But the Pope was quite another personage. There had always been popes, and there always would be till the last judgment, and everything connected with the Vatican would last as long as the world itself. Toto was a conservative. His work had always kept him among lasting things of brick and stone, and he was proud of never having taken a day’s wages for helping to put up the modern new-fangled buildings he despised. The most lasting of all buildings in the world was the Vatican, and the most permanent institution conceivable was the Pope. Gigi, who made wretched, perishable objects of wood and nails and glue, such as doors and windows, sometimes launched into modern ideas. Toto would have liked to know how many times the doors and windows of the Palazzo Conti had been renewed since the walls had been built! He pitied Gigi always, and sometimes he despised him, though they were good friends enough in the ordinary sense.
The Pope should have the treasure. That was settled, and the only question remaining concerned the means of transferring it to him when it was discovered.
One evening it chanced that the Volterra couple were dining out, and that Sabina, having gone up to her room to spend the evening, had forgotten the book she was reading and came downstairs half-an-hour later to get it. She opened the drawing-room door and went straight to the table on which she had left the volume. As she turned to go back she started and uttered a little cry, almost of terror.
Malipieri was standing before the mantelpiece, looking at her.
“I am afraid I frightened you,” he said quietly. “Pray forgive me.”
“Not at all,” Sabina answered, resting the book she held in her hand upon the edge of the table. “I did not know any one was here.”
“I said I would wait till the Senator came home,” Malipieri said.
“Yes.” Sabina hesitated a moment and then sat down.
She smiled, perhaps at herself. In her mother’s house it would have been thought extremely improper for her to be left alone with a young man during ten minutes, but she knew that the Baroness held much more modern views, and would probably be delighted that she and Malipieri should spend an hour together. He had been asked to luncheon again, but had declined on the ground of being too busy, much to the Baroness’s annoyance.
Malipieri seated himself on a small chair at a discreet distance.
“I happened to know that they were going out,” he said, “so I came.”
Sabina looked at him in surprise. It was an odd way to begin a conversation.
“I wanted to see you alone,” he explained. “I thought perhaps you would come down.”
“It was an accident,” Sabina answered. “I had left my book here. No one told me that you had come.”
“Of course not. I took the chance that a lucky accident might happen. It has, but I hope you are not displeased. If you are, you can turn me out.”