’I must go back to the night when I left the convent. No one had told me I was to go away. In the middle of the night I was aroused and led forth, with me the woman who served me. We had travelled an hour or two, perhaps, when some one standing by the carriage spoke to me, some one who said he was Marcian the friend of Basil, and bade me have no fears, for Basil awaited me at the end of the journey. The next day he spoke to me again, this time face to face, but only a few words. We came to this villa. You have been told, by I know not whom, that I was light of heart. It is true, for I believed what Marcian had said to me, and nothing had befallen to disturb my gladness. I lived with my serving woman privately, in quiet and hope. This morning, yielding, alas! to a wish which I thought harmless, I went forth with my attendant to the waterfall. As I stood gazing at it, the lord Marcian came forth on horseback. He alighted to speak with me, and presently asked if I would go to see another fall of the river, across the island. I consented. As we went, he dismissed my servant, and I did not know what he had done (thinking she still followed), until, when we were in a wood at the water’s edge, I could no longer see the woman, and Marcian told me he had bidden her go to fetch seats for us. Then he began to speak, and what he said, how shall I tell you?’
There was another brief silence. Basil did not stir; his eyes were bent sternly upon the veiled visage.
’Was it evil in his heart that shaped such words? Or had he been deceived by some other? He said that Basil had forgotten me; that Basil loved, and would soon wed, a lady in Rome. More than that, he said that Basil was plotting to get me into his power, his purpose being to deliver me to the Greeks, who would take me to Constantinople. But Marcian, so he declared, had rescued me in time, and I was to be guarded by the King of the Goths.’
The listener moved, raising his arm and letting it fall again. But he breathed no word.
‘This did he tell me,’ she added. ’I went back to the villa to my chamber. I sat thinking, I know not how long; I know not how long. Then, unable to remain any longer alone, driven by my dreadful doubt, I came forth to seek Marcian. I descended the stairs to the atrium. You saw me—alas! alas!’
Basil drew nearer to her.
‘He had spoken no word of love?’
‘No word. I had no fear of that.’
‘Why, then, did he frame these lies, these hellish lies?’
‘Alas!’ cried Veranilda, clasping her hands above her head. ’Did he still live, the truth might be discovered. His first words to me, in the night when he stood beside the carriage, sounded so kind and true; he named himself the friend of Basil, said that Basil awaited me at the journey’s end. How could he speak so, if he indeed then thought you what he afterwards said? Oh, were he alive, to stand face to face with me again!’