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A fairly large, well-lighted chamber in the monastery of San Luca in northern Italy. A warm April afternoon in the year 1476. The chamber is bare, with few and simple furnishings and nothing in the way of ornament, save a large picture of the Virgin and Child, resting on an easel. Two men stand before it. The elder, Fra Antonio, is short, a trifle corpulent, with gray hair fringing his tonsure, face cobwebbed with kindly wrinkles, and the clear mild eye that comes from the even existence of the monastery. His face is one of accomplished serenity, while that of his companion, Paolo, the novice, is alive rather with poten tiality. His questioning eyes, delicate nostrils and thin sensitive lips show a latent capacity for emotion which it has never been his to experience. The elder man is frowning slightly as he looks at the picture.

Fra Antonio

My son, thou hast done well, done very well.
It is a credit to thyself and me,

Who am thy humble teacher, and to Him

From whom all inspiration flows. And yet

(He moves closer for more critical examination, then draws back to get the general effect, while Paolo follows him with anxious eyes that show all the love and reverence he bears him.)

I feár, my son, I fear that thou hast passed
The utmost limit of my skill to teach,
Almost to criticise. The drawing seems
All flawless, true proportioned every part,

The color varied, rich, harmonious;

Our Lady's face is very pure and fair,

And yet,—and yet,-she does not live and feel,
She hath no soul! I know not-I—

Paolo (in despair)

What more

Is left for me to try? I am not fit
To paint Our Lady's face, or else

Ere now I had accomplished it. Ah me!
The weary days, the long and weary days
When rebel hand refused my mind's command!
It was so long ere I could but begin

To draw the thing I saw. And now at last
When sometimes I can paint the face all clear
Just as my eye perceives it, there is more
To learn! But now no longer do I know
Whither to turn my labors. Ah, I fear
I am not worthy of thy teachings.

Fra Antonio (whose face grows very gentle as he listens)


Patience, my son. Give not the Tempter ear

Who would make faint thy heart. God rules, is just;
And thou hast lived thy life as thou shouldst live
And worked as thou shouldst work. No luxury

Of flesh hath stained thee, nor thine eyes been raised
To eyes of women,-eyes that blight the souls
Of those who turn toward them,-thou hast obeyed
Thy Church, its rulers and the word of God.
And He in His good time in mercy great
Will grant, if thou but live as thou hast lived,
That thou mayest paint the perfect picture
Which thou hast dreamed of.

Paolo (more cheerfully, yet still doubting)

I am not fit

Ah, if that might be!

Fra Antonio (peremptorily)

Come, come, no more of that!

(Then more kindly)

Waste not thy time in vain repinings, work!

Work for the honor of thy teacher, me;

Work for this monastery sheltering thee;

Work for the joy of working, work for God,

And thank Him that He's given thee strength to work.

Paolo (kneeling before him)

Father, forgive me, I was wrong, most wrong.
Still will I work, and hope, and pray, and work.

Fra Antonio

'Tis well. Come, rise, my son, and put aside

For now these thoughts. Thou'rt weary, thou must rest.

(Reflects for a moment)

The peasant, Beppo, he that lives hard by
The shrine of San Francesco on the road
To Florence, hath a little, sickly child.
There had I gone this afternoon with herbs
And healing potions. Thou shalt take my place.
The pleasant walk, the balmy afternoon

Will rest thy tired mind.


I do thy will,

And thank thee from my heart for thy kind care.


The monastery chamber two weeks later. A picture of the Virgin and Child, not the same as in the last scene, on the easel. Enter Fra Antonio with head bowed in thought. Crosses and stands before the picture without noticing it. Then looking up, starts, and kneeling before it, speaks with awed voice.

Fra Antonio

The blessed Virgin Mary with Her Child,

In Her own presence sitting here

(Collects himself and rises)

'Tis done

So wondrous well, I near had thought Her quick!
Such beauty passes earth,-yet leaves no doubt

It is of earth. What means the mystery

Of those deep-seeing eyes? It cannot be
Paolo has done this!

(Examines more closely)

The work is his,

I know his brush stroke well. The wonder of it!

Many a picture known to fame I've seen

Not half its worth. This is reality,

Not picture.

(Pauses, then continues)

And to think that I have been
Teacher to him who painted this! Just God,
I thank Thee from my heart for this Thy gift
To me, and bounty. Thou hast been too kind
To one who, though his best hath done so ill,
I thank Thee for Thy-

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The Fra Alberto bids me ask of thee
If thou knowest aught of where Paolo is.
No one has seen him now since yester eve,
And knowing thou hast been his monitor
In many things, he sent me here to thee.

Fra Antonio (wondering)

Paolo not been here since yester eve?
Nay, I know naught of him.

(Exit novice)

Perhaps the boy

In pride of this his work hath sought to be
Alone with thought of his accomplishment,
And hid away,-yet had I deemed that he
Had early brought to me his tidings glad.


(Enter the peasant, Beppo, beside himself with rage. storms over to the monk, and gesticulates wildly while he speaks)


I want my child, Bianca; give me back

My lovely daughter. Bring her back to me.

Oh, make him bring her back

Fra Antonio (horror struck)

Beppo (scornfully)

Seduced thy child, thou say'st?

They sent me word that some cursed wandering monk
Had married them ere they had gone a mile-

Sent word by that same monk had married them.

My wife seemed glad thereat, said it was "Love,”-
Near blessed them for it.

(Then his anger returning)

God's curse on him

Fra Antonio (severely)

Pah! She is a fool.

Blaspheme not!

Beppo (wildly)

How! Blaspheme!

I tell thee God's a weakling, or a knave,
Else this had never been!

Fra Antonio (very cold and quiet)

Begone! Get hence!

And come not back to me till thou art sane.

(The two stand looking at each other, until Beppo's eyes slowly drop, and turning he slinks from the room. Fra Antonio's figure, which, while Beppo was before him was commandingly erect, gradually seems to shrivel up, until he appears but a bent old man.)

Fra Antonio

Ah, God, why hath this been, why hath this been!

(He walks with bowed head until he stops before the picture) Thank Thee at least for this, good God; this stays

A testament of all the purity

That once was his

(Then the full significance of it all comes over him. He stares for a moment aghast; then attacks the canvas with his finger-nails and finally with the sharp corners of the crucifix he wears, until the Virgin's face is gashed and torn.)

My God! My God!


The monastery chamber a month later. The easel with its Madonna is draped and hidden with black hangings. Fra Antonio, who seems older and more feeble, is pacing back and forth with head bowed, and hands folded behind his back.

Fra Antonio

Ah, God, forgive me for my many sins!

I had not thought that I had grown so weak.
These years of freedom from temptation's stress
Had lulled to sleep my conscience. Ah, forgive!
And then in senseless rage and injured pride,

His picture of the Virgin I destroyed,
Holy in its perfection, though the source

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