‘Why do you seek me?’ cried Basil.
‘You come from yonder? Have you seen Aurelia? Then it is true.’
Marcian told the news brought up from Surrentum by some person unknown, who, having uttered it in the porter’s ear, had at once fled.
‘Go call Venantius,’ said Basil, when he had heard the brief story, ’and bring him straight to Aurelia’s house. They are gone; that slinking slave shall tell me how, or I will tear it out of him with his soul.’
Back he rushed, and found the nurse still crouching on the floor, wailing. He made her lead him to her lady’s chamber, and to that of Veranilda, where nothing unusual met their eyes. The watchman was then summoned; he came like one half dead, and smote the ground with his forehead before the young noble, who stood hand on dagger. A fierce interrogatory elicited clear and truthful answers; when Basil learned what Aurelia had whispered to her servant as she went forth, he uttered a groan.
‘Marcian! Venantius!’ he cried, for at that moment the two entered the atrium. ‘I understand it all. Why had I no fear of this?’
That Aurelia had been deceived and inveigled by one professing to be an Arian priest, seemed clear from the watchman’s story. For the originator of the plot, Basil had not far to look. This was the vengeance of Petronilla. But whither the two captives would be conveyed, was less easy to conjecture. Perhaps to Cumae. The thought stung Basil to frenzy, for, if Veranilda once fell into the hands of the Greeks, what hope had he of ever seeing her again?
‘Did Petronilla know?’ he asked of Marcian.
‘Who can say?’ answered his friend, easily understanding the curtailed question. ’Like enough that she had sent to Cumae to learn all she could; and in that case, she found, you may be sure, ready instruments of her malice. Were it not better,’ Marcian added in an aside, ‘to tell Venantius what danger threatened Veranilda?’
The warlike Roman, who, aroused on an alarm, had instantly equipped himself with casque and sword, stood listening to what passed, sniffing the air and rolling his eyes about as if he desired nothing better than a conflict. The others now drew him aside into a more private place, and made known to him their reason for fearing that the Gothic maiden had been seized by emissaries from Cumae.
‘Had I heard that story before,’ said Venantius, all but laughing with angry surprise, ’Veranilda would now be safe in my castle; for, instead of lingering, I should have come straightway, to rescue her and you. Holy Peter and Paul! You sported here, day after day, knowing that the hounds of Justinian had scent of the maid you carried away? You, Basil, might commit such folly, for you were blinded to everything by your love. But, Marcian, how came you to let him loll in his dream of security? Why did you conceal this from me? By Castor! it was unfriendly as it was imprudent. You robbed me of a sweet morsel when you denied me the chance of balking the Greeks in such a matter as this. Nay, the bird is caged at Cumae, be sure.’