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A short story by Charles M. Skinner

Twelfth Night At Cahokia

Title:     Twelfth Night At Cahokia
Author: Charles M. Skinner [More Titles by Skinner]

It was Twelfth Night, and the French village of Cahokia, near St. Louis, was pleasantly agitated at the prospect of a dance in the old court saloon, which was assembly-room and everything else for the little place. The thirteen holy fires were alight--a large one, to represent Christ; a lesser one, to be trampled out by the crowd, typing Judas. The twelfth cake, one slice with the ring in it, was cut, and there were drink and laughter, but, as yet, no music. Gwen Malhon, a drift-wood collector, was the most anxious to get over the delay, for he had begged a dance from Louison. Louison Florian was pretty, not badly off in possessions and prospects, and her lover, Beaurain, had gone away. She was beginning to look a little scornful and impatient, so Gwen set off for a fiddler.

He had inquired at nearly every cabin without success, and was on his way toward the ferry when he heard music. Before him, on the moonlit river, was a large boat, and near it, on the bank, he saw a company of men squatted about a fire and bousing together from a bottle. At a little distance, on a stump, sat a thin, bent man, enveloped in a cloak, and it was he who played. Gwen complimented him and pleaded the disappointment of the dancers in excuse of an urgent appeal that he should hurry with him to the court saloon. The stranger was courteous. He sprang into the road with a limping bound, shook down his cloak so as to disclose a curled moustache, shaggy brows, a goat's beard, and a pair of glittering eyes. "I'll give them a dance!" he exclaimed. "I know one tune. They call it 'Returned from the Grave.' Pay? We'll see how you like my playing."

On entering the room where the caperish youth were already shuffling in corners, the musician met Mamzel Florian, who offered him a slice of the cake. He bent somewhat near to take it, and she gave a little cry. He had found the ring, and that made him king of the festival, with the right to choose the prettiest girl as queen. A long drink of red wine seemed to put him in the best of trim, and he began to fiddle with a verve that was irresistible. In one minute the whole company--including the priest, some said--was jigging it lustily. "Whew!" gasped one old fellow. "It is the devil who plays. Get some holy water and sprinkle the floor."

Gwen watched the musician as closely as his labors would allow, for he did not like the way the fiddler had of looking at Louison, and he thought to himself that Louison never blushed so prettily for him. Forgetting himself when he saw the fiddler smile at the girl, he made a rush for the barrel where that artist was perched. He bumped against a dancer and fell. At that moment the light was put out and the hall rang with screams and laughter. The tones of one voice sounded above the rest: "By right of the ring the girl is mine."

"He has me," Louison was heard to say, yet seemingly not in fear. Lights were brought. Louison and the fiddler were gone, the stranger's cloak and half of a false moustache were on the floor, while Gwen was jammed into the barrel and was kicking desperately to get out. When released he rushed for the river-side where he had seen the boat. Two figures flitted before him, but he lost sight of them, and in the silence and loneliness his choler began to cool. Could it really have been the devil? An owl hooted in the bush. He went away in haste. There was a rumor in after years that Beaurain was an actor in a company that went up and down the great river on a barge, and that a woman who resembled Louison was also in the troupe. But Gwen never told the story of his disappointment without crossing himself.

[The end]
Charles M. Skinner's short story: Twelfth Night At Cahokia