‘You do not love birds,’ she said, after gazing fixedly at Marcian a moment through the trellis.
‘I never thought,’ was the reply, ‘whether I loved them or not.’
’I had rather give my love to them than to any of mankind. They repay it better.’
She came forth, carefully closed the wicket behind her, and began to pace in the gallery as though she were alone. Presently she stood to gaze over the city spread before her, and her eyes rested upon the one vast building—so it seemed—which covered the Palatine Hill.
He drew near. Without looking at him, her eyes still on the distance, she said in an unimpassioned voice:
‘Did you lie to me, or were you yourself deceived?’
‘Lady, I know not of what you speak.’
‘You know well.’ Her dark eyes flashed a glance of rebuke, and turned scornfully away again. ’But it matters nothing. I sent for you to ask what more you have to say.’
Marcian affected surprise and embarrassment.
’It was my hope, gracious lady, that some good news awaited me on your lips. What can I say more than you have already heard from me?’
‘Be it so,’ was the careless reply. ’I have nothing to tell you except that Veranilda is not there.’ She pointed towards the palace. ‘And this I have no doubt you know.’
‘Believe me, O Heliodora,’ he exclaimed earnestly, ’I did not. I was perhaps misled by—’
Her eyes checked him.
‘By one who seemed to speak with honesty and assurance.’
’Let us say, then, that you were misled; whether deceived or not, concerns only yourself. And so, lord Marcian, having done what I can for you, though it be little, I entreat your kind remembrance, and God keep you.’
Her manner had changed to formal courtesy, and, with this dismissal, she moved away again. Marcian stood watching her for a moment, then turned to look at the wide prospect. A minute or two passed; he heard Heliodora’s step approaching.
‘What keeps you here?’ she asked coldly.
‘Lady, I am thinking.’
‘Of the day soon to come when Totila will be king in Rome.’
Heliodora’s countenance relaxed in a smile.
‘Yet you had nothing more to say to me,’ she murmured in a significant tone.
’There were much to say, Heliodora, to one whom I knew my friend. I had dared to think you so.’
‘What proof of friendship does your Amiability ask?’ inquired the lady with a half-mocking, half-earnest look.
As if murmuring to himself, Marcian uttered the name ‘Veranilda.’
‘They say she is far on the way to Constantinople,’ said Heliodora. ’If so, and if Bessas sent her, his craft is greater than I thought. For I have spoken with him, and’—she smiled—’he seems sincere when he denied all knowledge of the maiden.’