‘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.
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.