’Dearest lady, I cannot bid you be comforted, but I entreat you to pardon me, the hapless revealer of your misfortune. Say only that you forgive me.’
‘What is there to forgive?’ she answered, checking her all but silent sobs. ’You have told what it behoved you to tell. And it may be’—her look changed of a sudden—’that I am too hasty in embracing sorrow. How can I believe that Basil has done this? Are you not misled by some false suspicion? Has not some enemy slandered him to you? What can you say to make me credit a thing so evil?’
’Alas! It were but too easy for me to lengthen a tale which all but choked me in the telling; I could name others who know, but to you they would be only names. That of Heliodora, had you lived in Rome, were more than enough.’
‘You say he loved her before?’
’He did, dear lady, and when her husband was yet living. Now that he is dead—’
‘Have you yet told me all?’ asked Veranilda, gazing fixedly at him. ‘Has he married her?’
‘Not yet—I think.’
Again she bowed her head. For a moment her tears fell silently, then she looked up once more fighting against her anguish.
’It cannot be true that he would have given me to the Greeks; that he may have forgotten me, that he may have turned to another love, I can perhaps believe—for what am I that Basil should love me? But to scheme my injury, to deliver me to our enemies—Oh, you are deceived, you are deceived!’
Marcian was silent, with eyes cast down. In the branches, cicadas trilled their monotone. The viper, which had been startled away, again showed its lithe blackness among the stones behind Veranilda, and Marcian, catching sight of it, again touched her arm.
‘The snake! Come away from this place.’
Veranilda drew her arm back as if his touch stung her.
‘I will go,’ she said. ’I must be alone—my thoughts are in such confusion I know not what I say.’
‘Say but one word,’ he pleaded. ’Having rescued you, I knew not how to provide for your security save under ward of the king. Totila is noble and merciful; all Italy will soon be his, and the Gothic rule be re-established. Assure me that I have done well and wisely.’
‘I hope you have,’ answered Veranilda, regarding him for an instant. ’But I know nothing; I must bear what befalls. Let me go to my chamber, lord Marcian, and sit alone and think.’
He led her back into the villa, and they parted without another word.
THE BETRAYER BETRAYED
Sagaris, making his best speed, soon arrived at Aquinum. He and his horse were bathed in sweat; the shelter of an inn, where he had dinner, tempted him to linger more than he need have done, and the fierce sun was already declining when he rode forth along the Latin Way. As yet he had seen no Goths. Every one talked of Totila, but he had a difficulty in ascertaining where at this moment the king was to be found; some declared he was as near as Venafrum, others that he lay much further down the valley of the Vulturnus. Arrived at Venafrum, the messenger learnt that he could not have less than another whole day’s journey before him, so here be harboured for the night.