There was not a suggestion of offence to Sabina, such as might have afforded ground for an action against the paper, or against those that copied the story from it. The writer was careful to extol Malipieri’s heroic courage and strength, and to point out that Sabina had been half-dead of fatigue and cold, as Toto knew must have been the case. It was all a justification, and not in the least an accusation. But the plain, bald fact was proved, that Donna Sabina Conti had spent the night in the rooms of the now famous Signor Malipieri, no one else being in the apartment during the whole time. He had saved her life like a hero, and had acted like a Bayard in all he had done for the unfortunate young lady. It was an adventure worthy of the middle ages. It was magnificent. Her family, informed at once by Malipieri, had come to get her on the following morning. Toto had told the people at the office of the Messaggero, who it was that had represented the “family,” but the little newspaper was far too worldly-wise to mention Volterra in such a connection. Donna Sabina, the article concluded, was now with her mother at the Russian Embassy.
The evening papers simply enlarged upon this first story, and in the same strain. Malipieri was held up to the admiration of the public. Sabina’s name was treated with profound respect, there was not a word which could be denied with truth, or resented with a show of justice. And yet, in Italy, and most of all in Rome, it meant ruin to Sabina, and the reprobation of all decent people upon Malipieri if he did not immediately marry her.
It was the ambassador himself who informed the Princess of what had happened, coming himself to the sitting-room as soon as he learned that she was visible. He stayed with her a long time, and they sent for Sabina, who was by far the least disturbed of the three. It was all true, she said, and there was nothing against her in the article.
Masin brought the news to Malipieri with his coffee, and the paper itself. Malipieri scarcely ever read it, but Masin never failed to, and his big, healthy face was very grave.
Malipieri felt as if he were going to have brain fever, as his eye ran along the lines.
“Masin,” he said, when he had finished, “did you ever kill a man?”
“No, sir,” answered Masin. “You have always believed that I was innocent, though I had to serve my seven years.”
“I did not mean that,” said Malipieri.
Then he sat a long time with his untasted coffee at his elbow and the crumpled little sheet in his hand.
“Of course, sir,” Masin said at last, “I owe you everything, and if you ordered me—”
He paused significantly, but his master did not understand.
“What?” he asked, starting nervously.
“Well, sir, if it were necessary for your safety, that somebody should be killed, I would risk the galleys for life, sir. What am I, without you?”