‘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.
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.