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.’
‘Let me hear that Muscula is dead.’
Sagaris stood mute. A hand touched his shoulder, his hair; perfumes loaded the air about him.