His wily and unscrupulous mind had all day long been busy with speculations as to the errand on which he was sent. Knowing that his master wrote to Goths in the Gothic tongue, he was spared temptation to break open the letter he carried; otherwise he would assuredly have done so, for the hatred which Sagaris naturally felt for any one in authority over him was now envenomed by jealousy, and for the last month or two he had only waited an opportunity of injuring Marcian and of advancing, by the same stroke, his own fortunes.
Having started from Rome in ignorance of his master’s purpose, the events of the night at Praeneste at once suggested to him the name of the person who was being so cautiously and hurriedly conveyed under Marcian’s guard, and by the end of the journey he had no doubt left. Here, at last, was the Gothic maiden who had been sought so persistently by Marcian, by Basil, by Bessas, by Heliodora, and doubtless by many others, since her disappearance from Surrentum. Whither was she now being conducted? Sagaris did not know that among her seekers was King Totila himself; on the other hand, he had much reason for suspecting that Marcian pursued Veranilda with a lover’s passion, and when the journey ended at the island villa, when the convoy of horsemen was dismissed, when he himself was sent off to a distance, he saw his suspicion confirmed. By some supreme subtlety, Marcian had got the beautiful maiden into his power, and doubtless the letter he was sending to Totila contained some device for the concealing of what had happened.
Now to the Syrian this would have been a matter of indifference, but for his secret communications with Heliodora and all that had resulted therefrom. Heliodora’s talk was of three persons—of Marcian, of Basil, of Veranilda—and Sagaris, reasoning from all the gossip he had heard, and from all he certainly knew, concluded that the Greek lady had once loved Basil, but did so no more, that her love had turned to Marcian, and that she either knew or suspected Marcian to be a rival of Basil for the love of Veranilda. Thus had matters stood (he persuaded himself) until his own entrance on the scene. That a woman might look with ardent eyes on more than one man in the same moment, seemed to Sagaris the simplest of facts; he consequently found it easy to believe that, even whilst loving Marcian, Heliodora should have conceived a tenderness for Marcian’s slave. That Heliodora’s professions might be mere trickery, he never imagined; his vanity forbade it; at each successive meeting he seemed to himself to have strengthened his hold upon the luxurious woman; each time he came away with a fiercer hatred of Marcian, and a deeper resolve to ruin him. True, as yet, he had fed only on promises, but being the man he was, he could attribute to Heliodora a selfish interest in combination with a lover’s desire; what more intelligible than that she should use him to the utmost against those she hated, postponing his reward until he had rendered her substantial service? Thus did Sagaris feel and reason, whilst riding along the Latin Way. His difficulty was to decide how he should act at this juncture; how, with greatest profit to himself, he could do most scathe to Marcian.