As I was leaving the gallery I had a last glimpse of her, sitting there with drawn face and haggard eyes that followed me as I passed from her sight, whilst Ramiro del’ Orca stood beside her murmuring words that did not reach me. His so-called courtiers and his men-at-arms were trooping out of the room, no doubt in obedience to his dismissal.
I have heard tell of the calm that comes upon brave men when hope is dead and their doom has been pronounced. Uncertainty may have tortured and made cowards of them; but once that uncertainty is dissolved and suspense is at an end, resignation enters their soul, and, possessing it, gives to their bearing a noble and dignified peace. By the mercy of Heaven they are made, maybe, to see how poor and evanescent a thing is life; and they come to realise that since to die is a necessity there is no avoiding, as well might it betide to-day as ten years hence.
Such a mood, however, came not to soothe that last hour of mine, and yet I account myself no coward. It was an hour of such torture and anguish as never before I had experienced—much though I had undergone—and the source of all my suffering lay in the fact that Madonna Paola was in the hands of the ogre of Cesena. Had it not been for that most untoward circumstance I almost believe that while I waited for the sun to set on that December afternoon, my mood had not only been calm but even in some measure joyous, for it must have comforted my last moments to reflect that for all that Messer Ramiro was about to hang me, yet had I sown the seeds of his own destruction ere he had brought me to this pass.
I did, indeed, reflect upon it, and it may even be that, in spite of all, I culled some grain of comfort from the reflection. But let that be. My narrative would drag wearily were I to digress that I might tell you at length the ugly course of my thoughts whilst the sands of my last hour were running swiftly out. For, after all, my concern and yours is with the story of Lazzaro Biancomonte, sometime known as Boccadoro the Fool, and not with his philosophies—philosophies so unprofitable that it can benefit no man that I should set them down.
My windows faced west, and so I was able to watch the fall of the sun, and measure by its shortening distance from the horizon the ebbing of my poor life. At last the nether rim of that round, fiery orb was on the point of touching the line of distant hills, and it was casting a crimson glow along the white, snow-sheeted landscape that was singularly suggestive of a tide of blood—a very fitting tide to flow and ebb about the walls of the Castle of Cesena.