Basil lingered. He no longer entertained the suspicion that Veranilda might be here, but he thought that, could he speak with Petronilla herself, penitence might prompt her to tell him where the captive lay hidden. It surprised him not at all to hear Leander’s name as that of her confidant in the matter, though hitherto his thought had not turned in that direction. Leander signified the Church, and what hope was there that he could gain his end against such an opponent?—more formidable than Bessas, more powerful, perhaps, than Justinian. Were Veranilda imprisoned in some monastery, he might abandon hope of beholding her again on this side of the grave.
Yet it was something to know that she had not passed into the hands of the Greeks; that she was not journeying to the Byzantine court, there to be wedded against her will. Cheered by this, he felt an impulse of daring; he would see Petronilla.
‘Leo! Lead me to the chamber.’
The freedman besought him not to be so rash, but Basil was possessed with furious resolve. He drove the servant before him, through the atrium, into a long corridor. Suddenly the silence was broken by a shriek of agony, so terrible that Basil felt his blood chilled to the very heart. This cry came again, echoing fearfully through the halls and galleries of this palace of marble. The servants had fled; Basil dropped to his knees, crossed himself, prayed, the sweat standing upon his forehead. A footstep approached him; he rose, and saw the physician who had been with Maximus at Surrentum.
‘Does she still live?’ he asked.
‘If life it can be called. What do you here, lord Basil?’
‘Can she hear and speak?’
‘I understand you,’ replied the physician. ’But it is useless. She has confessed to the priest, and will utter no word more. Look to yourself; the air you breathe is deadly.’
And Basil, weak as a child, suffered himself to be led away.
THE SOUL OF ROME
The library in Basil’s house was a spacious, graceful room, offering at this day very much the same aspect as in the time of that ancestral Anician, who, when Aurelian ruled, first laid rolls and codices upon its shelves. Against the walls stood closed presses of wood, with bronze panelling, on which were seen in relief the portraits of poets and historians; from the key of each hung a strip of parchment, with a catalogue of the works within. Between the presses, on pedestals of dark green serpentine, ranged busts of the Greek philosophers: Zeno with his brows knitted, Epicurus bland, Aratus gazing upward, Heraclitus in tears, Democritus laughing. These were attributed to ancient artists, and by all who still cared for such things were much admired. In the middle stood a dancing faun in blood red marble, also esteemed a precious work of art. Light entered by an arched window, once glazed, now only barred with ornamental iron, too high in the wall to allow of any view; below this, serving as table, was an old marble sarcophagus carved with the Calydonian hunt.