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The Fool-Killer
by [?]

One absinthe drip is not much–but I said again to Kerner, kindly:

“You are a fool.” And then, in the vernacular: “Jesse Holmes for yours.”

And then I looked around and saw the Fool-Killer, as he had always appeared to my imagination, sitting at a nearby table, and regarding us with his reddish, fatal, relentless eyes. He was Jesse Holmes from top to toe; he had the long, gray, ragged beard, the gray clothes of ancient cut, the executioner’s look, and the dusty shoes of one who had been called from afar. His eyes were turned fixedly upon Kerner. I shuddered to think that I had invoked him from his assiduous southern duties. I thought of flying, and then I kept my seat, reflecting that many men had escaped his ministrations when it seemed that nothing short of an appointment as Ambassador to Spain could save them from him. I had called my brother Kerner a fool and was in danger of hell fire. That was nothing; but I would try to save him from Jesse Holmes.

The Fool-Killer got up from his table and came over to ours. He rested his hands upon it, and turned his burning, vindictive eyes upon Kerner, ignoring me.

“You are a hopeless fool,” he said to the artist. “Haven’t you had enough of starvation yet? I offer you one more opportunity. Give up this girl and come back to your home. Refuse, and you must take the consequences.”

The Fool-Killer’s threatening face was within a foot of his victim’s; but to my horror, Kerner made not the slightest sign of being aware of his presence.

“We will be married next week,” he muttered absent-mindedly. “With my studio furniture and some second-hand stuff we can make out.”

“You have decided your own fate,” said the Fool-Killer, in a low but terrible voice. “You may consider yourself as one dead. You have had your last chance.”

“In the moonlight,” went on Kerner, softly, “we will sit under the skylight with our guitar and sing away the false delights of pride and money.”

“On your own head be it,” hissed the Fool-Killer, and my scalp prickled when I perceived that neither Kerner’s eyes nor his ears took the slightest cognizance of Jesse Holmes. And then I knew that for some reason the veil had been lifted for me alone, and that I had been elected to save my friend from destruction at the Fool-Killer’s hands. Something of the fear and wonder of it must have showed itself in my face.

“Excuse me,” said Kerner, with his wan, amiable smile; “was I talking to myself? I think it is getting to be a habit with me.”

The Fool-Killer turned and walked out of Farroni’s.

“Wait here for me,” said I, rising; “I must speak to that man. Had you no answer for him? Because you are a fool must you die like a mouse under his foot? Could you not utter one squeak in your own defence?

“You are drunk,” said Kerner, heartlessly. “No one addressed me.”

“The destroyer of your mind,” said I, “stood above you just now and marked you for his victim. You are not blind or deaf.”

“I recognized no such person,” said Kerner. “I have seen no one but you at this table. Sit down. Hereafter you shall have no more absinthe drips.”

“Wait here,” said I, furious; “if you don’t care for your own life, I will save it for you.”

I hurried out and overtook the man in gray half-way down the block. He looked as I had seen him in my fancy a thousand times–truculent, gray and awful. He walked with the white oak staff, and but for the street-sprinkler the dust would have been flying under his tread.

I caught him by the sleeve and steered him to a dark angle of a building. I knew he was a myth, and I did not want a cop to see me conversing with vacancy, for I might land in Bellevue minus my silver matchbox and diamond ring.