“Well, let us go round.” Sabina moved.
“Besides,” continued Malipieri, going slowly forward and lighting the way, “I am going to leave the palace the day after to-morrow.”
“Why?” asked Sabina, in surprise.
“Because Volterra has requested me to go. I may have to leave Rome altogether.”
Her own voice sounded harsh to her as she spoke the words. She had been so sure that he was in love with her, she had begun to know that she would soon love him; and he was going away already.
“Perhaps,” he answered, going on. “I am not sure.”
“But—” Sabina checked herself and bit her lip.
“Nothing. Go on, please. It must be getting late.”
There was nothing more in the vault. They went all round the gilt statue without speaking, came back to the feet of the Aphrodite from the further side and stopped to look again. Still neither spoke for a long time. Malipieri held the lights in several positions, trying to find the best.
“Why must you leave Rome?” Sabina asked, at last, without turning her face to him.
“I am not sure that I must. I said I might, that was all.”
Sabina tapped the ground impatiently with her foot.
“Why ‘may’ you have to go, then?” she asked a little sharply.
“Volterra may be able to drive me away. He will try, because he is afraid I may wish to get a share in the discovery.”
“Oh! Then you will not leave Rome, unless you are driven away?”
Malipieri tried to see her eyes, but she looked steadily down at the statue.
“No,” he said. “Certainly not.”
Sabina said nothing, but her expression changed and softened at once. He could see that, even in the play of the shadows. She raised her head, glanced at him, and moved to go on. After making a few steps in the direction of the aperture she stopped suddenly as if listening. Malipieri held his breath, and then he heard, too.
It was the unmistakable sound of water trickling faster and faster over stones. For an instant his blood stood still. Then he set the lamp down, grasped Sabina’s wrist and hurried her along, carrying only the lantern.
“Come as fast as you can,” he said, controlling his voice.
She understood that there was danger and obeyed without losing her head. As he helped her up through the hole in the vault, she felt herself very light in his hands. In a moment he was beside her, and they were hurrying towards the inclined passage, bending low.
A broad stream of water was pouring down, and spreading on each side in the space between the vaults. In a flash, Malipieri understood. The dry well had filled, but the overflow shaft was covered with the weighted boards, and only a little water could get down through the cracks. The rest was pouring down the passage, and would soon fill the vault, which was at a much lower level.