The KING’S FOOL
In which a fool survives hanging to make fools of his hangmen and a marriage by duress becomes a mating of lovers
LOUIS ARTHUR CUNNINGHAM
IN THE Chateau St. Louis, the palace of the Intendant, were great underground vaults, built in the days of the Intendant Jean Talon, a wise and farsighted administrator, who had never intended his structure to be put to the use it now server! but had destined it for the wholesome function of a brewery. In one of these underground vaults was Michael Mohan confined; in a square, stone-walled room with a massive door and in it a small grill, only large enough to frame a man’s head. A solitary guard patrolled this corridor, and strictest orders were given by the Intendant that no one be allowed to hold interview with the prisoner.
On the morning following his capture there were new demonstrations in the town; the shouts of the indignant habitants, the hubbub of the crowd that quickly gathered outside the palace coming only faintly to the prisoner in the vault, such as deep in some cavern that opens on the sea one would hear the muted roar of the surf. There was a menacing timbre in those buzzing voices; the savage, unreasoning rage of the mob. They wanted his blood, wanted to see him die and rejoice in his death. The masque, the wine-red cloak with its pointed hood, which he had been wearing when captured furnished evidence enough for them, and they knew that, though a jester, a clown, he was a man whose deeds had brought him under the displeasure of the king himself. There was no inkling among the townsfolk that he whom they denounced and demanded as vociferously as the mob claimed the thief Barabbas was not the king’s fool but one who had long masqueraded as Pepin Clopinard to escape from a punishment more severe.
“ Tis high time,” thought Michael, who had long since exhausted the meagre possibilities of his cell, in which there was no more than a rude chair, a pallet of straw and a jug of water—“ 'tis high time I was hearing from that great support and standby of the Mohans, Barney O’Pray. The walls are thick, the door is solid timber, the grating is too small for a man’s shoulders;
yet, knowing Barney as I do, I feel it in my heart he will come. Sure, if he does not it is lost I am entirely, for they mean to hang me, and, one way or another, they can do it; if not for killing poor De Mornay,then for going abroad in other than the fool’s motley. They have me every way; but I am not dead yet.”
A face appeared at the grill, the key grated in the huge wards of the lock, and the door swung open to admit the Intendant and Gaston Crevier. The door was then shut behind them and the guard resumed his monotonous patrol. Bigot for a moment surveyed the prisoner in silence. Michael still wore the jester’s green and red, but the pigment had worn and been washed from his face, and it was not the fool but Michael Mohan who gave Bigot look for look and Crevier a glance of silent derision. And it was Michael who spoke first
“You come then to put the real murderer in my stead?”
“You have no need to play the fool longer,” said the Intendant. “Tomorrow at sunrise, for ’twould be hard flying heavenward in the dark of night—tomorrow at sunrise you mount the gallows, my fool. Does not that sober you?”
"It may in the end. And sunrise is a splendid time, for if it were at night I might miss the pearly gates altogether and get to the wrong place, and there I should be waiting for you two fine gentlemen to join me.” “Enough of this,” said Bigot. “We want the book you stole. You may as well give it to us, for when you are dead who then shall have it?”
“It will haunt you like my ghost, messieurs. I will not give it you. And had you the apparatus of the Holy Inquisition, your lives would be all too short to wring from me its place of concealment.”
“Ah, then you have not given it to some other!” The Intendant was jubilant. This, which Michael unwittingly had said, relieved him of a dread that the book was in the hands of someone who would use it against him.
“It will come to light,” promised Michael, “as the record of evil practices must. It will yet land you in the Bastille, where your betters have often languished.” “Curb your insolent tongue, pig!” said Crevier. “You forget to whom you speak. There is something else that may give you food for thought—shall I tell him, my lord?”
“Yes, Gaston , tell him. It will make his execution much more interesting for the leading performer.”
“Well then,” said Crevier with a smirk that made Michael long to be at his throat, “you are to be hanged at sunrise, while I, my merry jester, am to be married at the identical time. A remarkable coincidence, is it not? Very kindly you helped me get what I have long waited for. Diane de Merville has promised to become my wife.”
Michael shook his head sadly and in a scornful tone “Never did I think,” he said as if to himself, “that the throat of a human being could be so constructed as to let pass a lie as big as that.”
“What! You dare to—”
“You may understand me better if I call you a liar out and out.”
Crevier swallowed the insult but he thrust a slip of paper before the prisoner’s eyes—Diane’s crest, her writing, unmistakably hers.
“ . . . you have promised that Sir Michael Mohan will live if I consent to this; so I will gladly die for him and with him; for it is death, no less, to my spirit, and I would it were so to my body, to give myself to a man I so thoroughly detest.”
“You told her that—that I could be saved through her doing this?” Michael, nimble-witted though he was, could not for a moment realize that his fellow man could stoop to such hideous trickery. “She must not!” he said. “God would not permit even men He must hold in the very lowest esteem to do a thing so unworthy, so pitifully base. You would promise her my life—” “Quite so,” interrupted the Intendant. “We promised we would give you to her as a wedding-present if she married Gaston, and we always keep our promises. When she turns away from the altar of the chapel in the Hôtel Dieu up above the chateau, she has but to walk to the window, gaze out, and there you will be swinging gaily in the morning sunlight.”
Michael would have thrown himself upon them, but the points of their rapiers were at his throat. They left him to his thoughts, which were darker now than ever
they had been before. Y'es, Diane would do this for him, sacrifice her own happiness, her all, that he might live. And then to find that they had lied to her . . .
“They are not human,” he muttered. “Nor yet are they beasts, for such a deed is beyond the capacity of either. Faith, may the lucky star of the Irish beam bright this night and the fairies and witches and all the dead Mohans come to my aid, for ’tis sore beset I am and I was never the man to relish a hempen noose for breakfast.”
But the day dragged along and the shadows crept into his cell from the corridor outside the grating, down which and up the slow, steady tread of the sentry echoed and beat upon his brain with insistent steadiness like the ticking of a great clock bringing him nearer and nearer, nearer and nearer, to death. He heard the sound of a cannon firing a salute, and the glad thought came to him that the ship bearing Louvigny de Dronsart had reached Quebec; Louvigny who could put an end to all this and see justice done. Yes, Louvigny would gladly move the world to save him—but not to save Pepin Clopinard, the king’s fool, who had roamed abroad when forbiddentodoso;notto save Monsieur le Diable, a wretched highwayman condemned to die for the murder of Lucien de Mornay, whom Louvigny loved even as he loved Michael. Thus, the disguise which had so long been Michael’s safeguard would now permit him to die before the eyes of one who would have saved him. And even as he mused on that, soldiers came and made him don once more the wine-red cloak and hood of Monsieur le Diable, having first thrust a gag in his mouth; and afterward they bound his wrists.
Presently he learned the reason for this. Louvigny’s face showed for a moment in the grating; Louvigny’s brown, questing eyes that saw only the murderer of his friend and had for that murderer only one word— maudit! Then he left the grating, and his footsteps reverberated for an instant, then died.
He heard the bells of the city now, chiming out the Angelus, their vibrant clamor echoing from hill to hill.
Once more, at dawn, they would ring for him, and then no more ....
He rose from his pallet of straw, stood, his body rigid, head held high, the thongs cutting into the flesh of his wrists. Strong as a great flame burned the will to live, the desire to throw off the fetters that held him, to break the net of circumstances that enmeshed him, to save her he loved, to humble them he hated; to gaze again on the blue sky, the grass, the river, the Glen of Morrah, where now the birds lilted gaily and the land was bright with the May.
“Not yet, O God!” he said. “Not yet!”
But darkness crept into the cell, and the maddening beat of the sentry’s feet dinned and dinned and pounded and pounded into his ears, and the moments seemed to speed, to retard, to speed more rapidly, bringing him nearer to a dawn that for him, at least, would be dark.
r"PHE arrival of the man o’ war Reine Blanche, bringing x the Marquis de Dronsart, the Baron St. Cloud and the Duc d’Aiguillon, though expected, caused the Intendant some uneasiness, lest the prisoner should in some way communicate with de Dronsart or he with Diane de Merville, who, after she had given her consent to marry Gaston Crevier, had been taken to the Hôtel
Dieu, where the ceremony would be performed the following morning. The Intendant, an adept at devising lies, thought it an excellent idea, should Louvigny ask after her, to say she was confined to her home with an illness but would doubtless be about on the morrow.
However, the news of Lucien de Mornay’s death drove all other thoughts from Louvigny’s mind. Not only had he loved de Mornay dearly, but also had he relied on the Comte’s assistance in the work he had todo. It was a shock, devastating, paralyzing, to the youthful marquis, who, despite many great responsibilities put upon him since his father’s death, had lost none of his insolent, cocksure ways. His flawless brown eyes and boyish face at first disarmed the Intendant, who had not expected to see one so young coming on this important mission, and so plumed himself that it would be easy to befool this boy and send him and his companions back to France in no way wiser then when they left it.
Louvigny gazed for only an instant on the condemned and cared not to see his face. “Were I to see it,” he said, “I should carry the hateful image forever after with me.” And Bigot was glad thereat. The grim irony of that moment tickled his fancy, and he thought with glee of
the terrible emotions that must have shaken Michael Mohan as, unable to speak, to make a sign, he had to see his one hope of life, his best friend, turn away from him in silent loathing.
“Your excellency shall have the pleasure,” said Bigot smoothly, “of seeing the Comte de Mornay’s death avenged in fitting fashion. Tomorrow at sunrise his murderer mounts the gallows. Justice in Quebec is swift and sure, and descends invariably upon the right man.”
“Hm!” Louvigny, even on such short acquaintance with Bigot and Crevier, who was with them, felt not so sure of that. His searching, birdlike glance darted from the smiling, hypocritical face of the Intendant to Gaston
Crevier’s sharp and sallow visage. A pair of precious rogues, he decided forthwith, who would slit one’s throat as readily as they shook one’s hand.
“This jester,” said Louvigny, after a somewhat awkward pause when they had come from visiting the condemned, “seemed a harmless fellow enough, though, of course, I knew very little about him in France. He rashly wooed one of our noble ladies and suffered the king’s displeasure on that account, even as other, greater men have done. I allude to my dear friend, Sir Michael Mohan, news of whose death reached me in France.”
“Ah, yes,” sighed Bigot with a sly glance, that Louvigny did not miss, at Crevier. “A splendid young man, no doubt. But the storms and the seas respect not youth nor beauty nor brilliance. The young Irishman’s death grieved me too, for I had prepared a hearty welcome for him at Quebec, where His Gracious Majesty had generously sent him. Had I not, Gaston, a warm welcome ready for Sir Michael?”
“A fitting one, in very truth,” agreed Crevier with an appreciative smirk at the Intendants droll humor.
“The jester, you say,” went on Louvigny, “not satisfied with playing the fool, must needs be the highwayman too?”
“Monsieur le Diable, he was called,” said Bigot. “From the bizarre cloak and hood, so much like a monk’s, that he wore on all occasions, even as you just saw him and as the good citizens of Quebec shall for the last time gaze upon him. For nothing will satisfy the people but that he be executed in his cloak and peaked hood, which for so long terrified the good habitants of New France. I think it a good thing, too, for it quite spoils one’s appetite for breakfast to gaze upon the face of a man just as he is being strangled.” “Yes, it is well,” assented Louvigny absently.
The Intendant smiled and shot a crafty look at Gaston. It was solely Bigot’s idea that the scarlet hood should cover the face of the condemned, in which Louvigny would surely recognize his friend and at once use his authority to stay the execution, in which case all would be last. The consequences for Bigot, should so much as a word pass between de Dronsart and Sir Michael Mohan, would be very unpleasant; so, lest the prisoner cry out to the marquis and make himself known, the gag would remain in his mouth until there was no longer need for it. Bigot, with great glee, thought of the moment when, the hood removed, the marquis would discover who it was that had been hanged in the guise of the highwayman. And Crevier, sharing this macabre anticipation, rubbed his hands with such a dry and disheartening sound that Louvigny stared at him as if he were mad.
The Intendant purposely kept the newcomers a long time at table, and now, at a late hour, Charleroi Fortin was charged with the task of watching outside the guests' chamber doors to see that no message of any sort reached the Marquis de Dronsart; though there wras small chance of anyone being able to communicate with him, the prisoner being safely confined in the vaults and Diane under strictest surveillance at the Hôtel Dieu. The Intendant had constructed a most complex web of intrigue, and he felt now like the king spider who has seen the various flies get snarled in his meshes and prepares to devour them at his good pleasure. Diane was in the meshes, securely; and the Irishman, Mohan, de Mornay had already perished, and still the web was strong. Nothing could break it now; all would go as he had planned.
In the market place the lofty gibbet had grown up in a few hours under the hammers and planes of willing carpenters, and now reared its head most awesomely. The town was tonight en fête, for now people might walk
freely abroad and not be in terror of their lives and purses. The highwayman’s body, on being cut down from the gallows, would be placed in a cage made of barrel hoops and again suspended, this time at the four cross roads of Levis, for all men to look upon; that the good might draw therefrom assurance of the law’s kindly severe protection; the evil take heed to the fate of Monsieur le Diable and henceforth mend their ways.
Thus, pleasantly, with a bottle of wine between him and Crevier, the expectant bridegroom, the Intendant awaited the dawn and the working out of his most satisfying scheme.
“In truth, my lord,” said his toady, “Richelieu is outdone by you. And this will teach the unwary that François Bigot makes a far better friend than he does an enemy. I, certainly, shall never forget what you have done for me.”
“Nor will Diane, I suspect,” laughed the Intendant. “Though she will remember it in a different fashion. Look well to it, Gaston, that you ascertain whether or not she knows of this book they stole from me. I think not, inasmuch as the night they came to Beaumanoir— de Mornay and this troublesome Irish fool—Diane was staying with the Ursulines. ’Tis my belief that Mohan did but hide the book somewhere and doubtless so carefully that there it will stay until Doomsday; though, for that matter, the day on which it were found would be Doomsday for François Bigot. You understand, mon ami, it would mean the Bastille, mayhap the gallows, for me whom you hail as friend and patron; and for you, no less, and for Cadet and the others. It is a simple matter to swindle kings, governments and peoples, but their revenge is great in proportion when once they find you out.”
“Even as our own upon the Irishman who fooled U3 so long. I shall take care, my lord, that Diane—my wife she will be then—shall come to the window in good time to see him leap from life into death. That will put fear into her; break her pride and show her we are not to be trifled with.”
“Quite,” agreed the Intendant, and then with fresh wine they drank toasts to all the pleasant things they could think of; to Crevier’s love, to Bigot’s loves, to the end of Sir Michael Mohan, to the success of all their future schemes. It was not until scarcely an hour remained before the dawn that would bring death that Crevier prepared to take his leave.
“First, your excellency,” he said thickly, “I would go make my farewells to my rival in the vaults below. No doubt, he is thinking of me and envying me.”
“He can make you no reply,” said Bigot. “For I gave orders at midnight that the gag be put in his mouth, the hooded disguise over him, and that no further speech be allowed him, for he has the devil’s wit and can do untold mischief with his tongue.”
“But he can hear what I have to say. And it will be the first time, I swear, within my knowledge, that he will fail of quick and biting retort. I shall not linger long with him, since I must bring a sober and smiling face to the marriage altar.”
CREVIER descended the narrow stairs to the vaults unsteadily, gloating over the prospect of the cruel baiting he would give the prisoner. Even in death he would hate this man, for he knew that Diane would still love him. He wanted to taunt Michael, to wound him, to make death more hideous to him. And with this ugly purpose he came to the corridor of the vaults, along which the sentry paced.
“You may go,” he said to the guard. “I wish to hold private converse with the prisoner. I shall let you know when 1 am leaving.”
The sentry tendered him the keys, and Crevier took them. The soldier saluted and strolled out of doors. Like many of his fellows, he had no use for the Intendant and despised Crevier with all his heart. He suspected that Crevier’s purpose in coming at this eleventh hour was to make the condemned man’s lot more wrretched still—something that nauseated him. He stopped for a moment at the low door of the vaults to look back. He saw the diabolic profile of Crevier peering in at the grill, and he spat contemptuously as he turned on his heel and walked about in the darkness of the courtyard.
Michael half sat, half lay on his pallet of straw, even as Louvigny had seen him that afternoon, the red hood covering his head, his eyes burning through the narrow slits. The gag cut his mouth cruelly. Thus had he sat for hours, watching hopefully the grey, glimmering square of the grill, waiting for he knew not what, yet hoping, praying, believing that help would come. He appreciated Bigot’s cleverness in putting the gag between his lips, the hood over his head; for, from the height of the gallows he would surely have called out to Louvigny, who would as certainly have recognized his face and his voice. Now there was no chance of that. To see Louvigny, to see life and freedom so near him as it had been, then snatched away without his being able to say a single word or to make a single sign to aid himself— that had been a torture, hellish, ghastly. The Intendant’s
evil thoroughness had circumvented his hopes in every way. But still there was Barney; Barney who had never failed him.
He heard the bellman distantly tell the hours. Only one more hour of life, and he tied, helpless. Crevier’s face, grinning and derisive, pressed against the grill, was a final mockery at his hopes, so poor, so uncertain.
“So the ready tongue is mute at last,” sneered Crevier. “It is well. It is a great pleasure to be able to talk to the witty fool without being interrupted by his swordpointed tongue. I come to take my leave of you and to bid you, just before the trap is sprung, cast your eyes heavenward and you shall see your heaven; though by then it will be mine. Long ago, my fine Irishman, we planned just such a party for you, but cleverly you outwitted us, you fooled us. And it is one of Diane’s bitter reproaches that she was the unwitting instrument of your capture. However, my love for her is such that she will soon cease to reproach herself, even to think of you at all. Yours is the fate that all should meet who seek to rise above themselves.
“All goes harmoniously; and most harmonious is the fact that you shall die for the slaying of your fellow traitor, de Mornay, when it was I who put the ball in his back and then, seeing that he still lived, stuck him for the pig he was through the throat with my sword. Now, there is little more I can say, Sir Michael Mohan. I know you wish me all happiness, even as I wish you a swift and speedy journey to hell—”
Crevier’s speech ended in a choking gasp as two hairy, freckled paws closed about his windpipe with terrible, berserk strength. Michael saw his face vanish from the grill, apparently without reason. But in a few seconds the key turned in the lock, the door swung open, and into the vault, dragging the throttled Crevier after him like a sack of corn and depositing him unceremoniously on the floor, came the great O’Pray.
“Sure, the whole on this blessed afternoon and evenin’, your honor, have I spent in that stinkin’ wine butt in the corner of the corridor. I sneaked in at noon when the sentry was chattin’ with his sweetheart, and divil a chance had I to crawl out and spring on the fellow’s back, for the butt was big as the one the English kings drowned each other in, and I would no sooner get me shoulders out than he’d finish his beat an’ turn around, facin’ me. An’ every time he passed the butt he had to spit, your honor. Then this blaggard came and ...”
As Barney talked he unfastened Michael’s bonds, took the hood from his head, the gag from his mouth.
“Now, quick, your honor. Strip this blaggard we will, and dress him up for the gallows, safe, sound and silent. Slip into his clothes after gettin’ out of your own, be on your way then and I’ll drop back into the winebutt, to emerge in time to witness this fine hangin’. And, sure, not until they take this extinguisher off him, will they know they’ve hanged the right man in mistake for the wrong one. The first time I set eyes on him I said to myself he was a gallows bird, and like all the O’Prays I have the gift of foreseein’ ...”
Crevier recovered from the throttling Barney had given him in time to see Michael Mohan, wearing his clothes, leave the cell and lock the door behind him. Crevier was tightly bound and gagged, and the hood securely covered his terrified face. Swiftly the horror of his predicament dawned upon him; for if Michael Mohan could communicate with no one, ask aid of no one, neither now could he.
“Adieu, Monsieur Crevier,” called Michael softly. “May I wish you a pleasant good morning? And may you enjoy the sunrise!”
Awful sounds and mouthings came from the man in the wine-red cloak and the all-concealing hood. He ran about the cell, flung himself against the door, seeking some projection on which to tear the accursed disguise from him before—it was something he dared not think about—the dawn; the dawn at which he was to have taken unto himself a wife. Now another bride offered herself and would not take denial. This bride was Death.
With a wave of his hand, which wore Crevier’s gauntlet, Michael left the vaults, threw the keys to the guard, who still paced the courtyard, and strode through the gateway of the Intendant’s palace—a free man.
“Now God and the holy saints of Ireland be praised,” he muttered. "And all honor to the O’Prays of Waterford. Thanks that I have come through this greatest peril. The hanging will go on right merrily. ’Tis a fine appearing gallows they builded for me. But the wedding, for want of a bridegroom, will have to be postponed.”
He wanted to sing, to whistle and caper a jig; so vast, so utter was his relief. Barney O’Pray knew how to take care of himself. Anyway, now that Michael was free and Louvigny in the city, the Intendant’s highhanded actions must come to an end. The book, the record of his crooked administration, would bring Monsieur François promptly to his knees, and his associates, to save their own skins, would tell the truth about who had killed de Mornay.
People, to be early on hand for the execution, were hurrying through the streets now, their footsteps, their
voices, loud in the great stillness that preludes the dawn. Michael, in Crevier’s long dark cloak and slouch hat, passed unnoticed; and, since none of these folk had ever seen beyond the painted face of the king’s fool, he mingled freely with them and had no fear. Only Maître Gabbon, the tailor from the Alley of the Pigeons, Charleroi Fortin and Ludovic Frinette, the perruquier, would be at all likely to recognize him. And these he would avoid, though it was most unlikely they would realize that the man supposed to be mounting the scaffold was standing by their side, assisting as a spectator at his own execution.
Now, from all quarters the habitants, the bourgeoisie, the military, the nobility, men and women, streamed into the market place, and thousands were assembled around the gallows when the sun poked its shining rim above the hilltops and the bells of the city pealed forth the angelus. The horses of the guard clattered over the stones. It would take place on time; even to the minute.
Never was such a hubbub. No greater excitement could the Quebeçois have displayed had a great fleet of the English appeared before the city, ready to bombard it. From the youngest to the oldest they had come in force, and all night long, from Les Trois Rivières, from Charlesbourg, Montmorency, and in canoes and bateaux from villages far down the river. Monsieur le Diable, in the short time he had galloped the highways around Quebec, had acquired a legendary character. Mothers silenced their noisy children by whispering his name at nightfall and bidding the young ones hark to the patter of the horse’s hoofs on the high road. And that Monsieur le Diable should be no other than the painted jester at whom they laughed when he drove his droll cart through the city’s streets lent still more piquancy to his execution for the murder of the Comte de Mornay and for having disobeyed the king’s mandate in forsaking his motley.
Just as the sunlight grew to dëeper gold, flooding the great rock of the city with its luminance, the prisoner was led forth, escorted by six of the guard, their bayonets glinting in the sun. The throng had expected to see the condemned march to his death unflinching, as a brave man should; not this craven, cowardly thing, who at times flung himself grovelling on the ground, seeking, it seemed, to grind his face into the cobbles; who mouthed and made bestial sounds at which some laughed and others shuddered, as he was forced along by his captors, now with the bayonet’s steely point, now by sheer force of the soldier’s hands upon his arms. Right to the topmost step of the scaffold it was necessary thus to drag and push him.
The mob hissed and groaned. Word went round that the condemned had gone mad in his cell an hour before dawn, and that his gaoler had been forced to knock him on the head to quiet him lest he dash his brains out on the floor.
“Poltron! Poltron! Lâche! Lâche!” roared the throng. “Coward! Craven! Is this the bold highwayman? The great marauder who terrorized us!”
The Intendant, mounted, with Louvigny de Dronsart on a white steed by his side, smiled with contented cynicism and turning to his young companion, said:
“Strange how this man’s stiffness and defiance have melted. Only a few moments ago I had given you my oath that not the gallows—no, not the knife nor the axe nor any other giver of death to felons—could have broken that proud spirit. Yet he must have been a craven at heart.”
“A sorry wretch indeed,” said Louvigny, pity mingled with contempt in his clear eyes. “Is this, then, the man who wooed the fair Heloise de Valois, braved shipwreck and death? It seems incredible.”
Bigot laughed in his lace-fringed sleeve. How dearly he longed to tell this young jackanapes that the frightful thing he saw, flopping and grovelling, mouthing and moaning on the gallows as they slipped the noose about his neck, was no other than the Irishman, Mohan, whose bravery Louvigny had vaunted in his presence. But no. In a moment now, Bigot knew, his triumph would be complete. He could picture Louvigny’s revulsion of feeling, his horror and indignation; and the Intendant had prepared himself to deny stoutly, for the moment, that he knew the victim as anyone other than Pepin Clopinard, the king’s fool.
Mockingly, longing for sharper eyes, the Intendant glanced up the heights to the Hôtel Dieu, where, he thought, even now, Gaston Crevier, Sieur d’Anvers, was leading his bride from the altar in the little chapel. He saw a flutter of white at the window and blew a kiss from his lips with his right hand, while with his left he nonchalantly indicated to the black-hooded executioner that the trap be sprung.
In the silence of the crowd, the sound was startling, macabre; a sharp crack as of bones snapping and the grotesque crimson figure dangled limply in the air, head sunk on breast, arms loose like those of a crazy marionette, swaying, jerking. Then, a bell began to toll and a monk in the crowd intoned the De Profundis.
Continued on page 37
Continued from page 22
“Out of the depths, I have cried unto thee, 0 Lord.
Lord, hear my prayer ...”
The Intendant, who, with lips parted, a glassy look in his eyes, had watched the execution, laughed when it was done; an ugly, grating laugh. Louvigny looked at him with eyes eloquent of the contempt he had quickly learned to feel for this smooth, unscrupulous scoundrel.
“Do you find it droll then?” asked Louvigny. “To me it is a sight revolting and pathetic in the extreme.”
Bigot stayed him with a curt gesture, and, leaning forward, bade the hangman remove the hood that covered the dead man’s face. The crowd, who had never seen the real face of the king’s fool, any more than that of Monsieur le Diable, watched with bated breath, their eyes intent on that absurdly dangling, lifeless thing at the end of the hempen cord. They had seen him go plunging to his death, but not yet was their morbid curiosity satiated; they longed to see the features behind the red hood—a handsome face, it had been said by Maître Gabbon and Ludovic Frinette, the wigmaker.
Now the hangman brought forth a little stairs and, climbing up on them, unfastened the cowl and with slowness, deliberate or due to clumsiness, drew it off, as one disclosing a miraculous sight does it with dramatic restraint. A wave of expectancy rippled over the crowd, necks craned. Bigot looked at the young marquis and was pleased to find him as intent as the rest. Then the hangman, with a cry that rang shrilly there, leaped from his stairs. The twisted, empurpled visage of the dead man, more hideous than any masque that man could fashion was revealed—the face of Gaston Crevier!
Dumbstrioken, paralyzed, Bigot leaned forward, on the pommel of his saddle. The crowd that for an instant had kept astounded silence now burst forth with shouts and jeers more deafening than before. And mingled with their wonderment was a certain pleasure, for, next to the Intendant, no man in New France was hated more than this same Crevier, who had executed to the letter the Intendants infamous schemes, who had been thief, panderer and worse.
“Now God be my judge!” swore the Intendant. “This passeth all endurance, this—” Words choked him, so great was his fury. “Crevier! V. is Gaston the fools have hanged and not the beast of an Irishman !”
“What say you of an Irishman?”
demanded Louvigny sharply. “Yon dead rogue is your own associate, I see. But was it not Pepin Clopinard, the king’s fool, who was to ascend the steps there? Methinks, he had died a braver death.”
“I will not brook your meddling,” said the Intendant. “I see your hand in this, Monsieur le Marquis. You have outwitted me here by a trick that, without the devil’s aid, could never have succeeded.”
“Quite so,” answered Louvigny insolently, though he was quite as ignorant of what it was all about as the meanest one in the gabbling, seething crowd that waited for some word on this strange and unforeseen turn that events had taken.
“Then where is he? Where is the Irishman? I will have him shot down like a dog and his body hung up for the crows that wait for it.” Bigot was maudlin in his rage, too carried out of himself to see the look of delight that succeeded Louvigny’s first incredulity. The marquis’s quick mind pieced scattered clues together—the cynical smiles of the Intendant, his allusions to the Irishman, who could be no other than Michael. There was much that puzzled Louvigny, but he perceived he held the whip hand and he would not lose his advantage. The Intendant, however, chafing under his helplessness, rudely spurred away and rode through the crowd, that scattered pellmell before his mad career.
“The man is possessed,” muttered Louvigny. “But can it be that Michael lives?” Is here now? Still in his heart was that boyish adoration for young Mohan.
A touch at his stirrup caused him to look down and into the eyes of Michael, which had a merry twinkle in their dark depths.
“A fine friend you are, Louvigny, assisting so blithely at my execution, coming to visit me in my cell—”
“The devil!” cried Louvigny. “Did that fiend—?”
“Oh, no; not the devil; only Michael Mohan, though devil or angel I might have been at this moment but for the good offices of Barney O’Pray, whom you may see yonder by the gallows, freshly crawled from an empty wine-butt and now gazing his fill of the corpse. The man has a mania for wakes and the like.”
“But you — how come you here, Michael? You were thought drowned in the sea.”
“Drowned in the sea, hanged by the neck, and here I am as hearty as ever, having walked in two sets of shoes belonging to dead men, having been made
a fool of, which no Mohan ever was before; also taken for a robber and set down as a murderer. If you can think of anything more cheerful than that, Louvigny, I should like right well to hear it.”
“Quick! Get up behind me and we shall clear out of this mob. I take it you are very much in the Intendants bad books.”
“Sure, I have his bad book,” laughed Michael. “De Mornay and I stole his accounts the night poor Lucien was killed by the scamp you see in air yonder, cooling his heels by an elegant dispensation of divine Providence.”
“So that is it! And you have this book?”
“Hidden in an old chair in Diane’s room at Charlesbourg.”
Louvigny, baffled, shook his head.
“What a man, O Lord!” he muttered. “Sometimes I think you are mad, Sir Michael Mohan. Had we some few like you ...” •
Michael mounted behind him and they rode from the market place, not unperceived by the red-headed O’Pray, who doffed his hat in gleeful salute and followed at his leisure. To the Hôtel Dieu they went to find Diane, who, on seeing Michael and learning how he had escaped Bigot’s treachery, became the happiest of forsaken brides. Childlike, she clung to Michael, much to the horror of the bewildered nuns and the unused curé, who
had waited in vain for the coming of Gaston Crevier, and now would forever wait in vain.
“Your would-be husband had an engagement with the hangman, Diane,” sympathized Michael. “At the last minute, he kindly volunteered to take my place.”
“Then why not, in return, volunteer to take his?” put in Louvigny. “The tapers burn, the priest waits. Come; or would you wait longer?”
“No longer,” whispered Diane.
"DROM the chapel they went to Charles-
bourg, where they breakfasted at leisure, and Louvigny heard as much of Michael’s vicissitudes as Michael was in condition to tell him, and was referred, for the complete and unabridged account to Barney O’Pray, who had arrived during the repast and was much disgruntled at not having been present at the wedding.
“It’s what I get for standin’ watchin’ corpses. Sure, your honors and milady— my dear mistress it now is, and a happy day too for me on which I say the words —me who was present when Ould Meg the Gipsy told Sir Michael that ’twas a daughter of Deirdre and none other he would take to wife, and who has lived to see the truth of her foretellin’—’tis a deaf mute have I been this six long months and more, compelled to hold me tongue and pretend to be stone deaf and
unable to make so much as a scratch with a quill or read a word of print, and me as fine a scholar, by the same token, as could be found, and rarely at loss for a word—”
A commotion outside the manor interrupted Barney O'Pray’s peroration. A servant, with startled face, hurried into the room but before he could find words, François Bigot ungently pushed him aside and stood before the unabashed party at the breakfast table.
Louvigny and Sir Michael rose courteously, Barney strolled to the chimneycorner to be on hand for emergencies.
“Will you not be seated, monsieur?" invited Diane, unsmiling, her eyes defiant and her mouth scornful; for she knew the lie this man had told her. "It is a wedding breakfast, and though you come unbidden and unwelcome, we shall not be lacking in hospitality—”
“I come for that man! Your husband now, is it? No matter, he shall hang! He is twice a murderer, and apart from that he is under the king’s displeasure and has long since incurred the death-penalty—”
“Not so!” interrupted Louvigny. “His Gracious Majesty was pleased, at my father’s instance, to commute the sentence of death passed on Sir Michael Mohan and send him to New France—”
“For me to deal with.”
“Yes. Then, however, in a fit of gen-
erosity—when he thought it was too late to do any good—the king pardoned this wild Irishman. That pardon I bear with me. I kept it as a memento, little thinking that I would have the great pleasure of using it. As for the rest, you know, Monsieur l’Intendant, that the man who killed Lucien de Mornay died pitifully on the gallows this morning. And, finally, if you still object, there is in our possession a book in which you have deliberately inscribed your death-warrant—Ah, I see that has done it! Know you, sir, I have the power, I and my confreres, to send you to France in chains as a thief, a traitor, a pillager of the poor. Now, you mar the wedding-feast. Go, and take your men with you for they have naught to do here.”
No words remained for the Intendant. His last bit of bluster had failed. He foresaw the fate which must inevitably overtake him—disgrace, the Bastille, oblivion, or worse, an unpleasant name to all future generations of the colony he had plundered.
Now, unopposed and uninterrupted, the O’Pray regaled Louvigny with his master’s Odyssey. And neither the speaker, in the heights of his eloquence, nor the listener, in the effort it took to understand Barney’s quaint English, remarked the quiet exit from the old dining room of Charlesbourg manor of its mistress and its new master.