Author: Francis Marion Crawford
Release Date: June, 2004 [EBook #5847] [Yes, we are more than one year ahead of schedule] [This file was first posted on October 23, 2002]
Character set encoding: ASCII
*** Start of the project gutenberg EBOOK, the heart of Rome ***
Juliet Sutherland, Charles Franks and the Online Distributed
A Tale of the “Lost water”
By Francis Marion Crawford
Author of “Cecilia,” “Saracinesca,” “In the Palace of the King,” Etc.
The Baroness Volterra drove to the Palazzo Conti in the heart of Rome at nine o’clock in the morning, to be sure of finding Donna Clementina at home. She had tried twice to telephone, on the previous afternoon, but the central office had answered that “the communication was interrupted.” She was very anxious to see Clementina at once, in order to get her support for a new and complicated charity. She only wanted the name, and expected nothing else, for the Conti had very little ready money, though they still lived as if they were rich. This did not matter to their friends, but was a source of constant anxiety to their creditors, and to the good Pompeo Sassi, the steward of the ruined estate. He alone knew what the Conti owed, for none of them knew much about it themselves, though he had done his best to make the state of things clear to them.
The big porter of the palace was sweeping the pavement of the great entrance, as the cab drove in. He wore his working clothes of grey linen with silver buttons bearing the ancient arms of his masters, and his third best gold-laced cap. There was nothing surprising in this, at such an early hour, and as he was a grave man with a long grey beard that made him look very important, the lady who drove up in the open cab did not notice that he was even more solemn than usual. When she appeared, he gave one more glance at the spot he had been sweeping, and then grounded his broom like a musket, folded his hands on the end of the broomstick and looked at her as if he wondered what on earth had brought her to the palace at that moment, and wished that she would take herself off again as soon as possible.
He did not even lift his cap to her, yet there was nothing rude in his manner. He behaved like a man upon whom some one intrudes when he is in great trouble.
The Baroness was rather more exigent in requiring respect from servants than most princesses of the Holy Roman Empire, for her position in the aristocratic scale was not very well defined.