This evening Maximus seemed to suffer less. He lay with closed eyes, a look of calm on his worn countenance. Beside him sat Decius, reading in low tones from that treatise on the Consolation of Philosophy, which Boethius wrote in prison, a hook wherein Maximus sought comfort, this last year or two more often than in the Evangel, or the Lives of Saints. Decius himself would have chosen a philosopher of older time, but in the words of his own kinsman, Maximus found an appeal more intimate, a closer sympathy, than in ancient teaching. He loved especially the passages of verse; and when the reader came to those lines—
’O felix hominum genus,
Si vestros animos amor
Quo coelum regitur, regat,’
he raised his hand, smiling with peculiar sweetness.
‘Pause there, O Decius,’ he said, in a weak but clear voice; ’let me muse awhile.’ And he murmured the verses to himself.
The Bishop of Surrentum, an elderly man and infirm, had for the past fortnight been unable to leave his house, but day by day he received news of what passed at the villa of Maximus, and held with the presbyter, Andreas, many colloquies on that weighty topic, the senator’s testament. As it happened, neither bishop nor presbyter had much aptitude for worldly affairs; they were honest, simple-minded clerics, occupied with visions and marvels and the saving details of dogma; exultant whenever a piece of good fortune befell their church, but modest in urging a claim at the bedside of the sick. Being the son of a freedman who had served in the Anician house, the bishop could not approach Maximus without excessive reverence; before Petronilla he was even more unduly awed.
On Sunday morning the good prelate lay wakeful at the hour of matins, and with quavering voice chanted to himself the psalm of the office from which his weakness held him apart. Presently the door opened, and in the dim lamp-light appeared the presbyter Andreas, stepping softly. He made known that an urgent message had just summoned him to the villa; Maximus was near his end.
‘I, too, will come,’ exclaimed the bishop, rising in his bed and ringing loudly a little hand-bell.
‘Venerable father! your health—’
‘Hasten, hasten, Andreas! I follow.’
In less than an hour he descended from his litter, and, resting on the arms of two servants, was conducted to the chamber of the dying man. Andreas had just administered the last rites; whether the fixed eyes still saw was doubtful. At a murmur of ‘the bishop’ those by the doorway reverently drew aside. On one side of the bed were Aurelia and the deacon; on the other, Petronilla and Basil and Decius. Though kneeling, the senator’s daughter held herself proudly. Though tears were on her face, she hardly disguised an air of triumph. Nor was the head of Petronilla bent; her countenance looked hard and cold as marble. Leander, a model of decorum, stepped with grave greeting towards the prelate, and whispered a word or two. In the stillness that followed there quivered a deep breath. Flavius Anicius Maximus had lived his life.