object to that, I should think."

"You are a little fool!"

To this observation Sabina made no reply, for it was not new to her, and she paid no attention to it. She supposed that all mothers called their children fools when they were angry. It was one of the privileges of motherhood.

The discussion ended there, for Sabina presently went away and shut herself up in her room, leaving her mother to meditate in solitude on the incredible difficulties that surrounded her.

Sabina was thinking, too, but her thoughts ran in quite another direction, as she sat bolt upright on a straight-backed chair, staring at the wall opposite. She was wondering how Malipieri looked at that moment, and how it was possible that she should not even have seen him since she had left his rooms with the Baroness a week ago, and more; and why, when every hour had dragged like an age, it seemed as if they had parted only yesterday, sure to meet again.

She sat still a long time, trying to think out a future for herself, a future life without Malipieri and yet bearable. It would have been easy before the night in the vaults; it would have seemed possible a week ago, though very hard; now, it was beyond her imagination. She had talked of entering a sisterhood, but she knew that she did not mean to do it, even if her reputation were ruined.

She guessed that in that event her mother would try to force her into a convent. The Princess was not the sort of woman who would devote the rest of her life to consoling her disgraced daughter, no matter how spotlessly blameless the girl might be. She would look upon her as a burden and a nuisance, would shut her up if she could, and would certainly go off to Russia or to Paris, to amuse herself as far as possible from the scene of Sabina's unfortunate adventure.

"Poor child!" she would say to her intimate friends, "She was perfectly innocent, of course, but there was nothing else to be done. No decent man would have married her, you know!"

And she would tell Malipieri's story to everybody, too, to explain why he had not married Sabina. She had no heart at all, for her children or for any one else. She had always despised her son for his weaknesses and miserable life, and she had always laughed at her elder daughter; if she had been relatively kind to Sabina, it was because the girl had never given any trouble nor asked for anything extravagantly inconvenient. She had never felt the least sympathy with the Roman life into which she had been brought by force, and after her husband had died she had plainly shown his quiet Roman relatives what she thought of them.

She would cast Sabina off without even a careless kind word, if Sabina became a drag on her and hindered her from doing what she pleased in the world. And this would happen, if the story about the night in the Palazzo Conti were made public. Just so long, and no longer, would the Princess acknowledge her daughter's existence; and that meant so long as Volterra chose that the secret should be kept.

At least, Sabina thought so. But matters turned out differently and were hurried to an issue in a terribly unexpected way.

Both Volterra and Malipieri had guessed that the anonymous letter had been written by Gigi, the carpenter, but Volterra had seen it several days before the Princess had shown it to Malipieri. Not unnaturally, the Baron thought that it would be a good move to get the man into his power. Italy is probably not the only country where men powerful in politics and finance can induce the law to act with something more than normal promptitude, and Volterra, as usual, was not going to do anything illegal. The Minister of Justice, too, was one of those men who had been fighting against the Sicilian "mafia" and the Neapolitan "camorra" for many years, and he hated all blackmailers with a just and deadly hatred. He was also glad to oblige the strong Senator, who was just now supporting the government with his influence and his millions. Volterra was sure of the culprit's identity and explained that the detective who had been sent to investigate the palace after Sassi's accident had seen the carpenter and would recognize him. Nothing would be easier than to send for Gigi to do a job at the palace, towards evening, to arrest him as soon as he came, and to take him away quietly.

This was done, and in twenty-four hours Gigi was safely lodged in a cell by himself, with orders that he was on no account to be allowed any communication with other prisoners.

Then Volterra went to see him, and instead of threatening him, offered him his help if he would only tell the exact truth. Gigi was frightened out of his wits and grasped at the straw, though he did not trust the Baron much. He told what he had done; but with the loyalty to friends, stimulated by the fear of vengeance, which belongs to the Roman working man, he flatly denied that he had an accomplice. Yes, he had spoken in the letter of two men who would be walking on the Via Appia, and he had intended to take his brother-in-law with him, but he said that he had not meant to explain why he took him until the last minute. It was a matter for the galleys! Did his Excellency the Senator suppose that he would trust anybody with that, until it was necessary?

The consequence was that Gigi was kept quietly in prison for a few days before any further steps were taken, having been arrested at the instance of the Ministry of Justice for trying to extract blackmail from the Conti family, and being undoubtedly guilty of the misdeed. Volterra's name did not even appear in the statement.

Malipieri had not Volterra's influence, and intended to try more personal methods with the carpenter; but when he appeared at the palace in the afternoon, and asked the porter to go and call Gigi, the old man shook his head and said that Gigi had been in prison three days, and that nobody knew why he had been arrested. The matter had not even been mentioned by the _Messaggero_.

Malipieri had never connected Toto with Gigi, and did not even know that the two men were acquainted with each other. He had not the slightest doubt but that it was Toto who had caused the water to rise in the well, out of revenge, but he knew that it would now be impossible to prove it. Strange to say, Malipieri bore him no grudge, for he knew the people well, and after all, he himself had acted in a high-handed way. Nevertheless, he asked the porter if the man were anywhere in the neighbourhood.

But Toto had not been seen for some time. He had not even been to the wine shop, and was probably at work in some distant part of Rome. Perhaps he was celebrating his grandfather's funeral with his friends. Nobody could tell where he might be.

Malipieri went back to his hotel disconsolately. That evening he read in the _Italie that after poor Sassi had been buried, the authorities had at once proceeded to take charge of his property and effects, because the old woman-servant had declared that he had no near relations in the world; and the notary who had served the Conti family had at once produced Sassi's will.

He had left all his little property, valued roughly at over a hundred thousand francs, to Donna Sabina Conti. Had any one known it, the date of the will was that of the day on which he had received her little note thanking him for burying her canary, out on Monte Mario.

The notary's brother and son, notaries themselves, were named as guardians. The income was to be paid to Sabina at once, the capital on her marriage. The newspaper paragraph recalled the ruin of the great family, and spoke of the will as a rare instance of devotion in an old and trusted servant.

Sabina and the Princess learned the news at dinner that evening from a young attache of the Embassy who always read the _Italie because it is published in French, and he had not yet learned Italian. He laughingly congratulated Sabina on her accession to a vast fortune. To every one's amazement, Sabina's eyes filled with tears, though even her own mother had scarcely ever seen her cry. She tried hard to control herself, pressed her lids hastily with her fingers, bit her lips till they almost bled, and then, as the drops rolled down her cheeks in spite of all she could do, she left the table with a broken word of excuse.

"She is nothing but a child, still," the Princess explained in a tone of rather condescending pity.

The young attache was sorry for having laughed when he told the story. He had not supposed that Donna Sabina knew much about the old agent, and after dinner he apologized to his ambassador for his lack of tact.

"That little girl has a heart of gold," answered the wise old man of the world.

The Princess had a profoundly superstitious belief in luck, and was convinced that Sabina's and her own had turned with this first piece of good fortune, and that on the following day Malipieri would appear and tell her that he had caught the writer of the letter and was ready to divorce his wife in order to marry Sabina. Secure in these hopes she slept eight hours without waking, as she always did.

But she was destined to the most complete disappointment of her life, and to spend one of the most horribly unpleasant days she could remember.

Long before she was awake boys and men, with sheaves of damp papers, were yelling the news in the Corso and throughout Rome.

"The _Messaggero! The great scandal in Casa Conti! The _Messaggero! One sou!"

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The Heart Of Rome - Chapter 23 The Heart Of Rome - Chapter 23

The Heart Of Rome - Chapter 23
CHAPTER XXIIIToto had done it. In his heart, the thick-headed, practical fellow had never quite believed in Gigi's ingenious scheme, and the idea of getting a hundred thousand francs had seemed very visionary. Since Gigi had got himself locked up it would be more sensible to realize a little cash for the story from the _Messaggero_, saying nothing about the carpenter. The only lie he needed to invent was to the effect that he had been standing near the door of the palace when Sabina had come out. The porter, being relieved from the order to keep the postern shut against

The Heart Of Rome - Chapter 21 The Heart Of Rome - Chapter 21

The Heart Of Rome - Chapter 21
CHAPTER XXIAs it had become manifestly impossible to keep the secret of the discovery in the Palazzo Conti any longer, Volterra had behaved with his accustomed magnanimity. He had not only communicated all the circumstances to the authorities at once, offering the government the refusal of the statues, which the law could not oblige him to sell if he chose to keep them in the palace, but also publicly giving full credit to the "learned archaeologist and intrepid engineer, Signer Marino Malipieri, already famous throughout Europe for his recent discoveries in Carthage." In two or three days the papers were full