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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Heart Of Rome - Chapter 25
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The Heart Of Rome - Chapter 25 Post by :barnone Category :Long Stories Author :F. Marion Crawford Date :May 2011 Read :2797

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The Heart Of Rome - Chapter 25

CHAPTER XXV

Sabina and Malipieri sat in silence during the minutes that followed. From time to time, they looked at each other. His self-possession and courage had returned, now that something decisive was to take place, but Sabina's heart was almost standing still. She felt that the woman had come to make a scene, to threaten a scandal and utterly to destroy the illusion of happiness. If not, and if she had merely had something of importance to communicate, why had she not gone to Malipieri first, or written to ask for this interview with Sabina? She had come suddenly, in order to take advantage of the surprise her appearance must cause. For once, Sabina wished that her mother were with her, her high and mighty, insolent, terrible mother, who was afraid of nobody in the world.

The door opened, and the footman admitted a quiet little woman, about thirty years old, already inclined to be stout. She was very simply but very well dressed, she had beautiful brown hair, and when she came forward Sabina looked into a pair of luminous and trustful hazel eyes.

"Donna Sabina Conti?" asked the Signora Malipieri in a gentle voice.

"Yes," Sabina answered.

She and Malipieri had both risen. The Signora made a timid movement with her hand, as if she expected that Sabina would offer hers, which Sabina did, rather late, when she saw that it was expected. The lady glanced at Malipieri and then at Sabina with a look of enquiry, as he held out his hand to her and she took it. He saw that she did not recognize him.

"I am Marino Malipieri," he said.

"You?" she cried in surprise.

Then a faint flush rose in her smooth cheeks, and Sabina, who was watching her, saw that her lip trembled a little, and that tears rose in her eyes.

"Forgive me," she said, in an unsteady voice. "I should have known you, after all you have done for me."

"I think it is nearly thirteen years since we met," Malipieri answered. "I had no beard then."

She looked at him long, evidently in strong emotion, but the tears did not overflow, and the clear light came back gradually in her gaze. Then the three sat down.

"I thought I had better come," she said. "It seemed easier than to write."

"Yes," Sabina answered, not knowing what to say.

"You see," said the Signora, "I could not easily write to you frankly, as I had never seen you, and I did not like to write to Signor Malipieri about what I wanted to know."

"Yes," said Sabina, once more, but this time she looked at Malipieri.

"What is it that you wish to know, Signora?" he asked kindly, "Whether it is all exactly as my letter told you? Is that it?"

She turned to him with a look of reproach.

"Does a woman doubt a man who has done what you have done for me?" she asked. "I wanted to know something more--a little more than what you wrote to me. It would make a difference, perhaps."

"To you, Signora?" asked Sabina quickly.

"No. To you. Perhaps it would make a great difference in the way I should act." She paused an instant. "It is rather hard to ask, I know," she added shyly.

She seemed to be a timid little woman.

"Please tell us what it is that you wish to know, Signora," said Malipieri, in the same kind tone, trying to encourage her.

"I should like to ask--I hardly know just how to say it--if you would tell me whether you are fond of each other--"

"What difference can that make to you, Signora?" Malipieri asked with sudden hardness. "You know that I shall not break my word."

She was hurt by the tone, and looked down meekly, as if she had deserved the words.

"We love each other with all our hearts," said Sabina, before either of the others could say more. "Nothing shall ever part us, in this world or the next."

There was a ring of clear defiance to fate in the girl's voice, and Signora Malipieri turned to her quickly, with a look of sympathy. She knew the cry that comes from the heart.

"But you think that you can never be married," she said, almost to herself.

"How can we? You know that we cannot!" It was Malipieri who answered.

Then the timid little woman raised her head and looked him full in the face, and spoke without any more hesitation.

"Do you think that I have never thought of this possibility, during all these years?" she asked. "Do you really believe that I would let you suffer for me, let your life be broken, let you give up the best thing that any life holds, after you have done for me what perhaps no man ever did for a woman before?"

"I know you are grateful," Malipieri answered very gently. "Do not speak of what I have done. It has not been at any sacrifice, till now."

But Sabina leaned forward and grasped the Signora Malipieri's hands. Her own were trembling.

"You have come to help us!" she cried. "It is so easy, now that I know that you love each other."

"How?" asked Sabina, breathless. "By a divorce?"

"Yes."

"I shall never ask for that," Malipieri said, shaking his head.

"You are the best and truest gentleman that ever protected a woman in trouble, Signor Malipieri," said the little woman quietly. "I know that you will never divorce me. I know you would not even think of it."

"Well, but then--" Malipieri stopped and looked at her.

"I shall get a divorce from you," she said, and then she looked happily from one to the other.

Malipieri covered his eyes with his hand. He had not even thought of such a solution, and the thought came upon him in his despair like a flood of dazzling light. Sabina was on her knees, and had thrown her arms wildly round the Signora Malipieri's neck, and was kissing her again and again.

"But it is nothing," protested the Signora, beaming with delight. "It is so simple, so easy, and I know exactly what to do."

"You?" cried Sabina between laughing and crying.

"Yes. I once gave lessons in the house of a famous lawyer, and sometimes I was asked to stay to luncheon, and I heard a great case discussed, and I asked questions, until I thoroughly understood it all. You see, it was what I always meant to do. There is a little fiction about the way it is managed, but it is perfectly legal. Though Italians may naturalize themselves in a foreign country, they can regain their own nationality by a simple declaration. Now, Signor Malipieri and I must be naturalized in Switzerland. I know a place where it can be done easily. Then we can be divorced by mutual consent at once. We come back to Italy, declare our nationality wherever we please, and we are free to be married to any one else, under Italian law. The fiction is only that by paying some money, it can all be done in three months, instead of in three years."

Malipieri had listened attentively.

"Are you positively sure of that?" he asked.

"I have the authority of one of the first lawyers in Italy."

"But the Church?" asked Sabina anxiously. "I should not think it a marriage at all, if I were not married in church."

"I have asked a good priest about that," answered the Signora. "I go to confession to him, and he is a good man, and wise too. He told me that the Church could make no objection at all, since there has really been no marriage at all, and since Signor Malipieri will present himself after being properly and legally married to you at the municipality. He told me, on the contrary, that it is my duty to do everything in my power to help you."

"God bless you!" Sabina cried. "You are the best woman in the world!"

Malipieri took the Signora's hand and pressed it to his lips fervently, for he could not find any words.

"I shall only ask one thing," she said, speaking timidly again.

"Ask all I have," he answered, her hand still in his.

"But you may not like it. I should like to keep the name, if you do not mind very much, on account of my little girl. She need never know. I can leave her with a friend while we are in Switzerland."

"It is yours," he said. "Few of my own people have borne it as worthily as you have, since I gave it to you."

* * * * * *

Here, therefore, ends the story of Sabina Conti and Marino Malipieri, whose marriage took place quietly during the autumn, as the Princess had confidently said that it should. It is a tale without a "purpose" and without any particular "moral," in the present appalling acceptation, of those simple words. If it has interested or pleased those who have read it, the writer is glad; if it has not, he can find some consolation in having made two young people unutterably blissful in his own imagination, whereas he manifestly had it in his power to bring them to awful grief; and when one cannot make living men and women happy in real life, it is a harmless satisfaction to do it in a novel. If this one shows anything worth learning about the world, it is that a gifted man of strong character and honourable life may do a foolish and generous thing whereby he may become in a few days the helpless toy of fate. He who has never repented of a good impulse which has brought great trouble to other people, must be indeed a selfish soul.

As for the strange circumstances I have described, I do not think any of them impossible, and many of them are founded upon well-known facts. I have myself seen, within not many years, a construction like the dry well in the Palazzo Conti, which was discovered in the foundations of a Roman palace, and had been used as an oubliette. There were skeletons in it and fragments of weapons of the sixteenth century and evec of the seventeenth. There was also a communication between the cellars of the palace and the Tiber.

I read George Sand's fantastic novel _Consuelo many years ago, and I am aware that she introduced a well, in an ancient castle, in which the water could be made to rise and fall at will, in order to establish or interrupt communication with a secret chamber. I do not know whether she imagined the construction or had seen a similar one, for such wells are said to be found in more than one old fortress in Europe. The "lost water" really exists at many points under Rome; its rising and falling are sometimes unaccountable; and I know at least one old palace in which it has been used and found pure, within the memory of man. So far, the explanations suggested by engineers have neither satisfied those who have propounded them, nor those who have had practical experience of the "lost water." The subject is extremely interesting but is one of very great difficulty, as it is generally quite impossible to make explorations in the places where the water is near the surface. The older part of modern Rome was built haphazard, and often upon the enormous substructures of ancient buildings, of which the positions can be conjectured only, and of which the plans and dimensions are very vaguely guessed by archaeologists. All that can be said with approximate certainty of the "lost water" is that it must run through long-forgotten conduits, that it rises here and there in wells, and that it is mostly uncontaminated by the river.

Those familiar with the Vatican museum will have at once recognized the colossal statue of gilt bronze which now stands in the circular hall known as the "Rotonda." It was accidentally found, when I was a boy, in the courtyard of the Palazzo Righetti in the Campo dei Fiori, carefully and securely concealed by a well-built vault, evidently constructed for the purpose, in the foundations of the Theatre of Pompey. I went to see it, when only a portion of the vault had been removed, and I shall never forget the vivid impression it made upon me. So far as I know, there has not been any explanation of its having been hidden there, but among the lower classes in Rome there are traditions of great treasure supposed to be buried in other parts of the city. I have taken the liberty of making the discovery over again at a point some distance from the Palazzo Righetti, and in the present time. The statue was really found in 1864, and the gem in the ring was stolen. The marble Venus which Malipieri saw with it is imaginary, but I was also taken to see the beautiful statue of Augustus, now in the Braccio Nuovo of the Vatican, on the spot where it came to light in the Villa of Livia, in 1863.

The great mediaeval family of Conti became extinct long ago. The palace to which I have given their name would stand on the site of one now the property of the Vatican, but would be of a somewhat different construction.

Finally, I wish to protest that there are no so-called "portraits" in this story of the heart of old Rome. Many Romans were ruined by the financial crisis of 1888 and its consequences, either at the time or later. The family to which Sabina belonged is wholly imaginary, and its fall was due to other causes. I trust that no ingenious reader will try to trace a parallel where none exists. I would not even have a certain young and famous architect and engineer, for whom I entertain the highest admiration and esteem, recognize a "portrait" of himself in Marino Malipieri, if these pages should ever come to his notice, and I have purposely made my imaginary hero as unlike him as possible, in appearance, manner and speech.

Those who have noticed the increasing tendency of modern readers to bring accusations of plagiarism against novels that deal partly with facts will understand why I have said this much about my own work. To others, the few details I have given may be of some interest.

 

(THE END)
(F Marion Crawford's Novel: Heart of Rome)

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