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heart. Having read thus far in the past, Marcian had to turn anxious thought upon the future, for his position of seeming security could not long continue. He bent himself to allay the wrath he had excited. Falling of a sudden into a show of profound distress, he kept silence for a little, then murmured bitterly:
'I see what has happened. When the fever was upon me, my mind wandered, and I talked.'
So convincing was the face, the tone, so plausible the explanation, that Heliodora drew slowly back, her fury all but quenched. She questioned him as to the likely betrayer, and the name of Sagaris having been mentioned, used the opportunity to learn what she could concerning the man.
'I cannot promise to give him up to you to be tortured,' said Marcian, with his characteristic smile of irony.
'That I do not ask. But,' she added significantly, 'will you send him here, and let me use gentler ways of discovering what I can?'
And when Marcian went away, he reflected that all was not yet lost. For Heliodora still had faith in the prophecy of her astrologer; she was more resolute than ever in her resolve to triumph over Bessas; she could gain nothing to this end by helping her confederate's ruin. Before parting, they had agreed that Marcian would do well to affect ignorance of the discovery Bessas had made; time and events must instruct them as to the projects of their enemies, and guide their own course.
That same day, he despatched the Syrian with a letter to Heliodora, and on the man's return spoke with him as if carelessly of his commission. He remarked that the face of Sagaris shone as though exultantly, but no indiscreet word dropped from the vaunter's lips. A useful fellow, murmured Marcian within himself, and smiled contempt.
Another day or two of indecision, then in obedience to an impulse he could no longer resist, he sought speech with the deacon Pelagius. Not without trouble was this obtained, for Pelagius was at all times busy, always beset by suitors of every degree, the Romans holding him in high reverence, and making their appeals to him rather than to the Pope, for whom few had a good word. When at last Marcian was admitted to the deacon's presence, he found himself disconcerted by the long, silent scrutiny of eyes deep read in the souls of men. No word would reach his lips.
'I have been expecting you,' said the deacon at length, gravely, but without severity. 'You have made no haste to come.'
'Most reverend,' replied Marcian, in a tone of the deepest reproach, 'I knew not certainly whether I had indeed made confession to you, or if it was but a dream of fever.'
Pelagius smiled. He was standing by a table, and his hand lay upon an open volume.
'You are of noble blood, lord Marcian,' he continued, 'and the greatness of your ancestors is not unknown to you. Tell me by what motive you have been induced to play the traitor against Rome. I cannot think it was for the gain that perishes. Rather would I suppose you misled by the opinion of Cassiodorus, whose politics were as unsound as his theology. I read here, in his treatise _De Anima_, that there is neither bliss nor torment for the soul before the great Day of Judgment--a flagrant heresy, in utter contradiction of the Scriptures, and long ago refuted by the holy Augustine. Can you trust in worldly matters one who is so blinded to the clearest truths of eternity?'
'I confess,' murmured the listener, 'that I thought him justified in his support of the Gothic kingdom.'
'You are content, then, you whose ancestors have sat in the Senate, to be ruled by barbarians? You, a Catholic, revolt not against the dominions of Arians? And so little is your foresight, your speculation, that you dream of permanent conquest of Italy by this leader of a barbaric horde? I tell you, lord Marcian, that ere another twelvemonth has passed, the Goths will be defeated, scattered, lost. The Emperor is preparing a great army, and before the end of summer Belisarius will again land on our shores. Think you Totila can stand against him? Be warned; consider with yourself. Because your confession had indeed something of sickness in it, I have forborne to use it against you as another might have done. But not with impunity can you resume your traitorous practices; of that be assured.'
He paused, looking sternly into Marcian's face.
'I have no leisure to debate with you, to confute your errors. One thing only will I add, before dismissing you to ponder what I have uttered. It is in your power to prove your return to reason and the dignity of a Roman; I need not say how; the occasion will surely ere long present itself, and leave you in no doubt as to my meaning. Remember, then, how I have dealt with you; remember, also, that no such indulgence will be granted to a renewal of your crime against Rome, your sin against God.'
Marcian dropped to his knees; there was a moment of silence; then he arose and went forth.
A week passed, and there came the festival of St. Laurentius. All Rome streamed out to the basilica beyond the Tiburtine Gate, and among those who prayed most fervently at the shrine was Marcian. He besought guidance in an anguish of doubt. Not long ago, in the early days of summer, carnal temptation had once more overcome him, and the sufferings, the perils, of this last month he attributed to that lapse from purity. His illness was perhaps caused by excess of rigour in penitence. To-day he prayed with many tears that the Roman martyr would enlighten him, and make him understand his duty to Rome.
As he was leaving the church, a hand touched him; he turned, and beheld the deacon Leander, who led him apart.
'It is well that I have met you,' said the cleric, with less than his usual bland deliberation. 'A messenger is at your house to bid you come to me this evening. Can you leave Rome to-morrow?'
'On what mission?'
Leander pursed his lips for a moment, rolled his eyes hither and thither, and said with a cautious smile:
'That for which you have been waiting.'
With difficulty Marcian dissembled his agitation. Was this the saint's reply to his prayer? Or was it a temptation of the Evil Power, which it behoved him to resist?
'I am ready,' he said, off-hand.
'You will be alone for the first day's journey, and in the evening you will be met by such attendants as safety demands. Do you willingly undertake the charge? Or is there some new danger which you had not foreseen?'
'There is none,' replied Marcian, 'and I undertake the charge right willingly.'
'Come to me, then, at sunset. The travel is planned in every detail, and the letters ready. What follower goes with you?'
'The same as always--Sagaris.'
'Confide nothing to him until you are far from Rome. Better if you need not even then.'
Leander broke off the conference, and walked away at a step quicker than his wont. But Marcian, after lingering awhile in troubled thought, returned to the martyr's grave. Long he remained upon his knees, the conflict within him so violent that he could scarce find coherent words of prayer. Meanwhile the August sky had clouded, and thunder was beginning to roll. As he went forth again, a flash of lightning dazzled him. He saw that it was on the left hand, and took courage to follow the purpose that had shaped in his thoughts.
That evening, after an hour's close colloquy with Leander, he betook himself by circuitous way to the dwelling of Pelagius, and with him again held long talk. Then went home, through the dark, still streets, to such slumber as his conscience might permit.
THE PRISONER OF PRAENESTE
On the morrow of St. Laurentius, at that point of dawn when a man can recognise the face of one who passes, there issued from the Lateran a silent company equipped for travel. In a covered carriage drawn by two horses sat the Pope, beside him a churchman of his household; a second carriage conveyed the deacon Leander and another ecclesiastic; servants and a baggage vehicle brought up the rear. With what speed it could over the ill-paved roads, this procession made for the bank of the Tiber below the Aventine, where, hard by the empty public granaries, a ship lay ready to drop down stream. It was a flight rather than a departure. Having at length made up his mind to obey the Emperor's summons, Vigilius endeavoured to steal away whilst the Romans slept off their day of festival. But he was not suffered to escape thus. Before he had reached the place of embarkation, folk began to run shouting behind his carriage. Ere he could set foot on board the vessel a crowd had gathered. The farewell of the people to their supreme Pontiff was given in a volley of stones and potsherds, whilst the air rang with maledictions.
Notwithstanding his secret hostility, Leander had of late crept into Vigilius' confidence, thus protecting himself against his formidable adversary Pelagius. He was now the Pope's travelling companion as far as Sicily. Had he remained in Rome, the authority of Pelagius would have fallen heavily upon him, and he could scarce have escaped the humiliation of yielding his Gothic captive to Justinian's friend. Apprised only a day before of Vigilius' purpose, he had
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