When all had perused the will, Basil rose up and addressed them. He began by a seemingly careless allusion to the tattle about himself, which, as it appeared, had been started in Rome by some one who wished him ill. The serious matter of which he had to speak regarded the daughter of Maximus. No one here, of course, would be inclined to take up the defence of Aurelia, whose history was known to all, he would merely make known to them that after having abjured her religious errors, and when living quietly in the Surrentine villa, she had been treacherously seized and carried off he knew not whither. It was not difficult to surmise by whom this plot had been laid, but he would leave that point for his hearers’ discussion. Him it chiefly concerned to make known the strange facts so far as he knew them; and this he proceeded to do. Basil concluded with sarcastic reference to the possibility that he, as heir, might be openly or secretly suspected of having laid hands upon Aurelia; that point also he left to be debated by such as thought it worth while.
Only some two or three of those who listened had any personal interest in the will, and few cared at all for the fate of Aurelia; but the lady at whom Basil’s innuendo pointed enjoyed no great favour, and her absence from this family gathering made it possible to discuss with all freedom the likelihood of her culpability. At Basil himself no suspicion glanced, but the rumour of his marriage with a Goth had excited much curiosity, hardly appeased by a whisper that Gordian declared the story false. Having spoken all he thought fit to say, Basil was going apart with the persons to whom legacies had been left, he, as heir, being charged with the execution of the will, when Gordian approached him, and begged for a word in private.
‘I would not have you think me unkind, dear Basil,’ he said, in a gentle voice. ’It was neither the place nor the moment to hear secrets from you, and I am glad now that I refused to listen; but be assured that I put faith in what you have declared to us.’
‘It is well, dear Gordian,’ replied Basil frankly.
‘One word I will add,’ continued the other. ’If you are troubled about things of the world, if you lack counsel such as you think a friend might give, delay not in coming to me. I should not speak thus confidently did I speak of myself alone; but there is one ever at my side, who with her wisdom—sometimes I think it divinely bestowed—supplies the weakness of my own understanding. Guided by her, I cannot counsel you amiss.’
They parted with an embrace, and Basil turned to the business of the moment. This occupied him until nearly mid-day. As he took leave of the last of his guests, there entered Marcian; his coming surprised Basil, for they had parted at early morning not to meet again before the morrow.
‘I bring you an invitation,’ said Marcian, in a careless tone, which was not quite natural. ‘It is to the Palatine, after dinner.’