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.