“If you do,” said the Baroness, “I shall deny it from beginning to end.”
“I think that it would perhaps be wiser to explain that in some other way,” the Baron suggested. “Signor Malipieri, will you be so very kind as to go down first, and take the porter with a light to the entrance of the cellars? He knows Donna Sabina, you see. I will come down presently, for I shall stay behind and ask the detective to look out of the window in the next room, while my wife and Donna Sabina pass through. In that way we shall be quite sure that she will not be recognized. Will you do that, Signor Malipieri? Unless you have a better plan to suggest, of course.”
Malipieri saw that the plan was simple and apparently safe. He looked once more at Sabina, and she smiled, and just bent her head, but said nothing. He left the room. The detective was sitting in a corner of the room beyond, and the two men exchanged a silent nod as Malipieri passed.
Everything was arranged as the Baron had planned, and ten minutes later the Baroness and Sabina descended the stairs together in silence and reached the great entrance. The two soldiers were standing by the open door of the lodge, and saluted in military fashion. Gigi, the carpenter, sprang forward and opened the postern door, touching his paper cap to the ladies.
They did not exchange a word as they walked to the Piazza Sant’ Apollinare to find a cab. Sabina held her head high and looked straight before her, and the Baroness’s invisible silk bellows were distinctly audible in the quiet street.
“By the hour,” said the Baroness, as they got into the first cab they reached on the stand. “Go to the Russian Embassy, in the Corso.”
“So you spent last night in the rooms of a man you have not seen half a dozen times,” said the Princess, speaking with a cigarette in her mouth. “And what is worse, those dreadful Volterra people found you there. No Conti ever had any common sense!”
What Sabina had foreseen had happened. Her mother had looked her over, from head to foot, to see what sort of condition she was in, as a horse-dealer looks over a promising colt he has not seen for some time; and the Princess had instantly detected the signs of an accident. In answer to her question Sabina told the truth. Her mother had watched her face and her innocent eyes while she was telling the story, and needed no other confirmation.
“You are a good girl,” she continued, as Sabina did not reply to the last speech. “But you are a little fool. I wonder why my children are all idiots! I am not so stupid after all. I suppose it must have been your poor father.”
The white lids closed thoughtfully over her magnificent eyes, and opened again after a moment, as if she had called up a vision of her departed husband and had sent it away again.
“I suppose it was silly of me to go at all,” Sabina admitted, leaning back in her chair. “But I wanted so much to see the statues!”