At the appointed hour next morning, when yet no ray of sunshine had touched the gloomy little street, though a limpid sky shone over it, Basil stood at Aurelia’s door. The grey-headed porter silently admitted him, and he passed by a narrow corridor into a hall lighted as usual from above, paved with red tiles, here and there trodden away, the walls coloured a dusky yellow, and showing an imaginary line of pillars painted in blue. A tripod table, a couch, and a few chairs were the only furniture. When the visitor had waited for a few moments a curtain concealing the entrance to the inner part of the house moved aside, and Aurelia’s voice bade her cousin come forward. He entered a smaller room opening upon a diminutive court where a few shrubs grew; around the walls hung old and faded tapestry; the floor was of crude mosaic; the furniture resembled that of the atrium, with the addition of a brasier.
‘I have been anxious for your coming,’ were Aurelia’s first words. ’Do you think they will let us depart without hindrance? Yesterday I saw the owner of this house to transact my business with him. It is Venustus, a curial, a man who has always been well disposed to me. He said that he must perforce make known to the governor my intention of leaving the city, and hoped no obstacle would be put in our way. This morning, before sunrise, a messenger from the citadel came and put questions to the porter.’
Basil knitted his brows.
’Venustus? It is with Venustus that Marcian lodges. Yes, Marcian is here; I know not on what business. It would have been wiser,’ he added, ’to have said nothing, to have gone away as before. When shall you be ready?’
’I am ready now. Why delay? What matter though we reach Surrentum by night? The moon rises early.’
‘What reply was given to the messenger from the citadel?’
‘He learned, perforce, that we were preparing for a journey.’
A moment’s reflection and Basil decided to risk immediate departure; delay and uncertainty were at all times hateful to him, and at the present juncture intolerable. At once he quitted the house (not having ventured to speak the name of Veranilda), and in an hour’s time the covered carriage from Puteoli, and another vehicle, were in waiting. The baggage was brought out; then, as Basil stood in the hall, he saw Aurelia come forward, accompanied by a slight female figure, whose grace could not be disguised by the long hooded cloak which wrapped it from head to foot, allowing not a glimpse of face. The young man trembled, and followed. He saw the ladies step into the carriage, and was himself about to mount his horse, when a military officer, attended by three soldiers, stepped towards him, and, without phrase of courtesy, demanded his name. Pallid, shaken with all manner of emotions, Basil replied to this and several other inquiries, the result being that the two vehicles were ordered to be driven to the citadel, and he to go thither under guard.