‘I must think,’ he murmured. ‘I must think.’
He had not yet seen Veranilda. When, in the afternoon, Basil led him into the ladies’ presence, and his eyes fell upon that white-robed loveliness, censure grew faint in him. Though a Decius, he was a man of the sixth century after Christ; his mind conceived an ideal of human excellence which would have been unintelligible to the Decii of old; in his heart meekness and chastity had more reverence than perhaps he imagined. He glanced at Basil; he understood. Though the future still troubled him, opposition to the lover’s will must, he knew, be idle.
Several hours before, Basil had scratched on a waxed tablet a few emphatic lines, which his cousin allowed to be transmitted to Veranilda. They assured her that what he had learned could only— if that were possible—increase his love, and entreated her to grant him were it but a moment’s speech after the formal visit, later in the day. The smile with which she now met him seemed at once gratitude and promise; she was calmer, and less timid. Though she took little part in the conversation, her words fell very sweetly after the men’s speech and the self-confident tones of Aurelia; her language was that of an Italian lady, but in the accent could be marked a slight foreignness, which to Basil’s ear had the charm of rarest music, and even to Decius sounded not unpleasing. Under the circumstances, talk, confined to indifferent subjects, could not last very long; as soon as it began to flag, Decius found an excuse for begging permission to retire. As though wishing for a word with him in confidence, Aurelia at the same time passed out of the room into the colonnade. Basil and Veranilda were left alone.
THE EMPEROR’S COMMAND
His voice made tremulous music, inaudible a few paces away; his breath was on her cheek; his eyes, as she gazed into them, seemed to envelop her in their glow.
’My fairest! Let me but touch your hand. Lay it for a moment in mine—a pledge for ever!’
‘You do not fear to love me, O lord of my life?’
The whisper made him faint with joy.
’What has fear to do with love, O thou with heaven in thine eyes! what room is there for fear in the heart where thy beauty dwells? Speak again, speak again, my beloved, and bless me above all men that live!’
’Basil! Basil! Utter my name once more. I never knew how sweet it could sound.’
’Nor I, how soft could be the sound of mine. Forgive me, O Veranilda, that out of my love pain has come to you. You will not ever be sad again? You will not think ever again of those bygone sorrows?’
She bent her head low.
‘Can you believe in my truth, O Basil? Can you forget?’
‘All save the nobleness of her who bore you, sweet and fair one.’
‘Let that be ever in your thought,’ said Veranilda, with a radiant look. ’She sees me now; and my hope, your strength and goodness, bring new joy to her in the life eternal.’