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HOME > Classical Novels > Love Among the Ruins > PART II CHAPTER 13
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 Fra Balthasar rubbed his colours in the of Castle Avalon, and stared upon the his fingers had called into being.  
A friar, Fra Balthasar had come from the rich skies, the purple vineyards, the orange of the far south. Gossip hinted that a certain romantic indiscretion had driven him northwards over the sea. A "bend " ran athwart his reputation as a priest. Men muttered that he was an infidel, a vagabond, in all the damnable of . Be that as it may, Fra Balthasar had come to Gilderoy on a white , with two servants at his back, an apt tongue to serve him, and much craft as a painter and goldsmith. He had set up a bottega at Gilderoy, and had cozened the of the magnates and the merchants. Moreover, he had netted the favour of the Lord Flavian of Avalon, and was his chapel for him with the fancy of a Florentine.
Fra Balthasar stood in a of sunlight, that poured in through a painted window in the west. He wore the white habit of Dominic and the long black . A golden mist played about his figure as he rubbed his palette, and scanned with the egotism of the artist the Pietà painted above the Lord Flavian's state stall. That gentleman, in the flesh, had established himself on a hassock before the altar steps, thus flattering the friar in the part of a sympathetic patron. The Lord of Avalon had his own person to art as an Eastern King in the splendour of Gothic arms, kneeling bare-headed before the infant Christ.
Fra Balthasar was a plump man and a , black of eye and full of lip. His shaven chin shone blue as velvet. He had turned from the Pietà towards the altar, where a triptych gleamed with massed and brilliant colour. The , a palpitating divinity breathing stars and from her full , gazed with a face of at the infant lying in her lap. She seemed to an atmosphere of gold. On either wing, angels, transcendant girls in green and silver, purple and , and white, made the soul swim with visions of ruddy lips and milk-white hands. Their wings gleamed like opals. They looked too for angels, too human for heaven.
The Lord of Avalon sat on his scarlet hassock, and stared at the Madonna with some measure of . She was no , angular, green-faced fragment of saintliness, but by every curve a woman, from plump finger to coral lip.
"You are no Byzantine," quoth the man on the hassock, with something of a sigh.
The priest glanced at him and smiled. There were curves in lip and that were more than indicative of a sleek and sensuous worldliness. Fra Balthasar was much of an Antinous, and doted on the conviction.
"I paint women, messire," he said.
His lordship laughed.
Balthasar flourished his brush.
"Divine creatures, golden flowers of the world. Give me the rose to crush against my mouth, violets to burn upon my bosom. Truth, sire, consider the sparkling roundness of a woman's arm. Consider her wine-red lips, her sinful eyes, her lily fingers dropping spikenard into the soul. I confess, sire, that I am a man."
The friar's opulent extravagance of sentiment suited the of his look. Balthasar had enthroned himself in his own imagination as a species of Apollo, a golden-tongued seer, whose soul soared into the glittering infinitudes of art. An immense egotist, he posed as a full-blooded divinity, palpitating to colour and to sound. He had as many moods as a vain woman, and was a fire-fly in the matter of honour.
"Reverend sire," quoth the man on the footstool with some of the upper lip, "you bulk too big for your frock, methinks."
Balthasar touched a panel with his brush; cast a glance over his shoulder, with a lifting of the nostril.
"My frock serves me, sire, as well as a coat of mail."
"And you believe the things you paint?"
The man swept a vermilion from his brush.
"An question, messire."
"I am ever ingenuous."
"A habit."
"Yet you have not answered me."
The friar his chin like a woman eyeing herself in a mirror.
"Religion is full of incidents," he said.
"And is profitable."
"Sire, you shame Solomon. There are ever many rich and fools in the world. Give me a gleaming Venus, rising ruddy from the sea, rather than a Magdalene. But what would you? I trim my Venus up in fine apparel, put a puling infant in her lap. Ecce--Sancta Maria."
The man on the footstool smiled despite the jester's theme, a smile that had more scorn in it than sympathy.
"You on ," he said.
"There can be no blasphemy where there is no belief."
"You are over subtle, my friend."
", sire, I have come by that godliness of mind when man discovers his own godhead. Let your soul soar, I say, let it beat its wings into the blue of life. Hence with . Shall I subordinate my mind to the prosings of a mad such as Saul of Tarsus? Shall I, like each rat in this mortal drain, believe that some god cares when I have gout in my toe, or when I am to bow to Venus?"
The man on the hassock , and eyed the friar much as though he had stumbled on some being from the underworld. He was a mystic for all his manhood.
"God pity your ," he said.
"God, the
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