A wicket opened, and at once there sounded from within an exclamation of joyful surprise. After much clanking, the door yielded, and an elderly servant, the freedman Eugenius, offered greeting to his lord. Basil’s first question was whether Decius had been there; he learnt that his kinsman was now in the house, having come yesterday to reside here from the Anician palace beyond the Tiber.
’Tell him at once that I am here. Stay; I dare say he is in the library. I will go to him.’
He passed through the atrium, adorned with ancestral busts and with the consular fasces which for centuries had signified nothing, through a room hung with tapestry and floored with fine mosaic, through the central court, where the fountain was dry, and by a colonnade reached the secluded room which was called library, though few books remained out of the large collection once guarded here. In a sunny embrasure, a codex open on his knees, sat the pale student; seeing Basil, he started up in great surprise, and, when they had embraced, regarded him anxiously.
‘How is this? What has happened? Some calamity, I see.’
’Seek some word, O Decius, to utter more than that. I have suffered worse than many deaths.’
‘My best, my dearest Basil!’ murmured the other tenderly. ’You have lost her?’
‘Lost her? yes; but not as you mean it. Is Petronilla in Rome?’
‘She arrived the day before yesterday, two hours after sunset.’
‘And you have seen her, talked with her?’
‘I was at the house yonder when she came.’
‘And she behaved ill to you?’ asked Basil.
’Far from that, Petronilla overwhelmed me with affection and courtesy. I knew not,’ proceeded Decius smiling, ’how I had all at once merited such attention. I came away merely because this situation better suits my health. Down by the river I have never been at ease. But let me hear what has befallen you.’
Basil told his story, beginning with the explanation of Veranilda’s importance in the eyes of the Greek commander. After learning from the Hun that nothing was known of the lost ladies at Cumae, he had impatiently lingered for three days in the castle of Venantius, on the chance that Marcian might be able to test the truth of Chorsoman’s report; but his friend made no discovery, and in despair he set out for Rome. To all this Decius listened with wonder and with sympathy. He had no difficulty in crediting Petronilla with such a plot, but thought she could scarce have executed it without the help of some one in authority. Such a person, he added cautiously, as a deacon of the Roman Church. Hereupon Basil exclaimed that he and Marcian had had the same suspicion.