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A short story by Charles M. Skinner

The Hundredth Skull

Title:     The Hundredth Skull
Author: Charles M. Skinner [More Titles by Skinner]

In the early part of this century Bill Quick, trapper and frontiersman, lived in a cabin on the upper Scioto, not far from the present town of Kenton, Ohio. One evening when he returned from the hunt he found his home rifled of its contents and his aged father weltering in his blood on the floor. He then and there took oath that he would be revenged a hundredfold. His mission was undertaken at once, and for many a year thereafter the Indians of the region had cause to dread the doom that came to them from brake and wood and fen,--now death by knife that flashed at them from behind a tree, and the next instant whirled through the air and was buried to the hilt in a red man's heart; now, by bullet as they rowed across the rivers; now, by axe that clove their skulls as they lay asleep.

Bill Quick worked secretly, and, unlike other men of the place and time, he did not take his trophies Indian-fashion. The scalp was not enough. He took the head. And presently a row of grinning skulls was ranged upon his shelves. Ninety-nine of these ghastly prizes occupied his cabin, and the man was confident that he should accomplish his intent. But the Indians, in terror, were falling away toward the lakes; they were keeping better guard; and ere the hundredth man had fallen before his rifle he was seized with fatal illness. Calling to him his son, Tom, he pointed to the skulls, and charged him to fulfil the oath he had taken by adding to the list a hundredth skull. Should he fail in this the murdered ancestor and he himself would come back to haunt the laggard. Tom accepted the trust, but everything seemed to work against him. He never was much of a hunter nor a very true shot, and he had no liking for war; besides, the Indians had left the country, as he fancied. So he grumbled at the uncongenial task appointed for him and kept deferring it from week to week and from year to year. When his conscience pricked him he allayed the smart with drink, and his conscience seemed to grow more active as he grew older.

On returning to the cabin after a carouse he declared that he had heard voices, that the skulls gibbered and cracked their teeth together as if mocking his weakness, and that a phosphorescent glare shone through the sockets of their eyes. In his cups he prattled his secret, and soon the whole country knew that he was under oath to kill a red-skin-and the country laughed at him. On a certain day it was reported that a band of Indians had been seen in the neighborhood, and what with drink and the taunts of his friends, he was impelled to take his rifle and set out once more on the war-path. A settler heard a shot fired not long after. Next day a neighbor passing Tom Quick's cabin tapped at the door, and, receiving no answer, pushed it open and entered. The hundredth skull was there, on the shelves, a bullet-hole in the forehead, and the scalp gone. The head was Quick's.

[The end]
Charles M. Skinner's short story: Hundredth Skull