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HOME > Classical Novels > Love Among the Ruins > CHAPTER 24
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 In an antechamber in the palace of Sforza of Gilderoy stood the Lady Duessa, watching the day die in the west over a black of and gables. Before her, under the , lay the palace garden, a pool of perfume, banked with tall , red with the fire of a roses. As night to the sunset, so seemed this antechamber to the garden, panelled with black oak, a dark square of gloom red-windowed to the west. The place had a , iron-mouthed look, as though its walls had developed through the years a sour and world-wise silence.  
The Lady Duessa was not a woman who could trail tamely in anterooms. A restless temper her pride that evening, and kept her footing the polished floor like a love-lorn treading a . The were open to the garden, and the multitudinous sounds of the city flooded in--the thunder of the tumbrils in the narrow streets, the distant blare of from the castle, the clangour of the cathedral bells. A figure companioned the Lady Duessa in the anteroom, cloaked and masked as was the herself. It was Balthasar the Dominican, who followed her now in habit, having forsworn his black and taken refuge in her service. From time to time the two together in whispering undertones; more than once their lips touched.
The Lady Duessa turned and stood by a casement with her large white hands on the sill. She appeared to grow more as the minutes passed, as though the antique clock on the mantle clicked its tongue at her each second.
"This is insolence," she said anon, "holding us idling here like clients."
Balthasar joined her, soft-footed and , his black eyes shining behind his mask.
"Peter kept Paul before the gate of heaven," quoth he, with a curl of the lip. "Sforza is a in many matters, a god-busied Mercury. As for me, I am content."
Their hands touched, and intertwined with a quick straining of the fingers.
"Pah," said the woman with a shiver, "this room is like a funeral litter; it chills my ."
Balthasar sniggered.
"See, the sky burns," he said; "yon garden is packed with colour. We could play a love chase amid those dark hedges of ."
She pressed her flank to his; her eyes glittered like ; her breath hastened.
"My mouth, man."
She out her full red lips to his; suffered his arms to possess her; they kissed often, and were out of breath. A door creaked. The two started in the shadows with an impatient stare into each other's eyes.
Sforza the Gonfaloniere stood on the threshold, clad plainly in a suit of black , with a sword at his side. He bowed over Duessa's hand, kissed her finger tips, excusing himself the while for the delay. He was very , very facile, as was his . The Lady Duessa took his excuses with good grace, remembering their compact, and the common purpose of their ambitions.
"Gonfaloniere, we wait our ."
Sforza's eyes were on Balthasar with a keen and glitter.
"Very good, madame."
"Remember; Lord Flavian's head, that is to be my guerdon."
"Madame, we will remember it. And this gentleman?"
"Is the friend of whom I spoke."
"A most loyal friend, methinks?"
The Gonfaloniere coughed behind his fingers, and spoke in his half-husky .
"You are ready to risk everything?"
Duessa him.
"Expect no blood and thunder ceremonial," he said to them; "we are grim folk, but very simple. Your presence will incriminate you both. Be convinced of that."
He led them by a little closet into the state-room of the palace, a rich lit by many , its held by a guard of armed men. Statues in the antique gleamed in the . The panelling shone with gem-brilliant colouring. Armoires and carved cabinets stood against the walls. The ceiling was of purple, with the signs of the Zodiac in gold thereon.
In the centre of the room, before a slightly raised dais, stood a round table inlaid with diverse-coloured stones. , , and inkhorns covered it. Some twoscore men were gathered round the table, staring with masked faces at a map spread before them--a map showing all the provinces of the south, with towns and castles marked in vermilion ink thereon. A big man in a red cloak stood the parchment, pointing out with a long certain marches to the masked folk about him.
Sforza Duessa and Balthasar to a carved bench by the wall.
"Have the patience to listen for an hour," he said, turning to join the men about the table.
A silver bell , and a priest came forward to patter a few prayers in Latin. At the end thereof, the masked Samson in the red cloak stood forward on the dais with uplifted fist. Instant silence held throughout the room. The man in red began to speak in deep, full-throated tones that seemed to vibrate from his chest.
His theme was the revolt, his arguments, the grim facts that bulked large in the brain of a leader of men. He dealt with realism, with iron detail, and the strong suggestions of success. Revolt, in the flesh, bubbled like at a crater's brim, to and the land. It was plain that the speaker had great schemes, and a will of . His ardour ran down like a , into the duller courage of the multitude.
When he had ended his heroic challenge to the world, he took by the hand a girl who stood unmasked at his side. She was clad all in white with a cross of gold over her , and her face shone nigh as as her mantle. The men around the table craned forward to get the better view of her. Nor was it her temporal beauty alone that set the fanatical chins straining towards her figure. There was a radiance as of other worlds upon her forehead, a of sanctity as though some sacred lamp shed a divine through all her flesh.
At the moment that the man in the red mask had the girl forward beside him on the dais, Balthasar, with a cry, had plucked the Lady Duessa by the sleeve. She had started, and stared in the friar's face as he spoke to her in a whisper, a in her eyes. Balthasar held her close to him by the wrist. They were observed of none save by Fulviac, whose care it was to watch all men.
As Balthasar muttered to her, Duessa's frame seemed to straighten, to , to
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