‘Man of God!’ he exclaimed in a voice of sudden passion, terribly resonant after the dull, hard accents of his questioning. ’You look upon me with abhorrence, and, perhaps, with fear. Hearken to my vindication. He whom I have slain was the man I held in dearest friendship. I believed him true to the heart’s core. Yesterday— was it but yesterday?—O blessed Christ!—it seems to me so long ago—I learned that his heart was foul with treachery. Long, long, he has lied to me, pretending to seek with me for one I had lost, my plighted love. In secret he robbed me of her. Heard you not his answer when, to catch the lie on his very lips, I asked what news he could give me of her. I knew that she was here; his own servant had secretly avowed the truth to me. And you heard him say that she was gone on far travel. Therefore it was that he would not harbour me in his house—me, his friend. In the name of the Crucified, did I not well to lay him low?’
Somewhat recovered from the emotions which had enfeebled him, Gaudiosus held up his head, and made solemn answer.
’Not yours was it to take vengeance. The God to whom you appeal has said: “Thou shalt do no murder."’
‘Consider his crime,’ returned the other. ’In the moment when he swore falsely I lifted up my eyes, and behold, she herself stood before me. She whom I loved, who had pledged herself to me, who long ago would have been my wife but for the enemy who came between us— she, hidden here with him, become a wanton in his embraces—’
A low cry of anguish interrupted him. He turned. Veranilda had risen and drawn near.
‘Basil! You know not what you say.’
‘Nor what I could say,’ he replied, his eyes blazing with scorn. ’You, who were truth itself have you so well learned to lie? Talk on. Tell me that he held you here perforce, and that you passed the days and the nights in weeping. Have I not heard of your smiles and your contentment? Whither did you stray this morning? Did you go into the wood to say your orisons?’
Veranilda turned to the priest.
‘Servant of God I Hear me, unhappy that I am!’
With a gesture of entreaty she flung out her hands, and, in doing so, saw that one of them was red. Her woebegone look changed to terror.
’What is this? His blood is upon me—on my hand, my garment. When did I touch him? Holy father, whither has he gone? Does he live? Oh, tell me if he lives!’
‘Come hence with me,’ said Gaudiosus. ’Come where I may hear you utter the truth before God.’
But Veranilda was as one distraught. She threw herself on to her knees.
’Tell me he lives. He is but sorely hurt? He can speak? Whither have they carried him?’
Confirmed in his damning thought by every syllable she uttered, Basil strode away.
‘Lead her where you will,’ he shouted. ’I stay under this abhorred roof only till my men have eaten and taken rest.’