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HOME > Classical Novels > Love Among the Ruins > CHAPTER 17
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 The Lady Duessa stood in the of water-girded Avalon, with Fra Balthasar the Dominican beside her. She had slipped in without his noticing her, and had watched him awhile in silence at his work. The of her chatelaine had brought him at last to a consciousness of her presence. Now they stood together before the high altar and looked at the Madonna seated on her throne of gold, amid of angel women.  
The Lady Duessa's intelligence had waxed critical on the subject.
"You have altered the Virgin's face," she said.
Balthasar stared at his handiwork and nodded.
"The former has been , the latter throned in her stead."
The words had more significance for the lady than the friar had perhaps intended. A better woman would have snubbed him for his pains. As it was, he saw her go red, saw the tense stare of her dark eyes, the of the muscles of her . She had a strong jaw, had the Lady Duessa. She was no puppet, no bright-eyed, fineried piece of plasticity. Fra Balthasar guessed the hot, power of her soul; she was the very woman for the rough handling of a cause, such as the Lord Flavian her husband had roused against her.
"I suppose," she said, "this was a matter of art, Balthasar?"
"A matter of heart, madame."
"My Lord Flavian commanded it."
"And yonder face is taken from life?"
"Madame, I leave the inference to your charity."
She laughed a deep, laugh, and went wandering round the chapel, looking at the , and swinging a little poniard by the chain that linked it to her girdle. Balthasar made a of mixing colours on his palette. Worldly that he was, he knew women, especially women of the Lady Duessa mould. He had a most shrewd notion as to what was passing in her mind. Morally, he was her abettor, being a person who could always take a woman's part, provided she were pretty. He believed women had no business with religion. To Balthasar, like fine glass, their was their most enhancing characteristic. It gave such infinite scope to a confessor.
The Lady Duessa strolled back again, and stood by the altar rails.
"Am I such a plain woman?" she asked.
"You have never painted me."
"There are people above the artist's brush."
"But you paint the Madonna."
"Madame, the Madonna is anybody's property."
"Am I?"
"God forbid that a poet should speak lightly of beauty."
She laughed again, and her hair with her fingers, scanned herself in a little mirror that she carried at her girdle.
"Tell me , am I worth painting?"
"Madame, that purple hair, those splendid eyes, the superb colour of those cheeks, would blaze out of a golden background as out of heaven."
She gave a musical little titter.
"Heaven, heaven, ha--ha."
"I should be grateful for so transcendent a chance."
"And you would do me justice?"
"Where inspiration burns, there art soars."
"You would be true?"
"To the of a coral ear."
"And discreet?"
"To the curve of a lip."
"And considerate?"
"My hands are subtle."
"And your heart?"
"Is as a little child's."
She laughed again, and held out her hands. Balthasar kissed the white fingers, crowded with their . His eyes were warm as water in the sun; the colours and the richness of the chapel burnt into his brain.
"You shall paint me," she said.
"Here, madame, here?"
"No, my own is pleasanter. You can reach it by my Lord Flavian's stair in the . Here is the key; he never uses it now. Avalon has not seen him these six days."
"Madame, I will paint you as man never painted woman before."
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