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List Of Contents | Contents of Joan of Naples, by Alexandre Dumas, Pere
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cord of silk and gold.  The sun had run nearly two-thirds of his
fiery course, and was gradually sinking his rays in the clear blue
waters where Posilippo's head is reflected with its green and flowery
crown.  A warm, balmy breeze that had passed over the orange trees of
Sorrento and Amalfi felt deliciously refreshing to the inhabitants of
the capital, who had succumbed to torpor in the enervating softness
of the day.  The whole town was waking from a long siesta, breathing
freely after a sleepy interval: the Molo was covered with a crowd of
eager people dressed out in the brightest colours; the many cries of
a festival, joyous songs, love ditties sounded from all quarters of
the vast amphitheatre, which is one of the chief marvels of creation:
they came to the ears of Joan, and she listened as she bent over her
work, absorbed in deep thought.  Suddenly, when she seemed most
busily occupied, the indefinable feeling of someone near at hand, and
the touch of something on her shoulder, made her start: she turned as
though waked from a dream by contact with a serpent, and perceived
her husband, magnificently dressed, carelessly leaning against the
back of her chair.  For a long time past the prince had not come to
his wife in this familiar fashion, and to the queen the pretence of
affection and careless behaviour augured ill.  Andre did not appear
to notice the look of hatred and terror that had escaped Joan in
spite of herself, and assuming the best expression of gentleness as
that his straight hard features could contrive to put on in such
circumstances as these, he smilingly asked--

"Why are you making this pretty cord, dear dutiful wife?"

"To hang you with, my lord," replied the queen, with a smile.

Andre shrugged his shoulders, seeing in the threat so incredibly rash
nothing more than a pleasantry in rather bad taste.  But when he saw
that Joan resumed her work, he tried to renew the conversation.

"I admit," he said, in a perfectly calm voice, "that my question is
quite unnecessary: from your eagerness to finish this handsome piece
of work, I ought to suspect that it is destined for some fine knight
of yours whom you propose to send on a dangerous enterprise wearing
your colours.  If so, my fair queen, I claim to receive my orders
from your lips: appoint the time and place for the trial, and I am
sure beforehand of carrying off a prize that I shall dispute with all
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.

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