Hast thou seen all there is to see
with thy two eyes?
Dost thou know all there is to know,
Darest thou still to say thy brother
Little gray messenger,
Robed like painted Death,
Your robe is dust.
Whom do you seek
Among lilies and closed buds
Among lilies and closed buds
Whom do you seek,
Little gray messenger,
Robed in the awful panoply
Of painted Death?
Hast thou seen all there is to
see with thy two eyes?
Dost thou know all there is to
know, and so,
Darest thou still to say thy brother
"The bullet entered here," said
Max Fortin, and he placed his middle finger over a smooth hole exactly
in the center of the forehead.
I sat down upon a mound of dry
seaweed an unslung my fowling piece.
The little chemist cautiously
felt the edges of the shot-hole, first with his middle finger, then with
"Let me see the skull again,"
Max Fortin picked it up from
"It's like all the others," He
observed. I nodded, without offering to take it from him. After a moment
he thoughtfully replaced it upon the grass at my feet.
"It's like all the others," he
repeated, wiping his glasses on his handkerchief. "I Thought you might
care to see one of the skulls, so I brought this over from the gravel pit.
The men from Bannalec are digging yet. They ought to stop."
"How many skulls are there altogether?"
"They found thirty-eight skulls;
there are thirty-nine noted in the list. They lie piled up in the gravel
pot on the edge of Le Bihan's wheat field. The men are at work yet. Le
Bihan is going to stop them."
"Let's go over," said I; and
I picked up my gun and started across the cliffs, Fortin on one side, Môme
on the other.
"Who has the list?" I asked,
lighting my pipe. "You say there is a list?"
"The list was found rolled up
in a brass cylinder," said the little chemist. He added: "You should not
smoke here. You know that if a single spark drifted into the wheat -"
"Ah, but I have a cover to my
pipe," said I, smiling.
Fortin watched me as I closed
the pepper-box; the brass tube has preserved it. It is as fresh to-day
as it was in 1760. You shall see it."
"Is that the date?"
"The list is dated 'April, 1760.'
The Brigadier Durand has it. It is not written in French."
"Not written in French!" I exclaimed.
"No," replied Fortin solemnly,
"it is written in Breton."
"But," I protested, "the Breton
language was never written or printed in 1760."
"Except by priests," said the
"I have heard of but one priest
who ever wrote the Breton language," I began.
Fortin stole a glance at my face.
"You mean - the Black Priest?"
Fortin opened his mouth to speak
again, hesitated, and finally shut teeth obstinately over the wheat stem
that he was chewing.
"And the Black Priest?" I suggested
encouragingly. But I knew it was useless; for it is easier to move the
stars from their coursed than to make an obstinate Breton talk. We walked
on for a minute or two in silence.
"Where is the Brigadier Durand?"
I asked, motioning Môme to come out of the wheat, which he was trampling
as though it were heather. As I spoke we came in sight of the farther edge
of the wheat field and the dark, wet mass of cliffs beyond.
"Durand is down there - you can
see him; he stands just behind the Mayor of St. Gildas."
"I see," said I; and we struck
straight down, following a sun-baked cattle path across the heather.
When we reached the edge of the
wheat field, Le Bilhan, the Mayor of St. Gildas, called to me, and I tucked
my gun under my are and skirted the wheat to where he stood.
"Thirty-eight skulls," he said
in his thin, high-pitched voice; "there is but one more, and I am opposed
to further search. I suppose Fortin told you?"
I shook hands with him, and returned
the salute of the of the Brigadier Durand.
"I am opposed to further search,"
repeated Le Bihan, nervously picking at the mass of silver buttons which
covered the front of his velvet and broadcloth jacket like a breastplate
of scale armour.
Durand pursed up his lips, twisted
his tremendous mustache, and hooked his thumbs in his sabre belt.
"As for me," he said, " I am
in favor of further search."
"Further search for what - for
the thirty-ninth skull?" I asked.
Le Bihan nodded. Durand frowned
at the sunlit sea, rocking like a bowl of molten gold from the cliffs to
the horizon. I followed his eyes. On the dark glistening cliffs, silhouetted
against the glare of the sea, sat a cormorant, black, motionless, its horrible
head raised toward heaven.
"Where is that list, Durand?"
The gendarme rummaged in his
dispatch pouch and produced a brass cylinder about a foot long. Very gravely
he unscrewed the head and dumped out a scroll of thick yellow paper closely
covered with writing on both sides. At a nod from Le Bihan he handed me
the scroll. But I could make nothing of the coarse writing, now faded to
a dull drown.
"Come, come, Le Bihan," I said
impatiently, "translate it, won't you? You and Max Fortin make a lot of
mystery out of nothing, it seems."
Le Bihan went to the edge of
the pit where the three Bannalec men were digging, gave an order or two
in Breton, and turned to me.
As I came to the edge of the
pit the Bannalec men were removing a square piece of sail-cloth from what
papered to be a pile of cobblestones.
"Look!" said Le Bihan shrilly.
I looked. The pile below was a heap of skulls. After a moment I clambered
down the gravel sides of the pit and walked over to the men of Bannalec.
They saluted me gravely, leaning on their picks and shovels, and wiping
their sweating faces with sunburned hands.
"How many?" said I in Breton.
"Thirty-eight," they replied.
I glanced around. Beyond the
heap of skulls lay two tiles of human bones. Beside these was a mound of
broken, rusted bits of iron and steel. Looking closer, I saw that this
mound was composed of rusty bayonets, sabre blades, scythe blades, with
here and there a tarnished buckle attached to a bit of leather hard as
I picked up a couple of buttons
and a belt plate. The buttons bore the royal arms of England; the belt
plate was emblazoned with the English arms, and also with the number "27."
"I have heard my grandfather
speak of the terrible English regiment, the 27th Foot, which handed and
stormed the fort up there," said one of the Bannalec men.
"Oh!" said I; "then these are
the bones of English soldiers?"
"Yes," said the men of Bannalec.
Le Bihan was calling to me from
the edge of the pit above, and I handed the belt plate and buttons to the
men and climbed the side of the excavation.
"Well," said I, trying to prevent
Môme from leaping up and licking my face as I emerged from the pit,
"I suppose you know what these bones are. What are you going to do with
"There was a man," said Le Bihan
angrily, "an Englishman, who passed here in a dog-cart on his way to Quimper
about an hour ago, and what do you suppose he wished to do?"
"Buy the relics?" I asked, smiling.
"Exactly - the pig!" piped the
mayor of St. Gildas. "Jean Marie Tregunc, who found the bones, was standing
there where Max Fortin stands, and do you know what he answered? He spat
upon the ground, and said: 'Pig of and Englishman, do you take me for a
desecrator of graves?"
I knew Tregunc, a sober, blue-eyed
Breton, who lived from one year's end to the other without being able to
afford a single bit of meat for a meal.
"How much did the Englishman
offer Tregunc?" I asked.
"Two hundred francs for the skulls
I thought of the relic hunters
and the relic buyers on the battlefields of our civil war.
"Seventeen hundred and sixty
is long ago," I said.
"Respect for the dead can never
die," said Fortin.
"And the English soldiers came
here to kill your fathers and burn your homes," I continued.
"They were murderers and thieves,
but - they are dead," said Tregunc, coming up from the beach below, his
long sea rake balanced on his dripping jersey.
"How much do you earn every year,
Jean Marie?" I asked, turning to shake hands with him.
"Two hundred and twenty francs,
"Forty-five dollars a year,"
I said. "Bah! you are worth more, Jean. Will you take care of my garden
for me? My wife wished me to ask you. I think it would be worth one hundred
francs a month to you and to me. Come on, Le Bihan - come along, Fortin
- and you, Durand. I want somebody to translate that list into French for
Tregunc stood gazing at me, his
blue eyes dilated.
"You may begin at once," I said,
smiling, "if the salary suites you?"
"It suits," said Tregunc, fumbling
for his pipe in a silly way that annoyed Le Bihan.
"Then go and begin your work,"
cried the mayor impatiently; and Tregunc started across the moors toward
St. Gildas, taking off this velvet-ribboned cap to me and gripping his
sea rake very hard.
"You offer him more than my salary,"
said the mayor, after a moment's contemplation of his silver buttons.
"Pooh!" said I, "what do you
do for your salary except play dominoes with Max Fortin at the Groix Inn?"
Le Bihan turned red, but Durand
rattled his sabre and winked at Max Fortin, and I slipped my arm through
the arm of the sulky magistrate, laughing.
"There's a shady spot under the
cliff," I said; "come on, Le Bihan, and me what is in the scroll."
In a few moments we reached the
shadow of the cliff, and I threw myself upon the turf, chin on hand, to
The gendarme, Durand, also sat
down, twisting his mustache into neellelike points. Fortin leaned against
the cliff, polishing his glasses and examining us with vague, near-sighted
eyes; and Le Bihan, the mayor, planted himself in our midst, rolling up
the scroll and tucking it under his arm.
"First of all," he began in a
shrill voice, "I am going to light my pipe, and while lighting it I shall
tell you what I have heard about the attack on the fort yonder. My father
told me; his father told him."
He jerked his head in the direction
of the ruined fort, a small, square stone structure on the sea cliff, now
nothing but crumbling walls. Then he slowly produced a tobacco pouch, a
bit of flint and tinder, and a long-stemmed pope fitted with a microscopical
bowl of baked clay. To fill such a pipe required ten minutes' close attention.
To smoke it to a finish takes but four puffs. It is very Breton, this Breton
pipe. It is the crystallization of everything Breton.
"Go on," said I, lighting a cigarette.
"The fort," said the mayor, "was
built by Louis XIV, and was dismantled twice by the English. Louis XV restored
it in 1739. In 1760 it was carried by assault by the English. They came
across from the island of Groix - three shiploads - and they stormed the
fort and sacked St. Julien yonder, and they started to burn St. Gildas
- you can see the marks of their bullets on my house yet; but the men of
Bannalec and the men of Lorient fell upon them with pike and scythe and
blunderbuss, and those who did not run away lie there below in the gravel
pit now - thirty-eight of them."
"And the thirty-ninth skull?"
I asked, finishing my cigarette.
The mayor had succeeded in filling
his pipe, and now he began to put his tobacco pouch away.
"The thirty-ninth skull," he
mumbled, holding the pipestem between his defective teeth - "the thirty-ninth
skull is no business of mine. I have told the read Bannalec men to cease
"But what is - whose is the missing
skull?" I persisted curiously.
The mayor was busy trying to
strike a spark to his tinder. Presently he set it aglow, applied it to
his pipe, took the prescribed four puffs, knocked the ashes out of the
bowl, and gravely replaced the pipe in his pocket.
"The missing skull?" he asked.
"Yes." said I impatiently.
The mayor slowly unrolled the
scroll and began to read, translating from the Breton into French, And
this is what he read:
"ON THE CLIFF OF ST. GILDAS,
"April 13, 1760.
"On this day, by order of the
Count of Soisic, general in chief of the Breton forces now lying in Kerselec
Forest, the bodies of thirty-eight English soldiers of the 27th, 50th,
and 72nd regiments of Foot were buried in this spot, together with their
arms and equipments."
The mayor paused and glanced
at me reflectively.
"Go on Le Bihan," I said.
continued the mayor, turning
the scroll and reading on the other side,
"was buried the body of that
vile traitor who betrayed the fort to the English. The manner of his death
was as follows: By order of the most noble Count of Soisic, the traitor
was first branded upon the forehead with the brand of an arrowhead. The
iron burned through the flesh, and was pressed heavily so that the brand
should even burn into the bone of the skull. The traitor was then led out
and bidden to kneel. He admitted having guided the English from the island
of Groix. Although a priest and a Frenchman, he had violated his priestly
office to aid him in discovering the password to the fort. This password
he extorted during confession from a young Breton girl who was in the habit
of rowing across from the island of Groix to visit her husband in the fort.
When the fort fell, this young girl, crazed by the death of her husband,
sought the Count of Soisic and told how the priest had forced her confess
to him all she knew about the fort. The priest was arrested at St. Gildas
as he was about to cross the river to Lorient. When arrested he cursed
the girl, Marie Trevec -"
"What!" I exclaimed, "Marie Trevec!"
"Marie Trevec," repeated Le Bihan;
"the priest cursed Marie Trevec, and all her family and descendants. He
was shot as he knelt, having a mask of leather over his face, because the
Bretons who composed the squad of execution refused to fire at a priest
unless his face was concealed. The priest was l'Abbé Sorgue, commonly
known as the Black Priest on account of his dark face and swarthy eyebrows.
He was buried with a stake through his heart."
Le Bihan paused, hesitated, looked
at me, and handed the manuscript back to Durand. The gendarme took it and
slipped it into the brass cylinder.
"So said I, "the thirty-ninth
skull is the skull of the Black Priest."
"Yes," said Fortin. "I hope they
won't find it."
"I have forbidden them to proceed,"
said the mayor querulously. "You heard me, Max Fortin."
I rose and picked up my gun.
Môme came and pushed his head into my hand.
"That's a fine dog," observed
Durand, also rising.
"Why don't you wish to find his
skull?" I asked Le Bihan. "It would be curious to see whether the arrow
brand really burned into the bone."
"There is something in that scroll
that I didn't read to you," said the mayor grimly. "Do you wish to know
what it is?"
"Of course," I replied in surprise.
"Give me the scroll again, Durand,"
he said; then he read from the bottom:
"I, I'Abbé Sorgue, forced
to write the above by my executioners, have written it in my own blood;
and with it I leave my curse. My curse on St. Gildas, on Marie Trevec,
and on ," her descendants. I will come back to St. Gildas when my remains
are disturbed. Woe to that Englishman whom my branded skull shall touch!"
"What rot!" I said. "Do you believe
it was really written in his own blood?"
"I am going to test it," said
Fortin, "at the request of Monsieur le Maire. I am not anxious for the
"See," said Le Bihan, holding
out the scroll to me, "it is signed, 'l'Abbé Sorgue.'"
I glanced curiously over the
"It must be the Black Priest,"
I said. "He was the only man who wrote in the Breton language. This is
a wonderfully interesting discovery, for now, at last, the mystery of the
Black Priest's disappearance is cleared up. You will, of course, send this
scroll to Paris, Le Bihan?"
"No," said the mayor obstinately,
"it shall be buried in the pit below where the rest of the Black Priest
I looked at him and recognized
that argument would be useless. But still I said, "It will be a loss to
history, Monsieur Le Bihan."
"All the worse for history, then,"
said the enlightened Mayor of St. Gildas.
We had sauntered back to the
gravel pit while speaking. The men of Bannalec were carrying the bones
of the English soldiers toward the St. Gildas cemetery, on the cliffs to
the east, where already a knot of white-coiffed women stood in attitudes
of prayer; and I saw the sombre robe of a priest among the crosses of the
"They were thieves and assassins;
they are dean now," muttered Max Fortin.
"Respect the dead,: repeated
the Mayor of St. Gildas, looking after the Bannalec men.
"It was written in that scroll
that Marie Trevec, of Groix Island, was cursed by the priest - she and
her descendants,: I said, touching Le Bihan on the arm. "There was a Marie
Trevec who married an Yves Trevec of St. Gildas -"
"It is the same," said Le Bihan,
looking at me obliquely.
"Oh!" said I; "then they were
ancestors of my wife."
"Do you fear the curse?" asked
"What?" I laughed.
"There was the case of the purple
Emperor," said Max Fortin timidly.
Startled for a moment, I faced
him, then shrugged my shoulders and kicked at a smooth bit of rock which
lay near the edge of the pit, almost embedded in gravel.
"Do you suppose the Purple Emperor
drank himself crazy because he was descended form Marie Trevec?" I asked
"Of course not," said Max Fortin
"Of course not," piped the mayor.
"I only - Hello! what's that you're kicking?"
"What?" said I, glancing down,
at the same time involuntarily giving another kick. The smooth bit of rock
dislodged itself and rolled out of the loosened gravel at my feet.
"The thirty-ninth skull!" I exclaimed.
"By jingo, its the noddle of the Black Priest! See! there is the arrowhead
branded on the front!"
The mayor stepped back. Max Fortin
also retreated. There was a pause, during which I looked at them, and they
looked anywhere but at me.
"I don't like it," said the mayor
at last, in a husky, high voice. "I don't like it! The scroll says he will
come back to St. Gildas when his remains are disturbed. I -I don't like
it, Monsieur Darrel -"
"Bosh!" said I; "the poor wicked
devil is where he can't get out. For Heaven's sake, Le Bihan, what is this
stuff you are talking in the year of grace 1896?"
The mayor gave me a look.
"And he says 'Englishman.' You
are an Englishman, Monsieur Darrel," he announced.
"You know better. You know I'm
"It's all the same," said the
Mayor of St. Gildas, obstinately.
"No, it isn't!" I answered, much
exasperated, and deliberately pushed the skull till it rolled into the
bottom of the gravel pit below.
"Cover it up," said I; "bury
the scroll with it too, if you insist, but I think you ought to send it
to Paris. Don't look so gloomy, Fortin, unless you believe in were-wolves
and ghosts. Hey! what the - what the devil's the matter with you anyway?
What are you staring at Le Bihan?"
"I saw," whispered Max Fortin,
pallid with fright.
The two men were almost running
across the sunny pasture now, and I hastened after them, demanding to know
what was the matter.
"Matter-" chattered the mayor,
gasping with exasperation and terror. "The skull is rolling uphill again!"
and he burst into a terrified gallop. Max Fortin followed close behind.
I watched them stampeding across
the pasture, then turned toward the gravel pit, mystified, incredulous.
The skull was lying on the edge of the pit, exactly where it had been before
I pushed it over the edge. For a second I stared at it; a singular chilly
feeling crept up my spinal column, and I turned and walked away, sweat
starting from the root of every hair on my head. Before I had gone twenty
paces the absurdity of the whole thing struck me. I halted, hot with shame
and annoyance, and retraced my steps.
There lay the skull.
"I rolled a stone down instead
of the skull," I muttered to myself. Then with the butt of my gun I pushed
the skull over the edge of the pit and watched it roll to the bottom; and
as it struck the bottom of the pit, Môme, my dog, suddenly whipped
his tail between this legs, whimpered, and made off across the moor.
"Môme!" I shouted, angry
and astonished; but the dog only fled the faster, and I ceased calling
from sheer surprise.
"What the mischief is the matter
with that dog!" I thought. He had never before played me such a trick.
Mechanically I glanced into the
pit, but I could not see the skull. I looked down, The skull lay at my
feet again, touching them.
"Good heavens!" I stammered,
and struck at it blindly with my gunstock. The ghastly thing flew into
the air, whirling over and over, and rolled again down the sides of the
pit to the bottom. Breathlessly I stared at it, then, confused and scarcely
comprehending, I stepped back from the pit, still facing it, one, them
twenty paces, my eyes almost starting from my head, as though I expected
to see the thing roll up from the bottom of the pit under my very gaze.
At last I turned my back to the pit and strode out across the gorse-covered
moorland toward my home. As I reached the road that winds from St. Gildas
to St. Julien I gave one hasty glance at the pit over my shoulder. The
sun shone hot on the sod about the excavation. There was something white
and bare and round on the turf at the edge of the pit. It might have been
a stone; there were plenty of them lying about.
End of PART ONE..... GO TO PART