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The fools love story


TheFool’sLoveStory


byRafaelSabatini
FromTheLudgate,June1899
ChapterI.
KuonivonStocken,theHofknarrofSachsenberg,heavesawearysighanda
strange,half-sad,half-scornfulexpressionsitsuponhisleansardonic
countenance,as,turninghisbacktothegaycrowdofcourtiersthatfillsthe
BallroomofthePalaceofSchwerlingen,hepassesoutontothebalcony,and
bendshisglanceuponthesleepingtownbelow.
Restinghiselbowsuponthecoolstoneandhischinuponhishands,hemay
breathethefree,unpollutedairofheaven,outhere;hemaypermithisfaceto
assumewhatexpressionitlists;inaword,hemayrest—ifresttherebeforone
whosesoulisfullofbitternessandgall,whoseheartiswell-nighburstingwith
thehopelesspassionitconceals.
Heissadlychangedoflate,thisnimble-wittedfool!Timewaswhenhisjests
werebrightandmerryandwoundednonesavethearrogantandvainwho
deservednobetter;butnow,alas!hehasgrownmoroseandmoody,andmoves,
listlessandsilent,deepinstrangemusingsfromwhichhebutawakensattimes,

togiveventtosuchburstsofghastlyandevenblasphemousmirth,asmakemen
shudderandwomencrossthemselves,deeminghimpossessedofdevils.
Histongue,fromwhichthebrightandsparklingbon-motswereoncelistenedto
withavidity,isnowcompared,notinadequately,withthefangsofsome
poisonoussnake.Andmanywhohavefeltitsstingingsarcasms,praydevoutly
thathisMajestymaysoondeemfittolookabouthimforanewjester.
TheyoungFrenchnobleman,theMarquisdeSavignon,inthehonourofwhose
fiançailleswiththeladyLouisavonLichtenau,to-night’sfêteisheld,seemsto
havebecomeinparticularthebuttforthejester’smostbitinggibes.Thisthe
Courtthinksstrange,fortheyoungFrenchmanhasevertreatedKuonikindly.
Whatisamiss?Someswearthatheisgrowingold;butthatisuntrue,forheis
scarcethirtyyearsofageandinpointofstrengthandagility—thoughbutajester
—hehasnoequalinthearmyofSachsenberg.Othersjestinglywhisperthatheis
inlove,andlittledotheydreamhownearthetruththeyare!


Alas!PoorKuoni!Fortenyearshehasgloriedinhissuitofmotley,butnowofa
suddenheseemstogrowashamedofhisquaintblacktunicwithitscapandbells
andpointedcape,andinhissecretshame,attimeshehangshishead;attimeshe
cursesbitterlytohimselfthefatewhichhasmadehimthesportofcourtiers,and
whichseemstoforgetthatheishuman,andthathehasaheart.
Ashestandsuponthebalcony,gazingaimlesslynowupintothestarlitsummer
sky,nowdownuponthesleepingcityofSchwerlingen,hislong,lithefigure
bathedinafloodoflightfromthewindowbehindhimandhisearsassailedby
soundsofmusicandofrevelry,thewretchedjesterfeels—ashehasneverfelt
untilto-night—thebitterignominyofhisposition.Inanagonyrenderedallthe
moreterriblebythedespairthatfillshissoul,heflingshimselfdownupona
stoneseatinacorner,andcovershisfacewithhishands.Thushesitsforsome
fewmoments,hisvigorousframeshakenbyafiercesobbingwhichnotears
cometorelieve,untilastepcloseathandbidshimmakeanefforttoovercome
hisemotion.
Thetall,slimfigureofagirlstandsforamomentframedintheopencasement,
andas,raisinghiseyes,Kuonibeholdsher,hespringssuddenlytohisfeetand
turnshispalecountenancetowardsher,sothatthelightfromtheroombeyond
fallsfulluponit,revealingclearlythesignsofthestormofagonythathasswept
acrossthejester’ssoul.
Anexclamationofwonderescapesthegirlatthesightofthatdistortedface.
“Kuoni!”shecries,comingforward,“whatisamiss?Haveyouseenaghost?”
“Aye,Madame,”heanswers,inaccentsfullofbitter,bittersadness,“Ihave
indeedseenaghost—theghostofhappiness.”


“Andisthesightthensodistressingasyourfaceandtonewouldtellme?Why,I
shouldhavedeemeditotherwise.”
“Yes,wereittangible,attainablehappinessthatIhadbeheld;butIsaidtheghost
ofhappiness—inotherwords,thereflectionofthejoysofothers—ashadow
wellcalculatedtostrikedespairintotheheartsofthosewretcheswhomaynot
graspthesubstance.”
“Andareyouoneofthosewretches,Kuoni?”enquiresthegirl,hertonefullof
aninterestandsympathysuchasawisemanmighthavemisconstruedbutwhich


thefooldoesnot.“Why,‘tissaid,”shecontinues,“thatajester’sisagayand
carelesslife.Ihaveevenhearditsaidbysomeofthosefinegentlemenyonder
thatitgivesrisetoenvyinthem.”
“Idoubtitnot,Idoubtitnot,”heanswerswithalaughofscorn,“andIdare
sweartherearemanyofthemwhomafool’scapwouldfitbetterthanitdoes
me!”
Thenabruptlychanginghistoneandbecomingearnest—
“FrauleinvonLichtenau,”hesays,scarceaboveawhisper,“thisfêteto-nightis
giveninhonourofyourbetrothal;willyoudeigntoacceptapoorjester’s
deepest,sincerestwishesforyourhappiness.”
Thereissomethingsostrangeandcuriousinhistonethatthegirlfeelsherself
unaccountablymovedbyit.
“Iacceptthemandthankyou,friendKuoni,withallmyheart,”sheanswers
kindly,givinghimherhand.
“YoucallmefriendKuoni,”hecries,drawingastepnearer.“Youcallthepoor
fool,friend!MayGodblessyouforthatword!”
“Kuoni!Kuoni!”comesavoicefromwithin;butheheedsitnotas,stooping,he
raisesherhandtohislipsandkissestheslenderfingers,asonemightkissa
sacredrelic.
“MayGodblessyou,Madame,andifeveritshouldbeyourlottoneedafriend,
Iswearit,bytheMass,thathewhomyounowhonourwiththatproudtitlewill
beathand.”
Then,tearinghimselfawaybeforeshehastimetoanswer,heentersthesalon.
“Kuoni!Kuoni!Whereareyou?”cryadozenvoices.
“Iamhere,”heanswerssourly;“whatisamiss?Aretherenotfoolsenough
assembledinoneroom,butthatyoumustclamourformetoswellyour
number?”
Hehaswornamasktoolongtoforgetthepartheplaysinlife,andashestands


nowbeforethem,alltracesofhislateemotionhavedisappearedfromhisface,
albeitthenaturalexpression,half-melancholic,half-scornful,remains.
WithhisdarkeyeshesweepstheglitteringthrongofCourtbeautiesandgay
gallantswaitingforsomeonetotakeuphischallenge.
WhereareFelsheim,Altenburg,Briedewald,andtheotherwittytriflersofready
tongue?Silent!Allsilent—fortheyknowthejester’svirulencetoowellto
exposethemselvestoitsvenominopenCourt.
Itisthedébonnaireyoungforeigner,theMarquisdeSavignon,whoisrash
enoughtocrossweaponswithhim.
“Theytellme,Kuoni,”heremarkswithacomplacentlaugh,andinexcellent
Germantaintedbutslightlybyaforeignaccent,“thatyouarethinkingof
abandoningthemotleyandturningcourtierinstead.”
“Thatwereeasy,”answersthejesterwithashrug,“for‘twixtfoolandcourtier
thereliesbutadifferenceofdesignation.”
“Aye,aye,”goesondeSavignon,“butponderforamoment,myprinceoffools,
andthinkofwhatwouldbecomeofSachsenberginyourabsence.HisMajesty
willneverfindsuchanotherfool!”
“Notunlessheappointsyoumysuccessor,”isthecool,sharpanswer,whereata
titterarisesamongthosewhostandabout,whichmakesthevainFrenchmanturn
palewithanger.
“Youseemtoforget,masterfool,”hesaysharshly,“thatyouareaddressingthe
MarquisdeSavignonandnotbandyingwordswithafellow-clown!”
Hehaswoundedthejestermoredeeplythanheimagines,andKuoni’sproud
spiritwrithesandswellswithinhim‘neaththestinginglashoftheMarquis’
scornfulwords,whichremindhimanewofthegulfthatliesbetweentheirsocial
positions.Butnaughtofthisisvisibleonhisface,overwhichabland,indulgent
smileissoftlyspreading.
Onlythosewhoarewellacquaintedwithhimnoticetheslightcompressionof
histhinlips,which,tothem,forebodesacuttingretort.


Hisheadononesideandhishandonhischin,heregardsdeSavignonfora
momentthroughlidshalfclosed,asitwere,inlanguor.Then,slowlyandalmost
wearily,hemakesanswer:
“Nay,MonsieurdeSavignon,forgetfulness,methinks,liesmorewithyour
familythanmine.Wasitnotyouyourself,mylord,who,whilstatthesiegeof
LaRochelle—sothestorygoes—onedaywhentheRochellaismadeafierce
sortie,forgotwherethebattlewasbeingfought?Sothatinyourabsentmindednessyougallopedmadlysouth,andbynightfallyouwerefoundat
Royan,agoodtenleaguesfromthesceneofaction.”
ItisdeSavignon’sturntotremblenow,andasagreatburstoflaughtergreetsthe
jester’ssally,hiscomplexionisofagreyishtintandhisteethareclenchedin
anger,notingwhich,Kuonicontinuespitilessly:
“Doyounotseethehumourofit,mylord?Whylooksoglum?Bah!Youweary
me;thereisnomorewitinyoursoulthanmilkinanoyster!”
Andwithaneasylaughwhichcontainsalmostaringofcontempt,thejester
movesawaytoletothersfeelthestingofhistongue,fromwhichnone,savethe
King,aresacred.
Foramoment,theFrenchmanfollowsthetallsymmetricalfigurewithhiseyes,
then,deemingitbesttoaffectunconcern,heshrugshisshouldersand,giving
venttoamirthlesslaugh,passesoutontothebalconytoseekbalmforhis
woundedspiritatthehandsofhisbetrothed.
ChapterII.
DuringtheweeksthatfollowuponthenightofthefêtewhereatKuonivon
StockensosignallyinsultedtheMarquisdeSavignon,thesetwomenarecareful
toshuneachother’spresence.
TheproudandvainFrenchcavalierisnotlikelytoforgetthehumiliationto
whichhehasbeensubjected,andthememoryofitiswonttomakehisfingers
closeoverthejewelledhiltofhistoydaggerandblackvowsofvengeancearise
inhisheart,fosteringthehatredinwhichheholdsthejester.
Butitisnothisdaggeralonethatisreadytodomurder.Uglythoughtsare
runninginKuoni’smind,andonenightwhendeSavignonsits,easyinspiritfor


thewhile,tellingtheladyLouisasomethingthathehasalreadyrecitedtoher
uponseveralformeroccasions,helittledreamsthatfromthecurtainsathisback
twogreatlustrouseyesarewatchingthem,andthatanervoushandisgrippinga
keenItalianblade.Didhebutknowhownearathandisdeath,hislaughwould
belessgay,hismannerlessunconcerned,hismindlesseasy.Butheknows
naughtofthis,andsomeangelmustbewatchingoverhim,forthearmedhand,
upliftedinmenace,doesnotdescend,thejestersheatheshisponiardanddeparts
noiselesslythewayhecame.
Butastheweeksgoswiftlybyandthenuptialsofthemarquisarefast
approaching,thestrangeandunaccountablemoodinessofthewhilom
lightheartedjestergrowsmoreandmoreaccentuated.Eachdayheseemsto
growvisiblythinner,asifsomefelldiseaseweregnawingathisvitalsand
slowlysappinghislifeandstrength.Eachdayhispalecheeksappearpalerand
underhiseyestherearedeepblackcircles,suggestiveofpainandsufferingand
sleeplessnights.
Amorewretched,woe-begonepicturethanthepoorfoolpresents,whennone
arebytospyuponhisfeelings,itweredifficulttoconceive.
Meanwhile,however,thereareotherandgravermatterstobeconsideredinthe
kingdomofSachsenbergthanthesecretagonyofalovesickjester.Rumoursare
abroadofaconspiracytooverthrowtheSonsbeckdynasty,organised,itissaid,
bymanygreatlords,tiredoftheiryoungKing,LudwigIV.,whoseems
overmuchengrossedinimitatingthevicesoftheCourtofhisFrenchcousinto
paygreatheedtomattersofstateandthewelfareofhispeople.
‘Tisaweaknessnotuncommontokings,especiallyyoungones,formonarchs
arebutordinaryfolkwhenstrippedoftheirpurple.Ludwig,however,isblessed
withacharacterwhich,insomematters,isasfirmandearnestasitisweakand
frivolousinothers;moreover,heisdoublyblessedinthepossessionofanastute
andfar-seeingservantinthepersonoftheRitterHeinrichvonGrunhain,the
CaptainofhisGuards.
Hehasbeenforcedtolistentothegravethingswhichthisgentlemanhasto
relate,concerningthedissatisfactionofsomeofthenobleswhoarezealously
incitingthepeopletoopenrebellion,andadrasticlineofactionhasbeendrawn
up.


TheKingisseatedinhiscabinetonenight,aboutamonthafterthefêtedealt
withintheprecedingchapter,andaweekbeforethedayappointedforthe
weddingoftheladyLouisavonLichtenau.
Aroundthetablefivemenaregrouped;twoareoldandfaithfulservantsofthe
lateking,hisfather—theDukeofOttrauandtheCountvonHorst;twoaremen
stillintheprimeoflife,RittervonGrunhain,theCaptainofhisGuards,and
HerrvonRetzbach,hisMinister;whilstthefifthisnoneotherthanthegay
youngLordvonRonshausen,hisfavourite.
Thereisasolemnandanxiouslookuponthefacesofthesesixmen,foritis
beingdecidedthatuponthatverynightSachsenbergshalltearagruesomepage
fromthehistoryofFrance—thereistobeaparodyoftheSt.Bartholoméein
Schwerlingenbeforesunrise.
“Itisbetterthus,mylords,”saystheKing,andalthoughhisfaceispaleand
haggard,hisvoiceiscalm;“forwerewetopublishthematter,andgivethe
traitorsopentrial,whoknowswhatmightensue?Menareeverreadytorevolt
againstthosewhorulethem,andwhocansaybutthatthetrialoftheserebels
wouldswelltheranksofthedisloyal—fortreasonisaninfectiousmalady—and
provethesignalforopenrevolt?Asitis,whenthenewsgoesround,to-morrow,
thattennoblelordshavebeenfoundmurderedintheirbeds,therewillbemuch
marvellingandmuchsurmising—also,maybe,somegrief—butthosewhohave
listenedtothedoctrinesoftheseten,andsharpenedtheirweaponsinanticipation
ofafray,willunderstand,andwillbestrickenwithterrorattheawfulfatewhich
hasovertakentheirleaders.Believeme,gentlemen,theywillbesilentandthey
willdisperse.”
“WillnotyourMajestyconsider—”beganthegrey-hairedDukeofOttrau;but
theKingcuthimshort.
“Ihaveconsidered,mylords,andIhavedecided.Whatmattersthemannerof
thesemen’sdeath?Theyhaverichlyearnedtheirfate,andiftheywereopenly
triedtheycouldnotescapethescaffold—sowhatdifferencedoesitmake
whetheritbethedaggerortheaxe?Nonetothem,butmuchtome.”
Thetoneistoodeterminedtopermitoffurtherargument.Itbutremainsfor
GrunhaintoreceivehisMajesty’sinstructions.
“Hereisthelist,Captain,”theKingcontinues,takingapaperfromthetable.“I


willreadoutthenamesofthosewhomwehavesentenced:Kervenheimvon
Huld,Nienberge,Blankenburg,Eberholz,Retzwald,Leubnitz,Hartenstein,
Reussbach,andtheFrenchMarquisdeSavignon.”
“Concerningthatlastone,Sire,”venturesRonshausen,thefavourite,“hasyour
MajestyrememberedthatheisasubjectoftheKingofFrance?”
“Ihave,”answersLudwig,“andIhavealsorememberedthathe—aforeignerto
whomIhaveevershowngreatfavourandconsideration,andwho,wereheto
live,wouldwedoneofthenoblestladiesofmyCourt—couplesingratitudewith
histreason.Nodoubthewhomtheyintendtosetupinmysteadhasbribedhim
richly;butheshallpayforhisfolly,asothersarepayingfortheirs,withhislife:
andIfailtoseehowIamtobemadeaccountabletotheKingofFranceforthe
chanceassassinationofasubjectofhis,inmycapital.Thematterissettled,
gentlemen;RittervonGrunhainknowshowtoseetoitsexecution.Thereisno
moretobesaid,”hegoeson,rising,“butwhenyouhearmidnightstrikinginthe
belfryofSt.Oswald,sayaprayer,gentlemen,forthereposeofthesoulsoften
traitorswhoseknellitwillbesounding.Andnow,letusjointheCourt.”
Onebyone,theypassoutaftertheKing,andthen,whenthedoorhasclosed
uponthelastofthem,aheadpeepsforthfromtherichdamaskdraperythat
curtainsoneofthewindows,andapairofdarkeyeshastilysurveytheroom:the
nextinstantthecurtainsarepartedandKuonivonStockenstepsforth.
Thereisalookoffierce,almostfiendishexultationonhisswartface,andthe
lowmockinglaughthatburstsfromhisthinlipscanbelikenedtonothingsave
thechuckleoftheTempterinhishourofvictory.
“So,mylordofSavignon,youhavebeenmeddlinginpolitics,eh?”hemurmurs,
rubbinghislean,nervoushandstogether;“andto-nightyoudie.Fool!Arch-fool!
Thatyoushouldbewell-born,rich,highinfavourattheCourtsofFranceand
Sachsenbergalike,didnotsufficeyourgreed,butyoumustwishtobecomea
moulderofhistorybesides,andlikemanyanothersuchbeforeyou,youhave
destroyedyourself!Oh,whatathingisman!Faugh!”
Andwithasneerofcontemptforthewholehumanraceingeneralandthe
MarquisdeSavignoninparticular,Kuoniflingshimselfintothechairlately
occupiedbytheKing.
“Tothink,”hegoeson,“thatamanabouttobecomethehusbandofsucha


womanastheladyLouisavonLichtenaushouldtrifleandfencewithdeath!By
theMass,Sire,”hecries,raisinghislongarmandspeakingasiftheKingwere
theretohearhim,“slayhimnot!Sparehimandclothehiminmysuitofmotley;
heistoomarvellousafooltodie!”
Then,ofasudden,themockingsmilefadesfromhisface,tobereplacedbya
grave,sadlook,asthethoughtoccurstohim:“WhatwilltheladyLouisathink
to-morrow,whenthenewsiscarriedtoher?Howwillshebearit?”
ThatshelovesdeSavignonwithallherheartandsoulthejesterknowsfullwell,
andashethinksofithegrindshisteethanddriveshisnailsintothepalmsofhis
clenchedhands.
Hisimaginationpicturesherasshewillbeto-morrow,andintohissoulthere
comesagreatoverwhelmingwaveofsorrowandofpityforher,whichcleanses
andpurifiesitofthesinfuljoywhichitharbouredbutamomentback.“Shewill
pineawayanddieofit,”hetellshimself,“evenasIampininganddyingfor
loveofher!Alas!poorLouisa!”Andhesighsheavilyandsorrowfully.Then
restinghischinuponhishandsandhiselbowsonhisknees,hesitstheredeepin
thought,hiseyesbentuponthefloor.
Andthushesitsonfornighuponanhour,thinkingstrangethoughtsinastrange
manner,andrevolvinginhismindastrangeresolve.Atlast,chancingtoraise
hiseyes,hisglancealightsuponthegoldandivorytime-piece.Thesightrouses
him,forspringingsuddenlytohisfeet—
“Himmel!”hecries.“Itwantsbuthalf-an-hourtomidnight—tothesoundingof
hisknell.”
Hepausesforamoment,undecided,thenwalksswiftlytowardsthedoorand
disappears.
ChapterIII.
Nowitchancedthat,owingtoafirewhichhad,afewdaysbefore,destroyedthe
PalaisSavignon,intheKlosterstrasse,themarquisfoundhimselftheguestofhis
futurefather-in-law,theGrafvonLichtenau.
Uponthenightinquestion—whichascarletpageoftheChroniclesof
Sachsenbergtellsuswasthatofthe12thofAugustof1635—deSavignonhad


retiredtotheroomsetapartinhissuiteashisbedchamber,justaselevenwas
striking.
Feelinghimselfasyetwakeful,theFrenchman,whosemoodisnaturallyapoetic
one,takesdownaFrenchtranslationoftheOdyssey,and,flinginghimselfintoa
luxuriouschair,issoonlostintheadventuresofUlyssesontheIslandof
Calypso.Hisheartisfullofsympathyforthedemi-goddessandofcontemptfor
theKingofIthaca,whenarustlingofthewindow-curtainsbringshimbackto
Sachsenbergandhissurroundings,withastart.Glancingup,hebeholdsadark
shadowinthecasement,andbeforehecansomuchasmoveafingeramanhas
sprungintotheroom,andKuonivonStockenstandsbeforehimwithastrange
lookuponhisface.
Imaginingthatthevisithasnofriendlypurport,theMarquisdrawsadagger
fromhisbelt,whereattheshadowofasmileflitsacrossthejester’ssolemn
countenance.
“Putupyourweapon,MonsieurdeSavignon,”hesayscalmly,“Iamno
assassin,butthereareotherscomingaftermewhodeservethetitle.”
“Whatdoyoumean?”enquirestheMarquishaughtily.
“Ibringyounews,Monsieur,”repliesKuoni,sinkinghisvoicetoawhisper,
“thattheplottooverthrowtheSonsbeckdynastyisdiscovered.”
TheFrenchmanboundsfromhischairasifsomeonehadproddedhimwitha
dagger.
“Youlie!”heshrieks.
“DoI?”answerstheotherindifferently,“thenifitisnotyetdiscovered,how
comesitthatIamacquaintedwithit?”
Then,asifblindtoSavignon’sagitation,hegoesoninthesamedeliberate
accents.
“IalsobringyounewsthathisMajestyispossessedofalistofthenamesofthe
principalleaders;thatyournamefiguresuponthatlist,andthatitistheKing’s
goodpleasurethatwhenmidnightstrikesfromSt.Oswalditwillannouncetoten
gentlemanthattheirlasthouronearthisspent;forintotheroomofeachthere


willpenetratethreeexecutionerstocarryoutthedeath-sentencewhichwas
passeduponthemwithouttrial,twohoursago,bytheKing.”
TheFrenchmanistoodazedtoreplyforamoment;hedropsbackintohischair,
hischeeksblanchedwithterrorandhiseyesstaringwildlyatthejester.The
matteristoograve,Kuoni’smannertooimpressive,toleaveanydoubtsastothe
accuracyofhisstatement.
“Andareyouoneofthethreeassassinstowhommyendhasbeenentrusted?”
saysdeSavignonatlength,agleamofhatredinhiseyeandthememoryofhis
feudwiththejesterinhismind.
“No,”repliesKuonisimply.
“Thenwhyareyouhere?”theothercriesvehemently.“Why?Answerme!Have
youcometogloatovermyend?”
“Ihavecometomakeanattempttosaveyou,”isthecold,proudanswer.
“Tosaveme?DidIhearyouaright?”
“Aye,tosaveyou.Butcome,mylord,thereisnotamomenttoloseifIamtobe
successful.Offwithyourdoublet.Quick!”
AndastheMarquismechanicallyproceedstoobeyhim,thejestergoeson:
“InfrontoftheRathhaus,atthecorneroftheKlosterstrasse,youwillfinda
carriageinwaiting.Enteritwithoutspeaking;thedriverhasreceivedhis
instructionsandwillconveyyoutothevillageofLossnitz,threeleaguesfrom
here.Thereisasuitofclothesinthecoach,whichyouwilldowelltodon.When
youstopatthehostelryoftheSchwarzenHirsch,youwillfindahorsereadyfor
you;turnitsheadtowardsthefrontier;bysunriseyouwillbeagoodfifteen
leaguesfromSchwerlingen,andbeyondKingLudwig’sreachwhenhediscovers
thatyouhavenotdied;whilstto-morrownight,ifyouridewell,youshould
sleepinFrance.Come,takemycoat.”And,advancing,Kuoniholdsouthislong
blacktunic,whichhehasremovedwhilstspeaking.
TheliveryofmotleymakestheFrenchmanpause,andasuspicionflashesacross
hismind.


“Thisisnotoneofyourjests,sirfool?”
“Ifyoudoubtme,”criesKuoni,withanimpatientgesture,“waitandsee.”
“No,no,Kuoni,Ibelieveyou,”heexclaims,“butwhyisthisnecessary?”
“Why?”echoestheother.“Ohthoufar-seeingsage!Whatwouldthecoachman
whoistodriveyouthink,didhebeholdacavalierreturninmystead?Besides,
whatifyouchanceduponyourassassinsbetweenthisandtheRathhaus?Doyou
notseehowmycapandbellswouldserveyou?”
“True,true,”murmurstheother.
“Thenwastenomoretime;itwantsbutafewminutestomidnightnow.Come,
onwithit!”
SavignonwrigglesintotheblackvelvettunicandKuonidrawsthehood,
surmountedbythecock’scomb,welloverhishead,sothatitconcealshis
features,then,standingbacktojudgetheeffect:
“BytheMass!”heejaculateswithagrimlaugh,“howwellitbecomesyou!Did
Inotalwayssayitwould!Here,takemybaubleaswell,andthereyoustandas
thoroughafoolaseverstruttedinaRoyalanteroom.Whowouldhavethought
it?deSavignonturnedfoolandKuoniturnedcourtier!Ha!ha!‘tisamerryjest,
ajestofthatprinceofjesters—Death!”
“Yourmerrimentisoutofseason,”grumblestheMarquis.
“Andsoisyourchocolatehosewiththattunic;butitmattersnot,‘tisallapartof
thiscolossaljest.”
Thengrowingseriousofasudden:
“Areyouready?Thenfollowme;Iwillsetyouonyourway.”
Openingthedoor,thejesterleadsthenobleman,silentlyandwithstealthytread,
outofhischamberanddownthebroadoakstaircase.
Hepausesbythewainscot,inthespacioushallbelow,andaftersearchingfora
fewseconds,healightsuponaspring—which,fortunately,heknowsofold.A


panelslidesbackandrevealsanopeningthroughwhichheconductsthe
Frenchman.
Theyemergepresentlyintoacourtyardatthebackofthemansion,andthrougha
smallposterntheypassoutintothestreet.
Heretheypauseforamoment;itiscommencingtorain;theskyisovercastand
thenightisinkyblack.
“Yonderliesyourroad,”saysKuoni;“atthecorneryouwillfindthecoach.Do
asItoldyou,andmayGodspeedyou.Farewell!”
“Butyou?”exclaimsdeSavignon,athoughtforthejester’ssafetyarisingatlast
inhismind;“areyounotcoming?”
“Icannot.Imustreturntoimpersonateyouandreceiveyourvisitors,for,did
theyfindyougone,thepursuitwouldcommencebeforeyouwereclearofthe
city,andyouwould,ofacertainty,betaken.”
“Butyouwillbeindanger!”
“Havenoconcernonthatscore,”isthereply,deliveredingrimaccents.
“But—”
“Enoughofbuts;begonebeforemidnightstrikes,or,bytheMass,yourstayin
Schwerlingenwillbeunpleasantlyprolonged.Farewell!”
And,steppingback,thejesterslamsthedooranddeSavignonisleftalone,
shiveringwithcold.Foramomenttheideaagainoccurstohimthatheisbeing
victimisedbyKuoni.Butheremembersthatweretheplotundiscoveredthe
jesterwouldscarcelybeinpossessionofthesecret.
NexthebeginstomarvelwhyKuonishouldevincesuchsolicitudeforhis
escapeandforhislife,afterhavingalwaysshownhimselfsobitteranenemyin
thepast.However,fearovercomeshisdoubts;so,swearingthatifthefoolhas
dupedhimhewillreturn,ifitbeonlytowringhisneck,hesetsoffbrisklyinthe
directionindicated.
Meanwhile,KuonihasretracedhisstepstotheFrenchman’sbedchamber:


trickedoutindeSavignon’sclothesandwithdeSavignon’shatdrawnwellover
hisbrows,soastoshadehisface,heflingshimselfintothechairlatelyoccupied
bytheMarquis—andwaits.
Presentlythedeep-tonedbellofSt.Oswald’schimesoutthehourofmidnight;
scarcehasthevibrationofthelaststrokediedawayonthesilentnightair,when
hiseardetectsanotherandnearersound.
Hespringsup,andturningfindshimselfconfrontedbythreemaskedmen,
standing,swordinhand,bytheopenwindowthroughwhichtheyhaveentered.
InaninstanthehasdrawndeSavignon’srapierfromitsscabbard.
“Hownow,mymasters,”heexclaims,mimickingtheFrenchman’sforeign
accent,“whatdoyouseek?”
“TheMarquisHenrideSavignon”saysone,inavoicewhichthejesterdoesnot
recognise.
“Iamhe,”hereplieshaughtily;“whatisyourbusiness?Areyourobbersor
assassins,thatyoucomeinthisguiseandpenetrateatsuchanhourintomy
bedchamber?”
“Webearyounews,”saystheformerspeaker,deliveringthewordsafterthe
fashionofamanwhoisrecitingalessonthathehaslearntbyheart,“webear
younewsthatyourtreasonisdiscovered,andintheKing’snamewebidyou
preparetodie.”
“Amerryjest,gentlemen!Anartfulstory!Youarecertainlynocommon
footpads,butIfearmethereissomeslightmistake.”
“Igiveyoufiveminutes,byyondertime-piece,whereintoprepareyoursoulfor
thenextworld.”
“Itisconsiderateofyou,mymasters,”retortsKuoni,themockingspiritofthe
jesterassertingitself,“buttheboonisunrequested,and,byyourleave,Itrustto
havemanyyearsyetwhereintocarryoutyouramiablesuggestion.”
“Themanislaughingatus,”criesoneofthehithertosilentassassins.“Letus
endthebusiness!”


Hiscompanionsseektodetainhim,but,goingforwardinspiteofthem,he
crossesswordswithKuoni.
Seeinghimengaged,theothertwocomeforwardalso,andinafewminutesa
terriblefightisraging.Thereisnot,perhaps,inthewholeofSachsenbergafiner
swordsmanthanthislitheandagilejester,buttheoddsaresuchasnomanmay
hopetostriveagainstvictoriously.Beforemanyminuteshaveelapsed,oneofthe
assassin’sswordshaspassedthroughhisrightbreast.
Withagroanhesinksforwardinaheap,andtheswordhelatelyheldbounds
withanoisyringupontheparquetfloor.
Hurryingstepsareheardoutsidetheroom,andpresentlyvoicesarediscernible,
asthehousehold,disturbedbytheclashofsteelandthedinofstruggle,is
hurryingtowardsDeSavignon’sroom.
Oneoftheassassinsisonthepointofgoingforwardtomakesureoftheirwork,
bydrivinghisdaggerintotheheartoftheprostrateman,when,alarmedbythe
approachingsoundsandmindfuloftheirordersnottoallowthemselvesonany
accounttobetaken,theothertwodraghimoffthroughthewindowbeforehe
canaccomplishhisdesign.
“Come,”sayshewhodeliveredthefatalblow,“hewillbedeadinafewminutes.
Thatstrokeneveryetleftamanalive.”
Aninstantlaterthedooroftheroomisburstviolentlyopen,andjustasthe
murderersdisappearintothenightacuriousgroupofhalf-cladmenandwomen
withfrightenedfacesstandawe-strickenonthethreshold,gazingatthespectacle
beforethem.
“TheMarquishasbeenslain,”criesavoice,whichisfollowedbyawoman’s
shriek,andasthecrowddivides,theold,white-hairedCountofLichtenauenters
theroomfollowedbyhishalf-faintingdaughter.
Togethertheystandgazingatthebodyonthefloor,andatthedarkcrimsonstain
whichisslowlyspreadingaboutit.
Thensuddenly—
“Henri!”shrieksthegirl,andrushingforwards,shefallsonherkneesbesidethe


unconsciousKuoni.Then,asherfathergentlyturnsthebodyovertoascertain
thenatureofhishurt,anotheranddifferentcryescapesher.Butthejester
reviving,andopeninghiseyesatthesound,meetshergazeandwhispersfaintly

“Hush,mylady!donotsaythatIamnottheMarquis.Asyouvaluehislife,
keepsilentandletallbelieveandspreadthereportthattheMarquisisdying.”
“Whatdoesitmean?whatdoesitmean?”shewails,wringingherhands,yet,
withquickinstinct,understandingthatseriousmotiveshavedictatedKuoni’s
words.
“Sendthemaway—yourfatheralso—Iwillexplain,”gaspsthejester,andat
eachwordheuttersthebloodwellsforthfromhiswound.
Whenallhavewithdrawn,andwhenshehasraisedhisheadandpilloweditin
herlap,hetellsherall,biddinghernottoallowtherealtruthofthematterto
transpireuntilmorning.
“Andyou,YOU,Kuoni,ofallmen,whohaveeverseemedtohatehim,you
havesonoblygivenyourlifetobuyhissafety!”sheexclaims.
“No,mylady,Ihavenot,”heanswers;“Ihavegivenmylifenotforhimbutfor
you.Iwishedtosavehimbecauseyoulovedhim.AndbecauseIwishedtospare
youtheanguishofbeholdinghisdeadbody,Ihavechangedplaceswithhim.His
lifeisvaluabletosomeone—mineisworthless.”
Thegirlcanfindnowordswhereintoanswerfittingly,buthertearsarefalling
fastandtheyareeloquenttohim.Sheunderstandsatlast!
“Iamsohappy,”hemurmurspresently,“oh,sohappy!HadIlivedmyhead
wouldneverhavebeenpillowedonyourknee.HadIlived,Ishouldneverhave
daredtotellyou—asIdonow,wheninthepresenceofdeathalldifferencesof
birthandstationfadeaway—thatIloveyou.”
Thegirltremblesviolently;thenforasecondtheireyesmeet.Shewerenota
womandidherheartnotswellwithfondnessandpityforthepoordespisedfool,
whotoensureherhappinesshassacrificedhislife.
GrowingboldinthedreadpresenceoftheReaper—


“Louisa,”hegasps,hisvoicestillfainterthanbefore,“Iamdying;therearenone
towitness,andnonewilleverknow—kissme!”
Weepingsoftly,thegirlstoopsuntilherlooseflowinghairfallsabouthishead
andneck,andherlips,sorichwiththebloodoflifeandyouth,touchhis,upon
whichthechillofdeathissettling.
Aquiverrunsthroughhisframe,hischestheaveswithalonglastsigh—thenall
isstill,butforthegentlesobbingofthegirlwhosetearsarefallingfastuponthe
upturnedface,whichsmilesuponherindeath.
ThisstoryappearsinTheLifeandWorkofRafaelSabatiniwebsite.
http://www.rafaelsabatini.com



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