‘Say the word I wait for—whisper low—the word of all words.’
‘Out of my soul, O Basil, I love you!’
As the sound trembled into silence, his lips touched hers. In the golden shadow of her hair, the lily face flushed warm; yet she did not veil her eyes, vouchers of a life’s loyalty.
When Aurelia entered the room again, she walked as though absorbed in thought.
‘Decius tells me he must soon go to Rome,’ were her words, in drawing near to the lovers.
Basil had heard of no such purpose. His kinsman, under the will of Maximus, enjoyed a share in the annual revenue of this Surrentine estate; moreover, he became the possessor of many books, which lay in the Anician mansion of Rome, and it was his impatience. thought Aurelia, to lay hands upon so precious a legacy, which might at any time be put in danger by the events of the war, that prompted him to set forth.
‘Might he not perform the duty you have undertaken?’ she added in a lower voice, as she met Basil’s look.
Veranilda did not speak, but an anxious hope dawned in her face. And Basil saw it.
‘Have you spoken of it, cousin?’ he asked.
‘The thought has but just come to me.’
’Decius is not in good health. Thus late in the year, to travel by sea—Yet the weather may be fair, the sea still; and then it would be easier for him than the journey by land.’
Basil spoke in a halting tone. He could not without a certain shame think of revoking his promise to Petronilla, a very distinct promise, in which natural obligation had part. Yet the thought of the journey, of an absence from Veranilda, not without peril of many kinds, grew terrible to him. He looked at Veranilda again, and smiled encouragement.
The lady Petronilla had been wont to dine and sup in dignified publicity, seated on the sigma, in the room which had seen so many festivals, together with her male relatives and any guest who might be at the villa; in her presence, no man permitted himself the recumbent attitude, which indeed had been unusual save among the effeminate. But Aurelia and her companion took their meals apart. This evening, Basil and Decius supped almost in silence, each busy with his reflections. They lingered over the wine, their attendants having left them, until Decius, as if rousing himself from a dream, asked how long it was likely to be before the ship could sail. Basil answered that the leaden coffin would be ready within a few days (it was being made at Neapolis, out of water-pipes which had served a villa in ruins), and after that there would only be delay through wind and weather.
‘Are you greatly bent on going to Rome just now?’ was the student’s next inquiry, a twinkle in his eyes as he spoke.
‘By Bacchus!’ answered the other, handling his goblet. ’If I saw my way to avoid it!’
’I guessed as much. The suspicion came to me at a certain moment this morning—a mere grain, which ever since has been growing tanquam favus. I am not wont to consider myself as of much use, but is it not just possible that, in this case, your humble kinsman might serve you?’