‘Stubborn, stubborn!’ murmured Leander, shaking his head, and passed on as though in troubled thought.
Later in the day, when she had seen her father, Aurelia made known to her cousin Basil, who had requested an interview, that he might come. His cousin received him smilingly, almost affectionately.
Marcian having this morning taken his leave, called away by some unexplained business to Neapolis, Basil had been on the point of taking Decius into his amorous confidence, when this summons rejoiced him.
‘Is the letter written?’ were Basil’s first words.
‘It is here. Can you despatch it at once?’
‘I will take it myself,’ he answered promptly.
Aurelia shook her head.
’You must not. My father’s life is fast failing. No one can say which hour may be his last. If he asked for you, and you were absent—’
‘Felix shall go,’ said Basil. ’The wind is favourable. He may have to ride back to-morrow, but we can trust him to make all speed.’
’He took the letter, which was superscribed, ’To the most noble lady Veranilda.’
‘Dear cousin, you have spoken of me?’ he asked with a wistful look.
‘I have said, good cousin,’ Aurelia answered pleasantly, ’that you wished to be spoken of.’
’What more should I say? Your Amiability is too hasty. Remember that you have scarce seen her.’
‘Scarce seen Veranilda!’ exclaimed Basil. ’Why, it seems to me as though I had known her for years! Have we not talked together?’
’Once. The first time does not count; you exchanged hardly a dozen words. When,’ added Aurelia, smiling, ’were you so dashed in a maid’s presence?’
’Nay, never! I am not accused of too much modesty; but when I entered and looked on Veranilda—oh, it was the strangest moment of my life! Noble cousin,’ he added pleadingly, ’honoured Aurelia, do but tell me what is her parentage?’
’How does that concern your Excellence? I have told you all that it imports you to know—at all events for the present. Cousin Basil, you delay the letter; I should wish her to have it before nightfall, for she thinks anxiously of me.’
‘I go. When may I again speak with you?’
‘You shall hear when I am at leisure.’
Basil despatched his servant to Cumae not with one letter only, but with two. Greatly daring, he had himself written to Veranilda; in brief terms, but every word tremulous with his passion. And for half an hour he stood watching the sail which wafted his messenger over the gulf, ruffled to-day by a south-west wind, driver of clouds. Little thought had he to give to the dying Maximus, but at the ninth hour he turned his steps to the oratory, once a temple of Isis, and heard the office, and breathed a prayer for his kindly relative. Which duty discharged, he prayed more fervently, to whatever saint or deity has ear for such petitions, that he might be loved by the Gothic maid.