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Contents > Author > Sara Cone Bryant > Robert of Sicily 1873- Unknown
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Sara Cone Bryant
Robert of Sicily
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[Adapted from Longfellow's poem.]


An old legend says that there was once
a king named Robert of Sicily, who was
brother to the great Pope of Rome and
to the Emperor of Allemaine. He was
a very selfish king, and very proud; he
cared more for his pleasures than for the
needs of his people, and his heart was so
filled with his own greatness that he had
no thought for God.

One day, this proud king was sitting in
his place at church, at vesper service; his
courtiers were about him, in their bright
garments, and he himself was dressed in
his royal robes. The choir was chanting
the Latin service, and as the beautiful
voices swelled louder, the king noticed one
particular verse which seemed to be
repeated again and again. He turned to a
learned clerk at his side and asked what
those words meant, for he knew no Latin.

"They mean, `He hath put down the
mighty from their seats, and hath exalted
them of low degree,'" answered the clerk.

"It is well the words are in Latin, then,"
said the king angrily, "for they are a lie.
There is no power on earth or in heaven
which can put me down from my seat!"
And he sneered at the beautiful singing,
as he leaned back in his place.

Presently the king fell asleep, while the
service went on. He slept deeply and long.
When he awoke the church was dark and
still, and he was all alone. He, the king,
had been left alone in the church, to awake
in the dark! He was furious with rage and
surprise, and, stumbling through the dim
aisles, he reached the great doors and beat
at them, madly, shouting for his servants.

The old sexton heard some one shouting
and pounding in the church, and thought
it was some drunken vagabond who had
stolen in during the service. He came to
the door with his keys and called out,
"Who is there?"

"Open! open! It is I, the king!" came
a hoarse, angry voice from within.

"It is a crazy man," thought the sexton;
and he was frightened. He opened the
doors carefully and stood back, peering
into the darkness. Out past him rushed
the figure of a man in tattered, scanty
clothes, with unkempt hair and white,
wild face. The sexton did not know that
he had ever seen him before, but he looked
long after him, wondering at his wildness
and his haste.

In his fluttering rags, without hat or
cloak, not knowing what strange thing
had happened to him, King Robert rushed
to his palace gates, pushed aside the
startled servants, and hurried, blind with
rage, up the wide stair and through the
great corridors, toward the room where
he could hear the sound of his courtiers'
voices. Men and women servants tried to
stop the ragged man, who had somehow
got into the palace, but Robert did not
even see them as he fled along. Straight
to the open doors of the big banquet hall
he made his way, and into the midst of
the grand feast there.

The great hall was filled with lights and
flowers; the tables were set with everything
that is delicate and rich to eat; the courtiers,
in their gay clothes, were laughing
and talking; and at the head of the feast,
on the king's own throne, sat a king. His
face, his figure, his voice were exactly like
Robert of Sicily; no human being could
have told the difference; no one dreamed
that he was not the king. He was dressed
in the king's royal robes, he wore the royal
crown, and on his hand was the king's
own ring. Robert of Sicily, half naked,
ragged, without a sign of his kingship on
him, stood before the throne and stared
with fury at this figure of himself.

The king on the throne looked at him.
"Who art thou, and what dost thou here?"
he asked. And though his voice was just
like Robert's own, it had something in it
sweet and deep, like the sound of bells.

"I am the king!" cried Robert of Sicily.
"I am the king, and you are an impostor!"

The courtiers started from their seats,
and drew their swords. They would have
killed the crazy man who insulted their
king; but he raised his hand and stopped
them, and with his eyes looking into
Robert's eyes he said, "Not the king; you
shall be the king's jester! You shall wear
the cap and bells, and make laughter for
my court. You shall be the servant of
the servants, and your companion shall be
the jester's ape."

With shouts of laughter, the courtiers
drove Robert of Sicily from the banquet
hall; the waiting-men, with laughter, too,
pushed him into the soldiers' hall; and there
the pages brought the jester's wretched
ape, and put a fool's cap and bells on
Robert's head. It was like a terrible dream;
he could not believe it true, he could not
understand what had happened to him.
And when he woke next morning, he believed
it was a dream, and that he was
king again. But as he turned his head,
he felt the coarse straw under his cheek
instead of the soft pillow, and he saw that
he was in the stable, with the shivering
ape by his side. Robert of Sicily was a
jester, and no one knew him for the king.

Three long years passed. Sicily was
happy and all things went well under the
king, who was not Robert. Robert was
still the jester, and his heart was harder
and bitterer with every year. Many times,
during the three years, the king, who had
his face and voice, had called him to
himself, when none else could hear, and had
asked him the one question, "Who art
thou?" And each time that he asked it
his eyes looked into Robert's eyes, to find
his heart. But each time Robert threw
back his head and answered, proudly,
"I am the king!" And the king's eyes
grew sad and stern.

At the end of three years, the Pope bade
the Emperor of Allemaine and the King
of Sicily, his brothers, to a great meeting
in his city of Rome. The King of Sicily
went, with all his soldiers and courtiers
and servants,--a great procession of
horsemen and footmen. Never had been a
gayer sight than the grand train, men in
bright armor, riders in wonderful cloaks
of velvet and silk, servants, carrying
marvelous presents to the Pope. And at the
very end rode Robert, the jester. His
horse was a poor old thing, many-colored,
and the ape rode with him. Every one
in the villages through which they passed
ran after the jester, and pointed and
laughed.

The Pope received his brothers and
their trains in the square before Saint
Peter's. With music and flags and
flowers he made the King of Sicily welcome,
and greeted him as his brother. In the
midst of it, the jester broke through the
crowd and threw himself before the Pope.
"Look at me!" he cried; "I am your
brother, Robert of Sicily! This man is
an impostor, who has stolen my throne.
I am Robert, the king!"

The Pope looked at the poor jester
with pity, but the Emperor of Allemaine
turned to the King of Sicily, and said, "Is
it not rather dangerous, brother, to keep
a madman as jester?" And again Robert
was pushed back among the serving-men.

It was Holy Week, and the king and
the emperor, with all their trains, went
every day to the great services in the
cathedral. Something wonderful and holy
seemed to make all these services more
beautiful than ever before. All the people
of Rome felt it: it was as if the presence
of an angel were there. Men thought of
God, and felt his blessing on them. But
no one knew who it was that brought the
beautiful feeling. And when Easter Day
came, never had there been so lovely, so
holy a day: in the great churches, filled
with flowers, and sweet with incense, the
kneeling people listened to the choirs
singing, and it was like the voices of angels;
their prayers were more earnest than ever
before, their praise more glad; there was
something heavenly in Rome.

Robert of Sicily went to the services
with the rest, and sat in the humblest
place with the servants. Over and over
again he heard the sweet voices of the
choirs chant the Latin words he had heard
long ago: "He hath put down the mighty
from their seat, and hath exalted them of
low degree." And at last, as he listened,
his heart was softened. He, too, felt the
strange blessed presence of a heavenly
power. He thought of God, and of his
own wickedness; he remembered how
happy he had been, and how little good
he had done; he realized, that his power
had not been from himself, at all. On
Easter night, as he crept to his bed of straw,
he wept, not because he was so wretched,
but because he had not been a better king
when power was his.

At last all the festivities were over, and
the King of Sicily went home to his own
land again, with his people. Robert the
jester came home too.

On the day of their home-coming, there
was a special service in the royal church,
and even after the service was over for
the people, the monks held prayers of
thanksgiving and praise. The sound of
their singing came softly in at the palace
windows. In the great banquet room, the
king sat, wearing his royal robes and his
crown, while many subjects came to greet
him. At last, he sent them all away, saying
he wanted to be alone; but he commanded
the jester to stay. And when they were
alone together the king looked into Robert's
eyes, as he had done before, and said,
softly, "Who art thou?"

Robert of Sicily bowed his head. "Thou
knowest best," he said, "I only know that
I have sinned."

As he spoke, he heard the voices of the
monks singing, "He hath put down the
mighty from their seat,"--and his head
sank lower. But suddenly the music
seemed to change; a wonderful light shone
all about. As Robert raised his eyes, he
saw the face of the king smiling at him
with a radiance like nothing on earth,
and as he sank to his knees before the glory
of that smile, a voice sounded with the
music, like a melody throbbing on a single
string:--

"I am an angel, and thou art the king!"

Then Robert of Sicily was alone. His
royal robes were upon him once more;
he wore his crown and his royal ring. He
was king. And when the courtiers came
back they found their king kneeling by
his throne, absorbed in silent prayer.

 

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