Part 1 out of 3
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CELEBRATED CRIMES VOLUME 6(of 8), Part 1
By Alexandre Dumas, Pere
JOAN OF NAPLES
In the night of the 15th of January 1343, while the inhabitants of
Naples lay wrapped in peaceful slumber, they were suddenly awakened
by the bells of the three hundred churches that this thrice blessed
capital contains. In the midst of the disturbance caused by so rude
a call the first bought in the mind of all was that the town was on
fire, or that the army of some enemy had mysteriously landed under
cover of night and could put the citizens to the edge of the sword.
But the doleful, intermittent sounds of all these fills, which
disturbed the silence at regular and distant intervals, were an
invitation to the faithful pray for a passing soul, and it was soon
evident that no disaster threatened the town, but that the king alone
was in danger.
Indeed, it had been plain for several days past that the greatest
uneasiness prevailed in Castel Nuovo; the officers of the crown were
assembled regularly twice a day, and persons of importance, whose
right it was to make their way into the king's apartments, came out
evidently bowed down with grief. But although the king's death was
regarded as a misfortune that nothing could avert, yet the whole
town, on learning for certain of the approach of his last hour, was
affected with a sincere grief, easily understood when one learns that
the man about to die, after a reign of thirty-three years, eight
months, and a few days, was Robert of Anjou, the most wise, just, and
glorious king who had ever sat on the throne of Sicily. And so he
carried with him to the tomb the eulogies and regrets of all his
Soldiers would speak with enthusiasm of the long wars he had waged
with Frederic and Peter of Aragon, against Henry VII and Louis of
Bavaria; and felt their hearts beat high, remembering the glories of
campaigns in Lombardy and Tuscany; priests would gratefully extol his
constant defence of the papacy against Ghibelline attacks, and the
founding of convents, hospitals, and churches throughout his kingdom;
in the world of letters he was regarded as the most learned king in
Christendom; Petrarch, indeed, would receive the poet's crown from no
other hand, and had spent three consecutive days answering all the
questions that Robert had deigned to ask him on every topic of human
knowledge. The men of law, astonished by the wisdom of those laws
which now enriched the Neapolitan code, had dubbed him the Solomon of
their day; the nobles applauded him for protecting their ancient
privileges, and the people were eloquent of his clemency, piety, and
mildness. In a word, priests and soldiers, philosophers and poets,
nobles and peasants, trembled when they thought that the government
was to fall into the hands of a foreigner and of a young girl,
recalling those words of Robert, who, as he followed in the funeral
train of Charles, his only son, turned as he reached the threshold of
the church and sobbingly exclaimed to his barons about him, "This day
the crown has fallen from my head: alas for me! alas for you!"
Now that the bells were ringing for the dying moments of the good
king, every mind was full of these prophetic words: women prayed
fervently to God; men from all parts of the town bent their steps
towards the royal palace to get the earliest and most authentic news,
and after waiting some moments, passed in exchanging sad reflections,
were obliged to return as they had come, since nothing that went on
in the privacy of the family found its way outside--the castle was
plunged in complete darkness, the drawbridge was raised as usual, and
the guards were at their post.
Yet if our readers care to be present at the death of the nephew of
Saint Louis and the grandson of Charles of Anjou, we may conduct them
into the chamber of the dying man. An alabaster lamp suspended from
the ceiling serves to light the vast and sombre room, with walls
draped in black velvet sewn with golden fleur-de-lys. Near the wall
which faces the two entrance doors that at this moment are both shut
close, there stands beneath a brocaded canopy an ebony bed, supported
on four twisted columns carved with symbolic figures. The king,
after a struggle with a violent paroxysm, has fallen swooning in the
arms of his confessor and his doctor, who each hold one of his dying
hands, feeling his pulse anxiously and exchanging looks of
intelligence. At the foot of the bed stands a woman about fifty
years of age, her hands clasped, her eyes raised to heaven, in an
attitude of resigned grief: this woman is the queen, No tears dim her
eyes: her sunken cheek has that waxen yellow tinge that one sees on
the bodies of saints preserved by miracle. In her look is that
mingling of calm and suffering that points to a soul at once tried by
sorrow and imbued with religion. After the lapse of an hour, while
no movement had disturbed the profound silence which reigned about
the bed of death, the king trembled slightly; opened his eyes, and
endeavoured feebly to raise his head. They thanking the physician
and priest with a smile, who had both hastened to arrange his
pillows, he begged the queen to come near, and told her in a low
voice that he would speak with her a moment alone. The doctor and
confessor retired, deeply bowing, and the king followed them with his
eyes up to the moment when one of the doors closed behind them. He
passed his hand across his brow, as though seeking to collect his
thoughts, and rallying all his forces for the supreme effort,
pronounced these words:
"What I must say to you, Sancha, has no concern with those two good
persons who were here a moment ago: their task is ended. One has
done all for my body that human science could teach him, and all that
has come of it is that my death is yet a little deferred; the other
has now absolved me of all my sins, and assured me of God's
forgiveness, yet cannot keep from me those dread apparitions which in
this terrible hour arise before me. Twice have you seen me battling
with a superhuman horror. My brow has been bathed in sweat, my limbs
rigid, my cries have been stifled by a hand of iron. Has God
permitted the Evil Spirit to tempt me? Is this remorse in phantom
shape? These two conflicts I have suffered have so subdued my
strength that I can never endure a third. Listen then, my Sandra,
for I have instructions to give you on which perhaps the safety of my
"My lord and my master," said the queen in the most gentle accents of
submission, "I am ready to listen to your orders; and should it be
that God, in the hidden designs of His providence, has willed to call
you to His glory while we are plunged in grief, your last wishes
shall be fulfilled here on earth most scrupulously and exactly.
But," she added, with all the solicitude of a timid soul, "pray
suffer me to sprinkle drops of holy water and banish the accursed one
from this chamber, and let me offer up some part of that service of
prayer that you composed in honour of your sainted brother to implore
God's protection in this hour when we can ill afford to lose it."
Then opening a richly bound book, she read with fervent devotion
certain verses of the office that Robert had written in a very pure
Latin for his brother Louis, Bishop of Toulouse, which was, in use in
the Church as late as the time of the Council of Trent.
Soothed by the charm of the prayers he had himself composed, the king
was near forgetting the object of the interview he had so solemnly
and eagerly demanded and letting himself lapse into a state of vague
melancholy, he murmured in a subdued voice, "Yes, yes, you are
right; pray for me, for you too are a saint, and I am but a poor
"Say not so, my lord," interrupted Dona Sancha; "you are the
greatest, wisest, and most just king who has ever sat upon the throne
"But the throne is usurped," replied Robert in a voice of gloom; "you
know that the kingdom belonged to my elder brother, Charles Martel;
and since Charles was on the throne of Hungary, which he inherited
from his mother, the kingdom of Naples devolved by right upon his
eldest son, Carobert, and not on me, who am the third in rank of the
family. And I have suffered myself to be crowned in my nephew's
stead, though he was the only lawful-king; I have put the younger
branch in the place of the elder, and for thirty-three years I have
stifled the reproaches of my conscience. True, I have won battles,
made laws, founded churches; but a single word serves to give the lie
to all the pompous titles showered upon me by the people's
admiration, and this one word rings out clearer in my ears than all
the, flattery of courtiers, all the songs of poets, all the orations
of the crowd:--I am an usurper!"
"Be not unjust towards yourself, my lord, and bear in mind that if
you did not abdicate in favour of the rightful heir, it was because
you wished to save the people from the worst misfortunes. Moreover,"
continued the queen, with that air of profound conviction that an
unanswerable argument inspires, "you have remained king by the
consent and authority of our Holy Father the sovereign pontiff, who
disposes of the throne as a fief belonging to the Church."
"I have long quieted my scruples thus," replied the dying man, "and
the pope's authority has kept me silent; but whatever security one
may pretend to feel in one's lifetime, there yet comes a dreadful
solemn hour when all illusions needs must vanish: this hour for me
has come, and now I must appear before God, the one unfailing judge."
"If His justice cannot fail, is not His mercy infinite?" pursued the
queen, with the glow of sacred inspiration. "Even if there were good
reason for the fear that has shaken your soul, what fault could not
be effaced by a repentance so noble? Have you not repaired the wrong
you may have done your nephew Carobert, by bringing his younger son
Andre to your kingdom and marrying him to Joan, your poor Charles's
elder daughter? Will not they inherit your crown?"
"Alas!" cried Robert, with a deep sigh, "God is punishing me perhaps
for thinking too late of this just reparation. O my good and noble
Sandra, you touch a chord which vibrates sadly in my heart, and you
anticipate the unhappy confidence I was about to make. I feel a
gloomy presentiment--and in the hour of death presentiment is
prophecy--that the two sons of my nephew, Louis, who has been King of
Hungary since his father died, and Andre, whom I desired to make King
of Naples, will prove the scourge of my family. Ever since Andre set
foot in our castle, a strange fatality has pursued and overturned my
projects. I had hoped that if Andre and Joan were brought up
together a tender intimacy would arise between the two children; and
that the beauty of our skies, our civilisation, and the attractions
of our court would end by softening whatever rudeness there might be
in the young Hungarian's character; but in spite of my efforts all
has tended to cause coldness, and even aversion, between the bridal
pair. Joan, scarcely fifteen, is far ahead of her age. Gifted with
a brilliant and mobile mind, a noble and lofty character, a lively
and glowing fancy, now free and frolicsome as a child, now grave and
proud as a queen, trustful and simple as a young girl, passionate and
sensitive as a woman, she presents the most striking contrast to
Andre, who, after a stay of ten years at our court, is wilder, more
gloomy, more intractable than ever. His cold, regular features,
impassive countenance, and indifference to every pleasure that his
wife appears to love, all this has raised between him and Joan a
barrier of indifference, even of antipathy. To the tenderest
effusion his reply is no more than a scornful smile or a frown, and
he never seems happier than when on a pretext of the chase he can
escape from the court. These, then, are the two, man and wife, on
whose heads my crown shall rest, who in a short space will find
themselves exposed to every passion whose dull growl is now heard
below a deceptive calm, but which only awaits the moment when I
breathe my last, to burst forth upon them."
"O my God, my God!" the queen kept repeating in her grief: her arms
fell by her side, like the arms of a statue weeping by a tomb.
"Listen, Dona Sandra. I know that your heart has never clung to
earthly vanities, and that you only wait till God has called me to
Himself to withdraw to the convent of Santa Maria delta Croce,
founded by yourself in the hope that you might there end your days.
Far be it from me to dissuade you from your sacred vocation, when I
am myself descending into the tomb and am conscious of the
nothingness of all human greatness. Only grant me one year of
widowhood before you pass on to your bridal with the Lord, one year
in which you will watch over Joan and her husband, to keep from them
all the dangers that threaten. Already the woman who was the
seneschal's wife and her son have too much influence over our grand-
daughter; be specially careful, and amid the many interests,
intrigues, and temptations that will surround the young queen,
distrust particularly the affection of Bertrand d'Artois, the beauty
of Louis of Tarentum; and the ambition of Charles of Durazzo."
The king paused, exhausted by the effort of speaking; then turning on
his wife a supplicating glance and extending his thin wasted hand, he
added in a scarcely audible voice:
"Once again I entreat you, leave not the court before a year has
passed. Do you promise me?"
"I promise, my lord."
"And now," said Robert, whose face at these words took on a new
animation, "call my confessor and the physician and summon the
family, for the hour is at hand, and soon I shall not have the
strength to speak my last words."
A few moments later the priest and the doctor re-entered the room,
their faces bathed, in tears. The king thanked them warmly for their
care of him in his last illness, and begged them help to dress him in
the coarse garb of a Franciscan monk, that God, as he said, seeing
him die in poverty, humility, and penitence, might the more easily
grant him pardon. The confessor and doctor placed upon his naked
feet the sandals worn by mendicant friars, robed him in a Franciscan
frock, and tied the rope about his waist. Stretched thus upon his
bed, his brow surmounted by his scanty locks, with his long white
beard, and his hands crossed upon his breast, the King of Naples
looked like one of those aged anchorites who spend their lives in
mortifying the flesh, and whose souls, absorbed in heavenly
contemplation, glide insensibly from out their last ecstasy into
eternal bliss. Some time he lay thus with closed eyes, putting up a
silent prayer to God; then he bade them light the spacious room as
for a great solemnity, and gave a sign to the two persons who stood,
one at the head, the other at the foot of the bed. The two folding
doors opened, and the whole of the royal family, with the queen at
their head and the chief barons following, took their places in
silence around the dying king to hear his last wishes.
His eyes turned toward Joan, who stood next him on his right hand,
with an indescribable look of tenderness and grief. She was of a
beauty so unusual and so marvellous, that her grandfather was
fascinated by the dazzling sight, and mistook her for an angel that
God had sent to console him on his deathbed. The pure lines of her
fine profile, her great black liquid eyes, her noble brow uncovered,
her hair shining like the raven's wing, her delicate mouth, the whole
effect of this beautiful face on the mind of those who beheld her was
that of a deep melancholy and sweetness, impressing itself once and
for ever. Tall and slender, but without the excessive thinness of
some young girls, her movements had that careless supple grace that
recall the waving of a flower stalk in the breeze. But in spite of
all these smiling and innocent graces one could yet discern in
Robert's heiress a will firm and resolute to brave every obstacle,
and the dark rings that circled her fine eyes plainly showed that her
heart was already agitated by passions beyond her years.
Beside Joan stood her younger sister, Marie, who was twelve or
thirteen years of age, the second daughter of Charles, Duke of
Calabria, who had died before her birth, and whose mother, Marie of
Valois, had unhappily been lost to her from her cradle. Exceedingly
pretty and shy, she seemed distressed by such an assembly of great
personages, and quietly drew near to the widow of the grand
seneschal, Philippa, surnamed the Catanese, the princesses'
governess, whom they honoured as a mother. Behind the princesses and
beside this lady stood her son, Robert of Cabane, a handsome young
man, proud and upright, who with his left hand played with his slight
moustache while he secretly cast on Joan a glance of audacious
boldness. The group was completed by Dona Cancha, the young
chamberwoman to the princesses, and by the Count of Terlizzi, who
exchanged with her many a furtive look and many an open smile. The
second group was composed of Andre, Joan's husband, and Friar Robert,
tutor to, the young prince, who had come with him from Budapesth, and
never left him for a minute. Andre was at this time perhaps eighteen
years old: at first sight one was struck by the extreme regularity of
his features, his handsome, noble face, and abundant fair hair; but
among all these Italian faces, with their vivid animation, his
countenance lacked expression, his eyes seemed dull, and something
hard and icy in his looks revealed his wild character and foreign
extraction. His tutor's portrait Petrarch has drawn for us: crimson
face, hair and beard red, figure short and crooked; proud in poverty,
rich and miserly; like a second Diogenes, with hideous and deformed
limbs barely concealed beneath his friar's frock.
In the third group stood the widow of Philip, Prince of Tarentum, the
king's brother, honoured at the court of Naples with the title of
Empress of Constantinople, a style inherited by her as the
granddaughter of Baldwin II. Anyone accustomed to sound the depths
of the human heart would at one glance have perceived that this woman
under her ghastly pallor concealed an implacable hatred, a venomous
jealousy, and an all-devouring ambition. She had her three sons
about her--Robert, Philip and Louis, the youngest. Had the king
chosen out from among his nephews the handsomest, bravest, and most
generous, there can be no doubt that Louis of Tarentum would have
obtained the crown. At the age of twenty-three he had already
excelled the cavaliers of most renown in feats of arms; honest,
loyal, and brave, he no sooner conceived a project than he promptly
carried it out. His brow shone in that clear light which seems to,
serve as a halo of success to natures so privileged as his; his fine
eyes, of a soft and velvety black, subdued the hearts of men who
could not resist their charm, and his caressing smile made conquest
sweet. A child of destiny, he had but to use his will; some power
unknown, some beneficent fairy had watched over his birth, and
undertaken to smooth away all obstacles, gratify all desires.
Near to him, but in the fourth group, his cousin Charles of Duras
stood and scowled. His mother, Agnes, the widow of the Duke of
Durazzo and Albania, another of the king's brothers, looked upon him
affrighted, clutching to her breast her two younger sons, Ludovico,
Count of Gravina, and Robert, Prince of Morea. Charles, pale-faced,
with short hair and thick beard, was glancing with suspicion first at
his dying uncle and then at Joan and the little Marie, then again at
his cousins, apparently so excited by tumultuous thoughts that he
could not stand still. His feverish uneasiness presented a marked
contrast with the calm, dreamy face of Bertrand d'Artois, who, giving
precedence to his father Charles, approached the queen at the foot of
the bed, and so found himself face to face with Joan. The young man
was so absorbed by the beauty of the princess that he seemed to see
nothing else in the room.
As soon as Joan and Andre; the Princes of Tarentum and Durazzo, the
Counts of Artois, and Queen Sancha had taken their places round the
bed of death, forming a semicircle, as we have just described, the
vice-chancellor passed through the rows of barons, who according to
their rangy were following closely after the princes of the blood;
and bowing low before the king, unfolded a parchment sealed with the
royal seal, and read in a solemn voice, amid a profound silence:
"Robert, by the grace of God King of Sicily and Jerusalem, Count of
Provence, Forcalquier, and Piedmont, Vicar of the Holy Roman Church,
hereby nominates and declares his sole heiress in the kingdom of
Sicily on this side and the other side of the strait, as also in the
counties of Provence, Forcalquier, and Piedmont, and in all his
other territories, Joan, Duchess of Calabria, elder daughter of the
excellent lord Charles, Duke of Calabria, of illustrious memory.
"Moreover, he nominates and declares the honourable lady Marie,
younger daughter of the late Duke of Calabria, his heiress in the
county of Alba and in the jurisdiction of the valley of Grati and the
territory of Giordano, with all their castles and dependencies; and
orders that the lady thus named receive them in fief direct from the
aforesaid duchess and her heirs; on this condition, however, that if
the duchess give and grant to her illustrious sister or to her
assigns the sum of 10,000 ounces of gold by way of compensation, the
county and jurisdiction aforesaid--shall remain in the possession of
the duchess and her heirs.
"Moreover, he wills and commands, for private and secret reasons,
that the aforesaid lady Marie shall contract a marriage with the very
illustrious prince, Louis, reigning King of Hungary. And in case any
impediment should appear to this marriage by reason of--the union
said to be already arranged and signed between the King of Hungary
and the King of Bohemia and his daughter, our lord the king commands
that the illustrious lady Marie shall contract a marriage with the
elder son of the mighty lord Don Juan, Duke of Normandy, himself the
elder son of the reigning King of France."
At this point Charles of Durazzo gave Marie a singularly meaning
look, which escaped the notice of all present, their attention being
absorbed by the reading of Robert's will. The young girl herself,
from the moment when she first heard her own name, had stood confused
and thunderstruck, with scarlet cheeks, not daring to raise her eyes.
The vice-chancellor continued:
"Moreover, he has willed and commanded that the counties of
Forcalquier and Provence shall in all perpetuity be united to his
kingdom, and shall form one sole and inseparable dominion, whether or
not there be several sons or daughters or any other reason of any
kind for its partition, seeing that this union is of the utmost
importance for the security and common prosperity of the kingdom and
"Moreover, he has decided and commanded that in case of the death of
the Duchess Joan--which God avert!--without lawful issue of her body,
the most illustrious lord Andre, Duke of Calabria, her husband, shall
have the principality of Salerno, with the title fruits, revenues,
and all the rights thereof, together with the revenue of 2000 ounces
of gold for maintenance.
"Moreover, he has decided and ordered that the Queen above all, and
also the venerable father Don Philip of Cabassole, Bishop of
Cavaillon, vice-chancellor of the kingdom of Sicily, and the
magnificent lords Philip of Sanguineto, seneschal of Provence,
Godfrey of Marsan, Count of Squillace, admiral of the kingdom, and
Charles of Artois, Count of Aire, shall be governors, regents, and
administrators of the aforesaid lord Andre and the aforesaid ladies
Joan and Marie, until such time as the duke, the duchess, and the
very illustrious lady Marie shall have attained their twenty-fifth
year," etc. etc.
When the vice-chancellor had finished reading, the king sat up, and
glancing round upon his fair and numerous family, thus spoke:
"My children, you have heard my last wishes. I have bidden you all
to my deathbed, that you may see how the glory of the world passes
away. Those whom men name the great ones of the earth have more
duties to perform, and after death more accounts to render: it is in
this that their greatness lies. I have reigned thirty-three years,
and God before whom I am about to appear, God to whom my sighs have
often arisen during my long and painful life, God alone knows the
thoughts that rend my heart in the hour of death. Soon shall I be
lying in the tomb, and all that remains of me in this world will live
in the memory of those who pray for me. But before I leave you for
ever, you, oh, you who are twice my daughters, whom I have loved with
a double love, and you my nephews who have had from me all the care
and affection of a father, promise me to be ever united in heart and
in wish, as indeed you are in my love. I have lived longer than your
fathers, I the eldest of all, and thus no doubt God has wished to
tighten the bonds of your affection, to accustom you to live in one
family and to pay honour to one head. I have loved you all alike, as
a father should, without exception or preference. I have disposed of
my throne according to the law of nature and the inspiration of my
conscience: Here are the heirs of the crown of Naples; you, Joan, and
you, Andre, will never forget the love and respect that are due
between husband and wife, and mutually sworn by you at the foot of
the altar; and you, my nephews all; my barons, my officers, render
homage to your lawful sovereigns; Andre of Hungary, Louis of
Tarentum, Charles of Durazzo, remember that you are brothers; woe to
him who shall imitate the perfidy of Cain! May his blood fall upon
his own head, and may he be accursed by Heaven as he is by the mouth
of a dying man; and may the blessing of the Father, the Son, and the
Holy Spirit descend upon that man whose heart is good, when the Lord
of mercy shall call to my soul Himself!"
The king remained motionless, his arms raised, his eyes fixed on
heaven, his cheeks extraordinarily bright, while the princes, barons,
and officers of the court proffered to Joan and her husband the oath
of fidelity and allegiance. When it was the turn of the Princes of
Duras to advance, Charles disdainfully stalked past Andre, and
bending his knee before the princess, said in a loud voice, as he
kissed her hand--
"To you, my queen, I pay my homage."
All looks were turned fearfully towards the dying man, but the good
king no longer heard. Seeing him fall back rigid and motionless,
Dona Sancha burst into sobs, and cried in a voice choked with tears
"The king is dead; let us pray for his soul."
At the very same moment all the princes hurried from the room, and
every passion hitherto suppressed in the presence of the king now
found its vent like a mighty torrent breaking through its banks.
"Long live Joan! "Robert of Cabane, Louis of Tarentum, and Bertrand
of Artois were the first to exclaim, while the prince's tutor,
furiously breaking through the crowd and apostrophising the various
members of the council of regency, cried aloud in varying tones of
passion, "Gentlemen, you have forgotten the king's wish already; you
must cry, 'Long live Andre!' too"; then, wedding example to precept,
and himself making more noise than all the barons together, he cried
in a voice of thunder--
"Long live the King of Naples!"
But there was no echo to his cry, and Charles of Durazzo, measuring
the Dominican with a terrible look, approached the queen, and taking
her by the hand, slid back the curtains of the balcony, from which
was seen the square and the town of Naples. So far as the eye could
reach there stretched an immense crowd, illuminated by streams of
light, and thousands of heads were turned upward towards Castel Nuovo
to gather any news that might be announced. Charles respectfully
drawing back and indicating his fair cousin with his hand,
"People of Naples, the King is dead: long live the Queen!"
"Long live Joan, Queen of Naples!" replied the people, with a single
mighty cry that resounded through every quarter of the town.
The events that on this night had followed each other with the
rapidity of a dream had produced so deep an impression on Joan's
mind, that, agitated by a thousand different feelings, she retired to
her own rooms, and shutting herself up in her chamber, gave free vent
to her grief. So long as the conflict of so many ambitions waged
about the tomb, the young queen, refusing every consolation that was
offered her, wept bitterly for the death of her grandfather, who had
loved her to the point of weakness. The king was buried with all
solemnity in the church of Santa Chiara, which he had himself founded
and dedicated to the Holy Sacrament, enriching it with magnificent
frescoes by Giotto and other precious relics, among which is shown
still, behind the tribune of the high altar, two columns of white
marble taken from Solomon's temple. There still lies Robert,
represented on his tomb in the dress of a king and in a monk's frock,
on the right of the monument to his son Charles, the Duke of
As soon as the obsequies were over, Andre's tutor hastily assembled
the chief Hungarian lords, and it was decided in a council held in
the presence of the prince and with his consent, to send letters to
his mother, Elizabeth of Poland, and his brother, Louis of Hungary,
to make known to them the purport of Robert's will, and at the same
time to lodge a complaint at the court of Avignon against the conduct
of the princes and people of Naples in that they had proclaimed Joan
alone Queen of Naples, thus overlooking the rights of her husband,
and further to demand for him the pope's order for Andre's
coronation. Friar Robert, who had not only a profound knowledge of
the court intrigues, but also the experience of a philosopher and all
a monk's cunning, told his pupil that he ought to profit by the
depression of spirit the king's death had produced in Joan, and ought
not to suffer her favourites to use this time in influencing her by
their seductive counsels.
But Joan's ability to receive consolation was quite as ready as her
grief had at first been impetuous the sobs which seemed to be
breaking her heart ceased all at once; new thoughts, more gentle,
less lugubrious, took possession of the young queen's mind; the trace
of tears vanished, and a smile lit up her liquid eyes like the sun's
ray following on rain. This change, anxiously awaited, was soon
observed by Joan's chamberwoman: she stole to the queen's room, and
falling on her knees, in accents of flattery and affection, she
offered her first congratulations to her lovely mistress. Joan
opened her arms and held her in a long embrace; far Dona Cancha was
far more to her than a lady-in-waiting; she was the companion of
infancy, the depositary of all her secrets, the confidante of her
most private thoughts. One had but to glance at this young girl to
understand the fascination she could scarcely fail to exercise over
the queen's mind. She had a frank and smiling countenance, such as
inspires confidence and captivates the mind at first sight. Her face
had an irresistible charm, with clear blue eyes, warm golden hair,
mouth bewitchingly turned up at the corners, and delicate little
chin. Wild, happy, light of heart, pleasure and love were the breath
of her being; her dainty refinement, her charming inconstancies, all
made her at sixteen as lovely as an angel, though at heart she was
corrupt. The whole court was at her feet, and Joan felt more
affection for her than for her own sister.
"Well, my dear Cancha," she murmured, with a sigh, "you find me very
sad and very unhappy!"
"And you find me, fair queen," replied the confidante, fixing an
admiring look on Joan,--"you find me just the opposite, very happy
that I can lay at your feet before anyone else the proof of the joy
that the people of Naples are at this moment feeling. Others perhaps
may envy you the crown that shines upon your brow, the throne which
is one of the noblest in the world, the shouts of this entire town
that sound rather like worship than homage; but I, madam, I envy you
your lovely black hair, your dazzling eyes, your more than mortal
grace, which make every man adore you."
"And yet you know, my Cancha, I am much to be pitied both as a queen
and as a woman: when one is fifteen a crown is heavy to wear, and I
have not the liberty of the meanest of my subjects--I mean in my
affections; for before I reached an age when I could think I was
sacrificed to a man whom I can never love."
"Yet, madam," replied Cancha in a more insinuating voice, "in this
court there is a young cavalier who might by virtue of respect, love,
and devotion have made you forget the claims of this foreigner, alike
unworthy to be our king and to be your husband."
The queen heaved a heavy sigh.
"When did you lose your skill to read my heart?" she cried. "Must I
actually tell you that this love is making me wretched? True, at the
very first this unsanctioned love was a keen joy: a new life seemed
to wake within my heart; I was drawn on, fascinated by the prayers,
the tears, and the despair of this man, by the opportunities that his
mother so easily granted, she whom I had always looked upon as my own
mother; I have loved him.... O my God, I am still so young, and my
past is so unhappy. At times strange thoughts come into my mind: I
fancy he no longer loves me, that he never did love me; I fancy he
has been led on by ambition, by self-interest, by some ignoble
motive, and has only feigned a feeling that he has never really felt.
I feel myself a coldness I cannot account for; in his presence I am
constrained, I am troubled by his look, his voice makes me tremble: I
fear him; I would sacrifice a year of my life could I, never have
listened to him."
These words seemed to touch the young confidante to the very depths
of her soul; a shade of sadness crossed her brow, her eyelids
dropped, and for some time she answered nothing, showing sorrow
rather than surprise. Then, lifting her head gently, she said, with
"I should never have dared to pass so severe a judgment upon a man
whom my sovereign lady has raised above other men by casting upon him
a look of kindness; but if Robert of Cabane has deserved the reproach
of inconstancy and ingratitude, if he has perjured himself like a
coward, he must indeed be the basest of all miserable beings,
despising a happiness which other men might have entreated of God the
whole time of their life and paid for through eternity. One man I
know, who weeps both night and day without hope or consolation,
consumed by a slow and painful malady, when one word might yet avail
to save him, did it come from the lips of my noble mistress."
"I will not hear another word," cried Joan, suddenly rising; "there
shall be no new cause for remorse in my life. Trouble has come upon
me through my loves, both lawful and criminal; alas! no longer will I
try to control my awful fate, I will bow my head without a murmur.
I am the queen, and I must yield myself up for the good of my
"Will you forbid me, madam," replied Dona Cancha in a kind,
affectionate tone--"will you forbid me to name Bertrand of Artois in
your presence, that unhappy man, with the beauty of an angel and the
modesty of a girl? Now that you are queen and have the life and
death of your subjects in your own keeping, will you feel no kindness
towards an unfortunate one whose only fault is to adore you, who
strives with all his mind and strength to bear a chance look of yours
without dying of his joy?"
"I have struggled hard never to look on him," cried the queen, urged
by an impulse she was not strong enough to conquer: then, to efface
the impression that might well have been made on her friend's mind,
she added severely, "I forbid you to pronounce his name before me;
and if he should ever venture to complain, I bid you tell him from me
that the first time I even suspect the cause of his distress he will
be banished for ever from my presence."
"Ah, madam, dismiss me also; for I shall never be strong enough to do
so hard a bidding: the unhappy man who cannot awake in your heart so
much as a feeling of pity may now be struck down by yourself in your
wrath, for here he stands; he has heard your sentence, and come to
die at your feet."
The last words were spoken in a louder voice, so that they might be
heard from outside, and Bertrand of Artois came hurriedly into the
room and fell on his knees before the queen. For a long time past
the young lady-in-waiting had perceived that Robert of Cabane had,
through his own fault, lost the love of Joan;--for his tyranny had
indeed become more unendurable to her than her husband's.
Dona Cancha had been quick enough to perceive that the eyes of her
young mistress were wont to rest with a kind of melancholy gentleness
on Bertrand, a young man of handsome appearance but with a sad and
dreamy expression; so when she made up her mind to speak in his
interests, she was persuaded that the queen already loved him.
Still, a bright colour overspread Joan's face, and her anger would
have fallen on both culprits alike, when in the next room a sound of
steps was heard, and the voice of the grand seneschal's widow in
conversation with her son fell on the ears of the three young people
like a clap of thunder. Dona Cancha, pale as death, stood trembling;
Bertrand felt that he was lost--all the more because his presence
compromised the queen; Joan only, with that wonderful presence of
mind she was destined to preserve in the most difficult crises of her
future life, thrust the young man against the carved back of her bed,
and concealed him completely beneath the ample curtain: she then
signed to Cancha to go forward and meet the governess and her son.
But before we conduct into the queen's room these two persons, whom
our readers may remember in Joan's train about the bed of King
Robert, we must relate the circumstances which had caused the family
of the Catanese to rise with incredible rapidity from the lowest
class of the people to the highest rank at court. When Dona Violante
of Aragon, first wife of Robert of Anjou, became the mother of
Charles, who was later on the Duke of Calabria, a nurse was sought
for the infant among the most handsome women of the people. After
inspecting many women of equal merit as regards beauty, youth; and,
health, the princess's choice lighted on Philippa, a young Catanese.
woman, the wife of a fisherman of Trapani, and by condition a
laundress. This young woman, as she washed her linen on the bank of
a stream, had dreamed strange dreams: she had fancied herself
summoned to court, wedded to a great personage, and receiving the
honours of a great lady. Thus when she was called to Castel Nuovo
her joy was great, for she felt that her dreams now began to be
realised. Philippa was installed at the court, and a few months after
she began to nurse the child the fisherman was dead and she was a
widow. Meanwhile Raymond of Cabane, the major-domo of King Charles
II's house, had bought a negro from some corsairs, and having had him
baptized by his own name, had given him his liberty; afterwards
observing that he was able and intelligent, he had appointed him head
cook in the king's kitchen; and then he had gone away to the war.
During the absence of his patron the negro managed his own affairs at
the court so cleverly, that in a short time he was able to buy land,
houses, farms, silver plate, and horses, and could vie in riches with
the best in the kingdom; and as he constantly won higher favour in
the royal family, he passed on from the kitchen to the wardrobe. The
Catanese had also deserved very well of her employers, and as a
reward for the care she had bestowed on the child, the princess
married her to the negro, and he, as a wedding gift, was granted the
title of knight.
From this day forward, Raymond of Cabane and Philippa the laundress
rose in the world so rapidly that they had no equal in influence at
court. After the death of Dona Violante, the Catanese became the
intimate friend of Dona Sandra, Robert's second wife, whom we
introduced to our readers at the beginning of this narrative.
Charles, her foster son, loved her as a mother, and she was the
confidante of his two wives in turn, especially of the second wife,
Marie of Valois. And as the quondam laundress had in the end learned
all the manners and customs of the court, she was chosen at the birth
of Joan and her sister to be governess and mistress over the young
girls, and at this juncture Raymond was created major-domo. Finally,
Marie of Valois on her deathbed commended the two young princesses to
her care, begging her to look on them as her own-daughters. Thus
Philippa the Catanese, honoured in future as foster mother of the
heiress to the throne of Naples, had power to nominate her husband
grand seneschal, one of the seven most important offices in the
kingdom, and to obtain knighthood for her sons. Raymond of Cabane
was buried like a king in a marble tomb in the church of the Holy
Sacrament, and there was speedily joined by two of his sons. The
third, Robert, a youth of extraordinary strength and beauty, gave up
an ecclesiastical career, and was himself made major-domo, his two
sisters being married to the Count of Merlizzi and the Count of
Morcone respectively. This was now the state of affairs, and the
influence of the grand seneschal's widow seemed for ever established,
when an unexpected event suddenly occurred, causing such injury as
might well suffice to upset the edifice of her fortunes that had been
raised stone by stone patiently and slowly: this edifice was now
undermined and threatened to fall in a single day. It was the sudden
apparition of Friar Robert, who followed to the court of Rome his
young pupil, who from infancy had been Joan's destined husband, which
thus shattered all the designs of the Catanese and seriously menaced
her future. The monk had not been slow to understand that so long as
she remained at the court, Andre would be no more than the slave,
possibly even the victim, of his wife. Thus all Friar Robert's
thoughts were obstinately concentrated on a single end, that of
getting rid of the Catanese or neutralising her influence. The
prince's tutor and the governess of the heiress had but to exchange
one glance, icy, penetrating, plain to read: their looks met like
lightning flashes of hatred and of vengeance. The Catanese, who felt
she was detected, lacked courage to fight this man in the open, and
so conceived the hope of strengthening her tottering empire by the
arts of corruption and debauchery. She instilled by degrees into her
pupil's mind the poison of vice, inflamed her youthful imagination
with precocious desires, sowed in her heart the seeds of an
unconquerable aversion for her husband, surrounded the poor child
with abandoned women, and especially attached to her the beautiful
and attractive Dona Cancha, who is branded by contemporary authors
with the name of a courtesan; then summed up all these lessons in
infamy by prostituting Joan to her own son. The poor girl, polluted
by sin before she knew what life was, threw her whole self into this
first passion with all the ardour of youth, and loved Robert of
Cabane so violently, so madly, that the Catanese congratulated
herself on the success of her infamy, believing that she held her
prey so fast in her toils that her victim would never attempt to
A year passed by before Joan, conquered by her infatuation, conceived
the smallest suspicion of her lover's sincerity. He, more ambitious
than affectionate, found it easy to conceal his coldness under the
cloak of a brotherly intimacy, of blind submission, and of unswerving
devotion; perhaps he would have deceived his mistress for a longer
time had not Bertrand of Artois fallen madly in love with Joan.
Suddenly the bandage fell from the young girl's eyes; comparing the
two with the natural instinct of a woman beloved which never goes
astray, she perceived that Robert of Cabane loved her for his own
sake, while Bertrand of Artois would give his life to make her happy.
A light fell upon her past: she mentally recalled the circumstances
that preceded and accompanied her earliest love; and a shudder went
through her at the thought that she had been sacrificed to a cowardly
seducer by the very woman she had loved most in the world, whom she
had called by the name of mother.
Joan drew back into herself, and wept-bitterly. Wounded by a single
blow in all her affections, at first her grief absorbed her; then,
roused to sudden anger, she proudly raised her head, for now her love
was changed to scorn. Robert, amazed at her cold and haughty
reception of him, following on so great a love, was stung by jealousy
and wounded pride. He broke out into bitter reproach and violent
recrimination, and, letting fall the mask, once for all lost his
place in Joan's heart.
His mother at last saw that it was time to interfere: she rebuked her
son, accusing him of upsetting all her plans by his clumsiness.
"As you have failed to conquer her by love," she said, "you must now
subdue her by fear. The secret of her honour is in our hands, and
she will never dare to rebel. She plainly loves Bertrand of Artois,
whose languishing eyes and humble sighs contrast in a striking manner
with your haughty indifference and your masterful ways. The mother
of the Princes of Tarentum, the Empress of Constantinople, will
easily seize an occasion of helping on the princess's love so as to
alienate her more and more from her husband: Cancha will be the go
between, and sooner or later we shall find Bertrand at Joan's feet.
Then she will be able to refuse us nothing."
While all this was going on, the old king died, and the Catanese, who
had unceasingly kept on the watch for the moment she had so plainly
foreseen, loudly called to her son, when she saw Bertrand slip into
Joan's apartment, saying as she drew him after her--
"Follow me, the queen is ours."
It was thus that she and her son came to be there. Joan, standing in
the middle of the chamber, pallid, her eyes fixed on the curtains of
the bed, concealed her agitation with a smile, and took one step
forward towards her governess, stooping to receive the kiss which the
latter bestowed upon her every morning. The Catanese embraced her
with affected cordiality, and turning, to her son, who had knelt
upon one knee, said, pointing to Robert--
"My fair queen, allow the humblest of your subjects to offer his
sincere congratulations and to ay his homage at your feet."
"Rise, Robert," said Joan, extending her hand kindly, and with no
show of bitterness. "We were brought up together, and I shall never
forget that in our childhood--I mean those happy days when we were
both innocent--I called you my brother."
"As you allow me, madam," said Robert, with an ironical smile, "I too
shall always remember the names you formerly gave me."
"And I," said the Catanese, "shall forget that I speak to the Queen
of Naples, in embracing once more my beloved daughter. Come, madam,
away with care: you have wept long enough; we have long respected
your grief. It is now time to show yourself to these good
Neapolitans who bless Heaven continually for granting them a queen so
beautiful and good; it is time that your favours upon the heads of
your faithful subjects; and my son, who surpasses all in his
fidelity, comes first to ask a favour of you, in order that he may
serve you yet more zealously."
Joan cast on Robert a withering look, and, speaking to the Catanese,
said with a scornful air--
"You know, madam, I can refuse your son nothing."
"All he asks," continued the lady, "is a title which is his due, and
which he inherited from his father--the title of Grand Seneschal of
the Two Sicilies: I trust, my, daughter, you will have no difficulty
in granting this."
"But I must consult the council of regency."
"The council will hasten to ratify the queen's wishes," replied
Robert, handing her the parchment with an imperious gesture: "you
need only speak to the Count of Artois."
And he cast a threatening glance at the curtain, which had slightly
"You are right," said the queen at once; and going up to a table she
signed the parchment with a trembling hand.
"Now, my daughter, I have come in the name of all the care I bestowed
on your infancy, of all the maternal love I have lavished on you, to
implore a favour that my family will remember for evermore."
The queen recoiled one' step, crimson with astonishment and rage; but
before she could find words to reply, the lady continued in a voice
that betrayed no feeling--
"I request you to make my son Count of Eboli."
"That has nothing to do with me, madam; the barons of this kingdom
would revolt to a man if I were on my own authority to exalt to one
of the first dignities the son of a---"
"A laundress and a negro; you would say, madam?" said Robert, with a
sneer. "Bertrand of Artois would be annoyed perhaps if I had a title
He advanced a step towards the bed, his hand upon the hilt of his
"Have mercy, Robert!" cried the queen, checking him: "I will do all
And she signed the parchment naming him Count of Eboli.
"And now," Robert went on impudently, "to show that my new title is
not illusory, while you are busy about signing documents, let me have
the privilege of taking part in the councils of the crown: make a
declaration that, subject to your good pleasure, my mother and I are
to have a deliberative voice in the council whenever an important
matter is under discussion."
"Never!" cried Joan, turning pale. "Philippa end Robert, you abuse
my weakness and treat your queen shamefully. In the last few days I
have wept and suffered continually, overcome by a terrible grief; I
have no strength to turn to business now. Leave me, I beg: I feel my
strength gives, way."
"What, my daughter," cried the Catanese hypocritically, "are you
feeling unwell? Come and lie down at once." And hurrying to the
bed, she took hold of the curtain that concealed the Count of Artois.
The queen uttered a piercing cry, and threw herself before Philippa
with the fury of a lioness. "Stop!" she cried in a choking voice;
"take the privilege you ask, and now, if you value your own life,
The Catanese and her son departed instantly, not even waiting to
reply, for they had got all they wanted; while Joan, trembling, ran
desperately up to Bertrand, who had angrily drawn his dagger, and
would have fallen upon the two favourites to take vengeance for the
insults they had offered to the queen; but he was very soon disarmed
by the lovely shining eyes raised to him in supplication, the two
arms cast about him, and the tears shed by Joan: he fell at her feet
and kissed them rapturously, with no thought of seeking excuse for
his presence, with no word of love, for it was as if they had loved
always: he lavished the tenderest caresses on her, dried her tears,
and pressed his trembling lips upon her lovely head. Joan began to
forget her anger, her vows, and her repentance: soothed by the music
of her lover's speech, she returned uncomprehending monosyllables:
her heart beat till it felt like breaking, and once more she was
falling beneath love's resistless spell, when a new interruption
occurred, shaking her roughly out of her ecstasy; but this time the
young count was able to pass quietly and calmly into a room
adjoining, and Joan prepared to receive her importunate visitor with
severe and frigid dignity.
The individual who arrived at so inopportune a moment was little
calculated to smooth Joan's ruffled brow, being Charles, the eldest
son of the Durazzo family. After he had introduced his fair cousin
to the people as their only legitimate sovereign, he had sought on
various occasions to obtain an interview with her, which in all
probability would be decisive. Charles was one of those men who to
gain their end recoil at nothing; devoured by raging ambition and
accustomed from his earliest years to conceal his most ardent desires
beneath a mask of careless indifference, he marched ever onward, plot
succeeding plot, towards the object he was bent upon securing, and
never deviated one hair's-breadth from the path he had marked out,
but only acted with double prudence after each victory, and with
double courage after each defeat. His cheek grew pale with joy; when
he hated most, he smiled; in all the emotions of his life, however
strong, he was inscrutable. He had sworn to sit on the throne of
Naples, and long had believed himself the rightful heir, as being
nearest of kin to Robert of all his nephews. To him the hand of Joan
would have been given, had not the old king in his latter days
conceived the plan of bringing Andre from Hungary and re-establishing
the elder branch in his person, though that had long since been
forgotten. But his resolution had never for a moment been weakened
by the arrival of Andre in the kingdom, or by the profound
indifference wherewith Joan, preoccupied with other passion, had
always received the advances of her cousin Charles of Durazzo.
Neither the love of a woman nor the life of a man was of any account
to him when a crown was weighed in the other scale of the balance.
During the whole time that the queen had remained invisible, Charles
had hung about her apartments, and now came into her presence with
respectful eagerness to inquire for his cousin's health. The young
duke had been at pains to set off his noble features and elegant
figure by a magnificent dress covered with, golden fleur-de-lys and
glittering with precious stones. His doublet of scarlet velvet and
cap of the same showed up--by their own splendour the warm colouring
of his skin, while his face seemed illumined by his black eyes that
shone keen as an eagle's.
Charles spoke long with his cousin of the people's enthusiasm on her
accession and of the brilliant destiny before her; he drew a hasty
but truthful sketch of the state of the kingdom; and while he
lavished praises on the queen's wisdom, he cleverly pointed out what
reforms were most urgently needed by the country; he contrived to put
so much warmth, yet so much reserve, into his speech that he
destroyed the disagreeable impression his arrival had produced. In
spite of the irregularities of her youth and the depravity brought
about by her wretched education, Joan's nature impelled her to noble
action: when the welfare of her subjects was concerned, she rose
above the limitations of her age and sex, and, forgetting her strange
position, listened to the Duke of Durazzo with the liveliest interest
and the kindliest attention. He then hazarded allusions to the
dangers that beset a young queen, spoke vaguely of the difficulty in
distinguishing between true devotion and cowardly complaisance or
interested attachment; he spoke of the ingratitude of many who had
been loaded with benefits, and had been most completely trusted.
Joan, who had just learned the truth of his words by sad experience,
replied with a sigh, and after a moment's silence added--
May God, whom I call to witness for the loyalty and uprightness of my
intentions, may God unmask all traitors and show me my true friends!
I know that the burden laid upon me is heavy, and I presume not on my
strength, but I trust that the tried experience, of those counsellors
to whom my uncle entrusted me, the support of my family, and your
warm and sincere friendship above all, my dear cousin, will help me
to accomplish my duty."
"My sincerest prayer is that you may succeed, my fair cousin, and I
will not darken with doubts and fears a time that ought to be given
up to joy; I will not mingle with the shouts of gladness that rise on
all sides to proclaim you queen, any vain regrets over that blind
fortune which has placed beside the woman whom we all alike adore,
whose single glance would make a man more blest than the angels, a
foreigner unworthy of your love and unworthy of your throne."
"You forget, Charles," said the queen, putting out her hand as though
to check his words, "Andre is my husband, and it was my grandfather's
will that he should reign with me."
"Never!" cried the duke indignantly; "he King of Naples! Nay, dream
that the town is shaken to its very foundations, that the people rise
as one man, that our church bells sound a new Sicilian vespers,
before the people of Naples will endure the rule of a handful of wild
Hungarian drunkards, a deformed canting monk, a prince detested by
them even as you are beloved!"
"But why is Andre blamed? What has he done?"
"What has he done? Why is he blamed, madam? The people blame him as
stupid, coarse, a savage; the nobles blame him for ignoring their
privileges and openly supporting men of obscure birth; and I,
madam,"--here he lowered his voice, "I blame him for making you
Joan shuddered as though a wound had been touched by an unkind hand;
but hiding her emotion beneath an appearance of calm, she replied in
a voice of perfect indifference--
"You must be dreaming, Charles; who has given you leave to suppose I
"Do not try to excuse him, 'my dear cousin," replied Charles eagerly;
"you will injure yourself without saving him."
The queen looked fixedly at her cousin, as though she would read him
through and through and find out the meaning of his words; but as she
could not give credence to the horrible thought that crossed her
mind, she assumed a complete confidence in her cousin's friendship,
with a view to discovering his plans, and said carelessly--
"Well, Charles, suppose I am not happy, what remedy could you offer
me that I might escape my lot?"
"You ask me that, my dear cousin? Are not all remedies good when you
suffer, and when you wish for revenge?"
"One must fly to those means that are possible. Andre will not
readily give up his pretensions: he has a party of his own, and in
case of open rupture his brother the King of Hungary may declare war
upon us, and bring ruin and desolation upon our kingdom."
The Duke of Duras faintly smiled, and his countenance assumed a
"You do not understand me," he said.
"Then explain without circumlocution," said the queen, trying to
conceal the convulsive shudder that ran through her limbs.
"Listen, Joan," said Charles, taking his cousin's hand and laying it
upon his heart: "can you feel that dagger?"
"I can," said Joan, and she turned pale.
"One word from you--and--"
"To-morrow you will be free."
"A murder!" cried Joan, recoiling in horror: "then I was not
deceived; it is a murder that you have proposed."
"It is a necessity," said the duke calmly: "today I advise; later on
you will give your orders."
"Enough, wretch! I cannot tell if you are more cowardly or more
rash: cowardly, because you reveal a criminal plot feeling sure that
I shall never denounce you; rash, because in revealing it to me you
cannot tell what witnesses are near to hear it all."
"In any case, madam, since I have put myself in your hands, you must
perceive that I cannot leave you till I know if I must look upon
myself as your friend or as your enemy."
"Leave me," cried Joan, with a disdainful gesture; "you insult your
"You forget, my dear cousin, that some day I may very likely have a
claim to your kingdom."
"Do not force me to have you turned out of this room," said Joan,
advancing towards the door.
"Now do not get excited, my fair cousin; I am going: but at least
remember that I offered you my hand and you refused it. Remember
what I say at this solemn moment: to-day I am the guilty man; some
day perhaps I may be the judge."
He went away slowly, twice turning his head, repeating in the
language of signs his menacing prophecy. Joan hid her face in her
hands, and for a long time remained plunged in dismal reflections;
then anger got the better of all her other feelings, and she summoned
Dona Cancha, bidding her not to allow anybody to enter, on any
This prohibition was not for the Count of Artois, for the reader will
remember that he was in the adjoining room.
Night fell, and from the Molo to the Mergellina, from the Capuano
Castle to the hill of St. Elmo, deep silence had succeeded the myriad
sounds that go up from the noisiest city in the world. Charles of
Durazzo, quickly walking away from the square of the Correggi, first
casting one last look of vengeance at the Castel Nuovo, plunged into
the labyrinth of dark streets that twist and turn, cross and recross
one another, in this ancient city, and after a quarter of an hour's
walking, that was first slow, then very rapid, arrived at his ducal
palace near the church of San Giovanni al Mare. He gave certain
instructions in a harsh, peremptory tone to a page who took his sword
and cloak. Then Charles shut himself into his room, without going up
to see his poor mother, who was weeping, sad and solitary over her
son's ingratitude, and like every other mother taking her revenge by
praying God to bless him.
The Duke of Durazzo walked up and down his room several times like a
lion in a cage, counting the minutes in a fever of impatience, and
was on the point of summoning a servant and renewing his commands,
when two dull raps on the door informed him that the person he was
waiting for had arrived. He opened at once, and a man of about.
fifty, dressed in black from head to foot, entered, humbly bowing,
and carefully shut the door behind him. Charles threw himself into
an easy-chair, and gazing fixedly at the man who stood before him,
his eyes on the ground and his arms crossed upon his breast in an
attitude of the deepest respect and blind obedience, he said slowly,
as though weighing each word--
"Master Nicholas of Melazzo, have you any remembrance left of the
services I once rendered you?"
The man to whom these words were addressed trembled in every limb, as
if he heard the voice of Satan come to claim his soul; then lifting a
look of terror to his questioner's face, he asked in a voice of
"What have I done, my lord, to deserve this reproach?"
"It is not a reproach: I ask a simple question."
"Can my lord doubt for a moment of my eternal gratitude? Can I
forget the favours your Excellency showed me? Even if I could so
lose my reason and my memory, are not my wife and son ever here to
remind me that to you we owe all our life, our honour, and our
fortune? I was guilty of an infamous act," said the notary, lowering
his voice, "a crime that would not only have brought upon my head the
penalty of death, but which meant the confiscation of my goods, the
ruin of my family, poverty and shame for my only son--that very son,
sire, for whom I, miserable wretch, had wished to ensure a brilliant
future by means of my frightful crime: you had in your hands the
proofs of this!
"I have them still."
"And you will not ruin me, my lord," resumed the notary, trembling;
"I am at, your feet, your Excellency; take my life and I will die in
torment without a murmur, but save my son since you have been so
merciful as to spare him till now; have pity on his mother; my lord,
"Be assured," said Charles, signing to him to rise; "it is nothing to
do with your life; that will come later, perhaps. What I wish to ask
of you now is a much simpler, easier matter."
"My lord, I await your command."
"First," said the duke, in a voice of playful irony, "you must draw
up a formal contract of my marriage."
"At once, your Excellency."
"You are to write in the first article that my wife brings me as
dowry the county of Alba, the jurisdiction of Grati and Giordano,
with all castles, fiefs, and lands dependent thereto."
"But, my lord---" replied the poor notary, greatly embarrassed.
"Do you find any difficulty, Master Nicholas?"
"God forbid, your Excellency, but---"
"Well, what is it?"
"Because, if my lord will permit because there is only one person in
Naples who possesses that dowry your Excellency mentions."
"And she," stammered the notary, embarrassed more and more,--"she is
the queen's sister."
"And in the contract you will write the name of Marie of Anjou."
"But the young maiden," replied Nicholas timidly, "whom your
Excellency would marry is destined, I thought, under the will of our
late king of blessed memory, to become the wife of the King of
Hungary or else of the grandson of the King of France."
"Ah, I understand your surprise: you may learn from this that an
uncle's intentions are not always the same as his nephew's."
"In that case, sire, if I dared--if my lord would deign to give me
leave--if I had an opinion I might give, I would humbly entreat your
Excellency to reflect that this would mean the abduction of a minor."
"Since when did you learn to be scrupulous, Master Nicholas?"
These words were uttered with a glance so terrible that the poor
notary was crushed, and had hardly the strength to reply--
"In an hour the contract will be ready."
"Good: we agree as to the first point," continued Charles, resuming
his natural tone of voice. "You now will hear my second charge. You
have known the Duke of Calabria's valet for the last two years pretty
"Tommaso Pace; why, he is my best friend."
"Excellent. Listen, and remember that on your discretion the safety
or ruin of your family depends. A plot will soon be on foot gainst
the queen's husband; the conspirators no doubt will gain over Andre's
valet, the man you call your best friend; never leave him for an
instant, try to be his shadow; day by day and hour by hour come to me
and report the progress of the plot, the names of the plotters."
"Is this all your Excellency's command?"
The notary respectfully bowed, and withdrew to put the orders at once
into execution. Charles spent the rest of that night writing to his
uncle the Cardinal de Perigord, one of the most influential prelates
at the court of Avignon. He begged him before all things to use his
authority so as to prevent Pope Clement from signing the bull that
would sanction Andre's coronation, and he ended his letter by
earnestly entreating his uncle to win the pope's consent to his
marriage with the queen's sister.
"We shall see, fair cousin," he said as he sealed his letter, "which
of us is best at understanding where our interest lies. You would
not have me as a friend, so you shall have me as an enemy. Sleep on
in the arms of your lover: I will wake you when the time comes. I
shall be Duke of Calabria perhaps some day, and that title, as you
well know, belongs to the heir to the throne."
The next day and on the following days a remarkable change took place
in the behaviour of Charles towards Andre: he showed him signs of
great friendliness, cleverly flattering his inclinations, and even
persuading Friar Robert that, far from feeling any hostility in the
matter of Andre's coronation, his most earnest desire was that his
uncle's wishes should be respected; and that, though he might have
given the impression of acting contrary to them, it had only been
done with a view to appeasing the populace, who in their first
excitement might have been stirred up to insurrection against the
Hungarians. He declared with much warmth that he heartily detested
the people about the queen, whose counsels tended to lead her astray,
and he promised to join Friar Robert in the endeavour to get rid of
Joan's favourites by all such means as fortune might put at his
disposal. Although the Dominican did not believe in the least in the
sincerity of his ally's protestations, he yet gladly welcomed the aid
which might prove so useful to the prince's cause, and attributed the
sudden change of front to some recent rupture between Charles and his
cousin, promising himself that he would make capital out of his
resentment. Be that as it might, Charles wormed himself into Andre's
heart, and after a few days one of them could hardly be seen without
the other. If Andre went out hunting, his greatest pleasure in life,
Charles was eager to put his pack or his falcons at his disposal; if
Andre' rode through the town, Charles was always ambling by his side.
He gave way to his whims, urged him to extravagances, and inflamed
his angry passions: in a word, he was the good angel--or the bad one
--who inspired his every thought and guided his every action.
Joan soon understood this business, and as a fact had expected it.
She could have ruined Charles with a single word; but she scorned so
base a revenge, and treated him with utter contempt. Thus the court
was split into two factions: the Hungarians with Friar Robert at
their head and supported by Charles of Durazzo; on the other side all
the nobility of Naples, led by the Princes of Tarentum. Joan,
influenced by the grand seneschal's widow and her two daughters, the
Countesses of Terlizzi and Morcone, and also by Dona Cancha and the
Empress of Constantinople, took the side of the Neapolitan party
against the pretensions of her husband. The partisans of the queen
made it their first care to have her name inscribed upon all public
acts without adding Andre's; but Joan, led by an instinct of right
and justice amid all the corruption of her court, had only consented
to this last after she had taken counsel with Andre d'Isernia, a very
learned lawyer of the day, respected as much for his lofty character
as for his great learning. The prince, annoyed at being shut out in
this way, began to act in a violent and despotic manner. On his own
authority he released prisoners; he showered favours upon Hungarians,
and gave especial honours and rich gifts to Giovanni Pipino, Count of
Altanuera, the enemy of all others most dreaded and detested by the
Neapolitan barons. Then the Counts of San Severino, Mileto, Terlizzi
and Balzo, Calanzaro and Sant' Angelo, and most of the grandees,
exasperated by the haughty insolence of Andre's favourite, which grew
every day more outrageous, decided that he must perish, and his
master with him, should he persist in attacking their privileges and
defying their anger.
Moreover, the women who were about Joan at the court egged her on,
each one urged by a private interest, in the pursuit of her fresh
passion. Poor Joan,--neglected by her husband and betrayed by Robert
of Cabane; gave way beneath the burden of duties beyond her strength
to bear, and fled for refuge to the arms of Bertrand of Artois, whose
love she did not even attempt to resist; for every feeling for
religion and virtue had been destroyed in her own set purpose, and
her young inclinations had been early bent towards vice, just as the
bodies of wretched children are bent and their bones broken by.
jugglers when they train them. Bertrand himself felt an adoration
for her surpassing ordinary human passion. When he reached the
summit of a happiness to which in his wildest dreams he had never
dared to aspire, the young count nearly lost his reason. In vain had
his father, Charles of Artois (who was Count of Aire, a direct
descendant of Philip the Bold, and one of the regents of the
kingdom), attempted by severe admonitions to stop him while yet on
the brink of the precipice: Bertrand would listen to nothing but his
love for Joan and his implacable hatred for all the queen's enemies.
Many a time, at the close of day, as the breeze from Posilippo or
Sorrento coming from far away was playing in his hair, might Bertrand
be seen leaning from one of the casements of Castel Nuovo, pale and
motionless, gazing fixedly from his side of the square to where the
Duke of Calabria and the Duke of Durazzo came galloping home from
their evening ride side by side in a cloud of dust. Then the brows
of the young count were violently contracted, a savage, sinister look
shone in his blue eyes once so innocent, like lightning a thought of
death and vengeance flashed into his mind; he would all at once begin
to tremble, as a light hand was laid upon his shoulder; he would turn
softly, fearing lest the divine apparition should vanish to the
skies; but there beside him stood a young girl, with cheeks aflame
and heaving breast, with brilliant liquid eyes: she had come to tell
how her past day had been spent, and to offer her forehead for the
kiss that should reward her labours and unwilling absence. This
woman, dictator of laws and administrator of justice among grave
magistrates and stern ministers, was but fifteen years old; this man;
who knew her griefs, and to avenge them was meditating regicide, was
not yet twenty: two children of earth, the playthings of an awful
Two months and a few days after the old king's death, on the morning
of Friday the 28th of March of the same year, 1343, the widow of the
grand seneschal, Philippa, who, had already contrived to get forgiven
for the shameful trick she had used to secure all her son's wishes,
entered the queen's apartments, excited by a genuine fear, pale and
distracted, the bearer of news that spread terror and lamentation
throughout the court: Marie, the queen's younger sister, had
The gardens and outside courts had been searched for any trace of
her; every corner of the castle had been examined; the guards had
been threatened with torture, so as to drag the truth from them; no
one had seen anything of the princess, and nothing could be found
that suggested either flight or abduction. Joan, struck down by this
new blow in the midst of other troubles, was for a time utterly
prostrated; then, when she had recovered from her first surprise, she
behaved as all people do if despair takes the place of reason: she
gave orders for what was already done to be done again, she asked the
same questions that could only bring the same answers, and poured
forth vain regrets and unjust reproaches. The news spread through
the town, causing the greatest astonishment: there arose a great
commotion in the castle, and the members of the regency hastily
assembled, while couriers were sent out in every direction, charged
to promise 12,000 ducats to whomsoever should discover the place
where the princess was concealed. Proceedings were at once taken
against the soldiers who were on guard at the fortress at the time of
Bertrand of Artois drew the queen apart, telling her his suspicions,
which fell directly upon Charles of Durazzo; but Joan lost no time in
persuading him of the improbability of his hypothesis: first of all,
Charles had never once set his foot in Castel Nuovo since the day of
his stormy interview with the queen, but had made a point of always
leaving Andre by the bridge when he came to the town with him;
besides, it had never been noticed, even in the past, that the young
duke had spoken to Marie or exchanged looks with her: the result of
all attainable evidence was, that no stranger had entered the castle
the evening before except a notary named Master Nicholas of Melazzo,
an old person, half silly, half fanatical, for whom Tommaso Pace,
valet de chambre to the Duke of Calabria, was ready to answer with
his life. Bertrand yielded to the queen's reasoning, and day by day
advanced new suggestions, each less probable than the last, to draw
his mistress on to feel a hope that he was far from feeling himself.
But a month later, and precisely on the morning of Monday the 30th of
April, a strange and unexpected scene took place, an exhibition of
boldness transcending all calculations. The Neapolitan people were
stupefied in astonishment, and the grief of Joan and her friends was
changed to indignation. Just as the clock of San Giovanni struck
twelve, the gate of the magnificent palace of the Durazzo flung open
its folding doors, and there came forth to the sound of trumpets a
double file of cavaliers on richly caparisoned horses, with the
duke's arms on their shields. They took up their station round the
house to prevent the people outside from disturbing a ceremony which
was to take place before the eyes of an immense crowd, assembled
suddenly, as by a miracle, upon the square. At the back of the court
stood an altar, and upon the steps lay two crimson velvet cushions
embroidered with the fleur-de-lys of France and the ducal crown.
Charles came forward, clad in a dazzling dress, and holding by the
hand the queen's sister, the Princess Marie, at that time almost
thirteen years of age. She knelt down timidly on one of the
cushions, and when Charles had done the same, the grand almoner of
the Duras house asked the young duke solemnly what was his intention
in appearing thus humbly before a minister of the Church. At these
words Master Nicholas of Melazzo took his place on the left of the
altar, and read in a firm, clear voice, first, the contract of
marriage between Charles and Marie, and then the apostolic letters
from His Holiness the sovereign pontiff, Clement VI, who in his own
name removing all obstacles that might impede the union, such as the
age of the young bride and the degrees of affinity between the two
parties, authorised his dearly beloved son Charles, Duke of Durazzo
and Albania, to take in marriage the most illustrious Marie of Anjou,
sister of Joan, Queen of Naples and Jerusalem, and bestowed his
benediction on the pair.
The almoner then took the young girl's hand, and placing it in that
of Charles, pronounced the prayers of the Church. Charles, turning
half round to the people, said in a loud voice--
"Before God and man, this woman is my wife."
"And this man is my husband," said Marie, trembling.
"Long live the Duke and Duchess of Durazzo!" cried the crowd,
clapping their hands. And the young pair, at once mounting two
beautiful horses and followed by their cavaliers and pages, solemnly
paraded through the town, and re-entered their palace to the sound of
trumpets and cheering.
When this incredible news was brought to the queen, her first feeling
was joy at the recovery of her sister; and when Bertrand of Artois
was eager to head a band of barons and cavaliers and bent on falling
upon the cortege to punish the traitor, Joan put up her hand to stop
him with a very mournful look.
"Alas!" she said sadly, "it is too late. They are legally married,
for the head of the Church--who is moreover by my grandfather's will
the head of our family--has granted his permission. I only pity my
poor sister; I pity her for becoming so young the prey of a wretched
man who sacrifices her to his own ambition, hoping by this marriage
to establish a claim to the throne. O God! what a strange fate
oppresses the royal house of Anjou! My father's early death in the
midst of his triumphs; my mother's so quickly after; my sister and I,
the sole offspring of Charles I, both before we are women grown
fallen into the hands of cowardly men, who use us but as the
stepping-stones of their ambition!" Joan fell back exhausted on her
chair, a burning tear trembling on her eyelid.
"This is the second time," said Bertrand reproachfully, "that I have
drawn my sword to avenge an insult offered to you, the second time I
return it by your orders to the scabbard. But remember, Joan, the
third time will not find me so docile, and then it will not be Robert
of Cabane or Charles of Durazzo that I shall strike, but him who is
the cause of all your misfortunes."
"Have mercy, Bertrand! do not you also speak these words; whenever
this horrible thought takes hold of me, let me come to you: this
threat of bloodshed that is drummed into my ears, this sinister
vision that haunts my sight; let me come to you, beloved, and weep
upon your bosom, beneath your breath cool my burning fancies, from
your eyes draw some little courage to revive my perishing soul.
Come, I am quite unhappy enough without needing to poison the future
by an endless remorse. Tell me rather to forgive and to forget,
speak not of hatred and revenge; show me one ray of hope amid the
darkness that surrounds me; hold up my wavering feet, and push me not
into the abyss."
Such altercations as this were repeated as often as any fresh wrong
arose from the side of Andre or his party; and in proportion as the
attacks made by Bertrand and his friends gained in vehemence--and we
must add, in justice--so did Joan's objections weaken. The Hungarian
rule, as it became, more and more arbitrary and unbearable, irritated
men's minds to such a point, that the people murmured in secret and
the nobles proclaimed aloud their discontent. Andre's soldiers
indulged in a libertinage which would have been intolerable in a
conquered city: they were found everywhere brawling in the taverns or
rolling about disgustingly drunk in the gutters; and the prince, far
from rebuking such orgies, was accused of sharing them himself. His
former tutor, who ought to have felt bound to drag him away from so
ignoble a mode of life, rather strove to immerse him in degrading
pleasures, so as to keep him out of business matters; without
suspecting it, he was hurrying on the denouement of the terrible
drama that was being acted behind the scenes at Castel Nuovo.
Robert's widow, Dona Sancha of Aragon, the good and sainted lady whom
our readers may possibly have forgotten, as her family had done,
seeing that God's anger was hanging over her house, and that no
counsels, no tears or prayers of hers could avail to arrest it, after
wearing mourning for her husband one whole year, according to her
promise, had taken the veil at the convent of Santa Maria delta
Croce, and deserted the court and its follies and passions, just as
the prophets of old, turning their back on some accursed city, would
shake the dust from off their sandals and depart. Sandra's retreat
was a sad omen, and soon the family dissensions, long with difficulty
suppressed, sprang forth to open view; the storm that had been
threatening from afar broke suddenly over the town, and the
thunderbolt was shortly to follow.
On the last day of August 1344, Joan rendered homage to Americ,
Cardinal of Saint Martin and legate of Clement VI, who looked upon
the kingdom of Naples as being a fief of the Church ever since the
time when his predecessors had presented it to Charles of Anjou, and
overthrown and excommunicated the house of Suabia. For this solemn
ceremony the church of Saint Clara was chosen, the burial-place of
Neapolitan kings, and but lately the tomb of the grandfather and
father of the young queen, who reposed to right and left of the high
altar. Joan, clad in the royal robe, with the crown upon her head,
uttered her oath of fidelity between the hands of the apostolic
legate in the presence of her husband, who stood behind her simply as
a witness, just like the other princes of the blood. Among the
prelates with their pontifical insignia who formed the brilliant
following of the envoy, there stood the Archbishops of Pisa, Bari,
Capua, and Brindisi, and the reverend fathers Ugolino, Bishop of
Castella, and Philip, Bishop of Cavaillon, chancellor to the queen.
All the nobility of Naples and Hungary were present at this ceremony,
which debarred Andre from the throne in a fashion at once formal and
striking. Thus, when they left the church the excited feelings of
both parties made a crisis imminent, and such hostile glances, such
threatening words were exchanged, that the prince, finding himself
too weak to contend against his enemies, wrote the same evening to
his mother, telling her that he was about to leave a country where
from his infancy upwards he had experienced nothing but deceit and
Those who know a mother's heart will easily guess that Elizabeth of
Poland was no sooner aware of the danger that threatened her son than
she travelled to Naples, arriving there before her coming was
suspected. Rumour spread abroad that the Queen of Hungary had come
to take her son away with her, and the unexpected event gave rise to
strange comments: the fever of excitement now blazed up in another
direction. The Empress of Constantinople, the Catanese, her two
daughters, and all the courtiers, whose calculations were upset by
Andre's departure, hurried to honour the arrival of the Queen of
Hungary by offering a very cordial and respectful reception, with a
view to showing her that, in the midst of a court so attentive and
devoted, any isolation or bitterness of feeling on the young prince's
part must spring from his pride, from an unwarrantable mistrust, and
his naturally savage and untrained character. Joan received her
husband's mother with so much proper dignity in her behaviour that,
in spite of preconceived notions, Elizabeth could not help admiring
the noble seriousness and earnest feeling she saw in her daughter-in-
law. To make the visit more pleasant to an honoured guest, fetes and
tournaments were given, the barons vying with one another in display
of wealth and luxury. The Empress of Constantinople, the Catanese,
Charles of Duras and his young wife, all paid the utmost attention to
the mother of the prince. Marie, who by reason of her extreme youth
and gentleness of character had no share in any intrigues, was guided
quite as much by her natural feeling as by her husband's orders when
she offered to the Queen of Hungary those marks of regard and
affection that she might have felt for her own mother. In spite,
however, of these protestations of respect and love, Elizabeth of
Poland trembled for her son, and, obeying a maternal instinct, chose
to abide by her original intention, believing that she should never
feel safe until Andre was far away from a court in appearance so
friendly but in reality so treacherous. The person who seemed most
disturbed by the departure, and tried to hinder it by every means in
his power, was Friar Robert. Immersed in his political schemes,
bending over his mysterious plans with all the eagerness of a gambler
who is on the point of gaining, the Dominican, who thought himself on
the eve of a tremendous event, who by cunning, patience, and labour
hoped to scatter his enemies and to reign as absolute autocrat, now
falling suddenly from the edifice of his dream, stiffened himself by
a mighty effort to stand and resist the mother of his pupil. But
fear cried too loud in the heart of Elizabeth for all the reasonings
of the monk to lull it to rest: to every argument he advanced she
simply said that while her son was not king and had not entire
unlimited power, it was imprudent to leave him exposed to his
enemies. The monk, seeing that all was indeed lost and that he could
not contend against the fears of this woman, asked only the boon of
three days' grace, at the end of which time, should a reply he was
expecting have not arrived, he said he would not only give up his
opposition to Andre's departure, but would follow himself, renouncing
for ever a scheme to which he had sacrificed everything.
Towards the end of the third day, as Elizabeth was definitely making
her preparations for departure, the monk entered radiant. Showing
her a letter which he had just hastily broken open, he cried
"God be praised, madam! I can at last give you incontestable proofs
of my active zeal and accurate foresight."
Andre's mother, after rapidly running through the document, turned
her eyes on the monk with yet some traces of mistrust in her manner,
not venturing to give way to her sudden joy.
"Yes, madam," said the monk, raising his head, his plain features
lighted up by his glance of intelligence--" yes, madam, you will
believe your eyes, perhaps, though you would never believe my words:
this is not the dream of an active imagination, the hallucination of
a credulous mind, the prejudice of a limited intellect; it is a plan
slowly conceived, painfully worked out, my daily thought and my whole
life's work. I have never ignored the fact that at the court of
Avignon your son had powerful enemies; but I knew also that on the
very day I undertook a certain solemn engagement in the prince's
name, an engagement to withdraw those laws that had caused coldness
between the pope and Robert; who was in general so devoted to the
Church, I knew very well that my offer would never be rejected, and
this argument of mine I kept back for the last. See, madam, my
calculations are correct; your enemies are put to shame and your son
Then turning to Andre, who was just corning in and stood dumbfounded-
at the threshold on hearing the last words, he added--
"Come, my son, our prayers are at last fulfilled you are king."
"King!" repeated Andre, transfixed with joy, doubt, and amazement.
"King of Sicily and Jerusalem: yes, my lord; there is no need for you
to read this document that brings the joyful, unexpected news. You
can see it in your mother's tears; she holds out her arms to press
you to her bosom; you can see it in the happiness of your old
teacher; he falls on his knees at your feet to salute you by this
title, which he would have paid for with his own blood had it been
denied to you much longer."
"And yet," said Elizabeth, after a moment's mournful reflection, "if
I obey my presentiments, your news will make no difference to our
plans for departure."
"Nay, mother," said Andre firmly, "you would not force me to quit the
country to the detriment of my honour. If I have made you feel some
of the bitterness and sorrow that have spoiled my own young days
because of my cowardly--enemies, it is not from a poor spirit, but
because I was powerless, and knew it, to take any sort of striking
vengeance for their secret insults, their crafty injuries, their
underhand intrigues. It was not because my arm wanted strength, but
because my head wanted a crown. I might have put an end to some of
these wretched beings, the least dangerous maybe; but it would have
been striking in the dark; the ringleaders would have escaped, and I
should never have really got to the bottom of their infernal plots.
So I have silently eaten out my own heart in shame and indignation.
Now that my sacred rights are recognised by the Church, you will see,
my mother, how these terrible barons, the queen's counsellors, the
governors of the kingdom, will lower their heads in the dust: for
they are threatened with no sword and no struggle; no peer of their
own is he who speaks, but the king; it is by him they are accused, by
the law they shall be condemned, and shall suffer on the scaffold."
"O my beloved son," cried the queen in tears, "I never doubted your
noble feelings or the justice of your claims; but when your life is
in danger, to what voice can I listen but the voice of fear? what can
move my counsels but the promptings of love?"
"Mother, believe me, if the hands and hearts alike of these cowards
had not trembled, you would have lost your son long ago."
"It is not violence that I fear, my son, it is treachery."
"My life, like every man's, belongs to God, and the lowest of sbirri
may take it as I turn the corner of the street; but a king owes
something to his people."
The poor mother long tried to bend the resolution of Andre by reason
and entreaties; but when she had spoken her last word and shed her
last tear, she summoned Bertram de Baux, chief-justice of the
kingdom, and Marie, Duchess of Durazzo. Trusting in the old man's
wisdom and the girl's innocence, she commended her son to them in the
tenderest and most affecting words; then drawing from her own hand a
ring richly wrought, and taking the prince aside, she slipped it upon
his finger, saying in a voice that trembled with emotion as she
pressed him to her heart--
"My son, as you refuse to come with me, here is a wonderful talisman,
which I would not use before the last extremity. So long as you wear
this ring on your finger, neither sword nor poison will have power
"You see then, mother," said the prince, smiling, "with this
protection there is no reason at all to fear for my life."
There are other dangers than sword or poison," sighed the queen.
"Be calm, mother: the best of all talismans is your prayer to God for
me: it is the tender thought of you that will keep me for ever in the
path of duty and justice; your maternal love will watch over me from
afar, and cover me like the wings of a guardian angel."
Elizabeth sobbed as she embraced her son, and when she left him she
felt her heart was breaking. At last she made up her mind to go, and
was escorted by the whole court, who had never changed towards her
for a moment in their chivalrous and respectful devotion. The poor
mother, pale, trembling, and faint, leaned heavily upon Andre's arm,
lest she should fall. On the ship that was to take her for ever from
her son, she cast her arms for the last time about his neck, and
there hung a long time, speechless, tearless, and motionless; when
the signal for departure was given, her women took her in their arms
half swooning. Andre stood on the shore with the feeling of death at
his heart: his eyes were fixed upon the sail that carried ever
farther from him the only being he loved in the world. Suddenly he
fancied he beheld something white moving a long way off: his mother
had recovered her senses by a great effort, and had dragged herself
up to the bridge to give a last signal of farewell: the unhappy lady
knew too well that she would never see her son again.
At almost the same moment that Andre's mother left the kingdom, the
former queen of Naples, Robert's widow, Dona Sancha, breathed her
last sigh. She was buried in the convent of Santa Maria delta Croce,
under the name of Clara, which she had assumed on taking her vows as
a nun, as her epitaph tells us, as follows:
"Here lies, an example of great humility, the body of the sainted
sister Clara, of illustrious memory, otherwise Sancha, Queen of
Sicily and Jerusalem, widow of the most serene Robert, King of
Jerusalem and Sicily, who, after the death of the king her husband,
when she had completed a year of widowhood, exchanged goods temporary
for goods eternal. Adopting for the love of God a voluntary poverty,
and distributing her goods to the poor, she took upon her the rule of
obedience in this celebrated convent of Santa Croce, the work of her
own hands, in the year 1344, on the gist of January of the twelfth
indiction, where, living a life of holiness under the rule of the
blessed Francis, father of the poor, she ended her days religiously
in the year of our Lord 1345, on the 28th of July of the thirteenth
indiction. On the day following she was buried in this tomb."
The death of Dona Sancha served to hasten on the catastrophe which
was to stain the throne of Naples with blood: one might almost fancy
that God wished to spare this angel of love and resignation the sight
of so terrible a spectacle; that she offered-herself as a
propitiatory sacrifice to redeem the crimes of her family.
Eight days after the funeral of the old queen, Bertrand of Artois
came to Joan, distraught, dishevelled, in a state of agitation and
confusion impossible to describe.
Joan went quickly up to her lover, asking him with a look of fear to
explain the cause of his distress.
"I told you, madam," cried the young baron excitedly, "you will end
by ruining us all, as you will never take any advice from me."
"For God's sake, Bertrand, speak plainly: what has happened? What
advice have I neglected?"
"Madam, your noble husband, Andre of Hungary, has just been made King
of Jerusalem and Sicily, and acknowledged by the court of Avignon, so
henceforth you will be no better than his slave."
"Count of Artois, you are dreaming."
"No, madam, I am not dreaming: I have this fact to prove the truth of
my words, that the pope's ambassadors are arrived at Capua with the
bull for his coronation, and if they do not enter Castel Nuovo this
very evening, the delay is only to give the new king time to make his
The queen bent her head as if a thunderbolt had fallen at her feet.
"When I told you before," said the count, with growing fury, "that we
ought to use force to make a stand against him, that we ought to
break the yoke of this infamous tyranny and get rid of the man before
he had the means of hurting you, you always drew back in childish
fear, with a woman's cowardly hesitation."
Joan turned a tearful look upon her lover.
"God, my God!" she cried, clasping her hands in desperation, "am I to
hear for ever this awful cry of death! You too, Bertrand, you too
say the word, like Robert of Cabane, like Charles of Duras? Wretched
man, why would you raise this bloody spectre between us, to check
with icy hand our adulterous kisses? Enough of such crimes; if his
wretched ambition makes him long to reign, let him be king: what
matters his power to me, if he leaves me with your love?"
"It is not so sure that our love will last much longer."
"What is this, Bertrand? You rejoice in this merciless torture."
"I tell you, madam, that the King of Naples has a black flag ready,
and on the day of his coronation it will be carried before him."
"And you believe," said Joan, pale as a corpse in its shroud,--"you
believe that this flag is a threat?"
"Ay, and the threat begins to be put in execution."
The queen staggered, and leaned against a table to save herself from
"Tell me all," she cried in a choking voice; "fear not to shock me;
see, I am not trembling. O Bertrand, I entreat you!"
"The traitors have begun with the man you most esteemed, the wisest
counsellor of the crown, the best of magistrates, the noblest-
hearted, most rigidly virtuous-----"
"Andrea of Isernia!"
"Madam, he is no more."
Joan uttered a cry, as though the noble old man had been slain before
her eyes: she respected him as a father; then, sinking back, she
remained profoundly silent.
"How did they kill him?" she asked at last, fixing her great eyes in
terror on the count.
"Yesterday evening, as he left this castle, on the way to his own
home, a man suddenly sprang out upon him before the Porta Petruccia:
it was one of Andre's favourites, Conrad of Gottis chosen no doubt
because he had a grievance against the incorruptible magistrate on
account of some sentence passed against him, and the murder would
therefore be put down to motives of private revenge. The cowardly
wretch gave a sign to two or three companions, who surrounded the
victim and robbed him of all means of escape. The poor old man
looked fixedly,--at his assassin, and asked him what he wanted.
'I want you to lose your life at my hands, as I lost my case at
yours!' cried the murderer; and leaving him no time to answer, he ran
him through with his sword. Then the rest fell upon the poor man,
who did not even try to call for help, and his body was riddled with
wounds and horribly mutilated, and then left bathed in its blood."
"Terrible!" murmured the queen, covering her face.
"It was only their first effort: the proscription lists are already
full: Andre must needs have blood to celebrate his accession to the
throne of Naples. And do you know, Joan, whose name stands first in
the doomed list?"
"Whose?" cried the queen, shuddering from head to foot.
"Mine," said the count calmly.
"Yours!" cried Joan, drawing herself up to her full height; "are you
to be killed next! Oh, be careful, Andre; you have pronounced your
own death-sentence. Long have I turned aside the dagger pointing to
your breast, but you put an end to all my patience. Woe to you,
Prince of Hungary! the blood which you have spilt shall fall on your
As she spoke she had lost her pallor: her lovely face was fired with
revenge, her eyes flashed lightning. This child of sixteen was
terrible to behold: she pressed her lover's hand with convulsive
tenderness, and clung to him as if she would screen him with her own
"Your anger is awakened too late," said he gently and sadly; for at
this moment Joan seemed so lovely that he could reproach her with
nothing. "You 'do not know that his mother has left him a talisman
preserving him from sword and poison?"
"He will die," said Joan firmly: the smile that lighted up her face
was so unnatural that the count was dismayed, and dropped his eyes.
The next day the young Queen of Naples, lovelier, more smiling than
ever, sitting carelessly in a graceful attitude beside a window which
looked out on the magnificent view of the bay, was busy weaving a
cord of silk and gold. The sun had run nearly two-thirds of his
fiery course, and was gradually sinking his rays in the clear blue
waters where Posilippo's head is reflected with its green and flowery
crown. A warm, balmy breeze that had passed over the orange trees of
Sorrento and Amalfi felt deliciously refreshing to the inhabitants of
the capital, who had succumbed to torpor in the enervating softness
of the day. The whole town was waking from a long siesta, breathing
freely after a sleepy interval: the Molo was covered with a crowd of
eager people dressed out in the brightest colours; the many cries of
a festival, joyous songs, love ditties sounded from all quarters of
the vast amphitheatre, which is one of the chief marvels of creation:
they came to the ears of Joan, and she listened as she bent over her
work, absorbed in deep thought. Suddenly, when she seemed most
busily occupied, the indefinable feeling of someone near at hand, and
the touch of something on her shoulder, made her start: she turned as
though waked from a dream by contact with a serpent, and perceived
her husband, magnificently dressed, carelessly leaning against the
back of her chair. For a long time past the prince had not come to
his wife in this familiar fashion, and to the queen the pretence of
affection and careless behaviour augured ill. Andre did not appear
to notice the look of hatred and terror that had escaped Joan in
spite of herself, and assuming the best expression of gentleness as
that his straight hard features could contrive to put on in such
circumstances as these, he smilingly asked--
"Why are you making this pretty cord, dear dutiful wife?"
"To hang you with, my lord," replied the queen, with a smile.
Andre shrugged his shoulders, seeing in the threat so incredibly rash
nothing more than a pleasantry in rather bad taste. But when he saw
that Joan resumed her work, he tried to renew the conversation.
"I admit," he said, in a perfectly calm voice, "that my question is
quite unnecessary: from your eagerness to finish this handsome piece
of work, I ought to suspect that it is destined for some fine knight
of yours whom you propose to send on a dangerous enterprise wearing
your colours. If so, my fair queen, I claim to receive my orders
from your lips: appoint the time and place for the trial, and I am
sure beforehand of carrying off a prize that I shall dispute with all
"That is not so certain," said Joan, "if you are as valiant in war as
in love." And she cast on her husband a look at once seductive and
scornful, beneath which the young man blushed up to his eyes.
"I hope," said Andre, repressing his feelings, "I hope soon to give
you such proofs of my affection that you will never doubt it again."
"And what makes you fancy that, my lord?"
"I would tell you, if you would listen seriously."
"I am listening."
"Well, it is a dream I had last night that gives me such confidence
in the future."
"A dream! You surely ought to explain that."
"I dreamed that there was a grand fete in the town: an immense crowd
filled the streets like an overflowing torrent, and the heavens were
ringing with their shouts of joy; the gloomy granite facades were
hidden by hangings of silk and festoons of flowers, the churches were
decorated as though for some grand ceremony. I was riding side by
side with you." Joan made a haughty movement: "Forgive me, madam, it
was only a dream: I was on your right, riding a fine white horse,
magnificently caparisoned, and the chief-justice of the kingdom
carried before me a flag unfolded in sign of honour. After riding in
triumph through the main thoroughfares of the city, we arrived, to
the sound of trumpets and clarions, at the royal church of Saint
Clara, where your grandfather and my uncle are buried, and there,
before the high altar, the pope's ambassador laid your hand in mine
and pronounced a long discourse, and then on our two heads in turn
placed the crown of Jerusalem and Sicily; after which the nobles and
the people shouted in one voice, 'Long live the King and Queen of
Naples!' And I, wishing to perpetuate the memory of so glorious a
day, proceeded to create knights among the most zealous in our
"And do you not remember the names of the chosen persons whom you
judged worthy of your royal favours?"
"Assuredly, madam: Bertrand, Count of Artois"
"Enough, my lord; I excuse you from naming the rest: I always
supposed you were loyal and generous, but you give me fresh proof of
it by showing favour to men whom I most honour and trust. I cannot
tell if your wishes are likely soon to be realised, but in any case
feel sure of my perpetual gratitude."
Joan's voice did not betray the slightest emotion; her look had
became kind, and the sweetest smile was on her lips. But in her
heart Andre's death was from that moment decided upon. The prince,
too much preoccupied with his own projects of vengeance, and too
confident in his all-powerful talisman and his personal valour, had
no suspicion that his plans could be anticipated. He conversed a
long time with his wife in a chatting, friendly way, trying to spy
out her secret, and exposing his own by his interrupted phrases and
mysterious reserves. When he fancied that every cloud of former
resentment, even the lightest, had disappeared from Joan's brow, he
begged her to go with her suite on a magnificent hunting expedition
that he was organising for the 20th of August, adding that such a
kindness on her part would be for him a sure pledge of their
reconciliation and complete forgetfulness of the past. Joan promised
with a charming grace, and the prince retired fully satisfied with
the interview, carrying with him the conviction that he had only to
threaten to strike a blow at the queen's favourite to ensure her
obedience, perhaps even her love.
But on the eve of the 20th of August a strange and terrible scene was
being enacted in the basement storey of one of the lateral towers of
Castel Nuovo. Charles of Durazzo, who had never ceased to brood
secretly over his infernal plans, had been informed by the notary
whom he had charged to spy upon the conspirators, that on that
particular evening they were about to hold a decisive meeting, and
therefore, wrapped in a black cloak, he glided into the underground
corridor and hid himself behind a pillar, there to await the issue of
the conference. After two dreadful hours of suspense, every second
marked out by the beating of his heart, Charles fancied he heard the
sound of a door very carefully opened; the feeble ray of a lantern in
the vault scarcely served to dispel the darkness, but a man coining
away from the wall approached him walking like a living statue.
Charles gave a slight cough, the sign agreed upon. The man put out
hid light and hid away the dagger he had drawn in case of a surprise.
"Is it you, Master Nicholas?" asked the duke in a low voice.