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´╗┐Title: Veranilda
Author: Gissing, George, 1857-1903
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Veranilda" ***

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Veranilda


By

George Gissing



CONTENTS

       I  THE VANQUISHED ROMAN
      II  BASIL'S VISION
     III  THE DEACON LEANDER
      IV  TO CUMAE
       V  BASIL AND VERANILDA
      VI  THE EMPEROR'S COMMAND
     VII  HERESY
    VIII  THE SNARE
      IX  CHORSOMAN
       X  THE ANICIANS
      XI  SEEKING
     XII  HELIODORA
    XIII  THE SOUL OF ROME
     XIV  SILVIA'S DREAM
      XV  YOUNG ROME
     XVI  WHISPERS
    XVII  LEANDER THE POLITIC
   XVIII  PELAGIUS
     XIX  THE PRISONER OF PRAENESTE
      XX  THE ISLAND IN THE LIRIS
     XXI  THE BETRAYER BETRAYED
    XXII  DOOM
   XXIII  THE RED HAND
    XXIV  THE MOUNT OF THE MONK
     XXV  THE ABBOT'S TOWER
    XXVI  VIVAS IN DEO
   XXVII  THE KING OF THE GOTHS
  XXVIII  AT HADRIAN'S VILLA
    XXIX  ROME BELEAGUERED
     XXX  * * * *



CHAPTER I

THE VANQUISHED ROMAN


Seven years long had the armies of Justinian warred against the Goths
in Italy. Victor from Rhegium to Ravenna, the great commander
Belisarius had returned to the East, Carrying captive a Gothic king.
The cities of the conquered land were garrisoned by barbarians of many
tongues, who bore the name of Roman soldiers; the Italian people,
brought low by slaughter, dearth, and plague, crouched under the
rapacious tyranny of governors from Byzantium.

Though children born when King Theodoric still reigned had yet scarce
grown to manhood, that golden age seemed already a legend of the past.
Athalaric, Amalasuntha, Theodahad, last of the Amal blood, had held the
throne in brief succession and were gone; warriors chosen at will by
the Gothic host, mere kings of the battlefield, had risen and perished;
reduced to a wandering tribe, the nation which alone of her invaders
had given peace and hope to Italy, which alone had reverenced and
upheld the laws, polity, culture of Rome, would soon, it was thought,
be utterly destroyed, or vanish in flight beyond the Alps. Yet war did
not come to an end. In the plain of the great river there was once more
a chieftain whom the Goths had raised upon their shields, a king, men
said, glorious in youth and strength, and able, even yet, to worst the
Emperor's generals. His fame increased. Ere long he was known to be
moving southward, to have crossed the Apennines, to have won a battle
in Etruria. The name of this young hero was Totila.

In these days the senators of Rome, heirs to a title whose ancient
power and dignity were half-forgotten, abode within the City, under
constraint disguised as honour, the conqueror's hostages. One among
them, of noblest name, Flavius Anicius Maximus, broken in health by the
troubles of the time and by private sorrow, languishing all but unto
death in the heavy air of the Tiber, was permitted to seek relief in a
visit to which he would of his domains in Italy. His birth, his repute,
gave warrant of loyalty to the empire, and his coffers furnished the
price put upon such a favour by Byzantine greed. Maximus chose for
refuge his villa by the Campanian shore, vast, beautiful, half in ruin,
which had been enjoyed by generations of the Anician family; situated
above the little town of Surrentum it caught the cooler breeze, and on
its mountainous promontory lay apart from the tramp of armies. Here, as
summer burned into autumn, the sick man lived in brooding silence,
feeling his strength waste, and holding to the world only by one desire.

The household comprised his unwedded sister Petronilla, a lady in
middle age, his nephew Basil, and another kinsman, Decius, a student
and an invalid; together with a physician, certain freedmen who
rendered services of trust, a eunuch at the Command of Petronilla, and
the usual body of male and female slaves. Some score of glebe-bound
peasants cultivated the large estate for their lord's behoof.
Notwithstanding the distress that had fallen upon the Roman nobility,
many of whom were sunk into indigence, the chief of the Anicii still
controlled large means; and the disposal of these possessions at his
death was matter of interest to many persons--not least to the clergy
of Rome, who found in the dying man's sister a piously tenacious
advocate. Children had been born to Maximus, but the only son who
reached mature years fell a victim to pestilence when Vitiges was
camped about the City. There survived one daughter, Aurelia. Her the
father had not seen for years; her he longed to see and to pardon ere
he died. For Aurelia, widowed of her first husband in early youth, had
used her liberty to love and wed a flaxen-haired barbarian, a lord of
the Goths; and, worse still, had renounced the Catholic faith for the
religion of the Gothic people, that heresy of Arianism condemned and
abhorred by Rome. In Consequence she became an outcast from her kith
and kin. Her husband commanded in the city of Cumae, hard by Neapolis.
When this stronghold fell before the advance of Belisarius, the Goth
escaped, soon after to die in battle; Aurelia, a captive of the
Conquerors, remained at Cumae, and still was living there, though no
longer under restraint. Because of its strength, this ancient city
became the retreat of many ladies who fled from Rome before the
hardships and perils of the siege; from them the proud and unhappy
woman, ever held apart, yet she refused to quit the town when she would
have been permitted to do so. From his terrace above the Surrentine
shore, Maximus gazed across the broad gulf to the hills that concealed
Cumae, yearning for the last of his children. When at length he wrote
her a letter, a letter of sad kindness, inviting rather than beseeching
her to visit him, Aurelia made no reply. Wounded, he sunk again into
silence, until his heart could no longer bear its secret burden, and he
spoke--not to Petronilla, from whose austere orthodoxy little sympathy
was to be expected--but to his nephew Basil, whose generous mettle
willingly lent itself to such a service as was proposed. On his
delicate mission, the young man set forth without delay. To Cumae,
whether by sea or land, was but a short journey: starting at daybreak,
Basil might have given ample time to his embassy, and have been back
again early on the morrow. But the second day passed, and he did not
return. Though harassed by the delay, Maximus tried to deem it of good
omen, and nursed his hope through another sleepless night.

Soon after sunrise, he was carried forth to his place of observation, a
portico in semicircle, the marble honey-toned by time, which afforded
shelter from the eastern rays and commanded a view of vast extent.
Below him lay the little town, built on the cliffs above its
landing-place; the hillsides on either hand were clad with vineyards,
splendid in the purple of autumn, and with olives. Sky and sea shone to
each other in perfect calm; the softly breathing air mingled its
morning freshness with a scent of fallen flower and leaf. A rosy vapour
from Vesuvius floated gently inland; and this the eye of Maximus marked
with contentment, as it signified a favourable wind for a boat crossing
hither from the far side of the bay. For the loveliness of the scene
before him, its noble lines, its jewelled colouring, he had little
care; but the infinite sadness of its suggestion, the decay and the
desolation uttered by all he saw, sank deep into his heart. If his look
turned to the gleaming spot which was the city of Neapolis, there came
into his mind the sack and massacre of a few years ago, when Belisarius
so terribly avenged upon the Neapolitans their stubborn resistance to
his siege. Faithful to the traditions of his house, of his order,
Maximus had welcomed the invasion which promised to restore Italy to
the Empire; now that the restoration was effected, he saw with
bitterness the evils resulting from it, and all but hoped that this new
king of the Goths, this fortune-favoured Totila, might sweep the land
of its Greek oppressors. He looked back upon his own life, on the
placid dignity of his career under the rule of Theodoric, the offices
by which he had risen, until he sat in the chair of the Consul. Yet in
that time, which now seemed so full of peaceful glories, he had never
at heart been loyal to the great king; in his view, as in that of the
nobles generally, Theodoric was but a usurper, who had abused the
mandate intrusted to him by the Emperor Zeno, to deliver Italy from the
barbarians. When his own kinsmen, Boethius and Symmachus, were put to
death on a charge of treachery, Maximus burned with hatred of the Goth.
He regarded with disdain the principles of Cassiodorus, who devoted his
life to the Gothic cause, and who held that only as an independent
kingdom could there be hope for Italy. Having for a moment the ear of
Theodoric's daughter, Amalasuntha, when she ruled for her son, Maximus
urged her to yield her kingdom to the Emperor, and all but saw his
counsel acted upon. After all, was not Cassiodorus right? Were not the
senators who had ceaselessly intrigued with Byzantium in truth traitors
to Rome? It was a bitter thought for the dying man that all his life he
had not only failed in service to his country, but had obstinately
wrought for her ruin.

Attendants placed food beside him. He mingled wine with water and
soothed a feverish thirst. His physician, an elderly man of Oriental
visage, moved respectfully to his side, greeted him as Illustrious,
inquired how his Magnificence had passed the latter part of the night.
Whilst replying, as ever courteously--for in the look and bearing of
Maximus there was that _senatorius decor_ which Pliny noted in a great
Roman of another time--his straining eyes seemed to descry a sail in
the quarter he continually watched. Was it only a fishing boat? Raised
upon the couch, he gazed long and fixedly. Impossible as yet to be sure
whether he saw the expected bark; but the sail seemed to draw nearer,
and he watched.

The voice of a servant, who stood at a respectful distance, announced:
'The gracious Lady'; and there appeared a little procession. Ushered by
her eunuch, and attended by half a dozen maidens, one of whom held over
her a silk sunshade with a handle of gold, the sister of Maximus
approached at a stately pace. She was tall, and of features severely
regular; her dark hair--richer in tone and more abundant than her years
could warrant--rose in elaborate braiding intermingled with golden
threads; her waistless robe was of white silk adorned with narrow
stripes of purple, which descended, two on each side, from the
shoulders to the hem, and about her neck lay a shawl of delicate
tissue. In her hand, which glistened with many gems, she carried a
small volume, richly bound, the Psalter. Courtesies of the gravest
passed between her and Maximus, who, though he could not rise from his
couch, assumed an attitude of graceful deference, and Petronilla seated
herself in a chair which a slave had placed for her. After many
inquiries as to her brother's health, the lady allowed her eyes to
wander for a moment, then spoke with the smile of one who imparts rare
tidings.

'Late last night--too late to trouble you with the news--there came a
post from the reverend deacon Leander. He disembarked yesterday at
Salernum, and, after brief repose, hopes to visit us. Your Amiability
will, I am sure, welcome his coming.'

'Assuredly,' answered Maximus, bending his head, whilst his eyes
watched the distant sail. 'Whence comes he?'

'From Sicily. We shall learn, I dare say, the business which took him
there,' added Petronilla, with a self-satisfied softening of her lips.
'The deacon is wont to talk freely with me of whatever concerns the
interests of our holy Church, even as I think you remember, has now and
then deigned--though I know not how I have deserved such honour--to
ask, I dare not say my counsel, but my humble thoughts on this or that.
I think we may expect him before morning. The day will not be too warm
for travel.'

Maximus wore an anxious look, and spoke after hesitation.

'Will his reverend leisure permit him to pass more than one day with
us?'

'Earnestly I hope so. You, beyond doubt, dear lord, my brother, will
desire long privacy with the holy man. His coming at this time is
plainly of Heaven's direction.'

'Lady sister,' answered Maximus, with the faintest smile on his sad
features, 'I would not willingly rob you of a moment's conference with
the good deacon. My own business with him is soon despatched. I would
fain be assured of burial in the Temple of Probus where sleep our
ancestors.'

'Of that,' replied Petronilla, solemnly and not unkindly, 'doubt not
for a moment. Your body shall lie there, by the blessed Peter's
sanctuary, and your tomb be honoured among those of the greatest of our
blood. But there is another honour that I covet for you, an honour
above all that the world can bestow. In these sad times, Maximus, the
Church has need of strengthening. You have no children--'

A glance from the listener checked her, and, before she could resume,
Maximus interposed in a low voice:

'I have yet a daughter.'

'A daughter?' exclaimed Petronilla, troubled, confused, scarce subduing
indignation.

'It is better I should tell you,' continued her brother, with some
sternness, resulting from the efforts to command himself, 'that Basil
is gone to Cumae to see Aurelia, and, if it may be, to lead her to me.
Perhaps even now'--he pointed to the sea--'they are on the way hither.
Let us not speak of it, Petronilla,' he added in a firmer tone. 'It is
my will; that must suffice. Of you I ask nothing save silence.'

The lady arose. Her countenance expressed angry and bitter feeling, but
there was no danger of her uttering what she thought. Gravely, somewhat
coldly, she spoke good wishes for her brother's ease during the day,
and so retired with her retinue. Alone, Maximus sighed, and looked
again across the waters.

In a few minutes the servant who guarded his privacy was again heard
announcing the lord Decius. The Senator turned his eyes with a look of
good-humoured greeting.

'Abroad so early, good cousin? Did the oil fail you last night and send
you too soon to bed?'

'You have not chanced to remember, dear my lord, what day it is?'
returned Decius, when he had bestowed a kiss on his kinsman's cheek.
'Had I but vigour enough, this morning would have seen me on a
pilgrimage to the tomb.' He put out a hand towards Neapolis. 'I rose at
daybreak to meditate the Fourth Eclogue.'

'The ides of October--true. I take shame to myself for having lost the
memory of Virgil in my own distresses.'

Decius, whose years were scarce thirty, had the aspect and the gait of
an elderly man; his thin hair streaked with grey, his cheeks hollow,
his eyes heavy, he stooped in walking and breathed with difficulty; the
tunic and the light cloak, which were all his attire, manifested an
infinite carelessness in matters of costume, being worn and soiled.
Than he, no Roman was poorer; he owned nothing but his clothing and a
few books. Akin to the greatest, and bearing a name of which he was
inordinately proud--as a schoolboy he had once burst into tears when
reciting with passion the Lay of the Decii--felt content to owe his
sustenance to the delicate and respectful kindness of Maximus, who
sympathised with the great wrong he had suffered early in life. This
was no less than wilful impoverishment by his father, who, seeking to
atone for sins by fanaticism, had sold the little he possessed to found
a pilgrims' hospice at Portus, whither, accompanied by the
twelve-year-old boy, he went to live as monk-servitor In a year or two
the penitent died; Decius, in revolt against the tasks to which he was
subjected, managed to escape, made his way to Rome, and appealed to
Maximus. Nominally he still held the post of secretary to his
benefactor, but for many years he had enjoyed entire leisure, all of it
devoted to study. Several times illness had brought him to the
threshold of death, yet it had never conquered his love of letters, his
enthusiasm for his country's past. Few liked him only one or two
understood him: Decius was content that it should be so.

'Let us speak of it,' he continued, unrolling a manuscript of Virgil
some two hundred years old, a gift to him from Maximus. 'Tell me, dear
lord, your true thought: is it indeed a prophecy of the Divine Birth?
To you'--he smiled his gentle, beautiful smile--'may I not confess that
I have doubted this interpretation? Yet'--he cast his eyes down--'the
doubt is perhaps a prompting of the spirit of evil.'

'I know not, Decius, I know not,' replied the sick man with thoughtful
melancholy. 'My father held it a prophecy his father before him.--But
forgive me, I am expecting anxiously the return of Basil; yonder
sail--is it his? Your eyes see further than mine.'

Decius at once put aside his own reflections, and watched the oncoming
bark. Before long there was an end of doubt. Rising in agitation to his
feet, Maximus gave orders that the litter, which since yesterday
morning had been in readiness, should at once be borne with all speed
down to the landing-place. Sail and oars soon brought the boat so near
that Decius was able to descry certain female figures and that of a
man, doubtless Basil, who stood up and waved his arms shoreward.

'She has come,' broke from Maximus; and, in reply to his kinsman's face
of inquiry, he told of whom it was he spoke.

The landing-place was not visible from here. As soon as the boat
disappeared beneath the buildings of the town, Maximus requested of his
companion a service which asked some courage in the performance: it
was, to wait forthwith upon the Lady Petronilla, to inform her that
Aurelia had just disembarked, to require that three female slaves
should be selected to attend upon the visitor. This mission Decius
discharged, not without trembling; he then walked to the main entrance
of the villa, and stood there, the roll of Virgil still in his hand,
until the sound of a horse's hoofs on the upward road announced the
arrival of the travellers. The horseman, who came some yards in advance
of the slave-borne litter, was Basil. At sight of Decius, he
dismounted, and asked in an undertone: 'You know?' The other replied
with the instructions given by Maximus, that the litter, which was
closed against curious eyes, should be straightway conveyed to the
Senator's presence, Basil himself to hold apart until summoned.

And so it was done. Having deposited their burden between two columns
of the portico, the bearers withdrew. The father's voice uttered the
name of Aurelia, and, putting aside the curtains that had concealed
her, she stood before him. A woman still young, and of bearing which
became her birth; a woman who would have had much grace, much charm,
but for the passion which, turned to vehement self-will, had made her
blood acrid. Her great dark eyes burned with quenchless resentment; her
sunken and pallid face told of the sufferings of a tortured pride.

'Lord Maximus,' were her first words, as she stood holding by the
litter, glancing distrustfully about her, 'you have sworn!'

'Hear me repeat my oath,' answered the father, strengthened by his
emotion to move forward from the couch. 'By the blessed martyr
Pancratius, I swear that no harm shall befall you, no constraint shall
be put upon you, that you shall be free to come and to go as you will.'

It was the oath no perjurer durst make. Aurelia gazed into her father's
face, which was wet with tears. She stepped nearer to him, took his
thin, hot hand, and, as in her childhood, bent to kiss the back of the
wrist. But Maximus folded her to his heart.



CHAPTER II

BASIL'S VISION


Basil and Decius paced together a garden alley, between a row of
quince-trees and a hedge of Christ's-thorn; at one end was a fountain
in a great basin of porphyry, at the other a little temple, very old
and built for the worship of Isis, now an oratory under the invocation
of the Blessed Mary. The two young men made a singular contrast, for
Basil, who was in his twenty-third year, had all the traits of health
and vigour: a straight back, lithe limbs, a face looking level on the
world, a lustrous eye often touched to ardour, a cheek of the purest
carnation, a mouth that told of fine instincts, delicate sensibilities,
love of laughter. No less did his costume differ from the student's
huddled garb; his tunic was finely embroidered in many hues, his silken
cloak had a great buckle of gold on the shoulder; he wore ornate shoes,
and by his waist hung a silver-handled dagger in a sheath of chased
bronze. He stepped lightly, as one who asks but the occasion to run and
leap. In their intimate talk, he threw an arm over his companion's
neck, a movement graceful as it was affectionate; his voice had a note
frank and cordial.

Yet Basil was not quite his familiar self to-day; he talked with less
than his natural gaiety, wore a musing look, fell into silences. Now
that Aurelia had come, there was no motive for reserve on that subject
with Decius, and indeed they conversed of their kinswoman with perfect
openness, pitying rather than condemning her, and wondering what would
result from her presence under one roof with the rigid Petronilla. Not
on Aurelia's account did Basil droop his head now and then, look about
him vacantly, bite his lip, answer a question at hazard, play nervously
with his dagger's hilt. All at once, with an abruptness which moved his
companion's surprise, he made an inquiry, seemingly little relevant to
their topic.

'Heard you ever of a Gothic princess--a lady of the lineage of
Theodoric--still living in Italy?'

'Never,' responded Decius, with a puzzled smile. 'Is there such a one?'

'I am told so--I heard it by chance. Yet I know not who she can be. Did
not the direct line of Theodoric end with Athalaric and his sister
Matasuntha, who is now at the Emperor's court?'

'So I believed,' said Decius, 'though I have thought but little of the
matter.'

'I too, trust me,' let fall Basil, with careful carelessness; no actor
he. 'And the vile Theodahad--what descendants did he leave?'

'He was a scholar,' said the other musingly, 'deep read in Plato.'

'None the less a glutton and a murderer and a coward, who did well to
give his throat to the butcher as he ran away from his enemies.
Children he had, I think--but--'

Basil broke off on a wandering thought. He stood still, knitted his
brows, and sniffed the air. At this moment there appeared in the alley
a serving man, a young and active fellow of very honest visage, who
stood at some yards' distance until Basil observed him.

'What is it, Felix?' inquired his master.

The attendant stepped forward, and made known that the lord Marcian had
even now ridden up to the villa, with two followers, and desired to
wait upon Basil. This news brought a joyful light to the eyes of the
young noble; he hastened to welcome his friend, the dearest he had.
Marcian, a year or two his elder, was less favoured by nature in face
and form: tall and vigorous enough of carriage, he showed more bone and
sinew than flesh; and his face might have been that of a man worn by
much fasting, so deep sunk were the eyes, so jutting the cheek-bones,
and so sharp the chin; its cast, too, was that of a fixed and native
melancholy. But when he smiled, these features became much more
pleasing, and revealed a kindliness of temper such as might win the
love of one who knew him well. His dress was plain, and the dust of
Campanian roads lay somewhat thick upon him.

'By Bacchus!' cried his friend, as they embraced each other, 'fortune
is good to me to-day. Could I have had but one wish granted, it would
have been to see Marcian. I thought you still in Rome. What makes you
travel? Not in these days solely to visit a friend, I warrant. By Peter
and Paul and as many more saints as you can remember, I am glad to hold
your hand! What news do you bring?'

'Little enough,' answered Marcian, with a shrug of the shoulders. The
natural tune of his voice harmonised with his visage, and he spoke as
one who feels a scornful impatience with the affairs of men. 'At Rome,
they wrangle about goats' wool, as is their wont. Anything else? Why,
yes; the freedman Chrysanthus glories in an ex-consulate. It cost him
the trifle of thirty pounds of gold.'

Basil laughed contemptuously, half angrily.

'We must look to our honours,' he exclaimed. 'If Chrysanthus be
ex-consul, can you and I be satisfied with less than
ex-Praetorian-Prefect? What will be the price, think you? Has Bessas
hung out a tariff yet in the Forum?'

'He knows better than to fix a maximum, as long as a wealthy fool
remains in the city--though that won't be much longer, I take it.'

'Why come you hither, dear my lord?' urged Basil, with more seriousness.

Regarding him with a grave eye, his friend replied in an undertone:

'To spy upon you.'

'Ha!--In very truth?'

'You could wish me a more honourable office,' Marcian went on, smiling
sadly. 'Yet, if you think of it, in these days, it is some honour to be
a traitor to both sides. There has been talk of you in Rome. Nay, who
knows how or why! They have nothing to do but talk, and these victories
of the Goth have set up such a Greek cackle as was never heard since
Helen ran away to Troy,--and, talking of Greek, I bear a letter for you
from Heliodora.'

Basil, who had been listening gravely, started at this name and uttered
an idle laugh. From a wallet hanging at his girdle, Marcian drew forth
the missive.

'That may wait,' said Basil, glancing indifferently at the folded and
sealed paper before he hid it away. 'Having said so much, you must tell
me more. Put off that sardonic mask--I know very well what hides
beneath it--and look me in the eye. You have surprised some danger?'

'I heard you spoken of--by one who seldom opens his lips but to ill
purpose. It was not difficult for me to wade through the shallows of
the man's mind, and for my friend's sake to win his base confidence.
Needing a spy, and being himself a born traitor, he readily believed me
at his beck; in truth he had long marked me, so I found, for a cankered
soul who waited but the occasion to advance by infamy. I held the
creature in my hand; I turned him over and over, and he, the while,
thinking me his greedy slave. And so, usurping the place of some other
who would have ambushed you in real enmity, I came hither on his
errand.'

'Marcian,' said the listener, 'I could make a guess at that man's name.'

'Nay, I doubt if you could, and indeed it matters nothing. Enough that
I may do you some little service.'

'For which,' replied Basil, 'I cannot pay you, since all my love is
already yours. And she--Heliodora,' he added, with a careless gesture,
'knows of your mission?'

'Of my mission, no; but of my proposed journey. Though indeed she may
know more than I suppose. Who shall say what reaches the ear of
Heliodora--?'

'You have not heard perhaps that her husband is dead?'

'The Prefect dead?' exclaimed Basil.

'Three weeks ago.--Rather suddenly--after supper. An indigestion, no
doubt.'

Marcian spoke with peculiar dryness, averting his eyes from the
listener. Upon Basil's face came a deep flush; he took out the folded
paper again, and held it at arm's length.

'You mean--? You think--?' he stammered.

'About women I think not at all,' said the other, 'as you well know.
There is talk, talk--what care I?'

Basil tore the letter open. It contained a lock of raven-black hair,
tied with gold thread, and on the paper was written, in Greek, 'I am
free.' Again his cheek flushed; he crushed paper and hair together in
his hand.

'Let us never again speak of her,' he exclaimed, moving away from the
spot. 'Before I left Rome, I told you that I would gladly see her no
more, and you smiled dubiously. Believe me now. I abhor the thought of
her. If she ask you for my reply, repeat those words.'

'Nay, dear my lord, in that I will beg to be excused,' replied Marcian
with his melancholy smile.

They were walking silently, side by side, when the servant Felix again
presented himself before them. Maximus, having heard of the arrival of
Marcian from Rome, requested that he and Basil would grant him a moment
of their leisure. At once the young men turned to obey this summons. On
the way, Basil communicated to his friend in a whisper the event of the
day. A couple of hours having passed since Aurelia's coming, the
Senator had in some degree recovered from his agitation; he lay now in
a room which opened upon the central court of the villa, a room adorned
with rich marbles and with wall-paintings which were fading under the
hand of time. Deathly pale, scarce able to raise his head from the
cushion of the couch, he none the less showed a countenance bright with
joyous emotion. His quivering voice strove to welcome the visitor
cheerily.

'What news from the city, dear lord Marcian? How are all our friends?
Do they begin to forget us?'

'Not so, Illustrious,' answered the young man, with head bent. 'You are
much desired in the Senate, where grave counsel is just now greatly in
demand.'

'The Senate, the Senate,' murmured Maximus, as if reminded of something
he had long forgotten. 'They must needs lack my voice, I fear. What do
men say of the Gothic king?'

Marcian threw a glance at Basil, then towards the curtained portals of
the room; lastly, his eyes turned upon the sick man, whom he regarded
steadily.

'They say much--or little,' fell from his lips.

'I understand you,' replied the Senator, with a friendly movement of
the head. 'Here we may speak freely. Does Totila draw near to Rome?'

'He is still in Tuscany, and rumours come from his army that he will
pass into Samnium. All the strongholds of Umbria are his; all the
conquests of Belisarius from Ariminum to Spoletium.'

'Where are the Roman captains?'

'Each in his city of the far north, holding the plunder he has got, and
looking for the chance of more. In Rome--'

Marcian paused significantly, and the Senator took up his words.

'In Rome rules Bessas.'

'The Thracian,' remarked Basil bitterly.

'And in Ravenna,' added the sick man, 'Alexandros--the coin-clipper.'

The eyes of Basil and of Marcian encountered. Between them came no
shadow of distrust, the smile they exchanged told of loyal affection.

'This Totila,' pursued Marcian, 'seems to be not only a brave and
capable commander, but a shrewd politician. Everywhere he spares the
people; he takes nothing by force; his soldiers buy at market; he
protects the farmer against the taxing Greek. As a result, his army
grows; where he passes, he leaves a good report, and before him goes a
welcome. At this rate he will soon make all Italy his own. And unless
the Patricius returns--'

By this title men were wont to speak of Belisarius. Hearing it, Basil
threw up an arm, his eyes flashing.

'The Patricius!' he exclaimed fervently. 'There is the man who might
have saved us!'

'By the holy Laurentius!' murmured Maximus, looking sadly at his
nephew, 'I have all but come to think as you do.'

'Who that knew him,' cried Basil, 'but must have seen him, in
thought--not King, for only the barbarians have kings--but
Emperor--Emperor of the West, ruling at Rome as in the days gone by!
There lives no man more royal. I have seen him day by day commanding
and taking counsel; I have talked with him in his privacy. In the camp
before Ravenna there was but one voice, one hope, as to what should
follow when the city opened its gates, and the Goths themselves only
surrendered because they thought to be ruled by him. But for the
scruple of his conscience--and should not that have yielded to the
general good?'

'Is breach of faith so light a thing?' fell from Marcian, under his
breath.

'Nay,' answered the other, with drooping head, 'but he did break faith
with _us_. We had his promise; we saw him Emperor--'

'You should have won Antonina,' said Marcian, with a return to his
sarcastic humour. 'She must have mused long and anxiously, weighing the
purple against Theodora's fury. The Patrician's fidelity stood by his
wife's prudence.'

'The one blot upon his noble nature,' uttered Basil, with a sigh. 'His
one weakness. How,' he cried scornfully, 'can the conqueror of half the
world bend before such a woman?'

Fatigued already by the conversation, Maximus had lain back and closed
his eyes. Very soon the two young men received his permission to
withdraw, and, as they left the room, the physician entered. Obedient
to this counsellor the invalid gave several hours to repose, but midway
in the afternoon he again summoned his daughter, with whom he had a
long and agitating conversation. He besought Aurelia to cast off her
heretical religion, putting before her all the perils to which she
exposed herself, by abandonment of the true faith, in this world and
the next. His life was hurrying to its end; hour by hour he felt the
fever wasting what little strength remained to him; and when he was
gone who would protect her against the enmities to which religion and
avarice would expose her? Aurelia's resistance was sullen rather than
resolute; her countenance, her words, suggested that she was thinking
more of what it would cost her pride to become a penitent than of any
obstacle in conscience. At length she declared plainly that never would
she humiliate herself before her aunt Petronilla, who had offered her
no greeting and held scornfully apart. Here, as Maximus too well knew,
lay the great difficulty of the situation; these women hated each
other, and their hate would only be exasperated by Aurelia's
conversion. He spoke of the deacon Leander, now on his way
hither--begged Aurelia to listen to the reverend man, and gave solemn
assurance that, the moment she abjured her errors, he would place her
in a position of wealth and authority far above that of Petronilla. So
utterly did he exhaust himself in entreaty and argument that he fell
into a fainting fit. The physician was called for, and Aurelia, she too
overcome with violent emotions, again retired to the part of the villa
which had been assigned to her.

The Anicii of a bygone time, who took their solace here when marbles
and mosaics, paintings and tapestries, were yet new, would have looked
with consternation on halls so crumbling and bare, chambers so
ill-appointed, as these in which the guests of the Senator Maximus had
their dwelling. Space there was in abundance, but of comfort in the
guest-rooms little enough; and despite her brother's commands,
Petronilla had seen to it that Aurelia was not luxuriously lodged.
Better accommodation awaited the deacon Leander, whose arrival was
announced an hour before sunset by a trotting courier. His journey from
Salernum had so wearied the ecclesiastic that he could but give a hand
to be kissed by his hostess, and straightway retire into privacy; the
repast that was ready for him had to be served beside his couch, and
soon after night had fallen, Leander slumbered peacefully. Meanwhile
Basil and Decius and their friend from Rome had supped together, making
what cheer they might under the circumstances; the Surrentine wine was
a little acrid, falling short of its due age, but it sufficed to
animate the talk. Presently Decius withdrew, to study or to meditate
through some hours of the night, for he slept ill; the others, going
apart to a gallery lighted by the full moon, sat wrapped in thick,
hooded cloaks, to converse awhile before they slept. With their voices
mingled the soft splash of a fountain.

Basil was telling of his journey to Cumae, and of the difficulty he had
had in persuading Aurelia to visit her father.

'Does she live alone there?' inquired Marcian.

There was a pause before the reply, and when Basil spoke his voice fell
to a note of half-hesitating confidence.

'Alone? yes,' he said, 'in the sense that no relative abode with her;
but she had a companion--a lady--very young.' And here he again paused,
as if in some embarrassment.

'A Roman?' was Marcian's next question, carelessly thrown out for he
had little interest in Aurelia, and was half occupied with other
thoughts.

'No,' answered Basil, his voice subdued. 'A Goth; and, she says, of the
royal blood, of the line of Theodoric.'

His friend became attentive. 'A Gothic princess? Whose daughter, then?'
asked Marcian. And Basil, who desired nothing more than to speak on
this subject, little by little threw off his hesitancy, grew rapid and
eager in narration. He told how, on his first introduction to Aurelia's
presence, he had found sitting with her a young girl, whose aspect
proclaimed her of the Gothic race. In a second interview with his
cousin, alone, Aurelia had spoken of this companion, bestowing much
praise upon her, and declaring that they were united by an affection
which nothing could diminish. She was of Amal blood; more than that
Aurelia seemed unwilling to reveal.

'Did you not learn her name?' asked the listener.

'Veranilda.'

Marcian echoed the melodious syllables, but they told him nothing.

'And did you make no inquiry of those with whom you spoke?'

'I conversed as little as might be with strangers, and purposely held
apart from our acquaintances in the town; this was my uncle's express
command.'

'You had no second sight of her?'

'Indeed I had; and talked with her moreover. Marcian, how can I
describe her to you? The words which suffice for common beauty sound
meaningless when I would use them to depict Veranilda. Shall I tell you
that she has hair of the purest gold, eyes brighter than the sky at
noon, lips like the flower of the pomegranate, a cheek so fair, so
soft--nay, you may well laugh at these idle phrases--'

'Not your phrases,' said Marcian, 'but your voice as it utters them
sets me smiling. Talk on. The chaste goddess who beams above us inspire
you with worthy terms!'

'There you speak to the point,' pursued Basil ardently. 'For Veranilda
is chaste as she is beautiful. Blessed saints! how my heart shrank in
abhorrence when I saw that letter this morning; and how fain I would
blot from my memory that baseness of the past! O Marcian, truest of
friends, I slighted your counsel, scoffed at your warnings, but now I
know how wisely and how honestly you spoke.'

'Be that as it may,' said the other. 'But is it possible that, on a
mere glimpse, this Gothic maiden should so have vanquished you?'

'It had been more prudent to hold my peace. But you know me of old.
When I am moved, I must needs unbosom myself; happy that I have one
whom I can trust. Her voice, Marcian! This whisper of the night breeze
in the laurels falls rudely upon the ear after Veranilda's speech.
Never have I heard a tone so soft, so gentle. The first word she spoke
thrilled through me, as never did voice before; and I listened,
listened, hoping she would speak again.'

'Who may she be? Has not the lady Aurelia adorned her origin? Golden
hair and blue eyes are no rarity among daughters of the Goths.'

'Had you seen her!' exclaimed Basil, and grew rapturous again. Whilst
he exhausted language in the effort to prove how remote was Veranilda
from any shape of loveliness easily presented by memory or imagination,
Marcian pondered.

'I can think of but one likelihood,' was his quiet remark, when his
friend had become silent. 'King Theodahad had a daughter, who married
the Gothic captain, Ebrimut.'

'The traitor,' murmured Basil uneasily.

'Or friend of the Romans, as you will. He delivered Rhegium to
Belisarius, and enjoys his reward at Byzantium. What if he left a child
behind him?'

Basil repulsed the suggestion vehemently.

'Not that! I had half thought of it myself; but no. Aurelia said of the
house of Theodoric.'

'Why so would be a daughter of Ebrimut, through her mother--who was the
daughter of Theodahad, who was the son of Amalafrida, who was the
sister of Theodoric himself.'

'She could not have meant that,' protested Basil. 'Child of a mercenary
traitor, who opened Italy to his people's foe! Not that! Had you seen
her, you would not believe it.'

'Oh, my good Basil,' laughed the other, 'do you think I should see her
with your eyes? But perhaps we conjecture idly quite missing the mark.
What does it matter? You have no intention, I hope, of returning to
Cumae?'

Basil opened his lips to reply, but thought better of it, and said
nothing. Then his friend turned to speak of the ecclesiastical visitor
who had that evening arrived, and, the subject not proving very
fruitful, each presently betook himself to his night's repose.



CHAPTER III

THE DEACON LEANDER


The deacon Leander was some forty years of age, stoutish, a trifle
asthmatic, with a long visage expressive of much shrewdness, and bushy
eyebrows, which lent themselves at will to a look of genial
condescension, of pious austerity, or of stern command. His dark hair
and reddish beard were carefully trimmed; so were the nails of his
shapely, delicate hands. His voice, now subject to huskiness, had until
a few years ago been remarkably powerful and melodious; no deacon in
Rome was wont to excite more admiration by his chanting of the Gradual;
but that glory had passed away, and at the present time Leander's
spiritual activity was less prominent than his services as a most
capable steward of the patrimony of St. Peter. He travelled much, had
an extensive correspondence, and was probably rather respected than
reverenced by most lay folk with whom he came in contact.

But in the eyes of the lady Petronilla, Leander was an ideal churchman.
No one treated her judgment with so much respect; no one confided to
her curious ear so many confidential matters, ranging from the secret
scandals of aristocratic Rome to high debates of ecclesiastical
polity--or what Petronilla regarded as such. Their closer acquaintance
began with the lady's presentation of certain columns of tawny Numidian
marble, from a ruined temple she had inherited, to the deacon's
basilica, St. Laurentius; and many were the donations which Leander had
since accepted from her on behalf of the Church. In return, he had once
or twice rejoiced her with the gift of a precious relic, such as came
into the hands of few below royal rank; thus had Petronilla obtained
the filings of the chain of St. Peter, which, enclosed in a golden key,
hung upon her bosom. Some day, as the deacon well knew, this pious
virgin would beg him to relieve her of all her earthly possessions, and
enter into some holy retreat; but she awaited the death of her brother,
by whose will she would doubtless benefit more or less substantially.

If in view of the illness of Maximus, Petronilla had regarded the
deacon's visit as providential, the event of yesterday moved her to a
more agitated thankfulness for the conference she was about to enjoy.
After a night made sleepless by dread and wrath, she rose at daybreak
and passed in a fever of impatience the time which elapsed before her
reverend guest issued from his chamber. This being the fourth day of
the week, Petronilla held rigid fast until the hour of nones; and of
course no refreshment was offered to the churchman, who, with that
smiling placidity, that graceful self-possession, which ever
distinguished him in such society, at length entered the inner hall,
and suavely, almost tenderly, greeted his noble hostess. Brimming over
as she was with anxiety and indignation, Petronilla allowed nothing of
this to appear in her reception of the revered friend. To his inquiries
touching the health of the Senator, she replied with significant
gravity that Maximus had suffered during the night, and was this
morning, by the physician's report, much weaker; she added not a word
on the momentous subject presently to be broached. Then Leander, after
viewing with many compliments a piece of rich embroidery which occupied
the lady's leisure, and or its completion would of course be put at his
disposal, took a seat, set the tips of his fingers together, and began
to chat pleasantly of his journey. Many were the pious offerings which
had fallen to him upon his way: that of the Sicilian lady who gave her
little all to be used to maintain the lamps in the basilica of the
Chief Apostle; that of the merchant encountered on shipboard, who gave
ten pounds of gold to purchase the freedom of slaves; that of the
wealthy curial in Lucania, healed of disease by miracle on the feast of
St. Cyprian, who bestowed upon the church in gratitude many acres of
olive-bearing land, and promised an annual shipload of prime hogs to
feed St. Peter's poor. By smooth transition he passed to higher themes:
with absent eyes turned to the laurel-planted court on to which the
hall opened, he spoke as if scarcely aware of a listener, of troubles
at Rome occasioned by imprudences, indiscretions--what should he
say--of the Holy Father. As Petronilla bent forward, all tremulous
curiosity, he lowered his voice, grew frankly confidential. The Pope
had been summoned to Byzantium, to discuss certain points of doctrine
with the Emperor; his departure was delayed, but no doubt in his
weakness he would obey. Verily, the lack of courage--not to use severer
terms--so painfully evident in Pope Vigilius, was a grave menace to the
Church--the Catholic Church, which, rightly claiming to rule
Christendom, should hold no terms with the arrogance of Justinian.
Could it be wondered that the Holy Father was disliked--not to say
hated--by the people of Rome? By his ill management the papal granaries
had of late been so ill stored that the poor had suffered famine, the
Greeks having put an end to that gratuitous distribution of food to
which the Roman populace had from of old been accustomed. On this
account, chiefly, had Leander journeyed to Sicily, to look after the
supplies of corn, and seek out those who were to blame for the recent
negligence. His bushy eyebrows gave a hint of their sterner
possibilities as he spoke of the measures he had taken, the reproofs
and threats he had distributed.

'May I live,' breathed Petronilla, with modest emphasis, 'to see a
great, a noble, a puissant Pontiff in the Apostolic Chair!'

Whereat the deacon smiled, well understanding whither the lady looked
for her ideal Pope. She went on to speak of the part Vigilius had
played in the deposition and miserable death of his predecessor
Silverius, and that, as was too well known, at the bidding of haughty,
unscrupulous women, the Empress Theodora and her friend Antonina, wife
of Belisarius. Verily, the time had come for a great reform at the
Lateran; the time had come, and perhaps the divine instrument was not
far to seek. Whereupon Petronilla murmured ardently, and the deacon
again smiled.

There was a pause. Having permitted Leander to muse a little, his
hostess turned the conversation to the troublous topic of her thoughts;
and began by saying how her brother would esteem the privilege of
counsel and solace from one so qualified to impart them. But alas she
must make known a distressful occurrence, whereby the office of a
spiritual adviser by the bedside of Maximus must needs be complicated
and made painful; and therewith Petronilla related the events of
yesterday. As he listened, the deacon knitted his brows, but in thought
rather than in affliction; and when the speaker was silent, he still
mused awhile.

'Gracious madam,' he began at length solemnly, 'you of course hold no
intercourse with this lady?'

'None! I have shrunk ever from the sight of her.'

'Such abhorrence of error witnesses to the purity and the illumination
of your soul: I could have expected nothing less from Petronilla. You
know not whether the misguided woman shows any disposition to return to
the true faith?'

'I fear not,' replied Petronilla, looking rather as if the fear were a
hope. 'Her nature is stubborn: she has the pride of the fallen angels.'

'And her father, I am afraid, has no longer the strength to treat her
sin with due severity?'

'Earthly affection has subdued him,' replied the lady, shaking her
head. 'Who knows,' she added, 'how far his weakness may lead my poor
brother?'

She glanced about the hall, and Leander perfectly understood what was
in her mind.

'Be not over anxious,' he replied soothingly. 'Leave this in my hands.
Should it be necessary, I can dispose of some days before pursuing my
journey. Take comfort, noble and pious lady! The truth will prevail.'

The deacon's first step was to obtain a private interview with the
physician. He then made known his desire to wait upon Maximus, and with
no great delay was admitted. Tactfully, sagaciously, he drew the
sufferer to confide in him, to see in him, not so much a spiritual
admonisher as a counsellor and a support in worldly difficulties.
Leander was already well aware that the Senator had small religious
zeal, but belonged to the class of men, numerous at this time, who,
whilst professing the Christian and the orthodox faith, were in truth
philosophers rather than devotees, and regarded dogmatic questions with
a calm not easily distinguished from indifference. Maximus had scarcely
spoken of his daughter, when the deacon understood it was Aurelia's
temporal, much more than her eternal, interests which disturbed the
peace of the dying man. Under Roman law, bequests to a heretic were
null and void; though this enactment had for the most part been set
aside in Italy under Gothic rule, it might be that the Imperial code
would henceforth prevail. Maximus desired to bestow upon his daughter a
great part of his possessions. Petronilla, having sufficient means of
her own, might well be content with a moderate bequest; Basil, the
relative next of kin, had a worthy claim upon his uncle's generous
treatment, and Decius, who needed but little, must have that little
assured. The father had hoped that his entreaties, together with a
prospect of substantial reward, would prevail against Aurelia's
pride-rooted heresy, but as yet he pleaded and tempted in vain. Could
the deacon help him?

Leander seemed to meditate profoundly. The subject of his thought was
what seemed to him a glaring omission in this testament of Maximus. He
breathed an intimate inquiry: Was the sick man at peace with his own
soul? Had he sought strength and solace from the reverend presbyter of
Surrentum, his spiritual father in this district? Maximus replied that
he had neglected no ordinary means of grace. Whilst speaking, he met
the deacon's eye; its significance was not to be mistaken.

'I should have mentioned,' he said, averting his look, 'that the
presbyter Andreas and his poor will not be forgotten. Moreover, many of
my slaves will receive their freedom.'

Leander murmured approvingly. Again he reflected, and again he ventured
an inquiry: Maximus would desire, no doubt, to rest with his glorious
ancestors in the mortuary chapel known as the Temple of Probus, by St.
Peter's? And seeing the emotion this excited in his listener he went on
to speak at large of the Anician house--first among the great families
of Rome to embrace Christianity, and distinguished, generation after
generation, by their support of the church, which indeed numbered among
its Supreme Pontiffs one of their line, the third Felix. Did not the
illustrious father of Maximus lead the Christian senators in their
attack upon that lingering shame, the heathen Lupercalia, since so
happily supplanted by the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed
Mary? He, dying--added Leander, with an ecstatic smile--made over to
the Apostolic See an estate in Sicily which yielded every year two rich
harvests to the widows, the orphans, the sick, and the destitute of
Rome.

'Deacon,' broke from the hot lips of Maximus, who struggled to raise
himself, 'if I do the like, will you swear to me to use your influence,
your power, for the protection of my daughter?'

It was the voice of nature in its struggle with the universal doom;
reason had little part in the hope with which those fading eyes fixed
themselves upon the countenance of the self-possessed churchman.

'Heaven forbid,' was Leander's reply, 'that I should bind myself in
such terms to perform an office of friendship, which under any
circumstances would be my anxious care.'

'Even,' asked Maximus, 'if she persist in her heresy?'

'Even so, my dear lord, remembering from whom she springs. But,' he
added, in a soothing voice, 'let me put your mind at rest. Trust me,
the lady Aurelia will not long cling to her error. In poverty, in
humiliation, she might be obstinate; but as the possessor of
wealth--restored to her due rank--oh, my gracious lord, be assured that
her conversion will soon follow.'

The same thought had occurred to Maximus. He sighed in profound relief,
and regarded the deacon gratefully.

'In that hope I rest. Give me your promise to befriend her, and ask of
me what you will.'

Save for the hours she passed at her father's side, Aurelia kept a
strict retirement, guarded by the three female slaves whom Petronilla
had reluctantly assigned to her. Of them she required no intimate
service, having her own attendants, an elderly woman, the nurse of her
childhood, who through all changes of fortune had never quitted her,
and a younger, half-Goth, half-Italian, who discharged humbler duties.
She occupied a small dwelling apart from the main structure of the
villa, but connected with it by a portico: this was called the House of
Proba, it having been constructed a hundred years ago for the lady
Faltonia Proba, who wrote verses, and perhaps on that account desired a
special privacy. Though much neglected, the building had beauty of
form, and was full of fine work in mosaic. Here, in a little peristyle,
where shrubs and creepers had come to wild growth, the sore-hearted
lady sat brooding or paced backwards and forwards, her eyes ever on the
ground. When yet a maiden she had several times spent summer at
Surrentum; her memory revived that early day which seemed so long ago;
she lived again with her brothers and sisters, all dead, with her
mother whom griefs had aged so soon. Then came a loveless marriage,
which soon involved her in the public troubles of the time; for her
husband, whose estates lay in Tuscany, was robbed of all by Theodahad,
and having vainly sought redress from the young King Athalaric, decided
to leave Italy for Byzantium, to which end Aurelia sold a property in
Campania, her dower. Before they could set forth upon their journey,
her husband caught the plague and died. In second wedlock she would
have known contentment but for the alienation of her kin and the
scornful hostility of all her class. When widowhood again befell her
she was saved from want by a small treasure of money which remained
hidden in the dwelling at Cumae when the Gothic warrior, her lord,
escaped from Belisarius. As this store diminished, Aurelia had looked
forward with dread, for she hoped nothing from her father. And now that
such fears seemed to be over, her long tortured pride clamoured for
solace. It was not enough to regain her father's love and enjoy an
inheritance; she wished to see her enemies at her feet, and to trample
upon them--her enemies being not only Petronilla and certain other
kinsfolk but all the nobility of Rome, nay, all the orthodox of the
Christian church. Pacing, pacing alone, she brooded vast schemes of
vengeance.

When it was announced to her that the Roman deacon besought an
interview, she at first refused to receive him. Thereupon Leander sent
her a few lines in writing, most ceremoniously worded, in which he
declared that his purposes were those of a disinterested friend, that
no word such as could pain or offend her would pass his lips, and that
he had it in his power to communicate something which would greatly
benefit her. Aurelia reflected disdainfully, but at length consented to
the churchman's approach. Leander's bearing as he entered her presence
was as elaborately courteous as the phrasing of his letter.

'Noble lady,' he began, standing with bowed head, 'let not your eyes
take note of my garb. See in me only a devoted servant of your
illustrious house. His Magnificence, your father, assured of the
sincerity wherewith I place at his command such powers and
opportunities as I owe to heaven's grace, has deigned to confide in me
regarding the disposition of his worldly affairs whereto he is prompted
by languishing health.'

He paused a moment, but Aurelia had no word of reply to this exordium.
Seeing her keep the same haughty posture in her chair, with eyes
scornfully averted as if she scarce listened, Leander proceeded to
disclose his mind in less ornate terms By subtle grades of confidential
speech, beginning with a declaration of the sympathy moved in him by
the parent's love, the daughter's distress, he came with lowering
voice, with insinuating tone, with blandly tolerant countenance, to the
kernel of his discourse; it contained a suggestion which might--he only
said _might_--aid her amid the manifold perplexities of her position.
By this time Aurelia was more attentive; the churchman almost
affectionate in his suavity, grew still more direct; and at length, in
a voice which only reached the ear of the listener, he spoke thus:

'I understand why you stepped aside from the way of truth; I perceive
the obstacles hindering your return. I know the tender impulses which
urge you to soothe your father's last hours, and, no less, the motives,
natural to a woman of your beauty, of your birth, which are at strife
with that tenderness and threaten to overcome it. Could you discover a
means of yielding to your filial affection, and at the same time
safeguarding your noble pride, would you not gladly use it? Such a
means I can point out to you.'

He became silent, watching Aurelia. She, won by the perspicacity which
read her heart, had put aside all arrogance, and wore a look of grave
intentness.

'Let me know it,' she murmured.

'It is this. Return to the true belief, but guard awhile the secret of
your conversion. That it shall not be disclosed until you wish, I can
give you firm assurance--if need be, on solemn oath. You will privately
make known to your father that he has prevailed, thereby you put his
flesh and spirit at rest,--he will die blessing you, and enriching you
to the full extent of his desire. You will then also set your signature
to a paper, which I shall write, making confession of the orthodox
faith, and undertaking to be duly reconciled with the church, by the
imposition of hands, at some convenient season. That is all that will
be asked of you for the present. The lady Petronilla'--he all but
smiled in uttering the name--'shall not even suspect what has happened.'

'Will this villa be mine?' asked the listener after brief reflection.

'This villa shall be yours.'

An exultant gleam shone in Aurelia's eyes.

'Deacon,' she said sternly, 'your promise is not enough. Swear to me
that no one living, save my father and you, shall know.'

From his bosom Leander drew forth a little golden cross.

'This,' he said reverently, 'contains dust of iron from the bars on
which the blessed Laurentius suffered martyrdom.'

'Swear also,' demanded Aurelia, 'by the Holy Pancratius.' In the name
of both saints Leander took his oath of secrecy. Petronilla was of
course aware that the deacon had been admitted to audience by her
niece. When he descended, she awaited him at the end of the portico,
and her look questioned him.

'Stubborn, stubborn!' murmured Leander, shaking his head, and passed on
as though in troubled thought.

Later in the day, when she had seen her father, Aurelia made known to
her cousin Basil, who had requested an interview, that he might come.
His cousin received him smilingly, almost affectionately.

Marcian having this morning taken his leave, called away by some
unexplained business to Neapolis, Basil had been on the point of taking
Decius into his amorous confidence, when this summons rejoiced him.

'Is the letter written?' were Basil's first words.

'It is here. Can you despatch it at once?'

'I will take it myself,' he answered promptly.

Aurelia shook her head.

'You must not. My father's life is fast failing. No one can say which
hour may be his last. If he asked for you, and you were absent--'

'Felix shall go,' said Basil. 'The wind is favourable. He may have to
ride back to-morrow, but we can trust him to make all speed.'

'He took the letter, which was superscribed, 'To the most noble lady
Veranilda.'

'Dear cousin, you have spoken of me?' he asked with a wistful look.

'I have said, good cousin,' Aurelia answered pleasantly, 'that you
wished to be spoken of.'

'Only that?'

'What more should I say? Your Amiability is too hasty. Remember that
you have scarce seen her.'

'Scarce seen Veranilda!' exclaimed Basil. 'Why, it seems to me as
though I had known her for years! Have we not talked together?'

'Once. The first time does not count; you exchanged hardly a dozen
words. When,' added Aurelia, smiling, 'were you so dashed in a maid's
presence?'

'Nay, never! I am not accused of too much modesty; but when I entered
and looked on Veranilda--oh, it was the strangest moment of my life!
Noble cousin,' he added pleadingly, 'honoured Aurelia, do but tell me
what is her parentage?'

'How does that concern your Excellence? I have told you all that it
imports you to know--at all events for the present. Cousin Basil, you
delay the letter; I should wish her to have it before nightfall, for
she thinks anxiously of me.'

'I go. When may I again speak with you?'

'You shall hear when I am at leisure.'

Basil despatched his servant to Cumae not with one letter only, but
with two. Greatly daring, he had himself written to Veranilda; in brief
terms, but every word tremulous with his passion. And for half an hour
he stood watching the sail which wafted his messenger over the gulf,
ruffled to-day by a south-west wind, driver of clouds. Little thought
had he to give to the dying Maximus, but at the ninth hour he turned
his steps to the oratory, once a temple of Isis, and heard the office,
and breathed a prayer for his kindly relative. Which duty discharged,
he prayed more fervently, to whatever saint or deity has ear for such
petitions, that he might be loved by the Gothic maid.

This evening Maximus seemed to suffer less. He lay with closed eyes, a
look of calm on his worn countenance. Beside him sat Decius, reading in
low tones from that treatise on the Consolation of Philosophy, which
Boethius wrote in prison, a hook wherein Maximus sought comfort, this
last year or two more often than in the Evangel, or the Lives of
Saints. Decius himself would have chosen a philosopher of older time,
but in the words of his own kinsman, Maximus found an appeal more
intimate, a closer sympathy, than in ancient teaching. He loved
especially the passages of verse; and when the reader came to those
lines--

  'O felix hominum genus,
  Si vestros animos amor
  Quo coelum regitur, regat,'

he raised his hand, smiling with peculiar sweetness.

'Pause there, O Decius,' he said, in a weak but clear voice; 'let me
muse awhile.' And he murmured the verses to himself.



CHAPTER IV

TO CUMAE


The Bishop of Surrentum, an elderly man and infirm, had for the past
fortnight been unable to leave his house, but day by day he received
news of what passed at the villa of Maximus, and held with the
presbyter, Andreas, many colloquies on that weighty topic, the
senator's testament. As it happened, neither bishop nor presbyter had
much aptitude for worldly affairs; they were honest, simple-minded
clerics, occupied with visions and marvels and the saving details of
dogma; exultant whenever a piece of good fortune befell their church,
but modest in urging a claim at the bedside of the sick. Being the son
of a freedman who had served in the Anician house, the bishop could not
approach Maximus without excessive reverence; before Petronilla he was
even more unduly awed.

On Sunday morning the good prelate lay wakeful at the hour of matins,
and with quavering voice chanted to himself the psalm of the office
from which his weakness held him apart. Presently the door opened, and
in the dim lamp-light appeared the presbyter Andreas, stepping softly.
He made known that an urgent message had just summoned him to the
villa; Maximus was near his end.

'I, too, will come,' exclaimed the bishop, rising in his bed and
ringing loudly a little hand-bell.

'Venerable father! your health--'

'Hasten, hasten, Andreas! I follow.'

In less than an hour he descended from his litter, and, resting on the
arms of two servants, was conducted to the chamber of the dying man.
Andreas had just administered the last rites; whether the fixed eyes
still saw was doubtful. At a murmur of 'the bishop' those by the
doorway reverently drew aside. On one side of the bed were Aurelia and
the deacon; on the other, Petronilla and Basil and Decius. Though
kneeling, the senator's daughter held herself proudly. Though tears
were on her face, she hardly disguised an air of triumph. Nor was the
head of Petronilla bent; her countenance looked hard and cold as
marble. Leander, a model of decorum, stepped with grave greeting
towards the prelate, and whispered a word or two. In the stillness that
followed there quivered a deep breath. Flavius Anicius Maximus had
lived his life.

When the bishop, supported by Leander and Andreas, rose from prayer, he
was led by the obsequious clerics to a hall illumined by several lamps,
where two brasiers gave forth a grateful glow in the chill of the
autumn morning. Round about the walls, in niches, stood busts carved or
cast of the ancestors of him who lay dead. Here, whilst voices of
lamentation sounded from without, Leander made known to the prelate and
the presbyter the terms of the will. Basil was instituted 'heir'; that
is to say, he became the legal representative of the dead man, and was
charged with the distribution of those parts of the estate bequeathed
to others. First of the legatees stood Aurelia. The listeners learnt
with astonishment that the obstinate heretic was treated as though her
father had had no cause of complaint against her; she was now mistress
of the Surrentine estate, as well as of the great house in Rome, and of
other property. A lamentable thing, the deacon admitted suavely; but,
for his part, he was not without hope, and he fixed his eyes with a
peculiar intensity on the troubled bishop.

Petronilla drew near. The will was already known to her in every
detail, and she harboured a keen suspicion of the secret which lay
behind it. Leander, she could not doubt, was behaving to her with
duplicity, and this grieved her to the heart. It was to the bishop that
she now addressed herself.

'Holy father, I am your suppliant. Not even for a day will I remain
under this roof, even if--which is doubtful--I should be suffered to do
so. I put myself under the protection of your Holiness, until such time
as I can set forth on my sad journey to Rome. At Surrentum I must abide
until the corpse of my brother can be conveyed to its final resting
place--as I promised him.'

Much agitated, the prelate made answer that a fitting residence should
be prepared for her before noon, and the presbyter Andreas added that
he would instantly betake himself to the city on that business.
Petronilla thanked him with the loftiest humility. For any lack of
respect, or for common courtesy, to which they might be exposed ere
they quitted the villa, she besought their Sanctities not to hold her
responsible, she herself being now an unwilling intruder at this
hearth, and liable at any moment to insult. Uttering which words in a
resonant voice, she turned her eyes to where, a few yards away, stood
Aurelia, with Basil and Decius behind her.

'Reverend bishop,' spoke a voice not less steady and sonorous than that
of the elder lady, 'should you suffer any discourtesy in my house, it
will come not from me, but from her who suggests its possibility, and
whose mind is bent upon such things. Indeed, she has already scanted
the respect she owes you in uttering these words. As for herself,
remain she here for an hour or for a month, she is in no danger of
insult--unless she deem it an insult to have her base falsehood flung
back at her, and the enmity in her fierce eyes answered with the scorn
it merits.'

Petronilla trembled with wrath.

'Falsehood!' she echoed, on a high, mocking note. 'A charge of
falsehood upon _her_ lips! Your Holiness will ere long, I do not doubt,
be enlightened as to that woman's principles in the matter of truth and
falsehood. Meanwhile, we shall consult our souls' welfare, as well as
our dignity, in holding as little intercourse as may be with one who
has renounced the faith in Christ.'

Aurelia bent her eyes upon the deacon, who met the look with austere
fixedness. There was dead silence for a moment, then she turned to the
young men behind her.

'My noble cousins, I desired your company because I foresaw this
woman's violence, and knew not to what length it might carry her. She
pretends to fear my tongue; for my part, I would not lightly trust
myself within reach of her hands, of which I learnt the weight when I
was a little child. Lord Decius, attend, I beg you, these reverend men
whilst they honour my house and on their way homeward. My cousin Basil,
I must needs ask you to be my guard, until I can command service here.
Follow me, I pray.'

With another piercing glance at Leander she withdrew from the assembly.

It was a morning of wind and cloud; the day broke sadly. When the first
gleam of yellow sunlight flitted over Surrentum towards the cliffs of
Capreae, silence had fallen upon the villa. Wearied by their night of
watching, the inhabitants slept, or at least reposed in privacy. But
this quiet was of short duration. When the customary bell had given
notice of the third hour, Aurelia called together the servants of the
house--only those who belonged to Petronilla failing to answer her
summons--and announced to them her new authority. At the same time the
steward of the estate read out a list of those slaves who, under the
will of Maximus, could claim their emancipation. The gathering having
dispersed, there appeared an attendant of the deacon Leander; his
reverend master would wait upon the lady Aurelia, as soon as her
leisure permitted, for the purpose of taking leave. Forthwith the
deacon was admitted. Alone in the great hall, Aurelia sat beside a
brasier, at which she warmed her hands; she scarcely deigned to glance
at the ecclesiastic.

'You pursue your journey, reverend?' were her first words.

'As far as Neapolis, gracious lady,' came the suave reply. 'There or in
the neighbourhood I shall remain at least ten days. Should you desire
to communicate with me--'

'I think I can save that trouble,' interrupted Aurelia, with quivering
lips. 'All I have to say to your Sanctity, I will say at once. It is,
that you have enlightened me as to the value of solemn oaths on the
lips of the Roman clergy.'

'Your meaning, dear madam?' asked Leander, with a look of bland disdain.

'You have the face to ask it, deacon, after Petronilla's words this
morning?'

'I feared they might mislead you. The lady Petronilla knows nothing of
what has passed between us. She spoke in anger, and hazarded an
accusation--as angry ladies are wont.'

'Of course you say so,' returned Aurelia. 'I will believe you if you
give me back the paper I signed, and trust to my word for the
fulfilment of what I promised.'

Leander smiled, almost as if he had heard some happy intelligence.

'You ask,' he said, 'for a trust you yourself refuse.'

'Then go your way, perjurer!' exclaimed Aurelia, her cheeks aflame with
passion. 'I know henceforth on whom to rely.'

For a moment Leander stood as if reflecting on these last words; then
he bowed, and with placid dignity retired.

Meanwhile Basil and Decius were conversing with Petronilla. Neither of
them had ever stood on terms of more than courteous forbearance with
this authoritative lady; at present they maintained their usual
demeanour, and did not think it needful to apologise for friendly
relations with Aurelia. The only subject on which Petronilla deigned to
hold colloquy with them was that of her brother's burial at Rome.
Should the transport be by land or by sea? This evening the corpse
would be conveyed to the cathedral of Surrentum, where due rites would
be performed early on the morrow; there it would remain in temporary
interment until a coffin of lead could be prepared, and arrangements
completed for the removal. Was the year too advanced, questioned
Petronilla, to allow of the sea voyage? On the other hand, would the
land journey be safe, having regard to the advance of the Gothic army?
Basil pronounced for the sea, and undertook to seek for a vessel. Was
he willing, asked Petronilla, to accompany the body to Rome? This
question gave Basil pause; he reflected uneasily; he hesitated. Yet who
could discharge this duty, if he did not? Suddenly ashamed of his
hesitation, the true reason of which could not be avowed, he declared
that he would make the voyage.

Hereupon entered the deacon, who, the matter being put before him,
approved these arrangements. He himself would doubtless be in Rome
before the arrival of the remains of Maximus, and all the details of
the burial there might be left to him. So Petronilla thanked and
dismissed the young men, on whose retirement she turned eagerly to
Leander.

'Forgive me!' broke from her lips. 'I know how deeply I have offended
your Sanctity. It was my fear that you would go away without a word. My
haste, my vehemence, merited even that punishment.'

'Calm yourself, noble lady,' returned the deacon. 'I was indeed
grieved, but I know your provocation. We may speak on this subject
again; but not here. For the present, I take my leave of you, all being
ready for my departure. As you are quitting this house at once, you
need no counsel as to immediate difficulties; I will only say, in all
things be prudent, be self-controlled; before long, you may see reason
for the discreet silence which I urge upon you.'

'When do you set forth to Rome?' asked Petronilla. 'If it might be my
privilege to journey in your company--?'

'The day is uncertain,' replied Leander; 'but if it be possible for us
to travel together, trust me to beg for the honour. You shall hear of
my projects in a week's time from Neapolis.'

Petronilla fell to her knees, and again besought his forgiveness with
his benediction. The deacon magnanimously granted both, and whilst
bending over the devout lady, whispered one word:

'Patience!'

An hour after mid-day, Petronilla quitted the villa. Her great
travelling chariot, drawn by four mules, wherein she and her most
precious possessions were conveyed, descended at a stately pace the
winding road to Surrentum. Before it rode Basil; behind came a laden
wagon, two light vehicles carrying female slaves, and mounted
men-servants, armed as though for a long and perilous journey. Since
the encounter before sunrise, there had been no meeting between the
hostile ladies. Aurelia signified her scorn by paying no heed to her
aunt's departure.

Alone in her dominion, the inheritress entered the death-chamber, and
there passed an hour upon her knees. Whilst she was thus secluded, a
pealing storm traversed the sky. When Aurelia came forth again, her
face was wan, tearstained. She summoned her nurse, and held much talk
with her as to the significance of thunder whilst a corpse lay in the
house. The good woman, though she durst not utter all her thoughts,
babbled concern, and used the occasion to beseech Aurelia--as she had
often done since the death of her Gothic lord--to be reconciled with
the true church.

'True church!' exclaimed Aurelia, with sudden passion. 'How do you know
which is the true church? Have not emperors, have not bishops and
numberless holy men lived and died in the faith I confess--?'

She checked herself; grew silent, brooded. Meanwhile, the old nurse
talked on, and presently began to relate how a handmaid of Petronilla,
in going with her this morning, professed to know on the surest
evidence that Aurelia, by her father's deathbed, had renounced
Arianism. The sullen countenance of her mistress flashed again into
wrath.

'Did I not forbid you,' cried Aurelia, 'to converse with those women?
And you dare repeat to me their loose-lipped chatter. I am too familiar
with you; go and talk with your kind; go!'

Mutteringly the woman went apart. The mistress, alone, fell into a long
weeping. When she had sobbed herself into quiet once more, she sought a
volume of the Gospels, inserted her forefinger between the pages at
random, and anxiously regarded the passage thus chosen.

'While ye have the light, believe in the light, that ye may be the
children of light.'

She brooded, but in the end seemed to find solace.

Basil was absent all day. On his return, just before sunset, Aurelia
met him in the atrium, heard the report of what he had done, and at
length asked whether, on the day after to-morrow, he could go to Cumae.

'To Cumae?' exclaimed Basil. 'Ay, that I can! You are returning
thither?'

'For a day only. I go to seek that which no one but myself can find.'

The listener had no difficulty in understanding this; it meant, of
course, treasure concealed in the house Aurelia had long inhabited.

'We must both go and return by sea,' said Aurelia, 'even though it
cause us delay. I have no mind to pass through Neapolis.'

'Be it so. The sky will be calm when this storm has passed Shall you
return,' said Basil, 'alone?'

'Alone? Do you purpose to forsake me?'

'Think better of my manners, cousin--and more shrewdly of my meaning.'

'You mean fairly, I trust?' she returned, looking him steadily in the
face.

'Nay,' cried the young man vehemently, 'if I have any thought other
than honest, may I perish before I ever again behold her!'

Aurelia's gaze softened.

'It is well,' she said; 'we will speak again to-morrow.'

That night Petronilla kept vigil in the church of Surrentum, Basil and
Decius relieving her an hour before dawn. At the funeral service, which
began soon after sunrise, the greater part of the townsfolk attended.
All were eager to see whether the daughter of Maximus would be present,
for many rumours were rife touching Aurelia, some declaring that she
had returned to the true faith, some that she remained obstinate in
heresy. Her failure to appear did not set the debate at rest. A servant
of Petronilla whispered it about that only by a false pretence of
conversion had Aurelia made sure her inheritance; and at the mere
thought of such wickedness the hearers shuddered, foretelling a dread
retribution. The clergy were mute on the subject, even with the most
favoured of their flock. Meanwhile the piety and austerity of
Petronilla made a safe topic of talk, and a long procession reverently
escorted her to her temporary abode near the bishop's house.

To-day the clouds spent themselves in rain; before nightfall the
heavens began to clear. The island peak of Inarime stood purple against
a crimson sunset. After supper, Aurelia and Basil held conference. The
wind would not be favourable for their voyage; none the less, they
decided to start at the earliest possible hour. Dawn was but just
streaking the sky, when they rode down the dark gorge which led to the
shore, Basil attended by Felix, the lady by one maid. The bark awaited
them, swaying gently against the harbour-side. Aurelia descended to the
little cabin curtained off below a half-deck, and--sails as yet being
useless--four great oars urged the craft on its way.

What little wind there was breathed from the north For an hour they
made but slow progress, but when the first rays of sun gleamed above
the mountains, the breeze shifted westward; sails were presently
hoisted, and the rippling water hissed before the prow. Soon a golden
day shone upon sea and land. Aurelia came forth on to the deck, and sat
gazing towards Neapolis.

'You know that the deacon is yonder,' she said in a low voice to Basil,
this the first mention of Leander that had fallen from her lips in
speaking with him.

'Is he?' returned the other carelessly. 'Yes, I remember.'

But Basil's eyes were turned to the long promontory of Misenum. He was
wondering anxiously how his letter had affected Veranilda, and whether,
when she heard of it, Aurelia would be angered.

'Where is your friend Marcian?' were her next words.

Basil replied that he, too, was sojourning at Neapolis; and, when
Aurelia inquired what business held him there, her cousin answered
truly that he did not know.

'Do you trust him?' asked the lady, after a thoughtful pause.

'Marcian? As I trust myself!'

One of the boatmen coming within earshot, their conversation ceased.

The hour before noon saw them drawing near to land. They left on the
right the little island of Nesis, and drew towards Puteoli. On the left
lay Baiae, all but forsaken, its ancient temples and villas stretching
along the shore from the Lucrine lake to the harbour shadowed by Cape
Misenum; desolate magnificence, marble overgrown with ivy, gardens
where the rose grew wild, and terraces crumbling into the sea. Basil
and Aurelia looked upon these things with an eye made careless by
familiarity; all their lives ruin had lain about them, deserted
sanctuaries of a bygone creed, unpeopled homes of a vanished greatness.

As the boat advanced into the bay, it lost the wind, and rowing again
became needful. Thus they entered the harbour of Puteoli, where the
travellers disembarked.

Hard by the port was a tavern, which, owing to its position midway
between Neapolis and Cumae, still retained something of its character
as a _mansio_ of the posting service; but the vehicles and quadrupeds
of which it boasted were no longer held in strict reserve for state
officials and persons privileged. Gladly the innkeeper put at Basil's
disposal his one covered carriage, a trifle cleaner inside than it was
without, and a couple of saddle horses, declared to be Sicilian, but
advanced in age. Thus, with slight delay, the party pursued their
journey, Basil and his man riding before the carriage. The road ran
coastwise as far as the Julian haven, once thronged with the shipping
of the Roman world, now all but abandoned to a few fishermen; there it
turned inland, skirted the Lucrine water, and presently reached the
shore of Lake Avernus, where was the entrance to the long tunnel
piercing the hill between the lake and Cumae. On an ill-kept way, under
a low vault of rock dripping moisture, the carriage with difficulty
tossed and rumbled through the gloom. Basil impatiently trotted on,
and, as he issued into sunlight, there before him stood the walls of
the ancient city, round about that little hill by the sea which, in an
age remote, had been chosen for their abode by the first Hellenes
tempted to the land of Italy. High above rose the acropolis, a frowning
stronghold. Through Basil's mind passed the thought that ere long Cumae
might again belong to the Goths, and this caused him no uneasiness;
half, perchance, he hoped it.

A guard at the city gate inspected the carriage, and let it pass on. In
a few minutes, guided by Basil, it drew up before a house in a narrow,
climbing street, a small house, brick fronted, with stucco pilasters
painted red at the door, and two windows, closed with wooden shutters,
in the upper storey. On one side of the entrance stood a shop for the
sale of earthenware; on the other, a vintner's with a projecting marble
table, the jars of wine thereon exhibited being attached by chains to
rings in the wall. Odours of cookery, and of worse things, oppressed
the air, and down the street ran a noisome gutter. When Basil's servant
had knocked, a little wicket slipped aside for observation; then, after
a grinding of heavy locks and bars, the double doors were opened, and a
grey-headed slave stepped forward to receive his mistress. Basil had
jumped down from his horse, and would fain have entered, but, by an
arrangement already made, this was forbidden. Saying that she would
expect him at the second hour on the morrow, Aurelia disappeared. Her
cousin after a longing look at the blind and mute house, rode away to
another quarter of the city, near the harbour, where was an inn at
which he had lodged during his previous visit. In a poor and dirty
room, he made shift to dine on such food as could be offered him; then
lay down on the truckle bed, and slept for an hour or two.

A knock at the door awoke him. It was Felix, who brought the news that
Marcian was at Cumae.

'You have seen him?' cried Basil, astonished and eager.

'His servant Sagaris,' Felix replied. 'I met him but now in the forum,
and learnt that his lord lodges at the house of the curial Venustus;
hard by the Temple of Diana.'

'Go thither at once, and beg him, if his leisure serve, to come to me.
I would go myself; but, if he have seen Sagaris, he may be already on
the way here.'

And so it proved, for in a very few minutes Marcian himself entered the
room.

'Your uncle is dead,' were his first words. 'I heard it in Neapolis
yesterday. What brings you here?'

'Nay, best Marcian,' returned the other, with hands on his friend's
shoulders, and peering him in the face, 'let me once again put that
question to _you_.'

'I cannot answer it, yet,' said Marcian gravely. 'Your business is more
easily guessed.'

'But must not be talked of here,' interrupted Basil, glancing at the
door. 'Let us find some more suitable place.'

They descended the dark, foul stairs, and went out together. Before the
house stood the two serving-men, who, as their masters walked away,
followed at a respectful distance. When safe from being overheard,
Basil recounted to his friend the course of events at the Surrentine
villa since Marcian's departure, made known his suspicion that Aurelia
had secretly returned to the Catholic faith. He then told of to day's
journey and its purpose, his hearer wearing a look of grave attention.

'Can it be,' asked Marcian, 'that you think of wedding this Gothic
beauty?'

'Assuredly,' answered Basil, with a laugh, 'I have thought of it.'

'And it looks as though Aurelia favoured your desire.'

'It has indeed something of that appearance.'

'Pray you now, dear lord,' said Marcian, 'be sober awhile. Have you
reflected that, with such a wife, you would not dare return to Rome?'

Basil had not regarded that aspect of the matter, but his friend's
reasoning soon brought him to perceive the danger he would lightly have
incurred. Dangers, not merely those that resulted from the war; could
he suppose, asked Marcian, that Heliodora would meekly endure his
disdain, and that the life of Veranilda would be safe in such a rival's
proximity? Hereat, Basil gnashed his teeth and handled his dagger. Why
return to Rome at all? he cried impatiently. He had no mind to go
through the torments of a long siege such as again threatened. Why
should he not live on in Campania--

'And tend your sheep or your goats?' interrupted Marcian, with his
familiar note of sad irony. 'And pipe _sub tegmine fagi_ to your
blue-eyed Amaryllis? Why not, indeed? But what if; on learning the
death of Maximus, the Thracian who rules yonder see fit to command your
instant return, and to exact from you an account of what you have
inherited? Bessas loses no time--suspecting--perhaps--that his tenure
of a fruitful office may not be long.'

'And if the suspicion be just?' said Basil, gazing hard at his friend.

'Well, if it be?' said the other, returning the look.

'Should we not do well to hold far from Rome, looking to King Totila,
whom men praise, as a deliverer of our land from hateful tyranny?'

Marcian laid a hand on his friend's shoulder.

'O, brave Basil!' he murmured, with a smile. 'O, nobly confident in
those you love! Never did man so merit love in return.--Do as you will.
In a few days I shall again visit you at Surrentum, and perchance bring
news that may give us matter for talk.'

From a portico hard by there approached a beggar, a filthy and hideous
cripple, who, with whining prayer, besought alms. Marcian from his
wallet took a copper coin, and, having glanced at it, drew Basil's
attention.

'Look,' said he, smiling oddly, 'at the image and the superscription.'

It was a coin of Vitiges, showing a helmeted bust of the goddess of the
city, with legend '_Invicta Roma_.'

'_Invicta Roma_,' muttered Basil sadly, with head bent.

Meanwhile, out of earshot of their masters, the two servants conversed
with not less intimacy. At a glance these men were seen to be of
different races. Felix, aged some five and thirty, could boast of free
birth; he was the son of a curial--that is to say, municipal
councillor--of Arpinum, who had been brought to ruin, like so many of
his class in this age, by fiscal burdens, the curiales being
responsible for the taxes payable by their colleagues, as well as for
the dues on any estate in their district which might be abandoned, and,
in brief, for whatsoever deficiencies of local revenue. Gravity and
sincerity appeared in his countenance; he seldom smiled, spoke in a
subdued voice, and often kept his eyes on the ground; but his service
was performed with rare conscientiousness, and he had often given proof
of affection for his master. Sagaris, a Syrian slave, less than thirty
years old, had a comely visage which ever seemed to shine with
contentment, and often twinkled with a sort of roguish mirth. Tall and
of graceful bearing, the man's every movement betrayed personal vanity;
his speech had the note of facile obsequiousness; he talked whenever
occasion offered, and was fond of airing his views on political and
other high matters. Therewithal, he was the most superstitious of
mortals; wore amulets, phylacteries, charms of all sorts, and secretly
prayed to many strange gods. When he had nothing else to do, and could
find a genial companion, his delight was to play by the hour at _micare
digitis_; but, in spite of his master's good opinion, not to Sagaris
would have applied the proverb that you might play that game with him
in the dark.

'Take my word for it,' he whispered to Felix, with his most important
air, 'we shall see strange things ere long. Last night I counted seven
shooting stars.'

'What does that argue?' asked the other soberly.

'More than I care to put into Latin. At Capua, three days ago, a woman
gave birth to a serpent, a winged dragon, which flew away towards Rome.
I talked at Neapolis with a man who saw it.'

'Strange, indeed,' murmured Felix, with raised eyebrows. 'I have often
heard of such portents, but never had the luck to behold one of them.
Yet,' he added gravely, 'I have received a sign. When my father died, I
was far away from him, and at that very hour, as I prayed in the church
of Holy Clement at Rome, I heard a voice that said in my ear, _Vale_!
three times.'

'Oh, I have had signs far more wonderful than that,' exclaimed the
Syrian. 'I was at sea, between Alexandria and Berytus--for you must
know that in my boyhood I passed three years at Berytus, and there
obtained that knowledge of law which you may have remarked in talking
with me--well, I was at sea--'

'Peace!' interposed Felix. 'We are summoned.'

Sagaris sighed, and became the obsequious attendant.



CHAPTER V

BASIL AND VERANILDA


At the appointed hour next morning, when yet no ray of sunshine had
touched the gloomy little street, though a limpid sky shone over it,
Basil stood at Aurelia's door. The grey-headed porter silently admitted
him, and he passed by a narrow corridor into a hall lighted as usual
from above, paved with red tiles, here and there trodden away, the
walls coloured a dusky yellow, and showing an imaginary line of pillars
painted in blue. A tripod table, a couch, and a few chairs were the
only furniture. When the visitor had waited for a few moments a curtain
concealing the entrance to the inner part of the house moved aside, and
Aurelia's voice bade her cousin come forward. He entered a smaller room
opening upon a diminutive court where a few shrubs grew; around the
walls hung old and faded tapestry; the floor was of crude mosaic; the
furniture resembled that of the atrium, with the addition of a brasier.

'I have been anxious for your coming,' were Aurelia's first words. 'Do
you think they will let us depart without hindrance? Yesterday I saw
the owner of this house to transact my business with him. It is
Venustus, a curial, a man who has always been well disposed to me. He
said that he must perforce make known to the governor my intention of
leaving the city, and hoped no obstacle would be put in our way. This
morning, before sunrise, a messenger from the citadel came and put
questions to the porter.'

Basil knitted his brows.

'Venustus? It is with Venustus that Marcian lodges. Yes, Marcian is
here; I know not on what business. It would have been wiser,' he added,
'to have said nothing, to have gone away as before. When shall you be
ready?'

'I am ready now. Why delay? What matter though we reach Surrentum by
night? The moon rises early.'

'What reply was given to the messenger from the citadel?'

'He learned, perforce, that we were preparing for a journey.'

A moment's reflection and Basil decided to risk immediate departure;
delay and uncertainty were at all times hateful to him, and at the
present juncture intolerable. At once he quitted the house (not having
ventured to speak the name of Veranilda), and in an hour's time the
covered carriage from Puteoli, and another vehicle, were in waiting.
The baggage was brought out; then, as Basil stood in the hall, he saw
Aurelia come forward, accompanied by a slight female figure, whose
grace could not be disguised by the long hooded cloak which wrapped it
from head to foot, allowing not a glimpse of face. The young man
trembled, and followed. He saw the ladies step into the carriage, and
was himself about to mount his horse, when a military officer, attended
by three soldiers, stepped towards him, and, without phrase of
courtesy, demanded his name. Pallid, shaken with all manner of
emotions, Basil replied to this and several other inquiries, the result
being that the two vehicles were ordered to be driven to the citadel,
and he to go thither under guard.

At the entrance to the citadel the carriage drew up and remained there
under guard. Basil was led in, and presently stood before the military
governor of Cumae; this was a Hun named Chorsoman, formerly one of
Belisarius's bodyguard. He spoke Latin barbarously; none the less was
his language direct and perspicuous. The Roman lady wished to quit
Cumae, where she had lived for some years; she purposed, moreover, to
take away with her a maiden of Gothic race, who, though not treated as
a captive, had been under observation since she was sent to dwell here
by Belisarius. This could not pass as a matter of small moment.
Plainly, permission to depart must be sought of the authorities, and
such permission, under the circumstances, could only be granted in
return for substantial payment--a payment in proportion to the lady's
rank. It was known that the senator Maximus had died, and report said
that his daughter inherited great wealth. The price of her passport
would be one thousand gold pieces.

Basil knew that Aurelia had not, in the coffer she was taking away, a
quarter of this sum of money. He foresaw endless delay, infinite peril
to his hopes. Schooling a hot tongue to submissive utterance, he asked
that Aurelia might be consulted.

'Speak with her yourself,' said the Hun, 'and bring her answer.'

So Basil went forth, and, under the eyes of the guard, held converse
with his cousin. Aurelia was willing to give all the treasure she
carried with her--money, a few ornaments of gold and silver, two or
three vessels of precious metal--everything for immediate liberty; all
together she thought it might be the equivalent of half the sum
demanded. The rest she would swear to pay. This being reported to
Chorsoman, his hideous, ashen-grey countenance assumed a fierce
expression; he commanded that all the baggage on the vehicles should be
brought and opened before him; this was done. Whilst Basil, boiling
with secret rage, saw his cousin's possessions turned out on to the
floor a thought flashed into his mind.

'I ought to inform your Sublimity,' he said, with all the indifference
he could assume, 'that the lady Aurelia despatched two days ago a
courier to Rome apprising the noble commandant Bessas of her father's
death, and of her intention to arrive in the city as soon as possible,
and to put her means at his disposal for the defence of Rome against
King Totila.'

Chorsoman stared.

'Is not this lady the widow of a Goth and a heretic?'

'The widow of a Goth, yes, but no longer a heretic,' answered Basil
boldly, half believing what he said.

He saw that he had spoken to some purpose. The Hun blinked his little
eyes, gazed greedily at the money, and was about to speak when a
soldier announced that a Roman named Marcian desired immediate
audience, therewith handing to the governor a piece of metal which
looked like a large coin. Chorsoman had no sooner glanced at this than
he bade admit the Roman; but immediately changing his mind, he went out
into another room. On his return, after a quarter of an hour, he
gruffly announced that the travellers were free to depart.

'We humbly thank your Clemency,' said Basil, his heart leaping in joy.
'Does your Greatness permit me to order these trifles to be removed?'

'Except the money,' replied Chorsoman, growling next moment, 'and the
vessels'; then snarling with a savage glance about him, 'and the
jewels.'

Not till the gates of Cumae were behind them, and they had entered the
cavern in the hill, did Basil venture to recount what had happened. He
alighted from his horse, and walking through the gloom beside the
carriage he briefly narrated all in a whisper to Aurelia--all except
his own ingenious device for balking the Hun's cupidity. What means
Marcian had employed for their release he could but vaguely conjecture;
that would be learned a few days hence when his friend came again to
Surrentum. Aurelia's companion in the carriage, still hooded and
cloaked, neither moved nor uttered a word.

At a distance of some twenty yards from the end of the tunnel, Felix,
riding in advance, checked his horse and shouted. There on the ground
lay a dead man, a countryman, who it was easy to see had been stabbed
to death, and perhaps not more than an hour ago. Quarrel or robbery,
who could say? An incident not so uncommon as greatly to perturb the
travellers; they passed on and came to Puteoli. Here the waiting
boatmen were soon found; the party embarked; the vessel oared away in a
dead calm.

The long voyage was tedious to Basil only because Veranilda remained
unseen in the cabin; the thought of bearing her off; as though she were
already his own, was an exultation, a rapture. When he reflected on the
indignities he had suffered in the citadel rage burned his throat, and
Aurelia, all bitterness at the loss of her treasure, found words to
increase this wrath. A Hun! A Scythian savage! A descendant perchance
of the fearful Attila! He to represent the Roman Empire! Fit
instrument, forsooth, of such an Emperor as Justinian, whose boundless
avarice, whose shameful subjection to the base-born Theodora, were
known to every one. To this had Rome fallen; and not one of her sons
who dared to rise against so foul a servitude!

'Have patience, cousin,' Basil whispered, bidding her with a glance
beware of the nearest boatman. 'There are some who will not grieve if
Totila--'

'No more than that? To stand, and look on, and play the courtier to
whichever may triumph!'

Basil muttered with himself. He wished he had been bred a soldier
instead of growing to manhood in an age when the nobles of Rome were
held to inglorious peace, their sole career that of the jurist And
Aurelia, brooding, saw him involved beyond recall in her schemes of
vengeance.

The purple evening fell about them, an afterglow of sunset trembling
upon the violet sea. Above the heights of Capreae a star began to
glimmer; and lo, yonder from behind the mountains rose the great orb of
the moon. They were in the harbour at last, but had to wait on board
until a messenger could go to the village and a conveyance arrive. The
litter came, with a horse for Basil; Felix, together with Aurelia's
grey-headed porter and a female slave--these two the only servants that
had remained in the house at Cumae--followed on foot, and the baggage
was carried up on men's shoulders.

'Decius!' cried Basil, in a passionate undertone, when he encountered
his kinsman in the vestibule. 'Decius! we are here--and one with us
whom you know not. Hush! Stifle your curiosity till to-morrow. Let them
pass.'

So had the day gone by, and not once had he looked upon the face of
Veranilda.

He saw her early on the morrow. Aurelia, though the whole villa was now
at her command, chose still to inhabit the house of Proba; and thither,
when the day was yet young, she summoned Basil. The room in which she
sat was hung with pictured tapestry, representing Christ and the
Apostles; crude work, but such as had pleased Faltonia Proba, whose
pious muse inspired her to utter the Gospel in a Virgilian canto. And
at Aurelia's side, bending over a piece of delicate needlework, sat the
Gothic maiden, clad in white, her flaxen hair, loosely held with silk,
falling behind her shoulders, shadowing her forehead, and half hiding
the little ears. At Basil's entrance she did not look up; at the first
sound of his voice she bent her head yet lower, and only when he
directly addressed her, asking, with all the gentleness his lips could
command, whether the journey had left much fatigue, did she show for a
moment her watchet eyes, answering few words with rare sweetness.

'Be seated, dear my lord,' said his cousin, in the soft, womanly voice
once her habitual utterance. 'There has been so little opportunity of
free conversation, that we have almost, one might say, to make each
other's acquaintance yet. But I hope we may now enjoy a little leisure,
and live as becomes good kinsfolk.'

Basil made such suitable answer as his agitation allowed.

'And the noble Decius,' pursued Aurelia, 'will, I trust, bestow at
times a little of his leisure upon us. Perhaps this afternoon you could
persuade him to forget his books for half an hour? But let us speak, to
begin with, of sad things which must needs occupy us. Is it possible,
yet, to know when the ship will sail for Rome?'

Aurelia meant, of course, the vessel which would convey her father's
corpse, and the words cast gloom upon Basil, who had all but forgotten
the duty that lay before him. He answered that a week at least must
pass before the sailing, and, as he spoke, kept his eyes upon
Veranilda, whose countenance--or so it seemed to him--had become
graver, perhaps a little sad.

'Is it your purpose to stay long in Rome?' was Aurelia's next question,
toned with rather excessive simplicity.

'To stay long?' exclaimed Basil. 'How can you think it? Perchance I
shall not even enter the city. At Portus, I may resign my duty into
other hands, and so straightway return.'

There was a conflict in Aurelia's mind. Reverence for her father
approved the thought of his remains being transported under the
guardianship of Basil; none the less did she dread this journey, and
feel tempted to hinder it. She rose from her chair.

'Let us walk into the sunshine,' she said. 'The morning is chilly.'
And, as she passed out into the court, hand in hand with Veranilda, 'O,
the pleasure of these large spaces, this free air, after the straight
house at Cumae! Do you not breathe more lightly, sweetest? Come into
Proba's garden, and I will show you where I sat with my broidery when I
was no older than you.'

The garden was approached by a vaulted passage. A garden long
reconquered by nature; for the paths were lost in herbage, the seats
were overgrown with creeping plants, and the fountain had crumbled into
ruin. A high wall formerly enclosed it, but, in a shock of earthquake
some years ago, part of this had fallen, leaving a gap which framed a
lovely picture of the inland hills. Basil pulled away the trailing
leafage from a marble hemicycle, and, having spread his cloak upon it,
begged tremorously that Veranilda would rest.

'That wall shall be rebuilt,' said Aurelia, and, as if to inspect the
ruin, wandered away. When she was distant not many paces, Basil bent to
his seated companion, and breathed in a passionate undertone:

'My letter reached your hands, O fairest?'

'I received it--I read it.'

As she spoke, Veranilda's cheeks flushed as if in shame.

'Will you reply, were it but one word?'

Her head drooped lower. Basil seated himself at her side.

'One word, O Veranilda! I worship you--my soul longs for you--say only
that you will be mine, my beloved lady, my wife!'

Her blue eyes glistened with moisture as for an instant they met the
dark glow in his.

'Do you know who I am?' she whispered.

'You are Veranilda! You are beauty and sweetness and divine purity--'

He sought her hand, but at this moment Aurelia turned towards them, and
the maiden, quivering, stood up.

'Perhaps the sun is too powerful,' said Aurelia, with her tenderest
smile. 'My lily has lived so long in the shade.'

They lingered a little on the shadowed side, Aurelia reviving memories
of her early life, then passed again under the vaulted arch. Basil,
whose eyes scarcely moved from Veranilda's face, could not bring
himself to address her in common words, and dreaded that she would soon
vanish. So indeed it befell. With a murmur of apology to her friend,
and a timid movement of indescribable grace in Basil's direction, she
escaped, like a fugitive wild thing, into solitude.

'Why has she gone?' exclaimed the lover, all impatience. 'I must follow
her--I cannot live away from her! Let me find her again.'

His cousin checked him.

'I have to speak to you, Basil. Come where we can be private.'

They entered the room where they had sat before, and Aurelia, taking up
the needlework left by Veranilda, showed it to her companion with
admiration.

'She is wondrous at this art. In a contest with Minerva, would she not
have fared better than Arachne? This mourning garment which I wear is
of her making, and look at the delicate work; it was wrought four years
ago, when I heard of my brother's death--wrought in a few days. She was
then but thirteen. In all that it beseems a woman to know, she is no
less skilled. Yonder lies her cithern; she learnt to touch it, I scarce
know how, out of mere desire to soothe my melancholy, and I
suspect--though she will not avow it--that the music she plays is often
her own. In sickness she has tended me with skill as rare as her
gentleness; her touch on the hot forehead is like that of a flower
plucked before sunrise. Hearing me speak thus of her, what think you, O
Basil, must be my trust in the man to whom I would give her for wife?'

'Can you doubt my love, O Aurelia?' cried the listener, clasping his
hands before him.

'Your love? No. But your prudence, is that as little beyond doubt?'

'I have thought long and well,' said Basil.

Aurelia regarded him steadily.

'You spoke with her in the garden just now. Did she reply?'

'But few words. She asked me if I knew her origin, and blushed as she
spoke.'

'It is her wish that I should tell you; and I will.'

Scarce had Aurelia begun her narrative, when Basil perceived that his
own conjecture, and that of Marcian, had hit the truth. Veranilda was a
great-grandchild of Amalafrida, the sister of King Theodoric, being
born of the daughter of King Theodahad; and her father was that
Ebrimut, whose treachery at the beginning of the great war delivered
Rhegium into the hands of the Greeks. Her mother, Theodenantha, a woman
of noble spirit, scorned the unworthy Goth, and besought the conqueror
to let her remain in Italy, even as a slave, rather than share with
such a husband the honours of the Byzantine court. She won this grace
from Belisarius, and was permitted to keep with her the little maiden,
just growing out of childhood. But shame and grief had broken her
heart; after a few months of imprisonment at Cumae she died. And
Veranilda passed into the care of the daughter of Maximus.

'For I too was a captive,' said Aurelia, 'and of the same religion as
the orphan child. By happy hazard I had become a friend of her mother,
in those days of sorrow; and with careless scorn our conquerors
permitted me to take Veranilda into my house. As the years went by, she
was all but forgotten; there came a new governor--this thievish
Hun--who paid no heed to us. I looked forward to a day when we might
quit Cumae and live in freedom where we would. Then something
unforeseen befell. Half a year ago, just when the air of spring began
to breathe into that dark, chill house, a distant kinsman of ours, who
has long dwelt in Byzantium--do you know Olybrius, the son of Probinus?'

'I have heard his name.'

'He came to me, as if from my father; but I soon discovered that he had
another mission, his main purpose being to seek for Veranilda. By whom
sent, I could not learn; but he told me that Ebrimut was dead, and that
his son, Veranilda's only brother, was winning glory in the war with
the Persians. For many days I lived in fear lest my pearl should be
torn from me. Olybrius it was, no doubt, who bade the Hun keep watch
upon us, and it can only have been by chance that I was allowed to go
forth unmolested when you led me hither the first time. He returned to
Byzantium, and I have heard no more. But a suspicion haunts my mind.
What if Marcian were also watching Veranilda?'

'Marcian!' cried the listener incredulously. 'You do not know him. He
is the staunchest and frankest of friends. He knows of my love; we have
talked from heart to heart.'

'Yet it was at his intercession that the Hun allowed us to go; why, you
cannot guess. What if he have power and motives which threaten
Veranilda's peace?'

Basil exclaimed against this as the baseless fear of a woman. Had there
been a previous command from some high source touching the Gothic
maiden, Chorsoman would never have dared to sell her freedom. As to
Marcian's power, that was derived from the authorities at Rome, and
granted him for other ends; if he used it to release Veranilda, he
acted merely out of love to his friend, as would soon be seen.

'I will hope so,' murmured Aurelia. 'Now you have heard what she
herself desired that I should tell you, for she could not meet your
look until you knew it. Her father's treachery is Veranilda's shame;
she saw her noble mother die for it, and it has made her mourning
keener than a common sorrow. I think she would never have dared to wed
a Goth; all true Goths, she believes in her heart, must despise her. It
is her dread lest you, learning who she is, should find your love
chilled.'

'Call her,' cried Basil, starting to his feet. 'Or let me go to her.
She shall not suffer that fear for another moment. Veranilda!
Veranilda!'

His companion retained and quieted him. He should see Veranilda ere
long. But there was yet something to be spoken of.

'Have you forgotten that she is not of your faith?'

'Do I love her, adore her, the less?' exclaimed Basil. 'Does she shrink
from me on that account?'

'I know,' pursued his cousin, 'what the Apostle of the Gentiles has
said: "For the husband who believes not is sanctified by the wife, and
the wife who believes not is sanctified by the husband." None the less,
Veranilda is under the menace of the Roman law; and you, if it be known
that you have wedded her, will be in peril from all who serve the
Emperor--at least in dark suspicion; and will be slightly esteemed by
all of our house.'

The lover paced about, and all at once, with a wild gesture, uttered
his inmost thought.

'What if I care naught for those of our house? And what if the Emperor
of the East is of as little account to me? My country is not Byzantium,
but Rome.'

Aurelia hushed his voice, but her eyes shone with stern gladness as she
stood before him, and took him by the hand, and spoke what he alone
could hear.

'Then unite yourself in faith with those who would make Rome free. Be
one in religion with the brave Goths--with Veranilda.'

He cast down his eyes and drew a deep breath.

'I scarce know what that religion is, O Aurelia,' came from him
stammeringly. 'I am no theologian; I never cared to puzzle my head
about the mysteries which men much wiser than I declare to pass all
human understanding. Ask Decius if he can defend the faith of
Athanasius against that of the Arians; he will smile, and shake his
head in that droll way he has. I believe,' he added after a brief
hesitancy, 'in Christ and in the Saints. Does not Veranilda also?'

The temptress drew back a little, seated herself; yielded to troublous
thought. It was long since she had joined in the worship of a
congregation, for at Cumae there was no Arian church. Once only since
her captivity had she received spiritual comfort from an Arian priest,
who came to that city in disguise. What her religion truly was she
could not have declared, for the memories of early life were sometimes
as strong in her as rancour against the faith of her enemies. Basil's
simple and honest utterance touched her conscience. She put an end to
the conversation, promising to renew it before long; whilst Basil, for
his part, went away to brood, then to hold converse with Decius.

Through all but the whole of Theodoric's reign, Italy had enjoyed a
large toleration in religion: Catholics, Arians, and even Jews observed
their worship under the protection of the wise king. Only in the last
few years of his life did he commit certain acts of harshness against
his Catholic subjects, due to the wrath that was moved in him by a
general persecution of the Arians proclaimed at Byzantium. His Gothic
successors adhered to Theodoric's better principle, and only after the
subjugation of the land by Belisarius had Arianism in Italy been
formally condemned. Of course it was protected by the warring Goths:
Totila's victories had now once more extended religious tolerance over
a great part of the country; the Arian priesthood re-entered their
churches; and even in Rome the Greek garrison grew careless of the
reviving heresy. Of these things did Decius speak, when the distressed
lover sought his counsel. No one more liberal than Decius; but he bore
a name which he could not forget, and in his eyes the Goth was a
barbarian, the Gothic woman hardly above the level of a slave. That
Basil should take a Gothic wife, even one born of a royal line, seemed
to him an indignity. Withheld by the gentleness of his temper from
saying all he thought, he spoke only of the difficulties which would
result from such a marriage, and when, in reply, Basil disclosed his
mind, though less vehemently than to Aurelia, Decius fell into
meditation. He, too, had often reflected with bitterness on the results
of that restoration of Rome to the Empire which throughout the Gothic
dominion most of the Roman nobles had never ceased to desire; all but
was he persuaded to approve the statesmanship of Cassiodorus.
Nevertheless, he could not, without shrinking, see a kinsman pass over
to the side of Totila.

'I must think,' he murmured. 'I must think.'

He had not yet seen Veranilda. When, in the afternoon, Basil led him
into the ladies' presence, and his eyes fell upon that white-robed
loveliness, censure grew faint in him. Though a Decius, he was a man of
the sixth century after Christ; his mind conceived an ideal of human
excellence which would have been unintelligible to the Decii of old; in
his heart meekness and chastity had more reverence than perhaps he
imagined. He glanced at Basil; he understood. Though the future still
troubled him, opposition to the lover's will must, he knew, be idle.

Several hours before, Basil had scratched on a waxed tablet a few
emphatic lines, which his cousin allowed to be transmitted to
Veranilda. They assured her that what he had learned could only--if
that were possible--increase his love, and entreated her to grant him
were it but a moment's speech after the formal visit, later in the day.
The smile with which she now met him seemed at once gratitude and
promise; she was calmer, and less timid. Though she took little part in
the conversation, her words fell very sweetly after the men's speech
and the self-confident tones of Aurelia; her language was that of an
Italian lady, but in the accent could be marked a slight foreignness,
which to Basil's ear had the charm of rarest music, and even to Decius
sounded not unpleasing. Under the circumstances, talk, confined to
indifferent subjects, could not last very long; as soon as it began to
flag, Decius found an excuse for begging permission to retire. As
though wishing for a word with him in confidence, Aurelia at the same
time passed out of the room into the colonnade. Basil and Veranilda
were left alone.



CHAPTER VI

THE EMPEROR'S COMMAND


His voice made tremulous music, inaudible a few paces away; his breath
was on her cheek; his eyes, as she gazed into them, seemed to envelop
her in their glow.

'My fairest! Let me but touch your hand. Lay it for a moment in mine--a
pledge for ever!'

'You do not fear to love me, O lord of my life?'

The whisper made him faint with joy.

'What has fear to do with love, O thou with heaven in thine eyes! what
room is there for fear in the heart where thy beauty dwells? Speak
again, speak again, my beloved, and bless me above all men that live!'

'Basil! Basil! Utter my name once more. I never knew how sweet it could
sound.'

'Nor I, how soft could be the sound of mine. Forgive me, O Veranilda,
that out of my love pain has come to you. You will not ever be sad
again? You will not think ever again of those bygone sorrows?'

She bent her head low.

'Can you believe in my truth, O Basil? Can _you_ forget?'

'All save the nobleness of her who bore you, sweet and fair one.'

'Let _that_ be ever in your thought,' said Veranilda, with a radiant
look. 'She sees me now; and my hope, your strength and goodness, bring
new joy to her in the life eternal.'

'Say the word I wait for--whisper low--the word of all words.'

'Out of my soul, O Basil, I love you!'

As the sound trembled into silence, his lips touched hers. In the
golden shadow of her hair, the lily face flushed warm; yet she did not
veil her eyes, vouchers of a life's loyalty.

When Aurelia entered the room again, she walked as though absorbed in
thought.

'Decius tells me he must soon go to Rome,' were her words, in drawing
near to the lovers.

Basil had heard of no such purpose. His kinsman, under the will of
Maximus, enjoyed a share in the annual revenue of this Surrentine
estate; moreover, he became the possessor of many books, which lay in
the Anician mansion of Rome, and it was his impatience, thought
Aurelia, to lay hands upon so precious a legacy, which might at any
time be put in danger by the events of the war, that prompted him to
set forth.

'Might he not perform the duty you have undertaken?' she added in a
lower voice, as she met Basil's look.

Veranilda did not speak, but an anxious hope dawned in her face. And
Basil saw it.

'Have you spoken of it, cousin?' he asked.

'The thought has but just come to me.'

'Decius is not in good health. Thus late in the year, to travel by
sea--Yet the weather may be fair, the sea still; and then it would be
easier for him than the journey by land.'

Basil spoke in a halting tone. He could not without a certain shame
think of revoking his promise to Petronilla, a very distinct promise,
in which natural obligation had part. Yet the thought of the journey,
of an absence from Veranilda, not without peril of many kinds, grew
terrible to him. He looked at Veranilda again, and smiled encouragement.

The lady Petronilla had been wont to dine and sup in dignified
publicity, seated on the _sigma_, in the room which had seen so many
festivals, together with her male relatives and any guest who might be
at the villa; in her presence, no man permitted himself the recumbent
attitude, which indeed had been unusual save among the effeminate. But
Aurelia and her companion took their meals apart. This evening, Basil
and Decius supped almost in silence, each busy with his reflections.
They lingered over the wine, their attendants having left them, until
Decius, as if rousing himself from a dream, asked how long it was
likely to be before the ship could sail. Basil answered that the leaden
coffin would be ready within a few days (it was being made at Neapolis,
out of water-pipes which had served a villa in ruins), and after that
there would only be delay through wind and weather.

'Are you greatly bent on going to Rome just now?' was the student's
next inquiry, a twinkle in his eyes as he spoke.

'By Bacchus!' answered the other, handling his goblet. 'If I saw my way
to avoid it!'

'I guessed as much. The suspicion came to me at a certain moment this
morning--a mere grain, which ever since has been growing _tanquam
favus_. I am not wont to consider myself as of much use, but is it not
just possible that, in this case, your humble kinsman might serve you?'

'My good, my excellent, my very dear Decius!' broke from the listener.
'But would it not be with risk to your health?'

'I would beg permission not to weigh anchor in a tempest, that's all.
The sea in its gentler moods I have never feared, and _alcyoneum
medicamen_, you know, in other words the sea-foam, has always been
recommended for freckles.'

He touched his face, which was in deed much freckle-spotted, and Basil,
whose spirits rose each moment, gave a good-natured laugh.

'One thing only,' added Decius seriously. 'Inasmuch as this charge is a
grave one, I would not undertake it without the consent of the ladies
Aurelia and Petronilla. Perchance, in respect for the honoured Maximus,
they would feel reluctant to see me take your place.'

'O modest Decius!' exclaimed the other. 'Which, pray, carries the more
dignity, your name or mine?--not to speak of your learning and my
ignorance. As to Aurelia, I can ease your mind at once. She would not
dream of objecting.'

'Then let us, to-morrow, beg audience of the pious lady at Surrentum,
and request her permission.'

The proposal made Basil uncomfortable; but a visit of respect to
Petronilla was certainly due, and perhaps it would pass without
troublesome incident. He nodded assent.

Early on the morrow they carried out their purpose. To the surprise of
both, Petronilla received them in her modest abode not ungraciously,
though with marked condescension; she gave them to understand that her
days, and much of her nights, passed in religious exercises, the names
of her kinsfolk not being omitted from her prayers; of the good bishop
she spoke almost tenderly, and with a humble pride related that she had
been able to ease a persistent headache from which his Sanctity
suffered. When Basil found an opportunity of reporting what had passed
between him and Decius, the lady's austere smile was for a moment
clouded; it looked as though storm might follow. But the smile
returned, with perhaps a slightly changed significance. Did Basil think
of remaining long at the villa? Ah, he could not say; to be sure, the
times were so uncertain. For her own part, she would start on her
journey as soon as the coffin was on board the ship. Indeed, she saw no
objection to the arrangement her dear nephew proposed; she only trusted
that the learned and amiable Decius, so justly esteemed by all, would
have a care of his health. Did he still take the infusion of marjoram
which she had prescribed for him? A holy man, newly returned from the
East, had deigned to visit her only yesterday, and had given her a
small phial of water from Rebekah's well; it was of priceless virtue,
and one drop of it had last evening restored to health and strength a
child that lay at the point of death.

In the afternoon Basil was again permitted to see Veranilda, though not
alone. To her and to Aurelia he made known that Decius would willingly
undertake the voyage. After lingering for an hour in the vain hope that
Aurelia would withdraw, were it but for a moment, he went away and
scratched ardent words on his tablet. 'I will be in your garden,' he
concluded, 'just at sunrise to-morrow. Try, try to meet me there.'

Scarcely had he despatched a servant with this when Felix announced to
him the arrival of Marcian. On fire with eagerness, Basil sped to greet
his friend.

'Give me to drink,' were the traveller's first words. 'I have ridden
since before dawn, and have a tongue like leather.'

Wine and grapes, with other refreshments, were set forth for him.
Marcian took up an earthenware jug full of spring water, and drank
deeply. His host then urged the wine, but it was refused; and as Basil
knew that one of his friend's peculiarities was a rigorous abstinence
at times from all liquor save the pure element, he said no more.

'I have been at Nuceria,' Marcian continued, throwing himself on a
seat, 'with Venantius. What a man! He was in the saddle yesterday from
sunrise to sunset; drank from sunset to the third hour of the night;
rose before light this morning, gay and brisk, and made me ride with
him, so that I was all but tired out before I started on the road
hither. Venantius declares that he can only talk of serious things on
horseback.'

'My uncle regarded him as a Roman turned barbarian,' said Basil.

'Something of that, but such men have their worth and their place.'

'We will talk about him at another time,' Basil interrupted. 'Remember
how we parted at Cumae and what happened afterwards. We are private
here; you can speak freely. How did you release us from the grip of the
Hun?'

'I told you before, good Basil, that I was here to spy upon you; and be
sure that I did not undertake that office without exacting a proof of
the confidence of our lords at Rome. Something I carry with me which
has power over such dogs as Chorsoman.'

'I saw that, best Marcian. But it did not avail to save my cousin
Aurelia from robbery.'

'Nothing would, where Chorsoman was sure of a week's--nay, of an
hour's--impunity. But did he steal aught belonging to the Gothic
maiden?'

'To Veranilda? She has but a bracelet and a ring, and those she was
wearing. They came from her mother, a woman of noblest heart, who, when
her husband Ebrimut played the traitor, and she was left behind in
Italy, would keep nothing but these two trinkets, which once were worn
by Amalafrida.'

'You know all that now,' observed Marcian quietly.

'The story of the trinkets only since an hour or two ago. That of
Veranilda's parentage I learned from Aurelia, Veranilda refusing to
converse with me until I knew.'

'Since when you have conversed, I take it, freely enough.'

'Good my lord,' replied Basil, with a look of some earnestness, 'let us
not jest on this matter.'

'I am little disposed to do so, O fiery lover!' said Marcian, with a
return of his wonted melancholy. 'For I have that to tell you which
makes the matter grave enough. We were right, you see, in our guess of
Veranilda's origin; I could wish she had been any one else. Patience,
patience! You know that I left you here to go to Neapolis. There I
received letters from Rome, one of them from Bessas himself, and, by
strange hazard, the subject of it was the daughter of Ebrimut.'

Basil made a gesture of repugnance. 'Nay, call her the daughter of
Theodenantha.'

'As you will. In any case the granddaughter of a king, and not likely
to be quite forgotten by the royal family of her own race. Another
king's grandchild, Matasuntha, lives, as you know, at Byzantium, and
enjoys no little esteem at the Emperor's court; it is rumoured, indeed,
that her husband Vitiges, having died somewhere in battle, Matasuntha
is to wed a nephew of Justinian. This lady, I am told, desires to know
the daughter of Ebri--nay, then, of Theodenantha; of whom, it seems, a
report has reached her. A command of the Emperor has come to Bessas
that the maiden Veranilda, resident at Cumae, be sent to Constantinople
with all convenient speed. And upon me, O Basil, lies the charge of
seeking her in her dwelling, and of conveying her safely to Rome, where
she will be guarded until--'

'Will be guarded!' echoed Basil fiercely. 'Nay, by the holy Peter and
Paul, that will she not! You are my friend, Marcian, and I hold you
dear, but if you attempt to obey this order--'

Hand on dagger, and eyes glaring, the young noble had sprung to his
feet. Marcian did not stir; his head was slightly bent, and a sad smile
hovered about his lips.

'O descendant of all the Anicii,' he replied, 'O son of many consuls,
remember the ancestral dignity. Time enough to threaten when you detect
me in an unfriendly act. Did I play the traitor to you at Cumae? With
the Hun this command of Justinian served you in good stead; Veranilda
would not otherwise have escaped so easily. Chorsoman, fat-witted as he
is, willingly believed that Veranilda and Aurelia, and you yourself,
were all in my net--which means the net of Bessas, whom he fears. Do
you also believe it, my good Basil?'

For answer Basil embraced his friend, and kissed him on either cheek.

'I know how this has come about,' he said; and thereupon related the
story of the visit of Olybrius to Aurelia six months ago. It seemed
probable that a report of Veranilda's beauty had reached Matasuntha,
who wished to adorn her retinue with so fair a remnant of the Amal
race. How, he went on to ask, would Marcian excuse himself at Rome for
his failure to perform this office?

'Leave that to my ingenuity,' was the reply. 'Enough for you to dare
defiance of the Emperor's will.'

Basil made a scornful gesture, which his friend noted with the same
melancholy smile.

'You have no misgiving?' said Marcian. 'Think who it is you brave.
Imperator Caesar Flavius Justinianus--Africanus, Gothicus, Germanicus,
Vandalicus, and I know not what else--Pius, Felix, Inclytus, Victor ac
Triumphator, Semper Augustus--'

The other laid a hand upon his shoulder.

'Marcian, no word of this to Aurelia, I charge you!'

'I have no desire to talk about it, be assured. But it is time that we
understood each other. Be plain with me. If you wed Veranilda how do
you purpose to secure your safety? Not, I imagine, by prostrating
yourself before Bessas. Where will you be safe from pursuit?'

Basil reflected, then asked boldly:

'Has not the King Totila welcomed and honourably entertained Romans who
have embraced his cause?'

'Come now,' exclaimed the other, his sad visage lighting up, 'that is
to speak like a man! So, we _do_ understand each other. Be it known
unto you then, O Basil, that at this moment the Gothic king is aware of
your love for Veranilda, and of your purpose to espouse her. You indeed
are a stranger to him, even in name; but not so the Anician house; and
an Anician, be assured, will meet with no cold reception in the camp of
the Goths.'

'You enjoy the confidence of Totila?' asked Basil, wondering, and a
little confused.

'Did I not tell you that I claimed the merit of playing traitor to both
sides?'

Marcian spoke with a note of bitterness, looking his friend fixedly in
the face.

'It is a noble treachery,' said Basil, seizing both his hands. 'I am
with you, heart and soul! Tell me more. Where is the king? Will he
march upon Rome?'

'Neapolis will see him before Rome does. He comes slowly through
Samnium, making sure his conquest on the way. Let me now speak again of
Venantius. He would fain know you.'

'He is one of ours?'

'One of those true Romans who abhor the Eastern tyranny and see in the
Goth a worthy ally. Will you ride with me to-morrow to Nuceria?'

'I cannot,' replied Basil, 'for I dare not leave Veranilda without
protection, after what you have told me.'

'Why, then, Venantius must come hither.'

Whilst the friends were thus conversing a courier rode forth from
Surrentum towards Neapolis. He bore a letter whereof the contents were
these:--


'To the holy and reverend deacon Leander, Petronilla's humble
salutation.

'I am most punctually informed of all that passes at the villa. My
nephew goes not to Rome; his place will be taken by Decius. The reason
is that which I have already suggested to your Sanctity. Marcian has
arrived this afternoon, coming I know not whence, but I shall learn. I
suspect things of the darkest moment. Let your Sanctity pursue the
project with which heaven has inspired you. You shall receive, if
necessary, two missives every day. Humbly I entreat your prayers.'



CHAPTER VII

HERESY


The Roman Empire, by confining privileges and honours to the senatorial
order, created a noble caste, and this caste, as Imperial authority
declined, became a power independent of the state, and a menace to its
existence. In Italy, by the end of the fifth century, the great system
of citizenship, with its principle of infinite devotion to the good of
the commonwealth, was all but forgotten. In matters of justice and of
finance the nobles were beginning to live by their own law, which was
that of the right of the strongest. Having ceased to hold office and
perform public services in the municipia, they became, in fact, rulers
of the towns situated on or near their great estates. Theodoric,
striving to uphold the ancient civility, made strenuous efforts to
combat this aristocratic predominance; yet on some points he was
obliged to yield to the tendency of the times, as when he forbade the
freedmen, serfs, and slaves on any estate to plead against their lord,
and so delivered the mass of the rural inhabitants of Italy to private
jurisdiction. The Gothic war of course hastened the downfall of
political and social order. The manners of the nobles grew violent in
lawlessness; men calling themselves senators, but having in fact
renounced that rank by permanent absence from Rome, and others who
merely belonged to senatorial houses, turned to fortifying their
villas, and to building castles on heights, whilst they gathered about
them a body of retainers, armed for defence or for aggression.

Such a personage was Venantius, son of a senator of the same name, who,
under Theodoric, had attained the dignity of Patrician and what other
titular glories the time afforded. Venantius, the younger, coming into
possession of an estate between Neapolis and Salernum, here took up his
abode after the siege of Rome, and lived as seemed good to him, lord
over the little town of Nuceria, and of a considerable tract of
country, with a villa converted into a stronghold up on the mountain
side. Having suffered wrongs at the hands of the Imperial
conquerors--property of his in Rome had been seized--he heard with
satisfaction of the rise of Totila, and, as soon as the king's progress
southward justified such a step, entered into friendly communication
with the Goth, whom he invited to come with all speed into Campania,
where Salernum, Neapolis, Cumae, would readily fall into his hands.
Marcian, on his double mission of spy in the Greek service and friend
of the Goths, had naturally sought out Venantius; and the description
he gave to Basil of the fortress above Nuceria filled the listener with
enthusiasm.

'I would I could live in the same way,' Basil exclaimed. 'And why not?
My own villa in Picenum might be strengthened with walls and towers. We
have stone enough, and no lack of men to build.'

Yet as he spoke a misgiving betrayed itself on his countenance.
Consciously or not, he had always had before him a life at Rome, the
life which became a Roman, as distinguished from a barbarian. But the
need to seek security for Veranilda again became vivid to his mind. At
Rome, clearly, he could not live with his wife until the Goths had
reconquered the city, which was not likely to happen soon. His means
were represented chiefly by the Arpinum estate, which he had inherited
from his father; in Rome he had nothing but his mansion on the Caelian.
The treasure at his command, a considerable sum, he had brought away in
a strong box, and it was now more than doubled in value by what fell to
him under the will of Maximus--money to be paid out of the great coffer
which the senator had conveyed hither. As they talked, Marcian urged
upon him a close friendship with Venantius, in whose castle he would be
welcomed. Here at Surrentum he could not long rest in safety, for
Chorsoman might at any time have his suspicions awakened by learning
the delay of Veranilda's journey to Rome, and the news of her marriage
could not be prevented from spreading.

So Basil lay through an anxious hour or two before sleep fell upon him
to-night. He resolved to change the habits of his life, to shake off
indolence and the love of ease, to fortify himself with vigorous
exercises, and become ready for warfare. It was all very well for an
invalid, like Decius, to nurse a tranquil existence, unheeding the
temper of the times. A strong and healthy man had no right to lurk away
from the streaming flood of things; it behoved him to take his part in
strife and tumult, to aid in re-establishing a civic state. This
determination firmly grasped, he turned to think of the hoped-for
meeting with Veranilda in the morning, and gentler emotions lulled him
into dreams.

At dawn he bestirred himself. The gallery outside his chamber was
lighted with a hanging lamp, and at a little distance sounded the
footstep of the watchman, who told him that the morning was fair, and,
at his bidding, opened a door which admitted to the open terrace
overlooking the sea. Having stepped forth, Basil stood for a moment
sniffing the cool air with its scent from the vineyards, and looking at
the yellow rift in the eastern sky; then he followed a path which
skirted the villa's outward wall and led towards the dwelling of
Aurelia. Presently he reached the ruined wall of the little garden, and
here a voice challenged him, that of a servant on watch until sunrise.

'It is well,' he replied. 'I will relieve you for this last half hour;
go to your rest.'

But the slave hesitated. He had strictest orders, and feared to disobey
them even at this bidding.

'You are an honest fellow,' said Basil, 'and the lady Aurelia shall
know of your steadfastness. But get you gone; there is no danger whilst
I am here.'

Impatiently he watched the man retire, then stood just within the gap
of the wall, and waited with as much fear as hope. It might be that
Veranilda would not venture forth without speaking to Aurelia, who
might forbid the meeting; or, if she tried to steal out, she might be
detected and hindered; perhaps she would fear to pass under the eyes of
a watchman or other servant who might be in her way. He stamped
nervously, and turned to look for a moment in the outward direction.
This little villa stood on the edge of a declivity falling towards the
sea; a thicket of myrtles grew below. At the distance of half a mile
along the coast, beyond a hollow wooded with ilex, rose a temple, which
time and the hand of man had yet spared; its whiteness glimmered
against a sky whose cloudless dusk was warming with a reflection of the
daybreak. An influence in the scene before him, something he neither
understood nor tried to understand, held him gazing longer than he
supposed, and with a start he heard his name spoken by the beloved
voice. Close to him stood Veranilda. She was cloaked and hooded, so
that he could hardly see her face; but her white hands were held out
for his.

Heart to heart, mouth to mouth, they whispered. To be more private,
Basil drew her without the garden. Veranilda's eyes fixed themselves
upon the spreading glory of the east; and it moved her to utterance.

'When I was a child,' she said, 'at Ravenna, I gazed once at the
sunrise, and behold, in the rays which shot upwards stood an angel, a
great, beautiful angel, with wings of blue, and a garment which shone
like gold, and on his head was a wreath of I know not what flowers. I
ran to tell my mother, but when she came, alas! the angel had vanished.
No one could tell me certainly what the vision meant. Often I have
looked and hoped to see the angel again, but he has never come.'

Basil listened without a doubt, and murmured soft words. Then he asked
whether Aurelia knew of this meeting; but Veranilda shook her head.

'I durst not speak. I so feared to disappoint you. This night I have
hardly slept, lest I should miss the moment. Should I not return very
soon, O Basil?'

'You shall; though your going will make the sky black as when Auster
blows. But it is not for long. A few days--'

He broke off with the little laugh of a triumphing lover.

'A few days?' responded Veranilda, timidly questioning.

'We wait only until that dark ship has sailed for Rome.' 'Does Aurelia
know that you purpose it so soon?' asked Veranilda.

'Why? Has she seemed to you to wish otherwise?'

'She has never spoken of it.--And afterwards? Shall we remain here,
Basil?'

'For no long time. Here I am but a guest. We must dwell where I am lord
and you lady of all about us.'

He told her of his possessions, of the great house in Rome with the
villa at Arpinum. Then he asked her, playfully, but with a serious
purpose in his mind, which of the two she would prefer for an abode.

'I have no choice but yours,' she replied. 'Where it seems good to my
dear lord to dwell, there shall I be at rest.'

'We must be safe against our enemies,' said Basil, with graver
countenance.

'Our enemies?'

'Has not Aurelia talked to you of the war? You know that the Gothic
king is conquering all before him, coming from the north?'

Veranilda looked into her lover's face with a tender anxiety.

'And you fear him, O Basil? It is he that is our enemy?'

'Not so, sweetest. No foe of mine is he who wears the crown of
Theodoric. They whom I fear and abhor are the slaves of Justinian, the
robber captains who rule at Ravenna and in Rome.'

As she heard him, Veranilda trembled with joy. She caught his hand, and
bent over it, and kissed it.

'Had I been the enemy of Totila,' said Basil, 'could you still have
loved me as a wife should love?'

'I had not asked myself,' she answered, 'for it was needless. When I
look on you, I think neither of Roman nor of Goth.'

Basil spoke of his hope that Rome might be restored to the same freedom
it had enjoyed under the great king. Then they would dwell together in
the sacred city. That, too, was Veranilda's desire; for on her ear the
name of Rome fell with a magic sound; all her life she had heard it
spoken reverentially, with awe, yet the city itself she had never seen.
Rome, she knew, was vast; there, it seemed to her, she would live
unobserved, unthought of save by him she loved. Seclusion from all
strangers, from all who, learning her origin, would regard her
slightingly, was what her soul desired.

Day had broken; behind the mountains there was light of the sun. Once
more they held each other heart to heart, and Veranilda hastened
through the garden to regain her chamber. Basil stood for some minutes
lost in a delicious dream; the rising day made his face beautiful, his
eyes gleamed with an unutterable rapture. At length he sighed and awoke
and looked about him. At no great distance, as though just issued from
the ilex wood, moved a man's figure. It approached very slowly, and
Basil watched until he saw that the man was bent as if with age, and
had black garments such as were worn by wandering mendicant monks.
Carelessly he turned, and went his way back to the villa.

An hour later, Aurelia learnt that a 'holy man,' a pilgrim much travel
worn, was begging to be admitted to her. She refused to see him. Still
he urged his entreaty, declaring that he had a precious gift for her
acceptance, and an important message for her ear. At length he was
allowed to enter the atrium, and Aurelia saw before her a man in black
monkish habit, his body bent and tremulous, but evidently not with age,
for his aspect otherwise was that of middle life. What, she asked
briefly and coldly, was his business with her? Thereupon the monk drew
from his bosom a small wrappage of tissues, which when unfolded
disclosed a scrap of something hairy.

'This, noble lady,' said the monk, in a voice reverently subdued, 'is
from the camel-hair garment of Holy John the Baptist. I had it of a
hermit in the Egyptian desert, who not many days after I quitted him
was for his sanctity borne up to heaven by angels, and knew not death.'

Aurelia viewed the relic with emotion.

'Why,' she asked, 'do you offer it to me?'

The monk drew a step nearer and whispered:

'Because I know that you, like him from whom I received it, are of the
true faith.'

Aurelia observed him closely. His robe was ragged and filthy; his bare
feet were thick with the dust of the road; his visage, much begrimed,
wore an expression of habitual suffering, and sighs as of pain
frequently broke from him. The hand by which he supported himself on a
staff trembled as with weakness.

'You are not a presbyter?' she said in an undertone, after a glance at
his untonsured head.

'I am unworthy of the meanest order in the Church. In pilgrimings and
fastings I do penance for a sin of youth. You see how wasted is my
flesh.'

'What, then,' asked Aurelia, 'was the message you said you bore for me?'

'This. Though I myself have no power to perform the sacraments of our
faith, I tend upon one who has. He lies not far from here, like myself
sick and weary, and, because of a vow, may not come within the
precincts of any dwelling. In Macedonia, oppressed by our persecutors,
he was long imprisoned, and so sorely tormented that, in a moment when
the Evil One prevailed over his flesh, he denied the truth. This sin
gave him liberty, but scarce had he come forth when a torment of the
soul, far worse than that of his body, fell upon him. He was delivered
over to the Demon, and, being yet alive, saw about him the fires of
Gehenna. Thus, for a season, did he suffer things unspeakable,
wandering in desert places, ahungered, athirst, faint unto death, yet
not permitted to die. One night of storm, he crept for shelter into the
ruins of a heathen temple. Of a sudden, a dreadful light shone about
him, and he beheld the Demon in the guise of that false god, who fell
upon him and seemed like to slay him. But Sisinnius--so is the holy man
named--strove in prayer and in conjuration, yea, strove hours until the
crowing of the cock, and thus sank into slumber. And while he slept, an
angel of the Most High appeared before him, and spoke words which I
know not. Since then, Sisinnius wanders from land to land, seeking out
the temples of the heathen which have not been purified, and passing
the night in strife with the Powers of Darkness, wherein he is ever
victorious.'

With intent look did Aurelia listen to this narrative. At its close,
she asked eagerly:

'This man of God has sent you to me?'

'Moved by a vision--for in the sleep which follows upon his struggle it
is often granted him to see beyond this world. He bids you resist
temptation, and be of good courage.'

'Know you what this bidding means?' inquired the awed woman, gazing
into the monk's eyes till they fell.

'I know nothing. I am but a follower of the holy Sisinnius--an unworthy
follower.'

'May I not speak with him?'

The monk had a troubled look.

'I have told you, lady, that he must not, by reason of his vow, enter a
human dwelling.'

'But may I not go to him?' she urged. 'May I not seek him in his
solitude, guided by you?'

To this, said the monk, he could give no reply until he had spoken with
Sisinnius. He promised to do so, and to return, though he knew not at
what hour, nor even whether it would be this day. And, after demanding
many assurances that he would come again as speedily as might be,
Aurelia allowed the messenger to depart.

Meanwhile Basil and Marcian have spent an hour in talk, the result of
which was a decision that Marcian should again repair to the stronghold
of Venantius, and persuade him to come over to Surrentum. When his
friend had ridden forth Basil sought conversation with Aurelia, whom he
found in a mood unlike any she had yet shown to him, a mood of dreamy
trouble, some suppressed emotion appearing in her look and in her
speech. He began by telling her of Venantius, but this seemed to
interest her less than he had expected.

'Cousin,' he resumed, 'I have a double thought in desiring that
Venantius should come hither. It is not only that I may talk with him
of the war, and learn his hopes, but that I may secure a safe retreat
for Veranilda when she is my wife, and for you, dear cousin, if you
desire it.'

He spoke as strongly as he could without revealing the secret danger,
of the risks to which they would all be exposed when rumours of his
marriage reached the governor of Cumae, or the Greeks in Neapolis.
Until the Goths reached Campania, a Roman here who fell under suspicion
of favouring them must be prepared either to flee or to defend himself.
Defence of this villa was impossible even against the smallest body of
soldiers, but within the walls, raised and fortified by Venantius, a
long siege might be safely sustained.

'It is true,' said Aurelia at length, as if rousing herself from her
abstraction, 'that we must think of safety. But you are not yet wedded.'

'A few days hence I shall be.'

'Have you forgotten,' she resumed, meeting his resolute smile, 'what
still divides you from Veranilda?'

'You mean the difference of religion. Tell me, did that stand in the
way of your marriage with a Goth?'

She cast down her eyes and was silent.

'Was your marriage,' Basil went on, 'blessed by a Catholic or by an
Arian presbyter?'

'By neither,' replied Aurelia gently.

'Then why may it not be so with me and Veranilda? And so it shall be,
lady cousin,' he added cheerily. 'Our good Decius will be gone; we
await the sailing of the ship; but you and Marcian, and perhaps
Venantius, will be our witnesses.'

For the validity of Christian wedlock no religious rite was necessary:
the sufficient, the one indispensable, condition was mutual consent.
The Church favoured a union which had been sanctified by the oblation
and the blessing, but no ecclesiastical law imposed this ceremony. As
in the days of the old religion, a man wedded his bride by putting the
ring upon her finger and delivering her dowry in a written document,
before chosen witnesses. Aurelia knew that even as this marriage had
satisfied her, so would it suffice to Veranilda, whom a rapturous love
made careless of doctrinal differences: She perceived, moreover, that
Basil was in no mood for religious discussion; there was little hope
that he would consent to postpone his marriage on such an account; yet
to convert Basil to 'heresy' was a fine revenge she would not willingly
forego, her own bias to Arianism being stronger than ever since the
wrong she believed herself to have suffered at the hands of the deacon,
and the insult cast at her by her long-hated aunt. After years of
bitterness, her triumph seemed assured. It was much to have inherited
from her father, to have expelled Petronilla; but the marriage of Basil
with a Goth, his renunciation of Catholicism, and with it the Imperial
cause, were greater things, and together with their attainment she
foredreamt the greatest of all, Totila's complete conquest of Italy.
She saw herself mistress in the Anician palace at Rome, commanding vast
wealth, her enemies mute, powerless, submissive before her. Then, if it
seemed good to her, she would again wed, and her excited imagination
deigned to think of no spouse save him whose alliance would make her
royal.

Providential was the coming of the holy Sisinnius. Beyond doubt he had
the gift of prophecy. From him she would not only receive the
consolations of religion, but might learn what awaited her. Very slowly
passed the hours until the reappearance of the black monk. He came when
day was declining, and joyfully she learnt that Sisinnius permitted her
to visit him; it must be on the morrow at the second hour, the place a
spot in the ilex wood, not far away, whither the monk would guide her.
But she must come alone; were she accompanied, even at a distance, by
any attendant, Sisinnius would refuse to see her. To all the conditions
Aurelia readily consented, and bade the monk meet her at the appointed
hour by the breach in her garden wall.

On the morrow there was no glory of sunrise; clouds hung heavy, and a
sobbing wind shook the dry leaves of the vine. But at the second hour,
after pretence of idling about the garden, Aurelia saw approach the
black, bowed figure, with a gesture bade him go before, and followed.
She was absent not long enough to excite the remark of her household.
In going forth she had been pale with agitation; at her return she had
a fire in her cheeks, a lustre in her eyes, which told of hopes
abundantly fulfilled. At once she sought Veranilda, to whom she had not
yet spoken of the monk's visit. At this juncture the coming even of an
ordinary priest of the Arian faith would have been more than welcome to
them, living as they perforce did without office or sacrament; but
Sisinnius, declared Aurelia, was a veritable man of God, one who had
visions and saw into the future, one whom merely to behold was a sacred
privilege. She had begged his permission to visit him again, with
Veranilda, and he had consented; but a few days must pass before that,
as the holy man was called away she knew not whither. When he summoned
them they must go forth in early morning, to a certain cave near at
hand, where Sisinnius would say mass and administer to them the
communion. Hearing such news, Veranilda gladdened.

'Will the holy man reveal our fate to us?' she asked, with a child's
simplicity.

'To me he has already uttered a prophetic word,' answered Aurelia, 'but
I may not repeat it, no, not even to you. Enough that it has filled my
soul with wonder and joy.'

'May that joy also be mine!' said Veranilda, pressing her hands
together.

This afternoon, when Basil sat with her and Aurelia, she took her
cithern, and in a low voice sang songs she had heard her mother sing,
in the days before shame and sorrow fell upon Theodenantha. There were
old ballads of the Goths, oftener stern than tender, but to the
listeners, ignorant of her tongue, Veranilda's singing made them sweet
as lover's praise. One little song was Greek; it was all she knew of
that language, and the sole inheritance that had come to her from her
Greek-loving grandparent, the King Theodahad.

Auster was blowing; great lurid clouds rolled above the dark green
waters, and at evening rain began to fall. Through the next day, and
the day after that, the sky still lowered; there was thunder of waves
upon the shore; at times a mist swept down from the mountains, which
enveloped all in gloom. To Basil and Veranilda it mattered nothing.
Where they sat together there was sunshine, and before them gleamed an
eternity of cloudless azure.



CHAPTER VIII

THE SNARE


Meanwhile all was made ready for the sailing of the ship. Coffined in
lead, the body of Maximus awaited only a return of fine weather for its
conveyance to the vessel. When at length calm fell upon the sea, and
after a still night of gentle rain the day broke radiantly, all
Surrentum was in movement between church and harbour. Mass having been
said, the bishop himself led the procession down the hollow way and
through the chasm in the cliffs seaward, whilst psalms were chanted and
incense burnt. Carried in her litter, Petronilla followed the bier;
beside her walked Basil and Decius. Only by conscious effort could
these two subdue their visages to a becoming sadness; for Basil thought
of his marriage, Decius of Rome and his library. Nor did Petronilla
wear an aspect of very profound gloom; at moments she forgot herself,
and a singular animation appeared on her proud features; it was as
though some exultancy took hold of her mind.

That Aurelia held apart, that the daughter gave no testimony of
reverence for a father's remains, caused such murmuring in the crowd of
Surrentines: her heresy seemed to be made more notorious, more
abominable, by this neglect. At Surrentum, Arianism had never been
known; no Goth had ever dwelt here; and since Aurelia's arrival public
opinion had had time to gather force against her. It was believed that
she had driven forth with insults the most noble Petronilla, that
exemplar of charity and of a saintly life. Worse still was the rumour,
now generally believed, that the Senator's daughter had obtained her
inheritance by wicked hypocrisy, by a false show of return to the true
faith. Being herself so evil, it was not to be wondered that she
corrupted those who fell under her influence; the young lord Basil, for
instance, who, incredible as it sounded, was said to be on the point of
espousing a Gothic damsel, a mysterious attendant upon Aurelia, of whom
strange stories were rife. Talk of these things made no little
agitation in the town when ceremonies were over and the coffin had been
embarked. The generality threw up their hands, and cried shame, and
asked why the bishop did not take some action in so grave a scandal.
But here and there folk whispered together in a different tone, with
winkings and lips compressed, and nods significant of menace. Patience!
Wait a day or two, and they would see what they would see. Heaven was
not regardless of iniquity.

Scarce had the ship weighed anchor, to be wafted across the bay by a
gentle wind, when Petronilla started on her land journey for Rome. The
great chariot, the baggage, the servants riding, made fresh commotion
in Surrentum; many accompanied the great lady along the winding road
until they were weary and their curiosity satisfied. To this obsequious
escort Petronilla uttered certain words which before evening were
repeated throughout the town. 'Let us forgive our enemies,' she said,
with that air of hers, at once so grand and so devout--'let us forgive
our enemies, but let us omit no means, however rigorous, of saving
their souls'; and of those who reported the saying, some winked and
nodded more significantly than ever.

Just before sunset on this same day there was trampling of hoofs along
the road ascending to the villa, as two horsemen, with a dozen
followers, some on horses, some on mules, rode up. Summoned to the
atrium, Basil greeted the return of Marcian, and looked with curiosity
at the man standing beside him, who could be no other than Venantius. A
tall and comely man, wearing a casque and a light breastplate, his
years not more than thirty, rather slim, yet evidently muscular and
vigorous, he had a look of good-humoured determination, and the tones
in which he replied to Basil's welcome were those of a born commander.
In contrast with his host's elaborate courtesy, the manners of
Venantius might have been judged a trifle barbarous, but this bluntness
was no result of defective breeding; had he chosen, he could have
exchanged lofty titles and superlatives of compliment with any expert
in such fashionable extravagances, but he chose a plainer speech, in
keeping with his martial aspect. First of all he excused himself for
having arrived with so many followers.

'But our good Marcian,' he added, clapping a hand on his companion's
shoulder, 'had a story to tell me of a fair lady and fairer
maiden--though not long to bear the name, she--who may belike need
protection as well as honourable attendance; whereas you, noble Basil,
have thought little of the use of arms, and probably keep no very
warlike retinue at command. So I mounted half a dozen bowmen, who will
ride and shoot with any Hun, and as many stout fellows who can wield
lance or throw javelin, and here they are at your gates. Have no fear
for the girls within doors; my men are both sober and chaste by
prudence, if not by nature. There was a time when I had to make an
example here and there'--he scowled a smile--'but now they know me.'

Basil replied as became him, not without some slight imitation of his
guest's bluff manliness. Admiring, as he did, above all things, that
which savoured of heroism, he was strongly impressed by Venantius,
whose like, among natives of Rome, he had not yet beheld, who shone
before him, indeed, in a nobler light than any man he had seen since
the days when he worshipped Belisarius. Arrangements were speedily made
for the entertainment of the little armed troop, and as dusk gathered
the host and his two guests sat down to supper. Whilst the meal was
being made ready, Basil had found opportunity of speech with Aurelia,
who heard with great satisfaction of the coming of Venantius, and
promised to receive him early on the morrow.

'The lady Aurelia's name is not unknown to me,' said Venantius, when
Basil spoke of her at table. He would have added a remark, but paused
with a look at the attendant slaves. 'Her illustrious father,' he went
on, 'I spoke with when I was young. But for the illness of Maximus I
should have ventured hither during this year gone by, notwithstanding
some difference in our view of things; or rather, to make sure whether
there really was as much difference as I supposed.'

'Perchance you would have found that there was not,' said Basil.
'Certainly not towards the end.'

'May his soul repose! He had the bearing which suited with his noble
name--a true Anicius to look upon. If Rome have need in these times of
another breed of citizens--and who can gainsay that?--she will not
forget such men as he, who lived with dignity when they could do no
more. You, my dear lord'--he turned towards Basil--'Anicius though you
are, see another way before you, what?'

They talked far into the night. When he spoke of the Imperial
conquerors--'Greeklings' he called them--Venantius gave vent to his
wrath and scorn. The Goths were right when they asked what had ever
come out of Greece save mimes and pirates; land-thieves they might have
added, for what else were the generals of Justinian with their
pillaging hordes? They dared to speak of the Goths as barbarians--these
Herules, Isaurians, Huns, Armenians, and Teutons!--of the Goths, whose
pride it had so long been to defend Roman civilisation, and even to
restore the Roman edifices. What commander among them could compare
with Totila, brave, just, generous?

'By the Holy Mother!' he cried, with a great gesture, 'if I were not
wedded to a wife I love, who has borne me already three boys as healthy
as wolf cubs, I would follow your example, O Basil, and take to myself
a blue-eyed daughter of that noble race. They are heretics, why yes,
but as far as I can make out they pray much as I do, and by heaven's
grace may yet be brought to hold the truth as to the Three-in-One. When
they had the power, did they meddle with our worship? Let every man
believe as he list, say I, so that he believe sincerely, and trust God
against the devil.'

In the stillness of their secluded abode, Aurelia and Veranilda went to
rest earlier than usual this evening, for they were to arise before the
dawn. This afternoon they had been visited by the black monk, who
announced the return of Sisinnius, and invited them to the promised
mass on the morrow; and such was their agitation in the foretaste of
this religious ecstasy, as well as in the hope of having their future
revealed to them, that neither slept much during the night. Not long
after the crowing of the first cock, when all was silent and dark,
Aurelia stepped, with a lamp in her hand, into the maiden's chamber.

'Is it the hour?' whispered Veranilda, raising herself.

'Not yet. I have had a troubled dream. I dreamt that this night the
holy Sisinnius had fought with the demon, and had been worsted. O
Veranilda!'--the speaker's voice trembled--'what may this mean?'

'Dearest lady,' answered the other reassuringly, 'may it not be a
temptation of the demon himself; who at times is permitted to tempt
even the holiest?'

'And you, sweet? You have not dreamt?'

'Only of Basil,' answered Veranilda, with a smile that asked pardon for
her happiness.

They talked over the disquieting vision, whilst the little lamp-flame,
wavering in breaths of air, cast strange shadows about the room. On the
walls were faded frescoes, one of which represented the poetess Proba
on her knees before St. Agnes. Impelled by her fears, Aurelia of a
sudden knelt before this picture, and prayed silently to the virgin
martyr. Then Veranilda rose from the couch, and knelt beside her.
Having solaced their souls, they kissed each other tenderly.

'You are not afraid,' whispered Veranilda, 'that Basil may be in the
garden when we go forth?'

'Basil? Ah, little rogue, have you betrayed yourself?'

'Of a truth, dearest lady, he has been there more than once, but not,
oh not so early!'

'Nay, I hope not,' said Aurelia. 'It were scarce maidenly--'

'Never, never before the east had broken for the dayspring! Never, I
swear to you, O my heart's friend!'

'Then there is small fear of his interrupting us this morning; all the
more that he must have sat late with his friends, talking of many
things. I am glad of the coming of this brave Venantius; it puts an end
to every peril.'

They conversed on this encouraging theme until Aurelia's ear caught the
sound of a footfall in the gallery. She stepped forth and encountered a
female slave, who told her that there wanted two hours to dawn; it was
time, then, to set forth and a few minutes saw them ready. In the
garden they were met by the watchman, who carried a lantern. He, having
merely been ordered to stand in readiness at this hour and being
ignorant of his mistress's intention, showed astonishment when he saw
Aurelia and her companion bent on going out. He took it for granted
that he was to accompany them. But at this moment there appeared in the
rays of the lantern a black figure, which had entered by the breach in
the wall. Aurelia whispered a few words to her watchman, whose religion
was the same as hers, and at once he dropped to his knees.

'Peace be with you, good brother,' said the monk, in his feeble voice,
as he drew a lantern from beneath his cloak. You may not accompany us;
but have no fear. The way is short.'

Forthwith he turned, and Aurelia, holding Veranilda's hand, followed
where he lighted the way. For a few minutes they pursued a level path,
then, passing between myrtles, began to descend the seaward slope. The
ground was rough, but the monk, going before, marked the places for
their footing. A few minutes thus, and they reached trees, black
against a sky sown with stars and overshimmered by a wasted moon.
Veranilda, who was trembling, clung to her companion's arm.

'How much further?' asked Aurelia, striving to make her voice firm.
'This is not the way by which I came before.'

'Scarce fifty steps. See you not the light yonder?'

Among the trees was perceptible a faint shining. Hand tight clasped in
hand, the two moved forward over thick herbage, and still descended.
They drew near to the light, and saw that it issued from a little cave.
Within stood a man, bent as if with age and infirmities, his face
half-hidden under a cowl. When the visitors were near, he stretched
forth his arms, murmuring words of welcome, and the two knelt devoutly
before him.

There was a moment of silence, then the cowled man again spoke, in a
voice firmer and less senile.

'My daughters, you have come hither through the gloom of night and over
rough places, led by a faithful guide, whom you followed without doubt
or fear. You will have your reward. The darkness, the stones that made
your feet to stumble, what are these but symbols of your spiritual
state? In your blindness, you sought one blind as yourselves, to follow
whom was to walk in darkness eternal. But a beneficent Power has
watched over you, guiding your steps in the better way, whereof you
recked not.'

Aurelia and Veranilda had raised their heads, and were gazing at him,
in fearful astonishment.

'Be not troubled,' he went on, taking a step forward and speaking in a
voice strong and clear. 'Though unworthy, I am a priest of the faith in
which you, Aurelia, were baptized. In my hands you will suffer no harm,
no indignity. Be still, be silent. Behind you stand those who will not
permit you to flee, but who will conduct you hence as if they were your
own attendants if you do but follow me, as you needs must, without cry
or resistance.'

Aurelia turned and saw a number of figures whom the dim light showed to
be men with weapons. A moan of anguish escaped her lips. Clinging to
her in terrified silence, Veranilda seemed about to sink to the ground.

'Our way,' pursued the priest, who was now revealed as neither old nor
infirm, 'is down to the harbour. Not far from here a litter awaits you;
summon your strength for the short effort over rugged ground. Speak
words of comfort to this maiden; she also will ere long walk in the
light, and will be grateful to those who rescued her from the path of
destruction. Think not to escape us when we pass through the city; it
were vain to cry aloud; not a man in Surrentum would raise his hand to
release you, knowing, as all do, that we confine your body only to free
your soul from the bonds of the Enemy.'

'Whither are you taking us?' asked Aurelia, suddenly commanding
herself, and speaking with cold scorn.

'That you will know before the evening. Enough for the present that you
will travel without fatigue and without danger. Follow now whither I
lead.'

He moved forward, and the armed men, half a dozen in number, among whom
stood the black monk, closed about the prisoners. Seeing the futility
of any resistance, Aurelia whispered to her companion such words of
encouragement as she could find, and supported her with her arms. But
Veranilda had overcome the first terror which made her droop.

'Basil will find and release us,' she whispered back. 'While he has
life, Basil will not forsake us.'

And with unfaltering steps she moved onward, holding Aurelia's hand.

Their path, illumined by lanterns, the guards presently issued from the
wood, and came to the place where the litter was waiting. Hence the
captives were borne rapidly towards the haven. As they entered the city
gates, Aurelia raised the curtain which concealed her, and looked out
at the men on watch; words exchanged between them and her conductors
only confirmed what the priest had said, and made her understand that
she was powerless amid enemies.

'Are we not to have a look at the Gothic beauty?' cried one fellow,
when the litter was passing.

'Peace!' answered the priest sternly; and nothing more was said.

Through the streets they were followed by a few persons. These, calling
to each other, collected at length a small crowd, which hung about the
litter when it reached the place of embarkation. Here torches were
burning; their red glare fell upon angry or mocking faces, and every
moment the crowd increased. With utmost speed the prisoners were passed
into a little boat, then rowed to a vessel lying at the harbour mouth.
As the ship hoisted sail, dawn began to glimmer over the flank of
Vesuvius.



CHAPTER IX

CHORSOMAN


Fearful of sleeping till after sunrise, Basil had bidden Felix arouse
him this morning; and, as he had much to talk of with Veranilda, he
betook himself to the garden very early.

Aurelia's watchman was standing without, gazing anxiously now this way,
now that, surprised by his mistress's failure to return; on the
appearance of Basil he withdrew, but only to a spot whence he could
survey the garden. All impatience, the lover waited, as minute after
minute slowly passed. Dawn was broadening to day, but Veranilda came
not. An agony of disappointment seized upon him, and he stood at length
in the attitude of one sickening with despair. Then a footstep
approached, and he saw the slave whose watch he had relieved come
forward with so strange a look that Basil could only stare at him.

'My lord,' said the man, 'there is one at the gate of the villa who
brings I know not what news for you.'

'One at the gate? News?' echoed Basil, his heart sinking with dread
anticipation. 'What mean you, fellow?'

'Most noble, I know nothing,' stammered the frightened slave 'I beseech
your greatness to inquire. They say--I know not what--'

Basil sped across the garden and into Aurelia's dwelling. Here he found
a group of servants talking excitedly together; at view of him, they
fell back as if fear-stricken. From one, Aurelia's old nurse, rose a
wail of distress; upon her Basil rushed, grasped her by the arm, and
sternly demanded what had happened. Dropping to her knees with a shrill
cry, the woman declared that Aurelia had vanished, that some one from
the city had seen her carried away before dawn.

'Alone?' asked Basil in a terrible voice.

'Lord, I know not,' wailed the woman, grovelling at his feet.

'Is Veranilda in her chamber?' he asked violently.

'Gone!' replied a faint voice from amid the group of servants.

'Where is this messenger?'

Without waiting for a reply, he sprang forward. In the portico which
led to the villa he heard his name shouted, and he knew the voice for
Marcian's; another moment and Marcian himself appeared, pale, agitated.

'Why do you seek me?' cried Basil.

'You come from yonder? Have you seen Aurelia? Then it is true.'

Marcian told the news brought up from Surrentum by some person unknown,
who, having uttered it in the porter's ear, had at once fled.

'Go call Venantius,' said Basil, when he had heard the brief story,
'and bring him straight to Aurelia's house. They are gone; that
slinking slave shall tell me how, or I will tear it out of him with his
soul.'

Back he rushed, and found the nurse still crouching on the floor,
wailing. He made her lead him to her lady's chamber, and to that of
Veranilda, where nothing unusual met their eyes. The watchman was then
summoned; he came like one half dead, and smote the ground with his
forehead before the young noble, who stood hand on dagger. A fierce
interrogatory elicited clear and truthful answers; when Basil learned
what Aurelia had whispered to her servant as she went forth, he uttered
a groan.

'Marcian! Venantius!' he cried, for at that moment the two entered the
atrium. 'I understand it all. Why had I no fear of this?'

That Aurelia had been deceived and inveigled by one professing to be an
Arian priest, seemed clear from the watchman's story. For the
originator of the plot, Basil had not far to look. This was the
vengeance of Petronilla. But whither the two captives would be
conveyed, was less easy to conjecture. Perhaps to Cumae. The thought
stung Basil to frenzy, for, if Veranilda once fell into the hands of
the Greeks, what hope had he of ever seeing her again?

'Did Petronilla know?' he asked of Marcian.

'Who can say?' answered his friend, easily understanding the curtailed
question. 'Like enough that she had sent to Cumae to learn all she
could; and in that case, she found, you may be sure, ready instruments
of her malice. Were it not better,' Marcian added in an aside, 'to tell
Venantius what danger threatened Veranilda?'

The warlike Roman, who, aroused on an alarm, had instantly equipped
himself with casque and sword, stood listening to what passed, sniffing
the air and rolling his eyes about as if he desired nothing better than
a conflict. The others now drew him aside into a more private place,
and made known to him their reason for fearing that the Gothic maiden
had been seized by emissaries from Cumae.

'Had I heard that story before,' said Venantius, all but laughing with
angry surprise, 'Veranilda would now be safe in my castle; for, instead
of lingering, I should have come straightway, to rescue her and you.
Holy Peter and Paul! You sported here, day after day, knowing that the
hounds of Justinian had scent of the maid you carried away? You, Basil,
might commit such folly, for you were blinded to everything by your
love. But, Marcian, how came you to let him loll in his dream of
security? Why did you conceal this from me? By Castor! it was
unfriendly as it was imprudent. You robbed me of a sweet morsel when
you denied me the chance of balking the Greeks in such a matter as
this. Nay, the bird is caged at Cumae, be sure.'

Marcian's brows were knit, and his eyes cast down as he listened to
this reproof.

'I had not thought of Petronilla,' he murmured. 'But for her, the
danger was not pressing. That thick-skulled Hun at Cumae easily let
himself be blinded, as I told you.'

'How could I forget,' cried Basil, 'that Petronilla would risk
damnation rather than lose her vengeance upon Aurelia But,' he added,
with sudden change from gloom to vehemence, 'that woman is not beyond
our reach. Only yesterday did she set forth for Rome, and she may have
passed the night at Neapolis. A horseman will easily overtake her.
Felix!' he shouted. 'Our horses!--she shall pay for this if my hands
can get at her throat!'

Felix appeared, but not in answer to his master's summons; he came
precipitately, followed by a swarm of frightened slaves, to announce
another surprise. Before the villa stood a hostile multitude, folk of
Surrentum, who demanded admittance, and, if denied, would enter by
force. At this news Venantius hastened to muster his troop of archers
and spearmen. Basil and Marcian, having made sure that all entrances
were locked and barred, went to the front gate, and through a wicket
surveyed the assailants. These seemed to be mainly of the baser class;
they had armed themselves with all sorts of rude weapons, which they
brandished menacingly, shouting confused maledictions. From the porter
Basil learned that those who had first presented themselves at the door
had demanded that 'the heretics' should be given up to them; and by
listening to the cries, he understood that the wrath of these people
was directed against the Arian servants brought hither by Aurelia.
Through the wicket he held colloquy with certain leaders of the throng.

'The heretics! Yield to us the accursed heretics!' shouted a burly
fellow armed with an ox-goad.

'For what usage?' asked Basil.

'That's as they choose. If they like to come before the bishop and turn
Christian--why, a little correction shall suffice. If not, they have
only themselves and the devil to blame.'

By this time Venantius and his retainers stood in the forecourt. To
him, the routing of such a rabble seemed a task not worth speaking of,
but some few would no doubt be slain, and Basil shrank from such
extremities.

'Would you give up these trembling wretches?' asked Venantius
scornfully, pointing to the four slaves, male and female, Arians either
by origin or by conversion to please Aurelia, whom she had brought from
Cumae. On their knees they were imploring protection.

'Nay, I will fight for their safety,' Basil answered. 'But if we can
frighten off this tag-rag without bloodshed so much the better.'

Venantius consented to make the attempt. On the upper villa was an open
gallery looking over the entrance, and fully visible from where the
invaders stood. Hither the armed men ascended and stood in line, the
bowmen with arrows on string. Their lord, advancing to the parapet,
made a signal demanding silence, and spoke in a audible to every ear in
the throng.

'Dogs! You came on this errand thinking that the villa was defenceless.
See your mistake! Each one of these behind me has more arrows in store
than all your number, and never shot bolt from bow without piercing the
mark. Off! Away with your foul odours and your yelping throats! And if,
when you have turned tail, any cur among you dares to bark back that I,
Venantius of Nuceria, am no true Catholic, he shall pay for the lie
with an arrow through chine and gizzard!' This threat he confirmed with
a terrific oath of indisputable orthodoxy.

The effect was immediate. Back fell the first rank of rioters, pressing
against those in the rear; and without another cry, with only a low,
terrified growling and snarling, the crowd scattered in flight.

'There again I see Petronilla,' declared Basil, watching the rout with
fierce eyes. 'I'll swear that, before starting, she set this game
afoot. I must after her, Venantius.'

'Alone?'

'Mother of God! if I had your men! But I will make soldiers of my own.
Some of the likeliest from our folk here shall follow me; enough to
stay that she-wolf's journey till I can choke the truth out of her.'

Venantius, his eyes fixed on the descending road by which the rabble
had disappeared, caught sight of something which held him mute for a
moment. Then he gave a snort of surprise.

'What's this? There are no Greek soldiers in Surrentum.'

Yet unmistakable soldiers of the Imperial army were approaching. First
came into sight a commanding officer; he rode a little in advance of
the troop, which soon showed itself to consist of some two score
mounted men, armed with bows and swords. And in the rear came the
rabble of Surrentines, encouraged to return by this arrival of armed
authority.

'That is Chorsoman,' said Marcian, as soon as he could distinguish the
captain's feature, 'the commander at Cumae.'

'Then it is not to Cumae that they have carried her!' exclaimed Basil,
surmising at once that the Hun was come in pursuit of Veranilda.

'Time enough to think of that,' growled Venantius, as he glared from
under black brows at the advancing horsemen. 'What are we to do? To
resist is war, and this villa cannot be held for an hour. Yet to yield
is most likely to be made prisoners. Marcian!'

Marcian was watching and listening with a look of anxious thought.
Appealed to for his counsel, he spoke decidedly.

'Withdraw your men and go down. Resistance is impossible. Chorsoman
must enter, but trust me to manage him. I answer for your liberty.'

Venantius led his men down to the inner court. Basil, careless of
everything but the thought that Veranilda was being borne far from him,
he knew not whither, went to get horses ready, that he might pursue
Petronilla as soon as the road was free. Marcian, having spoken with
the porter, waited till a thundering at the gate announced Chorsoman's
arrival, then had the doors thrown open, and stood with a calm smile to
meet the commander.

'Fair greeting to your Magnificence!' he began with courtesy. 'Be
welcome to this villa, where, in absence of its mistress, I take upon
myself to offer you hospitality.'

Chorsoman had dismounted, and stood with half a dozen of his followers
behind him in the portico. At sight of Marcian his face became
suspicious.

'By mistress,' he replied gruffly, stepping forward, 'I suppose you
mean the daughter of Maximus. Where is she?'

Marcian would have continued the conversation within, but the Hun chose
to remain standing in the for-court, the gate wide open. From the
Surrentines he had already heard the story of Aurelia's disappearance,
which puzzled and angered him, for no one professed to be able to
explain what had happened, yet his informants declared that the Roman
lady and the Gothic maiden had been carried away without the knowledge
of the men who were their protectors. This was now repeated by Marcian,
who professed himself overwhelmed by the event.

'You have here one Basilius,' said Chorsoman.

'The same whom your greatness saw on a certain occasion at Cumae.'

'They tell me he was about to wed with Veranilda. What does that mean?'

'An idle rumour,' replied Marcian, 'springing from vulgar gossip, and
from the spiteful anger of the lady sister of Maximus, who hoped to
inherit what has fallen to her niece. Let your valorous magnificence be
assured that there is no truth in it. Can you imagine that I, whose
mission is known to you, should have looked on at such an audacity? I
think your perspicuity will not require better proof of the powers with
which I am intrusted than that I gave you at Cumae?'

Of the profound contempt proclaimed, rather than disguised, by
Marcian's extravagant courtesy, Chorsoman had no inkling; but his
barbaric mind resented the complexity of things with which it was
confronted, and he felt a strong inclination to take this
smooth-tongued Latin by the throat, so as to choke the plain truth out
of him. Why, he demanded fiercely, had not Aurelia and her companion
travelled straight on to Rome, as he had been assured they were to do?

'For a simple reason,' answered Marcian. 'I judged an escort necessary,
and only yesterday did I obtain it. This very day should we have set
forth.'

'You speak of one Venantius and his followers--he who just now, I am
told, threatened to massacre the harmless citizens of Surrentum.'

'I would rather say the most noble Venantius, a senator, but for whose
presence this villa would have been sacked by a thievish rabble from
below.'

'Let me see him,' said the Hun, his eyes like those of a boar at bay.

'Will it please your Illustrious Magnanimity to eat with us?'

'I will eat when I choose. Fetch here Venantius.'

Marcian despatched the porter, and in a few moments Venantius appeared,
behind him his armed men. A hand lightly on his sword, as though he
played with the hilt, his head proudly erect, the Roman noble paused at
a few paces from the Hun, and regarded him with bold steadfastness.

'You serve the Emperor?' said Chorsoman, somewhat less overbearingly
than he had spoken hitherto.

'When occasion offers,' was the dry response.

On the Hun's countenance grew legible the calculation busying his
thought. At a glance he had taken the measure of Venantius, and gauged
the worth of the men behind him. A smile, which could not mask its
cunning, came on to his lips, and all of a sudden he exchanged his
truculence for amiability.

'Lord Venantius,' he said, laying an open palm on his own breast, and
then motioning with it towards the Roman, 'you and I, two men of
valour, can understand each other in few words. I am no talker'--his
narrow eyes glanced at Marcian--'nor are you. Tell me, if you can, what
has become of the lady Aurelia and of the Gothic maiden who attended
upon her.'

'Lord Chorsoman,' replied Venantius, 'I thought it was you who could
have answered that question. The ladies Aurelia and Veranilda have this
morning disappeared, and we judged it likely that they had been enticed
from the villa to be captured and borne to Cumae.'

'Who should have done that?'

'Emissaries of your own, we supposed.'

The Hun reflected.

'This man of words'--he nodded sideways at Marcian--'spoke of a woman's
malice. Explain to me.'

Venantius told what he knew of Petronilla's enmity, and the listener
had no difficulty in coming to the conclusion which to Basil had been
evident from the first. It was possible moreover, that Cumae might be
the place to which the captives had been conveyed, for Chorsoman had
left the fortress yesterday to come hither by way of Neapolis, his
reason for the expedition being news of Veranilda's approaching
marriage, brought to him by a fisherman who said he had been paid by a
person unknown. Did Petronilla, he next inquired, know that Veranilda
was to be sent to the East? To this Marcian replied with a negative,
adding:

'Unless your Illustrious Discretion have seen fit to spread abroad what
I imparted to your private ear.'

'My tongue is not so loose as yours,' was the Hun's rejoinder.

Again he reflected, with the result that he decided to send a messenger
at once to Cumae. Until news could be brought back he should remain
here in the villa. This intention he announced in a tone abundantly
significant, his hearers understanding that Aurelia's property was now
in hands not accustomed to relax their grasp.

'Lord Venantius,' he added, 'as your escort is no longer needed, you
will wish, no doubt, to return forthwith to your own abode. It will not
be long before you have the occasion you desire of proving your loyalty
to the Emperor. Brave men both, we may presently fight side by side.
Let us sit at table together, and then good-speed!'

With a haughty glare Venantius heard this dismissal. A reply surged
into his throat, but he swallowed it again, remembering that more than
his personal safety was at stake.

'You will pardon me, lord,' he replied, 'if I do not stay to break my
fast. I am of impatient humour, and never willingly linger when a
journey is before me.'

'As you will,' said Chorsoman, with a slight knitting of his brows.
'You ride alone, I suppose?'

'The lord Basil, who starts for Rome, will give me his company as far
as our ways are one.'

Chorsoman gave a glance at the soldiers in his rear, then at Marcian,
and smiled grimly.

'I fear you must go without lord Basil. I shall have need of him.'

There was a very short silence; then Marcian spoke, with bland decision.

'Commander, this cannot be. Basil carries letters of urgency to Rome
and Ravenna; letters which I would not intrust to any one else. Your
Sublimity will see that it is impossible to delay him.'

Teeth hard set, and eyes aflame, the Hun took a step forward. In the
same instant, Venantius laid a hand upon his sword, and, at the
gesture, his armed men looked to their weapons.

'Where is this Basil?' demanded Chorsoman.

'I will let him know if you wish to speak with him,' replied Marcian.

'You shall be spared the trouble. Lord Venantius, bid your followers
retire and get their horses ready, whilst you and I go in search of
lord Basil. You will not refuse me your company for a few minutes?'

Cunning had again subdued the Hun's violence, and discretion prevailed
with the Roman. Together they passed through the atrium, Chorsoman
casting eager glances about him, and to the inner court; but the
followers of Venantius, obedient to a silent order, still kept their
position in face of the Greek soldiers, and this Chorsoman knew.

'You understand,' said the Hun, when they were alone together, you, a
brave and honourable man, how my duty to the Emperor obliges me to act.
I, of course, take possession of this villa until Aurelia is
discovered. And, however important his mission, I cannot allow Basil to
depart without some security--you will understand that.'

The barbarous accent with which these sentences were uttered caused
Venantius almost as much disgust as the plundering purpose they avowed.

'What security?' he asked.

Chorsoman named a large sum of money. As he spoke, Basil himself
appeared; and with brief preface, the matter under debate was reported
to him. He glanced at Venantius but could find no counsel in the dark,
stern face. Foreseeing the result of the Hun's visit, Basil had
hastened to conceal on his own person a considerable weight of coin,
and had intrusted something like the same amount to Felix. In the
treasure chamber lay a mass of wealth now belonging to Aurelia, and the
mere fact of this being under lock and key by no means secured it
against the commander's greed. Marcian came forward, and hearing the
talk of ransom, endeavoured to awe the Hun into moderation, but with
less success than he had had at Cumae. So he led Basil aside, told him
of the messenger sent to Cumae, as well as of the inventions by which
Chorsoman had been beguiled, and counselled mere inaction until news
came. Marcian then inquired of the commander whether, in case Veranilda
were found at Cumae, he would permit her to be sent on to Rome under
the escort already provided; but to this Chorsoman vouchsafed no direct
reply: he would consider the matter.

Negotiations had reached this point when new visitors arrived, the
Bishop of Surrentum and presbyter Joannes. Though suffering much, the
good bishop had risen from bed as soon as the exciting events of this
morning had reached his ear His innocence of complicity in the plot
against Aurelia and Veranilda, no one who saw him could doubt; with
astonishment he had heard of the priests and their armed attendants,
and with indignation of the citizens' tumultuous behaviour. What right
or reason had folk to proclaim that Aurelia was still a heretic, and
that she should not have been allowed to inherit property? Who, he
asked severely, could read her heart? And when inquiry made it too
certain that all this angry feeling had originated with Petronilla, the
prelate shook his head sadly, thinking more than he cared to say.
Arrived at the villa, he first of all learnt all he could as to the
position of things (declaring total ignorance when the Hun sought to
examine him as to the relations of Basil and Veranilda), then made
earnest inquiry whether there really were slaves here who professed
Arianism. The four were summoned; overcome with dread, they prostrated
them selves, and entreated the bishop to make them Catholics Having
heard from them that they all had been baptized (the Roman Church held
the baptism of Arians valid), he sent them apart for summary
instruction by Joannes, and afterwards laid his reconciling hands upon
them. Thus had the Church gained four members, and the good folk of
Surrentum lost a heretic-baiting.

With the proceedings of the Imperial commander the worthy cleric could
not interfere. He spoke privately with Basil, and betrayed, in a gentle
severity of mien, his suspicion of the young noble's state of mind, but
of this not a word fell from him; his concern seemed to be solely with
the lady Aurelia, regarding whom he would set every possible inquiry on
foot. He advised Basil not to leave the neighbourhood for a day or two,
and to communicate with him before he went far. Gratefully Basil kissed
the old man's hand. They never met again. A week later the bishop was
dead.

After all, Venantius sat at table with Chorsoman. Fuming, he waited
till the next morning, when, if the news could be believed, it became
certain that Aurelia and her companion were not at Cumae. Basil, having
no choice, then paid for ransom nearly all the money he had secreted,
and rode away with Venantius, purposing to remain at Nuceria until
joined by Marcian. Three days later Marcian appeared at the castle He
brought no intelligence of the lost ladies. As for their abode, it had
been thoroughly pillaged; the treasure chamber was discovered and
broken open; not a coin, not a vessel or ornament which had its price,
not a piece of silk, had escaped the clutches of the Hun.

Chorsoman's departure was followed by an invasion of the Surrentines,
who robbed more grossly. A fire broke out in the house of Proba, and
much of that building was destroyed. In the once magnificent villa
there lurked but a few slaves, who knew not whether their owner lived.



CHAPTER X

THE ANICIANS


Not many days after, in a still noontide of mellow autumn, Basil and
Marcian drew towards Rome. They rode along the Via Appia, between the
tombs of ancient men; all about them, undulant to the far horizon, a
brown wilderness dotted with ruins. Ruins of villas, of farms, of
temples, with here and there a church or a monastery that told of the
newer time. Olives in scant patches, a lost vineyard, a speck of tilled
soil, proved that men still laboured amid this vast and awful silence,
but rarely was a human figure visible. As they approached the city,
marshy ground and stagnant pools lay on either hand, causing them to
glance sadly at those great aqueducts, which for ages had brought water
into Rome from the hills and now stood idle, cleft by the Goths during
the siege four years ago.

They rode in silence, tired with their journey, occupied with heavy or
anxious thoughts. Basil, impatient to arrive, was generally a little
ahead. Their attendants numbered half a dozen men, among them Felix and
Sagaris, and two mules laden with packs came in the rear. Earthworks
and rough buildings of military purpose, again recalling the twelve
months' blockade, presently appeared; churches and oratories told them
they were passing the sacred ground of the catacombs; then they crossed
the little Almo, rode at a trot along a hollow way, and saw before them
the Appian Gate. Only a couple of soldiers were on guard; these took a
careless view of the travellers, and let them pass without speaking.

Marcian rode up to his friend's side, and spoke softly.

'You have promised to be advised by me.'

Basil answered only with a dull nod.

'I will see her to-day,' continued the other, 'and will bring you the
news before I sleep.'

'Do so.'

No more words passed between them. On their left hand they saw the
Thermae of Caracalla, their external magnificence scarce touched by
decay, but waterless, desolate; in front rose the Caelian, covered with
edifices, many in ruin, and with neglected or altogether wild gardens;
the road along which they went was almost as silent as that without the
walls. Arrived at a certain point, the two looked at each other and
waved a hand; then Marcian, with Sagaris and one other servant, pushed
forward, whilst Basil, followed by the rest of the train, took an
ascending road to the right.

The house in which he was born, and where he alone now ruled, stood on
the summit of the Caelian. Before it stood the ruined temple of
Claudius, overlooking the Flavian Amphitheatre; behind it ranged the
great arches of the Neronian aqueduct; hard by were the round church of
St. Stephen and a monastery dedicated to St. Erasmus. By a narrow,
grass-grown road, between walls overhung with ivy, Basil ascended the
hill; but for the occasional bark of a dog, nothing showed that these
buildings of old time were inhabited; and when he drew rein before his
own portico, the cessation of the sound of hoofs made a stillness like
that among the Appian sepulchres. Eyeless, hoary, with vegetation
rooted here and there, the front of the house gave no welcome. Having
knocked, Basil had to wait for some moments before there came a sign of
opening. With drooped head, he seemed to watch the lizards playing in
the sunshine upon a marble column.

A wicket opened, and at once there sounded from within an exclamation
of joyful surprise. After much clanking, the door yielded, and an
elderly servant, the freedman Eugenius, offered greeting to his lord.
Basil's first question was whether Decius had been there; he learnt
that his kinsman was now in the house, having come yesterday to reside
here from the Anician palace beyond the Tiber.

'Tell him at once that I am here. Stay; I dare say he is in the
library. I will go to him.'

He passed through the atrium, adorned with ancestral busts and with the
consular fasces which for centuries had signified nothing, through a
room hung with tapestry and floored with fine mosaic, through the
central court, where the fountain was dry, and by a colonnade reached
the secluded room which was called library, though few books remained
out of the large collection once guarded here. In a sunny embrasure, a
codex open on his knees, sat the pale student; seeing Basil, he started
up in great surprise, and, when they had embraced, regarded him
anxiously.

'How is this? What has happened? Some calamity, I see.'

'Seek some word, O Decius, to utter more than that. I have suffered
worse than many deaths.'

'My best, my dearest Basil!' murmured the other tenderly. 'You have
lost her?'

'Lost her? yes; but not as you mean it. Is Petronilla in Rome?'

'She arrived the day before yesterday, two hours after sunset.'

'And you have seen her, talked with her?'

'I was at the house yonder when she came.'

'And she behaved ill to you?' asked Basil.

'Far from that, Petronilla overwhelmed me with affection and courtesy.
I knew not,' proceeded Decius smiling, 'how I had all at once merited
such attention. I came away merely because this situation better suits
my health. Down by the river I have never been at ease. But let me hear
what has befallen you.'

Basil told his story, beginning with the explanation of Veranilda's
importance in the eyes of the Greek commander. After learning from the
Hun that nothing was known of the lost ladies at Cumae, he had
impatiently lingered for three days in the castle of Venantius, on the
chance that Marcian might be able to test the truth of Chorsoman's
report; but his friend made no discovery, and in despair he set out for
Rome. To all this Decius listened with wonder and with sympathy. He had
no difficulty in crediting Petronilla with such a plot, but thought she
could scarce have executed it without the help of some one in
authority. Such a person, he added cautiously, as a deacon of the Roman
Church. Hereupon Basil exclaimed that he and Marcian had had the same
suspicion.

'I will find her,' he cried, 'if it cost me my life! And I will be
revenged upon those who have robbed me of her. She may at this moment
be in Rome. The ship that carried her off was large enough, they say,
to make the voyage, and winds have been favourable. My good Decius, I
am so overcome with misery that I forget even to ask how you sped on
the sea.'

'A smooth and rapid voyage. I had only time to reperuse with care the
_Silvae_ of Statius--his Epicedion being appropriate to my mood.
Arrived at Portus, I sent a post to those who awaited the ship's
coming, and the remains of Maximus were brought with all due honour to
their resting place.'

'Was the deacon Leander here to receive you?' asked Basil.

'I learnt that he had not yet been heard of.'

They exchanged a significant look, and Basil remarked that he would
soon discover the deacon's movements since his leaving Surrentum.
Marcian was even now on his way to visit Petronilla, and would come
with news this evening.

'If I could know,' he cried, 'whether she has been delivered to the
Greeks, or is kept imprisoned by that Megaera! It may be that
Petronilla is ignorant of what I have told you; yet, if so, I fear she
will soon learn it, for Chorsoman will write--if the barbarian can
write--to Bessas, and cannot but mention her. There are prisons in Rome
for those who offend the tyrant of Byzantium.'

'It troubles me to hear you say that,' said Decius, with an anxious
glance.

'I, too, may be in peril, you think,' replied his kinsman gloomily.
'True, all the more that I am known to have just inherited. Bessas
takes a peculiar interest in such people. Be that as it will. Let us
turn for a moment to other things.'

They spoke of the duties that had to be discharged by Basil as his
uncle's heir. On the morrow he must assemble such of his kinsfolk as
were in Rome, and exhibit to them the testament. Aurelia's part in it
would of course excite discussion, perhaps serious objection; whereas
her disappearance would probably be regarded as a matter of small
moment, and Petronilla, even if suspected, could count on sympathy.
When he left the library, Basil found all the members of his household,
from the old nurse Aguella, whose privilege it was to treat him with
motherly affection, to the men who groomed his horse, assembled outside
to give him welcome. His character and bearing were such as earn the
good-will of dependents; though proud and impatient, he never behaved
harshly, and a service well rendered often had its recognition. Among
the young men of his rank, he was notable for temperance in pleasures;
his slaves regarded him as above common temptations of the flesh, and,
though this might be a loss to them in one way, they boasted of it when
talking to the slaves of masters less exceptional. Having learnt from
Felix that their lord was heir of Maximus, the servants received him
with even more than wonted respect. One of them was the steward of his
estate in Picenum, who had arrived at Rome a few days ago; with him
Basil had private talk, received money which the man had brought, heard
of the multitudinous swine in his oak forest, and of the yield of his
fruit trees. That strip of the Adriatic coast south of Ancona had
always been famous for its pears and apples, and choice examples of the
fruit lay on Basil's table to-day. When he had supped, he anxiously
awaited the coming of Marcian. It was two hours after nightfall before
his friend appeared, having come in a litter, with torch-bearing
attendants, from the Palatine, where he had supped with Bessas, the
Greek commander.

The news he brought was disquieting. Bessas had just received
despatches from Cumae, which acquainted him with the story of
Veranilda's disappearance, so far as it was known to Chorsoman; he wore
a heavy brow about the business, swore that the Gothic damsel should be
found, if it cost the skins of all who had had anything to do with her.

'I partly soothed the brute,' concluded Marcian, 'by telling him that
Petronilla was within such easy reach. Her he will summon to-morrow.'

'You promised to see her,' said Basil impatiently.

'Do I often break my promises? I saw her before going even to my own
house, with the dust of the journey still upon me.'

'Ever kind Marcian?'

'Why so hasty to think me less than kind?' returned the other, with his
smile of sad irony. 'I saw her, though with difficulty. She kept me
waiting like an importunate poor kinsman, and when I was received, she
sat like the Empress giving audience. I did not touch the earth with my
forehead; nay, I stood looking at her with a look she did not easily
bear. That she is guilty, I am sure; I read triumph in her eyes as soon
as I spoke of Aurelia. That she would deny all knowledge of the affair
was only to be expected. Moreover, she has taken possession of the
great house yonder, and declares that Aurelia, as a heretic, can claim
nothing under her father's will. You, of course, the heir, can expel
her, if you think it worth the trouble. But let us see the result of
her conversation with Bessas. She smiled disdainfully when I mentioned
his name, and tried to continue smiling when I carelessly explained the
interest he had in finding Veranilda; but she was frightened, I heard
it in her hoarse voice when she began to speak evil of Veranilda.'

'What!' cried Basil. 'Evil of Veranilda!'

'Such as naturally comes to the tongue of an angry woman.'

The lover raged, Marcian listening with a sad, half-absent look. Their
talk continued for a long time, arid, because of the lateness of the
hour, Marcian stayed to sleep in his friend's house. Before sunrise on
the morrow, Basil sent forth his invitations to all of the Anician
blood in Rome. The first to respond was Gordianus, whose dwelling on
the Clivus Scauri stood but a few minutes' walk away. Though but a
little older than Basil, Gordian had been for several years a husband
and a father; he was in much esteem for his worldly qualities, and more
highly regarded for the fervour of his religious faith. A tall,
handsome, dignified man, he looked straight before him with frank eyes,
and his lips told of spirit tempered by kindliness. Between him and his
relative no great intimacy existed, for their modes of life and of
thought were too dissimilar, but each saw the good in the other, and
was attracted by it. Not long ago Gordian had conceived the project of
giving his young sister Aemiliana as wife to Basil. Maximus favoured
this design, but his nephew showed no eagerness to carry it out, and
Roman gossip presently found a reason for that. Among the leaders of
fashion and of pleasure--for fashion and pleasure did not fail to
revive in Rome soon after the horrors of the siege--shone a lady named
Heliodora, the Greek wife of a little-respected senator, who, favoured
by Bessas, rose to the position of City Prefect. With Heliodora's
character rumour made very free; the captives of her beauty were said
to be numerous, and one of the names mentioned by those who loved such
scandal was that of the young Basil. Gordian, finding that there was
some ground for this suspicion, spoke no more of the suggested
marriage, and it was at his instance that Maximus, ill in Campania,
summoned Basil away from the city. Reports from Surrentum gave reason
to hope that this measure had succeeded. But to-day, as he entered
Basil's house, Gordian's face wore a troubled look, and there was no
warmth in his response to the greeting which met him.

'You have sent for me, my dear lord,' he began with grave and distant
courtesy, 'to speak of the matter of your inheritance. Forgive me if I
first of all ask you a question--of more intimate concern. Is it true
that you have taken a wife?'

Basil, in whom fatigue and misery had left little patience, began
quivering in every nerve, and made blunt answer:

'It is not true, arid she who told you contrived the lie.'

'You speak of the lady Petronilla,' pursued Gordian gently. 'Can I
think that she has wilfully deceived me?'

'Think it not, my lord Gordian,' returned the other; 'if Petronilla
told you I was married, she lied.'

'That is strange indeed. Listen, I pray you, to the story heard in Rome
since Petronilla returned. It is right that you should hear it just as
it comes from her own lips.'

Thereupon Gordian repeated a narrative which would have been
substantially true had it not crowned Basil's love with marriage. The
listener, shaken with violent passion, could scarce wait till the end.

'And now hear _me_,' he cried. 'If I were prudent, I also should lie,
for the truth may be dangerous. But you shall know it, O Gordian, and
if you choose to harm me--'

The other raised a hand, and so full of dignity was this gesture, so
solemn the look which accompanied it, that Basil's vehemence felt
itself rebuked; he grew silent and listened.

'Basil, check your tongue, which I see will be your greatest peril. Do
not confide in me, for I know not whether I can respect your
confidence. Let us speak of other things.'

The younger man stood for a moment in hesitancy, his cheeks aflame, his
eyes fiercely gleaming.

'As you will,' he exclaimed, mastering himself. 'When the others are
here, you will learn all that it concerns you to know. Remember,
Gordian, that I would have opened my heart to you, for, whatever I
said, I know well that you are no betrayer. As for that woman--'

He was interrupted by the arrival of several persons, old and young,
who appeared in answer to his summons. Having received them with colder
courtesy than was natural to him, Basil produced the testament of
Maximus, and submitted it to his kinsmen's inspection. The tablets
passed from hand to hand; the signatures and seals of the seven
witnesses were examined, the contents read and discussed. Meanwhile
guests continued to arrive, until a considerable gathering, which
included several ladies, had assembled in the great hall. Here was
represented all that deemed itself best and most illustrious in the
society of Rome. More came than were expressly invited; for, beyond the
legitimate interest of the occasion, curiosity had been aroused by the
gossip of Petronilla, and some whose connection with the Anician house
was of the very slightest, hastened to present themselves at Basil's
door. Hither came men whose names recalled the glories of the Republic;
others who were addressed by appellations which told of Greek dominion;
alike they claimed the dignity of Roman optimates, and deemed
themselves ornaments of an empire which would endure as long as the
world. Several ranked as senators; two or three were ex-consuls; ten
years ago the last consul of Rome had laid down his shadowy honours;
one had held the office of Praetorian Prefect when Theodoric was king;
yet, from the political point of view, all were now as powerless as
their own slaves. Wealth a few of them still possessed, but with no
security; a rapacious Byzantine official, the accident of war, might at
any moment strip them of all they had. For the most part they had
already sunk to poverty, if not to indigence; among these aristocratic
faces were more than one which bore the mark of privation. Those who
had little means or none lived as parasites of more fortunate
relatives; though beggars, they housed in palaces--palaces, it is true,
which had often no more comfort within their marble walls than the
insulae where the ignoble laid their heads.

When all had perused the will, Basil rose up and addressed them. He
began by a seemingly careless allusion to the tattle about himself,
which, as it appeared, had been started in Rome by some one who wished
him ill. The serious matter of which he had to speak regarded the
daughter of Maximus. No one here, of course, would be inclined to take
up the defence of Aurelia, whose history was known to all, he would
merely make known to them that after having abjured her religious
errors, and when living quietly in the Surrentine villa, she had been
treacherously seized and carried off he knew not whither. It was not
difficult to surmise by whom this plot had been laid, but he would
leave that point for his hearers' discussion. Him it chiefly concerned
to make known the strange facts so far as he knew them; and this he
proceeded to do. Basil concluded with sarcastic reference to the
possibility that he, as heir, might be openly or secretly suspected of
having laid hands upon Aurelia; that point also he left to be debated
by such as thought it worth while.

Only some two or three of those who listened had any personal interest
in the will, and few cared at all for the fate of Aurelia; but the lady
at whom Basil's innuendo pointed enjoyed no great favour, and her
absence from this family gathering made it possible to discuss with all
freedom the likelihood of her culpability. At Basil himself no
suspicion glanced, but the rumour of his marriage with a Goth had
excited much curiosity, hardly appeased by a whisper that Gordian
declared the story false. Having spoken all he thought fit to say,
Basil was going apart with the persons to whom legacies had been left,
he, as heir, being charged with the execution of the will, when Gordian
approached him, and begged for a word in private.

'I would not have you think me unkind, dear Basil,' he said, in a
gentle voice. 'It was neither the place nor the moment to hear secrets
from you, and I am glad now that I refused to listen; but be assured
that I put faith in what you have declared to us.'

'It is well, dear Gordian,' replied Basil frankly.

'One word I will add,' continued the other. 'If you are troubled about
things of the world, if you lack counsel such as you think a friend
might give, delay not in coming to me. I should not speak thus
confidently did I speak of myself alone; but there is one ever at my
side, who with her wisdom--sometimes I think it divinely
bestowed--supplies the weakness of my own understanding. Guided by her,
I cannot counsel you amiss.'

They parted with an embrace, and Basil turned to the business of the
moment. This occupied him until nearly mid-day. As he took leave of the
last of his guests, there entered Marcian; his coming surprised Basil,
for they had parted at early morning not to meet again before the
morrow.

'I bring you an invitation,' said Marcian, in a careless tone, which
was not quite natural. 'It is to the Palatine, after dinner.'

'To the Palatine? I am summoned by Bessas?'

'In a friendly way. Have no anxiety. Petronilla has been examined this
morning, and, from what I can gather, she seems to have betrayed
herself. Bessas wore the smile which means that he has over-reached
somebody.'

'Then we shall find her,' exclaimed Basil.

'They will find her, I doubt not,' was the reply.

The meal being ready, they sat down to eat together, but their appetite
was small. Decius, who had wearied himself this morning in finding
discreet answers to the questions with which he was privately assailed
by his kinsfolk, did not come to table. Having dined, Basil and his
friend set forth on foot, half a dozen servants walking behind them.
Midway in the descent of the Caelian, they were met by an odd
procession: a beautiful boy of some twelve years old, clad in yellow,
riding upon a small white ass with rich housings, and behind him three
slaves, dark-visaged men of the East, on mules of great size,
caparisoned with yellow cloth, to which hung innumerable tinkling
bells. At sight of Basil, the child drew rein; jumped down, and ran
forward with smiling demonstrations of respect.

'What is it, Laetus?' asked Basil, with no welcome upon his sombre
countenance. 'I cannot talk with you now.'

The boy, who had been sold into slavery from the far island of the
Angles, did but smatter the Roman tongue. With a few words to signify
that his message was important, he delivered a letter, and Basil,
turning aside impatiently, broke the seal. Upon the blank side of a
slip of papyrus cut from some old manuscript were written lines which
seemed to be in Greek, and proved to be Latin in Greek characters, a
foppery beginning to be used by the modish at Rome.

'Heliodora to Basil. You are bidden to supper. Come if you will. If you
come not, I care not.'

'Say that I gave you no reply,' were Basil's blunt words, as he walked
on past the ass and the mules.



CHAPTER XI

SEEKING


They passed beneath the walls of the amphitheatre and by Constantine's
triumphal arch. Like all the innumerable fountains of the city, the
Meta Sudans stood dry; around the base of the rayed colossus of Apollo,
goats were browsing. Thence they went along by the Temple of Venus and
Rome, its giant columns yet unshaken, its roof gleaming with gilded
bronze; and so under the Arch of Titus, when, with a sharp turn to the
left, they began the ascent of the Palatine.

The vast buildings which covered the Imperial hill, though discoloured
by the lapse of ages and hung with ivy, had suffered little diminution
of their external majesty; time had made them venerable, but had not
shattered their walls. For two centuries and a half, they had stood all
but desolate, and within that time had thrice been sacked by
barbarians, yet something of the riches and art which made their
ancient glory was still discoverable in the countless halls and
chambers; statues, busts, mural paintings, triumphs of mosaic, pictured
hangings, had in many parts escaped the spoiler and survived ruin;
whilst everywhere appeared the magnificence of rare stones, the
splendours of royal architecture, the beauty of unsurpassed carving.
Though owls nested where empresses were wont to sleep, and nettles
pierced where the lord of the world feasted his courtiers, this was
still the Palace of those who styled themselves Ever August; each echo
seemed to repeat an immortal name, and in every gallery seemed to move
the shadows of a majestic presence.

Belisarius had not resided here, preferring for his abode the palace of
the Pincian. His successor in the military government of Rome chose a
habitation on the deserted hill, in that portion of its complex
structures which had been raised by Vespasian and his sons. Thither the
two visitors were now directing their steps. Having passed a gateway,
where Marcian answered with a watchword the challenge of the guard,
they ascended a broad flight of stairs, and stood before an entrance
flanked with two great pillars of Numidian marble, toned by time to a
hue of richest orange. Here stood soldiers, to whom again the password
was given. Entering, they beheld a great hall, surrounded by a
colonnade of the Corinthian order, whereon had been lavished exquisite
carving; in niches behind the columns stood statues in basalt, thrice
the size of life, representing Roman emperors, and at the far end was a
tribune with a marble throne. This, once the hall of audience, at
present served as a sort of antechamber; here and there loitered a
little group of citizens, some of whom had been waiting since early
morning for speech with the commander; in one corner, soldiers played
at dice, in another a notary was writing at a table before which stood
two ecclesiastics. Voices and footsteps made a faint, confused
reverberation under the immense vault.

Anxiously glancing about him, Basil followed his conductor across the
hall and out into a peristyle, its pavement richly tesselated, and the
portico, still elaborately adorned with work in metal and in marble,
giving proof of still greater magnificence in bygone time; pedestals
had lost their statues, and blank spaces on the wall told of precious
panelling torn off. Beyond, they came to a curtained doorway, where
they were detained for some moments by the sentry; then the curtain was
drawn aside, and Basil found himself in the triclinium of the Flavian
palace, now used by the Greek general as his public reception room. Its
size was not much less than that of the hall of audience; its
decoration in the same grandiose style. Enormous pillars of granite
supported the roof; statues stood, or had stood, all around; the
pavement, composed of serpentine, porphyry, and Numidian marble in many
hues, was a superb work of art. But Basil saw only the human figures
before him. In a chair covered with furs sat a man of middle age,
robust, fair-complexioned, with a keen look in his pale blue eyes and
something of the wolfish about his mouth. Bessas had long ago given
proof of valour, and enjoyed repute as a general, but since his holding
command in Rome, his vices, chief of which was avarice, showed much
more prominently than the virtues which had advanced him; he used the
Imperial authority chiefly to enrich himself, in this respect, it is
true, merely acting in harmony with the Emperor's representative at
Ravenna, and with: the other Greek generals scattered about Italy, but
exhibiting in his methods a shrewdness and an inhumanity not easily
rivalled. Behind his chair stood several subordinates, and on a stool
before him sat a noble recently arrived as envoy from Byzantium.

Having been previously instructed as to his behaviour in this
redoubtable presence, Basil followed the example of Marcian in
approaching with bent head to within a distance of three paces, then
dropping to his knees, and bowing so as almost to touch the ground with
his forehead. He heard a gruff voice command him to rise.

'So this is the heir of the Senator Maximus,' said Bessas, much as he
might have spoken of viewing a horse that interested him. 'What is his
name?'

'Basilius, my lord,' replied Marcian, with grave respect.

'And what is he doing? Why does not a limber lad like that serve the
Emperor?'

'Your Magnanimity will recollect that the lord Basil had permission to
attend Maximus into Campania, whence he is but now returned.'

'Can't he speak for himself?' growled Bessas, turning sharply upon
Marcian. 'You have a tongue, lord Basil? Do you only use it among the
wenches?'

A subdued laugh sounded behind the commander's chair. The envoy from
Byzantium showed more discreet appreciation of the jest. And Basil, his
head bowed, would fain have concealed a face burning with angry shame.

'I will do my best,' he replied in a steady voice, 'to answer any
question your excellence may put to me.'

'Come, that's better,' said the general, with that affectation of bluff
good-nature which always veiled his designs. 'I like the look of you,
my good Basil; who knows but we may be friends? By the bye, was there
not some special reason for your coming to see me?'

'Your excellence summoned me.'

'Yes, yes, I remember. That affair of the Gothic wench.' Bessas checked
himself, glanced at the envoy, and corrected his phrase. 'The Gothic
lady, I would say, who has somehow been spirited out of sight. What can
you tell us of her, lord Basil? It has been whispered to me that if you
cannot lead us to this beauty's hiding-place, nobody can.'

Basil answered in the only way consistent with prudence: he not only
denied all knowledge of where Veranilda was to be found, but spoke as
though her fate had little or no interest for him, whereas he professed
himself greatly troubled by the disappearance of his cousin Aurelia. It
seemed that Petronilla did not purpose delivering Veranilda to the
Greeks. Perhaps she did not yet understand the import of their inquiry.
That it was she who held Veranilda prisoner he had less doubt than
ever, and boldly he declared his conviction. But even, whilst speaking,
he thought with dread of the possibility of Veranilda's being delivered
to Bessas; for who could assure him that this sinister-looking Thracian
would respect the mandate received from Byzantium? On the other hand,
who could say to what sufferings and perils his beloved was exposed
whilst Petronilla's captive? He preferred the risks to follow upon her
surrender. Did he but know where she was there would at least be a hope
of rescuing her.

'By Christ!' exclaimed Bessas, when he had listened intently to all
Basil's replies, 'this is a strange business. I begin to think,
excellent lord Basil, that you are as much deceived in your suspicions
of the lady Petronilla as she is in her suspicions of you. These two
wenches--ladies, I would say--may have reasons of their own for hiding;
or somebody of whom you know nothing may have carried them off. How is
this Aurelia to look upon? Young and comely, I warrant.'

Basil briefly described his cousin; whereupon the listener gave a shrug.

'We will talk of it again, to-morrow or the day after. Hold yourself in
readiness, lord Basil--you hear?--to come when bidden. And, hark you,
bring the senator's will, that I may look it over myself. Trust me, I
will see that this lady Aurelia suffers no wrong; if necessary, I will
myself hold her property in trust. They tell me she is a heretic--that
must be inquired into. But take no thought for the matter, my good
Basil; trust me, you shall be relieved from all responsibilities. Go in
peace!'

Bessas rose, impatient to have done with business. In the little
hippodrome, hard by, an entertainment had been prepared for this
afternoon: female equestrians were to perform perilous feats; there was
to be a fight between a man and a boar; with other trifles, such as
served to pass the time till dinner. In the entrance hall waited
messengers from Ravenna, who for hours had urgently requested audience;
but, partly because he knew that their despatches would be
disagreeable, in part because he liked playing at royalty, the
commander put them off till to-morrow. Even so did he postpone an
inspection of a certain part of the city wall, repeatedly suggested to
him by one of his subordinates. Leisure and accumulation of wealth were
obscuring the man's soldierly qualities. He gave little heed to the
progress of the war, and scoffed at the fear that Totila might ere long
march against Rome.

Basil walked in gloomy silence. The interview had inflamed his pride.
Mentally he repeated the oath never to acquiesce in this Byzantine
tyranny, and he burned for the opportunity of open war against it. When
they were at a safe distance from the Palatine, Marcian warned his
friend against the Greek's indulgent manner; let him not suppose that
Bessas spoke one word sincerely.

'His aim at present, I see, is to put you off your guard; and doubtless
he is playing the like game with Petronilla. You will be spied upon,
day and night--I myself, you understand, being one of the spies, but
only one, unfortunately. This Thracian is not so easy to deal with as
the Hun at Cumae. There have been moments when I thought he suspected
me. If ever I vanish, Basil--'

He ceased with a significant look.

'Why does Totila delay?' exclaimed Basil, with a passionate gesture.

'He delays not. It is wisdom to conquer Campania before coming hither.
Another month will see him before Neapolis.'

'Could I but find Veranilda, make her my own, and put her in safety, I
would go straight to the king's camp, and serve him as best I might.'

Marcian looked steadily at the speaker, smiling strangely.

'Why do you look at me so?' cried Basil. 'You doubt me? You distrust my
courage?'

'Not for a moment. But why should this depend upon the finding of
Veranilda, my best Basil? Having found her, having made her your own,
will it be easier than now to take your chance of death or of
captivity? When was a Roman wont to let his country's good wait upon
his amorous desire?'

They were on the Sacred Way, between the Basilica of Constantine and
the Atrium of Vesta. Struck to the heart by his friend's words, words
such as Marcian had never yet addressed to him, Basil stood mute and
let his eyes wander: he gazed at the Forum, at the temples beyond it,
at the Capitol with its desecrated sanctuary of Jupiter towering above.
Here, where the citizens once thronged about their business and their
pleasure, only a few idlers were in view, a few peasants with carts,
and a drove of bullocks just come in from the country.

'You would have me forget her?' he said at length, in a voice
distressfully subdued.

'I spoke only as I thought.'

'And your thought condemned me--despised me, Marcian?'

'Not so. Pitied you rather, as one whose noble nature has fallen into
trammels. Have you not long known, O Basil, how I think of the thing
called love?'

'Because you have never known it!' exclaimed Basil. 'My love is my
life. Having lost Veranilda, I have lost myself; without her I can do
nothing. Were she dead I could fling myself into the struggle with our
enemies, all the fiercer because I should care not whether I lived or
died; but to lose her thus, to know that she may be in Rome, longing
for me as I for her--to think that we may never hold each other's hands
again--oh, it tears my heart, and makes me weak as a child. You cannot
understand me; you have never loved!'

'May such knowledge be far from me!' said Marcian, with unwonted
vehemence. 'Do you feel no shame in being so subdued to the flesh?'

'Shame? Shame in the thought that I love Veranilda?'

Marcian seemed to make an effort to control a passion that wrought in
him; he was paler than of wont, and, instead of the familiar irony, a
cold, if not cruel, austerity appeared in his eyes and on his lips. He
shunned Basil's astonished gaze.

'Let us not speak of this,' broke from him impatiently. 'You understand
me as little as I you. Forgive me, Basil--I have been talking idly--I
scarce know what I said. It is sometimes thus with me. Something takes
hold upon me, and I speak at random. Come, come, dear friend of my
heart, we will find your Veranilda; trust me, we will.'

Three days went by, then Basil was summoned again to the Palatine,
where he had an interview with Bessas alone. This time the commander
hardly spoke of Veranilda; his talk was of the possessions left by
Maximus, whose testament, when he had read it, he said that he would
take care of until the lost daughter was discovered; he inquired
closely, too, as to Basil's own wealth, and let fall a remark that the
Roman nobles would soon be called upon to support the army fighting for
their liberties against the barbarians. When next called, let Basil
have ready and bring with him an exact statement of the money in his
hands, and of the income he expected to derive from his property during
the present year. Thereupon he was dismissed with a nod and a smile,
which made him quiver in rage for an hour after. This happened in early
morning. The day was overcast, and a cold wind blew from the mountains;
Basil had never known such misery as fell upon him when he re-entered
his gloomy, silent house. On the way home he had passed two
funerals--their hurried aspect proving that the dead were victims of
the plague, that _lues inguinaria_ which had broken out in Italy two
years ago, and with varying intensity continued throughout the land.
Throwing himself down upon a couch, he moaned in utter wretchedness,
fearful of the pestilence, yet saying to himself that he cared not if
it seized upon him. His moans became sobs; he wept for a long time,
then lay, half soothed by the burst of hysterical passion, with eyes
turned blankly to the ceiling and a hand clenched upon his breast.

In his solitude he often talked with Felix, and more intimately perhaps
than with either Decius or Marcian. This trusty servant held
communication with a man in the household of Petronilla, and from him
learnt what he could as to the lady's movements; but nothing was as yet
discoverable which threw light on the mystery of Aurelia and Veranilda.
To-day, however, Felix returned from the other side of the Tiber with
what sounded like important news. Petronilla had left home this morning
in her carriage, had gone forth from the city by one of the southern
gates, and, after an absence of two or three hours, had returned,
bringing with her some one, a woman, whom she took into her house and
kept there in privacy. He who related this to Felix declared that his
mistress had only visited the church of her patron saint on the Via
Ardeatina, but who the woman might be that she had brought back with
her, he did not pretend to know. This story so excited Basil that he
would have hastened forthwith across the Tiber, had not Felix persuaded
him that at this late hour nothing could be done. After a sleepless
night he set out at sunrise, accompanied by Felix alone. Whether he
would be admitted at Petronilla's door was quite uncertain; in any
case, it would serve no purpose to go thither with a band of
attendants, for the Anician house was sure to be strongly guarded. All
he could do was to present himself in the hope of seeing Petronilla,
and take his chance of learning something from her when they stood face
to face.

On horseback he went down by the Clivus Scauri, followed the road
between the Circus Maximus and the Aventine, crossed the river by the
Aemilian bridge (the nearer bridge of Probus was falling into ruins),
and then turned to the left. This part of the transtiberine district
was inhabited by poor folk. Something unusual seemed to have happened
among them just now: groups stood about in eager talk, and a little
further on, in front of a church, a noisy crowd was assembled, with
soldiers among them. Having made inquiry, Felix explained the
disturbance to his master. It was due to the rapacity of the Greek
commander, who, scorning no gain, however small, was seizing upon the
funds of the trade guilds; this morning the common chest of the potters
had been pillaged, not without resistance, which resulted in the death
of a soldier; the slayer had fled to St. Cecilia's church, and taken
sanctuary. Basil's feeling, as he listened, was one of renewed
bitterness against the Greeks; but to the potters themselves he gave
little thought, such folk and their wrongs appearing of small moment to
one of his birth.

Pursuing the road towards the Portuensian Gate, he was soon in sight of
the palace where for generations had dwelt the heads of the Anician
family. It lay on a gentle slope above the river, at the foot of the
Janiculan Hill; around it spread public porticoes, much decayed, and
what had once been ornamental gardens, now the pasture of goats. As
Basil had expected, he was kept waiting without the doors until the
porter had received orders regarding him. Permitted at length to enter,
he passed by a number of slaves who stood, as if on guard, in the
atrium, and, though seeming to be alone in the room beyond, he heard
subdued voices from behind the curtains of the doorways, which told him
that he was under observation. All parts of this great house were
perfectly familiar to him, and had it been possible to conduct a
search, he would soon have ascertained whether she he sought was kept
imprisoned here; but, unless he took the place by storm, how could he
hope to make any discovery? Whilst he was impatiently reflecting,
Petronilla entered. She moved towards him with her wonted dignity of
mien, but in the look with which she examined him, as she paused at two
paces' distance, it was easy to perceive distrust, and a certain
inquietude.

'Your leisure at length permits you to visit me, dear lord Basil,' she
began coldly.

'My leisure, indeed,' he replied, 'has not been great since the day on
which you left Surrentum. But the more plainly we speak to each other
the better. I come now to ask whether you will release Veranilda to me,
instead of waiting until you are compelled to release her to the
Greeks.'

Before replying, Petronilla clapped her hands, then stood waiting for a
moment, and said at length:

'You can now speak without hearers. I did not think you would be so
imprudent in your words. Go on: say what you will.'

She seated herself, and looked at Basil with a contemptuous smile. He,
surprised by her behaviour, spoke on with angry carelessness.

'I neither cared before, nor do I now, if any of your servants overhear
me. No more credit would be given to anything they told of me than is
given to what you yourself say I might begin by warning you of the
dangers to which you are exposed, but no doubt you have calculated
them, and think the price not too much to pay for your revenge. Well,
with your revenge I have no wish to interfere. Hold Aurelia prisoner as
long as you will, or as long as you can. I speak only of Veranilda,
against whom you can feel no enmity. Will you release her to me? It
will only be anticipating by a few days her release to Bessas.
Veranilda in his hands, trust me, he will care little what becomes of
Aurelia.'

'I listen to you,' replied Petronilla, 'because I am curious to learn
into what extravagances your ignoble passion drives you. I had been
told, but could hardly believe, that you charged me with having seized
these women. Now I see that you really are foolish enough to think it.'
She threw her head back in a silent laugh of scorn. 'Child--for you are
a child in wit though man in years--do you not live at large in Rome,
free to come and go as you will?'

'What of that?'

'Am not I also a free woman? Did I not yesterday visit the church of
the blessed Petronilla, and might I not, if so I had willed, have
escaped instead of returning to the city?'

'What has this to do with the matter?' demanded Basil.

'Child! child!' cried the other, as if with boundless contempt. 'You
ask that, knowing why this Veranilda is sought by the Greeks? Were they
truly still in search of her, and were you, were I, suspected of
keeping her hidden, do you suppose we should be free, and not rather
locked as close as any prison in Rome could hold us?'

The listener stood mute. So vehement was Petronilla's speech, and so
convincing, thus delivered, seemed her argument, that Basil felt his
heart sink. Had she, then, outwitted him? Was he really playing the
part of a simpleton, at whom people laughed? He remembered the seeming
indifference of Bessas touching Veranilda at the second interview,
natural enough if the maiden had already passed into the Greek's hands.
Two days ago Marcian had told him that Petronilla must needs be aware
of Veranilda's importance, seeing that it was now common knowledge in
Roman society. But a thought flashed into his mind, and he lifted up
his head again.

'This is not true!' he exclaimed. 'If Bessas had found her, I should
have known it.'

'Pray, how? Does your foolish little lordship imagine that Bessas must
needs have told you all he has done?'

'Bessas? no,' he answered, his eyes burning with hatred as they
searched her face. 'But I have other means of learning the truth. You
try vainly to deceive me.'

'As you will, good nephew,' said the lady, as if indulgently. 'Believe
as you list, and talk on, for you entertain me.'

'One thing I have to say,' pursued Basil, 'which you will perhaps find
less amusing.' He had lost control of himself, and spoke in a low tone
of fierce menace, all his body quivering. 'If I learn that Veranilda is
in the hands of the Greeks, and that _you_ delivered her to them--by
the God above us, your life shall pay for it.'

Petronilla's face hardened till its cruel sternness outdid any
expression of hatred possible to Basil's features.

'Keep your ruffian threats for more suitable occasion, such as you will
find among your friends the Goths.' She spoke coldly and deliberately.
'If enslavement to a yellow-haired barbarian had not muddled your wits,
you would long ago have seen who it was that has played you false.'

Basil stared at her, his passion chilled with surprise and alarm.

'Played me false!' he echoed involuntarily.

'Who is it,' continued Petronilla with slow scorn, 'that you have
trusted blindly? To whom have you looked for guidance and protection?
Who has fostered your suspicion against _me_?'

An intolerable pang went through the listener's heart.

'That's but another lie!' he exclaimed furiously. 'O basest of women
born!'

A hand was upon his dagger. Petronilla rose and stepped back a little,
glancing towards one of the drawn curtains.

'You have threatened my life,' she said in an undertone. 'Remember that
it is you who are in my power. If I raise my voice on one word, the
next moment you will lie pierced by a score of weapons. Moderate your
insults: my temper is not meek.'

Basil thought for a moment with painful intentness.

'Speak plainly,' he said at length. 'You would have me suspect--? I am
ashamed to utter the name.'

'Keep it to yourself and muse upon it.'

'You dare bid me think that he, my dearest and most loyal friend, has
infamously betrayed me? Now I know indeed that you have lied to me in
every word, for this is the last audacity of baseness. You hope to
poison my soul against him, and so, whilst guarding yourself, bring
more evil upon those you hate. But you have overreached yourself. Only
cunning driven desperate could have devised this trick. Listen to me
again, before it is too late. Give me Veranilda. I take upon myself all
the peril. It shall be made to appear that I have all along kept her in
hiding, and that you knew nothing of her. Be advised before the worst
comes upon you. I will escape with her to a place of safety that I know
of; _you_ will be declared innocent, and no one will care to ask what
has become of Aurelia. Think well; you spoke of prisons, but the Greeks
have worse than imprisonment for those who incur their wrath. Will
Bessas forego revenge when, after much trouble, he has wrested the
captive from your hands? Think!'

Petronilla's countenance, fixed as a face in marble, still suggested no
thought save one of scorn; but there was a brief silence before she
replied.

'I would not have believed,' she said calmly, 'that a man could be so
besotted with foolish passions. Listen, you in turn. Where those women
are, I know as little as do you yourself. I think, and have good reason
for thinking, that the Goth is already on her way to Constantinople,
but I have no certainty of it. The one thing I do surely know, is that
you are hoodwinked and baffled by the man you trust.'

A groan of rage and anguish broke from Basil. He wrung his bands
together.

'You lie! A thousand times you lie! Either Veranilda or Aurelia is in
this house. Who was it you brought back with you yesterday when you
returned from beyond the walls?'

The listener uttered a short, fierce laugh.

'So that is what brought you here? O fool! Think you I should have no
more wisdom than that? Since you must needs pry into my doings
yesterday, you shall hear them. I went to the church of the holy
Petronilla, to pray there against all the dangers that environ
me--against the wiles of the wicked, the cruelty of violent men, the
sickness which is rife about us. And when I rose from before the altar,
the servant of God who passes his life there, who is pleased to regard
me with kindness, led me apart into the sacristy, where sat a woman who
had lost her sight. She had travelled, he told me, from Mediolanum,
because of a vision in which she had been bidden to seek the tomb of
the daughter of the chief Apostle; and, whilst praying in the church,
her darkness had been illumined by a vision of the saint herself, who
bade her go into the city, and abide in the house of the first who
offered her welcome, and there at length she would surely receive her
sight. So I spoke with the woman, who, though in poverty, is of noble
blood, and when I had offered to make her welcome, she gladly came with
me, and straightway we returned to Rome. And I brought with me oil from
the lamp of the saint, wherewith, at the hours of prayer, I cross my
forehead, that no evil may befall me. So, you have heard. Believe or
not, as you list, O Basil.'

Whether true or not, Basil had no choice but to accept the story. He
looked helplessly about him. If by killing this woman he could have
obtained liberty to search through every chamber of the great house,
his dagger would have leapt at her breast; and that Petronilla well
knew; whence the defiant look in her eyes as they watched his slightest
movement.

'What is your next question?' she said. 'I am at leisure for a little
longer.'

'If Veranilda is in the hands of the Greeks, where is Aurelia?'

'I should be glad to think,' replied the lady, 'that she has withdrawn
from the world to expiate her sins.'

'Would you have me believe that Marcian knows that secret also?'

'I respect your innocence,' answered Petronilla, with a smile, 'and
will say no more.'

Again Basil stood for a moment voiceless in wrath. Then he threw up an
arm, and spoke with terrible vehemence.

'Woman, if you have lied to me, wickedly seeking to put enmity between
me and my friend, may the pest smite you, and may you perish unforgiven
of man and God!'

Petronilla blanched not. For one instant he glared at her, and was gone.



CHAPTER XII

HELIODORA


Marcian's abode was in the Via Lata, the thoroughfare which ran
straight and broad, directly northwards, from the Capitoline Hill to
the Flaminian Gate. Hard by were the headquarters of the city watch, a
vast building, now tenanted by a few functionaries whose authority had
fallen into contempt; and that long colonnade of Hadrian, called the
Septa, where merchants once exposed their jewels and fabrics to the
crowd of sauntering wealthy, and where nowadays a few vendors of slaves
did their business amid the crumbling columns. Surrounded by these
monuments of antiquity, the few private residences still inhabited had
a dreary, if not a mean, aspect. Some of them--and Marcian's dwelling
was one--had been built in latter times with material taken from temple
or portico or palace in ruins; thus they combined richness of detail
with insignificant or clumsy architecture. An earthquake of a few years
ago, followed by a great inundation of the Tiber, had wrought disaster
among these modern structures. A pillar of Marcian's porch, broken into
three pieces, had ever since been lying before the house, and a marble
frieze, superb carving of the Antonine age, which ran across the
facade, showed gaps where pieces had been shattered away.

His family, active in public services under Theodoric, had suffered
great losses in the early years of the war; and Marcian, who, as a very
young man, held a post under the Praetorian Prefect at Ravenna, found
himself reduced to narrow circumstances. After the fall of Ravenna, he
came to Rome (accompanied on the journey by Basil, with whom his
intimacy then began), and ere long, necessity driving him to expedients
for which he had no natural inclination, he entered upon that life of
double treachery which he had avowed to his friend. As the world went,
Marcian was an honest man: he kept before him an ideal of personal
rectitude; he believed himself, and hitherto with reason, incapable of
falsity to those who trusted him in the relations of private life.
Moreover, he had a sense of religion, which at times, taking the form
of an overpowering sense of sin, plunged him into gloom. Though
burdened in conscience with no crime, he was subject in a notable
degree to that malady of his world, the disposition to regard all human
kind, and himself especially, as impure, depraved. Often at the mercy
of his passions, he refrained from marriage chiefly on this very
account, the married state seeming to him a mere compromise with the
evil of the flesh; but in his house were two children, born to him by a
slave now dead, and these he would already have sent into a monastery,
but that human affection struggled against what he deemed duty. The man
lived in dread of eternal judgment; he could not look at a setting sun
without having his thought turned to the fires of hell, and a night of
wakefulness, common enough in his imperfect health, shook him with
horrors unutterable. Being of such mind and temper, it was strange that
he had not long ago joined the multitude of those who day by day fled
from worldly life into ascetic seclusion; what withheld him was a spark
of the ancestral spirit, some drops of the old Roman blood, prompting
his human nature to assert and justify itself. Hence the sympathy
between him and Basil, both being capable of patriotism, and feeling a
desire in the depths of their hearts to live as they would have lived
had they been born in an earlier time. But whereas Basil nursed this
disposition, regarding it as altogether laudable, Marcian could only
see in it an outcome of original sin, and after every indulgence of
such mundane thoughts did penance as for something worse than weakness.
His father had died in an anguish of compunction for a life stained
with sensuality; his mother had killed herself by excessive rigours of
penitence; these examples were ever before his mind. Yet he seldom
spoke, save to spiritual counsellors, of this haunting trouble, and
only the bitterness of envy, an envy entirely human, had drawn from him
the words which so astonished Basil in their last conversation. Indeed,
the loves of Basil and Veranilda made a tumult in his soul; at times it
seemed to him that he hated his friend, so intolerable was the jealousy
that racked him. Veranilda he had never seen, but the lover's rapture
had created in his imagination a face and form of matchless beauty
which he could not cease from worshipping. He took this for a
persecution of the fiend, and strove against it by all methods known to
him. About his body he wore things that tortured; he fasted to the
point of exhaustion; he slept--if sleep came to him--on a bare stone
floor; some hours of each day he spent in visiting churches, where he
prayed ardently.

Basil, when he had rushed forth from the Anicianum, rode straightway to
the Via Lata, and presented himself at Marcian's door. The porter said
that his master had been absent since dawn, but Basil none the less
entered, and, in the room where he and his friend were wont to talk,
threw himself upon a couch to wait. He lay sunk in the most sombre
thoughts, until at the door appeared Sagaris, who with the wonted suave
servility, begged permission to speak to him.

'Speak on,' said Basil gloomily, fixing his eyes upon the oriental
visage, so little reassuring to one harassed by suspicions.

'It is regarding my dear lord, Illustrious, that I would say a humble
word, if your nobility will bear with me.'

'What can that be?'

'I am guilty, I know, of much presumption, but I entreat your
nobility's patience, for in truth it is only my love and my fears that
embolden me to speak. What I would make known to you, Illustrious, is
that for more than two whole days my dear lord has not broken bread.
Since our return to Rome he has fasted all but continuously, at the
same time inflicting upon himself many other penances of the severest
kind. For this, I well know, he will have his reward in the eternal
life; but when I note his aspect, I am overcome with fear lest we
should lose him too soon. This morning, when I was helping him to
dress, he sank down, and lay for a time as one dead. My lord would
rebuke me severely if he knew that I had ventured to speak of these
things; but with you, Illustrious, I feel that I am in no danger. You
will understand me, and pardon me.'

Basil had raised himself to a sitting position. Supporting himself on
one hand, he stared straight before him, and only spoke when a movement
on the part of the servant betrayed impatience.

'This has gone on, you say, since your return to Rome? Was it your
lord's habit to do such penance on his travels?'

'Never in this extreme, though I have always marvelled at his piety.'

Again Basil kept a long silence.

'You have done well to tell me,' he said at length; then, with a wave
of the hand, dismissed the Syrian.

It was nearly mid-day when Marcian returned. At the sight of Basil his
pale, weary countenance assumed a troubled smile. He embraced his
friend, kissing him affectionately on both cheeks, and sat down by him
with a sigh of fatigue.

'What makes you so wan?' asked Basil, peering into his eyes.

'I sleep ill.'

'Why so? Is it pain or thought that keeps you wakeful?'

'Both, perhaps,' answered Marcian. He paused, reflected gloomily, and
went on in a subdued voice. 'Do you think often, Basil, of the eternal
fire?'

'Not often. Sometimes, of course.'

'Last night I had a dream, which assuredly was a temptation of the evil
one. My father stood before me, and said, "Fear not, Marcian, for there
is no Gehenna. It is but the vision of man's tormented conscience." And
I awoke with a great joy. But at once the truth came upon me; and until
dawn I prayed for strength to resist that perilous solace. This morning
I have talked long with a holy man, opening my heart to him, that he
might finally resolve my doubts. I said to him: "Slaves who have
committed a fault are punished that they may amend. To what purpose is
the punishment of the wicked after death, since there can be no
amendment?" and he replied: "My son, the wicked are punished in Gehenna
that the just may feel gratitude to the divine grace which has
preserved them from such a doom." "But," I objected, "ought not the
just to pray for their enemies in such evil case?" His answer was
prompt: "The time for prayer is past. The blessed concur in the
judgment of God!"'

Basil listened with bent head.

'Maximus,' he said presently, 'often doubted of eternal torment; and my
cousin Decius has more than once confessed to me that he believes it
not at all, being strengthened therein by his friend the philosopher
Simplicius. I, O Marcian, would fain think it a dream--yet there are
evil doings in this world which make me fear that it may be true.'

'You have seen Bessas again?'

'Yes. And I have seen Petronilla.'

His eyes on the listener, Basil recounted his conversation of this
morning, all save that part of it which related to Marcian. He could
detect no sign of guilty uneasiness in his friend's face, but saw that
Marcian grew very thoughtful.

'Is not this a shamelessness in falsehood which passes belief?' were
his last words.

'If indeed it be falsehood,' replied Marcian, meeting the other's eyes.
'I will confess that, this day or two, I have suspected Bessas of
knowing more than he pretends.'

'What?' Basil exclaimed. 'You think Veranilda is really in his power?'

Marcian answered with a return to the old irony.

'I would not venture to set bounds to the hypocrisy and the mendacity
and the pertinacity of woman, but, after another conversation with
Petronilla, I am shaken in my belief that she still holds her
prisoners. She may, in truth, have surrendered them. What makes me
inclined to think it, is the fierceness with which she now turns on
_me_, accusing me of the whole plot from the first. That, look you,
would be sweet revenge to a woman defeated. Why,' he added, with a
piercing but kindly look, 'do you hide from me that she sought to
persuade you of my treachery? Is it, O Basil, because you feared lest
she spoke the truth?'

Flushing under that honest gaze, Basil sprang up and seized his
friend's hand. Tears came into his eyes as he avowed the truth and
entreated pardon.

'It was only because misery has made me all but mad. Nay, I _knew_ that
she lied, but I could not rest till I had the assurance of it from your
own lips. You think, then, dearest Marcian, that Veranilda is lost to
me for ever? You believe it is true that she is already on the way to
Constantinople?'

Marcian hoped it with all his heart, for with the disappearance of
Veranilda this strange, evil jealousy of his would fade away; and he
had many reasons for thinking that the loss of his Gothic love would be
the best thing that could happen to Basil. At the same time, he felt
his friend's suffering, and could not bring himself to inflict another
wound.

'If so,' he replied, 'the Greek has less confidence in me than I
thought, and I must take it as a warning. It may be. On the other hand,
there is the possibility that Petronilla's effrontery outwits us all.
Of course she has done her best to ruin both of us, and perhaps is
still trying to persuade Bessas that you keep Veranilda in hiding,
whilst I act as your accomplice. If this be the case, we shall both of
us know the smell of a prison before long, and perchance the taste of
torture. What say you? Shall we wait for that chance, or speed away
into Campania, and march with the king against Neapolis?'

Though he smiled, there was no mistaking Marcian's earnestness. For the
moment he had shaken off his visions of Tartarus, and was his saner
self once more.

'If I knew that she has gone!' cried Basil wretchedly. 'If I knew!'

'So you take your chance?'

'Listen! You speak of prison, of torture. Marcian, can you not help, me
to capture that woman, and to get from her the truth?'

Basil's face grew terrible as he spoke. He quivered, his teeth ground
together.

'I, too, have thought of it,' replied the other coldly. 'But it is
difficult and dangerous.'

They talked yet awhile, until Marcian, who looked cadaverous, declared
his need of food, and they went to the mid-day meal.

A few days went by. Basil was occupied with the business of his
inheritance. He had messengers to despatch to estates in Lucania and
Apulia. Then came news that a possession of Maximus' in the south had
been invaded and seized by a neighbour; for which outrage there was
little hope of legal remedy in the present state of affairs; only by
the strong hand could Basil vindicate his right. Trouble was caused him
by a dispute with one of the legatees, a poor kinsman who put an
unexpected interpretation upon the item of the will which concerned
him. Another poor kinsman, to whom Maximus had bequeathed a share in
certain property in Rome, wished to raise money on this security. Basil
himself could not lend the desired sum, for, though lord of great
estates, he found himself after Chorsoman's pillage of the strong room
at Surrentum, scarcely able to meet immediate claims upon him under the
will; but he consented to accompany his relative to a certain
moneychanger, of whom perchance a loan might be obtained. This man of
business, an Alexandrian, had his office on the Capitoline Hill, in
that open space between the Capitol and the Arx, where merchants were
still found; he sat in a shadowed corner of a portico, before him a
little table on which coins were displayed, and at his back a small
dark shop, whence came a confused odour of stuffs and spices. Long and
difficult were the negotiations. To Basil's surprise, the Alexandrian,
though treating him with the utmost respect, evidently gave little
weight to his guarantee in money matters; as to property in Rome, he
seemed to regard it as the most insubstantial of securities. Only on
gems and precious metals would he consent to lend a sum of any
importance.

Whilst this debate was in progress, a litter, gaudy and luxurious,
borne by eight slaves clad in yellow, with others like them before and
behind, came to a stop close by, and from it alighted a lady whose
gorgeous costume matched the brilliance of her vehicle and retinue. She
was young and beautiful, with dark, oriental features, and a bearing
which aimed at supremity of arrogance. Having stepped down, she stood
at the edge of the portico, languidly gazing this way and that, with
the plain intention of exhibiting herself to the loiterers whom her
appearance drew together; at every slightest movement, the clink of
metal sounded from her neck, her arms, her ankles; stones glistened on
her brow and on her hands; about her she shed a perfume like that
wafted from the Arabian shore.

The Greek merchant, as soon as he was aware of her arrival, ran forward
and stood obsequiously before her, until she deigned to notice him.

'I would speak with you. See that we are private.'

'Noble lady,' he replied, 'the lord Basilius, heir of the Senator
Maximus, is within. I will straightway beg him to defer his business.'

The lady turned and gazed into the dusky shop.

'He is not alone, I see.'

'A kinsman is with him, noble lady.'

'Then bid the kinsman go his way, and keep apart, you, until you are
summoned. I will speak for a moment with the lord Basilius.'

The Alexandrian, masking a smile, drew near to Basil, and whispered
that the lady Heliodora demanded to see him alone. A gesture of
annoyance was the first reply, but, after an instant's reflection,
Basil begged his kinsman to withdraw. Heliodora then entered the shop,
which was nothing more than an open recess, with a stone counter half
across the entrance, and behind it a couple of wooden stools. Upon one
of these the lady seated herself, and Basil, who had greeted her only
with a movement of the head, stood waiting.

'So you will not sup with me?' began Heliodora, in a voice of bantering
indifference. 'You will not come to see me? You will not write to me?
It is well. I care less than the clipping of a finger-nail.'

'So I would have it,' Basil replied coldly.

'Good. Then we are both satisfied. This is much better than making
pretence of what we don't feel, and playing a comedy with our two
selves for spectators. You amused me for a while; that is over; now you
amuse me in another way. Turn a little towards the light. Let me have a
look at your pretty face, Basilidion.'

She spoke with a Greek accent, mingling now and then with the Roman
speech a Greek word or exclamation, and her voice, sonorous rather than
melodious, one moment seemed about to strike the note of anger, at
another seemed softening to tenderness.

'With your leave,' said Basil, 'I will be gone. I have matters of some
importance to attend to.'

'With your leave,' echoed Heliodora, 'I will detain you yet a little.
For you, Basilidion, there is only one matter of importance, and it may
be that I can serve you better therein than any you esteem your graver
friends. There, now, I see your face. Holy Mary I how wan and worn it
is. From my heart I pity you, Basilidion. Come now, tell me the story.
I have heard fifty versions, some credible, some plain fable. Confide
in me; who knows but I may help you.'

'Scoff as you will,' was his answer. 'It is your privilege. But in
truth, lady, I have little time to waste.'

'And in truth, lord, your courtesy has suffered since you began to peck
and pine for this little Hun.'

'Hun?'

'Oh, I cry pardon! Goth, I should have said. Indeed, there are degrees
of barbarism--but, as you will. I say again, I care not the clipping of
my smallest nail.' She held her hand towards him; very white it was,
and soft and shapely, but burdened with too many rings. 'Tell me all,
and I will help you. Tell me nothing, and have nothing for your pains.'

'Help me?' exclaimed Basil, in scornful impatience. 'Am I such a fool
as to think you would wish to help me, even if you could?'

'Listen to me, Basil.' She spoke in a deep note which was half
friendliness, half menace. 'I am not wont to have my requests refused.
Leave me thus, and you have one more enemy--an enemy more to be dreaded
than all the rest. Already I know something of this story, and I can
know the whole of it as soon as I will; but what I want now is to hear
the truth about your part in it. You have lost your little Goth; of
that I need no assurance. But tell me how it came about.'

Basil stood with bent head. In the portico, at a little distance, there
began to sound the notes of a flute played by some itinerant musician.

'You dare refuse me?' said Heliodora, after waiting a moment. 'You are
a bolder man than I thought.'

'Ask what you wish to know,' broke from the other. 'Recount to you I
will not. Put questions, and I will reply if I think fit.'

'Good.'

Heliodora smiled, with a movement which made all her trappings of
precious metal jingle as though triumphantly. And she began to
question, tracking out all Basil's relations with Veranilda from their
first meeting at Cumae to the day of the maiden's disappearance. His
answers, forced from him partly by vague fear, partly by as vague a
hope, were the briefest possible, but in every case he told the truth.

'It is well,' said Heliodora, when the interrogation was over. 'Poor,
poor Basilidion! How ill he has been used! And not even a kiss from the
little Goth. Or am I mistaken? Perhaps--'

'Be silent!' exclaimed Basil harshly.

'Oh, I will not pry into chaste secrets. For the present, enough. Go
your ways, Basil, and take courage. I keep faith, as you know; and that
I am disposed to be your friend is not your standing here, alive and
well, a sufficient proof?'

She had risen, and, as she uttered these words, her eyes gleamed large
in the dusk.

'When you wish to see me,' she added, 'come to my house. To you it is
always open. I may perchance send you a message. If so, pay heed to it.'

Basil was turning away.

'What! Not even the formal courtesy? Your manners have indeed declined,
my poor Basil.'

With an abrupt, awkward movement, he took her half offered hand, and
touched the rings with his lips; then hastened away.

On the edge of the cluster of idlers who were listening to the flute
player stood his needy kinsman. Basil spoke with him for a moment,
postponed their business, and, with a sign to the two slaves in
attendance, walked on. By the Clivus Argentarius he descended to the
Forum. In front of the Curia stood the state' carriage of the City
Prefect, for the Senate had been called together this morning to hear
read some decree newly arrived from Byzantium; and as Basil drew near
he saw the Prefect, with senators about him, come forth and descend the
steps. These dignitaries, who wore with but ill grace the ancient toga,
were evidently little pleased by what they had heard; they talked under
their breath together, many of them, no doubt, recalling sadly the
honour they were wont to receive from King Theodoric. As their
president drove away, Basil, gazing idly after the _carpentum_, felt
himself touched on the arm; he looked round and saw Decius, whose
panting breath declared his haste, whilst his countenance was eloquent
of ill.

'I come from the Anicianum,' Decius whispered, 'and bring terrible
news. Petronilla lies dying of the pest.'

Dazed as if under a violent blow, Basil stretched out his hand. It
touched the wall of the little temple of Janus, in the shadow of which
they were standing.

'The pest?' he echoed faintly.

'She was seized in the night. Some one in the house--some woman, they
tell me, whom she brought with her a few days ago, I know not
whence--is just dead. I have sped hither in search of any one with whom
I could speak of it; God be thanked that I have met you! I went to
fetch away books, as you know.'

'I must go there,' said Basil, gazing about him to find his slaves. 'I
must go straightway.'

'Why? The danger is great.'

'It may be'--this was spoken into Decius' ear--'that Veranilda is
imprisoned there. I have proof now, awful proof, that Petronilla lied
to me. I must enter, and seek.'

Hard by were litters for public hire. Bidding his slaves follow, Basil
had himself carried, fast as bearers could run, towards the Anicianum.
Not even fear of the pestilence could withhold him. His curse upon
Petronilla had been heard; the Almighty God had smitten her; would not
the same Power protect him? He prayed mentally, beseeching the
intercession of the Virgin, of the saints. He made a vow that, did he
recover Veranilda, he would not rest until he had won her conversion to
the Catholic faith.

Without the Anicianum, nothing indicated disturbance, but as soon as he
had knocked at the door it was thrown wide open, and he saw, gathered
in the vestibule, a crowd of dismayed servants. Two or three of them,
whom he knew well, hurried forward, eager to speak. He learnt that
physicians were with the sick lady, and that the presbyter of St.
Cecilia, for whom she had sent in the early morning, remained by her
side. No member of the family (save Decius) had yet come, though
messages had been despatched to several. Unopposed, Basil entered the
atrium, and there spoke with Petronilla's confidential freedman.

'Leo, your mistress is dying. Speak the truth to me, and you shall be
rewarded; refuse to answer, or lie to me, and I swear by the Cross that
you shall suffer. Who was the woman that died here yesterday?'

The freedman answered without hesitation, telling the same story Basil
had already heard from Petronilla.

'Good. She has been buried?'

'She was carried out before dawn.'

'Tell me now, upon your salvation, is any one kept prisoner here?'

Leo, an elderly man, his eyes red with tears and his hands tremulous,
gazed meaningly at the questioner.

'No one; no one,' he answered under his breath. 'I swear it to you, O
lord Basil.'

'Come with me through the house.'

'But Leo, moving nearer, begged that he might be heard and believed. He
understood the meaning of these inquiries, for he had been with his
mistress at Surrentum. They whom Basil sought were not here; all search
would be useless; in proof of this Leo offered the evidence of his
wife, who could reveal something of moment which she had learnt only a
few hours ago. The woman was called, and Basil spoke apart with her; he
learnt that Petronilla, as soon as her pains began, sent a messenger to
the deacon Leander, entreating him to come; but Leander had only
yesterday set out on a journey, and would not be back for a week or
more. Hearing this, the stricken lady fell into an anguish of mind
worse even than that of the body; she uttered words signifying
repentance for some ill-doing, and, after a while, said to those who
were beside her--a physician and the speaker--that, if she died, they
were to make known to Bessas that the deacon Leander, he and he alone,
could tell all. Having said this, Petronilla became for a time calmer;
but her sufferings increased, and suddenly she bade summon the
presbyter of St. Cecilia's church. With him she spoke alone, and for a
long time. Since, she had uttered no word touching worldly matters; the
woman believed that she was now unconscious.

'And you swear to me,' said Basil, who quivered as he listened, 'that
this is the truth and all you know?'

Leo's wife swore by everything sacred on earth, and by all the powers
of heaven, that she had falsified nothing, concealed nothing. Thereupon
Basil turned to go away. In the vestibule, the slaves knelt weeping
before him, some with entreaties to be permitted to leave this stricken
house, some imploring advice against the plague; men and women alike,
all were beside themselves with terror. In this moment there came a
knocking at the entrance; the porter ran to open, and admitted Gordian.
Basil and he, who had not met since the day of the family gathering,
spoke together in the portico. He had come, said Gordian, in the fear
that Petronilla had been forsaken by all her household, as sometimes
happened to those infected. Had it been so, he would have held it a
duty to approach her with what solace he could. As it was, physician
and priest and servants being here, he durst not risk harm to his own
family; but he would hold himself in readiness, if grave occasion
summoned him. So Gordian remounted his horse, and rode back home.

Basil lingered. He no longer entertained the suspicion that Veranilda
might be here, but he thought that, could he speak with Petronilla
herself, penitence might prompt her to tell him where the captive lay
hidden. It surprised him not at all to hear Leander's name as that of
her confidant in the matter, though hitherto his thought had not turned
in that direction. Leander signified the Church, and what hope was
there that he could gain his end against such an opponent?--more
formidable than Bessas, more powerful, perhaps, than Justinian. Were
Veranilda imprisoned in some monastery, he might abandon hope of
beholding her again on this side of the grave.

Yet it was something to know that she had not passed into the hands of
the Greeks; that she was not journeying to the Byzantine court, there
to be wedded against her will. Cheered by this, he felt an impulse of
daring; he would see Petronilla.

'Leo! Lead me to the chamber.'

The freedman besought him not to be so rash, but Basil was possessed
with furious resolve. He drove the servant before him, through the
atrium, into a long corridor. Suddenly the silence was broken by a
shriek of agony, so terrible that Basil felt his blood chilled to the
very heart. This cry came again, echoing fearfully through the halls
and galleries of this palace of marble. The servants had fled; Basil
dropped to his knees, crossed himself, prayed, the sweat standing upon
his forehead. A footstep approached him; he rose, and saw the physician
who had been with Maximus at Surrentum.

'Does she still live?' he asked.

'If life it can be called. What do you here, lord Basil?'

'Can she hear and speak?'

'I understand you,' replied the physician. 'But it is useless. She has
confessed to the priest, and will utter no word more. Look to yourself;
the air you breathe is deadly.'

And Basil, weak as a child, suffered himself to be led away.



CHAPTER XIII

THE SOUL OF ROME


The library in Basil's house was a spacious, graceful room, offering at
this day very much the same aspect as in the time of that ancestral
Anician, who, when Aurelian ruled, first laid rolls and codices upon
its shelves. Against the walls stood closed presses of wood, with
bronze panelling, on which were seen in relief the portraits of poets
and historians; from the key of each hung a strip of parchment, with a
catalogue of the works within. Between the presses, on pedestals of
dark green serpentine, ranged busts of the Greek philosophers: Zeno
with his brows knitted, Epicurus bland, Aratus gazing upward,
Heraclitus in tears, Democritus laughing. These were attributed to
ancient artists, and by all who still cared for such things were much
admired. In the middle stood a dancing faun in blood red marble, also
esteemed a precious work of art. Light entered by an arched window,
once glazed, now only barred with ornamental iron, too high in the wall
to allow of any view; below this, serving as table, was an old marble
sarcophagus carved with the Calydonian hunt.

Here, one day of spring, Decius sat over his studies. Long ago he had
transferred hither all the books from the great house across the Tiber,
and had made his home on the Caelian. As he read or wrote a hard cough
frequently interrupted him. During the past half year his health had
grown worse, and he talked at times of returning to the Surrentine
villa, if perchance that sweeter air might soothe him, but in the
present state of things--Totila had just laid siege to Neapolis--the
removal did not seem feasible. Moreover, Decius loved Rome, and thought
painfully of dying elsewhere than within her walls.

There was a footfall at the door, and Basil entered. He was carelessly
clad, walked with head bent, and had the look of one who spends his
life in wearisome idleness. Without speaking, however, he threw himself
upon a couch and lay staring with vacant eye at the bronze panels of
the vaulted ceiling. For some minutes silence continued; then Decius, a
roll in his hand, stepped to his kinsman's side and indicated with his
finger a passage of the manuscript. What Basil read might be rendered
thus:

'I am hateful to myself. For though born to do something worthy of a
man, I am now not only incapable of action, but even of thought.'

'Who says that?' he asked, too indolent to glance at the beginning of
the roll.

'A certain Marcus Tullius, in one of his letters,' replied the other,
smiling, and returned to his own couch.

Basil moved uneasily, sighed, and at length spoke in a serious tone.

'I understand you, best Decius. You are right. Many a time I have used
to myself almost those very words. When I was young--how old I feel!--I
looked forward to a life full of achievements. I felt capable of great
things. But in our time, what can we do, we who are born Romans, yet
have never learnt to lead an army or to govern a state?'

He let his arm fall despondently, and sank again into brooding silence.

At root, Basil's was a healthy and vigorous nature. Sound of body, he
needed to put forth his physical energies, yet had never found more
scope for them than in the exercise of the gymnasium, or the fatigue of
travel; mentally well-balanced, he would have made an excellent
administrator, such as his line had furnished in profusion, but that
career was no longer open. Of Marcian's ascetic gloom he knew nothing:
not all the misery he had undergone in these last six months could so
warp his wholesome instincts. Owning himself, in the phrases he had
repeated from childhood, a miserable sinner, a vile clot of animated
dust, at heart he felt himself one with all the beautiful and joyous
things that the sun illumined. With pleasure and sympathy he looked
upon an ancient statue of god or hero; only a sense of duty turned his
eyes upon the images of Christian art.

And this natural tendency was encouraged by his education, which, like
that of all well-born Romans, even in the sixth century after Christ,
had savoured much more of paganism than of Christianity. Like his
ancestors, before the age of Constantine, he had been taught grammar
and rhetoric; grammar which was supposed to include all sciences,
meaning practically a comment on a few classical texts, and rhetoric
presumed a preparation for the life of the Forum, having become an art
of declamation which had no reference to realities. Attempts had been
made--the last, only a few years ago, by Cassiodorus--to establish
Christian schools in Rome, but without success, so profoundly were the
ancient intellectual habits rooted in this degenerate people. The long
resistance to the new religion was at an end, but Romans, even while
confessing that the gods were demons, could not cast off their
affection for the mythology and history of their glorious time. Thus
Basil had spent his schooldays mostly in the practice of sophistic
argument, and the delivery of harangues on traditional subjects. Other
youths had shown greater aptitude for this kind of eloquence; he did
not often carry off a prize; but among his proud recollections was a
success he had achieved in the form of a rebuke to an impious
voluptuary who set up a statue of Diana in the room which beheld his
debauches. Here was the nemesis of a system of education which had
aimed solely at the practical, the useful; having always laboured to
produce the man perfectly equipped for public affairs, and nothing else
whatever. Rome found herself tottering with senile steps in the same
path when the Empire and the ancient world lay in ruins about her.
Basil was not studious. Long ago he had forgotten his 'grammatical'
learning--except, of course, a few important matters known to all
educated men, such as the fact that the alphabet was invented by
Mercury, who designed the letters from figures made in their flight by
the cranes of Strymon. Though so ardent a lover, he had composed no
lyric or elegy in Veranilda's honour; his last poetical effort was made
in his sixteenth year, when, to his own joy, and to the admiration of
his friends, he wrote a distich, the verses of which read the same
whether you began from the left hand or the right. Nowadays if he ever
opened a book it was some historian of antiquity. Livy, by choice, who
reminded him of his country's greatness, and reawakened in him the
desire to live a not inglorious life.

Of his latter boyhood part had been spent at Ravenna, where his father
Probus, a friend as well as kinsman of the wise minister Cassiodorus,
now and then made a long sojourn; and he had thus become accustomed to
the society of the more cultivated Goths, especially of those who were
the intimates of the learned Queen Amalasuntha. Here, too, he learned a
certain liberality in religious matters; for it was Cassiodorus who, in
one of the rescripts given from the Gothic court, wrote those memorable
words: 'Religious faith we have no power to impose, seeing that no man
can be made to believe against his will.' Upon the murder of
Amalasuntha, when the base Theodahad ruled alone, and ruin lay before
the Gothic monarchy, Probus, despairing of Italy, following the example
of numerous Roman nobles, migrated to Byzantium. His wife being dead,
and his daughter having entered a convent, he was accompanied only by
Basil, then eighteen years of age. A new world thus opened before
Basil's mind; its brilliancy at first dazzled and delighted him, but
very soon he perceived the difference between a noble's life at Rome or
Ravenna under the mild rule of the Goths, and that led by so-called
Romans in the fear of Justinian and of Theodora. His father,
disappointed in hopes of preferment which had been held out to him,
gladly accepted a mission which would take him back to Italy: he was
one of the envoys sent to Belisarius during the siege of Ravenna, to
urge the conclusion of the Gothic war and command the return of the
Patricius as soon as might be for service against the Persians; and
with him came Basil. On the journey Probus fell ill; he was able to
cross the Adriatic, but no sooner touched Italian Soil than he breathed
his last.

Then it was that Basil, representing his father in the Imperial
mission, came face to face with Belisarius, and conceived a boundless
enthusiasm for the great commander, whose personal qualities--the large
courtesy, the ready kindliness, the frequent laugh--made intimate
appeal to one of his disposition. He stayed in the camp before Ravenna
until the city surrendered, and no one listened with more ardent
approval to the suggestion which began as a whisper between Italians
and Goths that Belisarius should accept the purple of the Western
Empire. This, to be sure, would have been treachery, but treachery
against Justinian seemed a small thing to Basil, and a thing of no
moment at all when one thought of Rome as once more an Imperial city,
and Italy with such a ruler as the laurelled Patricius. Treachery the
general did commit, but not against Byzantium. Having made pretence of
accepting the crown which the Goths offered him, he entered into
Ravenna, took possession in Justinian's name, and presently sailed for
the East, carrying with him the King Vitiges and his wife Matasuntha,
grand-daughter of Theodoric. It was a bitter disappointment to Basil,
who had imagined for himself a brilliant career under the auspices of
the new Roman Emperor, and who now saw himself merely a conquered
Italian, set under the authority of Byzantine governors. He had no
temptation to remain in the North, for Cassiodorus was no longer here,
having withdrawn a twelvemonth ago to his own country by the Ionian
Sea, and there entered the monastery founded by himself; at Ravenna
ruled the logothete Alexandros, soon to win a surname from his
cleverness in coin-clipping. So Basil journeyed to Rome, where his
kinsfolk met him with news of deaths and miseries. The city was but
raising her head after the long agony of the Gothic siege. He entered
his silent home on the Caelian, and began a life of dispirited idleness.

Vast was the change produced in the Roman's daily existence by the
destruction of the aqueducts. The Thermae being henceforth unsupplied
with water, those magnificent resorts of every class of citizen lost
their attraction, and soon ceased to be frequented; for all the Roman's
exercises and amusements were associated with the practice of luxurious
bathing, and without that refreshment the gymnasium, the tennis-court,
the lounge, no longer charmed as before. Rome became dependent upon
wells and the Tiber, wretched resource compared with the never-failing
and abundant streams which once poured through every region of the city
and threw up fountains in all but every street. Belisarius, as soon as
the Goths retreated, ordered the repairing of an aqueduct, that which
served the transtiberine district, and was indispensable to the working
of the Janiculan mills, where corn was ground; but, after his
departure, there was neither enough energy nor sufficient sense of
security in Rome for the restoration of even one of the greater
conduits. Nobles and populace alike lived without the bath, grew
accustomed to more or less uncleanliness, and in a certain quarter
suffered worse than inconvenience from the lack of good water.

Formerly a young Roman of Basil's rank, occupied or not by any serious
pursuit, would have spent several hours of the day at one or other of
the Thermae still in use; if inclined to display, he would have gone
thither with a train of domestic attendants, and probably of parasites;
were the season hot, here he found coolness; were it cold, here he
warmed himself. Society never failed; opportunity for clandestine
meetings could always be found; all the business and the pleasure of a
day were regulated with reference to this immemorial habit. Now, to
enter the Thermae was to hear one's footsteps resound in a marble
wilderness; to have statues for companions and a sense of ruin for
one's solace. Basil, who thought more than the average Roman about
these changes, and who could not often amuse himself with such
spectacles as the theatres or the circus offered, grew something of a
solitary in his habits, and was supposed by those who did not know him
intimately, to pass most of his time in religious meditation, the
preface, perhaps, to retirement from the world. Indolence bringing its
wonted temptations, he fell into acquaintance with Heliodora, a
Neapolitan Greek of uncertain origin, whose husband that year held the
office of City Prefect. Acquaintance with Heliodora was, in his case,
sure to be a dangerous thing, and might well prove fatal, for many and
fierce were the jealousies excited by that brilliant lady, whose
husband alone regarded with equanimity her amorous adventures. Happily,
Basil did not take the matter very much to heart; he scarce pretended
to himself that he cared whether Heliodora was his for a day only or
for a month; and he had already turned his thoughts to the sweetness of
Aemiliana, that young sister of Gordian, whom, if he chose, he might
make his wife.

Now again had sluggishness taken possession of him, and with it came
those promptings of the flesh which, but a few months ago, he easily
subdued, but which the lapse of time had once more made perilous. To
any who should have ventured to taunt him with forgetfulness of
Veranilda, he would have fiercely given the lie; and with reason, for
Veranilda's image was as vivid to him as on the day when he lost her,
and she alone of women had the power to excite his deepest and
tenderest emotions. Nevertheless, he had more than once of late visited
Heliodora, and though these visits were in appearance only such as he
might have paid to any lady of his acquaintance, Basil knew very well
whither they tended. As yet Heliodora affected a total forgetfulness of
the past; she talked of Veranilda, and confessed that her efforts to
make any discovery regarding the captive were still fruitless, though
she by no means gave up hope; therewithal, she treated Basil only half
seriously, with good-naturedly mocking smiles, as a mere boy, a disdain
to her mature womanhood. Of this was he thinking as he tossed on the
couch in the library; he had thought of it too much since leaving
Heliodora yesterday afternoon. It began to nettle him that his grief
should be for her merely an amusement. Never having seen the Gothic
maiden, whose beauty outshone hers as sunrise outdoes the lighting of a
candle, this wanton Greek was capable of despising him in good earnest,
and Basil had never been of those who sit easy under scorn. He felt
something chafe and grow hot within him, and recalled the days when he,
and not Heliodora, had indulged contempt--to his mind a much more
natural posture of affairs, The animal that is in every man had begun
to stir; it urged him to master and crush and tame this woman, whom,
indeed, he held rather in hate than in any semblance of love. Her
beauty, her sensuality, had power over him still; he resented such
danger of subjection, and encouraged himself in a barbarism of mood,
which permitted him to think that even in yielding he might find the
way of his revenge.

There had been a long silence since his reply to the hint offered by
Decius. The student spoke again.

'Basil, leave Rome.'

'It is forbidden,' answered the other dully, his face averted.

'Many things are forbidden which none the less are done. Did you learn
that Veranilda awaited you at Asculum, how long would it be before you
set forth?'

'Not one hour, good Decius.'

'Even so. You would pass the gates disguised as a peasant or as a
woman--no matter how. Will you do less to save all that makes life dear
to an honourable man? Be gone, be gone, I entreat you.'

'Whither?'

'To Picenum, which is not yet subject to the Goths. There gather your
capable men and arm them, and send to the King Totila, offering to
serve him where he will, and how he will. You know,' pursued Decius
earnestly, 'that I speak this something against my conscience, but,
alas! we can only choose between evils, and I think Totila is less of a
tyrant than Justinian. You will not go to Constantinople, nor would I
bid you, for there, assuredly, is nothing to be done worthy of a man;
but you must act, or you perish. For me, a weakling and a dreamer,
there is solace in the _vita umbratilis_; to you, it is naught. Arise,
then, O Basil, ere it be too late.'

The listener rose from his recumbent attitude; he was stirred by this
unwonted vigour in Decius, but not yet did resolve appear on his
countenance.

'Did I but know,' he murmured, 'that Veranilda is not in Rome!'

Innumerable times had he said it; the thought alone held him inert.
Impossible to discover, spite of all his efforts, whether Veranilda had
been delivered to the Greeks, or still lay captive in some place known
to the deacon Leander. From the behaviour of Bessas nothing could be
certainly deduced: it was now a long time since he had sent for Basil,
and Marcian, though believing that the commander's search was still
futile, had no more certainty than his friend. Soon after Petronilla's
death, the Anician mansion had been thoroughly pillaged and everything
of value removed to the Palatine. Bessas condescended to justify this
proceeding: having learnt, he said, that the question of Aurelia's
orthodoxy lay in doubt, some declaring that she was a heretic, some
that she had returned to orthodoxy before her father's death, he took
charge of the property which might be hers until she appeared to claim
it, when, having the testament of Maximus in his hand, he would see
that justice was done. With Leander, Basil had succeeded in obtaining
an interview, which was altogether fruitless. The deacon would answer
no question, and contented himself with warning his visitor of the
dangers incurred by one who openly sought to defeat the will of the
Emperor.

'Is it farewell?' asked Decius, stepping towards his kinsman, who
seemed about to leave the room.

'I will think.'

'Go speak with Gordian. He says that he can obtain you permission to
leave the city.'

'I doubt it,' replied Basil. 'But I will see him--ere long.'

Decius went forth for his morning's exercise, which sometimes took the
form of a gentle game of ball, but was generally a ramble on foot and
unaccompanied, for he never felt at ease when an attendant followed
him. His habits were solitary; ever absorbed in thought, or lost in
dreams, he avoided the ways where he would be likely to encounter an
acquaintance, and strayed among ruins in deserted gardens, such as were
easily found in the remoter parts of the Caelian. To-day, tempted on by
the delicious air, and the bright but not ardent sunshine, he wandered
by such unfrequented paths till a sound of voices broke upon his
meditation, and he found himself in view of the Lateran. Numbers of
poor people were streaming away from the open space by the Pope's
palace, loud in angry talk, its purpose intelligible enough to any one
who caught a few words. Decius heard maledictions upon the Holy Father,
mingled with curses no less hearty upon the Greeks who held Rome.

'It was not thus,' cried an old man, 'in the time of King Theodoric,
heretic though he might be. We had our bread and our hog's flesh, prime
quality both, and plenty for all.'

'Ay,' cried a woman, 'and our oil too. Since these Greek dogs came, not
a drop of oil has there been in my cruse. Heretics, forsooth! What
better is the Holy Father who lets Christians die of hunger while he
eats and drinks his fill?'

'Evil go with thee, O Vigilius! The pest seize thee, O Vigilius! May'st
thou perish eternally, O Vigilius!' shrilled and shouted all manner of
voices, while fists were shaken towards the pontifical abode.

Decius hastened away. The sight of suffering was painful to him, and
the cries of the vulgar offended his ear; he felt indignant that these
people should not be fed, as Rome for so many ages had fed her
multitude, but above all, he dreaded uproar, confusion, violence. His
hurried pace did not relax until he was lost again amid a wilderness of
ruins, where browsing goats and darting lizards were the only life.

Later in the day, when he sat alone in the peristyle, a visitor was
introduced, whom he rose to welcome cordially and respectfully. This
was a man of some threescore years, vigorous in frame, with dry,
wrinkled visage and a thin, grey beard that fell to his girdle. As he
approached, Decius saw that he was bleeding from a wound on the head
and that his cloak was torn.

'What means this, dear master?' he exclaimed. 'What has befallen you?'

'Nothing worth your notice, gentle Decius,' the philosopher replied,
calmly and gravely. 'Let us rather examine this rare treatise of
Plotinus, which by good fortune I yesterday discovered among rubbish
thrown aside.'

'Nay,' insisted Decius, 'but your wound must be washed and dressed; it
may else prove dangerous. I fear this was no accident?'

'If you must know,' answered the other with good-natured peevishness,
'I am accused of magic. The honest folk who are my neighbours,
prompted, I think it likely, by a certain senator who takes it ill that
his son is my disciple, have shown me of late more attention than I
care for, and to-day as I came forth, they pursued me with cries of
"Sorcerer!" and the like, whereupon followed sticks and stones, and
other such popular arguments. It is no matter. Plotinus begins--'

Simplicius was one of the last philosophers who taught in Athens, one
of the seven who were driven forth when Justinian, in his zeal for
Christianity, closed the schools. Guided by a rumour that supreme
wisdom was to be found in Persia, the sages journeyed to that kingdom,
where disappointment awaited them. After long wanderings and many
hardships, Simplicius came to Rome, and now had sojourned here for a
year or two, teaching such few as in these days gave any thought to
philosophy. Poor, and perhaps unduly proud, he preferred his own very
humble lodging to the hospitality which more than one friend had
offered him; and his open disregard for religious practices, together
with singularities of life and demeanour, sufficiently explained the
trouble that had come upon him. Charges of sorcery were not uncommon in
Rome at this time. Some few years ago a commission of senators had sat
in judgment upon two nobles accused of magic, a leading article of
proof against one of them being that he had a horse which, when
stroked, gave off sparks of fire. On this account Decius was much
troubled by the philosopher's story. When the wound had been attended
to, he besought Simplicius not to go forth again to-day, and with some
difficulty prevailed.

'Why should it perturb you, O most excellent Decius,' said the sage,
'that a lover of wisdom is an offence to the untaught and the foolish?
Was it not ever thus? If philosophy may no longer find peace at Athens,
is it likely that she will be suffered to dwell at ease in Rome?'

'Alas, no!' admitted Decius. 'But why, dear master, should you invite
the attacks of the ignorant?'

'I do no such thing. I live and act as seems good to me, that is all.
Should no one have the courage to do that, what hope would there be, O
Decius, for that most glorious liberty, the liberty of the mind?'

The listener bent his head abashed. Then Simplicius began to read from
the manuscript, and Decius, who knew Greek fairly well--he had lately
completed certain translations from Plato, left unfinished by
Boethius--gave reverent attention. At a certain point the philosopher
paused to comment, for the subject was difficult--nothing less than the
nature of God. In God, according to the system here expounded, there
are three principles or hypostases, united but unequal--the One, the
Intelligence, the Soul; which correspond, respectively, to the God of
Plato, the God of Aristotle, the God of Zeno. Usually curt and rather
dry in his utterances, Simplicius rose to a fervid eloquence as he
expounded this mysticism of Alexandria. Not that he accepted it as the
final truth, it was merely a step, though an important one, towards
that entire and absolute knowledge of which he believed that a glimpse
had been vouchsafed to him, even to him, in his more sublime hours. As
for Decius, the utmost effort never enabled him to attain familiarity
with these profound speculations: he was soon lost, and found his brain
whirling with words that had little or no significance. At home in
literature, in philosophy he did but strive and falter and lose
himself. When at length there came a silence, he sighed deeply, his
hand propping his forehead.

'Master, how few men can ever know God!'

'Few, few,' admitted the philosopher, his gaze upwards.

'I think I should be content,' said Decius, 'to love and praise Him.
Yet that meseems is no less hard.'

'No less,' was the reply. 'For, without knowledge, love and praise are
vain.'

But Decius' thought had another meaning.



CHAPTER XIV

SILVIA'S DREAM


It was the Paschal season, and Basil, careless at most times of
religious observances, did not neglect this supreme solemnity of his
faith. On Passion Day he fasted and received the Eucharist, Decius
doing the like, though with a half-smiling dreaminess which contrasted
with the other's troubled devotion. Since the death of Petronilla,
Basil had known moments of awe-stricken wonder or of gloomy fear such
as never before had visited him; for he entertained no doubt that his
imprecation had brought upon Petronilla her dreadful doom, and this was
a thought which had power to break his rest. Neither to Marcian nor to
Decius did he speak of it in plain terms, merely hinting his belief
that the cruel and treacherous woman had provoked divine anger.

But the inclination to piety which resulted from such brooding was in
some measure counteracted by his hostile feeling towards all the
Church. Petronilla might have conceived the thought of imprisoning
Aurelia and Veranilda, but only with the aid of an influential cleric
such as Leander could she have carried it out so successfully. The
Church it was that held Veranilda captive; unless, indeed, it had
handed her over to the Greeks. This conviction made his heart burn with
wrath, which he could scarce subdue even whilst worshipping the
crucified Christ. His victim's heresy would of course be Leander's
excuse for what he had done; the daughter of Maximus and the Gothic
maiden were held in restraint for their souls' good. Not long after
Petronilla's death Basil had been driven by his distress of mind to
visit Gordian and Silvia, and to speak with them of this suspicion. He
saw that, for all their human kindness, they were disposed rather, to
approve than condemn the deacon's supposed action, and he had gone
forth from them in scarce concealed bitterness.

Now, in the festival days of Easter, his thoughts again turned to that
house on the Clivus Scauri, so near to his own dwelling, yet so remote
from the world of turbid passions in which his lot was cast. The
household of Gordian seemed untouched by common cares; though
thoroughly human its domestic life, it had something of the calm, the
silence, of a monastery. None entered save those whom husband and wife
held in affection or in respect; idle gaiety was unknown beneath their
roof, and worldly ambition had no part in their counsels. Because of
the reverence these things inspired in him, and because of his longing
to speak with a pure-hearted woman who held him in kindness, Basil
again presented himself at his kinsman's door. He was led directly to
an inner room, where sat Silvia.

The severe fasts of Lent had left their mark upon the young face, yet
it was fresh and smooth in its delicate pallor, and almost maidenly in
its gentle smile. Silvia had blue eyes, and hair of the chestnut hue; a
simple, white fillet lay above her forehead; her robe was of pale
russet, adorned with the usual purple stripes and edged with
embroidery; on each hand she wore but one ring. When the visitor
entered, she was nursing her child, a boy of four years old, named
Gregorius, but at once she put him to sit upon a little stool beside
her.

'Welcome, dear cousin Basil,' was her greeting. 'We hoped this time of
gladness would turn your thoughts to us. My husband has been called
forth; but you will await his return?'

'It was you, lady cousin, whom I wished to see,' Basil replied. As he
spoke, he touched the curly head of the boy, who looked up at him with
large, grave eyes. 'Why is he so pale?'

'He has had a sickness,' answered the mother, in a low, tender voice.
'Not many days ago, one might have feared he would be taken from us.
Our prayers prevailed, thanks to the intercession of the holy Cosma and
Damian, and of the blessed Theodore. When he seemed to be dying, I bore
him to the church in the Velabrum, and laid him before the altar; and
scarcely had I finished my prayer, when a light seemed to shine upon
his face, and he knew me again, and smiled at me.'

Listening, the child took his mother's hand, and pressed it against his
wan little cheek. Then Silvia rang a bell that was beside her, and a
woman came to take the child away, he, as he walked in silence from the
room, looking back and smiling wistfully.

'I know not,' pursued Silvia, when they were alone, 'how we dare to
pray for any young life in times so dark as ours. But that we are
selfish in our human love, we should rather thank the Omnipotent when
it pleases Him to call one of these little ones, whom Christ blessed,
from a world against which His wrath is so manifestly kindled. And
yet,' she added, 'it must be right that we should entreat for a life in
danger; who can know to what it may be destined?--what service it may
render to God and man? One night when I watched by Gregorius, weariness
overcame me, and in a short slumber I dreamt. That dream I shall never
forget. It kept me in heart and hope through the worst.'

'May I hear your dream?' asked Basil.

'Nay,' was the gentle reply, with a smile and a shake of the head, 'to
you it would seem but foolishness. Let us speak of other things, and
first of yourself. You, too, are pale, good cousin. What have you to
tell me? What has come to pass since I saw you?'

With difficulty Basil found words to utter the thought which had led
him hither. He came to it by a roundabout way, and Silvia presently
understood: he was indirectly begging her to use her influence with
eminent churchmen at Rome, to discover whether Veranilda was yet
detained in Italy, or had been sent to the East. At their previous
interview he had kept up the pretence of being chiefly interested in
the fate of Aurelia, barely mentioning the Gothic maiden; but that was
in the presence of Gordian. Now he spoke not of Aurelia at all, and so
dwelt on Veranilda's name that his implied confession could not be
misunderstood. And Silvia listened with head bent, interested, secretly
moved, at heart troubled.

'What you ask,' she began, after a short silence, 'is not easy. If I
make inquiries of such of the clergy as I know, I must needs tell them
why I am doing so; and would they, in that case, think it well to
answer me?'

'You know the deacon Leander,' urged Basil. 'Can you not plead for me
with him, O Silvia?'

'Plead for you? Remember that it is impossible for me to assume that
the holy deacon knows anything of this matter. And, were that
difficulty removed, dare I plead for your union with one who is not of
our faith--one, moreover, whom you cannot wed without putting yourself
in grave peril?'

'Listen, gentle cousin!' exclaimed Basil eagerly. 'It may be that
Veranilda has already renounced the heresy of Anus. If not, she would
assuredly do so at my persuasion. So, that objection you may dismiss.
As for the danger to which our marriage might expose us, our love would
dare that--ay, and things much worse.'

'You speak so confidently of the Gothic maiden?' said Silvia, with a
look half-timid, half-amused. 'Was there, then, a veritable plighting
of troth between you?'

'There was, dear cousin. From you I will conceal nothing, for you are
good, you are compassionate.'

And whilst he poured forth the story of his love, not without tears,
Silvia gave sympathetic attention. The lady Petronilla had never been
one of her intimates, nor was the deacon Leander among those
ecclesiastics whom she most reverenced. When Basil had told all, her
reply was ready. All she could do would be to endeavour to learn
whether Veranilda remained in the charge of Petronilla's confederate,
or had been given up to the Greeks. From conversation she had heard,
Silvia inclined to this belief, that Bessas and his subordinates were
still vainly seeking.

'I can make you no promise, good Basil; but I will take counsel with my
husband (whom you can trust as you trust me), and see if indeed
anything may be learnt.'

The lover kissed her hands in ardent gratitude. Whilst they were still
talking confidentially, another visitor was announced, the deacon
Pelagius. Basil begged permission to withdraw before the cleric
entered; he was in no mood for conversation with deacons; and Silvia
pointed smilingly to the door by which he could retreat.

The hour was still early. Basil passed a day of hopefulness, and his
mood became exultant when, about sunset, a letter was brought to him
from Silvia.

'To-morrow morning, at the third hour,' she wrote, 'certain of our
kinsfolk and friends will assemble in this house to hear the reverend
man Arator read his poem on the Acts of the Holy Apostles. This is an
honour done to us, for only two or three persons have as yet heard
portions of the poem, which will soon be read publicly in the church of
the Holy Petrus ad Vincula. Let me welcome your Amiability among my
guests. After the reading, I shall beg you to be acquainted with one
who may perchance serve you.'

Scarcely had Basil read this, when another missive was put into his
hands. It was from Heliodora, and written, as usual, in Greek
characters.

'To-morrow, after the ninth hour, you are bidden hither. Come if you
choose. If you do not, I shall have forgotten something I have learnt.'

To this he paid little heed; it might have significance, it might have
none. If the morning sustained his hope, he would be able to resist the
temptation of the afternoon. So he cherished Silvia's letter, and flung
Heliodora's contemptuously aside.

Reaching Gordian's house next morning a little before the appointed
hour, he found the members of the family and one or two guests
assembled in a circular room, with a dome pierced to admit light:
marble seats, covered with cushions, rose amphitheatre-wise on one half
of the circle, and opposite was a chair for the reader. In this hall
Sidonius Apollinaris had declaimed his panegyric on the Emperor Avitus;
here the noble Boethius had been heard, and, in earlier days, the poet
Claudian. Beside Silvia stood her husband's two sisters, Tarsilla and
Aemiliana, both of whom, it had begun to be rumoured, though still in
the flower of their youth, desired to enter the monastic life. At the
younger, who was beautiful, Basil glanced diffidently, remembering that
she might have been his wife; but Aemiliana knew nothing of the thought
her brother had entertained, and her eyes were calm as those of a
little child. When other guests appeared, Basil drew aside, for most of
the persons who entered were strangers to him. Ecclesiastics grew
numerous; among them might be distinguished a tall, meagre, bald-headed
man, the sub-deacon Arator, who held in his hand the manuscript from
which he was to read. Among the latest to arrive was a lady, stricken
in years and bowed with much grief, upon whom all eyes were
respectfully bent as Gordian conducted her to a place of honour. This
was Rusticiana, the daughter of Symmachus, the widow of Boethius. When
Basil looked at her, and thought of the anguish through which her life
had passed in that gloomy evening of the reign of Theodoric, he felt
himself for a moment at one with those who rejected and scorned the
Gothic dominion. A great unhappiness flooded his heart and mind; he
forgot what was passing about him, and only returned to himself when
there sounded the voice of the reader.

Arator's poetic version of the Acts of the Apostles was written in
hexameters; whether good or ill, Basil felt unable to decide, and he
wished Decius had been here to whisper a critical comment. In any case
he would have found the reading wearisome; that monotonous, indistinct
voice soon irritated him, and at length made him drowsy. But admiration
frequently broke out from the audience, and at the end applause became
enthusiasm. Unspeakably glad that the ceremony was over, Basil mingled
with the moving crowd, and drew towards Silvia. At length their eyes
met; the lady thereupon spoke a word to a cleric who was standing by
her, and in the next moment summoned Basil with a movement of the head.
There was a brief formality, then Basil found himself led aside by the
deacon Pelagius, who spoke to him in a grave, kind voice very pleasant
to the ear, with the courtesy of a finished man of the world, and at
the same time with a firmness of note, a directness of purpose, which
did not fail to impress the listener.

Aged about five-and-thirty, bearing upon his countenance the signature
of noble birth, Pelagius was at this moment the most accomplished
diplomat that the Church of Rome possessed. He had spent some years at
Byzantium, as papal emissary; had engaged the confidence of Justinian;
and, on his return, had brought an Imperial invitation to Vigilius, who
was requested to set forth for the East as soon as possible. Pope
Vigilius had the misfortune to differ on certain dogmatic questions
with that pious and acute theologian the Empress Theodora; being a man
of little energy or courage, he durst not defy Byzantium, as he gladly
would have done, nor yet knew how to deal subtly for his own ends with
the Eastern despots; he lingered his departure, and in the meantime
earned hatred at Rome because of his inability to feed the populace. It
was already decided that, during his absence, the Holy Father should be
represented by Pelagius, an arrangement very agreeable to that party in
the Church which upheld Imperial supremacy, but less so to those
ecclesiastics--a majority--who desired the independence of Rome in
religious matters, and the recognition of Peter's successor as
Patriarch of Christendom. In speaking to such a personage as this on
Basil's behalf, Silvia had not reflected that the friend of Justinian
was little likely to take the part of one who desired to frustrate an
Imperial command; she thought only of his great influence, and of the
fact that he looked with no favour on the deacon Leander, an
anti-imperialist. What was again unfortunate for Basil, Pelagius had
heard, before leaving Byzantium, of the Emperor's wish to discover
Veranilda, and had already made inquiries on this subject in Rome. He
was glad, then, to speak with this young noble, whose mind he found it
very easy to read, and whom, without the least harshness, he resolved
to deter from his pursuit of a Gothic bride.

The colloquy was not long. Buoyed by his ardour, Basil interpreted the
first words of courteous preamble in the most hopeful sense. What
followed gave him pause; he saw a shadow of obstacle arise. Another
moment, and the obstacle had become very real; it grew to vastness, to
insuperability He stood, as it were, looking into the very eyes of the
Serene Majesty of Byzantium. Not that the speaker used a tone of
peremptory discouragement. Granting the indispensable condition that
Veranilda became a Catholic, it was not an impossible thing, said
Pelagius, that Basil should obtain her as a wife; _but_ it could only
be by the grace of the Emperor. Veranilda had been summoned to
Byzantium. If Basil chose to follow her thither, and sue for her before
the throne, why, this was open to him, as to any other Roman of noble
birth. It would have been idle indeed to seek to learn from Pelagius
whether Veranilda had already left Italy, his tone was that of
omniscience, but his brow altogether forbade interrogation. Basil, in
despair, ventured one inquiry. If he desired to go to Byzantium, could
he obtain leave of departure from the Greek commandant, under whose ban
he lay? The reply was unhesitating; at any moment, permission could be
granted. Therewith the conversation came to an end, and Basil, hating
the face of man, stole away into solitude.

Entering his own house, he learnt that Marcian was within. For a month
they had not seen each other, Marcian having been absent on missions of
the wonted double tenor; they met affectionately as ever, then Basil
flung himself down, like one crushed by sudden calamity.

'What now?' asked his friend, with a rallying rather than a sympathetic
air.

'No matter,' Basil replied. 'You are weary of my troubles, and I can no
longer talk of them.'

'What troubles? The old story still? I thought you had found solace?'

Basil looked an indignant wonder. His friend, sitting on the couch
beside him, continued in the same half-bantering tone:

'When were you last at the house of a certain disconsolate widow, on
the Quirinal?'

'What mean you?' cried the other, starting up, with sudden fury in his
eyes. 'Are you vowed with my enemies to drive me mad?'

'Not I, dear Basil; but hear the truth. Only late last night I entered
the gates of Rome, and since I rose this morning three several persons
have spoken your name to me together with that of Heliodora.'

'They are black and villainous liars! And you, Marcian, so ready to
believe them? Tell me their names, their names!'

'Peace! One would think you mad indeed. You know the son of Opilio,
young Vivian?'

'I know him!' answered Basil scornfully, 'as I know the lousy beggar
who sits before St. Clement's Church, or the African who tumbles in
Trajan's forum.'

'Even so. This same spark of fashion stops me in the Vicus Longus. "You
are the friend of Basil," quoth he. "Give him this warning. If ever I
chance to find him near the portico of Heliodora, I will drive my
dagger into his heart," and on he struts, leaving me so amazed that I
forgot even to fetch the cub a box o' the ear. But I had not long to
wait for an explanation of his insolence. Whom should I next meet but
the solemn-visaged Opilio. "So your friend Basil," he began, "has
forgotten his Gothic love?" We talked, and I learnt from him that you
were the hot rival of Vivian for Heliodora's favour. Nay, I do but
repeat what you ought to hear. Can such gossip begin without cause?
Tell me now, how often have you been yonder since I left Rome?'

Basil could scarce contain himself. He had visited Heliodora, yes, but
merely because he would neglect no chance of learning where Veranilda
was imprisoned; it was not impossible that through this woman such a
secret might be discovered. He the rival of that debauched boy! He the
lover of Heliodora! Had he sunk so low in the esteem of his best
friend? Why, then, it was time indeed to be gone: befall him what
might, he could not be unhappier in Constantinople than here in Rome.

At these words, Marcian checked him with a surprised inquiry. What had
turned his thoughts to Constantinople? Basil related the events of
yesterday and of this morning.

'What other counsel could you have expected from Pelagius?' said
Marcian, after listening attentively. 'But on one point I can reassure
you. Veranilda has not yet fallen into the hands of the Greeks.'

'How do you know that?' exclaimed Basil eagerly.

'Enough that I do know it. Whilst you have been idling here--forgive
me, good Basil--I have travelled far and conversed with many men. And I
have something else to tell you, which will perchance fall less
agreeably upon your ear. The fame of Veranilda promises to go forth
over all lands. King Totila himself has heard of her, and would fain
behold this ornament of his race.'

'Totila!'

'When Cumae was besieged by the Goths three months ago, Chorsoman--whom
you have not forgotten--made terms with Totila, and was allowed to keep
some portion of the plunder he had amassed. Thinking to do the king a
pleasure, he told him of Veranilda, of the commands regarding her which
had come from the East, and of her vanishing no one knew whither. And
of these things, O Basil, did Totila himself, with his royal mouth,
speak unto me not many days gone by.'

'I see not how that concerns me,' said Basil wearily.

'True, it may not. Yet, if I were wooing a wife, I had rather seek her
at the hands of Totila than at those of Justinian. To be sure, I did
not speak of you to the king; that would have been less than discreet.
But Totila will ere long be lord of all Italy, and who knows but the
deacon Leander, no friend of Constantinople, might see his interest and
his satisfaction in yielding Veranilda rather to the Goth than to the
Greek?'

Basil started. Such a thought had never entered his mind, yet he saw
probability in the suggestion.

'You assure me,' he said, 'that she has not yet been surrendered. I
find that hard to believe. Knowing in whose power she is, how comes it
that Bessas does not seize the insolent Leander, and force the truth
from him? Were I the commander, would I be baffled for an hour by that
sleek deacon?'

'Were you commander, O best Basil,' replied Marcian, smiling, 'you
would see things in another light. Bessas does not lay hands upon the
deacon because it is much more to his profit to have the clergy of Rome
for his friends than for his enemies. Whether Veranilda be discovered
or not, he cares little; I began to suspect that when I saw that you
came off so easily from your dealings with him. 'Tis a long road to
Constantinople, and the Thracian well knows that he may perchance never
travel it again. His one care is to heap up treasure for to-day; the
morrow may look after itself. But let us return to the point from which
we started. Do you think in earnest of voyaging to the Bosporus?'

'I should only choose a hazard so desperate were it the sole chance
that remained of recovering Veranilda.'

'Wait, then, yet awhile. But take my counsel, and do not wait in Rome.'

To this advice Basil gave willing ear. Since he had heard from Pelagius
that he was free to quit the city, he was all but resolved to be gone.
One thought alone detained him; he still imagined that Heliodora might
have means such as she professed of aiding him in his search, and that,
no matter how, he might subdue her will to his own. She, of course,
aimed only at enslaving him, and he knew her capable of any wickedness
in the pursuit of her ends; for this very reason was he tempted into
the conflict with her, a conflict in which his passions would have no
small part, and whether for or against him could not be foreseen. Once
more he would visit Heliodora; if fruitlessly, then for the last time.

But of this decision he did not speak to Marcian.



CHAPTER XV

YOUNG ROME


At the hour named by Heliodora, Basil set forth alone and rode by
unfrequented ways towards the street on the Quirinal named Alta Semita.
A sense of shame forbade him to make known even to his slaves whither
he was going. He kept repeating to himself that it was for the last
time; and perhaps a nobler motive would have withheld him altogether,
had not the story told by Marcian of his 'rival's' insolent menace
rankled in him and urged him to show that he felt no fear. Chance led
him past the little church of St. Agatha, which belonged to the Arians;
it helped him to fix his thoughts upon Veranilda, and silently he swore
that no temptation should prevail against the fidelity due to his
beloved.

Not far from the Thermae of Constantine, and over against that
long-ruined sanctuary of ancient Rome, the Temple of Quirinus, he drew
rein at a great house with a semicircular portico of Carystian columns,
before which stood a bronze bull, the ornament of a fountain now
waterless; on either side of the doorway was a Molossian hound in
marble. A carriage and a litter waiting here showed that Heliodora had
visitors. This caused Basil to hesitate for a moment but he decided to
enter none the less. At his knock he was at once admitted, and a slave
was sent to look after his horse.

Few houses in Rome contained so many fine works of ancient sculpture as
this, for its master had been distinguished by his love of such things
in a time when few cared for them. Some he had purchased at a great
price; more than one masterpiece he had saved from oblivion amid ruins,
or from the common fate of destruction in a lime-kiln. Well for him had
he been content to pass his latter years with the cold creations of the
sculptor; but he turned his eyes upon consummate beauty in flesh and
blood, and this, the last of his purchases, proved the costliest of all.

The atrium was richly adorned. A colossal bust of Berenice faced the
great head of an Amazon, whilst numerous statues, busts, and vases
stood between the pillars; mosaics on the floor represented hunting
scenes, the excellence of the work no less than its worn condition
showing it to be of a time long gone by. Following his conductor, Basil
passed along a corridor, and into a peristyle with a double colonnade.
In the midst of a little garden, planted with flowering shrubs, rose
the statue which its late owner had most prized, an admirable copy of
the Aphrodite of Cnidos; it stood upon a pedestal of black basalt and
was protected by a light canopy with slender columns in all but
transparent alabaster. Round about it were marble seats, and here,
shielded from the sun by little silken awnings, sat Heliodora and her
guests. At once Basil became aware of the young Vivian, whose boyish
form (he was but some eighteen years old) lounged among cushions on the
seat nearest to Heliodora, his eyes fixed upon her beauty in a
languishing gaze, which, as soon as he beheld the new comer, flashed
into fierceness. The others were two women, young and comely, whose
extravagant costume and the attitudes in which they reclined proved
them suitable companions of the lady of the house. Whilst yet at some
distance, Basil had heard a feminine voice rising to shrillness, and as
he approached the group he found a discussion going on which threatened
to become more than vivacious. The shrill speaker he had met here
before, who she was, he knew not, save that she bore the name of
Muscula.

'You--you--you!' this lady was exclaiming contemptuously. 'You say
this, and you say that! Mother of God! What do _you_ know about racing?
When were you last in the circus at Constantinople? At eight years old
you once told me. You have a good memory if you can remember as far
back as that!'

She shrieked a laugh, which no one else joined in. Heliodora, to whom
the speech was addressed, affected to smile as in lofty tolerance of
infantine pettishness. At this moment Basil stepped up to her, and
kissed her hand; As though for contrast with Muscula's utterance, she
greeted him in the softest tone her voice could compass, inviting him
with a gesture to take a place at her side, or rather at her feet, for
she was reclining on a long couch. Heliodora's robe was of hyacinth
blue, broidered in silver thread with elaborate designs. Bracelets,
chains, and rings shone about her in the wonted profusion. Above the
flat coils of her hair lay a little bunch of grapes between two vine
leaves, wrought in gold, and at her waist hung a dagger, the silver
sheath chased with forms of animals. Standing behind her the little
Anglian slave Laetus gently fanned her with a peacock's tail, or
sprinkled her with perfume from a vial; the air was heavy with Sabaean
odours.

'Ah, here is lord Basil!' pursued Muscula with a mischievous glance at
Vivian. 'He has lived at Constantinople lately--not thirty or forty
years ago. Tell us, sweet lord'--she bent towards him with large,
rolling eyes--'was it not Helladius who won for the Greens when Thomas
the Blue was overturned and killed?'

'For all I know it may have been,' replied Basil carelessly; he had
scarce heard the question.

'I swear you are wrong, Muscula,' put in the third lady. 'The lord
Basil cares naught for such things, and would not contradict you lest
you should scratch his face--so dangerous you look, much more like a
cat than a mouse. By the beard of Holy Peter! should not Heliodora
know, who, though she is too young to remember it herself, has heard of
it many a time from her father. You think too much of yourself, O
Muscula, since you ate crumbs from the hands of Bessas.'

The boy Vivian gave a loud laugh, rolling on his cushions.

'O witty Galla!' he exclaimed. 'Crumbs from the hand of Bessas. Say on,
say on; I love your spicy wit, O Galla! Cannot you find something
sharp, for the most grave, the most virtuous Basil?'

'Hold your saucy tongue, child,' said Heliodora with a pouting smile.
'But it is true that Muscula has won advancement. One doesn't need to
have a very long memory to recall her arrival in Rome. There are who
say that she came as suckling nurse in a lady's train, with the promise
of marriage to a freedman when her mistress's baby was weaned. That is
malice, of course; poor Muscula has had many enemies. For my part, I
have never doubted that she was suckling her own child, nor that its
father was a man of honourable name, and not a slave of the Circus
stables as some said.'

Again Vivian rolled on the cushions in mirth, until he caught Basil's
eye as it glanced at him with infinite scorn. Then he started to a
sitting posture, fingered the handle of his dagger, and glared at
Heliodora's neighbour with all the insolent ferocity of which his face
was capable. This youth was the son of a man whose name sounded ill to
any Roman patriot,--of that Opilio, who, having advanced to high rank
under King Theodoric, was guilty of frauds, fell from his eminence,
and, in hope of regaining the king's favour, forged evidence of
treachery against Boethius. His attire followed the latest model from
Byzantium: a loose, long-sleeved tunic, descending to the feet, its hue
a dark yellow, and over that a long mantle of white silk, held together
upon one shoulder by a great silver buckle in the form of a running
horse; silken shoes, gold embroidered, with leather soles dyed purple;
and on each wrist a bracelet. His black hair was short, and crisped
into multitudinous curls with a narrow band of gold pressing it from
the forehead to the ears.

'Oh, look at little Vivian!' cried Muscula. 'He has the eyes of an
angry rat. What vexes him? Is it because he saw Basil touch Heliodora's
slipper?'

'If I had!' sputtered the boy. 'By the devil, if I had!'

'Oh, he affrights me!' went on the mocking woman. 'Heliodora, stroke
his curls, and give him a kiss, I beseech you. Who knows what dreadful
thing may happen else?'

'I have had enough of this,' said Galla, rising with a careless laugh.
'Your house has been intolerable, most dear Heliodora, since you made
friends with Muscula. Why you did, I'm sure I don't know; but for my
part I take a respectful leave, noble lady, until I hear that this
mouse of the Palatine has ceased to amuse you with its pretty pranks.
May I never be saved if she is fit company for women who respect
themselves.'

'Why such hurry, O chaste Galla!' exclaimed Muscula. 'Is your husband
at home for once? I can answer for it he is not there very often; the
wiser man he.'

'Slap her face, Galla,' cried Vivian. 'At her! She will run before you.'

Galla moved as if to act upon this advice, but the voice of Heliodora,
peremptory, resonant, checked her step.

'None of that! Get you gone, both of you, and try conclusions if you
will in the open street. Off! Pack! By the Virgin Mother, if you linger
I will have you flung out of doors.'

In her amazement and indignation, Galla rose to the tips of her feet.

'This to _me_!' she screamed. 'To me, the only woman of noble birth and
honest life who still remained your friend! Wanton! witch! poisoner!'

Basil sprang up and walked aside, overcome with shame at the scene
enacted before him, and fearing it would end in ignoble violence. He
heard Muscula's shriek of laughter, a shout of anger from Vivian, and
the continued railing of Galla; then, ere he had taken a dozen steps, a
hand touched him, and Heliodora's voice sounded low at his ear.

'You are right, dear Basil. Only an accident prevented me from being
alone at your hour. Forgive me. We will go apart from these
base-tongued creatures.'

But almost in the same moment sounded another voice, that of Muscula,
who had sprung after them.

'Sweet lord Basil,' she murmured at his ear, 'a moment's patience, for
I have that to say which is worth your hearing.'

Heliodora stepped aside. Pale with fury, she held herself in an
attitude of contemptuous indifference.

'Speak and have done!' exclaimed Basil harshly.

'But a word, Illustrious. I know well why you are here. Not for this
woman's painted cheeks and essence-soaked hair: you had enough of that
long ago. You come because she pretends to know a secret which concerns
you nearly. It was to discover this secret that she sought friendship
with me. But do not imagine, sweet lord, that I tell all I know to
Heliodora. I have played with her curiosity and fooled her. From me she
has learnt nothing true. Even if she desired to tell you the truth--and
be sure she does not--she could only mislead you.'

Basil was standing between the two women, his eyes on the ground. Had
he watched Heliodora at this moment, he would have understood the
sudden start with which Muscula sprang nearer to him as if for
protection.

'I alone,' she continued, in a voice not so subdued but that Heliodora
could hear every word. 'I alone can discover for you what you wish to
know. Give yourself no more trouble in suing to a woman of whom you are
weary--a woman evil and dangerous as a serpent. When you choose to seek
me, dear lord, I will befriend you. Till that day, fare you well, and
beware of other things than the silver-hilted dagger--which she would
draw upon me did she dare. But she knows that I too have my little
bosom friend--' she touched her waist--'though it does not glitter
before every eye.'

Therewith Muscula turned and tripped off, looking back to laugh aloud
before she disappeared in the corridor. Galla was already gone, half
persuaded, half threatened away by Vivian, who now stood with knitted
brows glaring at Basil.

'I must get rid of this boy,' said Heliodora to her companion. 'In a
moment we shall be alone.'

Basil was held from taking curt leave only by Vivian's insolent eyes;
when Heliodora moved, he stepped slowly after her.

'Your company is precious, dear Vivian,' he heard her say, 'but you
must not spoil me with too much of it. Why did you not go away with
Galla, whose wit so charms you, and whose husband is so complaisant?
There, kiss my little finger, and say good-bye.'

'That shall be when it pleases me,' was Vivian's reply. 'To-day I have
a mind to sup with you, Heliodora. Let that intruder know it; or I will
do so myself.'

Heliodora had the air of humouring a jest. Putting forth a hand, she
caught the stripling's ear and pinched it shrewdly.

'Little lord,' she said, 'you take too large a liberty.'

Whereto Vivian replied with a pleasantry so broad and so significant
that Heliodora's cheek fired; for she saw that Basil stood within
hearing.

'Nay, I must be brief with you, young monkey!' she exclaimed. 'Away!
When I am at leisure for your tricks I will send for you. Be off!'

'And leave you with that...?' cried the other, using a villainous
word.

Hereupon Basil addressed him.

'Whether you stay or go, foul mouth, is naught to me. I am myself in
haste to be gone, but I will not leave you without a lesson by which,
perchance, you may profit.'

As he uttered the last word, he dealt Vivian such a buffet on the side
of the head with his open hand that the youngster staggered. The result
of this, Basil had well foreseen; he stood watchful, and in an instant,
as a dagger gleamed before his eyes, grasped the descending arm that
wielded it. Vivian struggled furiously, but was overcome by the other's
strength. Flung violently to the ground, his head struck against the
edge of a marble seat, and he lay senseless.

Heliodora looked on with the eyes with which she had often followed a
fight between man and beast in the amphitheatre. Pride, and something
more, lit up her countenance as she turned to Basil.

'Brave generous!' she exclaimed, her hands clasped against her bosom.
'Not even to draw your dagger! Noble Basil!'

'Have him looked to,' was the reply; 'and console him as you choose.
Lady, I bid you farewell.'

For a moment Heliodora stood as though she would let him thus depart.
Basil was nearing the entrance to the corridor, when she sprang after
him. Her arms were about his neck; her body clung against his; she
breathed hotly into his eyes as she panted forth words, Latin, Greek,
all burning with shameless desire. But Basil was not thus to be
subdued. The things that he had heard and seen, and now at last the
hand-to-hand conflict, had put far from him all temptation of the
flesh; his senses were cold as the marbles round about him. This woman,
who had never been anything to him but a lure and a peril, whom he had
regarded with the contempt natural in one of his birth towards all but
a very few of her sex, now disgusted him. He freed himself from her
embrace with little ceremony.

'Have I deceived you?' he asked. 'Have I pretended to come here for
anything but my own purpose, which you pretended to serve?'

Heliodora stood in a strange attitude, her arms thrown back, her body
leaning forward--much like some fierce and beautiful animal watching
the moment to spring.

'Do you believe what that harlot said?' she asked in a thick voice.

'Enough of it to understand my folly in hoping to learn anything
through you. Let us part, and think of each other no more.'

She caught his arm and put her face close to his.

'Leave me thus, and your life shall pay for it.'

Basil laughed scornfully.

'That cockerel,' he replied, pointing to Vivian, who was just stirring,
'sent me a message this morning, that if I valued my life I should not
come here. I heed your threat no more than his.'

They looked into each other's eyes, and Heliodora, deep read in the
looks of men, knew that her desire was frustrate.

'Go then,' she said. 'Go quickly, lest the boy pursue you His second
aim might be surer.'

Basil deigned no reply. He went into the vestibule, waited there until
his horse was brought up, and rode away.

His head bent, scarce noting the way he took, he found himself at the
entrance to Trajan's Forum. Here he checked his horse, and seemed to be
contemplating that scene which for centuries had excited the wonder and
the awe of men. But when he rode on over the grass-grown pavement, he
was as little observant of the arches, statues, galleries, and of that
great column soaring between Basilica and Temple, as of the people who
moved hither and thither, sparse, diminutive. Still brooding, he came
into the Via Lata and to the house of Marcian.

Marcian, said the porter, was closeted with certain visitors.

'Make known to him,' said Basil, 'that I would speak but a word in
private.'

They met in the atrium. Marcian smiled oddly.

'If you come to tell me what you have heard this afternoon,' he
whispered, 'spare your breath. I know it already.'

'How can that be?'

'I have seen an angry woman. Angry women are always either very
mischievous or very useful. In this case I hope to make use of her. But
I can tell you nothing yet, and I would that you were far from Rome.
Could I but persuade you to be gone, dear Basil.'

'I need no more persuading,' replied the other, with sudden resolve.
'If it be true that I am free to leave the city, I go hence to-morrow.'

Marcian's face lighted up.

'To Asculum, then?'

'Since here I have no hope. Can I trust you, Marcian?' he added,
grasping his friend's hand.

'As yourself--nay, better.'

'Then, to Asculum.'



CHAPTER XVI

WHISPERS


The greater part of southern Italy was once more held by the Goths.
Whilst the long blockade of Neapolis went on, Totila found time to
subdue all that lay between that city and the Ionian Sea, meeting,
indeed, with little resistance among the country-folk, or from the
inhabitants of the mostly unwalled towns. The Imperial forces which
should have been arrayed against him had wintered in various cities of
the north, where their leaders found all they at present cared for,
repose and plunder; their pay long in arrear, and hardly to be hoped
for, the Greek soldiers grew insubordinate, lived as they would or
could, and with the coming of spring deserted in numbers to the
victorious enemy. Appeals to Byzantium for reinforcements had as yet
resulted only in the sending of a small, ill-equipped fleet, which,
after much delay in Sicilian ports, sailed for Neapolis, only to be
surprised by a storm, and utterly wrecked on the shores of the great
bay. Not long after the news of this disaster, it was reported in Rome
that Neapolis, hopeless of relief, had opened her gates, and presently
the report had strange confirmation. There arrived by the Appian Way
officers of the garrison which had surrendered; not as harassed
fugitives, but travelling with all convenience and security, the Gothic
king himself having expedited their journey and sent guides with them
lest they should miss the road. Nor was this the most wonderful of the
things they had to relate. For they told of humanity on the part of the
barbarian conqueror such as had no parallel in any story of warfare
known to Greek or Roman; how the Neapolitans being so famine-stricken
that they could scarce stand on their legs, King Totila would not at
once send plentiful stores into the town, lest the sufferers should die
of surfeit, but ministered to their needs even as a friendly physician
would have done, giving them at first little food, and more as their
strength revived. To be sure, there were partisans of the Empire in
Rome who scoffed at those who narrated, and those who believed, a story
so incredible. On the Palatine, it was at first received with roars of
laughter, in which the lady Muscula's shrill voice had its part. When
confirmation had put the thing beyond dispute, Bessas and his
supporters made a standing joke of it; if any one fell sick their word
was: 'Send for the learned Totila'; and when there was talk of a siege
of Rome, they declared that their greatest fear, should the city fall,
was of being dieted and physicked by the victor.

Romans there were, however, who heard all this in another spirit. The
ill-fed populace had long ago become ready for any change which might
benefit their stomachs, and the name of Totila was to them significant
of all they lacked under the Greeks. 'Let the Goth come quickly!'
passed from mouth to mouth wherever the vulgar durst speak what they
thought. Among the nobles, prejudice of race and religion and
immemorial pride ensured predominance to the Imperialists, but even
here a Gothic party existed, and imprudent utterances had brought
certain senators into suspicion. The most active friend of Totila,
however, was one whom Bessas never thought of suspecting, having, as he
thought, such evidence of the man's devotion to the Greek cause.
Marcian had played his double part with extraordinary skill and with
boldness which dared every risk. He was now exerting himself in
manifold ways, subtly, persistently, for the supreme achievement of his
intrigue, the delivery of Rome from Byzantine tyranny.

Among the many persons whom he made to serve his ends without admitting
them to his confidence was Galla, the wife of a noble whom Amalasuntha
had employed in her secret communications with Byzantium, and who was
now one of the intimates of Bessas. A light woman, living as she
pleased because of her husband's indifference, Galla knew and cared
nothing about affairs of state, and on that account was the more useful
to Marcian. She believed him in love with her, and he encouraged the
belief; flattering her with pretence at timidity, as though he would
fain have spoken but durst not. Regarding him as her slave, Galla
amused herself by sometimes coming to his house, where, as if in the
pride of chastity, she received his devotion, and meanwhile told him
things he was glad to know. And thus it happened on that day of the
quarrel between Heliodora and Muscula, wherein Galla unexpectedly found
herself involved. Bubbling over with wrath against Heliodora, she at
once sought out Marcian, acquainted him with all that had happened, and
made evident her desire to be in some way avenged. Marcian saw in this
trivial affair the opportunity for a scheme of the gravest import;
difficult, perilous, perhaps impracticable, but so tempting in its
possibilities that he soon resolved to hazard everything on the chance
of success. Basil's departure from Rome, which he had desired for other
reasons, fell pat for the device now shaping itself in his mind. A day
or two after, early in the morning, he went to Heliodora's house, and
sent in a message begging private speech with the lady. As he had
expected, he was received forthwith, Heliodora being aware of his
friendship with Basil. Between her and Marcian the acquaintance was but
slight; he had hitherto regarded her as unserviceable, because too
dangerous. It was because of her dangerous qualities that he now sought
her, and his courage grew as the conversation became intimate.

He began with a confession. Head hanging, visage gloomy, in slow,
indirect, abashed language, he let it be understood that though truly
Basil's friend, he had all along been secretly doing his utmost to
frustrate the lover's search for the Gothic maiden Veranilda, and, as
part of this purpose, had striven to turn Basil's thoughts to
Heliodora. That he had had no better success grieved him to the heart.
All who wished Basil well, desired that he should marry a lady of his
own rank, his own religion, and could he but have won a wife such as
Heliodora!

'Alas!' sighed Marcian, 'it was too much to hope. How could you be
other than cold to him? Had you deigned, thrice gracious lady, to set
your beauty, your gifts, in contest with his memory of that other!'

In every man that approached her, Heliodora suspected a selfish aim,
but it was seldom that she talked with one whose subtlety seemed the
equal of her own. The little she knew of Marcian had predisposed her to
regard him as a cold and melancholy nature, quite uninteresting; she
eyed him now with her keenest scrutiny, puzzled by his story, vainly
seeking its significance.

'Your friend complained to you of my coldness?' she said distantly.

'He scarce spoke of you. I knew too well with what hope he came here.
When he found it vain, he turned away in bitterness.'

This sounded like truth to one who knew Basil. After a moment's
reflection, Heliodora made another inquiry, and in a tone of less
indifference.

'Why, lord Marcian, do you come to tell me this? Basil has quitted
Rome. You can scarce ask me to pursue him.'

'Lady,' was the sad reply, 'I will not even yet abandon hope. But this
is not the moment to plead his cause with you, and indeed I came with a
thought more selfish.'

Ready to believe whatever might be uttered with such preface, Heliodora
smiled and bade the speaker continue. Again Marcian's head drooped;
again his words became hesitant, vague. But their purpose at length
grew unmistakable; unhappy that he was, he himself loved Veranilda, and
the vehemence of his passion overcame his loyalty in friendship; never
whilst he lived should Basil wed the Gothic maiden. This revelation
astonished Heliodora; she inquired when and how Marcian had become
enamoured, and heard in reply a detailed narrative, part truth, part
false, of the events at Surrentum, known to her as yet only in outline
and without any mention of Marcian's part in them. Upon her surprise
followed malicious joy. Was there no means, she asked, of discovering
Veranilda? And the other in a low voice made answer that he knew where
she was--knew but too well.

'I shall not ask you to tell me the secret,' said Heliodora, with a
smile.

'Gracious lady,' pursued Marcian, 'it is for the purpose of revealing
it to you that I am here. Veranilda is in the palace, held in guard by
Bessas till she can have escort to Constantinople.'

'Ha! You are sure of that?'

'I have it on testimony that cannot be doubted.'

'Why then,' exclaimed Heliodora, all but betraying her exultation in
the thought, 'there is little chance that Basil's love will prosper.'

'Little chance, dear lady, I hope and believe, but I have confessed to
you that I speak as a self-seeker and a faithless friend. It is not
enough that Basil may not wed her; I would fain have her for myself.'

The listener laughed. She began to think this man something of a
simpleton.

'Why, my excellent Marcian, I will give you all my sympathy and wish
you good fortune. But that any one may do. What more do you expect of
me?'

Marcian looked towards the open doorway. They were seated in a
luxurious little room, lighted from the peristyle, its adornments in
sculpture a sleeping Hermaphrodite and a drunken satyr; on the wall
were certain marble low-reliefs, that behind Heliodora representing
Hylas drawn down by the Naiads.

'Speak without fear,' she reassured him. 'In this house, believe me, no
one dare play the eavesdropper.'

'I have to speak,' said Marcian, bending forward, 'of things
perilous--a life hanging on every word. Only to one of whose
magnanimity I felt assured should I venture to disclose my thought. You
have heard,' he proceeded after a pause, 'and, yet I am perchance wrong
in supposing that such idle talk could reach your ears, let me make
known to you then, that with Bessas in the palace dwells a fair woman
(or so they say, for I have not seen her) named Muscula. She is said to
have much power with the commander.'

The listener's countenance had darkened. Regarding Marcian with haughty
coldness, she asked him how this could concern _her_. He, in appearance
dismayed, falteringly entreated her pardon.

'Be not angered, O noble Heliodora! I did not presume to think that you
yourself had any acquaintance with this woman. I wished to make known
to you things that I have heard of her--things which I doubt not are
true. But, as it is only in my own interest that I speak, I will say no
more until I have your permission.'

This having been disdainfully granted, Marcian proceeded with seeming
timid boldness, marking in his listener's eyes the eager interest with
which she followed him. Though every detail of the story was of his own
invention, its plausibility had power upon one whose passions inclined
her to believe it. He told then that Muscula, bribed by Basil, was
secretly endeavouring to procure the release of Veranilda, which should
be made to appear an escape of Basil's contriving. The lover's visits
to Heliodora, he said, and his supposed ignorance as to where Veranilda
was detained, were part of the plot. Already Muscula had so far wrought
upon Bessas that success seemed within view, and Basil's departure from
Rome was only a pretence; he waited near at hand, ready to carry off
his beloved.

'How come you to know all this?' Heliodora asked bluntly at the first
pause.

'That also I will tell you,' answered Marcian. 'It is through some one
whom Muscula holds of more account than Bessas, and with whom she
schemes against him.'

'By the Holy' Mother!' exclaimed Heliodora, 'that is yourself.'

Marcian shook his head.

'Not so, gracious lady.'

'Nay, why should you scruple to confess it? You love Veranilda, and do
you think I could not pardon an intrigue which lay on your way to her?'

'Nevertheless it is not I,' persisted the other gravely.

'Be it so,' said Heliodora. 'And in all this, my good Marcian, what
part have I? How does it regard me? What do you seek of me?'

Once more the man seemed overcome with confusion.

'Indeed I scarce know,' he murmured. 'I hardly dare to think what was
in my mind when I sought you. I came to you, O Heliodora, as to one
before whom men bow, one whose beauty is resistless, whose wish is a
command. What gave me courage was a word that fell from Bessas himself
when I sat at table with him yesterday. "Wore I the purple," he said,
"Heliodora should be my Empress."'

'Bessas said that?'

'He did--and in the presence of Muscula, who heard it, I am bound to
say, with a sour visage.'

Heliodora threw back her head and laughed. 'I think he has scarce seen
me thrice,' fell from her musingly. 'Tell him from me,' she added,
'that it is indiscreet to talk of wearing the purple before those who
may report his words.'

There was a silence. Marcian appeared to brood, and Heliodora did her
best to read his face. If, she asked herself; he had told her
falsehoods, to what end had he contrived them? Nothing that she could
conjecture was for a moment satisfying. If he told the truth, what an
opportunity were here for revenge on Muscula, and for the frustration
of Basil's desire.

How that revenge was to be wrought, or, putting it the other way, how
Marcian was to be helped, she saw as yet only in glimpses of ruthless
purpose. Of Bessas she did not think as of a man easy to subdue or to
cajole; his soldierly rudeness, the common gossip of his inconstancy in
love, and his well-known avarice, were not things likely to touch her
imagination, nor had she ever desired to number him in the circle of
her admirers. That it might be in her power to do what Marcian
besought, she was very willing to persuade herself, but the undertaking
had such colour of danger that she wished for more assurance of the
truth of what she had heard.

'It seems to me,' she said at length, 'that the hour is of the latest.
What if Veranilda escape this very day?'

'Some days must of necessity pass,' answered Marcian. 'The plot is not
so far advanced.'

He rose hurriedly as if distracted by painful thoughts.

'Noble lady, forgive me for thus urging you with my foolish sorrows.
You see how nearly I am distraught. If by any means you could aid me,
were it only so far as to withhold her I love from the arms of Basil--'

So deep was Heliodora sunk in her thoughts that she allowed Marcian to
leave her without another word. He, having carried his machination thus
far, could only await the issue, counting securely on Heliodora's
passions and her ruthlessness. He had but taken the first step towards
the end for which he schemed; were this successful, with the result
that Heliodora used her charms upon the Greek commander, and, as might
well happen, obtained power over him, he could then proceed to the next
stage of his plot, which had a scope far beyond the loves of Basil and
Veranilda. That the Gothic maiden was really in the hands of Bessas he
did not believe; moreover, time had soothed his jealousy of Basil, and,
had he been able to further his friend's desire, he would now willingly
have done so; but he scrupled not to incur all manner of risks, for
himself and others, in pursuit of a great design. Marcian's convulsive
piety, like the religion of most men in his day, regarded only the
salvation of his soul from eternal torment, nor did he ever dream that
this would be imperilled by the treacheries in which his life was now
inured.

Only a few hours after his departure, Heliodora, by means familiar to
her, had learnt that Marcian's confidential servant was a man named
Sagaris, a conceited and talkative fellow, given to boasting of his
light loves. Before sunset, Sagaris had received a mysterious message,
bidding him repair that night to a certain place of public resort upon
the Quirinal. He did so, was met by the same messenger, and bidden wait
under a portico. Before long there approached through the darkness a
muffled figure, followed by two attendants with lanterns; the Syrian
heard his name whispered; a light touch drew him further away from the
lantern-bearing slaves, and a woman's voice, low, caressing, began to
utter endearments and reproaches. Not to-night, it said, should he know
who she was; she could speak a name which would make his heart beat;
but he should not hear it until he had abandoned the unworthy woman
whose arts had won him. 'What woman?' asked Sagaris in astonishment.
And the answer was whispered, 'Muscula.'

Now Muscula's name and position were well known to the Syrian. The
reproach of the mysterious fair one made him swell with pride; he
affected inability to deny the charge, and in the next breath declared
that Muscula was but his sport, that in truth he cared nothing for her,
he did but love her as he had loved women numberless, not only in Rome,
but in Alexandria, Antioch, Constantinople. The muffled lady gave a
deep sigh. Ah! and so it would be with _her_, were she weak enough to
yield to _her_ passion. Sagaris began to protest, to vow.

'It is vain,' replied the amorous voice. 'Only in one way can you
convince me and win me.'

'Oh, how?'

'Let me hear that Muscula is dead.'

Sagaris stood mute. A hand touched his shoulder, his hair; perfumes
loaded the air about him.

'Tell me your name and it shall be done.'

The warm mouth breathed against his cheek and a name was murmured.

The second day after this saw an event in the Palatine which was matter
of talk for some two days more, and then passed into oblivion. Rumour
said that Muscula had been detected plotting against the life of
Bessas, that she had been examined under torture, found guilty, and
executed. Certain gossips pretended that there was no plot at all, but
that Bessas, weary of his mistress, had chosen this way of getting rid
of her. Be that as it might, Muscula was dead.



CHAPTER XVII

LEANDER THE POLITIC


For most of his knowledge of private things that happened on the
Palatine--and little that went on in the household of Bessas escaped
him--Marcian depended upon his servant Sagaris. Exorbitant vanity and
vagrant loves made the Syrian rather a dangerous agent; but it was
largely owing to these weaknesses that he proved so serviceable. His
master had hitherto found him faithful, and no one could have worked
more cunningly and persistently when set to play the spy or worm for
secrets. Notwithstanding all his efforts, this man failed to discover
whether Veranilda had indeed passed into the guardianship of Bessas;
good reason in Marcian's view for believing that she was still detained
by Leander, and probably in some convent. But a rumour sprang up among
those who still took interest in the matter that some one writing from
Sicily professed to have seen the Gothic maiden on board a vessel which
touched there on its way to the East. This came to the ears of Marcian
on the day after his conversation with Heliodora. Whether it were true
or not he cared little, but he was disturbed by its having become
subject of talk at this moment, for Heliodora could not fail to hear
the story.

The death of Muscula set him quivering with expectancy. That it
resulted from his plotting he could not be assured. Sagaris, who wore a
more than usually self-important air when speaking of the event, had
all manner of inconsistent reports on his tongue Not many days passed
before Marcian received a letter, worded like an ordinary invitation,
summoning him to the house on the Quirinal.

He went at the third hour of the morning, and was this time led
upstairs to a long and wide gallery, which at one side looked down upon
the garden in the rear of the house, and at the other offered a view
over a great part of Rome. Here was an aviary, constructed of fine
lattice work in wood, over-trailed with creeping plants, large enough
to allow of Heliodora's entering and walking about among the multitude
of birds imprisoned. At this amusement Marcian found her. Upon her head
perched a little songster; on her shoulder nestled a dove; two
fledglings in the palm of her hand opened their beaks for food. Since
her last visit a bird had died, and Heliodora's eyes were still moist
from the tears she had shed over it.

'You do not love birds,' she said, after gazing fixedly at Marcian a
moment through the trellis.

'I never thought,' was the reply, 'whether I loved them or not.'

'I had rather give my love to them than to any of mankind. They repay
it better.'

She came forth, carefully closed the wicket behind her, and began to
pace in the gallery as though she were alone. Presently she stood to
gaze over the city spread before her, and her eyes rested upon the one
vast building--so it seemed--which covered the Palatine Hill.

'Marcian!'

He drew near. Without looking at him, her eyes still on the distance,
she said in an unimpassioned voice:

'Did you lie to me, or were you yourself deceived?'

'Lady, I know not of what you speak.'

'You know well.' Her dark eyes flashed a glance of rebuke, and turned
scornfully away again. 'But it matters nothing. I sent for you to ask
what more you have to say.'

Marcian affected surprise and embarrassment.

'It was my hope, gracious lady, that some good news awaited me on your
lips. What can I say more than you have already heard from me?'

'Be it so,' was the careless reply. 'I have nothing to tell you except
that Veranilda is not there.' She pointed towards the palace. 'And this
I have no doubt you know.'

'Believe me, O Heliodora,' he exclaimed earnestly, 'I did not. I was
perhaps misled by--'

Her eyes checked him.

'By whom?'

'By one who seemed to speak with honesty and assurance.'

'Let us say, then, that you were misled; whether deceived or not,
concerns only yourself. And so, lord Marcian, having done what I can
for you, though it be little, I entreat your kind remembrance, and God
keep you.'

Her manner had changed to formal courtesy, and, with this dismissal,
she moved away again. Marcian stood watching her for a moment, then
turned to look at the wide prospect. A minute or two passed; he heard
Heliodora's step approaching.

'What keeps you here?' she asked coldly.

'Lady, I am thinking.'

'Of what?'

'Of the day soon to come when Totila will be king in Rome.'

Heliodora's countenance relaxed in a smile.

'Yet you had nothing more to say to me,' she murmured in a significant
tone.

'There were much to say, Heliodora, to one whom I knew my friend. I had
dared to think you so.'

'What proof of friendship does your Amiability ask?' inquired the lady
with a half-mocking, half-earnest look.

As if murmuring to himself, Marcian uttered the name 'Veranilda.'

'They say she is far on the way to Constantinople,' said Heliodora. 'If
so, and if Bessas sent her, his craft is greater than I thought. For I
have spoken with him, and'--she smiled--'he seems sincere when he
denied all knowledge of the maiden.'

Marcian still gazed at the distance. Again he spoke as if unconsciously
murmuring his thoughts:

'Totila advances. In Campania but a few towns still await his conquest.
The Appian Way is open. Ere summer be past he will stand at the gates
of Rome.'

'Rome is not easily taken,' let fall the listener, also speaking as
though absently.

'It is more easily surrendered,' was the reply.

'What! You suspect Bessas of treachery?'

'We know him indolent and neglectful of duty. Does he not live here at
his ease, getting into his own hands, little by little, all the wealth
of the Romans, careless of what befall if only he may glut his avarice?
He will hold the city as long as may be, only because the city is his
possession. He is obstinate, bull-headed. Yet if one were found who
could persuade him that the cause of the Greeks is hopeless--that, by
holding out to the end, he will merely lose all, whereas, if he came to
terms--'

Marcian was watching Heliodora's face. He paused. Their eyes met for an
instant.

'Who can be assured,' asked Heliodora thoughtfully, 'that Totila will
triumph? They say the Patricius will come again.'

'Too late. Not even Belisarius can undo the work of Alexandros and
these devouring captains. From end to end of Italy, the name of the
Greeks is abhorred; that of Totila is held in honour. He will renew the
kingdom of Theodoric.'

Marcian saw straight before him the aim of all his intrigue. It was an
aim unselfish, patriotic. Though peril of the gravest lay in every word
he uttered, not this made him tremble, but the fear lest he had
miscalculated, counting too securely on his power to excite this
woman's imagination. For as yet her eye did not kindle. It might be
that she distrusted herself, having learnt already that Bessas was no
easy conquest. Or it might be that he himself was the subject of her
distrust.

'What is it to _you_?' she suddenly asked, with a fierce gaze. 'Can the
Goth bring Veranilda back to Italy?'

'I do not believe that she has gone.'

Marcian had knowledge enough of women, and of Heliodora, to harp on a
personal desire rather than hint at high motive. But he was impelled by
the turmoil of his fears and hopes to excite passions larger than
jealousy. Throwing off all restraint, he spoke with hot eloquence of
all that might be gained by one who could persuade the Greek commander
to open the gates of Rome. Totila was renowned for his generosity, and
desired above all things to reconcile, rather than subdue, the Roman
people; scarce any reward would seem to him too great for service such
as helped this end.

'Bessas lies before you. Ply your spells; make of him your creature;
then whisper in his ear such promise of infinite gold as will make his
liver melt. For _him_ the baser guerdon; for _you_, O Heliodora, all
the wishes of your noble heart, with power, power, power and glory
unspeakable!'

Heliodora pondered. Then, without raising her head, she asked quietly:

'You speak for the King?'

'For the King,' was answered in like tone.

'Come to me again, Marcian, when I have had time for thought.'

With that they parted. On the same day, Sagaris was bidden as before to
a meeting after nightfall, and again he conversed with a lady whose
face was concealed from him. She began with a gentle reproof, for he
had ventured to present himself at her door, and to beg audience. Let
him be patient; his hour would come, but it must be when she chose.
Many questions did she put to him, all seeming to be prompted by
interest in the Gothic maiden of whom Sagaris had heard so much. With
the simplicity of inordinate conceit, he assured her that here she had
no ground for jealousy; Veranilda he had never beheld. Softly she
corrected his error; her interest in the maiden was a friendly one.
Only let him discover for her where Veranilda was concealed. Sagaris
was led to avow that in this very search he and his master had been
vainly occupied for many a day; it had carried them, he declared in a
whisper, even to the camp of King Totila. With this the questioner
appeared to be satisfied, and the Syrian was soon dismissed, promises
in a caressing voice his sole reward.

When Marcian next held speech with Heliodora--it was after some
days--she bore herself more openly. In the course of their talk, he
learnt that she had consulted an astrologer, and with results wholly
favourable to his design. Not only had this man foretold to her that
Totila was destined to reign gloriously over the Italians for many
years, but he saw in Heliodora's own fate a mysterious link with that
of the triumphant king; her, under the Gothic conquest, great things
awaited. 'Do,' was his counsel, 'that which thou hast in mind.' Hearing
all this, Marcian's heart leaped with joy. He urged her to pursue their
end with all the speed that prudence permitted. For his own part, he
would make known to Totila as soon as might be the hope of his friends
in Rome.

Again some days passed, and Marcian received one of those messages
which at times reached him from the Gothic king. Totila's bidding was
contained in a few words: Let Marcian seek speech with the deacon
Leander. Surprised, but having full confidence in the messenger,
Marcian presently wrote to the deacon in brief terms, saying that he
wished to converse with him regarding a certain heretic of whom he had
hopes. To this came prompt reply, which did not, however, invite
Marcian, as he had expected, to a meeting in private; but merely said
that, on the morrow, an hour after sunrise, Leander would be found in a
certain public place.

Leander was busied just now in a matter peculiarly congenial to him,
the destruction of an ancient building in order to enrich with its
columns and precious marbles a new Christian church. At the hour
appointed, Marcian found him in the temple of Minerva Chalcidica,
directing workmen as to what they should remove; before him lay certain
mouldings in green porphyry (the precious _lapis Lacedaemonius_), which
had been carefully broken from their places, and he was regarding them
with the eye of a lover. For the first few minutes of their
conversation, Marcian felt mistrust, as the deacon appeared to have no
intelligence of any secret purpose in this meeting; but presently,
still gossiping of stones, Leander led him out of the temple and walked
in the shadowy public place beside the Pantheon.

'That must be purified and consecrated,' he remarked, glancing from the
granite columns of Agrippa's porch to the bronze-tiled dome. 'Too long
it has been left to the demons.'

Marcian, preoccupied as he was, listened with awe. Since the ravage of
the Vandals, no mortal had passed those vast doors, behind which all
the gods of heathendom, known now for devils, lurked in retreat.

'I have urged it upon the Holy Father,' Leander added. 'But Vigilius is
all absorbed in the dogmatics of Byzantium. A frown of the Empress
Theodora is more to him than the glory of the Omnipotent and the weal
of Christendom.'

The look which accompanied these words was the first hint to Marcian
that he might speak in confidence. He inquired whether the Pope, as was
reported, would shortly sail for Constantinople.

'Before another week has passed,' was the reply, 'he will embark. He
would fain go forth'--a malicious smile was in the corner of Leander's
eye--'without leave-taking of his beloved people but that can scarce be
permitted.'

'Ere he return,' said Marcian, 'things of moment may happen.'

Again the deacon smiled. Seeing on the steps of the Pantheon a couple
of idlers playing at flash-finger, they turned aside to be out of
earshot.

'We are agreed, it seems,' remarked Leander quickly, 'that there is
hope of the heretic. You had news of him yesterday? I, also. It may be
in my power to render him some service--presently, presently.
Meanwhile, what can you tell me of the lost maiden about whom there has
been so much talk? Is it true that Bessas has sent her to the East?'

Marcian turned his eyes upon the speaker's face, and regarded him
fixedly with a half smile. For a moment the deacon appeared to be
unconscious of this; then he met the familiar look, averted his head
again, and said in the same tone as before:

'The heretic, I learn, would gladly see her.'

'It would be as well, I think,' was the reply, 'if his wish were
gratified.'

'Ah? But how would that please a friend of yours, dear lord?' asked
Leander, with unaffected interest.

Marcian's answer was in a tone of entire sincerity, very unlike that he
had used when speaking on this subject with Heliodora.

'It might please him well or ill. The King'--he lowered his voice a
little--'would see with gladness this beautiful maiden of his own
people, sprung too from the royal blood, and would look with favour
upon those who delivered her in safety to him. Should he make her his
queen, and I believe she is worthy of that, the greater his gratitude
to those who prevented her marriage with a Roman. If, on the other
hand, he found that she could not forget her first lover, Totila is
large-hearted enough to yield her up in all honour, and politic enough
to see advantage in her union with the heir of the Anician house.
Between these things, Basil must take his chance. Had he carried off
his love, he would have wedded her in disregard of every danger; and so
long as it was only the Greeks that sought her, I should have done my
best to aid and to protect him. It is different now. Basil I hold
dearer than any friend; his place is in my very heart, and his
happiness is dearer to me than my own; but I cannot help him to
frustrate a desire of Totila. The King is noble; to serve him is to
promote the weal of Italy, for which he fights, and in which name he
will conquer.'

The deacon had paused in his walk. He looked thoughtfully about him. At
this moment there came along the street an ox-drawn wagon, on which lay
the marble statue of a deity; Leander stepped up to it, examined the
marble, spoke with the men who were conveying it, and returned to
Marcian with a shake of the head.

'It pains me to see such carven beauty burnt to lime. And yet how many
thousands of her worshippers are now burning in Gehenna. Lord Marcian,'
he resumed, 'you have spoken earnestly and well, and have given me good
proof of your sincerity. I think with you, and willingly would work
with you.'

'Reverend, does no opportunity present itself?'

'In this moment, none that I can see,' was the suave answer.

'Yet I perceive that you have made some offer of service to the King.'

'It is true; and perchance you shall hear more of it. Be not impatient;
great things are not hastily achieved.'

With sundry other such remarks, so uttered that their triteness seemed
to become the maturity of wisdom, Leander brought the colloquy to an
end. It was his principle to trust no man unless he were assured of a
motive strong enough to make him trustworthy, and that motive he had
not yet discovered in Marcian. Nor, indeed, was he entirely sure of
himself; for though he had gone so far as to communicate with the
Gothic king, it was only in view of possibilities whose issue he still
awaited. If the Pope set forth for Constantinople, he would leave as
representative in Rome the deacon Pelagius, and from this brother
cleric Leander had already received certain glances, which were not to
be misunderstood. The moment might shortly come when he would need a
friend more powerful than any he had within the city.

But Vigilius lingered, and Leander, save in his influence with the
irresolute Pontiff, postponed the step he had in view.



CHAPTER XVIII

PELAGIUS


Rome waited. It had been thought that the fall of Neapolis would be
followed by Totila's swift march along the Appian Way; but three months
had passed, and the Gothic king was but little nearer to the city. He
seemed resolved to leave nothing behind him that had not yielded to his
arms; slowly and surely his rule was being established over all the
South. Through the heats of summer, with pestilence still lurking in
her palaces and her dens, no fountain plashing where the sun blazed on
Forum and on street, Rome waited.

In June Bessas was joined by another of the Greek commanders, Joannes,
famed for his ferocity, and nicknamed the Devourer. A show of activity
in the garrison resulted from this arrival; soldiers were set to work
upon parts of the city wall which needed strengthening; the Romans
began to make ready for a siege; and some, remembering the horrors of a
few years ago, took to flight. There was much talk of a conspiracy to
open the gates to Totila; one or two senators were imprisoned, and a
few Arian priests who still dwelt in Rome were sentenced to banishment.
But when, after a few weeks, Joannes and his troop marched northward,
commotion ceased; Bessas fell back into the life of indolent rapacity,
work on the walls was soon neglected, and Rome found that she had still
only to wait.

About this time Marcian fell sick. He had suffered much from
disappointment of high hopes, neither Heliodora nor Leander aiding his
schemes as he expected. The constant danger in which he lived tried his
fortitude to the utmost, and at length he began to burn with fever.
Agonies came upon him, for even the slightest disorder in these
plague-stricken times filled men with fear. And whilst he lay thus
wretched, his servants scarce daring to attend upon him--Sagaris
refused to enter his chamber, and held himself ready for flight (with
all he could lay hands on) as soon as the physician should have uttered
the fatal word--whilst his brain was confused and his soul shaken with
even worse than the wonted terrors, there came to visit him the deacon
Pelagius. That the visit happened at this moment was mere chance, but
Pelagius, hearing of Marcian's condition, felt that he could not have
come more opportunely. A courageous man, strong in body as in mind, he
was not to be alarmed by mere talk of the pest; bidding the porter
conduct him, he came to Marcian's bedside, and there sat for half an
hour. When he went away, his handsome countenance wore a smile of
thoughtful satisfaction.

As though this conversation had relieved him, the sick man at once
began to mend. But with his recovery came another torment. Lying in
fear of death and hell, he had opened his soul to Pelagius, and had
revealed secrets upon which depended all he cared for in this world.
Not only he himself was ruined, but the lives of those he had betrayed
were in jeopardy. That suspicion was busy with him he knew; the
keen-sighted deacon had once already held long talk with him, whereupon
followed troublesome interrogation by Bessas, who had since regarded
him with somewhat a sullen eye. How would Pelagius use the knowledge he
had gained? Even when quite recovered from the fever, Marcian did not
venture to go forth, lest an enemy should be waiting for him without.
In his weak, dejected and humbled state he thought of the peace of a
monastery, and passed most of his time in prayer.

But when a few days had passed without event, and increasing strength
enabled him to think less brain-sickly, he began to ask whether he
himself had not peradventure been betrayed It was a long time since he
had seen Heliodora, who appeared to be making no effort for the
conquest of the Greek commander; had she merely failed, and lost
courage, or did the change in her mean treachery? To trust Heliodora
was to take a fool's risk; even a little wound to her vanity might
suffice to turn her against him. At their last meeting she had sat with
furrowed brows, brooding as if over some wrong, and when he urged her
for an explanation of her mood, she was first petulant, then fiery, so
that he took umbrage and left her. Happily she knew none of his graver
secrets, much though she had tried to discover them. Were she
traitorous, she could betray him alone.

But he, in the wreck of his manhood, had uttered many names besides
hers--that of Basil, from whom he had recently heard news, that of the
politic Leander, those of several nobles engaged in the Gothic cause.
Scarcely could he believe that he had been guilty of such baseness; he
would fain have persuaded himself that it was but a memory of delirium.
He cursed the subtlety of Pelagius, which had led him on till
everything was uttered. Pelagius, the bosom friend of Justinian, would
know how to deal with plotters against the Empire. Why had he not
already struck? What cunning held his hand?

Unable at length to sit in idleness, he tried to ease his conscience by
sending a warning to Basil, using for this purpose the trustworthy
slave who, in many disguises, was wont to travel with his secret
messages. This man wore false hair so well fixed upon his head that it
could not attract attention; the letter he had to deliver was laid
beneath an artificial scalp.

'Be on your guard,' thus Marcian wrote. 'Some one has made known to the
Greeks that you are arming men, and for what purpose. Delay no longer
than you must in joining the King. In him is your only hope, if hope
there still can be. I, too, shall soon be in the camp.'

These last words were for his friend's encouragement. As soon as the
letter had been despatched, he went forth about Rome in his usual way,
spoke with many persons, and returned home unscathed. Plainly, then, he
was to be left at liberty yet awhile; Pelagius had purposes to serve.
Next day, he betook himself to the Palatine; Bessas received him with
bluff friendliness, joked about his escape from death (for every one
believed that he had had the plague), and showed no sign of the
mistrust which had marked their last meeting. In gossip with certain
Romans who were wont to hang about the commander, flattering and
fawning upon him for their base advantage, he learnt that no one had
yet succeeded to the place left vacant by the hapless Muscula; only in
casual amours, generally of the ignoblest, did Bessas bestow his
affections. Of Heliodora there was no talk.

Another day he passed in sauntering; nothing that he could perceive in
those with whom he talked gave hint of menace to his safety. Then,
early the next morning, he turned his steps to the Quirinal. As usual,
he was straightway admitted to Heliodora's house, but had to wait
awhile until the lady could receive him. Gloomily thoughtful, standing
with eyes fixed upon those of the great bust of Berenice, he was
startled by a sudden cry from within the house, the hoarse yell of a
man in agony; it was repeated, and became a long shriek, rising and
falling in terrible undulation. He had stepped forward to seek an
explanation, when Heliodora's eunuch smilingly came to meet him.

'What is that?' asked Marcian, his nerves a-quiver.

'The noble lady has ordered a slave to be punished,' was the cheerful
reply.

'What is his fault?'

'Illustrious, I know not,' answered the eunuch more gravely.

The fearful sounds still continuing, Marcian turned as though to hurry
away; but the eunuch, following, implored him not to go, for his
departure would but increase Heliodora's wrath. So for a few more
minutes he endured the horror of that unbroken yell. When it ceased, he
could hear his heart beating.

Summoned at length to the lady's presence, he found her lying in the
chamber of the Hermaphrodite. A strange odour floated in the air,
overcoming that of wonted perfumes.

Faint with a sudden nausea, Marcian performed no courtesy, but stood
regarding the living woman much as he had gazed at the face in marble,
absent and sombre-browed.

'What now?' were Heliodora's first words, her smile fading in
displeasure.

'Must we needs converse in your torture-chamber?' asked Marcian.

'Are your senses more delicate than mine?'

'It seems so. I could wish I had chosen another hour for visiting you.'

'It was well chosen,' said Heliodora, regarding him fixedly. 'This
slave I have chastised, shall I tell you of what he was guilty? He has
a blabbing tongue.'

'I see not how that concerns me,' was his cold reply, as he met her
look with steady indifference.

From her lounging attitude Heliodora changed suddenly to one in which,
whilst seated, she bent forward as though about to spring at him.

'How comes it that Bessas knows every word that has passed between us?'
broke fiercely from her lips.

In an instant Marcian commanded himself, shrugged his shoulders, and
laughed.

'That is a question,' he said, 'to put to your astrologer, your
oneirocritic, your genethliac. I profess not to read mysteries.'

'Liar!' she shot out. 'How could he have had it but from your own lips?'

Marcian betook himself to his utmost dissimulation, and the talk of the
next few minutes--on his part, deliberately provocative; on hers,
recklessly vehement--instructed him in much that he had desired to
learn. It was made clear to him that a long combat of wills and desires
had been in progress between the crafty courtesan and the half wily and
the half brutal soldier, with a baffling of Heliodora's devices which
would never have come to his knowledge but for this outbreak of rage.
How far the woman had gone in her lures, whether she had played her
last stake, he could not even now determine; but he suspected that only
such supreme defeat could account for the fury in which he beheld her.
Bessas, having (as was evident) heard the secret from Pelagius, might
perchance have played the part of a lover vanquished by his passions,
and then, after winning his end by pretence of treachery to the
Emperor, had broken into scoffing revelation. That were a triumph after
the Thracian's heart. Having read thus far in the past, Marcian had to
turn anxious thought upon the future, for his position of seeming
security could not long continue. He bent himself to allay the wrath he
had excited. Falling of a sudden into a show of profound distress, he
kept silence for a little, then murmured bitterly:

'I see what has happened. When the fever was upon me, my mind wandered,
and I talked.'

So convincing was the face, the tone, so plausible the explanation,
that Heliodora drew slowly back, her fury all but quenched. She
questioned him as to the likely betrayer, and the name of Sagaris
having been mentioned, used the opportunity to learn what she could
concerning the man.

'I cannot promise to give him up to you to be tortured,' said Marcian,
with his characteristic smile of irony.

'That I do not ask. But,' she added significantly, 'will you send him
here, and let me use gentler ways of discovering what I can?'

'That, willingly.'

And when Marcian went away, he reflected that all was not yet lost. For
Heliodora still had faith in the prophecy of her astrologer; she was
more resolute than ever in her resolve to triumph over Bessas; she
could gain nothing to this end by helping her confederate's ruin.
Before parting, they had agreed that Marcian would do well to affect
ignorance of the discovery Bessas had made; time and events must
instruct them as to the projects of their enemies, and guide their own
course.

That same day, he despatched the Syrian with a letter to Heliodora, and
on the man's return spoke with him as if carelessly of his commission.
He remarked that the face of Sagaris shone as though exultantly, but no
indiscreet word dropped from the vaunter's lips. A useful fellow,
murmured Marcian within himself, and smiled contempt.

Another day or two of indecision, then in obedience to an impulse he
could no longer resist, he sought speech with the deacon Pelagius. Not
without trouble was this obtained, for Pelagius was at all times busy,
always beset by suitors of every degree, the Romans holding him in high
reverence, and making their appeals to him rather than to the Pope, for
whom few had a good word. When at last Marcian was admitted to the
deacon's presence, he found himself disconcerted by the long, silent
scrutiny of eyes deep read in the souls of men. No word would reach his
lips.

'I have been expecting you,' said the deacon at length, gravely, but
without severity. 'You have made no haste to come.'

'Most reverend,' replied Marcian, in a tone of the deepest reproach, 'I
knew not certainly whether I had indeed made confession to you, or if
it was but a dream of fever.'

Pelagius smiled. He was standing by a table, and his hand lay upon an
open volume.

'You are of noble blood, lord Marcian,' he continued, 'and the
greatness of your ancestors is not unknown to you. Tell me by what
motive you have been induced to play the traitor against Rome. I cannot
think it was for the gain that perishes. Rather would I suppose you
misled by the opinion of Cassiodorus, whose politics were as unsound as
his theology. I read here, in his treatise _De Anima_, that there is
neither bliss nor torment for the soul before the great Day of
Judgment--a flagrant heresy, in utter contradiction of the Scriptures,
and long ago refuted by the holy Augustine. Can you trust in worldly
matters one who is so blinded to the clearest truths of eternity?'

'I confess,' murmured the listener, 'that I thought him justified in
his support of the Gothic kingdom.'

'You are content, then, you whose ancestors have sat in the Senate, to
be ruled by barbarians? You, a Catholic, revolt not against the
dominions of Arians? And so little is your foresight, your speculation,
that you dream of permanent conquest of Italy by this leader of a
barbaric horde? I tell you, lord Marcian, that ere another twelvemonth
has passed, the Goths will be defeated, scattered, lost. The Emperor is
preparing a great army, and before the end of summer Belisarius will
again land on our shores. Think you Totila can stand against him? Be
warned; consider with yourself. Because your confession had indeed
something of sickness in it, I have forborne to use it against you as
another might have done. But not with impunity can you resume your
traitorous practices; of that be assured.'

He paused, looking sternly into Marcian's face.

'I have no leisure to debate with you, to confute your errors. One
thing only will I add, before dismissing you to ponder what I have
uttered. It is in your power to prove your return to reason and the
dignity of a Roman; I need not say how; the occasion will surely ere
long present itself, and leave you in no doubt as to my meaning.
Remember, then, how I have dealt with you; remember, also, that no such
indulgence will be granted to a renewal of your crime against Rome,
your sin against God.'

Marcian dropped to his knees; there was a moment of silence; then he
arose and went forth.

A week passed, and there came the festival of St. Laurentius. All Rome
streamed out to the basilica beyond the Tiburtine Gate, and among those
who prayed most fervently at the shrine was Marcian. He besought
guidance in an anguish of doubt. Not long ago, in the early days of
summer, carnal temptation had once more overcome him, and the
sufferings, the perils, of this last month he attributed to that lapse
from purity. His illness was perhaps caused by excess of rigour in
penitence. To-day he prayed with many tears that the Roman martyr would
enlighten him, and make him understand his duty to Rome.

As he was leaving the church, a hand touched him; he turned, and beheld
the deacon Leander, who led him apart.

'It is well that I have met you,' said the cleric, with less than his
usual bland deliberation. 'A messenger is at your house to bid you come
to me this evening. Can you leave Rome to-morrow?'

'On what mission?'

Leander pursed his lips for a moment, rolled his eyes hither and
thither, and said with a cautious smile:

'That for which you have been waiting.'

With difficulty Marcian dissembled his agitation. Was this the saint's
reply to his prayer? Or was it a temptation of the Evil Power, which it
behoved him to resist?

'I am ready,' he said, off-hand.

'You will be alone for the first day's journey, and in the evening you
will be met by such attendants as safety demands. Do you willingly
undertake the charge? Or is there some new danger which you had not
foreseen?'

'There is none,' replied Marcian, 'and I undertake the charge right
willingly.'

'Come to me, then, at sunset. The travel is planned in every detail,
and the letters ready. What follower goes with you?'

'The same as always--Sagaris.'

'Confide nothing to him until you are far from Rome. Better if you need
not even then.'

Leander broke off the conference, and walked away at a step quicker
than his wont. But Marcian, after lingering awhile in troubled thought,
returned to the martyr's grave. Long he remained upon his knees, the
conflict within him so violent that he could scarce find coherent words
of prayer. Meanwhile the August sky had clouded, and thunder was
beginning to roll. As he went forth again, a flash of lightning dazzled
him. He saw that it was on the left hand, and took courage to follow
the purpose that had shaped in his thoughts.

That evening, after an hour's close colloquy with Leander, he betook
himself by circuitous way to the dwelling of Pelagius, and with him
again held long talk. Then went home, through the dark, still streets,
to such slumber as his conscience might permit.



CHAPTER XIX

THE PRISONER OF PRAENESTE


On the morrow of St. Laurentius, at that point of dawn when a man can
recognise the face of one who passes, there issued from the Lateran a
silent company equipped for travel. In a covered carriage drawn by two
horses sat the Pope, beside him a churchman of his household; a second
carriage conveyed the deacon Leander and another ecclesiastic; servants
and a baggage vehicle brought up the rear. With what speed it could
over the ill-paved roads, this procession made for the bank of the
Tiber below the Aventine, where, hard by the empty public granaries, a
ship lay ready to drop down stream. It was a flight rather than a
departure. Having at length made up his mind to obey the Emperor's
summons, Vigilius endeavoured to steal away whilst the Romans slept off
their day of festival. But he was not suffered to escape thus. Before
he had reached the place of embarkation, folk began to run shouting
behind his carriage. Ere he could set foot on board the vessel a crowd
had gathered. The farewell of the people to their supreme Pontiff was
given in a volley of stones and potsherds, whilst the air rang with
maledictions.

Notwithstanding his secret hostility, Leander had of late crept into
Vigilius' confidence, thus protecting himself against his formidable
adversary Pelagius. He was now the Pope's travelling companion as far
as Sicily. Had he remained in Rome, the authority of Pelagius would
have fallen heavily upon him, and he could scarce have escaped the
humiliation of yielding his Gothic captive to Justinian's friend.
Apprised only a day before of Vigilius' purpose, he had barely time to
plot with Marcian for the conveyance of Veranilda to Totila's camp.
This had long been his intention, for, convinced that Totila would rule
over Italy, he saw in the favour of the king not only a personal
advantage, but the hope of the Western Church in its struggle with
Byzantium. Driven at length to act hurriedly, he persuaded himself that
he could use no better agent than Marcian, who had so deeply pledged
himself to the Gothic cause. Of what had passed between Marcian and
Pelagius he of course knew nothing. So, as the ship moved seaward upon
tawny Tiber, and day flamed upon the Alban hills, Leander laughed
within himself. He enjoyed a plot for its own sake, and a plot, long
savoured, which gave him triumph over ecclesiastical rivals, and even
over the Emperor Justinian, was well worth the little risk that might
ensue When he returned to Rome, it would doubtless be with the
victorious Goth--safe, jubilant, and ere long to be seated in the chair
of the Apostle.

At the same hour Marcian was riding along the Praenestine Way, the
glory of summer sunrise straight before him. The thought most active in
his mind had nothing to do with the contest of nations or with the fate
of Rome: it was that on the morrow he should behold Veranilda. For a
long time he had ceased to think of her; her name came to his lips in
connection with artifice and intrigue, but the maiden herself had faded
into nothingness, no longer touched his imagination. He wondered at
that fantastic jealousy of Basil from which he had suffered. This
morning, the caress of the warm air, the scents wafted about him as he
rode over the great brown wilderness, revived his bygone mood. Again he
mused on that ideal loveliness which he attributed to the unseen
Veranilda For nearly a year she had been sought in vain by her lover,
by Greek commanders, by powerful churchmen; she had been made the
pretext of far-reaching plots and conspiracies; her name had excited
passions vehement and perilous, had been the cause of death. Now he was
at length to look upon her; nay, she was to pass into his guardianship,
and be by him delivered into the hands of the warrior king. Dreaming,
dreaming, he rode along the Praenestine Way.

Though the personal dignity of Pelagius and the calm force of his
speech had awed and perturbed him, Marcian soon recovered his habitual
mind. He had thought and felt too deeply regarding public affairs to be
so easily converted from the cause for which he lived. A new treachery
was imposed upon him. When, after receiving all his instructions from
Leander, he went to see Pelagius, it was in order to secure his own
safety and the fulfilment of his secret mission by a seeming betrayal
of him he served. He knew that his every movement was watched; he could
not hope to leave Rome without being stopped and interrogated. If he
desired to carry out Leander's project--and he desired it the more
ardently the longer he reflected--his only course was this. Why did it
agitate him more than his treachery hitherto? Why did he shake and
perspire when he left Pelagius, after promising to bring Veranilda to
Rome? He knew not himself--unless it were due to a fear that he might
perform his promise.

This fear it was, perhaps, which had filled his short sleep with dreams
now terrible, now luxurious. This fear it was which caught hold of him,
at length distinct and intelligible, when, on turning his head towards
the city soon after sunrise, he became aware of a group of horsemen
following him at a distance of half a mile or so. Thus had it been
agreed with Pelagius. The men were to follow him, without approaching,
to a certain point of his journey, then would close about him and his
attendants, who would be inferior in number, and carry them, with the
Gothic maiden, back to Rome. At the sight Marcian drew rein, and for a
moment sat in his saddle with bent head, suffering strangely. Sagaris
came up to his side, regarded him with anxious eye, and asked whether
the heat of the sun's rays incommoded him; whereupon he made a negative
sign and rode on.

He tried to laugh. Had he forgotten the subtlety of his plot for
deceiving Pelagius? To have made known to the deacon where Veranilda
really was, would have been a grave fault in strategy. These armed
horsemen imagined that a two days' journey lay before them, whereas the
place of Veranildas imprisonment would be reached this evening. The
artifice he had elaborated was, to be sure, full of hazard; accident
might disconcert everything; the instruments upon whom he reckoned
might fail him. But not because of this possibility was his heart so
miserably perturbed. It was himself that he dreaded--the failure of his
own purpose, the treachery of his own will.

On he rode in the full eye of the August sun. The vast, undulant plain
spread around him; its farms, villas, aqueducts no less eloquent of
death than the tombs by the wayside its still air and the cloudless
azure above speaking to a man's soul as with the voice of eternity.
Marcian was very sensible of such solemn influence. More than once, in
traversing this region, he had been moved to bow his head in devotion
purer than that which commonly inspired his prayers, but to-day he knew
not a moment's calm. All within him was turbid, subject to evil
thoughts.

A little before noon he made his first halt. Amid the ruins of a
spacious villa two or three peasant families had their miserable home,
with a vineyard, a patch of tilled soil, and a flock of goats for their
sustenance. Here the travellers, sheltered from the fierce sun, ate of
the provisions they carried, and lay resting for a couple of hours.
Marcian did not speak with the peasants, but he heard the voice of a
woman loud in lamentation, and Sagaris told him that it was for the
death of a child, who, straying yesterday at nightfall, had been killed
by a wolf. Many hours had the mother wept and wailed, only interrupting
her grief to vilify and curse the saint to whose protection her little
one was confided.

When he resumed his journey, Marcian kept glancing back until he again
caught sight of the company of horsemen; they continued to follow him
at the same distance. On he rode, the Alban hills at his right hand,
and before him, on its mountain side, the town for which he made. The
sun was yet far from setting when he reached Praeneste. Its great walls
and citadel towering on the height above told of ancient strength, and
many a noble building, within the city and without, monuments of glory
and luxury, resisted doom. Sulla's Temple of Fortune still looked down
upon its columned terraces, but behind the portico was a Christian
church, and where once abode the priests of the heathen sanctuary, the
Bishop of Praeneste had now his dwelling. Thither did Marcian
straightway betake himself. The bishop, a friend and ally of Leander,
received him with cordiality, and eagerly read the letter he brought.
Asked whether Vigilius had left Rome, Marcian was able to tell
something of the Pope's departure, having heard the story just before
his own setting forth; whereat the prelate, a man of jovial aspect,
laughed unrestrainedly.

'To supper! to supper!' he exclaimed with hospitable note. 'Time enough
for our business afterwards.'

But Marcian could not postpone what he had to say. Begging the bishop's
patience, he told how all day long he had been followed by certain
horsemen from Rome, who assuredly were sent to track him. His servant,
he added, was watching for their entrance into the town, and would
observe where they lodged. This, the bishop admitted, was a matter of
some gravity.

'Your guard is ready,' he said. 'Six stout fellows on good horses. But
these pursuers outman you. Let me think, let me think.'

Marcian had but to suggest his scheme. This was, to resume his journey
as soon as the townsfolk were all asleep, and travel through the night,
for there was a moon all but at the full. He might thus gain so much
advance of his pursuers that they would not be able to overtake him
before he came to the nearest outpost of the Gothic army. After
reflection, the bishop gave his approval to this project, and undertook
that all should be ready at the fitting hour. He himself would
accompany them to the gate of the town, and see them safely on their
way. To make surer, Marcian used another device. When he had learned
the quarters of the pursuing horsemen he sent Sagaris privily to speak
with their leader, warning him to be ready to ride at daybreak. Such a
message had of course nothing unexpected for its recipient, who looked
upon Marcian as secretly serving Pelagius. It put his mind at ease and
released him from the necessity of keeping a night watch. Sagaris,
totally ignorant of his master's mission, and of the plans that had
just been formed, imagined himself an intermediary in some plot between
Marcian and the leader of the horsemen, and performed the deceitful
office in all good faith.

The bishop and his guest sat down to supper in an ancient room, of
which the floor was a mosaic representing an Egyptian landscape, with a
multitude of figures. Marcian would gladly have asked questions about
Veranilda; how long she had been at Praeneste, whether the lady Aurelia
was in the same convent, and many other things; but he did not venture
to make known how little he had enjoyed of Leander's confidence. His
reverend host spoke not at all on this subject, which evidently had no
interest for him, but abounded in inquiries as to the state of things
ecclesiastical at Rome. The supper was excellent; it pained the good
prelate that his guest seemed to have so poor an appetite. He vaunted
the quality of everything on the table, and was especially enthusiastic
about a wine of the south, very aromatic, which had come to him as a
present from his friend the Bishop of Rhegium, together with a certain
cheese of Sila, exquisite in thymy savour, whereof he ate with
prodigious gusto.

It was about the third hour of the night when Sagaris, to his
astonishment, was aroused from a first sleep, and bidden prepare at
once for travel. Following his master and the bishop, who were not
otherwise attended, he passed through a garden to a postern, where, by
dim lantern light, he saw, in the street without, a small covered
carriage drawn by four mules, and behind it several men on horseback;
his master's horse and his own were also in readiness at the door. He
mounted, the carriage moved forward; and by a steep descent which
needed extreme caution, the gate of the city was soon reached. Here the
bishop, who had walked beside Marcian, spoke a word with two drowsy
watchmen sitting by the open gateway, bade his guest an affectionate
farewell, and stood watching for a few minutes whilst vehicle and
riders moved away in the moonlight.

Finding himself well sped from Praeneste, where his pursuers lay sound
asleep, Marcian felt an extravagant joy; he could scarce command
himself to speak a few necessary words, in an ordinary tone, to the
leader of the guard with which he was provided; to shout, to sing,
would have better suited his mood. Why he thrilled with such exultancy
he could not have truly said; but a weight seemed to be lifted from his
mind, and he told himself that the relief was due to knowing that he
had done with treachery, done with double-dealing, done with the shame
and the peril of such a life as he had led for years. Never could he
return to Rome save with the Gothic King; in beguiling Pelagius, he had
thrown in his lot irrevocably with the enemies of the Greeks. Now he
would play the part of an honest man; his heart throbbed at the thought.

But all this time his eyes were fixed upon the closed vehicle, behind
which he rode; and was it indeed the thought of having gained freedom
which made his heart so strangely beat? He pushed his horse as near as
possible to the carriage; he rode beside it; he stretched out his hand
and touched it. As soon as the nature of the road permitted, he gave an
order to make better speed, and his horse began to trot; he thought
less of the danger from which he was fleeing than of the place of rest
where Veranilda would step down from the carriage, and he would look
upon her face.

Under the great white moon, the valley into which they were descending
lay revealed in every feature, and the road itself was as well
illumined as by daylight. On they sped, as fast as the mules could be
driven. Near or far sounded from time to time the howl of a wolf,
answered by the fierce bark of dogs in some farm or village; the
hooting of owls broke upon the stillness, or the pipe of toads from a
marshy hollow. By the wayside would be seen moving stealthily a dark
form, which the travellers knew to be a bear, but they met no human
being, nor anywhere saw the gleam of a light in human habitation.
Coming within view of some temple of the old religion, all crossed
themselves and murmured a prayer, for this was the hour when the
dethroned demons had power over the bodies and the souls of men.

After a long descent they struck into the Via Latina, still in spite of
long neglect almost as good a road as when the legions marched over its
wheel-furrowed stones. If the information on which Leander had
calculated was correct, some three days' journey by this way would
bring them within reach of the Gothic king; but Marcian was now
debating with himself at what point he should quit the high road, so as
to make certain his escape, in case the Greek horsemen began a chase
early on the morrow. To the left lay a mountainous region, with byways
and little ancient towns, in old time the country of the Hernici;
beyond, a journey of two good days, flowed the river Liris, and there,
not far from the town of Arpinum, was Marcian's ancestral villa. Of
this he thought, as his horse trotted beside or behind the carriage. It
was much out of his way; surely there would be no need to go so far in
order to baffle pursuers. Yet still he thought of his villa, islanded
in the Liris, and seemed to hear through the night the music of
tumbling waters, and said within his heart, 'Could I not there lie
safe?'

Safe?--from the Greeks, that is to say, if they persistently searched
for him. Safe, until a messenger could reach Totila, and let him know
that Veranilda was rescued.

An hour after midnight, one of the mules' traces broke. In the silence
of the stoppage, whilst the driver was mending the harness as best he
could, Marcian alighted, stepped to the side of the vehicle, laid a
hand on the curtain which concealed those within, and spoke in a
subdued voice.

'Is all well with you, lady?'

'As well,' came the answer, 'as it can be with one who dreads her
unknown fate.'

The soft accents made Marcian tremble. He expected to hear a sweet
voice, but this was sweeter far than he could have imagined: its
gentleness, its sadness, utterly overcame him, so that he all but wept
in his anguish of delight.

'Have no fear,' he whispered eagerly. 'It is freedom that awaits you. I
am Marcian--Marcian, the friend of Basil.'

There sounded a low cry of joy; then the two names were repeated, his
and that of his friend, and again Marcian quivered.

'You will be no more afraid?' he said, as though laughingly.

'Oh no! The Blessed Virgin be thanked!'

An owl's long hoot wailed through the stillness, seeming to fill with
its infinite melancholy the great vault of moonlit heaven. In Marcian
it produced a sudden, unaccountable fear. Leaping on to his horse, he
cursed the driver for slowness. Another minute, and they were speeding
onward.

Marcian watched anxiously the course of the silver orb above them. When
it began to descend seaward, the animals were showing signs of
weariness; before daybreak he must perforce call a halt. In
conversation with the leader of his guard, he told the reason of their
hasting on by night (known already to the horseman, a trusted follower
of the Bishop of Praeneste), and at length announced his resolve to
turn off the Latin Way into the mountains, with the view of gaining the
little town Aletrium, whence, he explained, they could cross the hills
to the valley of the Liris, and so descend again to the main road. It
was the man's business to obey; he let fall a few words, however,
concerning the dangers of the track; it was well known that bands of
marauders frequented this country, moving onward before the slow
advance of the Gothic troops. Marcian reflected, but none the less held
to his scheme. The beasts were urged along an upward way, which, just
about the setting of the moon, brought them to a poor village with a
little church. Marcian set himself to discover the priest, and, when
this good man was roused from slumber, spoke in his ear a word which
had great effect. With little delay stabling was found, and a place of
repose for Marcian's followers; he himself would rest under the
priest's roof, whither he conducted Veranilda and a woman servant who
sat with her in the carriage. The face which was so troubling his
imagination he did not yet see, for Veranilda kept the hood close about
her as she passed by candle light up steps to the comfortless and dirty
little chamber which was the best she could have.

'Rest in peace,' whispered Marcian as the door closed. 'I guard you.'

For an hour or more he sat talking with his host over a pitcher of
wine, found how far he was from Aletrium, and heard with satisfaction
that the brigand bands seemed to have gone higher into the mountains.
The presbyter asked eagerly for Roman news, and cautiously concerning
King Totila, whom it was evident he regarded with no very hostile
feeling. As the day broke he stretched himself on his host's bed, there
being no other for him, and there dozed for two or three hours, far too
agitated to enjoy a sound sleep.

When he arose, he went forth into the already hot sunshine, looked at
the poor peasants' cottages, and talked with Sagaris, whose
half-smiling face seemed anxious to declare that he knew perfectly well
on what business they were engaged. At this hour, in all probability,
the horsemen of Pelagius were galloping along the Latin Way, in hope of
overtaking the fugitives. It seemed little likely that they would
search in this direction, and the chances were that they would turn
back when their horses got tired out. Of them, indeed, Marcian thought
but carelessly; his hard-set brows betokened another subject of
disquiet. Should he, after Aletrium, go down again to the Latin Way, or
should he push a few miles further to the valley of the Liris, and to
his own villa?

To-day, being the first day of the week, there was a gathering to hear
mass. Marcian, though he had that in his mind which little accorded
with religious worship, felt himself drawn to the little church, and
knelt among the toil-worn folk. Here, as always when he heard the
liturgy, his heart melted, his soul was overcome with awe. From
earliest childhood he had cherished a peculiar love and reverence for
the Eucharistic prayer, which was associated with his noblest feelings,
his purest aspirations. As he heard it now, here amid the solitude of
the hills, it brought him help such as he needed.

'Vere dignum et justum est, aequum et salutare, nos tibi semper et
ubique gratias agere, Domine sancte, Pater omnipotens, aeterne Deus.'

When at the end he rose, these words were still resonant within him. He
turned to go forth, and there behind, also just risen from her knees,
stood a veiled woman, at the sight of whom he thrilled with
astonishment. No peasant she; for her attire, though but little
adorned, told of refinement, and the grace of her figure, the simple
dignity of her attitude, would alone have marked her out among the
girls and women who were leaving the church, their eyes all turned upon
her and on the female attendant standing respectfully near. Through the
veil which covered her face and hung about her shoulders, Marcian could
dimly discern lips and eyebrows.

'Lord Marcian, may I speak with you?'

It was the voice of last night, and again it shook him with an ecstasy
which had more of dread than of joy.

'You here?' he replied, speaking very low. 'You have heard the mass?'

'I am a Catholic. My religion is that of Basil.'

'God be thanked!' broke from Marcian. And his exclamation meant more
than it conveyed to the listener.

'May you tell me whither we are going?' was the next question from the
veiled lips.

The church was now empty, but in the doorway appeared faces curiously
peering. Marcian looking in that direction seemed for a moment to find
no reply; his lips were parted, and his breath came rapidly; then he
whispered:

'Not far from here there is a villa. There you shall rest in safety
until Basil comes.'

'He is near?'

'Already I have summoned him.'

'O kind Marcian!' uttered the low, sweet voice. 'Oh, true and brave
friend!'

In silence they walked together to the priest's house. Marcian had now
put off all irresolution. He gave orders to his guard; as soon as the
horses had sufficiently rested, they would push on for Aletrium, and
there pass the night. The start was made some two hours after noon.
Riding once more beside the carriage, Marcian felt his heart light:
passions and fears were all forgotten; the sun flaming amid the pale
blue sky, the violet shadows of the mountains, the voice of cicadas
made rapture to his senses. It was as though Veranilda's beauty, not
even yet beheld, rayed something of itself upon all the visible world.
Never had a summer's day shone so gloriously for him; never had he so
marked the hues of height and hollow, the shape of hills, the winding
of a stream. Where an ascent made the pace slow, he alighted, walked by
the vehicle, and exchanged a few words with her who sat behind the
curtain.

At length Aletrium came in view, a little town in a strong position on
the mountain side, its walls and citadel built in old time, long unused
for defence, but resisting ages with their cyclopean force. On
arriving, they found a scene of disorder, misery and fear. This morning
the place had been attacked by a brigand horde, which had ravaged at
will: the church was robbed of its sacred vessels, the beasts of burden
were driven away, and, worst of all, wives and daughters of the
defenceless townsmen had suffered outrage. Marcian, with that air of
authority which he well knew how to assume, commanded the attendance of
the leading citizens and spoke with them in private. Finding them eager
for the arrival of the Goths, to whom they looked rather than to the
distant Greeks for protection against ruinous disorder (already they
had despatched messengers to Totila entreating his aid), he made known
to them that he was travelling to meet the Gothic outposts, and
promised to hasten the king's advance. At present, there seemed to be
no more danger, the marauders having gone on into the Apennines; so
Marcian obtained lodging for Veranilda and for himself in the priest's
house. Only when he was alone did he reflect upon the narrowness of his
escape from those fierce plunderers, and horror shook him. There
remained but half a day's journey to his villa. He was so impatient to
arrive there, and to dismiss the horsemen, that though utterly wearied,
he lay awake through many hours of darkness, hearing the footsteps of
men who patrolled the streets, and listening with anxious ear for any
sound of warning.

He rose in the twilight, and again held conference with those of the
townsmen who were stoutest in the Gothic cause. To them he announced
that he should travel this day as far as Arpinum (whither he was
conducting a lady who desired to enter a convent hard by that city),
and thence should proceed in search of Totila, for whom, he assured his
hearers, he carried letters of summons from the leading churchmen at
Rome. This news greatly cheered the unhappy Aletrians, who had been
troubled by the thought that the Goths were heretics. If Roman
ecclesiastics closed their eyes to this obstacle, the inhabitants of a
little mountain town evidently need nurse no scruples in welcoming the
conqueror. With acclamations and good wishes, the crowd saw Marcian and
his train set forth along the road over the hills; before the sun had
shed its first beam into the westward valley, they had lost sight of
Aletrium.

Not a word of the perils escaped had been allowed to reach Veranilda's
ear; exhausted by her journeying and her emotions, she had slept
soundly through the whole night, and this morning, when Marcian told
her how near was their destination, she laughed light-heartedly as a
child. But not yet had he looked upon her countenance. At Aletrium he
might have done so had he willed, but he withheld himself as if from a
dread temptation.

Never had he known such tremours of cowardliness as on this ride over
the hills. He strained his eyes in every direction, and constantly
imagined an enemy where there was none. The brigands, as he found by
inquiry of labouring peasants, had not even passed this way. He would
not halt, though the heat of the sun grew terrible. At length, when
exhaustion threatened men and beasts, they surmounted a ridge, issued
from a forest of chestnut-trees, and all at once, but a little way
below them, saw the gleam of the river Liris.



CHAPTER XX

THE ISLAND IN THE LIRIS


Not yet the '_taciturnus amnis_,' which it becomes in the broad,
seaward valley far below, the Liris at this point parts into two
streams, enclosing a spacious island, and on either side of the island
leaps with sound and foam, a river kindred to the mountains which feed
its flood. Between the two cataracts, linked to the river banks with
great arched bridges, stood Marcian's villa. Never more than a modest
country house, during the last fifty years an almost total neglect had
made of the greater part an uninhabitable ruin. A score of slaves and
peasants looked after what remained of the dwelling and cultivated the
land attached to it, garden, oliveyard, vineyard, partly on the island,
partly beyond the river in the direction of Arpinum, which historic
city, now but sparsely peopled, showed on the hillside a few miles
away. Excepting his house in Rome, this was all the property that
Marcian possessed. It was dear to him because of the memories of his
childhood, and for another reason which sprang out of the depths of his
being: on the night after his mother's death (he was then a boy much
given to seeing visions) her spirit appeared to him, and foretold that
he too should die in this house 'at peace with God.' This phrase, on
which he had often brooded, Marcian understood to mean that he should
reach old age; and it had long been his settled intention to found in
the ruinous villa a little monastery, to which, when his work was over,
he could retire to pass the close of life. And now, as he rode down
behind the carriage, he was striving to keep his thought fixed on this
pious purpose. He resolved that he would not long delay. As soon as
Veranilda was safe, he would go on foot, as a pilgrim, to the monastery
at Casinum, which were but two or three days' journey, and speak of his
intention to the aged and most holy Benedict. Thus fortified, he rode
with bright visage down into the valley, and over the bridge, and so to
his own gate.

The steward and the housekeeper, who were man and wife, speedily stood
before him, and he bade them make ready with all expedition certain
chambers long unoccupied, merely saying that a lady would for some days
be his guest. Whilst Sagaris guided the horsemen to the stables, and
received them hospitably in the servants' quarter, Marcian, using a
more formal courtesy than hitherto, conducted his charge into the great
hall, and begged her to be seated for a few minutes, until her room was
prepared. Seeing that fatigue scarce suffered her to reply, he at once
withdrew, leaving her alone with her handmaiden. And yet he had not
beheld Veranilda's face.

Himself unable to take repose, he strayed about the purlieus of the
villa, in his ears the sound of rushing water, before his eyes a
flitting vision which he would not see. He had heard from his steward
the latest news of the countryside; it was said in Arpinum that the
Gothic forces were at length assembled for the march on Rome; at
Aquinum Totila would be welcomed, and what resistance was he likely to
meet with all along the Latin Way? When the horsemen had refreshed
themselves, Marcian summoned the leader; their services, he said, would
no longer be necessary; he bade them depart as early as might be on the
morrow, and bear with all speed to their lord the bishop an important
letter which he forthwith wrote and gave to the man, together with a
generous guerdon. This business despatched, he again wandered hither
and thither, incapable of rest, incapable of clear thought, fever in
his heart and in his brain.

As the sun sank, fear once more beset him. This house lay open on all
sides, its only protection being a couple of dogs, which prowled at
large. He thought with dread of the possibility of a brigand attack.
But when night had fallen, when all lights except his own were
extinguished, when no sound struck against the deep monotone of the
cataracts, this emotion yielded before another, which no less harassed
his mind. In the hall, in the corridors, in the garden-court, he paced
ceaselessly, at times walking in utter darkness, for not yet had the
moon risen. When at length its rays fell upon the pillars of the upper
gallery where Veranilda slept, he stood looking towards her chamber,
and turned away at length with a wild gesture, like that of a demoniac
in torment.

The man was torn between spiritual fervour and passions of the flesh.
With his aspiration to saintliness blended that love of his friend
which was the purest affection he had known in all the years of
manhood; yet this very love became, through evil thoughts, an
instrument against him, being sullied, poisoned by the basest spirit of
jealousy, until it seemed all but to have turned to hate. One moment he
felt himself capable of acting nobly, even as he had resolved when at
mass in the little mountain church; his bosom glowed with the defiance
of every risk; he would guard Veranilda secretly until he could lay her
hand in that of Basil. The next, he saw only danger, impossibility, in
such a purpose, and was anxious to deliver the beautiful maiden to the
king of her own race as soon as might be--lest worse befell. Thus did
he strive with himself, thus was he racked and rent under the glowing
moon.

At dawn he slept. When he rose the horsemen had long since set forth on
their journey home. He inquired which road they had taken. But to this
no one had paid heed; he could only learn that they had crossed the
river by the westward bridge, and so perhaps had gone back by way of
Aletrium, instead of descending the valley to the Latin Way. Even yet
Marcian did not feel quite safe from his Greek pursuers. He feared a
meeting between them and the Praenestines.

Having bathed (a luxury after waterless Rome), and eaten a morsel of
bread with a draught of his own wine, he called his housekeeper, and
bade her make known to the lady, his guest, that he begged permission
to wait upon her. With but a few minutes' delay Veranilda descended to
the room which lay behind the atrium. Marcian, loitering among the
ivied plane-trees without, was told of her coming, and at once entered.

She was alone, standing at the back of the room; her hands hanging
linked before her, the lower part of the arms white against the folds
of a russet-coloured tunic. And Marcian beheld her face.

He took a few rapid steps toward her, checked himself, bowed
profoundly, and said in a somewhat abrupt voice:

'Gracious lady, is it by your own wish that you are unattended? Or have
my women, by long disuse, so forgotten their duties--'

Veranilda interrupted him.

'I assure you it was my own wish, lord Marcian. We must speak of things
which are not for others' hearing.'

In the same unnatural voice, as though he put constraint upon himself
for the performance of a disagreeable duty, he begged her to be seated,
and Veranilda, not without betraying a slight trouble of surprise, took
the chair to which he pointed. But he himself did not sit down. In the
middle of the room stood a great bronze candelabrum, many-branched for
the suspension of lamps, at its base three figures, Pluto, Neptune, and
Proserpine. It was the only work of any value which the villa now
contained, and Marcian associated it with the memories of his earliest
years. As a little child he had often gazed at those three faces, awed
by their noble gravity, and, with a child's diffidence, he had never
ventured to ask what beings these were. He fixed his eyes upon them
now, to avoid looking at Veranilda. She, timidly glancing at him, said
in her soft, low voice, with the simplest sincerity:

'I have not yet found words in which to thank you, lord Marcian.'

'My thanks are due to you, dear lady, for gracing this poor house with
your presence.'

His tone was more suavely courteous. For an instant he looked at her,
and his lips set themselves in something meant for a smile.

'This is the end of our journey?' she asked.

'For some days--if the place does not displease you.'

'How could I be ill at ease in the house of Basil's friend, and with
the promise that Basil will soon come?'

Marcian stared at the face of Proserpine, who seemed to regard him with
solemn thoughtfulness.

'Had you any forewarning of your release from the monastery?' he asked
of a sudden.

'None. None whatever.'

'You thought you would remain there for long to come?'

'I had not dared to think of that.'

Marcian took a few paces, glanced at the sweet face, the beautiful head
with its long golden hair, and came back to his place by the
candelabrum, on which he rested a trembling hand.

'Had they spoken of making you a nun?'

A look of dread came upon her countenance, and she whispered, 'Once or
twice.'

'You would never have consented?'

'Only if I had known that release was hopeless, or that Basil--'

Her voice failed.

'That Basil--?' echoed Marcian's lips, in an undertone.

'That he was dead.'

'You never feared that he might have forgotten you?'

Again his accents were so hard that Veranilda gazed at him in troubled
wonder.

'You never feared that?' he added, with fugitive eyes.

'Had I dreamt of it,' she replied, 'I think I should not live.' Then in
a voice of anxious humility, 'Could Basil forget me?'

'Indeed, I should not think it easy,' murmured the other, his eyes cast
down. 'And what,' he continued abruptly, 'was said to you when you left
the convent? In what words did they take leave of you?'

'With none at all. I was bidden prepare for a journey, and soon after
they led me to the gates. I knew nothing, nor did the woman with me.'

'Was the lady Aurelia in the same convent?' Marcian next inquired.

'I never saw her after we had landed from the ship which carried us
from Surrentum?'

'You do not know, of course, that Petronilla is dead?'

He told her of that, and of other events such as would interest her,
but without uttering the name of Basil. Above all, he spoke of Totila,
lauding the victorious king who would soon complete his triumph by the
conquest of Rome.

'I had all but forgotten,' were Veranilda's words, when she had
listened anxiously. 'I thought only of Basil.'

He turned abruptly from her, seemed to reflect for a moment, and said
with formal politeness:

'Permit me now to leave you, lady. This house is yours. I would it
offered you worthier accommodation. As soon as I have news, I will
again come before you.'

Veranilda rose whilst he was speaking. Her eyes were fixed upon him,
wistfully, almost pleadingly, and before he had reached the exit she
advanced a step, with lips parted as if to beseech his delay. But he
walked too hurriedly, and was gone ere she durst utter a word.

At the same hurried pace, gazing before him and seeing nothing, Marcian
left the villa, and walked until he came to the river side. Here was a
jutting rock known as the Lover's Leap; story told of a noble maiden,
frenzied by unhappy love, who had cast herself into the roaring
waterfall. Long he stood on the brink, till his eyes dazzled from the
sun-stricken foam. His mind was blasted with shame; he could not hold
his head erect. In sorry effort to recover self-respect he reasoned
inwardly thus:

'Where Basil may be I know not. If he is still at Asculum many days
must pass before a summons from me could bring him hither. He may
already be on his way to join the king, as I bade him in my last
message. The uncertainty, the danger of this situation, can be met only
in one way. On leaving Rome I saw my duty plain before me. A desire to
pleasure my friend made me waver, but I was wrong--if Basil is to have
Veranilda for his bride he can only receive her from the hands of
Totila. Anything else would mean peril to the friend I love, and
disrespect, even treachery, to the king I honour. And so it shall be; I
will torment myself no more.'

He hastened back into the villa, summoned Sagaris, and bade him be
ready in half an hour to set forth on a journey of a day or two. He
then wrote a brief letter to the king of the Goths. It was in the
Gothic tongue, such Gothic as a few Romans could command for everyday
use. Herein he told that Veranilda, intrusted to him by the deacon
Leander to be conducted to the king's camp, had arrived in safety at
his villa by Arpinum. The country being disturbed, he had thought
better to wait here with his charge until he could learn the king's
pleasure, which he begged might be made known to him as soon as
possible.

'This,' he said, when Sagaris appeared before him equipped for travel,
'you will deliver into the king's own hands. At Aquinum you will be
directed to his camp, which cannot be far beyond. Danger there is none
between here and there. Make your utmost speed.'

Many were the confidential missions which Sagaris had discharged; yet,
looking now into his man's face, the master was troubled by a sudden
misgiving. The state of his own mind disposed him to see peril
everywhere. At another time he would not have noted so curiously a sort
of gleam in the Syrian's eye, a something on the fellow's cunning,
sensual lips, which might mean anything or nothing. Did Sagaris divine
who the veiled lady was? From the bishop's man he could not have
learned it, they themselves, as the bishop had assured Marcian, being
totally ignorant in the matter. If he guessed the truth, as was likely
enough after all the talk he had heard concerning Veranilda, was it a
danger? Had Sagaris any motive for treachery?

'Listen,' continued Marcian, in a tone such as he had never before used
with his servant, a tone rather of entreaty than of command. 'Upon the
safe and swift delivery of that letter more depends than you can
imagine. You will not lack your reward. But not a word to any save the
king. Should any one else question you, you will say that you bear only
a verbal message, and that you come direct from Rome.'

'My lord shall be obeyed,' answered the slave, 'though I die under
torture.'

'Of that,' said Marcian, with a forced laugh, 'you need have no fear.
But, hark you!' He hesitated, again searching the man's countenance.
'You might chance to meet some friend of mine who would inquire after
me. No matter who it be--were it even the lord Basil--you will answer
in the same words, saying that I am still in Rome. You understand me?
Were it even lord Basil who asked?'

'It shall be as my lord commands,' replied the slave, his face set in
unctuous solemnity.

'Go, then. Lose not a moment.'

Marcian watched him ride away in the blaze of the cloudless sun. The
man's head was sheltered with a broad-brimmed hat of the lightest felt,
and his horse's with a cluster of vine-leaves. He rode away at a quick
trot, the while dust rising in a cloud behind him.

And Marcian lived through the day he knew not how. It was a day of
burning sunshine, of heat scarce tolerable even in places the most
sheltered. Clad only in a loose tunic, bare-armed, bare-footed, he lay
or sauntered wherever shade was dense, as far as possible from the part
of the villa consecrated to his guest. Hour after hour crawled by, an
eternity of distressful idleness. And, even while wishing for the day's
end, he dreaded the coming of the night.

It came; the silent, lonely night, the warm, perfumed night, the season
of fierce temptations, of dreadful opportunity. Never had the
passionate soul of Marcian been so manifestly lured by the Evil One,
never had it fought so desperately in the strength of religious hopes
and fears. He knelt, he prayed, his voice breaking upon the stillness
with anguish of supplication. Between him and the celestial vision rose
that face which he had at length beheld, a face only the more
provocative of sensual rage because of its sweet purity, its flawless
truth. Then he flung himself upon the stones, bruised his limbs, lay at
length exhausted, as if lifeless.

No longer could he strengthen himself by the thought of loyalty in
friendship; that he had renounced. Yet he strove to think of Basil,
and, in doing so, knew that he still loved him. For Basil he would do
anything, suffer anything, lose anything; but when he imaged Basil with
Veranilda, at once his love turned to spleen, a sullen madness
possessed him, he hated his friend to the death.

By his own order, two watchmen stood below the stairs which led to
Veranilda's chamber. Nigh upon midnight he walked in that direction,
walked in barefooted stealth, listening for a movement, a voice. Nearer
and nearer he approached, till he saw at length the ray of a lantern;
but no step, no murmur, told of wakeful guard. Trembling as though with
cold, though sweat streamed over his body, he strode forward; there,
propped against the wall, sat the two slaves fast asleep. Marcian
glanced at the stairs; his face in the dim lantern light was that of a
devil. All of a sudden one of the men started, and opened his eyes.
Thereupon Marcian caught up a staff that lay beside them, and began to
belabour them both with savage blows. Fiercely, frantically, he plied
his weapon, until the delinquents, who had fallen to their knees before
him, roared for mercy.

'Let me find you sleeping again,' he said in a low voice, 'and your
eyes shall be burnt out.'

He stole away into the darkness, and the men whispered to each other
that he had gone mad. For Marcian was notably humane with his slaves,
never having been known even to inflict a whipping. Perhaps they were
even more astonished at this proof that their master seriously guarded
the privacy of his guest; last night they had slept for long hours
undisturbed, and, on waking, congratulated each other with familiar
jests on having done just what was expected of them.

The morn broke dark and stormy. Thunder-clouds purpled before the
rising sun, and ere mid-day there fell torrents of rain. Heedless of
the sky, Marcian rode forth this morning; rode aimlessly about the
hills, for the villa was no longer endurable to him. He talked awhile
with a labouring serf, who told him that the plague had broken out in
Arpinum, where, during the last week or two, many had died. From his
steward he had already heard the same news, but without heeding it; it
now alarmed him, and for some hours fear had a wholesome effect upon
his thoughts. In the coolness following upon the storm, he enjoyed a
long, tranquil sleep. And this day he did not see Veranilda.

A mile or two down the valley was a church, built by Marcian's
grandfather, on a spot where he had been saved from great peril; the
land attached to it supported two priests and certain acolytes,
together with a little colony of serfs. On his ride this morning
Marcian had passed within view of the church, and would have gone
thither but for his rain drenched clothing. Now, during the second
night of temptation, he resolved to visit the priests as soon as it was
day and to bring one of them back with him to the villa, to remain as
long as Veranilda should be there. Firm in this purpose he rose with
the rising sun, called for his horse, and rode to the bridge. There,
looking down at the white cataract, stood Veranilda and her attendant.

He alighted. With a timid smile the maiden advanced to meet him.

'Abroad so early?' were his first words, a mere tongue-found phrase.

'I was tempted by the fresh morning. It does not displease you, lord
Marcian?'

'Nay, I am glad.'

'It is so long,' continued the gentle voice, 'since I was free to walk
under the open sky.'

Marcian forgot that his gaze was fixed upon her, forgot that he was
silent, forgot the purpose with which he had ridden forth.

'I hoped I might see you to-day,' she added. 'You have yet no news for
me?'

'None.'

The blue eyes drooped sadly.

'To-morrow, perhaps,' she murmured. Then, with an effort to seem
cheerful, as if ashamed of her troubled thought, 'I had listened so
long to a sound of falling water that I could not resist the desire to
see it. How beautiful it is!'

Marcian felt surprise; he himself saw the cataract as an object of
beauty, but had seldom heard it so spoken of, and could least of all
have expected such words on the lips of a woman, dread seeming to him
the more natural impression.

'That on the other side,' he said, pointing across the island, 'is more
beautiful still. And there is shade, whilst here the sun grows too hot.
But you must not walk so far. My horse has a very even pace. If you
would let me lift you to the saddle--'

'Oh, gladly!' she answered, with a little laugh of pleasure.

And it was done. For a moment he held her, for a moment felt the warmth
and softness of her flesh; then she sat sideways upon the horse,
looking down at Marcian with startled gaiety. He showed her how to hold
the reins, and the horse went gently forward.

'It makes me a child again,' she exclaimed. 'I have never ridden since
I was a little girl, when my father--'

Her voice died away; her look was averted, and Marcian, remembering the
shame that mingled with her memories, began to talk of other things.

By a path that circled the villa, they came to a little wood of ilex,
which shadowed the brink of the larger cataract. Marcian had bidden
Veranilda's woman follow them, but as they entered the wood, his
companion looking eagerly before her, he turned and made a gesture of
dismissal, which the servant at once obeyed. In the shadiest spot which
offered a view of the plunging river, he asked Veranilda if she would
alight.

'Willingly, I would spend an hour here,' she replied. 'The leafage and
the water make such a delightful freshness.'

'I have anticipated your thought,' said Marcian. 'The woman is gone to
bid them bring seats.'

Veranilda glanced back in surprise and saw that they were alone. She
thanked him winsomely, and then, simply as before, accepted his help.
Again Marcian held her an instant, her slim, light body trembling when
he set her down, as if from a burden which strained his utmost force.
She stepped forward to gaze at the fall. He, with an exclamation of
alarm, caught her hand and held it.

'You are too rash,' he said in a thick voice. 'The depth, the roar of
the waters, will daze you.'

Against his burning palm, her hand was cool as a lily leaf. He did not
release it, though he knew that _his_ peril from that maidenly touch
was greater far than hers from the gulf before them. Veranilda,
accepting his protection with the thoughtlessness of a child, leaned
forward, uttering her wonder and her admiration. He, the while, watched
her lips, fed his eyes upon her cheek, her neck, the golden ripples of
her hair. At length she gently offered to draw her hand away. A frenzy
urged him to resist, but madness yielded to cunning, and he released
her.

'Of course Basil has been here,' she was saying.

'Never.'

'Never? Oh, the joy of showing him this when he comes! Lord Marcian,
you do not think it will be long?'

Her eyes seemed as though they would read in the depth of his; again
the look of troubled wonder rose to her countenance.

'It will not be more than a few days?' she added, in a timid undertone,
scarce audible upon the water's deeper note.

'I fear it may be longer,' replied Marcian.

He heard his own accents as those of another man. He, his very self,
willed the utterance of certain words, kind, hopeful, honest; but
something else within him commanded his tongue, and, ere he knew it, he
had added:

'You have never thought that Basil might forget you?'

Veranilda quivered as though she had been struck.

'Why do you again ask me that question?' she said gently, but no longer
timidly. 'Why do you look at me so? Surely,' her voice sank, 'you could
not have let me feel so happy if Basil were dead?'

'He lives.'

'Then why do you look so strangely at me? Ah, he is a prisoner?'

'Not so. No man's liberty is less in danger.'

She clasped her hands before her. 'You make me suffer. I was so light
of heart, and now--your eyes, your silence. Oh, speak, lord Marcian!'

'I have hidden the truth so long because I knew not how to utter it.
Veranilda, Basil is false to you.'

Her hands fell; her eyes grew wider in wonder. She seemed not to
understand what she had heard, and to be troubled by incomprehension
rather than by a shock of pain.

'False to me?' she murmured. 'How false?'

'He loves another woman, and for her sake has turned to the Greeks.'

Still Veranilda gazed wonderingly.

'Things have come to pass of which you know nothing,' pursued Marcian,
forcing his voice to a subdued evenness, a sad gravity. 'Listen whilst
I tell you all. Had you remained but a few days longer at Cumae, you
would have been seized by the Greeks and sent to Constantinople; for
the Emperor Justinian himself had given this command. You came to
Surrentum; you plighted troth with Basil; he would have wedded you,
and--not only for safety's sake, but because he wished well to the
Goths--would have sought the friendship of Totila. But you were carried
away; vainly we searched for you; we feared you had been delivered to
the Greeks. In Rome, Basil was tempted by a woman, whom he had loved
before ever he saw you, a woman beautiful, but evil hearted, her name
Heliodora. She won him back to her; she made him faithless to you and
to the cause of the Goths. Little by little, I learnt how far he had
gone in treachery. He had discovered where you were, but no longer
desired to release you that you might become his wife. To satisfy the
jealousy of Heliodora, and at the same time to please the Greek
commander in Rome, he plotted to convey you to Constantinople. I having
discovered this plot, found a way to defeat it. You escaped but
narrowly. When I carried you away from Praeneste, pursuers were close
behind us, therefore it was that we travelled through the night. Here
you are in safety, for King Totila is close at hand, and will guard you
against your enemies.'

Veranilda pressed her hands upon her forehead, and stood mute. As his
eyes shifted furtively about her, Marcian caught sight of something
black and undulant stirring among stones near her feet; at once he
grasped her by the arm, and drew her towards him.

'A viper!' he exclaimed, pointing.

'What of that?' was her reply, with a careless glance. 'I would not
stir a step to escape its fangs.'

And, burying her face in her hands, she wept.

These tears, this attitude of bewildered grief, were Marcian's
encouragement. He had dreaded the innocence of her eyes lest it should
turn to distrust and rejection. Had she refused to believe him, he knew
not how he would have persisted in his villainy; for, even in
concluding his story, it seemed to him that he must betray himself; so
perfidious sounded to him the voice which he could hardly believe his
own, and so slinking-knavish did he feel the posture of his body, the
movements of his limbs. The distress which should have smitten him to
the heart restored his baser courage. Again he spoke with the sad
gravity of a sympathetic friend.

'Dearest lady, I cannot bid you be comforted, but I entreat you to
pardon me, the hapless revealer of your misfortune. Say only that you
forgive me.'

'What is there to forgive?' she answered, checking her all but silent
sobs. 'You have told what it behoved you to tell. And it may be'--her
look changed of a sudden--'that I am too hasty in embracing sorrow. How
can I believe that Basil has done this? Are you not misled by some
false suspicion? Has not some enemy slandered him to you? What can you
say to make me credit a thing so evil?'

'Alas! It were but too easy for me to lengthen a tale which all but
choked me in the telling; I could name others who know, but to you they
would be only names. That of Heliodora, had you lived in Rome, were
more than enough.'

'You say he loved her before?'

'He did, dear lady, and when her husband was yet living. Now that he is
dead--'

'Have you yet told me all?' asked Veranilda, gazing fixedly at him.
'Has he married her?'

'Not yet--I think.'

Again she bowed her head. For a moment her tears fell silently, then
she looked up once more fighting against her anguish.

'It cannot be true that he would have given me to the Greeks; that he
may have forgotten me, that he may have turned to another love, I can
perhaps believe--for what am I that Basil should love me? But to scheme
my injury, to deliver me to our enemies--Oh, you are deceived, you are
deceived!'

Marcian was silent, with eyes cast down. In the branches, cicadas
trilled their monotone. The viper, which had been startled away, again
showed its lithe blackness among the stones behind Veranilda, and
Marcian, catching sight of it, again touched her arm.

'The snake! Come away from this place.'

Veranilda drew her arm back as if his touch stung her.

'I will go,' she said. 'I must be alone--my thoughts are in such
confusion I know not what I say.'

'Say but one word,' he pleaded. 'Having rescued you, I knew not how to
provide for your security save under ward of the king. Totila is noble
and merciful; all Italy will soon be his, and the Gothic rule be
re-established. Assure me that I have done well and wisely.'

'I hope you have,' answered Veranilda, regarding him for an instant.
'But I know nothing; I must bear what befalls. Let me go to my chamber,
lord Marcian, and sit alone and think.'

He led her back into the villa, and they parted without another word.



CHAPTER XXI

THE BETRAYER BETRAYED


Sagaris, making his best speed, soon arrived at Aquinum. He and his
horse were bathed in sweat; the shelter of an inn, where he had dinner,
tempted him to linger more than he need have done, and the fierce sun
was already declining when he rode forth along the Latin Way. As yet he
had seen no Goths. Every one talked of Totila, but he had a difficulty
in ascertaining where at this moment the king was to be found; some
declared he was as near as Venafrum, others that he lay much further
down the valley of the Vulturnus. Arrived at Venafrum, the messenger
learnt that he could not have less than another whole day's journey
before him, so here be harboured for the night.

His wily and unscrupulous mind had all day long been busy with
speculations as to the errand on which he was sent. Knowing that his
master wrote to Goths in the Gothic tongue, he was spared temptation to
break open the letter he carried; otherwise he would assuredly have
done so, for the hatred which Sagaris naturally felt for any one in
authority over him was now envenomed by jealousy, and for the last
month or two he had only waited an opportunity of injuring Marcian and
of advancing, by the same stroke, his own fortunes.

Having started from Rome in ignorance of his master's purpose, the
events of the night at Praeneste at once suggested to him the name of
the person who was being so cautiously and hurriedly conveyed under
Marcian's guard, and by the end of the journey he had no doubt left.
Here, at last, was the Gothic maiden who had been sought so
persistently by Marcian, by Basil, by Bessas, by Heliodora, and
doubtless by many others, since her disappearance from Surrentum.
Whither was she now being conducted? Sagaris did not know that among
her seekers was King Totila himself; on the other hand, he had much
reason for suspecting that Marcian pursued Veranilda with a lover's
passion, and when the journey ended at the island villa, when the
convoy of horsemen was dismissed, when he himself was sent off to a
distance, he saw his suspicion confirmed. By some supreme subtlety,
Marcian had got the beautiful maiden into his power, and doubtless the
letter he was sending to Totila contained some device for the
concealing of what had happened.

Now to the Syrian this would have been a matter of indifference, but
for his secret communications with Heliodora and all that had resulted
therefrom. Heliodora's talk was of three persons--of Marcian, of Basil,
of Veranilda--and Sagaris, reasoning from all the gossip he had heard,
and from all he certainly knew, concluded that the Greek lady had once
loved Basil, but did so no more, that her love had turned to Marcian,
and that she either knew or suspected Marcian to be a rival of Basil
for the love of Veranilda. Thus had matters stood (he persuaded
himself) until his own entrance on the scene. That a woman might look
with ardent eyes on more than one man in the same moment, seemed to
Sagaris the simplest of facts; he consequently found it easy to believe
that, even whilst loving Marcian, Heliodora should have conceived a
tenderness for Marcian's slave. That Heliodora's professions might be
mere trickery, he never imagined; his vanity forbade it; at each
successive meeting he seemed to himself to have strengthened his hold
upon the luxurious woman; each time he came away with a fiercer hatred
of Marcian, and a deeper resolve to ruin him. True, as yet, he had fed
only on promises, but being the man he was, he could attribute to
Heliodora a selfish interest in combination with a lover's desire; what
more intelligible than that she should use him to the utmost against
those she hated, postponing his reward until he had rendered her
substantial service? Thus did Sagaris feel and reason, whilst riding
along the Latin Way. His difficulty was to decide how he should act at
this juncture; how, with greatest profit to himself, he could do most
scathe to Marcian.

Was his master serving the Greeks or the Goths? Uncertainty on this
point had long troubled his meditations, and was now a cause of grave
embarrassment. Eager to betray, he could not be sure to which side
betrayal should direct itself. On the whole he himself favoured Totila,
feeling sure that the Goth would bring the war to a triumphant end; and
on this account he was disposed to do his errand faithfully. If the
king interrogated him, he could draw conclusions from the questions
asked, and could answer as seemed best for his own ends. So he decided
to push on, and, despite the storm which broke on this second morning,
he rode out from Venafrum.

A few hours' travel, and, drenched with the furious rain, he came to
Aesernia. This town stood in a strong position on an isolated hill; its
massive walls yet compassed it about. On arriving at the gate he found
himself unexpectedly challenged by armed men, who, though Italians, he
at once suspected to be in the Gothic service. A moment's hesitancy in
replying to the questions, 'Whence?' and 'Whither?' sufficed to put him
under arrest. He was led to the captain, in whom with relief he
recognised Venantius of Nuceria. His doubts being at an end, for he
knew that this Roman noble had long since openly joined Totila, he
begged that Venantius would hear him in private, and this being
granted, began by telling in whose service he was.

'I thought I somehow remembered your face,' said the captain, whose
look seemed to add that the face did not particularly please him. 'And
where is the lord Marcian?'

'In Rome, Illustrious.'

'You have come straight from Rome, then?'

The answer was affirmative and boldly given.

'And whither are you bound? On what business?'

Sagaris, still obeying his master's injunctions, declared that he
carried a verbal message to the King of the Goths, and for him alone.
Having reflected for a moment, Venantius called the soldier who stood
without the door.

'See to the wants of this messenger. Treat him hospitably, and bring
him hither again in an hour's time.'

The captain then walked to a house close by, where, admitted to the
atrium, he was at once met by an elderly lady, who bent respectfully
before him.

'Has the traveller yet risen?' he began by asking.

'Not yet, my lord. A little while ago his servant told me that he was
still sleeping.'

'Good; he will recover from his fatigue. But pray inquire whether he is
now awake, for I would speak with him as soon as may be.'

The lady was absent for a minute or two, then brought word that the
traveller had just awoke.

'I will go to his bedside,' said Venantius.

He was led to an upper chamber, a small, bare, tiled-floored room,
lighted by a foot-square window, on which the shutter was half closed
against the rays of the sun. Some aromatic odour hung in the air.

'Do you feel able to talk?' asked the captain as he entered.

'I am quite restored,' was the reply of a man sitting up in the bed.
'The fever has passed.'

'So much for the wisdom of physicians!' exclaimed Venantius with a
laugh. 'That owl-eyed Aesernian who swears by Aesculapius that he has
studied at Constantinople, Antioch, and I know not where else,
whispered to me that you would never behold to-day's sunset. I
whispered to _him_ that he was an ass, and that if he uttered the word
_plague_ to any one in the house, I would cut his ears off.
Nevertheless, I had you put into this out-of-the-way room, that you
might not be disturbed by noises. Who'--he sniffed--'has been burning
perfumes?'

'My good fellow Felix. Though travel-worn and wounded, he has sat by me
all the time, and would only go to bed when I woke up with a cool
forehead.'

'A good fellow, indeed. His face spells honesty. I can't say so much
for that of a man I have just been talking with--a messenger of your
friend Marcian.'

The listener started as though he would leap out of bed. A rush of
colour to his cheeks banished the heavy, wan aspect which had partly
disguised him, and restored the comely visage of Basil. A messenger
from Marcian? he exclaimed. With news for _him_? And, as if expecting a
letter, he stretched forth his hand eagerly.

'He has nothing, that I know of, for you,' said the captain. 'If he
tells the truth, he is charged with a message for the king.'

'Is it Sagaris--a Syrian slave?'

'A Syrian, by his looks; one I remember to have seen with Marcian a
year ago.'

'Sagaris, to be sure. Then you can trust him. He has the eye of his
race, and is a prating braggart, but Marcian has found him honest. I
must see him, Venantius. Will you send him to me, dear lord?'

Venantius had seated himself on a chair that was beside the bed; he
wore a dubious look, and, before speaking again, glanced keenly at
Basil.

'Did you not expect,' he asked, 'to meet Marcian in the king's camp?'

'My last news from him bade me go thither as fast as I could, as he
himself was leaving Rome to join the king. I should have gone a little
out of my road to visit his villa near Arpinum, on the chance of
hearing news of him there; but our encounter with the marauders drove
me too far away.'

'So much,' said Venantius, 'I gathered from your talk last night, when
you were not quite so clear-headed as you are now. What I want to
discover is whether this Syrian has lied to me. He declares that he
left Marcian in Rome. Now it happens that some of our men, who were
sent for a certain purpose, yesterday, along the Latin Way, came across
half a dozen horsemen, riding westward, and as their duty was, learnt
all they could from them. These six fellows declared themselves
servants of the bishop of Praeneste, and said that they had just been
convoying a Roman noble and a lady to a villa not far from Arpinum. And
the noble's name--they had it, said they, from his own servants at the
villa, where they had passed a night--was Marcian.'

Basil stared; he had gone pale again and haggard.

'What lady was with him?' he asked, under his breath.

'That I cannot tell you. The bishop's men knew nothing about her, and
had not seen her face. But'--Venantius smiled--'they left her safely
housed with our friend Marcian. How comes this Syrian to say that his
master is at Rome? Does he lie? Or did the horsemen lie? Or are there,
perchance, two Marcians?'

'I must speak with him,' said Basil. 'Leave me to find out the truth
for you. Send Sagaris here, Venantius, I entreat you.'

The captain appeared to hesitate, but, on Basil's beseeching him not to
delay, he agreed and left the room. As soon as he was alone, Basil
sprang up and dressed. He was aching from head to foot, and a parched
mouth, a hot hand, told of fever in his blood. On receipt of Marcian's
last letter, he had not delayed a day before setting forth; all was in
readiness for such a summons, and thirty well-mounted, well-armed men,
chosen from the slaves and freedmen on his Asculan estate in Picenum,
rode after him to join the King of the Goths. The journey was rapidly
performed; already they were descending the lower slopes of the
westward Apennine, when they had the ill-luck to fall in with that same
band of marauders which Marcian so narrowly escaped. Basil's first
thought was that the mounted troop coming towards him might hem the
Gothic service, but this hope was soon dispelled. Advancing with fierce
threats, the robbers commanded him and his men to alight, their chief
desire being no doubt to seize the horses and arms. Though outnumbered,
Basil shouted defiance; a conflict began, and so stout was the
resistance they met that, after several had fallen on either side, the
brigands drew off. Not, however, in final retreat; galloping on in hope
of succour, Basil found himself pursued, again lost two or three men,
and only with the utmost difficulty got clear away.

It was the young Roman's first experience of combat. For this he had
been preparing himself during the past months, exercising his body and
striving to invigorate his mind, little apt for warlike enterprise.
When the trial came, his courage did not fail, but the violent emotions
of that day left him so exhausted, so shaken in nerve, that he could
scarce continue his journey. He had come out of the fight unwounded,
but at nightfall fever fell upon him, and he found no rest. The loss of
some half dozen men grieved him to the heart; had the brave fellows
fallen in battle with the Greeks, he would have thought less of it; to
see them slain, or captured, by mere brigands was more than he could
bear. When at length he reached Aesernia, and there unexpectedly met
with Venantius, he fell from his horse like a dying man. A draught
given by the physician sent him to sleep, and from the second hour
after sunset until nearly noon of to-day he had lain unconscious.

What he now learnt from Venantius swept into oblivion all that he had
undergone. If it were true that Marcian had travelled in this direction
with a lady under his guard, Basil could not doubt for a moment who
that lady was. The jest of Venantius did not touch him, for Venantius
spoke, it was evident, without a thought of Veranilda, perhaps had
forgotten her existence; not the faintest tremor of uneasiness stirred
in Basil's mind when he imagined Veranilda at his friend's house;
Marcian had discovered her, had rescued her, had brought her thither to
rest in safety till her lover could join them--brave Marcian, truest of
friends! For this had he sent the summons southward, perhaps not daring
to speak more plainly in a letter, perhaps not being yet quite sure of
success. This had he so often promised--O gallant Marcian!

Quivering with eagerness, he stood at the door of his chamber.
Footsteps sounded; there appeared a slave of the house, and behind him
that dark, handsome visage which he was expecting.

'Sagaris! My good Sagaris!' he cried joyously.

The Syrian knelt before him and kissed his hand, but uttered no word.
At sight of Basil, for which he was not at all prepared, Sagaris felt a
happy shock; he now saw his way before him, and had no more anxiety.
But, on rising from the obeisance, he let his head drop; his eyes
wandered: one would have said that he shrank from observation.

'Speak low,' said Basil, standing by the open door so as to guard
against eavesdropping. 'What message have you for me?'

Sagaris replied that he had none.

'None? Your lord charged you with nothing for me in case you should
meet me on your way?'

Again Sagaris murmured a negative, and this time with so manifest an
air of confusion that Basil stared at him, suspicious, angry.

'What do you mean? What are you keeping from me?'

The man appeared to stammer incoherencies.

'Listen,' said Basil in a low, friendly voice. 'You know very well that
the lord Marcian has no secrets from me. With me you can speak in
entire confidence. What has come to you, man? Tell me--did your lord
leave Rome before or after you?'

'At the same time.'

No sooner had this reply fallen from his lips than Sagaris seemed
stricken with alarm. He entreated pardon, declared he knew not what he
was saying, that he was dazed by the weariness of travel.

'I should have said--neither before nor after. My lord remains in the
city. I was to return with all speed.'

'He remains in the city?'

Basil reflected. It was possible that Marcian had either purposely
concealed his journey from this slave, and had suddenly found himself
able to set forth just after Sagaris had started.

'You bear a letter for the king?' he asked.

'A letter, Illustrious,' answered the slave, speaking very low.

'Ah, a letter?'

Sagaris went on to say that he had kept this a secret from Venantius,
his master having bidden him speak of it to no one and deliver it into
the king's own hand.

'It is in the Gothic tongue,' he added, his head bent, his look more
furtive than ever; 'and so urgent that I have scarce rested an hour
since leaving the villa.'

A terrible light flashed into Basil's eyes. Then he sprang at the
speaker, caught him by the throat, forced him to his knees.

'Scoundrel, you dare to lie to me! So you started from the villa and
not from Rome?'

Sagaris cried out for mercy, grovelled on the floor. He would tell
everything; but he implored Basil to keep the secret, for, did his
master learn what had happened, his punishment would be terrible.

'Fool!' cried Basil fiercely. 'How come you to have forgotten all at
once that I am your lord's chosen friend, and that everything
concerning him is safe with me. In very deed, I think you have ridden
too hard in the sun; your brains must have frizzled. Blockhead! If in
haste, the lord Marcian did not speak of me, he took it for granted
that, should you meet me--'

Something so like a malicious smile flitted over the slave's
countenance that in extremity of wrath he became mute.

'Your Nobility is deceived,' said Sagaris, in the same moment. 'My lord
expressly forbade me to tell you the truth, should I see you on my
journey.'

Basil stared at him.

'I swear by the holy Cross,' exclaimed the other, 'that this is true.
And if I did not dread your anger, I could tell you the reason. I dare
not. By all the saints I dare not!'

A strange quiet fell upon Basil. It seemed as if he would ask no more
questions; he half turned away, and stood musing. Indeed, it was as
though he had already heard all the slave had to tell, and so overcome
was he by the revelation that speech, even connected thought, was at
first impossible. As he recovered from the stupefying blow, the blood
began to boil in his veins. He felt as when, in the fight of two days
ago, he saw the first of his men pierced by a javelin. Turning again to
Sagaris, he plied him with brief and rapid questions, till he had
learnt every detail of Marcian's journey from Rome to the villa. The
Syrian spoke of the veiled lady without hesitation as Veranilda, and
pretended to have known for some time that she was in a convent at
Praeneste; but, when interrogated as to her life at the villa, he
affected an affectation of doubt, murmuring that he had beheld nothing
with his own eyes, that perhaps the female slaves gossiped idly.

'What do they say?' asked Basil with unnatural self-control.

'They speak of her happy mien and gay talk, of her walking with my lord
in private. But I know nothing.'

Basil kept his eyes down for a long minute, then moved like one who has
taken a resolve.

'Show me the letter you bear,' he commanded.

Sagaris produced it, and having looked at the seal, Basil silently
handed it back again.

'Thrice noble,' pleaded the slave, 'you will not deliver me to my
lord's wrath?'

'Have no fear; unless in anything you have lied to me. Follow.'

They descended the stairs, and Basil had himself conducted to the house
where Venantius sate at dinner. He spoke with the captain in private.

'This slave has a letter, not merely a message, for the king. He says
it is urgent, and so it may be; but, from what I have learnt I doubt
whether he is wholly to be trusted. Can you send some one with him?'

'Nothing easier.'

'I,' continued Basil, 'ride straightway for Arpinum. Ask me no
questions, Venantius. When I return, if I do return, you shall know
what sent me there. I may be back speedily.'

He took food, and in an hour's time was ready to start. Of his
followers, he chose ten to accompany him. The rest remained at
Aesernia. Felix, worn out by watching and with a slight wound in the
side which began to be troublesome, he was reluctantly obliged to
leave. Having inquired as to the road over the mountains by which he
might reach Arpinum more quickly than by the Latin Way, he rode forth
from the town, and was soon spurring at headlong speed in a cloud of
dust.

His thoughts far outstripped him; he raged at the prospect of long
hours to elapse ere he could reach Marcian's villa. With good luck he
might arrive before nightfall. If disappointed in that, a whole night
must pass, an eternity of torment, before he came face to face with him
he had called his dearest friend, now his abhorred enemy.

What if he did not find him at the villa? Marcian had perhaps no
intention of remaining there. Perhaps he had already carried off his
victim to some other place.

Seeing their lord post so furiously, the men looked in wonder at each
other. Some of them were soon left far behind, and Basil, though
merciless in his frenzy, saw at length that his horse was seriously
distressed; he slackened pace, allowed his followers to rejoin him, and
rode, perforce, at what seemed to him a mere crawl. The sun was a
flaming furnace; the earth seemed to be overspread with white fire-ash,
which dazed the eyes and choked. But Basil felt only the fire in his
heart and brain. Forgetful of all about him, he had not ridden more
than a few miles, when he missed the road; his men, ignorant of the
country, followed him without hesitation, and so it happened that, on
stopping at one of the few farms on their way, to ask how far it still
was to Arpinum, he learnt that he must ride back for nearly a couple of
hours to regain the track he should have taken. He broke into frantic
rage, cursed the countrymen who directed him, and as he spurred his
beast, cursed it too because of its stumbling at a stone.

There was now no hope of finishing the journey to-day. His head on his
breast, Basil rode more and more slowly. The sun declined, and ere long
it would be necessary to seek harbourage. But here among the hills no
place of human habitation came in view. Luckily for themselves some of
the horsemen had brought provender. Their lord had given thought to no
such thing. The sun set; the hills cast a thickening shadow, even Basil
began to gaze uneasily ahead. At length there appeared a building,
looking in the dusky distance like a solitary country house. It proved
to be the ruin of a temple.

'Here we must stop,' said Basil. 'My horse can go no further. Indeed,
the darkness would stay us in any case. We must shelter in these walls.'

The men peered at each other, and a whisper went among them. For their
part, said one and all, they would rest under the open sky. Basil
understood.

'What! you are afraid? Fools, do as you will. These walls shall shelter
me though all the devils in hell were my bedfellows.'

What had come to him? asked his followers. Never had Basil been known
to speak thus. Spite of their horror of a forsaken temple, two or three
entered, and respectfully made offer of such food as they had with
them. Basil accepted a piece of bread, bade them see to his horse, and
crept into a corner of the building. He desired to be alone and to
think; for it seemed to him that he had not yet been able to reflect
upon the story told by Sagaris. What was it that lurked there at the
back of his mind? A memory, a suggestion of some sort, which would have
helped him to understand could he but grasp it. As he munched his bread
he tried desperately to think, to remember; but all within him was a
passionate misery, capable only of groans and curses. An intolerable
weariness possessed his limbs. After sitting for a while with his back
against the wall, he could not longer hold himself in this position,
but sank down and lay at full length; and even so he ached, ached, from
head to foot.

Perhaps an hour had passed, and it was now quite dark within the
temple, when two of the men appeared with blazing torches, for they, by
means of flint and iron, had lit a fire in a hollow hard by, and meant
to keep it up through the night as a protection against wolves. They
brought Basil a draught of water in a leather bottle, from a little
stream they had found; and he drank gratefully, but without a word. The
torchlight showed bare walls and a shattered roof. Having searched all
round and discovered neither reptile nor beast, the men made a bed of
leaves and bracken, with a folded cloak for a pillow, and invited their
master to lie upon it. Basil did so, turned his face away, and bade
them leave him alone.

What was that memory at the back of his mind? In the effort to draw it
forth he ground his teeth together, dug his nails into his hands. At
moments he forgot why he was wretched, and, starting up, strained his
eyes into the darkness, until he saw the face of Sagaris and heard him
speaking.

For a while he slept; but dreadful dreams soon awoke him, and,
remembering where he was, he shook with horror. Low sounds fell upon
his ear, movements, he thought, in the black night. He would have
shouted to his men, but shame kept him mute. He crossed himself and
prayed to the Virgin; then, raising his eyes, he saw through the broken
roof a space of sky in which a star shone brilliantly. It brought him
comfort; but the next moment he remembered Sagaris, and mental anguish
blended with his fears of the invisible.

Again sleep overcame him. He dreamt that an evil spirit, with a face he
knew but could not name, was pursuing him over trackless mountains. He
fled like the wind; but the spirit was close behind him, and wherever
he turned his head, he saw the familiar face grinning a devilish
mockery. A precipice lay before him. He leapt wildly, and knew at once
that he had leapt into fire, into hell. But the red gleam was that of a
torch, and before him, as he opened his eyes, stood one of his faithful
attendants who had come to see if all was well with him. He asked for
water, and the man fetched him a draught. It was yet long till dawn.

Now he could not lie still, for fever burned him. Though awake, he saw
visions, and once sent forth what seemed to him a yell of terror; but
in truth it was only a moan, and no one heard. He relived through the
fight with the marauders; sickened with dread at the gleam of weapons;
flamed into fury, and shouted with savage exultation as he felt his
sword cut the neck of an enemy. He was trying to think of Veranilda,
but all through the night her image eluded him, and her name left him
cold. He was capable only of hatred. At daybreak he slept heavily; the
men, approaching him and looking at his haggard face, thought better to
let him rest, and only after sunrise did he awake. He was angry that
they had not aroused him sooner, got speedily to horse, and rode off
almost at the same speed as yesterday. Now, at all events, he drew near
to his goal; for a ride of an hour or two he needed not to spare his
beast; sternly he called to his men to follow him close.

And all at once, as though his brain were restored by the freshness of
the morning, he grasped the thought which had eluded him. Marcian's
treachery was no new thing: twice he had been warned against his
seeming friend, by Petronilla and by Bessas, and in his folly he had
scorned the accusation which time had now so bitterly justified.
Forgotten, utterly forgotten, until this moment; yet how blinded he
must have been by his faith in Marcian's loyalty not to have reflected
upon many circumstances prompting suspicion. Marcian had perhaps been
false to him from the very day of Veranilda's disappearance, and how
far did his perfidy extend? Had he merely known where she was
concealed, or had he seen her, spoken with her, wooed her all along? He
had won her; so much was plain; and he could scarce have done so during
the brief journey to his villa. O villainous Marcian! O fickle, wanton
Veranilda!

So distinct before his fiery imagination shone the image of those two
laughing together, walking alone (as Sagaris had reported), that all
reasoning, such as a calmer man might have entertained, was utterly
forbidden. Not a doubt crossed his mind. And in his heart was no desire
but of vengeance.

At length he drew near to Arpinum. Avoiding the town, he questioned a
peasant at work in the fields, and learnt his way to the island. Just
as he came within view of the eastward waterfall, a girl was crossing
the bridge, away from the villa. Basil drew rein, bidding his men do
likewise, and let the girl, who had a bundle on her head, draw near. At
sight of the horsemen, of whom she was not aware till close by them,
the maid uttered a cry of alarm, and would have run back but Basil
intercepted her, jumped from his horse, and bade her have no fear, as
he only wished to ask a harmless question. Easily he learnt that
Marcian was at the villa, that he had arrived a few days ago, and that
with him had come a lady.

'What is that lady's name?' he inquired.

The girl did not know. Only one or two of the slaves, she said, had
seen her; she was said to be beautiful, with long yellow hair.

'She never goes out?' asked Basil.

The reply was that, only this morning, she had walked in the wood--the
wood just across the bridge--with Marcian.

Basil sprang on to his horse, beckoned his troop, and rode forward.



CHAPTER XXII

DOOM


When Marcian parted from Veranilda in the peristyle, and watched her as
she ascended to her chamber, he knew that sombre exultation which
follows upon triumph in evil. Hesitancies were now at end; no longer
could he be distracted between two desires. In his eye, as it pursued
the beauty for which he had damned himself, glowed the fire of an
unholy joy. Not without inner detriment had Marcian accustomed himself
for years to wear a double face; though his purpose had been pure, the
habit of assiduous perfidy, of elaborate falsehood, could not leave his
soul untainted. A traitor now for his own ends, he found himself moving
in no unfamiliar element, and, the irrevocable words once uttered, he
thrilled with defiance of rebuke. All the persistency of the man
centred itself upon the achievement of this crime, to him a crime no
longer from the instant that he had irreversibly willed it.

On fire to his finger-tips, he could yet reason with the coldest
clarity of thought. Having betrayed his friend thus far, he must needs
betray him to the extremity of traitorhood; must stand face to face
with him in the presence of the noble Totila, and accuse him even as he
had done to Veranilda. Only thus, as things had come about, could he
assure himself against the fear that Totila, in generosity, or policy,
or both, might give the Amal-descended maid to Basil. To defeat Basil's
love was his prime end, jealousy being more instant with him than
fleshly impulse. Yet so strong had this second motive now become, that
he all but regretted his message to the king: to hold Veranilda in his
power, to gratify his passion sooner or later, by this means or by
that, he would perhaps have risked all the danger to which such
audacity exposed him. But Marcian was not lust-bitten quite to madness.
For the present, enough to ruin the hopes of Basil. This done, the
field for his own attempt lay open. By skilful use of his advantages,
he might bring it to pass that Totila would grant him a supreme
reward--the hand of Veranilda.

Unless, indeed, the young king, young and warm-blooded however noble of
mind, should himself look upon Veranilda with a lover's eyes. It was
not the first time that Marcian had thought of this. It made him wince.
But he reminded himself that herein lay another safeguard against the
happiness of Basil, and so was able to disregard the fear.

He would let his victim repose during the heat of the day, and then,
towards evening, would summon her to another interview. Not much longer
could he hope to be with her in privacy; to-morrow, or the next day at
latest, emissaries of the Gothic king would come in response to his
letter. But this evening he should speak with her, gaze upon her, for a
long, long hour. She was gentle, meek, pious; in everything the
exquisite antithesis of such a woman as Heliodora. Out of very humility
she allowed herself to believe that Basil had ceased to love her. How
persuade her, against the pure loyalty of her heart, that he had even
plotted her surrender to an unknown fate? What proof of that could he
devise? Did he succeed in overcoming her doubts, would he not have gone
far towards winning her gratitude?

She would shed tears again; it gave him a nameless pleasure to see
Veranilda weep.

Thinking thus, he strayed aimlessly and unconsciously in courts and
corridors. Night would come again, and could he trust himself through
the long, still night after long speech with Veranilda? A blacker
thought than any he had yet nurtured began to stir in his mind, raising
its head like the viper of an hour ago. Were she but his--his
irredeemably? He tried to see beyond that, but his vision blurred.

Her nature was gentle, timid; the kind of nature, he thought, which
subdues itself to the irreparable. So soft, so sweet, so utterly woman,
might she not, thinking herself abandoned by Basil, yield heart and
soul to a man whom she saw helpless to resist a passionate love of her?
Or, if this hope deceived him, was there no artifice with which to
cover his ill-doing, no piece of guile subtle enough to cloak such
daring infamy?

He was in the atrium, standing on the spot where first he had talked
with her. As then, he gazed at the bronze group of the candelabrum; his
eyes were fixed on those of Proserpine.

A slave entered and announced to him a visit from one of the priests
whom he was going to see when the meeting at the bridge changed his
purpose. The name startled him. Was this man sent by God? He bade
introduce the visitor, and in a moment there entered a white-bearded,
shoulder-bowed ecclesiastic, perspiring from the sunshine, who greeted
him with pleasant cordiality. This priest it was--he bore the name
Gaudiosus--who had baptized Marcian, and had given him in childhood
religious teaching; a good, but timid man, at all times readier to
praise than to reprove, a well-meaning utterer of smooth things,
closing his eyes to evil, which confused rather than offended him. From
the same newsbearer, who told him of Marcian's arrival at the villa,
Gaudiosus had heard of a mysterious lady; but it was far from his
thought to meddle with the morals of one whose noble birth and
hereditary position of patron inspired him with respect; he came only
to gossip about the affairs of the time. They sat down together,
Marcian glad of the distraction. But scarce had they been talking for
five minutes, when again the servant presented himself.

'What now?' asked his master impatiently.

'My lord, at the gate is the lord Basil.'

Marcian started up.

'Basil? How equipped and attended?'

'Armed, on horseback, and with a number of armed horsemen.'

'Withdraw, and wait outside till I call you.'

Marcian turned to the presbyter. His cheeks were flushed, his eyes
strangely bright.

'Here,' he said, in low, hurried tones, 'comes an evil man, a deep-dyed
traitor, with the aspect of friendliest integrity. I am glad you are
with me. I have no leisure now to tell you the story; you shall hear it
afterwards. What I ask of you, reverend father, is to bear me out in
all I say, to corroborate, if asked to do so, all I state to him. You
may rely upon the truth of every word I shall utter; and may be assured
that, in doing this, you serve only the cause of good. Let it not
surprise you that I receive the man with open arms. He was my dear
friend; I have only of late discovered his infamy, and for the gravest
reasons, which you shall learn, I am obliged to mask my knowledge.
Beloved father, you will give me your countenance?'

'I will, I will,' replied Gaudiosus nervously. 'You would not deceive
me, I well know, dear son.'

'God forbid!'

Marcian summoned the waiting servant, and ordered that the traveller
should be straightway admitted. A few minutes passed in absolute
silence, then, as the two stood gazing towards the entrance, they saw
the gleam of a casque and of a breastplate, and before them stood
Basil. His arms extended, Marcian stepped forward.

'So soon, O brave Basil!' he exclaimed. 'What speed you must have made!
How long is it since my letter reached you?'

There passed the semblance of an embrace between them. Basil was death
pale; he spoke in hollow tones, as though his tongue were parched, and
looked with bloodshot eyes from Marcian to the ecclesiastic.

'I am travel-worn. Your hospitality must restore me.'

'That it shall,' replied Marcian. 'Or, better still,' he added, 'the
hospitality of my father Gaudiosus.' He touched the priest's arm, as if
affectionately. 'For here there is little solace; barely one chamber
habitable. You have often heard me describe, O Basil, my poor, ruinous
island villa, and now at length you behold it. I did not think you
would pass this way, or I would have prepared for your fitting
reception. By the greatest chance you find me here; and to-morrow I
must be gone. But scarce two thousand paces from here is the dwelling
of this reverend man, who will entertain you fittingly, and give you
the care you need; for it seems to me, dear Basil, that you are more
than wearied.'

The listener nodded, and let himself drop upon a seat near to where
Marcian was standing.

'What have you to tell me?' he asked under his breath.

'Nothing good, alas!' was the murmured reply.

'Shall we speak in private?'

'Nay, it is needless. All my secrets lie open to Gaudiosus.'

Again Basil cast a glance at the presbyter, who had seated himself and
appeared to be absorbed in thought.

'Do you mean,' he asked, 'that something new has befallen?'

His eyes were upon Marcian, and Marcian's upon those of Proserpine.

'Yes, something new. The deacon of whom you know has left Rome,
accompanying the Pope on his journey eastward. And with him he has
taken--'

A name was shaped upon the speaker's lips, but whether of purpose, or
because his voice failed him, it found no utterance.

'Veranilda?'

As Basil spoke, his eye was caught by the movement of a curtain at the
back of the room. The curtain was pushed aside, and there appeared the
figure of a maiden, pale, beautiful. Marcian did not see her, nor yet
did the priest.

'Veranilda?' repeated Basil, in the same questioning tone. He leaned
forward, his hand upon his wrist.

'She--alas!' was Marcian's reply.

'Liar! traitor! devil!'

At each word, Basil's dagger drank blood up to the hilt. With his
furious voice blended a yell of terror, of agony, a faint cry of horror
from Gaudiosus, and a woman's scream. Then came silence.

The priest dropped to his knees by Marcian's prostrate form. Basil, the
stained weapon in his crimson hand, stared at Veranilda, who also had
fallen.

'Man! What hast thou done?' gasped Gaudiosus.

The trembling, senile tones wakened Basil as if from a trance. He
thrust his dagger into its sheath, stepped to the back of the room, and
bent over the white loveliness that lay still.

'Is it death?' he murmured.

'Death! death!' answered the priest, who had just heard Marcian's last
sob.

'I speak not of that perjured wretch,' said Basil. 'Come hither.'

Gaudiosus obeyed, and looked with wonder at the unconscious face.

'Who is this?' he asked.

'No matter who. Does she live?'

Basil had knelt, and taken one of the little hands in both his own,
staining it with the blood of Marcian.

'I can feel no throb of life,' he said, speaking coldly, mechanically.

The priest bent, and put his cheek to her lips.

'She lives. This is but a swoon. Help me to bear her to the couch.'

But Basil took the slender body in his arms, and carried it like that
of a child. When he had laid it down, he looked at Gaudiosus sternly.

'Have you authority in this house?'

'Some little, perhaps. I know not. What is your will?'

Utterly confounded, his eyes dropping moisture, his limbs shaken as if
with palsy, the priest babbled his reply.

'Use any power you have,' continued Basil, 'to prevent more bloodshed.
Outside the gates are men of mine. Bid the porter admit them to the
outer court. Then call thither two servants, and let them bear away
_that_--whither you will. After, you shall hear more.'

Like an obedient slave, Gaudiosus sped on his errand. Basil the while
stood gazing at Veranilda; but he did not go very near to her, and his
look had nothing of tenderness. He saw the priest return, followed by
two men, heard him whisper to them, saw them take up and carry away
their master's corpse; all this as if it did not regard him. Again he
turned his gaze upon Veranilda. It seemed to him that her lips, her
eyelids moved. He bent forward, heard a sigh. Then the blue eyes
opened, but as yet saw nothing.

Gaudiosus reappeared, and Basil beckoned him.

'You do not know her?' he asked in a low voice.

'I never looked upon her face till now,' was the reply.

At the sound of their voices Veranilda stirred, tried to rouse herself,
uttered a sound of distress.

'Speak to her,' said Basil.

Gaudiosus approached the couch, and spoke soothing words.

'What dreadful thought is this?' said Veranilda. 'What have I seen?'

The priest whispered an adjuration to prayer. But she, raising her
head, cast terrified glances about the hall. Basil had moved further
away, and she did not seem to be aware of his presence.

'How long is it,' he asked, with his eyes upon Gaudiosus, 'since
Marcian came from Rome?'

'This is the fourth day. So I have been told. I myself saw him for the
first time not an hour--nay, not half an hour ago.'

'You knew not that he brought _her_ with him?'

Basil, without looking in that direction, signalled with his head
towards Veranilda.

'I had heard of some companion unnamed.'

'He had not spoken of her to you?'

'Not a word.'

On the tesselated floor where Marcian had fallen was a pool of blood.
Basil only now perceived it, and all at once a violent shudder went
over him.

'Man of God!' he exclaimed in a voice of sudden passion, terribly
resonant after the dull, hard accents of his questioning. 'You look
upon me with abhorrence, and, perhaps, with fear. Hearken to my
vindication. He whom I have slain was the man I held in dearest
friendship. I believed him true to the heart's core. Yesterday--was it
but yesterday?--O blessed Christ!--it seems to me so long ago--I
learned that his heart was foul with treachery. Long, long, he has lied
to me, pretending to seek with me for one I had lost, my plighted love.
In secret he robbed me of her. Heard you not his answer when, to catch
the lie on his very lips, I asked what news he could give me of her. I
knew that she was here; his own servant had secretly avowed the truth
to me. And you heard him say that she was gone on far travel. Therefore
it was that he would not harbour me in his house--me, his friend. In
the name of the Crucified, did I not well to lay him low?'

Somewhat recovered from the emotions which had enfeebled him, Gaudiosus
held up his head, and made solemn answer.

'Not yours was it to take vengeance. The God to whom you appeal has
said: "Thou shalt do no murder."'

'Consider his crime,' returned the other. 'In the moment when he swore
falsely I lifted up my eyes, and behold, she herself stood before me.
She whom I loved, who had pledged herself to me, who long ago would
have been my wife but for the enemy who came between us--she, hidden
here with him, become a wanton in his embraces--'

A low cry of anguish interrupted him. He turned. Veranilda had risen
and drawn near.

'Basil! You know not what you say.'

'Nor what I _could_ say,' he replied, his eyes blazing with scorn.
'You, who were truth itself have you so well learned to lie? Talk on.
Tell me that he held you here perforce, and that you passed the days
and the nights in weeping. Have I not heard of your smiles and your
contentment? Whither did you stray this morning? Did you go into the
wood to say your orisons?'

Veranilda turned to the priest.

'Servant of God I Hear me, unhappy that I am!'

With a gesture of entreaty she flung out her hands, and, in doing so,
saw that one of them was red. Her woebegone look changed to terror.

'What is this? His blood is upon me--on my hand, my garment. When did I
touch him? Holy father, whither has he gone? Does he live? Oh, tell me
if he lives!'

'Come hence with me,' said Gaudiosus. 'Come where I may hear you utter
the truth before God.'

But Veranilda was as one distraught. She threw herself on to her knees.

'Tell me he lives. He is but sorely hurt? He can speak? Whither have
they carried him?'

Confirmed in his damning thought by every syllable she uttered, Basil
strode away.

'Lead her where you will,' he shouted. 'I stay under this abhorred roof
only till my men have eaten and taken rest.'

Without knowing it, he had stepped into the pool of blood, and a red
track was left behind him as he went forth from the hall.



CHAPTER XXIII

THE RED HAND


Resting at length from desire and intrigue, Marcian lay cold upon the
bed where he had passed his haunted nights. About his corpse were
gathered all the servants of the house; men, with anger on their brows,
muttering together, and women wailing low because of fear. The girl who
had met the horsemen by the bridge told her story, whence it became
evident that Marcian's death was the result of private quarrel; but
some of the slaves declared that this armed company came in advance of
the Gothic host; and presently the loss of their master was all but
forgotten in anxiety as to their own fate at the hands of the Emperor.

This talk was interrupted by the approach of Basil's men, who came to
seek a meal for themselves and forage for their horses. Having no
choice but to obey, the servants went about the work required of them.
A quiet fell upon the house. The strangers talked little, and, when
they spoke, subdued their voices. In still chambers and corridors was
heard now and then a sound of weeping.

Basil, though he had given orders for departure as soon as the meal was
done, knew not whither his journey should be directed. A paralysis of
thought and will kept him pacing alone in the courtyard; food he could
not touch; of repose he was incapable; and though he constantly lifted
up his bloodstained hand, to gaze at it as if in bewildered horror, he
did not even think of washing the blood away. At moments he lost
consciousness of what he had done, his mind straying to things remote;
then the present came back upon him with a shock, seeming, however, to
strike on numbed senses, so that he had to say to himself, 'I have
slain Marcian,' before he could fully understand his suffering.

Veranilda was now scarce present to his mind at all. Something vaguely
outlined hovered in the background; something he durst not look at or
think about; the sole thing in the world that had reality for him was
the image of Marcian--stabbed, shrieking, falling, dead. Every minute
was the fearful scene re-enacted. More than once he checked himself in
his walk, seeming to be about to step on Marcian's body.

At length, seeing a shadow draw near, he raised his eyes and beheld
Gaudiosus. He tried to speak, but found that his tongue clave to the
roof of his mouth. Automatically he crossed himself, then caught the
priest's hand, and knelt and kissed it.

'Rise, my son,' said Gaudiosus, 'for I would talk with you.'

On one side of the courtyard was a portico with seats, and thither the
old man led.

'Unless,' he began gravely, 'unless the author of all falsehood--who is
so powerful over women--has entered into this maiden to baffle and
mislead me utterly, I feel assured that she is chaste; not merely
unsullied in the flesh, but as pure of heart as her fallen nature may
permit a woman to be.'

Basil gazed at him darkly.

'My father, how can you believe it? Did you not hear her lament because
the man was dead? It is indeed the devil that beguiles you.'

Gaudiosus bent his head, and pondered anxiously.

'Tell me,' he said at length, 'all her story, that I may compare it
with what I have heard from her own lips.'

Slowly at first, and confusedly, with hesitations, repetitions, long
pauses, Basil recited the history of Veranilda, so far as he knew it.
The priest listened and nodded, and when silence came, continued the
narrative. If Veranilda spoke truth she had never seen Marcian until he
took her from the convent at Praeneste. Moreover, Marcian had never
uttered to her a word of love; in his house she had lived as chastely
as among the holy sisters.

'What did she here, then?' asked Basil bitterly. 'Why did he bring her
here? You know, O father, that it was not in fulfilment of his promise
to me, for you heard his shameless lie when I questioned him.'

'He told her,' replied the priest, 'that she sojourned here only until
he could put her under the protection of the Gothic King.'

'Of Totila?' cried Basil. 'Nay, for all I know, he may have thought of
that--his passion being appeased.'

Even as he spoke be remembered Sagaris and the letter written in
Gothic. Some motive of interest might, indeed, have prompted Marcian to
this step. None the less was he Veranilda's lover. Would he otherwise
have kept her here with him, alone, and not rather have continued the
journey, with all speed, till he reached Totila's camp?

'When I left her,' pursued Gaudiosus, whose confidence in his own
judgment was already shaken by the young man's vehemence, 'I spoke in
private with certain of the bondswomen, who declared to me that they
could avouch the maiden's innocence since her coming hither--until
to-day's sunrise.'

Basil laughed with scorn.

'Until to-day's sunrise? And pray, good father, what befell her at that
moment? What whisper the Argus-eyed bondswomen?'

'They tell me,' replied the priest, 'that she went forth and met
Marcian, and walked with him in a wood, her own woman having been sent
back to the villa. This troubled me; but her voice, her countenance--'

'Helped by the devil,' broke in Basil. 'Reverend man, do not seek to
deceive yourself, or to solace me with a vain hope. I pray you, did
Marcian, when you came to visit him, speak of a lady whose virtue he
was sworn to guard? Plainly, not a word fell from him. Yet assuredly he
would have spoken had things been as you pretend.'

Gaudiosus, bent double, a hand propping his white-bearded chin, mused
for a little with sadded air.

'Lord Basil,' he resumed at length, 'somewhat more have I to say to
you. I live far from the world, and hear little of its rumour. Until
this day your name was unknown to me, and of good concerning you I have
to this hour heard nothing save from your own lips. May I credit this
report you make of yourself? Or should I rather believe what Marcian,
in brief words, declared to me when he heard that you were at his gate?'

The speaker paused, as if to collect courage.

'He spoke ill of me?' asked Basil.

'He spoke much ill. He accused you of disloyalty in friendship, saying
that he had but newly learnt how you had deceived him. More than this
he had not time to tell.'

Basil looked into the old man's rheumy eyes.

'You do well to utter this, good father. Tell me one thing more. Yonder
maiden, does she breathe the same charge against me?'

'Not so,' replied Gaudiosus. 'Of you she said no evil.'

'Yet I scarce think'--he smiled coldly--'that she made profession of
love for me?'

'My son, her speech was maidenly. She spoke of herself as erstwhile
your betrothed; no more than that.'

As he uttered these words, the priest rose. He had an uneasy look, as
if he feared that infirmity of will and fondness for gossip had
betrayed him into some neglect of spiritual obligation.

'It is better,' he said, 'that we should converse no more. I know not
what your purposes may be, nor do they concern me I remain here to pray
by the dead, and I shall despatch a messenger to my brother presbyter,
that we may prepare for the burial. Remember,' he raised his head, and
his voice struck a deeper note, 'that the guilt of blood is upon you,
and that no plea of earthly passion will avail before the Almighty
Judge. Behold your hand--even so, but far more deeply have you stained
your soul.'

Basil scarce heard. Numbness had crept over him again; he stared at the
doorway by which the priest re-entered the house, and only after some
minutes recalled enough of the old man's last words to look upon his
defiled hand. Then he called aloud, summoning any slave who might hear
him, and when the doorkeeper came timidly from a recess where he had
been skulking, bade him bring water. Having cleansed himself, he walked
by an outer way to the rear of the villa; for he durst not pass through
the atrium.

Here his men were busy over their meal, sitting or sprawling in a
shadowed place, the slaves waiting upon them. With a reminder that they
must hold themselves ready to ride at any moment, he passed on through
a large, wild garden, and at length, where a grove of box-trees
surrounded the ruins of a little summer-house, cast himself to the
ground.

His breast heaved, his eyes swelled and smarted, but he could not shed
tears. Face downwards, like a man who bites the earth in his last
agony, he lay quivering. So did an hour or more pass by.

He was roused by the voices of his men, who were searching and calling
for him. With an effort, he rose to his feet, and stepped out into the
sunshine, when he learnt that a troop of soldiers had just ridden up to
the villa, and that their captain, who had already entered, was asking
for him by name. Careless what might await him, Basil followed the men
as far as the inner court, and there stood Venantius.

'I surprise you,' cried out the genial voice with a cheery laugh. You
had five hours start of me. Pray, dear lord, when did you get here?'

Basil could make no reply, and the other, closely observing his strange
countenance, went on to explain that, scarcely started from Aesernia on
his way to the king, Marcian's messenger had met with Totila himself,
who was nearer than had been thought. After reading the letter, Totila
had come on rapidly to Aesernia, and had forthwith despatched Venantius
to the villa by Arpinum.

'You guess my mission, lord Basil,' he pursued, with bluff good-humour.
'Dullard that I was, the talk of a fair lady travelling in Marcian's
charge never brought to my mind that old story of Surrentum. Here is
our royal Totila all eagerness to see this maiden--if maiden still she
be. What say you on that point, dear lord? Nay, look not so fiercely at
me. I am not here to call any one to account, but only to see that the
Gothic beauty comes safe to Aesernia as soon as may be.'

'You will find her within,' muttered Basil.

'And Marcian? I might have thought I came inopportunely to this
dwelling, but that he himself wrote to the king that the lady was here.'

'You are assured of that?' Basil asked, under his breath.

'I have Totila's word for it, at all events. But you seem indisposed
for talk, lord Basil, and my business is with Marcian. The slaves all
look scared, and can't or won't answer a plain question. I have no time
to waste. Tell me, I pray you, where the lord of the villa may be
found.'

Basil summoned one of his followers.

'Conduct the lord Venantius to Marcian's chamber.'

It was done. Basil remained standing in the same spot, his eyes cast
down, till a quick step announced the captain's return. Venantius came
close up to him, and spoke in a grave but not unfriendly voice:

'The priest has told me what he saw, but will not say more. I ask you
nothing, lord Basil. You will make your defence to the king.'

'Be it so.'

'My men must rest for an hour,' continued Venantius. 'We shall ride
this afternoon as far as Aquinum, and there pass the night. I go now to
speak with Veranilda.'

'As you will.'

Basil withdrew into the portico, sat down, and covered his face with
his hands. Fever consumed him, and a dreadful melancholy weighed upon
his spirit. At a respectful distance from him, his followers had
assembled, ready for departure. The soldiers who had come with
Venantius, a score in number, were eating and drinking outside the
gates. Within, all was quiet. Half an hour elapsed, and Venantius again
came forward. Seeing Basil in the shadow of the portico, he went and
sat beside him, and began to speak with rough but well-meaning solace.
Why this heaviness? If he surmised aright, Basil had but avenged
himself as any man would have done. For his own part, he had never
thought enough of any woman to kill a man on her account; but such
little troubles were of everyday occurrence, and must not be taken too
much to heart. He had seen this Gothic damsel of whom there had been so
much rumour, and, by Diana I (if the oath were not inappropriate) her
face deserved all that was said of it. His rival being out of the way,
why should not Basil pluck up cheer? Totila would not deal harshly in
such a matter as this, and more likely than not he would be disposed to
give the maiden to a Roman of noble race, his great desire being to win
all Romans by generosity.

'Yonder priest tells me,' he added, 'that you were over hasty; that you
struck on a mere suspicion. And methinks he may be right. By the Holy
Cross, I could well believe this maiden a maiden in very deed. I never
looked upon a purer brow, an eye that spoke more innocently. Hark ye,
my good Basil, I am told that you have not spoken with her. If you
would fain do so before we set forth, I will be no hinderer. Go, if you
will, into yonder room'--he pointed to a door near by--' and when she
descends (I have but to call), you shall see her undisturbed.'

For a moment Basil sat motionless; then, without a word, he rose and
went whither Venantius directed him. But a few minutes passed before he
saw Veranilda enter. She was clad for travel, a veil over her face;
this, and the shadow in which Basil stood, made her at first unaware of
his presence, for Venantius had only requested her to enter this room
until the carriage was ready. Standing with bowed head, she sobbed.

'Why do you weep?' demanded an abrupt voice, which made her draw back
trembling.

Basil moved a little towards her.

'You weep for _him_?' he added in the same pitiless tone.

'For him, for you, and for myself, alas! alas!'

The subdued anguish of her voice did not touch Basil. He burned with
hatred of her and of the dead man.

'Shed no tears for me. I am cured of a long folly. And for you
consolation will not be slow in coming. Who knows but you may throw
your spell upon Totila himself.'

'You know not what you say,' replied Veranilda; not, as when she used
the words before, in accents quivering from a stricken heart, but with
sorrowful dignity and self-command. 'Is it Basil who speaks thus? Were
it only the wrong done me that I had to bear, I could keep silence,
waiting until God restored your justice and your gentleness. But,
though in nothing blameworthy, I am the cause of what has come about;
for had I not entered that room when I did, you would not have struck
the fatal blow. Listen then, O Basil, whilst I make known to you what
happened before you came.'

She paused to control herself.

'I must go back to the night when I left the convent. No one had told
me I was to go away. In the middle of the night I was aroused and led
forth, with me the woman who served me. We had travelled an hour or
two, perhaps, when some one standing by the carriage spoke to me, some
one who said he was Marcian the friend of Basil, and bade me have no
fears, for Basil awaited me at the end of the journey. The next day he
spoke to me again, this time face to face, but only a few words. We
came to this villa. You have been told, by I know not whom, that I was
light of heart. It is true, for I believed what Marcian had said to me,
and nothing had befallen to disturb my gladness. I lived with my
serving woman privately, in quiet and hope. This morning, yielding,
alas! to a wish which I thought harmless, I went forth with my
attendant to the waterfall. As I stood gazing at it, the lord Marcian
came forth on horseback. He alighted to speak with me, and presently
asked if I would go to see another fall of the river, across the
island. I consented. As we went, he dismissed my servant, and I did not
know what he had done (thinking she still followed), until, when we
were in a wood at the water's edge, I could no longer see the woman,
and Marcian told me he had bidden her go to fetch seats for us. Then he
began to speak, and what he said, how shall I tell you?'

There was another brief silence. Basil did not stir; his eyes were bent
sternly upon the veiled visage.

'Was it evil in his heart that shaped such words? Or had he been
deceived by some other? He said that Basil had forgotten me; that Basil
loved, and would soon wed, a lady in Rome. More than that, he said that
Basil was plotting to get me into his power, his purpose being to
deliver me to the Greeks, who would take me to Constantinople. But
Marcian, so he declared, had rescued me in time, and I was to be
guarded by the King of the Goths.'

The listener moved, raising his arm and letting it fall again. But he
breathed no word.

'This did he tell me,' she added. 'I went back to the villa to my
chamber. I sat thinking, I know not how long; I know not how long.
Then, unable to remain any longer alone, driven by my dreadful doubt, I
came forth to seek Marcian. I descended the stairs to the atrium. You
saw me--alas! alas!'

Basil drew nearer to her.

'He had spoken no word of love?'

'No word. I had no fear of _that_.'

'Why, then, did he frame these lies, these hellish lies?'

'Alas!' cried Veranilda, clasping her hands above her head. 'Did he
still live, the truth might be discovered. His first words to me, in
the night when he stood beside the carriage, sounded so kind and true;
he named himself the friend of Basil, said that Basil awaited me at the
journey's end. How could he speak so, if he indeed then thought you
what he afterwards said? Oh, were he alive, to stand face to face with
me again!'

'It is not enough,' asked Basil harshly, 'that I tell you he lied?'

She did not on the instant reply, and he, possessed with unreasoning
bitterness, talked wildly on.

'No! You believed him, and believe him still. I can well fancy that he
spoke honestly at first; but when he had looked into your face, when he
had talked with you, something tempted him to villainy. Go! Your tears
and your lamentations betray you. It is not of me that you think, but
of him, him, only him! "Oh, were he alive!" Ay, keep your face bidden;
you know too well it could not bear my eyes upon it.'

Veranilda threw back the long veil, and stood looking at him.

'Eyes red with weeping,' he exclaimed, 'and for whom? If you were true
to me, would you not rejoice that I had slain my enemy? You say you
were joyful in the thought of seeing me again? You see me--and with
what countenance?'

'I see not Basil,' she murmured, her hands upon her breast.

'You see a false lover, an ignoble traitor--the Basil shown you by
Marcian. What would it avail me to speak in my own defence? His voice
is in your ears, its lightest tone outweighing my most solemn oath.
"Oh, that he were alive!" That is all you find to say to me.'

'I know you not,' sobbed Veranilda. 'Alas, I know you not!'

'Nor I you. I dreamt of a Veranilda who loved so purely and so
constantly that not a thousand slanderers could have touched her heart
with a shadow of mistrust. But who are you--you whom the first gross
lie of a man lusting for your beauty utterly estranges from your faith?
Who are you--who wail for the liar's death, and shrink in horror from
the hand that slew him? I ever heard that the daughters of the Goths
were chaste and true and fearless. So they may be--all but one, whose
birth marked her for faithlessness.'

As though smitten by a brutal blow, Veranilda bowed her head,
shuddering. Once more she looked at Basil, for an instant, with wide
eyes of fear; then hid herself beneath the veil, and was gone.



CHAPTER XXIV

THE MOUNT OF THE MONK


Basil rode with his own man apart from Venantius and the soldiers who
guarded the conveyance in which sat Veranilda. Venantius, for his part,
would fain have lightened the way with friendly talk, but finding Basil
irresponsive, he left him to his gloomy meditations. And so they came
to Aquinum, where they passed the night.

By way of precaution, the captain set a guard before the house in which
his fellow-traveller slept, and at daybreak, as soon as he had risen,
one of the soldiers thus employed reported to him that the young Roman
had fallen into such distemper that it seemed doubtful whether he could
continue the journey; a servant who had slept at Basil's door declared
that all through the night his master had talked wildly, like one
fever-frenzied. Venantius visited the sick man, and found him risen,
but plainly in poor case for travel.

'Why, you will never mount your horse,' he opined, after touching
Basil's hand, and finding it on fire. 'This is what comes of a queasy
conscience. Take heart, man! Are you the first that stuck a false
friend between the ribs, or the first to have your love kissed against
her will? That it _was_ against her will, I take upon myself to swear.
You are too fretful, my good lord. Come, now! What are we to do with
you?'

'I can ride on,' answered Basil. 'Pay no heed to me, and leave me in
peace, I pray you.'

He was helped to horseback, and the cavalcade went forth again along
the Latin Way. This morning, no beam of sunrise shone above the
mountains; the heavens were sullen, and a hot wind blew from the south.
Even Venantius, though he hummed a song to himself, felt the sombre
influence of the air, and kept glancing uneasily backwards at the
death-pale man, who rode with head upon his breast. Scarcely had they
ridden for an hour at foot-pace, when a shout caught the captain's ear;
he turned, just in time to see Basil dropping to the ground.

'God's thunder!' he growled. 'I have been expecting this. Well if he
dies, it may save the king some trouble.'

He jumped down, and went to Basil's side. At first the sufferer could
not speak, but when water had been given him, he gazed at Venantius
with a strange smile, and, pointing before him, said faintly:

'Is not yonder Casinum?'

'It is. We will bear you thither for harbourage. Courage, friend!'

'Above, on the mountain,' continued Basil painfully, 'dwells my kinsman
Benedict, with his holy men. Could I but reach the monastery!'

'Why, perchance you may,' replied the captain. 'And in truth you would
be better cared for there.'

'Help me, good Venantius!' panted Basil, with eyes of entreaty. 'Let me
die in the monastery.'

In those days of pestilence, every fever-stricken person was an object
of dread to all but the most loving or the most courageous. The
stalwart Venantius thought for a moment of carrying Basil before him on
his horse, but prudence overcame this humane impulse. Into the
carriage, for the same reason (had there been no other), he could not
be put; but there was a vacant place beside the driver, and here,
supported with cords, he managed to keep his seat until they arrived at
Casinum.

Owing to its position on the highroad, trodden by so many barbaric
armies, this city had suffered repeated devastation. Its great
buildings stood desolate, or had fallen to utter ruin, and the country
around, once famous for its fertility, showed but a few poor farms.
What inhabitants remained dwelt at the foot of the great hill on whose
summit rose the citadel, still united with the town by two great walls.
After passing between the tombs on the Latin Way, memorials of citizens
long dead, the travellers entered by an unprotected gateway, and here
Venantius called a halt. Wishing to make no longer pause than was
needful to put the sick man in safety, he despatched a few soldiers
through the silent town to seek for means of conveying Basil up to the
monastery on the height. By good luck these emissaries came upon a
couple of monks, who lost no time in arranging for the conveyance of
the sufferer. A light cart drawn by two mules speedily appeared, and on
this Basil was laid. One only of his men did Venantius allow to
accompany him, the others were bidden ride on with the captain's own
soldiers to Aesernia.

'There you will find us all when you are on your legs again,' said
Venantius, 'unless by that time we have marched Romewards, in which
case you shall have a message. Trust me to look after all you left
there; I answer for its safety and for that of your good fellows. Keep
up heart, and God make you sound.'

Basil, couched on a bed of dry leaves, raised himself so as to watch
the troop as it rode forth again from the ruined gate. Whether she who
sat hidden within the carriage had heard of his evil plight he knew
not, and could not have brought himself to ask. The last of his own
horsemen (some of whom had taken leave of him with tears) having
vanished from sight, he fell back, and for a while knew nothing but the
burning torment in his brain.

The ascent of the mountain began. It was a rough, narrow road, winding
through a thick forest of oak and beech trees, here and there so steep
as to try the firm footing of the mules, and in places dangerous
because of broken ground on the edge of precipitous declivities. The
cart was driven by its owner, a peasant of Casinum, who at times sat
sideways on one of the beasts, at times walked by them; behind came the
two religious men, cowled, bare-footed; and last Basil's attendant on
horseback.

From Venantius the monks had learned who their charge was. His noble
origin, and still more the fact of his kindred with their beloved Abbot
Benedict, inspired in them a special interest. They spoke of him in
whispers together, compassionated his sufferings, remarked on the
comeliness of his features, and assured each other that they detected
in him no symptom of the plague. It being now the third hour, they
ceased from worldly talk and together recited their office, whereto the
peasant and the horseman gave pious ear.

Basil lay with closed eyes, but at a certain moment he seemed to become
aware of what was passing, crossed himself, and then folded his hands
upon his breast in the attitude of prayer. Having observed this, one of
the monks, his orisons finished, went up to the cart and spoke
comfortable words. He was a man in the prime of life, with cheek as
fresh as a maid's, and a step that seemed incapable of weariness; his
voice sounded a note of gentle kindness which caused the sufferer to
smile at him in gratitude.

'This tree,' he said presently, pointing to a noble beech, its bole
engraven with a cross, 'marks the middle point of the ascent. A weary
climb for the weak, but not without profit to him who thinks as he
walks--for, as our dear brother Marcus has said, in those verses we are
never tired of repeating:--

  "Semper difficili quaeruntur summa labore,
  Arctam semper habet vita beata viam."'

The other monk, an older man, who walked less vigorously, echoed the
couplet with slow emphasis, as if savouring every word. Then both
together, bowing their cowled heads, exclaimed fervently:

'Thanks be to God for the precious gifts of our brother Marcus!'

Basil endeavoured to utter a few words, but he was now so feeble that
he could scarce make his voice heard above the creak of the wheels.
Again he closed his eyes, and his companions pursued their way in
silence. When at length they issued from the forest they overlooked a
vast landscape of hill and valley, with heads of greater mountains high
above them. Here rose the walls of the citadel, within which Benedict
had built his monastery. For some distance around these ancient
ramparts the ground was tilled, and flourishing with various crops. At
the closed gateway of the old Arx, flanked by a tower, the monks rang,
and were at once admitted into the courtyard, where, in a few moments,
the prior and all his brethren came forward to greet the strangers.
Because of Basil's condition the ceremony usual on such arrivals was in
his case curtailed: the prior uttered a brief prayer, gave the kiss of
peace, and ordered forthwith the removal of the sick man to a
guest-chamber, where he was laid in bed and ministered to by the
brother Marcus, whose gifts as a healer were not less notable than his
skill in poesy. The horseman, meanwhile, as custom was with all
visitors, had been led to the oratory to hear a passage of Holy
Scripture; after which the prior poured water upon his hands, and
certain of the monks washed his feet.

Before sunset Basil lost consciousness of present things; and many days
went by before he again spoke as a sane man. When at length the fever
declined, and his head turned upon the pillow in search of a human
countenance, he saw standing beside him a venerable figure in the
monastic garb, whose visage, though wrinkled with age and thought, had
such noble vividness in its look, and wore a smile so like that of
youth in its half-playful sweetness, that Basil could but gaze
wonderingly, awestruck at once, and charmed by this unexpected
apparition.

'My son,' sounded in a voice grave and tender, 'be your first syllables
uttered to Him by whose omnipotent will you are restored to the life of
this world.'

With the obedience of a child he clasped his thin hands, and murmured
the prayer of childhood. Then the gracious figure bent over him. He
felt the touch of lips upon his forehead, and in the same moment fell
asleep.

It was night when he again woke. A little lamp revealed bare walls of
stone, a low, timbered ceiling, a floor of red tiles. Basil's eyes, as
soon as they were open, looked for the venerable figure which he
remembered. Finding no one, he thought the memory was but of a dream.
Feeling wonderfully at ease in body and calm in mind, he lay musing on
that vision of the noble countenance, doubting after all whether a
dream could have left so distinct an impression, when all at once there
fell upon his ear a far sound of chanting, a harmony so sweetly solemn
that it melted his heart and filled his eyes with tears. Not long
after, when all was silent again, he heard the sound of soft footsteps
without, and in the same moment the door of his cell opened. The face
which looked in seemed not quite unknown to him, though he could not
recall where he had seen it.

'You have slept long, dear brother,' said Marcus, with a happy smile.
'Is all well with you?'

'Well, God be thanked,' was the clear but faint reply.

The poet-physician, a small, nervous, bright-eyed man of some forty
years, sat down on a stool by the bedside and began talking cheerfully.
He had just come from matins, and was this morning excused from lauds
because it behoved him to gather certain herbs, to be used medicinally
in the case of a brother who had fallen sick yesterday. Touching a
little gold locket which Basil wore round his neck on a gold thread he
asked what this contained, and being told that it was a morsel of the
Crown of Thorns, he nodded with satisfaction.

'We questioned whether to leave it on you or not, for we could not open
it, and there was a fear lest it might contain something'--he smiled
and shook his bead and sighed--'much less sacred. The lord abbot,
doubtless'--here his voice sank--'after a vision, though of this he
spoke not, decided that it should be left. There was no harm, for all
that'--his eyes twinked merrily--'in tying this upon the place where
you suffered so grievously.'

From amid Basil's long hair he detached what looked like a tiny skein
of hemp, which, with an air singularly blended of shrewdness and
reverence, he declared to be a portion of a garb of penitence worn by
the Holy Martin, to whom the oratory here was dedicated. Presently
Basil found strength to ask whether the abbot had been beside him.

'Many times,' was the answer. 'The last, no longer ago than yestereve,
ere he went to compline. You would have seen him on the day of your
arrival, ere yet you became distraught, but that a heaviness lay upon
him because of the loss of a precious manuscript on its way hither from
Rome--a manuscript which had been procured for him after much
searching, only to be lost by the folly of one to whom it was
intrusted; if, indeed, it was not rather whisked away by the Evil One,
who, powerless for graver ill against our holy father, at times seeks
to discomfort him by small practice of spite. Sorrow for this loss
brought on a distemper to which his age is subject.'

Reminded all at once that he had no time to lose, Marcus threw open the
shutter, extinguished the lamp, and slipped away, leaving his patient
with eyes turned to the pale glimmer of dawn at the tiny window. Now
only did there stir in Basil clear recollection of the events which had
preceded his coming hither. Marcus's sly word in regard to the locket
had awakened his mind, and in a few moments he thought connectedly. But
without emotion, unless it were a vague, tender sadness. All seemed to
have happened so long ago. It was like a story he had heard in days
gone by. He thought of it until his brain began to weary, then again
came sleep.

A day or two passed. He had begun to eat with keen appetite, and his
strength increased hour by hour. On a Sunday, after the office of the
third hour, Marcus cheerily gave him permission to rise. This prompted
Basil to inquire whether his man, who had come with him, was still in
the monastery. Marcus, with eyes averted, gave a nod. Might he speak
with him, Basil asked. Presently, presently, was the answer. Marcus
himself aided the convalescent to dress; then having seated him in a
great chair of rude wickerwork, used only on occasions such as this,
left him to bask in a beam of sunshine. Before long, his meal was
brought him, and with it a book, bound in polished wood and metal,
which he found to be a Psalter. Herein, when he had eaten, he read for
an hour or so, not, however, without much wandering of the thoughts. He
had fallen into reverie, when his door opened, and there appeared
before him the Abbot Benedict.

Basil started up, stood for a moment in agitation, then sank upon his
knees, with head reverently bowed.

'Rise, rise, my son,' spoke the voice which had so moved him in his
vision of a week ago, a voice subdued by years, but perfectly steady
and distinct. 'Our good brother Marcus assures me that I may talk with
you a little while without fear of overtasking your strength--nay, sit
where you were, I pray you. Thanks be to God, I need not support for my
back.'

So saying, the abbot seated himself on the stool, and gazed at Basil
with a smile of infinite benevolence.

'Your face,' he continued, 'speaks to me of a time very far away. I see
in it the presentment of your father's father, with whom, when he was
much of your age, I often talked. His mother had a villa at Nursia, the
home of my youth. Once he turned aside from a journey to visit me when
I dwelt at Sublaqueum.'

The reminiscence checked his tongue he kept silence for a moment,
musing gravely.

'But these are old stories, my Basil, and you are young. Tell me
somewhat of your parents, and of your own life. Did not your good
father pass away whilst at Constantinople?'

Thus, with perfect simplicity, with kindliest interest in things human,
did Benedict draw the young man into converse. He put no question that
touched on the inner life, and Basil uttered not a word concerning his
late distress, but they touched for a moment upon public affairs, and
Basil learnt, without show of special interest, that Totila still
lingered in Campania.

'Your follower, Deodatus,' said the abbot presently, 'begs each day for
permission to see you. The good fellow has not lived in idleness; he is
a brave worker in wood, and by chance we much needed one of his craft.
Not many things of this world give me more pleasure than to watch a
cunning craftsman as he smooths timber, and fits the pieces together,
and makes of them something that shall serve the needs of men. Is it
not, in some sort, to imitate the great Artificer? Would, O Basil, that
our country had more makers and fewer who live but to destroy.'

'Would it were so, indeed!' sighed Basil, in a low, fervent voice.

'But the end is not yet,' pursued Benedict, his eyes gazing straight
before him, as if they beheld the future. 'Men shall pray for peace,
but it will not be granted them, so great are the iniquities of the
world which utters the name of Christ, yet knows Him not.'

He paused with troubled brow. Then, as if reminding himself that his
hearer had need of more encouraging words, he said cheerfully:

'To-morrow, perchance, you will have strength to leave your room.
Deodatus shall come to you in the morning. When you can walk so far, I
will pray you to visit me in my tower. You knew not that I inhabit a
tower? Even as the watchman who keeps guard over a city. And,' he added
more gravely, as if to himself rather than to the listener, 'God grant
that my watch be found faithful.'

Thereupon the abbot rose, and gently took his leave; and Basil, through
all the rest of the day, thought of him and of every word he had
uttered.

Not long after sunrise on the morrow, Deodatus was allowed to enter.
This man, whose age was something more than thirty, was the son of a
serf on Basil's land, and being of very peaceful disposition, had with
some reluctance answered the summons to arm himself and follow his lord
to the wars. Life in the monastery thoroughly suited his temper; when
Basil encouraged him to talk, he gave a delighted account of the way in
which his days were spent; spoke with simple joy of the many religious
services he attended, and had no words in which to express his devotion
to the abbot.

'Why, Deodatus,' exclaimed his master, smiling, 'you lack but the cowl
to be a very monk.'

'My duty is to my lord,' answered the man, bending his head.

'Tell me now whether any news has reached you, in all this time, of
those from whom my sickness parted us.'

But Deodatus had heard nothing of his fellows, and nothing of Venantius.

'It may be,' said Basil, 'that I shall send you to tell them how I
fare, and to bring back tidings. Your horse is at hand?'

As he spoke he detected a sadness on the man's countenance. Without
more words, he dismissed him.

That day he sat in the open air, in a gallery whence he could survey a
great part of the monastic buildings, and much of the mountain summit
on its western side. For an hour he had the companionship of Marcus,
who, pointing to this spot and to that, instructed Basil in the history
of what he saw, now and then reciting his own verses on the subject. He
told how Benedict, seeking with a little company of pious followers for
a retreat from the evil of the world, came to ruined Casinum, and found
its few wretched inhabitants fallen away from Christ, worshipping the
old gods in groves and high places. Here, on the mountain top, stood
temples of Jupiter, of Apollo, and of Venus. The house of Apollo he
purified for Christian service, and set under the invocation of the
Holy Martin. The other temples he laid low, and having cut down the
grove sacred to Apollo, on that spot he raised an oratory in the name
of the Baptist. Not without much spiritual strife was all this
achieved; for--the good Marcus subdued his voice--Satan himself more
than once overthrew what the monks had built, and, together with the
demons whom Benedict had driven forth, often assailed the holy band
with terrors and torments. Had not the narrator, who gently boasted a
part in these beginnings, been once all but killed by a falling column,
which indeed must have crushed him, but that he stretched out a hand in
which, by happy chance, he was holding a hammer, and this--for a hammer
is cruciform--touching the great pillar, turned its fall in another
direction. Where stood the temple of Venus was now a vineyard, yielding
excellent wine.

'Whereof, surely, you must not drink?' interposed Basil, with a smile.

'Therein, good brother,' replied Marcus, 'you show but little knowledge
of our dear lord abbot. He indeed abstains from wine, for such has been
the habit of his life, but to us he permits it, for the stomach's sake;
being of opinion that labour is a form of worship, and well
understanding that labour, whether of body or of mind, can only be
performed by one in health. This very day you shall taste of our
vintage, which I have hitherto withheld from you, lest it should
overheat your languid blood.'

Many other questions did Basil ask concerning the rule of the
monastery. He learned that the day was equitably portioned out (worship
apart) between manual and mental work. During summer, the cooler hours
of morning and afternoon were spent in the field, and the middle of the
day in study; winter saw this order reversed. On Sunday the monks
laboured not with their hands, and thought only of the Word of God. The
hours of the divine office suffered, of course, no change all the year
round: their number in the daytime was dictated by that verse of the
Psalmist: 'Septies in die laudem dixi tibi'; therefore did the
community assemble at lauds, at prime, at the third hour, at mid-day,
at the ninth hour, at vespers, and at compline. They arose, moreover,
for prayer at midnight, and for matins before dawn. On all this the
hearer mused when he was left alone, and with his musing blended a
sense of peace such as had never before entered into his heart.

He had returned to his chamber, and was reposing on the bed, when there
entered one of the two monks by whom he was conveyed up the mountain.
With happy face, this visitor presented to him a new volume, which, he
declared with modest pride, was from beginning to end the work of his
own hand.

'But an hour ago I finished the binding,' he added, stroking the
calf-skin affectionately. 'And when I laid it before the venerable
father, who is always indulgent to those who do their best, he was
pleased to speak kind things. "Take it to our noble guest," he said,
"that he may see how we use the hours God grants us. And it may be that
he would like to read therein."'

The book was a beautiful copy of Augustine's _De Civitate Dei_. Basil
did indeed peruse a page or two, but again his thoughts began to
wander. He turned the leaves, looking with pleasure at the fine initial
letters in red ink. They reminded him of his cousin Decius, whom a
noble manuscript would transport with joy. And thought of Decius took
him back to Surrentum. He fell into a dream.

On the morrow, at noon, he was well enough to descend to the refectory,
where he had a seat at the abbot's table. His meal consisted of a roast
pigeon, a plate of vegetables, honey and grapes, with bread which
seemed to him better than he had ever tasted, and wine whereof his
still weak head bade him partake very modestly. The abbot's dinner, he
saw, was much simpler: a bowl of milk, a slice of bread, and a couple
of figs. After the kindly greeting with which he was received, there
was no conversation, for a monk read aloud during the repast. Basil
surveyed with interest the assembly before him. Most of the faces
glowed with health, and on all was manifest a simple contentment such
as he had hitherto seen only in the eyes of children. Representatives
were here of every social rank, but the majority belonged to honourable
families: high intelligence marked many countenances, but not one
showed the shadow of anxious or weary thought.

These are men, said Basil to himself, who either have never known the
burden of life, or have utterly cast it off; they live without a care,
without a passion. And then there suddenly flashed upon his mind what
seemed an all-sufficient explanation of this calm, this happiness. Here
entered no woman. Woman's existence was forgotten, alike by young and
old; or, if not forgotten, had lost all its earthly taint, as in the
holy affection (of which Marcus had spoken to him) cherished by the
abbot for his pious sister Scholastica. Here, he clearly saw, was the
supreme triumph of the religious life. But, instead of quieting, the
thought disturbed him. He went away thinking thoughts which he would
fain have kept at a distance.

The ninth hour found him in the oratory, and later he attended vespers,
at which office the monks sang an evening hymn of the holy Ambrosius:--

  'O lux, beata Trinitas, et principalis Uuitas,
  Jam sol recedit igneus; infunde lumen cordibus.

  Te mane laudum carmine, te deprecemur vesperi,
  Te nostra supplex gloria per cuncta laudet saecula.'

The long sweet notes lingered in Basil's mind when he lay down to rest.
And, as he crossed himself before sleeping, the only prayer he breathed
was: '_Infunde lumen cordi meo_.'



CHAPTER XXV

THE ABBOT'S TOWER


On the morrow he rose earlier, talking the while with his servant
Deodatus. This good fellow continued to exhibit so deep an affection
for the life of the monastery that Basil was at length moved to ask him
whether, if he had the choice, he would veritably become a monk.
Deodatus looked at his master with eyes of pathetic earnestness, tried
in vain to speak, and burst into tears. Instructed by a vocation so
manifest, Basil began to read more clearly in his own heart, where, in
spite of the sorrows he had borne and of the troublous uncertainties
that lay before him, he found no such readiness to quit the world. He
could approve the wisdom of those who renounced the flesh, to be
rewarded with tranquillity on earth and eternal happiness hereafter;
but his will did not ally itself with his intellect. Moreover, was it
certain, he asked himself, that all who embraced the religious life
were so rewarded? In turning the pages of Augustine's work, he had come
upon a passage which arrested his eye and perturbed his thought, a
passage which seemed clearly to intimate that the soul's eternal
destiny had from the beginning of things been decided by God, some men
being created for bliss, more for damnation. Basil did not dwell
profoundly on this doubt; his nature inclined not at all to theological
scrutiny, nor to spiritual brooding; but it helped to revive in him the
energies which sickness had abated, and to throw him back on that
simple faith, that Christianity of everyday, in which he had grown up.

Going forth in the mellow sunshine, he turned his steps to a garden of
vegetables where he saw monks at work. They gave him gentle greeting,
and one, he who had brought the volume yesterday, announced that the
abbot invited Basil to visit him after the office of the third hour.
Thereupon all worked in silence, he watching them.

When the time came, he was conducted to the abbot's dwelling, which was
the tower beside the ancient gateway of the Arx. It contained but two
rooms, one above the other; below, the founder of the monastery studied
and transacted business; in the upper chamber he prayed and slept.
When, in reply to his knock at the study door, the voice, now familiar,
but for that no less impressive, bade him come forward, Basil felt his
heart beat quickly; and when he stood alone in that venerable presence,
all his new-born self-confidence fell away from him. Beholding the aged
man seated at a table on which lay books, amid perfect stillness, in
the light from a large window; before him a golden cross, and, on
either side of it, a bowl of sweet-scented flowers; he seemed only now
to remember that this was that Benedict whose fame had gone forth into
many lands, whose holiness already numbered him with the blessed saints
rather than with mortal men, of whom were recounted things miraculous.
Looking upon that face, which time touched only to enhance its calm,
only to make yet purer its sweet humanity, he felt himself an idle and
wanton child, and his entrance hither a profanation.

'Come and sit by me, son Basil,' said the abbot. 'I am at leisure, and
shall be glad to hear you speak of many things. Tell me first, do you
love reading?'

Basil answered with simple truth, that of late years he had scarce read
at all, his inclination being rather to the active life.

'So I should have surmised. But chancing to look from my upper window
not long after sunrise, I saw you walking with a book in your hand.
What was it?'

Basil murmured that it was the Book of Psalms.

'Look, then,' said Benedict, 'at what lies before me. Here is a
commentary on that book, written by the learned and pious Cassiodorus;
written in the religious house which he himself has founded, upon the
shore of "ship-wrecking Scylaceum," as saith Virgilius. Not a week ago
it came into my hands, a precious gift from the writer, and I have read
much in it. On the last of his many journeys, travelling from Ravenna
to the south, he climbed hither, and sojourned with us for certain
days, and great was my solace in the communing we had together.
Perchance you knew him in the world?'

Gladly Basil recounted his memories of the great counsellor. And the
abbot listened with an attentive smile.

'I marvel not that you loved him. Reading in these pages, I am
delighted by the graces of his mind, and taught by the sanctity of his
spirit. At the very beginning, how sweetly does his voice sound.
Listen. "Trusting in the Lord's command, I knock at the doors of the
heavenly mystery, that He may open to my understanding His flowery
abodes, and that, permitted to enter the celestial garden, I may pluck
spiritual fruit without the sin of the first man. Verily this book
shines like a lamp; it is the salve of a wounded spirit, sweet as honey
to the inner man. So much hath it of beauty for the senses, such
healing in its balmy words, that to it may be applied the words of
Solomon: 'A closed garden, and a fountain sealed, a paradise abounding
in all fruits.' For if Paradise be deemed desirable because it is
watered by the delightful flow of four rivers, how much more blessed is
the mind which is refreshed by the founts of one hundred and fifty
psalms!"'

Basil scarce heeded the sense of the passage read to him. He could hear
only the soft music of the aged voice, which lulled him into a calm
full of faith and trust.

'Is not this better,' asked Benedict gently, whilst his eyes searched
the young man's countenance, 'than to live for the service of kings,
and to utter worldly counsel?'

'Better far, I cannot doubt,' Basil replied with humility.

'Utter the rest of your thought,' said the abbot, smiling. 'You cannot
doubt--and yet? Utter your mind to me, dear son.'

'My father, I obey you, desiring indeed with all my soul to seek your
guidance. My heart has been too much in this world, and for one thought
given to things eternal, I have bestowed a hundred upon my own sorrows,
and on those of Italy.'

His voice faltered, his head drooped.

'I say not,' murmured the listener, 'that you do wrong to love your
country.'

'Holy father, I were a hypocrite if I spoke of my country first of all.
For all but a year gone by, another love has possessed me. Forgive me
that I dare to speak such a word before you.'

The abbot turned his eyes to the window. Upon the sill had settled two
doves, which seemed to regard him curiously. He made a soft gesture
with his hand, and the birds flew away.

'Speak on,' he said after brief reflection, and with the same
indulgence. 'He who tells all speaks not to man but to God.'

And Basil told all; told it with humble simplicity, with entire
truthfulness, recounting his history from the day when he first beheld
Veranilda to the dreadful hour when Marcian's blood stained his hands.
He began in calm, but the revival of emotions which had slept during
his sickness and his convalescence soon troubled him profoundly. Not
only did the dormant feelings wake up again, but things which he had
forgotten rushed into his memory. So, when he came to the last
interview with Veranilda, he remembered, for the first time since that
day, what he had said to her, and the recollection dismayed him. He
burst into tears, overwhelmed at once with misery and shame.

'It may be,' he sobbed, 'that she was innocent. Suffering had driven me
mad, and I uttered words such as never should have passed my lips. If
she is guiltless, there lives no baser man than I. For I reproached
her--my father, how you will scorn me!--I cast at her in reproach her
father's treachery.'

The abbot's brow rested upon his hand. It was thus he had listened,
unmoving, throughout the story; nor did he now stir, until Basil,
having ceased alike from speaking and from tears, had sat for a little
while in stillness and reflection. Then at length he turned his eyes
upon the young man, and spoke with sad gravity.

'Even so, even so. You gave your heart to a woman, and worshipped at
her feet, and behold there has come upon you the guilt of blood. Not,
you would protest, through your own fault; your friend was false to
you, and in just wrath you slew him. Who made you, O Basil, his judge
and his executioner?'

'Father, I seek not to excuse my sin.'

'It is well. And what penance will you lay upon yourself?'

Utterly subdued by awe, oblivious of his own will in the presence of
one so much more powerful, Basil murmured that whatever penance the man
of God saw fit to impose that would he perform.

'Nay,' said Benedict gently, 'that is too like presumption. Say rather,
you would endeavour to perform it. I will believe that if I bade you
fast long, or repeat many prayers, you would punctually obey me. But
what if I demanded of you that against which not only your flesh, but
all the motive of your life, rebelled? It were not too much; yet dare
you promise to achieve it?'

Basil looked up fearfully, and answered with tremulous lips:

'Not in my own strength; but perchance with the help of God.'

A grave smile passed over Benedict's countenance.

'It is well, my son; again, it is well. Come now, and let us reason of
this your sin. You avow to me that God and His commands have ever been
little in your mind, whereas you have thought much of this world and
its governance. I might ask you how it is possible to reflect on the
weal and woe of human kind without taking count of Him who made the
world and rules it; but let me approach you with a narrower inquiry.
You tell me that you love your country, and desire its peace. How comes
it, then, that you are numbered with the violent, the lawless, with
those who renounce their citizenship and dishonour the State? Could not
all your worldly meditations preserve you from so gross an incoherence
of thought and action?'

'Indeed, it should have done.'

'And would, perchance, had not your spleen overcome your reason. Why,
that is the case, O Basil, of all but every man who this day calls
himself a Roman citizen. Therefore is it that Italy lies under the
wrath of the Most High. Therefore is it that Rome has fallen, and that
the breath of pestilence, the sword of the destroyer, yea, earthquake
and flood and famine, desolate the land. Yet you here find little time,
my son, to meditate the laws of God, being so busied for the welfare of
men. Methinks your story has aimed a little wide.'

Basil bent low before this gentle irony, which softened his heart. The
abbot mused a moment, gazing upon the golden cross.

'In the days of old,' he continued, 'Romans knew how to subdue their
own desires to the good of their country. He who, in self-seeking,
wronged the State, was cast forth from its bosom. Therefore was it that
Rome grew mighty, the Omnipotent fostering her for ends which the
fulness of time should disclose. Such virtue had our ancestors, even
though they worshipped darkly at the altars of daemons. But from that
pride they fell, for their hearts were hardened; and, at length, when
heathendom had wellnigh destroyed the principle whereby they waxed, God
revealed Himself unto His chosen, that ancient virtue and new faith
might restore the world. To turn your thought upon these things, I sent
you the book written long ago by the holy father Augustine, concerning
the Divine State. Have you read in it?'

'Some little,' answered Basil, 'but with wandering mind.'

'Therein you will discover, largely expounded, these reasonings I do
but touch upon. I would have you trace God's working in the past, and,
by musing upon what now is, ripen yourself in that citizenship whereon
you have prided yourself, though you neither understood its true
meaning nor had the strength to perform its duties. Losing sight of the
Heavenly City for that which is on earth, not even in your earthly
service were you worthy of the name of Roman; and, inasmuch as you
wronged the earthly Rome, even so did you sin against that Eternal
State of the Supreme Lord whereof by baptism you were made a citizen.
By such as you, O Basil, is the anger of our God prolonged, and lest
you should think that, amid a long and bloody war, amid the trampling
of armies, the fall of cities, one death more is of no account, I say
to you that, in the eyes of the All-seeing, this deed of yours may be
of heavier moment than the slaughter of a battlefield. From your own
lips it is manifest that you had not even sound assurance of the guilt
you professed to punish. It may be that the man had not wronged you as
you supposed. A little patience, a little of the calm which becomes a
reasoning soul, and you might not only have saved yourself from crime,
but have resolved what must now ever be a doubt to your harassed
thoughts.'

'Such words did Veranilda herself speak,' exclaimed Basil. 'And I, in
my frenzy, thought them only a lamentation for the death of her lover.'

'Call it frenzy; but remember, O my son, that no less a frenzy was
every act of your life, and every thought, which led you on the path to
that ultimate sin. Frenzy it is to live only for the flesh; frenzy, to
imagine that any good can come of aught you purpose without beseeching
the divine guidance.'

Much else did the abbot utter in this vein of holy admonition. And
Basil would have listened with the acquiescence of a perfect faith, but
that there stirred within him the memory of what he had read in
Augustine's pages, darkening his spirit. At length he found courage to
speak of this, and asked in trembling tones:

'Am I one of those born to sin and to condemnation? Am I of those
unhappy beings who strive in vain against a doom predetermined by the
Almighty?'

Benedict's countenance fell; not as if in admission of a dread
possibility, but rather as in painful surprise.

'You ask me,' he answered solemnly, after a pause, 'what no man should
ask even when he communes with his own soul in the stillness of night.
The Gospel is preached to all; nowhere in the word of God are any
forbidden to hear it, or, hearing, to accept its solace. Think not upon
that dark mystery, which even to the understandings God has most
enlightened shows but as a formless dread. The sinner shall not brood
upon his sin, save to abhor it. Shall he who repents darken repentance
with a questioning of God's mercy? Then indeed were there no such thing
as turning from wrong to righteousness.'

'When I sent you that book,' he resumed, after observing the relief
that came to Basil's face, 'I had in mind only its salutary teaching
for such as live too much in man's world, and especially for those who,
priding themselves upon the name of Roman, are little given to
reflection upon all the evil Rome has wrought. Had I known what lay
upon your conscience, I should have withheld from you everything but
Holy Writ.'

'My man, Deodatus, had not spoken?' asked Basil.

'Concerning you, not a word. I did not permit him to be questioned, and
his talk has been only of his own sins.'

Basil wondered at this discretion in a simple rustic; yet, on a second
thought, found it consistent with the character of Deodatus, as lately
revealed to him.

'He has been long your faithful attendant?' inquired the abbot.

'Not so. Only by chance was he chosen from my horsemen to accompany me
hither. My own servant, Felix, being wounded, lay behind at Aesernia.'

'If he be as honest and God-fearing as this man,' said Benedict, 'whose
name, indeed, seems well to become him, then are you fortunate in those
who tend upon you. But of this and other such things we will converse
hereafter. Listen now, son Basil, to my bidding. You have abstained
from the Table of the Lord, and it is well. Today, and every day until
I again summon you, you will read aloud in privacy the Seven
Penitential Psalms, slowly and with meditation; and may they grave
themselves in your heart, to remain there, a purification and a hope,
whilst you live.'

Basil bowed his head, and whispered obedience.

'Moreover, so far as your strength will suffer it, you shall go daily
into the garden or the field, and there work with the brethren. Alike
for soul and for body it is good to labour under God's sky, and above
all to till God's earth and make it fruitful. For though upon Adam, in
whom we all died, was laid as a punishment that he should eat only that
which he had planted in the sweat of his brow, yet mark, O Basil, that
the Creator inflicts no earthly punishment which does not in the end
bear fruit of healing and of gladness. What perfume is so sweet as that
of the new-turned soil? And what so profitable to health? When the
Romans of old time began to fall from virtue--such virtue as was
permitted to those who knew not God--the first sign of their evil state
was the forgotten plough. And never again can Italy be blessed--if it
be the will of the Almighty that peace be granted her--until valley and
mountain side and many-watered plain are rich with her children's
labour. I do not bid you live in silence, for silence is not always a
good counsellor; but refrain from merely idle speech, and strive, O
Basil, strive with all the force that is in you, that your thoughts be
turned upward. Go now, my son. It shall not be long before I again call
you to my tower.'

So, with a look of kindness which did not soften to a smile, Benedict
dismissed his penitent. When the door had closed, he sat for a few
minutes with head bent, then roused himself, glanced at the clepsydra
which stood in a corner of the room, and turned a page or two of the
volume lying before him. Presently his attention was caught by the
sound of fluttering wings; on the window sill had again alighted the
two doves, and again they seemed to regard him curiously. The aged face
brightened with tenderness.

'Welcome,' he murmured, 'ye whose love is innocent.'

From a little bag that lay on the table he drew grains, and scattered
them on the floor. The doves flew down and ate, and, as he watched
them, Benedict seemed to forget all the sorrows of the world.



CHAPTER XXVI

VIVAS IN DEO


The telling of his story was to Basil like waking from a state of
imperfect consciousness in which dream and reality had
indistinguishably mingled. Since the fight with the brigands he had
never been himself; the fever in his blood made him incapable of wonted
thought or action; restored to health, he looked back upon those days
with such an alien sense that he could scarce believe he had done the
things he related. Only now did their move in him a natural horror when
he thought of the death of Marcian, a natural distress when he
remembered his bearing to Veranilda. Only now could he see in the light
of reason all that had happened between his talk with Sagaris at
Aesernia and his riding away with Venantius from the villa on the
island. As he unfolded the story, he marvelled at himself, and was
overcome with woe.

There needed not the words of the holy abbot to show him how blindly he
had acted. He could see now that, however it might appear, the guilt of
Marcian was quite unproved. The Syrian slave might have lied, or else
have uttered a mistaken suspicion. It might be true that Marcian had
been misled by some calumniator into thinking evil of his friend. And
had he not heard the declaration of Veranilda, that she had suffered no
wrong at his hands? Basil saw the face of his beloved. Only a man
possessed by the Evil Spirit could have answered her as he had done.
Was not the fact that Marcian had brought Veranilda to his villa in
order to give her into the hands of Totila sufficient proof that he had
neither wronged her nor meditated wrong? Ay, but Basil reminded himself
that he had accused Veranilda of amorous complicity with Marcian. And
at this recollection his brain whirled.

Even were it permitted him ever to behold her again, how could he stand
before her? Must she not abhor him, as one whose baseness surpassed all
she had thought possible in the vilest slave? Jealousy was pardonable;
in its rage, a man might slay and be forgiven. But for the reproach
with which he had smitten her--her, pure and innocent--there could be
no forgiveness. It was an act of infamy, branding him for ever.

Thoughts such as these intermingled with his reading of the Psalms of
penitence. Ever and again grief overwhelmed him, and he wept bitterly.
At the hour of the evening meal, he would willingly have remained in
his cell, to fast and mourn alone; but this, he felt, would have been
to shirk part of his penance; for, though the brothers knew not of his
sin, he could not meet their eyes for shame, and such humiliation must
needs be salutary. This evening other guests sat at the abbot's table,
and he shrank from their notice, for though they were but men of humble
estate, pilgrims from Lucania, he felt debased before them. The
reading, to which all listened during their meal, was selected from
that new volume of Cassiodorus so esteemed by the abbot; it closed with
a prayer in which Basil found the very utterance his soul needed.

'O Lord, our Teacher and Guide, our Advocate and Judge, Thou the
Bestower and the Admonitor, terrible and clement, Rebuker and Consoler,
who givest sight to the blind, who makest possible to the weak that
which Thou commandest, who art so good that Thou desirest to be for
ever petitioned, so merciful that Thou sufferest no one to despair;
grant us that which we ask with Thy approval, and yet more that which
in our ignorance we fail to beseech. How weak we are, Thou indeed
knowest; by what a foe we are beset, Thou art aware. In the unequal
contest, in our mortal infirmity, we turn to Thee, for it is the glory
of Thy Majesty when the meek sheep overcomes the roaring lion, when the
Evil Spirit is repulsed by feeble flesh. Grant that our enemy, who
rejoices in our offending, may be saddened by the sight of human
happiness. Amen.'

He rose, for the first time, to attend the midnight office, Deodatus,
who was punctual as a monk at all the hours, awaking him from sleep.
But Marcus whispered an admonishing word.

'I praise your zeal, good brother; nevertheless, as your physician, I
cannot suffer your night's rest to be broken. Descend for lauds, if you
will, but not earlier.'

Basil bowed in obedience. Lauds again saw him at prayer. Hitherto, when
they were together in the oratory, it had been the habit of Deodatus to
kneel behind his master; this morning Basil placed himself by his
servant's side. They walked away together in the pearly light of dawn,
and Basil led the way to a sequestered spot, whence there was a view
over the broad valley of the Liris. Several times of late he had come
here, to gaze across the mountainous landscape, wondering where
Veranilda might be. Turning to his companion, he laid a hand on the
man's shoulder, and addressed him in a voice of much gentleness.

'Did you leave nothing behind you, Deodatus, which would make the
thought of never returning to your home a sorrow?'

'Nothing, my dear lord,' was the reply. 'In my lifetime I have seen
much grief and little solace. All I loved are dead.'

'But you are young. Could you without a pang say farewell to the world?'

Deodatus answered timidly:

'Here is peace.'

Continuing to question, Basil learnt that for this man the life of the
world was a weariness and a dread. Hardships of many kinds had
oppressed him from childhood; his was a meek soul, which had no place
amid the rudeness and violence of the times; from the first hour, the
cloistered life had cast a spell upon him.

'Here is peace,' he repeated. 'Here one can forget everything but to
worship God. Could I remain here, I were the happiest of men.'

And Basil mused, understanding, approving, yet unable to utter the same
words for himself. His eyes strayed towards the far valley, shimmering
in earliest daylight. He, too, had he not suffered dread things whilst
living in the world? And could he expect that life in the future would
be more kindly to him? None the less did his heart yearn for that
valley of human tribulation. He struggled to subdue it.

'Deodatus, pray for me, that I may have strength to do that which I see
to be the best.'

It was no forced humility. Very beautiful in Basil's eyes showed the
piety and calm which here surrounded him, and his reverence for the
founder of this house of peace fell little short of that with which he
regarded the Saints in heaven. Never before--unless it were at certain
moments when conversing with the Lady Silvia--had he felt the
loveliness of a life in which religion was supreme; and never,
assuredly, had there stirred within him a spirit so devout. He longed
to attain unto righteousness, that entire purity of will, which, it now
seemed to him, could be enjoyed only in monastic seclusion. All his
life he had heard praise of those who renounced the world; but their
merit had been to him a far-off, uncomprehended thing, without relation
to himself. Now he understood. A man, a sinner, it behoved him before
all else to chasten his soul that he might be pleasing unto God; and
behold the way! For one who had sinned so grievously, it might well be
that there was no other path of salvation.

This morning he went forth with the monks to labour. Brother Marcus
conducted him to a plot of garden ground where there was light work to
be done, and there left him. Willingly did Basil set about this task,
which broke the monotony of the day, and, more than that, was in itself
agreeable to him. He had always found pleasure in the rustic life, and
of late, at his Asculan villa, had often wished he could abide in quiet
for the rest of his days amid the fields and the vineyards. Working in
the mellow sunlight, above him the soft blue sky of early autumn, and
all around the silence of mountain and of forest, he felt his health
renew itself. When the first drops of sweat stood upon his forehead he
wiped them away with earthy fingers, and the mere action--he knew not
why--gave him pleasure.

But of a sudden he became aware that he had lost something. From the
little finger of his left hand had slipped his signet ring. It must
have fallen since he began working, and anxiously he searched for it
about the ground. Whilst he was thus occupied, Marcus came towards him,
carrying a great basket of vegetables. Not without diffidence, Basil
told what had happened.

'You will rebuke me, holy brother, for heeding such a loss. But the
ring is very old; it has been worn by many of my ancestors, to them it
came, and from one who suffered martyrdom in the times of Diocletian.'

'Then, indeed, I did well,' replied Marcus, 'to leave it on your finger
during your sickness. I looked at it and saw that it was a Christian
seal. Had it been one of those which are yet seen too often, with the
stamp of a daemon, I should have plucked it off, and perhaps have
destroyed it. The ring of a blessed martyr I Let us seek, let us seek!
But, brother Basil,' he added gravely, 'has there passed through your
heart no evil thought? I like not this falling of the ring.'

Basil held up his wasted hand with a smile.

'True, true; you have lost flesh. Be thankful for it, dear brother; so
much the easier you combat with him whose ally is this body of death.
True, the ring may have fallen simply because your finger was so thin.
But be warned, O Basil, against that habit of mind which interprets in
an earthly sense things of divine meaning.'

'I had indeed let my thoughts dwell upon worldliness,' Basil admitted.

The monk smiled a satisfied reproof.

'Even so, even so! And look you! In the moment of your avowal my hand
falls upon the ring.'

Rejoicing together, they inspected it. In the gold was set an onyx,
graven with the monogram of Christ, a wreath, and the motto, 'Vivas in
Deo.' Marcus knelt, and pressed the seal to his forehead, murmuring
ecstatically:

'The ring of a blessed martyr!'

'I am all unworthy to wear it,' said Basil, sincerely hesitating to
replace it on his finger. 'Indeed, I will not do so until I have spoken
with the holy father.'

This resolve Marcus commended, and, with a kindly word, he went his
way. Basil worked on. To discipline his thoughts he kept murmuring,
'Vivas in Deo,' and reflecting upon the significance of the words; for,
often as he had seen them, he had never till now mused upon their
meaning. What was the life in God I Did it mean that of the world to
come? Ay, but how attain unto eternal blessedness save by striving to
anticipate on earth that perfection of hereafter? And so was he brought
again to the conclusion that, would he assure life eternal, he must
renounce all that lured him in mortality.

The brothers returning from the field at the third hour signalled to
him that for to-day he had worked enough. One of them, in passing, gave
him a smile, and said good-naturedly:

'Thou shalt eat the labour of thine hands; happy shalt thou be, and it
shall be well with thee.'

Weary, but with the sense of healthful fatigue, Basil rested for an
hour on his bed. He then took the Psalter and opened it at hazard, and
the first words his eyes fell upon were:

'Thou shalt eat the labour of thine hands; happy shalt thou be, and it
shall be well with thee.'

'A happy omen,' he thought. But stay; what was this that followed?

'Thy wife shall be as a fruitful vine by the sides of thine house; thy
children like olive plants round about thy table.

'Behold, thus shall the man be blessed that feareth the Lord.'

The blood rushed into his cheeks. He sat staring at the open page as
though in astonishment. He read and re-read the short psalm of which
these verses were part, and if a voice had spoken it to him from above
he could scarce have felt more moved by the message. Basil had never
been studious of the Scriptures, and, if ever he had known that they
contained such matter as this, it had quite faded from his memory. He
thought of the Holy Book as hostile to every form of earthly happiness,
its promises only for those who lived to mortify their natural desires.
Yet here was the very word of God encouraging him in his heart's hope.
Were not men wont to use the Bible as their oracle, opening the pages
at hazard, even as he had done?

It was long before he could subdue his emotions so as to turn to the
reading imposed upon him. He brought himself at length into the fitting
mind by remembering that this wondrous promise was not for a sinner, a
murderer; and that only could he hope to merit such blessing if he had
truly repented, and won forgiveness. Stricken down by this reflection
he grew once more humble and sad.

In the afternoon, as he was pacing alone in a little portico near the
abbot's tower, the prior approached him. This reverend man had hitherto
paid little or no attention to Basil. He walked ever with eyes cast
down as if in deep musing, yet it was well known that he observed
keenly, and that his duties to the community were discharged with
admirable zeal and competence. In the world he would have been a great
administrator. In the monastery he seemed to find ample scope for his
powers, and never varied from the character of a man who set piety and
learning above all else. Drawing nigh to Basil he greeted him gently,
and asked whether it would give him pleasure to see the copyists at
work. Basil gladly accepted this invitation, and was conducted to a
long, well-lit room, where, at great desks, sat some five or six of the
brothers, each bent over a parchment which would some day form portion
of a volume, writing with slow care, with the zeal of devotees and with
the joy of artists. Not a whisper broke upon the silence in which the
pen-strokes alone were audible. Stepping softly, the prior led his
companion from desk to desk, drawing attention, without a word, to the
nature of the book which in each case was being copied. It surprised
Basil to see that the monks busied themselves in reproducing not only
religious works but also the writings of authors who had lived in pagan
times, and of this he spoke when the prior had led him forth again.

'Have you then been taught,' asked the prior, 'that it is sinful to
read Virgil and Statius, Livy and Cicero?'

'Not so, reverend father,' he replied modestly, his eyes falling before
the good-humoured gaze. 'But I was so ill instructed as to think that
to those who had withdrawn from the world it might not be permitted.'

'Father Hieronymus had no such misgiving,' said the prior, 'for he
himself, at Bethlehem, taught children to read the ancient poets; not
unmindful that the blessed Paul himself, in those writings which are
the food of our spirit, takes occasion to cite from more than one poet
who knew not Christ. If you would urge the impurity and idolatry which
deface so many pages of the ancients, let me answer you in full with a
brief passage of the holy Augustine. "For," says he, "as the Egyptians
had not only idols to be detested by Israelites, but also precious
ornaments of gold and silver, to be carried off by them in flight, so
the science of the Gentiles is not only composed of superstitions to be
abhorred, but of liberal arts to be used in the service of truth."'

They walked a short distance without further speech, then the prior
stopped.

'Many there are,' he said, with a gesture indicating the world below,
'who think that we flee the common life only for our souls' salvation.
So, indeed, it has been in former times, and God forbid that we should
speak otherwise than with reverence of those who abandoned all and
betook themselves to the desert that they might live in purity and
holiness. But to us, by the grace bestowed upon our holy father, has
another guidance been shown. Know, my son, that, in an evil time, we
seek humbly to keep clear, not for ourselves only, but for all men, the
paths of righteousness and of understanding. With heaven's blessing we
strive to preserve what else might utterly perish, to become not only
guardians of God's law but of man's learning.'

Therewith did the prior take his leave, and Basil pondered much on what
he had heard. It was a new light to him, for, as his instructor
suspected, he shared the common view of coenobite aims, and still but
imperfectly understood the law of Benedict. All at once the life of
this cloister appeared before him in a wider and nobler aspect. In the
silent monks bent over their desks he saw much more than piety and
learning. They rose to a dignity surpassing that of consul or praefect.
With their pens they warred against the powers of darkness, a grander
conflict than any in which men drew sword. He wished he could talk of
this with his cousin Decius, for Decius knew so much more than he, and
could look so much deeper into the sense of things.

Days passed. Not yet did he receive a summons to the abbot's tower.
Rapidly recovering strength, he worked long in the fields, and
scrupulously performed his penitential exercises. Only, when he had
finished his daily reading of the appointed psalms, he turned to that
which begins: 'Blessed is every one that feareth the Lord, that walketh
in His ways.' How could he err in dwelling upon the word of God? One
day, as he closed the book, his heart was so full of a strange,
half-hopeful, half-fearful longing, that it overflowed in tears; and
amid his weeping came a memory of Marcian, a tender memory of the days
of their friendship: for the first time he bewailed the dead man as one
whom he had dearly loved.

Then there sounded a knock at the door of his cell. Commanding himself,
and turning away so as to hide his face, he bade enter.

And, looking up, he beheld his servant Felix.



CHAPTER XXVII

THE KING OF THE GOTHS


Transported from grief to joy, Basil sprang forward and clasped Felix
in his arms.

'God be thanked,' he exclaimed, 'that I see you alive and well! Whence
come you? What is your news?'

With his wonted grave simplicity, Felix told that he had long since
recovered from the effects of the wound, but had remained at Aesernia,
unable to obtain permission to go in search of his master. The Gothic
army was now advancing along the Via Latina; Basil's followers were
united with the troop under Venantius; and on their arrival at Casinum,
Felix succeeded in getting leave to climb to the monastery. He had been
assured that his lord had recovered health, and was still sojourning
with the holy men; but by whom this news had been brought he could not
say. Doubtless Venantius had held communication with the monastery.

'And you are here alone?' asked Basil, fearing still to utter the
question which was foremost in his mind.

'Alone of my lord's men. I followed those that came with the king.'

'The king? Totila is here?'

'It was rumoured,' replied Felix, in a reverent voice, 'that he desired
to speak of deep matters with the holy Benedict. They are even now
conversing.'

Basil fell into a great agitation. Absorbed in his private griefs, and
in thoughts of eternity, he had all but forgotten the purpose with
which he crossed the Apennines at the summons of Marcian. The name of
Totila revived his interest in the progress of the war, but at the same
time struck his heart with a chill misgiving. With what eyes would the
king regard Marcian's slayer? Was he more likely to pardon the deed if
he knew (as assuredly he must) that it was done in jealous love of
Veranilda? The words he had not dared to speak leapt to his lips.

'Felix, know you anything of the Gothic lady--of her whom we lost?'

'The lord Venantius brought her to Aesernia,' was the grave reply, 'and
she is now among the wives and daughters of the Gothic lords who move
with the army.'

Answering other questions, Felix said that he had not seen Veranilda,
and that he knew nothing of her save what he had heard from those of
Basil's men who had been at the island villa, and, subsequently, from
the gossip of the camp. A story had got abroad that Veranilda was the
lost princess of the Amal line surviving in Italy, and it was commonly
thought among the Goths that their king intended to espouse her--the
marriage to be celebrated in Rome, when Rome once more acknowledged the
Gothic ruler. This did Felix report unwillingly, and only because his
master insisted upon knowing all.

'Very like it is true,' commented Basil, forcing a smile. 'You know, my
good Felix, that the Emperor would fain have had her adorn his court;
and I would rather see her Queen of Italy. But tell me now, last of
all, what talk there has been of me. Or has my name been happily
forgotten?'

'My dear lord's followers,' replied Felix, 'have not ceased to speak of
him among themselves, and to pray for his safety.'

'That I gladly believe. But I see there is more to tell. Out with it
all, good fellow. I have suffered worse things than any that can lie
before me.'

In sad obedience, the servant made known that he and his fellows had
been closely questioned, first by Venantius, later, some two or three
of them, by the king himself, regarding their master's course of life
since he went into Picenum. They had told the truth, happy in that they
could do so without fear and without shame.

'And how did the king bear himself to you?' asked Basil eagerly.

'With that nobleness which became him,' was the fervid answer. 'It is
said among the Goths that only a lie or an act of cowardice can move
Totila to wrath against one who is in his power; and after speaking
face to face with him, I well believe it. He questioned me in few
words, but not as a tyrant; and when I had replied as best I could, he
dismissed me with a smile.'

Basil's head drooped.

'Yes, Totila is noble,' fell softly from him. 'Let be what will be. He
is worthier than I.'

A knock sounded again at the door of the cell, and there entered
Marcus. His keen and kindly face betrayed perturbation of spirit, and
after looking from Basil to the new comer and then at Basil again, he
said in a nervous voice:

'The lord abbot bids you repair at once, my brother, to the prior's
room.'

'I go,' was the prompt reply.

As they left the room, Marcus caught Basil's arm and whispered:

'It is the King of the Goths who awaits you. But have courage, dear
brother; his face is mild. Despite his error, he has borne himself
reverently to our holy father.'

'Know you what has passed between them?' asked Basil, also in a whisper.

'That none may know. But when Totila came forth from the tower, he had
the face of one who has heard strange things. Who can say what the
Almighty purposes by the power of his servant Benedict? Not unguided,
surely, did the feet of the misbelieving warrior turn to climb this
mount.'

Leaving the poet monk to nurse his hopes, Basil betook himself with
rapid steps to the prior's room. At the door stood three armed men; two
had the long flaxen hair which proclaimed them Goths, the third was
Venantius. A look of friendly recognition was all that passed between
Basil and his countryman, who straightway admitted him to the room,
announced his name, and retired. Alone--his attitude that of one who
muses--sat the Gothic King. He was bareheaded and wore neither armour
nor weapon; his apparel a purple tunic, with a loose, gold-broidered
belt, and a white mantle purple seamed. Youth shone in his ruddy
countenance, and the vigour of perfect manhood graced his frame. The
locks that fell to his shoulders had a darker hue than that common in
the Gothic race, being a deep burnished chestnut; but upon his lips and
chin the hair gleamed like pale gold. Across his forehead, from temple
to temple, ran one deep furrow, and this, together with a slight droop
of the eyelids, touched his visage with a cast of melancholy, whereby,
perhaps, the comely features became more royal.

Upon Basil, who paused at a respectful distance, he fixed a gaze of
meditative intentness, and gazed so long in silence that the Roman
could not but at length lift his eyes. Meeting the glance with grave
good nature, Totila spoke firmly and frankly.

'Lord Basil, they tell me that you crossed Italy to draw your sword in
my cause. Is this the truth?'

'It is the truth, O king.'

'How comes it then that you are laden with the death of one who had
long proved himself my faithful servant, one who, when you encountered
him, was bound on a mission of great moment?'

'He whom I slew,' answered Basil, 'was the man whom of all men I most
loved. I thought him false to me, and struck in a moment of madness.'

'Then you have since learnt that you were deceived?'

Basil paused a moment.

'Gracious lord, that I accused him falsely, I no longer doubt, having
had time to reflect upon many things, and to repent of my evil haste.
But I am still ignorant of the cause which led him to think ill of me,
and so to speak and act in a way which could not but make my heart burn
against him.'

'Something of this too I have heard,' said the king, his blue eyes
resting upon Basil's countenance with a thoughtful interest. 'You
believe, then, that your friend was wholly blameless towards you, in
intention and in act?'

'Save inasmuch as credited that strange slander, borne I know not upon
what lips.'

'May I hear,' asked Totila, 'what this slander charged upon you?'

Basil raised his head, and put all his courage into a brief reply.

'That I sought to betray the lady Veranilda into the hands of the
Greeks.'

'And you think,' said the king slowly, meditatively, his eyes still
searching Basil's face, 'that your friend could believe you capable of
that?'

'How he could, I know not,' came the sad reply. 'Yet I must needs think
it was so.'

'Why?' sounded from the king's lips abruptly, and with a change to
unexpected sternness. 'What forbids you the more natural thought that
this man, this Marcian, was himself your slanderer?'

'Thinking so, O king, I slew him. Thinking so, I defiled my tongue with
base suspicion of Veranilda. Being now again in my right mind, I know
that my accusation of _her_ was frenzy, and therefore I choose rather
to believe that I wronged Marcian than that he could conceive so base a
treachery.'

Totila reflected. All but a smile as of satisfaction lurked within his
eyes.

'Know you,' he next inquired, 'by what means Marcian obtained charge of
the lady Veranilda?'

'Of that I am as ignorant as of how she was first carried into
captivity.'

'Yet,' said the king sharply, 'you conversed with her after Marcian's
death.'

'Gracious lord,' answered Basil in low tones, 'it were miscalled
conversing. With blood upon my hands, I said I scarce knew what, and
would not give ear to the words which should have filled me with
remorse.'

There was again a brief silence. Totila let his eyes stray for a
moment, then spoke again meditatively.

'You sought vainly for this maiden, whilst she was kept in ward. Being
your friend, did not Marcian lend his aid to discover her for you?'

'He did so, but fruitlessly. And when at length he found her, his mind
to me had changed.'

'Strangely, it must be confessed,' said the king. His eyes were again
fixed upon Basil with a look of pleasant interest. 'Some day,
perchance, you may learn how that came about; meanwhile, you do well to
think good rather than evil. In truth, it would be difficult to do
otherwise in this dwelling of piety and peace. Is there imposed upon
you some term of penance? I scarce think you have it in mind to turn
monk?'

The last words, though not irreverently uttered, marked a change in
Totila's demeanour. He seemed to lay aside an unwonted gravity, to
become the ruler of men, the warrior, the conqueror. His forehead lost
its long wrinkle, as, with eyebrows bent and lips compressed into a
rallying half smile, he seemed to challenge all the manhood in him he
addressed.

'For that,' Basil replied frankly, 'I lack the calling.'

'Well said. And how tends your inclination as regards the things of
this world? Has it changed in aught since you came hither?'

'In nothing, O king,' was the firm response 'I honour the Goth, even as
I love my country.'

'Spoken like a man. But I hear that you have passed through a long
sickness, and your cheek yet lacks something of its native hue. It
might be well if you took your ease yet a little with these good
bedesmen.'

'It is true that I have not yet all my strength,' answered Basil.
'Moreover,' he added, lowering his voice, 'I would fain lighten my soul
of the sin that burdens it. It may be that, ere long, the holy father
will grant me absolution.'

Totila nodded with a grave smile.

'Be it so. When you are sound in flesh and spirit, follow me northward.
I shall then have more to say to you.'

The look accompanying these words lent them a significance which put
confusion into Basil's mind. He saw the courteous gesture wherewith the
king dismissed him; he bowed and withdrew; but when he had left the
room he stood as one bewildered, aware of nothing, his eyes turned
vacantly upon some one who addressed him. Presently he found himself
walking apart with Venantius, who spoke to him of public affairs,
apprised him of the course of the war during these past weeks, and
uttered the hope that before the end of the year the liberators would
enter Rome. It was true that the Emperor had at length charged
Belisarius with the task of reconquering Italy, but months must pass
before an army could be assembled and transported; by the latest news
the great commander was in Illyria, striving to make a force out of
fresh-recruited barbarians, and lamenting the avarice of Justinian
which grudged him needful supplies. And as he listened to all this,
Basil felt a new ardour glow within him. He had ever worshipped the man
of heroic virtues; once upon a time it was Belisarius who fired his
zeal; now his eyes dazzled with the glory of Totila; he burned to
devote a loyal service to this brave and noble king.

Suddenly there sounded a trumpet. Its note broke strangely upon the
monastic stillness, and, in a moment, echoed clear from the mountains.

'The king goes forth,' said Venantius. 'I must leave you. Join us
speedily yonder.'

He pointed towards Rome. On Basil's lips quivered a word, a question,
but before it could be uttered the soldier had stridden away, his
casque gleaming in the sun, and his sword clanking beside him.

Again with mind confused, Basil went to his cell, and sat there head on
hand, trying to recover the mood, the thoughts, with which he had risen
this morning. But everything was changed. He could no longer think of
the past; the future called to him, and its voice was like that of the
Gothic trumpet, stirring his blood, urging him to activity. At midday
some one knocked, and there entered Deodatus.

'Where is Felix?' was Basil's first question.

Felix was gone, but only to the town at the foot of the mountain, where
he and two of his fellows would abide until their master left the
monastery. With this message Deodatus had been charged by Venantius. He
added that Felix had been dismissed, at the abbot's order, during
Basil's interview with the king.

'I understand,' said Basil in himself; and during the rest of the day
he strove with all the force of his will to recover calm and pious
thoughts. In the night that followed he slept little; it was now the
image of Veranilda that hovered before him and kept him wakeful,
perturbed with a tender longing. God, it might be, would pardon him his
offence against the Divine law; but could he look for forgiveness from
Veranilda? When he thought of the king's last words he was lured with
hope; when he reasoned upon this hope, it turned to a mocking
emptiness. And through the next day, and the next again, his struggle
still went on. He worked and prayed as usual, and read the Psalms of
penitence not once only, but several times in the four-and-twenty
hours; that other psalm, to which he had turned for strengthening of
the spirit, he no longer dared to open. And all this time he scarce
spoke with any one; not that the brethren looked upon him with less
kindness, or held him at a distance, but the rebuke of his own
conscience kept him mute. He felt that his communion with these holy
men was in seeming only, and it shamed him to contrast their quiet
service of the Eternal with the turbid worldliness of his own thoughts.

During these days the abbot was not seen. Venturing, at length, when he
happened to find himself alone with Marcus, to speak of this, he learnt
that the holy father was not in his wonted health; Marcus added that
the disorder had resulted from the visit of the king. After Totila's
departure, Benedict had passed hours in solitary prayer, until a
faintness came upon him, from which he could not yet recover. Basil was
turning away sadly, when the monk touched his arm, and said in a
troubled voice:

'Many times he has spoken of you, dear brother.'

'Would,' replied Basil, 'that I were worthy of his thoughts.'

'Did he think you unworthy,' said Marcus, 'he would not grieve that you
must so soon go from among us.'

'The holy father has said that I must soon leave you?'

Marcus nodded gravely, and walked away.

Another week passed. By stern self-discipline, Basil had fixed his
thoughts once more on things spiritual, and the result appeared in a
quiet contentment. He waited upon the will of Benedict, which he had
come to regard as one with the will of God. And at length the expected
summons came. It was on the evening of Saturday, after vespers; the
abbot had been present at the office, and, as he went forth from the
oratory, he bade Basil follow him. They entered the tower, and
Benedict, who walked feebly, sat for some moments silent in his chair,
as if he had need of repose before the effort of speaking. Through the
window streamed a warm light, illumining the aged face turned thither
with eyes which dreamt upon the vanishing day.

'So you are no longer impatient to be gone?' were the abbot's first
words, spoken in a voice which had not lost its music, though weakness
made it low.

'My father,' answered Basil, 'I have striven with myself and God has
helped me.'

He knew that it was needless to say more. The eyes bent upon him read
all his thoughts; the confessions, the pleadings, he might have
uttered, all lay open before that calm intelligence.'

'It is true, dear son,' said Benedict, 'that you have fought bravely,
and your countenance declares that, in some measure, victory has been
granted you. That it is not the complete victory of those who put the
world for ever beneath their feet, shall not move me to murmur. The
Lord of the vineyard biddeth whom He will; not all are called to the
same labour; it may be--for in this matter I see but darkly--it may be
that the earthly strife to which your heart impels you shall serve the
glory of the Highest. As indeed doth every act of man, for how can it
be otherwise? But I speak of the thought, the purpose, whereby 'in the
end of all things, all must be judged.'

Basil heard these sentences with a deep joy. There was silence, and
when the aged voice again spoke, it was in a tone yet more solemn.
Benedict had risen.

'Answer me, my son, and speak as in the presence of God, whom I humbly
serve. Do you truly repent of the sin whereof you made confession to
me?'

Kneeling, Basil declared his penitence. Thereupon, Benedict, looking
upwards, opened his lips in prayer.

'Receive, O Lord, our humble supplications, and to me, who above all
have need of Thy compassion, graciously give ear. Spare Thou this
penitent, that, by Thy mercy, he may escape condemnation in the
judgment to come. Let him not know the dread of darkness, nor the pang
of fire. Having turned from his way of error into the path of
righteousness, be he not again stricken with the wounds of sin, but
grant Thou that there abide with him for ever that soul's health which
Thy grace hath bestowed and Thy mercy hath established.'

As he listened, Basil's eyes filled with tears, and when bidden to rise
he felt as one who has thrown off a burden; rejoicing in his recovered
strength of body and soul, he gazed into that venerable face with
gratitude too great for words.

'Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth.' It was with a
parent's tenderness that Benedict now spoke. 'I am old, O Basil, and
have but a few more steps to take upon this earth. Looking upon me, you
see long promise of life before you. And yet--'

The soft accents were suspended. For a moment Benedict gazed as though
into the future; then, with a wave of his hand, passed to another
thought.

'To-morrow you will join with us in the Holy Communion. You will pass
the day in sober joy among the brethren, not one of whom but shares
your gladness and desires your welfare. And at sunrise on the day
after, you will go forth from our gates. Whether to return, I know not;
be that with the Ruler of All. If again you climb this mount, I shall
not be here to bid you welcome. Pray humbly, even as I do, that we may
meet in the life eternal.'

After Mass on the morrow, when he had joyfully partaken of the
Eucharist, Basil was bidden to the priest's room. This time it was the
prior himself who received him, and with an address which indicated the
change in the position of the penitent, now become an ordinary guest.

'Lord Basil, your follower, Deodatus, is minded to fulfil the prophecy
of his name, and tells me that it would be with your good will. Are you
content to deprive yourself of his service, that he may continue to
abide with us, and after due preparation, take the vows of our
community?'

'Content,' was the reply, 'and more than content. If ever man seemed
born for the holy life, it is he. I entreat you, reverend father, to
favour his desire.'

'Be it so. I have spoken of this matter with the lord abbot, who has
graciously given his consent. Let me now make known to you that, at
sunrise to-morrow, your attendants who have been sojourning at Casinum,
will await you by the gate of the monastery. I wish you, dear lord, a
fair journey. Let your thoughts sometimes turn to us; by us you will
ever be remembered.'

Long before the morrow's sunrise, Basil was stirring. By the light of
his little lamp, he and Deodatus conversed together, no longer as
master and servant, but as loving friends, until the bell called them
to matins. The night was chill; under a glistening moon all the valley
land was seen to be deep covered with far-spreading mist, whereamid the
mount of the monastery and the dark summits round about rose like
islands in a still, white sea. When matins and lauds were over, many of
the monks embraced and tenderly took leave of the departing guest. The
last to do so was Marcus, who led him aside and whispered:

'I see you have again put on your ring, as was right. Let me, I beg of
you, once more touch it with my lips.'

Having done so with the utmost reverence, he clasped Basil in his arms,
kissed him on either cheek, and said, amid tears:

'Lest we should never meet again, take and keep this; not for its
worth, for God knows it has little, but in memory of my love.'

The gift was a little book, a beautifully written copy of all the
verses composed by the good Marcus in honour of Benedict and of the
Sacred Mount of Casinum.

Holding it against his heart, Basil rode down into the mist.



CHAPTER XXVIII

AT HADRIAN'S VILLA


Rome waited. It was not long to the setting of the Pleiades, and there
could be no hope that the new army from the East would enter Italy this
year. Belisarius lay on the other side of Hadria; in Italy the Imperial
commanders scarce moved from the walls where each had found safety.
Already suffering dearth (for Totila now had ships upon the Tyrrhene
Sea, hindering the corn vessels that made for Portus), such of her
citizens as had hope elsewhere and could escape, making haste to flee,
watching the slow advance of the Gothic conqueror, and fearful of the
leaguer which must presently begin, Rome waited.

One morning the attention of those who went about the streets was
caught by certain written papers which had been fixed during the night
on the entrance of public buildings and at other such conspicuous
points; they bore a proclamation of the King of the Goths. Reminding
the Roman people that nearly the whole of Italy was now his, and urging
them to avoid the useless sufferings of a siege, Totila made promise
that, were the city surrendered to him, neither hurt nor loss should
befall one of the inhabitants; and that under his rule Rome should have
the same liberty, the same honour, as in the time of the glorious
Theodoric. Before these papers had been torn down, their purport became
universally known; everywhere men whispered together; but those who
would have welcomed the coming of Totila could not act upon their wish,
and the Greeks were confident of relief long ere the city could be
taken by storm or brought to extremities. Bessas well knew the numbers
of Totila's army; he himself commanded a garrison of three thousand
men, and not much larger than this was the force with which, after
leaving soldiers to maintain his conquest throughout the land, the king
now drew towards Rome. At the proclamation Bessas laughed, for he saw
in it a device dictated by weakness.

And now, in these days of late autumn, the Gothic army lay all but in
sight. Watchers from the walls pointed eastward, to where on its
height, encircled by the foaming Anio, stood the little town of Tibur;
this, a stronghold overlooking the Ager Romanus, Totila had turned
aside to besiege. The place must soon yield to him. How long before his
horsemen came riding along the Tiburtine Way?

Close by Tibur, on a gently rising slope, sheltered by mountains alike
from northern winds and from the unwholesome breathing of the south,
stood the vast pleasure-house built by the Emperor Hadrian, with its
presentment in little of the scenes and architecture which had most
impressed him in his travels throughout the Roman world. The lapse of
four hundred years had restored to nature his artificial landscape: the
Vale of Tempe had forgotten its name; Peneus and Alpheus flowed
unnoticed through tracts of wood or wilderness; but upon the multitude
of edifices, the dwellings, theatres, hippodromes, galleries, lecture
halls, no destroyer's hand had yet fallen. They abounded in things
beautiful, in carving and mosaic, in wall-painting and tapestries, in
statues which had been the glory of Greece, and in marble portraiture
which was the boast of Rome. Here, amid the decay of ancient splendour
and the luxuriance of the triumphing earth, King Totila made his
momentary abode; with him, in Hadrian's palace, housed the Gothic
warrior-nobles, and a number of ladies, their wives and relatives, who
made, as it were, a wandering court. Honour, pride, and cheerful
courage were the notable characteristics of these Gothic women. What
graces they had they owed to nature, not to any cultivation of the
mind. Their health Buffered in a nomadic life from the ills of the
country, the dangers of the climate, and the children by whom a few
were accompanied, showed a degeneracy of blood which threatened the
race with extinction.

Foremost in rank among them was Athalfrida, sister to the king, and
wife of a brawny lord named Osuin. Though not yet five and twenty years
old, Athalfrida had borne seven children, of whom five died in
babyhood. A creature of magnificent form, and in earlier life of superb
vigour, her paling cheek told of decline that had begun; nevertheless
her spirits were undaunted; and her voice, in gay talk, in song or in
laughter, sounded constantly about the halls and wild gardens. Merry by
choice, she had in her a vein of tenderness which now and then
(possibly due to failing health) became excessive, causing her to shed
abundant tears with little or no cause, and to be over lavish of
endearments with those she loved or merely liked. Athalfrida worshipped
her husband; in her brother saw the ideal hero. She was ardent in
racial feeling, thought nothing good but what was Gothic, and hated the
Italians for their lack of gratitude to the people of Theodoric.

To her the king had intrusted Veranilda. Knowing her origin and
history, Athalfrida, in the beginning, could not but look coldly upon
her charge. The daughter of a Gothic renegade, the betrothed of a Roman
noble, and finally an apostate from the creed of her race-how could
such an one expect more than the barest civility from Totila's sister?
Yet in a little time it had come to pass that Athalfrida felt her heart
soften to the sad and beautiful maiden, who never spoke but gently, who
had compassion for all suffering, and willing aid for any one she could
serve, whom little children loved as soon as they looked into her eyes,
and heard her voice. Though a daughter of the abhorred Ebrimut,
Veranilda was of Amal blood, and, despite what seemed her weakness and
her errors, it soon appeared that she cherished fervidly the glory of
the Gothic name. This contradiction puzzled the wife of Osuin, whose
thoughts could follow only the plainest track. She suspected that her
charge must be the victim of some enchantment, of some evil spell; and
in their talk she questioned her with infinite curiosity concerning her
acquaintance with Basil, her life in the convent at Praeneste, her
release and the journey with Marcian. Veranilda spoke as one who has
nothing to conceal; only, when pressed for the story of that last day
at the island villa, she turned away her face, and entreated the
questioner's forbearance. All else she told with a sad simplicity. Her
religious conversion was the result of teaching she had received from
the abbess, a Roman lady of great learning, who spoke of things till
then unknown to her, and made so manifest the truth of the Catholic
creed that her reason was constrained to accept it. Obeying the king's
command, Athalfrida refrained from argument and condemnation, and, as
Veranilda herself, when once she had told her story, never again
returned to it, the subject was almost forgotten. They lived together
on terms as friendly as might be between persons so different. The
other ladies, their curiosity once satisfied, scarce paid any heed to
her at all; and Veranilda was never more content than when left quite
alone, to ply her needle and commune with her thoughts.

Against all expectation, the gates of Tibur remained obstinately
closed; three weeks went by, and those who came on to the walls to
parley had only words of scorn for the Gothic king, whom they bade
beware of the Greek force which would shortly march to their succour.
Only a small guard of Isaurians held the town, but it was abundantly
provisioned, and strong enough to defy attack for an indefinite time.
The Goths had no skill in taking fortresses by assault; when walls held
firm against them, they seldom overcame except by blockade; and this it
was which, despite his conquest of the greater part of Italy, made
Totila thus slow and cautious in his approach to Rome. He remembered
that Vitiges, who laid siege to the city with a hundred thousand men,
had retreated at last with his troops diminished by more than half, so
worn and dispirited that they scarce struck another blow against
Belisarius. The Greek commander, Totila well knew, would not sally
forth and risk an engagement: to storm the battlements would be an
idle, if not a fatal, attempt; and how, with so small an army, could he
encompass so vast a wall? To guard the entrance to the river with his
ships, and to isolate Rome from every inland district of Italy, seemed
to the Gothic king the only sure way of preparing his final triumph.
But time pressed; however beset with difficulties, Belisarius would not
linger for ever beyond Hadria. The resistance of Tibur excited Totila's
impatience, and at length stirred his wrath. Osuin heard a terrible
threat fall from his lips, and the same evening whispered it to
Athalfrida.

'He will do well,' answered his wife, with brows knit.

On the morrow, Athalfrida and Veranilda sat together in the gardens, or
what once had been the gardens, of Hadrian's palace, and looked forth
over the vast brown landscape, with that gleam upon its limit, that
something pale between earth and air, which was the Tyrrhene Sea. Over
the sky hung thin grey clouds, broken with strips of hazy blue, and
softly suffused with warmth from the invisible sun.

'O that this weary war would end!' exclaimed the elder lady in the
language of the Goths. 'I am sick of wandering, sick of this south,
where winter is the same as summer, sick of the name of Rome. I would I
were back in Mediolanum. There, when you look from the walls, you see
the great white mountains, and a wind blows from them, cold, keen; a
wind that sets you running and leaping, and makes you hungry. Here I
have no gust for food, and indeed there is none worth eating.'

As she spoke, she raised her hand to the branch of an arbutus just
above her head, plucked one of the strawberry-like fruits, bit into it
with her white teeth, and threw the half away contemptuously.

'You!' She turned to her companion abruptly. 'Where would you like to
live when the war is over?'

Veranilda's eyes rested upon something in the far distance, but less
far than the shining horizon.

'Surely not _there_!' pursued the other, watching her. 'I was but once
in Rome, and I had not been there a week when I fell sick of fever.
King Theodoric knew better than to make his dwelling at Rome, and
Totila will never live there. The houses are so big and so close
together they scarce leave air to breathe; so old, too, they look as if
they would tumble upon your head. I have small liking for Ravenna,
where there is hardly dry land to walk upon, and you can't sleep for
the frogs. Verona is better. But, best of all, Mediolanum. There, if he
will listen to me, my brother shall have his palace and his court--as
they say some of the emperors did, I know not how long ago.'

Still gazing at the far distance, Veranilda murmured:

'I never saw the city nearer than this.'

'I would no one might ever look upon it again!' cried Athalfrida, her
blue eyes dark with anger and her cheeks hot. 'I would that the
pestilence, which haunts its streets, might make it desolate, and that
the muddy river, which ever and again turns it into a swamp, would hide
its highest palace under an eternal flood.'

Veranilda averted her face and kept silence. Thereupon the other seemed
to repent of having spoken so vehemently.

'Well, that's how I feel sometimes,' she said, in a voice suddenly
gentle. 'But I forgot--or I wouldn't have said it.'

'I well understand, dear lady,' replied her companion. 'Rome has never
been loyal to the Goths. And yet some Romans have.'

'How many? To be sure, you know one, and in your thought he stands for
a multitude. Come, you must not be angry with me, child. Nay, vexed,
then. Nay then, hurt and sad. I am not myself to-day. I dreamt last
night of the snowy mountains, and this warmth oppresses me. In truth, I
often fear I shall fall sick. Feel my hand, how hot it is. Where are
the children? Let us walk.'

Not far away she discovered three little boys, two of them her own, who
were playing at battles and sieges upon stairs which descended from
this terrace to the hippodrome below. After watching them awhile, with
laughter and applause, she threw an arm round Veranilda's waist, and
drew her on to a curved portico where, in a niche, stood a statue of
Antinous.

'Is that one of their gods, or an emperor?' asked Athalfrida. 'I have
seen his face again and again since we came here.'

'Indeed, I know not,' answered her companion. 'But surely he is too
beautiful for a man.'

'Beautiful? Never say that, child; for if it be as you think, it is the
beauty of a devil, and has led who knows how many into the eternal
fire. Had I a hammer here, I would splinter the evil face. I would not
have my boys look at it and think it beautiful.'

A heavy footstep sounded on the terrace. Turning, they saw Osuin, an
armed giant, with flowing locks, and thick, tawny beard.

'Wife, a word with you,' he shouted, beckoning from some twenty paces
away.

They talked together; then the lady returned, a troubled smile on her
face, and said softly to Veranilda:

'Some one wishes to speak with you--some one who comes with the king's
good-will.'

Veranilda looked towards Osuin.

'You cannot mean--?' she faltered.

'No other,' replied Athalfrida, nodding gaily. 'Are you at leisure?
Some other day, perhaps? I will say you would be private--that you
cannot now give audience.'

This pleasantry brought only the faintest smile to the listener's face.

'Is it hither that he would come?' she asked, again looking anxiously
towards the ruddy giant, who stamped with a beginning of impatience.

'If so it please you, little one,' answered Athalfrida, changing all at
once to her softest mood. 'The king leaves all to my discretion, and I
ask nothing better than to do you kindness. Shall it be here, or
within?'

Veranilda whispered 'Here'; whereupon Osuin received a sign, and
stalked off. A few minutes passed, and Athalfrida, who, after caresses
and tender words, had drawn apart, as if to watch her children playing,
beheld the expected visitor. Her curiosity was not indiscreet; she
would have glimpsed the graceful figure, the comely visage, and then
have turned away; but at this moment the new comer paused, looked about
him in hesitation, and at length advanced towards her. She had every
excuse for looking him straight in the face, and it needed not the
pleasant note of his speech to dispose her kindly towards him.

'Gracious lady, I seek the lady Veranilda, and was bidden come hither
along the terrace.'

Totila's sister had but little of the Latin tongue; now, for perhaps
the first time in her life, she regretted this deficiency. Smiling, she
pointed to a group of cypresses which hid part of the portico, and her
questioner, with a courtly bow, went on. He wore the ordinary dress of
a Roman noble, and had not even a dagger at his waist. As soon as he
had passed the cypresses, he saw, within the shadow of the portico, the
figure his eyes had sought; then he stood still, and spoke with manly
submissiveness.

'It is much that you suffer me to come into your presence, for of all
men, O Veranilda, I am least worthy to do so.'

'How shall I answer you?' she replied, with a sad, simple dignity. 'I
know not of what unworthiness you accuse yourself. That you are most
unhappy, I know too well.'

She dared not raise her eyes to him; but in the moment of his
appearance before her, it had gladdened her to see him attired as when
she first knew him. Had he worn the soldierly garb in which he
presented himself at Marcian's villa, the revival of a dread memory
would have pierced her heart. Even as in outward man he was the Basil
she had loved, so did his voice recall that brighter day.

'Unhappy most of all,' he continued, 'in what I least dare speak of. I
have no ground to plead for pardon. What I did, and still more what I
uttered, judge it at the worst. I should but add to my baseness if I
urged excuses.'

'Let us not remember that, I entreat you,' said Veranilda. 'But tell
me, if you will, what has befallen you since?'

'You know nothing of me since then?'

'Nothing.'

'And I nothing of you, save that you were with the Gothic army, and
honourably entertained. The king himself spoke to me of you, when,
after long sickness, I came to his camp. He asked if it was my wish to
see you; but I could not yet dare to stand before your face, and so I
answered him. "It is well," said Totila. "Prove yourself in some
service to the Goths and to your country, then I will speak with you
again." And straightway he charged me with a duty which I the more
gladly undertook because it had some taste of danger. He bade me enter
Rome, and spread through the city a proclamation to the Roman people--'

'It was you who did that?' interrupted the listener. 'We heard of its
being done, but not by what hand.'

'With a servant whom I can trust, disguised, he and I, as peasants
bringing food to market, I entered Rome, and remained for two days
within the gates; then returned to Totila. He next sent me to learn the
strength of the Greek garrisons in Spoletium and Assisium, and how
those cities were provisioned; this task also, by good hap, I
discharged so as to win some praise. Then the king again spoke to me of
you. And as, before, I had not dared to approach you, so now I did not
dare to wait longer before making known to you my shame and my
repentance.'

'Of what sickness did you speak just now?' asked Veranilda, after a
silence.

He narrated to her his sojourn at the monastery, told of the penance he
had done, of the absolution granted him by Benedict; whereupon a light
came into Veranilda's eyes.

'There lives,' she exclaimed, 'no holier man!'

'None holier lived,' was Basil's grave answer. 'Returning from
Assisium, I met a wandering anchorite, who told me of Benedict's death.'

'Alas!'

'But is he reverenced by those of your creed?' asked Basil in surprise.

'Of my creed? My faith is that of the Catholic Church.'

For the first time their eyes met. Basil drew a step nearer; his face
shone with joy, which for a moment held him mute.

'It was in the convent,' added Veranilda, 'that I learnt the truth.
They whom I called my enemies wrought this good to me.'

Basil besought her to tell him how she had been carried away from
Surrentum, and all that had befallen her whilst she was a prisoner; he
declared his ignorance of everything between their last meeting in the
Anician villa and the dreadful day which next brought them face to
face. As he said this, it seemed to him that Veranilda's countenance
betrayed surprise.

'I forget,' he added, his head again falling, 'that your mind has been
filled with doubt of me. How can I convince you that I speak truly? O
Veranilda!' he exclaimed passionately, 'can you look at me, can you
hear me speak, and still believe that I was ever capable of betraying
you?'

'That I never believed,' she answered in a subdued voice.

'Yet I saw in your eyes some doubt, some hesitation.'

'Then it was despite myself. The thought that you planned evil against
me I have ever cast out and abhorred. Why it was said of you, alas, I
know not.'

'What proof was given?' asked Basil, gazing fixedly at her.

'None.'

Her accent did not satisfy him; it seemed to falter.

'Was nothing said,' he urged, 'to make credible so black an untruth?'

Veranilda stood motionless and silent.

'Speak, I beseech you!' cried Basil, his hands clasped upon his breast.
'Something there is which shadows your faith in my sincerity. God
knows, I have no right to question you thus--I, who let my heart be
poisoned against you by a breath, a nothing. Rebuke me as you will;
call me by the name I merit; utter all the disdain you must needs feel
for a man so weak and false--'

His speech was checked upon that word. Veranilda had arrested him with
a sudden look, a look of pain, of fear.

'False?' fell from her lips.

'Can _you_ forget it, O Veranilda? Would that I could!'

'In your anger,' she said, 'as when perchance you were already
distraught with fever, you spoke I know not what. Therein you were not
false to me.'

'False to myself; I should have said. To you, never, never! False to my
faith in you, false to my own heart which knew you faithful; but false
as men are called who--'

Again his voice sank. A memory flashed across him, troubling his brow.

'What else were you told?' he asked abruptly. 'Can it be a woman's name
was spoken? You are silent. Will you not say that this thought, also,
you abhorred and rejected?'

The simple honesty of Veranilda's nature would not allow her to
disguise what she thought. Urging question after question, with ardour
irresistible, Basil learnt all she had been told by Marcian concerning
Heliodora, and, having learnt it, confessed the whole truth in utter
frankness, in the plain, blunt words dictated by his loathing of the
Greek woman with whom he had once played at love. And, as she listened,
Veranilda's heart grew light; for the time before her meeting with
Basil seemed very far away, and the tremulous passion in his voice
assured her of all she cared to know, that his troth pledged to her had
never suffered wrong. Basil spoke on and on, told of his misery in Rome
whilst vainly seeking her; how he was baffled and misled; how at
length, in despair, he left the city and went to his estate by Asculum.
Then of the message received from Marcian, and how eagerly he set forth
to cross the Apennines, resolved that, if he could not find Veranilda,
at least he would join himself with her people and fight for their
king; of his encounter with the marauding troop, his arrival, worn and
fevered, at Aesernia, his meeting with Sagaris, their interview, and
what followed upon it.

'To this hour I know not whether the man told me what he believed, or
coldly lied to me. He has the face of a villain and may well have
behaved as one--who knows with what end in view? Could I but lay hands
upon him, I would have the truth out of his tongue by torture. He is in
Rome. I saw him come forth from Marcian's house, when I was there on
the king's service; but, of course, I could not speak with him.'

Veranilda had seated herself within the portico. Basil stood before
her, ever and again meeting her eyes as she looked up.

'Just as little,' he resumed after a pause of troubled thought, 'can I
know whether Marcian believed me a traitor, or himself had a traitorous
mind. The more I think, the less do I understand him. I hope, I hope
with all my heart, that he was innocent, and daily I pray for his
eternal welfare.'

'That is well done, O Basil,' said the listener, for the first time
uttering his name. 'My prayers, too, he shall have. That he was so
willing to credit ill of you, I marvel; and therein he proved himself
no staunch friend. But of all else, he was guiltless.'

'So shall he ever live in my memory,' said Basil. 'Of him I always
found it easier to believe good than evil, for many were the proofs he
had given me of his affection. Had it been otherwise, I should long
before have doubted him; for, when I was seeking you in Rome, more than
once did a finger point to Marcian, as to one who knew more than he
would say. I heard the accusation with scorn, knowing well that they
who breathed it desired to confound me.'

This turned his thoughts again to the beginning of their sorrows; and
again he gently asked of Veranilda that she would relate that part of
her story which remained unknown to him. She, no longer saddened by the
past, looked frankly up into his face, and smiled as she began. Now
first did Basil hear of the anchoret Sisinnius, and how Aurelia was
beguiled into the wood, where capture awaited her. Of the embarkment at
Surrentum, Veranilda had only a confused recollection: fear and
distress re-awoke in her as she tried to describe the setting forth to
sea, and the voyage that followed. Sisinnius and his monkish follower
were in the ship, but held no speech with their captives. After a day
or two of sailing, they landed at nightfall, but in what place she had
never learnt. Still conducted by the anchorets, they were taken to pass
the night in a large house, where they had good entertainment, but saw
only the female slaves who waited upon them. The next day began a
journey by road; and thus, after more than one weary day, they arrived
at the house of religious women which was to be Veranilda's home for
nearly a twelvemonth.

'I knew not where I was, and no one would answer me that question,
though otherwise I had gentle and kindly usage. Aurelia I saw no more;
we had not even taken leave of each other, for we did not dream on
entering the house that we were to be parted. Whether she remained
under that roof I never learnt. During our journey, she suffered much,
often weeping bitterly, often all but distraught with anger and
despair. Before leaving the ship we were told that, if either of us
tried to escape, we should be fettered, and only the fear of that
indignity kept Aurelia still. Her face, as I remember its last look,
was dreadful, so white and anguished. I have often feared that, if she
were long kept prisoner, she would lose her senses.'

Basil having heard the story to an end without speaking, made known the
thoughts it stirred in him. They talked of Petronilla and of the deacon
Leander, and sought explanations of Veranilda's release. And, as thus
they conversed, they forgot all that had come between them; their
constraint insensibly passed away; till at length Basil was sitting by
Veranilda's side, and holding her hand, and their eyes met in a long
gaze of love and trust and hope.

'Can you forgive?' murmured Basil, upon whom, in the fulness of his
joy, came the memory of what he deemed his least pardonable sin.

'How can I talk of forgiveness,' she returned, 'when not yours was the
blame, but mine? For I believed--or all but believed--that you had
forgotten me.'

'Beloved, I was guilty of worse than faithlessness. I dread to think,
and still more to speak, of it; yet if I am silent, I spare myself; and
seem, perhaps, to make light of baseness for which there are no words
of fitting scorn. That too, be assured, O Veranilda, I confessed to the
holy Benedict.'

Her bowed head and flushing cheek told him that she understood.

'Basil,' she whispered, 'it was not you, not you.'

'Gladly would I give myself that comfort. When I think, indeed, that
this hand was raised to take my friend's life, I shake with horror and
say, "Not _I_ did that!" Even so would I refuse to charge my very self
with those words that my lips uttered. But to you they were spoken; you
heard them; you fled before them--'

'Basil! Basil!'

She had hidden her face with her hands. Basil threw himself upon his
knees beside her.

'Though I spoke in madness, can you ever forget? God Himself, I know,
will sooner blot out my sin of murder than this wound I inflicted upon
your pure and gentle heart!'

Veranilda caught his hand and pressed her lips upon it, whilst her
tears fell softly.

'Listen, dearest Basil,' she said. 'To think that I guard this in my
memory against you would be to do me wrong. Remember how first I spoke
to you about it, when we first knew that we loved each other. Did I not
tell you that this was a thing which could never be quite forgotten?
Did I not know that, if ever I sinned, or seemed to sin, _this_ would
be the first rebuke upon the lips of those I angered? Believing me
faithless--nay, not you, beloved, but your fevered brain--how could you
but think that thought? And, even had you not spoken it, must I not
have read it in your face? Never ask me to forgive what you could not
help. Rather, O Basil, will I entreat you, even as I did before, to
bear with the shame inseparable from my being. If it lessen not your
love, have I not cause enough for thankfulness?'

Hearing such words as these, in the sweetest, tenderest voice that ever
caressed a lover's senses, Basil knew not how to word all that was in
his heart. Passion spoke for him, and not in vain; for in a few moments
Veranilda's tears were dry, or lingered only to glisten amid the happy
light which beamed from her eyes. Side by side, forgetful of all but
their recovered peace, they talked sweet nothings, until there sounded
from far a woman's voice, calling the name of Veranilda.

'That is Athalfrida,' she said, starting up. 'I must not delay.'

One whisper, one kiss, and she was gone. When Basil, after brief
despondency came forth on to the open terrace, he saw her at a
distance, standing with Athalfrida and Osuin. Their looks invited him
to approach, and, when he was near, Veranilda stepped towards him.

'It will not be long,' she said calmly, 'before we again meet. The lord
Osuin promises, and he speaks for the king.'

Basil bowed in silence. The great-limbed warrior and his fair wife had
their eyes upon him, and were smiling good-naturedly. Then Osuin spoke
in thick-throated Latin.

'Shall we be gone, lord Basil?'

From the end of the terrace, Basil looked back. Athalfrida stood with
her arm about the maiden's waist; both gazed towards him, and Veranilda
waved her hand.



CHAPTER XXIX

ROME BELEAGUERED


A few days later the guards at the Tiburtine Gate of Rome were hailed,
before dawn, by a number of Greek soldiers in the disarray of flight.
It was a portion of the garrison of Tibur: the town had been betrayed
at sunset, by certain of its inhabitants who watched at one of the
gates. The soldiers fought their way through and most of them escaped,
and had fled hither through the darkness. Before the end of the day
came news more terrible. A peasant from a neighbouring farm declared
that all the people of Tibur, men, women, and children, had perished
under the Gothic sword, not even ministers of religion having found
mercy. And very soon this report, at first doubted, was fully
confirmed. The event excited no less astonishment than horror,
contrasting as it did with Totila's humanity throughout the war. Some
offered as explanation the fact that many Goths lived at Tibur, whose
indifference or hostility had angered the king; others surmised that
this was Totila's warning after the failure of his proclamation to the
Romans. Whatever the meaning of such unwonted severity, its effect upon
the Romans was unfavourable to the Gothic cause. Just about this time
there happened to arrive two captains, sent by Belisarius with a small
troop for the reinforcement of Bessas. The addition to the strength of
the garrison was inconsiderable, but it served to put the city in heart
once more. The Patricius himself would not be long in coming, and when
did the name of Belisarius sound anything but victory?

This confidence increased when Totila, instead of marching upon Rome,
as all had expected, turned in the opposite direction, and led his
forces across the Apennines. The gates were thrown open; the citizens
resumed their ordinary life, saying to each other that all fear of a
siege was at an end; and when certain ships from Sicily, having by good
luck escaped the Gothic galleys, landed a good supply of corn, there
was great exultation. True, only a scanty measure of this food reached
the populace, and that chiefly by the good offices of the archdeacon
Pelagius, now become as dear to the people as Pope Vigilius was
hateful; the granaries were held by Bessas, who first of all fed his
soldiers, and then sold at a great price. As winter went on, the Romans
suffered much. And with the spring came disquieting news of Totila's
successes northwards: the towns of Picenum had yielded to him; he was
moving once more in this direction; he captured Spoletium, Assisium,
and still came on.

Belisarius, meanwhile, had crossed to Italy, and was encamped at
Ravenna. Why, asked the Romans, impatiently, anxiously, did he not
march to meet the Gothic king? But the better informed knew that his
army was miserably insufficient; they heard of his ceaseless appeals to
Byzantium, of his all but despair in finding himself without money,
without men, in the land which but a few years ago had seen his glory.
Would the Emperor take no thought for Italy, for Rome? Bessas, with
granaries well stored, and his palace heaped with Roman riches,
shrugged when the nobles spoke disrespectfully of Justinian; his only
loyalty was to himself.

At high summertide, the Gothic camp was pitched before Rome, and the
siege anticipated for so many months had at length begun. For whatever
reason, Totila had never attempted to possess himself of Portus, which
guarded the mouth of the river Tiber on the north bank and alone made
possible the provisioning of the city. Fearing that this stronghold
would now be attacked, Bessas despatched a body of soldiers to
strengthen its garrison; but they fell into a Gothic ambush, and were
cut to pieces. Opposite Portus, and separated from it by a desert
island, on either side of which Tiber flowed to the sea, lay the
ancient town of Ostia, once the port of the world's traffic, now
ruinous and scarce inhabited. Here Totila established an outpost; but
he did not otherwise threaten the harbour on the other side. His
purpose evidently was to avoid all conflict which would risk a
reduction of the Gothic army, and by patient blockade to starve the
Romans into surrender.

He could not surround the city, with its circuit of twelve miles; he
could not keep ceaseless watch upon the sixteen gates and the numerous
posterns. King Vitiges, in his attempt to do so, had suffered terrible
losses. It was inevitable that folk should pass in and out of Rome. But
from inland no supplies could be expected by the besieged, and any ship
sailing up to Portus would have little chance of landing its cargo
safely. Before long, indeed, this was put to proof. The Pope, whose
indecision still kept him lingering in Sicily, nearly a twelvemonth
after his departure from Rome for Constantinople, freighted a vessel
with corn for the relief of the city, and its voyage was uninterrupted
as far as the Tiber's mouth. There it became an object of interest, not
only to the Greeks on the walls of Portus, but to the Gothic soldiers
at. Ostia, who forthwith crossed in little boats, and lay awaiting the
ship at the entrance to the haven. Observant of this stratagem, the
garrison, by all manner of signalling, tried to warn the sailors of the
danger awaiting them; but their signals were misunderstood, being taken
for gestures of eager welcome; and the ship came on. With that lack of
courage which characterised them, the Greeks did nothing more than wave
arms and shout: under their very eyes, the corn-ship was boarded by the
Goths, and taken into Ostia.

Of courage, indeed, as of all other soldierly virtues, little enough
was exhibited, at this stage of the war, on either side. The Imperial
troops scattered about Italy, ill-paid, and often starving mercenaries
from a score of Oriental countries, saw no one ready to lead them to
battle, and the one Byzantine general capable of commanding called
vainly for an army. Wearied by marchings and counter-marchings, the
Gothic warriors were more disposed to rest awhile after their easy
conquests than to make a vigorous effort for the capture of Rome.
Totila himself, heroic redeemer of his nation, turned anxious glances
towards Ravenna, hoping, rather than resolving, to hold his state upon
the Palatine before Belisarius could advance against him. He felt the
fatigue of those about him, and it was doubtless under the stress of
such a situation, bearing himself the whole burden of the war, that he
had ordered, or permitted, barbarous revenge upon the city of Tibur.
For this reason he would not, even now, centre all his attention upon
the great siege; he knew what a long, dispiriting business it was
likely to be, and feared to fall into that comparative idleness. Soon
after the incident of the Sicilian corn-ship, he was once more
commanding in the north, where a few cities yet held out against him.
Dreadful stories were told concerning the siege of Placentia, whose
inhabitants were said to have eaten the bodies of their dead ere they
yielded to the Goth. So stern a spirit of resistance was found only in
places where religious zeal and national sentiment both existed in
their utmost vigour, and Totila well knew that, of these two forces
ever threatening to make his conquests vain, it was from religion that
he had most to fear. In vain was the history of Gothic tolerance known
throughout Italy; it created no corresponding virtue in the bosom of
Catholicism; the barbaric origin of the Goths might be forgotten or
forgiven, their heresy--never.

Totila, whose qualities of heart and mind would have made him, could he
but have ruled in peace, a worthy successor of the great Theodoric, had
reflected much on this question of the hostile creeds; he had talked of
it with ministers of his own faith and with those of the orthodox
church; and it was on this account that he had sought an interview with
the far-famed monk of Casinum. Understanding the futility of any hope
that the Italians might be won to Arianism, and having sufficient
largeness of intellect to perceive how idle was a debate concerning the
'substance' of the Father and of the Son, Totila must at times have
felt willing enough to renounce the heretical name, and so win favour
of the Italians, the greater part of whom would assuredly have
preferred his rule to that of the Emperor Justinian. But he knew the
religious obstinacy of his own people; to imagine their following him
in a conversion to Catholicism was but to dream. Pondering thus, he
naturally regarded with indulgence the beautiful and gentle Gothic
maiden delivered into his power by a scheming Roman ecclesiastic. After
his conversations with Veranilda, he had a pensive air; and certain
persons who observed him remarked on it to each other, whence arose the
rumour that Totila purposed taking to wife this last descendant of the
Amals. Whatever his temptations, he quickly overcame them. If ever he
thought of marriage, policy and ambition turned his mind towards the
royal Franks; but the time for that had not yet come. Meanwhile, having
spoken with the young Roman whom Veranilda loved, he saw in Basil a
useful instrument, and resolved, if his loyalty to the Goths bore every
test, to reward him with Veranilda's hand. The marriage would be of
good example, and might, if the Gothic arms remained triumphant, lead
to other such.

After the meeting at Hadrian's villa which he granted to the lovers,
Totila summoned Basil to his presence. Regarding him with a
good-natured smile, he said pleasantly:

'Your face has a less doleful cast than when I first saw it.'

'That,' answered Basil, 'is due in no small degree to the gracious
favour of my king.'

'Continue to merit my esteem, lord Basil, and proof of my good-will
shall not be wanting. But the time for repose and solace is not yet.
To-morrow you will go with Venantius to Capua, and thence, it may be,
into Apulia.'

Basil bowed in silence. He had hoped that the siege of Rome was now to
be undertaken, and that this would ensure his remaining near to
Veranilda. But the loyalty he professed to Totila was no less in his
heart than on his lips, and after a moment's struggle he looked up with
calm countenance.

'Have you aught to ask of me?' added Totila, after observing his face.

'This only, O king: that if occasion offer, I may send written news of
myself to her I love.'

'That is a little thing,' was the answer, 'and I grant it willingly.'

Totila paused a moment; then, his blue eyes shining with a vehement
thought, added gravely:

'When we speak together within the walls of Rome, ask more, and it
shall not be refused.'

So Basil rode southward, and happily was far away when Tibur opened its
gates to the Goth. For more than half a year he and Venantius were busy
in maintaining the Gothic rule throughout Lucania and Apulia, where
certain Roman nobles endeavoured to raise an army of the peasantry in
aid of the Greek invasion constantly expected upon the Adriatic shore.
When at length he was recalled, the siege of Rome had begun. The Gothic
ladies now resided at Tibur, where a garrison was established; there
Basil and Veranilda again met, and again only for an hour. But their
hopes were high, and scarce could they repine at the necessity of
parting so soon. Already in a letter, Basil had spoken of the king's
promise; he now repeated it, whilst Veranilda flushed with happiness.

'And you remain before Rome?' she asked.

'Alas, no! I am sent to Ravenna, to spy out the strength of Belisarius.'

But Rome was besieged, and so hateful had Bessas made himself to the
Roman people that it could not be long ere some plot among them
delivered the city.

'Then,' cried Basil exultantly, 'I shall ask my reward.'



CHAPTER XXX

* * * *


On a winter's day, at the hour of sundown, Heliodora sat in her great
house on the Quirinal, musing sullenly. Beside her a brazier of
charcoal glowed in the dusk, casting a warm glimmer upon the sculptured
forms which were her only companions; she was wrapped in a scarlet
cloak, with a hood which shadowed her face. All day the sun had shone
brilliantly, but it glistened afar on snowy summits, and scarce
softened the mountain wind which blew through the streets of Rome.

To divert a hungry populace, now six months besieged, Bessas was
offering entertainments such as suited the Saturnalian season. To-day
he had invited Rome to the Circus Maximus, where, because no spectacle
could be provided imposing enough to fill the whole vast space, half a
dozen shows were presented simultaneously; the spectators grouped here
and there, in number not a fiftieth part of that assembly which
thundered at the chariots in olden time. Here they sat along the
crumbling, grass-grown, and, as their nature was, gladly forgot their
country's ruin, their own sufferings, and the doom which menaced them.
Equestrians, contortionists, mimes, singers, were readily found in the
city, where a brave or an honest man had become rare indeed. What a
performance lacked in art, he supplied by shamelessness; and nowhere
was laughter so hearty, or the crowd so dense, as in that part of the
circus where comic singers and dancers vied with the grossest
traditions of the pagan theatre.

Heliodora could not miss such an opportunity of enjoyment and of
display. She sat amid her like, the feline ladies and the young nobles,
half brute, half fop, who though already most of them fasted without
the merit of piety, still prided themselves on being the flower of
Roman fashion. During one of the pauses of the festival, when places
were changed, and limbs stretched, some one whispered to her that she
was invited to step towards that place of honour where sat the
Emperor's representative. An invitation of Bessas could not lightly be
declined, nor had Heliodora any reluctance to obey such a summons. More
than a year had gone by since her vain attempt, on Marcian's
suggestion, to enslave the avaricious Thracian, and, since then, the
hapless Muscula had had more than one successor. Roman gossip, always
busy with the fair Greek, told many a strange story to account for her
rigour towards the master of Rome, who was well known to have made
advances to her. So when to-day they were seen sitting side by side,
conversing vivaciously, curiosity went on tiptoe. The entertainment
over, Heliodora was carried home in her litter, no friend accompanying
her. Few nowadays were the persons in Rome who bade guests to their
table; even the richest had no great superfluity of viands. After
sunset, the city became a dark and silent desert, save when watch-fires
glared and soldiers guarded the walls.

As was the case with all Romans who not long ago had commanded a
multitude of slaves and freedmen, Heliodora's household was much
reduced. Even before the siege began, many of the serving class stole
away to the Goths, who always received them with a welcome; and since
the closing of the gates this desertion had been of daily occurrence,
the fugitives having little difficulty in making their escape from so
vast a city so sparsely populated. No longer did the child from far-off
Anglia ride about on his mistress's errands; a female slave, punished
for boxing his ears, had stifled him as he slept, and fled that night
with five or six others who were tired of the lady's caprices and
feared her cruelty. Her aviary was empty. Having wearied of that whim,
she had let the birds loose; a generosity she regretted now that
toothsome morsels were rare. In her strong box there remained little
money, and the estate she owned in a distant part of Italy might as
well have been sunk in the sea for all the profit it could yield her.
True, she had objects of value, such as were daily accepted by Bessas
in exchange for corn and pork; but, if it came to that extremity, could
not better use be made of the tough-skinned commander? Heliodora had no
mind to support herself on bread and pork whilst food more appetising
might still be got.

It was all but dark. She rang a hand-bell and was answered by a
maidservant.

'Has Sagaris returned yet?' she asked impatiently.

'Lady, not yet.'

Heliodora kept silence for a moment, then bade the girl bring her a
lamp. A very small lamp was set upon the table, and as she glanced at
its poor flame, Heliodora remembered that the store of oil was nearly
at an end.

Again she had sat alone for nearly half an hour, scarcely stirring, so
intent was she on the subject of her thoughts, when a light footfall
sounded without, and the curtain at the door was raised. She turned and
saw a dark countenance, which smiled upon her coldly.

'Where have you been?' broke angrily from her lips.

'Hither and thither,' was the softly insolent reply, as Sagaris let the
curtain fall behind him and stepped forward to the brazier, over which
he held out his hands to warm them.

By his apparel, he might have been mistaken for a noble.

Nominally he had for a year held the office of steward to Heliodora.
That his functions were not, as a matter of fact, all comprised under
that name was well known to all in the house, and to some beyond its
walls.

'Were you at the Circus?' she next inquired, using the large hood to
avoid his gaze without seeming to do so.

'I was there, gracious lady. Not, of course, in such an exalted place
as that in which I saw _you_.'

'I did not choose that place,' said Heliodora, her voice almost
conciliatory. 'Being sent for, I could not refuse to go.'

Sagaris set a stool near to his mistress, seated himself, and looked up
into her face. She, for an instant, bore it impatiently, but of a
sudden her countenance changed, and she met the gaze with a
half-mocking smile.

'Is this one of your jealous days?' she asked, with what was meant for
playfulness, though the shining of her eyes and teeth in the lamplight
gave the words rather an effect of menace.

'Perhaps it is,' answered the Syrian. 'What did Bessas say to you?'

'Many things. He ended by asking me to sup at the palace. You will own
that the invitation was tempting.'

Sagaris glared fiercely at her, and drew upon himself a look no less
fierce.

'Fool!' she exclaimed, once more speaking in a natural voice. 'How
shall we live a month hence? Have you a mind to steal away to the
Goths? If you do so, you can't expect me to starve here alone.
Thick-willed slave! Can you see no further than the invitation to sup
with that thievish brute?--which I should have accepted, had I not
foreseen the necessity of explaining to your dulness all that might
follow upon it.'

Esteeming himself the shrewdest of mankind, Sagaris deeply resented
these insults, not for the first time thrown at him by the woman whom
he regarded with an Oriental passion and contempt.

'Of course I know what you mean,' he replied disdainfully. 'I know,
too, that you will be no match for the Thracian robber.'

Heliodora caught his arm.

'What if I can make him believe that Belisarius has the Emperor's
command to send him in chains to Constantinople! Would he not rather
come to terms with Totila, who, as I know well, long ago offered to let
him carry off half his plunder?'

'You know that? How?'

'Clod-pate! Have you forgotten your master whom Basil slew? Did I not
worm out of him, love-sick simpleton that he was, all the secrets of
his traffic with Greeks and Goths?'

Again they glanced at each other like wild creatures before the leap.

'Choose,' said Heliodora. 'Leave me free to make your fortune, for
Totila is generous to those who serve him well; or stay here and spy
upon me till your belly pinches, and the great opportunity of your life
is lost.'

There was a silence. The Syrian's features showed how his mind was
rocking this way and that.

'You have not cunning for this,' he snarled. 'The Thracian will use you
and laugh at you. And when you think to come back to me....'

He touched the dagger at his waist.

In that moment there came confused sounds from without the room.
Suddenly the curtain was pulled aside, and there appeared the face of a
frightened woman, who exclaimed: 'Soldiers, lady, soldiers are in the
house!'

Heliodora started up. Sagaris, whose hand was still on the dagger's
hilt, grasped her by the mantle, his look and attitude so like that of
a man about to strike that she sprang away from him with a loud cry.
Again the curtain was raised, and there entered hurriedly several armed
men. Their leader looked with a meaning grin at the lady and her
companion, who now stood apart from each other.

'Pardon our hasty entrance, fair Heliodora,' he said in Greek. 'The
commander has need of you--on pressing business.'

'The commander must wait my leisure,' she replied with a note of
indignation over-emphasised.

'Nay, that he cannot,' returned the officer, leering at Sagaris. 'He is
even now at supper, and will take it ill if you be not there when he
rises from table. A litter waits.'

Not without much show of wrath did Heliodora yield. As she left the
room, her eyes turned to Sagaris, who had shrunk into a corner, coward
fear and furious passion distorting his face. The lady having been
borne away, a few soldiers remained in the house, where they passed the
night. On the morrow Bessas himself paid a visit to that famous museum
of sculpture, and after an inspection, which left no possible
hiding-place unsearched, sent away to the Palatine everything that
seemed to him worth laying hands upon.

Meanwhile the domestics had all been held under guard. Sagaris, who
heard his relations with Heliodora jested over by the slaves and
soldiers, passed a night of terror, and when he knew of the commander's
arrival, scarce had strength to stand. To his surprise, nothing ill
befell him. During the pillage of the house he was disregarded, and
when Bessas had gone he only had to bear the scoffs of his
fellow-slaves. These unfortunates lived together as long as the scant
provisions lasted, then scattered in search of sustenance. The great
house on the Quirinal stood silent, left to its denizens of marble and
of bronze.

Sagaris, who suspected himself to have been tricked by Heliodora in the
matter of her removal to the Palatine, and had not the least faith in
her power to beguile Bessas, swore by all the saints that the day of
his revenge should come; but for the present he had to think of how to
keep himself alive. Money he had none; it was idle to hope of attaching
himself to another household, and unless he escaped to the Goths, there
was no resource but to beg from one or other of those few persons who,
out of compassion and for their souls' sake, gave alms to the indigent.
Wandering in a venomous humour, he chanced to approach the Via Lata,
and out of curiosity turned to the house of Marcian. Not knowing
whether it was still inhabited, he knocked at the door, and was
surprised to hear a dog's bark, for nearly all the dogs in Rome had
already been killed and eaten. The wicket opened, and a voice spoke
which he well remembered.

'You alive still, old Stephanus? Who feeds you? Open and teach me the
art of living on nothing.'

He who opened looked indeed the image of Famine--a fleshless, tottering
creature, with scarce strength left to turn the key in the door. His
only companions in the house were his daughter and the dog. Till not
long ago there had been also the daughter's child, whom she had borne
to Marcian, but this boy was dead.

'I'm glad to see you,' said Stephanus mysteriously, drawing his visitor
into the atrium, and speaking as if the house were full of people who
might overhear him. 'Your coming to-day is a strange thing. Have you,
perchance, had a dream?'

'What dream should I have had?' answered Sagaris, his superstition at
once stirring.

The old man related that last night, for the third time, he had dreamt
that a treasure lay buried in this house. Where he could not say, but
in his dream he seemed to descend stairs, and to reach a door which,
when he opened it, showed him a pile of gold, shining in so brilliant a
light that he fell back blinded, whereupon the door closed in his face.
To this the Syrian listened very curiously. Cellars there were below
the house, as he well knew, and hidden treasure was no uncommon thing
in Rome. Having bidden Stephanus light a torch, he went exploring, but
though they searched long, they could find no trace of a door long
unopened, or of a walled-up entrance.

'You should have more wit in your dreaming, old scarecrow,' said
Sagaris. 'If I had had a dream such as that a second time, not to speak
of a third, do you think I should not have learnt the way. But you were
always a clod-pate.'

Thus did he revenge himself for the contumely he had suffered from
Heliodora. As he spoke they were joined by the old man's daughter, who,
after begging at many houses, returned with a pocketful of lentils. The
girl had been pretty, but was now emaciated and fever-burnt; she looked
with ill-will at Sagaris, whom she believed, as did others of his
acquaintance, to have murdered Marcian, and to have invented the story
of his death at the hands of Basil. Well understanding this, Sagaris
amused himself with jesting on the loss of her beauty; why did she not
go to the Palatine, where handsome women were always welcome? Having
driven her away with his brutality, he advised Stephanus to keep silent
about the treasure, and promised to come again ere long.

He now turned his steps to the other side of Tiber, and, after passing
through poor streets, where some show of industries was still kept up
by a few craftsmen, though for the most part folk sat or lay about in
sullen idleness, came to those grinding-mills on the slope of the
Janiculum which were driven by Trajan's aqueduct. Day and night the
wheels made their clapping noise, seeming to clamour for the corn which
did not come. At the door of one of the mills, a spot warmed by the
noonday sun, sat a middle-aged man, wretchedly garbed, who with a burnt
stick was drawing what seemed to be diagrams on the stone beside him.
At the sound of a footstep, rare in that place, he hastily smeared out
his designs, and looking up showed a visage which bore a racial
resemblance to that of Sagaris. Recognising the visitor, he smiled,
pointed to the ground in invitation, and when Sagaris had placed
himself near by, began talking in the tongue of their own Eastern land.
This man, who called himself Apollonius, had for some years enjoyed
reputation in Rome as an astrologer, thereby gaining much money; and
even in these dark days he found people who were willing to pay him,
either in coin or food, for his counsel and prophecies. Fearful of
drawing attention upon himself, as one who had wealth in store, he had
come to live like a beggar in this out-of-the-way place, where his
money was securely buried, and with it a provision of corn, peas, and
lentils which would keep him alive for a long time. Apollonius was the
only man living whom Sagaris, out of reverence and awe, would have
hesitated to rob, and the only man to whom he did not lie. For beside
being learned in the stars, an interpreter of dreams, a prophet of
human fate, Apollonius spoke to those he could trust of a religion, of
sacred mysteries, much older, he said, and vastly more efficacious for
the soul's weal than the faith in Christ. To this religion Sagaris also
inclined, for it was associated with memories of his childhood in the
East; if he saw the rising of the sun, and was unobserved, he bowed
himself before it, with various other observances of which he had
forgotten the meaning.

His purpose in coming hither was to speak of Stephanus's dream. The
astrologer listened very attentively, and, after long brooding,
consented to use his art for the investigation of the matter.

* * * *





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