But Malipieri was asleep in his armchair in the inner room, and the bell only rang in the outer hall. The old man rang it again and again, but no one came. Then he stood still on the landing, took off his cap and deliberately scratched his head. In former times, it would have been his duty to inform Sassi, in whom centred every responsibility connected with the palace. But the porter did not know whether Sassi were dead or alive now, and was quite sure that the Baron would not approve of sending for him.
There was nothing to be done but to inform the Baron himself, without delay, since Malipieri was apparently already gone out. The Baron would take the responsibility, since the house was his.
The porter went down to his lodge, took off his old linen jacket and put on his best coat and cap, put some change into his pocket, went out and turned the key of the lock in the postern, and then stumped off towards the Piazza Sant’ Apollinare to get a cab, for there was no time to be lost.
It was eight o’clock when he rang at the smart new house in the Via Ludovisi. Sabina and Malipieri had slept barely five hours.
A footman in an apron opened the door, and without waiting to know his business, asked him why he did not go to the servants’ entrance.
“I live in a palace where there is a porter,” answered the old man, assuming the overpowering manner that belongs to the retainers of really great old Roman houses. “Please inform the Baron that the ’lost water’ has broken out and flooded the cellars of the Palazzo Conti, and that I am waiting for instructions.”
Volterra went to bed early, but he did not rise late, for he was always busy, and had many interests that needed constant attention; and he had preserved the habits of a man who had enriched himself and succeeded in life by being wide awake and at work when other people were napping or amusing themselves. At eight o’clock in the morning, he was already in his study, reading his letters, and waiting for his secretary.
He sent for the porter, listened to his story attentively, and without expressing any opinion about what had happened, went directly to the palace in the cab which had brought the old man. He made the latter sit beside him, because it would be an excellent opportunity of showing the world that he was truly democratic. Half of Rome knew him by sight at least, though not one in twenty thousand could have defined his political opinions.
At the palace he paid the cabman instead of keeping him by the hour, for he expected to stay some time, and it was against his principles to spend a farthing for what he did not want. As he entered through the postern, he glanced approvingly at the damp pavement. He did not in the least believe that the porter washed it every morning, of course, but he appreciated the fact that the man evidently wished him to think so, and was afraid of him.