‘What is your next question?’ she said. ’I am at leisure for a little longer.’
‘If Veranilda is in the hands of the Greeks, where is Aurelia?’
‘I should be glad to think,’ replied the lady, ’that she has withdrawn from the world to expiate her sins.’
‘Would you have me believe that Marcian knows that secret also?’
‘I respect your innocence,’ answered Petronilla, with a smile, ’and will say no more.’
Again Basil stood for a moment voiceless in wrath. Then he threw up an arm, and spoke with terrible vehemence.
’Woman, if you have lied to me, wickedly seeking to put enmity between me and my friend, may the pest smite you, and may you perish unforgiven of man and God!’
Petronilla blanched not. For one instant he glared at her, and was gone.
Marcian’s abode was in the Via Lata, the thoroughfare which ran straight and broad, directly northwards, from the Capitoline Hill to the Flaminian Gate. Hard by were the headquarters of the city watch, a vast building, now tenanted by a few functionaries whose authority had fallen into contempt; and that long colonnade of Hadrian, called the Septa, where merchants once exposed their jewels and fabrics to the crowd of sauntering wealthy, and where nowadays a few vendors of slaves did their business amid the crumbling columns. Surrounded by these monuments of antiquity, the few private residences still inhabited had a dreary, if not a mean, aspect. Some of them—and Marcian’s dwelling was one—had been built in latter times with material taken from temple or portico or palace in ruins; thus they combined richness of detail with insignificant or clumsy architecture. An earthquake of a few years ago, followed by a great inundation of the Tiber, had wrought disaster among these modern structures. A pillar of Marcian’s porch, broken into three pieces, had ever since been lying before the house, and a marble frieze, superb carving of the Antonine age, which ran across the facade, showed gaps where pieces had been shattered away.
His family, active in public services under Theodoric, had suffered great losses in the early years of the war; and Marcian, who, as a very young man, held a post under the Praetorian Prefect at Ravenna, found himself reduced to narrow circumstances. After the fall of Ravenna, he came to Rome (accompanied on the journey by Basil, with whom his intimacy then began), and ere long, necessity driving him to expedients for which he had no natural inclination, he entered upon that life of double treachery which he had avowed to his friend. As the world went, Marcian was an honest man: he kept before him an ideal of personal rectitude; he believed himself, and hitherto with reason, incapable of falsity to those who trusted him in the relations of private life. Moreover, he had a sense of religion, which at times, taking