Full Online Books
BOOK CATEGORIES
Authors Authors Short Stories Short Stories Long Stories Long Stories Funny Stories Funny Stories Love Stories Love Stories Stories For Kids Stories For Kids Poems Poems Essays Essays Nonfictions Nonfictions Plays Plays Folktales Folktales Fairy Tales Fairy Tales Fables Fables Learning Kitchen Learning Kitchen
LINKS
Valid XHTML 1.0 Transitional Free Classified Website Without Registration Free Classified Website Daniel Company
Twitter Twitter Add book
donate
Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Heart Of Rome - Chapter 9
Famous Authors (View All Authors)
The Heart Of Rome - Chapter 9 Post by :bhark777 Category :Long Stories Author :F. Marion Crawford Date :May 2011 Read :476

Click below to download : The Heart Of Rome - Chapter 9 (Format : PDF)

The Heart Of Rome - Chapter 9

CHAPTER IX

One 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 the book she held in her hand upon the edge of the table. "I did not know any one was here."

"I said I would wait till the Senator came home," Malipieri said.

"Yes." Sabina hesitated a moment and then sat down.

She smiled, perhaps at herself. In her mother's house it would have been thought extremely improper for her to be left alone with a young man during ten minutes, but she knew that the Baroness held much more modern views, and would probably be delighted that she and Malipieri should spend an hour together. He had been asked to luncheon again, but had declined on the ground of being too busy, much to the Baroness's annoyance.

Malipieri seated himself on a small chair at a discreet distance.

"I happened to know that they were going out," he said, "so I came."

Sabina looked at him in surprise. It was an odd way to begin a conversation.

"I wanted to see you alone," he explained. "I thought perhaps you would come down."

"It was an accident," Sabina answered. "I had left my book here. No one told me that you had come."

"Of course not. I took the chance that a lucky accident might happen. It has, but I hope you are not displeased. If you are, you can turn me out."

"I could go back to my room." Sabina laughed. "Why should I be displeased?"

"I have not the least idea whether you like me or not," answered Malipieri.

Sabina wondered whether all men talked like this, or whether it were not more usual to begin with a few generalities. She was really quite sure that she liked Malipieri, but it was a little embarrassing to be called upon to tell him so at once.

"If I wanted you to go away, I should not sit down," she said, still smiling.

"I hate conventions," answered Malipieri, "and I fancy that you do, too. We were both brought up in them, and I suppose we think alike about them."

"Perhaps."

Sabina turned over the book she still held, and looked at the back of it.

"Exactly," continued Malipieri. "But I do not mean that what we are doing now is so dreadfully unconventional after all. Thank heaven, manners have changed since I was a boy, and even in Italy we may be allowed to talk together a few minutes without being suspected of planning a runaway marriage. I wanted to see you alone because I wish you to do something very much more 'improper,' as society calls it."

Sabina looked up with innocent and inquiring eyes, but said nothing in answer.

"I have found something," he said. "I should like you to see it."

"There is nothing so very terrible in that," replied Sabina, looking at him steadily.

"The world would think differently. But if you will trust me the world need never know anything about it. You will have to come alone. That is the difficulty."

"Alone?" Sabina repeated the word, and instinctively drew herself up a little.

"Yes."

A short silence followed, and Malipieri waited for her to speak, but she hesitated. In years, she was but lately out of childhood, but the evil of the world had long been near her in her mother's house, and she knew well enough that if she did what he asked, and if it were known, her reputation would be gone. She was a little indignant at first, and was on the point of showing it, but as she met his eyes once more she felt certain that he meant no offence to her.

"You must have a very good reason for asking me to do such a dangerous thing," she said at last.

"The reasons are complicated," answered Malipieri.

"Perhaps I could understand, if you explained them."

"Yes, I am sure you can. I will try. In the first place, you know of the story about a treasure being concealed in the palace. I spoke of it the other day, and you laughed at it. When I began, I was not inclined to believe it myself, for it seems never to have been anything more than a tradition. One or two old chronicles speak of it. A Venetian ambassador wrote about it in the sixteenth century in one of his reports to his government, suggesting that the Republic should buy the palace if it were ever sold. I daresay you have heard that."

"No. It does not matter. You say you have found something--that is the important point."

"Yes; and the next thing is to keep the secret for the present, because so many people would like to know it. The third point of importance is that you should see the treasure before it is moved, before I can move it myself, or even see all of it."

"What is this treasure?" asked Sabina, with a little impatience, for she was really interested.

"All I have seen of it is the hand of what must be a colossal statue, of gilt bronze. On one of the fingers there is a ring with a stone which I believe to be a ruby. If it is, it is worth a great deal, perhaps as much as the statue itself."

Sabina's eyes had opened very wide in her surprise, for she had never really believed the tale, and even when he had told her that he had found something she had not thought it could be anything very valuable.

"Are you quite sure you have seen it?" she asked with childlike wonder.

"Yes. I lowered a light into the place, but I did not go down. There may be other things. They belong to you."

"To me? Why?" asked Sabina in surprise.

"For a good many reasons which may or may not be good in law but which are good enough for me. You were robbed of your dowry--forgive the expression. I cannot think of another word. The Senator got possession of the palace for much less than its market value, let alone what I have found. He sent for me because I have been fortunate in finding things, and he believed it just possible that there might be something hidden in the foundations. Your family spent long ago what he lent them on the mortgage, and Sassi assures me that you never had a penny of it. I mean you to have your share now. That is all."

Sabina listened quietly enough to the end.

"Thank you, very much," she said gravely, when he had finished.

Then there was another pause. To her imagination the possibilities of wealth seemed fabulous, and even Malipieri thought them large; but Sabina was not thinking of a fortune for its own sake. Of late none of her family had cared for money except to spend it without counting. What struck her first was that she would be free to leave the Volterras' house, that she would be independent, and that there would be an end of the almost unbearable situation in which she had lived since the crash.

"If the Senator can keep it all for himself, he will," Malipieri observed, "and his wife will help him."

"Do you think this had anything to do with their anxiety to have me stay with them?" asked Sabina, and as the thought occurred to her the expression of her eyes changed.

"The Baroness knows nothing at all about the matter," answered Malipieri. "I fancy she only wanted the social glory of taking charge of you when your people came to grief. But her husband will take advantage of the obligation you are under. I suspect that he will ask you to sign a paper of some sort, very vaguely drawn up, but legally binding, by which you will make over to him all claim whatever on your father's estate."

"But I have none, have I?"

"If the facts were known to-morrow, your brother might at once begin an action to recover, on the equitable ground that by an extraordinary chain of circumstances the property has turned out to be worth much more than any one could have expected. Do you understand?"

"Yes. Go on."

"Very well. The Senator knows that in all probability the court would decide against your brother, who has the reputation of a spendthrift, unless your claim is pushed; but that any honest judge, if it were legally possible, would do his best to award you something. If you had made over your claim to Volterra, that would be impossible, and would only strengthen his case."

"I see," said Sabina. "It is very complicated."

"Of course it is. And there are many other sides to it. The Senator, on his part, is as anxious to keep the whole matter a secret as I am, for your sake. He has no idea that there is a colossal statue in the vaults. He probably hopes to find gold and jewels which could be taken away quietly and disposed of without the knowledge of the government."

"What has the government to do with it?"

"It has all sorts of claims on such discoveries, and especially on works of art. It reserves the right to buy them from the owners at a valuation, if they are sold at all."

"Then the government will buy this statue, I suppose."

"In the end, unless it allows the Vatican to buy it."

"I do not see what is going to happen," said Sabina, growing bewildered.

"The Senator must make everything over to you before it is sold," answered Malipieri calmly.

"How can he be made to do that?"

"I do not know, but he shall."

"Do you mean that the law can force him to?"

"The law might, perhaps, but I shall find some much shorter way."

Sabina was silent for a moment.

"But he employs you on this work," she said suddenly.

"Not exactly." Malipieri smiled. "I would not let Volterra pay me to grub underground for his benefit, any more than I would live in his house without paying him rent."

Sabina bit her lip and turned her face away suddenly, for the thoughtless words had hurt her.

"I agreed to make the search merely because I am interested in archaeology," he continued. "Until I met you I did not care what might become of anything we found in the palace."

"Why should you care now?"

The question rose to her lips before she knew what she was saying, for what had gone before had disturbed her a little. It had been a very cruel speech, though he had not meant it. He looked at her thoughtfully.

"I am not quite sure why I care," he answered, "but I do."

Neither spoke for some time.

"I suppose you pity me," Sabina observed at last, rather resentfully.

He said nothing.

"You probably felt sorry for me as soon as you saw me," she continued, leaning back in her chair and speaking almost coldly. "I am an object of pity, of course!"

Malipieri laughed a little at the very girlish speech.

"No," he answered. "I had not thought of you in that light. I liked you, the first time I saw you. That is much simpler than pitying."

He laughed again, but it was at himself.

"You treat me like a child," Sabina said with a little petulance. "You have no right to!"

"Shall I treat you like a woman, Donna Sabina?" he said, suddenly serious.

"Yes. I am sure I am old enough."

"If you were not, I should certainly not feel as I do towards you."

"What do you mean?"

"If you are a woman, you probably guess."

"No."

"You may be offended," suggested Malipieri.

"Not unless you are rude--or pity me." She smiled now.

"Is it very rude to like a person?" he asked. "If you think it is, I will not go on."

"I am not sure," said Sabina demurely, and she looked down.

"In that case it is wiser not to run the risk of offending you past forgiveness!"

It was very amusing to hear him talk, for no man had ever talked to her in this way before. She knew that he was thought immensely clever, but he did not seem at all superior now, and she was glad of it. She should have felt very foolish if he had discoursed to her learnedly about Carthage and antiquities. Instead, he was simple and natural, and she liked him very much; and the little devil that enters into every woman about the age of sixteen and is not often cast out before fifty, even by prayer and fasting, suddenly possessed her.

"Rudeness is not always past forgiveness," she said, with a sweet smile.

Malipieri looked at her gravely and wondered whether he had any right to take up the challenge. He had never been in love with a young girl in his life, and somehow it did not seem fair to speak as he had been speaking. It was very odd that his sense of honour should assert itself just then. It might have been due to the artificial traditions of generations without end, before him. At the same time, he knew something of women, and in her last speech he recognized the womanly cooing, the call of the mate, that has drawn men to happiness or destruction ever since the world began. She was a mere girl, of course, but since he had said so much, she could not help tempting him to go to the end and tell her he loved her.

Though Malipieri did not pretend to be a model of all the virtues, he was thoroughly fair in all his dealings, according to his lights, and just then he would have thought it the contrary of fair to say what she seemed to expect. He knew instinctively that no one had ever said it to her before, which was a good reason for not saying it lightly; and he was sure that he could not say it quite seriously, and almost certain also that she had not even begun to be really in love herself, though he felt that she liked him. On the other hand--for in the flash of a second he argued the case--he did not feel that she was the hypothetical defenceless maiden, helpless to resist the wiles of an equally hypothetical wicked young man. She had been brought up by a worldly mother since she had left the convent where she had associated with other girls, most of whom also had worldly mothers; and some of the wildest blood in Europe ran in her veins.

On the whole, he thought it would be justifiable to tell her exactly what he felt, and she might do as she pleased about answering him.

"I think I shall fall in love with you before long," he said, with almost unnecessary calmness.

Sabina had not expected that the first declaration she received in her life would take this mild form, but it affected her much more strongly than she could understand. Her hand tightened suddenly on the book she held, and she noticed a little fluttering at her heart and in her throat, and at the same time she was conscious of a tremendous determination not to show that she felt anything at all, but to act as if she had heard just such things before, and more also.

"Indeed!" she said, with admirable indifference.

Malipieri looked at her in surprise. An experienced flirt of thirty could not have uttered the single word more effectively.

"I wonder whether you will ever like me better than you do now," he said, by way of answer.

She was wondering, too, but it was not likely that she would admit it.

"I am very fickle," she replied, with a perfectly self-possessed little laugh.

"So am I," Malipieri answered, following her lead. "My most desperate love affairs have never lasted more than a month or two."

"You have had a great many, I daresay," Sabina observed, with no show of interest. She was amazed and delighted to find how easy it was to act her new part.

"And you," he asked, laughing, "how often have you been in love already?"

"Let me see!"

She turned her eyes to his, without turning her head, and letting the book lie in her lap she pretended to count on her fingers. He watched her gravely, and nodded as she touched each finger, as if he were counting with her. Suddenly she dropped both hands and laughed gaily.

"How childish you are!" she exclaimed.

"How deliciously frank you are!" he retorted, laughing with her.

It was mere banter, and not witty at that, but they were growing intimate in it, much faster than either of them realized, for it was the first time they had been able to talk together quite without constraint, and it was the very first time Sabina had ever had a chance of talking as she pleased to a man whom she really thought young.

Moreover they were quite modern young people, and therefore entirely devoid of all the sentimentality and "world-sorrow" which made youth so delightfully gloomy and desperately cynical, without the least real cynicism, in the middle of the nineteenth century. In those days no young man who showed a ray of belief in anything had a chance with a woman, and no woman had a chance with men unless she had a hidden sorrow. Women used to construct themselves a secret and romantic grief in those times, with as much skill as they bestowed on their figure and face, and there were men who spent hours in reading Schopenhauer in order to pick out and treasure up a few terribly telling phrases; and love-making turned upon the myth that life was not worth living.

We have changed all that now; whether for better or worse, the social historians of the future will decide for us after we are dead, so we need not trouble our heads about the decision unless we set up to be moralists ourselves. The enormous tidal wave of hypocrisy is retiring, and if the shore discovered by the receding waves is here and there horribly devastated and hopelessly bare, it is at least dry land.

The wave covered everything for a long time, from religion to manners, from science to furniture, and we who are old enough to remember, and not old enough to regret, are rubbing our eyes and looking about us, as on a new world, amazed at having submitted so long to what we so heartily despised, glad to be able to speak our minds at last about many things, and astounded that people should at last be allowed to be good and suffered to be bad, without the affectation of seeming one or the other, in a certain accepted manner governed by fashion, and imposed by a civilized and perfectly intolerant society.

While progress advances, it really looks as if humanity were reverting to its types, with an honest effort at simplicity. There is a revival of the moral individuality of the middle ages. The despot proudly says, like Alexander, or Montrose in love, that he will reign, and he will reign alone; and he does. The financier plunders mankind and does not pretend that he is a long-lost type of philanthropist. The anarchist proclaims that it is virtuous to kill kings, and he kills them. The wicked do not even make a pretence of going to church on Sundays. If this goes on, we shall have saints before long.

Hypocrisy has disappeared even from literature, since no one who now writes books fit to read can be supposed to do so out of respect for public opinion, still less from any such base motive as a desire for gain.

Malipieri and Sabina both felt that they had been drawn much nearer together by what had sounded like idle chatter, and yet neither of them was inclined to continue talking in the same way. Moreover time was passing quickly, and there was a matter to be decided before they parted. Malipieri returned to the subject of his discovery, and his desire that Sabina should see it.

"But I cannot possibly come to the palace alone," she objected. "It is quite out of the question. Even if--" she stopped.

"What?" he asked.

"Even if I were willing to do it--" she hesitated again.

"You are not afraid, are you?" There was a slight intonation of irony in his question.

"No, I am not afraid." She paused a moment. "I suppose that if I saw a way of coming, I would come," she said, then. "But I see no way. I cannot go out alone. Every one would know it. There would be a terrible fuss about it!"

The idea evidently amused her.

"Could you come with Sassi?" asked Malipieri presently. "He is respectable enough for anything."

"Even that would be thought very strange," answered Sabina. "I have no good reason to give for going out alone with him."

"You would not give any reason till afterwards, and when it is over there cannot really be anything to be said about it. The Baroness goes out every afternoon. You can make an excuse for staying at home to- morrow, and then you will be alone in the house. Sassi will call for you in a closed cab and bring you to the palace, and I will be at the door to receive you. The chances are that you will be at home again before the Baroness comes in, and she will never know that you have been out. Does that look very hard?"

"No, it looks easy."

"What time shall Sassi call for you to-morrow?" asked Malipieri, who wished to settle the matter at once.

"At five o'clock," answered Sabina, after a moment's thought.

"At five to-morrow, then. You had better not wear anything very new. The place where the statue lies is not a drawing-room, you know, and your frock may be spoilt."

"Very well."

She glanced at the clock, looked at Malipieri as if hesitating, and then rose.

"I shall go back to my room now," she said.

"Yes. It is better. They may come in at any moment." He had risen also.

Their eyes met again, and they smiled at each other, as they realized what they were doing, that they had been nearly an hour together, unknown to any one, and had arranged something very like a clandestine meeting for the next day. Sabina put out her hand.

"At five o'clock," she said again. "Good-night."

He felt her touch for the first time since they had met. It was light and elastic as the pressure of a very delicate spring, perfectly balanced and controlled. But she, on her side, looked down suddenly and uttered an exclamation of surprise.

"Oh! How rough your hand is!"

He laughed, and held out his palm, which was callous as a day- labourer's.

"My man and I have done all the work ourselves," he said, "and it has not been play."

"It must be delightful!" answered Sabina with admiration. "I wish I were a man! We could have done it together."

She went to the door, and she turned to smile at him again as she laid her hand on the knob. He remembered her afterwards as she stood there a single moment with the light on her misty hair and white cheeks, and the little shadow round her small bare throat. He remembered that he would have given anything to bring her back to the place where she had sat. There was much less doubt in his mind as to what he felt then than there had been a few minutes earlier.

Half an hour after Sabina had disappeared Malipieri and Volterra were seated in deep armchairs in the smoking-room, the Baron having sent his wife to bed a few minutes after they had come in. She obeyed meekly as she always did, for she had early discovered that although she was a very energetic woman, Volterra was her master and that it was hopeless to oppose his slightest wish. It is true that in return for the most absolute obedience the fat financier gave her the strictest fidelity and all the affection of which he was capable. Like more than one of the great modern freebooters, the Baron's private life was very exemplary, yet his wife would have been willing to forgive him something if she might occasionally have had her own way.

This evening he was not in good-humour, as Malipieri found out as soon as they were alone together. He chewed the end of the enormous Havana he had lighted, he stuck his feet out straight in front of him, resting his heels on the floor and turning his shining patent leather toes straight up, he folded his hands upon the magnificent curve of his white waistcoat, and leaning his head well back he looked steadily at the ceiling. All these were very bad signs, as his wife could have told Malipieri if she had stayed in the room.

Malipieri smoked in silence for some time, entirely forgetting him and thinking of Sabina.

"Well, Mr. Archaeologist," the Baron said at last, allowing his big cigar to settle well into one corner of his mouth, "there is the devil to pay."

He spoke as if the trouble were Malipieri's fault. The younger man eyed him coldly.

"What is the matter?" he enquired, without the least show of interest.

"You are being watched," answered Volterra, still looking at the ceiling. "You are now one of those interesting people whose movements are recorded like the weather, every twelve hours."

"Yes," said Malipieri. "I have known that for some time."

"The next time you know anything so interesting I wish you would inform me," replied Volterra.

His voice and his way of speaking irritated Malipieri. The Baroness had been better educated than her husband from the first; she was more adaptable and she had really learned the ways of the society she loved, but the Baron was never far from the verge of vulgarity, and he often overstepped it.

"When you asked me to help you," Malipieri said, "you knew perfectly well what my political career had been. I believe you voted for the bill which drove me out of the country."

"Did I?" The Baron watched the smoke of his cigar curling upwards.

"I think you did. Not that I bear you the least malice. I only mean that you might very naturally expect that I should be thought a suspicious person, and that detectives would follow me about."

"Nobody cares a straw for your politics," retorted Volterra rudely.

"Then I shall be the more free to think as I please," Malipieri answered with calm.

"Perfectly so. In the meantime it is not the Ministry of the Interior that is watching you. The present Ministry does not waste time and money on such nonsense. You are being watched because you are suspected of trying to get some statues or pictures out of Italy, in defiance of the Pacca law."

"Oh!" Malipieri blew a whiff of smoke out with the ejaculation, for he was surprised.

"I have it from one of the cabinet," Volterra continued. "He told me the facts confidentially after dinner. You see, as you are living in my house, the suspicion is reflected on me."

"In your house?"

"The Palazzo Conti is my house," answered the Baron, taking his cigar from his mouth for the first time since he had lighted it, and holding it out at arm's length with a possessive sweep while he leaned back and looked at the ceiling again. "It all belongs to me," he said. "I took it for the mortgage, with everything in it."

"By the bye," said Malipieri, "what became of that Velasquez, and those other pictures?"

"Was there a Velasquez?" enquired the Baron carelessly, without changing his attitude.

"Yes. It was famous all over Europe. It was a family portrait."

"I remember! It turned out to be a copy after all."

"A copy!" repeated Malipieri incredulously.

"Yes, the original is in Madrid," answered the Baron with imperturbable self-possession.

"And all those other pictures turned out to be copies, too, I daresay," suggested Malipieri.

"Every one of them. It was a worthless collection."

"In that case it was hardly worth while to take so much trouble in getting them out of the country secretly." Malipieri smiled.

"That was the dealer's affair," answered Volterra without the least hesitation. "Dealers are such fools! They always make a mystery of everything."

Malipieri could not help admiring the proportions and qualities of the Baron's lies. The financier was well aware that Malipieri knew the pictures to be genuine beyond all doubt. The disposal of them had been well managed, for when Malipieri moved into the palace there was not a painting of value left on the walls, yet there had been no mention of them in the newspapers, nor any gossip about them, and the public at large believed them to be still in their places. As a matter of fact most of them were already in France and England, and the Velasquez was in Saint Petersburg.

"I understand why you are anxious that the Palazzo Conti should not be watched just now," Malipieri said. "For my part, as I do not believe in your government, I cannot be expected to believe in its laws. It is not my business whether you respect them yourselves or not."

"Who is breaking the law?" asked the Baron roughly. "It is absurd to talk in that way. But as the government has taken it into its head to suspect that you do, it is not advisable for me, who am a staunch supporter of the government, to see too much of you. I am sure you must understand that--it is so simple."

"In other words?" Malipieri looked at him coldly, waiting for an explanation.

"I cannot afford to have it said that you are living in the palace for the purpose of helping dealers to smuggle objects of art out of the country. That is what I mean."

"I see. But what objects of art do you mean, since you have already sent away everything there was?"

"It is believed that you had something to do with that ridiculous affair of the copies," said Volterra, his voice suddenly becoming oily.

"They were gone when I moved in."

"I daresay they were. But it would be hard to prove, and of course the people who bought the pictures from the dealer insist that they are genuine, so that there may be trouble some day, and you may be annoyed about the things if you stay here any longer."

"You mean that you advise me to leave Rome. Is that it?" Malipieri now spoke with the utmost indifference, and glanced carelessly at the end of his cigar as he knocked the ash into the gold cup at his side.

"You certainly cannot stay any longer in the palace," Volterra said, in an advisory and deprecatory tone.

"You seem to be badly frightened," observed Malipieri. "I really cannot see why I should change my quarters until we have finished what we are doing."

"I am afraid you will have to go. You are looked upon as very 'suspicious.' It would not be so bad, if your servant had not been a convict."

"How do you know that?" Malipieri asked with sudden sternness.

"Everything of that sort is known to the police," answered Volterra, whose manner had become very mild. "Of course you have your own reasons for employing such a person."

"He is an innocent man, who was unjustly convicted."

"Oh, indeed! Poor fellow! Those things happen sometimes, I know. It is more than kind of you to employ him. Nevertheless, you cannot help seeing that the association of ideas is unfortunate and gives a bad impression. The man was never proved to be innocent, and when he had served his term, he was involved as your servant in your political escapade. You do not mind my speaking of that matter lightly? It is the safest way to look at it, is it not? Yes. The trouble is that you and your man are both on the black book, and since the affair has come to the notice of the government my colleagues are naturally surprised that you should both be living in a house that belongs to me."

"You can explain to your colleagues that you have let the apartment in the palace to me, and that as I pay my rent regularly you cannot turn me out without notice." Malipieri smiled indifferently.

"Surely," said the Baron, affecting some surprise, "if I ask you, as a favour, to move somewhere else, you will do so!"

To tell the truth, he was not prepared for Malipieri's extreme forbearance, for he had expected an outbreak of temper, at the least, and he still feared a positive refusal. Instead, the young man did not seem to care a straw.

"Of course," he said, "if you ask it as a favour, I cannot refuse. When should you like me to go?"

"You are really too kind!" The Baron was genuinely delighted and almost grateful--as near to feeling gratitude, perhaps, as he had ever been in his life. "I should hate to hurry you," he continued. "But really, since you are so very good, I think the sooner you can make it convenient to move, the better it will be for every one."

"I could not manage to pack my books and drawings so soon as to- morrow," said Malipieri.

"Oh, no! certainly not! By all means take a couple of days about it. I could not think of putting you to any inconvenience."

"Thanks." Malipieri smiled pleasantly. "If I cannot get off by the day after to-morrow, I shall certainly move the day after that."

"I am infinitely obliged. And now that this unpleasant matter is settled, owing to your wonderful amiability, do tell me how the work is proceeding."

"Fairly well," Malipieri answered. "You had better come and see for yourself before I go. Let me see. To-morrow I shall have to look about for a lodging. Could you come the day after to-morrow? Then we can go down together."

"How far have you got?" asked Volterra, with a little less interest than might have been expected.

"I am positively sure that there is an inner chamber, where I expected to find it," Malipieri answered, with perfect truth. "Perhaps we can get into it when you come."

"I hope so," said the Baron, watching the other's face from the corner of his eye.

"I have made a curious discovery in the course of the excavation," Malipieri continued. "The pillar of masonry which you showed me is hollow after all. It was the shaft of an oubliette which must have opened somewhere in the upper part of the house. There is a well under it."

"Full of water?"

"No. It is dry. We shall have to pass through it to get to the inner chamber. You shall see for yourself--a very singular construction."

"Was there nothing in it?"

"Several skeletons," answered Malipieri indifferently. "One of the skulls has a rusty knife driven through it."

"Dear me!" exclaimed the Baron, shaking his fat head. "Those Conti were terrible people! We must not tell the Baroness these dreadful stories. They would upset her nerves."

Malipieri had not supposed Volterra's wife to be intensely sensitive. He moved, as if he meant to take his leave presently.

"By the bye," he said, "whereabouts should you recommend me to look for a lodging?"

The Baron reflected a moment.

"If I were you," he said, "I would go to a hotel. In fact, I think you would be wiser to leave Rome for a time, until all these absurd stories are forgotten. The least I can do is to warn you that you may be exposed to a good deal of annoyance if you stay here. The minister with whom I was talking this evening told me as much in a friendly way."

"Really? That was very kind of him. But what do you mean by the word 'annoyance'? It is rather vague. It is one thing to suspect a man of trying to evade the Pacca law; it is quite another matter to issue a warrant of arrest against him."

"Oh, quite," answered Volterra readily. "I did not mean that, of course, though when one has once been arrested for anything, innocent or not, our police always like to repeat the operation as soon as possible, just as a matter of principle."

"In other words, if a man has once been suspected, even unjustly, he had better leave his country for ever."

The Baron shrugged his big round shoulders, and drew a final puff from his cigar before throwing the end away.

"Injustice is only what the majority thinks of the minority," he observed. "If you do not happen to be a man of genius, the first step towards success in life is to join the majority."

Malipieri laughed as he rose to his feet, reflecting that in delivering himself of this piece of worldly wisdom the Baron had probably spoken the truth for the first time since they had been talking.

"Shall we say day after to-morrow, about five o'clock?" asked Malipieri before going.

"By all means. And let me thank you again for meeting my views so very obligingly."

"Not at all."

So Malipieri went home to think matters over, and the Baron sat a long time in his chair, looking much pleased with himself and apparently admiring a magnificent diamond which he wore on one of his thick fingers.

If you like this book please share to your friends :
NEXT BOOKS

The Heart Of Rome - Chapter 10 The Heart Of Rome - Chapter 10

The Heart Of Rome - Chapter 10
CHAPTER XMalipieri 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
PREVIOUS BOOKS

The Heart Of Rome - Chapter 8 The Heart Of Rome - Chapter 8

The Heart Of Rome - Chapter 8
CHAPTER VIIIMalipieri was convinced before long that his doings interested some one who was able to employ men to watch him, and he connected the fact with Bruni's visit. He was not much disturbed by it, however, and was careful not to show that he noticed it at all. Naturally enough, he supposed that his short career as a promoter of republican ideas had caused him to be remembered as a dangerous person, and that a careful ministry was anxious to know why he lived alone in a vast palace, in the heart of Rome, knowing very few people and seeing
NEXT 10 BOOKS | PREVIOUS 10 BOOKS | RANDOM 10 BOOKS
LEAVE A COMMENT