University of Virginia Library


Page 401


Father Antonio sat alone in his cell in the San Marco
in an attitude of deep dejection. The open window looked
into the garden of the convent, from which steamed up the
fragrance of violet, jasmine, and rose, and the sunshine lay
fair on all that was without. On a table beside him were
many loose and scattered sketches, and an unfinished page
of the Breviary he was executing, rich in quaint tracery of
gold and arabesques, seemed to have recently occupied his
attention, for his palette was wet and many loose brushes
lay strewed around. Upon the table stood a Venetian glass
with a narrow neck and a bulb clear and thin as a soap-bubble,
containing vines and blossoms of the passion-flower,
which he had evidently been using as models in his

The page he was illuminating was the prophetic Psalm
which describes the ignominy and sufferings of the Redeemer.
It was surrounded by a wreathed border of thorn-branches
interwoven with the blossoms and tendrils of the
passion-flower, and the initial letters of the first two words
were formed by a curious combination of the hammer, the
nails, the spear, the crown of thorns, the cross, and other
instruments of the Passion; and clear, in red letter,
gleamed out those wonderful, mysterious words, consecrated
by the remembrance of a more than mortal anguish, —
“My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”


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The artist-monk had perhaps fled to his palette to assuage
the throbbings of his heart, as a mourning mother flies to
the cradle of her child; but even there his grief appeared
to have overtaken him, for the work lay as if pushed from
him in an access of anguish such as comes from the sudden
recurrence of some overwhelming recollection. He was
leaning forward with his face buried in his hands, sobbing

The door opened, and a man advancing stealthily behind
laid a hand kindly on his shoulder, saying softly, “So, so,

Father Antonio looked up, and, dashing his hand hastily
across his eyes, grasped that of the new-comer convulsively,
and saying only, “Oh, Baccio! Baccio!” hid his face

The eyes of the other filled with tears, as he answered
gently, —

“Nay, but, my brother, you are killing yourself. They
tell me that you have eaten nothing for three days, and slept
not for weeks; you will die of this grief.”

“Would that I might! Why could not I die with him
as well as Frà Domenico? Oh, my master! my dear

“It is indeed a most heavy day to us all,” said Baccio
della Porta, the amiable and pure-minded artist better
known to our times by his conventual name of Frà Bartolommeo.
“Never have we had among us such a man;
and if there be any light of grace in my soul, his preaching
first awakened it, brother. I only wait to see him
enter Paradise, and then I take farewell of the world forever.
I am going to Prato to take the Dominican habit,
and follow him as near as I may.”


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“It is well, Baccio, it is well,” said Father Antonio;
“but you must not put out the light of your genius in
those shadows, — you must still paint for the glory of

“I have no heart for painting now,” said Baccio, dejectedly.
“He was my inspiration, he taught me the holier
way, and he is gone.”

At this moment the conference of the two was interrupted
by a knocking at the door, and Agostino Sarelli entered,
pale and disordered.

“How is this?” he said, hastily. “What devils' carnival
is this which hath broken loose in Florence? Every good
thing is gone into dens and holes, and every vile thing that
can hiss and spit and sting is crawling abroad. What do
the princes of Europe mean to let such things be?”

“Only the old story,” said Father Antonio, — “Principes
convenerunt in unum adversus Dominum, adversus Christum

So much were all three absorbed in the subject of their
thoughts, that no kind of greeting or mark of recognition
passed among them, such as is common when people meet
after temporary separation. Each spoke out from the fulness
of his soul, as from an overflowing bitter fountain.

“Was there no one to speak for him, — no one to stand
up for the pride of Italy, — the man of his age?” said

“There was one voice raised for him in the council,” said
Father Antonio. “There was Agnolo Niccolini: a grave
man is this Agnolo, and of great experience in public affairs,
and he spoke out his mind boldly. He told them flatly, that,
if they looked through the present time or the past ages,
they would not meet a man of such a high and noble order


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as this, and that to lay at our door the blood of a man the
like of whom might not be born for centuries was too impious
and execrable a thing to be thought of. I 'll warrant me,
he made a rustling among them when he said that, and the
Pope's commissary — old Romalino — then whispered and
frowned; but Agnolo is a stiff old fellow when he once begins
a thing, — he never minded it, and went through with
his say. It seems to me he said that it was not for us to
quench a light like this, capable of giving lustre to the faith
even when it had grown dim in other parts of the world, —
and not to the faith alone, but to all the arts and sciences
connected with it. If it were needed to put restraint on
him, he said, why not put him into some fortress, and give
him commodious apartments, with abundance of books, and
pen, ink, and paper, where he would write books to the
honor of God and the exaltation of the holy faith? He told
them that this might be a good to the world, whereas consigning
him to death without use of any kind would bring
on our republic perpetual dishonor.”

“Well said for him!” said Baccio, with warmth; “but
I 'll warrant me, he might as well have preached to the
north wind in March, his enemies are in such a fury.”

“Yes, yes,” said Antonio, “it is just as it was of old: the
chief priests and Scribes and Pharisees were instant with
loud voices, requiring he should be put to death; and the
easy Pilates, for fear of the tumult, washed their hands
of it.”

“And now,” said Agostino, “they are putting up a great
gibbet in the shape of a cross in the public square, where
they will hang the three holiest and best men of Florence!”

“I came through there this morning,” said Baccio, “and
there were young men and boys shouting, and howling, and


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singing indecent songs, and putting up indecent pictures,
such as those he used to preach against. It is just as you
say. All things vile have crept out of their lair, and triumph
that the man who made them afraid is put down; and
every house is full of the most horrible lies about him, —
things that they said he confessed.”

“Confessed!” said Father Antonio, — “was it not enough
that they tore and tortured him seven times, but they must
garble and twist the very words that he said in his agony?
The process they have published is foully falsified, — stuffed
full of improbable lies; for I myself have read the first
draught of all he did say, just as Signor Ceccone took it
down as they were torturing him. I had it from Jacopo
Manelli, canon of our Duomo here, and he got it from Cecconne's
wife herself. They not only can torture and slay
him, but they torture and slay his memory with lies.”

“Would I were in God's place for one day!” said Agostino,
speaking through his clenched teeth. “May I be forgiven
for saying so!”

We are hot and hasty,” said Father Antonio, “ever
ready to call down fire from heaven, — but after all, `the
Lord reigneth, let the earth rejoice.' `Unto the upright
there ariseth light in the darkness.' Our dear father is sustained
in spirit and full of love. Even when they let him
go from the torture, he fell on his knees, praying for his

“Good God! this passes me!” said Agostino, striking
his hands together. “Oh, wherefore hath a strong man
arms and hands, and a sword, if he must stand still and see
such things done? If I had only my hundred mountaineers
here, I would make one charge for him to-morrow. If I
could only do something!” he added, striding impetuously


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up and down the cell and clenching his fists. “What! hath
nobody petitioned to stay this thing?”

“Nobody for him,” said Father Antonio. “There was
talk in the city yesterday that Frà Domenico was to be pardoned;
in fact, Romalino was quite inclined to do it, but
Battista Alberti talked violently against it, and so Romalino
said, `Well, a monk more or less is n't much matter,' and
then he put his name down for death with the rest. The
order was signed by both commissaries of the Pope, and one
was Frà Turiano, the general of our order, a mild man, full
of charity, but unable to stand against the Pope.”

“Mild men are nuisances in such places,” said Agostino,
hastily; “our times want something of another sort.”

“There be many who have fallen away from him even in
our house here,” said Father Antonio, — “as it was with
our blessed Lord, whose disciples forsook him and fled. It
seems to be the only thought with some how they shall
make their peace with the Pope.”

“And so the thing will be hurried through to-morrow,”
said Agostino, “and when it 's done and over, I 'll warrant
me there will be found kings and emperors to say they
meant to have saved him. It 's a vile, evil world, this of
ours; an honorable man longs to see the end of it. But,”
he added, coming up and speaking to Father Antonio, “I
have a private message for you.”

“I am gone this moment,” said Baccio, rising with ready
courtesy; “but keep up heart, brother.”

So saying, the good-hearted artist left the cell, and Agostino
said, —

“I bring tidings to you of your kindred. Your niece and
sister are here in Florence, and would see you. You will
find them at the house of one Gherardo Rosselli, a rich citizen
of noble blood.”


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“Why are they there?” said the monk, lost in amazement.

“You must know, then, that a most singular discovery
hath been made by your niece at Rome. The sister of her
father, being a lady of the princely blood of Colonna, hath
been assured of her birth by the confession of the priest that
married him; and being driven from Rome by fear of the
Borgias, they came hither under my escort, and wait to see
you. So, if you will come with me now, I will guide you
to them.”

“Even so,” said Father Antonio.