When the bishop, supported by Leander and Andreas, rose from prayer, he was led by the obsequious clerics to a hall illumined by several lamps, where two brasiers gave forth a grateful glow in the chill of the autumn morning. Round about the walls, in niches, stood busts carved or cast of the ancestors of him who lay dead. Here, whilst voices of lamentation sounded from without, Leander made known to the prelate and the presbyter the terms of the will. Basil was instituted ‘heir’; that is to say, he became the legal representative of the dead man, and was charged with the distribution of those parts of the estate bequeathed to others. First of the legatees stood Aurelia. The listeners learnt with astonishment that the obstinate heretic was treated as though her father had had no cause of complaint against her; she was now mistress of the Surrentine estate, as well as of the great house in Rome, and of other property. A lamentable thing, the deacon admitted suavely; but, for his part, he was not without hope, and he fixed his eyes with a peculiar intensity on the troubled bishop.
Petronilla drew near. The will was already known to her in every detail, and she harboured a keen suspicion of the secret which lay behind it. Leander, she could not doubt, was behaving to her with duplicity, and this grieved her to the heart. It was to the bishop that she now addressed herself.
’Holy father, I am your suppliant. Not even for a day will I remain under this roof, even if—which is doubtful—I should be suffered to do so. I put myself under the protection of your Holiness, until such time as I can set forth on my sad journey to Rome. At Surrentum I must abide until the corpse of my brother can be conveyed to its final resting place—as I promised him.’
Much agitated, the prelate made answer that a fitting residence should be prepared for her before noon, and the presbyter Andreas added that he would instantly betake himself to the city on that business. Petronilla thanked him with the loftiest humility. For any lack of respect, or for common courtesy, to which they might be exposed ere they quitted the villa, she besought their Sanctities not to hold her responsible, she herself being now an unwilling intruder at this hearth, and liable at any moment to insult. Uttering which words in a resonant voice, she turned her eyes to where, a few yards away, stood Aurelia, with Basil and Decius behind her.
‘Reverend bishop,’ spoke a voice not less steady and sonorous than that of the elder lady, ’should you suffer any discourtesy in my house, it will come not from me, but from her who suggests its possibility, and whose mind is bent upon such things. Indeed, she has already scanted the respect she owes you in uttering these words. As for herself, remain she here for an hour or for a month, she is in no danger of insult—unless she deem it an insult to have her base falsehood flung back at her, and the enmity in her fierce eyes answered with the scorn it merits.’