Her bowed head and flushing cheek told him that she understood.
‘Basil,’ she whispered, ‘it was not you, not you.’
’Gladly would I give myself that comfort. When I think, indeed, that this hand was raised to take my friend’s life, I shake with horror and say, “Not I did that!” Even so would I refuse to charge my very self with those words that my lips uttered. But to you they were spoken; you heard them; you fled before them—’
She had hidden her face with her hands. Basil threw himself upon his knees beside her.
’Though I spoke in madness, can you ever forget? God Himself, I know, will sooner blot out my sin of murder than this wound I inflicted upon your pure and gentle heart!’
Veranilda caught his hand and pressed her lips upon it, whilst her tears fell softly.
‘Listen, dearest Basil,’ she said. ’To think that I guard this in my memory against you would be to do me wrong. Remember how first I spoke to you about it, when we first knew that we loved each other. Did I not tell you that this was a thing which could never be quite forgotten? Did I not know that, if ever I sinned, or seemed to sin, this would be the first rebuke upon the lips of those I angered? Believing me faithless—nay, not you, beloved, but your fevered brain—how could you but think that thought? And, even had you not spoken it, must I not have read it in your face? Never ask me to forgive what you could not help. Rather, O Basil, will I entreat you, even as I did before, to bear with the shame inseparable from my being. If it lessen not your love, have I not cause enough for thankfulness?’
Hearing such words as these, in the sweetest, tenderest voice that ever caressed a lover’s senses, Basil knew not how to word all that was in his heart. Passion spoke for him, and not in vain; for in a few moments Veranilda’s tears were dry, or lingered only to glisten amid the happy light which beamed from her eyes. Side by side, forgetful of all but their recovered peace, they talked sweet nothings, until there sounded from far a woman’s voice, calling the name of Veranilda.
‘That is Athalfrida,’ she said, starting up. ‘I must not delay.’
One whisper, one kiss, and she was gone. When Basil, after brief despondency came forth on to the open terrace, he saw her at a distance, standing with Athalfrida and Osuin. Their looks invited him to approach, and, when he was near, Veranilda stepped towards him.
‘It will not be long,’ she said calmly, ’before we again meet. The lord Osuin promises, and he speaks for the king.’
Basil bowed in silence. The great-limbed warrior and his fair wife had their eyes upon him, and were smiling good-naturedly. Then Osuin spoke in thick-throated Latin.
‘Shall we be gone, lord Basil?’
From the end of the terrace, Basil looked back. Athalfrida stood with her arm about the maiden’s waist; both gazed towards him, and Veranilda waved her hand.