Malipieri had not supposed Volterra’s wife to be intensely sensitive. He moved, as if he meant to take his leave presently.
“By the bye,” he said, “whereabouts should you recommend me to look for a lodging?”
The Baron reflected a moment.
“If I were you,” he said, “I would go to a hotel. In fact, I think you would be wiser to leave Rome for a time, until all these absurd stories are forgotten. The least I can do is to warn you that you may be exposed to a good deal of annoyance if you stay here. The minister with whom I was talking this evening told me as much in a friendly way.”
“Really? That was very kind of him. But what do you mean by the word ‘annoyance’? It is rather vague. It is one thing to suspect a man of trying to evade the Pacca law; it is quite another matter to issue a warrant of arrest against him.”
“Oh, quite,” answered Volterra readily. “I did not mean that, of course, though when one has once been arrested for anything, innocent or not, our police always like to repeat the operation as soon as possible, just as a matter of principle.”
“In other words, if a man has once been suspected, even unjustly, he had better leave his country for ever.”
The Baron shrugged his big round shoulders, and drew a final puff from his cigar before throwing the end away.
“Injustice is only what the majority thinks of the minority,” he observed. “If you do not happen to be a man of genius, the first step towards success in life is to join the majority.”
Malipieri laughed as he rose to his feet, reflecting that in delivering himself of this piece of worldly wisdom the Baron had probably spoken the truth for the first time since they had been talking.
“Shall we say day after to-morrow, about five o’clock?” asked Malipieri before going.
“By all means. And let me thank you again for meeting my views so very obligingly.”
“Not at all.”
So Malipieri went home to think matters over, and the Baron sat a long time in his chair, looking much pleased with himself and apparently admiring a magnificent diamond which he wore on one of his thick fingers.
Malipieri was convinced that Volterra not only knew exactly how far the work under the palace had proceeded, but was also acquainted with the general nature of the objects found in the inner chamber, beyond the well shaft. The apparent impossibility of such a thing was of no importance. The Baron would never have been so anxious to get rid of Malipieri unless he had been sure that the difficult part of the work was finished and that the things discovered were of such dimensions as to make it impossible to remove them secretly. Malipieri knew the man and guessed that if he could not pocket the value of everything found in the excavations by disposing of the discoveries secretly, he would take the government into his confidence at once, as the surest means of preventing any one else from getting a share.