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- The Heart of Rome - 10/59 -
really, why should you--"
"How can I find Sassi?" asked Malipieri, interrupting the question. "Who is he?"
"He was our agent. Is he gone? The old porter will know where to find him. I think he lived near the palace. But perhaps the porter has been sent away too."
"He is still there. Have you been made to sign any papers since you have been here?"
"Will you promise me something?"
Sabina could not understand how it was that a man who had been a stranger two hours earlier was speaking to her almost as if he were an intimate friend, still less why she no longer felt that she ought to check him and assert her dignity.
"If it is right, I will promise it," she answered quietly, and looking down.
"It is right," he said. "If the Senator, or any one else asks you to sign a paper, will you promise to consult me before doing so?"
"But I hardly know you!" she laughed, a little shyly.
"It is of no use to waste time and trouble on social conventions," said Malipieri. "If you do not trust me, can you trust this Sassi?"
"Then consult him. I will make him consult me, and it will be the same--and ten times more conventional and proper."
"Will you promise that?" he asked.
"Yes. I promise. But I wish you would tell me more."
"I wish I could. But I hardly know you!" He smiled again, as he repeated her own words.
"Never mind that! Tell me!"
"No. I cannot. If there is trouble I will tell you everything--through Sassi, of course."
Sabina laughed, and all at once she felt as if she had known him for years.
At that moment the deputy finished his speech, and all who had anything to say in answer said it at once, in order to lose no time, while the speaker relighted his villainous black cigar, puffing tremendously.
The Baroness suddenly remembered Sabina and Malipieri in the corner, and after screaming out several incoherent phrases, which might have been taken for applause or dissent and were almost lost in the general din, she moved across the room.
"It is atrocious!" she cried, as she reached Sabina. "I hope you have not heard a word he said!"
"When a man has such a voice as that, it is impossible not to hear him," said Malipieri, rising and answering before Sabina had time to speak.
Sabina rose, too, rather reluctantly.
"And of course you agreed with everything he said," the Baroness replied. "All anarchists do!"
"I beg your pardon. I do not agree with him at all, and I am really not an anarchist."
He smiled politely, and Sabina noticed with an unaccountable little thrill of satisfaction that the smile was quite different from the one she had seen in his face more than once while they had been talking together. As for the deputy's discourse, she had not heard a word of it.
The Baroness sat down on the sofa, and Sabina slipped away. She was not supposed to be in society yet, as she was not quite eighteen, and there was certainly no reason why she should stay in the drawing-room that evening, while there were many reasons why she should go away. The Baroness breathed an audible sigh of relief when she was gone, for it was never possible to predict what some excited politician might say before her in the heat of argument.
In the silence of her own room she sat down to think over the unexpected events of the evening. Very young girls love to look forward to the moment when they shall be able to "think" of what has happened, after they have met men they are inclined to like, and who interest them. But when the time really comes they hardly ever think at all. They see pictures, they hear voices, they feel again what they have felt, they laugh, they shed tears all alone, and they believe they are thinking, or even reasoning. Their little joys come back to them, the little triumphs of their vanity, and also all the little hurts their sensitiveness has suffered, and which men do not often guess and still more rarely understand.
There must be some original reason why all boys call girls silly, and all girls think boys stupid. It must be part of the first manifestation of that enormous difference which exists between the point of view of men and women in after life.
Women are, in a sense, the embodiment of practice, while men are the representatives of theory. In practice, in a race for life, the runner who jumps everything in his way is always right, unless he breaks his neck. In theory, he is as likely to break his neck at the first jump as at the second, and the chances of his coming to grief increase quickly, always in theory, as he grows tired. So theory says that it is safer never to jump at all, but to go round through the gates, or wade ignominiously through the water. Women jump; men go round. The difference is everything. Women believe in what often succeeds in practice, and they take all risks and sometimes come down with a crash. Men theorize about danger, make elaborate calculations to avoid it and occasionally stick in the mud. When women fall at a stone wall they scream, when men are stuck in a bog they swear. The difference is fundamental. In nine cases out of ten it is the woman who enjoys the ecstatic delight of saying "I told you so," and there are plenty of women who would ask no greater joy in paradise than to say so to their husbands for ever and ever. Indeed, eternal reward and punishment could thus be at once combined and distributed in a simple manner.
Sabina took her first fence that evening, for when she put out her candle she was sure that Malipieri was already her friend, and that she could trust him in any emergency. Moreover, though she would not have acknowledged it, she inwardly hoped that some emergency might not be far in the future.
But Malipieri walked all the way from the Via Ludovisi to the Palazzo Conti, which is more than a mile, without noticing that he had forgotten to light the cigar he had taken out on leaving Volterra's house.
Malipieri had the Palazzo Conti to himself. The main entrance was always shut now, and only a small postern, cut in one side of the great door, was left ajar. The porter loafed about in the great court with his broom and his pipe; in the morning his wife went upstairs and opened a few windows, merely as a formality, and late in the afternoon she shut them again. Malipieri's man generally went out twice every day, carrying a military dinner-pail, made in three sections, which he brought back half an hour later. Malipieri sometimes was not seen for several days, but frequently he went out in the morning and did not come back till dark. Now and then, things were delivered for him at the door,--a tin of oil for his lamps, a large box of candles, packages of odd shapes, sometimes very heavy, and which the porter was told to handle with care.
The old man tried to make acquaintance with Malipieri's man, but found it less easy than he had expected. In the first place, Masin came from some outlandish part of Italy where an abominable dialect was spoken, and though he could speak school Italian when he pleased, he chose to talk to the porter in his native jargon, when he talked at all. He might just as well have spoken Greek. Secondly, he refused the porter's repeated offers of a litre at the wine shop, always saying something which sounded like a reference to his delicate health. As he was evidently as strong as an ox, and as healthy as a savage or a street dog, the excuse carried no conviction. He was a big, quiet fellow, with china-blue eyes and a reddish moustache. The porter was not used to such people, nor to servants who wore moustaches, and was inclined to distrust the man. On the other hand, though Masin would not drink, he often gave the porter a cigar, with a friendly smile.
One day, in the morning, Baron Volterra came to see Malipieri, and stayed over an hour, a part of which time the two men spent in the courtyard, walking up and down in the north-west corner, and then taking some measurements with a long tape which Malipieri produced from his pocket. When the Baron went away he stopped and spoke with the porter. First he gave him five francs; then he informed him that his wages would be raised in future by that amount; and finally he told him that Signor Malipieri was an architect and would superintend the repairs necessary to the foundations at the north-west corner, that while the work was going on even the little postern door was to be kept shut all day, and no one was to be admitted on any condition without Signor Malipieri's express permission. The fat Baron fixed his eyes on the porter's with an oddly hard look, and said that he himself might come at any moment to see how the work was going on, and that if he found anybody inside the gate without Signor Malipieri's authority, it would be bad for the porter. During this conversation, Malipieri stood listening, and when it ended he nodded, as if he were satisfied, and after shaking hands with the Baron he went up the grand staircase without a word.
It was all very mysterious, and the porter shook his head as he turned into his lodge after fastening the postern; but he said nothing to his
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