‘Tell me your name and it shall be done.’
The warm mouth breathed against his cheek and a name was murmured.
The second day after this saw an event in the Palatine which was matter of talk for some two days more, and then passed into oblivion. Rumour said that Muscula had been detected plotting against the life of Bessas, that she had been. examined under torture, found guilty, and executed. Certain gossips pretended that there was no plot at all, but that Bessas, weary of his mistress, had chosen this way of getting rid of her. Be that as it might, Muscula was dead.
LEANDER THE POLITIC
For most of his knowledge of private things that happened on the Palatine—and little that went on in the household of Bessas escaped him—Marcian depended upon his servant Sagaris. Exorbitant vanity and vagrant loves made the Syrian rather a dangerous agent; but it was largely owing to these weaknesses that he proved so serviceable. His master had hitherto found him faithful, and no one could have worked more cunningly and persistently when set to play the spy or worm for secrets. Notwithstanding all his efforts, this man failed to discover whether Veranilda had indeed passed into the guardianship of Bessas; good reason in Marcian’s view for believing that she was still detained by Leander, and probably in some convent. But a rumour sprang up among those who still took interest in the matter that some one writing from Sicily professed to have seen the Gothic maiden on board a vessel which touched there on its way to the East. This came to the ears of Marcian on the day after his conversation with Heliodora. Whether it were true or not he cared little, but he was disturbed by its having become subject of talk at this moment, for Heliodora could not fail to hear the story.
The death of Muscula set him quivering with expectancy. That it resulted from his plotting he could not be assured. Sagaris, who wore a more than usually self-important air when speaking of the event, had all manner of inconsistent reports on his tongue Not many days passed before Marcian received a letter, worded like an ordinary invitation, summoning him to the house on the Quirinal.
He went at the third hour of the morning, and was this time led upstairs to a long and wide gallery, which at one side looked down upon the garden in the rear of the house, and at the other offered a view over a great part of Rome. Here was an aviary, constructed of fine lattice work in wood, over-trailed with creeping plants, large enough to allow of Heliodora’s entering and walking about among the multitude of birds imprisoned. At this amusement Marcian found her. Upon her head perched a little songster; on her shoulder nestled a dove; two fledglings in the palm of her hand opened their beaks for food. Since her last visit a bird had died, and Heliodora’s eyes were still moist from the tears she had shed over it.