About nine o'clock the next morning
I walked into the Groix Inn and sat down at the long discoloured oaken
table, nodding good-day to Marianne Bruyère, who in turn bobbed
her white coiffe at me.
"My clever Bannalec maid," said
I, "what is good for a stirrup-cup at the Groix Inn?"
"Schist?" she inquired in Breton.
"With a dash or red wine, then,"
She brought the delicious Quimperlé
cider, and I poured a little Bordeaux into it. Marianne watched me with
laughing black eyes.
"What makes your cheeks so red,
Marianne?" I asked. "Has Jean Marie been here?"
"We are to be married, monsieur
Darrel," she laughed.
"Ah! Since when has Jean Marie
Tregunc lost his head?"
"His head? Oh, Monsieur Darrel
- his heart, you mean!"
"So I do," said I. "Jean Marie
is a practical fellow."
"It is all due to your kindness
-" began the girl, but I raised my hand and held up the glass.
"It's due to himself. To your
happiness, Marianne;" and I took a hearty draught of the schist. "Now."
said I, "tell me where I can find Le Bihan and Max Fortin."
"Monsieur Le Bihan and Monsieur
Fortin are above in the broad room. I believe they are examining the Red
"To send them to Paris? Oh, I
know. May I go up, Marianne?"
"And God go with you," smiled
When I( knocked at the door of
the broad room above little Max Fortin opened it. Dust covered his spectacles
and nose; his hat, with the tiny velvet ribbons fluttering, was all awry.
"Come in, Monsieur Darrel," he
said; "the mayor and I are packing up the effects of the Purple Emperor
and of the poor Red Admiral."
"The collections?" I asked, entering
the room. "You must be very careful in packing those butterfly cases; the
slightest jar might break wings and antennæ, you know."
Le Bihan shook hands with me
and pointed to the great pile of boxes.
"They're all cork lined," he
said, "but Fortin and I are putting felt around each box. The Entomological
Society of Paris pays the freight."
The combined collections of the
Red Admiral and the Purple Emperor made a magnificent display.
I lifted and inspected
case after case set with gorgeous butterflies and moths, each specimen
carefully labelled with the name in Latin. There were cases filled with
crimson tiger moths all aflame with colour; cases devoted to the common
yellow butterflies; symphonies in orange and pale yellow; cases of soft
gray and dun-coloured sphinx moths; and cases of garish nettle-bred butterflies
of the numerous family of Vanessa.
All alone in a great case by
itself was pinned the purple emperor, the Apatura Iris, that fatal specimen
that had given the Purple Emperor his name and quietus.
I remembered the butterfly, and
stood looking at it with bent eyebrows.
Le Bihan glanced up from the
floor where he was nailing down the lid of a box full of cases.
"It is settled, then," said he,
"that madame, your wife, gives the Purple Emperor's entire collection to
the city of Paris?"
"Without accepting anything for
"It is a gift," I said.
"Including the purple emperor
there in the case? That butterfly is worth a great deal of money," persisted
"You don't suppose that we would
wish to sell that specimen, do you?" I answered a trifle sharply.
"If I were you I should destroy
it," said the mayor in his high-pitched voice.
"That would be nonsense," said
I - "like your burying the brass cylinder and scroll yesterday."
"It was not nonsense," said Le
Bihan doggedly, "and I should prefer not to discuss the subject of the
I looked at Max Fortin, who immediately
avoided my eyes.
"You are a pair of superstitious
old women," said I, digging my hands into my pockets; "you swallow every
nursery tale that is invented."
"What of it?" said Le Bihan sulkily;
"there's more truth than lies in most of 'em."
"Oh!" I sneered, "does the Mayor
of St. Gildas and St. Julien believe the Loup-garou?"
"No, not in the Loup-garou."
"In what, then - Jeanne-la-Flamme?"
"That," said Le Bihan with conviction,
"The devil it is!" said I; "and
perhaps, monsieur the mayor, your faith in giants in unimpaired?"
"There were giants - everybody
knows it," growled Max Fortin.
"And you a chemist!" I observed
"Listen, Monsieur Darrel," squeaked
Le Bihan; "you know yourself that the Purple Emperor was a scientific man.
Now suppose I should tell you that he always refused to include in his
collection a Death's Messenger?"
"A what?" I exclaimed.
"You know what I mean - that
moth that flies by night; some call it the Death's Head, but in St. Gildas
we call it 'Death's Messenger.'"
"Oh!" said I, "you mean that
big sphinx moth that is commonly known as the 'death's-head moth.' Why
the mischief should the people here call it death's messenger?"
"For hundreds of years it has
been known as death's messenger in St. Gildas," said Max Fortin. "Even
Froissart speaks of it in his commentaries on Jacques Sorgue's Chronicles.
The book is in your library."
"Sorgue? And who was Jacques
Sorgue? I never read his book."
"Jacques Sorgue was the son of
some unfrocked priest - I forget. It was during the crusades."
"Good Heavens!" I burst out,
"I've been hearing of nothing but crusades and priests and death and sorcery
ever since I kicked that skull into the gravel pit, and I am tired of it,
I tell you frankly. One would think we lived in the dark ages. Do you know
what year of our Lord it is, Le Bihan?"
"Eighteen hundred and ninety-six,"
replied the mayor. "And yet you two hulking men are afraid of a death's-head
"I don't care to have one fly
into the window," said Max Fortin; "it means evil to the house and the
people in it."
"God alone knows why he marked
one of his creatures with a yellow death's head on the back," observed
Le Bihan piously, "but I take it that he meant it as a warning; and I propose
to profit by it," he added triumphantly.
"See here, Le Bihan," I said;
"by a stretch of imagination one can make out a skull on the thorax of
a certain big sphinx moth. What of it?"
"It is a bad thing to touch,"
said the mayor, wagging his head.
"It squeaks when handled," added
"Some creatures squeak all the
times," I observed, looking hard at Le Bihan.
"Pigs," added the mayor.
"Yes, and asses," I replied.
"Listen, Le Bihan: do you mean to tell me that you saw that skull roll
The mayor shut his mouth tightly
and picked up his hammer.
"Don't be obstinate," I said;
let him talk about it."
I looked searchingly at the little
"I don't say that I saw it actually
roll up out of the pit, all by itself," said Fortin with a shiver, "but
- but then, how did it come up out of the pit, if it didn't roll up all
"It didn't come up at all: that
was a yellow cobblestone that you mistook for the skull again," I replied.
"You were nervous, Max."
"A - A very curious cobblestone,
Monsieur Darrel," said Fortin.
"I also was victim to the same
hallucination," I continued, "and I regret to say that I took the trouble
to roll two innocent cobblestones into the gravel pit, imagining each time
that it was the skull I was rolling."
"It was," observed Le Bihan with
a morose shrug.
"It just shows," said I, ignoring
the mayor's remark, "how easy it is to fix up a train of coincidences so
that the result seems to savour of the supernatural. Now, last night my
wife imagined that she saw a priest in a mask peer in at her window -"
Fortin and Le Bihan scrambled
hastily from their knees, dropping hammer and nails.
"W-h-a-t - what's that?" demanded
I repeated what I had said. Max
Fortin turned livid.
"My God!" muttered Le Bihan,
"the Black Priest is in St. Gildas!"
"D-don't you - you know the old
prophecy? stammered Fortin; "Froissart quotes it from Jacques Sorgue:
'When the Black Priest rises from the dead,
St. Gildas folk shall shriek in bed;
When the Black Priest rises from his grave,
May the good God St. Gildas save!'"
"Aristide Le Bihan," I said angrily,
"and you, Max Fortin, I've got enough of this nonsense! Some foolish lout
from Bannalec has been in St. Gildas playing tricks to frighten old fools
like you. If you have nothing better to talk about than nursery legends
I'll wait until you come to your senses. Good-morning." And I walked out,
more disturbed than I cared to acknowledge to myself.
The day had become misty and
overcast. Heavy, wet clouds hung in the east. I heard the surf thundering
against the cliffs, and the gray gulls squealed as they tossed and turned
high in the sky. The tide was creeping across the river sands, higher,
higher, and I saw the seaweed floating on the beach, and the lançons
springing from the foam, silvery thread-like flashes in the gloom. Curlew
were flying up river in twos and threes; the timid sea swallows skimmed
across the moors toward some quiet, lonely pool, safe from the coming tempest.
In every hedge field birds were gathering, huddling together, twittering
When I reached the cliffs I sat
down, resting my chin on my clenched hands. Already a vast curtain of rain,
sweeping across the ocean miles away, hid the island of Groix. To the east,
behind the white semaphore on the hills, black clouds crowded up over the
horizon. After a little the thunder boomed, dull, distant, and slender
skeins of lightning unravelled across the crest of the coming storm. Under
the cliff at my feet the surf rushed foaming over the shore, and the lançons
jumped and skipped and quivered until they seemed to be but the reflections
of the meshed lightning.
I turned to the east. It was
raining over Groix, it was raining at Sainte Barbe, it was raining now
at the semaphore. High in the storm whirl a few gulls pitched; a nearer
cloud trailed veils of rain in its wake; the sky was spattered with lightning;
the thunder boomed.
As I rose to go, a cold raindrop
fell upon the back of my hand, and another, and yet another on my face.
I gave a last glance at the sea, where the waves were bursting into strange
white shapes that seemed to fling out menacing arms toward me. The something
moved on the cliff, something black as the clack rock it clutched - a filthy
cormorant, craning its hideous head at the sky.
Slowly I plodded homeward across
the sombre moorland, where the gorse stems glimmered with a dull metallic
green, and the heather, no longer violet and purple, hung drenched and
dun-colored among the dreary rocks. The wet turf creaked under my heavy
boots, the black-thorn scraped and grated against knee and elbow. Over
all lay a strange light, pallid, ghastly, where the sea spray whirled across
the landscape and drove into my face until it grew numb with the cold.
In broad bands, rank after rank, billow on billow, the rain burst out across
the endless moors, and yet there was no wind to drive it at such a pace.
Lys stood at the door as I turned
into the garden, motioning me to hasten; and then for the first time I
become conscious that I was soaked to the skin.
"How ever in the world did you
come to stay out when such a storm threatened?" she said. "Oh, you are
dripping! Go quickly and change; I have laid your warm underwear on the
I kissed my wife, and went upstairs
to change my dripping clothes for something more comfortable.
When I returned to the morning
room there was a driftwood fire on the hearth, and Lys sat in the chimney
"Catherine tells me that the
fishing fleet from Lorient is out. Do you think they are in danger, dear?"
asked Lys, raising her blue eyes to mine as I entered.
"There is no wind, and there
will be no sea," said I, looking out of the window. Far across the moor
I could see the black cliffs looming in the mist.
"How it rains!" murmured Lys;
"come to the fire, Dick."
I threw myself on the fur rug,
my hands in my pockets, my head on Lys's knees.
"Tell me a story," I said. "I
feel like a boy of ten."
Lys raised a finger to her scarlet
lips. I always waited for her to do that.
"Will you be very still, then?"
"Still as death."
"Death," echoed a voice, very
"Did you speak, Lys?" I asked,
turning so that I could see her face.
"No; did you, Dick?"
"Who said 'death'?" I asked,
"Death," echoed a voice, softly.
I sprang up and looked about.
Lys rose too, her needles and embroidery falling to the floor. She seemed
about to faint, leaning heavily on me, and I led her to the window and
so the chain lightning split the zenith, the thunder crashed, and a sheet
of rain swept into the room, driving with it something that fluttered -
something that flapped, and squeaked, and beat upon the rug with soft,
We bent over it together, Lys
clinging to me, and we saw that it was a death's-head moth drenched with
The dark day passed slowly as
we sat beside the fire, hand in hand, her head against my breast, speaking
of sorrow and mystery and death. For Lys believed that there were things
on earth that none might understand, that must be nameless forever and
ever, until God rolls up the scroll of life and all is ended. We spoke
of hope and fear and faith, and the mystery of the saints; we spoke of
the beginning and the end, of the shadow of sin, of omens, and of love.
The moth still lay on the floor, quivering its sombre wings in the warmth
of the fire, the skull and ribs clearly etched upon its neck and body.
"If it is a messenger of death
to this house," I said, "why should we fear, Lys?"
"Death should be welcome to those
who love God," murmured Lys, and she drew the cross from her breast and
"The moth might die if I threw
it out into the storm," I said after a silence.
"Let it remain," sighed Lys.
Late that night my wife lay sleeping,
and I sat beside her bed and read in the Chronicle of Jacques Sorgue. I
shaded the candle, but Lys grew restless, and finally I took the book down
into the morning room, where the ashes of the dire rustled and whitened
on the hearth.
The death's-head moth lay on
the rug before the fire where I had left it. At first I thought it was
dead, but, when I looked closer I saw a lambent fire in its amber eyes.
The straight white shadow it cast across the floor wavered as the candle
The pages of the Chronicle of
Jacques Sorgue were damp and sticky; the illuminated gold and blue initials
left flakes of azure and guilt where my hand brushed them.
"It is not paper at all; it is
thin parchment," I said to myself; and I held the discoloured paged close
to the candle flame and read, translating laboriously:
"I, Jacques Sorgue, saw all these
things. And I saw the Black Mass celebrated in the chapel of St. Gildas-on-the-Cliff.
And it was said by Abbé Sorgue, my kinsman: for which deadly sin
the apostate priest was seized by the most noble Marquis of Plougastel
and by him condemned to be burned with hot irons, until his seared soul
quit its body and fly to its master the devil. But when the Black Priest
lay in the crypt of Plougastel, his master Satan came at night and set
him free, and carried him across land and sea to Mahmoud, which is Soldan
or Saladin. And I, Jacques Sorgue, travelling afterward by sea, beheld
with my own eyes my kinsman, the Black Priest of St. Gildas, borne along
in the air upon a vast black wing, which was the wing of his master Satan.
And this was seen also by two men of the crew."
I turned the page. The wings
of the moth on the floor began to quiver. I read on and on, my eyes blurring
under the shifting candle flame, I read of battles and of saints, and I
learned how the great Soldan made his pact with Satan, and then I came
to the Sieur de Trevec, and read how he seized the Black Priest in the
midst of Salasin's tents and carried him away and cut off his head, first
branding him on the forehead. "And before he suffered," said the Chronicle,
"he cursed the Sieur de Trevec and his descendants, and he said he would
surely return to St. Gildas. 'For the violence you do to me, I will do
violence to you. For the evil I suffer at your hands, I will work evil
on you and your descendants. Woe to your children, Sieur de Trevec!' There
was a shirr, a beating of strong wings, and my candle flashed up as in
a sudden breeze. A humming filled the room; the great moth darted hither
and thither, beating, buzzing, on ceiling and wall. I flung down my book
and stepped forward. Now it lay fluttering upon the window sill, and for
a moment I had it under my hand, but the thing squeaked and I shrank back.
Then suddenly it darted across the candle flame; the light flared and went
out, and at the same moment a shadow moved in the darkness outside. I raised
my eyes to the window. A masked face was peering in at me.
Quick as thought I whipped out
my revolver and fired every cartridge, but the face advanced beyond the
window, the glass melting away before it like mist, and through the smoke
of my revolver I saw something creep swiftly into the room. Then I tried
to cry out, but the thing was at my throat, and I fell backward among the
ashes of the hearth.
When my eyes unclosed I was lying
on the hearth, my head among the cold ashes. Slowly I got on my knees,
rose painfully, and groped my way to a chair. On the floor lay my revolver,
shining in the pale light of early morning. My mind clearing by degrees,
I looked, shuddering, at the window. The glass was unbroken. I stooped
stiffly, picked up my revolver and opened the cylinder. Every cartridge
had been fired. Mechanically I closed the cylinder and placed the revolver
in my pocket. The book, the Chronicles of Jacques Sorgue. lay on the table
beside me, and as I started to close it I glanced at the page. It was all
splashed with rain, and the lettering had run, so that the page was merely
a confused blur of gold and red and black. As I stumbled toward the door
I cast a fearful glance over my shoulder. The death's-head moth crawled
shivering on the rug.
End of PART THREE..... GO TO PART