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.’
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