Marcian’s answer was in a tone of entire sincerity, very unlike that he had used when speaking on this subject with Heliodora.
’It might please him well or ill. The King’—he lowered his voice a little—’would see with gladness this beautiful maiden of his own people, sprung too from the royal blood, and would look with favour upon those who delivered her in safety to him. Should he make her his queen, and I believe she is worthy of that, the greater his gratitude to those who prevented her marriage with a Roman. If, on the other hand, he found that she could not forget her first lover, Totila is large-hearted enough to yield her up in all honour, and politic enough to see advantage in her union with the heir of the Anician house. Between these things, Basil must take his chance. Had he carried off his love, he would have wedded her in disregard of every danger; and so long as it was only the Greeks that sought her, I should have done my best to aid and to protect him. It is different now. Basil I hold dearer than any friend; his place is in my very heart, and his happiness is dearer to me than my own; but I cannot help him to frustrate a desire of Totila. The King is noble; to serve him is to promote the w_ of Italy, for which he fights, and in which name he will conquer.’
The deacon had paused in his walk. He looked thoughtfully about him. At this moment there came along the street an ox-drawn wagon, on which lay the marble statue of a deity; Leander stepped up to it, examined the marble, spoke with the men who were conveying it, and returned to Marcian with a shake of the head.
’It pains me to see such carven beauty burnt to lime. And yet how many thousands of her worshippers are now burning in Gehenna. Lord Marcian,’ he resumed, ’you have spoken earnestly and well, and have given me good proof of your sincerity. I think with you, and willingly would work with you.’
‘Reverend, does no opportunity present itself?’
‘In this moment, none that I can see,’ was the suave answer.
’Yet I perceive that you have made some offer of service to the King.’
’It is true; and perchance you shall hear more of it. Be not impatient; great things are not hastily achieved.’
With sundry other such remarks, so uttered that their triteness seemed to become the maturity of wisdom, Leander brought the colloquy to an end. It was his principle to trust no man unless he were assured of a motive strong enough to make him trustworthy, and that motive he had not yet discovered in Marcian. Nor, indeed, was he entirely sure of himself; for though he had gone so far as to communicate with the Gothic king, it was only in view of possibilities whose issue he still awaited. If the Pope set forth for Constantinople, he would leave as representative in Rome the deacon Pelagius, and from this brother cleric Leander had already received certain glances, which were not to be misunderstood. The moment might shortly come when he would need a friend more powerful than any he had within the city.