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The Complete Celebrated Crimes by Alexander Dumas, Pere

Part 23 out of 33

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"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
your adorers."

"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
court."

"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.

"It is I, my lord."

"What is it?"

"They have just fixed the prince's death for tomorrow, on his way to
the hunt."

"Did you recognise every conspirator?"

"Every one, though their faces were masked; when they gave their vote
for death, I knew them by their voices."

"Could you point out to me who they are?"

"Yes, this very minute; they are going to pass along at the end of
this corridor. And see, here is Tommaso Pace walking in front of
them to light their way."

Indeed, a tall spectral figure, black from head to foot, his face
carefully hidden under a velvet mask, walked at the end of the
corridor, lamp in hand, and stopped at the first step of a staircase
which led to the upper floors. The conspirators advanced slowly, two
by two, like a procession of ghosts, appeared for one moment in the
circle of light made by the torch, and again disappeared into shadow.

"See, there are Charles and Bertrand of 'Artois," said the notary;
"there are the Counts of Terlizzi and Catanzaro; the grand admiral and
grand seneschal, Godfrey of Marsan, Count of Squillace, and Robert of
Cabane, Count of Eboli; the two women talking in a low voice with the
eager gesticulations are Catherine of Tarentum, Empress of
Constantinople, and Philippa the Catanese, the queen's governess and
chief lady; there is Dona Cancha, chamberwoman and confidante of
Joan; and there is the Countess of Morcone."

The notary stopped on beholding a shadow alone, its head bowed, with
arms hanging loosely, choking back her sobs beneath a hood of black.

"Who is the woman who seems to drag herself so painfully along in
their train?" asked the duke, pressing his companion's arm.

That woman," said the notary, "is the queen." "Ah, now I see,"
thought Charles, breathing freely, with the same sort of satisfaction
that Satan no doubt feels when a long coveted soul falls at length
into his power.

"And now, my lord," continued Master Nicholas, when all had returned
once more into silence and darkness, "if you have bidden me spy on
these conspirators with a view to saving the young prince you are
protecting with love and vigilance, you must hurry forward, for to-
morrow maybe it will be too late."

"Follow me," cried the duke imperiously; "it is time you should know
my real intention, and then carry out my orders with scrupulous
exactness."

With these words he drew him aside to a place opposite to where the
conspirators had just disappeared. The notary mechanically followed
through a labyrinth of dark corridors and secret staircases, quite at
a loss how to account for the sudden change that had come over his
master--crossing one of the ante-chambers in the castle, they came
upon Andre, who joyfully accosted them; grasping the hand of his
cousin Duras in his affectionate manner, he asked him in a pressing
way that would brook no refusal, "Will you be of our hunting party
to-morrow, duke?"

"Excuse me, my lord," said Charles, bowing down to the ground; "it
will be impossible for me to go to-morrow, for my wife is very
unwell; but I entreat you to accept the best falcon I have."

And here he cast upon the notary a petrifying glance.

The morning of the 20th of August was fine and calm--the irony of
nature contrasting cruelly with the fate of mankind. From break of
day masters and valets, pages and knights, princes and courtiers, all
were on foot; cries of joy were heard on every side when the queen
arrived, on a snow-white horse, at the head of the young and
brilliant throng. Joan was perhaps paler than usual, but that might
be because she had been obliged to rise very early. Andre, mounted
on one of the most fiery of all the steeds he had tamed, galloped
beside his wife, noble and proud, happy in his own powers, his youth,
and the thousand gilded hopes that a brilliant future seemed to
offer. Never had the court of Naples shown so brave an aspect: every
feeling of distrust and hatred seemed entirely forgotten; Friar
Robert himself, suspicious as he was by nature, when he saw the
joyous cavalcade go by under his window, looked out with pride, and
stroking his beard, laughed at his own seriousness.

Andre's intention was to spend several days hunting between Capua and
Aversa, and only to return to Naples when all was in readiness for
his coronation. Thus the first day they hunted round about Melito,
and went through two or three villages in the land of Labore.
Towards evening the court stopped at Aversa, with a view to passing
the night there, and since at that period there was no castle in the
place worthy of entertaining the queen with her husband and numerous
court, the convent of St. Peter's at Majella was converted into a
royal residence: this convent had been built by Charles II in the
year of our Lord 1309.

While the grand seneschal was giving orders for supper and the
preparation of a room for Andre and his wife, the prince, who during
the whole day had abandoned himself entirely to his favourite
amusement, went up on the terrace to enjoy the evening air,
accompanied by the good Isolda, his beloved nurse, who loved him more
even than his mother, and would not leave his side for a moment.
Never had the prince appeared so animated and happy: he was in
ecstasies over the beauty of the country, the clear air, the scent of
the trees around; he besieged his nurse with a thousand queries,
never waiting for an answer; and they were indeed long in coming, for
poor Isolda was gazing upon him with that appearance of fascination
which makes a mother absent-minded when her child is talking: Andre
was eagerly telling her about a terrible boar he had chased that
morning across the woods, how it had lain foaming at his feet, and
Isolda interrupted him to say he had a grain of dust in his eye.
Then Andre was full of his plans for the future, and Isolda stroked
his fair hair, remarking that he must be feeling very tired. Then,
heeding nothing but his own joy and excitement, the young prince
hurled defiance at destiny, calling by all his gods on dangers to
come forward, so that he might have the chance of quelling them, and
the poor nurse exclaimed, in a flood of tears, "My child, you love me
no longer."

Out of all patience with these constant interruptions, Andre scolded
her kindly enough, and mocked at her childish fears. Then, paying no
attention to a sort of melancholy that was coming over him, he bade
her tell him old tales of his childhood, and had a long talk about
his brother Louis, his absent mother, and tears were in his eyes when
he recalled her last farewell. Isolda listened joyfully, and
answered all he asked; but no fell presentiment shook her heart: the
poor woman loved Andre with all the strength of her soul; for him she
would have given up her life in this world and in the world to come;
yet she was not his mother.

When all was ready, Robert of Cabane came to tell the prince that the
queen awaited him; Andre cast one last look at the smiling fields
beneath the starry heavens, pressed his nurse's hand to his lips and
to his heart, and followed the grand seneschal slowly and, it seemed,
with some regret. But soon the brilliant lights of the room, the
wine that circulated freely, the gay talk, the eager recitals of that
day's exploits, served to disperse the cloud of gloom that had for a
moment overspread the countenance of the prince. The queen alone,
leaning on the table, with fixed eyes and lips that never moved, sat
at this strange feast pale and cold as a baleful ghost summoned from
the tomb to disturb the joy of the party. Andre, whose brain began
to be affected by the draughts of wine from Capri and Syracuse, was
annoyed at his wife's look, and attributing it to contempt, filled a
goblet to the brim and presented it to the queen. Joan visibly
trembled, her lips moved convulsively; but the conspirators drowned
in their noisy talk the involuntary groan that escaped her. In the
midst of a general uproar, Robert of Cabane proposed that they should
serve generous supplies of the same wine drunk at the royal table to
the Hungarian guards who were keeping watch at the approaches to the
convent, and this liberality evoked frenzied applause. The shouting
of the soldiers soon gave witness to their gratitude for the
unexpected gift, and mingled with the hilarious toasts of the
banqueters. To put the finishing touch to Andre's excitement, there
were cries on every side of "Long live the Queen! Long live His
Majesty the King of Naples!"

The orgy lasted far into the night: the pleasures of the next day
were discussed with enthusiasm, and Bertrand of Artois protested in a
loud voice that if they were so late now some would not rise early on
the morrow. Andre declared that, for his part, an hour or two's rest
would be enough to get over his fatigue, and he eagerly protested
that it would be well for others to follow his example. The Count of
Terlizzi seemed to express some doubt as to the prince's punctuality.
Andre insisted, and challenging all the barons present to see who
would be up first, he retired with the queen to the room that had
been reserved for them, where he very soon fell into a deep and heavy
sleep. About two o'clock in the morning, Tommaso Pace, the prince's
valet and first usher of the royal apartments, knocked at his 2876
master's door to rouse him for the chase. At the first knock, all
was silence; at the second, Joan, who had not closed her eyes all
night, moved as if to rouse her husband and warn him of the
threatened danger; but at the third knock the unfortunate young man
suddenly awoke, and hearing in the next room sounds of laughter and
whispering, fancied that they were making a joke of his laziness, and
jumped out of bed bareheaded, in nothing but his shirt, his shoes
half on and half off. He opened the door; and at this point we
translate literally the account of Domenico Gravina, a historian of
much esteem. As soon as the prince appeared, the conspirators all at
once fell upon him, to strangle him with their hands; believing he
could not die by poison or sword, because of the charmed ring given
him by his poor mother. But Andre was so strong and active, that
when he perceived the infamous treason he defended himself with more
than human strength, and with dreadful cries got free from his
murderers, his face all bloody, his fair hair pulled out in handfuls.
The unhappy young man tried to gain his own bedroom, so as to get
some weapon and valiantly resist the assassins; but as he reached the
door, Nicholas of Melazzo, putting his dagger like a bolt into the
lock, stopped his entrance. The prince, calling aloud the whole time
and imploring the protection of his friends, returned to the hall;
but all the doors were shut, and no one held out a helping hand; for
the queen was silent, showing no uneasiness about her husband's
death.

But the nurse Isolda, terrified by the shouting of her beloved son
and lord, leapt from her bed and went to the window, filling the
house with dreadful cries. The traitors, alarmed by the mighty
uproar, although the place was lonely and so far from the centre of
the town that nobody could have come to see what the noise was, were
on the point of letting their victim go, when Bertrand of Artois, who
felt he was more guilty than the others, seized the prince with
hellish fury round the waist, and after a desperate struggle got him
down; then dragging him by the hair of his head to a balcony which
gave upon the garden, and pressing one knee upon his chest, cried out
to the others--

"Come here, barons: I have what we want to strangle him with."

And round his neck he passed a long cord of silk and gold, while the
wretched man struggled all he could. Bertrand quickly drew up the
knot, and the others threw the body over the parapet of the balcony,
leaving it hanging between earth and sky until death ensued. When
the Count of Terlizzi averted his eyes from the horrid spectacle,
Robert of Cabane cried out imperiously--

"What are you doing there? The cord is long enough for us all to
hold: we want not witnesses, we want accomplices!"

As soon as the last convulsive movements of the dying man had ceased,
they let the corpse drop the whole height of the three storeys, and
opening the doors of the hall, departed as though nothing had
happened.

Isolda, when at last she contrived to get a light, rapidly ran to the
queen's chamber, and finding the door shut on the inside, began to
call loudly on her Andre. There was no answer, though the queen was
in the room. The poor nurse, distracted, trembling, desperate, ran
down all the corridors, knocked at all the cells and woke the monks
one by one, begging them to help her look for the prince. The monks
said that they had indeed heard a noise, but thinking it was a
quarrel between soldiers drunken perhaps or mutinous, they had not
thought it their business to interfere. Isolda eagerly, entreated:
the alarm spread through the convent; the monks followed the nurse,
who went on before with a torch. She entered the garden, saw
something white upon the grass, advanced trembling, gave one piercing
cry, and fell backward.

The wretched Andre was lying in his blood, a cord round his neck as
though he were a thief, his head crushed in by the height from which
he fell. Then two monks went upstairs to the queen's room, and
respectfully knocking at the door, asked in sepulchral tones--

"Madam, what would you have us do with your husband's corpse?"

And when the queen made no answer, they went down again slowly to the
garden, and kneeling one at the head, the other at the foot of the
dead man, they began to recite penitential psalms in a low voice.
When they had spent an hour in prayer, two other monks went up in the
same way to Joan's chamber, repeating the same question and getting
no answer, whereupon they relieved the first two, and began
themselves to pray. Next a third couple went to the door of this
inexorable room, and coming away perturbed by their want of success,
perceived that there was a disturbance of people outside the convent,
while vengeful cries were heard amongst the indignant crowd. The
groups became more and more thronged, threatening voices were raised,
a torrent of invaders threatened the royal dwelling, when the queen's
guard appeared, lance in readiness, and a litter closely shut,
surrounded by the principal barons of the court, passed through the
crowd, which stood stupidly gazing. Joan, wrapped in a black veil,
went back to Castel Nuovo, amid her escort; and nobody, say the
historians, had the courage to say a word about this terrible deed.

CHAPTER V

The terrible part that Charles of Durazzo was to play began as soon
as this crime was accomplished. The duke left the corpse two whole
days exposed to the wind and the rain, unburied and dishonoured, the
corpse of a man whom the pope had made King of Sicily and Jerusalem,
so that the indignation of the mob might be increased by the dreadful
sight. On the third he ordered it to be conveyed with the utmost
pomp to the cathedral of Naples, and assembling all the Hungarians
around the catafalque, he thus addressed them, in a voice of
thunder:--

"Nobles and commoners, behold our king hanged like a dog by infamous
traitors. God will soon make known to us the names of all the
guilty: let those who desire that justice may be done hold up their
hands and swear against murderers bloody persecution, implacable
hatred, everlasting vengeance."

It was this one man's cry that brought death and desolation to the
murderers' hearts, and the people dispersed about the town,
shrieking, "Vengeance, vengeance!"

Divine justice, which knows naught of privilege and respects no
crown, struck Joan first of all in her love. When the two lovers
first met, both were seized alike with terror and disgust; they
recoiled trembling, the queen seeing in Bertrand her husband's
executioner, and he in her the cause of his crime, possibly of his
speedy punishment. Bertrand's looks were disordered, his cheeks
hollow, his eyes encircled with black rings, his mouth horribly
distorted; his arm and forefinger extended towards his accomplice, he
seemed to behold a frightful vision rising before him. The same cord
he had used when he strangled Andre, he now saw round the queen's
neck, so tight that it made its way into her flesh: an invisible
force, a Satanic impulse, urged him to strangle with his own hands
the woman he had loved so dearly, had at one time adored on his
knees. The count rushed out of the room with gestures of
desperation, muttering incoherent words; and as he shewed plain signs
of mental aberration, his father, Charles of Artois, took him away,
and they went that same evening to their palace of St. Agatha, and
there prepared a defence in case they should be attacked.

But Joan's punishment, which was destined to be slow as well as
dreadful, to last thirty-seven years and--end in a ghastly death, was
now only beginning. All the wretched beings who were stained with
Andre's death came in turn to her to demand the price of blood. The
Catanese and her son, who held in their hands not only the queen's
honour but her life, now became doubly greedy and exacting. Dona
Cancha no longer put any bridle on her licentiousness; and the
Empress of Constantinople ordered her niece to marry her eldest son,
Robert, Prince of Tarentum. Joan, consumed by remorse, full of
indignation and shame at the arrogant conduct of her subjects, dared
scarcely lift her head, and stooped to entreaties, only stipulating
for a few days' delay before giving her answer: the empress
consented, on condition that her son should come to reside at Castel
Nuovo, with permission to see the queen once a day. Joan bowed her
head in silence, and Robert of Tarentum was installed at the castle.

Charles of Durazzo, who by the death of Andre had practically become
the head of the family, and, would, by the terms of his grandfather's
will, inherit the kingdom by right of his wife Marie in the case of
Joan's dying without lawful issue, sent to the queen two commands:
first, that she should not dream of contracting a new marriage
without first consulting him in the choice of a husband; secondly,
that she should invest him at once with the title of Duke of
Calabria. To compel his cousin to make these two concessions, he
added that if she should be so ill advised as to refuse either of
them, he should hand over to justice the proofs of the crime and the
names of the murderers. Joan, bending beneath the weight of this new
difficulty, could think of no way to avoid it; but Catherine, who
alone was stout enough to fight this nephew of hers, insisted that
they must strike at the Duke of Durazzo in his ambition and hopes,
and tell him, to begin with--what was the fact--that the queen was
pregnant. If, in spite of this news, he persisted in his plans, she
would find some means or other, she said, of causing trouble and
discord in her nephew's family, and wounding him in his most intimate
affections or closest interests, by publicly dishonouring him through
his wife or his mother.

Charles smiled coldly when his aunt came to tell him from the queen
that she was about to bring into the world an infant, Andre's
posthumous child. What importance could a babe yet unborn possibly
have--as a fact, it lived only a few months--in the eyes of a man who
with such admirable coolness got rid of people who stood in his wary,
and that moreover by the hand of his own enemies? He told the
empress that the happy news she had condescended to bring him in
person, far from diminishing his kindness towards his cousin,
inspired him rather with more interest and goodwill; that
consequently he reiterated his suggestion, and renewed his promise
not to seek vengeance for his dear Andre, since in a certain sense
the crime was not complete should a child be destined to survive; but
in case of a refusal he declared himself inexorable. He cleverly
gave Catherine to understand that, as she had some interest herself
in the prince's death, she ought for her own sake to persuade the
queen to stop legal proceedings.

The empress seemed to be deeply impressed by her nephew's threatening
attitude, and promised to do her best to persuade the queen to grant
all he asked, on condition, however, that Charles should allow the
necessary time for carrying through so delicate a business. But
Catherine profited by this delay to think out her own plan of
revenge, and ensure the means of certain success. After starting
several projects eagerly and then regretfully abandoning them, she
fixed upon an infernal and unheard-of scheme, which the mind would
refuse to believe but for the unanimous testimony of historians.
Poor Agnes of Duras, Charles's mother, had for some few days been
suffering with an inexplicable weariness, a slow painful malady with
which her son's restlessness and violence may have had not a little
to do. The empress resolved that the first effect of her hatred was
to fall upon this unhappy mother. She summoned the Count of Terlizzi
and Dona Cancha, his mistress, who by the queen's orders had been
attending Agnes since her illness began. Catherine suggested to the
young chamberwoman, who was at that time with child, that she should
deceive the doctor by representing that certain signs of her own
condition really belonged to the sick woman, so that he, deceived by
the false indications, should be compelled to admit to Charles of
Durazzo that his mother was guilty and dishonoured. The Count of
Terlizzi, who ever since he had taken part in the regicide trembled
in fear of discovery, had nothing to oppose to the empress's desire,
and Dona Cancha, whose head was as light as her heart was corrupt,
seized with a foolish gaiety on any chance of taking her revenge on
the prudery of the only princess of the blood who led a pure life at
a court that was renowned for its depravity. Once assured that her
accomplices would be prudent and obedient, Catherine began to spread
abroad certain vague and dubious but terribly serious rumours, only
needing proof, and soon after the cruel accusation was started it was
repeated again and again in confidence, until it reached the ears of
Charles.

At this amazing revelation the duke was seized with a fit of
trembling. He sent instantly for the doctor, and asked imperiously
what was the cause of his mother's malady. The doctor turned pale
and stammered; but when Charles grew threatening he admitted that he
had certain grounds for suspecting that the duchess was enceinte, but
as he might easily have been deceived the first time, he would make a
second investigation before pronouncing his opinion in so serious a
matter. The next day, as the doctor came out of the bedroom, the
duke met him, and interrogating him with an agonised gesture, could
only judge by the silence that his fears were too well confirmed.
But the doctor, with excess of caution, declared that he would make a
third trial. Condemned criminals can suffer no worse than Charles in
the long hours that passed before that fatal moment when he learned
that his mother was indeed guilty. On the third day the doctor
stated on his soul and conscience that Agnes of Durazzo was pregnant.

"Very good," said Charles, dismissing the doctor with no sign of
emotion.

That evening the duchess took a medicine ordered by the doctor; and
when, half an hour later, she was assailed with violent pains, the
duke was warned that perhaps other physicians ought to be consulted,
as the prescription of the ordinary doctor, instead of bringing about
an improvement in her state, had only made her worse.

Charles slowly went up to the duchess's room, and sending away all
the people who were standing round her bed, on the pretext that they
were clumsy and made his mother worse, he shut the door, and they
were alone. The poor Agnes, forgetting her internal agony when she
saw her son, pressed his hand tenderly and smiled through her tears.

Charles, pale beneath his bronzed complexion, his forehead moist with
a cold sweat, and his eyes horribly dilated, bent over the sick woman
and asked her gloomily--

"Are you a little better, mother?"

"Ah, I am in pain, in frightful pain, my poor Charles. I feel as
though I have molten lead in my veins. O my son, call your brothers,
so that I may give you all my blessing for the last time, for I
cannot hold out long against this pain. I am burning. Mercy! Call
a doctor: I know I have been poisoned."

Charles did not stir from the bedside.

"Water!" cried the dying woman in a broken voice,--" water! A
doctor, a confessor! My children--I want my children!"

And as the duke paid no heed, but stood moodily silent, the poor
mother, prostrated by pain, fancied that grief had robbed her son of
all power of speech or movement, and so, by a desperate effort, sat
up, and seizing him by the arm, cried with all the strength she could
muster--

"Charles, my son, what is it? My poor boy, courage; it is nothing, I
hope. But quick, call for help, call a doctor. Ah, you have no idea
of what I suffer."

"Your doctor," said Charles slowly and coldly, each word piercing his
mother's heart like a dagger,--"your doctor cannot come."

"Oh why?" asked Agnes, stupefied.

"Because no one ought to live who knows the secret of our shame."

"Unhappy man!" she cried, overwhelmed with, pain and terror, "you
have murdered him! Perhaps you have poisoned your mother too!
Charles, Charles, have mercy on your own soul!"

"It is your doing," said Charles, without show of emotion: "you have
driven me into crime and despair; you have caused my dishonour in
this world and my damnation in the next."

"What are you saying? My own Charles, have mercy! Do not let me die
in this horrible uncertainty; what fatal delusion is blinding you?
Speak, my son, speak: I am not feeling the poison now. What have I
done? Of what have I been accused?"

She looked with haggard eyes at her son: her maternal love still
struggled against the awful thought of matricide; at last, seeing
that Charles remained speechless in spite of her entreaties, she
repeated, with a piercing cry--

"Speak, in God's name, speak before I die!"

"Mother, you are with child."

"What!" cried Agnes, with a loud cry, which broke her very heart.
"O God, forgive him! Charles, your mother forgives and blesses you
in death."

Charles fell upon her neck, desperately crying for help: he would now
have gladly saved her at the cost of his life, but it was too late.
He uttered one cry that came from his heart, and was found stretched
out upon his mother's corpse.

Strange comments were made at the court on the death of the Duchess
of Durazzo and her doctor's disappearance; but there was no doubt at
all that grief and gloom were furrowing wrinkles on Charles's brow,
which was already sad enough. Catherine alone knew the terrible
cause of her nephew's depression, for to her it was very plain that
the duke at one blow had killed his mother and her physician. But
she had never expected a reaction so sudden and violent in a man who
shrank before no crime. She had thought Charles capable of
everything except remorse. His gloomy, self absorbed silence seemed
a bad augury for her plans. She had desired to cause trouble for him
in his own family, so that he might have no time to oppose the
marriage of her son with the queen; but she had shot beyond her mark,
and Charles, started thus on the terrible path of crime, had now
broken through the bonds of his holiest affections, and gave himself
up to his bad passions with feverish ardour and a savage desire for
revenge. Then Catherine had recourse to gentleness and submission.
She gave her son to understand that there was only one way of
obtaining the queen's hand, and that was by flattering the ambition
of Charles and in some sort submitting himself to his patronage.
Robert of Tarentum understood this, and ceased making court to Joan,
who received his devotion with cool kindness, and attached himself
closely to Charles, paying him much the same sort of respect and
deference that he himself had affected for Andre, when the thought
was first in his mind of causing his ruin. But the Duke of Durazzo
was by no means deceived as to the devoted friendship shown towards
him by the heir of the house of Tarentum, and pretending to be deeply
touched by the unexpected change of feeling, he all the time kept a
strict guard on Robert's actions.

An event outside all human foresight occurred to upset the
calculations of the two cousins. One day while they were out
together on horseback, as they often were since their pretended
reconciliation, Louis of Tarentum, Robert's youngest brother, who had
always felt for Joan a chivalrous, innocent love,--a love which a
young man of twenty is apt to lock up in his heart as a secret
treasure,--Louis, we say, who had held aloof from the infamous family
conspiracy and had not soiled his hands with Andre's blood, drawn on
by an irrepressible passion, all at once appeared at the gates of
Castel Nuovo; and while his brother was wasting precious hours in
asking for a promise of marriage, had the bridge raised and gave the
soldiers strict orders to admit no one. Then, never troubling
himself about Charles's anger or Robert's jealousy, he hurried to the
queen's room, and there, says Domenico Gravina, without any preamble,
the union was consummated.

On returning from his ride, Robert, astonished that the bridge was
not at once lowered for him, at first loudly called upon the soldiers
on guard at the fortress, threatening severe punishment for their
unpardonable negligence; but as the gates did not open and the
soldiers made no sign of fear or regret, he fell into a violent fit
of rage, and swore he would hang the wretches like dogs for hindering
his return home. But the Empress of Constantinople, terrified at the
bloody quarrel beginning between the two brothers, went alone and on
foot to her son, and making use of her maternal authority to beg him
to master his feelings, there in the presence of the crowd that had
come up hastily to witness the strange scene, she related in a low
voice all that had passed in his absence.

A roar as of a wounded tiger escaped from Robert's breast: all but
blind with rage, he nearly trampled his mother under the feet of his
horse, which seemed to feel his master's anger, and plunging
violently, breathed blood from his nostrils. When the prince had
poured every possible execration on his brother's head, he turned and
galloped away from the accursed castle, flying to the Duke of
Durazzo, whom he had only just left, to tell him of this outrage and
stir him to revenge. Charles was talking carelessly with his young
wife, who was but little used to such tranquil conversation and
expansiveness, when the Prince of Tarentum, exhausted, out of breath,
bathed in perspiration, came up with his incredible tale. Charles
made him say it twice over, so impossible did Louis's audacious
enterprise appear to him. Then quickly changing from doubt to fury,
he struck his brow with his iron glove, saying that as the queen
defied him he would make her tremble even in her castle and in her
lover's arms. He threw one withering look on Marie, who interceded
tearfully for her sister, and pressing Robert's hand with warmth,
vowed that so long as he lived Louis should never be Joan's husband.

That same evening he shut himself up in his study, and wrote letters
whose effect soon appeared. A bull, dated June 2, 1346, was
addressed to Bertram de Baux, chief-justice of the kingdom of Sicily
and Count of Monte Scaglioso, with orders to make the most strict
inquiries concerning Andre's murderers, whom the pope likewise laid
under his anathema, and to punish them with the utmost rigour of the
law. But a secret note was appended to the bull which was quite at
variance with the designs of Charles: the sovereign pontiff expressly
bade the chief-justice not to implicate the queen in the proceedings
or the princes of the blood, so as to avoid worse disturbances,
reserving, as supreme head of the Church and lord of the kingdom, the
right of judging them later on, as his wisdom might dictate.

For this imposing trial Bertram de Baux made great preparations.
A platform was erected in the great hall of tribunal, and all the
officers of the crown and great state dignitaries, and all the chief
barons, had a place behind the enclosure where the magistrates sat.
Three days after Clement VI's bull had been published in the capital,
the chief-justice was ready for a public examination of two accused
persons. The two culprits who had first fallen into the hands of
justice were, as one may easily suppose, those whose condition was
least exalted, whose lives were least valuable, Tommaso Pace and
Nicholas of Melazzo. They were led before the tribunal to be first
of all tortured, as the custom was. As they approached the judges,
the notary passing by Charles in the street had time to say in a low
voice--

"My lord, the time has come to give my life for you: I will do my
duty; I commend my wife and children to you."

Encouraged by a nod from his patron, he walked on firmly and
deliberately. The chief-justice, after establishing the identity of
the accused, gave them over to the executioner and his men to be
tortured in the public square, so that their sufferings might serve
as a show and an example to the crowd. But no sooner was Tommaso
Pace tied to the rope, when to the great disappointment of all he
declared that he would confess everything, and asked accordingly to
be taken back before his judges. At these words, the Count of
Terlizzi, who was following every movement of the two men with mortal
anxiety, thought it was all over now with him and his accomplices;
and so, when Tommaso Pace was turning his steps towards the great
hall, led by two guards, his hands tied behind his back, and followed
by the notary, he contrived to take him into a secluded house, and
squeezing his throat with great force, made him thus put his tongue
out, whereupon he cut it off with a sharp razor.

The yells of the poor wretch so cruelly mutilated fell on the ears of
the Duke of Durazzo: he found his way into the room where the
barbarous act had been committed just as the Count of Terlizzi was
coming out, and approached the notary, who had been present at the
dreadful spectacle and had not given the least sign of fear or
emotion. Master Nicholas, thinking the same fate was in store for
him, turned calmly to the duke, saying with a sad smile--

"My lord, the precaution is useless; there is no need for you to cut
out my tongue, as the noble count has done to my poor companion. The
last scrap of my flesh may be torn off without one word being dragged
from my mouth. I have promised, my lord, and you have the life of my
wife and the future of my children as guarantee for my word."

"I do not ask for silence," said the duke solemnly; "you can free me
from all my enemies at once, and I order you to denounce them at the
tribunal."

The notary bowed his head with mournful resignation; then raising it
in affright, made one step up to the duke and murmured in a choking
voice--

"And the queen?"

"No one would believe you if you ventured to denounce her; but when
the Catanese and her son, the Count of Terlizzi and his wife and her
most intimate friends, have been accused by you, when they fail to
endure the torture, and when they denounce her unanimously---"

"I see, my lord. You do not only want my life; you would have my
soul too. Very well; once more I commend to you my children."

With a deep sigh he walked up to the tribunal. The chief-justice
asked Tommaso Pace the usual questions, and a shudder of horror
passed through the assembly when they saw the poor wretch in
desperation opening his mouth, which streamed with blood. But
surprise and terror reached their height when Nicholas of Melazzo
slowly and firmly gave a list of Andre's murderers, all except the
queen and the princes of the blood, and went on to give all details
of the assassination.

Proceedings were at once taken for the arrest of the grand seneschal,
Robert of Cabane, and the Counts of Terlizzi and Morcone, who were
present and had not ventured to make any movement in self-defence.
An hour later, Philippa, her two daughters, and Dona Cancha joined
them in prison, after vainly imploring the queen's protection.
Charles and Bertrand of Artois, shut up in their fortress of Saint
Agatha, bade defiance to justice, and several others, among them the
Counts of Meleto and Catanzaro, escaped by flight.

As soon as Master Nicholas said he had nothing further to confess,
and that he had spoken the whole truth and nothing but the truth, the
chief-justice pronounced sentence amid a profound silence; and 1897
without delay Tommaso Pace and the notary were tied to the tails of
two horses, dragged through the chief streets of the town, and hanged
in the market place.

The other prisoners were thrown into a subterranean vault, to be
questioned and put to the torture on the following day. In the
evening, finding themselves in the same dungeon, they reproached one
another, each pretending he had been dragged into the crime by
someone else. Then Dona Cancha, whose strange character knew no
inconsistencies, even face to face with death and torture, drowned
with a great burst of laughter the lamentations of her companions,
and joyously exclaimed--

"Look here, friends, why these bitter recriminations--this ill--
mannered raving? We have no excuses to make, and we are all equally
guilty. I am the youngest of all, and not the ugliest, by your
leave, ladies, but if I am condemned, at least I will die cheerfully.
For I have never denied myself any pleasure I could get in this
world, and I can boast that much will be forgiven me, for I have
loved much: of that you, gentlemen, know something. You, bad old
man," she continued to the Count of Terlizzi, "do you not remember
lying by my side in the queen's ante-chamber? Come, no blushes
before your noble family; confess, my lord, that I am with child by
your Excellency; and you know how we managed to make up the story of
poor Agues of Durazzo and her pregnancy--God rest her soul! For my
part, I never supposed the joke would take such a serious turn all at
once. You know all this and much more; spare your lamentations, for,
by my word, they are getting very tiresome: let us prepare to die
joyously, as we have lived."

With these words she yawned slightly, and, lying down on the straw,
fell into a deep sleep, and dreamed as happy dreams as she had ever
dreamed in her life.

On the morrow from break of day there was an immense crowd on the sea
front. During the night an enormous palisade had been put up to keep
the people away far enough for them to see the accused without
hearing anything. Charles of Durazzo, at the head of a brilliant
cortege of knights and pages, mounted on a magnificent horse, all in
black, as a sign of mourning, waited near the enclosure. Ferocious
joy shone in his eyes as the accused made their way through the
crowd, two by two, their wrists tied with ropes; for the duke every
minute expected to hear the queen's name spoken. But the chief-
justice, a man of experience, had prevented indiscretion of any kind
by fixing a hook in the tongue of each one. The poor creatures were
tortured on a ship, so that nobody should hear the terrible
confessions their sufferings dragged from them.

But Joan, in spite of the wrongs that most of the conspirators had
done her, felt a renewal of pity for the woman she had once respected
as a mother, for her childish companions and her friends, and
possibly also some remains of love for Robert of Cabane, and sent two
messengers to beg Bertram de Baux to show mercy to the culprits. But
the chief-justice seized these men and had them tortured; and on
their confession that they also were implicated in Andre's murder, he
condemned them to the same punishment as the others. Dona Cancha
alone, by reason of her situation, escaped the torture, and her
sentence was deferred till the day of her confinement.

As this beautiful girl was returning to prison, with many a smile for
all the handsomest cavaliers she could see in the crowd, she gave a
sign to Charles of Durazzo as she neared him to come forward, and
since her tongue had not been pierced (for the same reason) with an
iron instrument, she said some words to him a while in a low voice.

Charles turned fearfully pale, and putting his hand to his sword,
cried--

"Wretched woman!"

"You forget, my lord, I am under the protection of the law."

"My mother!--oh, my poor mother! "murmured Charles in a choked
voice, and he fell backward.

The next morning the people were beforehand with the executioner,
loudly demanding their prey. All the national troops and mercenaries
that the judicial authorities could command were echelonned in the
streets, opposing a sort of dam to the torrent of the raging crowd.
The sudden insatiable cruelty that too often degrades human nature
had awaked in the populace: all heads were turned with hatred and
frenzy; all imaginations inflamed with the passion for revenge;
groups of men and women, roaring like wild beasts, threatened to
knock down the walls of the prison, if the condemned were not handed
over to them to take to the place of punishment: a great murmur
arose, continuous, ever the same, like the growling of thunder: the
queen's heart was petrified with terror.

But, in spite of the desire of Bertram de Baux to satisfy the popular
wish, the preparations for the solemn execution were not completed
till midday, when the sun's rays fell scorchingly upon the town.
There went up a mighty cry from ten thousand palpitating breasts when
a report first ran through the crowd that the prisoners were about to
appear. There was a moment of silence, and the prison doors rolled
slowly back on their hinges with a rusty, grating noise. A triple
row of horsemen, with lowered visor and lance in rest, started the
procession, and amid yells and curses the condemned prisoners came
out one by one, each tied upon a cart, gagged and naked to the waist,
in charge of two executioners, whose orders were to torture them the
whole length of their way. On the first cart was the former
laundress of Catana, afterwards wife of the grand seneschal and
governess to the queen, Philippa of Cabane: the two executioners at
right and left of her scourged her with such fury that the blood
spurting up from the wounds left a long track in all the streets
passed by the cortege.

Immediately following their mother on separate carts came the
Countesses of Terlizzi and Morcone, the elder no more than eighteen
years of age. The two sisters were so marvellously beautiful that in
the crowd a murmur of surprise was heard, and greedy eyes were fixed
upon their naked trembling shoulders. But the men charged to torture
them gazed with ferocious smiles upon their forms of seductive
beauty, and, armed with sharp knives, cut off pieces of their flesh
with a deliberate enjoyment and threw them out to the crowd, who
eagerly struggled to get them, signing to the executioners to show
which part of the victims' bodies they preferred.

Robert of Cabane, the grand seneschal, the Counts of Terlizzi and
Morcone, Raymond Pace, brother of the old valet who had been executed
the day before, and many more, were dragged on similar carts, and
both scourged with ropes and slashed with knives; their flesh was
torn out with red-hot pincers, and flung upon brazen chafing-dishes.
No cry of pain was heard from the grand seneschal, he never stirred
once in his frightful agony; yet the torturers put such fury into
their work that the poor wretch was dead before the goal was reached.

In the centre of the square of Saint Eligius an immense stake was set
up: there the prisoners were taken, and what was left of their
mutilated bodies was thrown into the flames. The Count of Terlizzi
and the grand seneschal's widow were still alive, and two tears of
blood ran down the cheeks of the miserable mother as she saw her
son's corpse and the palpitating remains of her two daughters cast
upon the fire--they by their stifled cries showed that they had not
ceased to suffer. But suddenly a fearful noise overpowered the
groans of the victims; the enclosure was broken and overturned by
the mob. Like madmen, they rushed at the burning pile,--armed with
sabres, axes, and knives, and snatching the bodies dead or alive from
the flames, tore them to pieces, carrying off the bones to make
whistles or handles for their daggers as a souvenir of this horrible
day.

CHAPTER VI

The spectacle of this frightful punishment did not satisfy the
revenge of Charles of Durazzo. Seconded by the chief-justice, he
daily brought about fresh executions, till Andre's death came to be
no more than a pretext for the legal murder of all who opposed his
projects. But Louis of Tarentum, who had won Joan's heart, and was
eagerly trying to get the necessary dispensation for legalising the
marriage, from this time forward took as a personal insult every act
of the high court of justice which was performed against his will and
against the queen's prerogative: he armed all his adherents,
increasing their number by all the adventurers he could get together,
and so put on foot a strong enough force to support his own party and
resist his cousin. Naples was thus split up into hostile camps,
ready to come to blows on the smallest pretext, whose daily
skirmishes, moreover, were always followed by some scene of pillage
or death.

But Louis had need of money both to pay his mercenaries and to hold
his own against the Duke of Durazzo and his own brother Robert, and
one day he discovered that the queen's coffers were empty. Joan was
wretched and desperate, and her lover, though generous and brave and
anxious to reassure her so far as he could, did not very clearly see
how to extricate himself from such a difficult situation. But his
mother Catherine, whose ambition was satisfied in seeing one of her
sons, no matter which, attain to the throne of Naples, came
unexpectedly to their aid, promising solemnly that it would only take
her a few days to be able to lay at her niece's feet a treasure
richer than anything she had ever dreamed of, queen as she was.

The empress then took half her son's troops, made for Saint Agatha,
and besieged the fortress where Charles and Bertrand of Artois had
taken refuge when they fled from justice. The old count, astonished
at the sight of this woman, who had been the very soul of the
conspiracy, and not in the least understanding her arrival as an
enemy, sent out to ask the intention of this display of military
force. To which Catherine replied in words which we translate
literally:

"My friends, tell Charles, our faithful friend, that we desire to
speak with him privately and alone concerning a matter equally
interesting to us both, and he is not to be alarmed at our arriving
in the guise of an enemy, for this we have done designedly, as we
shall explain in the course of our interview. We know he is confined
to bed by the gout, and therefore feel no surprise at his not coming
out to meet us. Have the goodness to salute him on our part and
reassure him, telling him that we desire to come in, if such is his
good pleasure, with our intimate counsellor, Nicholas Acciajuoli, and
ten soldiers only, to speak with him concerning an important matter
that cannot be entrusted to go-betweens."

Entirely reassured by these frank, friendly explanations, Charles of
Artois sent out his son Bertrand to the empress to receive her with
the respect due to her rank and high position at the court of Naples.
Catherine went promptly to the castle with many signs of joy, and
inquiring after the count's health and expressing her affection, as
soon as they were alone, she mysteriously lowered her voice and
explained that the object of her visit was to consult a man of tried
experience on the affairs of Naples, and to beg his active
cooperation in the queen's favour. As, however, she was not pressed
for time, she could wait at Saint Agatha for the count's recovery to
hear his views and tell him of the march of events since he left the
court. She succeeded so well in gaining the old man's confidence and
banishing his suspicions, that he begged her to honour them with her
presence as long as she was able, and little by little received all
her men within the walls. This was what Catherine was waiting for:
on the very day when her army was installed at Saint Agatha, she
suddenly entered the count's room, followed by four soldiers, and
seizing the old man by the throat, exclaimed wrathfully--

"Miserable traitor, you will not escape from our hands before you
have received the punishment you deserve. In the meanwhile, show me
where your treasure is hidden, if you would not have me throw your
body out to feed the crows that are swooping around these dungeons."

The count, half choking, the dagger at his breast, did not even
attempt to call for help; he fell on his knees, begging the empress
to save at least the life of his son, who was not yet well from the
terrible attack of melancholia that had shaken his reason ever since
the catastrophe. Then he painfully dragged himself to the place
where he had hidden his treasure, and pointing with his finger,
cried--

"Take all; take my life; but spare my son."

Catherine could not contain herself for joy when she saw spread out
at her feet exquisite and incredibly valuable cups, caskets of
pearls, diamonds and rubies of marvellous value, coffers full of gold
ingots, and all the wonders of Asia that surpass the wildest
imagination. But when the old man, trembling, begged for the liberty
of his son as the price of his fortune and his own life, the empress
resumed her cold, pitiless manner, and harshly replied--

"I have already given orders for your son to be brought here; but
prepare for an eternal farewell, for he is to be taken to the
fortress of Melfi, and you in all probability will end your days
beneath the castle of Saint Agatha."

The grief of the poor count at this violent separation was so great,
that a few days later he was found dead in his dungeon, his lips
covered with a bloody froth, his hands gnawed in despair. Bertrand
did not long survive him. He actually lost his reason when he heard
of his father's death, and hanged himself on the prison grating.
Thus did the murderers of Andre destroy one another, like venomous
animals shut up in the same cage.

Catherine of Tarentum, carrying off the treasure she had so gained,
arrived at the court of Naples, proud of her triumph and
contemplating vast schemes. But new troubles had come about in her
absence. Charles of Durazzo, for the last time desiring the queen to
give him the duchy of Calabria, a title which had always belonged to
the heir presumptive, and angered by her refusal, had written to
Louis of Hungary, inviting him to take possession of the kingdom, and
promising to help in the enterprise with all his own forces, and to
give up the principal authors of his brother's death, who till now
had escaped justice.

The King of Hungary eagerly accepted these offers, and got ready an
army to avenge Andre's death and proceed to the conquest of Naples.
The tears of his mother Elizabeth and the advice of Friar Robert, the
old minister, who had fled to Buda, confirmed him in his projects of
vengeance. He had already lodged a bitter complaint at the court of
Avignon that, while the inferior assassins had been punished, she who
was above all others guilty had been shamefully let off scot free,
and though still stained with her husband's blood, continued to live
a life of debauchery and adultery. The pope replied soothingly that,
so far as it depended upon him, he would not be found slow to give
satisfaction to a lawful grievance; but the accusation ought to be
properly formulated and supported by proof; that no doubt Joan's
conduct during and after her husband's death was blamable; but His
Majesty must consider that the Church of Rome, which before all
things seeks truth and justice, always proceeds with the utmost
circumspection, and in so grave a matter more especially must not
judge by appearances only.

Joan, frightened by the preparations for war, sent ambassadors to the
Florentine Republic, to assert her innocence of the crime imputed to
her by public opinion, and did not hesitate to send excuses even to
the Hungarian court; but Andre's brother replied in a letter laconic
and threatening:--

"Your former disorderly life, the arrogation to yourself of exclusive
power, your neglect to punish your husband's murderers, your marriage
to another husband, moreover your own excuses, are all sufficient
proofs that you were an accomplice in the murder."

Catherine would not be put out of heart by the King of Hungary's
threats, and looking at the position of the queen and her son with a
coolness that was never deceived, she was convinced that there was no
other means of safety except a reconciliation with Charles, their
mortal foe, which could only be brought about by giving him all he
wanted. It was one of two things: either he would help them to
repulse the King of Hungary, and later on they would pay the cost
when the dangers were less pressing, or he would be beaten himself,
and thus they would at least have the pleasure of drawing him down
with them in their own destruction.

The agreement was made in the gardens of Castel Nuovo, whither
Charles had repaired on the invitation of the queen and her aunt. To
her cousin of Durazzo Joan accorded the title so much desired of Duke
of Calabria, and Charles, feeling that he was hereby made heir to the
kingdom, marched at once on Aquila, which town already was flying the
Hungarian colours. The wretched man did not foresee that he was
going straight to his destruction.

When the Empress of Constantinople saw this man, whom she hated above
all others, depart in joy, she looked contemptuously upon him,
divining by a woman's instinct that mischief would befall him; then,
having no further mischief to do, no further treachery on earth, no
further revenge to satisfy, she all at once succumbed to some unknown
malady, and died suddenly, without uttering a cry or exciting a
single regret.

But the King of Hungary, who had crossed Italy with a formidable
army, now entered the kingdom from the side of Aquila: on his way he
had everywhere received marks of interest and sympathy; and Alberto
and Mertino delta Scala, lords of Verona, had given him three hundred
horse to prove that all their goodwill was with him in his
enterprise. The news of the arrival of the Hungarians threw the
court into a state of confusion impossible to describe. They had
hoped that the king would be stopped by the pope's legate, who had
come to Foligno to forbid him, in the name of the Holy Father, and on
pain of excommunication to proceed any further without his consent;
but Louis of Hungary replied to the pope's legate that, once master
of Naples, he should consider himself a feudatory of the Church, but
till then he had no obligations except to God and his own conscience.
Thus the avenging army fell like a thunderbolt upon the heart of the
kingdom, before there was any thought of taking serious measures for
defence. There was only one plan possible: the queen assembled the
barons who were most strongly attached to her, made them swear homage
and fidelity to Louis of Tarentum, whom she presented to them as her
husband, and then leaving with many tears her most faithful subjects,
she embarked secretly, in the middle of the night, on a ship of
Provence, and made for Marseilles. Louis of Tarentum, following the
prompting of his adventure-loving character, left Naples at the head
of three thousand horse and a considerable number of foot, and took
up his post on the banks of the Voltorno, there to contest the
enemy's passage; but the King of Hungary foresaw the stratagem, and
while his adversary was waiting for him at Capua, he arrived at
Beneventum by the mountains of Alife and Morcone, and on the same day
received Neapolitan envoys: they in a magnificent display of
eloquence congratulated him on his entrance, offered the keys of the
town, and swore obedience to him as being the legitimate successor of
Charles of Anjou. The news of the surrender of Naples soon reached
the queen's camp, and all the princes of the blood and the generals
left Louis of Tarentum and took refuge in the capital. Resistance
was impossible. Louis, accompanied by his counsellor, Nicholas
Acciajuoli, went to Naples on the same evening on which his relatives
quitted the town to get away from the enemy. Every hope of safety
was vanishing as the hours passed by; his brothers and cousins begged
him to go at once, so as not to draw down upon the town the king's
vengeance, but unluckily there was no ship in the harbour that was
ready to set sail. The terror of the princes was at its height; but
Louis, trusting in his luck, started with the brave Acciajuoli in an
unseaworthy boat, and ordering four sailors to row with all their
might, in a few minutes disappeared, leading his family in a great
state of anxiety till they learned that he had reached Pisa, whither
he had gone to join the queen in Provence. Charles of Durazzo and
Robert of Tarentum, who were the eldest respectively of the two
branches of the royal family, after hastily consulting, decided to
soften the Hungarian monarch's wrath by a complete submission.
Leaving their young brothers at Naples, they accordingly set off for
Aversa, where the king was. Louis received them with every mark of
friendship, and asked with much interest why their brothers were not
with them. The princes replied that their young brothers had stayed
at Naples to prepare a worthy reception for His Majesty. Louis
thanked them for their kind intentions, but begged them to invite the
young princes now, saying that it would be infinitely more pleasant
to enter Naples with all his family, and that be was most anxious to
see his cousins. Charles and Robert, to please the king, sent
equerries to bid their brothers come to Aversa; but Louis of Durazzo,
the eldest of the boys, with many tears begged the others not to
obey, and sent a message that he was prevented by a violent headache
from leaving Naples. So puerile an excuse could not fail to annoy
Charles, and the same day he compelled the unfortunate boys to appear
before the-king, sending a formal order which admitted of no delay.
Louis of Hungary embraced them warmly one after the other, asked them
several questions in an affectionate way, kept them to supper, and
only let them go quite late at night.

When the Duke of Durazzo reached his room, Lello of Aquila and the
Count of Fondi slipped mysteriously to the side of his bed, and
making sure that no one could hear, told him that the king in a
council held that morning had decided to kill him and to imprison the
other princes. Charles heard them out, but incredulously: suspecting
treachery, he dryly replied that he had too much confidence in his
cousin's loyalty to believe such a black calumny. Lello insisted,
begging him in the name of his dearest friends to listen; but the
duke was impatient, and harshly ordered him to depart.

The next day there was the same kindness on the king's part, the same
affection shown to the children; the same invitation to supper. The
banquet was magnificent; the room was brilliantly lighted, and the
reflections were dazzling: vessels of gold shone on the table, the
intoxicating perfume of flowers filled the air; wine foamed in the
goblets and flowed from the flagons in ruby streams: conversation,
excited and discursive, was heard on every side: all faces beamed
with joy.

Charles of Durazzo sat opposite the king, at a separate table among
his brothers. Little by little his look grew fixed, his brow
pensive. He was fancying that Andre might have supped in this very
hall on the eve of his tragic end, and he thought how all concerned
in that death had either died in torment or were now languishing in
prison; the queen, an exile and a fugitive, was begging pity from
strangers: he alone was free. The thought made him tremble; but
admiring his own cleverness in pursuing his infernal schemes; and
putting away his sad looks, he smiled again with an expression of
indefinable pride. The madman at this moment was scoffing at the
justice of God. But Lello of Aquila, who was waiting-at the table,
bent down, whispering gloomily--

"Unhappy duke, why did you refuse to believe me? Fly, while there is
yet time."

Charles, angered by the man's obstinacy, threatened that if he were
such a fool as to say any more, he would repeat every word aloud.

"I have done my duty," murmured Lello, bowing his head; "now it must
happen as God wills."

As he left off speaking, the king rose, and as the duke went up to
take his leave, his face suddenly changed, and he cried in an awful
voice--

"Traitor! At length you are in my hands, and you shall die as you
deserve; but before you are handed over to the executioner, confess
with your own lips your deeds of treachery towards our royal majesty:
so shall we need no other witness to condemn you to a punishment
proportioned to your crimes. Between our two selves, Duke of Durazzo
tell me first why, by your infamous manoeuvring, you aided your
uncle, the Cardinal of Perigord, to hinder the coronation of my
brother, and so led him on, since he had no royal prerogative of his
own, to his miserable end? Oh, make no attempt to deny it. Here is
the letter sealed with your seal in secret you wrote it, but it
accuses you in public. Then why, after bringing us hither to avenge
our brother's death, of which you beyond all doubt were the cause,--
why did you suddenly turn to the queen's party and march against our
town of Aquila, daring to raise an army against our faithful
subjects? You hoped, traitor, to make use of us as a footstool to
mount the throne withal, as soon as you were free from every other
rival. Then you would but have awaited our departure to kill the
viceroy we should have left in our place, and so seize the kingdom.
But this time your foresight has been at fault. There is yet another
crime worse than all the rest, a crime of high treason, which I shall
remorselessly punish. You carried off the bride that our ancestor
King Robert designed for me, as you knew, by his will. Answer,
wretch what excuse can you make for the rape of the Princess Marie?"

Anger had so changed Louis's voice that the last words sounded like
the roar of a wild beast: his eyes glittered with a feverish light,
his lips were pale and trembling. Charles and his brothers fell upon
their knees, frozen by mortal terror, and the unhappy duke twice
tried to speak, but his teeth were chattering so violently that he
could not articulate a single word. At last, casting his eyes about
him and seeing his poor brothers, innocent and ruined by his fault,
he regained some sort of courage, and said--

"My lord, you look upon me with a terrible countenance that makes me
tremble. But on my knees I entreat you, have mercy on me if I have
done wrong, for God is my witness that I did not call you to this
kingdom with any criminal intention: I have always desired, and still
desire, your supremacy in all the sincerity of my soul. Some
treacherous counsellors, I am certain, have contrived to draw down
your hatred upon me. If it is true, as you say, that I went with an
armed force to Aquila I was compelled by Queen Joan, and I could not
do otherwise; but as soon as I heard of your arrival at Fermo I took
my troops away again. I hope for the love of Christ I may obtain
your mercy and pardon, by reason of my former services and constant
loyalty. But as I see you are now angry with me, I say no more
waiting for your fury to pass over: Once again, my lord, have pity
upon us, since we are in the hands of your Majesty."

The king turned away his head, and retired slowly, confiding the
prisoners to the care of Stephen Vayvoda and the Count of Zornic, who
guarded them during the night in a room adjoining the king's chamber.
The next day Louis held another meeting of his council, and ordered
that Charles should have his throat cut on the very spot where poor
Andre had been hanged. He then sent the other princes of the blood,
loaded with chains, to Hungary, where they were long kept prisoners.
Charles, quite thunderstruck by such an unexpected blow, overwhelmed
by the thought of his past crimes, trembled like a coward face to
face with death, and seemed completely crushed. Bowed, upon his
knees, his face half hidden in his hands, from time to time
convulsive sobs escaped him, as he tried to fix the thoughts that
chased each other through his mind like the shapes of a monstrous
dream. Night was in his soul, but every now and then light flashed
across the darkness, and over the gloomy background of his despair
passed gilded figures fleeing from him with smiles of mockery. In
his ears buzzed voices from the other world; he saw a long procession
of ghosts, like the conspirators whom Nicholas of Melazzo had pointed
out in the vaults of Castel Nuovo. But these phantoms each held his
head in his hand, and shaking it by the hair, bespattered him with
drops of blood. Some brandished whips, some knives: each threatened
Charles with his instrument of torture. Pursued by the nocturnal
train, the hapless man opened his mouth for one mighty cry, but his
breath was gone, and it died upon his lips. Then he beheld his
mother stretching out her arms from afar, and he fancied that if he
could but reach her he would be safe But at each step the path grew
more and more narrow, pieces of his flesh were torn off by the
approaching walls; at last, breathless, naked and bleeding, he
reached his goal; but his mother glided farther away, and it was all
to begin over again. The, phantoms pursued him, grinning and
screaming in his ears:--

"Cursed be he who slayeth his mother!"

Charles was roused from these horrors by the cries of his brothers,
who had come to embrace him for the last time before embarking. The
duke in a low voice asked their pardon, and then fell back into his
state of despair. The children were dragged away, begging to be
allowed to share their brother's fate, and crying for death as an
alleviation of their woes. At length they were separated, but the
sound of their lamentation sounded long in the heart of the condemned
man. After a few moments, two soldiers and two equerries came to
tell the duke that his hour had come.

Charles followed them, unresisting, to the fatal balcony where Andre
had been hanged. He was there asked if he desired to confess, and
when he said yes, they brought a monk from the sane convent where the
terrible scene had been enacted: he listened to the confession of all
his sins, and granted him absolution. The duke at once rose and
walked to the place where Andre had been thrown down for the cord to
be put round his neck, and there, kneeling again, he asked his
executioners--

"Friends, in pity tell me, is there any hope for my life?"

And when they answered no, Charles exclaimed:

"Then carry out your instructions."

At these words, one of the equerries plunged his sword into his
breast, and the other cut his head off with a knife, and his corpse
was thrown over the balcony into the garden where Andre's body had
lain for three days unburied.

CHAPTER VII

The King of Hungary, his black flag ever borne before him, started
for Naples, reusing all offered honours, and rejecting the canopy
beneath which he was to make his entry, not even stopping to give
audience to the chief citizens or to receive the acclamations of the
crowd. Armed at all points, he made for Castel Nuovo, leaving behind
him dismay and fear. His first act on entering the city was to order
Dona Cancha to be burnt, her punishment having been deferred by
reason of her pregnancy. Like the others, she was drawn on a cart to
the square of St. Eligius, and there consigned to the flames. The
young creature, whose suffering had not impaired her beauty, was
dressed as for a festival, and laughing like a mad thing up to the
last moment, mocked at her executioners and threw kisses to the
crowd.

A few days later, Godfrey of Marsana, Count of Squillace and grand
admiral of the kingdom, was arrested by the king's orders. His life
was promised him on condition of his delivering up Conrad of
Catanzaro, one of his relatives, accused of conspiring against Andre.
The grand admiral committed, this act of shameless treachery, and did
not shrink from sending his own son to persuade Conrad to come to the
town. The poor wretch was given over to the king, and tortured alive
on a wheel made with sharp knives. The sight of these barbarities,
far from calming the king's rage; seemed to inflame it the more.
Every day there were new accusations and new sentences. The prisons
were crowded: Louis's punishments were redoubled in severity. A fear
arose that the town, and indeed the whole kingdom, were to be treated
as having taken part in Andre's death. Murmurs arose against this
barbarous rule, and all men's thoughts turned towards their fugitive
queen. The Neapolitan barons had taken the oath of fidelity with no
willing hearts; and when it came to the turn of the Counts of San
Severino, they feared a trick of some kind, and refused to appear all
together before the Hungarian, but took refuge in the town of
Salerno, and sent Archbishop Roger, their brother, to make sure of
the king's intentions beforehand. Louis received him magnificently,
and appointed him privy councillor and grand proto notary. Then, and
not till then, did Robert of San Severino and Roger, Count of
Chiaramonte, venture into the king's presence; after doing homage,
they retired to their homes. The other barons followed their example
of caution, and hiding their discontent under a show of respect,
awaited a favourable moment for shaking off the foreign yoke. But
the queen had encountered no obstacle in her flight, and arrived at
Nice five days later. Her passage through Provence was like a
triumph. Her beauty, youth, and misfortunes, even certain mysterious
reports as to her adventures, all contributed to arouse the interest
of the Provencal people. Games and fetes were improvised to soften
the hardship of exile for the proscribed princess; but amid the
outbursts of joy from every town, castle, and city, Joan, always sad,
lived ever in her silent grief and glowing memories.

At the gates of Aix she found the clergy, the nobility, and the chief
magistrates, who received her respectfully but with no signs of
enthusiasm. As the queen advanced, her astonishment increased as she
saw the coldness of the people and the solemn, constrained air of the
great men who escorted her. Many anxious thoughts alarmed her, and
she even went so far as to fear some intrigue of the King of Hungary.
Scarcely had her cortege arrived at Castle Arnaud, when the nobles,
dividing into two ranks, let the queen pass with her counsellor
Spinelli and two women; then closing up, they cut her off from the
rest of her suite. After this, each in turn took up his station as
guardian of the fortress.

There was no room for doubt: the queen was a prisoner; but the cause
of the manoeuvre it was impossible to guess. She asked the high
dignitaries, and they, protesting respectful devotion, refused to
explain till they had news from Avignon. Meanwhile all honours that
a queen could receive were lavished on Joan; but she was kept in
sight and forbidden to go out. This new trouble increased her
depression: she did not know what had happened to Louis of Tarentum,
and her imagination, always apt at creating disasters, instantly
suggested that she would soon be weeping for his loss.

But Louis, always with his faithful Acciajuoli, had after many
fatiguing adventures been shipwrecked at the port of Pisa; thence he
had taken route for Florence, to beg men and money; but the
Florentines decided to keep an absolute neutrality, and refused to
receive him. The prince, losing his last hope, was pondering gloomy
plans, when Nicholas Acciajuoli thus resolutely addressed him:

"My lord, it is not given to mankind to enjoy prosperity for ever:
there are misfortunes beyond all human foresight. You were once rich
and powerful, and you are now a fugitive in disguise, begging the
help of others. You must reserve your strength for better days. I
still have a considerable fortune, and also have relations and
friends whose wealth is at my disposal: let us try to make our way to
the queen, and at once decide what we can do. I myself shall always
defend you and obey you as my lord and master."

The prince received these generous offers with the utmost gratitude,
and told his counsellor that he placed his person in his hands and
all that remained of his future. Acciajuoli, not content with
serving his master as a devoted servant, persuaded his brother
Angelo, Archbishop of Florence, who was in great favour at Clement
VI's court, to join with them in persuading the pope to interest
himself in the cause of Louis of Tarentum. So, without further
delay, the prince, his counsellor, and the good prelate made their
way to the port of Marseilles, but learning that the queen was a
prisoner at Aix, they embarked at Acque-Morte, and went straight to
Avignon. It soon appeared that the pope had a real affection and
esteem for the character of the Archbishop of Florence, for Louis was
received with paternal kindness at the court of Avignon; which was
far more than he had expected: When he kneeled before the sovereign
pontiff, His Holiness bent affectionately towards him and helped him
to rise, saluting him by the title of king.

Two days later, another prelate, the Archbishop of Aix, came into the
queen's presence,--

"Most gracious and dearly beloved sovereign, permit the most humble
and devoted of your servants to ask pardon, in the name of your
subjects, for the painful but necessary measure they have thought fit
to take concerning your Majesty. When you arrived on our coast, your
loyal town of Aix had learned from a trustworthy source that the King
of France was proposing to give our country to one of his own sons,
making good this loss to you by the cession of another domain, also
that the Duke of Normandy had come to Avignon to request this
exchange in person. We were quite decided, madam, and had made a vow
to God that we would give up everything rather than suffer the
hateful tyranny of the French. But before spilling blood we thought
it best to secure your august person as a sacred hostage, a sacred
ark which no man dared touch but was smitten to the ground, which
indeed must keep away from our walls the scourge of war. We have now
read the formal annulment of this hateful plan, in a brief sent by
the sovereign pontiff from Avignon; and in this brief he himself
guarantees your good faith.

"We give you your full and entire liberty, and henceforth we shall
only endeavour to keep you among us by prayers and protestations. Go
then, madam, if that is your pleasure, but before you leave these
lands, which will be plunged into mourning by your withdrawal, leave
with us some hope that you forgive the apparent violence to which we
have subjected you, only in the fear that we might lose you; and
remember that on the day when you cease to be our queen you sign the
death-warrant of all your subjects."

Joan reassured the archbishop and the deputation from her good town
of Aix with a melancholy smile, and promised that she would always
cherish the memory of their affection. For this time she could not
be deceived as to the real sentiments of the nobles and people; and a
fidelity so uncommon, revealed with sincere tears, touched her heart
and made her reflect bitterly upon her past. But a league's distance
from Avignon a magnificent triumphal reception awaited her. Louis of
Tarentum and all the cardinals present at the court had come out to
meet her. Pages in dazzling dress carried above Joan's head a canopy
of scarlet velvet, ornamented with fleur-de-lys in gold and plumes.
Hand some youths and lovely girls, their heads crowned with flowers,
went before her singing her praise. The streets were bordered with a
living hedge of people, the houses were decked out, the bells rang a
triple peal, as at the great Church festivals. Clement VI first
received the queen at the castle of Avignon with all the pomp he knew
so well how to employ on solemn occasions, then she was lodged in the
palace of Cardinal Napoleon of the Orsini, who on his return from the
Conclave at Perugia had built this regal dwelling at Villeneuve,
inhabited later by the popes.

No words could give an idea of the strangely disturbed condition of
Avignon at this period. Since Clement V had transported the seat of
the papacy to Provence, there had sprung up, in this rival to Rome,
squares, churches, cardinals' palaces, of unparalleled splendour.
All the business of nations and kings was transacted at the castle of
Avignon. Ambassadors from every court, merchants of every nation,
adventurers of all kinds, Italians, Spaniards, Hungarians, Arabs,
Jews, soldiers, Bohemians, jesters, poets, monks, courtesans, swarmed
and clustered here, and hustled one another in the streets. There
was confusion of tongues, customs, and costumes, an inextricable
mixture of splendour and rags, riches and misery, debasement and
grandeur. The austere poets of the Middle Ages stigmatised the
accursed city in their writings under the name of the New Babylon.

There is one curious monument of Joan's sojourn at Avignon and the
exercise of her authority as sovereign. She was indignant at the
effrontery of the women of the town, who elbowed everybody
shamelessly in the streets, and published a notable edict, the first
of its kind, which has since served as a model in like cases, to
compel all unfortunate women who trafficked in their honour to live
shut up together in a house, that was bound to be open every day in
the year except the last three days of Holy Week, the entrance to be
barred to Jews at all times. An abbess, chosen once a year, had the
supreme control over this strange convent. Rules were established
for the maintenance of order, and severe penalties inflicted for any
infringement of discipline. The lawyers of the period gained a great
reputation by this salutary institution; the fair ladies of Avignon
were eager in their defence of the queen in spite of the calumnious
reports that strove to tarnish her reputation: with one voice the
wisdom of Andre's widow was extolled. The concert of praises was
disturbed, however, by murmurs from the recluses themselves, who, in
their own brutal language, declared that Joan of Naples was impeding
their commerce so as to get a monopoly for herself.

Meanwhile Marie of Durazzo had joined her sister. After her
husband's death she had found means to take refuge in the convent of
Santa Croce with her two little daughters; and while Louis of Hungary
was busy burning his victims, the unhappy Marie had contrived to make
her escape in the frock of an old monk, and as by a miracle to get on
board a ship that was setting sail for Provence. She related to her
sister the frightful details of the king's cruelty. And soon a new
proof of his implacable hatred confirmed the tales of the poor
princess.

Louis's ambassadors appeared at the court of Avignon to demand
formally the queen's condemnation.

It was a great day when Joan of Naples pleaded her own cause before
the pope, in the presence of all the cardinals then at Avignon, all
the ambassadors of foreign powers, and all the eminent persons come
from every quarter of Europe to be present at this trial, unique in
the annals of history. We must imagine a vast enclosure, in whose
midst upon a raised throne, as president of the august tribunal, sat
God's vicar on earth, absolute and supreme judge, emblem of temporal
and spiritual power, of authority human and divine. To right and
left of the sovereign pontiff, the cardinals in their red robes sat
in chairs set round in a circle, and behind these princes of the
Sacred College stretched rows of bishops extending to the end of the
hall, with vicars, canons, deacons, archdeacons, and the whole
immense hierarchy of the Church. Facing the pontifical throne was a
platform reserved for the Queen of Naples and her suite. At the
pope's feet stood the ambassadors from the King of Hungary, who
played the part of accusers without speaking a word, the
circumstances of the crime and all the proofs having been discussed
beforehand by a committee appointed for the purpose. The rest of the
hall was filled by a brilliant crowd of high dignitaries, illustrious
captains, and noble envoys, all vying with one another in proud
display. Everyone ceased to breathe, all eyes were fixed on the dais
whence Joan was to speak her own defence. A movement of uneasy
curiosity made this compact mass of humanity surge towards the
centre, the cardinals above raised like proud peacocks over a golden
harvest-field shaken in the breeze.

The queen appeared, hand in hand with her uncle, the old Cardinal of
Perigord, and her aunt, the Countess Agnes. Her gait was so modest
and proud, her countenance so melancholy and pure, her looks so open
and confident, that even before she spoke every heart was hers. Joan
was now twenty years of age; her magnificent beauty was fully
developed, but an extreme pallor concealed the brilliance of her
transparent satin skin, and her hollow cheek told the tale of
expiation and suffering. Among the spectators who looked on most
eagerly there was a certain young man with strongly marked features,
glowing eyes, and brown hair, whom we shall meet again later on in
our narrative; but we will not divert our readers' attention, but
only tell them that his name was James of Aragon, that he was Prince
of Majorca, and would have been ready to shed every drop of his blood
only to check one single tear that hung on Joan's eyelids. The queen
spoke in an agitated, trembling voice, stopping from time to time to
dry her moist and shining eyes, or to breathe one of those deep sighs
that go straight to the heart. She told the tale of her husband's
death painfully and vividly, painted truthfully the mad terror that
had seized upon her and struck her down at that frightful time,
raised her hands to her brow with the gesture of despair, as though
she would wrest the madness from her brain-and a shudder of pity and
awe passed through the assembled crowd. It is a fact that at this
moment, if her words were false, her anguish was both sincere and
terrible. An angel soiled by crime, she lied like Satan himself, but
like him too she suffered all the agony of remorse and pride. Thus,
when at the end of her speech she burst into tears and implored help
and protection against the usurper of her kingdom, a cry of general
assent drowned her closing words, several hands flew to their sword-
hilts, and the Hungarian ambassadors retired covered with shame and
confusion.

That same evening the sentence, to the great joy of all, was
proclaimed, that Joan was innocent and acquitted of all concern in
the assassination of her husband. But as her conduct after the event
and the indifference she had shown about pursuing the authors of the
crime admitted of no valid excuse, the pope declared that there were
plain traces of magic, and that the wrong-doing attributed to Joan
was the result of some baneful charm cast upon her, which she could
by no possible means resist. At the same time, His Holiness
confirmed her marriage with Louis of Tarentum, and bestowed on him
the order of the Rose of Gold and the title of King of Sicily and
Jerusalem. Joan, it is true, had on the eve of her acquittal sold
the town of Avignon to the pope for the sum of 80,000 florins.

While the queen was pleading her cause at the court of Clement VI, a
dreadful epidemic, called the Black Plague--the same that Boccaccio
has described so wonderfully--was ravaging the kingdom of Naples, and
indeed the whole of Italy. According to the calculation of Matteo
Villani, Florence lost three-fifths of her population, Bologna two-
thirds, and nearly all Europe was reduced in some such frightful
proportion. The Neapolitans were already weary of the cruelties and
greed of the Hungarians, they were only awaiting some opportunity to
revolt against the stranger's oppression, and to recall their lawful
sovereign, whom, for all her ill deeds, they had never ceased to
love. The attraction of youth and beauty was deeply felt by this
pleasure-loving people. Scarcely had the pestilence thrown confusion
into the army and town, when loud cursing arose against the tyrant
and his executioners. Louis of Hungary, suddenly threatened by the,
wrath of Heaven and the people's vengeance, was terrified both by the
plague and by the riots, and disappeared in the middle of the night.
Leaving the government of Naples in the hands of Conrad Lupo, one of
his captains, he embarked hastily at Berletta, and left the kingdom
in very much the same way as Louis of Tarentum, fleeing from him, had
left it a few months before.

This news arrived at Avignon just when the pope was about to send the
queen his bull of absolution. It was at once decided to take away the
kingdom from Louis's viceroy. Nicholas Aeciajuoli left for Naples
with the marvellous bull that was to prove to all men the innocence
of the queen, to banish all scruples and stir up a new enthusiasm.
The counsellor first went to the castle of Melzi, commanded by his
son Lorenzo: this was the only fortress that had always held out.
The father and son embraced with the honourable pride that near
relatives may justly feel when they meet after they have united in
the performance of a heroic duty. From the governor of Melzi Louis of
Tarentum's counsellor learned that all men were wearied of the
arrogance and vexatious conduct of the queen's enemies, and that a
conspiracy was in train, started in the University of Naples, but
with vast ramifications all over the kingdom, and moreover that there
was dissension in the enemy's army. The indefatigable counsellor
went from Apulia to Naples, traversing towns and villages, collecting
men everywhere, proclaiming loudly the acquittal of the queen and her
marriage with Louis of Tarentum, also that the pope was offering
indulgences to such as would receive with joy their lawful
sovereigns. Then seeing that the people shouted as he went by, "Long
live Joan! Death to the Hungarians!" he returned and told his
sovereigns in what frame of mind he had left their subjects.

Joan borrowed money wherever she could, armed galleys, and left
Marseilles with her husband, her sister, and two faithful advisers,
Acciajuoli and Spinelli, on the 10th of September 1348. The king and
queen not being able to enter at the harbour, which was in the
enemy's power, disembarked at Santa Maria del Carmine, near the river
Sebeto, amid the frenzied applause of an immense crowd, and
accompanied by all the Neapolitan nobles. They made their way to the
palace of Messire Ajutorio, near Porta Capuana, the Hungarians having
fortified themselves in all the castles; but Acciatjuoli, at the head
of the queen's partisans, blockaded the fortresses so ably that half
of the enemy were obliged to surrender, and the other half took to
flight and were scattered about the interior of the kingdom. We
shall now follow Louis of Tarentum in his arduous adventures in
Apulia, the Calabrias, and the Abruzzi, where he recovered one by one
the fortresses that the Hungarians had taken. By dint of unexampled
valour and patience, he at last mastered nearly all the more
considerable places, when suddenly everything changed, and fortune
turned her back upon him for the second time. A German captain
called Warner, who had deserted the Hungarian army to sell himself to
the queen, had again played the traitor and sold himself once more,
allowed himself to be surprised at Corneto by Conrad Lupo, the King
of Hungary's vicar-general, and openly joined him, taking along with
him a great party of the adventurers who fought under his orders.
This unexpected defection forced Louis of Tarentum to retire to
Naples. The King of Hungary soon learning that the troops had
rallied round his banner, and only awaited his return to march upon
the capital, disembarked with a strong reinforcement of cavalry at
the port of Manfredonia, and taking Trani, Canosa, and Salerno, went
forward to lay siege to Aversa.

The news fell like a thunder-clap on Joan and her husband. The
Hungarian army consisted of 10,000 horse and more than 7000 infantry,
and Aversa had only 500 soldiers under Giacomo Pignatelli. In spite
of the immense disproportion of the numbers, the Neapolitan general
vigorously repelled the attack; and the King of Hungary, fighting in
the front, was wounded in his foot by an arrow. Then Louis, seeing
that it would be difficult to take the place by storm, determined to
starve them out. For three months the besieged performed prodigies
of valour, and further assistance was impossible. Their capitulation
was expected at any moment, unless indeed they decided to perish
every man. Renaud des Baux, who was to come from Marseilles with a
squadron of ten ships to defend the ports of the capital and secure
the queen's flight, should the Hungarian army get possession of
Naples, had been delayed by adverse winds and obliged to stop on the
way. All things seemed to conspire in favour of the enemy. Louis of
Tarentum, whose generous soul refused to shed the blood of his brave
men in an unequal and desperate struggle, nobly sacrificed himself,
and made an offer to the King of Hungary to settle their quarrel in
single combat. We append the authentic letters that passed between
Joan's husband and Andre's brother.

"Illustrious King of Hungary, who has come to invade our kingdom, we,
by the grace of God King of Jerusalem and Sicily, invite you to
single combat. We know that you are in no wise disturbed by the
death of your lancers or the other pagans in your suite, no more
indeed than if they were dogs; but we, fearing harm to our own
soldiers and men-at-arms, desire to fight with you personally, to put
an end to the present war and restore peace to our kingdom. He who
survives shall be king. And therefore, to ensure that this duel
shall take place, we definitely propose as a site either Paris, in
the presence of the King of France, or one of the towns of Perugia,
Avignon, or Naples. Choose one of these four places, and send us
your reply."

The King of Hungary first consulted with his council, and then
replied:--

"Great King, we have read and considered your letter sent to us by the
bearer of these presents, and by your invitation to a duel we are
most supremely pleased; but we do not approve of any of the places
you propose, since they are all suspect, and for several reasons.
The King of France is your maternal grandfather, and although we are
also connected by blood with him, the relationship is not so near.
The town of Avignon, although nominally belonging to the sovereign
pontiff, is the capital of Provence, and has always been subject to
your rule. Neither have we any more confidence in Perugia, for that
town is devoted to your cause.

"As to the city of Naples, there is no need to say that we refuse that
rendezvous, since it is in revolt against us and you are there as
king. But if you wish to fight with us, let it be in the presence of
the Emperor of Germany, who is lord supreme, or the King of England,
who is our common friend, or the Patriarch of Aquilea, a good
Catholic. If you do not approve of any of the places we propose, we
shall soon be near you with our army, and so remove all difficulties
and delays. Then you can come forth, and our duel can take place in
the presence of both armies."

After the interchange of these two letters, Louis of Tarentum
proposed nothing further. The garrison at Aversa had capitulated
after a heroic resistance, and it was known only too well that if the
King of Hungary could get so far as the walls of Naples, he would not
have to endanger his life in order to seize that city. Happily the
Provencal galleys had reached port at last. The king and the queen
had only just time to embark and take refuge at Gaeta. The Hungarian
army arrived at Naples. The town was on the point of yielding, and
had sent messengers to the king humbly demanding peace; but the
speeches of the Hungarians showed such insolence that the people,
irritated past endurance, took up arms, and resolved to defend their
household gods with all the energy of despair.

CHAPTER VIII

While the Neapolitans were holding out against their enemy at the
Porta Capuana, a strange scene was being enacted at the other side of
the town, a scene that shows us in lively colours the violence and
treachery of this barbarous age. The widow of Charles of Durazzo was
shut up in, the castle of Ovo, and awaiting in feverish anxiety the
arrival of the ship that was to take her to the queen. The poor
Princess Marie, pressing her weeping children to her heart, pale,
with dishevelled locks, fixed eyes, and drawn lips, was listening for
every sound, distracted between hope and fear. Suddenly steps
resounded along the corridor, a friendly voice was heard, Marie fell
upon her knees with a cry of joy: her liberator had come.

Renaud des Baux, admiral of the Provencal squadron, respectfully
advanced, followed by his eldest son Robert and his chaplain.

"God, I thank Thee!" exclaimed Marie, rising to her feet; "we are
saved."

"One moment, madam," said Renaud, stopping her: "you are indeed
saved, but upon one condition."

"A condition?" murmured the princess in surprise.

"Listen, madam. The King of Hungary, the avenger of Andre's
murderers, the slayer of your husband, is at the gates of Naples; the
people and soldiers will succumb, as soon as their last gallant
effort is spent--the army of the conqueror is about to spread
desolation and death throughout the city by fire and the sword. This
time the Hungarian butcher will spare no victims: he will kill the
mother before her children's eyes, the children in their mother's
arms. The drawbridge of this castle is up and there are none on
guard; every man who can wield a sword is now at the other end of the
town. Woe to you, Marie of Durazzo, if the King of Hungary shall
remember that you preferred his rival to him!"

"But have you not come here to save me?" cried Marie in a voice of
anguish. "Joan, my sister, did she not command you to take me to
her?"

"Your sister is no longer in the position to give orders," replied
Renaud, with a disdainful smile. "She had nothing for me but thanks
because I saved her life, and her husband's too, when he fled like a
coward before the man whom he had dared to challenge to a duel."

Marie looked fixedly at the admiral to assure herself that it was
really he who thus arrogantly talked about his masters. But she was
terrified at his imperturbable expression, and said gently--

"As I owe my life and my children's lives solely to your generosity,
I am grateful to you beyond all measure. But we must hurry, my lord:
every moment I fancy I hear cries of vengeance, and you would not
leave, me now a prey to my brutal enemy?"

"God forbid, madam; I will save you at the risk of my life; but I
have said already, I impose a condition."

"What is it?" said Marie, with forced calm.

"That you marry my son on the instant, in the presence of our
reverend chaplain."

"Rash man!" cried Marie, recoiling, her face scarlet with indignation
and shame; "you dare to speak thus to the sister of your legitimate
sovereign? Give thanks to God that I will pardon an insult offered,
as I know, in a moment of madness; try by your devotion to make me
forget what you have said."

The count, without one word, signed to his son and a priest to
follow, and prepared to depart. As he crossed the threshold Marie
ran to him, and clasping her hands, prayed him in God's name never to
forsake her. Renaud stopped.

"I might easily take my revenge," he said, "for your affront when you
refuse my son in your pride; but that business I leave to Louis of
Hungary, who will acquit himself, no doubt, with credit."

"Have mercy on my poor daughters!" cried the princess; "mercy at
least for my poor babes, if my own tears cannot move you."

"If you loved your children," said the admiral, frowning, "you would
have done your duty at once."

"But I do not love your son!" cried Marie, proud but trembling.
"O God, must a wretched woman's heart be thus trampled? You, father,
a minister of truth and justice, tell this man that God must not be
called on to witness an oath dragged from the weak and helpless!"

She turned to the admiral's son; and added, sobbing--

"You are young, perhaps you have loved: one day no doubt you will
love. I appeal to your loyalty as a young man, to your courtesy as a
knight, to all your noblest impulses; join me, and turn your father
away from his fatal project. You have never seen me before: you do
not know but that in my secret heart I love another. Your pride
should be revolted at the sight of an unhappy woman casting herself
at your feet and imploring your favour and protection. One word from
you, Robert, and I shall bless you every moment of my life: the
memory of you will be graven in my heart like the memory of a
guardian angel, and my children shall name you nightly in their
prayers, asking God to grant your wishes. Oh, say, will you not save
me? Who knows, later on I may love you--with real love."

"I must obey my father," Robert replied, never lifting his eyes to
the lovely suppliant.

The priest was silent. Two minutes passed, and these four persons,
each absorbed in his own thoughts, stood motionless as statues carved
at the four corners of a tomb. Marie was thrice tempted to throw
herself into the sea. But a confused distant sound suddenly struck
upon her ears: little by little it drew nearer, voices were more
distinctly heard; women in the street were uttering cries of
distress--

"Fly, fly! God has forsaken us; the Hungarians are in the town!"

The tears of Marie's children were the answer to these cries; and
little Margaret, raising her hands to her mother, expressed her fear
in speech that was far beyond her years. Renaud, without one look at
this touching picture, drew his son towards the door.

"Stay," said the princess, extending her hand with a solemn gesture:
"as God sends no other aid to my children, it is His will that the
sacrifice be accomplished."

She fell on her knees before the priest, bending her head like a
victim who offers her neck to the executioner. Robert des Baux took
his place beside her, and the priest pronounced the formula that
united them for ever, consecrating the infamous deed by a
sacrilegious blessing.

"All is over!" murmured Marie of Durazzo, looking tearfully on her
little daughters.

"No, all is not yet over," said the admiral harshly, pushing her
towards another room; "before we leave, the marriage must be
consummated."

"O just God!" cried the princess, in a voice torn with anguish, and
she fell swooning to the floor.

Renaud des Baux directed his ships towards Marseilles, where he hoped
to get his son crowned Count of Provence, thanks to his strange
marriage with Marie of Durazzo. But this cowardly act of treason was
not to go unpunished. The wind rose with fury, and drove him towards
Gaeta, where the queen and her husband had just arrived. Renaud bade
his sailors keep in the open, threatening to throw any man into the
sea who dared to disobey him. The crew at first murmured; soon cries
of mutiny rose on every side. The admiral, seeing he was lost,
passed from threats to prayers. But the princess, who had recovered
her senses at the first thunder-clap, dragged herself up to the
bridge and screamed for help,

"Come to me, Louis! Come, my barons! Death to the cowardly wretches
who have outraged my honour!"

Louis of Tarentum jumped into a boat, followed by some ten of his
bravest men, and, rowing rapidly, reached the ship. Then Marie told
him her story in a word, and he turned upon the admiral a lightning
glance, as though defying him to make any defence.

"Wretch!" cried the king, transfixing the traitor with his sword.

Then he had the son loaded with chains, and also the unworthy priest
who had served as accomplice to the admiral, who now expiated his
odious crime by death. He took the princess and her children in his
boat, and re-entered the harbour.

The Hungarians, however, forcing one of the gates of Naples, marched
triumphant to Castel Nuovo. But as they were crossing the Piazza
delle Correggie, the Neapolitans perceived that the horses were so
weak and the men so reduced by all they had undergone during the
siege of Aversa that a mere puff of wind would dispense this phantom-
like army. Changing from a state of panic to real daring, the people
rushed upon their conquerors, and drove them outside the walls by
which they had just entered. The sudden violent reaction broke the
pride of the King of Hungary, and made him more tractable when
Clement VI decided that he ought at last to interfere. A truce was
concluded first from the month of February 1350 to the beginning of
April 1351, and the next year this was converted into a real peace,
Joan paying to the King of Hungary the sum of 300,000 florins for the
expenses of the war.

After the Hungarians had gone, the pope sent a legate to crown Joan
and Louis of Tarentum, and the 25th of May, the day of Pentecost, was
chosen for the ceremony. All contemporary historians speak
enthusiastically of this magnificent fete. Its details have been
immortalised by Giotto in the frescoes of the church which from this
day bore the name of L'Incoronata. A general amnesty was declared
for all who had taken part in the late wars on either side, and the
king and queen were greeted with shouts of joy as they solemnly
paraded beneath the canopy, with all the barons of the kingdom in
their train.

But the day's joy was impaired by an accident which to a
superstitious people seemed of evil augury. Louis of Tarentum,
riding a richly caparisoned horse, had just passed the Porta
Petruccia, when some ladies looking out from a high window threw such
a quantity of flowers at the king that his frightened steed reared
and broke his rein. Louis could not hold him, so jumped lightly to
the ground; but the crown fell at his feet and was broken into three
pieces. On that very day the only daughter of Joan and Louis died.

But the king not wishing to sadden the brilliant ceremony with show
of mourning, kept up the jousts and tournaments for three days, and
in memory of his coronation instituted the order of 'Chevaliers du
Noeud'. But from that day begun with an omen so sad, his life was
nothing but a series of disillusions. After sustaining wars in
Sicily and Apulia, and quelling the insurrection of Louis of Durazzo,
who ended his days in the castle of Ovo, Louis of Tarentum, worn out
by a life of pleasure, his health undermined by slow disease,
overwhelmed with domestic trouble, succumbed to an acute fever on the
5th of June 1362, at the age of forty-two. His body had not been
laid in its royal tomb at Saint Domenico before several aspirants
appeared to the hand of the queen.

One was the Prince of Majorca, the handsome youth we have already
spoken of: he bore her off triumphant over all rivals, including the
son of the King of France. James of Aragon had one of those faces of
melancholy sweetness which no woman can resist. Great troubles nobly
borne had thrown as it were a funereal veil over his youthful days:
more than thirteen years he had spent shut in an iron cage; when by
the aid of a false key he had escaped from his dreadful prison, he
wandered from one court to another seeking aid; it is even said that
he was reduced to the lowest degree of poverty and forced to beg his
bread. The young stranger's beauty and his adventures combined had
impressed both Joan and Marie at the court of Avignon. Marie
especially had conceived a violent passion for him, all the more so
for the efforts she made to conceal it in her own bosom. Ever since
James of Aragon came to Naples, the unhappy princess, married with a
dagger at her throat, had desired to purchase her liberty at the
expense of crime. Followed by four armed men, she entered the prison
where Robert des Baux was still suffering for a fault more his
father's than his own. Marie stood before the prisoner, her arms
crossed, her cheeks livid, her lips trembling. It was a terrible
interview. This time it was she who threatened, the man who
entreated pardon. Marie was deaf to his prayers, and the head of the
luckless man fell bleeding at her feet, and her men threw the body
into the sea. But God never allows a murder to go unpunished: James
preferred the queen to her sister, and the widow of Charles of
Durazzo gained nothing by her crime but the contempt of the man she
loved, and a bitter remorse which brought her while yet young to the
tomb.

Joan was married in turn to James of Aragon, son of the King of
Majorca, and to Otho of Brunswick, of the imperial family of Saxony.
We will pass rapidly over these years, and come to the denouement of
this history of crime and expiation. James, parted from his wife,
continued his stormy career, after a long contest in Spain with Peter
the Cruel, who had usurped his kingdom: about the end of the year
1375 he died near Navarre. Otho also could not escape the Divine
vengeance which hung over the court of Naples, but to the end he
valiantly shared the queen's fortunes. Joan, since she had no lawful
heir, adopted her nephew, Charles de la Paix (so called after the
peace of Trevisa). He was the son of Louis Duras, who after
rebelling against Louis of Tarentum, had died miserably in the castle
of Ovo. The child would have shared his father's fate had not Joan
interceded to spare his life, loaded him with kindness, and married
him to Margaret, the daughter of her sister Marie and her cousin
Charles, who was put to, death by the King of Hungary.

Serious differences arose between the queen and one of her former
subjects, Bartolommeo Prigiani, who had become pope under the name of
Urban VI. Annoyed by the queen's opposition, the pope one day
angrily said he would shut her up in a convent. Joan, to avenge the

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