Of all Robert Buchanan’s poems, ‘Fra Giacomo’, has had the most varied afterlife. A favourite piece for recitation, poetry readings gradually spilled over into dramatisations, and even into a strange early attempt at ‘talking pictures’ with the poem delivered by Eric Williams onstage, illustrated by a silent film playing on the screen behind him. July 10th, 1914 saw the premiere of Cecil Coles’ setting of ‘Fra Giacomo’ for baritone and orchestra. This was released on CD in 2014 by Hyperion and the track is available to buy on their website.
There was also a prose adaptation of the poem, included in an 1868 novel by George Alfred Lawrence, entitled Brakespeare; Or The Fortunes of a Free Lance. It comprises the 36th chapter, ‘Dame Giacinta's Tale’, the origin of which is revealed in this footnote:
‘Some may remember, to have seen the main incidents of this chapter more graphically set forth, in a few verses that appeared three years ago in “Temple Bar,” signed by Robert Buchanan. I have made the plagiarism palpable, by adhering even to names; but it is better to make it plainer, by this confession.’
In a later (1904) version of the novel, this was amended to:
‘Some may remember to have seen the main incidents of this chapter more graphically set forth in a few verses that appeared three years ago in “Temple Bar,” signed by Robert Buchanan. I have tried to make the plagiarism palpable by adhering even to manner; but it is better to make it still plainer by this confession.’
Presumably because the names had been changed (in true Dragnet fashion) except for that of the fatal glass of wine. Anyway, I thought I might as well add it here:
“YOU must know, most noble cavaliere”—Dame Giacinta began—“that I was not city-bred, but born some four leagues hence, on the lands of the Vidoni, which stretch along Lake Bientina; in the service of which family I abode till the castle and fief changed masters; then I came hither to abide with mine uncle, in whose house, Matteo,
— * Some may remember, to have seen the main incidents of this chapter more graphically set forth, in a few verses that appeared three years ago in “Temple Bar,” signed by Robert Buchanan. I have made the plagiarism palpable, by adhering even to names; but it is better to make it plainer, by this confession. —
my good-man, found me, and wedded me—despite my thirty years. The Florentines slew my father, before I knew his face; and in that same battle, Messer Geronimo Vidoni was wounded mortally. His widow Donna Agata, was very kind to my mother, and would have her always near her own person, albeit she was too weakly to be of great use as bower-woman; and when, five years later, I was left orphan, caused me to be educated—it may be somewhat above my station. Whilst she lived I never lost her favour, though she was too wise to spoil me. Her son too, was pleased to show me no small favour. “Messer Marco was but a youth when he became head of his house; but both in bearing and spirit he was older than his years. Such as knew him well, liked him well; for he was true, and brave, and generous to the heart’s core; but he was no general favourite with men or women—being rough and curt of speech and something imperious of manner; neither did he affect the company of neighbours. Even in hunting or hawking he mostly took his pleasure alone, and seldom cared to show himself in the tilt-yard—holding all other courtly pastimes in utter scorn. The lady Agata used sometimes to lament this to me, and to wish that Messer Marco could be prevailed on to wed. A gentle, fitting, helpmate—she thought—might do much, towards causing him to take such a place amongst his equals as beseemed the chief of the Vidoni. So she cast her eyes round about heedfully, till they lit on a damsel of good birth and breeding—daughter to one of the Spinetti—who had just returned home from the Carmelite convent, where she had been nurtured by the special care of the abbess. “Doubtless the lady Maddalena was rarely beautiful; but, had I been a man, I would as lieve have wived with one of the fair saints that Sêr Giotto limned so deftly. Her cheeks might have been as snow-flakes, for all the flush that love or anger ever brought out thereon; her eyes might have been wrought in sapphire; and her very smile—she smiled but seldom, save the mark!—was frozen too. I do not think, at first, Messer Marco was much drawn towards the maiden; but in most things he let his mother have her way, and perchance was somewhat weary of hearing from her lips—‘that if he cared not for wedlock, it still was his bounden duty in such troublous times to provide his house with an heir;’ so he gave assent, a little sullenly, making condition that he should be troubled with no formal wooing. Indeed, he scarce saw the bride half-a-score of times, before he brought her home. “The change that came over Messer Marco, within a year, was near akin to witchcraft. I was appointed the lady Maddalena’s own tiring-woman, so I saw it all. Before they had been married two months, he loved her with all his soul and strength; but she never seemed to notice his passion—much less to return it. It angered me past patience, to watch his full brown cheeks waxing thin and drawn, and his eyes hollower and brighter; whilst morning or evening brought no change in her small, white, demure face. It would have been better if she had shown fear or loathing of him, than that deathly coldness; but she would only draw herself slowly away if he came too near, or murmur, if he wrung her hand too hard—‘I pray you be not so rough; you crush my fingers’—looking all the while like a virgin-martyr. “I cannot guess if the lady Agata found out that she had made a mistake. She was not the woman, to confess such things to any living creature. If it was so, she had not long space to repent herself; for the marsh fever carried her off suddenly in the twelfth month after the wedding. She passed away at last very happily and calmly; blessing both her children, and praying that God, in His own time, would be pleased to remove from them the curse of barrenness. “My good mistress would scarce have been happy, even in Heaven, if she could have seen how things went on after she died. Messer Marco grew weary of wooing his white statue: moreover he fancied she mourned his mother less than was becoming. His temper grew fierce at times, and his tongue would utter wild words when it slipped its bridle. From being sober as an anchorite, he betook himself to deep drinking—though I never saw him utterly besotted with wine. All the while his wife never stirred one of her baby fingers to beckon him back from the road he was treading; but looked on, placid and meek—smiling perchance, now and then, a little scornfully—just as if she had been watching, from a safe distance, the gambols of a big boarhound. I began to hate her—I know not why—and I think she perceived this: though her words were always sweet and meek, her voice seemed to grow harder whilst speaking to me. “When we first heard of our bride, there was much talk of her piety; and she took marvellous good care to keep up her credit for the same at Castel Vidoni. Benedicitè! the good old chaplain who had shrived the Vidoni and their household for a score of years, might not serve our new mistress’s turn. She prayed from the first to be allowed to keep her own confessor—a brother of the Franciscan monastery at Gallano—who had waited on her in her father’s house ever since she left the Carmelite convent. Poor Donna Agata, I remember, thought the request very reasonable, and worthy of such a paragon as she had chosen; and Messer Marco objected to nothing then; nor indeed up to the very last did he interfere with his wife’s religious exercises. “I am but a chattering beldame now; and then I was not a jot quicker of wit or of sight than other tiring-women; yet I profess that I disliked and distrusted Fra Rèmo’s sallow face, from the first instant I set eyes on it. He might look as cool and saintly as he would, and droop the lids over his greedy black eyes, and press his lips together to keep down bitter words; but he could not keep the round red spots from coming out on his cheek-bone, nor his fingers from quivering under his robe. “The first time I marked those signs was one evening, when wild weather constrained him to tarry at the castle, for the floods were out. Donna Agata was ill at ease, so the monk sat at supper with my master and mistress alone—’twas the merest form; he touched naught but bread and fair water. It was my duty to stand behind the lady Maddalena’s chair, to fetch aught she might require from her chamber. Messer Marco had not yet fallen into the evil habits whereof I spake; but the night was sultry, and he had been less sparing of the flask than usual: his mood seemed somewhat jocund, and once—speaking to his wife—he put forth his hand and pinched her ear betwixt his fingers. “My good man was ever too easily moved to jealousy—the saints wot, with little cause—but he never would have chafed, at seeing such a caress bestowed on me by my cousin. It was marvel, to see the lady Maddalena shrink away as though her husband’s touch profaned her; yet I watched not her so narrowly as I did the priest. It was a light scandal, after all, to make the blood flush so in his cheek, and set his fingers twitching in his sleeve. I understood none of these things then; but the time came when I understood them all. “As I said, matters went from bad to worse after Donna Agata’s death, and came at last to this:—that the lady Maddalena would no longer share her husband’s chamber, alleging that she feared his violent humours, especially when heated by wine. Perchance, Messer Marco was ashamed to contradict her; anyhow, he let her have her own way, sullenly. Thenceforward, she lived almost like a recluse; never going abroad save when, at stated times, she went in her litter to confession or other religious exercise in the church of San Francisco at Gallano; Fra Rèmo came very rarely to Castel Vidoni, fearing, it was thought, insult if not injury; for our lord had looked askance at him more than once lately, vouchsafing no greeting beyond a growl in his beard. “In our household there was one Guiseppe Bandello, whose father and grandsire had been falconers before him to the Vidoni—a faithful servant enough and exceeding expert in his calling; but cross-grained in temper, and disliked by all save Messer Marco, who trusted him entirely. For some time Giuseppe’s countenance had been gloomier than usual, and he went about muttering to himself as though some load on his mind troubled him; but none of us cared to ask what ailed him. One day he and Messer Marco went out, as was their wont, hawking alone together. I chanced to be crossing the great hall when they returned, and I saw, from my lord’s face, that something had perturbed him strangely, so that I could not forbear questioning him. But he only laughed out loud—though all the while his lips twisted and writhed as though in pain—and bade me send him in wine speedily, for his mouth was parched with drought; saying—that nothing worse had happened, than that his fair falcon Bianca had spiked herself on a heron’s beak, so that the twain lay dead together by the side of the marish. As I was leaving the hall, he called me back sharply, and asked whether my lady did not purpose on the morrow to visit the church at Gallano. I answered him—yea; for she had charged me to see that her litter was ready early, though she would have none of my company. He nodded his head without speaking; and, after draining two or three beakers of wine, but tasting no food, called for a fresh horse, and rode forth alone; though it was past the hour of the Angelus, and the skies were overcast. “Nigh ten days ago, Fra Rèmo had set forth for Rome on some special mission; he was much trusted and esteemed by his Order, and it was thought would ere long rise high therein. Her confessor had been absent more than once before; and then the lady Maddalena was wont to be shriven always by a certain Fra Anselmo—an aged monk, of great repute for sanctity. On such occasions, I had noticed that my lady’s devout exercises were gotten over much quicker than when Fra Rèmo guided them. All that night and the next morning passed without any signs of Messer Marco. My lady never troubled herself concerning his movements, and asked no questions now, as to whither he was gone, or for how long; but she went to Gallano as she had purposed, and had been home again some two hours, when my lord returned. “I was looking from the window into the courtyard when he rode in, and I hasted down to ask what ailed him. I thought for sure, he was sickening of the same fever that carried off his mother. His lips looked black and parched; and his eyes burned like lamps in the midst of his wan face; and, instead of sitting in saddle tall and square, he seemed all bent and shrunken together; and his chin was down on his breast, as if he were too weak to lift it. His voice, too, when he spoke, was quite weak and piping, though it got stronger afterwards. He said—there was naught amiss with him, save perchance some slight chill from the night dews, and that he would be well again when he had eaten and drunken. He bade me tell them hasten with supper, and pray the lady Maddalena not to fail to bear him company thereat, as it was the feast day of San Marco, his patron: for on occasion of fast or vigil, my mistress kept her own chamber. “Right few words were spoken at supper; but Messer Marco’s manner was so different from what it had been of late—so very quiet and gentle—that my lady’s pale blue eyes opened wide in surprise more than once. He seemed to have forgotten his hunger and thirst though; for he scarce eat anything, and drank only a cup or so till supper was over; then he prayed my lady to pledge him before she rose from table, from a certain flagon which had stood before him untouched. “‘’Tis Monte-pulciano, near a century old—a very rare wine,’ said he—‘so rare, that only once, Maddalena mia, have you tasted it. My father had but six flasks thereof; he drained one the day I was born; another you deigned to taste when you crossed this threshold as bride; and ’tis my fancy—I know not why—to empty another to-night. I pray you baulk it not. If you will drink to naught else, drink to my better life and manners:—both, I shame to say, need amending.’ “My lady bowed her head very coldly, as she took the cup in both her little hands; yet she seemed to like the flavour of the liquor, for her draught was longer than I had ever seen it. Generally she would only sip like a bird. All the while Messer Marco’s eyes were fixed on her, so eagerly, that he himself forgot to drink. “‘Heaven prosper your good intent’—she said, in her meek, quiet way, as she set the cup down; and so passed out of the hall, as light as a shadow. “It was my lady’s fancy, to bide mostly alone in her inner chamber, whence opened her oratory; so I sate with my broidery-work in the outer room, within hearing of her silver bell. I might have been there an hour or so, and had fallen a-musing over my work, when the door opened, and my mistress stood there, beckoning. I saw at once she was in mortal sickness or pain; for she was deathly white, and kept gasping and moaning, with her two hands clasped hard across her breast. I carried her back to her bed, and then shrieked for help as loud as I was able. When the other bower-women came, I ran down myself to the hall—to tell my lord what had happened. He did not seem to heed me; but sat there like a man in a dream, and when I plucked him by the sleeve, and cried to him—‘for Christ’s sake to come quickly,’—he only shook me off, and said in a hoarse, hollow voice— “‘Bid her sleep. All will be well, when she sleeps.’ “I dared not stay, lest my help should be needed upstairs; so I hastened back thither, but I was too late to be of use; and later still was the leech, though he dwelt hard by, and was summoned by a servitor on the first alarm. My lady never spoke one word that could be understood, but only shivered and moaned. And the moans and the shudders grew weaker and weaker, till she lay at last—still and cold—like a crushed white lily. “I had small liking for my mistress, as I have owned; but I felt as sorry then as if I had loved her; and I was weeping and making moan amongst the other women gathered round the bed, when Messer Marco’s voice from the doorway made me start and turn. “‘Wherefore this outcry?’—he asked. ‘Fear ye not to wake her; for she must needs be sleeping.” “Then Ser Geronimo, the leech, came out of the shadow—trembling; for wild tales had gone abroad of late concerning Messer Marco’s temper. “‘Alas! my lord’—he said—‘be not deceived; slumbers such as these can only be broken by the Judgment-trumpet. The noble Lady Maddalena’s spirit has passed away but now, from some sudden seizure, as I think, of the heart.’ “Messer Marco looked at him, in the same dreamy way as he had looked at me in the hall but now. “‘Ay, and is it so?’—he said. ‘Then hath earth lost a fair saint, and heaven gained a fair-faced angel. Now I know what I have to do.’ “And so went out. “A dreadful suspicion shot across my mind, making me cold and faint; but I had known my master even from boyhood, when there was a kind heart’s-core under the rough rind, and I could not leave him alone just then. So I followed him out, and caught him by the mantle and prayed him—as well as I could, for my chattering teeth—to let me do somewhat to help him in his sorrow. He drew himself out of my grasp, so quickly that I thought he was angered; saying— “‘Nay, touch me not, good Giacinta; I have no ailment thou canst heal. Trust me, I am best alone. But call me hither my page Pietro. He must carry a message forthwith.’ “I stood without and listened whilst my master bespoke the page. “‘Ride down at speed to the Franciscan convent at Gallano; and, after commending me to the Prior, bid him see that neither mass nor trental, nor any due office be omitted for the rest of thy lady’s soul. She hath deserved well of their Order, and the first word of her decease should set all the bells a-tolling. And specially pray Fra Rèmo to come up hither instantly: I heard yesternight that he would be home earlier than he had reckoned on, and by this time he may well be returned. As he shrived thy lady living, so let him assoilzie her dead. None other, with my good leave, shall usurp his ministry.’ “So Pietro departed. Messer Marco locked himself in his own chamber; whilst the women, as in duty bound, laid out decently the lovely white corpse. It might have been some two hours before Fra Rèmo arrived. My master had heard of his coming, ere I did; but I saw their meeting, in that same room where I had been sitting, as I told you. Beyond this again, there was a third apartment, used only as an ante-chamber. “Fra Rèmo’s countenance was very much changed; there was a kind of blank horror thereon, hard to describe, and purple circles under his eyes, as if marked with a brush; brace his lips as he would, he could not keep them from twitching; nevertheless, in fair set terms, he began to condole with my master—suggesting the duty of resignation and so forth; and furthermore, that the change (albeit so sudden) must needs have been for the benefit of the departed lady. Messer Marco cut him short at once. “‘Trouble not yourself, reverend father, concerning a graceless sinner, when a saint lies within there, waiting your last offices. Nathless, though I bear my burdens after mine own fashion, I may not spurn your consolations: when your ministry is fully performed, you will find me ready to receive them here.’ “Then Messer Marco bade all go forth, save Pietro the page. Into his ear he whispered some words that I could not catch; but I questioned the boy when he came out, and learned that he had been bidden to fetch from below two goblets, and the jewelled flagon holding the famous Monte-pulciano. I knew not why, but the chill fluttering at my heart increased every instant, and there was a faint sickly savour in my nostrils, like the savour of death. So I crouched down behind the curtains in the third or ante-chamber, while Pietro passed through after leaving the wine; and, when I heard the door locked from within, I crept forward and laid mine eye to the keyhole—through which it was easy both to see and hear. “Messer Marco sat with his elbows resting on the table and his face buried in his hands. He never stirred till the door of the inner room opened softly, and Fra Rèmo came forth. The monk looked still more ill at ease than he had done half an hour agone. He kept wetting his parched lips with his tongue; and I could see his eyes turn, first in surprise, then in eagerness, towards the great golden flagon. Certes, Messer Marco saw this as well as I; for he smiled, in a strange fashion, as he beckoned the other to draw near. “‘Reverend father,’—he said,—‘you are continent in diet and drink, as in all things else, I know; nevertheless, your vow forbids you not to touch wine for mere health’s sake. Albeit we are neither of us in mood for feasting, a draught of this rare liquor may serve as a cordial now, to keep our hearts from fainting in their heaviness. Do me right, I pray you, in this one goblet.’ “Messer Marco took up the flagon; and with a steady hand poured out the precious liquor, that sparkled in the lamp-light, though it gurgled out slowly like oil. The monk drank with such fierce eagerness, that I doubt if a fly could have slaked its thirst from his empty goblet; but Messer Marco’s was scarcely tasted when he set it down; he half concealed the cup with the broad sleeve of his mantlet, so that for a while Fra Rèmo noticed this not. “‘Now shall we be better able to speak of my loss,’—Vidoni said. “A cruel one, is it not, reverend father? And so cruelly sudden too! I fear me, I never prized aright my sainted Maddalena, while she tarried with me. Ah! she was too good for earth, and too gentle for one rude and unmannerly as I. Yet, peradventure—I speak this humbly and under correction—it might have been better, if she had thought her husband’s soul worth caring for when her own was safe; and if she had beckoned him sometimes to follow along the narrow path whereof you priests discourse, instead of letting him hurry down the broad road after his own devices.’ “‘Nay, nay, fair son’—the monk answered, huskily. ‘Wrong not so the dead, I beseech you. That devout lady was no less anxious, I well believe, for your eternal weal than for her own; and you were ever named in her prayers.’ “My master's laugh was like the bark of an angered hound. “‘Then she had her own method of showing her carefulness, even as she had her own method of discharging wifely duty. You were her confessor, Fra Rèmo: wherefore you have not to learn that, for these years past, I have won from her neither favour nor mark of tenderness—more than sister might bestow on brother. Ay! even of such she waxed more niggard day by day. Yet I strove for her love harder than many men strive for heaven; and,—even when my mood seemed roughest, unless my brain were distraught by drink—I watched for some sign of softening or glance of pity, as one perishing of famine waits for the food that will never come. I deemed it mine own fault, for having mated myself with one far above my level; and tried to think it not strange, that angels should keep their wings from soiling. I well nigh laughed at first, when, two days agone, Giuseppe, my falconer, came to me with a strange tale. ’Tis a shrewd knave, though a sullen, and hath eyes like one of his own hawks—eyes, Fra Rèmo, that from the top of a high pine-tree can pierce even into a lady’s bower. Ha! why look you so aghast? Can it be that your favourite penitent kept back somewhat at her last confession? Take another cup of Monte-pulciano. ’Twill stop the fluttering of your pulse, mayhap. “Her last confession,”—said I? No, no. Her last, you heard not. I will tell you why.’ “My heart stopped beating,—as, looking through the keyhole, I saw the friar’s face turn from sallow to ashen-grey, till its colour might have matched his robe. “‘What think you of my scheme?’—Messer Marco went on. ‘The maddest freak surely that ever crossed a drunkard’s brain—yet rare sport came of it. I knew that my pious dame purposed to attend at your church this morning—there, in your reverence’s absence, to confess herself to Fra Anselmo. So I rode down, and lay in Gallano yesternight; and caused a fashioner with whom I have dealt to provide me with a Franciscan habit. Also, very early in the morning I caused a forged message to be conveyed to the said Fra Anselmo; bidding him set off instantly, to attend the deathbed of that wealthy and devout widow Catania Pratellesi. The holy man, unwitting of the more honourable penitent then on her road, went forth with speed. It repented me to beguile his age and infirmity; but there was no other way; and so only could I compass mine end. In my Franciscan’s robe and cowl I lurked in shady corners of the church—peering out from the porch now and then—till my Maddalena’s litter drew up at the gate. Then I slid stealthily into a certain confessional, and drew the bolt. So my wife came; and, finding the door shut, guessed that none other than Fra Anselmo could be within. And thus it came about that I heard——. Fra Rèmo, can you guess what I heard? Aha! There’s blood enough in your cheeks now, even without a second draught of Monte-pulciano.’ “In truth, a dark red flush had surged over the monk’s face and brow, up to the tonsure. I thought the falling sickness was upon him as he stood up—rocking on his hands that rested on the table—with fear and rage in his staring eyes. Messer Marco rose up too; and, with his strong arm, thrust the priest back rudely into his chair. “‘Sit down!’—he went on, low through his teeth. ‘Sit down—or, by Christ’s body! you shall feel my dagger-point. I have not yet said all my say. I heard, that—instead of a pure maiden I brought home a harlot in thought—aye, and soon after, a harlot in deed. I learnt that oftentimes—when she shrunk from my lawful caress as though it were taint,—her lips were reeking from kisses, and the prints of lustful fingers were fresh on her neck. I learnt too, who it was that trained her to dishonour, taught her to carry her shame haughtily, and how to hoodwink her cuckold. I let her finish, and mumbled out something that passed for absolution—I doubt if it helps her much now—so she departed, lightened in spirit, and ready to sin again. I called her by no hard names when we met; only I prayed earnestly that she would sup with me. She did so to-night, and she drank of that same liquor which so tickled your palate. An hour later she lay within there; waiting—as she had done a score of times before, Fra Rèmo—waiting for you—cold as you found her. Ha! have I touched you more nearly now? And do you feel aught working in your veins—save Monte-pulciano a century old? Per Dio! You have rare luck: never an one in Sacred College hath tasted better liquor than that which brings you death—you a simple priest. Now, whether ye like it or not, you shall drain one more cup to the days that are gone, and your pleasant paramour. Ye will not? Nay then’— “Leaping up, he caught the monk by the throat. “I could find no voice to scream; but I beat on the door till my hands bled, and made shift to call on my master by his name. If he heard, he heeded not; for he never turned his head, nor shifted knee or hand, after once he got the friar down. I could not take my eye from the keyhole, though the iron seemed to burn it. I could not faint either; or shut mine ears against the hard breathing, and the horrible choking gurgle, and the hoarse rattle that ended all. “When at last Messer Marco rose-shaking himself—there lay on the floor, beyond, a ghastly tumbled grey heap; from which stretched out two sandalled feet, still quivering. After a pause, my master walked towards the door. The power to move came back to me then, in the very extremity of my fear; for I thought that he was angered at my watching, and was coming forth to slay me likewise. So I staggered to one of the windows—I know not how—and strove to hide myself under the curtains. Whilst I was cowering there, Messer Marco’s voice sounded close to my ear, speaking low and gently, as I had never heard it speak since the night his mother died. “Ah! my poor Giacinta, thou hast seen, then, and knowest all. I have a lie ready for the rest of mine household, to account for yonder carrion; but I palter not so with thee. Thou mayest betray me if thou wilt—I think thou wilt not. Fear not that any, save one, shall come to blame for what hath been done here; if needs be, I will avouch my own handiwork. Go and call Pietro now: for I must to Pisa to-night—there to take counsel with my trusty cousin, who shall advise me whether it be best for me to bide or flee.’ “Betray him! He might well be safe against that. I straightened myself and strove hard to be calm, whilst my master’s call rang through the corridor; and, shortly after, I heard him charge the page to see his sorrel saddled instantly, and to send once again for the leech—who had already left the castle—for that Fra Rèmo had fallen down in a fit. Then he returned and passed into the innermost chamber, closing the door behind him. Besides this, there was between us the chamber in which the other corpse lay: nevertheless, I could hear, quite plainly, my lord Marco sobbing as though his heart were broken—so in very truth it was—and I could hear him calling the dead woman by all manner of fond names, such as he had never used since the old days when he did not think the winning of her love was utterly hopeless. Then, by Heaven’s grace, I too fell a-weeping—for I think, without those tears, my brain would have turned with grief and horror. “At last the steps of Ser Geronimo the leech, and others, were heard in the corridor without, and they knocked for admittance. Then my master came forth, and crossed the second chamber, without glancing aside at the friar’s corpse. Indeed, I think he would have gone out without noticing me; but I felt—I cannot tell why—that I should look upon his face no more: so I stopped him, and knelt down before them all, and pressed my lips upon his hand—though it was blackened with guilt now, it had stroked my head kindly when I was a little child—and prayed that God would help and forgive him. I doubt if he understood my words; but he tried to smile as he stooped his haggard face down close to mine, and just touched my forehead with his lips. Then—speaking to none else, and staring always straight before him—he went out; and, two minutes later, I heard the rattle of his horse’s hoofs in the courtyard beneath. “I dared not go with the rest into the second chamber; but they told me afterward that Ser Geronimo shook his head as he knelt by Fra Rèmo’s corpse; and that others beside him noticed purple marks on the throat that could scarce be accounted for by the fit of the falling sickness. But it was the business of none there to be over-curious; and the Franciscans, when they heard the news, and came to fetch their dead away, raised no question: perchance Fra Anselmo had warned his brethren to avoid unprofitable scandal. Unprofitable, of a truth, it would have been: before dawn, the sorrel wandered back with splashes of blood on saddle and housing; and those who went forth to search, found Marco Vidoni stone-dead in a pine-wood, not a league from his own gate. Riding through the dark at furious speed, his skull had been dashed against a trunk leaning somewhat athwart the road, and he could not have lived a second after. “Bernando Vidoni, the cousin of whom my poor master spake, soon came from Pisa, and saw the double funeral celebrated with due pomp and solemnity. He was a good man and a kindly, and would have driven none of the old household forth. But few of us had the heart to take service under a new master; and I went with the rest to this city, where some of my kindred abode; and, before I had tarried very long with these, my good Matteo found me out and wooed and wedded me. We have been very happy since, in our hum-drum fashion; but always, when this day comes round, I rise with a heart as heavy as lead, and it is never lightened till I have recited many Aves, and spent some space in prayer. And, should bread be harder to win than it hath ever been with us, I will still find coins enow to provide a mass in behalf of all who passed to their compt that night unannealed, and a special one to boot for poor Messer Marco’s soul.”
As for the origins of ‘Fra Giacomo’, I did come across the following passage in the wikipedia entry on Sheridan Le Fanu:
“An anonymous novella Spalatro: From the Notes of Fra Giacomo, published in the Dublin University Magazine in 1843, was added to the Le Fanu canon as late as 1980, being recognised as Le Fanu's work by W. J. McCormack in his biography of that year. Spalatro has a typically Gothic Italian setting, featuring a bandit as the hero, as in Ann Radcliffe (whose 1797 novel The ItalianÂ includes a repentant minor villain of the same name).”
The Fra Giacomo of Spalatro is the eponymous bandit’s confessor, but that’s as far as the connections go, so I think we can claim coincidence and nothing more, unless we can find evidence of Buchanan coming across the relevant issues of the Dublin University Magazine - perhaps in his dentist’s waiting room.
‘The men in my hut are a very interesting collection of specimens belonging to “homo non lupus.” Nightly, ere the lights go out, Simmonds enthralls a spell-bound audience with passionate recitations; sometimes he gives us “Fra Giacomo,” by R. Buchanan, or “Mad Carew,’” by M. Hayes (from the Green Eyes of the Little Yellow God), sometimes passages from “David Copperfield” or “My Old Pipe” and “Devil May Care,” by A. H. Taylor. When Simmonds has finished, his breathless and appreciative audience always ask for more. He is a bank-clerk by profession. “Bill” is an artist. Talks a lot about development, soul and inspiration, but he will not show his technique. “Technique is despicable!” he says. To tease him I drew a caricature of Hart, our hut-corporal, but even that did not “draw” Bill.’