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The Maestro's Confession by Margaret J. Preston

(ANDREA DAL CASTAGNO—1460.)

I.

Threescore and ten!

I wish it were all to live again.

Doesn't the Scripture somewhere say,

By reason of strength men oft-times may

Even reach fourscore? Alack! who knows?

Ten sweet, long years of life! I would paint

Our Lady and many and many a saint,

And thereby win my soul's repose.

Yet, Fra Bernardo, you shake your head:

Has the leech once said

I must die? But he

Is only a fallible man, you see:

Now, if it had been our father the pope,

I should know there was then no hope.

Were only I sure of a few kind years

More to be merry in, then my fears

I'd slip for a while, and turn and smile

At their hated reckonings: whence the need

Of squaring accounts for word and deed

Till the lease is up?... How? hear I right?

No, no! You could not have said, To-night!

II.

Ah, well! ah, well!

"Confess"—you tell me—"and be forgiven."

Is there no easier path to heaven?

Santa Maria! how can I tell

What, now for a score of years and more,

I've buried away in my heart so deep

That, howso tired I've been, I've kept

Eyes waking when near me another slept,

Lest I might mutter it in my sleep?

And now at the last to blab it clear!

How the women will shrink from my pictures! And worse

Will the men do—spit on my name, and curse;

But then up in heaven I shall not hear.

I faint! I faint!

Quick, Fra Bernardo! The figure stands

There in the niche—my patron saint:

Put it within my trembling hands

Till they are steadier. So!

My brain

Whirled and grew dizzy with sudden pain,

Trying to p that gulf of years,

Fronting again those long laid fears.

Confess? Why, yes, if I must, I must.

Now good Sant' Andrea be my trust!

But fill me first, from that crystal flask,

Strong wine to strengthen me for my task.

(That thing is a gem of craftsmanship:

Just mark how its curvings fit the lip.)

Ah, you, in your dreamy, tranquil life,

How can you fathom the rage and strife,

The blinding envy, the burning smart,

That, worm-like, gnaws the Maestro's heart

When he sees another snatch the prize

Out from under his very eyes,

For which he would barter his soul? You see

I taught him his art from first to last:

Whatever he was he owed to me.

And then to be browbeat, overpassed,

Stealthily jeered behind the hand!

Why that was more than a saint could stand;

And I was no saint. And if my soul,

With a pride like Lucifer's, mocked control,

And goaded me on to madness, till

I lost all measure of good or ill,

Whose gift was it, pray? Oh, many a day

I've cursed it, yet whose is the blame, I say?

His name? How strange that you question so,

When I'm sure I have told it o'er and o'er,

And why should you care to hear it more?

III.

Well, as I was saying, Domenico

Was wont of my skill to make such light,

That, seeing him go on a certain night

Out with his lute, I followed. Hot

From a war of words, I heeded not

Whither I went, till I heard him twang

A madrigal under the lattice where

Only the night before I sang.

—A double robbery! and I swear

'Twas overmuch for the flesh to bear.

Don't ask me. I knew not what I did,

But I hastened home with my rapier hid

Under my cloak, and the blade was wet.

Just open that cabinet there and see

The strange red rustiness on it yet.

A calm that was dead as dead could be

Numbed me: I seized my chalks to trace—

What think you?—Judas Iscariot's face!

I just had finished the scowl, no more,

When the shuffle of feet drew near my door

(We lived together, you know I said):

Then wide they flung it, and on the floor

Laid down Domenico—dead!

Back swam my senses: a sickening pain

Tingled like lightning through my brain,

And ere the spasm of fear was broke,

The men who had borne him homeward spoke

Soothingly: "Some assassin's knife

Had taken the innocent artist's life—

Wherefore, 'twere hard to say: all men

Were prone to have troubles now and then

The world knew naught of. Toward his friend

Florence stood waiting to extend

Tenderest dole." Then came my tears,

And I've been sorry these twenty years.

Now, Fra Bernardo, you have my sin:

Do you think Saint Peter will let me in?