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A FRAGMENT IN THREE SCENES.
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.
My son, thou hast done well, done very well.
Who am thy humble teacher, and to Him
(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
Paolo (in despair)
Is left for me to try? I am not fit
Ere now I had accomplished it. Ah me!
To draw the thing I saw. And now at last
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;
Of those who turn toward them,-thou hast obeyed
Paolo (more cheerfully, yet still doubting)
Ah, if that might be!
I am not fit
Fra Antonio (peremptorily)
Come, come, no more of that!
(Then more kindly)
Waste not thy time in vain repinings, work!
Work for this monastery sheltering thee;
Paolo (kneeling before him)
Father, forgive me, I was wrong, most wrong.
'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
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.
The blessed Virgin Mary with Her Child,
(Collects himself and rises)
So wondrous well, I near had thought Her quick!
Of those deep-seeing eyes? It cannot be
(Examines more closely)
The work is his,
I know his brush stroke well. The wonder of it!
(Pauses, then continues)
And to think that I have been
(Enter the peasant, Beppo, beside himself with rage. storms over to the monk, and gesticulates wildly while he
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)
They sent me word that some cursed wandering monk
(Then his anger returning)
God's curse on him
Fra Antonio (severely)
Seduced thy child, thou say'st?
I tell thee God's a weakling, or a knave,
Fra Antonio (very cold and quiet)
Begone! Get hence!
(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.)
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
(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.
Ah, God, forgive me for my many sins!
I had not thought that I had grown so weak.