Unless, indeed, the young king, young and warm-blooded however noble of mind, should himself look upon Veranilda with a lover’s eyes. It was not the first time that Marcian had thought of this. It made him wince. But he reminded himself that herein lay another safeguard against the happiness of Basil, and so was able to disregard the fear.
He would let his victim repose during the heat of the day, and then, towards evening, would summon her to another interview. Not much longer could he hope to be with her in privacy; to-morrow, or the next day at latest, emissaries of the Gothic king would come in response to his letter. But this evening he should speak with her, gaze upon her, for a long, long hour. She was gentle, meek, pious; in everything the exquisite antithesis of such a woman as Heliodora. Out of very humility she allowed herself to believe that Basil had ceased to love her. How persuade her, against the pure loyalty of her heart, that he had even plotted her surrender to an unknown fate? What proof of that could he devise? Did he succeed in overcoming her doubts, would he not have gone far towards winning her gratitude?
She would shed tears again; it gave him a nameless pleasure to see Veranilda weep.
Thinking thus, he strayed aimlessly and unconsciously in courts and corridors. Night would come again, and could he trust himself through the long, still night after long speech with Veranilda? A blacker thought than any he had yet nurtured began to stir in his mind, raising its head like the viper of an hour ago. Were she but his—his irredeemably? He tried to see beyond that, but his vision blurred.
Her nature was gentle, timid; the kind of nature, he thought, which subdues itself to the irreparable. So soft, so sweet, so utterly woman, might she not, thinking herself abandoned by Basil, yield heart and soul to a man whom she saw helpless to resist a passionate love of her? Or, if this hope deceived him, was there no artifice with which to cover his ill-doing, no piece of guile subtle enough to cloak such daring infamy?
He was in the atrium, standing on the spot where first he had talked with her. As then, he gazed at the bronze group of the candelabrum; his eyes were fixed on those of Proserpine.