List Of Contents | Contents of Joan of Naples, by Alexandre Dumas, Pere
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"Alas!" cried Robert, with a deep sigh, "God is punishing me perhaps
for thinking too late of this just reparation.  O my good and noble
Sandra, you touch a chord which vibrates sadly in my heart, and you
anticipate the unhappy confidence I was about to make.  I feel a
gloomy presentiment--and in the hour of death presentiment is
prophecy--that the two sons of my nephew, Louis, who has been King of
Hungary since his father died, and Andre, whom I desired to make King
of Naples, will prove the scourge of my family.  Ever since Andre set
foot in our castle, a strange fatality has pursued and overturned my
projects.  I had hoped that if Andre and Joan were brought up
together a tender intimacy would arise between the two children; and
that the beauty of our skies, our civilisation, and the attractions
of our court would end by softening whatever rudeness there might be
in the young Hungarian's character; but in spite of my efforts all
has tended to cause coldness, and even aversion, between the bridal
pair.  Joan, scarcely fifteen, is far ahead of her age.  Gifted with
a brilliant and mobile mind, a noble and lofty character, a lively
and glowing fancy, now free and frolicsome as a child, now grave and
proud as a queen, trustful and simple as a young girl, passionate and
sensitive as a woman, she presents the most striking contrast to
Andre, who, after a stay of ten years at our court, is wilder, more
gloomy, more intractable than ever.  His cold, regular features,
impassive countenance, and indifference to every pleasure that his
wife appears to love, all this has raised between him and Joan a
barrier of indifference, even of antipathy.  To the tenderest
effusion his reply is no more than a scornful smile or a frown, and
he never seems happier than when on a pretext of the chase he can
escape from the court.  These, then, are the two, man and wife, on
whose heads my crown shall rest, who in a short space will find
themselves exposed to every passion whose dull growl is now heard
below a deceptive calm, but which only awaits the moment when I
breathe my last, to burst forth upon them."

"O my God, my God!" the queen kept repeating in her grief: her arms
fell by her side, like the arms of a statue weeping by a tomb.

"Listen, Dona Sandra.  I know that your heart has never clung to
earthly vanities, and that you only wait till God has called me to
Himself to withdraw to the convent of Santa Maria delta Croce,
founded by yourself in the hope that you might there end your days.
Far be it from me to dissuade you from your sacred vocation, when I
am myself descending into the tomb and am conscious of the
nothingness of all human greatness.  Only grant me one year of
widowhood before you pass on to your bridal with the Lord, one year
in which you will watch over Joan and her husband, to keep from them
all the dangers that threaten.  Already the woman who was the
seneschal's wife and her son have too much influence over our grand-
daughter; be specially careful, and amid the many interests,
intrigues, and temptations that will surround the young queen,
distrust particularly the affection of Bertrand d'Artois, the beauty
of Louis of Tarentum; and the ambition of Charles of Durazzo."

The king paused, exhausted by the effort of speaking; then turning on
his wife a supplicating glance and extending his thin wasted hand, he
added in a scarcely audible voice:

"Once again I entreat you, leave not the court before a year has
passed.  Do you promise me?"

"I promise, my lord."

"And now," said Robert, whose face at these words took on a new
animation, "call my confessor and the physician and summon the
family, for the hour is at hand, and soon I shall not have the
strength to speak my last words."

A few moments later the priest and the doctor re-entered the room,
their faces bathed, in tears.  The king thanked them warmly for their
care of him in his last illness, and begged them help to dress him in
the coarse garb of a Franciscan monk, that God, as he said, seeing
him die in poverty, humility, and penitence, might the more easily
grant him pardon.  The confessor and doctor placed upon his naked
feet the sandals worn by mendicant friars, robed him in a Franciscan
frock, and tied the rope about his waist.  Stretched thus upon his
bed, his brow surmounted by his scanty locks, with his long white
beard, and his hands crossed upon his breast, the King of Naples
looked like one of those aged anchorites who spend their lives in
mortifying the flesh, and whose souls, absorbed in heavenly
contemplation, glide insensibly from out their last ecstasy into
eternal bliss.  Some time he lay thus with closed eyes, putting up a
silent prayer to God; then he bade them light the spacious room as
for a great solemnity, and gave a sign to the two persons who stood,
one at the head, the other at the foot of the bed.  The two folding
doors opened, and the whole of the royal family, with the queen at
their head and the chief barons following, took their places in
silence around the dying king to hear his last wishes.

His eyes turned toward Joan, who stood next him on his right hand,
with an indescribable look of tenderness and grief.  She was of a
beauty so unusual and so marvellous, that her grandfather was
fascinated by the dazzling sight, and mistook her for an angel that
God had sent to console him on his deathbed.  The pure lines of her
fine profile, her great black liquid eyes, her noble brow uncovered,
her hair shining like the raven's wing, her delicate mouth, the whole
effect of this beautiful face on the mind of those who beheld her was
that of a deep melancholy and sweetness, impressing itself once and
for ever.  Tall and slender, but without the excessive thinness of
some young girls, her movements had that careless supple grace that
recall the waving of a flower stalk in the breeze.  But in spite of
all these smiling and innocent graces one could yet discern in
Robert's heiress a will firm and resolute to brave every obstacle,
and the dark rings that circled her fine eyes plainly showed that her
heart was already agitated by passions beyond her years.

Beside Joan stood her younger sister, Marie, who was twelve or
thirteen years of age, the second daughter of Charles, Duke of
Calabria, who had died before her birth, and whose mother, Marie of
Valois, had unhappily been lost to her from her cradle.  Exceedingly
pretty and shy, she seemed distressed by such an assembly of great
personages, and quietly drew near to the widow of the grand
seneschal, Philippa, surnamed the Catanese, the princesses'
governess, whom they honoured as a mother.  Behind the princesses and
beside this lady stood her son, Robert of Cabane, a handsome young
man, proud and upright, who with his left hand played with his slight
moustache while he secretly cast on Joan a glance of audacious
boldness.  The group was completed by Dona Cancha, the young
chamberwoman to the princesses, and by the Count of Terlizzi, who
exchanged with her many a furtive look and many an open smile.  The
second group was composed of Andre, Joan's husband, and Friar Robert,
tutor to, the young prince, who had come with him from Budapesth, and
never left him for a minute.  Andre was at this time perhaps eighteen
years old: at first sight one was struck by the extreme regularity of
his features, his handsome, noble face, and abundant fair hair; but
among all these Italian faces, with their vivid animation, his
countenance lacked expression, his eyes seemed dull, and something
hard and icy in his looks revealed his wild character and foreign
extraction.  His tutor's portrait Petrarch has drawn for us: crimson
face, hair and beard red, figure short and crooked; proud in poverty,
rich and miserly; like a second Diogenes, with hideous and deformed
limbs barely concealed beneath his friar's frock.

In the third group stood the widow of Philip, Prince of Tarentum, the
king's brother, honoured at the court of Naples with the title of
Empress of Constantinople, a style inherited by her as the
granddaughter of Baldwin II.  Anyone accustomed to sound the depths
of the human heart would at one glance have perceived that this woman
under her ghastly pallor concealed an implacable hatred, a venomous
jealousy, and an all-devouring ambition.  She had her three sons
about her--Robert, Philip and Louis, the youngest.  Had the king
chosen out from among his nephews the handsomest, bravest, and most
generous, there can be no doubt that Louis of Tarentum would have
obtained the crown.  At the age of twenty-three he had already
excelled the cavaliers of most renown in feats of arms; honest,
loyal, and brave, he no sooner conceived a project than he promptly
carried it out.  His brow shone in that clear light which seems to,
serve as a halo of success to natures so privileged as his; his fine
eyes, of a soft and velvety black, subdued the hearts of men who
could not resist their charm, and his caressing smile made conquest
sweet.  A child of destiny, he had but to use his will; some power
unknown, some beneficent fairy had watched over his birth, and
undertaken to smooth away all obstacles, gratify all desires.

Near to him, but in the fourth group, his cousin Charles of Duras
stood and scowled.  His mother, Agnes, the widow of the Duke of
Durazzo and Albania, another of the king's brothers, looked upon him
affrighted, clutching to her breast her two younger sons, Ludovico,
Count of Gravina, and Robert, Prince of Morea.  Charles, pale-faced,
with short hair and thick beard, was glancing with suspicion first at
his dying uncle and then at Joan and the little Marie, then again at
his cousins, apparently so excited by tumultuous thoughts that he
could not stand still.  His feverish uneasiness presented a marked
contrast with the calm, dreamy face of Bertrand d'Artois, who, giving
precedence to his father Charles, approached the queen at the foot of
the bed, and so found himself face to face with Joan.  The young man
was so absorbed by the beauty of the princess that he seemed to see
nothing else in the room.

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