Faded Blush

My Last Duchess by Robert Browning

By Renee Biele

‘Tonight, I need it done tonight.’

The fire in the hearth burned soft, the embers within emitting barely a glow. The Duke of Ferrara’s face was well hidden in shadow. Liquor stained his breath and his hands shook with a silent anger.

‘She goes too far. That painter told me again how beautiful she is. How fortunate I am to have such a prize. She makes a mockery before my face.’ His voice is cold; dead.

He requires no reply so I slink back to the door. ‘Do it gently.’ ‘Always,’ was my answer. ‘I don’t want her body ruined.’

Adorned with black leather gloves and a cape that covered me from darkness, I went out into the early twilight. The Duchess was in the gardens. Lucrezia de’ Medici. The Duke’s blossoming bride was at the ripe age of fourteen. The trees around her were casting the last of their shadows, reaching for her.

She was clothed in a blue dress, a collar strangling her pretty neck. She was picking cherries from the orchid, smiling at the gardener. One look from me behind the hedge and the man left abruptly.

Her smile melted into confusion, edged with fear as I emerged.

‘Good evening sir,’ she said, curtseying. ‘Does my husband require me?’

I never answer them. I need to stay focussed and concentrate.

She took too long to run. It was effortless to dodge the basket of cherries thrown between us. She was so young. How could she know the fate her smile would bring?

I caught her frail, tiny self in my arms and with one crack she was on the ground. The Duchess’s head was contorted upon her torso.

I stared at her for a long time. Her lovely, flushed cheeks grew paler as it got darker. All that remained was a cold grey figure lying in the grass.

I brought her limp form before the Duke.

He had a serving maid in his bed, who screamed as I placed the Duchess on the ground. The screeching girl was forgotten as the naked Duke came to stand over the body. The portrait of the Duchess, painted by the late Frà Pandolf, hung above the Duke’s bed. The painter’s hand I had kept as a trophy. He’d had such amusing hands. Pandolf had captured the Duchess within the painting as a bright maiden, full of life.

The Duke started laughing. A wicked and cruel laugh I had not heard before. He started undressing her, ripping her clothes until her corpse was as naked as he.

I felt so much shame and was glad he could not see my face. There was no dignity left in the pale figure of the Duchess. The Duke stroked her pale cheek.

He didn’t know what was to see that blushed cheek fade to a sickly white. The blush that betrayed her. The Duchess was so small.

The maid was still screaming and soon ran from the room. The Duke looked after her and gave me a nod.

Only a nod. Never thinking twice about the life soon to be snuffed out. His gaze was only on the dead girl.

I turn my back and begin to wander the halls swallowed in nightfall, following her sobs.

It is my profession. I should not feel like this.

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