The King's Fool
Wherein the man of motley proves himself a man of courage and a man of wisdom survives disaster to become a fool
LOUIS ARTHUR CUNNINGHAM
The Story: Compelled to flee from Ireland by the machinations of Sir Peter de Launay, who has secured possession of his lands, Sir Michael Mohan, with a henchman, Barney O’Pray, arrives at an inn near the coast kept by one Kate Rafferty.
Sir Peter is at the inn, and he drunkenly insists that all present shall drink to his fiancée, whose miniature he shows. Michael Mohan, angered that the name of one so beautiful should be bandied about in such a place, snatches the miniature and retains it during the mêlée which follows, in which he wounds Sir Peter.
Escaping to Paris with O'Pray, Michael meets an old fellow student, Lavigny de Dronsart, by whom he is taken home, after they have paused to look upon the king’s jester,
Pepin Clopinard, who is passing in the street. Attired in borrowed finery, Michael is introduced that evening to the girl of the miniature, beautiful and wealthy Diane de Merville, with whom he instantly falls
Diane reciprocates, and the lovers meet in Paris with the intention of eloping to the Carolinas. Before they reach the boat, however, they are attacked by soldiers, and, though Michael a nd Barney fight valiantly, they are vanquished and carried back to the Bastille, after which (hey are removed to the dark and foul-smelling hold of a small vessel.
AT NOON of the first day at sea,
Sir Michael and Barney O’Pray were allowed on deck. The vessel —a brig she proved to be—was called L’Aiglon, a misnomer as great as that committed when Mark Rafferty’s ancient tub was christened the Gull. L’Aiglon seemed to be manned mostly by Basques, squat, swarthy fellows with blue velvet berets, who manifested a lively interest in their passengers. The red hair and freckles of Barney delighted them and furnished sport for their lively wit, but inasmuch as Michael translated all their jibes as compliments and assured Barney they were admiring him, there was no bloodshed.
“Sure, what are the little baboons jabberin’ about now?” de m a n d ed Barney. “Would ye think now that grown men would go around wearin’ hats like Scotsmen? That black devil there—I’d like to lower me blackthorn on his thick skull, I would. Now, what in the name of all the bards of Tara is that? Sure, is it a circus we have here?”
“That” was a man who came walking along the deck on his hands, no mean feat, since the Channel was rough and choppy and L’Aiglon, with a brisk, fogladen wind on her quarter rolled and wallowed like a turtle. The hand walker came nimbly to his feet and _eated himself on a water-butt. He was a mere youth, they saw now, dark, goodlooking, and much of the build of Sir Michael Mohan, but his face, lined, pensive, showed an age of worry, of defeat, of something unnameable, that was not in the clear, smiling face of the Mohan of Morrah. His clothes were sombre, of expensive material and excellent cut, and about him was such an air of mystery and mockery that Michael found it hard to tear his eyes away from the stranger’s face. What was it he saw there that vibrated a chord in him that had been shaken before? This man—somewhere he had seen him—somewhere . . . His was not a face from the crowd, not one of the thousands seen and forever forgotten. No, one could
never forget those black, piercing eyes, betimes hard as polished jet, betimes soft with a sadness ineffable.
From his seat on the water-butt he cocked his head impudently at Michael and waved his hand in an exaggerated salutation. He smirked, he grimaced and gestured in such a way that Barney begged leave to go throttle him and throw him over the side.
“’Tis a shipful of monkeys, crew an’ all,” muttered Barney. ‘‘What ails the lad? Sure, he acts as if Old Nick himself had taken possession of him an’ was peepin’ out through those big black eyes of his. Had I not better go and put him out o’ misery, your honor?”
Michael shook his head. He was at a loss entirely to account for the young man’s peculiar actions, but he did not take
them amiss. He felt a vague pity for this youth, for his crazy pantomime. The stranger’s face was thin and white. It had an elfin, sly and derisive look. His hair was black, abundant, rippling out under a plumed hat, rakishly atilt on his head. All about him, Michael saw with swift intuition, was pose, pretense, acting. Perhaps the stern, caustic gravity that succeeded his mocking grin as they strolled toward him, was his natural
expression. Michael was not sure that he liked it better. The strange youth seemed now as anxious not to speak with them as previously he had been eager to attract their attention. He looked out into the greyness of sea and sky, brushed the beaded mist from his hair, drummed with his fingers on the staves of the water-butt, whistled a madrigal.
Michael, nonplussed, hesitant at this sudden volte face, stopped a few yards away from the stranger’s perch. Barney, in the rear, muttered something about the man’s being “a poor, crazy body that had best be left to perform his antics in peace.” But Michael, sensing the unusual, his friendly nature sick unto desperation for someone youthful and interesting, smiled cheerfully at the fellow and said:
“Since it is fellow passengers we are or fellow prisoners—and, in faith, it is all the same—may I make so bold as to enquire your name and your destination. The first I am unselfishly interested in knowing; the second selfishly, for, damme, if I have any idea at all.”
The youth turned slowly around from his interested
scrutiny of the murky Channel and a single gull, drab and lonely, that had circled the ship with screeling cry, and now, as if satisfied or discouraged, was becoming a speck in the greyness through which swiftly it winged its landward way.
“My name?” he said flippantly, “Jacques Blorion. My destination—hell.”
“Eh!” A lively grin grew from the faint smile on
Michael’s lips. “Then we sail on uncharted seas, sir. And it cannot be that we are all bound for the same place.”
“Perhaps not,” said Monsieur Blorion, as if for him the interview was ended. After a moment, however, he favored Michael with a dark, direct stare in which were venom and mockery. And, in that instant, again Michael pitied him and wondered what twist was in his spirit, what drop of gall had spoiled the fountainhead of his youth; for a youth he was and no more. Even, the down on his lip was such as a boy might sprout in playing at manhood. Michael longed to get behind that barrier of mockery and bitterness; get behind it and touch the young heart that must be there. But Blorion’s isolation, his supreme aloofness and disdain, repelled any present advances.
“I fancy, Sir Michael Mohan, that, if I reach hell at the end of this voyage, there will be an Irishman with me.”
Michael hid his astonishment that this stranger should be so familiar with his name. The captain of the
L’Aiglon, no doubt, had told him of it when gossiping.
“You could find no better company, Monsieur Blorion. But I assure you I had not that destination in view. Anyway, what makes you so sure that we are bound for the shades of Acheron? ’Tis no Stygian River we sail upon, but the waters of the English Channel. Your stomach will tell you that, man, unless you are a better sailor than Michael Mohan. Look at Barney O’Pray now, leaning over the rail. A sick man he is, by the lord, already.”
“Let him be,” said Blorion impatiently. “And try not to be like the rest of your countrymen, always
wandering, being sidetracked, divagating, digressing. Notice now; we were talking about our destination and you have brought the conversation around to your freckled-faced idiot of a servitor.
Plague take him ! Now, if you will heed me, I shall explain why I think both you and I are bound for hell.
Were you not in heaven a few weeks ago?”
“I was,” said Michael softly, thinking
of her whom he never ceased to think of. “In the highest heaven.”
“So, too, was I,” said Blorion. And Michael, in an access of horror, of the warmest sympathy, as for a stricken dumb brute, saw that Blorion, though his mouth smirked and his eyes mocked, was crying in his heart, crying like a little boy, a child that finds itself alone in some deserted, unknown place.
“Very good,” continued the strange young man, with never a quaver in his voice, never a visible sign of sorrow. “It is then agreed that we were in heaver yesterday. Now, are we there today?”
“No,” said Michael.
“Then we are still falling; eventually we must land in hell.”
“Faith, ’tis a pretty point you have made, sir.” He called to Barney. “Barney, my lad, come here until I present you to this gentleman. Talk about your Father Dominic O’Leary and Father Tim Dolan ! Divil a one of them could hold a candle to this man for logic and pushing a thing to its proper conclusion. He proves it is to hell we are bound — there and no place else.”
Barney turned a woebegone face, for a moment, from the rail, nodded and turned back again.
“To be sure, your honor,” were the faint words the wind brought Michael.
“You interest me, Monsieur Blorion,” said Michael, all his levity vanished, “As well by your clear statement of your case and mine as by the fact that you know aught about me. Has the captain of this gallant vessel been telling you my story?”
“I have not talked with him,” said Blorion. “Nor to any of the crew. They are merely Basques— good fellows, but crude, uncomprehending.” Monsieur Blorion adopted an air of superiority that made Michael laugh, for Michael had seen the cook and a seaman playing at draughts in the galley door and was but biding his time until he should have a chance at one or other of them. Blorion seemed to grasp what was going on in his mind. Bitterness cropped out again, bitterness that was always with him, like a serpent, drawing itself in for a moment, then darting itself forth.
“You are laughing at me,” accused Blorion. “At my pretenses, at my calling these dirty fishermen crude and uncomprehending. Do you know who and what I am, Sir Michael Mohan?”
“I do not,” said Michael promptly.
“A peasant’s brat from Angouleme,” said Blorion. “And I am a fool.” He laughed long and mirthlessly. Barney looked once more from the rail, uttered something that sounded like a prayer, then went back to his communion with the waters. But the laughter grated upon Michael, retched him. It was tortured; it was hideous.
“Peasants are not to be scorned,” said Michael with gravity. “And, as for being a fool, are we not all open to be called by that name? Sure, there was a Man nailed t \ cross once. They called Him a fool.”
Blorion seemed weak and spent, as if his laughter
were like a fit that exhausted him. He pressed his hands against his white cheeks, rubbed them up and down.
“That is so,” he said, when Michael, deeply engrossed in trying to make head and tail of him, had forgotten what the last observation was. “Aye, that is indeed so.
I fancy you are, in your fashion, as big a fool as I. ^ et you are no peasant’s brat. Your blood is as good as hers they tore you away from, üh, I know—” He smiled craftily. “I know a great deal that you don’t know and that you will never know unless I tell you. I held a high place at Court, you see. Louis, that good, kind and illustrious king, and I were gossips gossips, mind you, sirrah —no less! I used to whisper in his ear, and he in mine. He may have whispered your story in my ear.”
Michael’s puzzlement grew apace. This weird fellow, this bundle of conceit, inferiority, acrimoniousness, knew more about his affairs, and, doubtless Diane’s, than he did himself. Wisely, he did not seek to force Jacques Blorion with questions. The fellow was waiting to be questioned, waiting to refuse to answer and gloat over Michael’s baffled curiosity. There was a sly twinkle in Michael’s eye as he thrust hands in pockets and whistled Barney’s favorite, the Colleen I)has.
It produced the effect he had foreseen and wanted. Blorion fidgeted. He jumped down from his throne on the water-butt and paced the deck.
“Damned Irishman,” Michael heard him say, and whistled the louder. At last . . . “Stop. I beg you to stop,” said Blorion.
“Ah, I am sorry you do not like the music,” said Michael humbly. “But wait till you hear, Barney O’Pray; he is ten times worse, for I have a good sense of sound and can tell a crow from a throstle, God be praised!”
“I heard said you were a race of madmen,” muttered Blorion. “Do you not know you are going to your death?”
The words, the tone of his voice, not bitter or mocking now, but filled with brotherly soi row, gave Michael pause. His hands came out of his pockets, hung at his sides.
“Death?” he said steadily. “What makes you say that, Blorion? Why should they send me across the seas to die? Is it to Ireland we go?”
“To Quebec,” said Blorion. “To New France.”
“Eh! You tell me—”
“Did you not know?” Blorion was impatient. “Of
course, we go to New France. Sacred name! I thought you had guessed that long ago or knew it. Apparently, you know very little of your own affairs.”
”1 have not had the chance to think of my affairs for several weeks,” said Michael. “Someone kindly took the responsibility off my shoulders.”
“You know who,” said Blorion. “The King’s men. You were unfortunate, Sir Michael, in your choice of a sweetheart, as she was in the choice of a lover.”
“No doubt she was,” admitted Michael. “But I— you do not know, Blorion, though, you know quite a lot.”
“Much more than you think. Seriously, had it been any girl in France other than Diane de Merville with whom you so quickly and beautifully fell in love—ah, yes, they had to admit it was a beautiful manifestation— you might have ... no matter For they talked
about you at Court, about your good looks, your fine carriage and air de noblesse. Even La Pompadour, had you sought her favor, might have smiled on you and on your suit for Diane’s hand. As it was, she defeated you even as she defeated me—”
“La Pompadour! She defeated me ! Why, she is but a noble harlot!”
Monsieur Blorion laughed.
“She is the ruler of France. Make no mistake about it, Sir Michael. You and I are here on this wretched boat, bound for Quebec, for . . Well, we are thus
because we did not realize, or for a moment forgot, that Antoinette Poisson, was mistress of our destinies. She hates those who forget. And you sought to run away with Diane de Merville, whom she had long since promised to Gaston Crevier, the Sieur d’Anvers, if you please.”
“I know him not,” said Michael, wondering at all this that had gone on under the apparent but treacherous smoothness of his love for Diane-spying, intrigue, the anger of the King’s mistress.
“You will know him,” vowed Blorion. “In the hell to which you are going, he is one of the archfiends. Oh, it is, on the surface, a pleasant hell, this New France. I have heard said the wine flows freely there, but so does blood. The gold is plentiful too, but so is misery. The cross rears itself high, but in its shadow men burn at the stake. And there is corruption, debauchery, friponnerie. And of all this the leader is one François Bigot, a handsome pig; and with him Gaston Crevier . . . who is not handsome.”
“And they are sending me out for Gaston to look after me,” said Michael.
“Faith, I am sure we will not be friends.”
“Yes, they are sending you out to Gaston,” said Monsieur Blorion dully.
“Not that they did not want to do away with you in the Bastille, but merely that you had friends—the Marquis de Dronsart ranks high in the King’s favor—and, due to his representations, Louis had the death sentence changed to one committing you to New France, to such punishment there as the authorities deemed fitting. It was simply sentencing you to a more cruel death, with, perhaps, her you love to witness it.”
“Of a certainty. You know not the depths of their hearts, Sir Michael; how, when the gratifications of ordinary pleasures are exhausted, they seek stimulus for their jaded passions in cruelties subtle and refined. Think you not that Antoinette Poisson, La Pompadour, would gloat upon the image of you hanging from the gallows while she you loved and who loved you, looked up at your dead face, where the protuberant eyes, the discolored flesh and mouth distorted, made horrid mockery of her dreams? It is even so.”
“And blindly I walked into the midst of such things,” said Michael pensively. “Walked with my head in the clouds while all about my feet were snares and gins that even a stupid rabbit might have perceived. I was a fool, a fcol without motley, without the asses’ ears, the mock sceptre or the pig bladders in which dried pease make a rattle, but a fool none the less.”
Monsieur Blorion started, stared sharply at the young Irishman for a moment. Then, as if satisfied with what he saw, he laughed with a trace of sardonic mirth and said dryly,
“All fools do not wear motley, Sir Michael; nor are all who wear it, fools. Life plays its pretty pranks.”
“Yes,” agreed Michael. “It makes strange sport of us. But now that you have told me all about myself, my friend, and imparted to me the cheering news that I am but going from the frying-pan into the fire, will you not describe to me the particular sport that life has had with you? From your mien I gather it has been cruel.”
“Aye, most cruel,” nodded Blorion, once more seating himself on his cask as on a throne and gathering up his legs under him. “But describe it to you, sir, I will not.
Your affairs were no care of mine. They were forced upon me as, from my high and responsible position in the Court of Louis XV, were full many others. But my sorrows can be no care of yours and I would not inflict them upon you. I hold them close to me, enfin, hugging my miseries, battening upon bitterness as I thought to—”
He stopped abruptly and resumed his monotonous study of sea and sky. Grey smoky clouds blew wispily across an obscure sky, and of the sun the faint, twilight radiance was the only sign. L’Aiglon splashed and wallowed in the deep troughs and in her clumsy rigging was an infernal din of stridently creaking blocks, straining stays and flapping canvas. The captain, a paunchy giant of a man with multiple chins and eyes dwarfed and rendered porcine from the excess of flesh on his cheeks, bellowed orders from the lofty poop and the seamen went agilely about their execution.
SEEING that Monsieur Blorion would talk no more, Michael took his leave and walked over to Barney O’Pray who, still in the unpleasant throes of seasickness, was praying softly, cataloguing all the saints, angels and archangels, and calling upon them to come to the rescue of his agonized body.
“Och ! It’s glad I’ll be when this accursed vessel reaches Ireland, your honor. And once having set foot there, never will I leave it again . . . unless, of course, your honor says so.”
Michael smiled wanly. Though the darkness of Dublin Gaol might hang over him, even the shadow of the gallows, ’twould be sweet to be in Ireland.
“We are not going to Ireland . . .” He laid a hand gently on Barney’s shoulder. “It is to Quebec, to the New World, we are going.”
“No!” Wonderment, grief, delight, expectancy, flashed over Barney O’Pray’s face even as fast as his eyes blinked four times. “Is it so, your honor? ’Tis a place I have always wanted to see. And did his lordship who uses his hands for feet tell ye that?”
“He did. Also, that we shall be no better off in the New France than we were in the Old. It seems that I am in the ill graces of the King’s favorite for trying to win Diane. And I am being sent to him who would have her, one Gaston Crevier, Sieur d’Anvers, that he may fittingly punish me for my boldness—”
“Oh, time enough to think of him,” said Barney. “We’ll be too much for them all, mark me, your honor. Once I am rid of this evil pain that is makin’ me life an unbroken misery, I’ll take the vessel here singlehanded. ’Tis odd I should get ill; the O’Prays were great seamen. Did you ever hear of how an O’Pray
saved the day for England when the Spaniards sent their great Armada?”
“Not now,” pleaded Michael. And mercifully then a seaman came and ordered them below. It was twilight and the grey murk had thickened; a long, slow swell was on the sea. Monsieur Blorion still sat, a forlorn figure, on his water cask, his legs curled up under him, his chin propped in his cupped hands, his eyes gazing afar off .
ALL during L’Aiglon's slow, crawling passage across the Atlantic, that dark and sullen sky brooded over her. Never a ray of sunlight pierced through that leaden pall and no sail showed upon the vague horizon; neither gull nor albatross circled her stubby spars; no whale blew or flying-fish skimmed the slowly rising and falling billows. The cheery Basques even lost their quips and laughter and ceased to poke rude fun at Barney O’Pray. Blorion had lapsed into a profound and forbidding silence from which Michael could not jolt him. There was a tension on board the brig, a tension bred of gloom and the chill winds of early winter and the salt spray that stung and blinded, all without cease, without respite.
“’Tis like a tumbril of the sea,” muttered Michael. “As if death were at her helm. And it is all so dark and drab—fit to drive men mad.”
The knives had flashed the twelfth day out, and a tall, insolent fellow, a Venetian, had died at the hands of a Basque, one Laripo, a little man of gigantic strength. And that was because the Venetian played and sang . . . even so. The same tunes, the same ballads that had rejoiced Laripo and his comrades at the outset of the voyage, had driven him to frenzy. And the Venetian would not stop. Michael saw the waters close smoothly over him in his winding-sheet weighted by round shot. And U Aiglon wallowed and plodded toward those unknown shores.
The seamen whispered of ice in the great gulf and in the wide river down which they must sail to reach Quebec. It would be late November when they sighted the outlying islands of the realm of New France. The winters there were bitter, the seamen said—-it was Laripo who talked to Michael—speaking of great, deep snows, of lands held in the grip of ice, of men walking on racquets woven of thongs to keep them from sinking in the snow . . .
“Methinks you need have no fear of such things, monsieur,” said Laripo, regarding Michael with pity in his sombre eyes, in his Punch-like face. “It is true that you go to the tender mercies of Gaston Crevier, le Sieur d’Anvers, is it not? What a pity ! There they hang one and place one’s body in a cage at the crossroads for all to look upon. What have you done, monsieur, that such should be your fate?”
“I have loved,” said Michael.
“No doubt a greater crime than mine,” smiled Laripo. “Our good Captain Degouin has promised that I shall hang, too, from the yardarm when we cast anchor before Quebec. Ah, well, love is a more gSj pleasant crime to have committed than murder.”
THROUGH days and weeks of bitter, unwavering monotony, L’Aiglon sailed, until it seemed to Michael that they must be encompassing the globe and would reach Cathay instead of the land Cristoforo Colombo had discovered; and Barney O’Pray vowed that they had passed America by in the night and would presently sail over the rim of the world; which, in spite of savants and geographers, Barney tenaciously believed to be flat as a pancake.
“And think of the commotion a ship must cause when after failin’ for years and years it fetches up in hell! ’Tis an awful thought,” said Barney.
As if the skies out of their lowering murkness and the seas out of their sullen heaving had bred a mad typhoon, a storm broke upon the little vessel just when they had sailed into the great Gulf of St. Lawrence, and at the prospect of soon making their landfall, the Basques had begun again to smile and jolly one another. The wild sea drove the little vessel onward, picked it up, whirled it, tossed it about like a straw in a torrent. The foremast in the first onslaught of the wind came crashing down and the shrieked oaths and prayers of men pinioned under the weight of spars rose faintly above the hurly-burly of the wind. The seas, frothing white in the darkness, swept over the vessel, carrying away
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The King’s Fool
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everything that was not securely lashed, smashing through the hatchways, pouring water into her hold to join that which flooded through her sprung and gaping seams. All was chaos and panic. No semblance of order was there, when a shout could scarce be heard a foot away from the lips of him who shouted.
With the water swirling about their hips they fought and struggled for the boats. Michael, though he could not see, knew that men died there in their eager, frenzied fight for life. His own hands clung to the gunnel of the ship’s longboat. Barney O’Pray was close to him. The boat was half filled writh water, and the seas, sweeping over the deck, mocked at their every effort to launch it. Then, unexpectedly aiding, a huge comber struck the vessel broadside-on, heeling her over till the decks inclined at a giddy angle and longboat and seamen, like tumbled pigmies with a toy, were shot helter-skelter into the sea.
The icy water closed over Michael’s head. His motions seemed like those of a paralytic, for in legs, arms and body was a dead numbness. He fought to the surface; his flailing arms struck against the boat which, almost full of water, floated with its gunnels awash like a water-soaked log. He clung to it with the frenzy of despair, fearing to climb aboard lest it founder under him. He shouted to Barney O’Pray, but there was no answer. He shouted again with failing power, and this time a hand touched his—a hand on which he felt heavy rings. He guessed it was Blorion.
All night in the welter and moil of the seas, Michael clung with senseless fingers, with the iron grip of those who cling with the hands alone to life, and when the dawn broke, grey and haggard, slowly lighting the waves with sickly radiance, he saw that one other clung to the upturned boat with him—Monsieur Blorion. Of L’Aiglon, its captain and crew, and of Barney O’Pray whom Michael had loved well, there was no sign. They drifted, just they two, in that great, seemingly limitless waste of waters. And if in their hearts was a terror born of loneliness, of experiences new and harrowing, their brine-encrusted lips smiled bravely enough. The wound in Michael’s side, partly healed, had opened and the salt water agonized it, but he seemed to have come off better than Blorion whose face was ghastly and body limp, as if only in his white, beringed hands was strength remaining.
“Fate still sports, Sir Michael,” Blorion called weakly, with a piteous effort at gaiety. “Does she save us for a worse death?”
“There is no being up to the hussy,” frowned Michael. “And she has taken Barney away from me . . .” Over the waters his dark eyes gazed in vain, seeking the loyal, merry fellow who had gladly followed him into exile, even unto death. “But, look you, monsieur, we shall make fight for it! Come now; with our hands we can bail the water from this boat.”
“And then we can sit down,” said Michael. “You must not give up the ghost, Blorion. Come now, with whatever you have. And how did you manage to hang on with all those clothes?”
Blorion was wearing a greatcoat, fawncolored, of many capes; a sodden muffler of blue and white check was*about his neck so tightly that it seemed to be strangling him. He had no interest in living, it seemed to Michael, no desire to bestir himself. Listlessly he splashed water from the boat while Michael bailed industriously. Presently, Michael climbed aboard and scooped the water over the side in great handfuls. He dragged Blorion to a resting across the thwarts and fell to bailing anew. Blorion watched
him dully, a flicker of disdain on his pallid, corpselike face to which the dark hair was plastered dankly.
“Such energy in the very face of death !” he said.
“ ‘Sure, you’re not dead till you’re buried,’ as the man in Wicklow said when he climbed out of his coffin at the wake. But I see you are much fatigued, Blorion. Do you rest there and presently you will be dry and feeling more yourself.”
Blorion smiled with that old, old cynicism and Michael, bent forward, hands on knees, preparatory to resuming his scattering of the water, saw in the man’s eyes that which he seemed to have known before, yet could not recall. He went busily to work, helped now by a bottom-board which he tore up with a Gargantuan effort and used to paddle the water out. Soon the boat was much lighter and Michael, feeling weariness and vertigo now and a consuming thirst, sat weakly down.
The sun did not shine; a gusty, chilling wind helped to dry their sodden garments, but made them suffer, cutting their numbed bodies to the bone. Blorion shivered and coughed, but seeing Michael’s scant attire—a torn shirt of once fine linen, and velvet breeches—he offered him his greatcoat, saying he had no need of it. But Michael would have none of that.
They drifted aimlessly, for the tiller was smashed and there was no means of rigging a sail, for which Blorion’s coat had served well. Michael strove manfully to instill courage and hope into his listless companion, telling him they were in the great gulf, that they could not be far from land, that a vessel would surely sight them. But Blorion only smiled wearily and Michael knew, with pity, with understanding, that here was a man who had not the will to live.
It was so. Night came. Michael lay down in the stern and fell into deep slumber that lasted until dawn. And at dawn he was alone.
“God have mercy on him,” he said softly. “A queer, a troubled soul was his. And this—” He picked up the greatcoat that Blorion had very gently laid over him, that had fallen to the bottom of the boat. “Sure, he should not have done that. Why, why—” Yet Michael felt that, wherever the strange man was now, his eyes had lost their mockery, his smile its cynicism, his voice its bitterness. “Perhaps,” whispered Michael through his parched and cracked lips, “perhaps he is at peace now.”
But the loneliness was hideous for Michael Mohan, and his strong heart quailed when he dwelt upon what his own end might be. If only there were a drop of water to wet his tortured throat; if only, out of that hellish murk, the sun would gleam. He felt delirium come upon him; he laughed, he babbled. He saw the grinning, freckled face of Barney, the face of Diane smiling at him, her lips shaping his name. He walked again through the Glen of Morrah, heard the birds’ song and the gurgle of the little burn. He flung his hands high in air and fought with glimmering reason the impulse to leap over the side of the boat into those waters that lyingly offered rest. Then, mercifully, he became unconscious and lay as one dead on the bottom of the longboat, Blorion’s legacy, the coat of many capes, clutched in his gaunt hands.
rT'HERE were strange faces taking shape Jout of the shifting mists, and the buzzing in his ears resolved itself into voices speaking swiftly in French. His lips burned with the brandy that had been forced between them and in his body was a vast, a complete wearinass as though all life and vitality had been drained from it This was the cabin of a
ship; richly panelled it was in dark, redly gleaming wood, mahogany. The couch whereon he lay had a silken covering. He could feel its smoothness under his fingers, against his cheek.
There were three men standing near him. Engrossed in their conversation they did not heed his return to consciousness. One wore the elegant costume of a French noble, a buff-colored coat of exquisite cut, with huge cuffs and an abundance of snowy lace peeping therefrom. His profile was hawk-like, the chin arrogant, the brow and nose imperious, and his voice was haughty as he spoke to the other two, one evidently the captain of the vessel, the other a mate.
“No doubt, captain,” the gentleman was saying, “this Blorion is the only survivor of the wreck of the L’Aiglon. I received tidings from France that he was being sent out to amuse us at Quebec and, my faith, there was no one else aboard the tub whom I would so gladly see survive. A merry fellow, this Blorion, by all accounts. You can see from these letters that were sewn in his coat that His Majesty, as well as La Pompadour herself, was mightily pleased with him. And had not the fool so far forgotten his station as to fall in love with Heloise de Valois and even make some headway with his suit, he might have prospered—who can tell? In Quebec, at any rate, he will be welcome. The welcome I had prepared for the Irish dog, Sir Michael Mohan, was of a sort quite different. But the sea has relieved me of the pleasant duty of hanging him.”
“Sure, a right, cheery sort of gentleman this is,” mused Michael, his eyes shut tight. “Think of that now! And I am Blorion. And this is—”
“Sieur d’Anvers,” said the captain. “Think you it would be worth while to cruise about in quest of other survivors?”
“To the devil with them,’’ said D’Anvers. “Let us hasten to Quebec before ice forms on the river. Methinks, François Bigot, Cadet and Verrón will be impatient to hear from the King’s Fool the latest gossip of the Court; and the master-tailors of Quebec will have a task for them most unique—to fit out our jester here with motley, with a cap with asses’ ears, bells and whatnot. But what a godsend he will be in the long winter nights beside the roaring fire . . . Ho! Jacques Blorion, dit Pepin Clopinard, dit le fou du roi, Blorion, are you not awake yet?”
He crossed over to Michael’s couch and shook him roughly. Slowly, Michael’s lids opened and his dark eyes, full of mischief, stared up into those, shifty, ferretlike, of Gaston Crevier, Sieur d’Anvers.
“Let me be, fool,” he said impishly. “A sad thing it is for a man just back from the dead to look on a face as ugly as yours. For a moment I thought I had gone to hell and it was the devil himself who was shaking me. Get you gone!”
“You see!” Gaston Crevier laughed heartily. “A pretty, caustic wit! We shall be merry this winter in Quebec!”
“For once,” said the King’s Fool, “your lips speak truth.” And he turned his face to the wall that they might not see the twisted, bitter smile—a smile much like Blorion’s, which Michael well recalled now.
THE dark little tailor shop of Maître Gabbon was located not far from La Place d’Armes in a narrow thoroughfare known as the Alley of the Pigeons, for there, summer and winter, the birds flocked, fluttering and splashing in the puddles, rising up with a great whirrwhirr of wings and sweeping down in hordes for the handfuls of corn—rare alas, in these days of the Friponne— which Fernand Lachance, the corndealer, whose shop adjoined Maître Gabbon’s, sometimes threw to them. In spring, the alley was filled with their softly guttural cooing as they made their nestings in the eaves.
Maître Gabbon’s shop was a gloomy place. Most of the day he worked by the light of tallowr candles, his bespectacled eyes close down on the cloth he was sewing. A good tailor, Maître Gabbon, none better in Quebec. He was much in vogue among the gay crowd that gathered like silly butterflies around the bright flame which was François Bigot, the Intendant.
“Pox take them !” muttered old Gabbon, squinting over his horn spectacles at the work in hand—this time the splendid cassock of my lord bishop which his grace would not entrust to the skill of the nuns but must needs send to Maître Gabbon. “What do they care? Let me work my fingers to the bone over their fine lace and broadcloth, brocade and silly folderols. Quick work and slow pay. ‘Ah, splendid! Magnificent, Maître Gabbon! In truth, did His Majesty know that we had such a grand tailor in New France, ’tis back to Paris you would go and we should be left to wear homespun, for to none other than you would we entrant rich fabrics!’ So they say to me, but when it comes to paying, then ’tis a different story. Even my lord the Intendant, who sends his man Charleroi Fortin to me with this fool commission to make—”
“Talking to yourself again, Maître Gabbon?” said a cheery voice from the doorway. “A good sign, indeed. It means you have money in the bank.”
“Not a sou, Gil Martin; not a penny have I, in the bank or out of it. You notaries have the good time, little work and plenty of money.”
The notary, a red-faced man, bleareyed, with a bulbous nose and pendulous lower lip, three-cornered hat and a great surtout muffling him to the neck against the biting November blast, shuffled over to the table on which Maître Gabbon sat, his spindle legs crossed; the bishop’s red and black cassock draped over his knees.
“What are your troubles now?” asked the notary, sitting down on a rickety chair and crossing his legs with a palpable effort. “What fresh worries have you, Maître Gabbon—any which require the services of a first-class notary? There is none better in Quebec or, for that matter, in the whole of New France, than Gil Martin, at your service.”
“You have prospered,” said old Gabbon sourly. He was a perennial pessimist and it is doubtful if, had all his debtors come in at the moment and paid him in full, filling his shop with gold pieces, that he would have felt any better, for then there would be nothing to complain of.
“A pox upon them all!” muttered the tailor, ignoring Gil’s questions. “Devil take them and burn them!”
“All, all; can one choose among rogues? But this that happened at the first hour this morning is too much for an honest man to bear. Ecoutez —I was sewing on the cassock of my lord bishop, as you see me now, Gil Martin, when I heard the pigeons rise up with a great hubbub and presently a horse stopped before my door and a man dismounted and entered the shop. It was Charleroi Fortin—you know the young rogue—a worthy servant of his master ...”
“Easy, Maître Gabbon! Would you have the Intendant down upon us? One must be careful these days. All the corn in New France is in François Bigot’s granaries, the King’s granaries, and it is easy for a man to starve, or die a worse way.”
“I care not,” muttered the tailor. "It passeth all endurance. This insolent, swaggering lackey pokes his face up into mine, Gil Martin, and squints his eyes at me.
“‘Have you come,’ Iask him.’topaythe Intendant’s reckoning? For one fine coat he owes me, for three silk, ruffled shirts—’
“ ‘Hold your tongue, old fool!’ says the rogue. ‘Or my lord -will soon stop its wagging in a way you will not like. I
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I haveamost important commission for you,
I and, mind me, it must be executed with j dispatch. Know you aught of the costume fools wear?’
” ‘Indeed,’ said I promptly, T know very well all that relates to what fools should wear. Have I not been tailor to two Intendants, a Governor and countless ones like yourself?’
‘‘At that, he placed his hand on his sword, scowled at me and bade me be still.
“ ‘Look you, Maître Gabbon,’ says he. ‘It is not the time for fooling.’
“ ‘Yourself began it,’ says I, ‘with all this talk of fools.’
“ ‘I mean fool in its secondary or tertiary significance,’ he says. ‘I mean a jester’s costume that of a court fool.’
‘‘It was in my mind to tell him that they should all have been wearing fools’ suits long ago at the Intendant’s palace, but I held my peace, and the scoundrel explained that the Intendant wanted a jester’s costume made at once; that the King’s fool had arrived from France and was to entertain the fine folk at Chateau St. Louis and at Beaumanoir. In faith, ’twas all they needed and naught worse.”
‘‘I have so heard it rumored in the Place d’Armes,” said the notary interestedly. “And at the Canoterie they spoke of it this morning. This jester, it seems, arrived in Quebec last night on the Lys d’or, the King’s vessel which was bringing the Sieur d’Anvers back from Acadie. They picked up this unfortunate at sea, sole survivor of L’Aiglon, which met a storm and consequent disaster in the great gulf. It would appear that the clown is sent here for punishment and it hath been laid dQwn by no less a person than the king, no doubt advised therein by his mistress, that the fool be not permitted to wear any costume other than his cap and bells—astern penalty—poena severa.”
“Aye,” nodded Maître Gabbon. “He will be like the bishop, always the same arrayed.”
“Ciel!” cried the notary. “How can you compare—?”
“No offense intended,” apologized the tailor. “You know what I meant, Gil.”
“And you are to make a fool’s suit for this Pepin Clopinard who foolishly fell in love with a Court damsel and got himself sent into exile and forever condemned to be a fool instead of a happy lover.
“A fool in either case,” muttered the tailor, a confirmed woman-hater. “Yes,
1 am to make his costume this very day.
I told Charleroi Fortin I had not the green and red cloth for the motley and he, pointing to the cassock of his Grace, said I might use that for the red. A veritable scoffer!”
The notary, horrified, nodded assent, then it'll to watching Maître Gabbon’s long nimble fingers, the precise rise and fall of his needle as he rendered the cassock of Monseigneur as good as new.
THF Lys d’or had scudded down the St. Lawrence and dropped anchor before Quebec, under the gigantic brow of the rock, fortress-crowned, that was the great stronghold of France in the New World. The pale, cold brilliance of a full moon lighted the huge cliff, the houses of the town, the spires of the churches. The hour was late and few lights burned, but at the landing-stage torches glowed, sending lines of light over the water. Never had Michael seen a sight so grand, so different from the gentle, mellow beauty of the scenes in his homeland. This towering rock, this migluy river, dwarfed him, as it dwarfed all mankind. The vessels riding at anchor looked like tiny waterbugs beneath a bridge.
“With a few cannons and a handful of brave men,” he thought, “’twould be easier to defend than Gibraltar. No wonder they feel so secure, perched up on a cliff like that
“Come, fool, ’tis time to make your obeisance to the Lord of New France.”
The harsh voice of the Sieur d’Anvers interrupted Michael’s ecstatic contemplation of the rock and brought home to him the precariousness of his situation. So far he had passed successfully as the jester, Pepin Clopinard. His ready wit, thorough knowledge of French, and merry ways had stood him in good stead. But might there not be some in Quebec who, having seen Pepin at the Court of Versailles, would denounce him as an impostor?
“I come, brother,” returned Michael. “But ’tis well they know your face here, for surely they would otherwise pick on you as the fool.”
The boat from the Lys d’or moved swiftly, propelled by four sturdy rowers, across the water to the landing-place, Michael sitting in the stern with Gaston Crevier and Captain Frenchard of the Lys d’or. Michael still wore the greatcoat of Jacques Blorion, dit Clopinard, in the lining of which, wrapped in waterproof paper, his rescuers had found the letters and passports which marked him for what he was not.
At the landing, they were met by the link-bearers whose light had guided them and who now extinguished their pineknot torches, since the moon made all as bright and radiant as the day. A youth stepped forward to greet the Sieur d’Anvers.
“My lord Bigot awaits you,” he said, “since sundown.”
“We shall go to him at once, Charleroi,” said Crevier. “Will you take charge of my prize?” He indicated Michael. “Behold the King’s fool. This is he, Pepin Clopinard.”
Charleroi turned interestedly to Michael and walked by his side, following Gaston Crevier and the captain of the Lys d’or. Charleroi Fortin was a sort of valet and jack-of-all-trades, good and evil, in the service of the Intendant Bigot. He was a native-born Canadian and knew little or nothing of France and what went on at Versailles, though he had heard the news received at the time the Lys d’or left for Acadie, that L’Aiglon was bringing the King’s fool and a mad Irishman to Quebec. The fool, he had pictured as a hunchback, not a sturdy, handsome youth with the bearing of a prince.
“Methinks, fool,” said Charleroi softly, “you will find yourself not out of place here.”
“So I have already judged,” said Michael. “The Sieur d’Anvers and myself were brothers from the moment we met. And I have no doubt ’twill be so with the rest. What need have they of one fool more?”
“It was not need,” said Charleroi, “as you yourself know. We have heard that you sought to run off with a Court damsel; none but a fool would! But, look you, they will not hold that against you here. It was for this Irishman, Sir Michael Mohan, that they had the merry welcome. He would have been forthwith hanged.”
“And rightly,” said Michael. “An insolent scamp he was!”
“The Sieur d’Anvers was like a madman when he heard the news that the Irishman tried to run off with Diane de Merville. Gaston Crevier loves her—in his fashion but he loves her money a great deal more. There are wide lands here belonging to her and it is rumored that she comes soon to Quebec.”
“God speed her ladyship!” murmured Michael.
“And here she will be married to Gaston Crevier.”
“The devil take him,” said Michael. “The crow would mate with the dove, then.”
“The dove does not have any say in the matter. She is a ward of the King. She must do his will.”
Michael, thinking of Diane, despising the man for whom she was destined, fell silent. His companion watched him curiously, marvelling that such a man
should be a Court fool, his business to make dolts laugh, to play the clown even though there was misery in his heart.
They came presently to the Castle of St. Louis and entered there. Bigot had forsaken amusement for one night, since he was eager to know the success of Gaston Crevier’s mission to the Acadians, a quiet, pastoral folk, but so loyal to France that it was not difficult to keep them hostile to the English, even though they knew that Bigot’s greed and treachery had betrayed them.
The Sieur d’Anver’s success in Acadie dwindled into insignificance when the Intendant learned that he brought with him no less a personage than the once beloved fool of Louis le Bien-Aimé. Bigot doted on royalty and all things pertinent thereto. He considered it a mark of special favor, of the King as well as of La Pompadour, that the ambitious and fallen jester should be sent to Quebec and not to the guillotine. But when he ordered the jester to be brought to him and gazed for the first time on the wan, proud face of Michael Mohan, he gave a start of sincere amazement.
“Mon dieu!” he said. “No wonder they sent you away ! Is it possible that you, should have been forced to play the fool?” “Verily,” answered Michael, unsmiling. “And is it matter of wonder, when one with such thick wit and lack of sense as yourself is chosen to play the Intendant?” “Eh ... ?” Bigot’s face reddened; then, realizing the fool’s license, he laughed heartily. “Bien! I see it now, my fool; it was your wit, your quickness of retort, that pleased His Majesty.”
“A very dull fellow, the king,” said Michael dryly, “with courtiers and officials stupider still. There must needs be one around him to give voice to a thought now and then.”
“Not so dull is he, meseems,” answered the Intendant, tapping a letter on the table before him. “I wondered at first when I saw the punishment he had arranged for you—that you be never permitted to discard the cap and bells, that you never appear among your fellows without the painted, grotesque face of the clown, that until you die you play the fool ...”
“How different from the king,” murmured Michael, “who, if I mistake not, will play the fool into eternity, while my playing stops with death—by his august decree.”
“Had you always worn the fool’s face,” said Bigot, “you would not now be an exile and under His Majesty’s displeasure the lover of Heloise de Valois. Vraiment, you aimed high, fool. Of a certainty, Lucifer was as handsome as you, and it may well be, though the Bible says not so, that he was the Lord’s jester—” “Splendid, my lord,” laughed Michael. “You are indeed a great scholar. But to carry the comparison further: Lucifer fell into hell, and here, by the ill grace of God or the King, am I.”
“Your thoughts travel swift,” scowled Bigot. “Yet Quebec may very well prove a hell for such as merit punishment. Eh, Gaston Crevier? The Irishman now, who, like yourself, Pepin Clopinard, aimed too high—had he been delivered into our hands . . .” The Intendant’s beringed finger made a suggestive half-circle about his neck.
“Yes, we were ready for him,” said the Sieur d’Anvers. “It was another refutation of your statement, fool, that the King is stupid—this sending of Sir Michael Mohan to be punished by the true lover of her he sought to win.”
“Only a woman’s brain could think up such petty forms of revenge,” said Michael. “And you do not, messieurs, tell me that Diane de Merville prefers my fine gentleman here to the Irish knight—a scarecrow to Apollo?”
Bigot was hurt by the slighting reference to La Pompadour, in whose favor he stood high; Gaston Crevier, by the unkind comparison. Truly, this fool did
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not belie the reports they had heard of him; his was a sharp and caustic, a merciless wit.
“Tell us of this Irishman,” commanded Bigot. “And speak the truth for once.”
“Not all the truth, messieurs . . . ”
Michael was enjoying his position of security and the freedom to say what he would, as is the privilege of fools, idiots and children. “It would hurt too much. The man is dead now, gone down into the deep sea, and, even if I willed otherwise, I might not speak ill of him. But he was a gallant young man, as fine and handsome as myself, I do assure you. And, had he come to Quebec, I do think he would have laid you two rogues hy the heels before you got your noose about his neck. An Irishman, mind you, he was, and they are a ghostly people. Their spirits come back from the grave and out of the sea to find those they loved in life and those who sought to do them wrong.”
“Fichtre!” said Bigot. “Our fool romances, Gaston. Enough, fool; the long winter sets in soon and the river turns to ice; then the wood fires roar and rumble in the great chimneys and the spiced wine is good when seasoned still further with merry jest. Do you rid your spirit of its venom and give us more kindly wit. Gaston, I have good news for you, my friend, which I received only yesterday from France; your darling Diane will be here within the week.”
Crevier’s sinister visage wore what
must have been a look of delight. He rubbed his long hands together and the knuckles cracked like dry bones. Michael, who had stepped into the background, away from the guttering candles in great holders of bronze that adorned the Intendant’s table, smiled with glee no whit less than the Sieur d’Anvers. Diane was coming. They would tell her he was dead and he would be standing by her side and his privileged hand might at that moment caress her hair and his whisper change her sorrow to happiness matching his. Aye, they might put the fool’s garb upon him, but it was they who were fools.
Bigot presently called Charleroi Fortin to him and directed him to find a lodging for “the handsome fool” in one of the rooms of the Chateau St. Louis, to give him food and drink and in the morning to commission Maître Gabbon, in the Alley of the Pigeons, with the making of the jester’s garb.
“And you, my fool, stir not from your room until it is brought you, and the pigments wherewith to daub your pretty face. Were the fair ladies of New France to see what beauty lay under the fool’s masque, I fear me we might have a repetition of what happened at Versailles.”
“Your excellency speaks in prophetic vein tonight,” said Michael softly. “With the tongue of a great seer . But, know you that a true woman loves a man for what is in his heart, not for what his visage shows, since eyes lie, lips lie, but
the heart lieth not. I bid you, messieurs, a very good night. And I, too, shall become for the moment a prophet. I think I shall much enjoy your company and can promise that you will find me as witty and ready with an answer as any Fool who ever had to put up with King or Intendant.”
When, escorted by Charleroi, the jester had gone, Bigot and Gaston Crevier looked at each other with strange surmise. Bigot shrugged his shoulders, laughed . .
“Tomorrow, in his fool’s motley, we shall find him more to our liking, Gaston. But his wit just now is too much like a fine rapier and he looks as knowing as a Jesuit. Should his presence here prove annoying”—he spread out an expressive hand—“what is one fool more or less? Let us think no more of him. We have cares enough; the good habitants grow restive, calling our levies extortionate and say that I feed to the fowls the corn I take from them. Now, my friend, is the time to take what one can lay hands upon. The Lily wilts above Quebec and the Rose, methinks, begins to take root. Treason? Bah! It is only common sense, and what can a king expect of his servants when he is ruled by a woman? Give ear to me ...”
And the Intendant, than whom there was no bigger scoundrel before, nor has been since, went into a clever account of how more gold should flow into his coffers from the oppressed and povertystricken people, already bled to the point of revolt.
“And you, Gaston,” said the Intendant with an oily smile, laying a plump hand on Crevier’s, “you will not forget when the lands and monies at the De Merville are yours, that François Bigot did all in his power to bring you this lovely bride. Fate robbed you of a pleasant task in drowning the Irishman, your rival; and it shall be my pleasure to see that any objections the fair Diane may have to you will, by one means or another, be quickly overcome. Does a woman know her heart? She does not; one loves a jester, the other an Irishman. What further proof would you, when there are such as you and I about, their countrymen, and ourselves matchless lovers?” “But you, my lord, have no designs—?” “To win your Diane? Shame take you for the thought, Gaston ! I marry!” The Intendant ticked off names on his fingers—“Angélique, Madeleine, Flora, Leonie ...” He laughed softly. “It shall never be said that François Bigot was a glutton in love. No, I am well content as I am, and you, my dear Crevier, have a clear field ahead of you.” Which was not so. In a little bare room up under the eaves, Michael Mohan leaned upon the wide window sill and gazed out upon the stars in the sky and the stars in the shining river, mirrored. And he looked wistfully off toward where the sea was that had taken Barney, whom he loved, away from him, but would bring back Diane.
To be Continued