In the Middle Ages it was perhaps a misfortune to be born a woman, and certainly a misfortune to be born a woman crowned; there are three famous instances of these unhappy sovereigns—Jacqueline of Bavaria, Giovanna of Naples, and later, Mary of Scotland. The sober truth, in writing of any of them, must take on the colour of exotic romance.
The most terrible, the most gorgeous and the least known of these stories is that of the Queen of Naples, whose history is an unexampled tissue of splendour, crime, and passion.
The following romance is, as far as possible, historical; certain incidents, such as the death of Andreas of Hungary, have been evolved from what seems most probable; of exact information we have none; Giovanna's guilt is still dubious to the rigid eye of the historian, but scarcely to be questioned by the student of the human heart.
The spirit of the period has been more aimed at than a slavish fidelity to any particular incident; the riotous tumults, the crude gorgeousness, the naked passions, the superstitions, the medley of loves and hates, as shown in the plague, the battle in the streets, the eclipse episodes.
It would be difficult for any one to write of Italy, as it emerges from the Middle Ages, without catching something in the narrative itself, of that swift play of passion and impulse, of that tense, highly wrought tendency to dramatic climax, which starts into life from the pages of the barest records of the period.
I have sought rather to reproduce the past in its broad outlines, in its ideal aspects of sharply defined and sharply opposing forces.
I have tried in the following story to put the whole on a splendid stage, set for the performance of a moving human drama not of our times.
ROLVENDEN, KENT, November 1924.
Softly to my side she came,
In the Villa of the Belvidere;
The lamplight cast a tender flame
On the emeralds in her ear.
Leaning on the time-stained marble silently I watched the stars,
And she whispered—they had shone so through the Cencis' prison bars.
Her noble fingers stole to mine,
In the Villa of the Belvidere;
She brought me roses, gave me wine,
And murmured stories in my ear;
And I saw that, like to Bacchus, she wore a leopard skin,
And I saw the Roman moonshine was misty, pale, and thin.
"Splendid names of ladies weeping,
Gorgeous eyes of ladies dead—
Bianca by her dark Duke sleeping,
Marble flowers round her head:
Dreaming of the slain Capello
In her mighty, gloomy tomb;
Dreaming, 'Once my hair was yellow,
And I kissed him to his doom.'
Vittoria—a face of flowers,
Pride of Corambona's name;
Dancing in the midnight hours,
Five times stabbed when morning came;
So waxen white, so deadly fair,
Even grim Montalto crept
To see the shimmer of her hair
When she before the altar slept.
Splendid names of ladies weeping,
Gorgeous eyes of ladies dead!—
Imilda through the twilight creeping,
Shoes and kirtle stained with red:
Magnificent Imilda slowly
Tracing blood-stains on the ground,
While her tears make holy
The ash-heap where her love she found.
The Princess nailed against the wall—
She and her minstrel hand to hand.
La Pia watching vapours fall
Above the barren marshy land,
Youth in the foul Maremna dying
To please a butcher's jealous hate:
Still, with failing eyesight, trying
To picture Raphael at her villa gate.
O sweet red lips and childlike eyes,—
A Duchess of the Medici
In the summer midnight dies,
Strangled, at painted Pietro's knee.
And she, the queen, young, proud, and still,
The wedded of four lords,
Who bent great Naples to her will
Still-eyed among the clashing swords:
Still-eyed, still-lipped, she dared the world,
Yet at the last was flung
From where young Andreas was hurled
In silken halter hung.
Ilaria, whose patient lips
Grieve in th' eternal stone.
Isotta, watching for Sig'mondo's ships,
And, see—that 'silk dame,' velvet shod,
Venice and Cyprus knew,
Beloved of man, beloved of God
Soft, golden, true—
All gem-like ladies, fire bright,
Whose names stand like the stars
Pulsating 'thwart the sombre night
That gulfs their day from ours."
* * *
Of these she told me
In the Villa of the Belvidere,
And I felt her breath enfold me
As I leant my head to hear.
Seeing her Italian beauty—its cruelty I knew—
And I thought of the King from Hungary, and
Giovanna of Anjou.
The hard, perfect turquoise of the summer sky was fading into the glowing purple of evening, and the first stars glittered golden above the vast calm of the Adriatic Sea; silver olives were changing into gray, and the white foam of wild cherry trees were slowly dimmed by the encroaching dusk; a few late swallows were abroad, and over the grass and flowers of the meadows faint butterflies chased each other.
There, under the shade of the chestnut trees, within close distance of the coast, were a number of tents, men, horses, and baggage; a small but splendid encampment.
It was the night of June 3rd, 1343; and this the train of Andreas of Hungary, on his way to Naples to join his unseen wife, Giovanna, grand-daughter of the King.
They had been travelling many days, and now, near the end of their journey and among surroundings more beautiful than any their sterner land could show, were taking their ease here on the shores of the Adriatic.
The Hungarians walked under the trees in couples and whispered together, a little overawed by the magnificence of these meadows and the wonder of the sea; and the Italians, their guides and escorts, lounged along the grass, laughing, jesting, and cursing the increasing heat.
As the night closed in, and the scattered groups became lost in the gathering shadows, a man made his way through the confusion of the camp to the tent lying in the centre, above which the royal banner of Hungary fluttered lazily in the Italian night.
A soldier kept guard at the entrance; but he saluted and moved aside, for the newcomer was Konrad of Gottif, and the Prince's dearest friend.
Brusquely and without ceremony, Konrad lifted the tent flap and entered. A couple of pages were polishing a huge gilt-and-steel helmet, and a white hound slept beside them; beyond this heavy curtains concealed the rest.
"Is the Prince within?" demanded Konrad; he was a large, rough man, and his voice deep and uncouth.
The pages sprang up, between them dropping the helmet, which rolled glittering to Konrad's feet.
"Ah, careless fools!" he scowled, and, pushing past them without waiting for their speech, he raised the curtain at one corner. He stood silent a moment, staring at the scene within.
The tent was hung with tapestry of a peacock-green gold, and from the centre of the roof a bronze lamp was suspended by a heavy chain; this gave a dull yellow light, and showed coffers, rugs, armour, and weapons piled against the sides. It showed also a young man lying along a low couch covered with lynx and bear skins, resting his head in his hands and gazing at a girl who sat in the centre of the silk rug spread over the floor.
The youth was not above twenty, but of a large, powerful make. His regular features wore an expression cold and haughty; his smooth, heavy, fair hair was cut straight above his hard blue eyes, and hung on to his purple velvet coat behind; on his head was a gold net cap that bore in front a great tuft of the breast plumage and two trailing tail-feathers of the golden eagle.
His huge limbs, stretched along the bear-skins, were clothed in parti-coloured hose, dull pink-and-white; a cluster of wild roses was pinned into the embroidery at his breast, and the hands that showed above the sumptuous fantasy of his sleeves were singularly well-shaped and white.
The girl sitting doubled up under the lamp was slight and slender as a child; she wore the faded clothes of the peasantry of the Marches, and by her side was a great basket of oranges and lemons, many of which had rolled across the floor.
Konrad dropped the curtain behind him and advanced into the tent; Andreas of Hungary looked up, the golden plumage on his brow shimmering as he raised his head.
"Good even, Prince," said Konrad, with a'scowl at the girl. "I have to speak with you."
Andreas slowly sat up on the couch.
"On what matter?" he said, and there was a shade of annoyance in his cold eyes. "Hippolyta"—he looked in the direction of the girl indifferently—"is helping me to better my Italian, and telling me of Naples, and of Giovanna."
"I also," answered Konrad, "have to speak of Naples—and of Giovanna."
He pronounced the last word with so much quiet meaning that Andreas regarded him curiously; Hippolyta, the peasant girl, sat motionless and smiled from one to the other.
"Of Giovanna, my wife?" asked Andreas slowly.
Konrad crossed the tent and flung himself on to a carved chest at the far end.
"Send the girl away," he said briefly, with his eyes on the floor.
Andreas frowned and hesitated, looked from the man to the maid, and said at length:
"Get thee gone, Hippolyta."
She rose instantly, emptied the fruit on to the floor, and picked up the basket.
"Come to-morrow," said Andreas sullenly, "and I will pay thee."
She looked at him and laughed, flinging back the black hair from her eyes; then she came lightly to his couch and kissed his hand. He moved heavily and watched her erect figure disappear through the dark curtains then he glanced at Konrad with a slow impatience.
"You could have spoken before the little fruit-seller," he said in his curious unanimated way. "She amuses me."
Konrad looked the Prince straight in the eyes.
"And I have not come to amuse you, Andreas."
The Prince stared sullenly.
"You have something to say of Giovanna?"
"Yes," said Konrad earnestly. "But, first, because I am so much older, and your friend, and your brother's friend, I will be plain and honest with you. This marriage of yours is pure policy, is it not?"
"What else? I have not seen my wife," answered Andreas heavily.
"And it is not Giovanna you desire, but the throne of Naples?"
The Prince's eyes flashed a little.
"By Christ! I am the nearer heir," he said, and clenched his hand beside him. "I am of the elder branch, and she, my cousin and my wife, is but the grandchild of a usurper—you know this, Konrad?"
"And the King, her grandfather, knows it; and as some atonement for his stolen throne, he brings about this match—to give you back your right and heal the rift, and bring all differences within the circle of a wedding ring."
"Yes," answered Andreas slowly.
"The King," said Konrad impatiently, "is crazy with age, to think to reconcile himself with Heaven in this manner!"
Andreas moved on his couch.
"Why?" he demanded. "He, King Roberto, is dying, and the sole heir he leaves, this Giovanna—well, she is a child and my wife. I shall be King of Naples and Sicily, Jerusalem and Provence."
Konrad looked at him curiously.
Andreas raised his blue-grey eyes haughtily.
"The woman, Giovanna?"
"Yes," said Konrad briefly.
"Why, if I care for her, she can be my Queen; if I dislike her, I shall send her to Hungary or into a convent, and rule alone." He glanced at his friend under lowering brows. "She will do well to please me; I do not love my uncle's race."
"And you think she would take this meekly, Prince?"
"She is a woman," answered the other scornfully. "What should she oppose to me?"
Konrad straightened himself on his seat.
"By Christ! Prince, take care," he said; "for you walk into that you do not dream of." He drew a thick folded letter from his pocket. "I intercepted this package—it was being taken by a peasant to Giovanna at Naples. It is sent by this very San Severino who is escorting you to Naples; it shows how much you may trust the Italian witch."
Andreas stared at him with the bewilderment of a slow-witted man struggling to comprehend something unexpected and sudden.
"A letter to Giovanna?" he said, frowning.
"From San Severino—evidently her spy. Andreas, listen."
Konrad unfolded the letter.
"Her spy?" echoed Andreas.
"It is inscribed to Madonna Giovanna, Duchess of Calabria, at the Castel Nuovo, Naples, and it is dated to-day."
Andreas drew his scowling brows yet closer together.
"Well, read it," he said heavily.
Konrad of Gottif spread the letter out in the red lamplight and commenced:
"MADONNA,—As the Prince will enter Naples so soon, this is the last of the letters I shall write you. I have told you all I could gather of the Prince, and my first verdict needs no amending: he is rough, rude, colds and brutal; he may, I think, give trouble. For all the pains that have been taken to educate him befitting his destiny, teaching him the Italian and the polite arts, he remains uncouth and sullen; and though you dislike him upon report, you will dislike him more upon acquaintance. Believe me, Madonna, far from being fit to be your lord and the sharer of your throne, he is hardly worthy to be your lackey..."
A fierce exclamation from Andreas interrupted the reader.
"Hear the rest," said Konrad grimly, and he continued:
"In your last letter you say that you already dislike and
despise him; but, Madonna, you should fear him also. He comes with full
intent to seize your throne; both he and his Hungarians boast of his greater
right, and make much of the fact that he is of the elder branch, and that his
grandfather was the just heir to the throne your grandfather holds. King
Roberto's act in bringing about this marriage has in no way pacified him; he
intends to make himself sole and undisputed master of Sicily and Naples.
This, Madonna, is the temper of the Prince, and he is supported and upheld by
his brother, the King of Hungary. You ask me how the matter lies with regard
to King Roberto's wishes as to your sister Maria's marriage with this same
King. I think neither the King nor his subjects are desirous of it, though he
pretends to consider it.
"Madonna, as last words, I can but say that Andreas, your husband, comes to rob you of your rights; that on the death of the King, he and his faction will hasten to make themselves supreme in the kingdom and consign you to obscurity or the convent. But, Madonna, you have what he can never gain—the love of the people; so be of good cheer, having faith in Raymond de Cabane, and
"OCTAVIO SAN SEVERINO."
Konrad dropped the paper and gazed at the Prince. "What do you make of that?" he asked in a low voice.
Andreas sat motionless; his face was flushed, the veins in his forehead swollen, his eyes fixed on the letter in Konrad's hand; he grasped tightly the bear-skin on the couch.
"Will you go?" said Konrad earnestly. "Will you not, even now, turn back to Hungary?"
"Turn back?" repeated the Prince; and under his scowling brows his eyes burnt fiercely.
"Yes, turn back. You walk into a trap;—you see the nature of this woman and the temper of her friends."
Andreas tossed the golden plumes on his brow.
"Do you think that I am afraid of these Italians? I?"
Konrad straightened himself.
"I think, Andreas," he said earnestly, "that you will be a fool if you go to Naples."
Andreas was silent; there was nothing to be gathered from his sullen face.
"You have with you three hundred men," continued Konrad. "You will be a foreigner—Giovanna is in her own land; every man will be against you. When the King dies, you will stand alone; you will sink to the position of her subject."
"Silence!" cried Andreas suddenly. "I am going to Naples."
"Then you go to play a game where the odds are so against you that you can never win."
The Prince's breast heaved; the colour darkened in his face.
"No Neapolitan witch shall keep me from my kingdom," he said thickly.
"She has the country behind her," said Konrad.
Andreas of Hungary rose from his couch, showing the splendid make and strength of his great figure; he began pacing the room with something of the slow, heavy movements of the tiger; his head hung forward on his breast, and in the lamplight his hair glistened like threads of gold.
Thunderously, under his breath, he began venting his wrath.
"By God's heaven!"—his chest heaved with rage; his words came unsteadily—"by Christ! they write so of me! she sets her spies on me—she of the usurper's brood? But I will win my crown in spite of her—she, a sly Italian wench!" He stopped suddenly before Konrad. "Who is Raymond de Cabane?"
"Plainly your enemy," was the grim answer. "More I do not know."
"I will sweep him from Naples—I will clear the land of them." He lifted his hard angry eyes. "I will be the King, and she shall know it."
He paused a moment, struggling with slow utterance; then he flung himself along the couch again. "Where is San Severino?" he demanded.
"Somewhere in the camp, Prince."
Andreas drew his dagger and laid it along the bearskin.
"Send him to me," he said briefly.
Konrad eyed him curiously and made no movement to obey.
"To what purpose?" he asked.
"To prove I am the master," answered Andreas heavily. "Send him to me."
"Andreas," said Konrad, "you are violent and headstrong. Think a moment before you see this man now."
Andreas swore heavily.
"Am I your Prince? Are you not bound to obey me?" He raised himself, thundering wrath. "Send this Italian to me, and bring my guards up without my tent."
Konrad lifted his shoulders.
"You are resolved?" he asked, and his eyes dwelt with a curious half-tenderness on the splendid youth.
"On what?" said Andreas fiercely.
"On going on to Naples—to what awaits you."
The Prince glanced at his dagger lying beside him.
"If it were hell's mouth," he answered sullenly.
Konrad folded the letter and put it in his doublet.
"To each his fate," he said, and again lifted his shoulders.
"Send me San Severino!" cried Andreas violently, "or, by God's heaven, Konrad! I will go and find him!"
"You are master," was the answer. "But remember afterwards I told you it was folly."
And the Lord of Gottif left the tent.
When he was alone, the Prince shouted for his pages, then flung himself along the couch again, with his head in his hands and his blue eyes staring at the bare dagger lying between his elbows.
Lying so, he ordered the varlets to bring more lights and clear away the lemons and oranges strewn over the floor.
"And bring me my sword," he commanded fiercely, "and put it behind that coffer; and wait without, not entering, whatever happens, until I call."
Then they lit two other swinging lamps, and the tent was bright with light; they brought the Prince's sword and laid it carefully behind the coffer—between them they could barely carry it, so massive and heavy a weapon it was. Andreas watched them moodily, and when they had gone he stared frowning at a golden orange left on the gorgeous carpet.
Octavio San Severino, entering with a light step and observant eyes, found him so, and paused with his hand on the arras.
"Good even, Prince," he said.
Andreas turned a slow glance on him; noted the alert figure, a blaze of blue satin and silver, and was silent.
San Severino on his side marked everything: the naked weapon on the bear-skin; the sullen, flushed face of the boy lounging on the couch; the expression of the clear blue-grey eyes staring at him furiously.
He smiled, and shifted his girdle carelessly so that his dagger lay nearer his thin fingers.
"How do you like our Italian nights?" he said.
"Sit down," answered Andreas heavily.
Octavio San Severino obeyed; he sank into a carved chair under a lamp and the light ran in and out of his blue clothes like a golden liquid. Both his teeth and his eyes gleamed overmuch, and he had the air of keeping a constant watch upon himself.
Andreas of Hungary fondled the bare weapon before him; he took his gaze from the man to whom he spoke. "I want to ask you of my wife, San Severino," he said awkwardly.
San Severino laughed, and at the sound of it the young prince sat upright on his couch and the eagle plumes danced angrily.
"By God's heaven! why do you laugh, San Severino?" he cried thickly.
The Italian was sober in an instant.
"For pure idleness," he said. "Now what shall I tell you of Giovanna d'Anjou?"
Andreas was still staring at him intently, angrily.
"Tell me with what thought she waits me," he demanded.
San Severino made the slightest movement of his hand on the arm of his chair, and his eyes narrowed.
"Why, how should I know?" he said. "How I, Prince?"
Andreas leant slightly forward. "Tell me what her welcome will be to me in Naples?"
San Severino answered easily: "What should her welcome be to her cousin and her lord?"
"So she is meek and tender?" sneered Andreas.
The other man looked at him straightly.
"She is very beautiful, and Italian; she is of royal blood; she does not lack for pride"—for a second his voice was touched with scorn; "she is well loved in Naples."
A tense silence fell. San Severino was on the alert, for all his easy bearing; the Prince appeared to have sunk into a moody self-absorption. Then suddenly he spoke:
"Who is Raymond de Cabane?"
Again the Italian's hand tightened on his chair, for he knew now that Andreas had seen his letter; very quietly he answered:
"The Conte d'Eboli, the captain of the King's guard in Naples."
"And what else?" demanded Andreas.
"A favourite of the old King, a powerful man."
"A noble of a fine family?" questioned the Prince.
San Severino laughed once more.
"His father was a negro slave," he said, "who rose to be major-domo to the King, and his mother was a Catanian washerwoman who nursed Madonna Giovanna's father."
Andreas scowled. "And is such scum among her friends?" he cried.
San Severino rose.
"Who told you that much?" he asked quietly.
"You!" flung out Andreas. "By God's heaven! you!"
There was no change in San Severino's face.
"You have seen my letter," he said. "Well, it told you the truth."
Andreas rose heavily to his feet and picked up the dagger from the bear-skin.
"We are too near Naples, my lord," cried the Italian, quick and scornful. "This should have been in Austria."
"You insolent spy!" muttered the Prince, and his chest heaved with passion.
San Severino smoothed his glittering blue sleeve.
"You are not in your brother's kingdom," he remarked; "so take care, Prince."
"I'm master here," said Andreas passionately—"master enough to have you hanged!"
San Severino lifted his dark brows.
"This is boy's talk," he mocked. "All your Hungarian boors would not dare to touch me; and you are foolish, Prince, to insult me—in Naples you may be glad of a friend."
Andreas reddened furiously.
"Hound, I shall be King in Naples!"
San Severino looked at him gently. "I do not think so; if you were wise you would not go to Naples."
The Prince clutched his dagger until it seemed that he must break it in his grip.
"Why do you dare say that to me?" he cried.
San Severino moved slowly towards the entry; there he turned and looked at the magnificent, furious figure by the couch. "Because of Giovanna," he said; then, as he despised this barbarous foreigner, held himself safe under the protection of Naples; and was by nature malicious, he added: "and because of Raymond de Cabane."
In his ponderous way, Andreas came a little nearer, a splendid figure in the purple colour with the golden hair and golden plumes.
"Why do you use that name to me?" he asked, and he spoke with more dignity than the Italian had yet seen in him.
"Because you will do well to be aware of him," smiled San Severino, amused at this boy fumbling in his ignorance.
The Prince flung away his dagger and folded his arms over his great chest. The Italian felt easier (though the blue satin concealed armour).
"Tell me," said Andreas slowly, "more of this man."
"You will soon know," laughed San Severino. "By Christ! I am sorry for you, Prince."
Andreas looked at him out of narrowed eyes.
"Tell me," he said, "of this man." His self-control was small; he struggled painfully and obviously with surging fury; his breath came in short pants, his face flushed and paled. To San Severino, who knew of no passion he could not control, this was amusing; he emphasised his mockery.
"Raymond de Cabane is a great man—a very great man; he will most likely marry the Queen's sister, Madonna Maria."
Andreas of Hungary became red in the face, and his eyes were extraordinarily bewildered.
"Maria?" he asked clumsily. "Why, you insult me! My cousin to wed a negro's son?"
"If he be useful to Madonna Giovanna," said San Severino quietly. "If this be the reward he asks for—all perhaps he cares to ask for,—why not?"
"She is my brother's betrothed!" cried Andreas, flushing and panting. "Do you make a mock of me? do you wish to goad me?"
"Prince, neither; therefore I will suffer the Conte d'Eboli to speak for himself."
Andreas was striding about with clenched fists.
"By God's heaven! you had better leave me!" He broke off, muttering under his breath.
San Severino smiled, lifted his shoulders, and noiselessly slipped out of the tent.
The Prince, sore and stung, came to the entrance, caught back the arras with an angry hand, and gazed after him.
And without, to the starlit Adriatic, the soldiers toasted:
"Giovanna! Giovanna of Naples!"
Andreas of Hungary stared on the floor. In a vague manner his untaught mind felt the tragedy and pity of it all. He was not given to reflection, and his short life had taught him neither philosophy nor worldly wisdom; but he had a fierce sense of being entrapped, enmeshed by circumstances. He felt the world mocking at him, and a great bitterness arose in his soul.
He told himself that he loathed the Italians and hated Italy; he thought of Hungary and his adored brother with wild longing; yet at the same time he clenched his hands and swore thickly that he would not turn back, he would be King in Naples yet. Rightfully it was his heritage, as his brother, succeeding to the crown of Hungary through his mother, had forfeited his claim. On that point Andreas was fixed and stubborn: he was King, even now, of Naples, Sicily, and Jerusalem, and not this Italian girl the Queen. He cursed King Roberto for his schemes of atonement; he cursed this dishonouring alliance; he wished he might have come to his kingdom by the sword, not by this loathsome marriage.
"Go back!" His friend and his enemy had equally so said, both with a note of warning—"Go back!"
For a moment he contemplated it. Why should he remain to be mocked, insulted, by such as San Severino and this Italian witch?
Yet he was the King—before God, the King. He had set out to take possession of his throne, and he would not return beaten to Hungary—no, not if all Naples stood against him.
He swore it passionately, finding a rough comfort in the resolve. The old King was still living, the power was not yet in the woman's hands; he would go to Naples and claim his rights, flouting her and her minions.
Angrily he rose to his feet, and with hanging head went moodily back to the other part of the tent.
Back to her old place crept Hippolyta, the peasant girl; she was laughing, and began throwing the solitary orange up in the air and catching it in nimble brown hands.
"I have been singing to your soldiers," she said, "and now I must go home; but I came first for my money, as I cannot be here to-morrow."
Andreas sank on to the couch. She laughed and threw up the orange until it struck against the lamp and sent it quivering on its chain.
Andreas looked at her awkwardly and pushed the thick, fair hair off his forehead.
"What is Raymond de Cabane like?" he demanded abruptly. "You have seen him?"
"Oh yes! In processions in Naples, he is the captain of the guard, so he always rides with the two Princesses. He is a large man, and also finely dressed."
He longed to ask her something of Giovanna and what the people said of her; but shame tied his tongue.
Outside some of his Hungarians were playing a wild native melody, and the low music, floating in from the night, filled the tent.
"It is very sad," said Hippolyta, listening, and she sighed, and her head dropped on her bosom.
Andreas rose like a goaded man and paced to and fro, the eagle feathers fluttering on his brow. Thoughts of home and of a future wild and stormy rose with the music to disturb him; he struggled with tears and loneliness, curses and exceeding bitterness.
Hippolyta, the peasant, rose also, forgotten by him, and, standing erect in her faded brown clothes, listened to the Hungarian melody.
"It is terrible," she said under her breath, and put her hand over her heart.
The Prince walked to and fro, unheeding, and his jewels flashed sombrely.
Presently, as the music paused, he sank into the chair under the lamp and put his hand over his eyes.
Hippolyta, very pale, with all the laughter gone from her, crossed to him and stood a little away from the chair, looking at him intently. The music rose into a wild dance measure; she threw herself on her knees before Andreas and caught his beautiful hand.
He glanced at her with bewildered blue-grey eyes.
"Do not go to Naples," she said under her breath.
"Why do you say that?" he asked fearfully.
"I do not know." She gazed at him earnestly. "I hear it in the music—it is terrible I Do not go to Naples!"
Andreas broke from her and shouted for his page. "Curse the music!" he cried. "Why will they play to-night?"
No one came in answer; Hippolyta, cowering by the chair, repeated: "Do not go to Naples!"
Andreas of Hungary laughed in a wild, unhappy way.
"Some one—Henryk, Konrad—told you to say that to me!"
The girl rose, trembling.
"By Christ! they did not—by Christ! I know not why I spoke! It came to me to say it, when I heard the music and looked at you; I grew full of horror, and I heard those words—"
Andreas lifted his hand.
"Do not repeat them," he said, suddenly gloomy again. "I am going to Naples. God's heaven! am I a coward? And what should I fear in Naples?"
Hippolyta glanced at him timidly.
"This Raymond de Cabane," she began, "will not be your friend."
He swung round on her fiercely and thundered out "God's name! why?" so passionately that she shrank before him.
"Because he holds the power you come to take," she murmured.
"Oh, get you gone!" cried Andreas. "When I am in Naples I will manage this man—yea, and all of them. Get you gone!"
She fell to silence; he stared at her, and his eyes grew troubled.
"You are a good wench," he said awkwardly. "Call the page and I will give you your money."
"Prince," she answered, "you do not know what they are in Naples—Christ what they are!"
"What do you know of the?" he asked.
"My brother is a soldier at the palace; sometimes I go there—" She broke off. "But you are a strong man, and you have your Hungarians."
"I shall rule Naples," said Andreas grandly. "I shall be King."
"Will you?" she whispered.
"Yes," answered the Prince vehemently. "I shall be King when Roberto dies."
Hippolyta looked troubled and dissatisfied. She knew something of Giovanna, Duchess of Calabria, even though it was by vague report she knew something, too, of Raymond de Cabane and the fierce court the old saintly King kept in check; and she gazed wistfully at Andreas of Hungary, who was the most splendid thing she had ever seen—not excepting the blazing Raymond, or Giovanna's magnificent cousin, Carlo di Durazzo.
"I wish you would not go to Naples," she repeated simply and earnestly.
Andreas was sullen again; he paced about heavily and would not answer.
Hippolyta, watching him timidly, was startled by the entrance of one of the pages.
He knelt to the Prince, and handed him a little roll of parchment; a runner from Naples, he said, had brought it, with orders that it was to be given secretly to Andreas.
The Prince took it quietly.
"Give the girl a gold piece," he said And as the boy left the tent he broke the seal of the parchment.
It was inscribed with but one line; he stared at it a moment, then with a shaking hand crumpled it up.
"What news from Naples?" asked Hippolyta, eagerly watching him.
He gave her a strange look.
"Go back to your home, girl," he said a little wildly; "it is late."
He took the money the page brought him and gave it her; in silence she knotted it into the end of her kerchief; in silence she made towards the entry.
Andreas roused himself from his absorption. "Good-night, Hippolyta."
She turned and saw him standing lonely in his splendour, the light flickering over his brooding face, and she uttered a quick sound.
"Prince!" She drew from her bosom a little cross of ash wood, hanging on a gold ribbon. "This is an amulet—my grandmother made it—it is a good amulet; will you wear it—in Naples?"
She held it out to him, and her brows met in an eager frown.
"Neither poison nor sword can touch you if you wear this," she said. "There were two—my brother lost his and wanted this, but my grandmother gave it me for my sweetheart when I have one; and as I have no sweetheart, I'll give it to you, Prince."
"Think you that I am in danger from sword or poison?" asked Andreas.
She turned her head away.
"Oh, take it, Prince!"
Their hands touched as he took it from her palm; he thanked her gravely, and hung the gold ribbon round his neck.
"Wear it always," murmured Hippolyta; "and the saints guard you in Naples!"
Without looking round at him she was gone, and the arras had fallen into place behind her. Presently, still with the parchment in his hand, Andreas went to the entrance of his tent and looked out again upon the night.
Moonlight and torchlight mingled showed the white blossoms of the chestnut among their great leaves and the gorgeous tents against the background of the sea.
Close by, a group of Italians lay along the grass; their bright dresses curiously dim in the moonlight. One was singing; Andreas in the shadow of his tent, listened, and between the song was always the low murmur of the Adriatic.
"The grapes have withered in the sun,
The loving-cup is broken,
The guests departing one by one
The last farewell have spoken.
Birenice! O Birenice!
I loved you once, I'd love you twice
Would you return, O Birenice!"
Through the pearl-hued meadow came the ragged gold of torchlight; a party of horsemen were approaching from the further tents. The singer continued softly, and the ivory neck of his lute gleamed as it fell from his fingers beside him.
"The stars are risen on the dusk,
My finished feast;
Rich blows the perfume of the musk,
And incense of the East;
Dead are the roses round my feet
Youth and you once made sweet,
Birenice, O Birenice!
I loved you once, I'd love you twice
Would you return, O Birenice!
"Most for your blue Venetian eyes
I held you dear,
And those locks where fire lies
Above the pearls within your ear—"
The singer broke off abruptly; the horsemen were passing the little group under the chestnuts, and the Italians lazily stared after them, and lazily laughed.
The newcomers were Hungarians; they swept up to the Prince's tent with a clink of the harness of man and horse. Henryk of Belgrade, who led them, pulled off his velvet cap at the sight of Andreas.
"How long is this to last, Prince?" he asked, drawing up his massive horse. "We have been three days resting in these meadows."
The torchlight showed them Andreas from head to foot. He raised his eyes.
"March for Naples when you please, Henryk of Belgrade," he said sullenly.
"I have your permission, Prince? It would be wiser; they say the old King is dying fast."
Andreas of Hungary glanced down the line of his countrymen, his eyes flashed under his frowning brows, his young breast heaved as he answered: "To Naples, by God's heaven!—with the dawn to Naples!"
With glittering, mailed hands raised in salute, filling the blue night with light and motion, the Hungarians galloped away across the meadow.
And the Prince smoothed out the crumpled parchment and stared at it again in the moonlight.
It bore these words:
"Do not come to Naples.—MARIA D'ANJOU."
The midday sun burnt in the blazing white streets of splendid Naples, and on the air, heavy with the perfume of the orange-groves of Sorrento, fell the tolling of the bells from all her three hundred churches, summoning the people to recite the prayers for the dying; for the old King was near his end.
And to the sound of those bells Andreas of Hungary entered Naples.
"A bad omen," said Henryk of Belgrade as they rode through the gates of the city. "They should be triumphal bells, my lord."
"They should be," answered Andreas; "for I am come into my kingdom."
He rode a little ahead of the others, and as he spoke haughtily round on the surging people filling the streets, all making their way to the Castle del Nuovo to learn the news of their dying King.
No one had been sent to meet the Prince; and San Severino and his Italians having in the confusion fallen behind, Andreas drew up at the corner of the street, impeded by the crowd and uncertain of his way. The Hungarians behind him scowled at the throng, and complained loudly of their reception.
"They do us honour!" cried Konrad of Gottif. "Is this the way their future King is received?"
The Italians turned to gaze at and gather round the cavalcade of strangers blocked in the narrow street; and Andreas on his great white war-horse, with scarlet and leopard-skin over his chain armour, and fluttering red plumes above his closed visor, drew all eyes by the splendour of his appointments and the magnificent pomp of his carriage.
He, reining in his struggling charger, raged inwardly with fierce mortification. This his entry into Naples! They could not even keep the streets clear for him, or notify the people of his approach; and San Severino's malice had made him lag behind.
"They can think of nothing but the old King," said Henryk of Belgrade, leaning forward to speak to the Prince; "but we must make our way to the palace, or Giovanna will be proclaimed alone."
The street was rapidly becoming impassable; the swarming citizens mingled with the Hungarians, and men and horses were blocked together between the white houses.
Andreas tried in vain to force a passage through the crowd; his rearing animal knocked a man down, and there rose a wild, angry shout, answered by curses from the Hungarians.
The Prince's fury broke beyond control.
"Let me pass, churls!" he said heavily. "Do you not know me? By God! do you not know me?" He lifted his visor, and his fair, regular face, with the sullen blue-grey eyes, gazed down haughtily upon the crowd.
"I am Andreas of Hungary, and when the breath is out of the old man's body I shall be your King. Make way for me, or, by God's heaven! I will ride you down!"
They shrank against the houses to right and left, making way for him in silence; but when he had passed they muttered insults and jeers at his soldiers, amply repaid by the Hungarians.
Konrad of Gottif shouted above the press of men and horses:
"The Castel del Nuovo! Show us the way, dogs!" and he leant from his rearing steed and struck the man nearest him with his gauntlet.
A muffled, angry cry arose, the crowd swayed to and fro, and women leaning from the windows cursed and cried out against the Hungarians.
The heat was terrible; the glare of the white houses, the golden glitter of the sea showing between them, here and there the burnished sweep of the turquoise sky, was unendurable, blinding; the armour of the horsemen blazed like fire where the sun caught it, and the steel plates on the horses' harness grew too hot to touch.
"I have never known such heat in Buda," said Henryk, as they made slow, confused progress.
They struggled into a wider street, still with the surging crowd about them and the tolling bells of the three hundred churches in their ears. To the right was a street sloping to the shore, and they caught a glimpse of the bay, too dazzling to be looked upon, the coast beyond, and the huge Vesuvius clad in the purple haze of heat.
Through the crowd came a monk in a black robe; Andreas leant sideways from his horse and clutched him by the shoulder.
"Which way to the palace?" he demanded.
"The way the crowd goes," said the monk—"the other side of the palazzo," and he shook himself free.
The Hungarians groaned under the weight of their armour and the blaze of the sheer sun on their helms; only Andreas appeared not to heed it, but with raised visor and steady eyes guided the superb white horse through crowded Naples. They passed a market under the beautiful front of Santa Chiara, that rose glittering into the blue; the fruit-sellers had abandoned their wares, and golden oranges from Pausilippo, lemons lying in their leaves, olives, cherries, and grapes lay neglected on the stalls in the shadows of the church, whose bells were clanging the wild dirges of the dying.
Andreas raised his eyes to the steeple whence the sound came, and shuddered.
"Jesu!" he murmured, and his mailed hand traced the sign of the cross on his breastplate. They made easier progress now, for the streets were wider, and the crowd scattered before them. Andreas urged his horse, and at a hand-gallop dashed into the Grand' Palazzo, on the far side of which rose the towers of the Castel del Nuovo, with the flaunting fleur-de-lis banner of Anjou waving above its ramparts.
Many people were assembled here. The drawbridge of the palace was down, but the walls and the gates were crowded with soldiers, and a thin but constant stream of people was passing into the palace—the officers of the crown and the nobles of the kingdom summoned to attend the death-bed of Roberto d'Anjou.
The Hungarians thundered across the great square and drew up their panting horses before the gates of the Castel del Nuovo. The crowd murmured wonder.
The guard challenged them.
"A fine welcome this to Naples!" said Andreas bitterly. "I am Hungary."
The Italian officer stared at him.
"Madonna Giovanna's husband?" he asked.
"Your King!" answered Andreas, with a flushed face. "Stand aside!"
Konrad of Gottif galloped up to the Prince's side. "Fool!" he cried furiously. "This is Andreas of Hungary, whom ye should have been at the gates to meet!"
The soldier lifted his shoulders.
"The king is dying—it is all in confusion"—he swore it—"per bacco!—all in confusion. Perhaps you were not expected so soon, Prince."
"My herald arrived here last night," said Andreas, and the angry red in his face deepened.
The Italian was indifferent; he told the Prince and a few of his friends to enter, but informed the Hungarians that they must go to the Castel del' Ovo, where the soldiery were quartered.
Andreas, with an angry heart, submitted to what he could not help; and after some further parleying in the glaring sun, he and a handful of his men were allowed to enter the palace.
As they crossed the shadowed waters of the moat the Prince spoke.
"Konrad of Gottif," he said thickly, "they wish to humiliate me, to insult me." He struck his hand on the saddle, and his breast heaved. "By God's heaven! I am the King!" he added.
They rode into the courtyard, where they were unnoticed among the assembled horsemen, and no heed was taken of their shouts for the seneschal and his servants.
Every one was absorbed in his own affairs; it was clear that the Prince was neither expected nor remembered in the general confusion.
Andreas leapt from his horse, and, flinging the reins to one of his own men, ascended the crowded steps that led into the palace; Konrad of Gottif and Henryk of Belgrade accompanied him. They entered the great hall, where the nobles forming the council of the kingdom were gathered and men whispered together in little groups.
After the dazzle without, the darkness here was difficult to pierce; the high-placed windows admitted little light, and the rich, sombre, painted walls, the gloomy arched ceiling, the subdued converse and quiet movements, all offered a contrast to the brilliant, noisy, sunlit streets.
Andreas took off his helmet, and, as if he were faint, leant against the wall within the door.
A page came out of the throng and asked him his business.
The Prince put his hand to his forehead where the helmet had left a red mark, and answered in a low voice:
"I am Andreas of Hungary; take me to the King."
The boy stared, and Konrad of Gottif repeated the demand in rougher tones; by now many had turned to stare at the splendid young knight in the scarlet and leopard-skin.
"My lord, you cannot see the King," faltered the page.
Andreas lifted his blue-grey eyes.
"Take me, then," he said firmly, "to the Duchess Giovanna, my wife."
"I will go and seek her," answered the page.
"Their insolence!" frowned Henryk; then at sight of the Prince's face "What is the matter, my lord?"
"Nought, Henryk. I—I feel sick; it is the sun, I think, on my helmet," and he put his hand to his forehead again.
The whisper had circled the hall that this was the future Queen's husband who stood so quietly against the wall; but they were Giovanna's courtiers, and they made no movement to welcome the Prince who had arrived with so little state. As he stood alone, ignored with his two Hungarians, only one man crossed the hall to speak to him.
This gentleman was resplendently dressed in black and silver, and of a pleasant, soft appearance.
"You are the Prince of Hungary?" he said in a lazy voice. "You arrive at a critical time, my lord, but welcome to Naples! I am Carlo di Durazzo, Madonna Giovanna's cousin and your own."
"Yours is the first welcome I have had, my lord," answered Andreas, glancing round the hall, "and seems to be the only one."
The Duke di Duras smiled.
"The King will not last the day," he said, as if he had not heard. "At least, they say so." And he turned into the crowd again.
Andreas stood silent, with downcast eyes, until the page returned.
"Will you come with me, good my lord?" said the boy.
"Well," answered Andreas heavily—"well—" He glanced at Konrad of Gottif, and there was a sick look in his face; then he turned and followed the page through the whispering, staring crowd.
They ascended a quiet stairway, traversed a short corridor, and paused before a closed door.
The boy opened it softly, and Andreas entered. It was a large, dark room with a low ceiling beamed and painted, a quiet room of the rich colour of smooth wood, with a fine carved chimney-piece. There was little furniture, and that very simple. To the right was a window bearing in the centre of its diamond panes the blue and gold of the Anjou lilies; the sun shining through them made them flame like jewels, and cast their doubles in yellow and azure on the polished floor. Seated on a chair by the window was a lady, who turned her head sharply as Andreas entered.
"The Prince of Hungary, Madonna," said the page, and crept out.
Andreas paused, staring across the silent room at the woman, who rose slowly and looked at him.
She made an impression on him of glowing colour; in the strands of her rich chestnut hair, in the light of her blue eyes, in the curves of her full mouth, in her proud carriage were magnificence and splendour. She wore a gown of wine-coloured velvet that fitted close to her slender figure, and over her breast that heaved behind her lawn chemise lay the reflection of the golden lilies in the window.
"So you are Andreas of Hungary," she said, and her voice was low and gentle.
"Yes," he answered abruptly. "And you"—he frowned—"you are Giovanna," he said sullenly.
Her glowing eyes considered him.
"No. I am Maria d'Anjou, her sister."
Andreas slowly flushed.
"Her sister!—then you—sent me—" he began awkwardly.
"Hush!" She raised her hand, and the quivering of the reflections on her breast showed that she trembled. "I sent you a warning—yes; but do not speak of it. If I had seen you, I should not have sent it; you are not the manner of man to be politic."
"Should I have been politic to have stayed outside Naples?" demanded Andreas.
Maria d'Anjou lifted her grave, troubled eyes.
"By Jesu! yes!" she said softly.
Andreas came towards her, his mailed tread ringing in the quiet.
"Oh, hush!" she whispered. "The King is dying within;" her slender pearl-decked hand pointed to a closed door opposite. "Presently we will go to him, but now he will have none with him save the priests and Giovanna."
Andreas gazed at the door.
"Giovanna is within?" he said.
"Yes; she was always the King's favourite. She reads to him his Latin prayers."
The Prince folded his arms and stared moodily at Maria.
"Madonna, why did you send me that warning?"
She sank into her chair and her head drooped into her hand.
"Because Naples hates this marriage, because Giovanna hates it. Do you not understand?"
"So my reception told me," he interrupted hotly.
"And because your coming makes for war, and misery, and woe," finished Maria slowly.
"But I am the King," said Andreas.
She raised her splendid head and looked at him mournfully; her jewelled hands glittered in her velvet lap, and the sunlight played in her gorgeous burnished hair. He, looking on her beauty, and being unused to speaking to women, grew abashed and moved away; then it occurred to him that she was to be his brother's wife, and he looked at her anew, jealously, to see if she was worthy.
"You are to marry Ludovic?" he said bluntly.
"God knows!" she answered quietly. "They talk of it."
"You should be proud," flashed Andreas.
"I am unhappy," she said. "I cannot be proud when my heart aches;" and she gave a little sigh.
"Why are you sad, Madonna?" he asked curiously.
"Oh, so many things!" The tears started to her beautiful eyes. "If you have a heart and live long in the court of Naples, you will know. I have no one to talk with; I—I see terrible things." She rose to her feet, and her wet eyes flashed. "Yesterday the Conte Raymond flogged his footboy to death out there in the courtyard because he had stolen from him; he was a little boy, and he cried bitterly. I could not sleep for the thought of it, and I am very tired to-day."
"It was a vile deed!" said Andreas fiercely.
Maria leant her head against the mullions.
"Such things are common Last week they burnt a woman in the Palazzo—from my chamber I could see the smoke and the people hurrying. What can I do? Prayers take so long to reach heaven;—I think God is very far away. I wish I were dead."
She said this so simply and quietly, so much as if it were a commonplace expression of a commonplace thought, that Andreas gave a little start of horror.
"How old are you?" he asked.
"Eighteen," said Maria d'Anjou. "And in all my life I have had no pleasure."
"When I am King," answered Andreas, "I will rule well in Naples; they shall not do these things."
"You?" she said mournfully. "You will have no power. They will prevent you interfering."
"Of whom do you speak?" asked Andreas proudly.
"Of Giovanna," she answered in a low tone. "Of Giovanna, and the Conte Raymond, and Carlo, and Luigi of Taranto." Her beautiful blue eyes lifted with an expression of terror. "I am afraid of them."
"Afraid?" echoed Andreas.
Maria d'Anjou looked fearfully round.
"I want to die," she said slowly: "but I do not wish to be murdered—do you understand? I am a coward—I could not face dying in the dark or being mangled." She paled, and with trembling fingers crossed herself. "Jesu save me from murder!" she murmured.
Andreas gazed at her in horror; she was so regally, proudly splendid, so young, so soft and fair, that the hideous incongruity of her words made him think that she was mad.
"God preserve us!" he cried; "it is a vile place where maids live in dread of—of murder!"
She laughed in an infinitely sad manner.
"Murder!" she said in her lovely, faint voice. "But there is worse, yea, even than that."
The young man paled, and drew a little away from her.
"Of what are you afraid?"
A look of weary loathing crossed her face.
"Of Raymond de Cabane," she said slowly. "I pray God to give me to Ludovic of Hungary, that I may be free of Raymond de Cabane."
She made a passionate movement of her hand to her bosom and turned her head away sharply.
"Oh, my heart!" she said brokenly, bitterly—"my tired heart!"
The inner door softly opened and a tall Franciscan appeared.
Maria d'Anjou rose with a pale, composed face.
"The King's soul passes," said the monk, "and he would see you."
In silence Andreas of Hungary and Maria d'Anjou crossed the threshold of the King's chamber.
It was a small room, carefully shrouded from the daylight by a velvet curtain; before the window an alabaster lamp cast a faint glow, making the golden fleur-de-lis, powdered over the dark purple wall-hangings, to glitter dully, and throwing a great shadow round the canopied bed that occupied the centre of the chamber.
Andreas turned his eyes there, and crossed himself. The old King lay stiff and straight on the heavy embroidered coverlet. He wore the garb of a Franciscan; round his waist was a rope, and on his breast a large silver crucifix. A doctor and a monk supported him upon the tasselled pillows, so that his head was raised and he could gaze round the room.
The atmosphere was close, stifling, with incense and lack of air; to Andreas the strange glimmering light, the heavy perfume, the silence, brought a sense of awe and bewilderment.
There were three other people in the room; one a huge man who with folded arms and composed face stood erect and motionless by the head of the bed. Andreas knew him; there was no mistaking the coarse, dark, blunt features, the fierce bloodshot eyes, the powerful figure the Oriental's immobility.
This was Raymond de Cabane, of whom San Severino had spoken, and Hippolyta, and Maria d'Anjou...Andreas advanced to the foot of the bed with a sense of confusion upon him, as if the incense had drugged him; and then he noticed a girl seated on a stool at Conte Raymond's feet, leaning forward, her face hidden in the bed-clothes.
She wore a gown of primrose-coloured velvet, and where it fell away at the arms and throat it showed a vest of brilliant turquoise; her hair, very long and curly and of a soft auburn tint, hung over her shoulders and the coverlet; in her lap lay an open missal of gorgeous tints. Standing behind her was a man of noble appearance, very plainly attired; his self-contained face bore some likeness to the girl, and his close hair was of the same auburn hue.
Maria d'Anjou crept to the opposite side of the bed and sank on her knees; Andreas clasped one of the wooden angels that uplifted the canopy and stared at the dying man.
Complete silence; only the distant tolling of the bells, reaching this chamber like a muffled echo.
Then the King opened his faded blue eyes.
"Giovanna!" he whispered.
The girl in the primrose velvet raised her head and turned her eyes towards the dying man. Andreas felt the catch of his breath at the sound of the name, and he gazed at her eagerly, but he could only see a pure delicate profile; she appeared to be unaware that he had entered.
"My lord?" she said softly.
"Did you finish the prayers?" murmured the King.
"I have read from cover to cover," answered Giovanna; in a faint, melodious voice. "Shall I read them again, my dear lord?"
He shook his head feebly.
"I wrote them, did I not?" he asked.
"For your brother, the Bishop of Toulouse," said Giovanna.
The King muttered something under his breath:
"Everything is very strange...there is a lamp burning in a great darkness...and lilies, little, glimmering lilies of Anjou...Giovanna, I have been a good King, I have ruled well and wisely." He put out his hand and clutched her arm. "Where is your husband?...there is a wrong to be righted there...Anjou, Anjou, I die in penitence! Jesu!—Jesu!"
His head sank to one side and his eyes closed.
"You have been a saintly King," said Giovanna.
He opened his eyes again; he could hardly breathe for the weight of the crucifix on his breast. "I founded churches," he muttered, "and hospitals, dear Lord, and convents, and I forgave my enemies; take me to Heaven, O God!" He beat his breast feebly. "I have not sinned; lo! I die in humility." He suddenly paused and struggled up. "Who is that at the end of my bed?" he said, and his voice was like that of a healthy man—"in scarlet and a leopard-skin?"
All eyes were turned to Andreas.
"Charles Martel!" cried the King. The crucifix slipped from his breast on to the coverlet; he clutched at his monk's robe with trembling hands.
"My brother, Charles Martel!" he cried.
Maria sprang up and put her arms about the old man; but Giovanna gazed at her husband.
"The grandson of Charles Martel, my good lord," said Andreas, uplifting his noble head.
"Andreas of Hungary!" cried Giovanna.
"The old King lay helpless in Maria's arms.
"I am a usurper," he mumbled fearfully. "It was Charles's kingdom; it belonged to him and to his sons; it was sin—Jesu, forgive it!"
Andreas heard him.
"I am my father's heir," he said in his splendid young voice, "and by God His grace King of this realm. God remember to you, Roberto of Anjou, that you at last made reparation!" And he bent his head and crossed himself.
Roberto of Anjou writhed under the Franciscan garb. "He is right—he is right," he murmured. "He is the King—holy Virgin, forgive! Jesu, forgive me! I am a miserable sinner—a usurper."
Giovanna rose and leant across the bed.
"Have a heed what you say," she whispered. "Think of me; am I not your heir—am I not the Queen to be?"
"As his wife," gasped the King. "Have I not...seen to that?"
"Nay, in my own right," flashed Giovanna. "My lord, you wrong me."
The King caught her hand.
"Andreas," he called faintly, "Andreas!"
The young man came slowly to the bed beside Giovanna.
"Call the court, Raymond," whispered the King; "for I am surely near the end."
The Conte Raymond left the chamber, and the doctor raised the dying man still higher and forced a draught down his throat, while the monk sprinkled him with holy water. Andreas turned to the woman beside him; he saw a pale, soft face and a pair of brilliant violet eyes gazing at him with pride and aversion.
"This late reparation," muttered the King, "this just reparation—but I have righted the wrong—God will remember that to me...Andreas, give me your hand."
The Prince obeyed in silence, and the King's thin fingers clasped his hand with that of Giovanna.
"Husband and wife," the King said. "King and Queen—Anjou, Anjou...love one another—so is the rift healed...the elder branch...Charles was the elder branch..."
His faint voice died away; he sank back into the pillows.
Andreas felt Giovanna's hand in his, cold, unresponsive, lifeless; the touch of her was strange and curious; he shuddered to feel her limp fingers in his while her violet eyes were the eyes of an enemy. He turned his head from her and gazed at the King in his miserable garb of penitence, muttering remorse for that usurpation of thirty-three years ago, crying out to God and His saints to forgive.
The door was opened softly; a splendid silent crowd entered, as many as the chamber would hold, and Raymond de Cabane came back to his place.
The oppressive heat, the heavy incense, the silence and the gloomy light, gave the scene an air of terror and unreality; the gorgeous dresses of the courtiers appeared grotesque, and the lilies glittered unnaturally on the dark walls.
The vice-chancellor of the kingdom came to the front of the crowd and advanced into the centre of the room; the lamplight fell over his embroidered robe, and the great seals of the parchment he carried shook with the trembling of his hands.
He bowed to the dying King, who was muttering prayers, and commenced to read the will of Roberto of Anjou. His voice sounded hard and abrupt through the hush.
"Roberto of Anjou, by God His grace King of Naples, Sicily, Jerusalem, Provence, Alba, Grati, Giordano, and Forcalquier, declares as his successors to all his kingdoms his illustrious nephew, Andreas of Hungary, and his wife Giovanna, Duchess of Calabria."
The vice-chancellor paused, and the old King muttered in satisfaction, "So is the wrong righted...I have done well."
But Giovanna withdrew her hand from that of Andreas of Hungary.
"And moreover," continued the passionless voice, "he names Maria d'Anjou, youngest sister of the Duchess of Calabria, his heir in the county of Calabria, Grati, and Giordano, to be held in the direct fief from the King and Queen.
"He also wills for private reasons that the above-mentioned Maria shall contract marriage with the illustrious Prince Ludovic, called the Triumphant, reigning King of Hungary. These things are for the glory of God and the peace of the kingdom."
In the silence that fell, the King's voice was heard faintly from the great bed:
"Have I not made amends? Andreas of Hungary, have I not made amends?"
The young man turned slowly. "God take you to Himself, Roberto of Anjou, for you have made reparation, even if it come late!"
"Giovanna," murmured the King, "obey and love your lord as you have sworn...peace...for Naples...Maria, you...shall bind the factions closer...Now, let them take the oath to Andreas and Giovanna..."
One after another the magnificent nobles came to the bed-side: the Bishop of Cavaillon, vice-chancellor, Philip de Sanguineto, seneschal of Provence, Godfrey of Marsan, the Count Squillace, admiral of the kingdom, Charles d'Artois, the Count of Arie, Carlo di Durazzo, Duke Duras, the barons and officers of the kingdoms, knelt and took the oaths of homage and fealty.
Andreas and Giovanna stood motionless by the bed of the dying King: he grave and troubled; she with lowered lids, very pale.
It was the turn of Raymond de Cabane. Slowly he came from his place to the bed-side. Andreas watched him. San Severino's words rang in his ears; he instinctively moved a step back; the whole place became horrible, loathsome. He conceived a wild desire to break away into the daylight, to escape from this atmosphere of gloom and death.
Raymond de Cabane passed him where he stood, obviously and with contempt, and sank on one knee before Giovanna.
The colour rushed into the Prince's face; he stared, slow to catch the full meaning of the action. And Raymond de Cabane, glancing round, said in a loud voice:
"To you alone, Madonna, I pay my homage."
There was a moment of terror, of expectancy; Maria rose from the other side of the bed. "The King!" she cried. "Shall he die in anguish because of your insolence?" And her fierce blue eyes cast scorn on Raymond.
But Giovanna was bending over the bed.
"The King is dead," she said in a shaking voice.
The Franciscan bent his head.
"The King is dead," he assented.
Giovanna turned and looked at Raymond de Cabane. "Now," she whispered, as if she gave a signal.
In a moment the silence was broken into a riot of sound; all the passions repressed by the dying burst forth now in the presence of the dead.
"Long live Giovanna, Queen of Naples!" shouted the Conte Raymond, and the cry was echoed round the room: "Long live the Queen of Naples!"
Maria d'Anjou, flushed and gorgeous, carne out from the dark shadows of the bed.
"My lords," she said, her sweet voice very cold, "do you forget already the will of the King?—you must also say, Long live Andreas of Hungary!"
There was no response, nor did they take any heed of her. Raymond de Cabane tore roughly aside the velvet curtain that shrouded the window, and a broad shaft of sunlight fell across the chamber and over the dead old man on the great bed. Andreas fell back against the wall and put his hand over his eyes as if the glare blinded him; but Giovanna stood revealed, brilliant in vivid colour, erect in the centre of the chamber. Raymond de Cabane took her by the hand and led her on to the balcony. An immense crowd filled the public square below; a sea of upturned faces gazed at the palace.
"People of Naples, the King is dead!" shouted Raymond. "Long live the Queen!"
He pointed as he spoke to the slender figure of Giovanna, who stood, her shadow flung behind her on the white wall of the palace, and her auburn hair fluttering back from her face.
A thousand throats shouted: "Giovanna, Queen of Naples!"
She stared down on the dazzling town and the shouting people; then she shrank away into the window.
"Take me from this chamber, Conte," she said.
She laid her long fair hand on his satin sleeve and went with him from the room; the courtiers rushed after, and the sound of their feet was heard like thunder in the corridors without.
Andreas of Hungary and Maria were left alone with the dead man and the monk.
Maria d'Anjou looked at the Prince with wide, frightened eyes. He stood quite still. It had all happened so suddenly; in the shaft of sunlight the Italians had swept past him like a train of coloured fire; he had had but a glimpse of Giovanna's white bosom and auburn hair among the press before she had gone, clinging to the Conte Raymond's arm. He stared stupidly before him.
"What are you going to do?" asked Maria. "You see what they mean."
He started; his glance fell on the dead King beside him.
"By God's heaven! old man," he muttered bitterly, "your atonement was too late!"
"He is dead," said Maria. "But we are living, and we have to deal with—Giovanna."
The name roused him.
"Where is she gone—my wife?" He looked vaguely round.
"Oh! command yourself," said Maria, seeing his bewildered look. "You stand alone...Think how you must act."
She turned away abruptly and entered the next room. Andreas followed her.
"Princess," he implored, "speak to me—for I know not what to do."
She looked over her shoulder at him as he closed the door on the dead King.
"Oh, for God's sake," she said brokenly, "do something—do something!" She dropped into her old place by the window and wrung her hands in her lap.
And now the young man began to grasp, to realize in its full purport, what had occurred; he paced about fiercely.
"I will appeal to the Pope at Avignon," he said. "I will write to my brother."
"Do something, do anything!" entreated Maria d'Anjou in a tone of such sorrow and despair that he stayed his wrath to look at her.
"How does it touch you, Madonna?" he asked.
"It means," she answered, "everything to me. The Conte Raymond—"
He caught at the name savagely. "Ah, the Conte Raymond!—I'll have the Conte Raymond strangled." He looked at her, the reflection of the golden lilies burning in his waving fair hair; she returned his gaze with an expression of anguish, of hopelessness.
"Don't you understand?" she said with an effort; she clenched her hands in the velvet folds of her gown. "He is serving for me..."
"I know," said Andreas. "I heard."
She bent her head.
"For me and my possessions...Giovanna has promised me to him. He can serve her—he is powerful; the day she is crowned Queen, alone"—her eyes lifted as she stressed the word—"he takes his wretched reward."
"She shall never be crowned Queen save as my wife," vowed Andreas.
"God save me from the Conte Raymond!" said Maria earnestly. "I say that prayer every night, even though my heart mocks, 'Fool, it must be.'" She pressed her handkerchief to her lips; Andreas gazed at her in horror.
"He has served the Queen well," she said hurriedly. "Therefore some say he loves her—it is a lie! Latterly I have had some hope in your coming; but I saw how powerless you would be, and then—I grew afraid for you, as I have been afraid so long for myself, and I warned you."
"My wife!" cried Andreas—"I must see my wife!" He beat his brow with his clenched fist and strode up and down the room. "I will appeal to the Pope—to Ludovic—but first I will see my wife."
Maria watched the scarlet and leopard-skin in and out of the shadow as he paced to and fro, and the pale weariness of her face did not change.
"They will not let me go to Hungary—they laugh at the King's will," she said.
"Giovanna—where is Giovanna?" cried Andreas, unheeding. "By God's heaven!—does she think I am to be insulted so?"
He strode to the door and wrenched it open.
"She will not see you," cried Maria.
"She shall!" he replied. "She shall!"
He made his way through the thronging courtiers, thrust aside the servants, and struck upon her chamber door.
One of her women opened to him, and without a word he passed her.
"Where is the Queen?" he demanded.
From the inner room came her low voice: "Who is it, Sancia?"
"The King," he answered, and entered the chamber where she sat. She was alone, seated by the foot of her bed, with sunshine strong over her primrose velvet gown; she had an ivory mirror on her lap and a comb in her hand; on a table beside her was an open casket of pearls and a heap of white roses.
She looked up when he entered, and slightly flushed. "Why, this is unmannerly!" she said.
Her quiet, her words, the fact that this was her bedchamber, abashed him for a moment; he stood awkwardly by the door.
"What do you want with me?" asked Giovanna, laying down the comb. "If you had waited I would have seen you presently—now, as you see, I am dressing my hair."
He stared at her sullenly.
"If my welcome and your behaviour had been of another kind," he said, "you had been spared this."
Her violet eyes gave him a sidelong glance.
"You should have looked for your welcome, Lord Andreas, to those who invited you."
She picked up the white roses and began twisting them together. His blood fired at her tone; he came heavily into the room.
"I am your husband," he said. "Before God and man your husband, and King of this realm of Naples." He stood by the post of her bed, and his eyes challenged hers. "You defied the King's will," he continued; "you insulted me before your minions—I have had a cur's welcome to Naples. By God! there must be an end of it!"
She would not look at him; her head was bent over the roses she played with; he could only see the white line of her neck and the waves of her undressed auburn hair that shone with a thousand threads of gold.
"You were a fool to come," she said quietly.
"I came for my heritage," he answered stormily; "the saints know, for no love of you or yours." She laughed a little, still without looking up.
"No man could say we were wedded for love," she said. "Certainly I did not think you came for that." The way she spoke was to him a profanation of a sacred and unknown thing.
"I have not come to talk of love," he said roughly.
She turned now and looked him up and down with mocking violet eyes.
"No?" she said in a very scornful manner. "What have you come to speak of?"
Her face dimpled into a contemptuous smile. Her beauty and her self-possession were as goads to Andreas; he raged to have a man to deal with.
"You have treated me badly," he said confusedly, and bit the ends of his thick yellow hair.
She was fixing two of the white roses on to the bosom of her blue vest.
"What do you want, my cousin?" she asked carelessly, and she glanced at him again with a contained amusement, as if she thought him a fool who might be humoured into submission.
"My kingdom," he answered heavily.
The violet eyes darkened. "Ah, yes," said Giovanna, "you wedded me for that. I was to be your footstool to the throne of Naples—I understand."
"And I," interrupted Andreas—"I read San Severino's last letter to you."
She gave a little start, but her clear gaze did not falter.
"Well," she answered—"well, then you know, cousin, that I shall hold what I have—that I am Queen here, with no man's hand over me."
"I know you are a usurper—the heiress of the younger branch."
Giovanna smiled; her fair white hands fingered the pearls in the case beside her.
"You must say that to my council, cousin, and to the people of Naples."
The air of indifferent disdain brought the colour to his cheeks. "I shall not go there for justice," he cried, with blazing eyes. "Nor will I tamely bear the wrong—I shall appeal even to the Pope at Avignon and to Ludovic my brother."
Giovanna gave him a quick look; the name of Ludovic the Triumphant carried terror.
"You will do that?" she said.
At this, the first sign of flinching she had shown, his awe of her fled; he came up to the table, standing between her and the sunlight.
"I am Charles Martel's grandson," he said, "and the son of Carobert of Hungary; and my house, by God's heaven! is not one to be ruled by women."
She sat very still, but her narrowed eyes gave him hate for hate, scorn for scorn.
"Why, you are but a foolish woman," said Andreas, with a heaving breast; "and of what use are women to rule? I am King in Naples, by God His grace; and if you or your minions do dispute it, I will bring the arms of Ludovic like a thunderbolt into your midst—yea, I will make Naples the vassal of Hungary, and cool your pride within a cloister."
Giovanna, very pale, laughed bitterly.
"You are gallant, cousin,"—she was breathing hard, and the slender fingers clutched tightly at the strings of pearls. "You are very chivalrous; this is a knightly manner in which to speak—to me."
"To you!" repeated Andreas, frowning. "Have I not reason to speak so to you who have given me this welcome to my kingdom and my home—you—my wife?"
"Leave that word alone," answered Giovanna, speaking very quietly. "Between you—and me—it has no meaning; no, nor ever will have. Sweet Virgin I I will never be a wife to you—I will not put my head under your yoke. I do not need you beside me—I can live alone, rule alone. Husband!—you will never be that to me, cousin."
Red in the face, he passionately answered her: "You might go down the wind for me..." He trembled in his utterance. "By God's heaven! I do not want you...you are not desirable to me. I want no wife"—he struck his hand fiercely against the post of the bed—"you need not fear that I shall woo you. I come for my kingdom."
Her pride was stung; white-lipped she answered him
"Oh, I am fair enough to break your heart an I cared to try."
He strode away from her, tossing his hair out of his eyes.
"I would not lift my hand to touch you, so indifferent you are to me; but if you thwart me, I will bring you to your knees, proud witch."
Giovanna's violet eyes were blazing like stars.
"Leave my chamber!" she said hoarsely. "I am Queen—yea, if you had a thousand armies at your back, I am Queen."
Andreas swung round to look at her.
"Do you defy me?" he asked.
She rose; she had infinitely more control than he, and she exercised it now.
"You—and all that you can do," she said quietly. "I also have my friends."
"Yea, such as Raymond de Cabane!" he cried, "to whom you pay a shameful price; and San Severino."
"So you have been speaking to Maria!" said Giovanna. "She, of course, will champion you—none the less she will be the Conte Raymond's wife."
"She is my brother's betrothed by the King's will, and I will not see her marry another man."
"Let King Ludovic come for her," returned Giovanna. "And you, cousin, leave me."
His blue-grey eyes were dark with wrath; the leopard's skin rose and fell with his angry breathing.
"My messengers shall ride to-day to Avignon—I'll rouse the world—I'll see Naples ashes and this palace with not one stone upon the other before I forgo my rights."
Giovanna broke into sudden passion: "Leave my presence!—do you wish me to have you put without my doors?"
Andreas of Hungary laughed magnificently, in the confidence of his pride and strength. "You have no men would dare to touch me," he said. "But as I have no more to say, I will go—you will not see me here again."
He went from her chamber, and Giovanna sank into the chair, trembling. "Sancia!" she called. "Sancia!"
The waiting-woman entered with a soft step; she was a golden-haired Italian, with a lovely arch face.
"You may finish my hair now," said Giovanna faintly. "I must see Conte Raymond."
"Madonna, he is waiting without."
Sancia was arranging the white roses in the coils of the Queen's auburn hair.
"Sweetheart," asked Giovanna suddenly, "what do you think of Andreas?" She picked up the mirror as she spoke and gazed into it.
"Madonna, I think he is splendid."
"Taller than the Conte, is he not?" said Giovanna musingly. "He has beautiful hands—I should like to see him out of his armour."
"Why doth he wear a leopard's skin?" asked Sancia curiously. "It is a strange fashion."
"Yes," assented the Queen moodily. "He is a fine knight, but he does not know much about women. Sancia, he might have won me, despite them all, to be his friend at least, if he had been wise enough to be foolish and a little flattering." She smiled, and put the mirror down. "But now he has made of me a very bitter enemy. Tell the Conte I am coming, Sancia."
A little after, with her face as pale as the roses in her hair, she entered the antechamber. Raymond de Cabane was there, standing before the wide, open fireplace, his arms crossed on his breast, his face, save for the restless glitter of his black eyes, calm and passionless.
Giovanna went slowly to the table in the centre of the room and seated herself there.
"I have seen Andreas," she said briefly. "If we bring things to an open rupture, he will appeal to Avignon. What shall we do?"
"It is no matter," answered Raymond in a deep, unmoved voice. "We have more friends than has he at Avignon. I think he is a fool, too."
The Queen laid her slender hands along the table and gazed at them. "I think so," she said quietly, and turned her heavy wedding ring about on her finger.
"And I have won the first move," remarked Raymond de Cabane. "You have been proclaimed throughout Naples, despite the will."
"Yes," answered Giovanna.
"I come nearer my reward," said the Conte, and his eyes flashed.
The Queen looked at him curiously. "You are very steady in your desire," she answered. "Conte, are you so fond of her?"
"My feelings are no part of the bargain, Madonna; you are to give her to me, and Alba, and Giordano."
Giovanna shrugged her shoulders.
"Conte, I was merely curious. One hears so much of love—in the poets—sometimes one wonders "—she looked at him sideways—"if one has ever met it or ever will—or ever will!"
"Maybe you will find it in your own heart one day, Madonna," said Raymond de Cabane.
Queen Giovanna looked at him steadily, rather mournfully.
"Why, it would be as impossible as the stars stooping to the meadows, for me to love any man I have ever seen," she answered. "I am in love with power, and glory, and this splendid crown of Naples, Conte. But Maria! I risk something to give her to you—she is promised to this Ludovic of Hungary."
Raymond de Cabane lifted his head a little. "I think he is not eager for the alliance," he said quietly. "In any case, what does it matter? She is mine."
She watched him curiously. "Maria desires it," she replied, "and Ludovic might fight."
"Well," he said stubbornly, "I could fight Ludovic of Hungary for her—or any man, king or commoner." Fire flashed for a moment into his black eyes and the dusky colour came into his swarthy cheek. "Stand you but my friend, Madonna," he added, "as you have sworn." He breathed heavily.
"When you have fulfilled your promise," she put in quickly. "I am not yet safely Queen. The day that I am crowned in Santa Chiara, you may draw up your marriage contract."
He swore it, with a great passion underlying his quiet: "You shall be crowned!"
"Despite of Andreas?" she asked him.
"Despite of everything!"
At that the Queen suddenly laughed. "You are curious," she said. "I do think you love her."
He gave her no pleasant glance. "Love her?" he echoed. "Hath she not Alba and Giordano?"
"Yet," smiled Giovanna, "you made this bargain with me before the King's will was known; and always has the bourne of your desires and the height of your rewards been Maria, Maria."
His heavy eyes flashed under the light mockery of her tone.
"I always knew that she would be an heiress," he answered.
Giovanna leant back in her chair. The white rose above her brow shone against the carved wood; her white hands lay idly among the folds of her vivid gown; over her bosom the azure vest rose and fell evenly, and her full lids were lowered till the bronzed lashes touched her cheek.
"Maria hates you," she said.
Raymond de Cabane stood very still. "I know," he answered abruptly.
"It makes no difference?" asked Giovanna.
He came a step into the room. "Madonna! have we come to talk of these things? I serve for my reward, like every man: let it end at that."
She suddenly rose and pushed back her chair; her violet eyes swept over him.
"Very well," she said; "it is a question of policy, is it not? And you will manage the council, my cousin Carlo, the people, this Hungarian faction—"
"And your husband," finished the Conte Raymond.
"My husband," she repeated steadily. "And you will send an ambassador to Avignon to win the Pope."
"All this," said Raymond, "for the hand of Maria d'Anjou."
Queen Giovanna's look was one of mingled contempt and half-admiring wonder; she crossed slowly to her chamber door.
"There is no more, Conte; I have trust in you." Raymond glanced at her abruptly.
"You shall be crowned within a month, Madonna."
With an air of resolution and that veiled fierceness that was his usual bearing, he left the room.
Queen Giovanna stood with her hand on the door-handle, staring after him with disdainful violet eyes.
"There is a moral in everything," said the dwarf; "and the moral of a garden is, don't build a house." And he blinked up at the blue sky, tempered by the thousand blossoms of an acacia tree.
It was mid August, and the gardens of the Castel del Nuovo were flowering from end to end; everywhere roses, lilies, gladiolus, myrtle, citron, chestnuts, the dark lines of cedars, and the grey-green of poplars.
Under a trellis covered with vines and white and purple roses, was a marble seat, set against the low wall that looked over the town and bay of Naples; a marble pavement was underfoot, beautifully checked with the waving, delicate shadows of the grapes and roses and strong flecks of pure sunlight. The dwarf, dressed in a becoming purple, sat with crossed legs and ate great red plums with relish. Carlo di Durazzo, Duke Duras, lounged on the marble seat and gazed from the shade into the sunlight; he was clothed in satin of a golden colour, and his shoes were the hue of rubies. He looked at Naples, the white houses with the sloping pink and blue roofs, with the palms between; then the bay shimmering from purple in the front, where the boats were drawn along the beach, to opal by the distant line of Sorrento; and he said, without turning his head:
"With your leave, messer, if there be a moral in everything, what is the moral of the marriage of the Queen?"
"That the man who marries without seeing his wife will die without seeing his funeral," answered the dwarf.
The Duke turned his pretty face.
"Certainly Andreas is a fool," he assented. "But he is troublesome—perhaps dangerous,—and I propound to you, messer, what will the Queen do with him?"
A little breeze wafted some of the acacia blossoms on to the dwarf's lap; he played with them as he answered.
"Can the Queen do anything with nothing?" he asked. "Surely he is but, as one might express it, a cipher—even the figure nought." And he sucked a plum with great gravity.
"Nevertheless," said the Duke, "he has his envoys at Avignon, and there is always Hungary."
The dwarf's little red eyes twinkled.
"The illustrious and mighty Conte Raymond has also his envoys at Avignon," he answered. "And I have a presentiment that his Holiness will decide for the cause that is uppermost."
"You are a gentleman of exceeding wisdom," said the Duke. "But I wish that you would not eat so many plums; they are very bad for you."
The dwarf selected another.
"They are really very nice," he remarked; "will not your magnificence try one? But, as I was saying, the Pope—"
"The Pope," said Duras, "would certainly call this gluttony, which is one of the seven deadly sins."
"Well," answered the dwarf, "when I am sick I will practise patience, which is one of the seven deadly virtues, and so I shall be equally balanced between hell and the angels. As I was saying, the Pope is not likely to decide for Andreas, our illustrious and unfortunate King."
The Duke laid an elegant hand on the warm marble wall, and watched how the sun struck fire out of the emerald ring he wore.
"I am sorry for Andreas," he remarked. "My cousin Giovanna humiliates him very cruelly."
The dwarf nodded. "Silvestro, the King's page, told me that the other day, when the Queen revoked his order to free a Hungarian prisoner and shut the council doors in his face when he came to protest, he went to his room and sobbed in an agony of rage—cried like a child, Silvestro said."
"It is remarkably foolish to take things so heavily," said Duras. "But, after all, he is only a barbarian."
The dwarf lifted his hunched shoulders. "But a barbarian has feelings, Magnificence. They say that he and the Queen have not spoken together since the day of his arrival. I saw them meet yesterday—he was going hunting—"
"He always is—the poor youth has nothing else to do," interrupted the Duke.
"Well, he was going hunting; he was waiting in the hall, and there was Konrad of Gottif with him, and a couple of dogs. They were talking together, when of a sudden in came the Queen with a great company of ladies. Andreas grew red in the face and made as if he would avoid them, but they were upon him before he could leave the room. The Queen stopped, and her eyes travelled over him; and, 'Going hunting, my lord?' she said, and the ladies behind her stared at him as if he had been a boor from the fields.
"'Yes,' he answered, and he coloured more fiercely up to the roots of his hair.
"The Queen laughed, making it plain she despised him for an awkward boy.
"'An you are not more successful in the hunt than you are in politics—or love, my lord,' she said, 'we need not weep the prey you chase,' and she laughed again, throwing her arm round the neck of Contessa Terlizzi, who said, 'But herons are more easily caught than thrones or hearts, my Queen'; and at this all the ladies laughed and swept out of the room. The King stood silent until they had gone (though he showed in his face how he had been struck); then he burst out to his friend:
"'Konrad—is this bearable?'
"'Go back to Hungary,' was the answer; and then the King flung from the room wildly, saying, 'God, no!—I bide my time!'"
The Duke stretched his limbs.
"It would be curious," he remarked, "if the Pope did recognize his claims; for, considering Naples is his fief, were he to send a bull of coronation the nobles would desert my fair cousin—the positions would be reversed."
"And he would take a terrible revenge. Therefore hedge, Magnificence, until the answer comes from Avignon."
The Duke yawned. "Saints' name, messer, I would rather see you eat more plums than see you suck the stones," he said.
"Unfortunately, as there are no more plums, I have no choice," sighed the dwarf. "Does your Magnificence object to my cracking the stones and abstracting the kernels?
"Immensely," answered the Duke. "And you are quite sufficiently like a monkey."
"It is generous of you to say so," grinned the dwarf. "I wish I could find your Magnificence sufficiently like a man."
"What is your idea of a man?" asked the Duke pleasantly.
"Raymond de Cabane," said the dwarf.
"Maria! the son of a slave and a washerwoman!"
The dwarf rose and put his plum stones in his pocket. "I will take my leave." He bowed his squat body and moved away into the sunlight; the Duke yawned and looked across the bay.
The sheer dazzle of the sunlight was like a veil over everything. On the marble pavement swayed the faint blue shadows of the roses and the vine; the acacia tree whispered continually in the breeze blowing from Capri, and tall lilies growing without tapped at the trellis-work; against the burnished turquoise sky the cedars showed black and the poplars a shuddering silver grey; two flashing white doves flew across the arbour.
Putting the flowers aside came Maria d'Anjou in a long mauve gown; she carried a zither of tortoiseshell and ivory, and her bright chestnut hair lay heavy in the nape of her slender neck.
She seated herself beside the Duke, who gazed at her tenderly.
"They are going hunting, Carlo," she said. "Will you not go with them? It looks as if you stayed away to flout the King, as the others do."
"You are sorry for Andreas, cousin?"
"For all of us," she said, and drew a sharp breath. "And I think the King is served shamefully. What has he had but mortification, and insult?—yea, and from the servants."
"I wonder," pondered the Duke, smiling at her—"I wonder had it been different if he had wooed the Queen?"
"She is cold as ice," said Maria.
"Yet, I think it had been different. Where do they hunt to-day?"
"Towards Capua—Melito, I think."
"Sweet cousin, I am too lazy to go—I would sit here and have you sing."
Her blue eyes became pleading.
"Carlo, he is so wretched. He has no one save his Hungarians to go with him; Conte Raymond lords it over him;—if you would go, gentle cousin, it would give me pleasure."
"Why, then, it will be a pleasure to me," he answered, rising. "If I do not go, at least before them all I will offer him my best falcon; is that enough?"
She turned her beautiful head to look at him.
"I am very grateful, sweet cousin," she said, and gave him her hand.
He kissed it and turned reluctantly away from her; she watched his gold clothes glitter into the distance, then, resting her elbows on the marble walls, looked over Naples and sighed.
Presently she took up the zither and tuned it. Music and the garden were the best company she knew; all her peace and happiness had come to her when she sat alone in the sunlight under the trees, with the flowers to right and left.
With an absorbed, dreaming face, she began to sing; her low, sweet voice rose exquisitely through the stillness.
"Orpheus sang to a silver lute,
Amid Arcadian trees,
When all the world had fallen mute
To listen at his knees.
"The winds that round Mount Ida blow
At his commands were still;
The winged gods circled low
Round that dim Thracian hill.
"Then, ever blue the tender sky,
And ever green the field;
Mars laid his scarlet armour by,
And rested on his shield."
Her head bent over the zither till a loose strand of hair swept the strings.
"Rose-wreathed the smiling hours sped,
Rose-wreathed the evening died;
And never a blossom drooped its head
Save when young Orpheus sighed.
"Thus I to the grey clouds complain
In an age of mean renown,
Watching the straight April rain
Silvering Pisa's narrow town."
Maria d'Anjou sighed, her voice trembling on the next notes.
"Too soon has Orpheus fallen dumb,
Too soon the gods are dead;
When shall another singer come
To say what Orpheus said?"
The zither dropped from her hands; her soft, mournful eyes gazed vacantly across the distant town; she was wrapped in her own dreaming thoughts. She sighed, looked round, and in an instant was back in reality, the colour in her cheeks.
Holding back the vines that impeded him stood the Conte Raymond looking at her.
"Good morrow," she said gravely.
He came with his slow, heavy step towards the marble seat; as always, he was composed in manner and lowering in looks.
"I have been hoping to find you, Madonna, alone."
Hate of him showed in quivering nostrils and lowered lids as she turned her head away.
"What is your wish with me?" she asked wearily.
His deep-set eyes flashed to her averted face.
"The Queen has told ye, perchance"—his swarthy hand fingered the roses on the balustrade—"that she will be crowned in mid September."
She would not look round; her foot tapped the marble.
"Scorn me as you like, Maria," he said quietly, "by then our marriage contract will be signed—I shall not wait for my reward."
Her shoulders heaved a little.
"Conte, your presence is unendurable to me, and your talk wild." She lifted her face now, and showed it pale with anger. "I will wed with the King of Hungary or with no man."
"Why," he scowled, "we waste words. Do you think ye will be freer to chose your husband than your sister was?"
She rose so suddenly that he fell back a pace.
"Ye are a bold man," she said, with her slim hand to her side. "But I, as well as Giovanna, am of Anjou—and ye have forgot, perchance, the King."
His wrath rose to meet hers; but he had himself well in hand—it showed only in the pale swarthiness of his cheek.
"I am a fool to speak to ye," he said sombrely. "Ye cannot thwart my designs, and the King—"
"Well?" she said, smiling splendidly; "the King!—my betrothed's brother: what if the Pope decided in his favour?—then there would be neither victory nor reward for you, Conte."
An extraordinary look darkened his eyes.
"Do ye think that would stop me?" he asked; then checked himself as if he had disclosed too much. "But I mistake to talk of politics," he said, and smiled unpleasantly. "Amuse yourself with your songs and flowers, Maria—September will come apace." He raised his velvet cap and was gone, heavily, through the vines.
"When Andreas is King indeed," said Maria under her breath—"and when Ludovic of Hungary be come, that man"—she bit her lip—"that man shall answer for this talk to me!"
Yet even while she spoke she was afraid.
Sancia di Renato, the Queen's Paduan waiting-woman, held up a corner of the crimson canopy between her face and the sun; her white dress was glowing in the rosy reflection as she laughed a whisper to one of the squires standing below her on the steps.
Before them were the clean sanded lists, prepared for the jousts, the snowy tents at either end flaunting emblazonments to the blue; the tiers of seats filled with a glittering throng of noble spectators; and beyond, the red rope and the line of halberdiers that checked the surging crowd.
The Queen, under her canopy, on her raised throne embroidered thickly with the Angevin lilies, made a gracious picture of slim fairness; as was her manner always, she bent forward slightly, stooping, it seemed, yet gracefully and in a fashion well suited to her girlish slenderness. The stiff folds of her brocaded skirts swept from out the warm shadow that enveloped her and shone on the sunlit steps of her throne; there on the confines of her robe sat the dwarf in blatant scarlet; couched beside him there, too, was a long white hound wearing a gold collar.
Beside Giovanna her sister leant on the arm of her chair; gorgeous, opulent in gold and green, but with indifferent eyes beneath the chestnut brows and a tragic mouth behind the fluttering fan of peacock feathers.
To right and left were the ladies, whispering and laughing together, the pages, the Queen's gentlemen, then the nobles in their velvet seats. These pageants had not been common in the old King's time, and Giovanna's violet eyes were eagerly noticing the signs of pleasure and approval in the gay crowd about her. She wanted their goodwill—yea, down to the merest scullion breathing garlic there beyond the rope she wanted them on her side in the coming struggle with her husband.
When she was crowned alone in Santa Chiara she must have these people on her side; when Andreas of Hungary, despite justice and the King's will, was thus flagrantly disregarded he must evoke no sympathy. Naples must look to her—the Queen.
And so she gave them their jousts and tourneys, though Raymond de Cabane complained of the lavish expense, and she found it wearisome to sit for hours with the noise in her ears, the glare in her eyes, and the crown pressing unmercifully on her aching head.
She looked down curiously at Sancia's smiling face; it was evident the fair Paduan did not find it wearisome.
"A ducat on the Prince of Taranto," said Sancia; she swung a velvet purse tasselled in steel, and her blue eyes sparkled with merriment.
"Why, many lay their money on him," smiled the squire, "but Carlo di Durazzo goes a-begging."
Sancia dropped the canopy, shutting out the squire; the Queen stirred in her heavy dress and rested her pointed chin in her hand. Her heart swelled to think how Andreas played into her hands by always absenting himself and his friends from these sports. He was for ever hunting; the Italians did not love hunters.
A movement came through the crowd, a shout, a sudden flash of jewels from the stand as each turned his head in one direction; the halberdiers put back the people, and with a blast of trumpets the petticoated heralds entered the lists.
They rode slowly round, then took up their stations at either end opposite the respective tents of their masters; one was in bronze and azure for Luigi of Taranto, the other in violet and vair for Carlo of Duras.
Now the knights themselves were coming; white necks were strained to catch the first glimpse of them, and the Queen's stand shimmered with gauze and tissue coifs, bright locks and silk veils. First entered the Prince of Taranto on a white horse, whose bronze and azure satin trappings left trails in the sand as they swept either side of him. Over his damascened Milan armour the Prince wore an ermine surtout and a great silk scarf of his colours; from the twisted wreath of blue and brown on his helm floated the graceful folds of the lambrequin, and above rose his emblem of a swan with a silver circlet round its neck. On his left arm was a huge painted shield that blazed with fifteen quarterings; his right supported the spear in its socket.
Cleopatra Perlucchi, Contessa di Montalto, led his horse; her orange gown and gold-twisted yellow hair blazed like one sheen in the sunlight; on her brow was a wreath of dark ivy leaves.
To the cheers of the crowd and the murmured applause of the stands, she led him round the lists, while the tossing of the noble horse's head caused her little hand to be pulled up and down on the studded reins. As they passed the Queen, Luigi of Taranto lowered his lance and the Contessa swept an obeisance; at which the charger shook his head free and the people laughed.
The Prince reined in the impatient animal. Cleopatra di Perlucchi, smiling, but a little flushed, took the bridle again, and the two passed to their place in front of the bronze and azure herald.
The trumpets rose again; the shouting, far more lusty and far louder, proclaimed the next comer—a general favourite.
The ladies clapped their soft hands; Maria d'Anjou leant a little forward, with the peacock fan shadowing her face, as Carlo of Duras entered the lists.
His armour was gilt from head to foot; his surtout was vair, the blue bells on white, his lambrequin violet; his crest, a red rose transfixed with an arrow, sparkled in jewels on his helm. Leading his black horse was Giulia di Terlizzi, the Conte Raymond's sister; her bold, dark-eyed beauty was clothed in vivid scarlet, in the waves of her sombre hair glittered the gems of a chaplet.
At a quick pace they passed round; the breeze, sweeping across from Pausilippo and scented with the orange-groves of Sorrento, blew back Giulia di Terlizzi's gown, showing the line of her figure, and ruffled the tassels on the chest of the great warhorse. As they paused before the throne, Maria saw Carlo raise his visor and look up at her with adoring, ardent eyes. She smiled faintly, and they passed on.
Now Raymond de Cabane, unarmed, in black velvet and wearing the Queen's colour, was galloping to and fro arranging the order of the jousts, and fresh and less famous competitors were entering the lists: San Severino in white and blue, his horse led by the Contessa da Morcane, Giulia di Terlizzi's sister; Bertrand d'Artois, a young noble from Provence; Lello d'Aquila, the captain of the Florentine mercenaries; the Conte di Terlizzi; and Bertrand des Beaux, grand seneschal of the kingdom of Naples.
Then followed unknown knights who tilted without crests or arms, and refused to disclose their identity until they had tried their fate. The lists were now full—a mass of sparkling colour and movement.
"Oh, the dust and the heat!" murmured Giovanna, but she dared not appear disinterested; her white velvet gown stirred a little with her impatient movement, then she was still again.
Pages in the livery of the Queen ran forward and put up the wood and silk barriers down the centre of the lists; the ladies who had led on the knights came up to their places by the Queen, escorted by the squires.
"Now, God wot," said Cleopatra di Perlucchi, "my arm is near broken."
"Would mine were—in such a manner!" cried Sancia. "I would give much to lead a knight round the lists."
"Why, it is well enough," said Giulia di Terlizzi, with sparkling eyes.
The Queen turned her pure-tinted, clear-cut face towards the speaker.
"When 'tis my cousin Carlo's horse you lead?" she asked. She smiled, not pleasantly. "He should wear your favours, not my sister's, at his breast."
There was a flutter among the ladies; Giulia di Terlizzi laughed magnificently.
"It begins," said Giovanna; she leant back in her chair and played with a rose she took from her bosom.
Cleopatra di Perlucchi whispered to her friend:
"When she is on such ill terms with her own lord, she does well to remark on others!"
As Luigi of Taranto and Carlo of Durazzo advanced, the others fell back, and there was a hush.
Then the fierce thunder of galloping hoofs as each rode either side the barrier, the crash of meeting and breaking spears, and it was over.
The Prince of Taranto had splintered his rival's weapon at the hand-guard; he rode back to the acclaims of the crowd.
Then two more rode up; then again; and so through the sunny afternoon it was repeated, with intervals for encounters on foot between the squires and wrestling matches between the citizens.
Luigi of Taranto, having overthrown all his opponents, was the victor of the jousts, and there were many smiles and cheers from those who had put their money on his prowess, while the followers of the more popular Duke of Duras groaned, and even hissed, at their defeated champion.
It had come to the last bout; the sun was gilding the house-tops, and the cool of evening had begun to replace the hot ardours of the day.
A miniature tower built of wood and hung with velvet was placed in the centre of the lists; a silk banner bearing a fanciful device waved about it, and it was garrisoned by ten of the Queen's ladies.
Ten young gentlemen, unarmed and bareheaded, made an attempt to storm the castle, and the ladies defended themselves with showers of scented water, flowers and sweetmeats, and little harmless gilded arrows that rose like an accompaniment to their laughter.
In the midst of this mimic warfare there ran round a rumour of an unknown knight having sent a challenge to Luigi of Taranto to tilt with him for the honour of the day; the Prince accepted, 'twas said; and presently Raymond de Cabane announced that 'twas so, and that this would be the last event of the jousts.
The Conte da Morcane had wrested the banner from the hands of the Contessa di Montalto, and to the triumphant sound of lutes the victors wheeled the castle out of the lists, while pages threw the ammunition of sweets and scents among the crowd.
Raymond de Cabane came up to the Queen.
"Is it nearly over?" she asked in a whisper.
"Yes; your cousin Luigi will be the victor—a pity he is not popular."
"But the people are pleased?" Her beautiful eyes were anxious.
"Yes; Andreas mistakes greatly to absent himself—you cannot be too grateful, Madonna."
"He will not come near me," she whispered, "since I shut the council door on him; and it irks him that my head alone is on the coinage—so the boy plays his own fortunes false."
Once more the trumpets rose, and the spectators looked with some curiosity at the unknown knight; he was a man of great stature, in plain armour, riding a bright brown horse. He rode round the lists, saluted the Queen, and wheeled into his place.
Luigi of Taranto closed his visor and put his lance in rest; both crouched on the saddle-bow; there was a breathless pause, the rush of galloping hoofs and the shock of meeting spears. The stranger sat firm, but Luigi of Taranto had shaken in his seat: shouts arose for the unknown knight; the two backed their horses into place and came at each other again. This time his weapon shivered in the Prince's hand and the other's onslaught bore him backwards off his horse; he clattered to the ground, scattering the sand. His squire dashed forward to seize the rearing charger, and a thunder of applause broke forth for the man who had overthrown the champion.
The Queen rose and came to the edge of the canopy; the last sunlight like rosy pearl fell over her sumptuous dress, her fine gold crown and exquisite face. The ladies about her also moved; there was a stir of purples, reds, and greens as they flashed in and out of the crimson canopy.
Sancia handed the Queen a fine gold chain set with emeralds, the reward for the victor, who was being led by his page to the steps of the Queen's throne.
Giovanna stepped down; her violet shoes gleamed softly on the Eastern carpet, and her heavy train, dragging after her, sparkled wonderfully.
The knight dismounted; all eyes were turned to this, the charming finish of the jousts. The victor came slowly up the steps; but instead of dropping on one knee before the blazing Queen, he flung up his visor and looked at her.
Giovanna was staring into the fair, sullen face of Andreas of Hungary.
As he was recognized, as his name passed from lip to lip, wonder swept the spectators; then they cheered him: it was a knightly exploit, such as was beloved by Naples.
But the Queen stood cold and rigid with the chain hanging in her hand; as she heard them shout for him, she went white.
"You do ill," she said, "to come thus secretly."
His level brows frowned.
"God wot! I should not have been welcome under my own name," he answered.
Without another word she gave him the chain, and even before he moved she turned away. Maria was by her side in an instant, catching her arm.
"Giovanna! you must not let him depart in such fashion! The people—do you wish them to see this breach?"
The Queen whispered back in fury: "He shall not force me with his boy's tricks—hark! how they cheer!"
Andreas, unhelmed, his heavy fair hair waving over his armour, rode from the lists. As Giovanna watched him her eyes grew cruel; for he was breaking her chain, link from link, and flinging it ostentatiously among the shouting crowd.
"Santa Maria!" murmured Cleopatra di Montalto, and she glanced at the Queen.
"Let us away!" said Giovanna wildly. "Ladies, let us go home!"
She caught Giulia di Terlizzi's arm and hurried her down the steps.
Her soldiers, her gentlemen and pages surrounded her; her white palfrey was brought, and Luigi of Taranto, freed from his armour, came to hold her stirrup. But she took no heed of any; only to herself she said:
"This boy—and I! This boy!"
So in the absorbed silence of furious hate she swept through the streets of Naples. The shouts of the returning crowd brought her no pleasure; had they not also cheered Andreas of Hungary? As she came into the hall of the palace she met Carlo di Durazzo, and she waved her attendants back.
"Where is he—my husband?"
The Duke, standing with his arms akimbo and his legs well apart to show off his elegant figure, smiled.
"He intends to give a feast to-night, my cousin."
Her rings flashed into points of light at the tighter clasping of her hands; but she remembered those behind her. She beckoned to the Conte Raymond; the others, taking their dismissal, were scattered about the great hall, watching curiously from a distance; only Maria stood near, swinging her peacock fan against the lily-bespattered tapestry on the wall.
"You see," said the Queen to Raymond quickly; "he defies me."
"He must not feed his Hungarians here, Madonna; there will be bloodshed."
"His hopes of Avignon must be strong," murmured Giovanna, "or he would not dare."
"My hopes are also strong," answered Raymond de Cabane sternly.
There was a little silence between them. The Conte looked covertly at his promised reward—Maria d'Anjou, sad and beautiful, wistfully waving her fan; and Giovanna thought passionately of the day when she would rule Naples alone—alone.
Then, suddenly through the crowd came Andreas himself, resplendent in blue and purple, hanging on to the arm of Henryk of Belgrade.
The Queen gave him a sidelong, wicked look, and laid her fine fingers on the Conte Raymond's wrist.
"My lord!" she said softly.
Andreas paused and looked full at her with insolent eyes.
"I give no feast to-night," said Giovanna steadily; "and when the Queen does not, no others do."
Andreas flushed hotly.
"What is this?" he demanded hoarsely. "Do ye seek to rule me?"
"Ye give no feast here, Lord Andreas," she returned. "The Conte Raymond has my orders, and ye will find none within the palace to serve you."
"Now, by God's heaven!" he breathed, "am I to endure this malice?"
She put her hand to the square line of her velvet bodice.
"Ye are too generous with the public purse," she said. "Why, your living has cost me somewhat. I do not feed seditious men such as follow thee."
Andreas stood utterly silent; he looked at the man whose wrist she held, and was minded to stab him where he stood, but the dignity that tempered his uncouthness came to his aid.
"Well, Henryk," he said, and his eyes were flaming, "we must even dine at taverns until I get my answer from Avignon."
He turned on his heel, saw Maria, swept her an obeisance, then, throwing his arm round Henryk of Belgrade, went splendidly from the hall.
The King awoke to find himself lying on his gold and crimson bed with the sunlight in a great patch on the floor beside him.
For a while he kept quite still, looking about him. Through the diamond panes of the window was a pleasant view of trees and sky and sunshine; Andreas turned on to his side and watched it lazily. Then he noticed some spilt wax over the floor, and clothes lying half out of an opened coffer. This led him to observe that he was in his dress still; he held up his arm and saw the sleeve was torn. He sat up and gazed at the rose-and-white hose he always wore; they were stained, and one of his shoes was gone.
Now he sat up he found his head was heavy and aching; he saw his squire lying under the window asleep.
"Carobert!" he called.
The boy took no heed, and the King, looking round, perceived his sword lying on the chair beside him; he seized it and, leaning from the bed, prodded the huddled figure.
"Carobert! fat, lazy good-for-naught!" he cried. "Wake up!"
The squire groaned and struggled into a sitting posture. Andreas replaced the sword on the chair and sank back on to his bed.
"What happened last night?" he demanded. Carobert stretched himself and yawned.
"Last night!" he said with another groan. "Mass! what did not happen last night!"
"You were drunk, I suppose," said the King, with an air of disgust.
The squire smiled weakly.
"We met the Conte Raymond and his men—"
Andreas turned his face on the pillow.
"Yes—when we were returning from the tavern—"
"And there was a fight," finished Carobert.
The King lay gloomily silent. This was the climax of all the insults, wrongs, and indignities he had to endure at the court of Naples: that he should be driven to take his friends to taverns and have to brawl with the Conte Raymond's men before he could return to the Palace.
The squire, yawning, was slowly setting the room in order; the growing sun touched the King's long limbs and his tumbled yellow hair.
He was thinking of Giovanna.
With softer feelings, with something of the generous sense of youth and chivalry, he had gone to her joust; it had given him great pleasure to overthrow Luigi of Taranto, because he had thought that she, and all of them, finding him a man and a warrior, would be moved to some respect.
But when he had beheld her face, seeing who he was, he had hated her. He hated her now very bitterly. He saw that she would never be won; that always she would seek to humiliate and degrade him; that only by force would he be King in Naples.
He sat up on his bed, and drew a parchment from under his pillow. It was a list of those persons he intended to behead upon his coronation day; and first on the list came the name of Raymond de Cabane. Though he loathed all the smooth nobles who paid court to the Queen and mocked him, most of all did he fiercely loathe this man, who was to win his brother's betrothed as payment for his intrigues against himself. He thrust the parchment back under the pillow, and his beautiful hand beat up and down on the coverlet.
"Avignon!" he muttered. "When shall I hear from the Pope at Avignon!"
He rose and went to the window; his anger of last night, and the tavern revelry that had been the result of it, had left him stale and sick. He rested his square chin in his hand, and, gazing across the great beauty of Naples, thought there was no life he would not change this vile existence for. Brooding over his wrongs, he grew sullen and out of humour with every one: with his brother who had sanctioned the match, with the old dead King who had made such late amends, with his envoys in Avignon who were so long.
The only thought that brought him any pleasure was that he could mount his horse, take up his spear, and ride away towards Melito and Capua to the great woods of Aversa, after the boar. Leaving behind these people and their music, their painted faces, covert insults, and silken grandeur, he could revel in the knowledge of his youth and strength, the feel of the great steed under him, the swinging past him of the countryside, the farms, the vineyards, the olive trees and chestnuts.
Once he had ridden as far as Baia with its remains of superb marble palaces, the blues unspeakable, and regal purples of the coast; and he had mounted the wall of the old Acropolis and seen such beauty as had shaken his soul.
The perfect islands of Ischia and Procida slept in the vivid Mediterranean, and the mist of enchantment was over them, while traced in the foreground were the wild roses and grasses growing round some fallen Greek altar on the shore. Andreas remembered the stillness, the sun on his face, and the translucent sea that was blue beyond belief, and the gulls that had flashed through the enchanted silence, with that light that only three things can give forth: a sea-bird's wings, a ship's sails, and a man's sword.
Andreas, thinking of this place, longed for it.
"Carobert," he said, "we will go hunting to Cuma and Baia." He moved into the room and, yawning, stretched his long limbs; then relaxed himself quickly and turned, for Konrad of Gottif had flung himself into the chamber, breathing excitement. Andreas thought only of one thing.
"From Avignon?" he cried.
The lord of Gottif fell to his knees and caught the King's hands.
"The Pope has recognized you," he said in an unsteady voice. "The legate, with the bull of coronation, waits at Capua. At last—at last ye are master over this proud woman!"
With an inarticulate sound, Andreas turned away; his cheeks became crimson, his lips quivered, he said nothing.
Konrad of Gottif, still kneeling and panting with the haste of his coming, broke into hot speech: "The legate's forerunner is come secretly, and is below, my lord," he said, "with letters of this import: that the Pope is prepared to support you with the whole of his authority, and has declared that any attempt to put up the Queen will be held as treason against the Holy See."
Andreas turned about; his shining eyes dwelt ardently on his friend's face.
"The people?" he asked. "Will the people stand her friends?"
"These Neapolitans will not rise against the Pope—they dare not; and if they did, ye will have all Italy to back ye."
The King's bosom heaved.
"There are some men would give half their estates," he said huskily, "that they had not insulted me."
Konrad of Gottif rose to his feet.
"Why, God wot! ye will not have many enemies now."
"Nay," answered Andreas, showing his teeth; "for their heads shall grace the pageantry of my coronation, and blood instead of wine shall flow i' the streets to celebrate my accession."
"A fine resolution!" cried Konrad. "We will show them how Hungary may be avenged."
The King's eyes gleamed hard and set as steel; his nostrils were distended.
"The Queen," he said—"does she know?"
"No. Is it well she should—before we are ready?"
"She can no longer protect her friends," breathed Andreas. "God's heaven!—no! not against me—the King!"
"You will let her know?" cried Konrad.
"I am going to her," he answered hoarsely.
"Is it wise?" asked Konrad.
The King answered from the door:
"It is my desire."
Even as he was, in his disordered clothes, his hair disarranged, he sought for her through the palace. Finding the legate's messenger in the hall, he took the letters and thrust them into his breast; he was too excited to stay now to read.
By questioning those whom he met, he learnt that Giovanna was in the loggia overlooking the garden.
Without a thought as to what he intended to do or say, with no conception what her behaviour would be, he entered the ante-chamber of the loggia.
It was all marble; for background the trembling green of the garden to be seen between the slender pillars of the loggia filled itself with light.
The bright, clear colours of the dresses of the company showed like velvet petals of flowers laid on snow.
Andreas stood looking at them.
Sancia and the Conte Raymond, seated on scarlet cushions, were playing chess; her fairness was like the ivory of the pieces, his swarthiness like the ebony. Maria was turning over the pages of a vast book, while on the hem of her blue kirtle sat a little white cat. Walking up and down outside was Luigi of Taranto, in a striped orange mantle that burnt like flame against the marble.
In the centre of the room stood Giovanna with a little arrow in her hand.
The pale green cote-hardie that showed her shape to the waist, ended in a jewelled girdle clasped about her hips; and a full white skirt rippled about her on the pavement.
Her auburn hair hung in nets over her ears, and across her brow was a close little wreath of roses.
When she saw Andreas she frowned, and a delicate colour came into her face.
"So—ye hold court," he said.
All eyes turned to him; he swaggered nearer the Queen, and the shadow of his big frame fell blue on the marble.
"Giovanna d'Anjou," he said, "by God His I grace, and His Holiness's commands, I am King here." He flung up his head and eyed them. Raymond de Cabane rose softly; there was a little rattle as the chessmen fell from the board.
"Have your envoys returned from Avignon?" asked Giovanna faintly.
He stuck his thumbs in his girdle and set his legs wide apart, gazing at their silence with a flushed, triumphant face.
The Queen lifted her eyebrows and glanced at the Conte; she was very piteously pale.
"There are some friends of yours," said Andreas, "shall find the King remembers."
"Is this a threat, Lord Andreas?" she answered, breathing fast.
"No—I have no longer need to threaten."
They had all risen to their feet; the white cat, disturbed, walked away from Maria.
Giovanna glanced round her. "Ladies," she said, "the Lord Andreas has come for our good wishes—shall we withhold them? And you, Conte, pay your court to him—I am no longer Queen."
Into Andreas's young face came bewilderment, Crossing the anger. Maria spoke: "May there not be a King and a Queen at one and the same time, Giovanna?"
"If my lord permit it," said the Queen; "but it is all a matter for Naples to decide."
Before her cold return of self-possession Andreas stood speechless, scowling, his insolence of triumph deserting him.
"This—has come over-suddenly," she continued. "Maria, take my arm.—Good lord, we will speak of this again in a little while." She gave him a slow smile, and went, very slowly, out on to the loggia, leaning on her sister. Raymond and Sancia followed.
"I will go and write me a warrant for that man's arrest," muttered Andreas. Then he thought him he would follow the Queen; he did not trust their quiet.
But as he stepped on to the sun-flecked marble, Luigi of Taranto faced him and laid a hand on his arm.
"My lord and King," he said gently, "may I speak with you?"
Andreas flushed at the address.
"Ay," he assented ungraciously.
"Let us step out of the sun," said his cousin.
They returned to the ante-chamber. Andreas looked at the resolute face, the contained grey eyes of the Prince, who, as considerably the older man, held a half-careless authority over him which his calm deference did not lessen.
"Ye unhorsed me splendidly yesterday," said Luigi frankly; "and by San Gennaro! I have a good seat. A fine knight should make a fine King, cousin." He smiled pleasantly.
Andreas crimsoned violently with pleasure.
"Why, I was fresh," he answered apologetically; "ye had already overthrown many. We must try a bout on equal terms."
He resolved to ask his cousin to hunt with him, and gazed on him with eager eyes of friendship.
"Ye have great strength," said the Prince. "I had not believed that I could have been so overcome."
The King laughed in a half-shamefaced manner. "I can squeeze a bough until the sap runs out," he admitted. "But then it is a common thing in Hungary."
"We Italians rely more on finesse," remarked the Prince.
Andreas set his back against the marble wall. "Ye wished to speak to me?" he asked.
"Why, as a prince of your house and one near the throne, I am interested in this matter between you and the Queen."
He took a turn about the chamber. "What do ye intend to do?" he said smoothly.
"To arrest her friends and my enemies; I have three hundred names. And as for the Queen"—he hesitated—"we—ye know how she has treated me, cousin."
Luigi of Taranto surveyed him with narrowed eyes.
"Ye cannot manage Giovanna," he said quietly. "Perchance not many could. Still, we have not come to talk of her as yet, but of you. 'Tis a great thing to be a King, cousin."
"God wot! I have waited."
Luigi of Taranto suddenly laughed. "I also," he said.
The King became interested; this stately cousin fascinated him. "For what have ye waited?" he asked.
The Prince looked at him curiously—pityingly, perhaps.
"For fortune," he answered; the great bars of orange shone on his mantle as he moved to and fro. Andreas wondered what he had to say to him, why he did not come to the matter.
"Have ye letters from Avignon?" asked Luigi at length. Andreas pulled them from his pocket and broke the seal.
"Latin!" he frowned.
"I can decipher them," smiled the Prince; he took the parchments, unrolled them, and began to read aloud. It seemed to Andreas that his movements were all very slow; he began to fret, but Luigi's easy imperturbability and calm held him quiet.
The Prince read from beginning to end of Clement's florid epistle; spelt out all the blessings, the titles, the inscriptions, abused the clerk's Latin, and made many comments on the contents. When he had almost finished and the King's patience was exhausted, Henryk of Belgrade burst in upon them.
"Andreas!" he cried, "Carlo of Duras, who was in the suburbs collecting troops, has ridden up to say that he saw the Queen, Maria, and a number of men riding out of Naples!"
"God's heaven!" yelled Andreas, "Raymond has gone—they have escaped me!"
Furious, he turned to Luigi, who was quietly folding up the letters.
"Were ye beguiling me here while they fled?"
Luigi, of Taranto looked him straight in the eyes. "Giovanna d'Anjou has her friends yet," he said.
Andreas of Hungary ruled in Naples. No one disputed a title the Pope had sanctioned, nor made any effort on behalf of the Queen, who by her sudden flight had admitted the justice of her husband's claim. In the triumphant court of the King she was never mentioned, seldom thought on; only Carlo di Durazzo had sometimes an uneasy remembrance of disdainful eyes unclosing on him, of a cruel face stricken into pallor, a delicate woman in a heavy gown suddenly forsaken—so had he seen her ride away.
And, since he knew his cousin well, thinking of the fifteen great nobles sharing exile with her, he shivered a little in his elegant ease at the things he put his hand to for the King.
San Severino, the Queen's counsellor, had been executed in the Grand' Palazzo three days after her flight. The proscription list grew daily longer, for the King ruled recklessly and with a heavy hand, treating Naples more as a conquered city than as his heritage.
Hungarians replaced Italians in every office of the crown; a thousand men were hired from Verona to keep the murmuring people down; the standard of Anjou no longer floated above the castle—there, as everywhere, it had given place to the banner bearing the proud arms of Hungary. Andreas, like a reckless rider managing fierce steeds, drove his fortunes at a headlong pace, and never glanced aside for obstacles nor looked ahead for danger. He knew nothing of the Queen's whereabouts, and cared little, save for a generous concern he had for Maria d'Anjou. It was represented to him that Giovanna might escape to Provence and raise a war against him there, or enlist some city of Italy in her favour; but he was careless of these things.
And then—all at once—she sent to him from the convent of Santo Pietro-a-Majello at Aversa, some few miles outside the town.
He read her letter through between pride and shame, and took it to Konrad of Gottif and the Duke of Duras, whom he found together in the garden comparing falcons.
The King, very gorgeous to look upon, in a gold-laced habit above the rose-and-white hose, drew Konrad of Gottif aside with that half shy manner that changed him when he had to speak of the Queen.
"A letter from Giovanna," he said, colouring, and thrust it into his friend's hand. "Read it and show it to my cousin."
The Duke, yawning, gave his falcon to the page and carne up to them.
"The Queen has written to me," Andreas spoke awkwardly.
"By St. Catherine!" cried the Duke, and grew a little pale. "Where is she?"
"At Aversa." Andreas seated himself on the stone bench among the laurels, and his fine fingers pulled at the flame-coloured and white gladiolus beside him.
Konrad of Gottif glanced over her small writing.
"Of course ye will not go?" he said quickly, and handed the letter to the Duke, who read:
"At the convent of Santo Pietro-a-Majello, Aversa, this
eleventh day of September, in the year 1344, to the Lord Andreas of Hungary
in the Castel del Nuovo, Naples.
"In the honour and welfare of the kingdom, for our several comforts, for the sake of the illustrious Maria d'Anjou, will you come and confer with me in this house of peace? Being a woman and defenceless, I dare not enter a city you have armed with your soldiery; being your wife, by God His grace Queen of this realm also, I will not patiently be wronged. Therefore come here and treat with me, and God His blessing be upon our meeting.
Carlo di Durazzo laughed.
"Defenceless!—she does not mention Conte Raymond or the others."
"Yet she has but fifteen men," said Andreas grandly, "saying that even they are with her in this convent;—and I shall go."
"God's name! why, my lord?" cried. Konrad of Gottif.
Andreas lifted his blue-grey eyes.
"Those men, Konrad, I have sworn to punish before I am crowned King, and my cousin Maria I shall bring back to Naples. I shall not go alone."
The Duke paced uneasily a few steps this way and that. "You intend to take the convent by storm?"
"I shall go there with my retinue," answered the King. "After the hunt to-day I will arrest those traitors, and execute them on my coronation morning. Maria I will send to Hungary as my brother's bride. Cousin, what are the names of the fifteen she has with her?"
The Duke ran them over: "De Cabane, de Squillace, Godefroi de Marsan, Bertrand d'Artois—"
"The Frenchman?" interjected Andreas.
"From Provence—yes; de Terlizzi, Morcane, Mileto, Cantangero, Roberto of Cyprus, the notary, Nicolo de Melazzo, Acciajuoli, Lello d'Aquila, de Fondi, Tomaso Pace."
"Write me down those names, that I may remember them," said Andreas.
"They are great and desperate men," remarked Konrad of Gottif. "And I think, my lord, ye are unwise to go yourself."
"Shall I stay away as though I were afraid?" flashed the King. "No, by God's heaven! as they insulted me, so will I trample on them; and as Giovanna watched it before, so may she watch it now!"
He rose, and his fierce glance rested on the Duke.
"You, messer, saw her triumph—you shall accompany me to Aversa."
"And the Queen?" asked Konrad of Gottif.
The blood rose to the King's noble young face.
"She may go free for me...the Holy Father will annul the marriage, seeing we are first cousins...I have nothing to say to the Queen."
He turned abruptly through the laurels towards the palace.
The Duke and the Hungarian looked at each other.
"Your master is very headstrong," said Duras, with a faint smile. "He acts foolishly in visiting the Queen."
"She can do nothing if he is armed with men—what should she do?"
The Duke picked a white rose and studied it attentively. "Of course," he said slowly, "what should she do?"
Konrad of Gottif rose.
"You are accompanying us?"
Duras replied with downcast eyes:
"Will you excuse me to the King? I have a headache—in truth, I am indisposed."
"Too indisposed to hunt, my good lord?"
The Duke smiled. "I am no mighty hunter, messer."
"We shall not hunt boars alone to-day."
"I pray you excuse me, and tender my duty to the King; indeed I am too sick to ride to Aversa."
Andreas, hearing this an hour later as he mounted in the courtyard, laughed carelessly.
"My little cousin is a weakling," he said.
It was a glorious morning, with a fine veil of cloud over the sun, tempering the heat, though promising thunder, the Italians said. The King's spirits were tip-toe with youth, strength and triumph; he rode at a hand gallop through the streets of Naples, and for the sake of his sheer young splendour the people cheered him. More than one house was hung with silk and flowers in honour of his approaching coronation, more than one bright face smiled down upon him from casement and balcony; and Andreas laughed up at them, feeling his heart as high as his banner that waved above the city, for he was a King, and it seemed to him that his fortunes danced with gold like the blue bay that flashed between the houses.
Konrad of Gottif rode on his right, and the King gaily talked with him, of his plans for the future and of little things that occurred to him.
He would build a lordly palace at Pausilippo among the orange-groves; he would send to his mother for a jewel to give Maria on her wedding;—this brought him to remember that he should have written to his brother.
"But to-night," he said—"I will write to-night."
Then he spoke of the little peasant girl who had disappeared; he told Konrad of the amulet, and, laughing, added:
"I do not need it now."
They left Naples behind them and started across the country towards Capua.
"Was ever sky so blue?" cried Andreas, exulting in the sun.
The cavalcade plunged into a forest of pine and chestnut, where the eager dogs were loosed; by the middle of the morning they had started a boar, and the King, adding the elation of his heart to excitement of the chase, was soon far ahead of the others in pursuit. Henryk of Belgrade alone kept up with the noble white steed as it thundered down the forest glade and across the flowered meadows. With the blazing sky swirling overhead, the scented grass under foot, the trees to right and left, his heart and the horse's hoofs keeping time in a wild measure, the King pursued the boar. His cap had gone and his yellow locks floated out with his gold cloak; one hand grasped the reins, the other held aloft the great spear; the white mane of the eager horse fluttered back and struck the rider's flushed face; his breath came quickly through his cleft lips in little sobs of excitement; so, down the slopes and up the slopes, bringing a wind with him, rode Andreas of Hungary.
As the sun was dipping behind the chestnuts, they came upon the boar at bay, ringed about with crouching dogs, and one bleeding on the uprooted grass. It was on a low knoll under a cluster of beeches, all grown about with white flowers and limp scarlet poppies. Henryk of Belgrade rode up shouting and plunged at the boar, who turned and rushed at him.
"Take care!" laughed the King, reining up his foaming horse; but Henryk's steed reared with fright, and his master was thrown among the dogs.
The boar charged, but the King leapt splendidly from his horse and met him with the spear, standing over his prostrate friend; even for a moment his strength shook before the onslaught of the desperate animal. Then he drove home with the spear, then with the hunting knife, killing his foe cleanly.
Henryk scrambled up from the trampled beech mast; the King, panting, stepped back.
"Where are the others, Henryk?"
No one was in sight; dark, heavy clouds were rising above the trees.
"There will be a storm," said Andreas. He seated himself on the root of the beech beside the dead boar and the dogs.
"We must be near Capua or Aversa," answered Henryk. "We can see no sign of a town from here."
"It is no matter," cried the King gaily. "The others, I think, must pass this way; we will wait a while."
Now the excitement of the chase was over, he felt himself tired, and laughingly told Henryk that he was hungry. Then he fell to talking of his cousin Maria and of Raymond de Cabane's designs upon her, and of his resolution that she should marry none other than his brother.
"How much I talk of Ludovic to-day!" he said smiling. "By God's heaven! he comes constantly to my thoughts. Henryk, I should have written to him—it is five days since he wrote to me—Ah, the storm!"
In a moment it had blown up, a thick cloud obscuring the sky; a little distant thunder rolled.
"We must find some shelter for the night," remarked Henryk, "nor linger for the others."
"Some one comes," said the King.
It was a shepherd boy hurrying towards the trees, with the little wind that is the herald of rain blowing in his hair.
"Friend!" cried Andreas in his halting Italian, "come here."
The boy turned, and started to see the gorgeous hunter seated among his hounds, with the dead boar beside the splendid great horses.
The King laughed light-heartedly.
"A poor specimen of venery, friend, as my huntsmen are not here. But tell us where we may shelter if we will?"
The shepherd came softly up to him, gazing at the boar with wide eyes.
"Lord, there is no place near save the convent, whither I go."
"Why, we will go there also," cried Andreas. "Where is it?"
The boy pointed where the wood dipped into a valley.
"Below there—it is near by; one may come upon a road."
"Well, if it rain and our friends come not, we will ask asylum," answered the King. He put his hand in the gold and leather purse that hung at his waist, and gave the boy a piece of silver.
The shepherd took it with an awestruck admiration. The King's yellow hair and blue-grey eyes and magnificent bearing were even as the figures in the missals illuminated by the monks. He was turning away slowly, when Andreas called after him: "What is the name of your convent?"
The boy's thin voice came over his shoulder.
Henryk gave a little exclamation.
"Where the Queen is!" said Andreas.
"And Raymond de Cabane," added Henryk. "You will not go there?"
The King frowned. "Why not? I should be glad to see my cousin—I meant to go."
"But not alone?"
"God's name! Henryk," cried the King impatiently, "what can a woman do? Have I grown to be afraid of such an one?"
"She has fifteen men with her."
"We do not know it."
"Would we had asked the boy," said Henryk; "but he has gone."
It began to rain in great drops; the thunder grew nearer. Andreas sprang up and looked about him for any trace of his company.
"Henryk, I am going to the convent."
"Then you go not as a King but as a fool," answered his friend roughly.
"Why, you seem to think they might lay hands On me."
"God knows, they might."
"By God, Henryk! I cannot bring myself to any fear of anything in the circle of the world; but I am tired now, and something hungry." He leapt laughing on to his horse; the whole landscape had rob THE SWORD DECIDES I darkened, and it was raining heavily. Henryk mounted.
"We must abandon the spoil," said Andreas ruefully. "But perhaps there are those at the convent can come for it."
The hounds behind them, they rode across the grass in the direction the shepherd had indicated; and the moment they cleared the scattered trees they beheld the convent, black against the stormy sky. It was a fine building, walled about with a great garden, and shaded with many slim poplar trees that shuddered to and fro now dolefully in the gusts of rain.
A few moments brought them to the gate; on their summons it was instantly opened by a monk.
"I am the King," said Andreas. "I ask your hospitality to-night."
The monk bowed his head in silence, and the two men rode up the path through multitudes of sweet-smelling flowers, fragrant with the rain, to the convent of Santo Pietro-a-Majello.
Andreas, laughing, singing, bringing the gaiety and splendour of his triumphant youth into the grey old building, followed the monk his guide up the stairs.
The Queen, on being informed of his arrival, had at once asked to see him. She sent Sancia to tell him that she was alone save for two or three of the nobles who had followed her and her sister, the rest having returned to their estates.
The King thought her message conveyed an appeal—for mercy, perhaps; and remembering how he had last stood before her, his heart swelled with exultation. They brought him into a large room in the front of the building that opened its full length by arched windows on to a stone balcony grown with small clustering red roses.
The walls were hung with arras worked in bright colours, showing the Seven Virtues striving with the Seven Sins. There were one or two high stiff chairs, and a low table against the wall bearing an alabaster angel holding a lamp, and a brass bowl filled with white lilies; above was a little copper-gilt statue of the Virgin on a carved bracket.
Either side of the room was a door reached by two steps; and as Andreas entered, that to the right opened and the Queen came down.
They regarded each other a moment in silence. She looked ill and thin, stooping more than her wont, while the brightness of her auburn hair caused her smooth face to appear ivory-white. She moved her fingers in a restless fashion at her breast, staring at him; then she said:
"How it rains! My roses will all be spoilt!" and laughed unsteadily.
"It is through the storm that I am here tonight," answered Andreas, struggling with embarrassment.
"Ah!" she said quickly. "So you were not coming?"
He was eager she should understand that he had never been afraid of her.
"I was coming in a more kingly fashion," he said haughtily. "I have not even one servant in attendance."
She looked at him in an extraordinary fashion.
"So you are alone." She paused, then repeated the word. "Alone."
"Henryk of Belgrade is with me, Madonna."
The Queen moved slowly towards him.
"I will sit down," she said faintly. "I have been ill." She seated herself by the table, and so slight and frail she seemed that his strength was moved to pity her.
"You should not have left Naples, Madonna," he said bluntly. "Did you think I should touch a woman?"
"My position was not to be borne," she answered. "Your wife and not your wife—the Queen and not the Queen; and my friends—"
"They are here?" he interrupted. "I warn you, of some of them I have sworn the death."
"I have five with me—ten have gone," she answered slowly. "And these five wish to make peace with you—I have no means wherewith to bribe them more."
He noticed that she had about her no jewels, though still wearing the gorgeous dress in which she had fled from Naples.
"De Cabane has gone?" asked Andreas.
"Yes, oh yes."
The King hated these men for having forsaken her; in his triumph he could afford to pity. He looked curiously at her faint beauty.
"Giovanna, what did you wish to say to me?"
"I am at your mercy," she answered. "You have the crown, the people—"
"And the right," he added.
"I am at your mercy," she repeated.
The King frowned; he recalled how she had treated him when the power was hers, but an instinct of generosity kept him silent as to that.
"Where is Maria?" he demanded.
"She is in bed with a little fever," answered the Queen.
"She goes to Hungary," said Andreas. "I take her back with me to Naples."
"Yes," assented Giovanna.
The King walked to the window and looked out upon the rain and the bruised roses; Giovanna watched him, and her face was like a mask.
"And what of me?" she asked.
He was silent; this listless submission roused in him a vague wonder. Why had she not fled to Provence or some other part of Italy?—why have waited here without striking a blow in her own cause? He glanced over his shoulder at her.
"You are grown meek," he said.
"No," she answered; "hopeless."
At this, his superb self-assurance felt an increased pity for her; 'twas a woman's manner of fight—from insolence to despair!
He came up to the table where she sat, with her fingers trifling among the lilies in the brass bowl.
"Giovanna"—he spoke quietly—"what do you want with me?"
She kept her eyes very steadily down. "Pardon for my friends."
"Not, by God! for Raymond de Cabane!"
"No; for the five who remain with me."
"Who are they?"
"Godefroi de Marsan, de Squillace, Lello d'Aquila, de Terlizzi, and de Fondi."
"Let them return to their allegiance and I will pardon them."
She bent her head.
"For myself—who am no wife to you—freedom from the form of it, and you can attain it from the Pope; the title of Duchess of Calabria and all revenues thereto appertaining; freedom to marry again whom I will; and money to support my state as first Princess of the blood to the extent of three thousand ounces of gold a year."
He had it in his power to thrust her into a convent for life; this considered, her terms were extravagant, and she seemed to be waiting for him to so pronounce them.
"And for so much I will renounce publicly all claim to the throne and engage to live in peace," she added.
"But be it so that the Pope will not annul our marriage?" asked Andreas, flushing.
"Then must I have the title of your Queen; but I will not trouble you..."
He interrupted her, lifting his noble face.
"Cousin, we will not talk of all this to-night—there are many to consult; but I swear"—and his colour deepened—"that I will give you all you ask."
She gave a start, looking up. "You mean it?" she cried.
"By God's heaven! yes!" He glanced at her proudly, his colour coming and going. "You may have thought me a boor, Giovanna, but I can behave even as a King," he added, and his eyes flashed.
"You are generous, my lord," said Giovanna; "but, as you say, we cannot discuss these matters to-night—I am still sick."
She rose, and slowly, by reason of her heavy dress, moved across the room. The youth wondered why she wore such splendour; then it came to him she had fled in what she stood in. He was angry with himself that it had not occurred to him to send her her clothes and jewels.
She put one of her little hands to her forehead.
"My lord King, I am sorry for it all," she said faintly. "I have been too ambitious."
Her manner was almost humble, her guise pale and pitiful.
"Madonna," said Andreas impetuously, softening instantly at her humility, "will you sup with me and Count Henryk?—forgetting those things for to-night?"
"No, no," she answered hastily. "I must sit with Maria."
"May I not see her?"
"She is in her bed," said Giovanna. "The monks will look after you—I will send my lords to you—I shall see you in the morning."
She stopped; her breath seemed to come with difficulty.
"Mass," said Andreas gently, "I am grieved to see you so ill."
"Good night, good night," she answered, with her face away from him.
"Good night, Madonna." He strode with his easy strength to the door and opened it.
At his name that she had never used before, called so suddenly and sharply, he swung round.
She had put the room between them now, and was leaning against the window frame, her wide purple eyes staring at him; a branch of the wet red roses had fallen in through the stone arch and lay against her skirt.
"What is it?" he asked curiously.
"Nothing," she answered. "Nothing."
He left her and went singing down the stairs.
He supped that night with Henryk of Belgrade and the five Italian lords, who were profuse in their professions of loyalty. Konrad of Gottif and some of the Hungarian soldiers arrived at the convent during the evening, having come upon it in their search for the King.
Merrily they jested and laughed together until well into the evening; Andreas at the height of gay spirits. The flattery of those present, the submission of his late enemies, the knowledge that he had done royally by the Queen, all combined to swell his boyish triumph. He spoke of the hunt, of the boar they would fetch on the morrow, of the day's sport they would have again when he had settled with the Queen; he praised the beauty of the scenery, the good fare the monks provided; he mentioned again his brother Ludovic, and toasted him, coupling his name with that of his cousin Maria. He, however, drank but little, and rose from the table early, soon after ten.
"As I have neither page nor servant," he said, laughing, to Konrad von Gottif, "will you knock upon my door at the waking hour?"
"What hour is that, my lord?" smiled de Terlizzi. "Surely you will sleep late to-morrow?"
"No," said Andreas. "By daybreak I wake, my good lord!"
"I'll wager my falcon at daybreak you'll be asleep," answered the Italian.
So, still jesting, he parted from them and followed one of the monks to the room prepared for him; it was that opening on the left from the chamber where he had spoken with the Queen, and directly facing her apartment.
He asked for his few soldiers, and was told they lay in the outhouses; the two Hungarian nobles being lodged in another part of the convent.
The King entered his room gaily, and asked for writing material; the monk brought it and retired.
It was a small chamber, scantily furnished, and very ill-lit by a smoky lamp; the bed was gaunt, the walls hung with worn tapestry. Andreas, yawning, seated himself at the little table by the window and commenced a letter to his brother.
But after the first few lines, weariness and the bad light overcame him; he put the writing aside for completion in the morning, and rose, again yawning.
Struggling with sleep, he removed his gold-laced habit and his sword and laid them on the table beside the unfinished letter. He wore now his rose-and-white hose, laced at the waist to a sleeveless jacket of the same colour, and his white shirt ruffled round the throat. His high leather boots he took off, and as he bent over them the chain round his neck caught on the edge of the table and broke. He uttered an exclamation of annoyance, for he never went without it; it bore a jewel Ludovic had given him, a case containing a lock of his mother's hair, and Hippolyta's little amulet. As he laid the broken chain beside his habit, he looked on these objects one by one, and a sudden sadness came over him; he wished he were not so far from the only two people he loved. Restlessly he went to the window and looked out.
The rain had ceased, and the moonlight lay over the peaceful garden; on the horizon rested the thunder-clouds that had retreated sullenly with their threat unfulfilled; it was absolutely still.
The King's melancholy gave place to a wave of exultation. A thousand glorious projects formed themselves before him; he thought of the submission of the Queen and of the nobles; their last toast rang in his ears:
"Andreas, King of Naples!"
He turned into his chamber, put the light out, and flung himself upon the bed; then, sleepy as he was, some uncontrollable impulse made him rise and test the door.
As he stretched himself again upon the bed, the monastery bell rang out sharply, summoning the monks to the service held every hour of the day and night; Andreas crossed himself and fell asleep.
He slept heavily, dreamlessly for a while then very suddenly awoke.
The room was filled with the grey light of dawn; it was so still he lay wondering what had wakened him, when a soft knock sounded on the door. Andreas remembered his boast that he would rise with the break of day, and sprang to his feet.
Sounds like suppressed laughter came from the other room, and Andreas, believing 'twas the nobles making a jest of his laziness, called aloud: "I am coming, my lords!" He looked about for his clothes, but, the knock being repeated, he went as he was, in his hose and shirt, gaily to the door, and opened it—
Opened it upon Raymond de Cabane, with a dozen men behind him.
Immediately he was seized and dragged from his door.
He gave a great shout, seeing what they intended—seeing in Raymond's face murder, knowing instantly their purpose.
"Konrad! Henryk!" he cried, and with a terrific effort of his great strength disengaged himself from them and staggered across the room towards the Queen's door, yelling with fury.
But they closed round him. He struggled hand to hand with the Conte Raymond and flung him off; escaped from them again, and endeavoured to reach his room with the wild idea of arming himself, but Nicolo de Melazzo thrust his dagger through the staples of the lock.
At that the boy wrenched away from de Terlizzi, who clung to him, and made for the centre door, calling fiercely on his God and his Hungarians for succour. That door also was locked, and the Italians made a third rush.
He defended himself like a lion, rage at their trickery, scorn of their cowardice, lending his strength a fury. Bertrand d'Artois, the Frenchman, he dashed against the wall and laid senseless at his feet; he struggled to the table and, seizing the gilt statue of the Virgin from her bracket, struck Conte Raymond with it; the tapestry ripped from the wall in the fight and the table went over. With flaming eyes Andreas shouted for help; de Terlizzi, the man who had laughed with him on his early rising, drew his dagger and wounded the King in the shoulder. It was the first weapon used, for it had been the Conte Raymond's desire that they should strangle him with their hands. Andreas, feeling the blood flowing and his strength breaking, uttered horrible cries of despair, and with an effort of desperation dragged himself and the conspirators clinging to him to the Queen's door: it was unsecured.
"Giovanna! Giovanna!" he shouted, and thrust them back and dashed into her room. He dashed the heavy door back in their faces, locked it and bolted it; then, torn and bleeding, stumbled on to his knees in the centre of the grey room.
She was standing by her bed with her bodice half unlaced and her bare feet showing under her gorgeous dress; her hair hung about her shoulders, that rose fair and white from her falling sleeves. She looked at Andreas, stepping back.
"The door—I forgot to bolt the door," she muttered.
The King fell forward against her bed; great heaving breaths tore his frame; he was exhausted almost to death; the blood ran from his forehead and his shoulder on to the sheets and coverlet.
"Giovanna!" he sobbed. "They came to murder me." His fair head sank on to the pillows; his shirt hung in rags on his torn body.
"You murdered San Severino," said the Queen fiercely. "You would murder Raymond and all my friends."
"Call my friends!" cried Andreas. "Is there no one will stand by me now?"
He made an effort to rise, but fell forward again.
"Staunch this bleeding, cousin—for—the—love—of—God!"
Outside they thundered on her door for their victim.
Giovanna crossed swiftly to her husband. "Am I to falter with what I have begun?" she said with dilated eyes.
"Oh, God!" he murmured, half fainting; "did you set them on—after you had lied to me?" He lifted his blood-smeared face, and his eyes were terrible in their anguish. "Yet do not let them in—now," he said hoarsely. "I am spent—pity me, cousin."
He was faint with loss of blood. She looked down at him and made no movement either to assist him or to unclose the door to those who beat upon it; her white face and bosom showed ghastly in the grey light above her splendid dress. She crept a little closer and stared at Andreas; his last energy appeared to have left him; his head sank helplessly upon her lavender pillow, crimsoning it. A little early wind blowing in through the open window fluttered his thick yellow hair and her long curls; there came the sound of the Conte Raymond cursing and struggling with the door.
Andreas put out his beautiful hand and caught her down. "Giovanna—tie up my arm!"
She flung the hand from her.
"You'll stain my dress," she said, and laughed light-headedly.
At that he looked up, his eyes burning blue in his grey face.
"Are you going to let them in?" he asked under his breath.
She made no answer, and he staggered to his feet, supporting himself by the bed-post; he stared into her dark eyes and read her purpose.
"You damned witch!" he said, panting, "I am still strong enough to kill you—remember that—afterwards!"
He seized her as he spoke; utter scorn and wrath shone in his eyes; he turned her about, his bloody fingers on her long throat.
"I could kill you now," he said; he laughed in a fury and pressed his pale lips to her bare shoulder. "Good-bye, Giovanna," and he let her go.
She wiped her throat where he had touched her, slowly with the ends of her hair; then she gathered up her glittering dress and ran to the door and opened it.
The fifteen rushed in, and Andreas of Hungary stood against the bed-post to meet them.
"A rope!" shouted Conte Raymond.
Leib d'Aquila cut down the cord from the Queen's bed with his dagger...the others were upon the King. The Conte Raymond seized him round the waist, and after a desperate resistance felled him and dragged him, by his long hair and his shoulders, to the door.
The Queen stood there still with her hand on the bolt as she had drawn it back, and as her husband was dragged past her in his agony he flung out his hand and clutched her dress and her hair.
Roberto of Cyprus leapt forward and cut her free. The King, still struggling fiercely, was forced down the steps into the outer room.
The others, following, loosened the Queen's hold and closed the door upon her.
"Make haste!" said Raymond de Cabane, panting; "someone will be roused."
"The balcony!" cried de Fondi.
"Ludovic!" moaned the King. They drew him to the window; Raymond with his knee on his breast to keep him down.
They got him out among the roses, and there he struggled, with the tears of impotent anguish running down his cheeks. He half got upon his feet, but Lello d'Aquila flung the rope from the Queen's bed round his neck.
As the King felt it tightening there, he made a last wild effort to rise, but they drew the knot and pushed him and dragged him on to the parapet.
Even then his dying strength was almost too much for them. Bertrand d'Artois turned away and fainted at the horror of the sight; de Terlizzi let go his hold; but Raymond de Cabane and the others threw him over the balcony and hurled their weight desperately upon the other end of the rope.
Then Conte Raymond looked over, leaning from the stone parapet and the scattered roses, and saw him writhing in mid-air, with impotent fingers clutching at his throat.
"A fine death for a King!" he called, and severed the cord with his dagger.
Andreas of Hungary fell the height of three stories on to the flowers of the convent garden.
They listened a moment; then rushed from the room.
Maria D'Anjou, roused by distant cries, and finding her door, for the first time in many hours, unguarded, hastily threw on some of her clothes and ran out into the convent corridor.
She listened; that sound of shouting and crying coming through the pale-lit convent made her shudder—she connected it wildly and vaguely with the King's visit and the fact that she had been kept a prisoner all day. She hurried down the grim grey stairs, not knowing where she went, and found herself in the great quiet hall of the convent. She paused and listened again.
A shriek rang out, and another. Maria, maddened by a sense of helplessness, confused by the strange light, ran up and down wildly. She could not find her way about, nor discover any living soul abroad; with her limbs trembling she rushed down the gaunt passages until she came upon a mellow light softening the greyness—the candles of the chapel glowing through its open door.
Maria, panting, with her terrified face half-veiled by her fallen chestnut hair, her violet gown gathered hastily about her, turned into the chapel and confronted the six monks who knelt before the altar. The high-springing tracery of arch and window was half revealed by the yellow candle-flames; the long, black habits of the monks showed sombrely against the dim painted glories of the altar.
"Something is happening," said Maria, with dry lips. "What were those shrieks?"
The first monk turned about and stared at her.
"We heard nothing, Princess."
Indeed, now all was quiet, utterly quiet. Maria waited a second, then spoke.
"I have been a prisoner all day. I saw the King ride up "—her accent became full of horror, "I think—it was his voice that I heard just now."
The monks all crossed themselves in silence.
"Will you come with me to find him?" asked Maria, putting the hair back from her haggard face. "Where are his friends?—will you rouse them? I think—I think they were murdering him."
Without a word or a gesture, their faces hidden in their deep cowls, the monks came slowly towards the door, each bending the knee to the altar as they passed; one put a candle into Maria's hand, and in his toneless voice bade her lead them where she would.
"Hush!" she answered, and her eyes dilated as she crouched against the wall.
There came a sound of subdued but steady tramping; of a number of men walking stealthily, but heavily. Maria, gazing from the chapel door down the dark corridor, saw a little group pass at its far end; one held a lantern, and the light flashed on the face of Raymond de Cabane, the chain collar of the man behind him, and the fair head of Bertrand d'Artois, who hung like a sick man between two others. They passed hurriedly, and the passage was dark again.
"Where do they come from?" whispered Maria hoarsely. "Where do those stairs come from that they have descended?"
"The King's room and the Queen's room," answered the man; "from the royal rooms of the convent."
"Rouse the Hungarians!" she cried; "bring some one!"
The monks behind her, she went down the corridor, walking unsteadily, the smoking flame of the perfumed candle bringing out from the surrounding darkness her wild face and the flung-back splendour of her hair.
In this manner, meeting no one, they reached the room from which the King's chamber opened. Cold with dread, Maria looked about her, saw the fallen table, the poor scattered lilies, the torn tapestry; she gave a heart-smitten cry.
"Andreas!" she tried to call, and found her voice would not rise above a whisper. She stumbled to his chamber door, saw the dagger that bolted it, and now shrieked aloud.
One of the passionless monks withdrew the dagger, and with a sick catch at her heart Maria entered, fearing to see her cousin murdered, stretched on his bed, fearing...Nothing;—the room empty, yet as horrible as anything her fears had pictured; the tumbled bed, the clothes and boots as he had flung them down, the broken chain and the unfinished letter on the table,—all desolate in the brightening light...She saw his sword in the corner, and his hunting knife. So—he was without arms!
She picked up the letter and the chain, placed them in the bosom of her dress, and came back to the monks.
"He is not there," she said, and extinguished her candle; it was so light they did not need it.
"Perchance he is with the Queen," said one of the Benedictines.
Maria turned to her sister's door. As she crossed the floor the strengthening daylight showed her strange dark marks upon the floor; the little red roses, too, were torn from their place.
"Giovanna!" She struck on the Queen's door wildly. All old dreads, old horrors, black visions of forsaken days and weeping nights, came crowding upon her; impossible horrors seemed realised in a reality worse than any dream. "Giovanna! where is the King? Andreas!"
The door was locked from within, and there came no answer.
"Oh God, pity me!" she moaned. She stumbled down into the room again, and fell on her knees beside the stains on the floor. "Look!" she shrieked—"blood—wet blood!" She put her finger on one of the dark patches, and held it up stained with red.
"And behold, here by the window!" exclaimed a monk. Maria, dragging herself upon her knees, followed the trail of blood. At the sight upon the balcony she shrieked again;—on the defiled roses lay little locks of bloody yellow hair and shreds of white lines; tied to the parapet was a red silk cord.
"I can't look over!" cried Maria frantically. "This is his blood—his hair; they have murdered him!"
She hung back, clinging to the window frame as one of the monks advanced and, leaning forward, gazed below.
"Do you see anything, padre?" she muttered.
"There is something among the flowers—but I cannot see for the syringa bushes."
"Is it—is it a man, padre?"
"Jesu! look down upon us! I see a man, one of his hose is white—the other pink."
"It is the King!" screamed Maria.
She fell on her knees again and gathered up the fragments of his hair, the little scraps of his shirt, and pressed them to her cold bosom.
"It is over now," she said. "They have murdered him!" She shook with great tearless sobs; then rose and gathered her dress round her breast.
"I am going to him."
They followed her down the dark winding stair into the quiet garden.
A breeze blew softly from Melito, heavy with the scent of grapes; the sky was glowing with an amber colour flushed with rose; the cedars along the convent wall stood out, clear-cut, purple against the dawn; the soft-hued poplars shook silver leaves. In the flowerless lilac bushes a thrush was singing as Maria and the monks entered the waking spaces.
The grass was wet with last night's rain; she had lost her shoes, and her
bare feet and her falling dress brushed the moisture from the flowers.
They found him under the balcony among the syringa, with the rope round his neck.
The monks knelt, two at his feet, two at his head, and began reciting the penitential psalms in a low monotone.
Maria stared at him a moment, then fell down at his side on the wet grass.
The murderers had left little of the splendid Andreas: there was no trace in this mangled flesh of the gallant youth who had ridden into the convent a few hours ago. The brutal fall had finished their handiwork; Maria's maddened eyes could not trace in that piteous head even the semblance of a face... Only his hand—his beautiful hand—lay out on the grass unmarred. She took hold of that and laid her cheek to it, while the sun broke through the blushing sky in gold. Then she saw that there was something in the hand—a piece of embroidery, a lock of hair. She drew them from the dead fingers—a piece of auburn curl roughly severed, a gold brocade embroidered with a purple peacock and a crimson rose.
"Oh, God be merciful!" breathed Maria.
She rose at last stiffly from beside the corpse and turned away across the gardens, walking mechanically towards the house.
And after her rose the murmur of the psalms, a steady rise and fall through the laurels and lilac.
The whole convent was roused; the alarm had spread. Maria met Konrad of Gottif, fully armed, a drawn sword in his hand, rushing from the door.
The sight of him roused her into a flash of energy. "The King is murdered!" she cried hoarsely, catching hold of him, "he is in the garden with his head crushed in, they hanged him—from the balcony!"
The Hungarian uttered a sound of terrible woe and wrath, and tried to push on; but she detained him.
"Fly! fly!" she said, "while there is time—they will prevent it soon—fly to Hungary!"
She crushed up the curl and the brocade in her hand.
"Bring King Ludovic to avenge his brother," she said, with a sudden ghastly composure.
Konrad of Gottif struck his hand fiercely against his forehead. "Is he dead—dead?"
"As we all shall be," shuddered Maria, "if you do not bring your King to save us! Quick!—fetch Count Henryk—get your horses!"
She fell against the wall and could say no more. Konrad of Gottif looked at her.
"I will go, Princess; but, by God! I shall return!" He ran out into the garden.
Maria crawled slowly and painfully to her chamber; noises were about, hurryings to and fro, but she met no one. When she was in her room she took from her bosom the letter, the chain, and the torn yellow curls, and laid them on the bed, and wept over them bitterly. Through her sick tears she read the few lines across the top of the parchment:
"To my ever-beloved Lord Ludovic:
"The Queen has submitted. I am a King indeed, with nothing to wish for. I rode through Naples to-day very triumphantly. We killed a boar to-day, larger than any I have seen at home..."
The writing broke off abruptly where his tired hand had dropped. Maria laid it down reverently, and with a kind of holy horror picked up the broken chain. It bore a case set with rough pearls, containing two locks of hair: one yellow—"like his own,"—the other black, of great brilliancy, as if gold sparkled underneath it; and a crystal cylinder with lapis lazuli ends, that encased some sacred relic; then there was the little amulet.
Maria stared at these things, and her throat and eyes ached with tears; she put beside them the auburn curl and the scrap of brocade.
"Oh, Giovanna! Giovanna!" she sobbed.
Thinking of him young and splendid yester evening, writing light-heartedly to his brother,—thinking of him now shapeless in the garden with the monks at his feet,—thinking of those shrieks of agony that had rung through the silent convent—a passion of utter fury against his murderers shook her. She gathered up those poor objects of his tenderly, and laid them in her jewel casket (despoiled of its contents by the Queen to pay for the loyalty of her followers) and locked it, and put the key, together with the auburn curls and the brocade, under her pillow.
Then she wept anew, and flung herself along her bed, face downwards.
The bright sun crept in through the narrow window; but Maria covered her eyes from it, remembering what it had shone upon through the syringa bushes.
Horror and misery in the form of cowled monks seemed to pace the room. The events of the night rose before her, dreadful, distorted; she sank into a feverish, half-conscious swoon, and terrible visions showed themselves to her like pages of a book turned over. She saw Giovanna on a gigantic white horse, riding over Naples and scattering cities like dust beneath her hoofs; she saw the sun rising out of the sea, and a warrior lean from the east and take it from the sky and place it on his arm as a shield; she saw Giovanna again, calm and crowned, at the church door; then she saw the church crack and split, pressing the Queen into nothingness. Then it seemed the world, gold and glittering, floated in eddying currents of blue, and over all the faces of it were great armies that struggled together, and the blood that dropped from them stained the blue and put out the little pure stars that circled round about. Then the Queen again, half naked, with Andreas clinging to her hair and gown, and hideous shapes striking at him till he fell backwards into a great void and lay at last still, with no head, under syringa bushes; and the syringa blossoms swelled into trumpets that blew a blast for vengeance, louder and louder, and the trumpets grew into armed men that loomed gigantic, and the blood of Andreas became a crimson flag that a warrior held aloft. Maria ran down to him, and they stepped past the headless body of Andreas and began mounting innumerable steps—up, up, until a great wind began to take their garments and they came upon a bare room where Giovanna crouched in a corner. And her auburn curls had grown over the room—they had to fight through them; like silken nets round their feet they clung, till at last the warrior pulled her from the meshes, and she showed very small and thin. He dragged her to the balcony, where yellow hair and roses lay—he dragged her to the edge of the balcony...
Maria sat up on her bed, raving with horror, on the verge of madness; when her distended eyes caught sight of a sparrow that had flown in through the window and beat desperately round the room.
It steadied her, bringing her back to reality. With a fierce effort she struggled into self-control and got weakly from the bed, and, after a little, caught the frightened bird and put it forth again.
The sight of the fair, warm landscape quieted her. The sun was high in the soft, misty heavens; above the yellowing beeches and chestnuts rose the clustering towers of Aversa; towards Melito were the vineyards and orange-groves. Her tears renewed themselves, yet peacefully, and she returned to her bed and lay quiet. It was not the time now to lose her wits; if she kept her senses and her strength, there was much she might do—she was Anjou as well as Giovanna. She had Alba, Giordano—fine estates in men and money. There was the Pope at Avignon and Ludovic of Hungary: if she went cautiously...
The door was lightly opened, and Giovanna entered; not the gorgeous Giovanna of her visions, but a pale, tired-looking girl with lips feverishly red.
Maria could not speak to her; she lay still, thinking of the curls under her pillow.
The Queen came slowly to the bedside, and sat down heavily on the coverlet.
"You must make ready to come to Naples," she said.
Maria looked up from her pillow with swollen eyes.
"Ah, how you have been weeping!" said the Queen curiously. "You know what happened last night?"
"Yes," answered her sister. "I have seen him."
"My God! did you dare?"
Maria sat up and gazed at the Queen.
"Giovanna, who murdered him?"
"Do you think I know?" cried the Queen. "What do you mean? They slew him last night in some quarrel—I do not know anything."
"You did not hear the noise?" asked Maria. "Nor me knocking at your door?"
"You did not lure him to this lonely convent that—"
"No!" interrupted the Queen fiercely. "No!"
Maria's blue eyes stared in a strange fashion at her sister, with an expression Giovanna had not seen in them before, with a look that made her draw back before her sister.
"Listen, Maria," she said feverishly. "We have all been playing deep—my friends have done this for me—I am innocent. I did not know before—no, nor till I heard he was dead; yet I cannot weep a man I hated—my rival and my enemy. Let him go as better men have gone when they have staked their lives against kingdoms. As for me, I am the Queen again—the Queen!"
"And innocent—you say?" said Maria evenly.
Giovanna rose, shaking from head to foot.
"Do you think these men would make a woman their confidant? I know nothing—nothing."
"Why was I kept a prisoner yesterday?"
"Ask Raymond de Cabane; he is master, not I," flashed the Queen.
Maria put her hand over the pillow; it was as if she could feel the curl burning like flame through to her flesh.
"Giovanna—when did you last see him—the King?"
"When he came—for a few moments. Maria, do you believe what I am telling you?"
The Queen walked up and down the room, twisting her fingers together.
"Do you believe I am innocent?" she asked in a low voice; the gold, purple, and crimson of the borders of her dress flashed as she passed and repassed the window.
Maria, with her hand on the pillow, uttered the first lie of her life.
"Yea, I do believe you, Giovanna."
The Queen looked at her over her shoulder.
"Who will do otherwise?" she said proudly.
Maria suddenly began laughing hysterically.
"Your dress—it is all torn at the side, Giovanna!"
The Queen paused instantly in her walk and gazed at her sister.
"Your beautiful dress?" laughed Maria wildly.
"Sancia tore it," said the Queen, moistening her scarlet lips. "It will mend...Get ready to come to Naples." She put her hand to her side. "Why did you speak of my dress?" she added.
Maria had fallen back on the pillows.
"It is such a lovely gown," she answered. "It seemed a pity."
"Yes," replied Giovanna, "it is a pity."
And she abruptly left the room.
Maria d'Anjou sprang on to the floor, and her face was distorted with passion.
"Liar!" she sobbed—"liar! We have all been playing deep, you say; but you, by God!—you have not won yet, even though you have staked—and lost—your soul!"
They held a great fête at the Castel del Nuovo, more splendid than had been known for many years; the dead, disfigured King was in his tomb in Santa Chiara, and no one spoke his name.
It was three days before the coronation of the young Queen, and the marriage contract between Raymond de Cabane, Conte d'Eboli, and Maria d'Anjou had that day been drawn up by the notary, Nicolo de Melazzo. They who knew the state of the kingdom, the discontent of the people, the quarrels of the nobles, the emptiness of the Queen's coffers, those who guessed at a slow vengeance gathering against the kingdom that had slain its King, marked a wildness, a reckless profusion in the festivities that showed both defiance and imprudence.
It was the Queen's wish that she should shine with great magnificence before her people. Raymond de Cabane, of all things no statesman, made little effort to restrain her with talk of unpaid troops and a murmuring people; he also was near the summit of his desires, and careless of the last step.
The splendour of the scene in the great hall and garden was beyond words. The Duke of Duras, masked in purple, leant from the gallery with the Contessa di Terlizzi, in her trembling gown of peacock's feathers, and together they watched the shifting, laughing crowd below.
"Can she pay for it?" asked the Contessa, and her black eyes flashed through her bronze-coloured mask.
"An Emperor could not pay for it," answered the Duke. "They say the supper cost a year's revenue; and the prizes at the tournament yesterday were fabulous."
"It does not matter," said the Contessa. "Let her dance to ruin; after all, it is better than crawling to it!"
The Duke smoothed his silver sleeve. "But what of us?"
She shrugged until her white shoulders rose out of her bright green gown.
"We must die as gaily as we have lived, Carlo."
"That," answered Duras, "is the talk of a woman—the way the Queen talks; at the same time, you are both of you trusting in the men to avert the disaster."
She turned her face to him; her painted lips and her round chin showed under her mask.
"Carlo, why are you despondent?" She laughed and laid her warm, bare arm along the gallery rail and caressed his clasped hands with her little fingers.
"Giulia, enchantress, the Queen has absolutely no money—she has squeezed from her own estates and borrowed from the nobles."
"My husband," said the Contessa, "told me that she had great hopes in Bertrand d'Artois—his father has a great treasure at Santa Agatha."
"Yes, but the old man is close as a Jew."
"Well, I suppose one could take it by force. At least, while the money does last, Carlo, let us enjoy it."
"For my part," said the Duke, "I do not enjoy dancing on a triumphal arch with a loose keystone. There is Hungary, and Avignon—"
"And the present moment," interrupted Giulia di Terlizzi, "and—me."
"Sweetheart, you beguile me into folly!"
"Am I not Folly?" said the Contessa. "Am I not a woman? And the business of a woman lies not with past or future, but with the present. Now, I am—to-morrow, I may not be; yet I could die laughing any day, being Folly who cannot weep. And so—and so—"
"Giulia, you are entrancing!"
"Hush! I would see the Queen."
They bent over the gallery and looked down; in the press of gorgeous costumes they could not discern Giovanna or her sister.
"She is changed of late," said the Contessa. "She laughs too much and makes a show of herself; she did not use to."
"You think she knew—about the King?"
"Knew!" The Contessa laughed. "My husband will never speak of it to me, but I think"—she lowered her voice—"I think the Queen not only knew but was even there—when it was done!"
"Sancia di Renato tells me she was shut out of her mistress's room that night; and she says that ever since the Queen will sleep with a light, and that she puts her hands o her neck as if to loosen something. She will have no cords to her bed, and fancies she is being strangled."
"I have noticed that," answered the Duke. "But I do not think she more than knew."
"Listen!" insisted the Contessa. "The day after, the Queen herself took all the sheets off her bed and rolled them in the coverlet, and forbade Sancia very sharply to meddle with them; but yet that same morning the Queen took occasion to call the washerwoman who had come with her linen, and gave her the bundle. Sancia followed the washerwoman, and found her taking the sheets off the King's bed to wrap him in—for even de Cabane didn't care to leave him in the garden, once the sun grew fierce; and Sancia looked into the bundle, and all the Queen's bed-linen was dabbled over with blood. Sancia spoke of it to the woman, who said the Queen had told her that she had cut her foot on a broken wine-glass, and as this happened on the night of the murder she desired the sheets washed quietly—to which end she gave the woman a ducat. Now Sancia knows that is a lie—there was no wound on the Queen's foot and no glass in her chamber."
"You think, then—" began the Duke.
She interrupted. "Oh, I think a great deal! Put it to yourself, my Carlo: if they slew the King in the outer chamber, her door locked, as she says, the whole time, how did those blood-stains come upon her coverlet? And how was it that her dress, that was whole the night before, was torn in the morning?—and how was it they could not find the piece, though search was made everywhere?"
"Where was it, then?" asked Duras.
The Contessa dropped her voice.
"In the King's hand—who knows! The Queen lives in terror that someone may perhaps—who knows that either!"
"De Terlizzi must know, then—and the others?"
"They will not speak—no one dare believe them if they did. As for my husband, he went so sick he knows not what happened." She grimaced and shrugged her shoulders.
The Duke shuddered. "Do not let us speak of it, Giulia. Maria at least believes her sister's innocence."
"Oh, bah!" cried the Contessa. "She knows well enough; she knows Raymond did the thing and the Queen sanctioned it."
"She would not be so calm an she did," replied the Duke firmly. "There is no evil nor condoning of evil in Maria d'Anjou."
The Contessa laughed.
"My simple Carlo, she is marrying the most powerful man in the kingdom—she is not displeased; there are no saints in this court of Naples."
"The Queen!" said Duras, and pointed to her, passing through the throng beneath.
"Ah!" answered the Contessa, watching her curiously. "Whatever they may say, she is not beautiful."
Giovanna was fantastically dressed in a gown of close brown clouded with veils of hyacinth blue. Her auburn locks hung down in thin curls to her waist; her mask was of gold brocade; her slender arms were bare and her fingers almost hidden in rings. She was leaning, rather heavily, on the arm of Luigi of Taranto, who wore a wizard in the shape of a wolf's face, and a grey mantle.
A hundred figures of fantasy followed her: men and women in extraordinary rich garments; dyed, painted faces, distorted masks, bare limbs, and tumbled autumn flowers, flashing, interchanging colours, and a riot of jewels.
Their shrieks of laughter, their broken songs, rose to the ears of the two watchers in the gallery.
"She is fair enough," said the Duke, who was gazing at the Queen.
"Well, she has broken no hearts yet," smiled the Contessa.
"She could an she would," he answered. "But she is too proud."
Giulia di Terlizzi shrugged her shoulders again carelessly. "Where is Maria?" she asked.
Duras rose from his leaning posture on the gallery rails, and the silver tissue of his coat glittered in the hazy lamplight.
Some of the revellers were running up the stairs and invading the quiet spaces; a half-naked girl masked as a leopard and hung with roses, and a minstrel in pink with a zither fluttering yellow ribbons, ran by laughing. The Contessa and Carlo di Durazzo turned and descended into the great hall.
The doors opening on to the garden were flung wide, and the trees without and the room within were lit by softly-glowing lamps that mingled with the ivory moonlight. The walls were hidden beneath hangings of velvet and brocade; everywhere the triumphant lilies of Anjou gleamed in gold and silver.
Giovanna had moved to the dais where the forgotten King often sat; she lay there now among green cushions, laughing. Before her a space was cleared where a tall girl in white danced with the dwarf in black, to the accompaniment of faint instruments played by gorgeous minstrels.
Shining vases of porphyry and serpentine, crushed full of trailing flowers, stood on the steps of the dais; fine white dogs moved to and fro in stately fashion, and among them dwarfs dressed like animals. From the garden came the sound of flutes and song and laughter; negro slaves in yellow and scarlet passed up and down, carrying salvers heavy with grapes and peaches; costly wines were handed about, spilled and drunk with careless profusion; the masquers danced together, danced apart, and swirled round, a many-hued wave of brilliancy.
From out the thickest crowd came a lady in a turquoise blue habit and a black mask, and ran towards the door; a misty white veil floated about her and hid her hair.
A mask in dusty lavender and russet red detached himself from the dancers and pursued her.
The lady turned down a side-path where the lamps glowed, globes of light in the rose-bushes; and he followed to a marble fountain where the water plashed softly into a cool deep basin and wetted the citron leaves. The moonlight lay ivory-hued and clear over everything; from the distant chestnuts a voice came singing:
"No triumphs with red trophies hung
And measured march of captive kings,
No glories such as Ovid sung
And Petrarch sings,
Could please me like your boat within the foam,
Your white boat, the evening brings
To Naples home."
The lady sank on the edge of the fountain and looked at the man following her.
"Messer Raymond de Cabane," she said, quietly, "are you also tired of the noise within?"
He took off his mask impatiently and showed his sullen face.
"I am soon weary of folly." He sat beside her and stared into the fountain.
The song rose again plaintively:
"The Emperor's victories could not buy
The joy of your return;
When your white sail draws nigh
To where my signals burn;
Not all the pomp of Germany, or France, or Rome,
Are glad as I am—when your oars turn
To Naples home."
"You have wondered," said Raymond de Cabane, speaking slowly, "at the Queen's profusion?"
"At nothing," answered Maria d'Anjou. She shook out her veil in the moonlight, and her voice was as expressionless as her mask.
"She stands on the edge of ruin," said the Conte Raymond, speaking very low. "The people seethe beneath her rule; Hungary is on the watch, and Avignon."
"Well?" asked Maria.
"She is straining the resources of the kingdom for this coronation; but I have saved your estates. I have wrung from her the moneys of the title of Duke of Calabria—she does refuse me nothing. We, Madonna, shall not suffer by her follies."
Maria's hand, like a lily in the moonshine, floated lightly on the surface of the water; he gazed at her black mask with straining eyes.
"Are you not pleased, Madonna, that I have spared your revenues?"
"Oh, you have done so much for me," she answered quietly: "even—murder."
"Even that," he said sombrely. "Is not a man in earnest who will slay a king to win you? Maria, I am a mighty man: what I have set myself to do I have done."
He broke off and scowled. She knew without his utterance of it that he had murdered Andreas, because while the King reigned she would still escape him; that from the first he had espoused Giovanna's cause for her sake; but she said, under her breath:
"For your own life too, messer, you slew him; you would have had small chance of it had he remained."
"He was in my way," frowned Raymond, "and he went."
"And you walk abroad unscathed," said Maria curiously.
"Who should dare to touch me?" he asked.
She drew her dripping hand from the fountain and laid it on her blue gown.
"You are not afraid," she questioned, "of vengeance?"
"Of whose vengeance?"
"He has a brother who is a King."
"I do not think he will loose his armies on to Italy for that boy's sake."
"No," said Maria d'Anjou; she pulled at the citron leaves and scattered them over the ground; "no; I do not think he will. And as for me—"
"Princess," he put in quickly—"as for you, I will bring you to the throne if you will!"
"And Giovanna?" She gave a little start.
"She is in my power—I shall prevent her remarriage—you stand next." He spoke brokenly, unsteadied by the thought that at length he had moved her.
"Well," said Maria softly, "that is as fortune wills. You see, I am very gentle, Conte Raymond, nor fierce with you as I was wont to be, since we have come together by such ways—since you can do so much for me."
The blood rose to his swarthy face; he clutched the edge of the fountain, leaning towards her.
"You will endure me?" he said unsteadily.
Her blue eyes flashed through her mask.
"Oh, I am reconciled to fortune, messer! Why not you as well as any other my sister should select for me?—why not you as well as Ludovic of Hungary?"
At that name his eyes shone jealously. "He would not do for you what I have done—he is light, unstable."
"So once before you told me," answered Maria. "But I do not think of him."
"By God! I do hope you think of none but me," said Conte Raymond haughtily. "Would the day had come, Princess, when I could take you to Giordano—I do not love to see you here."
He paused, then added earnestly: "As you look to pleasure me, be not too much with the Queen."
She looked at him quickly. "And why?"
The dark face clouded; he frowned at her.
"Tell me," breathed Maria, twisting her veil in her fingers—"Giovanna—how much did she know about the King?"
"That is no matter," he answered fiercely. "Do not speak to me of that again—we soon shall have done' with her."
Maria rose, slim and straight, casting her shadow over him. "You will take me away from here when we are wed, Raymond?"
He sprang up, the embroidery on his clothes glittering.
An elusive shape of white and blue, she avoided him as he put out his hand to take hers, and fled through the citron bushes with her dress gathered up from her silver shoes. She came upon a scattered group on a sloping lawn above a little lake. Under a dull white statue Giulia di Terlizzi lay asleep, with her mask slipping from her face and her bare shoulders gleaming on the grass; near by, her sister, Filippa da Morcone, sat gazing at herself in a gilt mirror, her cloudy black hair falling over her amber gown. A page and a dog lay beside them, and Carlo di Durazzo, caressing a monkey in a mauve coat, lounged near the edge of the lake and sang to the beautiful Cleopatra di Montalto.
The Contessa da Morcone looked up as Maria passed, and laughed, which roused her sister to sit up and stare; they were Raymond's sisters, and the wives of two of the King's murderers. Maria would not look at them; she ran along the borders of the lake among the tall irises, and her shadow was clear in the moonshine. She came into the darkness of some cypress trees: the ground was soft, damp, and fragrant; through the black boughs and flat foliage great silver stars twinkled. Maria, pausing, heard a sound of passionate sobbing.
"Who is it?" she asked, and came nearer the vast trunk.
A woman's figure showed in the gloom; Maria unfastened her mask and flung it on the ground and set her foot on it.
"Here we unmask!" she said wildly. "Here we may weep, I think, for there are none to see that our paint be spoiled!"
"Ah, 'tis the Princess!" came a voice from the shadows. "I am Sancia di Renato." She struggled with her sobs.
"Sweetheart," said Maria, "what is the matter?"
A wooden seat was round the tree; there crouched Sancia, a vague shape, touched here and there with the moonlight, that fell through the cypress branches. Maria came up to her.
"I am going away," whispered Sancia. "I will go back to Padua. To-day the Queen struck me!"
Maria seated herself beside her.
"Giovanna struck you?"
Sancia sobbed afresh.
"Hush!" said Maria. "Tell me of it." She laid her cool hand on the other's shoulder.
Sancia di Renato strove with herself a while; then faltered out to the darkness:
"Sweet Madonna, it is not that she struck me I will go into a convent;—it is remorse, about—the King."
Maria's hand fell to her side. "What do you know about that?"
Fresh miserable weeping checked Sancia's words.
"I—think so much of it, and I dare not speak." Cold and still, Maria listened; Sancia gathered courage from the silence.
"I will go home—this is a sinful place; a Renato is too proud to bear these insults."
Maria roused herself from terrible recollections, and began drawing from the weeping girl the trouble; by degrees the story came out.
It seemed that at the Queen's command she had carried a lying message to Andreas in Aversa, knowing it was false: the message said five men alone remained in the convent, and that Raymond de Cabane had returned to his estates. Giovanna declared it a ruse to save her friends from arrest; but after the events of that horrible night Sancia put another meaning to it, and remorse and horror at her share in the crime had been preying on her soul.
Maria elicited this from broken ejaculations, prayers to the saints, and wild tears: it was obvious that the girl's mind had almost given way under a constant dread and horror of her mistress. She confided to Maria that she thought Giovanna was a daughter of the devil, a soulless evil spirit; she told her, with shudders, the story of the sheets, and how, the morning after the King's murder, she had risen cold with terror after lying and listening to those shrieks, and crept down the corridor to the Queen's room.
"It had two doors," said Sancia feverishly, "and the passage to my room opened from that near the bed. It was locked, but I looked through the keyhole..." She clung to Maria trembling; the black cypress and the stars alone encompassed them; in the silence Maria shuddered.
"I saw her on her hands and knees on the floor between the bed and the window," whispered Sancia, "and she was rubbing the boards very busily with a piece of linen. Then—oh, God!—she looked up, and her lip was curled back from her teeth and her eyes were turned in, so that they were white and blind!"
She moaned, hiding her face on Maria's shoulder. "I am afraid of her," she sobbed. "She has lost her soul, and for the sake of mine I dare not stay. I have to sleep with her, and I cannot—I cannot!"
"Oh, Heavens!" murmured Maria. "What does she do?"
Sancia clutched her tightly, and the words came fearfully and brokenly.
"She will sit up in bed and feel about her throat; then along the bed-post as if she sought for a cord. Sometimes she will get out of bed and go to the window; sometimes she will take off the sheets and roll them up."
"She is crazed!" shuddered Maria. "Yet she is sane enough before company."
"She is a devil!" panted Sancia. "The other day I came upon her suddenly: she was in her room, talking—and there was another voice, but when I entered she was alone!"
Maria crossed herself with a shaking hand.
"Have you spoken of this to any?"
"To the Contessa di Terlizzi; but she thinks nought of it."
"You should not dishonour our house before Raymond de Cabane's sister!"
"What am I to do?" cried Sancia wildly. "You also seemed in league with them; you are to marry the Conte—meekly, it seemed; and you must know!"
"Listen," interrupted Maria firmly: "whatever you see, whatever you hear, I shall never be the wife of Raymond de Cabane."
"Madonna! how will you prevent it?" asked Sancia weakly.
"I have found means to write to the Pope and to Ludovic of Hungary," said Maria under her breath. "Count Konrad escaped—that night."
"Ah! You have had no answer?"
"No answer! no answer!" replied Maria mournfully. "But I wait—to the very last. Oh, Sancia! what it means to endure these men—to speak to them!—these cowards who slew the bright young King! But I also can play a part to serve my turn." She broke off hastily: "Why did she strike you today?"
In awestruck accents Sancia related how the Queen still kept the dress she had worn at Aversa, and constantly looked at it and turned it over; and now to-day, being hastily summoned from her room to see the Lombard money-lenders, she had left her coffer open and this gown on her bed.
"And I could not avoid," shivered Sancia, "looking at the dress and wondering where the great piece could have gone, and why she kept the gown she had worn that night. And she returned in her quiet way, and, seeing me looking at it, struck me very passionately and snatched the dress away...and I will go home to Padua!"
"Wait a little while," answered Maria. "Wait until my wedding day—wait until the Queen is crowned; maybe Ludovic of Hungary will come—maybe."
They clung together in the shade of the cypress and wept in a tired fashion; and in the beautiful gardens under the moon, facing to the dawn, lay the silk-clad revellers, and sang and slept. In the lamplit hall they still danced carelessly among the dying flowers.
Queen Giovanna leant back on her throne with her rouged lips smiling and her violet eyes proudly surveying the magnificence of her court.
And eastwards, along the banks of the Volturno, towards Benevento, a vast army, dark under the stars, was spreading, advancing steadily towards the riotous and languid capital.
Nearer, as the Queen laughed—nearer, as the musicians played and the perfumes of the feast rose with the songs, as the blue bay brightened in the dawn and Maria d'Anjou prayed amid her tears under the cypress tree—that silent army swept through Foligno, on towards Naples.
Giovanna of Naples called to her the Conte Raymond on her coronation morning and spoke to him alone in the little sombre anteroom to her bedchamber.
The early sun cast the lilies of Anjou in golden doubles on the floor; so had they lain when Andreas of Hungary first met his wife's sister in this same room, while the old King died within.
The Queen stood by a chair on which glittered her royal mantle. She wore a white and yellow gown and a pearl-sown vest that reached to her throat and encased her body stiffly; brilliant buttons shone on her long, tight sleeves, and her auburn hair was twisted with rubies. Raymond de Cabane, immovable, quiet, lifted his black eyes once to her splendour; then kept them on the ground.
"To-day I shall be crowned," said Giovanna. "To-day I make you Duke of Calabria and give you my sister. We are both satisfied, are we not, Conte?"
"Madonna," he answered, "I have given you your desire, and you pay my price—I am content."
The Queen's violet eyes unclosed.
"Do you take it in so poor a spirit?—is it not a swelling triumph, a high victory for us?" she cried. Then suddenly her tone was changed. "You could not be so much a devil," she said unsteadily, "as to take lightly what we have paid so high to accomplish." She sat down on her regal mantle and pulled a handkerchief from her bosom and pressed it to her lips. "Well—well," she said feverishly, tapping her foot—"do you want anything of me? I have been paying, paying all of you till you have fairly wrung the last ducat from me."
"I want nothing more, Madonna," said Conte Raymond with a flicker of a smile. By giving him her sister, her vast estates, and the title of heir to the throne, Giovanna virtually acknowledged him her successor.
She caught his expression, and her eyes grew cunning.
"You and my second husband, my good lord, will have some policy to settle." She crumpled her handkerchief, red with the paint from her lips, in restless hands.
"Your second husband, Madonna!" he said coldly. "I think a longer widowhood were wiser. Whom do you think of?"
"I know not," answered Giovanna impatiently. "But do you think I will rule Naples in lonely style? You have decreed to take your wife to Giordano."
"You have other willing counsellors," said Raymond de Cabane.
She gave him a fierce look and stamped her foot.
"You know what this kingdom is: it is won, but it will prove hard to keep." Her eager, trembling fingers clutched the chair rails. "Does not the Bishop of Cavaillon, my chancellor, tremble lest the Pope should interfere? The archbishops who crown me to-day—Pisi, Bari, Capua, and Brindisi—wait but a word from Avignon to—excommunicate me."
"I know," he answered.
The Queen's chin sank upon her breast; her high, fair brows were contracted in a frown.
"And the people," she said to herself. "The guilds are rioting—the master armourers and the bakers rose yesterday. I have the Veronese mercenaries, the French troops—there are more sailing from Marseilles; but the money—my God!—I shall go mad for money!" She looked round wildly at Raymond. "The Lombard terms are too high—we cannot borrow there."
"Better get the money from the Lombards than try to tax Naples," said the Conte Raymond grimly; "they will not give, and half the country nobles are rebellious."
"I must pay the Veronese," muttered the Queen, "for their services in clearing out the Hungarians: Bertrand d'Artois might advance the money."
Conte Raymond was silent. He saw that the Queen, with empty coffers, self-seeking counsellors, arid a disaffected kingdom, was on the verge of a ruin that a powerful, wealthy marriage alone could avert; and as all his power would be exerted to prevent this, he looked to rise to the throne she must fall from. The Queen, watching his coarse, swarthy face, seemed to guess something of his thoughts.
"You," she said, in a low, tense voice—"you have been well paid." She rose, shaking: "Get you gone with your reward. One by one you have come to me demanding each your price, and I have paid it. But enough, by God! enough!—you will not make me a footstool to the throne, Conte Raymond—I will hold it despite you all. Do you think I shall go unwed that you may be my heir?"
He looked at her calmly. "What talk is this, Madonna? Are you not crowned to-day—the summit of your ambition?"
She caught eagerly at his words.
"Yes, yes," she answered; she slipped into her chair again with a desperate attempt at control. "I have all I have ever striven for—surely I am content. Raymond,"—she looked at him furtively, —"you have known me ever since I was a child: have I ever longed for anything or cared for anything, save ambition?"
"No," he answered.
She made a restless movement. "Well, well,—I must bring men from Provence—Venice perhaps might help me—there are many faithful to me." Her violet eyes shifted from side to side; she rose.
"That is all I have to say, Raymond."
She stood stiffly, stooping a little, and her fingers worked in uncontrolled fashion in her heavy gown; the Conte, only waiting her permission to leave, turned to the door.
A little quick sound from the Queen caused him to look back.
She had drawn herself erect, rigid, and her hands were at her throat, tearing open the collar of her dress. She struggled with it fiercely until she had rent it apart over her bare neck and bosom.
"Raymond!" she said in a stifling voice, as if invisible cords pressed the breath out of her—"why did you let him come to me?"
It was the first time she had spoken of it. Raymond de Cabane fell back before her staring, inhuman eyes.
"Why did you not lock your door?" he answered hoarsely.
She dropped her hands from her throat. "How was I to know," she whispered quickly, "that it would take so long? You were fifteen to one."
"He fought like ten," frowned Raymond.
The Queen came towards him, swaying as she walked. "What did you do with him afterwards?" she said, her eyes very bright and restless. "Every time I have seen him since, he has had no head—how could you strangle him if he had no head?"
Raymond's eyes shone fiercely.
"What have I to do with your fool's talk!"
She began walking up and down with little quick steps like the padding of an animal, looking at Raymond sideways. "I did not forget anything—I rolled up the sheets and coverlets—I found a piece of linen and rubbed the floor."
"This is the way to madness," cried Raymond roughly, yet with some awe of her. "These are not things to talk of."
She pulled herself up, looked at him a moment, then laughed quite sanely.
"It is going to be over hot for my pageant," she said, with a glance at the blazing sun without. "We shall meet presently, Raymond."
With some muttered words he left her.
He thought with a strange repulsion of her slender, girlish figure, her strange containment, her little secretive movements; the white face, the violet eyes, the sudden wild words spoken so quietly, of the desperate clutching at her throat...Well, if she were crazed, the easier for him; Naples would owe small allegiance to a madwoman.
But when with her nobles about her she appeared upon the castle steps to take the head of her procession, there seemed no touch of wildness or insanity in her regal demeanour; she was elate, joyous and beautiful. The gold and scarlet, blue and crimson of her dress and mantle were vivid against her white palfrey; a canopy of noir and samite was upheld over her by four nobles in purple, and ten ladies went before her scattering flowers. It was said afterwards that never had a city been so magnificent as was this city on the coronation of a penniless Queen. From end to end the houses were hung with embroideries and garlands—many prepared for the crowning of the King, but used as readily by a careless, gay people in honour of Giovanna. The streets were lined with troops that silenced with the spear-head such as muttered the name of Andreas; the trumpet and the drum drowned the grumble of discontent that now and then arose at the reckless profusion of the pageantry that flashed through sunlit Naples. Between palaces set amid palms and roses, under heavy standards that dared the vivid sky, past glimpses of the bay and distant blue-green islands, to the accompaniment of triumphant music, very gorgeously they came to the church of San Gennaro, whose gilt-bronze doors were flung wide to receive them.
Maria d'Anjou, pale and fair, in red and purple, the princes of the blood in flaring brilliancy, the nobles and officers of the kingdom, followed the last monarch of the Angevin kings into the dark and holy church.
With an unfaltering step and steady eyes Giovanna d'Anjou walked down the aisle, amid the dim splendours of religion, towards the porphyry altar where the priests in splendid vestments awaited her.
Her flaming royal garments burnt in the sombre silence. Amid the quiet arches was the tomb of Charles Martel, and she looked at it as she passed; near it was a newer grave, with the mortar, that fastened the stones on what lay beneath, scarcely dry. Andreas of Hungary lay there: bright blue eyes, bright yellow hair, and gay, laughing youth mangled clay now in the vaults beneath.
Giovanna came to the altar.
Did she think of him as she mounted the marble steps to receive her crown? Did she feel that clutch at her dress?—did she hear that cry, "Giovanna—don't let them in "? Did she picture him as he lay in the vaults beneath in his bloody shroud, almost as close to her as he would have been had he stood beside her as the King? Did there arise before her the thought of that long grey dawn when she had wiped his blood from her chamber floor, and rolled up, with guilty fingers, the horrid evidence of her bed coverlets?
The crowd that filled the church saw her head upheld on her slender neck proudly, saw her step up to the glittering glories of the altar and sink on her knees on the embroidered cushion placed for her.
Her demeanour was calm; only once she looked round as if she saw some one kneeling beside her, there in the empty place where the King should have been. High victorious singing rose from the gilded choir; the gorgeous courtiers fell away to right and left; the Queen was alone on the altar steps, her trailing mantles falling heavily on the marble, her hands clasped, her auburn hair coiled on her white neck.
Ugolino, Bishop of Castella, his robes blazing in the candle-light, stood beside the altar, beside him knelt the Lord of Brindisi, bearing the crown of the Angevin kings on a tasselled cushion; round-faced acolytes in white swung censers from which the cloudy perfume rose. Motionless the Queen waited; she raised her eyes, and altar, lights, and rich garments, the twisted porphyry pillars, the scarlet angel in the coloured window, seemed to dance and reel together through the slow smoke of the incense.
She pressed her hands tightly on her breast; her throat quivered, and her lips were drawn painfully. She repeated in an expressionless voice the oath to the Pope, and swore fealty to the legate.
They put the great crown on her head.
"How heavy it is!" she said.
The Bishop of Castella blessed her; the singing swelled and grew in triumph; Giovanna rose and gave her hand to Philip de Cavaillon, her chancellor, who presented her to the assembled nobles.
She descended into the church, the crown shining above the soft waves of her hair; they bent their heads in homage to her; she paused a moment, as her ladies lifted her train, and surveyed the throng.
Maria stood with bent head beside Raymond de Cabane, who with folded arms watched the Queen behind him was Bertrand d'Artois, glancing with furtive eyes towards the tomb of Andreas; the dark beauty of Giulia di Terlizzi shone beside the magnificence of her husband; and her sister, Filippa da Morcone, stood next to Carlo di Durazzo, the Queen's cousin. Luigi of Taranto was close to the Queen, and behind him the nobles glittered away into the shadows of the lofty arches.
The Queen's violet eyes flashed over them; then with erect head and steady step she passed down the aisle of the church, the joy bells pealing in her ears. She came out upon the cathedral steps, and the burning blue air was shaken with the triumphal bells of three hundred churches and the shouts of the soldiery and the populace.
The scent of the orange-groves of Sorrento and Amalfi was wafted on the breeze that greeted her as she stood in her splendour, framed by the dark background of the noble bronze gates, looking on the people. The standard of Anjou floated its lilies to the air from every building, from every company of soldiers. The whole pageantry of pomp was unfolded in mighty Naples: Giovanna d'Anjou, crowned and beautiful, looked upon it, and the colour flushed into her face.
She saw Maria, passive and vanquished; she saw the people acclaiming her almost against their will she had risen over the clamour of factions; this was her perfect triumph—Queen of all Naples, Provence, and Jerusalem.
The sun had almost reached the height of the heavens, and Giovanna was moving down the cathedral steps to her palfrey, when a little dusty man, who limped as he ran, forced through the crowd, and, cursing all who would have questioned him, staggered, almost before any one was aware of his incongruous presence, on to the sunlit steps before the Queen.
He said, through dry lips, that he had ridden until his horse dropped, from Foligno—he had a message from the lord commanding the garrison there.
He held out a parchment to the Queen; then, with a sound like choking, fell fainting at her feet.
"From Foligno!" murmured Giovanna; then as the nobles crowded about her she broke the seal and read:
"Ludovic of Hungary is at Foligno, and marching on Naples with thirty thousand men; Jerno has joined him, and Aquila. He crosses the Volturno to-morrow at Benevento to fall upon the capital."
THEY were playing ball in the gardens of the Castel del Nuovo. Giovanna would have it so; she walked up and down the paved path watching them. There were not many left at the court of Naples. Raymond de Cabane and Luigi of Taranto, with such Neapolitans as remained faithful, had departed for Capuna to dispute the passage of the Volturno with the Hungarians; moreover, ail implicated in the murder of Andreas now lay in prison, by virtue of a bull from the Pope sent to Bertram des Beaux, chief judge of the kingdom of Naples.
Therefore there were not many playing, and these few had pale faces and shaking hands; yet, because of Giovanna, they tossed the silk ball to and fro and strove to laugh.
With her head hanging and her hands clasped high on her bosom, the Queen passed through the light and shade. She thought of the unpaid mercenaries deserting by the hundreds, pillaging the kingdom on their way to the Hungarian camp; the magistrates, the guilds, the common people clamouring for Ludovic of Hungary; her sister praying for the success of her enemies. She thought of her accomplices, whom she had just delivered to Pope and people, and she crushed tighter a parchment under her hands.
It was the petition of the fourteen and their wives, their appeal to her to save them. She paused to watch the yellow ball fly across the blue and green and fall on the sward at Cleopatra de Perlucchi's feet. The Conte Raymond's sisters were among those to die to-day, to perish in the Palazzo San Eligio for the murder of Andreas of Hungary.
Save them?—it was too late. To keep her kingdom she had sacrificed her confederates; she also had demanded, to save her credit with the world, vengeance on her husband's murderers. She had done everything;—all her plate and personal property was pledged to the Lombards; she had sent messages to Sicily and Provence; she had written to the Pope and to Ludovic of Hungary. She recounted these things to herself feverishly: had she not done everything?
The light ball was tossed to and fro; the courtiers ran hither and thither; the Queen paced up and down.
Suddenly she stopped.
The bell of Santa Chiara had begun to toll.
Slowly she went back to the palace, and when she had gone they ceased throwing the ball, and the beautiful Cleopatra began to sob for those being now led forth to death.
In the hall the Queen found Bertram des Beaux, Conte di Monte Scaglioso, with a sombre retinue of mailed men.
"I am on my way to attend these executions," he said. "Madonna, may I speak to ye?"
The tolling vibrated throughout the long hall; Giovanna crumpled the parchment in her hands.
"Speak," she said.
They stepped apart from the others; he pointed to a chair, but she could not sit.
"I have little time," he said—"I must soon be at the Palazzo San Eligio; but I could not get to the palace before. Madonna, I stand for the Pope."
She lifted her head dumbly; her hand was keeping time to the tolling, by beating against the wall.
"Madonna," said Bertram des Beaux, "they might speak—have ye thought of that? Remember, they have been trusting in you to save them."
"I cannot!" she answered wildly. "Ye of all men know I cannot!"
"It were wiser not to essay it, Madonna." He lowered his voice. "Nicolo de Melazzo, the notary, has confessed everything—yet did not mention the name of any royal Prince."
"Ah!" He saw her throat quiver.
"It is not the desire of the Pope that any of the House of Anjou be implicated," said des Beau; "still it is thought that some one of even higher rank than—"
"Stop!" the Queen spoke steadily. "Do ye suspect my cousins?"
He looked at her keenly.
"I have thought it well to silence the prisoners."
A pause, filled with the sombre tolling; then Giovanna whispered:
"By a slit tongue, Madonna, that they may not speak to-day—I have thrust a fish hook—"
The colour swept over the Queen's face and neck.
"Keep these horrors from me!" she cried passionately.
He bent his head.
"I thought ye would care to know that none of them will ever speak again."
She put out her hand to dismiss him, and with the other caught the arras on the wall; then, as he was turning away, she called him back.
Her wild and distraught demeanour, her half-stifled voice, caused him to stare curiously.
"My lord, my lord, my good lord," she said, "cannot ye save the women? God wot! they are innocent!"
"The confession involved them, Madonna." He half smiled.
"Giulia di Terlizzi is only nineteen," she answered desperately.
"Ye cannot save her."
"Am I the Queen and have so little power?" exclaimed Giovanna. "Have ye forgot these ladies are the sisters of the Conte Raymond, my sister's betrothed, my captain, fighting for me now at Capuna?"
"Madonna, the Conte on his return to Naples will have the matter of his own guilt to discuss." He turned away, and the train of men went from the hall.
The Queen stood still a moment, listening to the tolling. So: they would never speak again—she was safe; there was only Raymond left. If she could have saved the women!
There were very few in the palace. She crept up to her dreary bedroom and tried to find Sancia, but the tirewoman was not there; all the maids and ladies were scattered. Wearily she went to the window and set it open.
A great roar met her ears; the shout of many voices such as had sounded when Raymond de Cabane had taken her hand and proclaimed her Queen from this very window—the yell now of the crowd greeting its prey as the prison doors swung back and the victims came forth to their death. Her brow grew damp with anguish, her fingers clutched the window frame. The roar of the crowd swelled in volume; her too quick brain pictured the ghastly procession, the yelling people, the immovable soldiers, the prisoners—she did not dare to think of the prisoners.
A long while she stood immovable, the sunshine and the breeze filling the chamber, and caressing her haggard face; then she threw herself along the floor and put her hands up to her throat and moaned bitterly. Sancia, creeping into the chamber, with her fingers over her ears to shut out the sounds of the bells, crouched back in horror to see the rich red robe, the auburn hair, low on the ground.
The Queen looked up.
"I heard Giulia di Terlizzi shriek," she muttered—"I heard her shriek."
Sancia began to flutter with sobs of terror. "God have mercy on us!" she wailed. "It is too far—ye could not hear!"
Giovanna gave a sudden wild smile.
"And her tongue is pierced," she said hollowly, "no, they cannot speak...I fancied it." She clasped her hands round her knees and sat so, huddled up, and her lips moved as if she counted the tolling of the bells of Santa Chiara.
Giovanna stared at her answer from Ludovic of Hungary.
She broke the seal, bearing his arms, and unfolded the parchment.
A strange sensation came over her. The brother of Andreas, what manner of man was he?—her conqueror!
There were only a few lines, all in the same hand:
"The exclusive power you arrogated to yourself in the kingdom, the insolence with which you treated the King, the favour which you have shown to his murderers, even to the extent of promising your sister, our betrothed bride, to the most guilty, and your excuse itself, are sufficient proofs of your having been an accomplice in your husband's death. Convince us of your innocence and we will cease to harass your kingdom; if you cannot do that, prepare to receive the full extent of our vengeance."
The letter fluttered from the Queen's hand to the ground; she fell back in her chair, and her head sank on her bosom. Her spirit fainted within her; she made a movement with her hands as if she laid down the sword and crown in sheer weariness—she could fight no more. She had done everything: ruined herself to her very rings, given up her friends, sided with the people, conceded to the magistrates, delivered herself into the hands of the Lombard money-lenders, humbled herself to Provence, appealed to her enemy; and he, this man at her gates, with an ever-growing army—he, with the support of Italy and her own people, was going to brand her as a murderess.
There was nothing to be done. She had made a splendid stand against sudden disaster, but in vain;—there was nothing to be done.
With the resolution that was natural to her, she decided to fly at once to Provence and to save her life if she could not her crown; she had not any hope in Raymond de Cabane being able to arrest the progress of the Hungarians, nor any faith in her people's protection.
She sat quiet, revolving the scheme in abject weariness of soul. Maria d'Anjou entered the room, and Giovanna, like a bruised snake whose sting is dead, eyed her dully and made no movement.
There was an extraordinary air of elation and triumph about Maria; she stepped lightly, and the colour was ever flushing up into her face. With blue eyes alight with hope, she glanced at her sister.
"Why do you look so gay?" questioned the Queen in a passionless voice..
"Gay?—do I look gay?" answered Maria, "My heart is eased because my Lord of Hungary comes."
She stood leaning against the carved mantelshelf, her gorgeous head upheld; the sunlight lay softly upon the folds of her pale yellow dress.
"You are very glad of my downfall?" said Giovanna.
Maria lifted the chestnut curls from her brow and looked at the Queen.
"What have you ever been to me that I should weep? Yes, I am glad!" Her face was wildly triumphant, her calm eyes scornful under her level brows. "I always turned from you, Giovanna," she said.
The Queen raised her head and sank her chin in her hand.
"As for your ally, Raymond," said Maria sternly, "I would not give one thought to him or turn my head to save him; but you are of royal blood, and I would have you fly the vengeance that marches on Naples."
"Ah!—you would have me fly?" answered Giovanna with narrowed eyes. Her own resolution sounded a different matter on another's lips; she did not say that she had decided to hurry to Provence.
"All the bloody executions that have made the city hideous will not save you," said Maria. "This lord comes for vengeance."
Giovanna raised her eyes.
"I am his promised wife," answered her sister proudly. "I shall stay to welcome him."
The Queen made a little movement in her chair.
"Ah! you sent for him?" she said quietly. "You wrote to the Pope?"
"Yes," said Maria.
Giovanna's eyes shifted from side to side with a cunning light in them.
"Let us he at a plain understanding. You advise me to flee from this brother of Andreas?"
"The conqueror of your kingdom," amended Maria.
The Queen sat upright.
"Do you believe I am guilty of my husband's death?" she asked quickly.
Her sister did not answer.
"Do you believe so?" repeated the Queen.
"I know it," said Maria hoarsely.
A deeper pallor overspread Giovanna's drawn features.
"You do not know it, and you cannot prove it," she said under her breath. "And it is false."
"You must persuade the King of Hungary of that," flashed Maria, "and you cannot. Therefore, as your wretched life is dear to you, leave Naples before the day is out. Go to Sicily—to Provence; but do not stay here to await the coming of Ludovic of Hungary."
"You come to tell me this?"
"For the sake of our kinship I come to tell you this."
"Very well," said the Queen with compressed lips. "You may go."
Maria turned from the chamber in silence. As the door shut, Giovanna's hands clutched the chair arms and her eyes unclosed.
All the spirit that had been dead in her at Maria's entrance was roused now, in arms.
Should she vacate her throne that her sister might step into it?—should all her strivings end in this, that Maria, as Ludovic's wife, should succeed to her crown? Was she a thing so easily overawed that they could frighten her from her kingdom? Maria's triumph, Maria's joy at deliverance, Maria's pride in her victorious lord, were so many lashes to drive her from her resolution of quitting Naples.
Even if the army and the people had forsaken her, even if she had neither money nor men, she had herself—her own kingly courage, her own strong ambition, her own crafty policy, her own beauty and youth.
She picked up Ludovic's letter from the floor:
"If you can prove your innocence..."
If! Her blood surged hotly to her heart. If she could make the man believe in her, even now her enemy might be turned into her champion; she might preserve not her life alone, but her fame and her kingdom. And who was Ludovic of Hungary that he should not believe in her? He was a man and young—she was a woman and beautiful; she had all the southern guile—he would show himself a boor and a simpleton, like all his countrymen.
Ah! she would not abandon everything until she had staked all once more. She had nothing to lose but her life, and she would rather risk that like a prodigal in an attempt to gain her old glories, than hoard it like a miser in misery.
She called Sancia and sent her in search of Carlo, almost the only person of rank remaining in the palace. While she waited for him, a message came to her from Bertram des Beaux, who informed her that Louis of Taranto had been defeated by the Hungarians at Capuna, and that the victorious army was marching on Aversa and Capua. He added that the magistrates and guilds had decided to open the gates of Naples to Ludovic, and repeated Maria's counsel of flight from the kingdom.
Giovanna was hardly moved; it was what she had expected; it only confirmed her in her resolution. She waited with impatience for Carlo di Durazzo. He came at last. He had seen Giulia di Terlizzi die yesterday, and in consequence was gloomy. He had wavered for days past between the Queen and Ludovic, as she well knew; but she needed him now.
"Carlo," she said kindly—"Carlo, why have you not been to see me?"
He seated himself listlessly against the wall and began playing with the tassels on his boot. "I went to see the executions yesterday," he answered, "and it made me sick."
The Queen's face darkened.
"Do not talk to me of that, cousin."
He raised a fretful, pale face. "What do you wish to talk of, Madonna?"
Her slender fingers folded up the two letters on the knees of her grey gown; with intent eyes she studied the Duke's face.
"Carlo, I am going to have one more throw with fortune, and I shall need your help."
He gave a bitter little laugh.
"I am a ruined man—"
"I am not asking for gold or men—that is hopeless."
He shrugged his shoulders.
"What else will be of any use?"
"My wits, perchance." Her violet eyes flashed one quick glance at him. "Cousin, I am going to Ludovic of Hungary's camp to see him—I desire that you come with me."
"Sweet saints!" The Duke lifted his eyebrows languidly.
"Carlo," she pursued eagerly, "do not argue with me or say I have lost my wits. It is the sole thing for me—let me but convince that man." She broke off sharply. "It shall not involve you, cousin. The King is near Aversa"—she spoke the word without a shudder;—"I will travel to-morrow morning and be back ere nightfall."
"If he allow you to return at all," answered Duras dryly.
"I am chancing that," she breathed. "It is all or nothing; if he should refuse to believe me, to end that way would be better than exile with a blasted name in some château of Provence."
Her fingers moved nervously and her eyes flashed recklessly. Carlo di Durazzo, weak and careless, but no fool, saw well enough her motive in this desperate move, It was clear to him that in putting herself at Ludovic's mercy, she disarmed him to a great extent; that if anything could convince him of her innocence, she herself, coming alone to him with violet eyes, soft voice, and red mouth for her advocates, would do it. As the Duke believed in his heart she was guiltless, he could conceive that she might persuade Ludovic. Then, too, it was an adventure with a hint of knight-errantry and danger in it that made a fine distraction to his thoughts of Giulia di Terlizzi. It was flattering, also, that she trusted him.
As he considered these things, the Queen watched him with burning eyes; her lips trembled, and her hands were locked tightly together.
"Well," he said at last, "it is a desperate strait and a desperate expedient; but I will go with you, Madonna."
She rose and laid her hand on his arm—-her glance was eloquent of gratitude; then she turned in silence to the window. All the tangled. glories of her race, standards of victory, wreaths of a conqueror, the trumpets of renown, the heralds of splendour and high greatness, seemed gathered into her slight figure and her royal eyes; the disasters, the triumphs, the magnificence of a line of kings were embodied in her still resolve.
"Desperate!" she said softly, as if she had been thinking over her cousin's last words. "Well, I think courage shows best in desperate straits. 'Tis better bravery to go to this King, even on a poor chance, than to wait here trembling before the inevitable."
The bare white road wound through dusty vineyards where the grapes hung heavy in their leaves; then sloped suddenly into the chestnut woods leading to Capua.
Queen Giovanna, in a dull red dress, a dark purple scarf about her head, rode a little white mule; Carlo di Durazzo, in the plain habit of a traveller, was singing and caressing the neck of his brown horse.
They had escaped from Naples without even Maria suspecting; the Queen was supposed to be sick and in her chamber, the Duke with the army.
Carlo, breaking off his song to speak of this, remarked that if it were discovered that Giovanna had fled the city, the government would fall finally into the hands of the people.
"If that happen," said the Queen, "I look to the man who has dethroned me to rethrone me; let me persuade Ludovic, and I am safe."
"And if not?" asked the Duke idly.
"There is death," answered Giovanna. "Cousin, mark how confident I am. I say that word calmly, yet I am very afraid of death." Her voice fell, she gave him a strange look. "He is always running behind me—just a step behind; one day he will quicken his pace and overtake me, or else I stand still and wait for him."
"'Tis so with all," said Durazzo, and fell into gloom thinking of Giulia di Terlizzi.
They rode out on to bare turf, then again into groves of beech and pine. The fresh air had given Giovanna a fairer colour than paint had ever done; her hair hanging loose and soft like a peasant girl's added to her youth; the purple and red of her gown combined the colour of the chestnuts and of the rich earth; her violet eyes, regal, wonderful, gave her both beauty and majesty. Carlo di Duras thought her lovely, and felt great confidence in her success, as he glanced aside at her; then when she turned to him and he caught a full view of her face, he thought her not lovely, strange rather, a little repellent. He told himself that her mouth was too red and hard, her brows over arched, and in the lines of the fine nostrils he saw cruelty; the turn of her chin and throat were perfect, yet, graceful as was her carriage, she was over slender 'and stooped a little as she rode.
So considering her, Carlo of Duras thought with a curious pang of Maria, and realized suddenly how infinitely more beautiful she was, how noble and gracious in line and colour...But Maria was a saint, and such were not for the wooing of the Duke of Durazzo.
They came to an inn where some peasants drank wine out of tall glasses under an arbour covered with dusty creeper.
Giovanna insisted on halting. She dismounted and, with the eyes of the peasants on her, went up to the door of the low white house and called the landlord, who came and opened the gate of the little garden.
They entered among old rose-bushes, bearing small pink flowers, and carnations in their grey foliage; it was all shaded with a trellis covered with a vine, and under the oleander bushes tables and benches were set.
The sun to-day, faint behind vapours, fell in light beams through the leaves; one or two labourers from the vineyards and the harvest sat about drinking the red wine.
They all stared at Giovanna's white arms as she rested them on the stained table, at the embroidered shoe beneath her quiet gown, at her vivid eyes and bright, rippling hair; then their curiosity turned on Carlo, whose peach-bloom complexion, careful amber curls, and soft features were at variance with his rough dress.
The Queen challenged their glances by her pose and absolute ignoring of them, the Duke by flushing and lowering his brown eyes disdainfully.
"Why did we come here?" he asked under his breath; "what if any should know you?"
"No one will know me," said Giovanna; "and it is very pleasant."
Wine in deep, graceful glasses, coarse bread and fruit, were brought. Giovanna questioned the girl who served them concerning the Hungarian army that lay near Aversa. For days past, they were told, men had stopped here, in twos and threes, on their way from Naples to the army of the invader.
"Ah, yes," said the Queen, sipping her wine; "we do the same. Have you seen anything of the Hungarians?"
They had, was the answer, taken provisions from every village and farm near about; but they had paid, and there had been no murdering, no pillaging.
Giovanna's fine brows went up ever so slightly; her restless fingers crumbled the bread on the rough table.
"Have you seen the King?" she asked quietly. Carlo made a restless movement, fearing she was growing indiscreet.
"Oh, yes," said the girl. "She had gone with her brothers to take fruit to the camp; she had seen the King."
"What was he doing?" said Giovanna.
"He was laughing; there was a monkey in the camp, and the King had tied a red ribbon to its tail, and as it ran round after it the King laughed loudly." He was a very handsome man, she added, and on that left them, called to one of the other tables.
The Queen looked at Durazzo.
"Laughing!" she said; it shattered all her conceptions of Ludovic that he should laugh when on such an errand, or amuse himself in fooleries when engaged in warfare.
"It will make him no easier to move," said Carlo.
Giovanna turned narrowed eyes on him. "Cousin, do you yourself suspect me, that you have so little faith?"
"I would not be with you if I did," he answered.
They rose. Giovanna, walking slowly down the garden, picked a scarlet and a pink carnation and fastened them in her dress. Laughing!—and handsome! Had she known sooner she might have arrayed herself in a gayer dress. Perhaps he had not wept much for Andreas; perhaps ambition, not vengeance, had inspired this descent on Italy. She did not remember ever hearing Andreas laugh.
Carlo paid and overpaid; at which there was much staring and comment, while he, red and angry, helped Giovanna to remount.
She was too absorbed in her own thoughts to heed, but Carlo was ruffled.
"How was I to know what they charged for their vile wine?" he said. "I do not care for these foolish masquerades."
He pulled his hat over his eyes and lapsed into silence. The long white road was dipping towards the towers of Aversa when they were overtaken by a Veronese soldier riding to the camp.
He was loquacious, and discoursed at length on the battle at Benevento, where the Queen's cousin, Luigi of Taranto, had been wounded, he said, and all the flower of the Neapolitan army slain. He told them how the Pope's legate, who was at Foligno, had essayed to stop the Hungarians in their march but Ludovic had said, "When I am master of Naples I will obey the Pope; until then I will answer for my actions to God alone."
The Veronese was one, he said, of a body of three hundred presented to Ludovic by Verona in token of their sympathy. Every town in Italy the Hungarians had passed through had opened their gates to them.
"Why is he so beloved?" sneered Carlo.
The Veronese laughed; it was not the King who was beloved, but the Queen who was hated.
Here Giovanna, who had listened in silence, spoke:
"Messer, we ride to the Hungarian camp also; will you tell me how I may speak with the King?"
Carlo frowned at so much imprudence, but the soldier did not appear astonished.
"The King, Madonna, is at a little farmhouse outside Aversa. Mars! I do not know if he will see any one."
"I come from Naples," said the Queen earnestly, "and I have matters relating to the surrender of the city to talk of to him."
They had turned through a belt of chestnuts, and the gay tents of the Hungarians showed scattered before the distant walls of Aversa. The Queen's eyes lifted covertly to where, on her right, the convent of Santo Pietro-a-Majello rose against the horizon. Through these woods had he hunted that day when his evil star sent him alone to that convent; through these woods had she ridden back to Naples to the brief triumph of her short reign; through these woods had he been brought home again...She checked herself; it was not good to think of these things.
They rode forward unmolested until they came to the outposts. Here, though the woman's presence was questioned, upon their representation that they were of the Neapolitan nobility and desirous of joining the King, they were allowed to pass.
Their friendly Veronese saw them through the army to the farmhouse where Ludovic lodged, and fetched one of the Hungarian captains, who, after half an hour's wearisome talk in bad Italian, consented to ask the King if he would see the lady from Naples. Giovanna and Carlo had dismounted; they were suffered to rest, while waiting, upon a bench in the orchard. The Queen looked at the humble white house, the royal standard blowing above it, and the dark cypresses casting a heavy shade over it; she looked at the Hungarian sentries moving in and out of the trees, and the distant tents of the great army.
From a dovecot near a soft cooing came on the breeze, with the scent of the citron and lemon; a heavy fig-tree grew close, and Giovanna noted curiously the shape and colour of the fruit against the veiled blue sky.
An extraordinary sensation befell her. She felt that this was an interval of reason in some madness—that she had been insane and would be insane again; she remembered, quite clearly, terrible efforts to control herself that no one might know she was mad; she remembered horrible phantoms of the night that she had struggled with and subdued, under the question and terror in Sancia's eyes; she remembered how many times she had gone on her knees in the early dawn and rubbed her chamber floor, how many times she had rolled her sheets together. She looked furtively at Carlo—did he know she had been mad?
No; he was lazily pulling at the figs; his round features were indifferent, the wind ruffled the little yellow curls in the nape of his brown neck. He did not know—-no one knew; she would be very careful they never did. Mad!——surely only madness could have inspired her now?—surely only madness could convince Andreas's avenger? But she was sane; she told herself that: she was controlled and calm, sane.
Carlo, eating fruit, looked at her, and was surprised at the expression of her eyes.
"Ah, you are frightened?" he said.
Her face changed.
"No," she answered. "I try to forget what this means." She smiled, and remarked how surprised Ludovic would be to see her—his cousin, after all.
"I will wait for you here," said Carlo. "It is quite pleasant, and the fruit is very good." He surveyed her critically. "Why did you put on red? I do not care for you in red."
Her eyes grew vacant; she made no reply...The flames in the Palazzo San Eligio were of that colour...the fourteen and their women, burning—in hell now...while she...
The Hungarian captain returned; the King Would see the lady.
She rose swiftly, flung back the curls from her forehead and straightened the carnations at her bosom. Smiling back at Carlo, she followed the captain. At the open door of the farmhouse he left her, and she stepped in; a soldier on guard moved aside for her, a squire conducted her down the dark passage and flung open a door.
She found herself in a low-beamed room, opening by a large window on to the orchard.
Bunches of herbs and strings of onions hung against the walls bright-coloured articles of pottery stood in the corners and on shelves; a curved bench was under the window, and a large dark chest stood opposite, covered with bottles and glasses; a lean grey cat was cleaning itself in the centre of the bare floor.
Giovanna noticed these things with that curious shock unusual surroundings give: all her fears, her dreads, her resolutions confined thus to the common room of a farmhouse!
She stood within the door, a sick mist before her eyes; it was a second before she saw a tall young man standing by the window observing her.
She was as speechless as if a giant's hand gripped her words in her throat. Kingdoms, life and death, her wild ambitions, her regal courage, the tossing to and fro of crowns, had come to this: that she stood now within the door of a mean room, trembling and silent before a stranger. Her eyes were very busy with him. He was so utterly different from Andreas that it was difficult to believe he was his brother; he carried himself very proudly and looked at her slightly smiling, with no attempt to speak.
She put her hand on the latch of the door to steady herself, and forced words:
"Are you Ludovic of Hungary?"
His smile slightly deepened. "Yes."
It was the softest voice she had ever heard; it confused her. Almost unconsciously she had imagined that he would speak in loud, ringing tones like his brother.
"I have ridden from Naples to-day," said Giovanna faintly, speaking to gain time. "It was imperative I should see you—and at once."
What manner of man was he? All she had ever heard of him rushed upon her; while she spoke she was considering him eagerly.
He wore chain armour, over it a little surtout in striped crimson and gold; he was bareheaded, his bright black hair waved in close curls; his brows were very straight, rather heavy, of a saintly sweep; his eyes of that hazel that interchanges blue and green—Eastern eyes, bright and languorous; his face browned and flushed in the cheeks; his chin magnificent, imperious and under set; his mouth, though controlled to gravity, rebellious and inclined to assume an expression anything but saintly.
Slowly Giovanna gathered that she had no abstract qualities to deal with; now he was obviously controlling himself to an unusual quiet.
"You are surprised," she said, under her breath—"you wonder what I have come for. You do not guess who I am—what I am?"
"Why, I know that you are a lady of Naples," he answered, in that voice that was soft as a caress, and a fine accompaniment to his daring eyes. "What you are here for, how can I guess?"
A great shudder shook her. She came into the centre of the room, the sunlight from the window on her red and violet dress, on the two vivid carnations, and her auburn hair rippling either side of her white face. She went on her knees on the bare floor, and her purple eyes lifted to his.
"I am the Queen of Naples," she said wildly.
She saw the hot colour flood his face.
"I thought so," he said.
She was wretchedly silent; her head fell forward; were he to strike her as she knelt into instant death, she would have made neither complaint nor resistance.
"I saw you through the window," continued Ludovic. "I knew you then."
She heard the soft chink of his armour as he stepped towards her. "This is a strange thing for you to have done."
"It was your letter," answered Giovanna faintly. "I took this resolution to see you face to face."
"Wherefore?" demanded Ludovic curiously. "What can you have to say to me?"
She rose from her knees and faced him. "Do you think that I have no answer to what you wrote?"
"By Heaven! I wonder!" he answered. His eyes flashed over her; he folded his arms on the back of the high chair in a careless attitude, and a little smile took the corner of his mouth.
Giovanna felt resolution and wrath envelop her like a flame rising from the soles of her feet to her brain. "Ah! you wonder!" she said, speaking quickly. "You, who have judged without seeing, condemned without hearing." She put the hair back from her face. "Come, look at me," she said passionately. "Am I as you imagined me? Do you think I murdered your brother?"
Ludovic gazed at her intently.
"I think you must prove your innocence of it," he answered strongly. "I have not taken this upon me lightly—I shall not lightly put it down. I have come for vengeance on that murdered blood of mine. I am not a man easily moved."
The fierce colour flushed into Giovanna's cheeks; her breast heaved painfully.
"Do not think I come to win my life from you. I am in your power, and you may kill me if you will. Oh! I am well used to injustice in the judgment-seat—my life has not been set in pleasant places..." She broke off. "What do you know of me? What have you heard of me that you dare to flout my name through Christendom coupled with murderess?"
"Ask your heart," he answered softly, never taking his eyes from her strange face. "Question of your soul what happened in the convent of Santo Pietro-a-Majello."
She did not wince or falter; she put her band on her bosom. "I can prove nothing," she said in an exalted voice; "but before that high Heaven that is my witness, I am innocent."
There was a little silence during which they looked at each other; then he said:
"If that is false, you lie very splendidly; and yet I think it is a lie."
"It is the truth," she answered proudly. "May God strike me where I stand if I knew anything of my husband's death—if I knew even that he had been slain until he had been hours dead!"
"God does not deal in such swift judgments," said Ludovic of Hungary, "leaving them to men. You do not reckon now with God, but with me who stand for Him in this matter."
"I have nothing but my word to give," she said, "and I can swear no deeper."
"A little proof were worth many oaths," he answered.
"I have none."
"And yet you have come here to convince me?" He smiled cruelly, but she did not lower her wild eyes.
"That," she said, "is as it may be. I have come to tell you that your cause is not justice but tyranny. You have come like a thunderbolt upon me, you have laid my kingdom prone beneath your arms and set your heel upon my inheritance—you have ruined me; I stand here stripped and bare. I think I have no ally but what justice there may be in your heart; you are my conqueror and my judge, and I appeal to you to hear me, to believe me—I am innocent."
As she spoke his handsome face paled and he lowered his eyes.
"You think I have come not for vengeance for my Andreas, but for lust of ambition," he said steadily. "That is not so: prove your innocence of any hint of complicity in his death, and I will reinstate you."
"I have no proof," she repeated, "Prove you my guilt."
His eyes lifted quickly.
"By Heaven! would it be so difficult? What of the terms you were on with Andreas?"
Steadily she answered, her white face unmoved:
"They forced us together—I never loved him. I was the puppet of one faction—he of another; that is all."
"What of his avowed murderers rewarded, unpunished?"
A spasm of horror crossed her face. "They were executed two days ago," she said hollowly.
"It was a late justice," answered Ludovic sternly.
"It was as soon as I dared administer it," she whispered. "You forget I am a woman—I was the puppet of these men. I shivered for my own life."
The King interrupted her broken words.
"The most guilty still goes free—Raymond de Cabane."
"I loathe him," she cried quickly; "but he has been my master—what could I do?"
His hazel eyes darkened.
"You made him Duke of Calabria—the title of the heir to the throne; you insulted me by betrothing to him the bride I waited for. My God! of what service was that the reward? Why should you unite your blood with that of a slave?"
"Because I was forced—because they obeyed him, not me. Oh!"—sudden agony inspired her words—"would men like that have taken a woman into their confidence, poor wretch? What was I to them but a figure that could wear a crown? I went to sleep that night, suspecting nothing, and when I woke it was over—and he..."
"Do not speak of it," said Ludovic sharply. "I—oh, I cannot talk of it!"
He moved away across the room, and Giovanna, feeling her limbs cold and heavy, crept to the wide window-seat and sat there. She looked out at the sloping orchard; at the indifferent Carlo, still on the bench under the fig-trees, fighting a wasp that buzzed round the fruit; at the black cypresses and the white doves flying across the blue; then she turned her gaze on Ludovic, walking slowly up and down the bare flags.
He was regal, superb, a King indeed. She looked at him sideways out of narrowed eyes, and her sharp white teeth bit her full under lip; she noted his shapely brown hands, his black hair sweeping up out of his graceful neck, his beautiful curved mouth, his low brow on which the curls fell heavily.
He came at last to the window and looked down upon her, frowning.
"Well, what else?" he said. "What else?"
She had fallen from her vehemence into quiet.
"I am innocent," she answered. "That is all."
"Cousin," he said strangely; She quivered to hear him use the word. He turned his head away, then moved into the room. "Cousin," he repeated.
She sat quite still.
He came back. "Believe me that I would think so," he said—"that you are innocent." He was silent a second.
"I am in your hand," whispered Giovanna.
Suddenly he caught her by the shoulders and lifted her to her feet.
"Could a woman do such a murder?" he asked hoarsely. "Could a woman take such perjuries upon her?"
She shrank together, yet looked up at him.
"No! no!" she said.
He took his hands from her; she fell back against the woodwork of the window.
"What made you think I was guilty?" she gasped, but curiously. "Did Maria—"
"No," he answered quickly; "Maria wrote to me—she never mentioned you—she asked me to come and take vengeance."
"But not on me!" cried Giovanna. She held out her fine little hand. "Was that ever stained with his blood? I am very young. I did not do this thing. Before Heaven! I wept for him."
Her great eyes were full of tears now, but she suddenly laughed.
"Yet you may kill me as you have killed my fame, and none will blame you."
His dark face flushed.
"Why, do you not know that if I thought you had any hand in his death, I would have you hanged as he was hanged—over the balcony at Aversa?"
Giovanna drew a trembling breath.
"I think you would—I think you came for that, or to drag me on trial before the Pope at Avignon. But I also think that you will do neither of these things."
"Why?" asked Ludovic.
"Why? Why have I come here defenceless! Why have I appealed to your knighthood to do me justice? Because I am innocent."
He was looking at her steadily, with a passionate expression on his face that was half pain, half doubt.
"Will you give to me Raymond de Cabane?" he said slowly. "If you loathe his crime—if you were not his accomplice—will you give him up to my justice?"
Again that feeling that she looked back into a long insanity came over Giovanna. Raymond she had always disliked, but he had served her well: for his own ends perhaps, but he had served her well. It was he who had seized her husband's yellow hair in blood-stained fingers that night. Her thoughts flew wide, but her eyes were blank as coloured glass.
"I will!" she said.
"Surely"—Ludovic drew a quick breath—"surely if you had set him on you could not betray him now—that were too vile."
"I will send him to you if I have the power," said Giovanna steadily.
"There are no others?" asked the King.
"No," she answered, and that fear leapt to her eyes that always came there when she thought of the executions in the Palazzo San Eligio.
"Will you give me your sister?"
"Yes." She spoke without hesitating, with steady voice and clear eyes.
"I will come to Naples," said Ludovic. "I will come in peace and treat with you; for I believe what you have said, my cousin."
She showed neither triumph nor wonder; she turned to him her strange grave face and unfathomable eyes.
"Thank you, cousin," she said. She held out her hands. He took them and clasped them lightly; she trembled, and a faint rose colour sprang to her cheeks.
"You will come to Naples?" she whispered.
"Yes," he smiled. "You see, I do not come for lust of ambition; for I will call a peace in the midst of victory."
"You shall have your vengeance," said Giovanna. "I will send you Raymond de Cabane."
His fingers tightened over hers.
"No; let des Beaux arrest him—let him wait my coming." He frowned. "It is not your vengeance."
She drew a little closer.
"I must go back," she said, looking up at him. "They must not miss me." She pulled her hands away. "You will come to Naples?" she repeated.
The breeze from the window fluttered her auburn ringlets on to his mailed arm and stirred the heavy hair on his forehead.
"You will think you have persuaded me very easily," he said. "Do you not, little cousin?"
"Persuaded you?" she repeated. "Did you ever, in your soul, think I had a hand in your brother's death?"
His superb eyes flashed to hers. "No," he said abruptly—"no."
She took the two carnations from her bosom and gave them to him.
"My cousin Carlo is without—do not leave the house with me; no one knows me here." Her voice suddenly failed her. "In Naples—in Naples," and she hurried to the door.
Ludovic looked at her carnations in his hand, vivid pink, vivid scarlet.
"In Naples, in three days' time," he said softly. She lifted the homely latch and went out.
"So she persuaded him? said des Beaux.
"In half an hour," answered Carlo di Durazzo.
"It is well for Naples: better Hungary as a friend than a conqueror."
They stood on the balcony of the Castel del Nuovo looking towards Sorrento.
"He actually comes, then, in friendly fashion?" questioned des Beaux.
"He will enter into an alliance with the Queen—he will marry Maria." Carlo sighed.
"He might have come, God wot! as a conqueror," returned the other; "the guilds would have opened to him. And, after all, he is the true heir. It was a daring move," he added.
"On the Queen's part? Yes, she has a wonderful courage."
"And Raymond de Cabane?"
"He is to be sent a prisoner to this King."
"The wiser thing—it will mollify Hungary."
"And prove the innocence of the Queen," said Carlo.
"Why, Mars! he must know; and if she deliver him up, what reason has he to keep silent? It is a proof she is not afraid of him."
They heard a footstep in the room behind them, and entered it from the balcony.
A splendid red-haired knight in black armour burnished with gold, and wrapped in a scarlet cloak, was crossing the chamber.
"The Prince of Taranto!" cried des Beaux. Carlo greeted him gaily; yesterday's success had put him in a good humour with the world.
But Luigi of Taranto looked sick and gloomy. "I return a defeated man," he said heavily. "Ye have heard how all was lost at Benevento?"
Before they could answer, the door that led to the Queen's apartments opened, and Giovanna showed herself. She smiled on all of them. There was a colour in her cheeks, a light in her eyes; her hair slipped in a great coil into her white neck; she wore a rose-pink gown laced over the bosom with gold.
Luigi of Taranto turned pale with rage and shame at the tale he carried. "I should not be here alive, Madonna."
"Ah! the affair at Benevento!" she said, still smiling. "Has not Carlo told you?" She went up to the warrior and laid her hand on his arm. "Ludovic of Hungary enters Naples in two days' time as my cousin and my friend."
"Now, who has done this miracle?" cried the Prince of Taranto.
Prudence and containment gave way to triumph; Giovanna unclosed her shining eyes and laughed under her breath.
"In half an hour I persuaded him—he comes to treat with me as a King with a reigning Princess."
"Persuaded him?" asked the Prince; "of what?"
Quietly she answered him, her fingers playing with the tassels of her bodice.
"You know, my cousin—he suspected me—as the world has suspected me—of complicity in the King's death."
She flashed one quick glance at Luigi of Taranto's eager face, then her heavy white lids drooped again.
"I convinced him of my innocence," she said. "And I think there is no one will dare raise a voice against me since he is satisfied."
The Prince of Taranto's eyes flashed with a strange expression.
Giovanna laughed and gave him her hand.
"You were always my very good champion, yet your sword"—her eyes were cruel—"has failed, while my wit has saved Naples." She drew her hand away, and he flushed. "Where is Conte Raymond?" she asked.
"He follows me, Madonna."
She looked round upon the three men, and her teeth pressed her lip. "If you were in my place, gentlemen," she asked quietly, "what would be your manner of dealing with Raymond de Cabane?"
Bertram des Beaux considered her with grave eyes.
"You know, Madonna, what has kept me from dealing with him as with his accomplices—his position, your favour. If he forfeit these—well!"
The Queen lifted her hand in protest.
"My favour?" she said in a thick voice. "A thing forced from me. Prince, what do you say?"
Luigi of Taranto answered earnestly:
"We only stain ourselves by sheltering a murderer. It would have been better for our honour had he suffered with the others."
Giovanna looked at Carlo.
The smooth, golden rose-tinted face flushed; he answered with a fierceness rare in his indifferent demeanour.
"I think enough blood has been shed for that boy's death. Straightly, cousin, are you meaning to deliver Raymond de Cabane to the King as a peace offering?"
Giovanna's eyes showed him hate for the turn of his speech; her teeth were again set in her lip the thin skin broke, the blood staining them.
"I am asking your advice," she said in a low, restrained voice. "The King of Hungary has demanded this man—his guilt is a thing obvious and blazoned."
A deep pause fell; then Carlo's light laugh rose.
"What I said, Giovanna!—buy your own safety with what you can—why not?"
"The safety of Naples," said the Queen, shaking. "Remember, the King is to marry my sister—had I not to promise it? Raymond will not renounce her quietly."
Bertram des Beaux spoke.
"He must go—it is bare justice."
"An the way of it be not treacherous," said Luigi of Taranto, "I will put in no word to save Raymond de Cabane from punishment."
Giovanna dabbed her mouth with a handkerchief and moistened her lips. Carlo shrugged his shoulders; it was in his mind that the Queen had been served and trusted by this man she was scheming to deliver to his death—that he had fought for her loyally. Whatever his sins, it was not for her to judge and punish.
But Bertram des Beaux admired her for a stroke of policy equal to her cunning in placing herself at the head of the popular fury that demanded the warrant for the death of the fourteen. His crafty Italian face expressed a sardonic approbation and understanding of her motive; in his heart he believed her guilty of at least pre-knowledge of her husband's death.
"The Conte Raymond, in common prudence, must be sacrificed," he said suavely.
Luigi of Taranto was not moved to speak for de Cabane, yet shamefacedness touched him a little as he considered the action they proposed.
"He is still powerful," he said slowly. "Are we strong enough to arrest him?"
Giovanna had been thinking all, night over this question, fresh to them; she was nervously wrought up to face it, armed with replies to all difficulties.
"It must be done secretly," she answered quickly.
Des Beaux studied his lean hands; he understood. Carlo, at the window, kept his eyes on the three of them.
"Ye would not send him alive to the King of Hungary?" asked des Beaux.
"No," said Giovanna.
Luigi of Taranto glanced at her: "Why not, Madonna?"
Des Beaux, for her, answered easily: "It would be a foolish thing, since—he might speak—" and then he also glanced at the Queen.
"He might lie," amended Giovanna, with a steady expression on her white face. "He might defame us all."
Carlo came towards them, his hands thrust through his girdle, his usual lazy indolence in face and manner.
"I see Raymond de Cabane below—riding into the courtyard," he said carelessly.
Luigi of Taranto sprang up.
"Have we any we can trust?" cried the Queen, and sat down by the table and rose up again, with fierce eyes, all in a breath.
"To do the deed, mean you?" asked Bertram des Beaux.
"I cannot be the executioner of a man who has fought beside me," cried the Prince.
Carlo di Durazzo laughed.
"Are you afraid of him? Fling him into the dungeons as you flung the others—burn him in the public square."
Des Beaux moistened his lips: "We have neither the force now nor the authority."
"So it must be murder?" said Carlo lightly.
Giovanna glanced at him in a baited fashion. "Are you all meaning to forsake me?" she whispered. "This man must die—for the sake of Naples." She sat down again and curled her fingers together on the table; her violet eyes shifted from one to another. "He will be coming up," she said.
Luigi of Taranto spoke, goaded by her appeal.
"The Provence soldiery I brought back with me—they are trustworthy—they would—"
She caught at it.
"Bring them up!" she commanded eagerly.
"Wait a little." She put her hand to her head. "I will see him—send him to me." She broke off again.
"Wait without upon the stairs; if I call for you—"
Des Beaux answered her broken words suavely:
"I shall be there—with the soldiers, Madonna."
"I also," said the Prince of Taranto grimly.
"And you, Carlo?" questioned the Queen.
"Oh, I must see my falcons fed," he answered, with an indifferent glance. "Ye do not require my services."
She motioned them all away.
"Send him to me," she muttered.
After they had left her she sat with her elbows on the table and her head in her hands, facing what was before her. Ever since she had promised Raymond de Cabane to Ludovic of Hungary, she had been scheming how to accomplish it, for her triumphant success of yesterday would be marred if this man lived.
For he knew. She might put what front she would on it: he knew. She might outlie him, her word might even persuade Ludovic against Raymond's, but it was a risk. She was safe save for him—but he was there, and he knew everything. He would speak, too; there was only the one means to keep him silent—death.
Her temples were throbbing feverishly; her lips and throat dry; it had cost her a tremendous effort to come to this resolution, to hold it, carry it through without flinching. She wanted no more blood; horror and distaste were dragging her back, fear urging her forward.
Raymond de Cabane must not speak with Ludovic of Hungary. His death would ensure her safety and pacify the King; it must be done.
She trembled and moaned into her hands; she recalled Ludovic's words: "Let des Beaux arrest him—it is not your vengeance." Did he mean it was a task unfitting a woman?
Yet he had asked her for the man; he had believed her, and demanded Raymond as a pledge of her sincerity—it was wonderful that he had believed her.
She forgot Raymond in thinking upon that; what she had said yesterday in that farmhouse kitchen she could not recall, by what desperate arts of madness she had convinced him she did not know; but she remembered his face, his bearing—the manner in which he had said: "I believe you, cousin."
And he should believe in her; whatever it meant to keep intact his faith in her, that she would do. Was such an one as Raymond de Cabane to blast her hopes and condemn her, when Ludovic of Hungary believed?
The door swung open and fell to; at a heavy footfall she looked up with dazed, sick eyes.
Raymond de Cabane had entered; his coarse face was a ghastly hue with rage and fatigue, dark and pallid, his eyes bloodshot and strained.
Giovanna, rising stiffly, saw that he was looking at her without even the scant respect that usually covered his brutality.
"So—you have been treating with the King?" he demanded roughly.
She had hoped that he might not have heard.
"Well?" she said, biting her ragged lips—"well?"
Raymond de Cabane strode to the other side of the table. "What part did I play in your conditions?" he asked. "While I was fighting for you at Benevento, how were you bargaining for me at Aversa?"
The Queen answered unsteadily; behind the pink velvet bodice her bosom rose painfully as if her heart beat desperately for freedom under the tight gold cords. "Who has been speaking to you of these things?"
"It is common talk that you went to the Hungarians yesterday and turned their King to your purpose."
She shrank before his heavy presence, his lowering face.
"You have come to a pact with the King of Hungary," he continued fiercely. "Well—what of me?"
She did not answer.
"What of me?" he repeated. "And what of that matter I know?"
She lifted her shoulders as if in self-protection, and drew closer together against the chair from which she had risen.
"Do you threaten?" she asked unpleasantly.
His face was black and heavy with wrath.
"I see no occasion for threats," he said sombrely. "You were clever enough to free yourself from the others—a fish hook through the tongue to silence them; but I live and I know." He came suddenly round the table, trembling with passion. "You white-faced witch! you would betray me for your convenience—to buy mercy from your Hungarian dupe!"
"It is not true," flashed Giovanna. "I—"
"You lie!" interrupted Raymond hotly—"as you lied to him—as you lied to Ludovic that you were innocent of the King's death. What manner of man is he to believe you? Innocent!"—he drove the word home pitilessly—"when you were considering how you might decoy him to the convent even as the chance sent him! Innocent, when it was at your feet—"
"Stop!" cried Giovanna hoarsely. "Is this your loyalty?" She faced him with desperate eyes and distended nostrils, her hands clasped across the bosom of her dress.
"I owe you no loyalty," he retorted with passion. "I made you Queen; my hand kept you in the throne. Loyalty! I would have ridden over to Ludovic to make my peace by surrendering Naples—I should never have returned but for Maria."
"You are very constant," said Giovanna in a thick voice.
His bloodshot eyes turned a fierce glance on her. "I served you for your sister—I demand her. Everything is lost, but you owe me my reward—give me Maria d'Anjou."
The Queen had no word for a long moment; then she answered in a voice barely audible:
"Would you be silent if I did?"
But she dare not. Maria was promised to Ludovic; and then, could she trust him? No.
"You talk wildly," she said. "Maria would not go with you—and the Hungarians will be in Naples in two days."
His defaced armour rattled with his passionate breaths.
"Give me the key of her chamber—show me where it is. I shall not ask her if she will go—I have some men faithful: I will secure her and ride to Giordano." He meant what he said; desperate as it seemed, he meant it. She could doubt neither the intensity of his tone nor the fire in his eyes; she was silent, considering.
"Nay, bring her here," continued Raymond eagerly. "Send for her now—let me see her, speak to her. I could take her now—at once!"
Giovanna looked at him strangely.
"Well, I will not be ungrateful—you shall see her." She moved in a heavy, weary manner to the door; when she reached it she looked back over her shoulder: Raymond had seated himself at the table and was pouring out wine in the manner of a man worn out.
The Queen opened the door; in the blackness of the stairs the forms of men and the dull gleam of armour, the red locks of Luigi of Taranto and the crafty face of des Beaux, showed obscurely.
"He is coming," said the Queen in a steady whisper. "You know what to do "—and she shut the door. Slowly she returned to the table where Raymond was drinking greedily.
"Maria is in the great hall, alone," she said, "so a page tells me. Go to her there."
He rose at once with flaming eyes; ruined, desperate, the thought of seeing Maria d'Anjou was inspiration, strength.
"I shall take her to Giordano," he said briskly. "I have enough men—she should be glad to leave Naples."
He strode past the Queen with contempt, but his wrath mollified; let her not cheat him of Maria d'Anjou, and he cared not how many she duped or betrayed.
"May ye be more fortunate in your second King from Hungary," he sneered. "As for me, I think I have finished with ye. Farewell!"
"And I with ye," she replied. "We have both played for our own ends, have we not?"
She preceded him to the door and opened it.
"Take care of the steps, Conte—it is dark." She dragged her breath out painfully, and trembled so that she had to lean against the wall; he, not thinking of her nor looking at her, stepped out. Instantly the Queen closed the door, bolted it, and flung herself against it with her hands over her ears. There was the sound of a hoarse cry, a struggle, a scuffling of feet, the clink of armour—it was very quickly over.
Giovanna remained, white, rigid, as if the life had been drained out of her, leaning against the heavy door with her cold fingers in her ears, with her vivid hair framing her face, with glazed eyes arid strained, parted lips.
Sancia, coming from the inner chamber, saw her so, motionless against the door; and, all her old terrors reviving, she shrieked, falling back.
The Queen dropped her hands. "What is the matter?" she asked, and closed her eyes. "Where is Maria?"
Sancia, a shrinking figure in white, murmured an answer: "In her chamber, Madonna."
"Ah, well—go!" said Giovanna.
The waiting woman disappeared, and the room fell to silence.
The Queen began laughing in a ghastly fashion. "She does not know," she muttered, as she crept along the wall, "that I am mad sometimes—that things come and talk to me—Who was that?"
Her laughter began to be strangled with sobs.
"What am I doing?—oh, my head!—my head!"
She dropped to her knees, crouching against the arras, and laughed again vacantly. Cautiously she looked round, and laid her finger on her lip with a cunning smile.
Then with eager fingers she tore the linen off her bosom, finding it under the pink velvet of her dress, and commenced rubbing the floor.
"How dark blood is!" she said, moistening her lips. "From the bed to the balcony." Busily and noiselessly on her hands and knees she rubbed the unstained boards.
"If it dries it never comes out," she muttered—"never—comes—out!"
Ludovic of Hungary paused in his march to Naples to visit the little grey convent of Santo Pietro-a-Majello.
Towards sunset, a few men following him, he rode to the scene of his brother's murder; up the fragrant garden where Andreas had passed only a few months ago, under the doorway Andreas had entered, laughing, the evening of September the thirteenth.
Ludovic spoke no word of his brother, but his usual arrogant demeanour was subdued to an utter quiet as the cowled monks conducted him to the chamber where Andreas had been murdered—the low, quiet chamber hung with arras picturing the virtues struggling with the vices.
The dying sun reddened walls and floor, touched the contorted figures in the tapestry and the placid gilt Madonna on her bracket, the table below, and the brass bowl Queen Giovanna's fingers had once filled with lilies. Through the open arches of the window stood the balcony, the little red roses with their long thorny stems and crinkled leaves, and the wide landscape spreading towards Naples.
Ludovic pulled off his cap and stood inside the door looking about him; his tall figure, the splendour of his dress, the dark, wild beauty of his face, showed in sharp contrast to the sunny, silent chamber, that appeared fitted better for the quiet presence of monks moving softly to and fro.
Presently he went to the window; the shifting of his chain armour, the clink of his huge spurs, broke the stillness sharply. In the last blaze of the sun his surtout, striped in scarlet and gold and bearing the double-headed eagle, glistened fiercely as he stepped on to the balcony. The broken roses had grown again, the blood-stains been wiped away; on the balustrade where they had tied the rope a dove preened itself; a little warm wind stirred the scent from the vivid red blossoms. Ludovic leant over the balustrade and looked down on the syringa bushes. Then he stepped back into the room.
Konrad of Gottif stood inside the door; the two men looked at each other.
"Where did he sleep?" asked the King.
Konrad pointed out the room. Ludovic crossed to the chamber, opened the door, and glanced in.
Nothing there but an empty bed, an empty table, and a bar of sunlight falling from a high window across the dusty floor.
The King closed the door; his dark face was markedly pale, his heavy brows frowning.
"And the Queen?" he asked, his tone lowered.
"The Queen slept in the chamber opposite." Konrad of Gottif glanced at him curiously.
The King saw the look, and paused in his walk across the room.
"Well?" he said; "an if she did, good my lord?"
"'Tis but a few paces from that room to the balcony," was the answer. "God keep us from judgment! but—"
He paused, eyeing the King steadily.
"What more?" demanded Ludovic.
"Good my liege, she must have heard."
"Must!" repeated Ludovic haughtily. "You would damn a woman on so small a surmise, Konrad of Gottif?"
He entered the Queen's chamber without pausing for a reply.
There, also, was nothing out of the usual. It was a larger room than the other; in the centre a carved bedstead hung with red; on one wall a crucifix; a dark chest, a chair completed the furniture.
Konrad of Gottif followed the King; his keen eyes fell on the bed.
"Mark the bed-curtains, fair liege," he said under his breath.
"Wherefore?" Ludovic glanced at them, half angrily: one was tied back with a thick silk cord; the other hung loose.
"You cannot hang a man without a rope," said Konrad of Gottif dryly. "Where is the other cord?"
Ludovic looked at him in silence.
"What did they hang him with?" repeated the other. "Is it not a strange thing her bed should be so despoiled?"
"A hundred different matters might account for that, good knight," answered the King, frowning. "Nay, we do not know that the chamber be as she left it."
"The monks declare the rooms have been locked until they handed you the keys to-day."
Ludovic interrupted him, hotly.
"Would you tell me she was fiend enough to take the trappings from her bed to hang her husband?—that his murderers entered her very chamber?"
Konrad of Gottif turned on his heel. "I have no more to say, since you have sworn to believe this woman innocent."
They descended into the outer room; and there the King, with a flushed face, laid his brown hand on Konrad's sleeve:
"Tell me what you mean?" he said.
Konrad laughed. "What matter? I was your brother's friend, my liege."
Ludovic interrupted. "You think I am cold in his vengeance?" he demanded fiercely.
"I think," was the steady answer, "that the woman won you too easily—by God! too easily!"
The dusky colour flamed deeper in the King's face; his brows lowered so that his eyes were hidden; he said nothing.
"When I rode to Hungary," continued Konrad with flashing eyes, "it was to bring you to demand blood as the price of blood—blood spilt at the hands of a slave's son. You came, armed with retribution; you defied the Church, you set Naples under your heel, very splendidly. Then this woman comes to you with soft words, and you give her back her throne, and cry peace!—when you should cry vengeance!"
"'Fore God, Konrad," said the King thickly, "she is innocent!"
"You did not think so when the Princess Maria appealed to you—when you heard how Andreas had died, foully beneath her roof. What did you say then?—' Between her and me the sword decides.'
"I had not seen her then," answered Ludovic, in a hard voice. "I did not know—"
"That she had a baby face and golden hair," flashed Konrad; "and a soft voice, and red lips to plead with!"
"Good my lord, you come near insolence." Ludovic spoke evenly, but his square jaw was set hard as iron, and the angry colour glowed in his brown cheek.
But Konrad of Gottif, standing where his lord had been slain, speaking to the man whom he had brought to execute vengeance, was roused beyond any such consideration or fear of growing anger. "To be turned by a woman!" he said hotly—"you, a king and the avenger of a king, in one poor half hour to be swayed by a woman! How did she persuade you her husband's death lay not at her door?"
Ludovic stood immovable; on his mouth a look of hard pride that came near obstinacy; in his hazel eyes an intolerant disdain of unpalatable speech. Sweet airs stole in through the windows, stirred the stiff surtout on his comely figure, and ruffled the heavy hair on his forehead.
"What proof, what evidence did she bring?" persisted Konrad of Gottif, breathing quickly.
From the height of his arrogance the King deigned to answer: "None—it is sufficient that I believe her."
Great wrath paled Count Konrad's face.
"God wot! she is a witch, strong in the lures of the devil!"
The King's lips curved into a hard smile.
"Think you I am a man easily bewitched, or one to follow the beckoning of a woman's hand?" he asked proudly.
"Yea, I have always thought so—"
"Listen!" Ludovic interrupted, speaking impressively. "Good my friend, you mistake me, you mistake her. She has been the tool of many men, the puppet of a faction. I think she has done no evil thing in all her life."
"You did not see her with your brother," answered Konrad. "You did not mark how she insulted and flouted him."
Ludovic made a half-turn about the room.
"Am I to bring judgment on her because she did not love her husband?" he demanded. "Well, I wot he was not of her choosing."
Konrad's hand fell to the strap of his sword, and clasped there fiercely.
"It is not for you, standing where he died, to make excuses for her or cheapen him to exalt her. I think you came to avenge Andreas, not to champion Giovanna."
Ludovic looked at him steadily.
"And I do think I know my errand, Konrad of Gottif." He frowned gloomily. "Most of those who slew him have already paid, and by her commands—mark that: she punished them."
"Yet somewhat late for her fair fame," answered the other sternly. "And what of Raymond de Cabane, to whom her sister is promised!"
"She has sworn to send him to me," said Ludovic; "and I do think she will."
"The slyer traitress she!" cried Konrad of Gottif. "What blacker thing than this—to sell her accomplice for her pardon?"
"So black a thing, no woman would have the courage to do it," answered Ludovic hotly. "It is proof enough in itself she is innocent. I say she looked at me straightly, she did not change colour, no, nor tremble, when I asked for the murderer. Could guilt act so well? And the man has a tongue: would he be loyal to the mistress who had betrayed him?—would he not speak?—would she not think of that and be afraid?"
"The devil lends great cunning to his servants," answered Konrad quietly.
The wrathful colour darkened in the King's sombre face; his eyes, clear and bright behind the thick dusky lashes, turned a hard look on the Count.
"I say I do believe her," he said, his soft voice strained with anger. "Would guilt have dared come to me as she came? Nought but innocence would have had such courage. And I do tell you, Konrad of Gottif, that I promised my lady cousin to enter Naples in all peace and friendship if she would keep her word with me as to Raymond de Cabane and her sister; and here, in this accursed place, I vow to you that neither speech nor deeds shall turn me from my given word."
Konrad looked at the soft, clear-cut face, burning red in the brown cheeks with passion; he noted the stubborn curl of the beautiful mouth, the disdainful swell of the nostril, the eyes proud and masterful, the head held haughtily; and he answered wearily:
"You are not a man easy to advise, Ludovic of Hungary—you are the master. Yet I am sorry for the Queen's sister."
"What of her?" The King spoke again with natural sweetness, but his proud face contradicted the softness of his speech.
"She is to be your wife; and, good my liege, the Queen loves her not, and she hates the Queen."
Ludovic was silent; he gazed in front of him at the wide, rich landscape and the purple hills behind which the amber clouds of sunset floated.
"Even though you be very proud and very certain, have a care of this same Queen."
Ludovic laughed gently.
"Why, would you warn me of my little cousin?"
"I would warn you of the woman who has beguiled you so far so easily," answered Konrad sourly.
"Oh, hold your peace of that matter!" said the King. "However you rail against her, you cannot move me. Think you that even if my little cousin wove spells and enchantments, I should fear them?"
"God wot! you are a soft man to women. Take heed of this woman, lest she shame you with her lies."
"Wearisome is this talk, Konrad of Gottif. If so greatly you mislike my action—the road lies wide back to Hungary."
Count Konrad strode to the door and laid his hand on the latch.
"I would rather return to Hungary than see the Queen triumph again; yea, rather return with my vengeance unglutted than watch you meet her in friendship—even though what some said at Buda when you left be repeated, and I have to answer, ''Tis even so.'"
He opened the door; it seemed that he would leave in silence, when the King's soft voice gave him pause.
"And what did they say at Buda?"
"They said, my Lord of Hungary, that you did not gather your armies and leave your kingdom to avenge a boy's blood, but for glory, wanton triumph, and pleasure."
The King turned swiftly, the gold coat shimmering on the silver light of the armour.
"They lied," he said languidly. "But go you and confirm their lie if you dare. My motives are not for common questioning—they rest between me and God; and the actions of my sword hand are above any man's asking."
Konrad of Gottif descended without a sound into the blackness of the narrow stairs.
The sun had set, leaving the chamber in the purple light of twilight; the haggard figures of the combatants on the tapestry appeared to glow with a ghostly life in the uncertain lights and shadows. Under their feet their names were worked in twisted scrolls; Ludovic found himself idly reading them: Prudence, Valour, Fidelity, Humility, trampling on the writhing forms of Pride, Greed, Envy, Sloth, and Malice. The placid little Madonna smiled from the dark bracket; without the fine stems and thin leaves of the roses quivered dark against the sweep of light-fading sky.
Ludovic moved softly down the room, again opened the door of the Queen's chamber, and looked in. Ghostly now it seemed with the heavy blackness cast by the curtains over the dismantled bed, the pearl-pale square of light window in the darkness of the wall.
Here she had lain that night while outside her door the King was murdered. Only a short time ago; yet for the inscrutable silence, for the blankness of walls and stones, it might have been a thousand years since blood was shed.
There was no mark nor stain of it, no echo of a desperate struggle, no sound of wild shrieks imprisoned for ever, no ghost of a young King lurking in the doorways; nothing but three empty rooms, a stone balcony grown with peaceful roses, and a wide view of an evening landscape. Yet under all his panoply of studded armour and trappings of heavy silk, Ludovic of Hungary shivered as if on the sudden it had fallen cold. A curious sense of mistrust of Giovanna came over him-a feeling in ho way the result of Konrad's words, but rather part of the atmosphere of the place and the sight of the cordless red curtain hanging by her deserted bed; but—he was "a man soft to women."
He went heavily downstairs, shutting the door carefully as if it were the gate of a tomb. Below, in the dim pillared hall, the Abbot and some of the monks waited for him; he handed them the keys.
"Tell me what happened that night," he said. He seated himself under one of the lancet-shaped windows, and through the scarlet and blue of the pictured saints a faint-coloured light fell upon the circlet of curls on his dark head, the folds of the yellow mantle on his shoulders, and the clasp of gold and green at his full throat; it caught also the end of his long, pointed steel shoe resting on the flags, and glittered down his greaves.
"Tell me the manner of my brother's death," he said, shifting his question into a plainer form.
The Abbot motioned forward the two monks who had recited the psalms by the side of Andreas. One of them commenced speaking, his cowl shrouding his face, his voice low and even.
"Where the King lodged is far from our cells and chapel; we heard nothing save some faint sounds that we thought were the soldiers brawling, until Madonna Maria came to seek us."
"So she had heard something?" questioned Ludovic under his breath.
"Shrieking, she said; she vowed the King was being murdered."
"Why should she think it was the King?" demanded Ludovic.
"Because of the ill terms that he was on with the Queen and the Queen's friends. We followed her to the King's apartment, and found it empty. We knocked at the Queen's chamber and received no answer."
The speaker was an old man; he interrupted himself with feeble coughs, then continued in his impassive voice:
"Madonna Maria found blood on the floor of the outer chamber, and a rope tied to the balcony. We descended to the garden and discovered the King; his head had been smashed with the fall, and he lay in his own blood—it was amongst the syringa bushes. Two of us went to the Queen's chamber and said, 'Madonna, what shall we do with the body of your husband?' She gave no answer. Early in the morning she returned to Naples with the Conte Raymond."
The old monk coughed again; the gloomy shadows gathered among the grim pillars; the colours faded from the windows.
Through the gloom came the King's soft voice:
"What rope did they hang him with?"
"The cord from the Queen's bed."
Ludovic made a quick movement. "How may you tell?"
"By the piece they left hanging to the balcony. One spake of it to the Queen; she said that early in the day one of them crept into her room and stole it, as it was the only cord in the convent, and their design was to hang the King."
"That may well be," said Ludovic quietly.
A little novice lit a thick yellow candle; the pointed red flame leapt up, smoking, and showed the grey arches sweeping into the shadow of the roof, and struck into points of glitter the rings on the King's hand, his armour, and the gold threads on the scarlet surtout.
In the doorway waited the Hungarians he had brought with him; he rose and called one of them. The novice holding the candle stood in front of the cowled monks gazing at the warriors; as his hands shook, the light shifted vaguely in trailing yellow shapes over the half-seen figures.
Ludovic took his gauntlets from one knight and spoke to another; they heard him laugh in a weary fashion, then the soft bright chinking of gold. He turned and stepped close to the novice, the candle-light falling over him.
"Pray for a King unshriven," he said briefly, "and a foully murdered man."
He flung his gauntlet at the monk's feet, and the gold pieces with which it was filled rolled over the floor, shining like flame.
Before the little novice rose the image of Humility in the tapestry upstairs, a meek figure in his sad-coloured robe, and his companion Pride. Ludovic of Hungary, flinging his gift to God as if it were a dole to a beggar, minded him of Pride in the arras; he stared at the gorgeous King, and the money rolled unheeded under his long robe.
"How shall such prosper?" whispered the monk next him. "A man of blazoned arrogance."
The King passed into the garden and mounted in silence; against the wall leant Konrad of Gottif, and Ludovic spoke to him.
"What do you muse on, Konrad of Gottif?" His bare right hand tightened on the reins his eyes held a challenge.
The Count broke forth fiercely: "On the white witch who has so much power-on the folly..." He strangled his words in his throat.
"You were better at home," said the King unpleasantly—"You and I shall not agree on this question. Get back to Hungary."
He turned the horse's head and rode down the broad flagged path. When he had passed through the gate he drew rein in the meadow, waiting for his company. A vivid blue twilight encompassed him; the stars seemed to float in the misty heavens; the poplar trees rose grey against this blue, and in their upper leaves a continuous wind rustled. Above the black convent a new moon swung in a wreath of white vapours, like a cut pearl in foam.
Ludovic became aware of a girl coming towards him through the thick grass; the dusky blue light caused her to appear dim yet luminous. She bore a shapely jar on her shoulder; her hair made a dark heap on the nape of her neck. She was singing to herself; but at sight of Ludovic she paused, and stared through the twilight.
"A soldier?" she said, and stepped nearer. "I have never seen any here before, though I pass very often." She laughed. "Did you come to see where Andreas of Hungary was slain?"
Her abrupt mention of his brother caused the King to look at her sharply. She was twirling a scarlet poppy between her white teeth. Her brown dress, carelessly laced, showed her slender throat and shoulders.
"What do you know of him?" asked Ludovic.
She laughed again, sullenly. "I hope the Hungarians will burn the Queen," she said, "even as the others were burned."
Then she looked up, saw Ludovic's face and bearing, and, half-overawed, turned away through the flowers.
But he called after her: "Why should they burn the Queen?"
"Because she is a witch," came the answer, and the girl hurried out of sight down the sloping fields.
Ludovic's jaw set in iron lines of resolution; the more he was confronted with popular opinion of the Queen, the more firmly was he determined to abide by his own judgment.
He remembered her youth, her quiet, her most wonderful eyes, the simplicity of her defence; most of all, the manner in which she had come to him, appealing to his justice, holding herself at his mercy, abiding his sentence. In that he saw a magnificence of action belonging only to regal innocence: she disdained alike proof and protestation—she appealed to him as a Queen to a King.
His pride was most delicately flattered, his generosity most delicately appealed to, his imagination most sweetly fired by violet eyes and a fine hand that had put in his two vivid carnations. These things were unknown to the crowd that defamed her, but between him and her they were bonds and pledges of an understanding.
When his company joined him and they galloped over the fields towards his camp, his thoughts dwelt on Raymond de Cabane, and all his wrath and vengeance, suddenly dammed, turned aside from the Queen and rebounded upon Conte d'Eboli. He was not of a cruel nature, but he desired a hard death for the man who had murdered his brother; bitterly the slave should pay for the spilling of royal blood.
As they came to the camp a party of soldiers rode up; by the red ragged light of torches that flaunted the stars, Ludovic recognized in the foremost rider the small features and amber curls of Carlo di Durazzo.
The two men reined up simultaneously, and the Duke drew his cap from his burnished hair.
"Fair lord, I come from the Queen," he said in his lazy voice.
Ludovic spurred his horse forward.
"My cousin of Durazzo?" He held out his hand. The Duke was free from even suspicion of complicity in the murder of Andreas; the King desired to show he knew this, and his voice was warm.
Carlo di Durazzo glanced into the proud, smiling face the torchlight showed, and his own was dull; he could not refuse his hand, but he gave it coldly.
"They make gallant preparations for your entry into Naples," he said indifferently. "The Queen sends you her duty—Madonna Maria all fitting greeting."
His careless tone became almost a sneer. Ludovic, quick to see and to resent even a touch of his own pride in any other man, turned haughty eyes on the cousin who had not responded to his condescension. But Carlo only laughed, and turned in his saddle.
"Bring the Queen's gift," he said over his shoulder; then he faced the King again. "Giovanna rejoices at your coming," he added.
The remark was pointed, and Ludovic replied to the meaning.
"And is not my cousin Maria glad?" he asked, though he had never thought of his betrothed since he set foot in Italy.
Carlo eyed him defiantly, hating his pride, his beauty, his splendour, thinking with a strange pang of Maria's blue eyes and sad, fair face.
"As to that I know not," he answered. "Some think she has forgotten to do aught but weep."
A man-at-arms in blue and purple stepped from the ranks and came up to the two leaders. Carlo drew back his great white horse; the soldier went on one knee before the King of Hungary.
"Hold the torches higher, varlet," commanded the Duke.
Ludovic looked down upon a kneeling man holding a scarlet cushion covered with a gold cloth.
"The Queen's gift," said Carlo. A pikeman drew off the cloth: the smoky torchlight revealed a hideous head, swollen, discoloured, with bloodstained lips and eyes, lying on the scarlet cushion.
"Raymond de Cabane," said the pikeman, and lifted the head by the coarse black hair.
Ludovic stared into the dead face of the man he had vowed to kill. So she had kept her word—in this fashion!
"Why did she send him to me dead?" he demanded sternly. "I did not ask it."
"Never could he have been brought alive," said Carlo. "He was a mighty fighter."
In the red torchlight the defaced features appeared to contort with devilish life; Ludovic, gazing at them, thought: "And I had meant to question him."
The lifeless face mocked him. Neither fear of hell nor hope of heaven, not the most fearful of torments, could wring from the Conte Raymond now the names of his accomplices; those cold lips held for ever the secret of the Queen's guilt or innocence.
In a measure Ludovic felt balked of his vengeance: he could not punish the dead, nay, nor triumph over this disfigured flesh; he could extort nothing from Raymond de Cabane.
The flaring yellow lights staining the purple twilight, and revealing the sharp glitter of armour and spear, the horses' shining flanks, and the men's faces hidden in the shade of their helms, flickered over the head of Raymond de Cabane and the dark splendour of the King's face and throat 'above the gold collar of his mail.
"Take away that carrion," he said gloomily. "I am cheated of my revenge."
He rode away without a word to the Italians, and they could hear the soft clank of his harness as he spurred into the purple darkness.
"Think you Maria will favour him?" asked Carlo softly, leaning towards Luigi of Taranto. That warrior pushed back his red hair.
"Any woman would," he answered.
Carlo di Durazzo leant from his horse and looked at the head replaced now on the scarlet cushion. Sharp blue shadows lay on it; the grinning teeth showed behind a film of blood; on the wrinkled forehead were dull brown stains.
"They have all paid now," he thought—"unless Giovanna..." He checked his thoughts and glanced up at the great soft stars.
Maria D'Anjou accepted it silently; she did not rail nor complain; through the tangled life of the palace she moved quietly, with apparent little heed of what passed about her.
Giovanna's triumph had been her defeat; the Queen had snatched herself from ruin by winning in an amazing fashion the man to whom Maria was looking for vengeance, justice, and escape. Raymond de Cabane's death had filled her with more disgust than relief. She stood aside, watching her sister spin her nets and set them, and felt herself as helpless as ever she had done in the old days. At times Sancia di Renato came and wept on her breast; but Maria was too weary for tears. The long-prayed-for deliverance was at hand; Ludovic of Hungary was coming to Naples, but not for her—for Giovanna's lures.
She listened in secret misery to the Queen's elated talk of him; heard her praise his courtesy, his voice, even his face; heard her boast how he had put aside all slanders and old calumnies at her mere word, and how he was to enter Naples as her friend and ally.
He would keep her on her throne, this man who had come to hurl her from it; he would chastise her insolent subjects. And the woman who was his promised wife listened silently.
She had always woven vague hopes and dreams round the King of Hungary. When she was a child she had been taught to regard him as her future lord, and through all the storms and intrigues that had held them apart her lonely soul had remained constant to his image. She had dreamt of the day when she might go to him, to a strange land that yet would be home; she had been loyal to him in every thought; in her bitterest need she had appealed to him. And now he was coming, her knight, and Giovanna had snatched him from her to serve her own pride and ambition.
Sometimes she thought of him with contempt. What manner of man was he to be so easily persuaded? What love had he for Andreas that he was satisfied so soon?
She tortured herself with doubts of him, scorn of him and of his blindness, his weakness; while she listened to every word spoken of him, and strove to picture to herself this unseen lord of hers.
And on the morning of the day he was to enter Naples, Giovanna, pale with triumph, came to her in her lonely little room.
Maria sat on the end of her bed, her bare arms loosely clasped round the carved post that her chin and her twisted fingers rested on. She wore a flowing red dress, open at the throat, that appeared to mingle with her unbound chestnut locks, so nearly was it of the same hue. Her eyes, blue as the bay that showed through the open window, were sad and steady beneath her level brows.
Giovanna came in silence into the room, and went to the window, where the early sunlight glimmered over her from head to foot. She had not spoken alone with her sister since the night of the King's death, nor made any attempt to seek her out; but Maria showed no surprise nor moved from her still position.
Giovanna was superbly dressed in orange velvet, stiff with golden embroidery, but she wore no jewels though the castle of Bertrand d'Artois had yielded some treasure to the impoverished court, it had not been sufficient to redeem her gems from the Lombards.
She gave Maria a quick glance out of narrow bright eyes, and moistened her palely scarlet lips. "Listen," she said: "Ludovic of Hungary comes here to-day. You know?"
The beautiful face and the still hands did not alter nor move.
"Well?—well?" said the Queen quickly. "Why are you silent? What more do you desire? Raymond de Cabane is dead; ye are to be the wife of Ludovic; did ye not always wish it?"
Her fine fingers played restlessly on the stone window frame. Still Maria did not speak.
Giovanna stared at her sister's face, pearl-white in the waving burnished hair, and her own took on a strange look.
"Why of two such men did they give me the blundering boy?" She spoke between quick breaths. "You are very fortunate; Ludovic is a man and King." She changed her tone. "Come," she said sharply, "why do you not dress yourself and make ready to meet him?"
Maria was silent.
The Queen, as if some wild impatience had caught her soul, stepped up to her sister and seized her by the shoulder.
"Will you not speak tome?" she asked viciously. "Why am I to endure your proud mockery?"
The calm, fair face changed swiftly; Maria sprang up, wrenched herself free, and drew back to the farthest wall.
"You shall not touch me," she whispered. She shook back the red hair, and the red dress and her white face and throat gleamed in the dusky corner; her voice came hoarsely. "And you will keep yourself away from me. If Ludovic of Hungary"—she panted over the name—"is to be my lord, you and he must not—Ah! I am not your puppet, Giovanna!" She clasped her hands fiercely. "And I tell you that if this man is coming to your lures, he gets none of me—no! he chooses between us. If he believes you, trusts his brother's widow—his brother's—" She caught back the word, but her passionate blue eyes shone with undaunted fire.
"I say he gets none of me," she repeated. "I will be the wife of no man you have in your toils."
Giovanna stood by the bed, looking down; the sunlight picked out the great coil of auburn hair in the nape of her neck and the gold threads in her stiff orange gown.
"How wildly you speak!" she answered quietly. "Why, what is Ludovic of Hungary to me?" She lifted long, evil eyes. "And what should I be to him, seeing you are his betrothed wife?" She laughed noiselessly, bunching her shoulders to her ears, where the snaky curls clustered. "Are you afraid of losing him—with that face?" she sneered. "With your pure life and your pure beauty and your rich dowry, are you afraid of me who am old ere I am young, faded ere I have bloomed, spoiled and tarnished and broken?"
Her voice sank; she seated herself on the end of the bed, huddled together, and flung her arms up over her face.
"Ruined!" she wailed—"broken, body and soul—old!—yes, I am old, Maria, and my heart is stunned, bruised, and dying!"
She sank face downwards on the red coverlet and sobbed wildly, pressing her hands to her forehead.
Maria came from the corner and gazed at her, but with no softening in her face; fair and cold and pitiless, she watched the heaving shoulders and bowed form.
At last Giovanna lifted her head, with her fine hair tumbled to her gold-girdled waist, and her eyes wild and red.
"No man will look on me with love," she said fiercely. "I am damaged goods, though I am on the market, God wot! There are ugly things said of me even loyalty cannot be deaf to, and things believed a saint could not live down—you need not be afraid of me, Maria!"
Her sister answered:
"I am afraid of nothing. But witches and evil things have gained ofttimes the love of honest men."
Giovanna laughed miserably.
"Do you think I have bewitched him, this Ludovic of yours? What do I want with him? He is no finer knight than Luigi of Taranto, whom I might have by lifting my hand."
Maria spoke scornfully:
"Well ye wot he is a King, and ye are in his power! What could Luigi of Taranto do for ye that this man could?"
The Queen raised her head; her tear-stained face wore a look of cunning.
"So you think I am coming between your lord and you!—you are jealous of me—you are not very sure of that maiden's face of yours! Well—well"—her sharp little tongue passed over her lips; she rose with her hands in her fallen hair—"perhaps I shall try to turn him to my purposes, Maria; but you who are so much the fairer have the greater chance."
She smiled mockingly and tapped her little foot on the floor; Maria turned her face away with a sound of loathing.
"You and I have nought but hate in common," she said. "Your insult does not hurt."
Giovanna's changes of mood had grown bewilderingly quick of late; she laughed now, freshly, and spoke in a light mockery. "Change your gown, Maria; I tell you he is not the man to admire beauty in a simple dress."
The slow colour came into Maria's averted face. "Be assured I do not seek his admiration."
Giovanna laughed again.
"As if you had not dreamt of him at nights these many months!"
Then there was the sound of her heavy dress on the floor and the click of the latch; Maria, with a hotter red in burning cheeks, turned to see her pass quietly into the corridor.
The door closed slowly.
Maria d'Anjou stood erect and stared at her own beauty in the mirror that hung from her waist; eyes and lips were scornful.
She scorned them both—the woman who was the deceiver, the man who was deceived. Love! what did they know of it? She had her ideal of that, and a face fair enough to bring her dreams true.
She dropped the mirror.
Ludovic of Hungary! She had had her thoughts of him, but she would not woo him now by one word, one look; let this hope go as others had gone—pricked bubbles.
There was the convent—there was the tomb waiting in San Gennaro; she thought of both with a grim pleasure. It would be pleasant to leave proudly the world to which she had never been attuned; it would be pleasant to lie at rest in the dim, rich church, leaving a fair memory behind.
Presently she drew a little key from a ribbon round her neck, and, turning, opened her coffer and took out a casket from among her fragrant clothes.
Slowly she turned the key; slowly she raised the lid.
There lay the auburn curl and the scrap of embroidery taken from the King's dead hand; his own stained locks; his unfinished letter to his brother; the snapped chain with its trinkets.
"Now if I were to show you these, my lord of Hungary," she asked bitterly, "what would you think of her innocence?"
Was he so weak a man that Giovanna's witch face and slow-glancing, bright eyes could overweigh with him proof like this?
As she locked them away she wondered, and felt her blood grow cold and her face hard with contempt. She had done with it all, she said in her heart; she was aloof, apart from the world; she had awakened from dreams of Ludovic of Hungary, and was disdainful of herself that she had ever set him in her thoughts.
In the wide, warm window-seat, full in the gold and purple light of early morning, she knelt and told her ivory beads. Even the streaming sunshine could not bring animation nor colour into her quiet countenance; though the stiff waves of hair turned back from her smooth brow, and falling beside her curved cheeks, shone like living gold.
When she had finished her rosary she looked down at Naples lying in a haze of heat, with the shimmering bay beyond, and the purple coast-line of Sorrento, and the vivid, blinding glitter of the square roofs set amid the palms and cypress trees that threw blue shadows over the white house fronts.
And as she gazed the bells of San Gennaro and Santa Chiara burst into a peal that rang over town and bay and was echoed swiftly by the lesser churches.
Maria called to mind how, upon the entry of Andreas, these bells were tolling for the old King's death; and how, two months later, they had tolled for him when his shapeless corpse was laid to rest beside the altar where he should have been crowned.
And now his brother came to the sound of the joy peals, to meet in friendship the woman—Maria checked her thought; even to herself she could not frame the word that told the thing her sister was; she kept her ghastly knowledge as close as Giovanna herself—a secret too terrible to be put into words, or even definite thought.
She thrust her hair into a purple silk net and fastened it with ruby pins; then, unsmiling and cold, she descended to the great hall.
There also she must think of Andreas; how here he had first set foot in the palace, how here he had feasted his Hungarians. In this hall had Giovanna held her mad masque; from here Giulia di Terlizzi and Filippa da Morcone had been dragged to death and torture.
The high gallery was hung with fine silk tapestries 8 from France; the ruby and topaz, amethyst and emerald hues of the window cast rays of coloured light across the dusky, scented atmosphere. Under the canopied dais stood Giovanna, slender, stooping, with painted lips and long, brilliant eyes; hard colour in her dress with its trailing embroideries, and in the orange ribbon binding the curling auburn hair. Against the vivid texture of her gown her shoulders and arms showed a dead white where the fantastic cut and laced sleeves revealed them; on her brow was the one jewel left to Naples—a low filigree gold crown.
About her stood the gorgeous Italian courtiers: Carlo di Durazzo in white and wine-colour, Bertram gleaming in emerald green, di Perlucchi in pure scarlet, Luigi of Taranto in azure and silver. Behind the Queen, noticeable among the ladies, showed the rose-hued beauty and pale gold locks of Sancia di Renato; she was clad in a gown of shifting mauve and violet; her eyes lifted timidly to Maria, who came silently and stood beside her. The rest of the hall was filled with soldiers, servants, and pages.
All were silent save Carlo and di Perlucchi, who whispered together slighting criticisms of the whole pageant, disapproval of the Queen's dress, and sneers at Ludovic of Hungary, consoling each other's jealousy with bitter remarks and scornful laughter.
Once Giovanna looked at them sharply and frowned, but did not speak.
The doors were opened wide on to the steps, and a shaft of clear sunlight fell across the floor and wall. Maria looked over the Queen's shoulder; she saw in the courtyard great banners bearing the double eagles of Hungary, the hard glitter of spears, shining armour, and the gorgeous garments of pages and footmen.
The trumpets sounded, then were still; shadows crossed the bar of sunlight; the halberdiers guarding the entrance fell back; a man stepped into the hall, then hesitated, confused by the dark after the sunlight.
The Queen went a little forward to meet him, and paused under the soft violet light of one of the windows. Ludovic of Hungary saw her, gleaming in jewel-like colour, and strode up. His firm tread was the one sound in the expectant assembly.
"My cousin," murmured Giovanna.
He put his hand in hers and, slightly leaning forward, gazed into her face.
To each the other looked so different from the remembrance they had, that there was wonder in their eyes.
Ludovic was dressed with an ostentation of splendour. His heavy, trailing purple mantle, thrown back, showed a gold and scarlet vest stiff with gems; round his black locks was a circlet, to which was fastened at one side a large plume of peacock's feathers, after the manner of the German knights. Different this from the man in the plain mail who had spoken to her in the farm kitchen; different also was she from the pale woman with loosened hair who had pleaded with him there.
The Queen was the first to speak.
"Welcome, in peace, to Naples, my lord the King." She withdrew her hand; there was a flash of jewels as he loosened his sword from its gleaming case and held the bare blade between them; the purple light ran down the steel and glimmered like a star on the point.
"Naples and Hungary shall kiss the sword," said Ludovic in his soft voice. "Set your lips upon the blade, my cousin the Queen."
She lifted her stiff dress with cold white hands and leant forward; woman and sword dazzled together as she laid her lips to the hard steel; one of her auburn curls fell across the handle. The King's intense eyes were always upon her as if no one else were present; as she lifted her head, he bent forward his dark face and kissed the sword where she had kissed it.
The trumpets with a mighty clamour called witness to the pledge; Ludovic of Hungary swung his sword, an arc of light, and sheathed it; and again he gave his hand to the Queen and walked with her to the dais.
The two princes of his own family, Carlo of Duras and Luigi of Taranto, went on one knee to welcome him to Naples. Luigi he raised and embraced; Carlo he received haughtily, remembering that knight's demeanour at the camp.
Carlo, now as then, looked at him indifferently. "Madonna Maria awaits you, Ludovic of Hungary," he said, and looked to where she stood in front of the gathered ladies.
At that Giovanna gazed musingly on Andreas's brother. "Maria!" she said, and held out her hand to her sister.
But Maria ignored it, and, stepping down from the dais, fronted the King alone.
So did Maria d'Anjou come face to face with her long-promised husband and the hero of her lonely thoughts; so, with cold heart and face, did she see him all these thoughts had pictured him—among all men there, the King!
As for him, her great passionless beauty took him with a quick surprise and pleasure, though her unmoved demeanour held neither invitation nor welcome.
But Ludovic of Hungary was never at a loss with women.
"You and I should know each other by report," he said, and smiled. "Madonna, you have heard of me?"
Her great blue eyes gazed at him straightly, breaking through the lightness of his manner.
"Has not my liege had letters from me that prove I know him?" she said.
At this reference to his brother and the object of his coming, Ludovic looked at her keenly. Here was different metal from Giovanna; she held herself erect, without hint of fear or deference, rather as if she judged and condemned him. He saw it and hardened, but merely said in that treacherous voice that was a caress even when the words belied it: "Come and kiss me, my wife that is to be—we have waited long for this meeting."
"Over long, my liege," answered Maria d'Anjou steadily, in a low voice he only could hear, for the others had fallen back; "and my kisses have spoilt with keeping." She returned to her old place on the dais with a face marble pale, marble cold.
Her coldness stung Ludovic, effacing the impression her beauty had made. He knew all eyes were upon them; he knew every one had heard his words and gathered her refusal if not her answer; and he was not a man to take a repulse lightly or humbly from a woman. With a flush in his face he turned to Giovanna; her long, narrow eyes, her rouged lips, met his glance with a quiet smile. Maria's beauty passed from his mind beside the strange loveliness of her sister; as they proceeded to the room where the feast was prepared, he had eyes for the Queen and the Queen alone.
Carlo di Durazzo came beside Maria.
"Do you mark them?" he whispered.
Maria looked where the gilded blue-green of Ludovic's plumes waved beside her sister's auburn curls, and she thought of the casket that held one of those same curls, and put her hand over the key lying warm in her bosom.
The gay and splendid crowd, Italians and Hungarians, followed the King and Giovanna, but Maria heard a Hungarian whisper bitterly:
"Our King should remember Andreas: he came for the blood of this wanton woman, not her smiles!"
Above the bay, which was of a peculiar light pearl colour, low dusky yellowish clouds rolled, spreading slowly and obscuring the pale dazzling sky; overhead the sun burnt in a white brilliancy, changing the hue of everything into the dusty blaze of heat.
So hot it was, the slightest movement was an exertion, and a great languor wrapped every living thing.
By the marble terrace in the garden, where the shrivelled golden leaves of the vines and the glossy green of the citron afforded spaces of pale shadow, Maria d'Anjou sat on the low stone seat, her figure leaning droopingly against the white balustrade.
At her feet Carlo reclined along the marble flags and, resting against the stem of the citron, looked up at her still beauty.
She gave no sign that she saw him; her languid eyes were turned towards the bay, her hands lay idle on her lap. The trembling shapes of the vine-leaves played in shadow over the warm ivory hue of her throat and the glittering waves of her gorgeous hair; her heavy breathing lifted the gold borders on her breast steadily. Carlo put his hand out to touch the shining hem of her crimson kirtle that swept the marble, and felt his heart beat faster.
On his own purple habit the sun beat, and his shadow lay like a violet stain on the flags.
Nearer rolled the dun-coloured clouds; slowly over the sun gathered a veil, and the boats within the bay began to make for the shore. Carlo gazed at Maria until cheek and heart were burning.
"Maria!" he said in a low voice.
Her shadow stirred about him as she moved and turned the full depth of her blue eyes on his expectancy.
"Know you where the Queen is?" whispered Carlo.
Languidly she answered: "Yea, I do."
Sun and shadow were becoming merged in one dusky, golden colour; the doubles of leaves and tree waved heavily in faint yellow hues; a little burning breeze from the bay stirred Maria's dress.
"She is with Ludovic of Hungary," said Carlo.
Slowly came her answer, as from heights of wearied calm.
"Has she not always been with him since he came to Naples a month ago?"
Rage against the woman, contempt for the man, shook Carlo.
"And you endure it?"
"What else?" she answered, and the shrouded sun quivered over her still, fair hands.
"Yet you are to be his Queen," breathed Carlo.
"I am not made to woo, my cousin," said Maria. "If a man cannot see that I am fair and noble, I will not follow him to prove my worth before reluctant eyes."
"The King is bewitched, or a fool," said Carlo hotly.
But she answered placidly: "He follows his fancy."
Carlo pushed back the damp curls from his moist forehead.
"And if I followed mine, this King and I would come to the crossing of swords."
A faint glow shone in Maria's still eyes.
"An I wanted a champion, cousin—" She fell on silence. The dusky clouds eclipsed the fair sky and dulled the bright surface of the bay; the trees bowed and trembled in the great heat. Maria held out a steady hand to Carlo; his eager fingers clung to it, and he pressed hot lips to her cool palm.
"Oh, let me be!" she said, with a tremor of tenderness in her voice.
"God wot! I will not see you slighted by Ludovic," cried Carlo.
"I care not," she answered. "If he finds no pleasure in my company, I am happier alone. Ah, the heat!" and her bosom heaved with her pants for air.
Carlo held her slender fingers against his smooth cheek.
"It does not hurt you?" he asked breathlessly. "Maria, you have not grown fond of this straying lord of yours?"
"'Tis no question of fondness either side," she said. Then she smiled. "I once had thoughts of Ludovic of Hungary—I have amended them."
She drew her hand away from Carlo, and he half resumed his lazy manner.
"Do you know that he has redeemed the Queen's jewels from the Lombards?"
Maria gave a little start.
"Has he so forgotten Andreas?" she murmured.
"And he has paid her troops," continued Carlo, "scornful of what they say in Hungary."
"Oh, Andreas!" repeated Maria.
"He does not think of his brother when he sits by his brother's wife. By God's might! I have thought of late that she is not so innocent!"
Maria checked him with a low cry, and sat up, confronting him with sparkling eyes.
"Do not think it!" she said hurriedly—"do not breathe it! Would it not be too awful a thing if—ah, Madonna!—if a man should come to love his brother's murderess?"
At the ring of horror in her voice, Carlo's flushed cheek paled. She went on, unheeding of him, while behind her the clouds gathered and darkened over the bay.
"His kin—his blood!" she said. "What if she had planned the thing? What if those hands he kisses Andreas had clung to in vain for pity? What if she knew while she smiled on Ludovic that her soul was red with his brother's death? Ah! better for both that he should slay her than love her!—better his hate and punishment should purge her into paradise than her love woo him into hell!"
She rose; at the same instant Carlo leapt to his feet.
"What do you know?" he cried.
She clung to the marble balustrade.
"Nothing!" she said—"nothing! Only, I bid you chain your thoughts lest they grow wild and mad."
Land, sea, and sky were wrapped in the glowing yellow haze of the oncoming thunder; Maria stood beneath the flame-hued vine-leaves, and her crimson dress blended with her vivid hair, while the gold on hem and bosom glittered like living flame.
"I know nothing," she repeated hoarsely; "what should I know?" Her fine fingers touched his purple sleeve. "What matter is it of ours? I think it is not our place to judge; though as surely as yonder storm sweeps over the land, judgment will come—for all of us."
Carlo thought of Giula di Terlizzi and shuddered; he stared at Maria's imperious beauty, and could not find words.
She spoke again in a gentle voice.
"Will you leave me now, Carlo? I am coming in soon, but I pray you let me be alone a little while."
She could always command him; still in silence, he left her.
There were no shadows now, but one great gloom over everything; the waters of the bay had fallen treacherously smooth, and there was an ominous stillness in the trees as if they held themselves in readiness for the oncoming shock of rain. Maria looked over the sombre prospect and thought of her lie to Carlo.
"I know nothing," she had said, when she knew everything, when it stared before her as a hideous fact day and night, when she carried on her bosom the key of that casket. She had lied with her lips as she lied every hour with her demeanour, lied with her speech as she had lied with her silence.
But even now she might break from her stillness into a fury of revenge and bring down Giovanna from her very height of triumph—it was in her power. Yet something sealed her lips; even to bring Ludovic to her feet, even for the sake of that poor dead, she could not bring herself to be the instrument of vengeance. As she gazed into the wild sky she knew she would never speak.
Never! She stood aside from it all; she would wrap her bruised heart in silence and let God do as He would with Giovanna.
Then as she stood there the tears rose bitterly to her eyes; her gorgeous head drooped; she shivered beneath the black and yellow clouds, and hid her face in her hands, and wept in a slow, sick fashion. Oh, love and hope that beckoned from the land of dreams and at the first touch died! Oh, longing that is such a sharp agony and loneliness that is most miserable! Oh, my King, my idol, that has broken at my feet!
For those things she wept; and behind the lurid lift of flame from Vesuvius the thunder gave the first roll, while the lightning sprang from the clouds to the water.
That sharp pang of fire penetrated her locked hands; she looked up to see the great mountain belching smoke and the clouds rolling low upon the bay.
A few drops of rain fell through the vine-leaves that were rustling in a dry fashion above her head; she turned back towards the palace. Again the thunder, sweeping nearer, and the lightning like a rift in the angry heavens, while about her pattered the rain on the leaves, and the flowers bent and shivered.
As she gained the palace she heard the unmistakable soft laugh of Ludovic, and saw a group of people seated within the arcaded balcony that opened on to the garden.
Giovanna was there, glowing in scarlet through the shadows, with her painted lips unsmiling, and her watchful violet eyes on the storm-swept garden.
Ludovic was there, with the gilded colours of the peacock feathers shining above the purple lustre of his hair, and his arm resting on the cushion behind the Queen.
And as Maria went in noiselessly at the open door she heard him say:
"What if the boors do rise, Giovanna? Am I not master in Naples? God wot! I will burn their city about their ears if they are not silent!"
Maria knew that the Neapolitans were rioting under the tyranny of the Hungarian army that had settled in their city, and the King's words caused her to think upon it. Giovanna was holding her throne by aid of the man who had come to shake her from it; but how long would it last? How long would Hungary endure to be left kingless while Ludovic dallied abroad?
She reached her little chamber, so darkened now with the storm she could hardly see, and fell on her knees and prayed passionately to the accompaniment of the gathering thunder.
Oh, to be out of it all, to be at peace with Andreas in the sainted quiet of San Gennaro!
Presently she rose and brought out her casket. Since she would never speak, she would destroy these horrid proofs so that there should be no more temptation. In the ghastly light she opened the case and laid the contents on her bed.
If Ludovic could read that last letter, if he could see those torn curls, and that other lock drawn from the hand of the murdered man—would he have so forgotten Andreas that no wrath, no horror, could be aroused?
With these thoughts she hung over her poor relics of the dead King. The sound of the lifted latch, a light step, caused her to start violently; she had never reckoned on an interruption.
It was Sancia di Renato.
"I was alone in the Queen's chamber," she began, "and frightened of the thunder!"
Then she came to the bed and saw what lay on it.
In a second, before Maria could speak or make any effort to conceal what she was about, Sancia had seen.
"Oh!" she said—"oh, Mary's might! the piece of the Queen's gown!"
And she sank on the edge of the bed and stared at the Princess.
With a trembling hand, Maria replaced the objects in the casket; a clap of thunder shook the room, and the rain was driven in a sheet against the narrow casement.
"What you have seen without my desire," she said unsteadily, "by my desire you will forget."
But Sancia had seen enough; her own suspicions, her own knowledge, were confirmed.
"So you knew!" she gasped, dazed by the suddenness of the discovery. "Where did you find—that?"
"I know nothing and you know nothing," she answered. "What you may have seen by breaking in on me, take it you have not seen." She locked the casket, replaced it in the coffer, and went to the window.
Sancia sat still, on the bed, silenced; she had the wit to encroach no further on the anger of the Princess, but also wit to gather the full meaning of it.
Presently the stillness of the red-clad figure gazing out on the storm frightened her; she slipped from the bed and crept up to Maria.
"Madonna!" she said timidly.
Maria d'Anjou looked down into the lovely face, and the colour overspread her own.
"What do you desire of me?" she asked.
"May I talk with you?" she asked.
Obediently Maria seated herself in the stiff chair by the window and rested her weary head against the wall; Sancia, in her soft, caressing fashion, settled herself on a little stool at the side of the Princess, where the stormy light from the casement fell over her delicate loveliness.
Her skin was of the warm whiteness of a rose that is pink in the heart; her hair of that pale gold colour, supposed to show royal blood; her eyes infinitely soft, the hue of hazy summer skies. Intense earnestness was in them as she gazed up at Maria; a deep and painful colour rose to her cheeks.
"Will you take me with you to Hungary?" she pleaded.
Maria could understand the request, but not the blush.
"Best go home, Sancia," she answered mournfully.
"No," said Sancia faintly. "Take me with you when you leave Naples."
There was a pause while Maria thought of the slight chance there was that she herself would ever see Hungary, and the thunder rolled overhead. Then Sancia spoke again in a still lower voice.
"When will you be married, Madonna?"
"When God wills," answered Maria, and looked away.
"The last tournament," said Sancia breathlessly—"was it not glorious?—were you not proud of the King, Madonna?"
Maria was silent. She knew that Ludovic's showy qualities, his splendid horsemanship, his gorgeous clothes, his lavishness with money, his beautiful voice, his singing, his dancing, all these things that made him the most magnificent knight in Naples, had their effect with her, despite the calm showing of her judgment that they were but the gilding of arrogant pride and not in themselves noble.
She might despise herself for it, but she also had been moved by the obvious graces that won the crowd. Therefore she was silent.
"He threw the Prince of Taranto twice," continued Sancia. "And yesterday, when you were not there, he drove three horses round the courtyard mounted on the midmost."
"He has princely accomplishments," said Maria briefly. Her heart winced to hear his praises; she kept her face away.
"Madonna," came Sancia's sweet voice, "whom will the Queen marry? Bitterly I am afraid of her!"
"Hush!" cried Maria, turning round. "Be silent about these things even to your own heart. Oh, sweetheart, go home to Padua!"
Again Sancia's face crimsoned from brow to chin. "I would go with you to Hungary," she pleaded. "And leave your family and your country?" questioned Maria mournfully.
"Yea, so I might be with you."
Maria suddenly caught her to her heart and kissed the fair face.
"When I am Ludovic's Queen," she said wildly, "we will speak of this again."
"We have lost our way," said Giovanna.
She came through the trees slowly, holding up the front of her long green dress; the cool rich leaves and moss were spangled with sunlight, that flickered also over her hair as she moved.
King Ludovic paused and looked back at her. "I never heeded the path," he said.
"Nor I." She frowned over her words, and they proceeded in silence.
It was hours since they had wandered from the gay encampment of the hunting party, where the brilliant courtiers had sat round a feast spread on the shady grass, or roamed in couples through the trees; and the sun was past the zenith.
Giovanna stopped, still with a frown on her delicate brows.
"I am tired, Ludovic."
Everything about them was green, from the ferns at their feet to the transparent beech-leaves over their heads. The Queen's gown, also of that colour, blended with the foliage; but Ludovic of Hungary was clad in a blood-purple that blazed against it.
He looked at her sideways.
"There is a building of some fashion ahead," he answered her, and moved forward again down the soft glade.
Giovanna followed; he made no attempt to break her sudden silence.
They came upon the building he had discerned. It was a mere ruin: three slender Roman pillars of weather-stained marble with the moss green round the bases; the portion of a wall holding an empty niche; and, adjoining this elegant ancient beauty, this defaced temple to some old-world deity, a rude shed of wattled plaster placed there in a later age. This also had fallen into decay; gaping walls and a broken roof showed a wooden crucifix and a font for holy water, long since dry, or filled only with the raindrops.
So the two dead temples jostled each other: the mud walls of the Christian God leaning against the enduring shaft of the Pagan, both peaceful in the lonely mellow sunshine, each overgrown alike with maidenhair fern and the faint wood-violets. They were over everything, these violets, in such great clusters that they outnumbered the blades of grass. Here and there among the blue haze of colour arose the dead-white flower of a narcissus, with the gold crown on its heart; and under the crucifix twisted a blossomless briar rose, the long thorny stems covered in springing green.
Giovanna, stooping and putting aside the flowers, disclosed a fallen Jupiter, almost hidden in the grass.
She seated herself on his smooth pedestal and smiled up at Ludovic.
"What have we been talking of this while?" she asked dreamily, and her left hand drooped by her side among the violets as if it trailed in water.
"Of kings and queens," answered Ludovic. His sweet voice was suited to the lonely loveliness of the spot and the once sacred ground on which they stood. "Of statecraft and wars and kingdoms."
He leant against one of the marble pillars, and its narrow shade lay over him and fell straightly to her feet.
"Of what is the quality of greatness?" she mused; and she turned from the living King to gaze through the grass at the placid face of the dead god.
"If one might know, Giovanna!"
"To rule," she murmured—"always to rule; above the world—not of it."
Her slight figure showed in fine lines through the straight gown; her white throat rose above a broad band of gold; round the turn of her cheek hung the soft, shining auburn curls, escaping from their gilt net. Suddenly she lifted those eyes that were of a purple more deep and wonderful than the violets, and stared into the King's gazing face.
"Why do you not return to Hungary?" she asked. "Why do you not take your wife and go?"
"Why do we any of us linger in the pleasant places?" he answered, in no way disconcerted by the sudden coldness of her tone.
A white butterfly darted between them and settled on the Queen's hand.
"I think you must go," she said, still gazing at him intently. "Can there be two rulers in Naples and none in Hungary?"
His bright colour rose.
"Are you jealous of me, Giovanna?" he demanded.
She considered a moment.
"I am perhaps afraid of you—you have done too much for me." She trembled, and the white butterfly rose from her hand.
He knew as well as she that she and Naples both were in his power; he smiled easily, and the clear hazel eyes sparkled behind the soft lashes.
"You stay over long," she continued in a low voice. "People make a talk of it, and in my own city I am not Queen."
He lifted his splendid head, and the sun glittered down the peacock feathers in his cap. "Maria is not so impatient," he remarked.
"You will not consider her," returned Giovanna. "She is the woman you have always asked for—the wife you demanded of me."
Ludovic suddenly moved towards her, trampling down the violets:
"Giovanna! Giovanna!" he said, his soft voice impatient, "why will you talk of these things?" He flung himself beside her on the fallen statue. "Giovanna, you must understand me."
He paused; she sat silent, with her clear profile towards him.
"God wot!" continued the King, "you are the most regal and proud woman I have ever seen! You are a glorious thing; and had you not been called my brother's wife—"
A silence again, while the white butterfly fluttered over the violets.
Then Ludovic took her cold wrists and turned her round to face him. "I think I love you," he said, and laughed.
She stared at him with no sign of discomposure or surprise. "I do not understand," she answered.
He laughed again.
"You have understood this month past, if you are a woman," he laughed once more, "even if you be a witch," he said.
The blank look passed from her eyes, as if by a great effort she forced herself to comprehend.
"You love me?" she said slowly; doubt and suspicion crossed her face.
Ludovic of Hungary waited for the moment he had resolved to enjoy since he first saw the cold young Queen: the moment when he, invincible, in love as in arms, should see her, who had not turned her head for any man, tremble into confession, submission—a very woman after all.
But there was no response in her face; for an instant her eyes narrowed, with a look of calculation and cunning.
"Have you given me my kingdom because you love me?" she murmured.
"Scarcely would you call it hate—or policy?" he whispered; his clasp on her hands tightened, and her cold countenance flushed with some feeling.
"And what else would you do for me?" she said breathlessly.
The dark, rich-coloured face was brought nearer to hers; his voice dropped, tempered to the most throbbing softness of passion.
"All that a man and a king may," he answered.
For an instant her eyes shone with triumphant fire; then her mood clouded with discontent.
"How do you love me?" she demanded, in a voice almost scornful. "This love is a strange thing."
"Giovanna!" he answered, and the proud blood darkened in his cheek—"Giovanna!"
She appeared to divine that his fiery arrogance was rising at her coldness, and fell, though in a bewildered way, into excuses.
"God wot! my liege, this is no talk for us. I am the Queen—Maria—"
Ludovic interrupted: he held her hands down on the knees of her green gown and spoke quickly. "Let Maria take her cold face into a convent: ye are the Queen, and as such I speak to ye—a king to a queen. My regal cousin, ye understand me?"
Her face was blank; he thought she lured him on, and he laughed.
"Come, little enchantress—teach me how they woo in Italy, since my Hungarian fashion cannot move ye."
Her hands strove under his.
"What do you mean?—what do you mean?"
Fear and dislike were in her tone; she drew back stiffly, crushing down the violets. The King's mouth set in unpleasant lines.
"What have ye meant these weeks I have been in Naples? Have I not done great things for you—and to be flouted?"
She understood the covert threat as she had not the open love, and she faced it as a thing familiar.
"Yes—yes "—her great eyes widened—"ye have done everything for me." She was silent a space, grasping a new idea; then, "This is the price?" she said, and her hands became still in his grasp.
Ludovic of Hungary gazed at her curiously. "Do ye mock me, Giovanna?" he asked.
Her smooth, oval face was passionless.
"What do you want of me?" she returned. "I do think you have bought me by giving me my realm."
He took his hands from hers.
"This is a strange wooing," he said. "I think you are no woman."
"Do I put it too plainly?" she asked with brightening eyes. "I am not quick at courtly speech."
He bore down her words with sudden impatience in his soft voice.
"Giovanna, in one syllable: could ye love me?"
His breath was on her face; she could not escape his magnificent presence as he leant across the fallen stone god towards her.
"Ye are a knight any woman might love," she answered.
Baffled, he drew back a little.
"Ye practise a deft evasion," he said; "but ye have no page to trifle with. Hark to me"—he caught her arm, compelling her attention: "I, Ludovic of Hungary, have said I do think I love ye."
With the cunning of the helpless, she sought to soothe him.
"Ay—give me a little time—I have never thought of these things in this fashion."
She put her hands to her forehead.
"Ye play with me!" cried the King. "And ye play with a man who will not suffer it."
He rose and turned from her.
Seeing his anger, the living fear sprang into her eyes; she thought of her kingdom, what this man could do for her, what he had done and might undo. After all, was not this what she had wanted?
"Ludovic!" she cried desperately.
He half turned, but would not move towards her; she sprang up, stumbled, caught his arm and clung to it.
"Why—I love you!" she said in a low, terrified voice. "Do not turn from me, my cousin—I will be very obedient!"
"Is this the truth at last?" he asked, with a hard little smile; "or do ye seek to fool me?"
She closed her eyes and laid her white face against the purple of his rich habit.
"Judge me mercifully," she whispered, "for I am yours by all ways."
The King looked down into her curious fair face, pallid between the auburn locks, and his feeling for her, fanned by the strangeness of her reception of his wooing and her final complete submission, verged almost on the love he spoke of.
"Kiss me, Giovanna," he said under his breath, yet imperiously.
She opened her eyes and lifted her face obediently; yet when he bent his head she drew back sharply before his lips could touch hers.
Instantly she recovered herself.
"Never have any kissed me before," she said, wild-eyed—"woman or man!"
"Ye are a strange lady, and likely lie; yet if it be truth, I am not displeased to be the first."
As he spoke he lightly kissed her cheek, almost before she was aware.
She stood still a moment, and such swift horror seized her that she shrank together like a blasted thing. One other had kissed her—Andreas of Hungary, red with wounds, a few minutes before his death. His words came back to her, blotting out the present: "I could have killed you if I would—remember that afterwards!"
The old fearful consciousness of madness shook her; she groped in a dusky unreality of horror; the blood beat like drums in her ears, and her limbs trembled.
"Mass! are ye ill?" cried Ludovic of Hungary. He took her slim body in his arms and drew her frail weight on to his heart.
She struggled to regain a hold on herself, and half thrust him off.
"You and I as lovers!" she cried, and laughed deliriously.
He thought she referred to her sister.
"Why not?" he answered. "We are not as other people—we can masque it with the rest; but afterwards as King and Queen. And there are other ways—the Pope."
A little sound, like a small animal in pain, came sharply across his words; he paused, looked round and saw nothing.
"A hawk hath found a prey," he said.
But Giovanna had drawn away from him, and was gazing towards the shattered white pillars. There stood Sancia di Renato, the setting sun illuminating her soft loveliness.
The two women looked at each other across the space of violets; the King alone was at his ease.
"Have ye come to search for us?" he asked. "God wot! we lost our way some time since, the Queen and I."
With his hand on his hip, he smiled at her, but Sancia di Renato turned her face away.
"They have all missed you, my liege," she said, and her fingers pulled fiercely at the briar-rose beside her. "They are behind me—the rest."
Ludovic, standing midway between her and the Queen, answered her with a deepening smile and a little gleam in the hazel eyes behind the thick, dusky lashes.
"You hurt your hand, Madonna, on the thorns?" She swung round, her exquisite young face flushed from brow to chin.
"It is not my hand that—hurts."
He marked her swiftly rising bosom, her soft, trembling mouth, her wet eyes, her agitated voice, with an interested gaze.
Giovanna, a mute spectator, gazed at Sancia with vacant eyes and troubled brows, and pulled at her slim fingers.
Behind them the sun was dazzling the colour out of trees and flowers, burning in the last blaze before its setting; before them a slow cavalcade was wending down the grassy paths towards the ruin, and broken laughter, jangling bells, and low voices came to the three in the ancient temple.
Sancia di Renato turned away abruptly; through the quivering leafage Duke Carlo showed, leading the Queen's white horse.
Ludovic laughed gaily—half at the Queen, half to himself.
But Giovanna kept her eyes on the ground and twisted her fingers vacantly.
Maria rose from her knees in her little chapel, stiff from praying.
The pointed west window glowed in the last glory of the sunset, and patches of faint bright colour lay over the stone altar and the smooth stone flags.
Maria kissed her rosary and her psalter and laid them in her bosom; then, with the calm step and composed face of a nun, opened the little door that led into her bedchamber.
The place was full of shadows about the canopied bed and the corners; peaceful, and perfumed with incense from the chapel.
And leaning against one of the high dark chairs was Sancia di Renato.
Maria paused with a low sound of surprise, and Sancia lifted a distorted face and slipped from the chair to her knees without a word.
The Princess's heart turned sick with half-formed dreads and terrors; the girl's look of passionate misery, her attitude as she knelt there, her disordered dress and hair, her silence, seemed omens of disaster beyond bearing.
"What has happened?" she demanded. "God's name! get up and speak to me!"
She stooped, almost unconsciously, and caught the shrinking shoulder; in a second, supplicating arms were about her and a hot face pressed against her bosom, while a passion of dry sobs shook Sancia.
Maria sat down weakly in the high-backed chair, the other clinging to her.
"You have always been my friend," came muffled from Sancia. "I—have no one else." Sobs again choked her; she shuddered throughout her whole body with the force of them. Maria gazed at the pale golden head and heaving shoulders, and her noble face grew pale with pity.
"Will you not tell it me?" she whispered.
Sancia sobbed out frantic, incoherent words, clasping Maria's arms tightly in a kind of desperate weakness.
At last with an effort she lifted her head. "He said I had the loveliest face in Italy!" she whispered.
"He said—it was I—and only I—"
"Who?" cried Maria, bewildered.
"He has broken my heart!" gasped Sancia, unheeding. "He swore false to me—he kissed the Queen."
"His name!" said Maria imperiously. "Who is it you speak of?"
But the tide of Sancia's agony had burst beyond control.
"I love him!" she sobbed—"I adore him!"
Maria cried out sternly:
"You shall answer me—who is it?"
"Ludovic of Hungary!"
The Princess rose and tried to cast her off. "This to my face!" she said proudly, and struggled to unlock the clinging hands—"to my face that ye love the King!"
"All know he is naught to you," answered Sancia wildly—"nothing to you! Hardly have ye spoken together—but to me—"
"Come ye with these confidences to his betrothed?" demanded Maria. She drew away sharply, and Sancia, loosened from her hold, fell across the chair.
"I have no other friend," she said in a stifled voice. "But if it please ye, cast me off—I will go."
The Princess stood still and speechless, her blue eyes dark with pity and passion, her hand clenched against the wooden ribbing of the wall behind her.
Sancia half raised herself; through the flush of her hot tears her loveliness showed dazzling, from her bright unbound hair to her white interlocked fingers.
"Ye are like a statue of the Virgin," she said hoarsely; "but I, who am not holy—can ye blame me that I love him?"
Maria struggled for words; something of a bitter smile touched her mouth; she turned her face away and was silent.
To her the moment was beyond speech, as her feelings were beyond Sancia's understanding. The soft, wailing voice continued: "Have pity on me—I would I was dead! Have pity on me!"
Maria looked at her with a bright disdain; suddenly found her voice and used it, steadily. "I do not blame you in this matter, Sancia," she said. "But tell me of it from the first, and what you said—of the Queen."
Sancia, crouching at her feet, with her head against the chair, whispered her story in the pauses of her heavy sobs. A pitiful story as she told it in her grief; yet holding still some of the glory of a first and passionate love, and full of the innocence of a childlike soul.
She told how she had given her dreaming heart to Ludovic at first sight of him; how he had read her adoration in her eyes and found each day some intoxicating snatched moment to woo her in; how he had spoken splendid wild things of what his love would do for her; and how she had believed it, trusting in him until to-day—to-day, when she had seen the Queen in his arms and heard her words: "You and I as lovers!"
Maria listened to the broken recital with a still face: another smirch on her one-time idol, another proof of the unworthiness of her hero. Her thoughts flashed to Andreas lying in his tomb in San Gennaro, and her lips tightened.
"This man is not worth your tears!" she cried, stooping over Sancia. "He has come to use Naples for his pleasure, making a mock of his vengeance, and a jest of his brother's death; because we all lie in his hand, he plays with us as things below thought!"
"And the Queen?" gasped Sancia. "The Queen? He kissed the Queen—and she is—Andreas was her husband!" The girl's fine nostrils distended, her lips whitened with fury; she rose stiffly from her knees.
"You know, and I know." she whispered intensely, "that it was his brother's murderess he caressed!"
"Stop!" commanded Maria; she flung her hand up over her face, and Sancia was awed by her voice, her still figure.
"You have the proofs of it," she whispered weakly. "Do you mean to be always silent?"
Maria uncovered her eyes.
"You speak of what touches madness," she answered under her breath. "Listen to me!" She came a step forward, and the girl cowered against the bedpost. "We know nothing—either of us—I have said so before. Do you hear me? Do you understand me?"
"I know what I know," breathed Sancia, clenching her hands. "I know the white devil has enchanted him—I know where you found the fragment of her gown—I know why she rises at night to look from the window with her fingers at her throat!"
She paused, panting, and Maria laid a cold hand on her shoulder.
"Of none of these things will you speak to Ludovic of Hungary," she said steadily.
Sancia writhed beneath an authority she was not strong enough to outface.
"Why?" she cried. "I want him to loathe the Queen as I loathe her—to kill her as I would kill her if I could. Why do you shield her? I came to you for those things you have that damn her—will you not give them to me? Will you not show them to the King? Why do you stand so silent?"
"Because these things are in God's hands," said Maria in a low voice. "And I cannot do what you ask."
Sancia, baffled, mastered, broke into impotent sobbing, calling down judgment on the Queen between her gasping breaths.
Neither had noticed that the room had grown nearly dark; Maria, moving, saw that the window was a mere patch of dull light, and that the sun had long set.
With numb fingers she lit the little lamp beside her bed and the tall candle on the table.
The small flame touched with gold her own incense-scented hair, and cast a wavering shadow round Sancia's disordered loveliness and palely-gleaming locks.
"God help thee!" said Maria compassionately; "for there is no aid save in heaven."
Sancia broke out: "I will speak—I will speak!" and struck her hand on the bedpost. "For I love him!"
A faint colour came into the Princess's face. "Ye do not think of me," she said quietly: "of how I have stood aside—how I have nursed my heart in secret. Ye do not think that I have had my hopes and dreams, perhaps; and you forget that I am the King's promised wife."
"But I," cried Sancia with the selfishness of passion—"I love him!"
"Then ye are more fortunate than I?" flashed Maria, "for I cannot love him, nor any man. Ye can cherish thoughts of him in a convent, but I must feed an empty life with dreams."
Sancia sobbed on.
"Ay," continued Maria, walking slowly up and down, with her head held disdainfully—"do what you can with your love while you have it—think of it, weep over it: ye are happier than those who cannot stoop to it. But I—for me there is another way."
She paused beside Sancia; the lamp and candle threw cross shadows over them.
"Get back to Padua," she said.
"I cannot leave him!" murmured Sancia. "Madonna, I cannot!"
"You must," said Maria, "or you will speak—and shall what I have concealed in deep bitterness and prayer be revealed through your jealousy? I say you shall leave Naples!"
"Oh, Jesu!" moaned Sancia.
"Nay," continued Maria in a softer tone, "it is the wiser thing for your soul's sake; and what is there for ye here but misery? Certainly I will not marry this man; but he will not wed with you, and if you love him there is but shame for you. Therefore go home to Padua."
Sancia was silent a great while, and Maria put her arms about her and kissed her quietly. At which Sancia said, in a faint voice:
"I will go home."
"God be praised!" answered Maria, trembling.
"And I will be silent."
Maria kissed her again.
"Now let me rest upon your bed a while," pleaded Sancia; "for I am heartbroken unto death, and this place is very peaceful."
The Princess looked at her in a manner between shame and scorn.
"That ye should break your heart for him!"
The tearful eyes flashed with pride. "There is no knight more splendid in the circle of the world; and I would give my heart again, nay, my soul, that he might smile on me!" She turned away, sank face downwards on the pillows, and lay very still, save for the long shudders of exhausted passion that shook her huddled figure.
Maria watched her for a little; then moved across the room and leant against the window, her head bowed, her hands slack.
Her strongest feeling was one of utter disdain for Sancia herself—for Ludovic of Hungary. She remembered the night of the masquerade, when she had prayed with such fervency for this man's coming; she remembered the golden pictures her fancy had drawn of him: a hero saint, a stern avenger, a just man, a wise king, a true knight, one greatly different from those who intrigued in the court of Naples.
And now, had he not proved himself such an one as any of them? Careless of his brother, he had stooped to dally with the Queen; careless of his honour, he idled the days in too fair Naples; careless of his betrothed, he deigned to turn to Sancia's adoring loveliness. Bitterly she asked herself, "Are these the actions my knight would grace his mission with?" Bitterly she answered herself, "No."
And she felt as if the shame he was unconscious of rested upon her soul; the memory of the dead Andreas in the syringa bushes was as an accusation—the thought of him in San Gennaro the thought of a sin.
It seemed to her the seal of damnation was very surely upon Giovanna from that moment when her lips touched those of her murdered husband's brother, and the terrible shadow of it was over her own soul. The awful thing that had driven the Queen to madness was unsettling her sister's clear reason; she tortured herself thinking that to be passive was a sin, thinking that to speak was a sin. She felt herself gripped by a doom that was steadily nearing: nearing burning Naples; nearing the wicked palace, where Giovanna smiled in her sin, where Ludovic caressed her and Sancia wept for love of him; nearing all these tangled, nightmare miseries, to blot them out for ever under the blackness of utter annihilation.
With a fierce effort she controlled her wild thoughts and crept slowly to the bed to look at Sancia.
The Paduan girl was seemingly asleep; her flushed wet face showed with the freshness of a rose between the twisted yellow of her locks; where her dress had slipped, her bosom shone white and soft, and heaved now and then with light sobs.
"Would I could find rest as easily!" whispered Maria d'Anjou. She gazed at the childish beauty before her with compassion and no touch of envy, though she did not forget that the splendid Ludovic, for whose coming she had waited so anxiously, had turned from her to this—the Queen's waiting-woman.
Presently a soft knock on the door disturbed her. It was her page, who attended in the antechamber, bringing a message that the company waited her in the dining-hall. Maria put out the candle and trimmed the lamp, drew the bed-curtain so as to shade Sancia's sleeping face, and left the chamber.
In the outer room sat her tire-maid, under a bronze statue of Santa Chiara; she worked at endless lengths of embroidery, and the page was at her feet, holding skeins of sombre-coloured silk.
"Sancia di Renato sleeps on my bed," said Maria. "I think she will not wake until my return—ye will not rouse her."
She sat at the supper-table that night as she always sat there: silent, holding herself aloof, so quiet amid the talk and laughter that few looked her way; yet herself acutely observant, with sad eyes of judgment. This evening the whole scene flared before her in colours so sharp, and with a meaning so ghastly, that more than once she lowered her lids to escape it. Still like a great bedizened picture it rose, even before her closed eyes; Ludovic of Hungary, flamboyant in black and golden tissues; Giovanna beside him, robed in yellow, with her red hair gleaming against a background of cushions of noir and murrey; the dark faces of the Hungarians, the smiling faces of the Italians; beautiful forms of women, sitting carelessly round the board between the upright figures of the men; the shape and glitter of gilt vessels and the sparkle of rich glass; Luigi of Taranto with the eyes of a reckless man, lounging forward on the table, the emerald studs in his collar shining over his scarlet dress, and his face flushed and heavy; Carlo di Durazzo, fallen into the glooms, frowning at the white hounds that fawned beside him;—and all lit by the soft yet gleaming light of wax candles, showing like vivid stars in a bright haze.
Opening her eyes resolutely and gazing down the table at the King's dark face, Maria d'Anjou came to a resolution.
All the long dread and horror had culminated to-day in Sancia's tale: she would fly from the impending doom, leave the sinners to their sin; in a convent she would pray for the soul of the forgotten Andreas.
First, she would speak, for once, to Ludovic of Hungary, and release him from the formal bonds he deemed so light.
When they rose from the table, she waited by her place for the King to pass.
The Queen went by, but never looked at Maria; Ludovic, seeing her waiting, glanced at her expectantly.
"My noble cousin," she said in a low voice.
He stopped instantly and surveyed her, unsmiling, though he was not ill-pleased that her stately coldness had been brought at last to notice him.
"I do desire," continued Maria, very softly, "to have speech with you on matters of import—to me, at least," she added proudly.
Ludovic bent his head in a slightly mocking manner; he never took a woman seriously enough to be impressed by her gravity, and he thought of this cold bride of his as a heartless creature of caprice.
Maria saw his estimate of her in his arrogant eyes, and the pride of her own regal blood fired her beauty.
"Well," she said in a louder voice—"have I that privilege to speak to you?"
The King considered her loveliness; when, as now, she was flushed with animation, she owned a colour and a sparkle that made the Queen seem hard by comparison, and Sancia slack and faded.
"My time is yours," he answered in a stately fashion, but with smiling eyes. "Put me at your commands."
"If you will be here in the morning when none are abroad, I will come to you."
He lifted his brows.
"Mass! is it so weighty—and so secretive?"
"Neither," she replied quickly. "Yet I pray you, come."
He laughed a little.
"'Tis not a difficult request, God wot!"
Maria's blue eyes lifted to his steadily. "I shall be here. And now, fair liege, the Queen waits for you."
She turned from him with so considered and quiet a dismissal, that his magnificence was moved to a half-angry, half-amused interest.
Resisting the desire to follow her, he turned to
Giovanna, watching with fearful eyes, standing in the doorway.
"What did she say?" she asked, as he came up to her; for she was afraid of her sister, although she had so completely won the King.
"Naught of any matter," smiled Ludovic. "Naught that can trouble you or me."
And he touched her hand delicately, where it hung against her robe, as if he would recall that afternoon to her mind.
But for his answer she gave him a sick glance and a forced smile.
Maria went back to her chamber. The page had disappeared, the maid half asleep over the endless sewing that crept in its shining colours about her knees.
"Has Sancia gone?" asked the Princess.
"Some moments since, Madonna."
Maria turned into the bedchamber and locked the door.
To-night, that was to be the last night of it all, she would destroy those pitiful relics of the murdered King, and with them all temptation and all hope or expectation of worldly help or pleasure.
Ludovic of Hungary had failed her; from first to last the Queen had triumphed; it was not for her, but for God's avenging angels, to seek their judgment and their punishment.
She lit a couple of candles and turned up the lamp.
The sight of the tumbled coverlet recalled Sancia's bitter distress. Maria thought sadly of taking her with her into the convent of Santa Chiara; then of the King and Sancia's hot words, "The most splendid knight in the circle of the world." Perhaps he was. She held her breath to think of him. What if he had spurned Giovanna, avenged his brother, and, her lover and lord, taken her back to Hungary? What of him then?
For a moment's space she flushed and stood still, thinking of him; then, "Giovanna's lover," she said to herself; "and Sancia's flatterer!"
She went swiftly to her coffer; the lions and cherubs of the moulding were picked out in the yellow light as she raised the lid; the breeze from the bay blowing through the open window stirred the tapestry on the wall and her red dress.
With a prayer on her lips, she prepared to burn into ashes and oblivion these things the destruction of which she had dallied with so long—drawing the candle closer with cold fingers.
Then shock relaxed the quiet of her nervous tension; she cried out in a strange voice and flared the candle full into the open coffer. It was bare—the little casket had gone. She had left the chest unlocked, never thinking—and some one Then she remembered and knew.
"Sancia," she whispered—"Sancia will show them to the King!"
Ludovic of Hungary stood silent and thoughtful. The early morning sun made a great brightness in the chamber; the King had a parchment in his hand; on the floor beside him knelt a young boy, who was engaged in lacing up his high leathern boots. For the rest, the room was empty.
The parchment in Ludovic's hand was a letter from Hungary. It had recalled sharply that he was in danger of forgetting his own kingdom; and the epistle his mother had sent recalled also Andreas and the object of his coming.
The instincts of the King and the warrior responded to the questions that lurked in these letters from home; carelessness now, and both kingdoms might slip. Naples was not his in name; to please Giovanna he had forborne, leaving her at least the semblance of her authority. She had interested him, fascinated him—he had set himself to the task of winning her coldness, as his pride had set his strength many difficult tasks; and to this end he had done much for her. Yet he did not intend that Giovanna or any other woman should stand between him and his ambitions.
He had stayed long enough in Naples, unless he remained as King—and the King of Naples must be Giovanna's husband, or her enemy.
Ludovic frowned. The Queen was extraordinary, a witch of a woman; from the first she had won him by her subtle flatteries and her unusual regal bearing, her strange face and quiet ways...He did not know if he cared for her, but he knew that he would not dare Christendom to marry her. And there was Maria.
Maria was finely dowered and the next of kin; to marry her was to come one step nearer the throne his brother had given his life for. Yet if the Queen took another husband—
He folded his letters up slowly, and his frown darkened. What was to prevent him seizing Naples now it lay under his hand?
Nothing but Giovanna and what he might have said to her—lover-like promises to vanquish her.
But that had lasted long enough; the other day had seen the end of it in the shattered temple. Thinking of her and her strangeness, he grew impatient. He was tired of her; he would leave her her kingdom, marry Maria, and return to Hungary.
Then he scorned himself fiercely: should he lose the chance of a crown, and a crown rightfully his, because of a woman?
His eyes sparkled at the thought of conquest; he chafed at his late gorgeous inactivity; his mind, roused by these letters and their spurs at his idleness, was busy with plans of policy and war, the mustering his armies, the conciliating of the Italians,—when he remembered Maria's request the night before.
He had risen early, on purpose, but the reading of his letters had put her from his thoughts. The Hungarian galley that had brought them lay at anchor among the shipping in the bay; as the King turned from the room, he looked back at it and thought of his mother.
Her letter was not gentle. She spoke of Andreas, her youngest and her best beloved; the victims of San Eligio and the bloody death of the Conte Raymond had not appeased her wrath; she refused scornfully to believe in the innocence of the Queen; she urged her son to carry fire and sword through Naples, and hang Giovanna as Andreas was hanged, over the balcony of Aversa.
Ludovic descended the dark stairs slowly.
"That is Konrad of Gottif's talk," he told himself. "Yet did she convince me too easily."
Frowning, and with a heavy step, he entered the dining-hall.
The gay morning sun fell over the disarray of last night—faded flowers, burnt-out candles; on the Queen's dais two white dogs slept. Standing by the long, open window was Maria. Ludovic remarked that she wore the same red dress as yesterday, and that her eyes were heavy underneath; but he did not guess that she had spent the night in a swound of prayer on the cold steps of her chapel altar.
He came over to her quickly.
"I am late," he said—"forgive it. Letters came from Hungary last night—I received them but now."
She did not hear what he said; eagerly she searched his face, set and serious beyond its wont, for some hint of whether he knew or not.
Full of this one thought, she spoke:
"Have you seen Sancia di Renato this morning?" Her voice was thin and weak from fatigue.
He flushed quickly.
"No," he answered gravely.
She shook with relief: there was still time for her to find Sancia and get the casket from her; she was silent with thankfulness.
Ludovic spoke again, a little haughtily:
"Why do you use Sancia di Renato's name to me, Madonna? Was it to speak of her you wished to see me?"
"No." She sat down in a chair by the window and raised her tired eyes.
The King leant against the long table and pushed the thick hair off his forehead impatiently. She was over grave, over passionless for his taste; in the morning light her beauty had lost its sparkle and looked heavy and dragged; her anger of last night had pleased him better.
He was obviously waiting for her to speak; she gathered her strength.
"Out of the confusion of many resolves," she said, "I have come to this decision—I do desire to acquaint you with it."
The weight in her voice, the earnestness in her face startled him. "What is your meaning?" he asked quickly.
"That I shall join the sisterhood of Santa Chiara," answered Maria—"to-day."
He coloured in sheer surprised anger.
"Is it to slight me that ye breathe this folly?" he demanded. "Are ye not contracted to me?"
"It has been of little matter to you," she replied gently. "I know that this action of mine that gives me peace will give you no pain. You do not know me—you cannot regret a stranger."
He laughed shortly. "I will not lose my wife." Maria rose. "You lose nothing. Never would I be your wife."
Ludovic did not think lightly of himself, nor of what he had to offer. That any woman should use these words to him was as astonishing as if one of his soldiers should refuse to obey; he drew himself up from his easy posture against the table.
"Mars!" he said hotly, "ye will have no choice—ye are my betrothed before Christendom."
She stood silent, unmoved, with her hand to her forehead.
"What am I that ye should fly from me to a nunnery?" demanded Ludovic; he thrust his hand into his sword-belt and looked at her with proud, narrowed eyes.
"Words breed dissension," said Maria, "and nought else. This is no matter for subtle argument, but for silent decision."
"Is it, by the Rood!" cried the King, with the hot colour flushed up under his eyes. "For my decision, then; and that, God wot! is soon come to—'tis that ye mind your duty and speak no more of nunneries."
"Take it as ye will," said Maria. "Ye cannot move me."
Ludovic clenched the hand on his baldrick. "Ye are crazed utterly," he answered; his brows gathered into a dark frown. "This should have come sooner—we have been betrothed long enough, God wot!"
At this, touching memories of her baseless, sweet dreams, the pale colour came into her face.
"You could never understand," she said, in a voice a little shaken.
Ludovic regarded her a moment in silence. Though more than once he had, with larger issues in view and some thought of Giovanna, considered breaking his contract with Maria, now he was firmly resolved that nothing should prevent this marriage; that she should refuse him would hurt both his pride and his policy.
"I came to Naples for you," he said, "to perform our long betrothal and the old King's wish." He frowned heavily. "There was a little princess at my mother's court—" He broke off.
Upright, unmoved, stood Maria, with the morning sun about her and her eyes on the ground.
"I would have wedded her but for ye," finished the King imperiously. "My chosen wife ye are—my wife ye shall be."
Her bosom stirred under the red gown; she raised her face a little towards him; the passion that had made her glowing hot last night sprang to life in her eyes now.
"Ludovic of Hungary, what has been lost between us is outside speech."
"What is lost?" he repeated.
She put her hands to her side and clasped them there; her face, flushed with growing passion into a splendour of colour, was lifted as if she challenged him.
"Ye speak of our long betrothal," she said unevenly. "Ye take credit that ye forbore another woman, thinking of me—of me! "—the word rang scornful. "Oh, believe that in my long thoughts of you no other mingled—that though they pressed me, I was very constant to those thoughts I had of you."
Her voice fell suddenly; Ludovic looked at her curiously, his teeth in his underlip.
"I have watched until my eyes were weary, Ludovic of Hungary, for the distant glitter of your spears. I have prayed until my lips were white for your swift coming; my ears have strained for the sound of your horses below my window; my heart has wearied for the sound of your voice. But now, upon no terms ye could devise—for no reward ye could offer—would I give myself to you."
Pale, but with proud eyes still on her beauty, he answered her.
"What has wrought this change in ye?" The hands over her heart tightened.
"Put that to yourself," she said, and her blue eyes held accusation.
Inwardly he winced, though he let her see nothing in his steady face.
"You judge too soon," he answered; he thought of Sancia. "And by a woman's standard," he added, with a faint smile.
"I neither judge nor condemn," said Maria. "As I knew 'twould be, you do not understand." His smile deepened.
"Nor you, perchance?" He came a step nearer, resolved on softer methods. "Ah, well, we make the matter too heavy. Ye have been too much apart—give me the chance, and I will prove to you a king may love his wife."
"Good my liege," she answered, "I will not come second with any man."
He looked at her straightly.
"So it is jealousy, after all?" and he wondered what she knew and how she had come by her knowledge.
"No," she said; "I think it is a great indifference." Then her eyes blazed again. "Do you think that if I cared enough to be jealous, I would enter a nunnery?"
"You will not go into a nunnery," he answered masterfully. "Whether you care or not, no convent in Naples shall dare to take ye."
"Do you think of my dowry," she said bitterly, "that ye are so anxious to detain me?"
Anger made his tone quiet.
"Not alone your lands, but all Naples is mine by the lifting of my hand."
"Then ye may spare me," she answered, and moved away by the long, disordered table.
At that, seeing her turn quietly from him, Ludovic flared into open anger; instantly he was beside her, his hand on her velvet sleeve.
"Come," he said—"your reasons—ye do not set me aside so easily."
She shrank as if his touch brought contamination. "My reasons?" she echoed, her eyes dilated; he took his hand from her arm.
"I am very distasteful to you," he exclaimed hotly.
Maria drew slowly away down the table. The sunlight lay like gold threads in her heavy chestnut hair and cast a delicate shadow over her averted cheek, sparkled in the glass on the table behind her and the smooth stems of the branching candlesticks.
"Mars!" cried Ludovic, struggling with quick anger, "you will tell me more of this—what you mean!"
She looked at him over her shoulder with wild eyes. "Have I not said what I mean?—the silence of the convent." Then she was gone through the arcaded window into the loggia.
Before his fierce impatience could express itself by following her, the door by the Queen's dais opened quickly, and was quickly closed. Ludovic looked round.
Standing in the dark corner of the room where the sunlight did not reach was Sancia di Renato, her white dress and her fair hair making a brightness in the gloom.
Ludovic, seeing some purpose in her coming, connecting it in his mind with Maria's behaviour, faced her in silence, his eyes bright with anger at being trapped between the emotions and recriminations of two women. Sancia was also still with awe and some shame.
The King frowned in a wrathful silence; was he to lose his wife because of a snatched kiss or two and words of homage to a lovely face?
"By heaven!" he broke out, "what is the matter?"
But Sancia stood mute. She had risen early to find Ludovic and put before him the stolen casket. To her the matter did not involve the sins and punishments of a royal house, nor the agonising intertwining of bruised affections that it meant to Maria. She merely saw her lover won by a woman whom she feared and loathed, and did the direct thing in seeking to ruin the Queen and win back Ludovic.
But now, with shame and fear she began to sob, clasping the casket to her breast, now she was really face to face with him. Slowly she moved towards the table; her white dress flickered with gold thread flowers from the bosom to the feet in her pale hair hung a little knot of scarlet; her eyes were misted with her late weeping; her mouth trembled, and she gave quick, tearless sobs.
The King looked at her, and the flush on his dark cheek grew deeper.
The silence became terrible to Sancia; she set the casket on the table and thrust it towards the King. "Take it away," she said in a muffled voice.
His intense eyes fell to the little casket. "What is this ye contend over?" he asked.
Sancia gave one glance at the King's face, and the full colour surged into her own; she sat down heavily on one of the drawn-back chairs and closed her eyes as if she must swoon.
"Why should I hesitate?" she said thickly.
A breathless pause fell; the slow-moving sunlight, the heavy silence, became oppressive. Ludovic took up the casket—Sancia made neither sound nor movement. It was a wooden casket, covered with stamped leather; in heavy gold it bore the arms of Anjou, and encircling the shield of lilies was this inscription:
"Memorare * novisima * tua * et * in * neternam * no * pechalis."
Ludovic handled it slowly; the motto glittered hardly. "Remember thy later end and thou shalt not sin for ever."
He turned back the lid; Sancia was looking at him. And another's gaze was upon him: Maria, passing the loggia, had seen Sancia, seen it was too late, and stood now, staring, breathless with this turn of fate, silent with shock.
He saw some little fair curls lying on a parchment that bore familiar writing, and a gold chain he had often seen on his brother's neck. He put the casket down and stepped back from it.
"Why, what have you given me?" he said, and he shook like a man who comes unawares on the dead.
Between remorse and terror Sancia sat speechless, but Maria was strung beyond feeling. She advanced across the room until she met his eyes. "I found those things in your brother's room at the convent of Santo Pietro-a-Majello," she answered hollowly. "The letter is to you—will you not read it?"
The King looked at her in a bewildered half reproach, as if he marvelled at her swift return and accused her of, in some way, entrapping him. Then he took up the casket again, unfolded the letter, and read.
"I think he was too weary to finish it that night," said Maria dully. "And on the morrow he was dead."
She came slowly nearer. Ludovic laid the letter back, looked at the broken chain; then he said, very hoarsely:
"Yea," answered Maria, "as I found it...on the balcony...
"And this?" He raised distracted eyes to her as he touched fearfully the fragment of brocade and the auburn curl.
"That," said Maria, with an indrawing of her breath, "is—her—hair—and her dress."
She ceased sharply.
"Yes?" whispered Ludovic.
"I took it from his hand," she answered him, "as he lay beneath the balcony—her hair—her dress—clutched in his dead fingers."
Her words stumbled into silence. The King stared at her, holding the open casket in his hand; Sancia rose, her finger-tips resting on the shining table, and her great eyes fixed upon him.
Suddenly Maria spoke again, like one wounded and grown fierce with pain.
"You have the truth now—my reasons and all you asked for—the truth! What will you do with your knowledge?"
Ludovic closed the casket.
"You wish me to think," he said—"you mean me to think—that Giovanna is guilty."
"Think what ye will," answered Maria; "for I say no word one way or the other."
"I do not believe it," said Ludovic. "Remembering her as she came to me—I—do not believe it."
Maria would not speak; but Sancia, leaning against the table, cried out:
"I know that she is guilty."
Ludovic turned slowly and looked at her. "Of what?"
Sancia's white lips shaped a slow answer.
"Of murder—of murder planned, of murder performed—of the murder of her husband and your brother, Andreas of Hungary."
Since Konrad of Gottif had left, Ludovic had not heard that name; hearing it now, in this manner, held him dumb. The colour ebbed from his face; he looked at neither of the women, but at the casket on the table.
"Have I not lived near her?" continued Sancia thickly. "Do I not know that she is a devil?" Ludovic looked sharply up at Maria.
"You!—why do you stand there silent?" he demanded. "What do you think this means? But Maria answered nothing.
"Means!" burst out Sancia. "It means they slew him in her chamber, by her bed—it means he clung round her knees and they cut away her hair and her dress to free her. Did I not see her wipe her floor with her linen vest and fold away her stained coverlet?"
"Ye come late with these tales," said Ludovic. His face was livid; his mouth worked uncontrollably. "Is there one alive," he asked desperately, "of those who were there that night?"
And now Maria spoke. "They perished in the fires of San Eligio," she said.
"Yea," answered the King quickly, "she punished them."
"She took good heed to that," flashed Sancia. "And what of the Conte d'Eboli—did he live to speak with you? I do think that when ye looked into his face he was dumb."
It was a keen truth showing Ludovic in a swift flash his own folly; yet still he struggled with his first conviction. "Why have ye kept this from me?" he asked. He turned to Maria. "Why have ye conspired also to fool me—if this indeed be truth?"
"Let this Paduan maid answer you," she said. "The dishonour of our house comes better from her than from me." Her face lit with a cold pride. "For I also am of Anjou."
The King looked from her to Sancia. "So you, out of hate for the Queen, bring me these!" He repeated his words: "Out of hate for the Queen!"
Sancia lifted appealing eyes; her wrath had died, leaving only shame and wretchedness. "I spoke because I was not strong enough to remain silent," she murmured brokenly. She slipped into the chair behind her and hid her face.
"Ye loathe the Queen," said Ludovic—"as most do. God wot! she has few champions! Belike ye lie because of this hate."
At that Sancia looked up. "I do not lie," she whispered, "though I am very sinful—I speak the truth now."
"Still, ye hate the Queen," repeated Ludovic sternly; "and your word is but the word of a shallow woman."
Maria moved a step. "It is not for ye to speak so of her," she said, with a faint colour in her face. "If there be shame, then on your soul rests it."
Ludovic glanced from one to the other angrily. "So she has confided in you, my cousin?" He frowned fiercely. "When women league together, a man may never come at the truth."
Sancia rose, hiding her face in her sleeve. "Ye will never be troubled again with me," she said in a muffled voice; she lifted her wet eyes suddenly.
"Shallow I may be, and a thing not fit to disturb your thoughts; but do ye blame me that I took a King's lies for truth?" She turned down the room; the sunlight gleamed an instant in the flowers on the gown and the pale hair, then the shadow enveloped her. She walked steadily to the door; the King, watching her, saw her pale fingers part the arras, saw it fall together as her soft step ceased.
The Princess made a movement as if she would have followed.
"Stay," said Ludovic; he put out his hand to detain her. "Nay, ye shall speak to me," for he saw silence written in her face. "I will know if ye work on me for your own ends—"
She interrupted him. "My ends? I have told ye my ends—a convent cell, a convent grave."
In sad contrast to her youth were her words and her voice. Ludovic, bewildered, baffled, looked at her with horror in his eyes; that the soul should ever weary of the flesh was beyond his conception.
"Maria," he said, for the first time using her name, "ye are to be my Queen. Ye shall not talk of graves."
Her face held wondering contempt. "Do you not understand?—now?"
His gaze fell to the casket.
"Ye think of Giovanna," he said heavily.
"I think of her," answered Maria.
Ludovic looked up again, fiercely. "How shall I deal with her?" he cried, goaded.
"As ye list," said Maria. "As ye judge, punish; as ye believe, act. For me, my life is over. Farewell."
All life and colour faded from his face, but he answered steadily: "I am master in Naples, and before two days are out ye shall be my wife. If ye enter a convent, I will bring you hence—yea, even from the altar steps. And as for Giovanna—"
He caught up the casket.
"As for Giovanna—" he repeated.
Maria was silent.
"What shall I do?" asked Ludovic thickly, frowning at her. He wished to bring her to either an accusation or a defence; to draw something from her, to some way probe her calm.
But she made him no answer.
"Curse your saintliness!" he cried hotly. "But, after all "—he smiled bitterly—"between me and Giovanna—the sword decides."
With the casket held against his side he left the dining-hall.
Maria turned through the long, open window into the garden.
She looked at the trees, the roses on their trellis, the sky, and the long shadows, but could not escape the sense of confinement, imprisonment, that had haunted her in the house.
Slowly she walked down the paved path; the yellow sunshine could not warm her numb flesh. She thought of Giovanna—Giovanna quiet, stooping, with her reserved eyes and expressionless mouth; she thought of Ludovic with the casket held to his side; she thought also of his words about the convent and his refusal to set her free.
The walk was set with lilies—her red gown caught against them; one or two fell, broken, on the path behind her, but she did not notice.
Presently she came to the marble terrace overlooking the bay, and slowly she turned and stared at the palace.
With a cold force she resolved that she could never enter it again—that she could not look on Giovanna's face when the secret was dragged into the light...that she must escape.
Escape! It was about her all like walls: the peaceful trees, the quiet flowers, encircled and held her. The plash of a fountain and the crystal light of it broke her distraction; she paused, holding back the thick citron; she saw she was not alone.
Carlo di Durazzo sat on the marble rim of the fountain. His head was turned from her; he stared into the water, where his blue habit was reflected and the gilded fish clustered round his fingers.
Beside him sat the dwarf, half asleep on the long grass, with the shadow of his ungainly head thrown across his tawdry vest.
The citron bough slipped from Maria's grasp; the confused terror and wretchedness of her thoughts found relief in words and action.
"Carlo!" she cried, and with a hot vehemence that startled herself.
At once he turned, scattering the fish like threads of gold through the shining water; at once he rose and came towards her, with a flush of eagerness on his smooth face like one who receives a long-expected summons.
Maria held out her hands.
"I cannot go back to the palace."
Carlo took her cold fingers into his hot grasp; his indolent indifference fell from him like a discarded cloak. "Is it my chance—at last?" he said simply.
The dwarf, awakening at the sound of voices, saw the King's betrothed holding the arm of Carlo di Durazzo as the two slipped through the trees; saw the red and blue garments shine between the thick leaves and disappear. He drew himself up, climbed on to the edge of the basin, and laughed. He disliked the King of Hungary, who had told him that his voice was cracked and his wit stale. He saw the makings of a pretty scandal in those two hurrying through the garden, and a scandal that would touch Ludovic; therefore he laughed, and winked at the gold fish.
He amused himself by picturing their swift, cloaked flight from the half-slumbering palace through the sunlit streets to the Castel del Durazzo; the quick summoning of the Duke's soldiers, perhaps of the discontented populace—sedition in a moment, scattered like flame, and as quick to seize, hold, and destroy.
The gold fish swam round and round in a busy idleness; the dwarf nodded to himself, half asleep again, and was again aroused by some one stepping into the shade out of the heavy glare of the sunshine.
It was Luigi of Taranto, massive, gloomy; his red hair hanging over his red face, and his grey eyes narrowed.
"Good morrow, magnificence," said the dwarf pleasantly.
Luigi of Taranto leant against the slim trunk of an acacia and folded his arms across his chest; he wore leather much worn with armour, and a great sword dragged in the grass beside him.
"Is the Queen abroad yet?" he questioned.
"I do not think so, magnificence." The dwarf stroked his chin. "Have you seen the Hungarian galley in the bay?"
The Prince nodded.
"I have also seen the man who has brought in it the letters to the King—who do ye think he was, fool? Laszlo, who was here with Andreas. I spoke with him. He says Konrad of Gottif has returned from Hungary, and with a woman."
"We have enough women," remarked the dwarf.
Luigi of Taranto smiled sourly. "He has come to stir the King up against Naples. Hark to me, fool: if ye value your ugly skin, ye will leave Naples."
The dwarf caught one of the fish and held it slackly in his huge hand. "Ye could not vouch for the safety of this city of ours, magnificence?"
The other frowned.
"Even now the people fight the Hungarians in the street; riots and mutinies at every turn; des Beaux has withdrawn to Baiae. We near the last struggle, fool."
The dwarf let go of the writhing carp and watched it swim away; so had Maria d'Anjou and her fortune slipped through the fingers of Hungary.
"Who is there to struggle?" he asked. "Ludovic is the master."
"There is the Queen," said Luigi of Taranto. "And the man who marries the Queen."
The dwarf looked at the water.
"Oh!" he said under his breath, and he glanced at the Prince sideways; aloud he remarked:
"And there is your splendid cousin Carlo."
The Prince smiled.
"Fit companion for you and dancing minstrels is the splendid Carlo, and for nought else."
Whereat the dwarf also smiled, hugging his secret. Luigi of Taranto moved from the tree.
"Here is a crown for some man's winning," he said breathlessly—"and a kingdom to be striven for!" He checked himself and looked down at the little deformity he towered over. "Hast been in the streets lately, fool?"
"Yea." The dwarf nodded.
"How seemed the people?"
"Discontented, magnificence—hot against the Hungarians. One ran along preaching the end of the world—sedition is hot."
"So seemed it to me," said Luigi of Taranto thoughtfully, and he turned away with his eyes moodily on the ground.
The dwarf took off his cap and fanned himself with it, chuckling.
"The Queen," he mocked, "and the man who marries the Queen!" He made a grimace at the tall figure walking slowly yet resolutely towards the palace.
Then, meditating on the people about him, their situations, their actions, he arranged with a thoughtful air on the broad brim of the fountain little symbols of them. For Giovanna, a dark citron leaf, regal yet suggesting secrecy; for Maria, beside her, the petal of a lily, cold and fragrant; for Ludovic of Hungary, the gaudy striped blossom of a carnation, blood-red and gold; for Sancia, a humble daisy pulled from the thick grass. There remained the Duke of Duras, Konrad of Gottif, and Luigi of Taranto. The dwarf felt in his pockets and brought out a little knot of blue ribbon for Carlo, and a little twist of leather cord for his cousin; to represent the fierce Hungarian, he picked up a piece of hard stick and laid it by his master, the carnation. His arrangements complete, the dwarf hunched up his knees and laughed. A steady little wind was blowing sweetly through the trees; he waited, watching to see which of his Kings, Queens, and Princes would blow away, and which would linger.
For a moment none of them stirred; but a blossom, red and fresh as a drop of wet blood, fell into their midst.
"Now who is this?" questioned the dwarf; then he smiled hugely. "'Tis the woman who came from Hungary with Konrad of Gottif."
Even as he spoke, the breeze, gathering in strength, swept away the daisy and caused the lily leaf to tremble.
"The scene is soon clear of Madonna Sancia," commented the dwarf.
But with the next gust, the knot of ribbon and the carnation had been swept into the fountain.
The others stood steadily: the dwarf counted his survivors.
"Luigi, Maria, Konrad, the Queen—and the woman who came in the galley from Hungary."
In his bedchamber the King mused sullenly, at war with circumstance. He had refused himself to those who sought admission to his presence, and when he chose to raise his head to listen he could hear the busy, perturbed voices of his Hungarians talking without the door.
Doubtless they wondered; doubtless they saw, as he did, now these letters from home and the shock of Sancia's accusation had roused him from his gaieties, that in the next few days Naples was to be lost or won.
He had put himself in a position not easy to hold with dignity. He knew in Naples they cursed him and his soldiers; he knew they mocked at home at his absence; he had roused the disdain of his mother and his betrothed—merely to pleasure Giovanna, whom, if what they said was true, he should have delivered over to death months ago.
Yet he did not believe it was true. Last night, with eyes ardent but not lover-like, she had entreated him to a grave conference to-day; she had spoken with a man's weight and clearness of the state of popular feeling, of the ill-paid mercenaries, the mutinying guilds, her own empty coffers; she had urged upon him (putting aside his lighter talk with an absorbed frown) the reasons for his swift marriage and return to Hungary. Thinking of her as she was then, thinking of her as she had come to him in the old farmhouse at Aversa, he could not believe this thing.
The midday sun was ruddy over the brown panellings of the room with their gilded lines, over the heavy polished furniture and the scarlet and gold of the great bed.
On the steps of it, spread with fine rich carpets, sat Ludovic, his young face pale and lined. The sight of his brother's unfinished letter and broken chain had been like sudden announcement of that brother's death; striking him as if until now he had never realized that Andreas lay silent for ever in San Gennaro. Bitter memories of their common boyhood arose to wound him: the generous worship of Andreas towards his elder; their great hunts together, at home in Hungary.
Ludovic bowed his head. He thought of Konrad of Gottif's hot arrival in Buda, of his account of Andreas's death and fierce denunciation of Giovanna, of his mother's tearless face as she had said to him, "Go ye and slay this woman."
But it was so easy to forget, the present was so strong; he had forgotten—forgotten those vows in Buda, forgotten his own dead, forgotten those waiting at home.
Yet even now, with awakened remorse and grief in his heart, he was not convinced that his judgment had been mistaken in pronouncing Giovanna innocent; neither Sancia's passion, Maria's calm, nor the lock of hair had convinced him of that.
He tortured himself with doubts into a misery of hesitation; he could form no resolutions out of his tangled emotions; his strongest feeling grew to be a great dread and horror of encountering the Queen.
As the hour in which he had promised to meet her drew nearer, this fear of her grew; he could not look into her face until he had decided, he could not speak to her until he knew.
He wished Maria had goaded him—he could be the instrument, not the judge. His blood was cold towards Giovanna; let some one fire it and he might act, but in this spirit of sick doubt he could do nothing.
He rose from the steps of his bed and paced to and fro. He pictured Giovanna waiting for him; he pictured Maria watching for him to act, until his thoughts grew past bearing.
Then Sancia occurred to him. Whether she lied or not, she knew something; he thought he could manage Sancia, and came at last to this resolve, to find her and question her, to let her invective nerve him against the Queen.
When he left his room he found that it was later in the day than he had imagined; he reflected that several hours had passed since Sancia had spoken to him, and that he had dallied with the situation longer than he had intended.
The ante-chambers were full of his people idly amusing themselves.
He reprimanded them curtly for their careless lounging, and left a hush behind him as he passed them; they knew he was not always the mere gay knight Naples had known; he could be terrible.
In the library of the old King Roberto, seldom used in the Queen's reign, Ludovic had first met Sancia alone.
She had been dreaming there over a book in French, La Cité des Dames, and he had come to look for a volume on falconry Luigi of Taranto had told him of.
Since then they had often met there, and about this hour; she might be there to-day.
With this thought in his mind, Ludovic ascended to the first floor of the tower and entered the library.
It was a large, low room with narrow windows of painted glass behind a trellis of ironwork; the ceiling was of cypress work painted in silver with the arms of Anjou; the walls of carved oak, against which were arranged the books in long gilded shelves. A great silver lamp hung from the ceiling, and thirty branching candlesticks decorated with knobs of lapis lazuli were fixed to the wall. In the time of the old King these had been alight day and night, but in the court of Giovanna there was no one to save the lamps of learning from extinction.
Ludovic closed the door behind him—yes, Sancia was there.
He beheld her seated under the window in the massive reader's chair carved with flowers and monsters and cushioned in dull purple velvet. She looked up; her white dress and her shining hair were tempered to dull gold by the light pouring through the thick coloured glass behind her. The book she held in her hand slid to the ground.
She did not speak, and Ludovic was also silent; the still atmosphere of the place, its memories, the silence redolent of peace and wisdom, kept speech from them.
Then Sancia said brokenly:
"I did not think you would come to-day, or I should not be here."
Ludovic picked up her book; it was an "Horae," and the open pages glittered with saints. He put it back on the shelves, then turned and looked at her.
"Sancia," said the King in a stern low voice, "you must tell me all you know—about the Queen."
She set her small hands on the smooth heads of the snarling dragons of her chair, and clenched them there tightly.
"I have told enough," she answered faintly—"God forgive me!"
The silence fell again, and with it that perfume of peace, the accompaniment of beautiful books, that, even when dumb, breathe of calm and wisdom; then she said in a voice that hardly stirred the air:
"I am going home to Padua."
Ludovic leaning against the shelves stood dyed gold from head to foot by the sun shining through the regal quarterings on the window.
"Did ye then lie to me?" he asked breathlessly. She leant forward in her chair and stared at him. "Nay, I did not lie."
With the lifting of her eyes to his, something of the restraint between them vanished.
"Sancia," he said slowly, and came towards her, "forgive me, sweet—my sweet!"
She rose and put out her hand as a barrier between them.
"I am going home," was all her answer.
He stood the length of her arm away from her. "So easily?" he questioned. "And without answering me?"
Her hand dropped and hung against the lilies on her dress.
"I will say no word against the Queen," she said. 10
"Why did you speak this morning?" he asked.
She was silent a little while; and Ludovic watched the sand running through the hour-glass upon the window-sill.
"I think you know," she said at last. "All my life I shall repent it "—sudden passion touched her cold speech like a flame springing from ashes—"that ever I looked tenderly on your face, my liege!"
He flushed to the eves, but answered her proudly: "Whether ye hate me or no, answer me about the Queen."
She looked at him with intense expression in her eyes. It seemed to him pity, and it wounded him sorely; the colour burnt more hotly in his swarthy face.
"Nay," he said, setting his teeth, "I shall think ye spoke slander this morning."
"The Queen!" answered Sancia wildly. "Why do ye think of her, when Maria
"What of Maria?" he demanded.
"I had not meant to tell you," breathed Sancia. "But she—is gone!"
Sancia shrank away from his fierce glance.
"She could not face it. The dwarf saw them go." When Ludovic spoke again his soft voice was rough. "Who went with her?"
"Carlo di Durazzo," whispered Sancia.
"Has that fool put this slight on me?" cried Ludovic. "Truly, you have made me your sport, you in Naples!"
A hitter silence reigned; Sancia, with wide, yearning eyes, looked at the King's haggard face; the golden light, changing, lay over the Spanish leather on the floor, the rich covers of the book, and sparkled in the silver lamp.
"Could not face it!" said Ludovic suddenly. "What could she not face?"
"Your dealing with Giovanna," answered Sancia. So Maria had felt as he had felt, dreaded what he had dreaded!...
"What do ye think I shall do with the Queen?" he demanded hoarsely.
"I—I—do not know. Do not come to me for help."
There was the sound of her gown as she moved towards the door, the accusing look of her lovely face in the beautiful gloom; then the latch had lifted and fallen again—he was alone.
She had evaded him as they all evaded him; he alone must decide.
Decide! He thought of the mockery Maria's flight would throw on him, and his first resolve was to run Carlo through. Then that fell to chaos, and his one thought was Giovanna—Giovanna!
He flung himself in the chair Sancia had sat in, pondering the shame and scandal of his betrothed's flight, blown abroad by now, perhaps, over the whole palace. And then, the Queen, waiting for him...
He thrust these things away from him; his sick head fell forward in his hands; he saw through a mist of pain the titles of the books on the level shelves, the undisturbed dust lying over them, the lilies of Anjou stamped on wood and leather. The quiet was broken by the opening of the heavy door and the flash of a page's scarlet dress.
The King looked up frowning.
The boy went on his knee.
"The Lord Konrad of Gottif is here, my liege," he said, "and importunate to speak with you."
The King stared; he had thought Konrad in Hungary. Then he remembered the galley from home.
"He arrived last night?"
"Yes, my liege."
"Bring him here," said Ludovic sombrely.
The page slipped through the darkness of the open door; the King sat frowning, staring on the ground.
He heard Konrad enter and the latch slipped back into place; he knew the other was waiting, and for a space he kept him so, and would not look up.
Then he raised his eyes and said curtly:
"Had ye my commands to return here?"
Konrad of Gottif flung back the green brocaded mantle that hung over his armour, and the mail rang pleasantly.
"God wot! King Ludovic, I had no commands of ye," he said easily. "Your people sent me, and for them I stand here now."
He came further into the room; he was completely armed save for his head, and that he had but just removed his helmet was seen by his heavy hair pressed into the line of the basnet.
"Ye ride well armed," said the King curtly, aware of the difference in his own attire—the silk houppe-land to the ground, fastened round the waist with gold, the velvet shoes, and the fine chains about his neck.
"I find the streets of Naples dangerous," answered Konrad; his black eyes dwelt on the King steadily. "There are those at home, my liege, think them too dangerous for you."
"There are those at home whom I will hang for meddling varlets," flashed Ludovic. "Have ye made yourself the spokesman of such, Konrad of Gottif?" He rose and pushed back his chair; above his high ermine collar his face showed pale and set in angry lines.
"I am the spokesman of your people and your mother," said Konrad. "For those—and for King Andreas lying in his bloody grave a bowshot from where ye dally with his vengeance."
"I have avenged my brother," answered the King quickly.
"No!" cried Konrad. "The Queen still lives!" The two men looked at each other.
"I know not why I take this from ye," said Ludovic. "Little do I care what they say of me at home; yet let not these impertinences reach too high, lest I return—over suddenly."
Konrad of Gottif folded his arms across his breast.
"Still ye do not answer me, Lord of Hungary. I say the woman, Giovanna of Naples, still lives."
"And I say—ye are not her judge," replied Ludovic hotly.
"Yet I stand for justice. Is it for you to palter with the truth? From season to season ye stay here in idleness. I do think Christendom will smile to see such as ye beguiled by such as she."
The King gave him a ghastly look.
"Come," he said hoarsely, "put it more plainly—ye think I have been fooled, cajoled—ye think this little cousin of mine—" He paused: "—murdered my brother," he finished.
"I believe it," was the answer. "And so they think in Hungary."
The King caught hold of the bookcase.
"Mother of God, if it should be so!"
Konrad of Gottif spoke quietly:
"It is so."
Ludovic stood silent, looking down, 'his brow gathered into lines of pain, his right hand grasping the embossed back of Les trois Vertu, his left hanging by his side, and the dusty gold light touching the silk and fur of his robe, the jewels round his throat and on his fingers.
Konrad of Gottif moved nearer; his breath began to come quickly.
"Even now," he said in an intense tone, "as I rode through Naples, I saw them fortifying the Castel Duras—they told me Maria d'Anjou was within, and that her cousin would hold her against the world. Shall Hungary take that insult? Shall she also laugh at you? Shall that fool Carlo prove himself the better man? Oh, Hungary, Hungary! up and act! Shake Naples about their heads—bring this woman to punishment—show them we breed no puppet Kings, no hesitating men!"
The King looked up with a flushed face.
"What do ye goad me to?" he asked thickly.
"The man's part," breathed Konrad. "Take your sword and go to her—in the name of God, of Andreas, and of Hungary!"
Ludovic sat down in the massive chair.
"'Tis a woman," he muttered.
"The fouler was the deed. Would ye soften murder because a woman's hand wrought it?" Ludovic raised tortured eyes.
"'Tis a woman I have kissed," he said; "and she—looks to me—and—oh, that is all of it!" he finished passionately. "'Tis a woman I have kissed."
In the silence came the clink of Konrad's armour as he moved slightly; then his voice:
"Still, ye will deal judgment on her none the less because of—kisses."
"Do ye know she is guilty?" demanded Ludovic.
"Ye do," was the answer.
It was truth; in his soul he knew it now. Thinking of all the evidence against her, of Maria, of Sancia, he saw her guilt and his folly. Yet though the thought of Andreas's foul death shook him with fury, still could he not associate Giovanna with her crime; her figure rose before him; he strove to silence the accusation in his heart.
"I am waiting," said Konrad of Gottif.
"For what?" asked Ludovic.
"For your decision, my liege."
Ludovic sat up in his chair; he trembled exceedingly.
"If she is guilty—"
"I say she is—guilty of her husband's death, guilty of Raymond de Cabane's death, guilty of lies innumerable."
"Then if she cannot answer me when I accuse her of these things, I will shake her from her throne even as swiftly as I placed her on it."
"And nothing more?"
"If ye mean what I think ye mean—" he said hoarsely.
"I mean ye vowed in Buda to slay this woman."
"Then I did not know myself—or her. If she were twice damned with blood, I could not do it."
"Ye shall," said Konrad of Gottif through set teeth; "or deliver her to some more dishonourable death, a death like his—over the balcony of Aversa!"
The King faced him fiercely.
"I say I cannot do it! Do you know how we parted—last night, only last night? And to-day I am to go to her—and murder her?"
"So, is this foreign woman more to ye than your blood—your own land?"
Ludovic steadied himself against the wall. "They have all been in league to deceive me," he said brokenly. "This morning I heard, for the first time—Maria was too cold, too silent. But let it pass!"
Konrad of Gottif's voice filled the pause with quiet weight:
"Remember what ye vowed in Buda."
Ludovic clenched his hand against the bookcase. "Peace of what I vowed in Buda!" he cried. "Have I not said—I am not convinced?"
Konrad flung up his head. "Go to her!—accuse her to her face!—and if she brave it out, then must ye see her guilt! Come, will you do this?"
"And what then?—what if I do?" breathed the King. "What if I see her, speak to her, and know this horror true?—man, ye goad me past bearing. What then, I say?"
"What then?—ye ask me what then? Ye who are his brother and wear a sword—ye could face her and know her guilty and wonder what to do?" He struck his hand as he spoke down on the great weapon he wore, and his brows scowled heavily. "By God's heaven! if the King hesitate, there is one from Hungary will not: I, even I, will strike down at sight the cold wanton who slew my young Lord Andreas!"
With the last words his voice fell to softness; Ludovic looked up at him, and the colour rose into his haggard face.
"Ye always loved him," he said.
Konrad of Gottif was silent, but his breast heaved under the shining armour and his hand tightened convulsively on his sword-hilt.
"Let her go," continued the King. "I—I would not see her again. Let her be banished Naples—let God decide!"
"A coward's decision, Ludovic of Hungary! Let the sword decide!"
"My God!" answered the King thickly, "ye forget your station!"
"And you yours," said Konrad of Gottif bitterly. "But ye are one for the women to manage—a man might speak to ye in vain, while ye would respond to the flutter of a lady's hand. I—I—have not moved ye?"
There was a soft sound of silk as the King stirred in his place.
"No!" he answered sternly.
The other smiled sourly.
"Mind ye of a little Princess at your mother's court, who once had some influence with ye?" Ludovic stared at him.
"She crossed the seas with me," continued Konrad grimly, "by your mother's desire—to move ye if I failed." He turned towards the door. "Shall she come in?"
"Carola of Bohemia!" cried Ludovic. "Carola of Bohemia here!"
Konrad's bitter smile deepened as he marked the success of his last move: the change in the King's voice and face, his half movement from the wall.
"Come," he said quietly, "we will see if we of Hungary cannot set a woman against the Neapolitan enchantress."
The King put his hand to his ermine collar and drew himself up as if he would make some motion to stay the other; but Konrad of Gottif had opened the door.
"Princess!" he said.
A light footstep sounded; in a second she was within the room, and Konrad had closed the door behind her. She wore a heavy travelling mantle, the hood pushed back from her black hair and clasped with a great emerald at the base of her white throat. She looked at the King with eyes as dark as his own; the rich colour of her lips and cheeks had faded, and she trembled exceedingly.
Ludovic glanced from her to Konrad.
"You put some fine tricks upon me!" he said hotly.
Carola of Bohemia crossed the room and went on her knees by the King's side and took his hand. "Ludovic!" she said, "you will deal with this Queen, and you will return—Ludovic! for Andreas, for Hungary—for home!"
He strove to free his hand, to raise her up; the sudden sight of her face made him weak before her. She would not loose her hold on him, she spoke again low, insistent:
"For the sake of the time we danced and sang and laughed in Buda, we three—the time when you loved me a little, Ludovic! For the sake of his mother who cannot sleep thinking of him, alone—alone in his grave; for the sake of the people who wait for you in Hungary; for the glory of the eagles—for the glory of the eagles, Ludovic!"
She bowed her head upon his hand. "For the glory of the eagles! "—the words fell again, and then a heavy quiet. Then she rose and looked at Ludovic and he at her; the golden light glittered over her plain attire and burnt like a green flame in the jewel at her throat.
"You will do it," said Carola of Bohemia. "I have always known you were—magnificent; you will do this—magnificently."
The King, looking at her steadily with gleaming eyes, held out his hand; but before he could speak, "Hush!" said Konrad of Gottif, and the door opened.
Carola put her hand in the King's; a page entered in Giovanna's livery.
"The Queen bids me say she waits," he said to the King; "matters will not brook delay."
Ludovic of Hungary, still looking at the woman whose hand he held, answered:
"Tell her I come."
The sick, cloying smell of the lilies troubled Ludovic; as he closed the door, his eyes slowly, reluctantly sought the slight figure of the Queen, and the hot resolution that had brought him there, full of loathing for her, sank within him. Of all the things that had combined to rouse him—Konrad's urgings, thoughts of Andreas—the sight of Carola of Bohemia had weighed most of all. Maria had slighted him, Sancia repulsed him, but Carola had crossed the seas to throw herself at his feet and beseech him to do it "magnificently." His wounded pride could salve itself with that consideration; to her he was still a hero.
These things had brought him fiery to the Queen's chamber, to redeem himself, to punish her, for the murder of his brother and the fooling of himself. He had brought the casket with him, meaning to fling the accusation at her and deal judgment, even as Konrad of Gottif would have done.
But the close, sick atmosphere of the room, her still figure, unnerved him instantly. He let the seconds slip by and could not speak.
Giovanna turned her head: she sat by the wall of her chamber; her page stood beside her. A low table scattered with parchments was close to her, and behind her a bright tapestry worked with pheasants and unicorns. She wore a pale blue velvet gown that was gathered about her closely as she sat, slightly hunched together in the deep, massive chair. Her bedroom door was open, and from it could be heard the soft voices of women.
"How long you have been!" said Giovanna to the King; she looked tired and shivered as with cold, though the sunshine was strong in the room.
Ludovic crossed to the table.
"Ye are very pale," said the Queen. A passion of impatience shone in her eyes; her little hands were clenched in her lap. "And is this a moment to be silent? Ye know that des Beaux has left Naples and there is a rising in Sicily?"
Her words gave Ludovic a curious shock. So, her mind ran on nothing but politics, ambition—always her kingdoms.
"Send away the boy," he said heavily.
Giovanna motioned the page away instantly, keeping her intense eyes on the King.
"Come," she breathed ardently: "you were to make me Queen and keep me Queen. I want money—men; these Lombard loans are due "—she pointed to the parchments on the table—"and the infamous interest to the Genoese."
Ludovic moved away from her; she paused to watch him. He closed her bedchamber door and bolted it on the women within.
"Well, we are private now," she continued. "What will you do for me?"
"I am considering," said Ludovic; he kept his eyes from the Queen, and stared at the tall lilies in the window and their vivid shadows in the square of the sunshine.
"What has happened?" she demanded. "Why will you not look at me? You have heard about Maria—do you blame me for that?"
Still he was silent.
"We will hang my fair cousin for this insult," continued the Queen rapidly, "and shut his widow in a convent; and ye shall have her lands, Ludovic. Only—help me."
He turned to gaze at her. The heavy auburn hair hung in a gold net in the nape of her slender neck; her violet eyes, shadowed underneath, were frantic with impatience; her underlip swollen where she had torn it with her teeth.
"Help you?" he echoed.
"Yesterday ye held a different language," she answered hotly. "What has come to ye to-day, Ludovic of Hungary?"
His fingers tightened over the casket concealed in the silk folds of his houppeland.
"This action of Carlo's has raised you another enemy," he said, striving to gain time, to probe her.
"I know," she replied desperately. "He must go—"
Swiftly he turned on her.
"Can ye bring a Prince of the blood to execution for what he has done?"
Giovanna sank into her great chair.
"Perhaps not by daylight," she said; "but there are other means."
"Such as—murder?" demanded Ludovic.
At his tone she blanched with terror. "No! No! Ludovic, why are you so strange to-day?" In her agitation she again rose; and again sat down.
When she changed from her cold talk of state affairs to womanly trembling, she seemed very young and piteous. Ludovic could not nerve himself; he sat down opposite and hid his face with his hand.
"Are you ill?" she said, distracted. "Are you grieving for Maria?"
"No—no!" he answered; he was also trembling, and she marked it. During all these months she had never seen him overcome, never otherwise than gay and bold. She beat her hands together.
"Do you also fail me, when I was looking to your strength, your courage?"
As he sat motionless, with averted face, she rose and came round to him.
"You said yesterday," she whispered; her fine hands fell to his shoulders, her velvet gown touched his knee; "—that you loved me," she finished, speaking like a child.
As she touched him, the deadly sickness of utter cowardice smote Ludovic. He lifted a ghastly face, distorted from its beauty into a mere mask; but he could not move or speak—only sit there, cold to the heart, listening to the trembling beat of his pulses.
Her hands tightened on his shoulder.
"Why did you kiss me yesterday?" she demanded, "to look so on me to-day?"
With an inarticulate sound he pushed her off and staggered up, meaning to face her standing; but his feet would not bear him: he had to lean against the wall.
He put his hand to his damp forehead and groaned; she stood looking at him, her head strained forward.
The rank scent of the lilies was overpowering; the dazzle of the sunlight on the floor, in her hair, seemed to sear his eyes; he tried to shape the words he wished to brand her with, but his tongue would not obey him.
Giovanna smoothed down the soft folds of her dress with a curious slow gesture.
"What am I to think of ye, Ludovic?" she asked.
With an effort that shook him, he turned and set the casket on the table among her parchments; with a trembling hand he pointed to it.
She picked it up quietly, traced the motto with her finger and read it aloud:
"Remember thy later end and thou shalt not sin for ever."
Then she raised her head and laughed coolly, at which his blood was stirred at last to speak.
"Open and see—your damnation!" he said, and he put his hand to the sword he had brought to slay her.
She lifted the lid; then dropped the casket from between her hands, keeping them spread out as if she still held it, while she turned a blank face to him.
"Ye—are—my brother's—" Ludovic choked and was silent; her eyes were unbearable. He struggled with himself, cursing her that he was weak. Her hands fell to her side; his ragged voice broke again into the stillness:
"Ye murdered Andreas."
"No," she said mechanically. "No."
"The proofs lie at your feet." He put shaking hands on the sword by his side, fumbling with it.
She looked down at the floor: the piece of brocade Raymond had cut from her gown lay by her feet.
"Found in his hand," said Ludovic hoarsely.
"He was—clinging to you...I think...your hair, too..."
"Whose word?" cried Giovanna clearly. "On whose word do ye judge me?"
He pointed to what lay on the floor between them.
"This?" She set her foot on the brocade. "Did you find it in his hand?"
She spoke steadily; the white colour of her face had not changed.
"Sancia knows—and Maria," breathed Ludovic—"and I know."
"The women lie!" cried Giovanna. "Are you their tool?" Her eyes held scorn. "You," she repeated, "who have been my friend and desired to be my lover, who believed me when I came to you first—you to be moved by their malice, their jealousy?"
Incredulous of her calm, her poise, he stared at her, and his hand fell from his sword. Would guilt dare so to face it?
"However she outbrave it, confront her and you must see then," Konrad had said; and he saw nothing—only the same inscrutable eyes, the same even voice.
"They lie!" said Giovanna. "Sancia may cut a fragment from my robe to swear she found it in his hand—Maria may bring his letter to move you; but I am innocent!"
Ludovic stumbled into the chair and rested his head in his trembling hands; he strove to recall what there was against her. Before, it had seemed obvious, a thing crying aloud; now, as she said, what was it but the word of malice and jealousy?
Maria had refused to speak further; Sancia would not confirm it, and "God forgive me!" she had said.
The Queen's voice broke upon his tortured thoughts.
"If ye think I did this thing, take me before my peers at Avignon."
"God guide me!" muttered Ludovic. "If I knew—if I was sure..."
She moved slowly towards the table; her long shadow, the shadows of the lilies, were distinct on the polished boards. She took a crucifix from the wall and held it up in her two hands; caught up by her dress lay her dead husband's bloody curls.
"If I swore," she said, "on this?"
He rose in his seat.
"Would you dare?"
She put her lips to the crucifix.
"I call Christ, God, and all his angels to witness that I am innocent of the murder of Andreas, my husband!"
She put the crucifix down and looked into Ludovic's eyes.
"And may God bring instant judgment upon me if I lie!"
He found no voice to challenge what she had said; he stood vanquished, not daring to disbelieve.
"Does that satisfy you?" she asked; she laughed as she had laughed when she read the motto on the casket. Ludovic moved away sharply to the window and leant there.
"Do you believe me?" she said again.
A heavy silence filled the low chamber for slow seconds; then she crept towards him, and for the third time:
"Do you believe me?" she said. "You see, God does not strike me down." She touched the edge of his sleeve, then drew away again; he looked at her sideways.
Certainly they had lied about her. Remembering the terrific oath she had taken and her calm, he could not but think they had spoken false; yet it galled him to be the shuttlecock of these women's words.
"I think ye have again persuaded me," he said slowly.
She returned to her chair and sat there, one hand amongst her parchments.
"Ye can be just," she answered; there was no warmth in his confession, nor in her acceptance. Again a dragging silence.
Ludovic, gazing at the floor, saw the vivid sunshine less vivid, the shadows fainter, and marvelled dully and told himself it was deception.
The Queen spoke steadily: "Is this to come between us?"
He answered brokenly: "God wot! I am enmeshed with doubts—."
"Is this love?" said Giovanna. "Is this a King's word, Ludovic?"
Beyond question now the shadows on the floor, the shadows cast by the Queen's chair, the table, the lilies, and the fallen casket were growing fainter. The King glanced swiftly at the sky: it was utterly cloudless.
"You will believe me, yet abandon me," continued the Queen hoarsely. "You will neither love nor hate me, you will stand aside—the coward's part!"
He hardly heard her. As she spoke the light was paling: not as when it fades into twilight, but with no softening of the shadows, that remained clear and defined yet faint, as if it all were looked at through thick glass. Slowly yet unmistakably the chamber was darkening. And it was early in the afternoon, while the sky was cloudless.
"What is happening?" whispered Ludovic. He thought she had bewitched him—that he was going mad, going blind.
Now she had noticed it.
"A storm comes on," she cried, and sprang up knowing that the sky was clear, that no storm was ever heralded by this.
The steady darkness gathered; the sunlight was like faint stains in the unnatural gloom; man and woman looked at each other with unutterable terror.
One thing was plain to both.
The sun was going out like a dying lamp.
On the stillness of their horror broke a wild clamour of fear; the women locked into the inner room beat on the door.
Ludovic mechanically crossed the chamber and drew the bolt.
The two women stumbled across the floor.
"The end of the world!" said one, and the other shrieked.
In a second they had fled through the outer door, leaving it swinging wide behind them. It was now so dark they could see each other only as vague shapes; the wild clang of bells from the three hundred churches rang through the room.
Giovanna had stood erect, rigid, since she first rose; now she flung herself on her knees and threw out her hands towards Ludovic, who cowered against the wail. He could just see the pale oval of her face and the shape of her arms as they waved up and down.
A wild voice rose, beating down the bells; he could hardly believe it hers.
"I confess! I confess! God have mercy upon me!"
The blackness descended like a thick veil over his eyes; he cried out in the agony of his terror and helplessness. The last glimmer of the window disappeared, swallowed into the huge darkness; still that voice continued:
"I have murdered—I have lied! I opened the door to them—I saw him slain at my feet! Kill me! Let me pay now that God may have mercy on me! I am red with blood! Let not the world end before I atone!"
Outside other voices, shrieking, and the tramp of panic-stricken feet. Ludovic strove to cling to his senses. This was the end of the world; God had come at last to judgment; and she—she was confessing.
"Ye murdered him?" he shouted; he could not see his own hand before him.
Her answer came as if from a great distance: "Yes!—for the crown of Naples I murdered him. I lured him there—I conceived it—I saw it done—I had Count Raymond slain that he might not speak! Slay me! Slay me! Purge me with the sword before God thrusts me into hell!"
There was a sound as if she dragged herself along the floor; her words rang about him like the bells, bearing no meaning. He was striving to number his own sins; his lips formed a broken prayer.
She tore her dress, her hair, fighting against the darkness as if it were a living thing. Details of her crimes, dragged from her own soul at last, made the blackness thick with horror; steadily words poured from her. Ludovic listened at length, and through even the terror of the judgment-day the monstrous thing she had done hurried his heart-beats.
Her fiery confession painted on the blackness as in pictures of blood her husband's miserable death, the fires of San Eligio, and the distorted head of her fellow-murderer. His hand went to his sword; even now, on the edge of eternity, that poor weapon could drink her wretched blood—her death would be one thing to him when he came before the judgment-seat.
Still she spoke on as if she told prayers to her beads; assailing his ears with her foul thoughts, her foul deeds.
"He knelt down by my bed...he was bleeding, bleeding—I felt I should like to slay him myself he would not die...he was very pale...ah! they beat on the door! 'Bind up my arm, cousin,' he said...I ran and opened the door; he had no weapon...I opened the door—they rushed in..."
Up through the blackness rose Ludovic's sword. "Witch!" he howled. "Devil!" and came at her where he thought her voice rose from.
"Oh, I am blind!" she yelled. "He died in the light!"
His sword plunged; something clung to his knees; he dropped his weapon in a shrieking terror and stooped to grapple with her with his hands. With all the strength of his frenzy he gripped and shook; catching hold of soft flesh and trailing hair, howling he flung it from him...
A vast sobbing filled the darkness as if a thousand women wept together; in his madness he thought her kindred devils echoed her. He felt her where she lay, and trampled her...then by the silence he knew he had set his foot on her face...on her mouth.
He fled; where, he could not tell, or if he ran forward or round, if he was still in her chamber or not. He seemed to have gone a vast distance, and yet he listened for her sobbing, the steady patter of her confession.
He did not know why he fled; it was not in his mind to escape. Often he ran into objects, bruising himself; yet still he fled.
Presently a red light swung across his vision; he hid his face, thinking hell had broken loose...some one passed him, walking steadily.
Ludovic looked up. It was a tall man in armour holding a torch, whose rich glow picked out him and the wall behind him.
"Where is the Queen?" he said calmly.
"'Tis the end of the world," answered Ludovic wildly, and he fled from the flicker of the torch into the darkness again.
Luigi of Taranto stood still a moment and listened. In the streets and in the gardens the people were gathered, thronging towards the churches; their clamour pierced the thick walls. But in the palace was silence; it seemed empty.
The Prince of Taranto mounted steadily to the Queen's room. The utter blackness had changed the aspect of the palace, but presently he found her open door.
"Giovanna!" he said.
He swept the torch round the stillness; its flaring, smoky light revealed her, flung across the floor with her arms wide apart.
Her dress was torn, her hair tangled over her bare shoulders; along her face was a little mark of blood. For a moment he could not believe that this half-naked, tattered woman was the grave and splendid young Queen.
As he gazed at her the bells ceased; even the churches had lost hope. He looked up quickly; there was no alteration in the utter darkness.
He moved round the room, searching for some other means of light, looking at the Queen now and then over his shoulder; with the torch in his hand he was too hampered, and there was no place to set it.
As he came to the door, some one ran past with a lamp, a slim squire wailing prayers.
Luigi of Taranto gripped him by the shoulder and dragged him into the room.
The youth shrieked in terror.
"Is there no courage left in Naples?" cried the Prince scornfully. "I am no devil, boy, but Luigi of Taranto."
The squire stared at him blankly.
"Help me with the Queen," commanded the Prince of Taranto. He took the lamp from the youth's passive hand, set it on the table, and gave him the torch to hold; then he loosened his cloak and flung it over the Queen's dishevelment.
The heavy clink of his armour and the cross lights of torch and lamp disturbed the black silence.
"Lift her up," he said, and raised her head himself. The boy, stayed a little from his terror by the sight of one who retained his calm, obeyed. Between them they carried her into her bedchamber and laid her on her curtained bed.
"God wot! she is very little weight," said Luigi of Taranto softly.
But the squire lapsed fresh into his fears. "'Tis the world's end!" he cried. "I should be in the church!"
The Prince of Taranto looked at him grimly.
"If it be the world's end," he said, "which I wot well it is not—being nothing but a sudden darkness—hell will claim its own whether they be in churches or no. And as for God "—he smiled sombrely—"He will find us here as well as in the streets."
"Ye think?" stammered the squire.
Luigi of Taranto was putting back the twisted hair from the Queen's white brow.
"I think," he said—but this was to himself—"I shall be King of Naples to-morrow!"
The evil glow of Vesuvius, against which the flames rose and leapt, the multitudes about him bearing torches, lanterns, candles, showed Ludovic that he was in the street.
He strove to draw himself aside from the surging throng; it was impossible—the king was swept along next the beggar on the tide of panic and despair. Now the clamour of the bells had ceased, the guiding sound of the crowd had gone, and with it their last hope; they took it that God had forsaken the wicked city, since even the churches were overcome. Fighting and shrieking among themselves, they swayed to and fro, trampling each other under foot, pressing themselves to death against the high houses. One, gibbering with fear, dropped his torch; it caught the wooden threshold of a dwelling, and the whole leapt into soaring fire. In the glow of it they scrambled, drawn like moths to a candle, yelling for "Light! light!" Some, laughing horribly, threw themselves in, and the flames closed over them as they called for "Light! light!" Like a runner bending to the race, the fire curled low before the wind and leapt from house to house, till all to the right of Ludovic was scarlet and all to the left black, while the sounds of broken timber and falling walls mingled with the sobbing of the flames.
And now the terror of fire mastered the terror of the dark; the crowd turned and rushed back to the Palazzo San Eligio.
A troop of soldiers on panic-stricken horses dashed past, hurling down and trampling the people in their way.
Ludovic knew them for some of his Hungarians.
Forced along in the shouting confusion, with the flames urging them behind, he found himself opposite a building blazing with light.
Some one cried out that it was the Castel del Durazzo, and that the Duke had drawn the bridge up; Ludovic thought in a sick way of Maria, and struggled on. A wild thought had come to him: the dead would rise at judgment day; Andreas was buried in San Gennaro...if he could be there to meet him...He forced his way to the cathedral. Again a horseman clattered by with a troop behind him; the torchlight fell on the face of Luigi of Taranto riding in the direction of the palace.
Ludovic, abreast of the crowd, entered the church. Tumultuous prayers rose to the roof, and the air was thick with incense; a hundred wax candles lit up jewelled altars and gorgeous tombs, soaring columns and splendid carvings.
The King made his way to the chapel beside the altar, where his brother lay, and fell across his gravestone face downwards.
This corner was unlit and empty; Ludovic thought himself alone until voices broke across his swooning prayers. He looked up, to see the whole church sway together, the columns spring up, the lights break into innumerable stars, the people, reel in the incense smoke; and above it all the faces of the dead.
The Judgment Day...
He rose to meet it standing.
"Andreas!" he cried, and the world fell together.
Ludovic of Hungary opened his eyes on neither heaven nor hell, but on the empty church of San Gennaro, and the placid sunlight about his feet. He dragged himself up, sick, bruised, exhausted, and gazed about him.
The evening sun, pouring through the rich glass, glowed on the tall pillars, the quiet tombs, the splendour of the altars. Ludovic rose and staggered from the chapel into the body of the church. Though there were traces of confusion—benches overturned, articles of clothing, books, scattered about—there was not one person left of the hundreds who had crowded there, deafening the ears of the priests.
For the sun had come forth again.
Ludovic leant against one of the smooth pillars a long while, striving, with a numb brain, to retrace what had occurred.
Had he slain her?—had he seen Luigi of Taranto riding by torchlight like a war-god towards the palace, with soldiers clattering after him?—had that man seized the moment?
Slowly, painfully, he made his way to the door, crept into the porch beneath the semicircle of saints and angels, and stared down upon the city.
The earth had not opened and swallowed it, neither had the sky rent apart and showered fire upon it; the white houses with their coloured roofs, the vivid palaces, showed in the softened light of evening. Ludovic gazed at the purple shadows gratefully, and drank in the sunshine with a shiver of pleasure.
Many people hurried past: officials of Naples on horseback, endeavouring to restore order; thieves creeping by with booty snatched in the confusion; tradesmen rushing to protect their shops; dark companies of nuns and monks bearing the wounded to the hospices; solitary passers-by wandering with dazed countenances and idle feet.
None noticed the young man in the tattered silk houppeland who stood in the shadow of the porch with his sick head resting against the stone feet of San Gennaro.
Once a number of Hungarians in red and blue swept by, and Ludovic called out to them; but they passed without hearing, and he could not marvel at it, for to himself his voice sounded very faint.
Presently as he waited with tumultuous thoughts and quiet face, another rode by, shading his eyes with a mailed hand in which the sun glittered, and looking from left to right.
"Konrad!" cried the King; he came out on to the steps, and the horseman drew rein. It was Konrad of Gottif; his helmet hung at his saddle, and his horse was red from the spur.
"The King!" he said, and leapt to the ground. Ludovic descended the steps to meet him; Konrad, holding the bridle in one hand, spoke again: "Up and down have I sought for ye. Know ye what has happened at the palace?"
Ludovic shook his head wearily.
"Luigi of Taranto has flung himself and all the men he could gather into the Castel del Nuovo, and they have taken the drawbridge up." He looked at the King intently. "Swiftly now, my liege—or we lose Naples."
"He will oppose me?" asked Ludovic, with his hand to his head.
"He has threatened to drive us from Naples like dogs—he will marry the Queen."
Ludovic turned on him a wan face. Had he not slain the Queen?—he dared not speak of it for fear he was distraught.
"Give me your horse," he said abruptly, and sprang into the saddle. "Now, where are my Hungarians?"
As curtly Konrad answered:
"We have mustered in the Grand' Palazzo."
Before he gathered up the reins, Ludovic put his hand furtively to his side. His sword was gone; he had left it in Giovanna's chamber. Certainly he had not left a live woman to marry with Luigi of Taranto...
With Konrad of Gottif at his horse's head, he rode to the Grand' Palazzo.
The sight of his men, the sound of their shouts as they saw him, the banners of Hungary against the evening sky, the blazoned arms, the pomp and glitter, roused Ludovic into his former self. Fear and horror had fled like phantoms before the sun; he galloped along the line of his soldiers, smiling at them.
"Shall we lose Naples?" he flashed to Konrad. "No!" and he stopped before one of the knights.
"Give me your sword," he said, and thrust it into his belt. "Now am I armed again! Glory to God!"
They shouted furiously for their King in the tattered silks, and Ludovic cast his sparkling eyes to where Carola of Bohemia sat on a white palfrey close to the straining banner poles that bore the Hungarian eagles.
Like the first star when the storm-clouds have passed was her pale, fair face to him. Giovanna, Maria, Sancia were but memories dim with horror; while she, with eyes that spoke of home—she who crossed the seas to him, after he had left her for his Italian bride—she who had been a child with him!...His weary senses dwelt with an exquisite pleasure on her gentle presence; he turned the white horse towards her, in anticipation of her sweet welcome.
As he came alongside her, he spoke in his marvellous soft voice.
"Carola—were you frightened?"
She looked at him straightly; above her head the flag made a strong, fluttering sound.
"My husband was with me," she said simply. "Yet even then, my liege, was I a little afraid."
A great faintness came over Ludovic; he felt as he had felt when he stood in the church porch and idly watched the crowd hurrying past.
"Your husband?" he repeated.
"Konrad of Gottif," answered Carola. "We have been wed these two months."
For a second the King was silent; then he laughed. "I give you joy "—he flushed; "—of the better man," he added, "though ye might have had a throne."
Then he rode up to Henryk of Belgrade, and his hazel eyes were the eyes of a soldier.
"I have done with the women, Henryk," and he laid his hand on the other's shoulder. "Now "—and his breath came quickly—"I play with kingdoms."
Giovanna lay in her great bed; her head rested on a silk pillow with a heavy gold fringe, and the coverlet, striped green and purple, was drawn up to her pointed chin.
The room was shielded from the sun by purple velvet curtains, and lit by red lamps on hanging chains. By the bedside sat Sancia di Renato, with a great painted book on her knee and an ivory and jasper rosary in her hand; both, it seemed, forgotten, for she looked across the room with musing eyes as if she traced pictures of her own on the dark walls.
From the next room drifted the scent of the lilies and pale gleams of sunshine, and from outside came heavy, unusual sounds—the metallic click of hammers, the thud of wood on wood; men's voices, eager and strained.
Presently Sancia rose, put aside the book and the rosary, and stood looking down at the Queen. Giovanna opened her eyes.
"What are those noises?" she said; she had not spoken since Ludovic of Hungary had thrust her from his knees.
"The engines they bring into the palace," answered Sancia softly, "and the masons fortifying the walls."
"I have heard them for a long time," said the Queen, and she closed her eyes again.
A sudden chatter of birds flying past fell across the hammer strokes, and Sancia shuddered.
"The Prince of Taranto is in the palace," she whispered; "and you have been sick these many days."
"Naples! Naples!" murmured the Queen, and did not open her eyes.
Sancia crept to the door of the antechamber; an old man sat half asleep before a table spread with bottles and glasses, and two women were spreading herbs and roots to dry.
"The Queen hath spoken," whispered Sancia. "Will one tell the Prince?"
The physician roused himself with a start.
"Did I not say so?" he muttered: "on the third or seventh day, according as Jupiter is in conjunction with Mars. Well, keep the sun off her."
"And tell the Prince," repeated Sancia. "He did most earnestly desire it."
Softly she returned to the bed, took up her book and rosary, and sank into her old place.
The steady rise and fall of the hammers, the impression they created of sunshine and life outside this darkened sick-chamber, the Queen's low breathing, and the red flicker of the lamps, swayed her senses into dreaminess.
Suddenly Giovanna moved, and the weary violet eyes opened again.
"Who rules in Naples?" she asked.
"You are the Queen," said Sancia.
For a while she was silent.
"Where is my cousin Ludovic?" she asked.
Sancia winced; Giovanna's face and voice were so expressionless, it seemed she must have forgotten.
"He holds half Naples," answered Sancia in a low tone, "against the Prince of Taranto. He fled hence in the great darkness—he—"
Giovanna did not notice the unfinished sentence. "And Maria?" she whispered, turning her head on the pillow.
"She is the Duchess of Duras."
The Queen turned her head away again as if she had not heard.
"It is surely the springtide," she murmured, "for the hammer strokes sound so clearly and the flowers smell so sweet, like the violets round the villas at Baiae." As she spoke one of the women came to the outer door.
"The Prince would see the Queen."
Giovanna caught the words, softly as they were spoken. "Bring him to me," she said. "Oh, ay, bring him here!" She sat up in bed; her heavy silk nightgown, edged with fur, fell open at the throat, and her auburn hair twisted on to her shoulders. Then she dropped back against the pillows, with her frail white hands on the coverlet.
"She remembers nothing," thought Sancia, and she said: "Shall I bind up your hair, Madonna, and put some robe on you?"
"It was a beautiful dress," whispered Giovanna, "with gorgeous embroideries on it—peacocks, apples, and flowers...Do you remember the thirteenth day of September?...but bring him up."
Sancia shrank away from the bed; outside a quick step sounded, and Luigi of Taranto appeared in the doorway. Over his armour he wore a loose scarlet robe, and his heavy face was set and stern.
He crossed at once to the bed and held aside the curtains.
"Oh, you!" said Giovanna. "You!"
He lifted her hand from the shimmering coverlet. "Do you know me?—" he said earnestly.
A troubled look passed across her face.
"Yes," she assented, but half fearfully.
He was silent a while, looking at her, and his grey eyes grew hard with calculation; the lamplight flickered in the black damascening of his armour where it showed under the opening of his robe.
Sancia, standing against the wall, watched them, the great knight and the lady on the vast bed; his roughly-shaped hand holding her fragile fingers.
"Listen,—" said the Prince at length: "I have saved you from your enemies—do you understand, Giovanna?"
"Ludovic of Hungary—who is no great King, after all,—" and he smiled grimly—"I have already driven to the very gates of Naples. I seized the palace, and with it great quantities of his treasure; the people hating the foreigner, are gathering round me again. Do you understand, Giovanna?"
"Yes," she said faintly.
"And because of these things,—" he continued, "I shall marry you, and the Pope shall recognize me as King of this land. And it is the only way for you, even if you mislike me, for you are in my power. But I swear by Christ you need not mislike me, for I like you as well as ever I liked a woman, and if you do not cross me I will make life pleasant for you."
At the end of this speech he let go of her hand and leant against the bed-post, frowning at her; and she turned her face to the pillow, while her long throat was caught with sobs.
"Fetch the notary,—" said Luigi to Sancia; and when she had gone he bent over the Queen and touched her shoulder.
"My kingdom!—" she moaned.
"Would ye rather Hungary had your kingdom?—" he answered fiercely. "Ye shall rule it with me, for truly I like you well."
At that she sat up and faced him, putting aside the tangle of her hair; under the thin silk her shoulders heaved.
"I slew my first husband!—" she said wildly.
Luigi of Taranto looked at her sombrely. "I knew it—always. Do you think I am afraid? I am not such an one as Andreas.—"
She wrung her hands together.
"Oh, how I hated him! A boy to snatch my crown from me!—yet it was black sin, and Ludovic—" She stopped as if her memory had suddenly failed her.
"Ludovic!—" repeated the Prince. "What is he to you? He dallied round you. He has a fair face, God wot! yet I think he is a man of little worth, or he had settled this before. Come, do you care for him?—"
"For none," she answered dully—"least of all for him." Then her face suddenly brightened. "Luigi, he was a fool, was he not? Finely I cajoled him!—and then—ah, what has happened to me!—I cannot think..." She sat up with her fingers to her lips, staring at him.
"Listen to me," he said: "I know—and some others. This King knows, does he not? But what I found on the floor in yonder chamber I burnt. He has no proof. He came for his vengeance, and has failed—by God! I think so. And I shall know how to deal with defamers of my wife. Once more, do ye understand me?—that ye are safe?"
She turned her head away and would not speak; but when the notary entered with his parchments, she put her name to the marriage contract, and wrote it steadily beside her cousin's signature; and, at his request, they brought her royal seal and she set that on it. But when they had gone she put her face in her hands and wept.
"Am I a footstool to your ambition?" she sobbed; then, "Have I lost my kingdom?"
Luigi of Taranto stood watching her, frowning and biting his forefinger; on the other side of the bed Sancia waited with a weary face.
"Will you arise?" he said at length. "I have the legate in the chapel to marry us."
She looked up at him with wild, wet eyes.
"I did read of a man once," she said—"'twas in a great clasped book—and he sinned, sinned, yet for nothing. And still he served the ends of others, sinning deeper; and when he came to die, he was poor and old. The devil fetched him, and he said, 'I might have lived honourably—for ye are a bad paymaster.'"
The tears rolled slowly down her face as she stared at him blindly.
"Ye are weak," he said. "Where had ye been without me? At the mercy of Hungary's tardy vengeance."
She choked back her tears.
"Let me arise," she said. "Help me."
She laid her hand on his arm, and rose; setting her bare feet on the green carpet of the bed steps, she sat so, with her hand to her forehead, and Sancia brought her scarlet velvet shoes.
Silent the Prince took them, and, kneeling, put them on the Queen's feet, while Sancia folded a golden silk robe about her.
She sat quite still until the Prince rose to his feet; then she rose also and tried to walk. But being very weak, she fell against the hard armour on his breast, and lay there, silent for shame and rage at her helplessness.
He set her in a chair by the bed.
"Would you have your sister to see you?" he asked—"for Carlo and I are in league."
She shook her head. "It was black sin," she said; "but I hated him! Why am I always driven into sin? I would he Queen!—Queen! Why,"—she flashed a desperate look on him,—"did I not take his kisses because he would make me Queen? What was he to me—or any man?" She put her hand to her throat, gathering the silks together. "Did I not promise Maria to Raymond if he would make me Queen?"
"I will do that for you," answered the Prince. "Will I not clear your kingdom of the invaders? Ludovic could not leave you on your throne—now he knows."
"Ay," she cried feverishly, "he knows—and all the world beside! Yet—how I kept my secret! though it made me mad..."
"These are not things to speak of," he answered, and made to bend closer to her; but she held him off with a weak resistance of her feeble hand upon his arm.
"Oh, you!" she said—"I never thought of you—you seemed to me an unambitious man."
"God wot! I waited."
"And now," she answered, "ye snatch the greatest prize of all—my kingdom!"
He moved away from her sombrely.
"Bring her to the chapel," he said to Sancia, and was gone.
Giovanna sat slackly, her long fingers playing with her hair.
"My cousin Luigi," she murmured. "Why, I am very tired—and the flowers smell so sweet...If I could remember!"
Sancia crossed the room showing a pale gleam of yellow draperies in the gloomy light; in her hand was a girdle of plates of gold set with amethyst, that she clasped round the passive Queen.
As she was turning again, Giovanna caught her by the white wrists and held her with a sudden strength.
"Could we escape?—" she whispered hurriedly. "If I could get among the people they might shout for me as they did when the old king died—I might be Queen again."
"It is not possible," answered Sancia; she thought she had never seen the Queen's upturned face look so lovely as it did now, softened by tears.
The golden girdle heaved under Giovanna's bosom. "What he said he would do for me! You—have you ever loved?"
"Let me free!" breathed Sancia. "Ay, I have loved, and repented!"
"And been loved?" questioned the Queen.
"I know not," shuddered Sancia, and dragged her hands away.
"Love!—it is but a word!—" cried Giovanna. "Nothing he did for me—nothing!—" She leant forward and clung to the other's arm with cold fingers; her voice changed and sank.
"I have lain so long, listening to the hammers, and I fancied they were building my tomb. See they make it splendid; let me lie with a crown on my head and a sceptre in my hand, under my feet a lion and beside me a shield thick with lilies of the Angevin Kings!"
She paused, then whispered:
"For even if my soul is in hell, let my body be housed magnificently with enamel, gems, and carved angels. So I may lie a thousand years, a crowned Queen!"
"I deck you for a wedding, not a funeral," answered Sancia quickly.
Giovanna let go of her.
"My wedding! When they married me before, I clenched my hand that I might not strike his proxy in the face; but the men stood close as gathered spears about me to see it done...These men!—shall we be never better than their tools?"
She rose up, drawn to her full height, held her hand out and looked at it. "I took his ring from off that finger as they slew him outside my door," she said passionately. "And shall my cousin Luigi bind me to slavery with another ring?"
"Much misery has distracted you," answered Sancia, trembling. "Yet speak more quietly, or I also shall run mad."
The fire died out of the Queen's eyes she sat down in a pale silence, and let Sancia dress her hair, put gold on her neck and arms, and fasten an ermine cote-hardie over the yellow silk.
Leaning on Sancia's arm, she came passively to the chapel at the end of the corridor. Soldiers were gathered round the entrance, and she looked at them strangely.
Luigi of Taranto stood by the little altar with his hand on the gilded rails, talking to the legate. The light from the rose window that glowed in overlapping petals of purple, gold, orange, and turkis-blue, fell upon his close red hair and scarlet mantle, casting a dusky shadow behind him.
Into this glory of colour the Queen crept, holding her gown off her shoes.
The legate turned to her: "Is this by your full consent, my liege?" he said, surveying her wisely through half-closed eyes.
The colour slowly rose into her face; for a moment a wild thought of defying them shook her. Yet if she did, they would drag her before the court at Avignon! She looked at her cousin's quiet grey eyes, at his clasp of the altar rails; she moistened her lips and said lifelessly:
The chapel was full of nobles and their wives, bribed by some means to follow the Prince of Taranto. Her glance swept the circle of their faces; then she sank on her knees on the violet cushion placed for her.
Luigi of Taranto knelt beside her; she heard his armour strike the flags; she looked at his hand still clasped on the rails.
The pale notary unrolled his parchment, and commenced reading the marriage contract between the very illustrious Luigi, Prince of Taranto and Giovanna d'Anjou, Queen of Naples, Jerusalem, and Sicily. This was followed by the grand almoner's reading of the apostolical letters (supplied on his own authority by the legate and still lacking confirmation from Avignon) of his Holiness, which sanctioned the marriage and gave his well-beloved son and daughter his benediction. And at that the legate put the Queen's hand in her cousin's, and Luigi of Taranto helped her to her feet as he rose himself.
"Before God and man," he said in a strong voice, half turning, "this is my wife."
"And this is my husband," she replied dully.
The gathered witnesses began leaving the chapel. Giovanna took no heed of them; she was leaning against the rail, and, by the shimmering of the yellow silk above her broad girdle, it might be seen how pantingly her breath came. There were white roses on the altar, and she picked up one from the steps; she looked at it, then presently dropped it—on purpose, it seemed.
Luigi of Taranto, pausing in his conversation with the legate, stooped, picked up the flower, and gave it her.
She took it, moved a little forward, and dashed it in his face, with such force that the fine petals were scattered over his robe and armour, and the stem snapped in her hand.
There were many curious eyes watching the pair, she upright with a white face and furious narrow glance; he gazing at her quietly, and slowly flicking the petals from his sleeve.
Then suddenly she turned from his steady eyes, put out her hands and fell along the steps as if an arrow had touched her heart.
"Take her away," said the Prince.
In silence they took her up, two of the women at her head, and two of the men at her feet.
Luigi fell into his trick of biting his forefinger as he watched her carried out. One of the red shoes had been dropped, and he saw her white foot against her gown, and her white face against her hair all stained red from the scarlet blazonry of the window.
After a little silence he also left the chapel. Outside the door stood Sancia; first he passed her, but, looking back, retraced his steps and spoke to her.
"Do you not desire, Madonna, to return to Padua?
"I am content here," she answered.
"Ye have been very devoted to the Queen," he said, as if he could snot understand. "I would not keep you here when you are not of this kingdom. Truly there will be great fighting, and, if you will, I can see you safely out of Naples."
She lifted her lovely face and fixed on him large earnest eyes.
"What is my life to me?—" she answered. "You know, I think, that I betrayed the Queen, who was my mistress and had not harmed me. God wot! I would a little make amends."
"The Queen," he said softly, "does not remember you, nor what you did. Something I learnt—from Maria. I do think," and he looked down at the ground, "we cannot judge one another. I, who have always known, do not rate her the less for this—" He broke off. "Nay, if you will, depart in friendliness."
"Let me stay," she said.
He frowned. "Why, if you will." He went from her heavily; at the end of the corridor he paused and listened.
Dull, thick sounds filled the palace. He flung himself down the stairs; half way he met men running up.
"The Hungarians!" they cried.
He swept off the scarlet robe on to the stairs and shouted for his helmet.
Steadily came the noise of the catapult and battering ram, the distant cry of the enemy.
The great engines of war, dragged by straining men and horses, the companies of heavy cavalry, blocked the streets about the Castel del Nuovo. The drawbridge was up, and above the high outer wall the gleam of the armed warders and the fine line of their spears might be seen as they moved to and fro. At the side rose the high bastions that enclosed the palace gardens, and over them waved the poplar trees, reflected in the moat below.
All was crowned by the standard of Anjou, floating against the cloudless blue from the highest watch-tower in a flutter of gold and white.
Ludovic of Hungary, pressing forward, raised his visor and eagerly scanned the enemy's ramparts. He had not brought his men as far as this unopposed: the populace had striven, with the rude weapons of a mob, to drive them back, and some of the nobles had made sorties upon them as they passed; but, overwhelmingly strong in numbers and arms, the Hungarians had fought their way to the heart of the city with little loss.
Ludovic gazed at the castle where he had spent those months of pleasant idleness, Giovanna's fool and Maria's scorn, the suitor of a tirewoman and the dupe of a court of knaves. His blood was up; he vowed to bring it level with the ground, stone by stone, and hang Luigi of Taranto over the ruins.
There was nothing now to come between Naples and his wrath—he would lay it waste from end to end, sparing none. That great, mysterious darkness which the astrologers had declared a portent of disaster had passed from his mind; with the show of battle round him, it was not possible for him to be anything but elated. Splendid with weapons and horse, his swift victories over the Turks had won him the name of "The Triumphant" even in his early youth. The thought of those days came to him now, and nothing was good in his sight but the clangour of arms and the unfaltering decision of the sword.
With a company of knights, he rode up to the great gates that guarded the moat, and, turning in his saddle, looked at his host gathered in the Grand' Palazzo.
As some relief from the insupportable heat of the sun on the plate armour, the gentlemen wore sur-coats, mantles, and lambrequins of cloth, silk, and even fur; while their followers, the footmen, carried on their breasts the badge of their masters. So the whole army was a mass of colour like a vast mosaic, upon which the sun glittered from a cloudless sky, showing crests, banners, the smooth shapes of horses, white, brown, and black, between their studded harness, the rude carriages and monstrous shapes of the catapults and mortars, the bright tufts of the arrow-heads in their quivers on the backs of the bowmen; a bewildering array of scarlet and silver, embroidery and feathers, learnt by Hungary from the East, and at once fierce and splendid.
The drawbridge gates were unguarded, and the castle made no sign when the Hungarian cavalry took them at a gallop, and the engineers, under the shouted commands of the King, began to span the moat with scaling ladders, while some of the horsemen urged their steeds to swim the dark water.
Without any opposition the ladders were grappled to the masonry of the bastions and the footmen swarmed across, a chain of eager figures. Then from the quiet ramparts descended a stream of living fire, boiling water, and hot stones, while from every loophole flew an arrow.
Men and ladders fell into the moat; shrieks and groans rose from the invaders, and from the warders on the battlements cries of triumph. A great movement swept through the gathered army; the mortars, belching flame, were turned full on the stubborn walls; fresh ladders were thrown across; regardless of those writhing in the water, others flung themselves against the castle, hurling fuses of gunpowder into the interstices of the stone. Arrows and missiles came in a second volley; the moat began to be full of struggling men and horses; they could not get the battering rams near enough to use them. Konrad of Gottif yelled with rage to see his men hurled like flies off the walls; among the seething confusion, he next to the King was noticeable, spurring his horse to and fro.
Then there arose a great shout from the rear: a party of horsemen, bearing the lilies of Anjou as their device, had rushed up one of the narrow streets and were attacking the Hungarians.
At that the castle was abandoned, and Ludovic flung himself on the new enemy; they were too near to use the arrows, so it became a hand-to-hand fight between the knights and lancers.
The leader of the Italians, calling on "Santa Maria," came at Ludovic and his band of knights; spears shivered against the unlifted shields, crests were lopped off, mantles and surtouts rent; more than one man fell swooning from his horse, vanquished by the weight of his armour and the heat beating on his helm.
Many too were unhorsed in attempting to wheel round their cumbersome chargers to meet the unlooked-for attack, and Hungarians trampled their fellows down as they fell on the enemy.
From the ramparts the garrison of the castle watched, standing by the fires where water and stones were heated in readiness for the next attack. For an hour the lilies strove with the eagles, and neither side gave way, though the dead became numerous and the living faint.
It was now full noon and the heat intolerable. Ludovic struggled in a great press of knights, and the leader of the Italians strove to get at him through the enclosing spears.
Henryk of Belgrade dropped from his horse with a spear thrust between the rivets of his armour; a companion of the King, unlacing his helmet for air, had his head swept off at the bare throat and his blood scattered over Ludovic's white horse.
The King ground his teeth and swung up his sword. "At the King!—" shouted the Italian to his men, and he pointed with his gold gauntlet to Ludovic, conspicuous by the crown studded with gems on his helmet and the peacock feathers rising high above it. The Hungarians again rallied, again fell back, yet stubbornly, and Ludovic's clear voice, strained by a very fury of fighting, urged them on.
Then there was a quick sound of grinding chains, the new thunder of hoofs, a fresh battle-cry.
"St. Luigi for Anjou!"
And Luigi of Taranto, at the head of his men, made a sally over the lowered drawbridge into the heart of the mêlée.
Wild cries of joy rose from the Italians; the Hungarians, hemmed in on each side, turned at bay, intrepid, without a sound.
Like the huge waves, foaming with the glitter of metal, they met, retreated with the sheer shock of the encounter, met again and grappled.
At last Ludovic found himself face to face with the knight who had brought up the Italians. He did not know who he was: his inlaid armour was dented, his crest gone, his surtout torn to rags. Through the slit of his helmet his eyes flashed wrath, and Ludovic struck at him, hating him exceedingly. The weapon caught the shield, and sparks flew; the King's horse backed. The other swung his battle-axe; Ludovic caught it on his vambrace and winced with pain. His opponent shouted, came at him with the sword and cut the silken eagles from his breast; the King, transported with rage, brought down his weapon on the other's helm.
The knight swayed for a moment, then gave a great groan; Ludovic, rising in his stirrups, felled him with his battle-axe.
"Who are you?" he shouted, and, leaning forward, he caught the falling man by the throat and forced up his visor.
The smooth features, stained and pallid now, of Carlo di Durazzo were revealed.
"You!" cried Ludovic. "You bought your last follies dear!"
And with that he gave him the coup de grâce with his studded mace and sent him with a split head backwards into the moat, where the gold armour glittered for a moment in the dark water, before the waves, thick with blood, closed over what had been Carlo di Durazzo, Duke of Duras, prince of the blood of Anjou, cousin to the Queen, light cavalier, shallow idler, and, for a week, husband of Maria d'Anjou, and a courageous knight, showing something of the Charles Martel blood in him, for all his softness.
Ludovic, swinging the wet mace, galloped among his men.
"The Duke of Duras is dead!" he shouted. "Up, Hungary!—serve his cousin of Taranto so!"
A groan rose from the Italians. Some had seen the Duke slain, and rushed to Louis of Taranto with the news; and even that Prince could not repress a sound of wrath and sorrow. More than a young knight had fallen: the man who held Maria's lands had committed his greatest folly; he had died heirless, leaving confusion.
The personal followers of Carlo now fell back disheartened, nor could the Prince of Taranto urge them on. The Hungarians, seeing their advantage, pressed it; the Italians began to yield. Luigi, fearful for the castle, tried to make for the drawbridge, which he had commanded to be left down in case of retreat; but the enemy intercepted him with shouts of "Seize the bridge!"
A wild struggle ensued on the edge of the moat; the few men left in the castle and the women rushed on to the ramparts and hurled down stones and steaming water; but their missives fell on friends as well as enemies, and Luigi of Taranto, his arm half broken by a paving stone flung by one of his own masons, shouted to them to desist. Above the sounds of battle, his voice was not heard, and arrows, fire, and boiling water continued to fall on the struggling mass below.
The Prince of Taranto, holding back his curses to save his breath, but white with passion to think that he had ever left the castle, gripping his reins in his maimed right arm and wielding his sword with his left, strove, as valiantly as a man may, to hold the bridge against the rush of the Hungarians.
But Ludovic, exalted by the death of Carlo and the breaking of his ranks which followed, cheered on his men to gigantic exertions. Horse and foot went down before the Hungarian cavalry; the bowmen slipped in the blood of the knights; many were flung backwards into the moat; one company of lances broke and fled.
Luigi of Taranto shouted to those within the castle to raise the drawbridge; but they did not understand, nor did it occur to them to cut off the sole retreat of the Italians. But Luigi was thinking of the Queen and the treasure; if he could save them, he would gladly lose any man he possessed. Now the spirit of fury, of revenge, rose higher in the ranks of Hungary; Konrad of Gottif had whispered "Andreas!" and the name shuddered from knight to knight.
Imprecations on the witch, the devil, who had slain their prince, mingled with their war cries: "Andreas! Andreas!"
And Luigi of Taranto was beaten back. Konrad of Gottif struck his horse down; on foot among the slain, he tried to rally his men, shouting out that the Queen was within, unprotected. But her name had no power to stir them; one even fled, saying, "I fight no more for the devil!—"
With thunderous yells of triumph, the Hungarians swept up to the drawbridge. The King, spurring the white horse over the dead, was galloping through when the Prince of Taranto, still surrounded by a a circle of faithful swords, leapt forward and seized the blood-stained bridle.
"Not while I live!" he said.
Ludovic looked down at him.
"Ah, cousin!" he said—his visor was up, and his hazel eyes danced evilly—"you play the losing game!"
But Luigi of Taranto, with all his great strength, was holding back the horse; he began to speak, when Konrad of Gottif struck at him with his battle-axe. A shriek rose from both Italian and Hungarian as the Prince of Taranto fell back fainting among his little knot of men, and the white charger plunged across the drawbridge, while a great wail rose from the women on the ramparts when they saw the peacock plumes glitter under the archway of the courtyard.
The mere handful who opposed them were struck down at once in their furious onslaught. In the courtyard the knights flung themselves from their horses and came running into the palace, sword in hand; the desperate last bow-shots wounded a few but could not stop them. The pages and grooms in the outer chambers were quickly overcome; headlong, with Ludovic before them, they rushed into the banqueting-hall.
And there they paused and ceased from their shouting for the Queen.
For she stood under the dais at the far wall, facing them.
Her hands were out against the woodwork either side of her, her head raised so that they could clearly see the hollow lines of her cheeks and the sweep of her long throat. Her ermine cote-hardie was all unbuttoned over the yellow silk as if she had stifled in the heat or torn it in fright; her lips were strained, her eyes shadowed underneath. But she looked at them dauntlessly, and they saw she had a great sword fastened to her side.
"Ah!" she said, "Hungary! Ludovic of Hungary! Come ye this time in love too?"
The light flickered down moving swords.
Ludovic made a step forward. "Make her prisoner," he said. Then he reeled back. "I am sick from the sun."
The sun, that had beaten down all day on the desolate streets of Naples, was now fading in violet and rose-hued clouds above the vast glittering hay.
For twenty-four hours there had been a truce between Italy and Hungary, but the spirit of the splendid capital was broken. The Queen was a prisoner; Luigi of Taranto holding the Castel del Durazzo with a mere handful of men; Carlo of Duras, always the favourite of the crowd, slain; and a foreign army, flushed with success, quartered in their midst. During the great darkness the fire had destroyed a large portion of the city; other dwellings had been sacked by the Hungarians, and the streets were full of dead and homeless. Appeals were made to the legate, who had allied himself with the Queen's husband; but he was helpless before an enemy that did not tremble at the name of Avignon. So all was chaos, misery, and confusion. The splendid town, with the unburied dead in its beautiful villas, and the ruined wandering helplessly in its fair gardens, seemed to be accursed, even as the astrologers had foretold from the great darkness.
And all men looked to Ludovic of Hungary.
He had taken up his residence in the Palazzo del' Obo, the town dwelling of the noble family of Perlucchi, who had abandoned it to fly to their fortress without the walls; and all day had heard deputations from the legate, from the people, from the Prince of Taranto, all admitting this—that he was master of the kingdom of Naples.
Now, in the cool of the day, he sat alone and stared through the great windows at the wretched city.
His mood was not one of exaltation or triumph. He had no pride in his position; rather did he feel unsatisfied and conscious of a certain ghastliness in the grandeur about him, a certain horror in the means by which he had obtained his victory.
Too often for his ease did he picture Carlo's gold armour sinking beneath the slime of the moat, and Giovanna's mad face as they brought her to the Castel del' Obo.
He was the conqueror; he held Naples, and would hold it. Christendom had no longer cause to laugh at him, and even his mother could not ask for more blood than this to avenge Andreas. Yet his soul was troubled and bitter.
And he had still to deal with the Queen.
The room in which he sat was a magnificent chamber of white and black marble: lofty, spacious, and hung with red and gold tapestries. From the ceiling hung a gilt and crystal lamp; rich Eastern embroideries, looped back from the tall windows, admitted the evening air; in the centre of the room was a table of coloured mosaic heaped with documents, armour, and weapons. To Ludovic the place was strangely familiar and strangely distasteful, though it was utterly unknown to him and utterly splendid.
The Persian carpets on the tessellated floor, the painted ceiling, the carved and gorgeous furniture, seemed to him, in an unaccountable manner, like the setting for some ghastly and awful dream.
The tapestries were worked with unicorns and monsters supporting the arms of the Perlucchi family; and as the silk flapped in the breeze, the gold threads sparkled as if they took life. Ludovic went to the table, struggling with feelings of oppression and apprehension, and seated himself in the sombre splendours of a vast cushioned chair. It was feverishly hot and very silent; the sense that the usual life of the city had stopped utterly, increased the King's sense of dread. He watched the sky flaring into the brazen purple of a stifling night, and he thought of the dead lying in the streets and the living sleeping among them, of the dismantled castle and the ruined gardens.
The horror of destruction, the bitterness of roofless homes, of weed-grown hearths and broken stairways, of dusty bed-chambers, of statues flung down and bramble-grown moats, made him shudder. What horror is like the horror of desolation! Life is in itself so beautiful that no sin is black enough, no misery deep enough, utterly to destroy the joy of it. The end of life is the one hideous thing; the falling into decay of the fair things it made for itself the one thing unbearable. So Ludovic thought, sitting alone in his stolen palace overlooking the slain city.
What did it matter that the Queen was a murderess and the court a set of knaves, so long as the people would sing and dance, work and be merry? He would have had it now as it was when he first came to Naples...Judgment! who was he, or any of them, to sit in judgment?
Let them live, and, if they would, laugh—it was all God asked of them.
Through the sultry dusk a little song rose, chanted to the strumming notes of a theorbo. Very distinctly Ludovic could hear the words:
"We brought her to his father's door—Ilaria!
He rode behind and I before;
He loved her well, I loved her more—
Oh, Beppo's bride, Ilaria!"
The King went to the window and looked out, leaning from the marble sill. Down in the white of the garden walks and the deep green of the foliage he could see the dwarf with a shining striped theorbo in his hands, and at his feet a girl wrapped in a crimson shawl.
"The wedding feast was richly spread—
I wove the chaplet for her head
Of snowy roses mixed with red—
Oh, Beppo's bride, Ilaria!"
Thrum, thrum went the theorbo, and such light as was left in the heavens gathered itself into great stars. Ludovic put his hands over his eyes. On a faster note came the next verse:
"He who would fly must aspire—
I saw my goblet filled with fire,
And drank it to my heart's desire
Beppo's bride, Ilaria!"
Thrum, thrum, and a circle of fireflies rose about the laurels. Ludovic moved from the window and began walking up and down the room; still he could not escape the song:
"She leant from out her carved chair—
I saw it glitter in her hair,
A dagger in a silken snare—
Oh, Beppo's bride, Ilaria!
"In her room we kissed farewell
What she said I cannot tell;
I heard the convent's bitter bell—
Oh, Beppo's bride, Ilaria!"
The sound of the theorbo stopped; a little laughter and a pause, while the singer bent over a snapped string; then the girl's voice taking up the tune:
"What I said I do not know—
Against her cheek my cheek did glow;
He softly came and found us so—
Beppo's bride, Ilaria!"
The softer sob of the viol rose, and the sound of the clanking armour of soldiers gathered round to hear the sweet melody. Ludovic, pacing to and fro in the magnificent black and white chamber, could not choose but listen also.
"'Since ye two love': he raised his head
'God wet that I might strike you dead!
But I have other ways,' he said—
Beppo's bride, Ilaria!
"I fought as well as well might be—
But his men were forty-three;
Against the wall they pinioned me—
Oh, Beppo's bride, Ilaria!"
Ludovic sat down by the table and rang a gold hand-bell and watched while the crystal lamp was lit.
"Her sweet hands white and small—
They held with mine against the wall;
Without I heard the revellers call
'Beppo's bride, Ilaria!'"
Zither, theorbo, and viol rose together:
"He took his dagger from his thigh—
I heard her give a little sigh,
And prayed to God to let her die—
Beppo's bride, Ilaria!"
Ludovic looked at the golden monsters on the scarlet tapestry, flapping on the black and white walls, and hated the place, shuddering in himself.
"He thrust our two hands through—
'So hang ye in the public view,
That all may know this thing is true—
Beppo's bride, Ilaria!'"
A little savage, exulting laugh broke the song; then the wail of the viol.
"So pinned my hand to her soft palm—
I felt the blood run down my arm,
But her face was still and calm—
Oh, Beppo's bride, Ilaria!"
The King turned heavily to the squire. "Bring my barons to me here, and—the Queen."
"He set her gently on my knee!—
'Now do you look most lovingly,
And I will call the town to see Beppo's bride,
"'Now will I shame your wanton face, Ilaria!
And bring your kinsfolk to this place,
That they may see their own disgrace—
Beppo's bride, Ilaria!'"
The squire had left the room. Ludovic paced up and down, up and down under the shining lamp, while over the miserable city rose the dwarf's song with its strumming melody:
"And then he left us to our woe—
I cursed him as I saw him go;
'Pray that death be swift and he be slow,
Beppo's bride, Ilaria!'
"Round my neck her free arm slid—
'A dagger in my hair is hid,
A weapon in my curls amid'—
Beppo's bride, Ilaria!
"'Ere this devil comes again
You be free and I be slain;
Fear not for my sudden pain—
Oh, Beppo's bride, Ilaria!'"
Up and down paced Ludovic of Hungary, up and down with troubled thoughts.
"So, her mouth unto my ear
What is it that I fear,
Save that they should find me here?
Oh, Beppo's bride, Ilaria!
"I cut my fingers from the wall—
And for fear the blood should fall,
Swathed them in her silken shawl—
Beppo's bride, Ilaria!
"Leave no blood-drops on the floor—
Creep without my chamber door,
So that he can taunt no more
'Beppo's bride, Ilaria!
"'When he comes I shall have died—
My brethren will say he lied;
Swift as the wind to Milan ride
'Oh, Beppo's bride, Ilaria!
"'Yet alone I cannot go,
By God! I will not leave thee so,
To make his rabble lords a show—
Beppo's bride, Ilaria!'"
The viol again rose, sobbing:
"'Alas, my love! ye cannot free Ilaria!
For he hath thrust most skilfully,
And by the palm fastened me
'Beppo's bride, Ilaria!
"Straightway in the gloom we kissed—
My dagger rose and smote her wrist;
I saw her body writhe and twist—
Oh, Beppo's bride, Ilaria!
"'Oh, love,' she said, 'the anguish sore!'—
I lifted her from off the floor;
She never spoke or kissed me more—
Beppo's bride, Ilaria!"
The King sank down in his old place by the table; he heard approaching footsteps.
"Then for her sake I went away—
And rode all night and rode all day,
Too dead at heart to curse or pray—
Oh, Beppo's bride, Ilaria!
"I raised my standard through the land—
I swore by her dear severed hand
His cursed castle should not stand—
Oh, Beppo's wife, Ilaria!"
The magnificent doors opened and the King's splendid nobles entered; the stir they made in the chamber drowned the song, and the King roused himself to speak to them. Close behind them was the clatter of the guard.
"She comes!" said Konrad of Gottif.
"Who?" demanded Ludovic with a strange start.
"This woman who was Queen—this Giovanna."
Black and white, gold and scarlet swirled for a moment before the King's eyes; then his vision cleared, to see her standing in the doorway with her guard either side.
Her ermine cote-hardie was buttoned close to the throat, her hair neatly dressed, her hands tied together in front of her with a fine silk cord. Thinking of her in her palace, in the hunt, in the masque and the council, always regal, splendid, an extraordinary feeling caught his heart to see her a bound prisoner.
"Did I bid ye manacle her?" he demanded, and pushed the heavy black hair off his eyes.
"Good my liege, she is dangerous with her hands," answered Konrad of Gottif.
"Her little hands!" muttered Ludovic; he frowned at her guards, yet neither offered her a seat nor rose himself.
She was looking past him in an abstracted way at the square of sky shown in the high window, and the fine tendrils of her hair trembled on her hollow cheeks and cast shadows faintly on her long throat.
The King leant from his chair: the lamp-light cast depths of purple over his violet robe; his face showed clear cut, heavily outlined by the shadows.
"Giovanna!—" he said.
She turned her face to him calmly.
"Ah, you!" she said, in that way she had of late, as if she recognized people with an effort and was perplexed at seeing them.
"Yes, I," he answered. "What do you think I will do with you, Giovanna?"
"Why," she said, "I suppose I am to die." She smiled suddenly. "Do you see the bruise on my cheek, Ludovic, where you cast me down?"—she turned her head round, showing a stain on the smooth flesh where the sharp line of her chin swept into her throat—"where you kissed me when I was Queen?"
He sprang up; his haggard face flushed painfully. "Her mind is gone," said one softly. "She speaks, not knowing what she says."
The King spoke, standing by his chair and facing her.
"Madonna, I have heard from your husband."
"My husband is in San Gennaro," she answered quickly.
"Not he, Madonna, but Luigi of Taranto, at the Palazzo del Durazzo."
"My cousin Luigi," murmured Giovanna, and her brows gathered in a bewildered manner.
"Yea," answered Ludovic thickly. "And he still finds you worth somewhat. He will leave Naples and retire to Provence if I will give you back to him."
In the pause that followed he set his lips together while he stared at her intently, and his barons glanced from one to another in silence.
Giovanna of Naples looked nowhere; her great eyes were blank, her lips lightly parted. The insistent strum of the theorbo sounded without and her little foot beat time to it.
"Giovanna!—" he said at last, "I am going to send you to your husband."
There was a movement among the men behind him. Ludovic, feeling it, half swung round upon them.
"Here I stand no interference!" he cried. "Good lords, this is a matter of mine."
But Konrad of Gottif could not repress a bitter sneer.
"So ye vowed, 'The sword shall decide!' Is this how, Ludovic of Hungary?"
"Yea," said the King gravely, "this is how." He drew the slender weapon that he wore and came a little towards her; he remembered how she had kissed his sword once while he held it, two carnations of hers at his breast, and he trembled as he approached her.
"Hold out your hands," he commanded. She obeyed with a little look of wonder, of patience. He severed the cords with the sword edge, and, as she shook her hands free, stepped back to his place. "Now you are free; get you to your second husband, my cousin," he said heavily. "You"—he spoke to the captain of the guard—"attend her there, and see this Prince on board the galley for Provence."
A noble standing beside the King spoke. "Ye give him a vast advantage in her—think ye he will be quiet in Provence?"
"God knows!" answered Ludovic wearily. "Let him reign or live—or die—in Provence: I care not." He watched Giovanna as she turned slowly to the door, rubbing her wrists and looking at them with vacant eyes.
It seemed as if she would leave as she had come, with neither word nor action to express either fear or courage, remorse or effrontery. But quite suddenly she stopped, dropped her hands by her side, raised her head and looked at the King, not blankly now, but with eyes of intense meaning.
"Ludovic!" she said—"Ludovic!"
At the sound of her voice they all started as if another woman had entered while they were unawares.
Giovanna still gazed at the King, her whole face and body intent with some effort of her brain at recollection, expression. "I—want—to say something—I did not think of—" she whispered. She put her hand to her forehead: the concentration in her eyes was painful; a sense of horror seemed to have curled her mouth and contracted her brows into the likeness of a tragic mask.
Then gradually this expression faded, her hand fell heavily against her gown, she shook her head. "I have forgotten," she murmured vaguely, and moved slowly away.
So she passed from them, the soldiers behind her, and not until the last echo of their footsteps had long died away did any stir or speak. Then the nobles began to move.
"A hot night!—" said one.
"Mass! yes! Where shall we sup?"
Ludovic looked up at the speaker. "I! Here to-night. My head is wonderfully heavy."
"Curse this weather!—it kills more men than a month's warfare. And they say the next thing will be drought and famine!"
The King rose.
"Marko," he said to the last speaker, "have you yet heard of the lady I asked you of—the Queen's tire-woman?"
"Good liege, no. Somehow she escaped the palace when we sacked it—at least, I have questioned many, and none knows of her. 'Tis likely she would flee to Madonna Maria."
Ludovic turned away.
"I shall call a council in the morning," he announced abruptly; "it will be needful to win the legate—anon we will speak of it. Sirs, good night!"
"My lord, good night!"
They left the chamber, their mail clattering on the marble. As Konrad of Gottif passed him, the King spoke.
"Will you sup with me to-night?"
"I am too rough company, my lord, and too out of humour."
Ludovic flushed and kept silence. When the last had gone, the very essence of silence prevailed in the vast room. The King sat very still, tracing with absorbed eyes the forms of the monstrous beasts on the scarlet tapestry.
Did they scorn him, his lords, for weak clemency? He told himself he was above their censure; yet their silence, and Konrad of Gottif's words, rankled in his heart. It was hot—ah, so hot! He loathed Italy; he loathed this chamber! What had ever happened in the Perlucchi Palace that he should hate it so?—what was going to happen?
He longed intensely for the day, though the clypsidera fastened against the wall told him it was not yet eight in the evening.
Presently squires and pages entered with his supper, served with that rich elegance that had always been one of the charms to hold him to Italy. But to-night the splendour of the gilded silver and painted glass seemed foreign things...
He sent them all away, locked the door on them, and sat down by the table. The food he could not touch; he drank one glass of the fine red wine. Then some fancied sound caused him to start, and his violet sleeve caught the bottle and cast it on the marble. He sprang up, unaccountably agitated, and stared at the deep stains running over the black and white floor.
"What is the matter with me?" he asked himself. He wished now he had kept some company to help pass the intolerable hours. Pausing, he stared at the door, picturing Giovanna passing out in the patience of forgetfulness; then he thought of Maria, waiting for Carlo—waiting, while the bloody slime of the moat tarnished the gold armour...
With an effort at composure he crossed to the bed-chamber adjoining the apartment. It opened by wide windows on to the street, and was filled with the shine of the moon and stars. Ludovic could discern the vast outlines of the bed, hung with armorial bearings, silver tassels glittering on the satin baldaquin.
With an imprecation on the heat, the King flung off his violet houppeland, and with a sigh of relief stretched himself in his under-garment of close mauve velvet that was laced with black over his white shirt. The moonlight cast intense shadows about the room; Ludovic went to the window and looked out into the street. He could see the spears of his guards gleam as they walked to and fro outside the palace doors; for the rest, it was very quiet—so still that not even the trees quivered beneath the sultry sky, throbbing with stars.
After a while he left the window and crossed to the outer chamber to search for a light.
"What is the matter with me?" he said again, seeing how his hand was shaking.
Then he turned round, suddenly and quietly, as if some one had called him; yet there was silence in the chamber.
In the doorway of the bedroom stood Sancia di Renato in a citron-coloured gown.
He thought that she had died somewhere in the miserable city, and this pale appearance had come to tell him so...
She crossed the floor in a quick silence. A hazy veil of the hue of a turkis was bound in her faint hair, and floated about her as she walked.
She came to where he stood dumbly, and put her hands on his shoulders; as she touched him he knew she lived, and an extraordinary joy made his eyes sparkle.
Sancia sighed. A spell of wonder was over them; absorbed in the marvel of each other, they could not speak. Then he took her hands from his shoulders and clasped them in his own.
"We meet strangely," he said in a shaking voice; and she:
"Did you think of this?"
"I did not dare—I thought—Ah! no matter!"
"I had to come—I have been walking the streets all day, thinking of it—I had to come."
"Sancia!—sweet!—my sweet!" he cried.'
"You understand—I was in the Palazzo di Durazzo last night—I saw them bring Carlo home—and then—What was I saying? When you look at me I cannot think...Nothing mattered...save that I should come to you!"
"I have searched for you, Sancia! How strange it is!—when I saw you I thought you were dead!"
So their low, broken talk trembled in the stillness it scarcely disturbed, and the forgotten taper he had lit flared among the untouched supper things on the table. At last he let go of her, and she sank in the chair.
"My feeling for you," she said, "hurts my heart exceedingly."
She clasped her hands over the citron gown.
"Tell me you have thought of me."
Leaning on the back of her chair, he stared down at her loveliness. It seemed as if her coming were a blaze of crystal light on many things—on everything. All the strange thoughts that had distracted him before she came had fled like a dance of shadows; he could not even recall them.
"I have been sick and weary," she whispered, "but now I am healed. Look at me—never cease to look at me! Am I changed? My soul is different. I have been walking among the dead."
"Sancia...I thought you hated me now...I did not dream of—this!"
Her blue eyes glowed with an intense animation. "Do you remember—in the library? I lied—you must have known it! Beyond all words, I—you-it was always you! Listen!" She put up her hands and clung to his sleeve. "I was a fool: I tried to forget—to serve the Queen and be virtuous like Maria. But I have come to you!—I will stay with you until you are weary of me—then I will go away and die."
"Sancia, you will do that? You could leave your people for me?" In a wondering way he looked into her trembling face. A long breath shook her.
"Give me leave to be near you," she cried, with her heart panting on her lips. "Let me follow you, and I will clothe me as your footboy, take such food as your varlets eat, such shelter as your horses have!"
He was silent, shamed by a passion that so far outshone his own feelings. Yet he cared for her—he told himself that certainly he cared for her. But a curious giddiness was beating in his head; a shiver like fever was in his blood, making his manner strange. He wondered vaguely if he were sick, or if her presence had excited him into bewilderment.
"The fairest face in Italy!" he said. "Will you come with me to Hungary?"
"To the world's end!—" she answered.
"Will you stay with me in Naples?"
"Yea, and dance upon graves and sing above the dying, so you will smile, Ludovic!—Ludovic! Ludovic!"
He seated himself opposite her at the table, and gazed across with a fiery brightness in his hazel eyes.
"The dying! We will revel it in this city, my Sancia," he said gaily—"you and I! And you love me! By God's truth! it is a fine thing to be loved! My soul, but you are beautiful! Will you sup with me to-night?"
She laughed suddenly in a weak way.
"I have not eaten since morning." Then her mood flashed swiftly into mirth. "I might be seated on a star, I feel so high above the earth!"
She leant on the table, resting her two fair hands among the glass and silver. In an impassioned delirious lightness she related how she had found out where he was; how she had taken the robe from a dead monk and, hidden under it, had crept into the Perlucchi Palace; found her way to his bed-chamber, and lain concealed there until he was alone.
Her sudden reckless spirits infected the King; he found himself laughing in sheer elation of heart, as if this were a well-planned frolic her wit had achieved; the wild delight of stolen pleasure touched him. He crossed to her and kissed heron the forehead, where the pale hair rippled; on her ardent mouth. He thought her brow was hot, her lips feverish. Was not his own head reeling, his limbs on fire?...
He swore by all he knew he loved her—swore it in a wild, defiant way, drew his chair beside hers.
Was it fancy that he staggered as he did so? She at least did not notice it. "This is the end of it!" he cried. "I will build another Naples—a sunny city on the sea; and of these old miseries, Sancia, we will make tales to spice our pleasures!"
He blew out the taper. She laughed as if her mood flung words aside, as useless things: she did not appear to know or care where she was—only that it was at him she stared over a glitter of glass and gold.
But to Ludovic the details of his surroundings were the only things real. Her coming, her passionate statements of her motives, her very presence, were visionary, clouded. He could not bring his mind to comprehend them, for he was living only in the moment; and in some tattered recollections the monstrous beasts on the scarlet tapestry, the straight lines of the windows and the vast stars beyond them, the dark square of the door opening into the bed-chamber, the band of seed-pearls that edged Sancia's gown where it lay round her throat, her foot in its dusty little shoe resting on the black and white marble—these held his attention. He set food on her plate, and she ate a little. He looked down at the spilt wine and opened another bottle. A great desire to laugh and talk was upon him; speech was a means to drug thought he could not pause to understand. The wine shivered from side to side of the crystal as he held up the glass.
"To my new Naples!—" he cried.
They both drank; then he began kissing her hands, and they laughed together.
"Listen," he said: "I let the Queen go—I wanted no more blood."
"I am glad," answered Sancia.
"Yea, you understand!—" His eyes were ardent. "We shall be happy! What does anything matter if one may have peace to laugh and sing in? Yet I have killed men in my time." His black brows frowned. "What did Maria say when they brought Carlo home?" He stared into his wine-glass as if he saw his cousin's death mirrored there.
"They brought him to the chapel," answered Sancia, "where the Duchess waited. The green weed was over his breast, and the water dripped from him on to the floor. She closed his visor. 'I am grieved there is none save I to sorrow for him,' she said, 'for he died like a knight.' The hard-faced Prince of Taranto was beside her, and he answered: 'No one can be mourned unworthily who has your tender thoughts, Madonna!'"
"Would I had slain him instead!" cried Ludovic.
"I never loved him—many a festival has his heavy face marred! But no more of this! I have golden thoughts of the future, ah, love of mine!—golden thoughts indeed!"
He filled his glass again, and hers. There was heaped-up fruit in a mother-o'-pearl and silver dish—lustrous grapes, bloomy peaches, and golden apples; he turned them into her lap, smiling.
She picked up a bunch of grapes and gazed at it; he was watching her with enthralled eyes.
"Of late," she said, "I have had visions of curious and beautiful things: women with roses pressed into their hair; ivory lutes, and wonderful crimson birds; marble walks set with tangles of lilies; the bay at sunset when the sails of the boats are all stained gold; gilded crowns and lordly armour wrought at Milan. Even as I wandered through the deserted city I had visions of these things."
The grapes fell from her fingers on to the floor, fell on the wine-stain; she put her hand to her eyes.
"My head feels strange to-day."
The King's great eyes glowed with a recalled horror.
"You are weary, my heart!—" he said wildly. "I also!"
A silence fell on both. They sat up and touched hands across the table: as their fingers intertwined, each shuddered at the other's burning flesh. Sancia looked slowly and fearfully round the chamber: the scarlet arras seemed to shudder on the marble walls; her clasp of the King's fingers grew tighter.
"Ludovic," she said in a toneless voice, "what is the matter with this place?"
"Why, I might have spared Carlo," he muttered; "it is hideous to die so young, and unshriven—unshriven!"
Their eyes met. "What did you speak of?" she asked.
"I?—nothing. And you?—"
Hollowly she answered: "Nothing."
For all the heat, a little breeze had risen; it stirred the fair hair back from Sancia's cheek and fluttered the edges of the long lace cloth.
Ludovic roused himself with a great laugh. "By God's death t we are very sombre! Some one was playing a time ago without—thrum, thrum, on a theorbo."
He unlocked his fingers from hers and rose. The mauve hue of his tight velvet habit marked the flush on his swarthy face. Sancia, fallen back in her chair, watched him. The wick of the lamp was fluttering in the sudden breeze, and cast a dancing shadow about him as he moved to the corner and took a theorbo of ebony and ivory from the wall. The water-clock said midnight: after all, the hours had fled quickly!
Laughing, Ludovic of Hungary set one foot on his chair and commenced playing:
"Death, in vair and velvet,
(Hush! for the dancers have fallen asleep!)
Sang in the halls of mirth.
And the tall and noble ladies
Were still in the halls of mirth.
(There was no time for kisses and no time to weep!)"
"Why do you sing that?" cried Sancia passionately. "Ludovic, sing to me of love!"
Had not his gay singing and his skill with music won her first?—not with this song, though!
But the King fixed his eyes on her and continued in his wonderful soft voice:
"Death, masked in satin,
(Hush! for the dancers have fallen asleep!)
Played the reveller's tune,
And the young and slender courtiers
Heard not the reveller's tune.
(There was no time for kisses and no time to weep!)
"Death, all gold and splendid,
(Hush! for the dancers have fallen asleep!)
Sang in the King's ear,
And the gay and mighty monarch
Heard not the song in his ear.
(There was no time for laughter, and no time to weep!)"
"Come to me!" whispered Sancia; her voice shuddered through the pause on the ceasing of the song. The King dropped the theorbo on to the chair and came to her.
They clung together a minute; then she spoke. "What is the matter with the place?"
"Santa Maria! Santa Maria!" muttered the King.
Silence again enwrapped them; she loosened herself from his arms.
"What did you hear?" he asked.
"Horses—in the distance."
"Who should be abroad to-night?"
"Who? Who? I fancied it!—this time is ours—yours and mine! Look at me!—speak to me!—hold me!"
This time it was the King who said "Hush!"
He spoke thickly as if his tongue were swollen, and his eyes stared over her shoulder.
"There is—something in the bedroom!"
She shrank against him.
"You are ill!—Jesu! your brow is hot!" She shuddered. "You fancied it."
"Look!" he said.
She turned her head and stared into the shadows of the bed-chamber; his swarthy fingers gripped her white wrist, but she did not feel it.
"What do you see?—" His voice was so roughened she could hardly understand.
"A man!" she muttered—"I see a man moving about! He moves very softly—I—I do not hear his footfalls!"
"Do you see what he wears?" whispered Ludovic—"now—as he passes the moonlight?"
"Rose-and-white hose," she answered; "but I cannot see his face..."
Ludovic cried out in a great burst of agony. "He has no face!-he has no face! Andreas! Andreas!—"
"Why, you are mad!" shrieked Sancia. "It was not there—the thing is gone!—there is nothing—nothing but the moonlight and the shadow from the bed!"
Quivering from head to foot, he set her from him and sank into a chair.
"This accursed place!—" he muttered. "I—but you also saw it!"
"No!" she said staunchly—"no!—I fancied it Why should he come to you?"
"I have not avenged him!"
She fell down on her knees beside him, in a glory of passion, of beauty transfigured, of strength and courage. "You shall not think of these things to-night, but of me! Not of the dead, but of me—not of the past, but of me! Am I not fair enough to beguile you from these miseries?"
He looked at her—she was.
"Yes!—yes!" He leant from the chair and caught her up to him; with a sound of triumph, of joy, she laid her face against his.
Then, even in the midst of their kiss, she thrust him off and stood erect, with an awful change in her face.
"What is the matter with me tonight?" she said. She tried to laugh; the citron gown was heaving painfully over her breast. She snatched up the wine Ludovic had left.
"Drink," she said thickly, "to our happiness!"
She endeavoured to put the glass to her lips, but spilled the wine over her bosom.
"Sancia!" shrieked Ludovic.
Her face was awful; even as he stared at her she half turned round in a grotesque fashion, as if she were commencing to dance, then fell backwards.
Her head, with its cloud of hair unloosened, struck the chair and theorbo: there was a jangle of the strings, and she lay at his feet...
He looked down at her face staring up at him. For some seconds he could not believe she was there; he thought that in some vision of a distracted brain she had risen from his embrace to drop as if an arrow had touched her heart.
He went on his knees beside her; he lifted her up, and the soft blonde hair entangled in his fingers. The lines of the little song he had sung—
"And the tall and noble ladies
Were still in the halls of mirth.
(There was no time for kisses, and no time to weep!)"—
ran in his head foolishly.
She was quite dead.
Love, life, and passion had been extinguished in her eyes as a little candle before a vast wind. He thought of their devilish Italian poisons: could anything else have slain her so swiftly ? Then he swore aloud that she was not dead and must not die!
With eager fingers he tore her bodice open to feel her heart; silk and linen ripped under his hand.
He rose, sobered by the shock of sudden knowledge. The phantasies cleared from his brain: he backed from Sancia to the farthest wall, and with pale lips shaped a ghastly whisper:
On her white bosom were the black marks. It had been in her veins all the evening. The Black Death was abroad in the city...the robe from the dead monk...His brain worked quickly: he saw it clearly—her excitement, her hot lips, her aching head. The Plague was abroad in Naples—the Black Death—the Mortality!
And now a wild horror of the infection seized him. It was the most terrible thing men knew, the Black Death—and he was shut up with it! For a while he beat on the door; then a new thought held him icy still...His reeling head, his distorted vision: he also was infected! His death also was only a matter of moments!
So—this was the tragedy for which the scene had been set; this was the horror that had lurked in the splendid chamber, the black and white, the scarlet and gold!
To die young and unshriven!—yet not like Carlo, in the press of battle, but in the lonely night, with this dead woman for company!
He pressed his face against the cold marble wall, and thought on such stories of the Plague as he had heard. How some died suddenly, some slowly; how some felt it so little that they fell silent in the midst of laughter; how to others it was a long agony;—and always a thing beyond man's understanding or cure!
This was what the great darkness had predicted—the Plague! the Plague!
His thoughts began to lose coherence; he paced up and down in a torment of fear, incapable of speech or action, knowing only that he would sooner have died in the streets than amid this awful grandeur.
The water-clock was at one. He stopped by the body of Sancia: how long since she had come breathing love, but hand-in-hand with Death? How long since she had kissed him with Death's kiss on her lips?
Oh, future glorious indeed! Who would revel now over the dead and dying?—who would laugh over ruined Naples? Not these two, at least, since from the conquered city this horror had arisen to vanquish the victor! Ludovic the Triumphant they had named him: it was a mockery now! Who was triumphant to-night? Neither Hungary nor Italy!...
Outside, the stars shone over the pointed dark poplars: he found himself wondering what the dawn would be like—this dawn he should never see! He felt himself weakening, and sank into the chair by the table, his fingers in his hair. All his youth, his beauty, his wealth, his rank, now—for life!—yea, for life such as his footboy enjoyed—for life such as a beggar had who wailed in the streets of Buda!
The strum of zither and theorbo rose suddenly; some wordless song struck the stillness. The stars were dancing in the heavens, and the great beasts on the arras began to move. Ludovic sat still, with starting eyes, while around him the stillness broke into a devil's pageant of noise and colour. Keeping time to the music was the sound of galloping horses and meeting spears, and banners tearing against the wind.
And now the monsters had got out of the tapestry, and gold and glittering they crept over the tessellated floor.
Thrum, thrum...nameless things were dancing to the shrill melody. The harsh metallic clang of cymbals strove against the steady march of eager drums; voices rose, shrieking, shouting, some near, some far away.
Sancia sprang up from the floor and commenced dancing. Her hair, in a spreading cloud, filled the chamber; she wore red shoes, and they shone in and out of her citron gown.
An uncontrollable excitement seized Ludovic. He sprang up and shrieked to the circle spinning round him in a swirl of screaming colour. The upward lift of the battle-cries became intenser; then some one shrieked:
"The Plague! the Plague! The King and the King's love are stricken!"
Ludovic drew his sword: the door was flung open; mailed men rushed in and out again; thrum, thrum, went the theorbo. "Sancia!" cried Ludovic, and tried to catch her as she passed. Then the wild melody ceased, the dancers disappeared like smoke; a youth came from the bed-chamber door and advanced towards the King. He wore rose-and-white hose, and a mask was on his face. The sounds of battle and of dancing rose, unbearable and harsh, with a steady beat: the man took off his mask—and where his face should have been, should have been the face of Andreas!
The King sprang from the table: he strove to cut his way through the yelling rabble; but they closed on him. Sancia's arms twisted round his neck; Andreas turned his faceless face as she dragged him down.
"Giovanna!" shrieked Ludovic. He leapt to the door, pulled it open. The darkness of the stairway smote him like a blow; the delirium cleared from his brain. He looked back over his shoulder, and saw Sancia, a dead woman, on the wine-stained pavement, some unfelt breeze from some unseen window fluttering the citron silk on her still limbs, the fallen fruit lying near her soft blonde scattered hair.
"Konrad!—" he cried. He put his hand to his sword, and leant over the marble bannister; his terror-stricken voice echoed through the lofty palace, and distant shouting answered.
Unhelmed, unarmed, Ludovic of Hungary ran down the stairs. Then, where they turned, he halted; a man was running up them.
The newcomer carried a great torch that flamed across the King's vision and caused him to cry out with the bright pain of it, and to shrink back against the wall.
"Who are you?" shouted the other, not seeing him for the trailing fire and smoke of the torch.
"The King," answered Ludovic; then he added the one word that was the key to the wild horror of it all: "The Plague!"
Konrad of Gottif swung the flambeau above his head, and stared into the King's face.
"And Luigi of Taranto!—" he cried. "The Neapolitans have risen!"
"Yea, by God Almighty! that witch is with them, Ludovic of Hungary."
"And up above there is the Plague!—" The King put his hand on Konrad's breastplate where the hungry flame was reflected, and thrust him back. "Let me pass! By all the saints! sooner Luigi of Taranto than the Plague! Let me pass!"
"Who is up above?" cried Konrad of Gottif, flinging up the torch. The streaming light showed a reddened sweep of marble walls, the King leaning against them in his velvet undress—showed the one who carried it in ruddied armour, hard-faced, alert.
"The Plague!—" shrieked Ludovic. "The Plague is in Naples! Get me a horse—a shield!" He broke past Konrad and dashed down the stairs; the other after him, clattering in his heavy mail.
In the splendid entrance-hall cross lights shook and gleamed, interchanging with lurking shadows in the folds of 'the sumptuous tapestry and round the figures of the assembled warriors. The great doors were open, and beyond them the burning night swooned into a regal dawn above the gorgeous, languorous garden; through the dark masses of the poplars and cypresses the last stars blazed.
Ludovic came into the midst of them, staggering like a sick man.
"God's curse upon this Italy!" he said. "Hungarians, we ride home to-night!"
Amidst the clamour and the hurrying to and fro they armed him; and as they buckled the straps and fastened the rivets, he shouted to them to make haste—make haste! They did not need his words: the Plague, invisible and strong as death, was behind all of them, urging, threatening!
Before the last stars had died they were a-horse and gathered before the Perlucchi Palace. It stood empty to the dawn, save for the woman in the citron-coloured gown who lay on 'the floor of the scarlet-tapestried chamber.
Like a dark cloud sweeping over the desolate city, the Hungarian army clashed through the streets that were bare of everything save the dead and the dying, and no man among them gave a thought to this most beautiful city in the world, save to the leaving of it; for they had ravaged its loveliness in the lust of conquest, spoiled it of its wealth and ease, and now they fled before the Spectre arisen from its ruins to avenge on Hungary the wounds of Naples.
In some of the streets there was fighting. Luigi of Taranto's men and the Hungarian guards strove together in between the houses, and the meeting of the spears echoed through deserted homes and palaces, their gorgeous gates flung open to the foe.
But Ludovic of Hungary paused for none of it; he and his men hurtled through the dawning day, towards the doors of the city, towards Aversa, Benevento!...
As they swept into the Palazzo San Eligio, they saw a great press of knights facing them, and against the pale purple of the eastern sky hung the lilied banner of the Angevin kings.
There was a quick movement among the bands of men, the putting of spears in rest, the tossing of plumes and bridles; but the two captains of the Neapolitans rode forward. One, very slender, in golden mail, carried a bright bare sword across the saddle; the other showed through the opening of his casque the masterful face of Luigi of Taranto.
Ludovic of Hungary spurred his horse to meet him.
"I leave your cursed city, Prince!" he said. "Am I to cut my way through your men?"
Luigi of Taranto backed his charger.
"No, Hungary—the way lies free through Italy."
"Desolation is in Naples, and the Plague lurks in the Perlucchi Palace," answered the King. "Joy to ye in your kingdom, Prince!—"
The slender knight in golden mail removed the glittering helm, and red curls fell out like wine from a burnished mager either side of the frail face of Giovanna d'Anjou.
"Good morrow, cousin!" she said, looking full at the King of Hungary. She raised her bare weapon. "Is it the sword that decides, after all?"
"The day is before us," he answered madly; "we face the dawn; and Andreas is not ill-avenged!" With that he raised his hand, and the cavalry of Hungary thundered after him to the great gates that opened on the homeward road.
The Queen looked at Luigi of Taranto, and her eyes were not the eyes of a sane woman.
"Was that Andreas rode past?—" she asked, and the sword shuddered in her hand. "Still I am Queen," she said, and laughed a little, staring at the stricken city.