The Blue Cross
The Secret Garden
The Queer Feet
The Flying Stars
The Invisible Man
The Honour of Israel Gow
The Wrong Shape
The Sins of Prince Saradine
The Hammer of God
The Eye of Apollo
The Sign of the Broken Sword
The Three Tools of Death
The Blue Cross
Between the silver ribbon of morning and the green glittering
ribbon of sea, the boat touched Harwich and let loose a swarm of
folk like flies, among whom the man we must follow was by no means
conspicuous--nor wished to be. There was nothing notable about
him, except a slight contrast between the holiday gaiety of his
clothes and the official gravity of his face. His clothes
included a slight, pale grey jacket, a white waistcoat, and a
silver straw hat with a grey-blue ribbon. His lean face was dark
by contrast, and ended in a curt black beard that looked Spanish
and suggested an Elizabethan ruff. He was smoking a cigarette
with the seriousness of an idler. There was nothing about him to
indicate the fact that the grey jacket covered a loaded revolver,
that the white waistcoat covered a police card, or that the straw
hat covered one of the most powerful intellects in Europe. For
this was Valentin himself, the head of the Paris police and the
most famous investigator of the world; and he was coming from
Brussels to London to make the greatest arrest of the century.
Flambeau was in England. The police of three countries had
tracked the great criminal at last from Ghent to Brussels, from
Brussels to the Hook of Holland; and it was conjectured that he
would take some advantage of the unfamiliarity and confusion of
the Eucharistic Congress, then taking place in London. Probably
he would travel as some minor clerk or secretary connected with
it; but, of course, Valentin could not be certain; nobody could be
certain about Flambeau.
It is many years now since this colossus of crime suddenly
ceased keeping the world in a turmoil; and when he ceased, as they
said after the death of Roland, there was a great quiet upon the
earth. But in his best days (I mean, of course, his worst)
Flambeau was a figure as statuesque and international as the
Kaiser. Almost every morning the daily paper announced that he
had escaped the consequences of one extraordinary crime by
committing another. He was a Gascon of gigantic stature and
bodily daring; and the wildest tales were told of his outbursts of
athletic humour; how he turned the juge d'instruction upside down
and stood him on his head, "to clear his mind"; how he ran down
the Rue de Rivoli with a policeman under each arm. It is due to
him to say that his fantastic physical strength was generally
employed in such bloodless though undignified scenes; his real
crimes were chiefly those of ingenious and wholesale robbery. But
each of his thefts was almost a new sin, and would make a story by
itself. It was he who ran the great Tyrolean Dairy Company in
London, with no dairies, no cows, no carts, no milk, but with some
thousand subscribers. These he served by the simple operation of
moving the little milk cans outside people's doors to the doors of
his own customers. It was he who had kept up an unaccountable and
close correspondence with a young lady whose whole letter-bag was
intercepted, by the extraordinary trick of photographing his
messages infinitesimally small upon the slides of a microscope. A
sweeping simplicity, however, marked many of his experiments. It
is said that he once repainted all the numbers in a street in the
dead of night merely to divert one traveller into a trap. It is
quite certain that he invented a portable pillar-box, which he put
up at corners in quiet suburbs on the chance of strangers dropping
postal orders into it. Lastly, he was known to be a startling
acrobat; despite his huge figure, he could leap like a grasshopper
and melt into the tree-tops like a monkey. Hence the great
Valentin, when he set out to find Flambeau, was perfectly aware
that his adventures would not end when he had found him.
But how was he to find him? On this the great Valentin's
ideas were still in process of settlement.
There was one thing which Flambeau, with all his dexterity of
disguise, could not cover, and that was his singular height. If
Valentin's quick eye had caught a tall apple-woman, a tall
grenadier, or even a tolerably tall duchess, he might have
arrested them on the spot. But all along his train there was
nobody that could be a disguised Flambeau, any more than a cat
could be a disguised giraffe. About the people on the boat he had
already satisfied himself; and the people picked up at Harwich or
on the journey limited themselves with certainty to six. There
was a short railway official travelling up to the terminus, three
fairly short market gardeners picked up two stations afterwards,
one very short widow lady going up from a small Essex town, and a
very short Roman Catholic priest going up from a small Essex
village. When it came to the last case, Valentin gave it up and
almost laughed. The little priest was so much the essence of
those Eastern flats; he had a face as round and dull as a Norfolk
dumpling; he had eyes as empty as the North Sea; he had several
brown paper parcels, which he was quite incapable of collecting.
The Eucharistic Congress had doubtless sucked out of their local
stagnation many such creatures, blind and helpless, like moles
disinterred. Valentin was a sceptic in the severe style of
France, and could have no love for priests. But he could have
pity for them, and this one might have provoked pity in anybody.
He had a large, shabby umbrella, which constantly fell on the
floor. He did not seem to know which was the right end of his
return ticket. He explained with a moon-calf simplicity to
everybody in the carriage that he had to be careful, because he
had something made of real silver "with blue stones" in one of his
brown-paper parcels. His quaint blending of Essex flatness with
saintly simplicity continuously amused the Frenchman till the
priest arrived (somehow) at Tottenham with all his parcels, and
came back for his umbrella. When he did the last, Valentin even
had the good nature to warn him not to take care of the silver by
telling everybody about it. But to whomever he talked, Valentin
kept his eye open for someone else; he looked out steadily for
anyone, rich or poor, male or female, who was well up to six feet;
for Flambeau was four inches above it.
He alighted at Liverpool Street, however, quite conscientiously
secure that he had not missed the criminal so far. He then went
to Scotland Yard to regularise his position and arrange for help
in case of need; he then lit another cigarette and went for a long
stroll in the streets of London. As he was walking in the streets
and squares beyond Victoria, he paused suddenly and stood. It was
a quaint, quiet square, very typical of London, full of an
accidental stillness. The tall, flat houses round looked at once
prosperous and uninhabited; the square of shrubbery in the centre
looked as deserted as a green Pacific islet. One of the four
sides was much higher than the rest, like a dais; and the line of
this side was broken by one of London's admirable accidents--a
restaurant that looked as if it had strayed from Soho. It was an
unreasonably attractive object, with dwarf plants in pots and
long, striped blinds of lemon yellow and white. It stood specially
high above the street, and in the usual patchwork way of London, a
flight of steps from the street ran up to meet the front door
almost as a fire-escape might run up to a first-floor window.
Valentin stood and smoked in front of the yellow-white blinds and
considered them long.
The most incredible thing about miracles is that they happen.
A few clouds in heaven do come together into the staring shape of
one human eye. A tree does stand up in the landscape of a
doubtful journey in the exact and elaborate shape of a note of
interrogation. I have seen both these things myself within the
last few days. Nelson does die in the instant of victory; and a
man named Williams does quite accidentally murder a man named
Williamson; it sounds like a sort of infanticide. In short, there
is in life an element of elfin coincidence which people reckoning
on the prosaic may perpetually miss. As it has been well
expressed in the paradox of Poe, wisdom should reckon on the
Aristide Valentin was unfathomably French; and the French
intelligence is intelligence specially and solely. He was not "a
thinking machine"; for that is a brainless phrase of modern
fatalism and materialism. A machine only is a machine because it
cannot think. But he was a thinking man, and a plain man at the
same time. All his wonderful successes, that looked like
had been gained by plodding logic, by clear and commonplace French
thought. The French electrify the world not by starting any
paradox, they electrify it by carrying out a truism. They carry a
truism so far--as in the French Revolution. But exactly because
Valentin understood reason, he understood the limits of reason.
Only a man who knows nothing of motors talks of motoring without
petrol; only a man who knows nothing of reason talks of reasoning
without strong, undisputed first principles. Here he had no
strong first principles. Flambeau had been missed at Harwich; and
if he was in London at all, he might be anything from a tall tramp
on Wimbledon Common to a tall toast-master at the Hotel Metropole.
In such a naked state of nescience, Valentin had a view and a
method of his own.
In such cases he reckoned on the unforeseen. In such cases,
when he could not follow the train of the reasonable, he coldly
and carefully followed the train of the unreasonable. Instead of
going to the right places--banks, police stations, rendezvous--
he systematically went to the wrong places; knocked at every empty
house, turned down every cul de sac, went up every lane blocked
with rubbish, went round every crescent that led him uselessly out
of the way. He defended this crazy course quite logically. He
said that if one had a clue this was the worst way; but if one had
no clue at all it was the best, because there was just the chance
that any oddity that caught the eye of the pursuer might be the
same that had caught the eye of the pursued. Somewhere a man must
begin, and it had better be just where another man might stop.
Something about that flight of steps up to the shop, something
about the quietude and quaintness of the restaurant, roused all
the detective's rare romantic fancy and made him resolve to strike
at random. He went up the steps, and sitting down at a table by
the window, asked for a cup of black coffee.
It was half-way through the morning, and he had not
breakfasted; the slight litter of other breakfasts stood about on
the table to remind him of his hunger; and adding a poached egg to
his order, he proceeded musingly to shake some white sugar into
his coffee, thinking all the time about Flambeau. He remembered
how Flambeau had escaped, once by a pair of nail scissors, and
once by a house on fire; once by having to pay for an unstamped
letter, and once by getting people to look through a telescope at
a comet that might destroy the world. He thought his detective
brain as good as the criminal's, which was true. But he fully
realised the disadvantage. "The criminal is the creative artist;
the detective only the critic," he said with a sour smile, and
lifted his coffee cup to his lips slowly, and put it down very
quickly. He had put salt in it.
He looked at the vessel from which the silvery powder had
come; it was certainly a sugar-basin; as unmistakably meant for
sugar as a champagne-bottle for champagne. He wondered why they
should keep salt in it. He looked to see if there were any more
orthodox vessels. Yes; there were two salt-cellars quite full.
Perhaps there was some speciality in the condiment in the
salt-cellars. He tasted it; it was sugar. Then he looked round
at the restaurant with a refreshed air of interest, to see if
there were any other traces of that singular artistic taste which
puts the sugar in the salt-cellars and the salt in the sugar-basin.
Except for an odd splash of some dark fluid on one of the
white-papered walls, the whole place appeared neat, cheerful and
ordinary. He rang the bell for the waiter.
When that official hurried up, fuzzy-haired and somewhat
blear-eyed at that early hour, the detective (who was not without
an appreciation of the simpler forms of humour) asked him to taste
the sugar and see if it was up to the high reputation of the hotel.
The result was that the waiter yawned suddenly and woke up.
"Do you play this delicate joke on your customers every
morning?" inquired Valentin. "Does changing the salt and sugar
never pall on you as a jest?"
The waiter, when this irony grew clearer, stammeringly assured
him that the establishment had certainly no such intention; it
must be a most curious mistake. He picked up the sugar-basin and
looked at it; he picked up the salt-cellar and looked at that, his
face growing more and more bewildered. At last he abruptly
excused himself, and hurrying away, returned in a few seconds with
the proprietor. The proprietor also examined the sugar-basin and
then the salt-cellar; the proprietor also looked bewildered.
Suddenly the waiter seemed to grow inarticulate with a rush of
"I zink," he stuttered eagerly, "I zink it is those two
"What two clergymen?"
"The two clergymen," said the waiter, "that threw soup at the
"Threw soup at the wall?" repeated Valentin, feeling sure this
must be some singular Italian metaphor.
"Yes, yes," said the attendant excitedly, and pointed at the
dark splash on the white paper; "threw it over there on the wall."
Valentin looked his query at the proprietor, who came to his
rescue with fuller reports.
"Yes, sir," he said, "it's quite true, though I don't suppose
it has anything to do with the sugar and salt. Two clergymen came
in and drank soup here very early, as soon as the shutters were
taken down. They were both very quiet, respectable people; one of
them paid the bill and went out; the other, who seemed a slower
coach altogether, was some minutes longer getting his things
together. But he went at last. Only, the instant before he
stepped into the street he deliberately picked up his cup, which
he had only half emptied, and threw the soup slap on the wall. I
was in the back room myself, and so was the waiter; so I could
only rush out in time to find the wall splashed and the shop
empty. It don't do any particular damage, but it was confounded
cheek; and I tried to catch the men in the street. They were too
far off though; I only noticed they went round the next corner
into Carstairs Street."
The detective was on his feet, hat settled and stick in hand.
He had already decided that in the universal darkness of his mind
he could only follow the first odd finger that pointed; and this
finger was odd enough. Paying his bill and clashing the glass
doors behind him, he was soon swinging round into the other
It was fortunate that even in such fevered moments his eye was
cool and quick. Something in a shop-front went by him like a mere
flash; yet he went back to look at it. The shop was a popular
greengrocer and fruiterer's, an array of goods set out in the open
air and plainly ticketed with their names and prices. In the two
most prominent compartments were two heaps, of oranges and of nuts
respectively. On the heap of nuts lay a scrap of cardboard, on
which was written in bold, blue chalk, "Best tangerine oranges,
two a penny." On the oranges was the equally clear and exact
description, "Finest Brazil nuts, 4d. a lb." M. Valentin looked
at these two placards and fancied he had met this highly subtle
form of humour before, and that somewhat recently. He drew the
attention of the red-faced fruiterer, who was looking rather
sullenly up and down the street, to this inaccuracy in his
advertisements. The fruiterer said nothing, but sharply put each
card into its proper place. The detective, leaning elegantly on
his walking-cane, continued to scrutinise the shop. At last he
said, "Pray excuse my apparent irrelevance, my good sir, but I
should like to ask you a question in experimental psychology and
the association of ideas."
The red-faced shopman regarded him with an eye of menace; but
he continued gaily, swinging his cane, "Why," he pursued, "why are
two tickets wrongly placed in a greengrocer's shop like a shovel
hat that has come to London for a holiday? Or, in case I do not
make myself clear, what is the mystical association which connects
the idea of nuts marked as oranges with the idea of two clergymen,
one tall and the other short?"
The eyes of the tradesman stood out of his head like a
snail's; he really seemed for an instant likely to fling himself
upon the stranger. At last he stammered angrily: "I don't know
what you 'ave to do with it, but if you're one of their friends,
you can tell 'em from me that I'll knock their silly 'eads off,
parsons or no parsons, if they upset my apples again."
"Indeed?" asked the detective, with great sympathy. "Did they
upset your apples?"
"One of 'em did," said the heated shopman; "rolled 'em all
over the street. I'd 'ave caught the fool but for havin' to pick
"Which way did these parsons go?" asked Valentin.
"Up that second road on the left-hand side, and then across
the square," said the other promptly.
"Thanks," replied Valentin, and vanished like a fairy. On the
other side of the second square he found a policeman, and said:
"This is urgent, constable; have you seen two clergymen in shovel
The policeman began to chuckle heavily. "I 'ave, sir; and if
you arst me, one of 'em was drunk. He stood in the middle of the
road that bewildered that--"
"Which way did they go?" snapped Valentin.
"They took one of them yellow buses over there," answered the
man; "them that go to Hampstead."
Valentin produced his official card and said very rapidly:
"Call up two of your men to come with me in pursuit," and crossed
the road with such contagious energy that the ponderous policeman
was moved to almost agile obedience. In a minute and a half the
French detective was joined on the opposite pavement by an
inspector and a man in plain clothes.
"Well, sir," began the former, with smiling importance, "and
Valentin pointed suddenly with his cane. "I'll tell you on
the top of that omnibus," he said, and was darting and dodging
across the tangle of the traffic. When all three sank panting on
the top seats of the yellow vehicle, the inspector said: "We could
go four times as quick in a taxi."
"Quite true," replied their leader placidly, "if we only had
an idea of where we were going."
"Well, where are you going?" asked the other, staring.
Valentin smoked frowningly for a few seconds; then, removing
his cigarette, he said: "If you know what a man's doing, get in
front of him; but if you want to guess what he's doing, keep
behind him. Stray when he strays; stop when he stops; travel as
slowly as he. Then you may see what he saw and may act as he
acted. All we can do is to keep our eyes skinned for a queer
"What sort of queer thing do you mean?" asked the inspector.
"Any sort of queer thing," answered Valentin, and relapsed
into obstinate silence.
The yellow omnibus crawled up the northern roads for what
seemed like hours on end; the great detective would not explain
further, and perhaps his assistants felt a silent and growing doubt
of his errand. Perhaps, also, they felt a silent and growing
desire for lunch, for the hours crept long past the normal luncheon
hour, and the long roads of the North London suburbs seemed to
shoot out into length after length like an infernal telescope. It
was one of those journeys on which a man perpetually feels that
now at last he must have come to the end of the universe, and then
finds he has only come to the beginning of Tufnell Park. London
died away in draggled taverns and dreary scrubs, and then was
unaccountably born again in blazing high streets and blatant
hotels. It was like passing through thirteen separate vulgar
cities all just touching each other. But though the winter
twilight was already threatening the road ahead of them, the
Parisian detective still sat silent and watchful, eyeing the
frontage of the streets that slid by on either side. By the time
they had left Camden Town behind, the policemen were nearly
asleep; at least, they gave something like a jump as Valentin
leapt erect, struck a hand on each man's shoulder, and shouted to
the driver to stop.
They tumbled down the steps into the road without realising
why they had been dislodged; when they looked round for
enlightenment they found Valentin triumphantly pointing his finger
towards a window on the left side of the road. It was a large
window, forming part of the long facade of a gilt and palatial
public-house; it was the part reserved for respectable dining, and
labelled "Restaurant." This window, like all the rest along the
frontage of the hotel, was of frosted and figured glass; but in
the middle of it was a big, black smash, like a star in the ice.
"Our cue at last," cried Valentin, waving his stick; "the
place with the broken window."
"What window? What cue?" asked his principal assistant.
"Why, what proof is there that this has anything to do with them?"
Valentin almost broke his bamboo stick with rage.
"Proof!" he cried. "Good God! the man is looking for proof!
Why, of course, the chances are twenty to one that it has nothing
to do with them. But what else can we do? Don't you see we must
either follow one wild possibility or else go home to bed?" He
banged his way into the restaurant, followed by his companions,
and they were soon seated at a late luncheon at a little table,
and looked at the star of smashed glass from the inside. Not that
it was very informative to them even then.
"Got your window broken, I see," said Valentin to the waiter
as he paid the bill.
"Yes, sir," answered the attendant, bending busily over the
change, to which Valentin silently added an enormous tip. The
waiter straightened himself with mild but unmistakable animation.
"Ah, yes, sir," he said. "Very odd thing, that, sir."
"Indeed?" Tell us about it," said the detective with careless
"Well, two gents in black came in," said the waiter; "two of
those foreign parsons that are running about. They had a cheap
and quiet little lunch, and one of them paid for it and went out.
The other was just going out to join him when I looked at my
change again and found he'd paid me more than three times too
much. `Here,' I says to the chap who was nearly out of the door,
`you've paid too much.' `Oh,' he says, very cool, `have we?'
'Yes,' I says, and picks up the bill to show him. Well, that was
"What do you mean?" asked his interlocutor.
"Well, I'd have sworn on seven Bibles that I'd put 4s. on that
bill. But now I saw I'd put 14s., as plain as paint."
"Well?" cried Valentin, moving slowly, but with burning eyes,
"The parson at the door he says all serene, `Sorry to confuse
your accounts, but it'll pay for the window.' `What window?' I
says. `The one I'm going to break,' he says, and smashed that
blessed pane with his umbrella."
All three inquirers made an exclamation; and the inspector
said under his breath, "Are we after escaped lunatics?" The waiter
went on with some relish for the ridiculous story:
"I was so knocked silly for a second, I couldn't do anything.
The man marched out of the place and joined his friend just round
the corner. Then they went so quick up Bullock Street that I
couldn't catch them, though I ran round the bars to do it."
"Bullock Street," said the detective, and shot up that
thoroughfare as quickly as the strange couple he pursued.
Their journey now took them through bare brick ways like
tunnels; streets with few lights and even with few windows;
streets that seemed built out of the blank backs of everything and
everywhere. Dusk was deepening, and it was not easy even for the
London policemen to guess in what exact direction they were
treading. The inspector, however, was pretty certain that they
would eventually strike some part of Hampstead Heath. Abruptly
one bulging gas-lit window broke the blue twilight like a
bull's-eye lantern; and Valentin stopped an instant before a little
garish sweetstuff shop. After an instant's hesitation he went in;
he stood amid the gaudy colours of the confectionery with entire
gravity and bought thirteen chocolate cigars with a certain care.
He was clearly preparing an opening; but he did not need one.
An angular, elderly young woman in the shop had regarded his
elegant appearance with a merely automatic inquiry; but when she
saw the door behind him blocked with the blue uniform of the
inspector, her eyes seemed to wake up.
"Oh," she said, "if you've come about that parcel, I've sent
it off already."
"Parcel?" repeated Valentin; and it was his turn to look
"I mean the parcel the gentleman left--the clergyman
"For goodness' sake," said Valentin, leaning forward with his
first real confession of eagerness, "for Heaven's sake tell us
what happened exactly."
"Well," said the woman a little doubtfully, "the clergymen
came in about half an hour ago and bought some peppermints and
talked a bit, and then went off towards the Heath. But a second
after, one of them runs back into the shop and says, `Have I left
a parcel!' Well, I looked everywhere and couldn't see one; so he
says, `Never mind; but if it should turn up, please post it to
this address,' and he left me the address and a shilling for my
trouble. And sure enough, though I thought I'd looked everywhere,
I found he'd left a brown paper parcel, so I posted it to the
place he said. I can't remember the address now; it was somewhere
in Westminster. But as the thing seemed so important, I thought
perhaps the police had come about it."
"So they have," said Valentin shortly. "Is Hampstead Heath
"Straight on for fifteen minutes," said the woman, "and you'll
come right out on the open." Valentin sprang out of the shop and
began to run. The other detectives followed him at a reluctant
The street they threaded was so narrow and shut in by shadows
that when they came out unexpectedly into the void common and vast
sky they were startled to find the evening still so light and
clear. A perfect dome of peacock-green sank into gold amid the
blackening trees and the dark violet distances. The glowing green
tint was just deep enough to pick out in points of crystal one or
two stars. All that was left of the daylight lay in a golden
glitter across the edge of Hampstead and that popular hollow which
is called the Vale of Health. The holiday makers who roam this
region had not wholly dispersed; a few couples sat shapelessly on
benches; and here and there a distant girl still shrieked in one
of the swings. The glory of heaven deepened and darkened around
the sublime vulgarity of man; and standing on the slope and looking
across the valley, Valentin beheld the thing which he sought.
Among the black and breaking groups in that distance was one
especially black which did not break--a group of two figures
clerically clad. Though they seemed as small as insects, Valentin
could see that one of them was much smaller than the other.
Though the other had a student's stoop and an inconspicuous manner,
he could see that the man was well over six feet high. He shut
his teeth and went forward, whirling his stick impatiently. By
the time he had substantially diminished the distance and
magnified the two black figures as in a vast microscope, he had
perceived something else; something which startled him, and yet
which he had somehow expected. Whoever was the tall priest, there
could be no doubt about the identity of the short one. It was his
friend of the Harwich train, the stumpy little cure of Essex whom
he had warned about his brown paper parcels.
Now, so far as this went, everything fitted in finally and
rationally enough. Valentin had learned by his inquiries that
morning that a Father Brown from Essex was bringing up a silver
cross with sapphires, a relic of considerable value, to show some
of the foreign priests at the congress. This undoubtedly was the
"silver with blue stones"; and Father Brown undoubtedly was the
little greenhorn in the train. Now there was nothing wonderful
about the fact that what Valentin had found out Flambeau had also
found out; Flambeau found out everything. Also there was nothing
wonderful in the fact that when Flambeau heard of a sapphire cross
he should try to steal it; that was the most natural thing in all
natural history. And most certainly there was nothing wonderful
about the fact that Flambeau should have it all his own way with
such a silly sheep as the man with the umbrella and the parcels.
He was the sort of man whom anybody could lead on a string to the
North Pole; it was not surprising that an actor like Flambeau,
dressed as another priest, could lead him to Hampstead Heath. So
far the crime seemed clear enough; and while the detective pitied
the priest for his helplessness, he almost despised Flambeau for
condescending to so gullible a victim. But when Valentin thought
of all that had happened in between, of all that had led him to
his triumph, he racked his brains for the smallest rhyme or reason
in it. What had the stealing of a blue-and-silver cross from a
priest from Essex to do with chucking soup at wall paper? What
had it to do with calling nuts oranges, or with paying for windows
first and breaking them afterwards? He had come to the end of his
chase; yet somehow he had missed the middle of it. When he failed
(which was seldom), he had usually grasped the clue, but
nevertheless missed the criminal. Here he had grasped the
criminal, but still he could not grasp the clue.
The two figures that they followed were crawling like black
flies across the huge green contour of a hill. They were evidently
sunk in conversation, and perhaps did not notice where they were
going; but they were certainly going to the wilder and more silent
heights of the Heath. As their pursuers gained on them, the
latter had to use the undignified attitudes of the deer-stalker,
to crouch behind clumps of trees and even to crawl prostrate in
deep grass. By these ungainly ingenuities the hunters even came
close enough to the quarry to hear the murmur of the discussion,
but no word could be distinguished except the word "reason"
recurring frequently in a high and almost childish voice. Once
over an abrupt dip of land and a dense tangle of thickets, the
detectives actually lost the two figures they were following.
They did not find the trail again for an agonising ten minutes,
and then it led round the brow of a great dome of hill overlooking
an amphitheatre of rich and desolate sunset scenery. Under a tree
in this commanding yet neglected spot was an old ramshackle wooden
seat. On this seat sat the two priests still in serious speech
together. The gorgeous green and gold still clung to the darkening
horizon; but the dome above was turning slowly from peacock-green
to peacock-blue, and the stars detached themselves more and more
like solid jewels. Mutely motioning to his followers, Valentin
contrived to creep up behind the big branching tree, and, standing
there in deathly silence, heard the words of the strange priests
for the first time.
After he had listened for a minute and a half, he was gripped
by a devilish doubt. Perhaps he had dragged the two English
policemen to the wastes of a nocturnal heath on an errand no saner
than seeking figs on its thistles. For the two priests were
talking exactly like priests, piously, with learning and leisure,
about the most aerial enigmas of theology. The little Essex
priest spoke the more simply, with his round face turned to the
strengthening stars; the other talked with his head bowed, as if
he were not even worthy to look at them. But no more innocently
clerical conversation could have been heard in any white Italian
cloister or black Spanish cathedral.
The first he heard was the tail of one of Father Brown's
sentences, which ended: "... what they really meant in the Middle
Ages by the heavens being incorruptible."
The taller priest nodded his bowed head and said:
"Ah, yes, these modern infidels appeal to their reason; but
who can look at those millions of worlds and not feel that there
may well be wonderful universes above us where reason is utterly
"No," said the other priest; "reason is always reasonable,
even in the last limbo, in the lost borderland of things. I know
that people charge the Church with lowering reason, but it is just
the other way. Alone on earth, the Church makes reason really
supreme. Alone on earth, the Church affirms that God himself is
bound by reason."
The other priest raised his austere face to the spangled sky
"Yet who knows if in that infinite universe--?"
"Only infinite physically," said the little priest, turning
sharply in his seat, "not infinite in the sense of escaping from
the laws of truth."
Valentin behind his tree was tearing his fingernails with
silent fury. He seemed almost to hear the sniggers of the English
detectives whom he had brought so far on a fantastic guess only to
listen to the metaphysical gossip of two mild old parsons. In his
impatience he lost the equally elaborate answer of the tall cleric,
and when he listened again it was again Father Brown who was
"Reason and justice grip the remotest and the loneliest star.
Look at those stars. Don't they look as if they were single
diamonds and sapphires? Well, you can imagine any mad botany or
geology you please. Think of forests of adamant with leaves of
brilliants. Think the moon is a blue moon, a single elephantine
sapphire. But don't fancy that all that frantic astronomy would
make the smallest difference to the reason and justice of conduct.
On plains of opal, under cliffs cut out of pearl, you would still
find a notice-board, `Thou shalt not steal.'"
Valentin was just in the act of rising from his rigid and
crouching attitude and creeping away as softly as might be, felled
by the one great folly of his life. But something in the very
silence of the tall priest made him stop until the latter spoke.
When at last he did speak, he said simply, his head bowed and his
hands on his knees:
"Well, I think that other worlds may perhaps rise higher than
our reason. The mystery of heaven is unfathomable, and I for one
can only bow my head."
Then, with brow yet bent and without changing by the faintest
shade his attitude or voice, he added:
"Just hand over that sapphire cross of yours, will you? We're
all alone here, and I could pull you to pieces like a straw doll."
The utterly unaltered voice and attitude added a strange
violence to that shocking change of speech. But the guarder of
the relic only seemed to turn his head by the smallest section of
the compass. He seemed still to have a somewhat foolish face
turned to the stars. Perhaps he had not understood. Or, perhaps,
he had understood and sat rigid with terror.
"Yes," said the tall priest, in the same low voice and in the
same still posture, "yes, I am Flambeau."
Then, after a pause, he said:
"Come, will you give me that cross?"
"No," said the other, and the monosyllable had an odd sound.
Flambeau suddenly flung off all his pontifical pretensions.
The great robber leaned back in his seat and laughed low but long.
"No," he cried, "you won't give it me, you proud prelate. You
won't give it me, you little celibate simpleton. Shall I tell you
why you won't give it me? Because I've got it already in my own
The small man from Essex turned what seemed to be a dazed face
in the dusk, and said, with the timid eagerness of "The Private
"Are--are you sure?"
Flambeau yelled with delight.
"Really, you're as good as a three-act farce," he cried.
"Yes, you turnip, I am quite sure. I had the sense to make a
duplicate of the right parcel, and now, my friend, you've got the
duplicate and I've got the jewels. An old dodge, Father Brown--
a very old dodge."
"Yes," said Father Brown, and passed his hand through his hair
with the same strange vagueness of manner. "Yes, I've heard of it
The colossus of crime leaned over to the little rustic priest
with a sort of sudden interest.
"You have heard of it?" he asked. "Where have you heard of
"Well, I mustn't tell you his name, of course," said the
little man simply. "He was a penitent, you know. He had lived
prosperously for about twenty years entirely on duplicate brown
paper parcels. And so, you see, when I began to suspect you, I
thought of this poor chap's way of doing it at once."
"Began to suspect me?" repeated the outlaw with increased
intensity. "Did you really have the gumption to suspect me just
because I brought you up to this bare part of the heath?"
"No, no," said Brown with an air of apology. "You see, I
suspected you when we first met. It's that little bulge up the
sleeve where you people have the spiked bracelet."
"How in Tartarus," cried Flambeau, "did you ever hear of the
"Oh, one's little flock, you know!" said Father Brown, arching
his eyebrows rather blankly. "When I was a curate in Hartlepool,
there were three of them with spiked bracelets. So, as I
suspected you from the first, don't you see, I made sure that the
cross should go safe, anyhow. I'm afraid I watched you, you know.
So at last I saw you change the parcels. Then, don't you see, I
changed them back again. And then I left the right one behind."
"Left it behind?" repeated Flambeau, and for the first time
there was another note in his voice beside his triumph.
"Well, it was like this," said the little priest, speaking in
the same unaffected way. "I went back to that sweet-shop and
asked if I'd left a parcel, and gave them a particular address if
it turned up. Well, I knew I hadn't; but when I went away again I
did. So, instead of running after me with that valuable parcel,
they have sent it flying to a friend of mine in Westminster."
Then he added rather sadly: "I learnt that, too, from a poor
fellow in Hartlepool. He used to do it with handbags he stole at
railway stations, but he's in a monastery now. Oh, one gets to
know, you know," he added, rubbing his head again with the same
sort of desperate apology. "We can't help being priests. People
come and tell us these things."
Flambeau tore a brown-paper parcel out of his inner pocket and
rent it in pieces. There was nothing but paper and sticks of lead
inside it. He sprang to his feet with a gigantic gesture, and
"I don't believe you. I don't believe a bumpkin like you
could manage all that. I believe you've still got the stuff on
you, and if you don't give it up--why, we're all alone, and I'll
take it by force!"
"No," said Father Brown simply, and stood up also, "you won't
take it by force. First, because I really haven't still got it.
And, second, because we are not alone."
Flambeau stopped in his stride forward.
"Behind that tree," said Father Brown, pointing, "are two
strong policemen and the greatest detective alive. How did they
come here, do you ask? Why, I brought them, of course! How did I
do it? Why, I'll tell you if you like! Lord bless you, we have
to know twenty such things when we work among the criminal classes!
Well, I wasn't sure you were a thief, and it would never do to
make a scandal against one of our own clergy. So I just tested
you to see if anything would make you show yourself. A man
generally makes a small scene if he finds salt in his coffee; if
he doesn't, he has some reason for keeping quiet. I changed the
salt and sugar, and you kept quiet. A man generally objects if
his bill is three times too big. If he pays it, he has some motive
for passing unnoticed. I altered your bill, and you paid it."
The world seemed waiting for Flambeau to leap like a tiger.
But he was held back as by a spell; he was stunned with the utmost
"Well," went on Father Brown, with lumbering lucidity, "as you
wouldn't leave any tracks for the police, of course somebody had
to. At every place we went to, I took care to do something that
would get us talked about for the rest of the day. I didn't do
much harm--a splashed wall, spilt apples, a broken window; but I
saved the cross, as the cross will always be saved. It is at
Westminster by now. I rather wonder you didn't stop it with the
"With the what?" asked Flambeau.
"I'm glad you've never heard of it," said the priest, making a
face. "It's a foul thing. I'm sure you're too good a man for a
Whistler. I couldn't have countered it even with the Spots myself;
I'm not strong enough in the legs."
"What on earth are you talking about?" asked the other.
"Well, I did think you'd know the Spots," said Father Brown,
agreeably surprised. "Oh, you can't have gone so very wrong yet!"
"How in blazes do you know all these horrors?" cried Flambeau.
The shadow of a smile crossed the round, simple face of his
"Oh, by being a celibate simpleton, I suppose," he said. "Has
it never struck you that a man who does next to nothing but hear
men's real sins is not likely to be wholly unaware of human evil?
But, as a matter of fact, another part of my trade, too, made me
sure you weren't a priest."
"What?" asked the thief, almost gaping.
"You attacked reason," said Father Brown. "It's bad theology."
And even as he turned away to collect his property, the three
policemen came out from under the twilight trees. Flambeau was an
artist and a sportsman. He stepped back and swept Valentin a great
"Do not bow to me, mon ami," said Valentin with silver
clearness. "Let us both bow to our master."
And they both stood an instant uncovered while the little Essex
priest blinked about for his umbrella.
The Secret Garden
Aristide Valentin, Chief of the Paris Police, was late for his
dinner, and some of his guests began to arrive before him. These
were, however, reassured by his confidential servant, Ivan, the
old man with a scar, and a face almost as grey as his moustaches,
who always sat at a table in the entrance hall--a hall hung with
weapons. Valentin's house was perhaps as peculiar and celebrated
as its master. It was an old house, with high walls and tall
poplars almost overhanging the Seine; but the oddity--and
perhaps the police value--of its architecture was this: that
there was no ultimate exit at all except through this front door,
which was guarded by Ivan and the armoury. The garden was large
and elaborate, and there were many exits from the house into the
garden. But there was no exit from the garden into the world
outside; all round it ran a tall, smooth, unscalable wall with
special spikes at the top; no bad garden, perhaps, for a man to
reflect in whom some hundred criminals had sworn to kill.
As Ivan explained to the guests, their host had telephoned
that he was detained for ten minutes. He was, in truth, making
some last arrangements about executions and such ugly things; and
though these duties were rootedly repulsive to him, he always
performed them with precision. Ruthless in the pursuit of
criminals, he was very mild about their punishment. Since he had
been supreme over French--and largely over European--policial
methods, his great influence had been honourably used for the
mitigation of sentences and the purification of prisons. He was
one of the great humanitarian French freethinkers; and the only
thing wrong with them is that they make mercy even colder than
When Valentin arrived he was already dressed in black clothes
and the red rosette--an elegant figure, his dark beard already
streaked with grey. He went straight through his house to his
study, which opened on the grounds behind. The garden door of it
was open, and after he had carefully locked his box in its official
place, he stood for a few seconds at the open door looking out upon
the garden. A sharp moon was fighting with the flying rags and
tatters of a storm, and Valentin regarded it with a wistfulness
unusual in such scientific natures as his. Perhaps such scientific
natures have some psychic prevision of the most tremendous problem
of their lives. From any such occult mood, at least, he quickly
recovered, for he knew he was late, and that his guests had
already begun to arrive. A glance at his drawing-room when he
entered it was enough to make certain that his principal guest was
not there, at any rate. He saw all the other pillars of the
little party; he saw Lord Galloway, the English Ambassador--a
choleric old man with a russet face like an apple, wearing the
blue ribbon of the Garter. He saw Lady Galloway, slim and
threadlike, with silver hair and a face sensitive and superior.
He saw her daughter, Lady Margaret Graham, a pale and pretty girl
with an elfish face and copper-coloured hair. He saw the Duchess
of Mont St. Michel, black-eyed and opulent, and with her her two
daughters, black-eyed and opulent also. He saw Dr. Simon, a
typical French scientist, with glasses, a pointed brown beard, and
a forehead barred with those parallel wrinkles which are the
penalty of superciliousness, since they come through constantly
elevating the eyebrows. He saw Father Brown, of Cobhole, in Essex,
whom he had recently met in England. He saw--perhaps with more
interest than any of these--a tall man in uniform, who had bowed
to the Galloways without receiving any very hearty acknowledgment,
and who now advanced alone to pay his respects to his host. This
was Commandant O'Brien, of the French Foreign Legion. He was a
slim yet somewhat swaggering figure, clean-shaven, dark-haired,
and blue-eyed, and, as seemed natural in an officer of that famous
regiment of victorious failures and successful suicides, he had an
air at once dashing and melancholy. He was by birth an Irish
gentleman, and in boyhood had known the Galloways--especially
Margaret Graham. He had left his country after some crash of
debts, and now expressed his complete freedom from British
etiquette by swinging about in uniform, sabre and spurs. When he
bowed to the Ambassador's family, Lord and Lady Galloway bent
stiffly, and Lady Margaret looked away.
But for whatever old causes such people might be interested in
each other, their distinguished host was not specially interested
in them. No one of them at least was in his eyes the guest of the
evening. Valentin was expecting, for special reasons, a man of
world-wide fame, whose friendship he had secured during some of
his great detective tours and triumphs in the United States. He
was expecting Julius K. Brayne, that multi-millionaire whose
colossal and even crushing endowments of small religions have
occasioned so much easy sport and easier solemnity for the
American and English papers. Nobody could quite make out whether
Mr. Brayne was an atheist or a Mormon or a Christian Scientist;
but he was ready to pour money into any intellectual vessel, so
long as it was an untried vessel. One of his hobbies was to wait
for the American Shakespeare--a hobby more patient than angling.
He admired Walt Whitman, but thought that Luke P. Tanner, of
Paris, Pa., was more "progressive" than Whitman any day. He liked
anything that he thought "progressive." He thought Valentin
"progressive," thereby doing him a grave injustice.
The solid appearance of Julius K. Brayne in the room was as
decisive as a dinner bell. He had this great quality, which very
few of us can claim, that his presence was as big as his absence.
He was a huge fellow, as fat as he was tall, clad in complete
evening black, without so much relief as a watch-chain or a ring.
His hair was white and well brushed back like a German's; his face
was red, fierce and cherubic, with one dark tuft under the lower
lip that threw up that otherwise infantile visage with an effect
theatrical and even Mephistophelean. Not long, however, did that
salon merely stare at the celebrated American; his lateness had
already become a domestic problem, and he was sent with all speed
into the dining-room with Lady Galloway on his arm.
Except on one point the Galloways were genial and casual
enough. So long as Lady Margaret did not take the arm of that
adventurer O'Brien, her father was quite satisfied; and she had
not done so, she had decorously gone in with Dr. Simon.
Nevertheless, old Lord Galloway was restless and almost rude. He
was diplomatic enough during dinner, but when, over the cigars,
three of the younger men--Simon the doctor, Brown the priest,
and the detrimental O'Brien, the exile in a foreign uniform--all
melted away to mix with the ladies or smoke in the conservatory,
then the English diplomatist grew very undiplomatic indeed. He
was stung every sixty seconds with the thought that the scamp
O'Brien might be signalling to Margaret somehow; he did not
attempt to imagine how. He was left over the coffee with Brayne,
the hoary Yankee who believed in all religions, and Valentin, the
grizzled Frenchman who believed in none. They could argue with
each other, but neither could appeal to him. After a time this
"progressive" logomachy had reached a crisis of tedium; Lord
Galloway got up also and sought the drawing-room. He lost his way
in long passages for some six or eight minutes: till he heard the
high-pitched, didactic voice of the doctor, and then the dull
voice of the priest, followed by general laughter. They also, he
thought with a curse, were probably arguing about "science and
religion." But the instant he opened the salon door he saw only
one thing--he saw what was not there. He saw that Commandant
O'Brien was absent, and that Lady Margaret was absent too.
Rising impatiently from the drawing-room, as he had from the
dining-room, he stamped along the passage once more. His notion
of protecting his daughter from the Irish-Algerian n'er-do-weel
had become something central and even mad in his mind. As he went
towards the back of the house, where was Valentin's study, he was
surprised to meet his daughter, who swept past with a white,
scornful face, which was a second enigma. If she had been with
O'Brien, where was O'Brien! If she had not been with O'Brien,
where had she been? With a sort of senile and passionate
suspicion he groped his way to the dark back parts of the mansion,
and eventually found a servants' entrance that opened on to the
garden. The moon with her scimitar had now ripped up and rolled
away all the storm-wrack. The argent light lit up all four corners
of the garden. A tall figure in blue was striding across the lawn
towards the study door; a glint of moonlit silver on his facings
picked him out as Commandant O'Brien.
He vanished through the French windows into the house, leaving
Lord Galloway in an indescribable temper, at once virulent and
vague. The blue-and-silver garden, like a scene in a theatre,
seemed to taunt him with all that tyrannic tenderness against
which his worldly authority was at war. The length and grace of
the Irishman's stride enraged him as if he were a rival instead of
a father; the moonlight maddened him. He was trapped as if by
magic into a garden of troubadours, a Watteau fairyland; and,
willing to shake off such amorous imbecilities by speech, he
stepped briskly after his enemy. As he did so he tripped over
some tree or stone in the grass; looked down at it first with
irritation and then a second time with curiosity. The next
instant the moon and the tall poplars looked at an unusual sight
--an elderly English diplomatist running hard and crying or
bellowing as he ran.
His hoarse shouts brought a pale face to the study door, the
beaming glasses and worried brow of Dr. Simon, who heard the
nobleman's first clear words. Lord Galloway was crying: "A corpse
in the grass--a blood-stained corpse." O'Brien at last had gone
utterly out of his mind.
"We must tell Valentin at once," said the doctor, when the
other had brokenly described all that he had dared to examine.
"It is fortunate that he is here"; and even as he spoke the great
detective entered the study, attracted by the cry. It was almost
amusing to note his typical transformation; he had come with the
common concern of a host and a gentleman, fearing that some guest
or servant was ill. When he was told the gory fact, he turned
with all his gravity instantly bright and businesslike; for this,
however abrupt and awful, was his business.
"Strange, gentlemen," he said as they hurried out into the
garden, "that I should have hunted mysteries all over the earth,
and now one comes and settles in my own back-yard. But where is
the place?" They crossed the lawn less easily, as a slight mist
had begun to rise from the river; but under the guidance of the
shaken Galloway they found the body sunken in deep grass--the
body of a very tall and broad-shouldered man. He lay face
downwards, so they could only see that his big shoulders were clad
in black cloth, and that his big head was bald, except for a wisp
or two of brown hair that clung to his skull like wet seaweed. A
scarlet serpent of blood crawled from under his fallen face.
"At least," said Simon, with a deep and singular intonation,
"he is none of our party."
"Examine him, doctor," cried Valentin rather sharply. "He may
not be dead."
The doctor bent down. "He is not quite cold, but I am afraid
he is dead enough," he answered. "Just help me to lift him up."
They lifted him carefully an inch from the ground, and all
doubts as to his being really dead were settled at once and
frightfully. The head fell away. It had been entirely sundered
from the body; whoever had cut his throat had managed to sever the
neck as well. Even Valentin was slightly shocked. "He must have
been as strong as a gorilla," he muttered.
Not without a shiver, though he was used to anatomical
abortions, Dr. Simon lifted the head. It was slightly slashed
about the neck and jaw, but the face was substantially unhurt. It
was a ponderous, yellow face, at once sunken and swollen, with a
hawk-like nose and heavy lids--a face of a wicked Roman emperor,
with, perhaps, a distant touch of a Chinese emperor. All present
seemed to look at it with the coldest eye of ignorance. Nothing
else could be noted about the man except that, as they had lifted
his body, they had seen underneath it the white gleam of a
shirt-front defaced with a red gleam of blood. As Dr. Simon said,
the man had never been of their party. But he might very well
have been trying to join it, for he had come dressed for such an
Valentin went down on his hands and knees and examined with
his closest professional attention the grass and ground for some
twenty yards round the body, in which he was assisted less
skillfully by the doctor, and quite vaguely by the English lord.
Nothing rewarded their grovellings except a few twigs, snapped or
chopped into very small lengths, which Valentin lifted for an
instant's examination and then tossed away.
"Twigs," he said gravely; "twigs, and a total stranger with
his head cut off; that is all there is on this lawn."
There was an almost creepy stillness, and then the unnerved
Galloway called out sharply:
"Who's that! Who's that over there by the garden wall!"
A small figure with a foolishly large head drew waveringly
near them in the moonlit haze; looked for an instant like a
goblin, but turned out to be the harmless little priest whom they
had left in the drawing-room.
"I say," he said meekly, "there are no gates to this garden,
do you know."
Valentin's black brows had come together somewhat crossly, as
they did on principle at the sight of the cassock. But he was far
too just a man to deny the relevance of the remark. "You are
right," he said. "Before we find out how he came to be killed, we
may have to find out how he came to be here. Now listen to me,
gentlemen. If it can be done without prejudice to my position and
duty, we shall all agree that certain distinguished names might
well be kept out of this. There are ladies, gentlemen, and there
is a foreign ambassador. If we must mark it down as a crime, then
it must be followed up as a crime. But till then I can use my own
discretion. I am the head of the police; I am so public that I
can afford to be private. Please Heaven, I will clear everyone of
my own guests before I call in my men to look for anybody else.
Gentlemen, upon your honour, you will none of you leave the house
till tomorrow at noon; there are bedrooms for all. Simon, I think
you know where to find my man, Ivan, in the front hall; he is a
confidential man. Tell him to leave another servant on guard and
come to me at once. Lord Galloway, you are certainly the best
person to tell the ladies what has happened, and prevent a panic.
They also must stay. Father Brown and I will remain with the
When this spirit of the captain spoke in Valentin he was obeyed
like a bugle. Dr. Simon went through to the armoury and routed
out Ivan, the public detective's private detective. Galloway went
to the drawing-room and told the terrible news tactfully enough,
so that by the time the company assembled there the ladies were
already startled and already soothed. Meanwhile the good priest
and the good atheist stood at the head and foot of the dead man
motionless in the moonlight, like symbolic statues of their two
philosophies of death.
Ivan, the confidential man with the scar and the moustaches,
came out of the house like a cannon ball, and came racing across
the lawn to Valentin like a dog to his master. His livid face was
quite lively with the glow of this domestic detective story, and
it was with almost unpleasant eagerness that he asked his master's
permission to examine the remains.
"Yes; look, if you like, Ivan," said Valentin, "but don't be
long. We must go in and thrash this out in the house."
Ivan lifted the head, and then almost let it drop.
"Why," he gasped, "it's--no, it isn't; it can't be. Do you
know this man, sir?"
"No," said Valentin indifferently; "we had better go inside."
Between them they carried the corpse to a sofa in the study,
and then all made their way to the drawing-room.
The detective sat down at a desk quietly, and even without
hesitation; but his eye was the iron eye of a judge at assize. He
made a few rapid notes upon paper in front of him, and then said
shortly: "Is everybody here?"
"Not Mr. Brayne," said the Duchess of Mont St. Michel, looking
"No," said Lord Galloway in a hoarse, harsh voice. "And not
Mr. Neil O'Brien, I fancy. I saw that gentleman walking in the
garden when the corpse was still warm."
"Ivan," said the detective, "go and fetch Commandant O'Brien
and Mr. Brayne. Mr. Brayne, I know, is finishing a cigar in the
dining-room; Commandant O'Brien, I think, is walking up and down
the conservatory. I am not sure."
The faithful attendant flashed from the room, and before
anyone could stir or speak Valentin went on with the same
soldierly swiftness of exposition.
"Everyone here knows that a dead man has been found in the
garden, his head cut clean from his body. Dr. Simon, you have
examined it. Do you think that to cut a man's throat like that
would need great force? Or, perhaps, only a very sharp knife?"
"I should say that it could not be done with a knife at all,"
said the pale doctor.
"Have you any thought," resumed Valentin, "of a tool with
which it could be done?"
"Speaking within modern probabilities, I really haven't," said
the doctor, arching his painful brows. "It's not easy to hack a
neck through even clumsily, and this was a very clean cut. It
could be done with a battle-axe or an old headsman's axe, or an
old two-handed sword."
"But, good heavens!" cried the Duchess, almost in hysterics,
"there aren't any two-handed swords and battle-axes round here."
Valentin was still busy with the paper in front of him. "Tell
me," he said, still writing rapidly, "could it have been done with
a long French cavalry sabre?"
A low knocking came at the door, which, for some unreasonable
reason, curdled everyone's blood like the knocking in Macbeth.
Amid that frozen silence Dr. Simon managed to say: "A sabre--
yes, I suppose it could."
"Thank you," said Valentin. "Come in, Ivan."
The confidential Ivan opened the door and ushered in Commandant
Neil O'Brien, whom he had found at last pacing the garden again.
The Irish officer stood up disordered and defiant on the
threshold. "What do you want with me?" he cried.
"Please sit down," said Valentin in pleasant, level tones.
"Why, you aren't wearing your sword. Where is it?"
"I left it on the library table," said O'Brien, his brogue
deepening in his disturbed mood. "It was a nuisance, it was
"Ivan," said Valentin, "please go and get the Commandant's
sword from the library." Then, as the servant vanished, "Lord
Galloway says he saw you leaving the garden just before he found
the corpse. What were you doing in the garden?"
The Commandant flung himself recklessly into a chair. "Oh,"
he cried in pure Irish, "admirin' the moon. Communing with
Nature, me bhoy."
A heavy silence sank and endured, and at the end of it came
again that trivial and terrible knocking. Ivan reappeared,
carrying an empty steel scabbard. "This is all I can find," he
"Put it on the table," said Valentin, without looking up.
There was an inhuman silence in the room, like that sea of
inhuman silence round the dock of the condemned murderer. The
Duchess's weak exclamations had long ago died away. Lord
Galloway's swollen hatred was satisfied and even sobered. The
voice that came was quite unexpected.
"I think I can tell you," cried Lady Margaret, in that clear,
quivering voice with which a courageous woman speaks publicly. "I
can tell you what Mr. O'Brien was doing in the garden, since he is
bound to silence. He was asking me to marry him. I refused; I
said in my family circumstances I could give him nothing but my
respect. He was a little angry at that; he did not seem to think
much of my respect. I wonder," she added, with rather a wan
smile, "if he will care at all for it now. For I offer it him
now. I will swear anywhere that he never did a thing like this."
Lord Galloway had edged up to his daughter, and was
intimidating her in what he imagined to be an undertone. "Hold
your tongue, Maggie," he said in a thunderous whisper. "Why
should you shield the fellow? Where's his sword? Where's his
He stopped because of the singular stare with which his
daughter was regarding him, a look that was indeed a lurid magnet
for the whole group.
"You old fool!" she said in a low voice without pretence of
piety, "what do you suppose you are trying to prove? I tell you
this man was innocent while with me. But if he wasn't innocent,
he was still with me. If he murdered a man in the garden, who was
it who must have seen--who must at least have known? Do you
hate Neil so much as to put your own daughter--"
Lady Galloway screamed. Everyone else sat tingling at the
touch of those satanic tragedies that have been between lovers
before now. They saw the proud, white face of the Scotch
aristocrat and her lover, the Irish adventurer, like old portraits
in a dark house. The long silence was full of formless historical
memories of murdered husbands and poisonous paramours.
In the centre of this morbid silence an innocent voice said:
"Was it a very long cigar?"
The change of thought was so sharp that they had to look round
to see who had spoken.
"I mean," said little Father Brown, from the corner of the
room, "I mean that cigar Mr. Brayne is finishing. It seems nearly
as long as a walking-stick."
Despite the irrelevance there was assent as well as irritation
in Valentin's face as he lifted his head.
"Quite right," he remarked sharply. "Ivan, go and see about
Mr. Brayne again, and bring him here at once."
The instant the factotum had closed the door, Valentin
addressed the girl with an entirely new earnestness.
"Lady Margaret," he said, "we all feel, I am sure, both
gratitude and admiration for your act in rising above your lower
dignity and explaining the Commandant's conduct. But there is a
hiatus still. Lord Galloway, I understand, met you passing from
the study to the drawing-room, and it was only some minutes
afterwards that he found the garden and the Commandant still
"You have to remember," replied Margaret, with a faint irony
in her voice, "that I had just refused him, so we should scarcely
have come back arm in arm. He is a gentleman, anyhow; and he
loitered behind--and so got charged with murder."
"In those few moments," said Valentin gravely, "he might
The knock came again, and Ivan put in his scarred face.
"Beg pardon, sir," he said, "but Mr. Brayne has left the
"Left!" cried Valentin, and rose for the first time to his
"Gone. Scooted. Evaporated," replied Ivan in humorous
French. "His hat and coat are gone, too, and I'll tell you
something to cap it all. I ran outside the house to find any
traces of him, and I found one, and a big trace, too."
"What do you mean?" asked Valentin.
"I'll show you," said his servant, and reappeared with a
flashing naked cavalry sabre, streaked with blood about the point
and edge. Everyone in the room eyed it as if it were a
thunderbolt; but the experienced Ivan went on quite quietly:
"I found this," he said, "flung among the bushes fifty yards
up the road to Paris. In other words, I found it just where your
respectable Mr. Brayne threw it when he ran away."
There was again a silence, but of a new sort. Valentin took
the sabre, examined it, reflected with unaffected concentration of
thought, and then turned a respectful face to O'Brien.
"Commandant," he said, "we trust you will always produce this
weapon if it is wanted for police examination. Meanwhile," he
added, slapping the steel back in the ringing scabbard, "let me
return you your sword."
At the military symbolism of the action the audience could
hardly refrain from applause.
For Neil O'Brien, indeed, that gesture was the turning-point
of existence. By the time he was wandering in the mysterious
garden again in the colours of the morning the tragic futility of
his ordinary mien had fallen from him; he was a man with many
reasons for happiness. Lord Galloway was a gentleman, and had
offered him an apology. Lady Margaret was something better than a
lady, a woman at least, and had perhaps given him something better
than an apology, as they drifted among the old flowerbeds before
breakfast. The whole company was more lighthearted and humane,
for though the riddle of the death remained, the load of suspicion
was lifted off them all, and sent flying off to Paris with the
strange millionaire--a man they hardly knew. The devil was cast
out of the house--he had cast himself out.
Still, the riddle remained; and when O'Brien threw himself on
a garden seat beside Dr. Simon, that keenly scientific person at
once resumed it. He did not get much talk out of O'Brien, whose
thoughts were on pleasanter things.
"I can't say it interests me much," said the Irishman frankly,
"especially as it seems pretty plain now. Apparently Brayne hated
this stranger for some reason; lured him into the garden, and
killed him with my sword. Then he fled to the city, tossing the
sword away as he went. By the way, Ivan tells me the dead man had
a Yankee dollar in his pocket. So he was a countryman of Brayne's,
and that seems to clinch it. I don't see any difficulties about
"There are five colossal difficulties," said the doctor
quietly; "like high walls within walls. Don't mistake me. I
don't doubt that Brayne did it; his flight, I fancy, proves that.
But as to how he did it. First difficulty: Why should a man kill
another man with a great hulking sabre, when he can almost kill
him with a pocket knife and put it back in his pocket? Second
difficulty: Why was there no noise or outcry? Does a man commonly
see another come up waving a scimitar and offer no remarks? Third
difficulty: A servant watched the front door all the evening; and
a rat cannot get into Valentin's garden anywhere. How did the
dead man get into the garden? Fourth difficulty: Given the same
conditions, how did Brayne get out of the garden?"
"And the fifth," said Neil, with eyes fixed on the English
priest who was coming slowly up the path.
"Is a trifle, I suppose," said the doctor, "but I think an odd
one. When I first saw how the head had been slashed, I supposed
the assassin had struck more than once. But on examination I
found many cuts across the truncated section; in other words, they
were struck after the head was off. Did Brayne hate his foe so
fiendishly that he stood sabring his body in the moonlight?"
"Horrible!" said O'Brien, and shuddered.
The little priest, Brown, had arrived while they were talking,
and had waited, with characteristic shyness, till they had
finished. Then he said awkwardly:
"I say, I'm sorry to interrupt. But I was sent to tell you
"News?" repeated Simon, and stared at him rather painfully
through his glasses.
"Yes, I'm sorry," said Father Brown mildly. "There's been
another murder, you know."
Both men on the seat sprang up, leaving it rocking.
"And, what's stranger still," continued the priest, with his
dull eye on the rhododendrons, "it's the same disgusting sort;
it's another beheading. They found the second head actually
bleeding into the river, a few yards along Brayne's road to Paris;
so they suppose that he--"
"Great Heaven!" cried O'Brien. "Is Brayne a monomaniac?"
"There are American vendettas," said the priest impassively.
Then he added: "They want you to come to the library and see it."
Commandant O'Brien followed the others towards the inquest,
feeling decidedly sick. As a soldier, he loathed all this
secretive carnage; where were these extravagant amputations going
to stop? First one head was hacked off, and then another; in this
case (he told himself bitterly) it was not true that two heads
were better than one. As he crossed the study he almost staggered
at a shocking coincidence. Upon Valentin's table lay the coloured
picture of yet a third bleeding head; and it was the head of
Valentin himself. A second glance showed him it was only a
Nationalist paper, called The Guillotine, which every week showed
one of its political opponents with rolling eyes and writhing
features just after execution; for Valentin was an anti-clerical
of some note. But O'Brien was an Irishman, with a kind of
chastity even in his sins; and his gorge rose against that great
brutality of the intellect which belongs only to France. He felt
Paris as a whole, from the grotesques on the Gothic churches to
the gross caricatures in the newspapers. He remembered the
gigantic jests of the Revolution. He saw the whole city as one
ugly energy, from the sanguinary sketch lying on Valentin's table
up to where, above a mountain and forest of gargoyles, the great
devil grins on Notre Dame.
The library was long, low, and dark; what light entered it shot
from under low blinds and had still some of the ruddy tinge of
morning. Valentin and his servant Ivan were waiting for them at
the upper end of a long, slightly-sloping desk, on which lay the
mortal remains, looking enormous in the twilight. The big black
figure and yellow face of the man found in the garden confronted
them essentially unchanged. The second head, which had been
fished from among the river reeds that morning, lay streaming and
dripping beside it; Valentin's men were still seeking to recover
the rest of this second corpse, which was supposed to be afloat.
Father Brown, who did not seem to share O'Brien's sensibilities in
the least, went up to the second head and examined it with his
blinking care. It was little more than a mop of wet white hair,
fringed with silver fire in the red and level morning light; the
face, which seemed of an ugly, empurpled and perhaps criminal
type, had been much battered against trees or stones as it tossed
in the water.
"Good morning, Commandant O'Brien," said Valentin, with quiet
cordiality. "You have heard of Brayne's last experiment in
butchery, I suppose?"
Father Brown was still bending over the head with white hair,
and he said, without looking up:
"I suppose it is quite certain that Brayne cut off this head,
"Well, it seems common sense," said Valentin, with his hands
in his pockets. "Killed in the same way as the other. Found
within a few yards of the other. And sliced by the same weapon
which we know he carried away."
"Yes, yes; I know," replied Father Brown submissively. "Yet,
you know, I doubt whether Brayne could have cut off this head."
"Why not?" inquired Dr. Simon, with a rational stare.
"Well, doctor," said the priest, looking up blinking, "can a
man cut off his own head? I don't know."
O'Brien felt an insane universe crashing about his ears; but
the doctor sprang forward with impetuous practicality and pushed
back the wet white hair.
"Oh, there's no doubt it's Brayne," said the priest quietly.
"He had exactly that chip in the left ear."
The detective, who had been regarding the priest with steady
and glittering eyes, opened his clenched mouth and said sharply:
"You seem to know a lot about him, Father Brown."
"I do," said the little man simply. "I've been about with him
for some weeks. He was thinking of joining our church."
The star of the fanatic sprang into Valentin's eyes; he strode
towards the priest with clenched hands. "And, perhaps," he cried,
with a blasting sneer, "perhaps he was also thinking of leaving
all his money to your church."
"Perhaps he was," said Brown stolidly; "it is possible."
"In that case," cried Valentin, with a dreadful smile, "you
may indeed know a great deal about him. About his life and about
Commandant O'Brien laid a hand on Valentin's arm. "Drop that
slanderous rubbish, Valentin," he said, "or there may be more
But Valentin (under the steady, humble gaze of the priest) had
already recovered himself. "Well," he said shortly, "people's
private opinions can wait. You gentlemen are still bound by your
promise to stay; you must enforce it on yourselves--and on each
other. Ivan here will tell you anything more you want to know;
I must get to business and write to the authorities. We can't
keep this quiet any longer. I shall be writing in my study if
there is any more news."
"Is there any more news, Ivan?" asked Dr. Simon, as the chief
of police strode out of the room.
"Only one more thing, I think, sir," said Ivan, wrinkling up
his grey old face, "but that's important, too, in its way.
There's that old buffer you found on the lawn," and he pointed
without pretence of reverence at the big black body with the
yellow head. "We've found out who he is, anyhow."
"Indeed!" cried the astonished doctor, "and who is he?"
"His name was Arnold Becker," said the under-detective,
"though he went by many aliases. He was a wandering sort of scamp,
and is known to have been in America; so that was where Brayne got
his knife into him. We didn't have much to do with him ourselves,
for he worked mostly in Germany. We've communicated, of course,
with the German police. But, oddly enough, there was a twin
brother of his, named Louis Becker, whom we had a great deal to do
with. In fact, we found it necessary to guillotine him only
yesterday. Well, it's a rum thing, gentlemen, but when I saw that
fellow flat on the lawn I had the greatest jump of my life. If I
hadn't seen Louis Becker guillotined with my own eyes, I'd have
sworn it was Louis Becker lying there in the grass. Then, of
course, I remembered his twin brother in Germany, and following up
The explanatory Ivan stopped, for the excellent reason that
nobody was listening to him. The Commandant and the doctor were
both staring at Father Brown, who had sprung stiffly to his feet,
and was holding his temples tight like a man in sudden and violent
"Stop, stop, stop!" he cried; "stop talking a minute, for I
see half. Will God give me strength? Will my brain make the one
jump and see all? Heaven help me! I used to be fairly good at
thinking. I could paraphrase any page in Aquinas once. Will my
head split--or will it see? I see half--I only see half."
He buried his head in his hands, and stood in a sort of rigid
torture of thought or prayer, while the other three could only go
on staring at this last prodigy of their wild twelve hours.
When Father Brown's hands fell they showed a face quite fresh
and serious, like a child's. He heaved a huge sigh, and said:
"Let us get this said and done with as quickly as possible. Look
here, this will be the quickest way to convince you all of the
truth." He turned to the doctor. "Dr. Simon," he said, "you have
a strong head-piece, and I heard you this morning asking the five
hardest questions about this business. Well, if you will ask them
again, I will answer them."
Simon's pince-nez dropped from his nose in his doubt and
wonder, but he answered at once. "Well, the first question, you
know, is why a man should kill another with a clumsy sabre at all
when a man can kill with a bodkin?"
"A man cannot behead with a bodkin," said Brown calmly, "and
for this murder beheading was absolutely necessary."
"Why?" asked O'Brien, with interest.
"And the next question?" asked Father Brown.
"Well, why didn't the man cry out or anything?" asked the
doctor; "sabres in gardens are certainly unusual."
"Twigs," said the priest gloomily, and turned to the window
which looked on the scene of death. "No one saw the point of the
twigs. Why should they lie on that lawn (look at it) so far from
any tree? They were not snapped off; they were chopped off. The
murderer occupied his enemy with some tricks with the sabre,
showing how he could cut a branch in mid-air, or what-not. Then,
while his enemy bent down to see the result, a silent slash, and
the head fell."
"Well," said the doctor slowly, "that seems plausible enough.
But my next two questions will stump anyone."
The priest still stood looking critically out of the window
"You know how all the garden was sealed up like an air-tight
chamber," went on the doctor. "Well, how did the strange man get
into the garden?"
Without turning round, the little priest answered: "There
never was any strange man in the garden."
There was a silence, and then a sudden cackle of almost
childish laughter relieved the strain. The absurdity of Brown's
remark moved Ivan to open taunts.
"Oh!" he cried; "then we didn't lug a great fat corpse on to a
sofa last night? He hadn't got into the garden, I suppose?"
"Got into the garden?" repeated Brown reflectively. "No, not
"Hang it all," cried Simon, "a man gets into a garden, or he
"Not necessarily," said the priest, with a faint smile. "What
is the nest question, doctor?"
"I fancy you're ill," exclaimed Dr. Simon sharply; "but I'll
ask the next question if you like. How did Brayne get out of the
"He didn't get out of the garden," said the priest, still
looking out of the window.
"Didn't get out of the garden?" exploded Simon.
"Not completely," said Father Brown.
Simon shook his fists in a frenzy of French logic. "A man
gets out of a garden, or he doesn't," he cried.
"Not always," said Father Brown.
Dr. Simon sprang to his feet impatiently. "I have no time to
spare on such senseless talk," he cried angrily. "If you can't
understand a man being on one side of a wall or the other, I won't
trouble you further."
"Doctor," said the cleric very gently, "we have always got on
very pleasantly together. If only for the sake of old friendship,
stop and tell me your fifth question."
The impatient Simon sank into a chair by the door and said
briefly: "The head and shoulders were cut about in a queer way.
It seemed to be done after death."
"Yes," said the motionless priest, "it was done so as to make
you assume exactly the one simple falsehood that you did assume.
It was done to make you take for granted that the head belonged to
The borderland of the brain, where all the monsters are made,
moved horribly in the Gaelic O'Brien. He felt the chaotic
presence of all the horse-men and fish-women that man's unnatural
fancy has begotten. A voice older than his first fathers seemed
saying in his ear: "Keep out of the monstrous garden where grows
the tree with double fruit. Avoid the evil garden where died the
man with two heads." Yet, while these shameful symbolic shapes
passed across the ancient mirror of his Irish soul, his
Frenchified intellect was quite alert, and was watching the odd
priest as closely and incredulously as all the rest.
Father Brown had turned round at last, and stood against the
window, with his face in dense shadow; but even in that shadow
they could see it was pale as ashes. Nevertheless, he spoke quite
sensibly, as if there were no Gaelic souls on earth.
"Gentlemen," he said, "you did not find the strange body of
Becker in the garden. You did not find any strange body in the
garden. In face of Dr. Simon's rationalism, I still affirm that
Becker was only partly present. Look here!" (pointing to the
black bulk of the mysterious corpse) "you never saw that man in
your lives. Did you ever see this man?"
He rapidly rolled away the bald, yellow head of the unknown,
and put in its place the white-maned head beside it. And there,
complete, unified, unmistakable, lay Julius K. Brayne.
"The murderer," went on Brown quietly, "hacked off his enemy's
head and flung the sword far over the wall. But he was too clever
to fling the sword only. He flung the head over the wall also.
Then he had only to clap on another head to the corpse, and (as he
insisted on a private inquest) you all imagined a totally new
"Clap on another head!" said O'Brien staring. "What other
head? Heads don't grow on garden bushes, do they?"
"No," said Father Brown huskily, and looking at his boots;
"there is only one place where they grow. They grow in the basket
of the guillotine, beside which the chief of police, Aristide
Valentin, was standing not an hour before the murder. Oh, my
friends, hear me a minute more before you tear me in pieces.
Valentin is an honest man, if being mad for an arguable cause is
honesty. But did you never see in that cold, grey eye of his that
he is mad! He would do anything, anything, to break what he calls
the superstition of the Cross. He has fought for it and starved
for it, and now he has murdered for it. Brayne's crazy millions
had hitherto been scattered among so many sects that they did
little to alter the balance of things. But Valentin heard a
whisper that Brayne, like so many scatter-brained sceptics, was
drifting to us; and that was quite a different thing. Brayne
would pour supplies into the impoverished and pugnacious Church of
France; he would support six Nationalist newspapers like The
Guillotine. The battle was already balanced on a point, and the
fanatic took flame at the risk. He resolved to destroy the
millionaire, and he did it as one would expect the greatest of
detectives to commit his only crime. He abstracted the severed
head of Becker on some criminological excuse, and took it home in
his official box. He had that last argument with Brayne, that
Lord Galloway did not hear the end of; that failing, he led him
out into the sealed garden, talked about swordsmanship, used twigs
and a sabre for illustration, and--"
Ivan of the Scar sprang up. "You lunatic," he yelled; "you'll
go to my master now, if I take you by--"
"Why, I was going there," said Brown heavily; "I must ask him
to confess, and all that."
Driving the unhappy Brown before them like a hostage or
sacrifice, they rushed together into the sudden stillness of
The great detective sat at his desk apparently too occupied to
hear their turbulent entrance. They paused a moment, and then
something in the look of that upright and elegant back made the
doctor run forward suddenly. A touch and a glance showed him that
there was a small box of pills at Valentin's elbow, and that
Valentin was dead in his chair; and on the blind face of the
suicide was more than the pride of Cato.
The Queer Feet
If you meet a member of that select club, "The Twelve True
Fishermen," entering the Vernon Hotel for the annual club dinner,
you will observe, as he takes off his overcoat, that his evening
coat is green and not black. If (supposing that you have the
star-defying audacity to address such a being) you ask him why, he
will probably answer that he does it to avoid being mistaken for a
waiter. You will then retire crushed. But you will leave behind
you a mystery as yet unsolved and a tale worth telling.
If (to pursue the same vein of improbable conjecture) you were
to meet a mild, hard-working little priest, named Father Brown,
and were to ask him what he thought was the most singular luck of
his life, he would probably reply that upon the whole his best
stroke was at the Vernon Hotel, where he had averted a crime and,
perhaps, saved a soul, merely by listening to a few footsteps in a
passage. He is perhaps a little proud of this wild and wonderful
guess of his, and it is possible that he might refer to it. But
since it is immeasurably unlikely that you will ever rise high
enough in the social world to find "The Twelve True Fishermen," or
that you will ever sink low enough among slums and criminals to
find Father Brown, I fear you will never hear the story at all
unless you hear it from me.
The Vernon Hotel at which The Twelve True Fishermen held their
annual dinners was an institution such as can only exist in an
oligarchical society which has almost gone mad on good manners.
It was that topsy-turvy product--an "exclusive" commercial
enterprise. That is, it was a thing which paid not by attracting
people, but actually by turning people away. In the heart of a
plutocracy tradesmen become cunning enough to be more fastidious
than their customers. They positively create difficulties so that
their wealthy and weary clients may spend money and diplomacy in
overcoming them. If there were a fashionable hotel in London
which no man could enter who was under six foot, society would
meekly make up parties of six-foot men to dine in it. If there
were an expensive restaurant which by a mere caprice of its
proprietor was only open on Thursday afternoon, it would be
crowded on Thursday afternoon. The Vernon Hotel stood, as if by
accident, in the corner of a square in Belgravia. It was a small
hotel; and a very inconvenient one. But its very inconveniences
were considered as walls protecting a particular class. One
inconvenience, in particular, was held to be of vital importance:
the fact that practically only twenty-four people could dine in
the place at once. The only big dinner table was the celebrated
terrace table, which stood open to the air on a sort of veranda
overlooking one of the most exquisite old gardens in London. Thus
it happened that even the twenty-four seats at this table could
only be enjoyed in warm weather; and this making the enjoyment yet
more difficult made it yet more desired. The existing owner of
the hotel was a Jew named Lever; and he made nearly a million out
of it, by making it difficult to get into. Of course he combined
with this limitation in the scope of his enterprise the most
careful polish in its performance. The wines and cooking were
really as good as any in Europe, and the demeanour of the
attendants exactly mirrored the fixed mood of the English upper
class. The proprietor knew all his waiters like the fingers on
his hand; there were only fifteen of them all told. It was much
easier to become a Member of Parliament than to become a waiter in
that hotel. Each waiter was trained in terrible silence and
smoothness, as if he were a gentleman's servant. And, indeed,
there was generally at least one waiter to every gentleman who
The club of The Twelve True Fishermen would not have consented
to dine anywhere but in such a place, for it insisted on a
luxurious privacy; and would have been quite upset by the mere
thought that any other club was even dining in the same building.
On the occasion of their annual dinner the Fishermen were in the
habit of exposing all their treasures, as if they were in a
private house, especially the celebrated set of fish knives and
forks which were, as it were, the insignia of the society, each
being exquisitely wrought in silver in the form of a fish, and
each loaded at the hilt with one large pearl. These were always
laid out for the fish course, and the fish course was always the
most magnificent in that magnificent repast. The society had a
vast number of ceremonies and observances, but it had no history
and no object; that was where it was so very aristocratic. You
did not have to be anything in order to be one of the Twelve
Fishers; unless you were already a certain sort of person, you
never even heard of them. It had been in existence twelve years.
Its president was Mr. Audley. Its vice-president was the Duke of
If I have in any degree conveyed the atmosphere of this
appalling hotel, the reader may feel a natural wonder as to how I
came to know anything about it, and may even speculate as to how
so ordinary a person as my friend Father Brown came to find himself
in that golden galley. As far as that is concerned, my story is
simple, or even vulgar. There is in the world a very aged rioter
and demagogue who breaks into the most refined retreats with the
dreadful information that all men are brothers, and wherever this
leveller went on his pale horse it was Father Brown's trade to
follow. One of the waiters, an Italian, had been struck down with
a paralytic stroke that afternoon; and his Jewish employer,
marvelling mildly at such superstitions, had consented to send for
the nearest Popish priest. With what the waiter confessed to
Father Brown we are not concerned, for the excellent reason that
that cleric kept it to himself; but apparently it involved him in
writing out a note or statement for the conveying of some message
or the righting of some wrong. Father Brown, therefore, with a
meek impudence which he would have shown equally in Buckingham
Palace, asked to be provided with a room and writing materials.
Mr. Lever was torn in two. He was a kind man, and had also that
bad imitation of kindness, the dislike of any difficulty or scene.
At the same time the presence of one unusual stranger in his hotel
that evening was like a speck of dirt on something just cleaned.
There was never any borderland or anteroom in the Vernon Hotel, no
people waiting in the hall, no customers coming in on chance.
There were fifteen waiters. There were twelve guests. It would
be as startling to find a new guest in the hotel that night as to
find a new brother taking breakfast or tea in one's own family.
Moreover, the priest's appearance was second-rate and his clothes
muddy; a mere glimpse of him afar off might precipitate a crisis
in the club. Mr. Lever at last hit on a plan to cover, since he
might not obliterate, the disgrace. When you enter (as you never
will) the Vernon Hotel, you pass down a short passage decorated
with a few dingy but important pictures, and come to the main
vestibule and lounge which opens on your right into passages
leading to the public rooms, and on your left to a similar passage
pointing to the kitchens and offices of the hotel. Immediately on
your left hand is the corner of a glass office, which abuts upon
the lounge--a house within a house, so to speak, like the old
hotel bar which probably once occupied its place.
In this office sat the representative of the proprietor
(nobody in this place ever appeared in person if he could help
it), and just beyond the office, on the way to the servants'
quarters, was the gentlemen's cloak room, the last boundary of the
gentlemen's domain. But between the office and the cloak room was
a small private room without other outlet, sometimes used by the
proprietor for delicate and important matters, such as lending a
duke a thousand pounds or declining to lend him sixpence. It is a
mark of the magnificent tolerance of Mr. Lever that he permitted
this holy place to be for about half an hour profaned by a mere
priest, scribbling away on a piece of paper. The story which
Father Brown was writing down was very likely a much better story
than this one, only it will never be known. I can merely state
that it was very nearly as long, and that the last two or three
paragraphs of it were the least exciting and absorbing.
For it was by the time that he had reached these that the
priest began a little to allow his thoughts to wander and his
animal senses, which were commonly keen, to awaken. The time of
darkness and dinner was drawing on; his own forgotten little room
was without a light, and perhaps the gathering gloom, as
occasionally happens, sharpened the sense of sound. As Father
Brown wrote the last and least essential part of his document, he
caught himself writing to the rhythm of a recurrent noise outside,
just as one sometimes thinks to the tune of a railway train. When
he became conscious of the thing he found what it was: only the
ordinary patter of feet passing the door, which in an hotel was no
very unlikely matter. Nevertheless, he stared at the darkened
ceiling, and listened to the sound. After he had listened for a
few seconds dreamily, he got to his feet and listened intently,
with his head a little on one side. Then he sat down again and
buried his brow in his hands, now not merely listening, but
listening and thinking also.
The footsteps outside at any given moment were such as one
might hear in any hotel; and yet, taken as a whole, there was
something very strange about them. There were no other footsteps.
It was always a very silent house, for the few familiar guests
went at once to their own apartments, and the well-trained waiters
were told to be almost invisible until they were wanted. One
could not conceive any place where there was less reason to
apprehend anything irregular. But these footsteps were so odd
that one could not decide to call them regular or irregular.
Father Brown followed them with his finger on the edge of the
table, like a man trying to learn a tune on the piano.
First, there came a long rush of rapid little steps, such as a
light man might make in winning a walking race. At a certain
point they stopped and changed to a sort of slow, swinging stamp,
numbering not a quarter of the steps, but occupying about the same
time. The moment the last echoing stamp had died away would come
again the run or ripple of light, hurrying feet, and then again
the thud of the heavier walking. It was certainly the same pair
of boots, partly because (as has been said) there were no other
boots about, and partly because they had a small but unmistakable
creak in them. Father Brown had the kind of head that cannot help
asking questions; and on this apparently trivial question his head
almost split. He had seen men run in order to jump. He had seen
men run in order to slide. But why on earth should a man run in
order to walk? Or, again, why should he walk in order to run?
Yet no other description would cover the antics of this invisible
pair of legs. The man was either walking very fast down one-half
of the corridor in order to walk very slow down the other half; or
he was walking very slow at one end to have the rapture of walking
fast at the other. Neither suggestion seemed to make much sense.
His brain was growing darker and darker, like his room.
Yet, as he began to think steadily, the very blackness of his
cell seemed to make his thoughts more vivid; he began to see as in
a kind of vision the fantastic feet capering along the corridor in
unnatural or symbolic attitudes. Was it a heathen religious dance?
Or some entirely new kind of scientific exercise? Father Brown
began to ask himself with more exactness what the steps suggested.
Taking the slow step first: it certainly was not the step of the
proprietor. Men of his type walk with a rapid waddle, or they sit
still. It could not be any servant or messenger waiting for
directions. It did not sound like it. The poorer orders (in an
oligarchy) sometimes lurch about when they are slightly drunk, but
generally, and especially in such gorgeous scenes, they stand or
sit in constrained attitudes. No; that heavy yet springy step,
with a kind of careless emphasis, not specially noisy, yet not
caring what noise it made, belonged to only one of the animals of
this earth. It was a gentleman of western Europe, and probably
one who had never worked for his living.
Just as he came to this solid certainty, the step changed to
the quicker one, and ran past the door as feverishly as a rat.
The listener remarked that though this step was much swifter it
was also much more noiseless, almost as if the man were walking on
tiptoe. Yet it was not associated in his mind with secrecy, but
with something else--something that he could not remember. He
was maddened by one of those half-memories that make a man feel
half-witted. Surely he had heard that strange, swift walking
somewhere. Suddenly he sprang to his feet with a new idea in his
head, and walked to the door. His room had no direct outlet on
the passage, but let on one side into the glass office, and on the
other into the cloak room beyond. He tried the door into the
office, and found it locked. Then he looked at the window, now a
square pane full of purple cloud cleft by livid sunset, and for an
instant he smelt evil as a dog smells rats.
The rational part of him (whether the wiser or not) regained
its supremacy. He remembered that the proprietor had told him
that he should lock the door, and would come later to release him.
He told himself that twenty things he had not thought of might
explain the eccentric sounds outside; he reminded himself that
there was just enough light left to finish his own proper work.
Bringing his paper to the window so as to catch the last stormy
evening light, he resolutely plunged once more into the almost
completed record. He had written for about twenty minutes, bending
closer and closer to his paper in the lessening light; then
suddenly he sat upright. He had heard the strange feet once more.
This time they had a third oddity. Previously the unknown man
had walked, with levity indeed and lightning quickness, but he had
walked. This time he ran. One could hear the swift, soft,
bounding steps coming along the corridor, like the pads of a
fleeing and leaping panther. Whoever was coming was a very strong,
active man, in still yet tearing excitement. Yet, when the sound
had swept up to the office like a sort of whispering whirlwind, it
suddenly changed again to the old slow, swaggering stamp.
Father Brown flung down his paper, and, knowing the office door
to be locked, went at once into the cloak room on the other side.
The attendant of this place was temporarily absent, probably
because the only guests were at dinner and his office was a
sinecure. After groping through a grey forest of overcoats, he
found that the dim cloak room opened on the lighted corridor in
the form of a sort of counter or half-door, like most of the
counters across which we have all handed umbrellas and received
tickets. There was a light immediately above the semicircular arch
of this opening. It threw little illumination on Father Brown
himself, who seemed a mere dark outline against the dim sunset
window behind him. But it threw an almost theatrical light on the
man who stood outside the cloak room in the corridor.
He was an elegant man in very plain evening dress; tall, but
with an air of not taking up much room; one felt that he could
have slid along like a shadow where many smaller men would have
been obvious and obstructive. His face, now flung back in the
lamplight, was swarthy and vivacious, the face of a foreigner.
His figure was good, his manners good humoured and confident; a
critic could only say that his black coat was a shade below his
figure and manners, and even bulged and bagged in an odd way. The
moment he caught sight of Brown's black silhouette against the
sunset, he tossed down a scrap of paper with a number and called
out with amiable authority: "I want my hat and coat, please; I
find I have to go away at once."
Father Brown took the paper without a word, and obediently
went to look for the coat; it was not the first menial work he had
done in his life. He brought it and laid it on the counter;
meanwhile, the strange gentleman who had been feeling in his
waistcoat pocket, said laughing: "I haven't got any silver; you
can keep this." And he threw down half a sovereign, and caught up
Father Brown's figure remained quite dark and still; but in
that instant he had lost his head. His head was always most
valuable when he had lost it. In such moments he put two and two
together and made four million. Often the Catholic Church (which
is wedded to common sense) did not approve of it. Often he did not
approve of it himself. But it was real inspiration--important
at rare crises--when whosoever shall lose his head the same shall
"I think, sir," he said civilly, "that you have some silver in
The tall gentleman stared. "Hang it," he cried, "if I choose
to give you gold, why should you complain?"
"Because silver is sometimes more valuable than gold," said
the priest mildly; "that is, in large quantities."
The stranger looked at him curiously. Then he looked still
more curiously up the passage towards the main entrance. Then he
looked back at Brown again, and then he looked very carefully at
the window beyond Brown's head, still coloured with the after-glow
of the storm. Then he seemed to make up his mind. He put one hand
on the counter, vaulted over as easily as an acrobat and towered
above the priest, putting one tremendous hand upon his collar.
"Stand still," he said, in a hacking whisper. "I don't want
to threaten you, but--"
"I do want to threaten you," said Father Brown, in a voice
like a rolling drum, "I want to threaten you with the worm that
dieth not, and the fire that is not quenched."
"You're a rum sort of cloak-room clerk," said the other.
"I am a priest, Monsieur Flambeau," said Brown, "and I am
ready to hear your confession."
The other stood gasping for a few moments, and then staggered
back into a chair.
The first two courses of the dinner of The Twelve True
Fishermen had proceeded with placid success. I do not possess a
copy of the menu; and if I did it would not convey anything to
anybody. It was written in a sort of super-French employed by
cooks, but quite unintelligible to Frenchmen. There was a
tradition in the club that the hors d'oeuvres should be various
and manifold to the point of madness. They were taken seriously
because they were avowedly useless extras, like the whole dinner
and the whole club. There was also a tradition that the soup
course should be light and unpretending--a sort of simple and
austere vigil for the feast of fish that was to come. The talk
was that strange, slight talk which governs the British Empire,
which governs it in secret, and yet would scarcely enlighten an
ordinary Englishman even if he could overhear it. Cabinet
ministers on both sides were alluded to by their Christian names
with a sort of bored benignity. The Radical Chancellor of the
Exchequer, whom the whole Tory party was supposed to be cursing
for his extortions, was praised for his minor poetry, or his saddle
in the hunting field. The Tory leader, whom all Liberals were
supposed to hate as a tyrant, was discussed and, on the whole,
praised--as a Liberal. It seemed somehow that politicians were
very important. And yet, anything seemed important about them
except their politics. Mr. Audley, the chairman, was an amiable,
elderly man who still wore Gladstone collars; he was a kind of
symbol of all that phantasmal and yet fixed society. He had never
done anything--not even anything wrong. He was not fast; he was
not even particularly rich. He was simply in the thing; and there
was an end of it. No party could ignore him, and if he had wished
to be in the Cabinet he certainly would have been put there. The
Duke of Chester, the vice-president, was a young and rising
politician. That is to say, he was a pleasant youth, with flat,
fair hair and a freckled face, with moderate intelligence and
enormous estates. In public his appearances were always
successful and his principle was simple enough. When he thought
of a joke he made it, and was called brilliant. When he could not
think of a joke he said that this was no time for trifling, and
was called able. In private, in a club of his own class, he was
simply quite pleasantly frank and silly, like a schoolboy. Mr.
Audley, never having been in politics, treated them a little more
seriously. Sometimes he even embarrassed the company by phrases
suggesting that there was some difference between a Liberal and a
Conservative. He himself was a Conservative, even in private
life. He had a roll of grey hair over the back of his collar,
like certain old-fashioned statesmen, and seen from behind he
looked like the man the empire wants. Seen from the front he
looked like a mild, self-indulgent bachelor, with rooms in the
Albany--which he was.
As has been remarked, there were twenty-four seats at the
terrace table, and only twelve members of the club. Thus they
could occupy the terrace in the most luxurious style of all, being
ranged along the inner side of the table, with no one opposite,
commanding an uninterrupted view of the garden, the colours of
which were still vivid, though evening was closing in somewhat
luridly for the time of year. The chairman sat in the centre of
the line, and the vice-president at the right-hand end of it.
When the twelve guests first trooped into their seats it was the
custom (for some unknown reason) for all the fifteen waiters to
stand lining the wall like troops presenting arms to the king,
while the fat proprietor stood and bowed to the club with radiant
surprise, as if he had never heard of them before. But before the
first chink of knife and fork this army of retainers had vanished,
only the one or two required to collect and distribute the plates
darting about in deathly silence. Mr. Lever, the proprietor, of
course had disappeared in convulsions of courtesy long before. It
would be exaggerative, indeed irreverent, to say that he ever
positively appeared again. But when the important course, the fish
course, was being brought on, there was--how shall I put it? --
a vivid shadow, a projection of his personality, which told that
he was hovering near. The sacred fish course consisted (to the
eyes of the vulgar) in a sort of monstrous pudding, about the size
and shape of a wedding cake, in which some considerable number of
interesting fishes had finally lost the shapes which God had given
to them. The Twelve True Fishermen took up their celebrated fish
knives and fish forks, and approached it as gravely as if every
inch of the pudding cost as much as the silver fork it was eaten
with. So it did, for all I know. This course was dealt with in
eager and devouring silence; and it was only when his plate was
nearly empty that the young duke made the ritual remark: "They
can't do this anywhere but here."
"Nowhere," said Mr. Audley, in a deep bass voice, turning to
the speaker and nodding his venerable head a number of times.
"Nowhere, assuredly, except here. It was represented to me that
at the Cafe Anglais--"
Here he was interrupted and even agitated for a moment by the
removal of his plate, but he recaptured the valuable thread of his
thoughts. "It was represented to me that the same could be done
at the Cafe Anglais. Nothing like it, sir," he said, shaking his
head ruthlessly, like a hanging judge. "Nothing like it."
"Overrated place," said a certain Colonel Pound, speaking (by
the look of him) for the first time for some months.
"Oh, I don't know," said the Duke of Chester, who was an
optimist, "it's jolly good for some things. You can't beat it
A waiter came swiftly along the room, and then stopped dead.
His stoppage was as silent as his tread; but all those vague and
kindly gentlemen were so used to the utter smoothness of the
unseen machinery which surrounded and supported their lives, that
a waiter doing anything unexpected was a start and a jar. They
felt as you and I would feel if the inanimate world disobeyed--
if a chair ran away from us.
The waiter stood staring a few seconds, while there deepened
on every face at table a strange shame which is wholly the product
of our time. It is the combination of modern humanitarianism with
the horrible modern abyss between the souls of the rich and poor.
A genuine historic aristocrat would have thrown things at the
waiter, beginning with empty bottles, and very probably ending
with money. A genuine democrat would have asked him, with
comrade-like clearness of speech, what the devil he was doing.
But these modern plutocrats could not bear a poor man near to
them, either as a slave or as a friend. That something had gone
wrong with the servants was merely a dull, hot embarrassment.
They did not want to be brutal, and they dreaded the need to be
benevolent. They wanted the thing, whatever it was, to be over.
It was over. The waiter, after standing for some seconds rigid,
like a cataleptic, turned round and ran madly out of the room.
When he reappeared in the room, or rather in the doorway, it
was in company with another waiter, with whom he whispered and
gesticulated with southern fierceness. Then the first waiter went
away, leaving the second waiter, and reappeared with a third
waiter. By the time a fourth waiter had joined this hurried
synod, Mr. Audley felt it necessary to break the silence in the
interests of Tact. He used a very loud cough, instead of a
presidential hammer, and said: "Splendid work young Moocher's
doing in Burmah. Now, no other nation in the world could have--"
A fifth waiter had sped towards him like an arrow, and was
whispering in his ear: "So sorry. Important! Might the proprietor
speak to you?"
The chairman turned in disorder, and with a dazed stare saw
Mr. Lever coming towards them with his lumbering quickness. The
gait of the good proprietor was indeed his usual gait, but his
face was by no means usual. Generally it was a genial
copper-brown; now it was a sickly yellow.
"You will pardon me, Mr. Audley," he said, with asthmatic
breathlessness. "I have great apprehensions. Your fish-plates,
they are cleared away with the knife and fork on them!"
"Well, I hope so," said the chairman, with some warmth.
"You see him?" panted the excited hotel keeper; "you see the
waiter who took them away? You know him?"
"Know the waiter?" answered Mr. Audley indignantly. "Certainly
Mr. Lever opened his hands with a gesture of agony. "I never
send him," he said. "I know not when or why he come. I send my
waiter to take away the plates, and he find them already away."
Mr. Audley still looked rather too bewildered to be really the
man the empire wants; none of the company could say anything except
the man of wood--Colonel Pound--who seemed galvanised into an
unnatural life. He rose rigidly from his chair, leaving all the
rest sitting, screwed his eyeglass into his eye, and spoke in a
raucous undertone as if he had half-forgotten how to speak. "Do
you mean," he said, "that somebody has stolen our silver fish
The proprietor repeated the open-handed gesture with even
greater helplessness and in a flash all the men at the table were
on their feet.
"Are all your waiters here?" demanded the colonel, in his low,
"Yes; they're all here. I noticed it myself," cried the young
duke, pushing his boyish face into the inmost ring. "Always count
'em as I come in; they look so queer standing up against the wall."
"But surely one cannot exactly remember," began Mr. Audley,
with heavy hesitation.
"I remember exactly, I tell you," cried the duke excitedly.
"There never have been more than fifteen waiters at this place,
and there were no more than fifteen tonight, I'll swear; no more
and no less."
The proprietor turned upon him, quaking in a kind of palsy of
surprise. "You say--you say," he stammered, "that you see all
my fifteen waiters?"
"As usual," assented the duke. "What is the matter with that!"
"Nothing," said Lever, with a deepening accent, "only you did
not. For one of zem is dead upstairs."
There was a shocking stillness for an instant in that room.
It may be (so supernatural is the word death) that each of those
idle men looked for a second at his soul, and saw it as a small
dried pea. One of them--the duke, I think--even said with the
idiotic kindness of wealth: "Is there anything we can do?"
"He has had a priest," said the Jew, not untouched.
Then, as to the clang of doom, they awoke to their own
position. For a few weird seconds they had really felt as if the
fifteenth waiter might be the ghost of the dead man upstairs.
They had been dumb under that oppression, for ghosts were to them
an embarrassment, like beggars. But the remembrance of the silver
broke the spell of the miraculous; broke it abruptly and with a
brutal reaction. The colonel flung over his chair and strode to
the door. "If there was a fifteenth man here, friends," he said,
"that fifteenth fellow was a thief. Down at once to the front and
back doors and secure everything; then we'll talk. The twenty-four
pearls of the club are worth recovering."
Mr. Audley seemed at first to hesitate about whether it was
gentlemanly to be in such a hurry about anything; but, seeing the
duke dash down the stairs with youthful energy, he followed with a
more mature motion.
At the same instant a sixth waiter ran into the room, and
declared that he had found the pile of fish plates on a sideboard,
with no trace of the silver.
The crowd of diners and attendants that tumbled helter-skelter
down the passages divided into two groups. Most of the Fishermen
followed the proprietor to the front room to demand news of any
exit. Colonel Pound, with the chairman, the vice-president, and
one or two others darted down the corridor leading to the servants'
quarters, as the more likely line of escape. As they did so they
passed the dim alcove or cavern of the cloak room, and saw a
short, black-coated figure, presumably an attendant, standing a
little way back in the shadow of it.
"Hallo, there!" called out the duke. "Have you seen anyone
The short figure did not answer the question directly, but
merely said: "Perhaps I have got what you are looking for,
They paused, wavering and wondering, while he quietly went to
the back of the cloak room, and came back with both hands full of
shining silver, which he laid out on the counter as calmly as a
salesman. It took the form of a dozen quaintly shaped forks and
"You--you--" began the colonel, quite thrown off his
balance at last. Then he peered into the dim little room and saw
two things: first, that the short, black-clad man was dressed like
a clergyman; and, second, that the window of the room behind him
was burst, as if someone had passed violently through. "Valuable
things to deposit in a cloak room, aren't they?" remarked the
clergyman, with cheerful composure.
"Did--did you steal those things?" stammered Mr. Audley,
with staring eyes.
"If I did," said the cleric pleasantly, "at least I am bringing
them back again."
"But you didn't," said Colonel Pound, still staring at the
"To make a clean breast of it, I didn't," said the other, with
some humour. And he seated himself quite gravely on a stool.
"But you know who did," said the, colonel.
"I don't know his real name," said the priest placidly, "but I
know something of his fighting weight, and a great deal about his
spiritual difficulties. I formed the physical estimate when he was
trying to throttle me, and the moral estimate when he repented."
"Oh, I say--repented!" cried young Chester, with a sort
of crow of laughter.
Father Brown got to his feet, putting his hands behind him.
"Odd, isn't it," he said, "that a thief and a vagabond should
repent, when so many who are rich and secure remain hard and
frivolous, and without fruit for God or man? But there, if you
will excuse me, you trespass a little upon my province. If you
doubt the penitence as a practical fact, there are your knives and
forks. You are The Twelve True Fishers, and there are all your
silver fish. But He has made me a fisher of men."
"Did you catch this man?" asked the colonel, frowning.
Father Brown looked him full in his frowning face. "Yes," he
said, "I caught him, with an unseen hook and an invisible line
which is long enough to let him wander to the ends of the world,
and still to bring him back with a twitch upon the thread."
There was a long silence. All the other men present drifted
away to carry the recovered silver to their comrades, or to consult
the proprietor about the queer condition of affairs. But the
grim-faced colonel still sat sideways on the counter, swinging his
long, lank legs and biting his dark moustache.
At last he said quietly to the priest: "He must have been a
clever fellow, but I think I know a cleverer."
"He was a clever fellow," answered the other, "but I am not
quite sure of what other you mean."
"I mean you," said the colonel, with a short laugh. "I don't
want to get the fellow jailed; make yourself easy about that. But
I'd give a good many silver forks to know exactly how you fell
into this affair, and how you got the stuff out of him. I reckon
you're the most up-to-date devil of the present company."
Father Brown seemed rather to like the saturnine candour of
the soldier. "Well," he said, smiling, "I mustn't tell you
anything of the man's identity, or his own story, of course; but
there's no particular reason why I shouldn't tell you of the mere
outside facts which I found out for myself."
He hopped over the barrier with unexpected activity, and sat
beside Colonel Pound, kicking his short legs like a little boy on
a gate. He began to tell the story as easily as if he were
telling it to an old friend by a Christmas fire.
"You see, colonel," he said, "I was shut up in that small room
there doing some writing, when I heard a pair of feet in this
passage doing a dance that was as queer as the dance of death.
First came quick, funny little steps, like a man walking on tiptoe
for a wager; then came slow, careless, creaking steps, as of a big
man walking about with a cigar. But they were both made by the
same feet, I swear, and they came in rotation; first the run and
then the walk, and then the run again. I wondered at first idly
and then wildly why a man should act these two parts at once. One
walk I knew; it was just like yours, colonel. It was the walk of
a well-fed gentleman waiting for something, who strolls about
rather because he is physically alert than because he is mentally
impatient. I knew that I knew the other walk, too, but I could
not remember what it was. What wild creature had I met on my
travels that tore along on tiptoe in that extraordinary style?
Then I heard a clink of plates somewhere; and the answer stood up
as plain as St. Peter's. It was the walk of a waiter--that walk
with the body slanted forward, the eyes looking down, the ball of
the toe spurning away the ground, the coat tails and napkin flying.
Then I thought for a minute and a half more. And I believe I saw
the manner of the crime, as clearly as if I were going to commit
Colonel Pound looked at him keenly, but the speaker's mild grey
eyes were fixed upon the ceiling with almost empty wistfulness.
"A crime," he said slowly, "is like any other work of art.
Don't look surprised; crimes are by no means the only works of art
that come from an infernal workshop. But every work of art, divine
or diabolic, has one indispensable mark--I mean, that the centre
of it is simple, however much the fulfilment may be complicated.
Thus, in Hamlet, let us say, the grotesqueness of the grave-digger,
the flowers of the mad girl, the fantastic finery of Osric, the
pallor of the ghost and the grin of the skull are all oddities in
a sort of tangled wreath round one plain tragic figure of a man in
black. Well, this also," he said, getting slowly down from his
seat with a smile, "this also is the plain tragedy of a man in
black. Yes," he went on, seeing the colonel look up in some
wonder, "the whole of this tale turns on a black coat. In this,
as in Hamlet, there are the rococo excrescences--yourselves, let
us say. There is the dead waiter, who was there when he could not
be there. There is the invisible hand that swept your table clear
of silver and melted into air. But every clever crime is founded
ultimately on some one quite simple fact--some fact that is not
itself mysterious. The mystification comes in covering it up, in
leading men's thoughts away from it. This large and subtle and
(in the ordinary course) most profitable crime, was built on the
plain fact that a gentleman's evening dress is the same as a
waiter's. All the rest was acting, and thundering good acting,
"Still," said the colonel, getting up and frowning at his
boots, "I am not sure that I understand."
"Colonel," said Father Brown, "I tell you that this archangel
of impudence who stole your forks walked up and down this passage
twenty times in the blaze of all the lamps, in the glare of all
the eyes. He did not go and hide in dim corners where suspicion
might have searched for him. He kept constantly on the move in
the lighted corridors, and everywhere that he went he seemed to be
there by right. Don't ask me what he was like; you have seen him
yourself six or seven times tonight. You were waiting with all
the other grand people in the reception room at the end of the
passage there, with the terrace just beyond. Whenever he came
among you gentlemen, he came in the lightning style of a waiter,
with bent head, flapping napkin and flying feet. He shot out on
to the terrace, did something to the table cloth, and shot back
again towards the office and the waiters' quarters. By the time
he had come under the eye of the office clerk and the waiters he
had become another man in every inch of his body, in every
instinctive gesture. He strolled among the servants with the
absent-minded insolence which they have all seen in their patrons.
It was no new thing to them that a swell from the dinner party
should pace all parts of the house like an animal at the Zoo; they
know that nothing marks the Smart Set more than a habit of walking
where one chooses. When he was magnificently weary of walking
down that particular passage he would wheel round and pace back
past the office; in the shadow of the arch just beyond he was
altered as by a blast of magic, and went hurrying forward again
among the Twelve Fishermen, an obsequious attendant. Why should
the gentlemen look at a chance waiter? Why should the waiters
suspect a first-rate walking gentleman? Once or twice he played
the coolest tricks. In the proprietor's private quarters he
called out breezily for a syphon of soda water, saying he was
thirsty. He said genially that he would carry it himself, and he
did; he carried it quickly and correctly through the thick of you,
a waiter with an obvious errand. Of course, it could not have
been kept up long, but it only had to be kept up till the end of
the fish course.
"His worst moment was when the waiters stood in a row; but
even then he contrived to lean against the wall just round the
corner in such a way that for that important instant the waiters
thought him a gentleman, while the gentlemen thought him a waiter.
The rest went like winking. If any waiter caught him away from
the table, that waiter caught a languid aristocrat. He had only
to time himself two minutes before the fish was cleared, become a
swift servant, and clear it himself. He put the plates down on a
sideboard, stuffed the silver in his breast pocket, giving it a
bulgy look, and ran like a hare (I heard him coming) till he came
to the cloak room. There he had only to be a plutocrat again--a
plutocrat called away suddenly on business. He had only to give
his ticket to the cloak-room attendant, and go out again elegantly
as he had come in. Only--only I happened to be the cloak-room
"What did you do to him?" cried the colonel, with unusual
intensity. "What did he tell you?"
"I beg your pardon," said the priest immovably, "that is where
the story ends."
"And the interesting story begins," muttered Pound. "I think
I understand his professional trick. But I don't seem to have got
hold of yours."
"I must be going," said Father Brown.
They walked together along the passage to the entrance hall,
where they saw the fresh, freckled face of the Duke of Chester,
who was bounding buoyantly along towards them.
"Come along, Pound," he cried breathlessly. "I've been looking
for you everywhere. The dinner's going again in spanking style,
and old Audley has got to make a speech in honour of the forks
being saved. We want to start some new ceremony, don't you know,
to commemorate the occasion. I say, you really got the goods back,
what do you suggest?"
"Why," said the colonel, eyeing him with a certain sardonic
approval, "I should suggest that henceforward we wear green coats,
instead of black. One never knows what mistakes may arise when
one looks so like a waiter."
"Oh, hang it all!" said the young man, "a gentleman never looks
like a waiter."
"Nor a waiter like a gentleman, I suppose," said Colonel Pound,
with the same lowering laughter on his face. "Reverend sir, your
friend must have been very smart to act the gentleman."
Father Brown buttoned up his commonplace overcoat to the neck,
for the night was stormy, and took his commonplace umbrella from
"Yes," he said; "it must be very hard work to be a gentleman;
but, do you know, I have sometimes thought that it may be almost
as laborious to be a waiter."
And saying "Good evening," he pushed open the heavy doors of
that palace of pleasures. The golden gates closed behind him, and
he went at a brisk walk through the damp, dark streets in search
of a penny omnibus.
The Flying Stars
"The most beautiful crime I ever committed," Flambeau would say in
his highly moral old age, "was also, by a singular coincidence, my
last. It was committed at Christmas. As an artist I had always
attempted to provide crimes suitable to the special season or
landscapes in which I found myself, choosing this or that terrace
or garden for a catastrophe, as if for a statuary group. Thus
squires should be swindled in long rooms panelled with oak; while
Jews, on the other hand, should rather find themselves unexpectedly
penniless among the lights and screens of the Cafe Riche. Thus,
in England, if I wished to relieve a dean of his riches (which is
not so easy as you might suppose), I wished to frame him, if I
make myself clear, in the green lawns and grey towers of some
cathedral town. Similarly, in France, when I had got money out of
a rich and wicked peasant (which is almost impossible), it
gratified me to get his indignant head relieved against a grey
line of clipped poplars, and those solemn plains of Gaul over
which broods the mighty spirit of Millet.
"Well, my last crime was a Christmas crime, a cheery, cosy,
English middle-class crime; a crime of Charles Dickens. I did it
in a good old middle-class house near Putney, a house with a
crescent of carriage drive, a house with a stable by the side of
it, a house with the name on the two outer gates, a house with a
monkey tree. Enough, you know the species. I really think my
imitation of Dickens's style was dexterous and literary. It seems
almost a pity I repented the same evening."
Flambeau would then proceed to tell the story from the inside;
and even from the inside it was odd. Seen from the outside it was
perfectly incomprehensible, and it is from the outside that the
stranger must study it. From this standpoint the drama may be
said to have begun when the front doors of the house with the
stable opened on the garden with the monkey tree, and a young girl
came out with bread to feed the birds on the afternoon of Boxing
Day. She had a pretty face, with brave brown eyes; but her figure
was beyond conjecture, for she was so wrapped up in brown furs
that it was hard to say which was hair and which was fur. But for
the attractive face she might have been a small toddling bear.
The winter afternoon was reddening towards evening, and
already a ruby light was rolled over the bloomless beds, filling
them, as it were, with the ghosts of the dead roses. On one side
of the house stood the stable, on the other an alley or cloister
of laurels led to the larger garden behind. The young lady, having
scattered bread for the birds (for the fourth or fifth time that
day, because the dog ate it), passed unobutrusively down the lane
of laurels and into a glimmering plantation of evergreens behind.
Here she gave an exclamation of wonder, real or ritual, and looking
up at the high garden wall above her, beheld it fantastically
bestridden by a somewhat fantastic figure.
"Oh, don't jump, Mr. Crook," she called out in some alarm;
"it's much too high."
The individual riding the party wall like an aerial horse was
a tall, angular young man, with dark hair sticking up like a hair
brush, intelligent and even distinguished lineaments, but a sallow
and almost alien complexion. This showed the more plainly because
he wore an aggressive red tie, the only part of his costume of
which he seemed to take any care. Perhaps it was a symbol. He
took no notice of the girl's alarmed adjuration, but leapt like a
grasshopper to the ground beside her, where he might very well
have broken his legs.
"I think I was meant to be a burglar," he said placidly, "and
I have no doubt I should have been if I hadn't happened to be born
in that nice house next door. I can't see any harm in it, anyhow."
"How can you say such things!" she remonstrated.
"Well," said the young man, "if you're born on the wrong side
of the wall, I can't see that it's wrong to climb over it."
"I never know what you will say or do next," she said.
"I don't often know myself," replied Mr. Crook; "but then I am
on the right side of the wall now."
"And which is the right side of the wall?" asked the young
"Whichever side you are on," said the young man named Crook.
As they went together through the laurels towards the front
garden a motor horn sounded thrice, coming nearer and nearer, and
a car of splendid speed, great elegance, and a pale green colour
swept up to the front doors like a bird and stood throbbing.
"Hullo, hullo!" said the young man with the red tie, "here's
somebody born on the right side, anyhow. I didn't know, Miss
Adams, that your Santa Claus was so modern as this."
"Oh, that's my godfather, Sir Leopold Fischer. He always
comes on Boxing Day."
Then, after an innocent pause, which unconsciously betrayed
some lack of enthusiasm, Ruby Adams added:
"He is very kind."
John Crook, journalist, had heard of that eminent City magnate;
and it was not his fault if the City magnate had not heard of him;
for in certain articles in The Clarion or The New Age Sir Leopold
had been dealt with austerely. But he said nothing and grimly
watched the unloading of the motor-car, which was rather a long
process. A large, neat chauffeur in green got out from the front,
and a small, neat manservant in grey got out from the back, and
between them they deposited Sir Leopold on the doorstep and began
to unpack him, like some very carefully protected parcel. Rugs
enough to stock a bazaar, furs of all the beasts of the forest,
and scarves of all the colours of the rainbow were unwrapped one
by one, till they revealed something resembling the human form;
the form of a friendly, but foreign-looking old gentleman, with a
grey goat-like beard and a beaming smile, who rubbed his big fur
Long before this revelation was complete the two big doors of
the porch had opened in the middle, and Colonel Adams (father of
the furry young lady) had come out himself to invite his eminent
guest inside. He was a tall, sunburnt, and very silent man, who
wore a red smoking-cap like a fez, making him look like one of the
English Sirdars or Pashas in Egypt. With him was his
brother-in-law, lately come from Canada, a big and rather
boisterous young gentleman-farmer, with a yellow beard, by name
James Blount. With him also was the more insignificant figure of
the priest from the neighbouring Roman Church; for the colonel's
late wife had been a Catholic, and the children, as is common in
such cases, had been trained to follow her. Everything seemed
undistinguished about the priest, even down to his name, which was
Brown; yet the colonel had always found something companionable
about him, and frequently asked him to such family gatherings.
In the large entrance hall of the house there was ample room
even for Sir Leopold and the removal of his wraps. Porch and
vestibule, indeed, were unduly large in proportion to the house,
and formed, as it were, a big room with the front door at one end,
and the bottom of the staircase at the other. In front of the
large hall fire, over which hung the colonel's sword, the process
was completed and the company, including the saturnine Crook,
presented to Sir Leopold Fischer. That venerable financier,
however, still seemed struggling with portions of his well-lined
attire, and at length produced from a very interior tail-coat
pocket, a black oval case which he radiantly explained to be his
Christmas present for his god-daughter. With an unaffected
vain-glory that had something disarming about it he held out the
case before them all; it flew open at a touch and half-blinded
them. It was just as if a crystal fountain had spurted in their
eyes. In a nest of orange velvet lay like three eggs, three white
and vivid diamonds that seemed to set the very air on fire all
round them. Fischer stood beaming benevolently and drinking deep
of the astonishment and ecstasy of the girl, the grim admiration
and gruff thanks of the colonel, the wonder of the whole group.
"I'll put 'em back now, my dear," said Fischer, returning the
case to the tails of his coat. "I had to be careful of 'em coming
down. They're the three great African diamonds called `The Flying
Stars,' because they've been stolen so often. All the big
criminals are on the track; but even the rough men about in the
streets and hotels could hardly have kept their hands off them.
I might have lost them on the road here. It was quite possible."
"Quite natural, I should say," growled the man in the red tie.
"I shouldn't blame 'em if they had taken 'em. When they ask for
bread, and you don't even give them a stone, I think they might
take the stone for themselves."
"I won't have you talking like that," cried the girl, who was
in a curious glow. "You've only talked like that since you became
a horrid what's-his-name. You know what I mean. What do you call
a man who wants to embrace the chimney-sweep?"
"A saint," said Father Brown.
"I think," said Sir Leopold, with a supercilious smile, "that
Ruby means a Socialist."
"A radical does not mean a man who lives on radishes," remarked
Crook, with some impatience; and a Conservative does not mean a
man who preserves jam. Neither, I assure you, does a Socialist
mean a man who desires a social evening with the chimney-sweep. A
Socialist means a man who wants all the chimneys swept and all the
chimney-sweeps paid for it."
"But who won't allow you," put in the priest in a low voice,
"to own your own soot."
Crook looked at him with an eye of interest and even respect.
"Does one want to own soot?" he asked.
"One might," answered Brown, with speculation in his eye.
"I've heard that gardeners use it. And I once made six children
happy at Christmas when the conjuror didn't come, entirely with
"Oh, splendid," cried Ruby. "Oh, I wish you'd do it to this
The boisterous Canadian, Mr. Blount, was lifting his loud
voice in applause, and the astonished financier his (in some
considerable deprecation), when a knock sounded at the double
front doors. The priest opened them, and they showed again the
front garden of evergreens, monkey-tree and all, now gathering
gloom against a gorgeous violet sunset. The scene thus framed was
so coloured and quaint, like a back scene in a play, that they
forgot a moment the insignificant figure standing in the door. He
was dusty-looking and in a frayed coat, evidently a common
messenger. "Any of you gentlemen Mr. Blount?" he asked, and held
forward a letter doubtfully. Mr. Blount started, and stopped in
his shout of assent. Ripping up the envelope with evident
astonishment he read it; his face clouded a little, and then
cleared, and he turned to his brother-in-law and host.
"I'm sick at being such a nuisance, colonel," he said, with
the cheery colonial conventions; "but would it upset you if an old
acquaintance called on me here tonight on business? In point of
fact it's Florian, that famous French acrobat and comic actor; I
knew him years ago out West (he was a French-Canadian by birth),
and he seems to have business for me, though I hardly guess what."
"Of course, of course," replied the colonel carelessly--"My
dear chap, any friend of yours. No doubt he will prove an
"He'll black his face, if that's what you mean," cried Blount,
laughing. "I don't doubt he'd black everyone else's eyes. I don't
care; I'm not refined. I like the jolly old pantomime where a man
sits on his top hat."
"Not on mine, please," said Sir Leopold Fischer, with dignity.
"Well, well," observed Crook, airily, "don't let's quarrel.
There are lower jokes than sitting on a top hat."
Dislike of the red-tied youth, born of his predatory opinions
and evident intimacy with the pretty godchild, led Fischer to say,
in his most sarcastic, magisterial manner: "No doubt you have found
something much lower than sitting on a top hat. What is it, pray?"
"Letting a top hat sit on you, for instance," said the
"Now, now, now," cried the Canadian farmer with his barbarian
benevolence, "don't let's spoil a jolly evening. What I say is,
let's do something for the company tonight. Not blacking faces or
sitting on hats, if you don't like those--but something of the
sort. Why couldn't we have a proper old English pantomime--
clown, columbine, and so on. I saw one when I left England at
twelve years old, and it's blazed in my brain like a bonfire ever
since. I came back to the old country only last year, and I find
the thing's extinct. Nothing but a lot of snivelling fairy plays.
I want a hot poker and a policeman made into sausages, and they
give me princesses moralising by moonlight, Blue Birds, or
something. Blue Beard's more in my line, and him I like best when
he turned into the pantaloon."
"I'm all for making a policeman into sausages," said John
Crook. "It's a better definition of Socialism than some recently
given. But surely the get-up would be too big a business."
"Not a scrap," cried Blount, quite carried away. "A
harlequinade's the quickest thing we can do, for two reasons.
First, one can gag to any degree; and, second, all the objects are
household things--tables and towel-horses and washing baskets,
and things like that."
"That's true," admitted Crook, nodding eagerly and walking
about. "But I'm afraid I can't have my policeman's uniform?
Haven't killed a policeman lately."
Blount frowned thoughtfully a space, and then smote his thigh.
"Yes, we can!" he cried. "I've got Florian's address here, and he
knows every costumier in London. I'll phone him to bring a police
dress when he comes." And he went bounding away to the telephone.
"Oh, it's glorious, godfather," cried Ruby, almost dancing.
"I'll be columbine and you shall be pantaloon."
The millionaire held himself stiff with a sort of heathen
solemnity. "I think, my dear," he said, "you must get someone
else for pantaloon."
"I will be pantaloon, if you like," said Colonel Adams, taking
his cigar out of his mouth, and speaking for the first and last
"You ought to have a statue," cried the Canadian, as he came
back, radiant, from the telephone. "There, we are all fitted.
Mr. Crook shall be clown; he's a journalist and knows all the
oldest jokes. I can be harlequin, that only wants long legs and
jumping about. My friend Florian 'phones he's bringing the police
costume; he's changing on the way. We can act it in this very
hall, the audience sitting on those broad stairs opposite, one row
above another. These front doors can be the back scene, either
open or shut. Shut, you see an English interior. Open, a moonlit
garden. It all goes by magic." And snatching a chance piece of
billiard chalk from his pocket, he ran it across the hall floor,
half-way between the front door and the staircase, to mark the
line of the footlights.
How even such a banquet of bosh was got ready in the time
remained a riddle. But they went at it with that mixture of
recklessness and industry that lives when youth is in a house; and
youth was in that house that night, though not all may have
isolated the two faces and hearts from which it flamed. As always
happens, the invention grew wilder and wilder through the very
tameness of the bourgeois conventions from which it had to create.
The columbine looked charming in an outstanding skirt that
strangely resembled the large lamp-shade in the drawing-room. The
clown and pantaloon made themselves white with flour from the cook,
and red with rouge from some other domestic, who remained (like
all true Christian benefactors) anonymous. The harlequin, already
clad in silver paper out of cigar boxes, was, with difficulty,
prevented from smashing the old Victorian lustre chandeliers, that
he might cover himself with resplendent crystals. In fact he
would certainly have done so, had not Ruby unearthed some old
pantomime paste jewels she had worn at a fancy dress party as the
Queen of Diamonds. Indeed, her uncle, James Blount, was getting
almost out of hand in his excitement; he was like a schoolboy. He
put a paper donkey's head unexpectedly on Father Brown, who bore
it patiently, and even found some private manner of moving his
ears. He even essayed to put the paper donkey's tail to the
coat-tails of Sir Leopold Fischer. This, however, was frowned
down. "Uncle is too absurd," cried Ruby to Crook, round whose
shoulders she had seriously placed a string of sausages. "Why is
he so wild?"
"He is harlequin to your columbine," said Crook. "I am only
the clown who makes the old jokes."
"I wish you were the harlequin," she said, and left the string
of sausages swinging.
Father Brown, though he knew every detail done behind the
scenes, and had even evoked applause by his transformation of a
pillow into a pantomime baby, went round to the front and sat
among the audience with all the solemn expectation of a child at
his first matinee. The spectators were few, relations, one or two
local friends, and the servants; Sir Leopold sat in the front
seat, his full and still fur-collared figure largely obscuring the
view of the little cleric behind him; but it has never been
settled by artistic authorities whether the cleric lost much. The
pantomime was utterly chaotic, yet not contemptible; there ran
through it a rage of improvisation which came chiefly from Crook
the clown. Commonly he was a clever man, and he was inspired
tonight with a wild omniscience, a folly wiser than the world,
that which comes to a young man who has seen for an instant a
particular expression on a particular face. He was supposed to be
the clown, but he was really almost everything else, the author
(so far as there was an author), the prompter, the scene-painter,
the scene-shifter, and, above all, the orchestra. At abrupt
intervals in the outrageous performance he would hurl himself in
full costume at the piano and bang out some popular music equally
absurd and appropriate.
The climax of this, as of all else, was the moment when the
two front doors at the back of the scene flew open, showing the
lovely moonlit garden, but showing more prominently the famous
professional guest; the great Florian, dressed up as a policeman.
The clown at the piano played the constabulary chorus in the
"Pirates of Penzance," but it was drowned in the deafening
applause, for every gesture of the great comic actor was an
admirable though restrained version of the carriage and manner of
the police. The harlequin leapt upon him and hit him over the
helmet; the pianist playing "Where did you get that hat?" he faced
about in admirably simulated astonishment, and then the leaping
harlequin hit him again (the pianist suggesting a few bars of
"Then we had another one"). Then the harlequin rushed right into
the arms of the policeman and fell on top of him, amid a roar of
applause. Then it was that the strange actor gave that celebrated
imitation of a dead man, of which the fame still lingers round
Putney. It was almost impossible to believe that a living person
could appear so limp.
The athletic harlequin swung him about like a sack or twisted
or tossed him like an Indian club; all the time to the most
maddeningly ludicrous tunes from the piano. When the harlequin
heaved the comic constable heavily off the floor the clown played
"I arise from dreams of thee." When he shuffled him across his
back, "With my bundle on my shoulder," and when the harlequin
finally let fall the policeman with a most convincing thud, the
lunatic at the instrument struck into a jingling measure with some
words which are still believed to have been, "I sent a letter to
my love and on the way I dropped it."
At about this limit of mental anarchy Father Brown's view was
obscured altogether; for the City magnate in front of him rose to
his full height and thrust his hands savagely into all his pockets.
Then he sat down nervously, still fumbling, and then stood up
again. For an instant it seemed seriously likely that he would
stride across the footlights; then he turned a glare at the clown
playing the piano; and then he burst in silence out of the room.
The priest had only watched for a few more minutes the absurd
but not inelegant dance of the amateur harlequin over his
splendidly unconscious foe. With real though rude art, the
harlequin danced slowly backwards out of the door into the garden,
which was full of moonlight and stillness. The vamped dress of
silver paper and paste, which had been too glaring in the
footlights, looked more and more magical and silvery as it danced
away under a brilliant moon. The audience was closing in with a
cataract of applause, when Brown felt his arm abruptly touched,
and he was asked in a whisper to come into the colonel's study.
He followed his summoner with increasing doubt, which was not
dispelled by a solemn comicality in the scene of the study. There
sat Colonel Adams, still unaffectedly dressed as a pantaloon, with
the knobbed whalebone nodding above his brow, but with his poor
old eyes sad enough to have sobered a Saturnalia. Sir Leopold
Fischer was leaning against the mantelpiece and heaving with all
the importance of panic.
"This is a very painful matter, Father Brown," said Adams.
"The truth is, those diamonds we all saw this afternoon seem to
have vanished from my friend's tail-coat pocket. And as you--"
"As I," supplemented Father Brown, with a broad grin, "was
sitting just behind him--"
"Nothing of the sort shall be suggested," said Colonel Adams,
with a firm look at Fischer, which rather implied that some such
thing had been suggested. "I only ask you to give me the
assistance that any gentleman might give."
"Which is turning out his pockets," said Father Brown, and
proceeded to do so, displaying seven and sixpence, a return
ticket, a small silver crucifix, a small breviary, and a stick of
The colonel looked at him long, and then said, "Do you know, I
should like to see the inside of your head more than the inside of
your pockets. My daughter is one of your people, I know; well,
she has lately--" and he stopped.
"She has lately," cried out old Fischer, "opened her father's
house to a cut-throat Socialist, who says openly he would steal
anything from a richer man. This is the end of it. Here is the
richer man--and none the richer."
"If you want the inside of my head you can have it," said
Brown rather wearily. "What it's worth you can say afterwards.
But the first thing I find in that disused pocket is this: that
men who mean to steal diamonds don't talk Socialism. They are
more likely," he added demurely, "to denounce it."
Both the others shifted sharply and the priest went on:
"You see, we know these people, more or less. That Socialist
would no more steal a diamond than a Pyramid. We ought to look at
once to the one man we don't know. The fellow acting the policeman
--Florian. Where is he exactly at this minute, I wonder."
The pantaloon sprang erect and strode out of the room. An
interlude ensued, during which the millionaire stared at the
priest, and the priest at his breviary; then the pantaloon
returned and said, with staccato gravity, "The policeman is still
lying on the stage. The curtain has gone up and down six times;
he is still lying there."
Father Brown dropped his book and stood staring with a look of
blank mental ruin. Very slowly a light began to creep in his grey
eyes, and then he made the scarcely obvious answer.
"Please forgive me, colonel, but when did your wife die?"
"Wife!" replied the staring soldier, "she died this year two
months. Her brother James arrived just a week too late to see
The little priest bounded like a rabbit shot. "Come on!" he
cried in quite unusual excitement. "Come on! We've got to go and
look at that policeman!"
They rushed on to the now curtained stage, breaking rudely past
the columbine and clown (who seemed whispering quite contentedly),
and Father Brown bent over the prostrate comic policeman.
"Chloroform," he said as he rose; "I only guessed it just now."
There was a startled stillness, and then the colonel said
slowly, "Please say seriously what all this means."
Father Brown suddenly shouted with laughter, then stopped, and
only struggled with it for instants during the rest of his speech.
"Gentlemen," he gasped, "there's not much time to talk. I must
run after the criminal. But this great French actor who played
the policeman--this clever corpse the harlequin waltzed with and
dandled and threw about--he was--" His voice again failed him,
and he turned his back to run.
"He was?" called Fischer inquiringly.
"A real policeman," said Father Brown, and ran away into the
There were hollows and bowers at the extreme end of that leafy
garden, in which the laurels and other immortal shrubs showed
against sapphire sky and silver moon, even in that midwinter, warm
colours as of the south. The green gaiety of the waving laurels,
the rich purple indigo of the night, the moon like a monstrous
crystal, make an almost irresponsible romantic picture; and among
the top branches of the garden trees a strange figure is climbing,
who looks not so much romantic as impossible. He sparkles from
head to heel, as if clad in ten million moons; the real moon
catches him at every movement and sets a new inch of him on fire.
But he swings, flashing and successful, from the short tree in
this garden to the tall, rambling tree in the other, and only
stops there because a shade has slid under the smaller tree and
has unmistakably called up to him.
"Well, Flambeau," says the voice, "you really look like a
Flying Star; but that always means a Falling Star at last."
The silver, sparkling figure above seems to lean forward in
the laurels and, confident of escape, listens to the little figure
"You never did anything better, Flambeau. It was clever to
come from Canada (with a Paris ticket, I suppose) just a week after
Mrs. Adams died, when no one was in a mood to ask questions. It
was cleverer to have marked down the Flying Stars and the very day
of Fischer's coming. But there's no cleverness, but mere genius,
in what followed. Stealing the stones, I suppose, was nothing to
you. You could have done it by sleight of hand in a hundred other
ways besides that pretence of putting a paper donkey's tail to
Fischer's coat. But in the rest you eclipsed yourself."
The silvery figure among the green leaves seems to linger as
if hypnotised, though his escape is easy behind him; he is staring
at the man below.
"Oh, yes," says the man below, "I know all about it. I know
you not only forced the pantomime, but put it to a double use. You
were going to steal the stones quietly; news came by an accomplice
that you were already suspected, and a capable police officer was
coming to rout you up that very night. A common thief would have
been thankful for the warning and fled; but you are a poet. You
already had the clever notion of hiding the jewels in a blaze of
false stage jewellery. Now, you saw that if the dress were a
harlequin's the appearance of a policeman would be quite in
keeping. The worthy officer started from Putney police station to
find you, and walked into the queerest trap ever set in this world.
When the front door opened he walked straight on to the stage of a
Christmas pantomime, where he could be kicked, clubbed, stunned
and drugged by the dancing harlequin, amid roars of laughter from
all the most respectable people in Putney. Oh, you will never do
anything better. And now, by the way, you might give me back
The green branch on which the glittering figure swung, rustled
as if in astonishment; but the voice went on:
"I want you to give them back, Flambeau, and I want you to give
up this life. There is still youth and honour and humour in you;
don't fancy they will last in that trade. Men may keep a sort of
level of good, but no man has ever been able to keep on one level
of evil. That road goes down and down. The kind man drinks and
turns cruel; the frank man kills and lies about it. Many a man
I've known started like you to be an honest outlaw, a merry robber
of the rich, and ended stamped into slime. Maurice Blum started
out as an anarchist of principle, a father of the poor; he ended a
greasy spy and tale-bearer that both sides used and despised.
Harry Burke started his free money movement sincerely enough; now
he's sponging on a half-starved sister for endless brandies and
sodas. Lord Amber went into wild society in a sort of chivalry;
now he's paying blackmail to the lowest vultures in London.
Captain Barillon was the great gentleman-apache before your time;
he died in a madhouse, screaming with fear of the "narks" and
receivers that had betrayed him and hunted him down. I know the
woods look very free behind you, Flambeau; I know that in a flash
you could melt into them like a monkey. But some day you will be
an old grey monkey, Flambeau. You will sit up in your free forest
cold at heart and close to death, and the tree-tops will be very
Everything continued still, as if the small man below held the
other in the tree in some long invisible leash; and he went on:
"Your downward steps have begun. You used to boast of doing
nothing mean, but you are doing something mean tonight. You are
leaving suspicion on an honest boy with a good deal against him
already; you are separating him from the woman he loves and who
loves him. But you will do meaner things than that before you
Three flashing diamonds fell from the tree to the turf. The
small man stooped to pick them up, and when he looked up again the
green cage of the tree was emptied of its silver bird.
The restoration of the gems (accidentally picked up by Father
Brown, of all people) ended the evening in uproarious triumph; and
Sir Leopold, in his height of good humour, even told the priest
that though he himself had broader views, he could respect those
whose creed required them to be cloistered and ignorant of this
The Invisible Man
In the cool blue twilight of two steep streets in Camden Town, the
shop at the corner, a confectioner's, glowed like the butt of a
cigar. One should rather say, perhaps, like the butt of a
for the light was of many colours and some complexity, broken up
by many mirrors and dancing on many gilt and gaily-coloured cakes
and sweetmeats. Against this one fiery glass were glued the noses
of many gutter-snipes, for the chocolates were all wrapped in
those red and gold and green metallic colours which are almost
better than chocolate itself; and the huge white wedding-cake in
the window was somehow at once remote and satisfying, just as if
the whole North Pole were good to eat. Such rainbow provocations
could naturally collect the youth of the neighbourhood up to the
ages of ten or twelve. But this corner was also attractive to
youth at a later stage; and a young man, not less than twenty-four,
was staring into the same shop window. To him, also, the shop was
of fiery charm, but this attraction was not wholly to be explained
by chocolates; which, however, he was far from despising.
He was a tall, burly, red-haired young man, with a resolute
face but a listless manner. He carried under his arm a flat, grey
portfolio of black-and-white sketches, which he had sold with more
or less success to publishers ever since his uncle (who was an
admiral) had disinherited him for Socialism, because of a lecture
which he had delivered against that economic theory. His name was
John Turnbull Angus.
Entering at last, he walked through the confectioner's shop to
the back room, which was a sort of pastry-cook restaurant, merely
raising his hat to the young lady who was serving there. She was
a dark, elegant, alert girl in black, with a high colour and very
quick, dark eyes; and after the ordinary interval she followed him
into the inner room to take his order.
His order was evidently a usual one. "I want, please," he
said with precision, "one halfpenny bun and a small cup of black
coffee." An instant before the girl could turn away he added,
"Also, I want you to marry me."
The young lady of the shop stiffened suddenly and said, "Those
are jokes I don't allow."
The red-haired young man lifted grey eyes of an unexpected
"Really and truly," he said, "it's as serious--as serious as
the halfpenny bun. It is expensive, like the bun; one pays for
it. It is indigestible, like the bun. It hurts."
The dark young lady had never taken her dark eyes off him, but
seemed to be studying him with almost tragic exactitude. At the
end of her scrutiny she had something like the shadow of a smile,
and she sat down in a chair.
"Don't you think," observed Angus, absently, "that it's rather
cruel to eat these halfpenny buns? They might grow up into penny
buns. I shall give up these brutal sports when we are married."
The dark young lady rose from her chair and walked to the
window, evidently in a state of strong but not unsympathetic
cogitation. When at last she swung round again with an air of
resolution she was bewildered to observe that the young man was
carefully laying out on the table various objects from the
shop-window. They included a pyramid of highly coloured sweets,
several plates of sandwiches, and the two decanters containing
that mysterious port and sherry which are peculiar to pastry-cooks.
In the middle of this neat arrangement he had carefully let down
the enormous load of white sugared cake which had been the huge
ornament of the window.
"What on earth are you doing?" she asked.
"Duty, my dear Laura," he began.
"Oh, for the Lord's sake, stop a minute," she cried, "and
don't talk to me in that way. I mean, what is all that?"
"A ceremonial meal, Miss Hope."
"And what is that?" she asked impatiently, pointing to the
mountain of sugar.
"The wedding-cake, Mrs. Angus," he said.
The girl marched to that article, removed it with some
clatter, and put it back in the shop window; she then returned,
and, putting her elegant elbows on the table, regarded the young
man not unfavourably but with considerable exasperation.
"You don't give me any time to think," she said.
"I'm not such a fool," he answered; "that's my Christian
She was still looking at him; but she had grown considerably
graver behind the smile.
"Mr. Angus," she said steadily, "before there is a minute more
of this nonsense I must tell you something about myself as shortly
as I can.'"
"Delighted," replied Angus gravely. "You might tell me
something about myself, too, while you are about it."
"Oh, do hold your tongue and listen," she said. "It's nothing
that I'm ashamed of, and it isn't even anything that I'm specially
sorry about. But what would you say if there were something that
is no business of mine and yet is my nightmare?"
"In that case," said the man seriously, "I should suggest that
you bring back the cake."
"Well, you must listen to the story first," said Laura,
persistently. "To begin with, I must tell you that my father
owned the inn called the `Red Fish' at Ludbury, and I used to
serve people in the bar."
"I have often wondered," he said, "why there was a kind of a
Christian air about this one confectioner's shop."
"Ludbury is a sleepy, grassy little hole in the Eastern
Counties, and the only kind of people who ever came to the `Red
Fish' were occasional commercial travellers, and for the rest, the
most awful people you can see, only you've never seen them. I
mean little, loungy men, who had just enough to live on and had
nothing to do but lean about in bar-rooms and bet on horses, in
bad clothes that were just too good for them. Even these wretched
young rotters were not very common at our house; but there were
two of them that were a lot too common--common in every sort of
way. They both lived on money of their own, and were wearisomely
idle and over-dressed. But yet I was a bit sorry for them, because
I half believe they slunk into our little empty bar because each
of them had a slight deformity; the sort of thing that some yokels
laugh at. It wasn't exactly a deformity either; it was more an
oddity. One of them was a surprisingly small man, something like
a dwarf, or at least like a jockey. He was not at all jockeyish
to look at, though; he had a round black head and a well-trimmed
black beard, bright eyes like a bird's; he jingled money in his
pockets; he jangled a great gold watch chain; and he never turned
up except dressed just too much like a gentleman to be one. He
was no fool though, though a futile idler; he was curiously clever
at all kinds of things that couldn't be the slightest use; a sort
of impromptu conjuring; making fifteen matches set fire to each
other like a regular firework; or cutting a banana or some such
thing into a dancing doll. His name was Isidore Smythe; and I can
see him still, with his little dark face, just coming up to the
counter, making a jumping kangaroo out of five cigars.
"The other fellow was more silent and more ordinary; but
somehow he alarmed me much more than poor little Smythe. He was
very tall and slight, and light-haired; his nose had a high bridge,
and he might almost have been handsome in a spectral sort of way;
but he had one of the most appalling squints I have ever seen or
heard of. When he looked straight at you, you didn't know where
you were yourself, let alone what he was looking at. I fancy this
sort of disfigurement embittered the poor chap a little; for while
Smythe was ready to show off his monkey tricks anywhere, James
Welkin (that was the squinting man's name) never did anything
except soak in our bar parlour, and go for great walks by himself
in the flat, grey country all round. All the same, I think Smythe,
too, was a little sensitive about being so small, though he carried
it off more smartly. And so it was that I was really puzzled, as
well as startled, and very sorry, when they both offered to marry
me in the same week.
"Well, I did what I've since thought was perhaps a silly thing.
But, after all, these freaks were my friends in a way; and I had a
horror of their thinking I refused them for the real reason, which
was that they were so impossibly ugly. So I made up some gas of
another sort, about never meaning to marry anyone who hadn't
carved his way in the world. I said it was a point of principle
with me not to live on money that was just inherited like theirs.
Two days after I had talked in this well-meaning sort of way, the
whole trouble began. The first thing I heard was that both of
them had gone off to seek their fortunes, as if they were in some
silly fairy tale.
"Well, I've never seen either of them from that day to this.
But I've had two letters from the little man called Smythe, and
really they were rather exciting."
"Ever heard of the other man?" asked Angus.
"No, he never wrote," said the girl, after an instant's
hesitation. "Smythe's first letter was simply to say that he had
started out walking with Welkin to London; but Welkin was such a
good walker that the little man dropped out of it, and took a rest
by the roadside. He happened to be picked up by some travelling
show, and, partly because he was nearly a dwarf, and partly
because he was really a clever little wretch, he got on quite well
in the show business, and was soon sent up to the Aquarium, to do
some tricks that I forget. That was his first letter. His second
was much more of a startler, and I only got it last week."
The man called Angus emptied his coffee-cup and regarded her
with mild and patient eyes. Her own mouth took a slight twist of
laughter as she resumed, "I suppose you've seen on the hoardings
all about this `Smythe's Silent Service'? Or you must be the only
person that hasn't. Oh, I don't know much about it, it's some
clockwork invention for doing all the housework by machinery. You
know the sort of thing: `Press a Button--A Butler who Never
Drinks.' `Turn a Handle--Ten Housemaids who Never Flirt.' You
must have seen the advertisements. Well, whatever these machines
are, they are making pots of money; and they are making it all for
that little imp whom I knew down in Ludbury. I can't help feeling
pleased the poor little chap has fallen on his feet; but the plain
fact is, I'm in terror of his turning up any minute and telling me
he's carved his way in the world --as he certainly has."
"And the other man?" repeated Angus with a sort of obstinate
Laura Hope got to her feet suddenly. "My friend," she said,
"I think you are a witch. Yes, you are quite right. I have not
seen a line of the other man's writing; and I have no more notion
than the dead of what or where he is. But it is of him that I am
frightened. It is he who is all about my path. It is he who has
half driven me mad. Indeed, I think he has driven me mad; for I
have felt him where he could not have been, and I have heard his
voice when he could not have spoken."
"Well, my dear," said the young man, cheerfully, "if he were
Satan himself, he is done for now you have told somebody. One
goes mad all alone, old girl. But when was it you fancied you
felt and heard our squinting friend?"
"I heard James Welkin laugh as plainly as I hear you speak,"
said the girl, steadily. "There was nobody there, for I stood
just outside the shop at the corner, and could see down both
streets at once. I had forgotten how he laughed, though his laugh
was as odd as his squint. I had not thought of him for nearly a
year. But it's a solemn truth that a few seconds later the first
letter came from his rival."
"Did you ever make the spectre speak or squeak, or anything?"
asked Angus, with some interest.
Laura suddenly shuddered, and then said, with an unshaken
voice, "Yes. Just when I had finished reading the second letter
from Isidore Smythe announcing his success. Just then, I heard
Welkin say, `He shan't have you, though.' It was quite plain, as
if he were in the room. It is awful, I think I must be mad."
"If you really were mad," said the young man, "you would think
you must be sane. But certainly there seems to me to be something
a little rum about this unseen gentleman. Two heads are better
than one--I spare you allusions to any other organs and really,
if you would allow me, as a sturdy, practical man, to bring back
the wedding-cake out of the window--"
Even as he spoke, there was a sort of steely shriek in the
street outside, and a small motor, driven at devilish speed, shot
up to the door of the shop and stuck there. In the same flash of
time a small man in a shiny top hat stood stamping in the outer
Angus, who had hitherto maintained hilarious ease from motives
of mental hygiene, revealed the strain of his soul by striding
abruptly out of the inner room and confronting the new-comer. A
glance at him was quite sufficient to confirm the savage guesswork
of a man in love. This very dapper but dwarfish figure, with the
spike of black beard carried insolently forward, the clever
unrestful eyes, the neat but very nervous fingers, could be none
other than the man just described to him: Isidore Smythe, who made
dolls out of banana skins and match-boxes; Isidore Smythe, who
made millions out of undrinking butlers and unflirting housemaids
of metal. For a moment the two men, instinctively understanding
each other's air of possession, looked at each other with that
curious cold generosity which is the soul of rivalry.
Mr. Smythe, however, made no allusion to the ultimate ground
of their antagonism, but said simply and explosively, "Has Miss
Hope seen that thing on the window?"
"On the window?" repeated the staring Angus.
"There's no time to explain other things," said the small
millionaire shortly. "There's some tomfoolery going on here that
has to be investigated."
He pointed his polished walking-stick at the window, recently
depleted by the bridal preparations of Mr. Angus; and that
gentleman was astonished to see along the front of the glass a
long strip of paper pasted, which had certainly not been on the
window when he looked through it some time before. Following the
energetic Smythe outside into the street, he found that some yard
and a half of stamp paper had been carefully gummed along the
glass outside, and on this was written in straggly characters,
"If you marry Smythe, he will die."
"Laura," said Angus, putting his big red head into the shop,
"you're not mad."
"It's the writing of that fellow Welkin," said Smythe gruffly.
"I haven't seen him for years, but he's always bothering me. Five
times in the last fortnight he's had threatening letters left at my
flat, and I can't even find out who leaves them, let alone if it is
Welkin himself. The porter of the flats swears that no suspicious
characters have been seen, and here he has pasted up a sort of dado
on a public shop window, while the people in the shop--"
"Quite so," said Angus modestly, "while the people in the shop
were having tea. Well, sir, I can assure you I appreciate your
common sense in dealing so directly with the matter. We can talk
about other things afterwards. The fellow cannot be very far off
yet, for I swear there was no paper there when I went last to the
window, ten or fifteen minutes ago. On the other hand, he's too
far off to be chased, as we don't even know the direction. If
you'll take my advice, Mr. Smythe, you'll put this at once in the
hands of some energetic inquiry man, private rather than public.
I know an extremely clever fellow, who has set up in business five
minutes from here in your car. His name's Flambeau, and though
his youth was a bit stormy, he's a strictly honest man now, and
his brains are worth money. He lives in Lucknow Mansions,
"That is odd," said the little man, arching his black
eyebrows. "I live, myself, in Himylaya Mansions, round the
corner. Perhaps you might care to come with me; I can go to my
rooms and sort out these queer Welkin documents, while you run
round and get your friend the detective."
"You are very good," said Angus politely. "Well, the sooner
we act the better."
Both men, with a queer kind of impromptu fairness, took the
same sort of formal farewell of the lady, and both jumped into the
brisk little car. As Smythe took the handles and they turned the
great corner of the street, Angus was amused to see a gigantesque
poster of "Smythe's Silent Service," with a picture of a huge
headless iron doll, carrying a saucepan with the legend, "A Cook
Who is Never Cross."
"I use them in my own flat," said the little black-bearded
man, laughing, "partly for advertisements, and partly for real
convenience. Honestly, and all above board, those big clockwork
dolls of mine do bring your coals or claret or a timetable quicker
than any live servants I've ever known, if you know which knob to
press. But I'll never deny, between ourselves, that such servants
have their disadvantages, too.
"Indeed?" said Angus; "is there something they can't do?"
"Yes," replied Smythe coolly; "they can't tell me who left
those threatening letters at my flat."
The man's motor was small and swift like himself; in fact,
like his domestic service, it was of his own invention. If he was
an advertising quack, he was one who believed in his own wares.
The sense of something tiny and flying was accentuated as they
swept up long white curves of road in the dead but open daylight
of evening. Soon the white curves came sharper and dizzier; they
were upon ascending spirals, as they say in the modern religions.
For, indeed, they were cresting a corner of London which is almost
as precipitous as Edinburgh, if not quite so picturesque. Terrace
rose above terrace, and the special tower of flats they sought,
rose above them all to almost Egyptian height, gilt by the level
sunset. The change, as they turned the corner and entered the
crescent known as Himylaya Mansions, was as abrupt as the opening
of a window; for they found that pile of flats sitting above
London as above a green sea of slate. Opposite to the mansions,
on the other side of the gravel crescent, was a bushy enclosure
more like a steep hedge or dyke than a garden, and some way below
that ran a strip of artificial water, a sort of canal, like the
moat of that embowered fortress. As the car swept round the
crescent it passed, at one corner, the stray stall of a man
selling chestnuts; and right away at the other end of the curve,
Angus could see a dim blue policeman walking slowly. These were
the only human shapes in that high suburban solitude; but he had
an irrational sense that they expressed the speechless poetry of
London. He felt as if they were figures in a story.
The little car shot up to the right house like a bullet, and
shot out its owner like a bomb shell. He was immediately
inquiring of a tall commissionaire in shining braid, and a short
porter in shirt sleeves, whether anybody or anything had been
seeking his apartments. He was assured that nobody and nothing
had passed these officials since his last inquiries; whereupon he
and the slightly bewildered Angus were shot up in the lift like a
rocket, till they reached the top floor.
"Just come in for a minute," said the breathless Smythe. "I
want to show you those Welkin letters. Then you might run round
the corner and fetch your friend." He pressed a button concealed
in the wall, and the door opened of itself.
It opened on a long, commodious ante-room, of which the only
arresting features, ordinarily speaking, were the rows of tall
half-human mechanical figures that stood up on both sides like
tailors' dummies. Like tailors' dummies they were headless; and
like tailors' dummies they had a handsome unnecessary humpiness in
the shoulders, and a pigeon-breasted protuberance of chest; but
barring this, they were not much more like a human figure than any
automatic machine at a station that is about the human height.
They had two great hooks like arms, for carrying trays; and they
were painted pea-green, or vermilion, or black for convenience of
distinction; in every other way they were only automatic machines
and nobody would have looked twice at them. On this occasion, at
least, nobody did. For between the two rows of these domestic
dummies lay something more interesting than most of the mechanics
of the world. It was a white, tattered scrap of paper scrawled
with red ink; and the agile inventor had snatched it up almost as
soon as the door flew open. He handed it to Angus without a word.
The red ink on it actually was not dry, and the message ran, "If
you have been to see her today, I shall kill you."
There was a short silence, and then Isidore Smythe said
quietly, "Would you like a little whiskey? I rather feel as if I
"Thank you; I should like a little Flambeau," said Angus,
gloomily. "This business seems to me to be getting rather grave.
I'm going round at once to fetch him."
"Right you are," said the other, with admirable cheerfulness.
"Bring him round here as quick as you can."
But as Angus closed the front door behind him he saw Smythe
push back a button, and one of the clockwork images glided from
its place and slid along a groove in the floor carrying a tray
with syphon and decanter. There did seem something a trifle weird
about leaving the little man alone among those dead servants, who
were coming to life as the door closed.
Six steps down from Smythe's landing the man in shirt sleeves
was doing something with a pail. Angus stopped to extract a
promise, fortified with a prospective bribe, that he would remain
in that place until the return with the detective, and would keep
count of any kind of stranger coming up those stairs. Dashing
down to the front hall he then laid similar charges of vigilance
on the commissionaire at the front door, from whom he learned the
simplifying circumstances that there was no back door. Not
content with this, he captured the floating policeman and induced
him to stand opposite the entrance and watch it; and finally
paused an instant for a pennyworth of chestnuts, and an inquiry as
to the probable length of the merchant's stay in the
The chestnut seller, turning up the collar of his coat, told
him he should probably be moving shortly, as he thought it was
going to snow. Indeed, the evening was growing grey and bitter,
but Angus, with all his eloquence, proceeded to nail the chestnut
man to his post.
"Keep yourself warm on your own chestnuts," he said earnestly.
"Eat up your whole stock; I'll make it worth your while. I'll
give you a sovereign if you'll wait here till I come back, and
then tell me whether any man, woman, or child has gone into that
house where the commissionaire is standing."
He then walked away smartly, with a last look at the besieged
"I've made a ring round that room, anyhow," he said. "They
can't all four of them be Mr. Welkin's accomplices."
Lucknow Mansions were, so to speak, on a lower platform of
that hill of houses, of which Himylaya Mansions might be called
the peak. Mr. Flambeau's semi-official flat was on the ground
floor, and presented in every way a marked contrast to the
American machinery and cold hotel-like luxury of the flat of the
Silent Service. Flambeau, who was a friend of Angus, received him
in a rococo artistic den behind his office, of which the ornaments
were sabres, harquebuses, Eastern curiosities, flasks of Italian
wine, savage cooking-pots, a plumy Persian cat, and a small
dusty-looking Roman Catholic priest, who looked particularly out
"This is my friend Father Brown," said Flambeau. "I've often
wanted you to meet him. Splendid weather, this; a little cold for
Southerners like me."
"Yes, I think it will keep clear," said Angus, sitting down on
a violet-striped Eastern ottoman.
"No," said the priest quietly, "it has begun to snow."
And, indeed, as he spoke, the first few flakes, foreseen by the
man of chestnuts, began to drift across the darkening windowpane.
"Well," said Angus heavily. "I'm afraid I've come on business,
and rather jumpy business at that. The fact is, Flambeau, within
stone's throw of your house is a fellow who badly wants your help;
he's perpetually being haunted and threatened by an invisible enemy
--a scoundrel whom nobody has even seen." As Angus proceeded to
tell the whole tale of Smythe and Welkin, beginning with Laura's
story, and going on with his own, the supernatural laugh at the
corner of two empty streets, the strange distinct words spoken in
an empty room, Flambeau grew more and more vividly concerned, and
the little priest seemed to be left out of it, like a piece of
furniture. When it came to the scribbled stamp-paper pasted on
the window, Flambeau rose, seeming to fill the room with his huge
"If you don't mind," he said, "I think you had better tell me
the rest on the nearest road to this man's house. It strikes me,
somehow, that there is no time to be lost."
"Delighted," said Angus, rising also, "though he's safe enough
for the present, for I've set four men to watch the only hole to
They turned out into the street, the small priest trundling
after them with the docility of a small dog. He merely said, in a
cheerful way, like one making conversation, "How quick the snow
gets thick on the ground."
As they threaded the steep side streets already powdered with
silver, Angus finished his story; and by the time they reached the
crescent with the towering flats, he had leisure to turn his
attention to the four sentinels. The chestnut seller, both before
and after receiving a sovereign, swore stubbornly that he had
watched the door and seen no visitor enter. The policeman was
even more emphatic. He said he had had experience of crooks of
all kinds, in top hats and in rags; he wasn't so green as to
expect suspicious characters to look suspicious; he looked out for
anybody, and, so help him, there had been nobody. And when all
three men gathered round the gilded commissionaire, who still
stood smiling astride of the porch, the verdict was more final
"I've got a right to ask any man, duke or dustman, what he
wants in these flats," said the genial and gold-laced giant, "and
I'll swear there's been nobody to ask since this gentleman went
The unimportant Father Brown, who stood back, looking modestly
at the pavement, here ventured to say meekly, "Has nobody been up
and down stairs, then, since the snow began to fall? It began
while we were all round at Flambeau's."
"Nobody's been in here, sir, you can take it from me," said
the official, with beaming authority.
"Then I wonder what that is?" said the priest, and stared at
the ground blankly like a fish.
The others all looked down also; and Flambeau used a fierce
exclamation and a French gesture. For it was unquestionably true
that down the middle of the entrance guarded by the man in gold
lace, actually between the arrogant, stretched legs of that
colossus, ran a stringy pattern of grey footprints stamped upon
the white snow.
"God!" cried Angus involuntarily, "the Invisible Man!"
Without another word he turned and dashed up the stairs, with
Flambeau following; but Father Brown still stood looking about him
in the snow-clad street as if he had lost interest in his query.
Flambeau was plainly in a mood to break down the door with his
big shoulders; but the Scotchman, with more reason, if less
intuition, fumbled about on the frame of the door till he found
the invisible button; and the door swung slowly open.
It showed substantially the same serried interior; the hall
had grown darker, though it was still struck here and there with
the last crimson shafts of sunset, and one or two of the headless
machines had been moved from their places for this or that
purpose, and stood here and there about the twilit place. The
green and red of their coats were all darkened in the dusk; and
their likeness to human shapes slightly increased by their very
shapelessness. But in the middle of them all, exactly where the
paper with the red ink had lain, there lay something that looked
like red ink spilt out of its bottle. But it was not red ink.
With a French combination of reason and violence Flambeau
simply said "Murder!" and, plunging into the flat, had explored,
every corner and cupboard of it in five minutes. But if he
expected to find a corpse he found none. Isidore Smythe was not
in the place, either dead or alive. After the most tearing search
the two men met each other in the outer hall, with streaming faces
and staring eyes. "My friend," said Flambeau, talking French in
his excitement, "not only is your murderer invisible, but he makes
invisible also the murdered man."
Angus looked round at the dim room full of dummies, and in
some Celtic corner of his Scotch soul a shudder started. One of
the life-size dolls stood immediately overshadowing the blood
stain, summoned, perhaps, by the slain man an instant before he
fell. One of the high-shouldered hooks that served the thing for
arms, was a little lifted, and Angus had suddenly the horrid fancy
that poor Smythe's own iron child had struck him down. Matter had
rebelled, and these machines had killed their master. But even
so, what had they done with him?
"Eaten him?" said the nightmare at his ear; and he sickened
for an instant at the idea of rent, human remains absorbed and
crushed into all that acephalous clockwork.
He recovered his mental health by an emphatic effort, and said
to Flambeau, "Well, there it is. The poor fellow has evaporated
like a cloud and left a red streak on the floor. The tale does
not belong to this world."
"There is only one thing to be done," said Flambeau, "whether
it belongs to this world or the other. I must go down and talk to
They descended, passing the man with the pail, who again
asseverated that he had let no intruder pass, down to the
commissionaire and the hovering chestnut man, who rigidly
reasserted their own watchfulness. But when Angus looked round
for his fourth confirmation he could not see it, and called out
with some nervousness, "Where is the policeman?"
"I beg your pardon," said Father Brown; "that is my fault. I
just sent him down the road to investigate something--that I
just thought worth investigating."
"Well, we want him back pretty soon," said Angus abruptly,
"for the wretched man upstairs has not only been murdered, but
"How?" asked the priest.
"Father," said Flambeau, after a pause, "upon my soul I believe
it is more in your department than mine. No friend or foe has
entered the house, but Smythe is gone, as if stolen by the fairies.
If that is not supernatural, I--"
As he spoke they were all checked by an unusual sight; the big
blue policeman came round the corner of the crescent, running. He
came straight up to Brown.
"You're right, sir," he panted, "they've just found poor Mr.
Smythe's body in the canal down below."
Angus put his hand wildly to his head. "Did he run down and
drown himself?" he asked.
"He never came down, I'll swear," said the constable, "and he
wasn't drowned either, for he died of a great stab over the heart."
"And yet you saw no one enter?" said Flambeau in a grave voice.
"Let us walk down the road a little," said the priest.
As they reached the other end of the crescent he observed
abruptly, "Stupid of me! I forgot to ask the policeman something.
I wonder if they found a light brown sack."
"Why a light brown sack?" asked Angus, astonished.
"Because if it was any other coloured sack, the case must
begin over again," said Father Brown; "but if it was a light brown
sack, why, the case is finished."
"I am pleased to hear it," said Angus with hearty irony. "It
hasn't begun, so far as I am concerned."
"You must tell us all about it," said Flambeau with a strange
heavy simplicity, like a child.
Unconsciously they were walking with quickening steps down the
long sweep of road on the other side of the high crescent, Father
Brown leading briskly, though in silence. At last he said with an
almost touching vagueness, "Well, I'm afraid you'll think it so
prosy. We always begin at the abstract end of things, and you
can't begin this story anywhere else.
"Have you ever noticed this--that people never answer what
you say? They answer what you mean--or what they think you
mean. Suppose one lady says to another in a country house, `Is
anybody staying with you?' the lady doesn't answer `Yes; the
butler, the three footmen, the parlourmaid, and so on,' though the
parlourmaid may be in the room, or the butler behind her chair.
She says `There is nobody staying with us,' meaning nobody of the
sort you mean. But suppose a doctor inquiring into an epidemic
asks, `Who is staying in the house?' then the lady will remember
the butler, the parlourmaid, and the rest. All language is used
like that; you never get a question answered literally, even when
you get it answered truly. When those four quite honest men said
that no man had gone into the Mansions, they did not really mean
that no man had gone into them. They meant no man whom they could
suspect of being your man. A man did go into the house, and did
come out of it, but they never noticed him."
"An invisible man?" inquired Angus, raising his red eyebrows.
"A mentally invisible man," said Father Brown.
A minute or two after he resumed in the same unassuming voice,
like a man thinking his way. "Of course you can't think of such a
man, until you do think of him. That's where his cleverness comes
in. But I came to think of him through two or three little things
in the tale Mr. Angus told us. First, there was the fact that
this Welkin went for long walks. And then there was the vast lot
of stamp paper on the window. And then, most of all, there were
the two things the young lady said--things that couldn't be true.
Don't get annoyed," he added hastily, noting a sudden movement of
the Scotchman's head; "she thought they were true. A person can't
be quite alone in a street a second before she receives a letter.
She can't be quite alone in a street when she starts reading a
letter just received. There must be somebody pretty near her; he
must be mentally invisible."
"Why must there be somebody near her?" asked Angus.
"Because," said Father Brown, "barring carrier-pigeons,
somebody must have brought her the letter."
"Do you really mean to say," asked Flambeau, with energy,
"that Welkin carried his rival's letters to his lady?"
"Yes," said the priest. "Welkin carried his rival's letters
to his lady. You see, he had to."
"Oh, I can't stand much more of this," exploded Flambeau.
"Who is this fellow? What does he look like? What is the usual
get-up of a mentally invisible man?"
"He is dressed rather handsomely in red, blue and gold,"
replied the priest promptly with precision, "and in this striking,
and even showy, costume he entered Himylaya Mansions under eight
human eyes; he killed Smythe in cold blood, and came down into the
street again carrying the dead body in his arms--"
"Reverend sir," cried Angus, standing still, "are you raving
mad, or am I?"
"You are not mad," said Brown, "only a little unobservant.
You have not noticed such a man as this, for example."
He took three quick strides forward, and put his hand on the
shoulder of an ordinary passing postman who had bustled by them
unnoticed under the shade of the trees.
"Nobody ever notices postmen somehow," he said thoughtfully;
"yet they have passions like other men, and even carry large bags
where a small corpse can be stowed quite easily."
The postman, instead of turning naturally, had ducked and
tumbled against the garden fence. He was a lean fair-bearded man
of very ordinary appearance, but as he turned an alarmed face over
his shoulder, all three men were fixed with an almost fiendish
* * * * * *
Flambeau went back to his sabres, purple rugs and Persian cat,
having many things to attend to. John Turnbull Angus went back to
the lady at the shop, with whom that imprudent young man contrives
to be extremely comfortable. But Father Brown walked those
snow-covered hills under the stars for many hours with a murderer,
and what they said to each other will never be known.
The Honour of Israel Gow
A stormy evening of olive and silver was closing in, as Father
Brown, wrapped in a grey Scotch plaid, came to the end of a grey
Scotch valley and beheld the strange castle of Glengyle. It
stopped one end of the glen or hollow like a blind alley; and it
looked like the end of the world. Rising in steep roofs and
spires of seagreen slate in the manner of the old French-Scotch
chateaux, it reminded an Englishman of the sinister steeple-hats
of witches in fairy tales; and the pine woods that rocked round
the green turrets looked, by comparison, as black as numberless
flocks of ravens. This note of a dreamy, almost a sleepy devilry,
was no mere fancy from the landscape. For there did rest on the
place one of those clouds of pride and madness and mysterious
sorrow which lie more heavily on the noble houses of Scotland than
on any other of the children of men. For Scotland has a double
dose of the poison called heredity; the sense of blood in the
aristocrat, and the sense of doom in the Calvinist.
The priest had snatched a day from his business at Glasgow to
meet his friend Flambeau, the amateur detective, who was at
Glengyle Castle with another more formal officer investigating the
life and death of the late Earl of Glengyle. That mysterious
person was the last representative of a race whose valour,
insanity, and violent cunning had made them terrible even among
the sinister nobility of their nation in the sixteenth century.
None were deeper in that labyrinthine ambition, in chamber within
chamber of that palace of lies that was built up around Mary Queen
The rhyme in the country-side attested the motive and the
result of their machinations candidly:
As green sap to the simmer trees
Is red gold to the Ogilvies.
For many centuries there had never been a decent lord in
Glengyle Castle; and with the Victorian era one would have thought
that all eccentricities were exhausted. The last Glengyle,
however, satisfied his tribal tradition by doing the only thing
that was left for him to do; he disappeared. I do not mean that
he went abroad; by all accounts he was still in the castle, if he
was anywhere. But though his name was in the church register and
the big red Peerage, nobody ever saw him under the sun.
If anyone saw him it was a solitary man-servant, something
between a groom and a gardener. He was so deaf that the more
business-like assumed him to be dumb; while the more penetrating
declared him to be half-witted. A gaunt, red-haired labourer,
with a dogged jaw and chin, but quite blank blue eyes, he went by
the name of Israel Gow, and was the one silent servant on that
deserted estate. But the energy with which he dug potatoes, and
the regularity with which he disappeared into the kitchen gave
people an impression that he was providing for the meals of a
superior, and that the strange earl was still concealed in the
castle. If society needed any further proof that he was there,
the servant persistently asserted that he was not at home. One
morning the provost and the minister (for the Glengyles were
Presbyterian) were summoned to the castle. There they found that
the gardener, groom and cook had added to his many professions
that of an undertaker, and had nailed up his noble master in a
coffin. With how much or how little further inquiry this odd fact
was passed, did not as yet very plainly appear; for the thing had
never been legally investigated till Flambeau had gone north two
or three days before. By then the body of Lord Glengyle (if it
was the body) had lain for some time in the little churchyard on
As Father Brown passed through the dim garden and came under
the shadow of the chateau, the clouds were thick and the whole air
damp and thundery. Against the last stripe of the green-gold
sunset he saw a black human silhouette; a man in a chimney-pot
hat, with a big spade over his shoulder. The combination was
queerly suggestive of a sexton; but when Brown remembered the deaf
servant who dug potatoes, he thought it natural enough. He knew
something of the Scotch peasant; he knew the respectability which
might well feel it necessary to wear "blacks" for an official
inquiry; he knew also the economy that would not lose an hour's
digging for that. Even the man's start and suspicious stare as
the priest went by were consonant enough with the vigilance and
jealousy of such a type.
The great door was opened by Flambeau himself, who had with
him a lean man with iron-grey hair and papers in his hand:
Inspector Craven from Scotland Yard. The entrance hall was mostly
stripped and empty; but the pale, sneering faces of one or two of
the wicked Ogilvies looked down out of black periwigs and
Following them into an inner room, Father Brown found that the
allies had been seated at a long oak table, of which their end was
covered with scribbled papers, flanked with whisky and cigars.
Through the whole of its remaining length it was occupied by
detached objects arranged at intervals; objects about as
inexplicable as any objects could be. One looked like a small
heap of glittering broken glass. Another looked like a high heap
of brown dust. A third appeared to be a plain stick of wood.
"You seem to have a sort of geological museum here," he said,
as he sat down, jerking his head briefly in the direction of the
brown dust and the crystalline fragments.
"Not a geological museum," replied Flambeau; "say a
"Oh, for the Lord's sake," cried the police detective laughing,
"don't let's begin with such long words."
"Don't you know what psychology means?" asked Flambeau with
friendly surprise. "Psychology means being off your chump."
"Still I hardly follow," replied the official.
"Well," said Flambeau, with decision, "I mean that we've only
found out one thing about Lord Glengyle. He was a maniac."
The black silhouette of Gow with his top hat and spade passed
the window, dimly outlined against the darkening sky. Father
Brown stared passively at it and answered:
"I can understand there must have been something odd about the
man, or he wouldn't have buried himself alive--nor been in such
a hurry to bury himself dead. But what makes you think it was
"Well," said Flambeau, "you just listen to the list of things
Mr. Craven has found in the house."
"We must get a candle," said Craven, suddenly. "A storm is
getting up, and it's too dark to read."
"Have you found any candles," asked Brown smiling, "among your
Flambeau raised a grave face, and fixed his dark eyes on his
"That is curious, too," he said. "Twenty-five candles, and
not a trace of a candlestick."
In the rapidly darkening room and rapidly rising wind, Brown
went along the table to where a bundle of wax candles lay among
the other scrappy exhibits. As he did so he bent accidentally
over the heap of red-brown dust; and a sharp sneeze cracked the
"Hullo!" he said, "snuff!"
He took one of the candles, lit it carefully, came back and
stuck it in the neck of the whisky bottle. The unrestful night
air, blowing through the crazy window, waved the long flame like a
banner. And on every side of the castle they could hear the miles
and miles of black pine wood seething like a black sea around a
"I will read the inventory," began Craven gravely, picking up
one of the papers, "the inventory of what we found loose and
unexplained in the castle. You are to understand that the place
generally was dismantled and neglected; but one or two rooms had
plainly been inhabited in a simple but not squalid style by
somebody; somebody who was not the servant Gow. The list is as
"First item. A very considerable hoard of precious stones,
nearly all diamonds, and all of them loose, without any setting
whatever. Of course, it is natural that the Ogilvies should have
family jewels; but those are exactly the jewels that are almost
always set in particular articles of ornament. The Ogilvies would
seem to have kept theirs loose in their pockets, like coppers.
"Second item. Heaps and heaps of loose snuff, not kept in a
horn, or even a pouch, but lying in heaps on the mantelpieces, on
the sideboard, on the piano, anywhere. It looks as if the old
gentleman would not take the trouble to look in a pocket or lift a
"Third item. Here and there about the house curious little
heaps of minute pieces of metal, some like steel springs and some
in the form of microscopic wheels. As if they had gutted some
"Fourth item. The wax candles, which have to be stuck in
bottle necks because there is nothing else to stick them in. Now
I wish you to note how very much queerer all this is than anything
we anticipated. For the central riddle we are prepared; we have
all seen at a glance that there was something wrong about the last
earl. We have come here to find out whether he really lived here,
whether he really died here, whether that red-haired scarecrow who
did his burying had anything to do with his dying. But suppose
the worst in all this, the most lurid or melodramatic solution you
like. Suppose the servant really killed the master, or suppose
the master isn't really dead, or suppose the master is dressed up
as the servant, or suppose the servant is buried for the master;
invent what Wilkie Collins' tragedy you like, and you still have
not explained a candle without a candlestick, or why an elderly
gentleman of good family should habitually spill snuff on the
piano. The core of the tale we could imagine; it is the fringes
that are mysterious. By no stretch of fancy can the human mind
connect together snuff and diamonds and wax and loose clockwork."
"I think I see the connection," said the priest. "This
Glengyle was mad against the French Revolution. He was an
enthusiast for the ancien regime, and was trying to re-enact
literally the family life of the last Bourbons. He had snuff
because it was the eighteenth century luxury; wax candles, because
they were the eighteenth century lighting; the mechanical bits of
iron represent the locksmith hobby of Louis XVI; the diamonds are
for the Diamond Necklace of Marie Antoinette."
Both the other men were staring at him with round eyes. "What
a perfectly extraordinary notion!" cried Flambeau. "Do you really
think that is the truth?"
"I am perfectly sure it isn't," answered Father Brown, "only
you said that nobody could connect snuff and diamonds and clockwork
and candles. I give you that connection off-hand. The real truth,
I am very sure, lies deeper."
He paused a moment and listened to the wailing of the wind in
the turrets. Then he said, "The late Earl of Glengyle was a thief.
He lived a second and darker life as a desperate housebreaker. He
did not have any candlesticks because he only used these candles
cut short in the little lantern he carried. The snuff he employed
as the fiercest French criminals have used pepper: to fling it
suddenly in dense masses in the face of a captor or pursuer. But
the final proof is in the curious coincidence of the diamonds and
the small steel wheels. Surely that makes everything plain to
you? Diamonds and small steel wheels are the only two instruments
with which you can cut out a pane of glass."
The bough of a broken pine tree lashed heavily in the blast
against the windowpane behind them, as if in parody of a burglar,
but they did not turn round. Their eyes were fastened on Father
"Diamonds and small wheels," repeated Craven ruminating.
"Is that all that makes you think it the true explanation?"
"I don't think it the true explanation," replied the priest
placidly; "but you said that nobody could connect the four things.
The true tale, of course, is something much more humdrum. Glengyle
had found, or thought he had found, precious stones on his estate.
Somebody had bamboozled him with those loose brilliants, saying
they were found in the castle caverns. The little wheels are some
diamond-cutting affair. He had to do the thing very roughly and
in a small way, with the help of a few shepherds or rude fellows
on these hills. Snuff is the one great luxury of such Scotch
shepherds; it's the one thing with which you can bribe them. They
didn't have candlesticks because they didn't want them; they held
the candles in their hands when they explored the caves."
"Is that all?" asked Flambeau after a long pause. "Have we
got to the dull truth at last?"
"Oh, no," said Father Brown.
As the wind died in the most distant pine woods with a long
hoot as of mockery Father Brown, with an utterly impassive face,
"I only suggested that because you said one could not plausibly
connect snuff with clockwork or candles with bright stones. Ten
false philosophies will fit the universe; ten false theories will
fit Glengyle Castle. But we want the real explanation of the
castle and the universe. But are there no other exhibits?"
Craven laughed, and Flambeau rose smiling to his feet and
strolled down the long table.
"Items five, six, seven, etc.," he said, "and certainly more
varied than instructive. A curious collection, not of lead
pencils, but of the lead out of lead pencils. A senseless stick
of bamboo, with the top rather splintered. It might be the
instrument of the crime. Only, there isn't any crime. The only
other things are a few old missals and little Catholic pictures,
which the Ogilvies kept, I suppose, from the Middle Ages--their
family pride being stronger than their Puritanism. We only put
them in the museum because they seem curiously cut about and
The heady tempest without drove a dreadful wrack of clouds
across Glengyle and threw the long room into darkness as Father
Brown picked up the little illuminated pages to examine them. He
spoke before the drift of darkness had passed; but it was the
voice of an utterly new man.
"Mr. Craven," said he, talking like a man ten years younger,
"you have got a legal warrant, haven't you, to go up and examine
that grave? The sooner we do it the better, and get to the bottom
of this horrible affair. If I were you I should start now."
"Now," repeated the astonished detective, "and why now?"
"Because this is serious," answered Brown; "this is not spilt
snuff or loose pebbles, that might be there for a hundred reasons.
There is only one reason I know of for this being done; and the
reason goes down to the roots of the world. These religious
pictures are not just dirtied or torn or scrawled over, which
might be done in idleness or bigotry, by children or by
Protestants. These have been treated very carefully--and very
queerly. In every place where the great ornamented name of God
comes in the old illuminations it has been elaborately taken out.
The only other thing that has been removed is the halo round the
head of the Child Jesus. Therefore, I say, let us get our warrant
and our spade and our hatchet, and go up and break open that
"What do you mean?" demanded the London officer.
"I mean," answered the little priest, and his voice seemed to
rise slightly in the roar of the gale. "I mean that the great
devil of the universe may be sitting on the top tower of this
castle at this moment, as big as a hundred elephants, and roaring
like the Apocalypse. There is black magic somewhere at the bottom
"Black magic," repeated Flambeau in a low voice, for he was
too enlightened a man not to know of such things; "but what can
these other things mean?"
"Oh, something damnable, I suppose," replied Brown impatiently.
"How should I know? How can I guess all their mazes down below?
Perhaps you can make a torture out of snuff and bamboo. Perhaps
lunatics lust after wax and steel filings. Perhaps there is a
maddening drug made of lead pencils! Our shortest cut to the
mystery is up the hill to the grave."
His comrades hardly knew that they had obeyed and followed him
till a blast of the night wind nearly flung them on their faces in
the garden. Nevertheless they had obeyed him like automata; for
Craven found a hatchet in his hand, and the warrant in his pocket;
Flambeau was carrying the heavy spade of the strange gardener;
Father Brown was carrying the little gilt book from which had been
torn the name of God.
The path up the hill to the churchyard was crooked but short;
only under that stress of wind it seemed laborious and long. Far
as the eye could see, farther and farther as they mounted the
slope, were seas beyond seas of pines, now all aslope one way
under the wind. And that universal gesture seemed as vain as it
was vast, as vain as if that wind were whistling about some
unpeopled and purposeless planet. Through all that infinite
growth of grey-blue forests sang, shrill and high, that ancient
sorrow that is in the heart of all heathen things. One could
fancy that the voices from the under world of unfathomable foliage
were cries of the lost and wandering pagan gods: gods who had gone
roaming in that irrational forest, and who will never find their
way back to heaven.
"You see," said Father Brown in low but easy tone, "Scotch
people before Scotland existed were a curious lot. In fact,
they're a curious lot still. But in the prehistoric times I fancy
they really worshipped demons. That," he added genially, "is why
they jumped at the Puritan theology."
"My friend," said Flambeau, turning in a kind of fury, "what
does all that snuff mean?"
"My friend," replied Brown, with equal seriousness, "there is
one mark of all genuine religions: materialism. Now, devil-worship
is a perfectly genuine religion."
They had come up on the grassy scalp of the hill, one of the
few bald spots that stood clear of the crashing and roaring pine
forest. A mean enclosure, partly timber and partly wire, rattled
in the tempest to tell them the border of the graveyard. But by
the time Inspector Craven had come to the corner of the grave,
and Flambeau had planted his spade point downwards and leaned on
it, they were both almost as shaken as the shaky wood and wire.
At the foot of the grave grew great tall thistles, grey and silver
in their decay. Once or twice, when a ball of thistledown broke
under the breeze and flew past him, Craven jumped slightly as if
it had been an arrow.
Flambeau drove the blade of his spade through the whistling
grass into the wet clay below. Then he seemed to stop and lean on
it as on a staff.
"Go on," said the priest very gently. "We are only trying to
find the truth. What are you afraid of?"
"I am afraid of finding it," said Flambeau.
The London detective spoke suddenly in a high crowing voice
that was meant to be conversational and cheery. "I wonder why he
really did hide himself like that. Something nasty, I suppose;
was he a leper?"
"Something worse than that," said Flambeau.
"And what do you imagine," asked the other, "would be worse
than a leper?"
"I don't imagine it," said Flambeau.
He dug for some dreadful minutes in silence, and then said in
a choked voice, "I'm afraid of his not being the right shape."
"Nor was that piece of paper, you know," said Father Brown
quietly, "and we survived even that piece of paper."
Flambeau dug on with a blind energy. But the tempest had
shouldered away the choking grey clouds that clung to the hills
like smoke and revealed grey fields of faint starlight before he
cleared the shape of a rude timber coffin, and somehow tipped it
up upon the turf. Craven stepped forward with his axe; a
thistle-top touched him, and he flinched. Then he took a firmer
stride, and hacked and wrenched with an energy like Flambeau's
till the lid was torn off, and all that was there lay glimmering
in the grey starlight.
"Bones," said Craven; and then he added, "but it is a man," as
if that were something unexpected.
"Is he," asked Flambeau in a voice that went oddly up and
down, "is he all right?"
"Seems so," said the officer huskily, bending over the obscure
and decaying skeleton in the box. "Wait a minute."
A vast heave went over Flambeau's huge figure. "And now I
come to think of it," he cried, "why in the name of madness
shouldn't he be all right? What is it gets hold of a man on these
cursed cold mountains? I think it's the black, brainless
repetition; all these forests, and over all an ancient horror of
unconsciousness. It's like the dream of an atheist. Pine-trees
and more pine-trees and millions more pine-trees--"
"God!" cried the man by the coffin, "but he hasn't got a head."
While the others stood rigid the priest, for the first time,
showed a leap of startled concern.
"No head!" he repeated. "No head?" as if he had almost
expected some other deficiency.
Half-witted visions of a headless baby born to Glengyle, of a
headless youth hiding himself in the castle, of a headless man
pacing those ancient halls or that gorgeous garden, passed in
panorama through their minds. But even in that stiffened instant
the tale took no root in them and seemed to have no reason in it.
They stood listening to the loud woods and the shrieking sky quite
foolishly, like exhausted animals. Thought seemed to be something
enormous that had suddenly slipped out of their grasp.
"There are three headless men," said Father Brown, "standing
round this open grave."
The pale detective from London opened his mouth to speak, and
left it open like a yokel, while a long scream of wind tore the
sky; then he looked at the axe in his hands as if it did not
belong to him, and dropped it.
"Father," said Flambeau in that infantile and heavy voice he
used very seldom, "what are we to do?"
His friend's reply came with the pent promptitude of a gun
"Sleep!" cried Father Brown. "Sleep. We have come to the end
of the ways. Do you know what sleep is? Do you know that every
man who sleeps believes in God? It is a sacrament; for it is an
act of faith and it is a food. And we need a sacrament, if only a
natural one. Something has fallen on us that falls very seldom on
men; perhaps the worst thing that can fall on them."
Craven's parted lips came together to say, "What do you mean?"
The priest had turned his face to the castle as he answered:
"We have found the truth; and the truth makes no sense."
He went down the path in front of them with a plunging and
reckless step very rare with him, and when they reached the castle
again he threw himself upon sleep with the simplicity of a dog.
Despite his mystic praise of slumber, Father Brown was up
earlier than anyone else except the silent gardener; and was found
smoking a big pipe and watching that expert at his speechless
labours in the kitchen garden. Towards daybreak the rocking storm
had ended in roaring rains, and the day came with a curious
freshness. The gardener seemed even to have been conversing, but
at sight of the detectives he planted his spade sullenly in a bed
and, saying something about his breakfast, shifted along the lines
of cabbages and shut himself in the kitchen. "He's a valuable
man, that," said Father Brown. "He does the potatoes amazingly.
Still," he added, with a dispassionate charity, "he has his faults;
which of us hasn't? He doesn't dig this bank quite regularly.
There, for instance," and he stamped suddenly on one spot. "I'm
really very doubtful about that potato."
"And why?" asked Craven, amused with the little man's hobby.
"I'm doubtful about it," said the other, "because old Gow was
doubtful about it himself. He put his spade in methodically in
every place but just this. There must be a mighty fine potato
Flambeau pulled up the spade and impetuously drove it into the
place. He turned up, under a load of soil, something that did not
look like a potato, but rather like a monstrous, over-domed
mushroom. But it struck the spade with a cold click; it rolled
over like a ball, and grinned up at them.
"The Earl of Glengyle," said Brown sadly, and looked down
heavily at the skull.
Then, after a momentary meditation, he plucked the spade from
Flambeau, and, saying "We must hide it again," clamped the skull
down in the earth. Then he leaned his little body and huge head
on the great handle of the spade, that stood up stiffly in the
earth, and his eyes were empty and his forehead full of wrinkles.
"If one could only conceive," he muttered, "the meaning of this
last monstrosity." And leaning on the large spade handle, he
buried his brows in his hands, as men do in church.
All the corners of the sky were brightening into blue and
silver; the birds were chattering in the tiny garden trees; so
loud it seemed as if the trees themselves were talking. But the
three men were silent enough.
"Well, I give it all up," said Flambeau at last boisterously.
"My brain and this world don't fit each other; and there's an end
of it. Snuff, spoilt Prayer Books, and the insides of musical
Brown threw up his bothered brow and rapped on the spade
handle with an intolerance quite unusual with him. "Oh, tut, tut,
tut, tut!" he cried. "All that is as plain as a pikestaff. I
understood the snuff and clockwork, and so on, when I first opened
my eyes this morning. And since then I've had it out with old
Gow, the gardener, who is neither so deaf nor so stupid as he
pretends. There's nothing amiss about the loose items. I was
wrong about the torn mass-book, too; there's no harm in that. But
it's this last business. Desecrating graves and stealing dead
men's heads--surely there's harm in that? Surely there's black
magic still in that? That doesn't fit in to the quite simple
story of the snuff and the candles." And, striding about again,
he smoked moodily.
"My friend," said Flambeau, with a grim humour, "you must be
careful with me and remember I was once a criminal. The great
advantage of that estate was that I always made up the story
myself, and acted it as quick as I chose. This detective business
of waiting about is too much for my French impatience. All my
life, for good or evil, I have done things at the instant; I
always fought duels the next morning; I always paid bills on the
nail; I never even put off a visit to the dentist--"
Father Brown's pipe fell out of his mouth and broke into three
pieces on the gravel path. He stood rolling his eyes, the exact
picture of an idiot. "Lord, what a turnip I am!" he kept saying.
"Lord, what a turnip!" Then, in a somewhat groggy kind of way, he
began to laugh.
"The dentist!" he repeated. "Six hours in the spiritual
abyss, and all because I never thought of the dentist! Such a
simple, such a beautiful and peaceful thought! Friends, we have
passed a night in hell; but now the sun is risen, the birds are
singing, and the radiant form of the dentist consoles the world."
"I will get some sense out of this," cried Flambeau, striding
forward, "if I use the tortures of the Inquisition."
Father Brown repressed what appeared to be a momentary
disposition to dance on the now sunlit lawn and cried quite
piteously, like a child, "Oh, let me be silly a little. You don't
know how unhappy I have been. And now I know that there has been
no deep sin in this business at all. Only a little lunacy, perhaps
--and who minds that?"
He spun round once more, then faced them with gravity.
"This is not a story of crime," he said; "rather it is the
story of a strange and crooked honesty. We are dealing with the
one man on earth, perhaps, who has taken no more than his due. It
is a study in the savage living logic that has been the religion
of this race.
"That old local rhyme about the house of Glengyle--
As green sap to the simmer trees
Is red gold to the Ogilvies--
was literal as well as metaphorical. It did not merely mean that
the Glengyles sought for wealth; it was also true that they
literally gathered gold; they had a huge collection of ornaments
and utensils in that metal. They were, in fact, misers whose
mania took that turn. In the light of that fact, run through all
the things we found in the castle. Diamonds without their gold
rings; candles without their gold candlesticks; snuff without the
gold snuff-boxes; pencil-leads without the gold pencil-cases; a
walking stick without its gold top; clockwork without the gold
clocks--or rather watches. And, mad as it sounds, because the
halos and the name of God in the old missals were of real gold;
these also were taken away."
The garden seemed to brighten, the grass to grow gayer in the
strengthening sun, as the crazy truth was told. Flambeau lit a
cigarette as his friend went on.
"Were taken away," continued Father Brown; "were taken away--
but not stolen. Thieves would never have left this mystery.
Thieves would have taken the gold snuff-boxes, snuff and all; the
gold pencil-cases, lead and all. We have to deal with a man with
a peculiar conscience, but certainly a conscience. I found that
mad moralist this morning in the kitchen garden yonder, and I
heard the whole story.
"The late Archibald Ogilvie was the nearest approach to a good
man ever born at Glengyle. But his bitter virtue took the turn of
the misanthrope; he moped over the dishonesty of his ancestors,
from which, somehow, he generalised a dishonesty of all men. More
especially he distrusted philanthropy or free-giving; and he swore
if he could find one man who took his exact rights he should have
all the gold of Glengyle. Having delivered this defiance to
humanity he shut himself up, without the smallest expectation of
its being answered. One day, however, a deaf and seemingly
senseless lad from a distant village brought him a belated
telegram; and Glengyle, in his acrid pleasantry, gave him a new
farthing. At least he thought he had done so, but when he turned
over his change he found the new farthing still there and a
sovereign gone. The accident offered him vistas of sneering
speculation. Either way, the boy would show the greasy greed of
the species. Either he would vanish, a thief stealing a coin; or
he would sneak back with it virtuously, a snob seeking a reward.
In the middle of that night Lord Glengyle was knocked up out of
his bed--for he lived alone--and forced to open the door to
the deaf idiot. The idiot brought with him, not the sovereign,
but exactly nineteen shillings and eleven-pence three-farthings
"Then the wild exactitude of this action took hold of the mad
lord's brain like fire. He swore he was Diogenes, that had long
sought an honest man, and at last had found one. He made a new
will, which I have seen. He took the literal youth into his huge,
neglected house, and trained him up as his solitary servant and
--after an odd manner--his heir. And whatever that queer
creature understands, he understood absolutely his lord's two
fixed ideas: first, that the letter of right is everything; and
second, that he himself was to have the gold of Glengyle. So far,
that is all; and that is simple. He has stripped the house of
gold, and taken not a grain that was not gold; not so much as a
grain of snuff. He lifted the gold leaf off an old illumination,
fully satisfied that he left the rest unspoilt. All that I
understood; but I could not understand this skull business.
I was really uneasy about that human head buried among the
potatoes. It distressed me--till Flambeau said the word.
"It will be all right. He will put the skull back in the
grave, when he has taken the gold out of the tooth."
And, indeed, when Flambeau crossed the hill that morning, he
saw that strange being, the just miser, digging at the desecrated
grave, the plaid round his throat thrashing out in the mountain
wind; the sober top hat on his head.
The Wrong Shape
Certain of the great roads going north out of London continue far
into the country a sort of attenuated and interrupted spectre of a
street, with great gaps in the building, but preserving the line.
Here will be a group of shops, followed by a fenced field or
paddock, and then a famous public-house, and then perhaps a market
garden or a nursery garden, and then one large private house, and
then another field and another inn, and so on. If anyone walks
along one of these roads he will pass a house which will probably
catch his eye, though he may not be able to explain its attraction.
It is a long, low house, running parallel with the road, painted
mostly white and pale green, with a veranda and sun-blinds, and
porches capped with those quaint sort of cupolas like wooden
umbrellas that one sees in some old-fashioned houses. In fact, it
is an old-fashioned house, very English and very suburban in the
good old wealthy Clapham sense. And yet the house has a look of
having been built chiefly for the hot weather. Looking at its
white paint and sun-blinds one thinks vaguely of pugarees and even
of palm trees. I cannot trace the feeling to its root; perhaps
the place was built by an Anglo-Indian.
Anyone passing this house, I say, would be namelessly
fascinated by it; would feel that it was a place about which some
story was to be told. And he would have been right, as you shall
shortly hear. For this is the story--the story of the strange
things that did really happen in it in the Whitsuntide of the year
Anyone passing the house on the Thursday before WhitSunday at
about half-past four p.m. would have seen the front door open, and
Father Brown, of the small church of St. Mungo, come out smoking a
large pipe in company with a very tall French friend of his called
Flambeau, who was smoking a very small cigarette. These persons
may or may not be of interest to the reader, but the truth is that
they were not the only interesting things that were displayed when
the front door of the white-and-green house was opened. There are
further peculiarities about this house, which must be described to
start with, not only that the reader may understand this tragic
tale, but also that he may realise what it was that the opening of
the door revealed.
The whole house was built upon the plan of a T, but a T with a
very long cross piece and a very short tail piece. The long cross
piece was the frontage that ran along in face of the street, with
the front door in the middle; it was two stories high, and
contained nearly all the important rooms. The short tail piece,
which ran out at the back immediately opposite the front door, was
one story high, and consisted only of two long rooms, the one
leading into the other. The first of these two rooms was the study
in which the celebrated Mr. Quinton wrote his wild Oriental poems
and romances. The farther room was a glass conservatory full of
tropical blossoms of quite unique and almost monstrous beauty, and
on such afternoons as these glowing with gorgeous sunlight. Thus
when the hall door was open, many a passer-by literally stopped to
stare and gasp; for he looked down a perspective of rich apartments
to something really like a transformation scene in a fairy play:
purple clouds and golden suns and crimson stars that were at once
scorchingly vivid and yet transparent and far away.
Leonard Quinton, the poet, had himself most carefully arranged
this effect; and it is doubtful whether he so perfectly expressed
his personality in any of his poems. For he was a man who drank
and bathed in colours, who indulged his lust for colour somewhat
to the neglect of form--even of good form. This it was that had
turned his genius so wholly to eastern art and imagery; to those
bewildering carpets or blinding embroideries in which all the
colours seem fallen into a fortunate chaos, having nothing to
typify or to teach. He had attempted, not perhaps with complete
artistic success, but with acknowledged imagination and invention,
to compose epics and love stories reflecting the riot of violent
and even cruel colour; tales of tropical heavens of burning gold or
blood-red copper; of eastern heroes who rode with twelve-turbaned
mitres upon elephants painted purple or peacock green; of gigantic
jewels that a hundred negroes could not carry, but which burned
with ancient and strange-hued fires.
In short (to put the matter from the more common point of
view), he dealt much in eastern heavens, rather worse than most
western hells; in eastern monarchs, whom we might possibly call
maniacs; and in eastern jewels which a Bond Street jeweller (if
the hundred staggering negroes brought them into his shop) might
possibly not regard as genuine. Quinton was a genius, if a morbid
one; and even his morbidity appeared more in his life than in his
work. In temperament he was weak and waspish, and his health had
suffered heavily from oriental experiments with opium. His wife
--a handsome, hard-working, and, indeed, over-worked woman
objected to the opium, but objected much more to a live Indian
hermit in white and yellow robes, whom her husband insisted on
entertaining for months together, a Virgil to guide his spirit
through the heavens and the hells of the east.
It was out of this artistic household that Father Brown and
his friend stepped on to the door-step; and to judge from their
faces, they stepped out of it with much relief. Flambeau had
known Quinton in wild student days in Paris, and they had renewed
the acquaintance for a week-end; but apart from Flambeau's more
responsible developments of late, he did not get on well with the
poet now. Choking oneself with opium and writing little erotic
verses on vellum was not his notion of how a gentleman should go
to the devil. As the two paused on the door-step, before taking a
turn in the garden, the front garden gate was thrown open with
violence, and a young man with a billycock hat on the back of his
head tumbled up the steps in his eagerness. He was a
dissipated-looking youth with a gorgeous red necktie all awry, as
if he had slept in it, and he kept fidgeting and lashing about
with one of those little jointed canes.
"I say," he said breathlessly, "I want to see old Quinton. I
must see him. Has he gone?"
"Mr. Quinton is in, I believe," said Father Brown, cleaning
his pipe, "but I do not know if you can see him. The doctor is
with him at present."
The young man, who seemed not to be perfectly sober, stumbled
into the hall; and at the same moment the doctor came out of
Quinton's study, shutting the door and beginning to put on his
"See Mr. Quinton?" said the doctor coolly. "No, I'm afraid
you can't. In fact, you mustn't on any account. Nobody must see
him; I've just given him his sleeping draught."
"No, but look here, old chap," said the youth in the red tie,
trying affectionately to capture the doctor by the lapels of his
coat. "Look here. I'm simply sewn up, I tell you. I--"
"It's no good, Mr. Atkinson," said the doctor, forcing him to
fall back; "when you can alter the effects of a drug I'll alter my
decision," and, settling on his hat, he stepped out into the
sunlight with the other two. He was a bull-necked, good-tempered
little man with a small moustache, inexpressibly ordinary, yet
giving an impression of capacity.
The young man in the billycock, who did not seem to be gifted
with any tact in dealing with people beyond the general idea of
clutching hold of their coats, stood outside the door, as dazed as
if he had been thrown out bodily, and silently watched the other
three walk away together through the garden.
"That was a sound, spanking lie I told just now," remarked the
medical man, laughing. "In point of fact, poor Quinton doesn't
have his sleeping draught for nearly half an hour. But I'm not
going to have him bothered with that little beast, who only wants
to borrow money that he wouldn't pay back if he could. He's a
dirty little scamp, though he is Mrs. Quinton's brother, and she's
as fine a woman as ever walked."
"Yes," said Father Brown. "She's a good woman."
"So I propose to hang about the garden till the creature has
cleared off," went on the doctor, "and then I'll go in to Quinton
with the medicine. Atkinson can't get in, because I locked the
"In that case, Dr. Harris," said Flambeau, "we might as well
walk round at the back by the end of the conservatory. There's no
entrance to it that way, but it's worth seeing, even from the
"Yes, and I might get a squint at my patient," laughed the
doctor, "for he prefers to lie on an ottoman right at the end of
the conservatory amid all those blood-red poinsettias; it would
give me the creeps. But what are you doing?"
Father Brown had stopped for a moment, and picked up out of
the long grass, where it had almost been wholly hidden, a queer,
crooked Oriental knife, inlaid exquisitely in coloured stones and
"What is this?" asked Father Brown, regarding it with some
"Oh, Quinton's, I suppose," said Dr. Harris carelessly; "he
has all sorts of Chinese knickknacks about the place. Or perhaps
it belongs to that mild Hindoo of his whom he keeps on a string."
"What Hindoo?" asked Father Brown, still staring at the dagger
in his hand.
"Oh, some Indian conjuror," said the doctor lightly; "a fraud,
"You don't believe in magic?" asked Father Brown, without
"O crickey! magic!" said the doctor.
"It's very beautiful," said the priest in a low, dreaming
voice; "the colours are very beautiful. But it's the wrong shape."
"What for?" asked Flambeau, staring.
"For anything. It's the wrong shape in the abstract. Don't
you ever feel that about Eastern art? The colours are
intoxicatingly lovely; but the shapes are mean and bad--
deliberately mean and bad. I have seen wicked things in a Turkey
"Mon Dieu!" cried Flambeau, laughing.
"They are letters and symbols in a language I don't know; but
I know they stand for evil words," went on the priest, his voice
growing lower and lower. "The lines go wrong on purpose--like
serpents doubling to escape."
"What the devil are you talking about?" said the doctor with a
Flambeau spoke quietly to him in answer. "The Father
sometimes gets this mystic's cloud on him," he said; "but I give
you fair warning that I have never known him to have it except
when there was some evil quite near."
"Oh, rats!" said the scientist.
"Why, look at it," cried Father Brown, holding out the crooked
knife at arm's length, as if it were some glittering snake.
"Don't you see it is the wrong shape? Don't you see that it has
no hearty and plain purpose? It does not point like a spear. It
does not sweep like a scythe. It does not look like a weapon. It
looks like an instrument of torture."
"Well, as you don't seem to like it," said the jolly Harris,
"it had better be taken back to its owner. Haven't we come to the
end of this confounded conservatory yet? This house is the wrong
shape, if you like."
"You don't understand," said Father Brown, shaking his head.
"The shape of this house is quaint--it is even laughable. But
there is nothing wrong about it."
As they spoke they came round the curve of glass that ended
the conservatory, an uninterrupted curve, for there was neither
door nor window by which to enter at that end. The glass,
however, was clear, and the sun still bright, though beginning to
set; and they could see not only the flamboyant blossoms inside,
but the frail figure of the poet in a brown velvet coat lying
languidly on the sofa, having, apparently, fallen half asleep over
a book. He was a pale, slight man, with loose, chestnut hair and
a fringe of beard that was the paradox of his face, for the beard
made him look less manly. These traits were well known to all
three of them; but even had it not been so, it may be doubted
whether they would have looked at Quinton just then. Their eyes
were riveted on another object.
Exactly in their path, immediately outside the round end of
the glass building, was standing a tall man, whose drapery fell to
his feet in faultless white, and whose bare, brown skull, face,
and neck gleamed in the setting sun like splendid bronze. He was
looking through the glass at the sleeper, and he was more
motionless than a mountain.
"Who is that?" cried Father Brown, stepping back with a
hissing intake of his breath.
"Oh, it is only that Hindoo humbug," growled Harris; "but I
don't know what the deuce he's doing here."
"It looks like hypnotism," said Flambeau, biting his black
"Why are you unmedical fellows always talking bosh about
hypnotism?" cried the doctor. "It looks a deal more like
"Well, we will speak to it, at any rate," said Flambeau, who
was always for action. One long stride took him to the place
where the Indian stood. Bowing from his great height, which
overtopped even the Oriental's, he said with placid impudence:
"Good evening, sir. Do you want anything?"
Quite slowly, like a great ship turning into a harbour, the
great yellow face turned, and looked at last over its white
shoulder. They were startled to see that its yellow eyelids were
quite sealed, as in sleep. "Thank you," said the face in
excellent English. "I want nothing." Then, half opening the
lids, so as to show a slit of opalescent eyeball, he repeated, "I
want nothing." Then he opened his eyes wide with a startling
stare, said, "I want nothing," and went rustling away into the
rapidly darkening garden.
"The Christian is more modest," muttered Father Brown; "he
"What on earth was he doing?" asked Flambeau, knitting his
black brows and lowering his voice.
"I should like to talk to you later," said Father Brown.
The sunlight was still a reality, but it was the red light of
evening, and the bulk of the garden trees and bushes grew blacker
and blacker against it. They turned round the end of the
conservatory, and walked in silence down the other side to get
round to the front door. As they went they seemed to wake
something, as one startles a bird, in the deeper corner between
the study and the main building; and again they saw the
white-robed fakir slide out of the shadow, and slip round towards
the front door. To their surprise, however, he had not been
alone. They found themselves abruptly pulled up and forced to
banish their bewilderment by the appearance of Mrs. Quinton, with
her heavy golden hair and square pale face, advancing on them out
of the twilight. She looked a little stern, but was entirely
"Good evening, Dr. Harris," was all she said.
"Good evening, Mrs. Quinton," said the little doctor heartily.
"I am just going to give your husband his sleeping draught."
"Yes," she said in a clear voice. "I think it is quite time."
And she smiled at them, and went sweeping into the house.
"That woman's over-driven," said Father Brown; "that's the
kind of woman that does her duty for twenty years, and then does
The little doctor looked at him for the first time with an eye
of interest. "Did you ever study medicine?" he asked.
"You have to know something of the mind as well as the body,"
answered the priest; "we have to know something of the body as
well as the mind."
"Well," said the doctor, "I think I'll go and give Quinton his
They had turned the corner of the front facade, and were
approaching the front doorway. As they turned into it they saw
the man in the white robe for the third time. He came so straight
towards the front door that it seemed quite incredible that he had
not just come out of the study opposite to it. Yet they knew that
the study door was locked.
Father Brown and Flambeau, however, kept this weird
contradiction to themselves, and Dr. Harris was not a man to
waste his thoughts on the impossible. He permitted the
omnipresent Asiatic to make his exit, and then stepped briskly
into the hall. There he found a figure which he had already
forgotten. The inane Atkinson was still hanging about, humming
and poking things with his knobby cane. The doctor's face had a
spasm of disgust and decision, and he whispered rapidly to his
companion: "I must lock the door again, or this rat will get in.
But I shall be out again in two minutes."
He rapidly unlocked the door and locked it again behind him,
just balking a blundering charge from the young man in the
billycock. The young man threw himself impatiently on a hall
chair. Flambeau looked at a Persian illumination on the wall;
Father Brown, who seemed in a sort of daze, dully eyed the door.
In about four minutes the door was opened again. Atkinson was
quicker this time. He sprang forward, held the door open for an
instant, and called out: "Oh, I say, Quinton, I want--"
From the other end of the study came the clear voice of
Quinton, in something between a yawn and a yell of weary laughter.
"Oh, I know what you want. Take it, and leave me in peace.
I'm writing a song about peacocks."
Before the door closed half a sovereign came flying through
the aperture; and Atkinson, stumbling forward, caught it with
"So that's settled," said the doctor, and, locking the door
savagely, he led the way out into the garden.
"Poor Leonard can get a little peace now," he added to Father
Brown; "he's locked in all by himself for an hour or two."
"Yes," answered the priest; "and his voice sounded jolly enough
when we left him." Then he looked gravely round the garden, and
saw the loose figure of Atkinson standing and jingling the
half-sovereign in his pocket, and beyond, in the purple twilight,
the figure of the Indian sitting bolt upright upon a bank of grass
with his face turned towards the setting sun. Then he said
abruptly: "Where is Mrs. Quinton!"
"She has gone up to her room," said the doctor. "That is her
shadow on the blind."
Father Brown looked up, and frowningly scrutinised a dark
outline at the gas-lit window.
"Yes," he said, "that is her shadow," and he walked a yard or
two and threw himself upon a garden seat.
Flambeau sat down beside him; but the doctor was one of those
energetic people who live naturally on their legs. He walked
away, smoking, into the twilight, and the two friends were left
"My father," said Flambeau in French, "what is the matter with
Father Brown was silent and motionless for half a minute, then
he said: "Superstition is irreligious, but there is something in
the air of this place. I think it's that Indian--at least,
He sank into silence, and watched the distant outline of the
Indian, who still sat rigid as if in prayer. At first sight he
seemed motionless, but as Father Brown watched him he saw that the
man swayed ever so slightly with a rhythmic movement, just as the
dark tree-tops swayed ever so slightly in the wind that was
creeping up the dim garden paths and shuffling the fallen leaves a
The landscape was growing rapidly dark, as if for a storm, but
they could still see all the figures in their various places.
Atkinson was leaning against a tree with a listless face; Quinton's
wife was still at her window; the doctor had gone strolling round
the end of the conservatory; they could see his cigar like a
will-o'-the-wisp; and the fakir still sat rigid and yet rocking,
while the trees above him began to rock and almost to roar. Storm
was certainly coming.
"When that Indian spoke to us," went on Brown in a
conversational undertone, "I had a sort of vision, a vision of him
and all his universe. Yet he only said the same thing three
times. When first he said `I want nothing,' it meant only that he
was impenetrable, that Asia does not give itself away. Then he
said again, `I want nothing,' and I knew that he meant that he was
sufficient to himself, like a cosmos, that he needed no God,
neither admitted any sins. And when he said the third time, `I
want nothing,' he said it with blazing eyes. And I knew that he
meant literally what he said; that nothing was his desire and his
home; that he was weary for nothing as for wine; that annihilation,
the mere destruction of everything or anything--"
Two drops of rain fell; and for some reason Flambeau started
and looked up, as if they had stung him. And the same instant the
doctor down by the end of the conservatory began running towards
them, calling out something as he ran.
As he came among them like a bombshell the restless Atkinson
happened to be taking a turn nearer to the house front; and the
doctor clutched him by the collar in a convulsive grip. "Foul
play!" he cried; "what have you been doing to him, you dog?"
The priest had sprung erect, and had the voice of steel of a
soldier in command.
"No fighting," he cried coolly; "we are enough to hold anyone
we want to. What is the matter, doctor?"
"Things are not right with Quinton," said the doctor, quite
white. "I could just see him through the glass, and I don't like
the way he's lying. It's not as I left him, anyhow."
"Let us go in to him," said Father Brown shortly. "You can
leave Mr. Atkinson alone. I have had him in sight since we heard
"I will stop here and watch him," said Flambeau hurriedly.
"You go in and see."
The doctor and the priest flew to the study door, unlocked it,
and fell into the room. In doing so they nearly fell over the
large mahogany table in the centre at which the poet usually
wrote; for the place was lit only by a small fire kept for the
invalid. In the middle of this table lay a single sheet of paper,
evidently left there on purpose. The doctor snatched it up,
glanced at it, handed it to Father Brown, and crying, "Good God,
look at that!" plunged toward the glass room beyond, where the
terrible tropic flowers still seemed to keep a crimson memory of
Father Brown read the words three times before he put down the
paper. The words were: "I die by my own hand; yet I die murdered!"
They were in the quite inimitable, not to say illegible,
of Leonard Quinton.
Then Father Brown, still keeping the paper in his hand, strode
towards the conservatory, only to meet his medical friend coming
back with a face of assurance and collapse. "He's done it," said
They went together through the gorgeous unnatural beauty of
cactus and azalea and found Leonard Quinton, poet and romancer,
with his head hanging downward off his ottoman and his red curls
sweeping the ground. Into his left side was thrust the queer
dagger that they had picked up in the garden, and his limp hand
still rested on the hilt.
Outside the storm had come at one stride, like the night in
Coleridge, and garden and glass roof were darkened with driving
rain. Father Brown seemed to be studying the paper more than the
corpse; he held it close to his eyes; and seemed trying to read it
in the twilight. Then he held it up against the faint light, and,
as he did so, lightning stared at them for an instant so white
that the paper looked black against it.
Darkness full of thunder followed, and after the thunder
Father Brown's voice said out of the dark: "Doctor, this paper is
the wrong shape."
"What do you mean?" asked Doctor Harris, with a frowning
"It isn't square," answered Brown. "It has a sort of edge
snipped off at the corner. What does it mean?"
"How the deuce should I know?" growled the doctor. "Shall we
move this poor chap, do you think? He's quite dead."
"No," answered the priest; "we must leave him as he lies and
send for the police." But he was still scrutinising the paper.
As they went back through the study he stopped by the table
and picked up a small pair of nail scissors. "Ah," he said, with
a sort of relief, "this is what he did it with. But yet--" And
he knitted his brows.
"Oh, stop fooling with that scrap of paper," said the doctor
emphatically. "It was a fad of his. He had hundreds of them. He
cut all his paper like that," as he pointed to a stack of sermon
paper still unused on another and smaller table. Father Brown
went up to it and held up a sheet. It was the same irregular
"Quite so," he said. "And here I see the corners that were
snipped off." And to the indignation of his colleague he began to
"That's all right," he said, with an apologetic smile.
"Twenty-three sheets cut and twenty-two corners cut off them. And
as I see you are impatient we will rejoin the others."
"Who is to tell his wife?" asked Dr. Harris. "Will you go and
tell her now, while I send a servant for the police?"
"As you will," said Father Brown indifferently. And he went
out to the hall door.
Here also he found a drama, though of a more grotesque sort.
It showed nothing less than his big friend Flambeau in an attitude
to which he had long been unaccustomed, while upon the pathway at
the bottom of the steps was sprawling with his boots in the air
the amiable Atkinson, his billycock hat and walking cane sent
flying in opposite directions along the path. Atkinson had at
length wearied of Flambeau's almost paternal custody, and had
endeavoured to knock him down, which was by no means a smooth game
to play with the Roi des Apaches, even after that monarch's
Flambeau was about to leap upon his enemy and secure him once
more, when the priest patted him easily on the shoulder.
"Make it up with Mr. Atkinson, my friend," he said. "Beg a
mutual pardon and say `Good night.' We need not detain him any
longer." Then, as Atkinson rose somewhat doubtfully and gathered
his hat and stick and went towards the garden gate, Father Brown
said in a more serious voice: "Where is that Indian?"
They all three (for the doctor had joined them) turned
involuntarily towards the dim grassy bank amid the tossing trees
purple with twilight, where they had last seen the brown man
swaying in his strange prayers. The Indian was gone.
"Confound him," cried the doctor, stamping furiously. "Now I
know that it was that nigger that did it."
"I thought you didn't believe in magic," said Father Brown
"No more I did," said the doctor, rolling his eyes. "I only
know that I loathed that yellow devil when I thought he was a sham
wizard. And I shall loathe him more if I come to think he was a
"Well, his having escaped is nothing," said Flambeau. "For we
could have proved nothing and done nothing against him. One hardly
goes to the parish constable with a story of suicide imposed by
witchcraft or auto-suggestion."
Meanwhile Father Brown had made his way into the house, and
now went to break the news to the wife of the dead man.
When he came out again he looked a little pale and tragic, but
what passed between them in that interview was never known, even
when all was known.
Flambeau, who was talking quietly with the doctor, was
surprised to see his friend reappear so soon at his elbow; but
Brown took no notice, and merely drew the doctor apart. "You have
sent for the police, haven't you?" he asked.
"Yes," answered Harris. "They ought to be here in ten
"Will you do me a favour?" said the priest quietly. "The
truth is, I make a collection of these curious stories, which
often contain, as in the case of our Hindoo friend, elements which
can hardly be put into a police report. Now, I want you to write
out a report of this case for my private use. Yours is a clever
trade," he said, looking the doctor gravely and steadily in the
face. "I sometimes think that you know some details of this
matter which you have not thought fit to mention. Mine is a
confidential trade like yours, and I will treat anything you write
for me in strict confidence. But write the whole."
The doctor, who had been listening thoughtfully with his head
a little on one side, looked the priest in the face for an
instant, and said: "All right," and went into the study, closing
the door behind him.
"Flambeau," said Father Brown, "there is a long seat there
under the veranda, where we can smoke out of the rain. You are my
only friend in the world, and I want to talk to you. Or, perhaps,
be silent with you."
They established themselves comfortably in the veranda seat;
Father Brown, against his common habit, accepted a good cigar and
smoked it steadily in silence, while the rain shrieked and rattled
on the roof of the veranda.
"My friend," he said at length, "this is a very queer case. A
very queer case."
"I should think it was," said Flambeau, with something like a
"You call it queer, and I call it queer," said the other, "and
yet we mean quite opposite things. The modern mind always mixes
up two different ideas: mystery in the sense of what is marvellous,
and mystery in the sense of what is complicated. That is half its
difficulty about miracles. A miracle is startling; but it is
simple. It is simple because it is a miracle. It is power coming
directly from God (or the devil) instead of indirectly through
nature or human wills. Now, you mean that this business is
marvellous because it is miraculous, because it is witchcraft
worked by a wicked Indian. Understand, I do not say that it was
not spiritual or diabolic. Heaven and hell only know by what
surrounding influences strange sins come into the lives of men.
But for the present my point is this: If it was pure magic, as you
think, then it is marvellous; but it is not mysterious--that is,
it is not complicated. The quality of a miracle is mysterious,
but its manner is simple. Now, the manner of this business has
been the reverse of simple."
The storm that had slackened for a little seemed to be swelling
again, and there came heavy movements as of faint thunder. Father
Brown let fall the ash of his cigar and went on:
"There has been in this incident," he said, "a twisted, ugly,
complex quality that does not belong to the straight bolts either
of heaven or hell. As one knows the crooked track of a snail, I
know the crooked track of a man."
The white lightning opened its enormous eye in one wink, the
sky shut up again, and the priest went on:
"Of all these crooked things, the crookedest was the shape of
that piece of paper. It was crookeder than the dagger that killed
"You mean the paper on which Quinton confessed his suicide,"
"I mean the paper on which Quinton wrote, `I die by my own
hand,'" answered Father Brown. "The shape of that paper, my
friend, was the wrong shape; the wrong shape, if ever I have seen
it in this wicked world."
"It only had a corner snipped off," said Flambeau, "and I
understand that all Quinton's paper was cut that way."
"It was a very odd way," said the other, "and a very bad way,
to my taste and fancy. Look here, Flambeau, this Quinton--God
receive his soul!--was perhaps a bit of a cur in some ways, but
he really was an artist, with the pencil as well as the pen. His
handwriting, though hard to read, was bold and beautiful. I can't
prove what I say; I can't prove anything. But I tell you with the
full force of conviction that he could never have cut that mean
little piece off a sheet of paper. If he had wanted to cut down
paper for some purpose of fitting in, or binding up, or what not,
he would have made quite a different slash with the scissors. Do
you remember the shape? It was a mean shape. It was a wrong
shape. Like this. Don't you remember?"
And he waved his burning cigar before him in the darkness,
making irregular squares so rapidly that Flambeau really seemed to
see them as fiery hieroglyphics upon the darkness--hieroglyphics
such as his friend had spoken of, which are undecipherable, yet
can have no good meaning.
"But," said Flambeau, as the priest put his cigar in his mouth
again and leaned back, staring at the roof, "suppose somebody else
did use the scissors. Why should somebody else, cutting pieces off
his sermon paper, make Quinton commit suicide?"
Father Brown was still leaning back and staring at the roof,
but he took his cigar out of his mouth and said: "Quinton never
did commit suicide."
Flambeau stared at him. "Why, confound it all," he cried,
"then why did he confess to suicide?"
The priest leant forward again, settled his elbows on his
knees, looked at the ground, and said, in a low, distinct voice:
"He never did confess to suicide."
Flambeau laid his cigar down. "You mean," he said, "that the
writing was forged?"
"No," said Father Brown. "Quinton wrote it all right."
"Well, there you are," said the aggravated Flambeau; "Quinton
wrote, `I die by my own hand,' with his own hand on a plain piece
"Of the wrong shape," said the priest calmly.
"Oh, the shape be damned!" cried Flambeau. "What has the
shape to do with it?"
"There were twenty-three snipped papers," resumed Brown
unmoved, "and only twenty-two pieces snipped off. Therefore one
of the pieces had been destroyed, probably that from the written
paper. Does that suggest anything to you?"
A light dawned on Flambeau's face, and he said: "There was
something else written by Quinton, some other words. `They will
tell you I die by my own hand,' or `Do not believe that--'"
"Hotter, as the children say," said his friend. "But the
piece was hardly half an inch across; there was no room for one
word, let alone five. Can you think of anything hardly bigger
than a comma which the man with hell in his heart had to tear away
as a testimony against him?"
"I can think of nothing," said Flambeau at last.
"What about quotation marks?" said the priest, and flung his
cigar far into the darkness like a shooting star.
All words had left the other man's mouth, and Father Brown
said, like one going back to fundamentals:
"Leonard Quinton was a romancer, and was writing an Oriental
romance about wizardry and hypnotism. He--"
At this moment the door opened briskly behind them, and the
doctor came out with his hat on. He put a long envelope into the
"That's the document you wanted," he said, "and I must be
getting home. Good night."
"Good night," said Father Brown, as the doctor walked briskly
to the gate. He had left the front door open, so that a shaft of
gaslight fell upon them. In the light of this Brown opened the
envelope and read the following words:
DEAR FATHER BROWN,--Vicisti Galilee. Otherwise, damn your
eyes, which are very penetrating ones. Can it be possible that
there is something in all that stuff of yours after all?
I am a man who has ever since boyhood believed in Nature and
in all natural functions and instincts, whether men called them
moral or immoral. Long before I became a doctor, when I was a
schoolboy keeping mice and spiders, I believed that to be a good
animal is the best thing in the world. But just now I am shaken;
I have believed in Nature; but it seems as if Nature could betray
a man. Can there be anything in your bosh? I am really getting
I loved Quinton's wife. What was there wrong in that? Nature
told me to, and it's love that makes the world go round. I also
thought quite sincerely that she would be happier with a clean
animal like me than with that tormenting little lunatic. What was
there wrong in that? I was only facing facts, like a man of
science. She would have been happier.
According to my own creed I was quite free to kill Quinton,
which was the best thing for everybody, even himself. But as a
healthy animal I had no notion of killing myself. I resolved,
therefore, that I would never do it until I saw a chance that
would leave me scot free. I saw that chance this morning.
I have been three times, all told, into Quinton's study today.
The first time I went in he would talk about nothing but the weird
tale, called "The Cure of a Saint," which he was writing, which
was all about how some Indian hermit made an English colonel kill
himself by thinking about him. He showed me the last sheets, and
even read me the last paragraph, which was something like this:
"The conqueror of the Punjab, a mere yellow skeleton, but still
gigantic, managed to lift himself on his elbow and gasp in his
nephew's ear: `I die by my own hand, yet I die murdered!'" It so
happened by one chance out of a hundred, that those last words
were written at the top of a new sheet of paper. I left the room,
and went out into the garden intoxicated with a frightful
We walked round the house; and two more things happened in my
favour. You suspected an Indian, and you found a dagger which the
Indian might most probably use. Taking the opportunity to stuff
it in my pocket I went back to Quinton's study, locked the door,
and gave him his sleeping draught. He was against answering
Atkinson at all, but I urged him to call out and quiet the fellow,
because I wanted a clear proof that Quinton was alive when I left
the room for the second time. Quinton lay down in the
and I came through the study. I am a quick man with my hands, and
in a minute and a half I had done what I wanted to do. I had
emptied all the first part of Quinton's romance into the fireplace,
where it burnt to ashes. Then I saw that the quotation marks
wouldn't do, so I snipped them off, and to make it seem likelier,
snipped the whole quire to match. Then I came out with the
knowledge that Quinton's confession of suicide lay on the front
table, while Quinton lay alive but asleep in the conservatory
The last act was a desperate one; you can guess it: I pretended
to have seen Quinton dead and rushed to his room. I delayed you
with the paper, and, being a quick man with my hands, killed
Quinton while you were looking at his confession of suicide. He
was half-asleep, being drugged, and I put his own hand on the
knife and drove it into his body. The knife was of so queer a
shape that no one but an operator could have calculated the angle
that would reach his heart. I wonder if you noticed this.
When I had done it, the extraordinary thing happened. Nature
deserted me. I felt ill. I felt just as if I had done something
wrong. I think my brain is breaking up; I feel some sort of
desperate pleasure in thinking I have told the thing to somebody;
that I shall not have to be alone with it if I marry and have
children. What is the matter with me? ... Madness ... or can one
have remorse, just as if one were in Byron's poems! I cannot
write any more.
James Erskine Harris.
Father Brown carefully folded up the letter, and put it in his
breast pocket just as there came a loud peal at the gate bell, and
the wet waterproofs of several policemen gleamed in the road
The Sins of Prince Saradine
When Flambeau took his month's holiday from his office in
Westminster he took it in a small sailing-boat, so small that it
passed much of its time as a rowing-boat. He took it, moreover,
in little rivers in the Eastern counties, rivers so small that the
boat looked like a magic boat, sailing on land through meadows and
cornfields. The vessel was just comfortable for two people; there
was room only for necessities, and Flambeau had stocked it with
such things as his special philosophy considered necessary. They
reduced themselves, apparently, to four essentials: tins of
salmon, if he should want to eat; loaded revolvers, if he should
want to fight; a bottle of brandy, presumably in case he should
faint; and a priest, presumably in case he should die. With this
light luggage he crawled down the little Norfolk rivers, intending
to reach the Broads at last, but meanwhile delighting in the
overhanging gardens and meadows, the mirrored mansions or villages,
lingering to fish in the pools and corners, and in some sense
hugging the shore.
Like a true philosopher, Flambeau had no aim in his holiday;
but, like a true philosopher, he had an excuse. He had a sort of
half purpose, which he took just so seriously that its success
would crown the holiday, but just so lightly that its failure
would not spoil it. Years ago, when he had been a king of thieves
and the most famous figure in Paris, he had often received wild
communications of approval, denunciation, or even love; but one
had, somehow, stuck in his memory. It consisted simply of a
visiting-card, in an envelope with an English postmark. On the
back of the card was written in French and in green ink: "If you
ever retire and become respectable, come and see me. I want to
meet you, for I have met all the other great men of my time. That
trick of yours of getting one detective to arrest the other was
the most splendid scene in French history." On the front of the
card was engraved in the formal fashion, "Prince Saradine, Reed
House, Reed Island, Norfolk."
He had not troubled much about the prince then, beyond
ascertaining that he had been a brilliant and fashionable figure
in southern Italy. In his youth, it was said, he had eloped with
a married woman of high rank; the escapade was scarcely startling
in his social world, but it had clung to men's minds because of an
additional tragedy: the alleged suicide of the insulted husband,
who appeared to have flung himself over a precipice in Sicily.
The prince then lived in Vienna for a time, but his more recent
years seemed to have been passed in perpetual and restless travel.
But when Flambeau, like the prince himself, had left European
celebrity and settled in England, it occurred to him that he might
pay a surprise visit to this eminent exile in the Norfolk Broads.
Whether he should find the place he had no idea; and, indeed, it
was sufficiently small and forgotten. But, as things fell out, he
found it much sooner than he expected.
They had moored their boat one night under a bank veiled in
high grasses and short pollarded trees. Sleep, after heavy
sculling, had come to them early, and by a corresponding accident
they awoke before it was light. To speak more strictly, they
awoke before it was daylight; for a large lemon moon was only just
setting in the forest of high grass above their heads, and the sky
was of a vivid violet-blue, nocturnal but bright. Both men had
simultaneously a reminiscence of childhood, of the elfin and
adventurous time when tall weeds close over us like woods.
Standing up thus against the large low moon, the daisies really
seemed to be giant daisies, the dandelions to be giant dandelions.
Somehow it reminded them of the dado of a nursery wall-paper. The
drop of the river-bed sufficed to sink them under the roots of all
shrubs and flowers and make them gaze upwards at the grass. "By
Jove!" said Flambeau, "it's like being in fairyland."
Father Brown sat bolt upright in the boat and crossed himself.
His movement was so abrupt that his friend asked him, with a mild
stare, what was the matter.
"The people who wrote the mediaeval ballads," answered the
priest, "knew more about fairies than you do. It isn't only nice
things that happen in fairyland."
"Oh, bosh!" said Flambeau. "Only nice things could happen
under such an innocent moon. I am for pushing on now and seeing
what does really come. We may die and rot before we ever see
again such a moon or such a mood."
"All right," said Father Brown. "I never said it was always
wrong to enter fairyland. I only said it was always dangerous."
They pushed slowly up the brightening river; the glowing
violet of the sky and the pale gold of the moon grew fainter and
fainter, amd faded into that vast colourless cosmos that precedes
the colours of the dawn. When the first faint stripes of red and
gold and grey split the horizon from end to end they were broken
by the black bulk of a town or village which sat on the river just
ahead of them. It was already an easy twilight, in which all
things were visible, when they came under the hanging roofs and
bridges of this riverside hamlet. The houses, with their long,
low, stooping roofs, seemed to come down to drink at the river,
like huge grey and red cattle. The broadening and whitening dawn
had already turned to working daylight before they saw any living
creature on the wharves and bridges of that silent town.
Eventually they saw a very placid and prosperous man in his shirt
sleeves, with a face as round as the recently sunken moon, and
rays of red whisker around the low arc of it, who was leaning on a
post above the sluggish tide. By an impulse not to be analysed,
Flambeau rose to his full height in the swaying boat and shouted
at the man to ask if he knew Reed Island or Reed House. The
prosperous man's smile grew slightly more expansive, and he simply
pointed up the river towards the next bend of it. Flambeau went
ahead without further speech.
The boat took many such grassy corners and followed many such
reedy and silent reaches of river; but before the search had
become monotonous they had swung round a specially sharp angle and
come into the silence of a sort of pool or lake, the sight of
which instinctively arrested them. For in the middle of this
wider piece of water, fringed on every side with rushes, lay a
long, low islet, along which ran a long, low house or bungalow
built of bamboo or some kind of tough tropic cane. The upstanding
rods of bamboo which made the walls were pale yellow, the sloping
rods that made the roof were of darker red or brown, otherwise the
long house was a thing of repetition and monotony. The early
morning breeze rustled the reeds round the island and sang in the
strange ribbed house as in a giant pan-pipe.
"By George!" cried Flambeau; "here is the place, after all!
Here is Reed Island, if ever there was one. Here is Reed House,
if it is anywhere. I believe that fat man with whiskers was a
"Perhaps," remarked Father Brown impartially. "If he was, he
was a bad fairy."
But even as he spoke the impetuous Flambeau had run his boat
ashore in the rattling reeds, and they stood in the long, quaint
islet beside the odd and silent house.
The house stood with its back, as it were, to the river and
the only landing-stage; the main entrance was on the other side,
and looked down the long island garden. The visitors approached
it, therefore, by a small path running round nearly three sides of
the house, close under the low eaves. Through three different
windows on three different sides they looked in on the same long,
well-lit room, panelled in light wood, with a large number of
looking-glasses, and laid out as for an elegant lunch. The front
door, when they came round to it at last, was flanked by two
turquoise-blue flower pots. It was opened by a butler of the
drearier type--long, lean, grey and listless--who murmured
that Prince Saradine was from home at present, but was expected
hourly; the house being kept ready for him and his guests. The
exhibition of the card with the scrawl of green ink awoke a flicker
of life in the parchment face of the depressed retainer, and it
was with a certain shaky courtesy that he suggested that the
strangers should remain. "His Highness may be here any minute,"
he said, "and would be distressed to have just missed any gentleman
he had invited. We have orders always to keep a little cold lunch
for him and his friends, and I am sure he would wish it to be
Moved with curiosity to this minor adventure, Flambeau assented
gracefully, and followed the old man, who ushered him ceremoniously
into the long, lightly panelled room. There was nothing very
notable about it, except the rather unusual alternation of many
long, low windows with many long, low oblongs of looking-glass,
which gave a singular air of lightness and unsubstantialness to
the place. It was somehow like lunching out of doors. One or two
pictures of a quiet kind hung in the corners, one a large grey
photograph of a very young man in uniform, another a red chalk
sketch of two long-haired boys. Asked by Flambeau whether the
soldierly person was the prince, the butler answered shortly in
the negative; it was the prince's younger brother, Captain Stephen
Saradine, he said. And with that the old man seemed to dry up
suddenly and lose all taste for conversation.
After lunch had tailed off with exquisite coffee and liqueurs,
the guests were introduced to the garden, the library, and the
housekeeper--a dark, handsome lady, of no little majesty, and
rather like a plutonic Madonna. It appeared that she and the
butler were the only survivors of the prince's original foreign
menage the other servants now in the house being new and collected
in Norfolk by the housekeeper. This latter lady went by the name
of Mrs. Anthony, but she spoke with a slight Italian accent, and
Flambeau did not doubt that Anthony was a Norfolk version of some
more Latin name. Mr. Paul, the butler, also had a faintly foreign
air, but he was in tongue and training English, as are many of the
most polished men-servants of the cosmopolitan nobility.
Pretty and unique as it was, the place had about it a curious
luminous sadness. Hours passed in it like days. The long,
well-windowed rooms were full of daylight, but it seemed a dead
daylight. And through all other incidental noises, the sound of
talk, the clink of glasses, or the passing feet of servants, they
could hear on all sides of the house the melancholy noise of the
"We have taken a wrong turning, and come to a wrong place,"
said Father Brown, looking out of the window at the grey-green
sedges and the silver flood. "Never mind; one can sometimes do
good by being the right person in the wrong place."
Father Brown, though commonly a silent, was an oddly
sympathetic little man, and in those few but endless hours he
unconsciously sank deeper into the secrets of Reed House than his
professional friend. He had that knack of friendly silence which
is so essential to gossip; and saying scarcely a word, he probably
obtained from his new acquaintances all that in any case they
would have told. The butler indeed was naturally uncommunicative.
He betrayed a sullen and almost animal affection for his master;
who, he said, had been very badly treated. The chief offender
seemed to be his highness's brother, whose name alone would
lengthen the old man's lantern jaws and pucker his parrot nose
into a sneer. Captain Stephen was a ne'er-do-weel, apparently,
and had drained his benevolent brother of hundreds and thousands;
forced him to fly from fashionable life and live quietly in this
retreat. That was all Paul, the butler, would say, and Paul was
obviously a partisan.
The Italian housekeeper was somewhat more communicative,
being, as Brown fancied, somewhat less content. Her tone about
her master was faintly acid; though not without a certain awe.
Flambeau and his friend were standing in the room of the
looking-glasses examining the red sketch of the two boys, when the
housekeeper swept in swiftly on some domestic errand. It was a
peculiarity of this glittering, glass-panelled place that anyone
entering was reflected in four or five mirrors at once; and Father
Brown, without turning round, stopped in the middle of a sentence
of family criticism. But Flambeau, who had his face close up to
the picture, was already saying in a loud voice, "The brothers
Saradine, I suppose. They both look innocent enough. It would be
hard to say which is the good brother and which the bad." Then,
realising the lady's presence, he turned the conversation with
some triviality, and strolled out into the garden. But Father
Brown still gazed steadily at the red crayon sketch; and Mrs.
Anthony still gazed steadily at Father Brown.
She had large and tragic brown eyes, and her olive face glowed
darkly with a curious and painful wonder--as of one doubtful of
a stranger's identity or purpose. Whether the little priest's coat
and creed touched some southern memories of confession, or whether
she fancied he knew more than he did, she said to him in a low
voice as to a fellow plotter, "He is right enough in one way, your
friend. He says it would be hard to pick out the good and bad
brothers. Oh, it would be hard, it would be mighty hard, to pick
out the good one."
"I don't understand you," said Father Brown, and began to move
The woman took a step nearer to him, with thunderous brows and
a sort of savage stoop, like a bull lowering his horns.
"There isn't a good one," she hissed. "There was badness
enough in the captain taking all that money, but I don't think
there was much goodness in the prince giving it. The captain's
not the only one with something against him."
A light dawned on the cleric's averted face, and his mouth
formed silently the word "blackmail." Even as he did so the woman
turned an abrupt white face over her shoulder and almost fell.
The door had opened soundlessly and the pale Paul stood like a
ghost in the doorway. By the weird trick of the reflecting walls,
it seemed as if five Pauls had entered by five doors
"His Highness," he said, "has just arrived."
In the same flash the figure of a man had passed outside the
first window, crossing the sunlit pane like a lighted stage. An
instant later he passed at the second window and the many mirrors
repainted in successive frames the same eagle profile and marching
figure. He was erect and alert, but his hair was white and his
complexion of an odd ivory yellow. He had that short, curved
Roman nose which generally goes with long, lean cheeks and chin,
but these were partly masked by moustache and imperial. The
moustache was much darker than the beard, giving an effect
slightly theatrical, and he was dressed up to the same dashing
part, having a white top hat, an orchid in his coat, a yellow
waistcoat and yellow gloves which he flapped and swung as he
walked. When he came round to the front door they heard the stiff
Paul open it, and heard the new arrival say cheerfully, "Well, you
see I have come." The stiff Mr. Paul bowed and answered in his
inaudible manner; for a few minutes their conversation could not
be heard. Then the butler said, "Everything is at your disposal";
and the glove-flapping Prince Saradine came gaily into the room to
greet them. They beheld once more that spectral scene--five
princes entering a room with five doors.
The prince put the white hat and yellow gloves on the table
and offered his hand quite cordially.
"Delighted to see you here, Mr. Flambeau," he said. "Knowing
you very well by reputation, if that's not an indiscreet remark."
"Not at all," answered Flambeau, laughing. "I am not
sensitive. Very few reputations are gained by unsullied virtue."
The prince flashed a sharp look at him to see if the retort
had any personal point; then he laughed also and offered chairs to
everyone, including himself.
"Pleasant little place, this, I think," he said with a
detached air. "Not much to do, I fear; but the fishing is really
The priest, who was staring at him with the grave stare of a
baby, was haunted by some fancy that escaped definition. He looked
at the grey, carefully curled hair, yellow white visage, and slim,
somewhat foppish figure. These were not unnatural, though perhaps
a shade prononce, like the outfit of a figure behind the
footlights. The nameless interest lay in something else, in the
very framework of the face; Brown was tormented with a half memory
of having seen it somewhere before. The man looked like some old
friend of his dressed up. Then he suddenly remembered the
mirrors, and put his fancy down to some psychological effect of
that multiplication of human masks.
Prince Saradine distributed his social attentions between his
guests with great gaiety and tact. Finding the detective of a
sporting turn and eager to employ his holiday, he guided Flambeau
and Flambeau's boat down to the best fishing spot in the stream,
and was back in his own canoe in twenty minutes to join Father
Brown in the library and plunge equally politely into the priest's
more philosophic pleasures. He seemed to know a great deal both
about the fishing and the books, though of these not the most
edifying; he spoke five or six languages, though chiefly the slang
of each. He had evidently lived in varied cities and very motley
societies, for some of his cheerfullest stories were about
gambling hells and opium dens, Australian bushrangers or Italian
brigands. Father Brown knew that the once-celebrated Saradine had
spent his last few years in almost ceaseless travel, but he had
not guessed that the travels were so disreputable or so amusing.
Indeed, with all his dignity of a man of the world, Prince
Saradine radiated to such sensitive observers as the priest, a
certain atmosphere of the restless and even the unreliable. His
face was fastidious, but his eye was wild; he had little nervous
tricks, like a man shaken by drink or drugs, and he neither had,
nor professed to have, his hand on the helm of household affairs.
All these were left to the two old servants, especially to the
butler, who was plainly the central pillar of the house. Mr.
Paul, indeed, was not so much a butler as a sort of steward or,
even, chamberlain; he dined privately, but with almost as much
pomp as his master; he was feared by all the servants; and he
consulted with the prince decorously, but somewhat unbendingly--
rather as if he were the prince's solicitor. The sombre
housekeeper was a mere shadow in comparison; indeed, she seemed to
efface herself and wait only on the butler, and Brown heard no
more of those volcanic whispers which had half told him of the
younger brother who blackmailed the elder. Whether the prince was
really being thus bled by the absent captain, he could not be
certain, but there was something insecure and secretive about
Saradine that made the tale by no means incredible.
When they went once more into the long hall with the windows
and the mirrors, yellow evening was dropping over the waters and
the willowy banks; and a bittern sounded in the distance like an
elf upon his dwarfish drum. The same singular sentiment of some
sad and evil fairyland crossed the priest's mind again like a
little grey cloud. "I wish Flambeau were back," he muttered.
"Do you believe in doom?" asked the restless Prince Saradine
"No," answered his guest. "I believe in Doomsday."
The prince turned from the window and stared at him in a
singular manner, his face in shadow against the sunset. "What do
you mean?" he asked.
"I mean that we here are on the wrong side of the tapestry,"
answered Father Brown. "The things that happen here do not seem
to mean anything; they mean something somewhere else. Somewhere
else retribution will come on the real offender. Here it often
seems to fall on the wrong person."
The prince made an inexplicable noise like an animal; in his
shadowed face the eyes were shining queerly. A new and shrewd
thought exploded silently in the other's mind. Was there another
meaning in Saradine's blend of brilliancy and abruptness? Was the
prince-- Was he perfectly sane? He was repeating, "The wrong
person--the wrong person," many more times than was natural in a
Then Father Brown awoke tardily to a second truth. In the
mirrors before him he could see the silent door standing open, and
the silent Mr. Paul standing in it, with his usual pallid
"I thought it better to announce at once," he said, with the
same stiff respectfulness as of an old family lawyer, "a boat
rowed by six men has come to the landing-stage, and there's a
gentleman sitting in the stern."
"A boat!" repeated the prince; "a gentleman?" and he rose to
There was a startled silence punctuated only by the odd noise
of the bird in the sedge; and then, before anyone could speak
again, a new face and figure passed in profile round the three
sunlit windows, as the prince had passed an hour or two before.
But except for the accident that both outlines were aquiline, they
had little in common. Instead of the new white topper of Saradine,
was a black one of antiquated or foreign shape; under it was a
young and very solemn face, clean shaven, blue about its resolute
chin, and carrying a faint suggestion of the young Napoleon. The
association was assisted by something old and odd about the whole
get-up, as of a man who had never troubled to change the fashions
of his fathers. He had a shabby blue frock coat, a red, soldierly
looking waistcoat, and a kind of coarse white trousers common among
the early Victorians, but strangely incongruous today. From all
this old clothes-shop his olive face stood out strangely young and
"The deuce!" said Prince Saradine, and clapping on his white
hat he went to the front door himself, flinging it open on the
By that time the new-comer and his followers were drawn up on
the lawn like a small stage army. The six boatmen had pulled the
boat well up on shore, and were guarding it almost menacingly,
holding their oars erect like spears. They were swarthy men, and
some of them wore earrings. But one of them stood forward beside
the olive-faced young man in the red waistcoat, and carried a large
black case of unfamiliar form.
"Your name," said the young man, "is Saradine?"
Saradine assented rather negligently.
The new-comer had dull, dog-like brown eyes, as different as
possible from the restless and glittering grey eyes of the prince.
But once again Father Brown was tortured with a sense of having
seen somewhere a replica of the face; and once again he remembered
the repetitions of the glass-panelled room, and put down the
coincidence to that. "Confound this crystal palace!" he muttered.
"One sees everything too many times. It's like a dream."
"If you are Prince Saradine," said the young man, "I may tell
you that my name is Antonelli."
"Antonelli," repeated the prince languidly. "Somehow I
remember the name."
"Permit me to present myself," said the young Italian.
With his left hand he politely took off his old-fashioned
top-hat; with his right he caught Prince Saradine so ringing a
crack across the face that the white top hat rolled down the steps
and one of the blue flower-pots rocked upon its pedestal.
The prince, whatever he was, was evidently not a coward; he
sprang at his enemy's throat and almost bore him backwards to the
grass. But his enemy extricated himself with a singularly
inappropriate air of hurried politeness.
"That is all right," he said, panting and in halting English.
"I have insulted. I will give satisfaction. Marco, open the
The man beside him with the earrings and the big black case
proceeded to unlock it. He took out of it two long Italian
rapiers, with splendid steel hilts and blades, which he planted
point downwards in the lawn. The strange young man standing facing
the entrance with his yellow and vindictive face, the two swords
standing up in the turf like two crosses in a cemetery, and the
line of the ranked towers behind, gave it all an odd appearance of
being some barbaric court of justice. But everything else was
unchanged, so sudden had been the interruption. The sunset gold
still glowed on the lawn, and the bittern still boomed as
announcing some small but dreadful destiny.
"Prince Saradine," said the man called Antonelli, "when I was
an infant in the cradle you killed my father and stole my mother;
my father was the more fortunate. You did not kill him fairly, as
I am going to kill you. You and my wicked mother took him driving
to a lonely pass in Sicily, flung him down a cliff, and went on
your way. I could imitate you if I chose, but imitating you is
too vile. I have followed you all over the world, and you have
always fled from me. But this is the end of the world--and of
you. I have you now, and I give you the chance you never gave my
father. Choose one of those swords."
Prince Saradine, with contracted brows, seemed to hesitate a
moment, but his ears were still singing with the blow, and he
sprang forward and snatched at one of the hilts. Father Brown had
also sprung forward, striving to compose the dispute; but he soon
found his personal presence made matters worse. Saradine was a
French freemason and a fierce atheist, and a priest moved him by
the law of contraries. And for the other man neither priest nor
layman moved him at all. This young man with the Bonaparte face
and the brown eyes was something far sterner than a puritan--a
pagan. He was a simple slayer from the morning of the earth; a
man of the stone age--a man of stone.
One hope remained, the summoning of the household; and Father
Brown ran back into the house. He found, however, that all the
under servants had been given a holiday ashore by the autocrat
Paul, and that only the sombre Mrs. Anthony moved uneasily about
the long rooms. But the moment she turned a ghastly face upon
him, he resolved one of the riddles of the house of mirrors. The
heavy brown eyes of Antonelli were the heavy brown eyes of Mrs.
Anthony; and in a flash he saw half the story.
"Your son is outside," he said without wasting words; "either
he or the prince will be killed. Where is Mr. Paul?"
"He is at the landing-stage," said the woman faintly. "He is
--he is--signalling for help."
"Mrs. Anthony," said Father Brown seriously, "there is no time
for nonsense. My friend has his boat down the river fishing.
Your son's boat is guarded by your son's men. There is only this
one canoe; what is Mr. Paul doing with it?"
"Santa Maria! I do not know," she said; and swooned all her
length on the matted floor.
Father Brown lifted her to a sofa, flung a pot of water over
her, shouted for help, and then rushed down to the landing-stage
of the little island. But the canoe was already in mid-stream,
and old Paul was pulling and pushing it up the river with an
energy incredible at his years.
"I will save my master," he cried, his eyes blazing maniacally.
"I will save him yet!"
Father Brown could do nothing but gaze after the boat as it
struggled up-stream and pray that the old man might waken the
little town in time.
"A duel is bad enough," he muttered, rubbing up his rough
dust-coloured hair, "but there's something wrong about this duel,
even as a duel. I feel it in my bones. But what can it be?"
As he stood staring at the water, a wavering mirror of sunset,
he heard from the other end of the island garden a small but
unmistakable sound--the cold concussion of steel. He turned his
Away on the farthest cape or headland of the long islet, on a
strip of turf beyond the last rank of roses, the duellists had
already crossed swords. Evening above them was a dome of virgin
gold, and, distant as they were, every detail was picked out.
They had cast off their coats, but the yellow waistcoat and white
hair of Saradine, the red waistcoat and white trousers of
Antonelli, glittered in the level light like the colours of the
dancing clockwork dolls. The two swords sparkled from point to
pommel like two diamond pins. There was something frightful in
the two figures appearing so little and so gay. They looked like
two butterflies trying to pin each other to a cork.
Father Brown ran as hard as he could, his little legs going
like a wheel. But when he came to the field of combat he found he
was born too late and too early--too late to stop the strife,
under the shadow of the grim Sicilians leaning on their oars, and
too early to anticipate any disastrous issue of it. For the two
men were singularly well matched, the prince using his skill with
a sort of cynical confidence, the Sicilian using his with a
murderous care. Few finer fencing matches can ever have been seen
in crowded amphitheatres than that which tinkled and sparkled on
that forgotten island in the reedy river. The dizzy fight was
balanced so long that hope began to revive in the protesting
priest; by all common probability Paul must soon come back with
the police. It would be some comfort even if Flambeau came back
from his fishing, for Flambeau, physically speaking, was worth
four other men. But there was no sign of Flambeau, and, what was
much queerer, no sign of Paul or the police. No other raft or
stick was left to float on; in that lost island in that vast
nameless pool, they were cut off as on a rock in the Pacific.
Almost as he had the thought the ringing of the rapiers
quickened to a rattle, the prince's arms flew up, and the point
shot out behind between his shoulder-blades. He went over with a
great whirling movement, almost like one throwing the half of a
boy's cart-wheel. The sword flew from his hand like a shooting
star, and dived into the distant river. And he himself sank with
so earth-shaking a subsidence that he broke a big rose-tree with
his body and shook up into the sky a cloud of red earth--like
the smoke of some heathen sacrifice. The Sicilian had made
blood-offering to the ghost of his father.
The priest was instantly on his knees by the corpse; but only
to make too sure that it was a corpse. As he was still trying
some last hopeless tests he heard for the first time voices from
farther up the river, and saw a police boat shoot up to the
landing-stage, with constables and other important people,
including the excited Paul. The little priest rose with a
distinctly dubious grimace.
"Now, why on earth," he muttered, "why on earth couldn't he
have come before?"
Some seven minutes later the island was occupied by an
invasion of townsfolk and police, and the latter had put their
hands on the victorious duellist, ritually reminding him that
anything he said might be used against him.
"I shall not say anything," said the monomaniac, with a
wonderful and peaceful face. "I shall never say anything more.
I am very happy, and I only want to be hanged."
Then he shut his mouth as they led him away, and it is the
strange but certain truth that he never opened it again in this
world, except to say "Guilty" at his trial.
Father Brown had stared at the suddenly crowded garden, the
arrest of the man of blood, the carrying away of the corpse after
its examination by the doctor, rather as one watches the break-up
of some ugly dream; he was motionless, like a man in a nightmare.
He gave his name and address as a witness, but declined their
offer of a boat to the shore, and remained alone in the island
garden, gazing at the broken rose bush and the whole green theatre
of that swift and inexplicable tragedy. The light died along the
river; mist rose in the marshy banks; a few belated birds flitted
Stuck stubbornly in his sub-consciousness (which was an
unusually lively one) was an unspeakable certainty that there was
something still unexplained. This sense that had clung to him all
day could not be fully explained by his fancy about "looking-glass
land." Somehow he had not seen the real story, but some game or
masque. And yet people do not get hanged or run through the body
for the sake of a charade.
As he sat on the steps of the landing-stage ruminating he grew
conscious of the tall, dark streak of a sail coming silently down
the shining river, and sprang to his feet with such a backrush of
feeling that he almost wept.
"Flambeau!" he cried, and shook his friend by both hands again
and again, much to the astonishment of that sportsman, as he came
on shore with his fishing tackle. "Flambeau," he said, "so you're
"Killed!" repeated the angler in great astonishment. "And why
should I be killed?"
"Oh, because nearly everybody else is," said his companion
rather wildly. "Saradine got murdered, and Antonelli wants to be
hanged, and his mother's fainted, and I, for one, don't know
whether I'm in this world or the next. But, thank God, you're in
the same one." And he took the bewildered Flambeau's arm.
As they turned from the landing-stage they came under the
eaves of the low bamboo house, and looked in through one of the
windows, as they had done on their first arrival. They beheld a
lamp-lit interior well calculated to arrest their eyes. The table
in the long dining-room had been laid for dinner when Saradine's
destroyer had fallen like a stormbolt on the island. And the
dinner was now in placid progress, for Mrs. Anthony sat somewhat
sullenly at the foot of the table, while at the head of it was Mr.
Paul, the major domo, eating and drinking of the best, his
bleared, bluish eyes standing queerly out of his face, his gaunt
countenance inscrutable, but by no means devoid of satisfaction.
With a gesture of powerful impatience, Flambeau rattled at the
window, wrenched it open, and put an indignant head into the
"Well," he cried. "I can understand you may need some
refreshment, but really to steal your master's dinner while he
lies murdered in the garden--"
"I have stolen a great many things in a long and pleasant
life," replied the strange old gentleman placidly; "this dinner is
one of the few things I have not stolen. This dinner and this
house and garden happen to belong to me."
A thought flashed across Flambeau's face. "You mean to say,"
he began, "that the will of Prince Saradine--"
"I am Prince Saradine," said the old man, munching a salted
Father Brown, who was looking at the birds outside, jumped as
if he were shot, and put in at the window a pale face like a
"You are what?" he repeated in a shrill voice.
"Paul, Prince Saradine, A vos ordres," said the venerable
person politely, lifting a glass of sherry. "I live here very
quietly, being a domestic kind of fellow; and for the sake of
modesty I am called Mr. Paul, to distinguish me from my
unfortunate brother Mr. Stephen. He died, I hear, recently--in
the garden. Of course, it is not my fault if enemies pursue him
to this place. It is owing to the regrettable irregularity of his
life. He was not a domestic character."
He relapsed into silence, and continued to gaze at the
opposite wall just above the bowed and sombre head of the woman.
They saw plainly the family likeness that had haunted them in the
dead man. Then his old shoulders began to heave and shake a
little, as if he were choking, but his face did not alter.
"My God!" cried Flambeau after a pause, "he's laughing!"
"Come away," said Father Brown, who was quite white. "Come
away from this house of hell. Let us get into an honest boat
Night had sunk on rushes and river by the time they had pushed
off from the island, and they went down-stream in the dark,
warming themselves with two big cigars that glowed like crimson
ships' lanterns. Father Brown took his cigar out of his mouth and
"I suppose you can guess the whole story now? After all, it's
a primitive story. A man had two enemies. He was a wise man.
And so he discovered that two enemies are better than one."
"I do not follow that," answered Flambeau.
"Oh, it's really simple," rejoined his friend. "Simple,
though anything but innocent. Both the Saradines were scamps, but
the prince, the elder, was the sort of scamp that gets to the top,
and the younger, the captain, was the sort that sinks to the
bottom. This squalid officer fell from beggar to blackmailer, and
one ugly day he got his hold upon his brother, the prince.
Obviously it was for no light matter, for Prince Paul Saradine was
frankly `fast,' and had no reputation to lose as to the mere sins
of society. In plain fact, it was a hanging matter, and Stephen
literally had a rope round his brother's neck. He had somehow
discovered the truth about the Sicilian affair, and could prove
that Paul murdered old Antonelli in the mountains. The captain
raked in the hush money heavily for ten years, until even the
prince's splendid fortune began to look a little foolish.
"But Prince Saradine bore another burden besides his
blood-sucking brother. He knew that the son of Antonelli, a mere
child at the time of the murder, had been trained in savage
Sicilian loyalty, and lived only to avenge his father, not with
the gibbet (for he lacked Stephen's legal proof), but with the old
weapons of vendetta. The boy had practised arms with a deadly
perfection, and about the time that he was old enough to use them
Prince Saradine began, as the society papers said, to travel. The
fact is that he began to flee for his life, passing from place to
place like a hunted criminal; but with one relentless man upon his
trail. That was Prince Paul's position, and by no means a pretty
one. The more money he spent on eluding Antonelli the less he had
to silence Stephen. The more he gave to silence Stephen the less
chance there was of finally escaping Antonelli. Then it was that
he showed himself a great man--a genius like Napoleon.
"Instead of resisting his two antagonists, he surrendered
suddenly to both of them. He gave way like a Japanese wrestler,
and his foes fell prostrate before him. He gave up the race round
the world, and he gave up his address to young Antonelli; then he
gave up everything to his brother. He sent Stephen money enough
for smart clothes and easy travel, with a letter saying roughly:
`This is all I have left. You have cleaned me out. I still have
a little house in Norfolk, with servants and a cellar, and if you
want more from me you must take that. Come and take possession if
you like, and I will live there quietly as your friend or agent or
anything.' He knew that the Sicilian had never seen the Saradine
brothers save, perhaps, in pictures; he knew they were somewhat
alike, both having grey, pointed beards. Then he shaved his own
face and waited. The trap worked. The unhappy captain, in his
new clothes, entered the house in triumph as a prince, and walked
upon the Sicilian's sword.
"There was one hitch, and it is to the honour of human nature.
Evil spirits like Saradine often blunder by never expecting the
virtues of mankind. He took it for granted that the Italian's
blow, when it came, would be dark, violent and nameless, like the
blow it avenged; that the victim would be knifed at night, or shot
from behind a hedge, and so die without speech. It was a bad
minute for Prince Paul when Antonelli's chivalry proposed a formal
duel, with all its possible explanations. It was then that I
found him putting off in his boat with wild eyes. He was fleeing,
bareheaded, in an open boat before Antonelli should learn who he
"But, however agitated, he was not hopeless. He knew the
adventurer and he knew the fanatic. It was quite probable that
Stephen, the adventurer, would hold his tongue, through his mere
histrionic pleasure in playing a part, his lust for clinging to
his new cosy quarters, his rascal's trust in luck, and his fine
fencing. It was certain that Antonelli, the fanatic, would hold
his tongue, and be hanged without telling tales of his family.
Paul hung about on the river till he knew the fight was over.
Then he roused the town, brought the police, saw his two vanquished
enemies taken away forever, and sat down smiling to his dinner."
"Laughing, God help us!" said Flambeau with a strong shudder.
"Do they get such ideas from Satan?"
"He got that idea from you," answered the priest.
"God forbid!" ejaculated Flambeau. "From me! What do you
The priest pulled a visiting-card from his pocket and held it
up in the faint glow of his cigar; it was scrawled with green ink.
"Don't you remember his original invitation to you?" he asked,
"and the compliment to your criminal exploit? `That trick of
yours,' he says, `of getting one detective to arrest the other'?
He has just copied your trick. With an enemy on each side of him,
he slipped swiftly out of the way and let them collide and kill
Flambeau tore Prince Saradine's card from the priest's hands
and rent it savagely in small pieces.
"There's the last of that old skull and crossbones," he said
as he scattered the pieces upon the dark and disappearing waves of
the stream; "but I should think it would poison the fishes."
The last gleam of white card and green ink was drowned and
darkened; a faint and vibrant colour as of morning changed the
sky, and the moon behind the grasses grew paler. They drifted in
"Father," said Flambeau suddenly, "do you think it was all a
The priest shook his head, whether in dissent or agnosticism,
but remained mute. A smell of hawthorn and of orchards came to
them through the darkness, telling them that a wind was awake; the
next moment it swayed their little boat and swelled their sail,
and carried them onward down the winding river to happier places
and the homes of harmless men.
The Hammer of God
The little village of Bohun Beacon was perched on a hill so steep
that the tall spire of its church seemed only like the peak of a
small mountain. At the foot of the church stood a smithy,
generally red with fires and always littered with hammers and
scraps of iron; opposite to this, over a rude cross of cobbled
paths, was "The Blue Boar," the only inn of the place. It was
upon this crossway, in the lifting of a leaden and silver
daybreak, that two brothers met in the street and spoke; though
one was beginning the day and the other finishing it. The Rev.
and Hon. Wilfred Bohun was very devout, and was making his way to
some austere exercises of prayer or contemplation at dawn.
Colonel the Hon. Norman Bohun, his elder brother, was by no means
devout, and was sitting in evening dress on the bench outside "The
Blue Boar," drinking what the philosophic observer was free to
regard either as his last glass on Tuesday or his first on
Wednesday. The colonel was not particular.
The Bohuns were one of the very few aristocratic families
really dating from the Middle Ages, and their pennon had actually
seen Palestine. But it is a great mistake to suppose that such
houses stand high in chivalric tradition. Few except the poor
preserve traditions. Aristocrats live not in traditions but in
fashions. The Bohuns had been Mohocks under Queen Anne and
Mashers under Queen Victoria. But like more than one of the
really ancient houses, they had rotted in the last two centuries
into mere drunkards and dandy degenerates, till there had even
come a whisper of insanity. Certainly there was something hardly
human about the colonel's wolfish pursuit of pleasure, and his
chronic resolution not to go home till morning had a touch of the
hideous clarity of insomnia. He was a tall, fine animal, elderly,
but with hair still startlingly yellow. He would have looked
merely blonde and leonine, but his blue eyes were sunk so deep in
his face that they looked black. They were a little too close
together. He had very long yellow moustaches; on each side of
them a fold or furrow from nostril to jaw, so that a sneer seemed
cut into his face. Over his evening clothes he wore a curious
pale yellow coat that looked more like a very light dressing gown
than an overcoat, and on the back of his head was stuck an
extraordinary broad-brimmed hat of a bright green colour,
evidently some oriental curiosity caught up at random. He was
proud of appearing in such incongruous attires--proud of the
fact that he always made them look congruous.
His brother the curate had also the yellow hair and the
elegance, but he was buttoned up to the chin in black, and his
face was clean-shaven, cultivated, and a little nervous. He
seemed to live for nothing but his religion; but there were some
who said (notably the blacksmith, who was a Presbyterian) that it
was a love of Gothic architecture rather than of God, and that his
haunting of the church like a ghost was only another and purer
turn of the almost morbid thirst for beauty which sent his brother
raging after women and wine. This charge was doubtful, while the
man's practical piety was indubitable. Indeed, the charge was
mostly an ignorant misunderstanding of the love of solitude and
secret prayer, and was founded on his being often found kneeling,
not before the altar, but in peculiar places, in the crypts or
gallery, or even in the belfry. He was at the moment about to
enter the church through the yard of the smithy, but stopped and
frowned a little as he saw his brother's cavernous eyes staring in
the same direction. On the hypothesis that the colonel was
interested in the church he did not waste any speculations. There
only remained the blacksmith's shop, and though the blacksmith was
a Puritan and none of his people, Wilfred Bohun had heard some
scandals about a beautiful and rather celebrated wife. He flung a
suspicious look across the shed, and the colonel stood up laughing
to speak to him.
"Good morning, Wilfred," he said. "Like a good landlord I am
watching sleeplessly over my people. I am going to call on the
Wilfred looked at the ground, and said: "The blacksmith is out.
He is over at Greenford."
"I know," answered the other with silent laughter; "that is
why I am calling on him."
"Norman," said the cleric, with his eye on a pebble in the
road, "are you ever afraid of thunderbolts?"
"What do you mean?" asked the colonel. "Is your hobby
"I mean," said Wilfred, without looking up, "do you ever think
that God might strike you in the street?"
"I beg your pardon," said the colonel; "I see your hobby is
"I know your hobby is blasphemy," retorted the religious man,
stung in the one live place of his nature. "But if you do not
fear God, you have good reason to fear man."
The elder raised his eyebrows politely. "Fear man?" he said.
"Barnes the blacksmith is the biggest and strongest man for
forty miles round," said the clergyman sternly. "I know you are
no coward or weakling, but he could throw you over the wall."
This struck home, being true, and the lowering line by mouth
and nostril darkened and deepened. For a moment he stood with the
heavy sneer on his face. But in an instant Colonel Bohun had
recovered his own cruel good humour and laughed, showing two
dog-like front teeth under his yellow moustache. "In that case,
my dear Wilfred," he said quite carelessly, "it was wise for the
last of the Bohuns to come out partially in armour."
And he took off the queer round hat covered with green,
showing that it was lined within with steel. Wilfred recognised
it indeed as a light Japanese or Chinese helmet torn down from a
trophy that hung in the old family hall.
"It was the first hat to hand," explained his brother airily;
"always the nearest hat--and the nearest woman."
"The blacksmith is away at Greenford," said Wilfred quietly;
"the time of his return is unsettled."
And with that he turned and went into the church with bowed
head, crossing himself like one who wishes to be quit of an
unclean spirit. He was anxious to forget such grossness in the
cool twilight of his tall Gothic cloisters; but on that morning it
was fated that his still round of religious exercises should be
everywhere arrested by small shocks. As he entered the church,
hitherto always empty at that hour, a kneeling figure rose hastily
to its feet and came towards the full daylight of the doorway.
When the curate saw it he stood still with surprise. For the
early worshipper was none other than the village idiot, a nephew
of the blacksmith, one who neither would nor could care for the
church or for anything else. He was always called "Mad Joe," and
seemed to have no other name; he was a dark, strong, slouching
lad, with a heavy white face, dark straight hair, and a mouth
always open. As he passed the priest, his moon-calf countenance
gave no hint of what he had been doing or thinking of. He had
never been known to pray before. What sort of prayers was he
saying now? Extraordinary prayers surely.
Wilfred Bohun stood rooted to the spot long enough to see the
idiot go out into the sunshine, and even to see his dissolute
brother hail him with a sort of avuncular jocularity. The last
thing he saw was the colonel throwing pennies at the open mouth of
Joe, with the serious appearance of trying to hit it.
This ugly sunlit picture of the stupidity and cruelty of the
earth sent the ascetic finally to his prayers for purification and
new thoughts. He went up to a pew in the gallery, which brought
him under a coloured window which he loved and always quieted his
spirit; a blue window with an angel carrying lilies. There he
began to think less about the half-wit, with his livid face and
mouth like a fish. He began to think less of his evil brother,
pacing like a lean lion in his horrible hunger. He sank deeper
and deeper into those cold and sweet colours of silver blossoms
and sapphire sky.
In this place half an hour afterwards he was found by Gibbs,
the village cobbler, who had been sent for him in some haste. He
got to his feet with promptitude, for he knew that no small matter
would have brought Gibbs into such a place at all. The cobbler
was, as in many villages, an atheist, and his appearance in church
was a shade more extraordinary than Mad Joe's. It was a morning
of theological enigmas.
"What is it?" asked Wilfred Bohun rather stiffly, but putting
out a trembling hand for his hat.
The atheist spoke in a tone that, coming from him, was quite
startlingly respectful, and even, as it were, huskily sympathetic.
"You must excuse me, sir," he said in a hoarse whisper, "but
we didn't think it right not to let you know at once. I'm afraid
a rather dreadful thing has happened, sir. I'm afraid your
Wilfred clenched his frail hands. "What devilry has he done
now?" he cried in voluntary passion.
"Why, sir," said the cobbler, coughing, "I'm afraid he's done
nothing, and won't do anything. I'm afraid he's done for. You
had really better come down, sir."
The curate followed the cobbler down a short winding stair
which brought them out at an entrance rather higher than the
street. Bohun saw the tragedy in one glance, flat underneath him
like a plan. In the yard of the smithy were standing five or six
men mostly in black, one in an inspector's uniform. They included
the doctor, the Presbyterian minister, and the priest from the
Roman Catholic chapel, to which the blacksmith's wife belonged.
The latter was speaking to her, indeed, very rapidly, in an
undertone, as she, a magnificent woman with red-gold hair, was
sobbing blindly on a bench. Between these two groups, and just
clear of the main heap of hammers, lay a man in evening dress,
spread-eagled and flat on his face. From the height above Wilfred
could have sworn to every item of his costume and appearance, down
to the Bohun rings upon his fingers; but the skull was only a
hideous splash, like a star of blackness and blood.
Wilfred Bohun gave but one glance, and ran down the steps into
the yard. The doctor, who was the family physician, saluted him,
but he scarcely took any notice. He could only stammer out: "My
brother is dead. What does it mean? What is this horrible
mystery?" There was an unhappy silence; and then the cobbler, the
most outspoken man present, answered: "Plenty of horror, sir," he
said; "but not much mystery."
"What do you mean?" asked Wilfred, with a white face.
"It's plain enough," answered Gibbs. "There is only one man
for forty miles round that could have struck such a blow as that,
and he's the man that had most reason to."
"We must not prejudge anything," put in the doctor, a tall,
black-bearded man, rather nervously; "but it is competent for me
to corroborate what Mr. Gibbs says about the nature of the blow,
sir; it is an incredible blow. Mr. Gibbs says that only one man
in this district could have done it. I should have said myself
that nobody could have done it."
A shudder of superstition went through the slight figure of
the curate. "I can hardly understand," he said.
"Mr. Bohun," said the doctor in a low voice, "metaphors
literally fail me. It is inadequate to say that the skull was
smashed to bits like an eggshell. Fragments of bone were driven
into the body and the ground like bullets into a mud wall. It was
the hand of a giant."
He was silent a moment, looking grimly through his glasses;
then he added: "The thing has one advantage--that it clears most
people of suspicion at one stroke. If you or I or any normally
made man in the country were accused of this crime, we should be
acquitted as an infant would be acquitted of stealing the Nelson
"That's what I say," repeated the cobbler obstinately;
"there's only one man that could have done it, and he's the man
that would have done it. Where's Simeon Barnes, the blacksmith?"
"He's over at Greenford," faltered the curate.
"More likely over in France," muttered the cobbler.
"No; he is in neither of those places," said a small and
colourless voice, which came from the little Roman priest who had
joined the group. "As a matter of fact, he is coming up the road
at this moment."
The little priest was not an interesting man to look at,
having stubbly brown hair and a round and stolid face. But if he
had been as splendid as Apollo no one would have looked at him at
that moment. Everyone turned round and peered at the pathway
which wound across the plain below, along which was indeed walking,
at his own huge stride and with a hammer on his shoulder, Simeon
the smith. He was a bony and gigantic man, with deep, dark,
sinister eyes and a dark chin beard. He was walking and talking
quietly with two other men; and though he was never specially
cheerful, he seemed quite at his ease.
"My God!" cried the atheistic cobbler, "and there's the hammer
he did it with."
"No," said the inspector, a sensible-looking man with a sandy
moustache, speaking for the first time. "There's the hammer he
did it with over there by the church wall. We have left it and
the body exactly as they are."
All glanced round and the short priest went across and looked
down in silence at the tool where it lay. It was one of the
smallest and the lightest of the hammers, and would not have
caught the eye among the rest; but on the iron edge of it were
blood and yellow hair.
After a silence the short priest spoke without looking up, and
there was a new note in his dull voice. "Mr. Gibbs was hardly
right," he said, "in saying that there is no mystery. There is at
least the mystery of why so big a man should attempt so big a blow
with so little a hammer."
"Oh, never mind that," cried Gibbs, in a fever. "What are we
to do with Simeon Barnes?"
"Leave him alone," said the priest quietly. "He is coming
here of himself. I know those two men with him. They are very
good fellows from Greenford, and they have come over about the
Even as he spoke the tall smith swung round the corner of the
church, and strode into his own yard. Then he stood there quite
still, and the hammer fell from his hand. The inspector, who had
preserved impenetrable propriety, immediately went up to him.
"I won't ask you, Mr. Barnes," he said, "whether you know
anything about what has happened here. You are not bound to say.
I hope you don't know, and that you will be able to prove it. But
I must go through the form of arresting you in the King's name for
the murder of Colonel Norman Bohun."
"You are not bound to say anything," said the cobbler in
officious excitement. "They've got to prove everything. They
haven't proved yet that it is Colonel Bohun, with the head all
smashed up like that."
"That won't wash," said the doctor aside to the priest.
"That's out of the detective stories. I was the colonel's medical
man, and I knew his body better than he did. He had very fine
hands, but quite peculiar ones. The second and third fingers were
the same length. Oh, that's the colonel right enough."
As he glanced at the brained corpse upon the ground the iron
eyes of the motionless blacksmith followed them and rested there
"Is Colonel Bohun dead?" said the smith quite calmly. "Then
"Don't say anything! Oh, don't say anything," cried the
atheist cobbler, dancing about in an ecstasy of admiration of the
English legal system. For no man is such a legalist as the good
The blacksmith turned on him over his shoulder the august face
of a fanatic.
"It's well for you infidels to dodge like foxes because the
world's law favours you," he said; "but God guards His own in His
pocket, as you shall see this day."
Then he pointed to the colonel and said: "When did this dog
die in his sins?"
"Moderate your language," said the doctor.
"Moderate the Bible's language, and I'll moderate mine. When
did he die?"
"I saw him alive at six o'clock this morning," stammered
"God is good," said the smith. "Mr. Inspector, I have not the
slightest objection to being arrested. It is you who may object
to arresting me. I don't mind leaving the court without a stain
on my character. You do mind perhaps leaving the court with a bad
set-back in your career."
The solid inspector for the first time looked at the
blacksmith with a lively eye; as did everybody else, except the
short, strange priest, who was still looking down at the little
hammer that had dealt the dreadful blow.
"There are two men standing outside this shop," went on the
blacksmith with ponderous lucidity, "good tradesmen in Greenford
whom you all know, who will swear that they saw me from before
midnight till daybreak and long after in the committee room of our
Revival Mission, which sits all night, we save souls so fast. In
Greenford itself twenty people could swear to me for all that
time. If I were a heathen, Mr. Inspector, I would let you walk on
to your downfall. But as a Christian man I feel bound to give you
your chance, and ask you whether you will hear my alibi now or in
The inspector seemed for the first time disturbed, and said,
"Of course I should be glad to clear you altogether now."
The smith walked out of his yard with the same long and easy
stride, and returned to his two friends from Greenford, who were
indeed friends of nearly everyone present. Each of them said a
few words which no one ever thought of disbelieving. When they
had spoken, the innocence of Simeon stood up as solid as the great
church above them.
One of those silences struck the group which are more strange
and insufferable than any speech. Madly, in order to make
conversation, the curate said to the Catholic priest:
"You seem very much interested in that hammer, Father Brown."
"Yes, I am," said Father Brown; "why is it such a small
The doctor swung round on him.
"By George, that's true," he cried; "who would use a little
hammer with ten larger hammers lying about?"
Then he lowered his voice in the curate's ear and said: "Only
the kind of person that can't lift a large hammer. It is not a
question of force or courage between the sexes. It's a question
of lifting power in the shoulders. A bold woman could commit ten
murders with a light hammer and never turn a hair. She could not
kill a beetle with a heavy one."
Wilfred Bohun was staring at him with a sort of hypnotised
horror, while Father Brown listened with his head a little on one
side, really interested and attentive. The doctor went on with
more hissing emphasis:
"Why do these idiots always assume that the only person who
hates the wife's lover is the wife's husband? Nine times out of
ten the person who most hates the wife's lover is the wife. Who
knows what insolence or treachery he had shown her--look there!"
He made a momentary gesture towards the red-haired woman on
the bench. She had lifted her head at last and the tears were
drying on her splendid face. But the eyes were fixed on the
corpse with an electric glare that had in it something of idiocy.
The Rev. Wilfred Bohun made a limp gesture as if waving away
all desire to know; but Father Brown, dusting off his sleeve some
ashes blown from the furnace, spoke in his indifferent way.
"You are like so many doctors," he said; "your mental science
is really suggestive. It is your physical science that is utterly
impossible. I agree that the woman wants to kill the
co-respondent much more than the petitioner does. And I agree
that a woman will always pick up a small hammer instead of a big
one. But the difficulty is one of physical impossibility. No
woman ever born could have smashed a man's skull out flat like
that." Then he added reflectively, after a pause: "These people
haven't grasped the whole of it. The man was actually wearing an
iron helmet, and the blow scattered it like broken glass. Look at
that woman. Look at her arms."
Silence held them all up again, and then the doctor said
rather sulkily: "Well, I may be wrong; there are objections to
everything. But I stick to the main point. No man but an idiot
would pick up that little hammer if he could use a big hammer."
With that the lean and quivering hands of Wilfred Bohun went
up to his head and seemed to clutch his scanty yellow hair. After
an instant they dropped, and he cried: "That was the word I wanted;
you have said the word."
Then he continued, mastering his discomposure: "The words you
said were, `No man but an idiot would pick up the small hammer.'"
"Yes," said the doctor. "Well?"
"Well," said the curate, "no man but an idiot did." The rest
stared at him with eyes arrested and riveted, and he went on in a
febrile and feminine agitation.
"I am a priest," he cried unsteadily, "and a priest should be
no shedder of blood. I--I mean that he should bring no one to
the gallows. And I thank God that I see the criminal clearly now
--because he is a criminal who cannot be brought to the gallows."
"You will not denounce him?" inquired the doctor.
"He would not be hanged if I did denounce him," answered
Wilfred with a wild but curiously happy smile. "When I went into
the church this morning I found a madman praying there --that
poor Joe, who has been wrong all his life. God knows what he
prayed; but with such strange folk it is not incredible to suppose
that their prayers are all upside down. Very likely a lunatic
would pray before killing a man. When I last saw poor Joe he was
with my brother. My brother was mocking him."
"By Jove!" cried the doctor, "this is talking at last. But
how do you explain--"
The Rev. Wilfred was almost trembling with the excitement of
his own glimpse of the truth. "Don't you see; don't you see," he
cried feverishly; "that is the only theory that covers both the
queer things, that answers both the riddles. The two riddles are
the little hammer and the big blow. The smith might have struck
the big blow, but would not have chosen the little hammer. His
wife would have chosen the little hammer, but she could not have
struck the big blow. But the madman might have done both. As for
the little hammer--why, he was mad and might have picked up
anything. And for the big blow, have you never heard, doctor,
that a maniac in his paroxysm may have the strength of ten men?"
The doctor drew a deep breath and then said, "By golly, I
believe you've got it."
Father Brown had fixed his eyes on the speaker so long and
steadily as to prove that his large grey, ox-like eyes were not
quite so insignificant as the rest of his face. When silence had
fallen he said with marked respect: "Mr. Bohun, yours is the only
theory yet propounded which holds water every way and is
essentially unassailable. I think, therefore, that you deserve to
be told, on my positive knowledge, that it is not the true one."
And with that the old little man walked away and stared again at
"That fellow seems to know more than he ought to," whispered
the doctor peevishly to Wilfred. "Those popish priests are
"No, no," said Bohun, with a sort of wild fatigue. "It was
the lunatic. It was the lunatic."
The group of the two clerics and the doctor had fallen away
from the more official group containing the inspector and the man
he had arrested. Now, however, that their own party had broken
up, they heard voices from the others. The priest looked up
quietly and then looked down again as he heard the blacksmith say
in a loud voice:
"I hope I've convinced you, Mr. Inspector. I'm a strong man,
as you say, but I couldn't have flung my hammer bang here from
Greenford. My hammer hasn't got wings that it should come flying
half a mile over hedges and fields."
The inspector laughed amicably and said: "No, I think you can
be considered out of it, though it's one of the rummiest
coincidences I ever saw. I can only ask you to give us all the
assistance you can in finding a man as big and strong as yourself.
By George! you might be useful, if only to hold him! I suppose
you yourself have no guess at the man?"
"I may have a guess," said the pale smith, "but it is not at a
man." Then, seeing the scared eyes turn towards his wife on the
bench, he put his huge hand on her shoulder and said: "Nor a woman
"What do you mean?" asked the inspector jocularly. "You don't
think cows use hammers, do you?"
"I think no thing of flesh held that hammer," said the
blacksmith in a stifled voice; "mortally speaking, I think the man
Wilfred made a sudden forward movement and peered at him with
"Do you mean to say, Barnes," came the sharp voice of the
cobbler, "that the hammer jumped up of itself and knocked the man
"Oh, you gentlemen may stare and snigger," cried Simeon; "you
clergymen who tell us on Sunday in what a stillness the Lord smote
Sennacherib. I believe that One who walks invisible in every
house defended the honour of mine, and laid the defiler dead
before the door of it. I believe the force in that blow was just
the force there is in earthquakes, and no force less."
Wilfred said, with a voice utterly undescribable: "I told
Norman myself to beware of the thunderbolt."
"That agent is outside my jurisdiction," said the inspector
with a slight smile.
"You are not outside His," answered the smith; "see you to it,"
and, turning his broad back, he went into the house.
The shaken Wilfred was led away by Father Brown, who had an
easy and friendly way with him. "Let us get out of this horrid
place, Mr. Bohun," he said. "May I look inside your church? I
hear it's one of the oldest in England. We take some interest,
you know," he added with a comical grimace, "in old English
Wilfred Bohun did not smile, for humour was never his strong
point. But he nodded rather eagerly, being only too ready to
explain the Gothic splendours to someone more likely to be
sympathetic than the Presbyterian blacksmith or the atheist
"By all means," he said; "let us go in at this side." And he
led the way into the high side entrance at the top of the flight
of steps. Father Brown was mounting the first step to follow him
when he felt a hand on his shoulder, and turned to behold the dark,
thin figure of the doctor, his face darker yet with suspicion.
"Sir," said the physician harshly, "you appear to know some
secrets in this black business. May I ask if you are going to
keep them to yourself?"
"Why, doctor," answered the priest, smiling quite pleasantly,
"there is one very good reason why a man of my trade should keep
things to himself when he is not sure of them, and that is that it
is so constantly his duty to keep them to himself when he is sure
of them. But if you think I have been discourteously reticent
with you or anyone, I will go to the extreme limit of my custom.
I will give you two very large hints."
"Well, sir?" said the doctor gloomily.
"First," said Father Brown quietly, "the thing is quite in
your own province. It is a matter of physical science. The
blacksmith is mistaken, not perhaps in saying that the blow was
divine, but certainly in saying that it came by a miracle. It was
no miracle, doctor, except in so far as man is himself a miracle,
with his strange and wicked and yet half-heroic heart. The force
that smashed that skull was a force well known to scientists--
one of the most frequently debated of the laws of nature."
The doctor, who was looking at him with frowning intentness,
only said: "And the other hint?"
"The other hint is this," said the priest. "Do you remember
the blacksmith, though he believes in miracles, talking scornfully
of the impossible fairy tale that his hammer had wings and flew
half a mile across country?"
"Yes," said the doctor, "I remember that."
"Well," added Father Brown, with a broad smile, "that fairy
tale was the nearest thing to the real truth that has been said
today." And with that he turned his back and stumped up the steps
after the curate.
The Reverend Wilfred, who had been waiting for him, pale and
impatient, as if this little delay were the last straw for his
nerves, led him immediately to his favourite corner of the church,
that part of the gallery closest to the carved roof and lit by the
wonderful window with the angel. The little Latin priest explored
and admired everything exhaustively, talking cheerfully but in a
low voice all the time. When in the course of his investigation
he found the side exit and the winding stair down which Wilfred
had rushed to find his brother dead, Father Brown ran not down but
up, with the agility of a monkey, and his clear voice came from an
outer platform above.
"Come up here, Mr. Bohun," he called. "The air will do you
Bohun followed him, and came out on a kind of stone gallery or
balcony outside the building, from which one could see the
illimitable plain in which their small hill stood, wooded away to
the purple horizon and dotted with villages and farms. Clear and
square, but quite small beneath them, was the blacksmith's yard,
where the inspector still stood taking notes and the corpse still
lay like a smashed fly.
"Might be the map of the world, mightn't it?" said Father
"Yes," said Bohun very gravely, and nodded his head.
Immediately beneath and about them the lines of the Gothic
building plunged outwards into the void with a sickening swiftness
akin to suicide. There is that element of Titan energy in the
architecture of the Middle Ages that, from whatever aspect it be
seen, it always seems to be rushing away, like the strong back of
some maddened horse. This church was hewn out of ancient and
silent stone, bearded with old fungoids and stained with the nests
of birds. And yet, when they saw it from below, it sprang like a
fountain at the stars; and when they saw it, as now, from above,
it poured like a cataract into a voiceless pit. For these two men
on the tower were left alone with the most terrible aspect of
Gothic; the monstrous foreshortening and disproportion, the dizzy
perspectives, the glimpses of great things small and small things
great; a topsy-turvydom of stone in the mid-air. Details of stone,
enormous by their proximity, were relieved against a pattern of
fields and farms, pygmy in their distance. A carved bird or beast
at a corner seemed like some vast walking or flying dragon wasting
the pastures and villages below. The whole atmosphere was dizzy
and dangerous, as if men were upheld in air amid the gyrating
wings of colossal genii; and the whole of that old church, as tall
and rich as a cathedral, seemed to sit upon the sunlit country
like a cloudburst.
"I think there is something rather dangerous about standing on
these high places even to pray," said Father Brown. "Heights were
made to be looked at, not to be looked from."
"Do you mean that one may fall over," asked Wilfred.
"I mean that one's soul may fall if one's body doesn't," said
the other priest.
"I scarcely understand you," remarked Bohun indistinctly.
"Look at that blacksmith, for instance," went on Father Brown
calmly; "a good man, but not a Christian--hard, imperious,
unforgiving. Well, his Scotch religion was made up by men who
prayed on hills and high crags, and learnt to look down on the
world more than to look up at heaven. Humility is the mother of
giants. One sees great things from the valley; only small things
from the peak."
"But he--he didn't do it," said Bohun tremulously.
"No," said the other in an odd voice; "we know he didn't do
After a moment he resumed, looking tranquilly out over the
plain with his pale grey eyes. "I knew a man," he said, "who
began by worshipping with others before the altar, but who grew
fond of high and lonely places to pray from, corners or niches in
the belfry or the spire. And once in one of those dizzy places,
where the whole world seemed to turn under him like a wheel, his
brain turned also, and he fancied he was God. So that, though he
was a good man, he committed a great crime."
Wilfred's face was turned away, but his bony hands turned blue
and white as they tightened on the parapet of stone.
"He thought it was given to him to judge the world and strike
down the sinner. He would never have had such a thought if he had
been kneeling with other men upon a floor. But he saw all men
walking about like insects. He saw one especially strutting just
below him, insolent and evident by a bright green hat--a
Rooks cawed round the corners of the belfry; but there was no
other sound till Father Brown went on.
"This also tempted him, that he had in his hand one of the
most awful engines of nature; I mean gravitation, that mad and
quickening rush by which all earth's creatures fly back to her
heart when released. See, the inspector is strutting just below
us in the smithy. If I were to toss a pebble over this parapet it
would be something like a bullet by the time it struck him. If I
were to drop a hammer--even a small hammer--"
Wilfred Bohun threw one leg over the parapet, and Father Brown
had him in a minute by the collar.
"Not by that door," he said quite gently; "that door leads to
Bohun staggered back against the wall, and stared at him with
"How do you know all this?" he cried. "Are you a devil?"
"I am a man," answered Father Brown gravely; "and therefore
have all devils in my heart. Listen to me," he said after a short
pause. "I know what you did--at least, I can guess the great
part of it. When you left your brother you were racked with no
unrighteous rage, to the extent even that you snatched up a small
hammer, half inclined to kill him with his foulness on his mouth.
Recoiling, you thrust it under your buttoned coat instead, and
rushed into the church. You pray wildly in many places, under the
angel window, upon the platform above, and a higher platform
still, from which you could see the colonel's Eastern hat like the
back of a green beetle crawling about. Then something snapped in
your soul, and you let God's thunderbolt fall."
Wilfred put a weak hand to his head, and asked in a low voice:
"How did you know that his hat looked like a green beetle?"
"Oh, that," said the other with the shadow of a smile, "that
was common sense. But hear me further. I say I know all this;
but no one else shall know it. The next step is for you; I shall
take no more steps; I will seal this with the seal of confession.
If you ask me why, there are many reasons, and only one that
concerns you. I leave things to you because you have not yet gone
very far wrong, as assassins go. You did not help to fix the
crime on the smith when it was easy; or on his wife, when that was
easy. You tried to fix it on the imbecile because you knew that
he could not suffer. That was one of the gleams that it is my
business to find in assassins. And now come down into the
village, and go your own way as free as the wind; for I have said
my last word."
They went down the winding stairs in utter silence, and came
out into the sunlight by the smithy. Wilfred Bohun carefully
unlatched the wooden gate of the yard, and going up to the
inspector, said: "I wish to give myself up; I have killed my
The Eye of Apollo
That singular smoky sparkle, at once a confusion and a
which is the strange secret of the Thames, was changing more and
more from its grey to its glittering extreme as the sun climbed to
the zenith over Westminster, and two men crossed Westminster
Bridge. One man was very tall and the other very short; they
might even have been fantastically compared to the arrogant
clock-tower of Parliament and the humbler humped shoulders of the
Abbey, for the short man was in clerical dress. The official
description of the tall man was M. Hercule Flambeau, private
detective, and he was going to his new offices in a new pile of
flats facing the Abbey entrance. The official description of the
short man was the Reverend J. Brown, attached to St. Francis
Xavier's Church, Camberwell, and he was coming from a Camberwell
deathbed to see the new offices of his friend.
The building was American in its sky-scraping altitude, and
American also in the oiled elaboration of its machinery of
telephones and lifts. But it was barely finished and still
understaffed; only three tenants had moved in; the office just
above Flambeau was occupied, as also was the office just below
him; the two floors above that and the three floors below were
entirely bare. But the first glance at the new tower of flats
caught something much more arresting. Save for a few relics of
scaffolding, the one glaring object was erected outside the office
just above Flambeau's. It was an enormous gilt effigy of the
human eye, surrounded with rays of gold, and taking up as much
room as two or three of the office windows.
"What on earth is that?" asked Father Brown, and stood still.
"Oh, a new religion," said Flambeau, laughing; "one of those new
religions that forgive your sins by saying you never had any.
Rather like Christian Science, I should think. The fact is that a
fellow calling himself Kalon (I don't know what his name is,
except that it can't be that) has taken the flat just above me.
I have two lady typewriters underneath me, and this enthusiastic
old humbug on top. He calls himself the New Priest of Apollo, and
he worships the sun."
"Let him look out," said Father Brown. "The sun was the
cruellest of all the gods. But what does that monstrous eye mean?"
"As I understand it, it is a theory of theirs," answered
Flambeau, "that a man can endure anything if his mind is quite
steady. Their two great symbols are the sun and the open eye; for
they say that if a man were really healthy he could stare at the
"If a man were really healthy," said Father Brown, "he would
not bother to stare at it."
"Well, that's all I can tell you about the new religion," went
on Flambeau carelessly. "It claims, of course, that it can cure
all physical diseases."
"Can it cure the one spiritual disease?" asked Father Brown,
with a serious curiosity.
"And what is the one spiritual disease?" asked Flambeau,
"Oh, thinking one is quite well," said his friend.
Flambeau was more interested in the quiet little office below
him than in the flamboyant temple above. He was a lucid
Southerner, incapable of conceiving himself as anything but a
Catholic or an atheist; and new religions of a bright and pallid
sort were not much in his line. But humanity was always in his
line, especially when it was good-looking; moreover, the ladies
downstairs were characters in their way. The office was kept by
two sisters, both slight and dark, one of them tall and striking.
She had a dark, eager and aquiline profile, and was one of those
women whom one always thinks of in profile, as of the clean-cut
edge of some weapon. She seemed to cleave her way through life.
She had eyes of startling brilliancy, but it was the brilliancy of
steel rather than of diamonds; and her straight, slim figure was a
shade too stiff for its grace. Her younger sister was like her
shortened shadow, a little greyer, paler, and more insignificant.
They both wore a business-like black, with little masculine cuffs
and collars. There are thousands of such curt, strenuous ladies
in the offices of London, but the interest of these lay rather in
their real than their apparent position.
For Pauline Stacey, the elder, was actually the heiress of a
crest and half a county, as well as great wealth ; she had been
brought up in castles and gardens, before a frigid fierceness
(peculiar to the modern woman) had driven her to what she
considered a harsher and a higher existence. She had not, indeed,
surrendered her money; in that there would have been a romantic or
monkish abandon quite alien to her masterful utilitarianism. She
held her wealth, she would say, for use upon practical social
objects. Part of it she had put into her business, the nucleus of
a model typewriting emporium; part of it was distributed in
various leagues and causes for the advancement of such work among
women. How far Joan, her sister and partner, shared this slightly
prosaic idealism no one could be very sure. But she followed her
leader with a dog-like affection which was somehow more attractive,
with its touch of tragedy, than the hard, high spirits of the
elder. For Pauline Stacey had nothing to say to tragedy; she was
understood to deny its existence.
Her rigid rapidity and cold impatience had amused Flambeau
very much on the first occasion of his entering the flats. He had
lingered outside the lift in the entrance hall waiting for the
lift-boy, who generally conducts strangers to the various floors.
But this bright-eyed falcon of a girl had openly refused to endure
such official delay. She said sharply that she knew all about the
lift, and was not dependent on boys--or men either. Though her
flat was only three floors above, she managed in the few seconds
of ascent to give Flambeau a great many of her fundamental views
in an off-hand manner; they were to the general effect that she
was a modern working woman and loved modern working machinery.
Her bright black eyes blazed with abstract anger against those who
rebuke mechanic science and ask for the return of romance.
Everyone, she said, ought to be able to manage machines, just as
she could manage the lift. She seemed almost to resent the fact
of Flambeau opening the lift-door for her; and that gentleman went
up to his own apartments smiling with somewhat mingled feelings at
the memory of such spit-fire self-dependence.
She certainly had a temper, of a snappy, practical sort; the
gestures of her thin, elegant hands were abrupt or even
Once Flambeau entered her office on some typewriting business, and
found she had just flung a pair of spectacles belonging to her
sister into the middle of the floor and stamped on them. She was
already in the rapids of an ethical tirade about the "sickly
medical notions" and the morbid admission of weakness implied in
such an apparatus. She dared her sister to bring such artificial,
unhealthy rubbish into the place again. She asked if she was
expected to wear wooden legs or false hair or glass eyes; and as
she spoke her eyes sparkled like the terrible crystal.
Flambeau, quite bewildered with this fanaticism, could not
refrain from asking Miss Pauline (with direct French logic) why a
pair of spectacles was a more morbid sign of weakness than a lift,
and why, if science might help us in the one effort, it might not
help us in the other.
"That is so different," said Pauline Stacey, loftily.
"Batteries and motors and all those things are marks of the force
of man--yes, Mr. Flambeau, and the force of woman, too! We
shall take our turn at these great engines that devour distance
and defy time. That is high and splendid--that is really
science. But these nasty props and plasters the doctors sell--
why, they are just badges of poltroonery. Doctors stick on legs
and arms as if we were born cripples and sick slaves. But I was
free-born, Mr. Flambeau! People only think they need these things
because they have been trained in fear instead of being trained in
power and courage, just as the silly nurses tell children not to
stare at the sun, and so they can't do it without blinking. But
why among the stars should there be one star I may not see? The
sun is not my master, and I will open my eyes and stare at him
whenever I choose."
"Your eyes," said Flambeau, with a foreign bow, "will dazzle
the sun." He took pleasure in complimenting this strange stiff
beauty, partly because it threw her a little off her balance. But
as he went upstairs to his floor he drew a deep breath and
whistled, saying to himself: "So she has got into the hands of
that conjurer upstairs with his golden eye." For, little as he
knew or cared about the new religion of Kalon, he had heard of his
special notion about sun-gazing.
He soon discovered that the spiritual bond between the floors
above and below him was close and increasing. The man who called
himself Kalon was a magnificent creature, worthy, in a physical
sense, to be the pontiff of Apollo. He was nearly as tall even as
Flambeau, and very much better looking, with a golden beard, strong
blue eyes, and a mane flung back like a lion's. In structure he
was the blonde beast of Nietzsche, but all this animal beauty was
heightened, brightened and softened by genuine intellect and
spirituality. If he looked like one of the great Saxon kings, he
looked like one of the kings that were also saints. And this
despite the cockney incongruity of his surroundings; the fact that
he had an office half-way up a building in Victoria Street; that
the clerk (a commonplace youth in cuffs and collars) sat in the
outer room, between him and the corridor; that his name was on a
brass plate, and the gilt emblem of his creed hung above his
street, like the advertisement of an oculist. All this vulgarity
could not take away from the man called Kalon the vivid oppression
and inspiration that came from his soul and body. When all was
said, a man in the presence of this quack did feel in the presence
of a great man. Even in the loose jacket-suit of linen that he
wore as a workshop dress in his office he was a fascinating and
formidable figure; and when robed in the white vestments and
crowned with the golden circlet, in which he daily saluted the sun,
he really looked so splendid that the laughter of the street people
sometimes died suddenly on their lips. For three times in the day
the new sun-worshipper went out on his little balcony, in the face
of all Westminster, to say some litany to his shining lord: once
at daybreak, once at sunset, and once at the shock of noon. And
it was while the shock of noon still shook faintly from the towers
of Parliament and parish church that Father Brown, the friend of
Flambeau, first looked up and saw the white priest of Apollo.
Flambeau had seen quite enough of these daily salutations of
Phoebus, and plunged into the porch of the tall building without
even looking for his clerical friend to follow. But Father Brown,
whether from a professional interest in ritual or a strong
individual interest in tomfoolery, stopped and stared up at the
balcony of the sun-worshipper, just as he might have stopped and
stared up at a Punch and Judy. Kalon the Prophet was already
erect, with argent garments and uplifted hands, and the sound of
his strangely penetrating voice could be heard all the way down
the busy street uttering his solar litany. He was already in the
middle of it; his eyes were fixed upon the flaming disc. It is
doubtful if he saw anything or anyone on this earth; it is
substantially certain that he did not see a stunted, round-faced
priest who, in the crowd below, looked up at him with blinking
eyes. That was perhaps the most startling difference between even
these two far divided men. Father Brown could not look at
anything without blinking; but the priest of Apollo could look on
the blaze at noon without a quiver of the eyelid.
"O sun," cried the prophet, "O star that art too great to be
allowed among the stars! O fountain that flowest quietly in that
secret spot that is called space. White Father of all white
unwearied things, white flames and white flowers and white peaks.
Father, who art more innocent than all thy most innocent and quiet
children; primal purity, into the peace of which--"
A rush and crash like the reversed rush of a rocket was cloven
with a strident and incessant yelling. Five people rushed into
the gate of the mansions as three people rushed out, and for an
instant they all deafened each other. The sense of some utterly
abrupt horror seemed for a moment to fill half the street with bad
news--bad news that was all the worse because no one knew what
it was. Two figures remained still after the crash of commotion:
the fair priest of Apollo on the balcony above, and the ugly
priest of Christ below him.
At last the tall figure and titanic energy of Flambeau
appeared in the doorway of the mansions and dominated the little
mob. Talking at the top of his voice like a fog-horn, he told
somebody or anybody to go for a surgeon; and as he turned back
into the dark and thronged entrance his friend Father Brown dipped
in insignificantly after him. Even as he ducked and dived through
the crowd he could still hear the magnificent melody and monotony
of the solar priest still calling on the happy god who is the
friend of fountains and flowers.
Father Brown found Flambeau and some six other people standing
round the enclosed space into which the lift commonly descended.
But the lift had not descended. Something else had descended;
something that ought to have come by a lift.
For the last four minutes Flambeau had looked down on it; had
seen the brained and bleeding figure of that beautiful woman who
denied the existence of tragedy. He had never had the slightest
doubt that it was Pauline Stacey; and, though he had sent for a
doctor, he had not the slightest doubt that she was dead.
He could not remember for certain whether he had liked her or
disliked her; there was so much both to like and dislike. But she
had been a person to him, and the unbearable pathos of details and
habit stabbed him with all the small daggers of bereavement. He
remembered her pretty face and priggish speeches with a sudden
secret vividness which is all the bitterness of death. In an
instant like a bolt from the blue, like a thunderbolt from nowhere,
that beautiful and defiant body had been dashed down the open well
of the lift to death at the bottom. Was it suicide? With so
insolent an optimist it seemed impossible. Was it murder? But
who was there in those hardly inhabited flats to murder anybody?
In a rush of raucous words, which he meant to be strong and
suddenly found weak, he asked where was that fellow Kalon. A
voice, habitually heavy, quiet and full, assured him that Kalon
for the last fifteen minutes had been away up on his balcony
worshipping his god. When Flambeau heard the voice, and felt the
hand of Father Brown, he turned his swarthy face and said abruptly:
"Then, if he has been up there all the time, who can have done
"Perhaps," said the other, "we might go upstairs and find out.
We have half an hour before the police will move."
Leaving the body of the slain heiress in charge of the
surgeons, Flambeau dashed up the stairs to the typewriting office,
found it utterly empty, and then dashed up to his own. Having
entered that, he abruptly returned with a new and white face to
"Her sister," he said, with an unpleasant seriousness, "her
sister seems to have gone out for a walk."
Father Brown nodded. "Or, she may have gone up to the office
of that sun man," he said. "If I were you I should just verify
that, and then let us all talk it over in your office. No," he
added suddenly, as if remembering something, "shall I ever get
over that stupidity of mine? Of course, in their office
Flambeau stared; but he followed the little father downstairs
to the empty flat of the Staceys, where that impenetrable pastor
took a large red-leather chair in the very entrance, from which he
could see the stairs and landings, and waited. He did not wait
very long. In about four minutes three figures descended the
stairs, alike only in their solemnity. The first was Joan Stacey,
the sister of the dead woman--evidently she had been upstairs in
the temporary temple of Apollo; the second was the priest of
Apollo himself, his litany finished, sweeping down the empty
stairs in utter magnificence--something in his white robes,
beard and parted hair had the look of Dore's Christ leaving the
Pretorium; the third was Flambeau, black browed and somewhat
Miss Joan Stacey, dark, with a drawn face and hair prematurely
touched with grey, walked straight to her own desk and set out her
papers with a practical flap. The mere action rallied everyone
else to sanity. If Miss Joan Stacey was a criminal, she was a
cool one. Father Brown regarded her for some time with an odd
little smile, and then, without taking his eyes off her, addressed
himself to somebody else.
"Prophet," he said, presumably addressing Kalon, "I wish you
would tell me a lot about your religion."
"I shall be proud to do it," said Kalon, inclining his still
crowned head, "but I am not sure that I understand."
"Why, it's like this," said Father Brown, in his frankly
doubtful way: "We are taught that if a man has really bad first
principles, that must be partly his fault. But, for all that, we
can make some difference between a man who insults his quite clear
conscience and a man with a conscience more or less clouded with
sophistries. Now, do you really think that murder is wrong at
"Is this an accusation?" asked Kalon very quietly.
"No," answered Brown, equally gently, "it is the speech for
In the long and startled stillness of the room the prophet of
Apollo slowly rose; and really it was like the rising of the sun.
He filled that room with his light and life in such a manner that
a man felt he could as easily have filled Salisbury Plain. His
robed form seemed to hang the whole room with classic draperies;
his epic gesture seemed to extend it into grander perspectives,
till the little black figure of the modern cleric seemed to be a
fault and an intrusion, a round, black blot upon some splendour of
"We meet at last, Caiaphas," said the prophet. "Your church
and mine are the only realities on this earth. I adore the sun,
and you the darkening of the sun; you are the priest of the dying
and I of the living God. Your present work of suspicion and
slander is worthy of your coat and creed. All your church is but
a black police; you are only spies and detectives seeking to tear
from men confessions of guilt, whether by treachery or torture.
You would convict men of crime, I would convict them of innocence.
You would convince them of sin, I would convince them of virtue.
"Reader of the books of evil, one more word before I blow away
your baseless nightmares for ever. Not even faintly could you
understand how little I care whether you can convict me or no.
The things you call disgrace and horrible hanging are to me no
more than an ogre in a child's toy-book to a man once grown up.
You said you were offering the speech for the defence. I care so
little for the cloudland of this life that I will offer you the
speech for the prosecution. There is but one thing that can be
said against me in this matter, and I will say it myself. The
woman that is dead was my love and my bride; not after such manner
as your tin chapels call lawful, but by a law purer and sterner
than you will ever understand. She and I walked another world
from yours, and trod palaces of crystal while you were plodding
through tunnels and corridors of brick. Well, I know that
policemen, theological and otherwise, always fancy that where
there has been love there must soon be hatred; so there you have
the first point made for the prosecution. But the second point is
stronger; I do not grudge it you. Not only is it true that
Pauline loved me, but it is also true that this very morning,
before she died, she wrote at that table a will leaving me and my
new church half a million. Come, where are the handcuffs? Do you
suppose I care what foolish things you do with me? Penal
servitude will only be like waiting for her at a wayside station.
The gallows will only be going to her in a headlong car."
He spoke with the brain-shaking authority of an orator, and
Flambeau and Joan Stacey stared at him in amazed admiration.
Father Brown's face seemed to express nothing but extreme
distress; he looked at the ground with one wrinkle of pain across
his forehead. The prophet of the sun leaned easily against the
mantelpiece and resumed:
"In a few words I have put before you the whole case against
me--the only possible case against me. In fewer words still I
will blow it to pieces, so that not a trace of it remains. As to
whether I have committed this crime, the truth is in one sentence:
I could not have committed this crime. Pauline Stacey fell from
this floor to the ground at five minutes past twelve. A hundred
people will go into the witness-box and say that I was standing
out upon the balcony of my own rooms above from just before the
stroke of noon to a quarter-past--the usual period of my public
prayers. My clerk (a respectable youth from Clapham, with no sort
of connection with me) will swear that he sat in my outer office
all the morning, and that no communication passed through. He
will swear that I arrived a full ten minutes before the hour,
fifteen minutes before any whisper of the accident, and that I did
not leave the office or the balcony all that time. No one ever
had so complete an alibi; I could subpoena half Westminster. I
think you had better put the handcuffs away again. The case is at
"But last of all, that no breath of this idiotic suspicion
remain in the air, I will tell you all you want to know. I
believe I do know how my unhappy friend came by her death. You
can, if you choose, blame me for it, or my faith and philosophy at
least; but you certainly cannot lock me up. It is well known to
all students of the higher truths that certain adepts and
illuminati have in history attained the power of levitation--
that is, of being self-sustained upon the empty air. It is but a
part of that general conquest of matter which is the main element
in our occult wisdom. Poor Pauline was of an impulsive and
ambitious temper. I think, to tell the truth, she thought herself
somewhat deeper in the mysteries than she was; and she has often
said to me, as we went down in the lift together, that if one's
will were strong enough, one could float down as harmlessly as a
feather. I solemnly believe that in some ecstasy of noble thoughts
she attempted the miracle. Her will, or faith, must have failed
her at the crucial instant, and the lower law of matter had its
horrible revenge. There is the whole story, gentlemen, very sad
and, as you think, very presumptuous and wicked, but certainly not
criminal or in any way connected with me. In the short-hand of
the police-courts, you had better call it suicide. I shall always
call it heroic failure for the advance of science and the slow
scaling of heaven."
It was the first time Flambeau had ever seen Father Brown
vanquished. He still sat looking at the ground, with a painful
and corrugated brow, as if in shame. It was impossible to avoid
the feeling which the prophet's winged words had fanned, that here
was a sullen, professional suspecter of men overwhelmed by a
prouder and purer spirit of natural liberty and health. At last
he said, blinking as if in bodily distress: "Well, if that is so,
sir, you need do no more than take the testamentary paper you
spoke of and go. I wonder where the poor lady left it."
"It will be over there on her desk by the door, I think," said
Kalon, with that massive innocence of manner that seemed to acquit
him wholly. "She told me specially she would write it this
morning, and I actually saw her writing as I went up in the lift
to my own room."
"Was her door open then?" asked the priest, with his eye on
the corner of the matting.
"Yes," said Kalon calmly.
"Ah! it has been open ever since," said the other, and resumed
his silent study of the mat.
"There is a paper over here," said the grim Miss Joan, in a
somewhat singular voice. She had passed over to her sister's desk
by the doorway, and was holding a sheet of blue foolscap in her
hand. There was a sour smile on her face that seemed unfit for
such a scene or occasion, and Flambeau looked at her with a
Kalon the prophet stood away from the paper with that loyal
unconsciousness that had carried him through. But Flambeau took
it out of the lady's hand, and read it with the utmost amazement.
It did, indeed, begin in the formal manner of a will, but after
the words "I give and bequeath all of which I die possessed" the
writing abruptly stopped with a set of scratches, and there was no
trace of the name of any legatee. Flambeau, in wonder, handed
this truncated testament to his clerical friend, who glanced at it
and silently gave it to the priest of the sun.
An instant afterwards that pontiff, in his splendid sweeping
draperies, had crossed the room in two great strides, and was
towering over Joan Stacey, his blue eyes standing from his head.
"What monkey tricks have you been playing here?" he cried.
"That's not all Pauline wrote."
They were startled to hear him speak in quite a new voice,
with a Yankee shrillness in it; all his grandeur and good English
had fallen from him like a cloak.
"That is the only thing on her desk," said Joan, and
confronted him steadily with the same smile of evil favour.
Of a sudden the man broke out into blasphemies and cataracts
of incredulous words. There was something shocking about the
dropping of his mask; it was like a man's real face falling off.
"See here!" he cried in broad American, when he was breathless
with cursing, "I may be an adventurer, but I guess you're a
murderess. Yes, gentlemen, here's your death explained, and
without any levitation. The poor girl is writing a will in my
favour; her cursed sister comes in, struggles for the pen, drags
her to the well, and throws her down before she can finish it.
Sakes! I reckon we want the handcuffs after all."
"As you have truly remarked," replied Joan, with ugly calm,
"your clerk is a very respectable young man, who knows the nature
of an oath; and he will swear in any court that I was up in your
office arranging some typewriting work for five minutes before and
five minutes after my sister fell. Mr. Flambeau will tell you
that he found me there."
There was a silence.
"Why, then," cried Flambeau, "Pauline was alone when she fell,
and it was suicide!"
"She was alone when she fell," said Father Brown, "but it was
"Then how did she die?" asked Flambeau impatiently.
"She was murdered."
"But she was alone," objected the detective.
"She was murdered when she was all alone," answered the
All the rest stared at him, but he remained sitting in the
same old dejected attitude, with a wrinkle in his round forehead
and an appearance of impersonal shame and sorrow; his voice was
colourless and sad.
"What I want to know," cried Kalon, with an oath, "is when the
police are coming for this bloody and wicked sister. She's killed
her flesh and blood; she's robbed me of half a million that was
just as sacredly mine as--"
"Come, come, prophet," interrupted Flambeau, with a kind of
sneer; "remember that all this world is a cloudland."
The hierophant of the sun-god made an effort to climb back on
his pedestal. "It is not the mere money," he cried, "though that
would equip the cause throughout the world. It is also my beloved
one's wishes. To Pauline all this was holy. In Pauline's eyes--"
Father Brown suddenly sprang erect, so that his chair fell
over flat behind him. He was deathly pale, yet he seemed fired
with a hope; his eyes shone.
"That's it!" he cried in a clear voice. "That's the way to
begin. In Pauline's eyes--"
The tall prophet retreated before the tiny priest in an almost
mad disorder. "What do you mean? How dare you?" he cried
"In Pauline's eyes," repeated the priest, his own shining more
and more. "Go on--in God's name, go on. The foulest crime the
fiends ever prompted feels lighter after confession; and I implore
you to confess. Go on, go on--in Pauline's eyes--"
"Let me go, you devil!" thundered Kalon, struggling like a
giant in bonds. "Who are you, you cursed spy, to weave your
spiders' webs round me, and peep and peer? Let me go."
"Shall I stop him?" asked Flambeau, bounding towards the exit,
for Kalon had already thrown the door wide open.
"No; let him pass," said Father Brown, with a strange deep
sigh that seemed to come from the depths of the universe. "Let
Cain pass by, for he belongs to God."
There was a long-drawn silence in the room when he had left
it, which was to Flambeau's fierce wits one long agony of
interrogation. Miss Joan Stacey very coolly tidied up the papers
on her desk.
"Father," said Flambeau at last, "it is my duty, not my
curiosity only--it is my duty to find out, if I can, who
committed the crime."
"Which crime?" asked Father Brown.
"The one we are dealing with, of course," replied his
"We are dealing with two crimes," said Brown, "crimes of very
different weight--and by very different criminals."
Miss Joan Stacey, having collected and put away her papers,
proceeded to lock up her drawer. Father Brown went on, noticing
her as little as she noticed him.
"The two crimes," he observed, "were committed against the
same weakness of the same person, in a struggle for her money.
The author of the larger crime found himself thwarted by the
smaller crime; the author of the smaller crime got the money."
"Oh, don't go on like a lecturer," groaned Flambeau; "put it
in a few words."
"I can put it in one word," answered his friend.
Miss Joan Stacey skewered her business-like black hat on to
her head with a business-like black frown before a little mirror,
and, as the conversation proceeded, took her handbag and umbrella
in an unhurried style, and left the room.
"The truth is one word, and a short one," said Father Brown.
"Pauline Stacey was blind."
"Blind!" repeated Flambeau, and rose slowly to his whole huge
"She was subject to it by blood," Brown proceeded. "Her
sister would have started eyeglasses if Pauline would have let
her; but it was her special philosophy or fad that one must not
encourage such diseases by yielding to them. She would not admit
the cloud; or she tried to dispel it by will. So her eyes got
worse and worse with straining; but the worst strain was to come.
It came with this precious prophet, or whatever he calls himself,
who taught her to stare at the hot sun with the naked eye. It was
called accepting Apollo. Oh, if these new pagans would only be
old pagans, they would be a little wiser! The old pagans knew
that mere naked Nature-worship must have a cruel side. They knew
that the eye of Apollo can blast and blind."
There was a pause, and the priest went on in a gentle and even
broken voice. "Whether or no that devil deliberately made her
blind, there is no doubt that he deliberately killed her through
her blindness. The very simplicity of the crime is sickening.
You know he and she went up and down in those lifts without
official help; you know also how smoothly and silently the lifts
slide. Kalon brought the lift to the girl's landing, and saw her,
through the open door, writing in her slow, sightless way the will
she had promised him. He called out to her cheerily that he had
the lift ready for her, and she was to come out when she was ready.
Then he pressed a button and shot soundlessly up to his own floor,
walked through his own office, out on to his own balcony, and was
safely praying before the crowded street when the poor girl,
having finished her work, ran gaily out to where lover and lift
were to receive her, and stepped--"
"Don't!" cried Flambeau.
"He ought to have got half a million by pressing that button,"
continued the little father, in the colourless voice in which he
talked of such horrors. "But that went smash. It went smash
because there happened to be another person who also wanted the
money, and who also knew the secret about poor Pauline's sight.
There was one thing about that will that I think nobody noticed:
although it was unfinished and without signature, the other Miss
Stacey and some servant of hers had already signed it as witnesses.
Joan had signed first, saying Pauline could finish it later, with
a typical feminine contempt for legal forms. Therefore, Joan
wanted her sister to sign the will without real witnesses. Why?
I thought of the blindness, and felt sure she had wanted Pauline
to sign in solitude because she had wanted her not to sign at all.
"People like the Staceys always use fountain pens; but this
was specially natural to Pauline. By habit and her strong will
and memory she could still write almost as well as if she saw; but
she could not tell when her pen needed dipping. Therefore, her
fountain pens were carefully filled by her sister--all except
this fountain pen. This was carefully not filled by her sister;
the remains of the ink held out for a few lines and then failed
altogether. And the prophet lost five hundred thousand pounds and
committed one of the most brutal and brilliant murders in human
history for nothing."
Flambeau went to the open door and heard the official police
ascending the stairs. He turned and said: "You must have followed
everything devilish close to have traced the crime to Kalon in ten
Father Brown gave a sort of start.
"Oh! to him," he said. "No; I had to follow rather close to
find out about Miss Joan and the fountain pen. But I knew Kalon
was the criminal before I came into the front door."
"You must be joking!" cried Flambeau.
"I'm quite serious," answered the priest. "I tell you I knew
he had done it, even before I knew what he had done."
"These pagan stoics," said Brown reflectively, "always fail by
their strength. There came a crash and a scream down the street,
and the priest of Apollo did not start or look round. I did not
know what it was. But I knew that he was expecting it."
The Sign of the Broken Sword
The thousand arms of the forest were grey, and its million fingers
silver. In a sky of dark green-blue-like slate the stars were
bleak and brilliant like splintered ice. All that thickly wooded
and sparsely tenanted countryside was stiff with a bitter and
brittle frost. The black hollows between the trunks of the trees
looked like bottomless, black caverns of that Scandinavian hell, a
hell of incalculable cold. Even the square stone tower of the
church looked northern to the point of heathenry, as if it were
some barbaric tower among the sea rocks of Iceland. It was a
queer night for anyone to explore a churchyard. But, on the other
hand, perhaps it was worth exploring.
It rose abruptly out of the ashen wastes of forest in a sort
of hump or shoulder of green turf that looked grey in the
starlight. Most of the graves were on a slant, and the path
leading up to the church was as steep as a staircase. On the top
of the hill, in the one flat and prominent place, was the monument
for which the place was famous. It contrasted strangely with the
featureless graves all round, for it was the work of one of the
greatest sculptors of modern Europe; and yet his fame was at once
forgotten in the fame of the man whose image he had made. It
showed, by touches of the small silver pencil of starlight, the
massive metal figure of a soldier recumbent, the strong hands
sealed in an everlasting worship, the great head pillowed upon a
gun. The venerable face was bearded, or rather whiskered, in the
old, heavy Colonel Newcome fashion. The uniform, though suggested
with the few strokes of simplicity, was that of modern war. By
his right side lay a sword, of which the tip was broken off; on
the left side lay a Bible. On glowing summer afternoons
wagonettes came full of Americans and cultured suburbans to see
the sepulchre; but even then they felt the vast forest land with
its one dumpy dome of churchyard and church as a place oddly dumb
and neglected. In this freezing darkness of mid-winter one would
think he might be left alone with the stars. Nevertheless, in the
stillness of those stiff woods a wooden gate creaked, and two dim
figures dressed in black climbed up the little path to the tomb.
So faint was that frigid starlight that nothing could have
been traced about them except that while they both wore black, one
man was enormously big, and the other (perhaps by contrast) almost
startlingly small. They went up to the great graven tomb of the
historic warrior, and stood for a few minutes staring at it.
There was no human, perhaps no living, thing for a wide circle;
and a morbid fancy might well have wondered if they were human
themselves. In any case, the beginning of their conversation
might have seemed strange. After the first silence the small man
said to the other:
"Where does a wise man hide a pebble?"
And the tall man answered in a low voice: "On the beach."
The small man nodded, and after a short silence said: "Where
does a wise man hide a leaf?"
And the other answered: "In the forest."
There was another stillness, and then the tall man resumed:
"Do you mean that when a wise man has to hide a real diamond he
has been known to hide it among sham ones?"
"No, no," said the little man with a laugh, "we will let
bygones be bygones."
He stamped his cold feet for a second or two, and then said:
"I'm not thinking of that at all, but of something else; something
rather peculiar. Just strike a match, will you?"
The big man fumbled in his pocket, and soon a scratch and a
flare painted gold the whole flat side of the monument. On it was
cut in black letters the well-known words which so many Americans
had reverently read: "Sacred to the Memory of General Sir Arthur
St. Clare, Hero and Martyr, who Always Vanquished his Enemies and
Always Spared Them, and Was Treacherously Slain by Them At Last.
May God in Whom he Trusted both Reward and Revenge him."
The match burnt the big man's fingers, blackened, and dropped.
He was about to strike another, but his small companion stopped
him. "That's all right, Flambeau, old man; I saw what I wanted.
Or, rather, I didn't see what I didn't want. And now we must walk
a mile and a half along the road to the next inn, and I will try
to tell you all about it. For Heaven knows a man should have a
fire and ale when he dares tell such a story."
They descended the precipitous path, they relatched the rusty
gate, and set off at a stamping, ringing walk down the frozen
forest road. They had gone a full quarter of a mile before the
smaller man spoke again. He said: "Yes; the wise man hides a
pebble on the beach. But what does he do if there is no beach?
Do you know anything of that great St. Clare trouble?"
"I know nothing about English generals, Father Brown,"
answered the large man, laughing, "though a little about English
policemen. I only know that you have dragged me a precious long
dance to all the shrines of this fellow, whoever he is. One would
think he got buried in six different places. I've seen a memorial
to General St. Clare in Westminster Abbey. I've seen a ramping
equestrian statue of General St. Clare on the Embankment. I've
seen a medallion of St. Clare in the street he was born in, and
another in the street he lived in; and now you drag me after dark
to his coffin in the village churchyard. I am beginning to be a
bit tired of his magnificent personality, especially as I don't in
the least know who he was. What are you hunting for in all these
crypts and effigies?"
"I am only looking for one word," said Father Brown. "A word
that isn't there."
"Well," asked Flambeau; "are you going to tell me anything
"I must divide it into two parts," remarked the priest.
"First there is what everybody knows; and then there is what I
know. Now, what everybody knows is short and plain enough. It is
also entirely wrong."
"Right you are," said the big man called Flambeau cheerfully.
"Let's begin at the wrong end. Let's begin with what everybody
knows, which isn't true."
"If not wholly untrue, it is at least very inadequate,"
continued Brown; "for in point of fact, all that the public knows
amounts precisely to this: The public knows that Arthur St. Clare
was a great and successful English general. It knows that after
splendid yet careful campaigns both in India and Africa he was in
command against Brazil when the great Brazilian patriot Olivier
issued his ultimatum. It knows that on that occasion St. Clare
with a very small force attacked Olivier with a very large one,
and was captured after heroic resistance. And it knows that after
his capture, and to the abhorrence of the civilised world, St.
Clare was hanged on the nearest tree. He was found swinging there
after the Brazilians had retired, with his broken sword hung round
"And that popular story is untrue?" suggested Flambeau.
"No," said his friend quietly, "that story is quite true, so
far as it goes."
"Well, I think it goes far enough!" said Flambeau; "but if the
popular story is true, what is the mystery?"
They had passed many hundreds of grey and ghostly trees before
the little priest answered. Then he bit his finger reflectively
and said: "Why, the mystery is a mystery of psychology. Or,
rather, it is a mystery of two psychologies. In that Brazilian
business two of the most famous men of modern history acted flat
against their characters. Mind you, Olivier and St. Clare were
both heroes--the old thing, and no mistake; it was like the
fight between Hector and Achilles. Now, what would you say to an
affair in which Achilles was timid and Hector was treacherous?"
"Go on," said the large man impatiently as the other bit his
"Sir Arthur St. Clare was a soldier of the old religious type
--the type that saved us during the Mutiny," continued Brown.
"He was always more for duty than for dash; and with all his
personal courage was decidedly a prudent commander, particularly
indignant at any needless waste of soldiers. Yet in this last
battle he attempted something that a baby could see was absurd.
One need not be a strategist to see it was as wild as wind; just
as one need not be a strategist to keep out of the way of a
motor-bus. Well, that is the first mystery; what had become of
the English general's head? The second riddle is, what had become
of the Brazilian general's heart? President Olivier might be
called a visionary or a nuisance; but even his enemies admitted
that he was magnanimous to the point of knight errantry. Almost
every other prisoner he had ever captured had been set free or
even loaded with benefits. Men who had really wronged him came
away touched by his simplicity and sweetness. Why the deuce
should he diabolically revenge himself only once in his life; and
that for the one particular blow that could not have hurt him?
Well, there you have it. One of the wisest men in the world acted
like an idiot for no reason. One of the best men in the world
acted like a fiend for no reason. That's the long and the short
of it; and I leave it to you, my boy."
"No, you don't," said the other with a snort. "I leave it to
you; and you jolly well tell me all about it."
"Well," resumed Father Brown, "it's not fair to say that the
public impression is just what I've said, without adding that two
things have happened since. I can't say they threw a new light;
for nobody can make sense of them. But they threw a new kind of
darkness; they threw the darkness in new directions. The first was
this. The family physician of the St. Clares quarrelled with that
family, and began publishing a violent series of articles, in which
he said that the late general was a religious maniac; but as far as
the tale went, this seemed to mean little more than a religious
Anyhow, the story fizzled out. Everyone knew, of course, that St.
Clare had some of the eccentricities of puritan piety. The second
incident was much more arresting. In the luckless and unsupported
regiment which made that rash attempt at the Black River there was
a certain Captain Keith, who was at that time engaged to St.
daughter, and who afterwards married her. He was one of those who
were captured by Olivier, and, like all the rest except the
appears to have been bounteously treated and promptly set free.
Some twenty years afterwards this man, then Lieutenant-Colonel
Keith, published a sort of autobiography called `A British Officer
in Burmah and Brazil.' In the place where the reader looks eagerly
for some account of the mystery of St. Clare's disaster may be
found the following words: `Everywhere else in this book I have
narrated things exactly as they occurred, holding as I do the
old-fashioned opinion that the glory of England is old enough to
take care of itself. The exception I shall make is in this matter
of the defeat by the Black River; and my reasons, though private,
are honourable and compelling. I will, however, add this in
justice to the memories of two distinguished men. General St.
Clare has been accused of incapacity on this occasion; I can at
least testify that this action, properly understood, was one of
the most brilliant and sagacious of his life. President Olivier
by similar report is charged with savage injustice. I think it
due to the honour of an enemy to say that he acted on this
occasion with even more than his characteristic good feeling.
To put the matter popularly, I can assure my countrymen that St.
Clare was by no means such a fool nor Olivier such a brute as he
looked. This is all I have to say; nor shall any earthly
consideration induce me to add a word to it.'"
A large frozen moon like a lustrous snowball began to show
through the tangle of twigs in front of them, and by its light the
narrator had been able to refresh his memory of Captain Keith's
text from a scrap of printed paper. As he folded it up and put it
back in his pocket Flambeau threw up his hand with a French
"Wait a bit, wait a bit," he cried excitedly. "I believe I
can guess it at the first go."
He strode on, breathing hard, his black head and bull neck
forward, like a man winning a walking race. The little priest,
amused and interested, had some trouble in trotting beside him.
Just before them the trees fell back a little to left and right,
and the road swept downwards across a clear, moonlit valley, till
it dived again like a rabbit into the wall of another wood. The
entrance to the farther forest looked small and round, like the
black hole of a remote railway tunnel. But it was within some
hundred yards, and gaped like a cavern before Flambeau spoke
"I've got it," he cried at last, slapping his thigh with his
great hand. "Four minutes' thinking, and I can tell your whole
"All right," assented his friend. "You tell it."
Flambeau lifted his head, but lowered his voice. "General Sir
Arthur St. Clare," he said, "came of a family in which madness was
hereditary; and his whole aim was to keep this from his daughter,
and even, if possible, from his future son-in-law. Rightly or
wrongly, he thought the final collapse was close, and resolved on
suicide. Yet ordinary suicide would blazon the very idea he
dreaded. As the campaign approached the clouds came thicker on
his brain; and at last in a mad moment he sacrificed his public
duty to his private. He rushed rashly into battle, hoping to fall
by the first shot. When he found that he had only attained
capture and discredit, the sealed bomb in his brain burst, and he
broke his own sword and hanged himself."
He stared firmly at the grey facade of forest in front of him,
with the one black gap in it, like the mouth of the grave, into
which their path plunged. Perhaps something menacing in the road
thus suddenly swallowed reinforced his vivid vision of the tragedy,
for he shuddered.
"A horrid story," he said.
"A horrid story," repeated the priest with bent head. "But
not the real story."
Then he threw back his head with a sort of despair and cried:
"Oh, I wish it had been."
The tall Flambeau faced round and stared at him.
"Yours is a clean story," cried Father Brown, deeply moved.
"A sweet, pure, honest story, as open and white as that moon.
Madness and despair are innocent enough. There are worse things,
Flambeau looked up wildly at the moon thus invoked; and from
where he stood one black tree-bough curved across it exactly like
a devil's horn.
"Father--father," cried Flambeau with the French gesture
and stepping yet more rapidly forward, "do you mean it was worse
"Worse than that," said Paul like a grave echo. And they
plunged into the black cloister of the woodland, which ran by them
in a dim tapestry of trunks, like one of the dark corridors in a
They were soon in the most secret entrails of the wood, and
felt close about them foliage that they could not see, when the
priest said again:
"Where does a wise man hide a leaf? In the forest. But what
does he do if there is no forest?"
"Well, well," cried Flambeau irritably, "what does he do?"
"He grows a forest to hide it in," said the priest in an
obscure voice. "A fearful sin."
"Look here," cried his friend impatiently, for the dark wood
and the dark saying got a little on his nerves; will you tell me
this story or not? What other evidence is there to go on?"
"There are three more bits of evidence," said the other, "that
I have dug up in holes and corners; and I will give them in logical
rather than chronological order. First of all, of course, our
authority for the issue and event of the battle is in Olivier's
own dispatches, which are lucid enough. He was entrenched with
two or three regiments on the heights that swept down to the Black
River, on the other side of which was lower and more marshy
ground. Beyond this again was gently rising country, on which was
the first English outpost, supported by others which lay, however,
considerably in its rear. The British forces as a whole were
greatly superior in numbers; but this particular regiment was just
far enough from its base to make Olivier consider the project of
crossing the river to cut it off. By sunset, however, he had
decided to retain his own position, which was a specially strong
one. At daybreak next morning he was thunderstruck to see that
this stray handful of English, entirely unsupported from their
rear, had flung themselves across the river, half by a bridge to
the right, and the other half by a ford higher up, and were massed
upon the marshy bank below him.
"That they should attempt an attack with such numbers against
such a position was incredible enough; but Olivier noticed
something yet more extraordinary. For instead of attempting to
seize more solid ground, this mad regiment, having put the river
in its rear by one wild charge, did nothing more, but stuck there
in the mire like flies in treacle. Needless to say, the Brazilians
blew great gaps in them with artillery, which they could only
return with spirited but lessening rifle fire. Yet they never
broke; and Olivier's curt account ends with a strong tribute of
admiration for the mystic valour of these imbeciles. `Our line
then advanced finally,' writes Olivier, `and drove them into the
river; we captured General St. Clare himself and several other
officers. The colonel and the major had both fallen in the battle.
I cannot resist saying that few finer sights can have been seen in
history than the last stand of this extraordinary regiment; wounded
officers picking up the rifles of dead soldiers, and the general
himself facing us on horseback bareheaded and with a broken sword.'
On what happened to the general afterwards Olivier is as silent as
"Well," grunted Flambeau, "get on to the next bit of evidence."
"The next evidence," said Father Brown, "took some time to
find, but it will not take long to tell. I found at last in an
almshouse down in the Lincolnshire Fens an old soldier who not
only was wounded at the Black River, but had actually knelt beside
the colonel of the regiment when he died. This latter was a
certain Colonel Clancy, a big bull of an Irishman; and it would
seem that he died almost as much of rage as of bullets. He, at
any rate, was not responsible for that ridiculous raid; it must
have been imposed on him by the general. His last edifying words,
according to my informant, were these: `And there goes the damned
old donkey with the end of his sword knocked off. I wish it was
his head.' You will remark that everyone seems to have noticed
this detail about the broken sword blade, though most people
regard it somewhat more reverently than did the late Colonel
Clancy. And now for the third fragment."
Their path through the woodland began to go upward, and the
speaker paused a little for breath before he went on. Then he
continued in the same business-like tone:
"Only a month or two ago a certain Brazilian official died in
England, having quarrelled with Olivier and left his country. He
was a well-known figure both here and on the Continent, a Spaniard
named Espado; I knew him myself, a yellow-faced old dandy, with a
hooked nose. For various private reasons I had permission to see
the documents he had left; he was a Catholic, of course, and I had
been with him towards the end. There was nothing of his that lit
up any corner of the black St. Clare business, except five or six
common exercise books filled with the diary of some English
soldier. I can only suppose that it was found by the Brazilians
on one of those that fell. Anyhow, it stopped abruptly the night
before the battle.
"But the account of that last day in the poor fellow's life
was certainly worth reading. I have it on me; but it's too dark
to read it here, and I will give you a resume. The first part of
that entry is full of jokes, evidently flung about among the men,
about somebody called the Vulture. It does not seem as if this
person, whoever he was, was one of themselves, nor even an
Englishman; neither is he exactly spoken of as one of the enemy.
It sounds rather as if he were some local go-between and
non-combatant; perhaps a guide or a journalist. He has been
closeted with old Colonel Clancy; but is more often seen talking
to the major. Indeed, the major is somewhat prominent in this
soldier's narrative; a lean, dark-haired man, apparently, of the
name of Murray--a north of Ireland man and a Puritan. There are
continual jests about the contrast between this Ulsterman's
austerity and the conviviality of Colonel Clancy. There is also
some joke about the Vulture wearing bright-coloured clothes.
"But all these levities are scattered by what may well be
called the note of a bugle. Behind the English camp and almost
parallel to the river ran one of the few great roads of that
district. Westward the road curved round towards the river, which
it crossed by the bridge before mentioned. To the east the road
swept backwards into the wilds, and some two miles along it was
the next English outpost. From this direction there came along
the road that evening a glitter and clatter of light cavalry, in
which even the simple diarist could recognise with astonishment
the general with his staff. He rode the great white horse which
you have seen so often in illustrated papers and Academy pictures;
and you may be sure that the salute they gave him was not merely
ceremonial. He, at least, wasted no time on ceremony, but,
springing from the saddle immediately, mixed with the group of
officers, and fell into emphatic though confidential speech. What
struck our friend the diarist most was his special disposition to
discuss matters with Major Murray; but, indeed, such a selection,
so long as it was not marked, was in no way unnatural. The two
men were made for sympathy; they were men who `read their Bibles';
they were both the old Evangelical type of officer. However this
may be, it is certain that when the general mounted again he was
still talking earnestly to Murray; and that as he walked his horse
slowly down the road towards the river, the tall Ulsterman still
walked by his bridle rein in earnest debate. The soldiers watched
the two until they vanished behind a clump of trees where the road
turned towards the river. The colonel had gone back to his tent,
and the men to their pickets; the man with the diary lingered for
another four minutes, and saw a marvellous sight.
"The great white horse which had marched slowly down the road,
as it had marched in so many processions, flew back, galloping up
the road towards them as if it were mad to win a race. At first
they thought it had run away with the man on its back; but they
soon saw that the general, a fine rider, was himself urging it to
full speed. Horse and man swept up to them like a whirlwind; and
then, reining up the reeling charger, the general turned on them a
face like flame, and called for the colonel like the trumpet that
wakes the dead.
"I conceive that all the earthquake events of that catastrophe
tumbled on top of each other rather like lumber in the minds of
men such as our friend with the diary. With the dazed excitement
of a dream, they found themselves falling--literally falling--
into their ranks, and learned that an attack was to be led at once
across the river. The general and the major, it was said, had
found out something at the bridge, and there was only just time to
strike for life. The major had gone back at once to call up the
reserve along the road behind; it was doubtful if even with that
prompt appeal help could reach them in time. But they must pass
the stream that night, and seize the heights by morning. It is
with the very stir and throb of that romantic nocturnal march that
the diary suddenly ends."
Father Brown had mounted ahead; for the woodland path grew
smaller, steeper, and more twisted, till they felt as if they were
ascending a winding staircase. The priest's voice came from above
out of the darkness.
"There was one other little and enormous thing. When the
general urged them to their chivalric charge he half drew his
sword from the scabbard; and then, as if ashamed of such
melodrama, thrust it back again. The sword again, you see."
A half-light broke through the network of boughs above them,
flinging the ghost of a net about their feet; for they were
mounting again to the faint luminosity of the naked night.
Flambeau felt truth all round him as an atmosphere, but not as an
idea. He answered with bewildered brain: "Well, what's the matter
with the sword? Officers generally have swords, don't they?"
"They are not often mentioned in modern war," said the other
dispassionately; "but in this affair one falls over the blessed
"Well, what is there in that?" growled Flambeau; "it was a
twopence coloured sort of incident; the old man's blade breaking
in his last battle. Anyone might bet the papers would get hold of
it, as they have. On all these tombs and things it's shown broken
at the point. I hope you haven't dragged me through this Polar
expedition merely because two men with an eye for a picture saw
St. Clare's broken sword."
"No," cried Father Brown, with a sharp voice like a pistol
shot; "but who saw his unbroken sword?"
"What do you mean?" cried the other, and stood still under the
stars. They had come abruptly out of the grey gates of the wood.
"I say, who saw his unbroken sword?" repeated Father Brown
obstinately. "Not the writer of the diary, anyhow; the general
sheathed it in time."
Flambeau looked about him in the moonlight, as a man struck
blind might look in the sun; and his friend went on, for the first
time with eagerness:
"Flambeau," he cried, "I cannot prove it, even after hunting
through the tombs. But I am sure of it. Let me add just one more
tiny fact that tips the whole thing over. The colonel, by a
strange chance, was one of the first struck by a bullet. He was
struck long before the troops came to close quarters. But he saw
St. Clare's sword broken. Why was it broken? How was it broken?
My friend, it was broken before the battle."
"Oh!" said his friend, with a sort of forlorn jocularity; "and
pray where is the other piece?"
"I can tell you," said the priest promptly. "In the northeast
corner of the cemetery of the Protestant Cathedral at Belfast."
"Indeed?" inquired the other. "Have you looked for it?"
"I couldn't," replied Brown, with frank regret. "There's a
great marble monument on top of it; a monument to the heroic Major
Murray, who fell fighting gloriously at the famous Battle of the
Flambeau seemed suddenly galvanised into existence. "You
mean," he cried hoarsely, "that General St. Clare hated Murray,
and murdered him on the field of battle because--"
"You are still full of good and pure thoughts," said the
other. "It was worse than that."
"Well," said the large man, "my stock of evil imagination is
The priest seemed really doubtful where to begin, and at last
he said again:
"Where would a wise man hide a leaf? In the forest."
The other did not answer.
"If there were no forest, he would make a forest. And if he
wished to hide a dead leaf, he would make a dead forest."
There was still no reply, and the priest added still more
mildly and quietly:
"And if a man had to hide a dead body, he would make a field
of dead bodies to hide it in."
Flambeau began to stamp forward with an intolerance of delay
in time or space; but Father Brown went on as if he were continuing
the last sentence:
"Sir Arthur St. Clare, as I have already said, was a man who
read his Bible. That was what was the matter with him. When will
people understand that it is useless for a man to read his Bible
unless he also reads everybody else's Bible? A printer reads a
Bible for misprints. A Mormon reads his Bible, and finds polygamy;
a Christian Scientist reads his, and finds we have no arms and
legs. St. Clare was an old Anglo-Indian Protestant soldier. Now,
just think what that might mean; and, for Heaven's sake, don't
cant about it. It might mean a man physically formidable living
under a tropic sun in an Oriental society, and soaking himself
without sense or guidance in an Oriental Book. Of course, he read
the Old Testament rather than the New. Of course, he found in the
Old Testament anything that he wanted--lust, tyranny, treason.
Oh, I dare say he was honest, as you call it. But what is the
good of a man being honest in his worship of dishonesty?
"In each of the hot and secret countries to which the man went
he kept a harem, he tortured witnesses, he amassed shameful gold;
but certainly he would have said with steady eyes that he did it
to the glory of the Lord. My own theology is sufficiently
expressed by asking which Lord? Anyhow, there is this about such
evil, that it opens door after door in hell, and always into
smaller and smaller chambers. This is the real case against crime,
that a man does not become wilder and wilder, but only meaner and
meaner. St. Clare was soon suffocated by difficulties of bribery
and blackmail; and needed more and more cash. And by the time of
the Battle of the Black River he had fallen from world to world to
that place which Dante makes the lowest floor of the universe."
"What do you mean?" asked his friend again.
"I mean that," retorted the cleric, and suddenly pointed at a
puddle sealed with ice that shone in the moon. "Do you remember
whom Dante put in the last circle of ice?"
"The traitors," said Flambeau, and shuddered. As he looked
around at the inhuman landscape of trees, with taunting and almost
obscene outlines, he could almost fancy he was Dante, and the
priest with the rivulet of a voice was, indeed, a Virgil leading
him through a land of eternal sins.
The voice went on: "Olivier, as you know, was quixotic, and
would not permit a secret service and spies. The thing, however,
was done, like many other things, behind his back. It was managed
by my old friend Espado; he was the bright-clad fop, whose hook
nose got him called the Vulture. Posing as a sort of
philanthropist at the front, he felt his way through the English
Army, and at last got his fingers on its one corrupt man--please
God!-- and that man at the top. St. Clare was in foul need of
money, and mountains of it. The discredited family doctor was
threatening those extraordinary exposures that afterwards began
and were broken off; tales of monstrous and prehistoric things in
Park Lane; things done by an English Evangelist that smelt like
human sacrifice and hordes of slaves. Money was wanted, too, for
his daughter's dowry; for to him the fame of wealth was as sweet
as wealth itself. He snapped the last thread, whispered the word
to Brazil, and wealth poured in from the enemies of England. But
another man had talked to Espado the Vulture as well as he.
Somehow the dark, grim young major from Ulster had guessed the
hideous truth; and when they walked slowly together down that road
towards the bridge Murray was telling the general that he must
resign instantly, or be court-martialled and shot. The general
temporised with him till they came to the fringe of tropic trees
by the bridge; and there by the singing river and the sunlit palms
(for I can see the picture) the general drew his sabre and plunged
it through the body of the major."
The wintry road curved over a ridge in cutting frost, with
cruel black shapes of bush and thicket; but Flambeau fancied that
he saw beyond it faintly the edge of an aureole that was not
starlight and moonlight, but some fire such as is made by men. He
watched it as the tale drew to its close.
"St. Clare was a hell-hound, but he was a hound of breed.
Never, I'll swear, was he so lucid and so strong as when poor
Murray lay a cold lump at his feet. Never in all his triumphs, as
Captain Keith said truly, was the great man so great as he was in
this last world-despised defeat. He looked coolly at his weapon
to wipe off the blood; he saw the point he had planted between his
victim's shoulders had broken off in the body. He saw quite
calmly, as through a club windowpane, all that must follow. He
saw that men must find the unaccountable corpse; must extract the
unaccountable sword-point; must notice the unaccountable broken
sword--or absence of sword. He had killed, but not silenced.
But his imperious intellect rose against the facer; there was one
way yet. He could make the corpse less unaccountable. He could
create a hill of corpses to cover this one. In twenty minutes
eight hundred English soldiers were marching down to their death."
The warmer glow behind the black winter wood grew richer and
brighter, and Flambeau strode on to reach it. Father Brown also
quickened his stride; but he seemed merely absorbed in his tale.
"Such was the valour of that English thousand, and such the
genius of their commander, that if they had at once attacked the
hill, even their mad march might have met some luck. But the evil
mind that played with them like pawns had other aims and reasons.
They must remain in the marshes by the bridge at least till British
corpses should be a common sight there. Then for the last grand
scene; the silver-haired soldier-saint would give up his shattered
sword to save further slaughter. Oh, it was well organised for an
impromptu. But I think (I cannot prove), I think that it was
while they stuck there in the bloody mire that someone doubted--
and someone guessed."
He was mute a moment, and then said: "There is a voice from
nowhere that tells me the man who guessed was the lover ... the
man to wed the old man's child."
"But what about Olivier and the hanging?" asked Flambeau.
"Olivier, partly from chivalry, partly from policy, seldom
encumbered his march with captives," explained the narrator. "He
released everybody in most cases. He released everybody in this
"Everybody but the general," said the tall man.
"Everybody," said the priest.
Flambeau knit his black brows. "I don't grasp it all yet," he
"There is another picture, Flambeau," said Brown in his more
mystical undertone. "I can't prove it; but I can do more--I can
see it. There is a camp breaking up on the bare, torrid hills at
morning, and Brazilian uniforms massed in blocks and columns to
march. There is the red shirt and long black beard of Olivier,
which blows as he stands, his broad-brimmed hat in his hand. He
is saying farewell to the great enemy he is setting free--the
simple, snow-headed English veteran, who thanks him in the name of
his men. The English remnant stand behind at attention; beside
them are stores and vehicles for the retreat. The drums roll; the
Brazilians are moving; the English are still like statues. So
they abide till the last hum and flash of the enemy have faded
from the tropic horizon. Then they alter their postures all at
once, like dead men coming to life; they turn their fifty faces
upon the general--faces not to be forgotten."
Flambeau gave a great jump. "Ah," he cried, "you don't mean--"
"Yes," said Father Brown in a deep, moving voice. "It was an
English hand that put the rope round St. Clare's neck; I believe
the hand that put the ring on his daughter's finger. They were
English hands that dragged him up to the tree of shame; the hands
of men that had adored him and followed him to victory. And they
were English souls (God pardon and endure us all!) who stared at
him swinging in that foreign sun on the green gallows of palm, and
prayed in their hatred that he might drop off it into hell."
As the two topped the ridge there burst on them the strong
scarlet light of a red-curtained English inn. It stood sideways
in the road, as if standing aside in the amplitude of hospitality.
Its three doors stood open with invitation; and even where they
stood they could hear the hum and laughter of humanity happy for a
"I need not tell you more," said Father Brown. "They tried
him in the wilderness and destroyed him; and then, for the honour
of England and of his daughter, they took an oath to seal up for
ever the story of the traitor's purse and the assassin's sword
blade. Perhaps--Heaven help them--they tried to forget it.
Let us try to forget it, anyhow; here is our inn."
"With all my heart," said Flambeau, and was just striding into
the bright, noisy bar when he stepped back and almost fell on the
"Look there, in the devil's name!" he cried, and pointed
rigidly at the square wooden sign that overhung the road. It
showed dimly the crude shape of a sabre hilt and a shortened
blade; and was inscribed in false archaic lettering, "The Sign of
the Broken Sword."
"Were you not prepared?" asked Father Brown gently. "He is
the god of this country; half the inns and parks and streets are
named after him and his story."
"I thought we had done with the leper," cried Flambeau, and
spat on the road.
"You will never have done with him in England," said the
priest, looking down, "while brass is strong and stone abides.
His marble statues will erect the souls of proud, innocent boys
for centuries, his village tomb will smell of loyalty as of lilies.
Millions who never knew him shall love him like a father--this
man whom the last few that knew him dealt with like dung. He shall
be a saint; and the truth shall never be told of him, because I
have made up my mind at last. There is so much good and evil in
breaking secrets, that I put my conduct to a test. All these
newspapers will perish; the anti-Brazil boom is already over;
Olivier is already honoured everywhere. But I told myself that if
anywhere, by name, in metal or marble that will endure like the
pyramids, Colonel Clancy, or Captain Keith, or President Olivier,
or any innocent man was wrongly blamed, then I would speak. If it
were only that St. Clare was wrongly praised, I would be silent.
And I will."
They plunged into the red-curtained tavern, which was not only
cosy, but even luxurious inside. On a table stood a silver model
of the tomb of St. Clare, the silver head bowed, the silver sword
broken. On the walls were coloured photographs of the same scene,
and of the system of wagonettes that took tourists to see it.
They sat down on the comfortable padded benches.
"Come, it's cold," cried Father Brown; "let's have some wine
"Or brandy," said Flambeau.
The Three Tools of Death
Both by calling and conviction Father Brown knew better than most
of us, that every man is dignified when he is dead. But even he
felt a pang of incongruity when he was knocked up at daybreak and
told that Sir Aaron Armstrong had been murdered. There was
something absurd and unseemly about secret violence in connection
with so entirely entertaining and popular a figure. For Sir Aaron
Armstrong was entertaining to the point of being comic; and
popular in such a manner as to be almost legendary. It was like
hearing that Sunny Jim had hanged himself; or that Mr. Pickwick
had died in Hanwell. For though Sir Aaron was a philanthropist,
and thus dealt with the darker side of our society, he prided
himself on dealing with it in the brightest possible style. His
political and social speeches were cataracts of anecdotes and
"loud laughter"; his bodily health was of a bursting sort; his
ethics were all optimism; and he dealt with the Drink problem (his
favourite topic) with that immortal or even monotonous gaiety
which is so often a mark of the prosperous total abstainer.
The established story of his conversion was familiar on the
more puritanic platforms and pulpits, how he had been, when only a
boy, drawn away from Scotch theology to Scotch whisky, and how he
had risen out of both and become (as he modestly put it) what he
was. Yet his wide white beard, cherubic face, and sparkling
spectacles, at the numberless dinners and congresses where they
appeared, made it hard to believe, somehow, that he had ever been
anything so morbid as either a dram-drinker or a Calvinist. He
was, one felt, the most seriously merry of all the sons of men.
He had lived on the rural skirt of Hampstead in a handsome
house, high but not broad, a modern and prosaic tower. The
narrowest of its narrow sides overhung the steep green bank of a
railway, and was shaken by passing trains. Sir Aaron Armstrong,
as he boisterously explained, had no nerves. But if the train had
often given a shock to the house, that morning the tables were
turned, and it was the house that gave a shock to the train.
The engine slowed down and stopped just beyond that point
where an angle of the house impinged upon the sharp slope of turf.
The arrest of most mechanical things must be slow; but the living
cause of this had been very rapid. A man clad completely in
black, even (it was remembered) to the dreadful detail of black
gloves, appeared on the ridge above the engine, and waved his
black hands like some sable windmill. This in itself would hardly
have stopped even a lingering train. But there came out of him a
cry which was talked of afterwards as something utterly unnatural
and new. It was one of those shouts that are horridly distinct
even when we cannot hear what is shouted. The word in this case
But the engine-driver swears he would have pulled up just the
same if he had heard only the dreadful and definite accent and not
The train once arrested, the most superficial stare could take
in many features of the tragedy. The man in black on the green
bank was Sir Aaron Armstrong's man-servant Magnus. The baronet in
his optimism had often laughed at the black gloves of this dismal
attendant; but no one was likely to laugh at him just now.
So soon as an inquirer or two had stepped off the line and
across the smoky hedge, they saw, rolled down almost to the bottom
of the bank, the body of an old man in a yellow dressing-gown with
a very vivid scarlet lining. A scrap of rope seemed caught about
his leg, entangled presumably in a struggle. There was a smear or
so of blood, though very little; but the body was bent or broken
into a posture impossible to any living thing. It was Sir Aaron
Armstrong. A few more bewildered moments brought out a big
fair-bearded man, whom some travellers could salute as the dead
man's secretary, Patrick Royce, once well known in Bohemian
society and even famous in the Bohemian arts. In a manner more
vague, but even more convincing, he echoed the agony of the
servant. By the time the third figure of that household, Alice
Armstrong, daughter of the dead man, had come already tottering
and waving into the garden, the engine-driver had put a stop to
his stoppage. The whistle had blown and the train had panted on
to get help from the next station.
Father Brown had been thus rapidly summoned at the request of
Patrick Royce, the big ex-Bohemian secretary. Royce was an
Irishman by birth; and that casual kind of Catholic that never
remembers his religion until he is really in a hole. But Royce's
request might have been less promptly complied with if one of the
official detectives had not been a friend and admirer of the
unofficial Flambeau; and it was impossible to be a friend of
Flambeau without hearing numberless stories about Father Brown.
Hence, while the young detective (whose name was Merton) led the
little priest across the fields to the railway, their talk was more
confidential than could be expected between two total strangers.
"As far as I can see," said Mr. Merton candidly, "there is no
sense to be made of it at all. There is nobody one can suspect.
Magnus is a solemn old fool; far too much of a fool to be an
assassin. Royce has been the baronet's best friend for years; and
his daughter undoubtedly adored him. Besides, it's all too absurd.
Who would kill such a cheery old chap as Armstrong? Who could dip
his hands in the gore of an after-dinner speaker? It would be
like killing Father Christmas."
"Yes, it was a cheery house," assented Father Brown. "It was
a cheery house while he was alive. Do you think it will be cheery
now he is dead?"
Merton started a little and regarded his companion with an
enlivened eye. "Now he is dead?" he repeated.
"Yes," continued the priest stolidly, "he was cheerful. But
did he communicate his cheerfulness? Frankly, was anyone else in
the house cheerful but he?"
A window in Merton's mind let in that strange light of surprise
in which we see for the first time things we have known all along.
He had often been to the Armstrongs', on little police jobs of the
philanthropist; and, now he came to think of it, it was in itself
a depressing house. The rooms were very high and very cold; the
decoration mean and provincial; the draughty corridors were lit by
electricity that was bleaker than moonlight. And though the old
man's scarlet face and silver beard had blazed like a bonfire in
each room or passage in turn, it did not leave any warmth behind
it. Doubtless this spectral discomfort in the place was partly
due to the very vitality and exuberance of its owner; he needed no
stoves or lamps, he would say, but carried his own warmth with
him. But when Merton recalled the other inmates, he was compelled
to confess that they also were as shadows of their lord. The
moody man-servant, with his monstrous black gloves, was almost a
nightmare; Royce, the secretary, was solid enough, a big bull of a
man, in tweeds, with a short beard; but the straw-coloured beard
was startlingly salted with grey like the tweeds, and the broad
forehead was barred with premature wrinkles. He was good-natured
enough also, but it was a sad sort of good-nature, almost a
heart-broken sort--he had the general air of being some sort of
failure in life. As for Armstrong's daughter, it was almost
incredible that she was his daughter; she was so pallid in colour
and sensitive in outline. She was graceful, but there was a
quiver in the very shape of her that was like the lines of an
aspen. Merton had sometimes wondered if she had learnt to quail
at the crash of the passing trains.
"You see," said Father Brown, blinking modestly, "I'm not sure
that the Armstrong cheerfulness is so very cheerful--for other
people. You say that nobody could kill such a happy old man, but
I'm not sure; ne nos inducas in tentationem. If ever I murdered
somebody," he added quite simply, "I dare say it might be an
"Why?" cried Merton amused. "Do you think people dislike
"People like frequent laughter," answered Father Brown, "but I
don't think they like a permanent smile. Cheerfulness without
humour is a very trying thing."
They walked some way in silence along the windy grassy bank by
the rail, and just as they came under the far-flung shadow of the
tall Armstrong house, Father Brown said suddenly, like a man
throwing away a troublesome thought rather than offering it
seriously: "Of course, drink is neither good nor bad in itself.
But I can't help sometimes feeling that men like Armstrong want an
occasional glass of wine to sadden them."
Merton's official superior, a grizzled and capable detective
named Gilder, was standing on the green bank waiting for the
coroner, talking to Patrick Royce, whose big shoulders and bristly
beard and hair towered above him. This was the more noticeable
because Royce walked always with a sort of powerful stoop, and
seemed to be going about his small clerical and domestic duties in
a heavy and humbled style, like a buffalo drawing a go-cart.
He raised his head with unusual pleasure at the sight of the
priest, and took him a few paces apart. Meanwhile Merton was
addressing the older detective respectfully indeed, but not
without a certain boyish impatience.
"Well, Mr. Gilder, have you got much farther with the mystery?"
"There is no mystery," replied Gilder, as he looked under
dreamy eyelids at the rooks.
"Well, there is for me, at any rate," said Merton, smiling.
"It is simple enough, my boy," observed the senior
stroking his grey, pointed beard. "Three minutes after you'd gone
for Mr. Royce's parson the whole thing came out. You know that
pasty-faced servant in the black gloves who stopped the train?"
"I should know him anywhere. Somehow he rather gave me the
"Well," drawled Gilder, "when the train had gone on again,
that man had gone too. Rather a cool criminal, don't you think,
to escape by the very train that went off for the police?"
"You're pretty sure, I suppose," remarked the young man, "that
he really did kill his master?"
"Yes, my son, I'm pretty sure," replied Gilder drily, "for the
trifling reason that he has gone off with twenty thousand pounds
in papers that were in his master's desk. No, the only thing
worth calling a difficulty is how he killed him. The skull seems
broken as with some big weapon, but there's no weapon at all lying
about, and the murderer would have found it awkward to carry it
away, unless the weapon was too small to be noticed."
"Perhaps the weapon was too big to be noticed," said the
priest, with an odd little giggle.
Gilder looked round at this wild remark, and rather sternly
asked Brown what he meant.
"Silly way of putting it, I know," said Father Brown
apologetically. "Sounds like a fairy tale. But poor Armstrong
was killed with a giant's club, a great green club, too big to be
seen, and which we call the earth. He was broken against this
green bank we are standing on."
"How do you mean?" asked the detective quickly.
Father Brown turned his moon face up to the narrow facade of
the house and blinked hopelessly up. Following his eyes, they saw
that right at the top of this otherwise blind back quarter of the
building, an attic window stood open.
"Don't you see," he explained, pointing a little awkwardly
like a child, "he was thrown down from there?"
Gilder frowningly scrutinised the window, and then said:
"Well, it is certainly possible. But I don't see why you are so
sure about it."
Brown opened his grey eyes wide. "Why," he said, "there's a
bit of rope round the dead man's leg. Don't you see that other
bit of rope up there caught at the corner of the window?"
At that height the thing looked like the faintest particle of
dust or hair, but the shrewd old investigator was satisfied.
"You're quite right, sir," he said to Father Brown; "that is
certainly one to you."
Almost as he spoke a special train with one carriage took the
curve of the line on their left, and, stopping, disgorged another
group of policemen, in whose midst was the hangdog visage of
Magnus, the absconded servant.
"By Jove! they've got him," cried Gilder, and stepped forward
with quite a new alertness.
"Have you got the money!" he cried to the first policeman.
The man looked him in the face with a rather curious expression
and said: "No." Then he added: "At least, not here."
"Which is the inspector, please?" asked the man called Magnus.
When he spoke everyone instantly understood how this voice had
stopped a train. He was a dull-looking man with flat black hair,
a colourless face, and a faint suggestion of the East in the level
slits in his eyes and mouth. His blood and name, indeed, had
remained dubious, ever since Sir Aaron had "rescued" him from a
waitership in a London restaurant, and (as some said) from more
infamous things. But his voice was as vivid as his face was dead.
Whether through exactitude in a foreign language, or in deference
to his master (who had been somewhat deaf), Magnus's tones had a
peculiarly ringing and piercing quality, and the whole group quite
jumped when he spoke.
"I always knew this would happen," he said aloud with brazen
blandness. "My poor old master made game of me for wearing black;
but I always said I should be ready for his funeral."
And he made a momentary movement with his two dark-gloved
"Sergeant," said Inspector Gilder, eyeing the black hands with
wrath, "aren't you putting the bracelets on this fellow; he looks
"Well, sir," said the sergeant, with the same odd look of
wonder, "I don't know that we can."
"What do you mean?" asked the other sharply. "Haven't you
A faint scorn widened the slit-like mouth, and the whistle of
an approaching train seemed oddly to echo the mockery.
"We arrested him," replied the sergeant gravely, "just as he
was coming out of the police station at Highgate, where he had
deposited all his master's money in the care of Inspector
Gilder looked at the man-servant in utter amazement. "Why on
earth did you do that?" he asked of Magnus.
"To keep it safe from the criminal, of course," replied that
"Surely," said Gilder, "Sir Aaron's money might have been
safely left with Sir Aaron's family."
The tail of his sentence was drowned in the roar of the train
as it went rocking and clanking; but through all the hell of
noises to which that unhappy house was periodically subject, they
could hear the syllables of Magnus's answer, in all their
bell-like distinctness: "I have no reason to feel confidence in
Sir Aaron's family."
All the motionless men had the ghostly sensation of the
presence of some new person; and Merton was scarcely surprised
when he looked up and saw the pale face of Armstrong's daughter
over Father Brown's shoulder. She was still young and beautiful
in a silvery style, but her hair was of so dusty and hueless a
brown that in some shadows it seemed to have turned totally grey.
"Be careful what you say," said Royce gruffly, "you'll
frighten Miss Armstrong."
"I hope so," said the man with the clear voice.
As the woman winced and everyone else wondered, he went on:
"I am somewhat used to Miss Armstrong's tremors. I have seen her
trembling off and on for years. And some said she was shaking
with cold and some she was shaking with fear, but I know she was
shaking with hate and wicked anger--fiends that have had their
feast this morning. She would have been away by now with her
lover and all the money but for me. Ever since my poor old master
prevented her from marrying that tipsy blackguard--"
"Stop," said Gilder very sternly. "We have nothing to do with
your family fancies or suspicions. Unless you have some practical
evidence, your mere opinions--"
"Oh! I'll give you practical evidence," cut in Magnus, in his
hacking accent. "You'll have to subpoena me, Mr. Inspector, and I
shall have to tell the truth. And the truth is this: An instant
after the old man was pitched bleeding out of the window, I ran
into the attic, and found his daughter swooning on the floor with
a red dagger still in her hand. Allow me to hand that also to the
proper authorities." He took from his tail-pocket a long
horn-hilted knife with a red smear on it, and handed it politely
to the sergeant. Then he stood back again, and his slits of eyes
almost faded from his face in one fat Chinese sneer.
Merton felt an almost bodily sickness at the sight of him; and
he muttered to Gilder: "Surely you would take Miss Armstrong's
word against his?"
Father Brown suddenly lifted a face so absurdly fresh that it
looked somehow as if he had just washed it. "Yes," he said,
radiating innocence, "but is Miss Armstrong's word against his?"
The girl uttered a startled, singular little cry; everyone
looked at her. Her figure was rigid as if paralysed; only her
face within its frame of faint brown hair was alive with an
appalling surprise. She stood like one of a sudden lassooed and
"This man," said Mr. Gilder gravely, "actually says that you
were found grasping a knife, insensible, after the murder."
"He says the truth," answered Alice.
The next fact of which they were conscious was that Patrick
Royce strode with his great stooping head into their ring and
uttered the singular words: "Well, if I've got to go, I'll have a
bit of pleasure first."
His huge shoulder heaved and he sent an iron fist smash into
Magnus's bland Mongolian visage, laying him on the lawn as flat as
a starfish. Two or three of the police instantly put their hands
on Royce; but to the rest it seemed as if all reason had broken up
and the universe were turning into a brainless harlequinade.
"None of that, Mr. Royce," Gilder had called out
"I shall arrest you for assault."
"No, you won't," answered the secretary in a voice like an
iron gong, "you will arrest me for murder."
Gilder threw an alarmed glance at the man knocked down; but
since that outraged person was already sitting up and wiping a
little blood off a substantially uninjured face, he only said
shortly: "What do you mean?"
"It is quite true, as this fellow says," explained Royce,
"that Miss Armstrong fainted with a knife in her hand. But she
had not snatched the knife to attack her father, but to defend
"To defend him," repeated Gilder gravely. "Against whom?"
"Against me," answered the secretary.
Alice looked at him with a complex and baffling face; then she
said in a low voice: "After it all, I am still glad you are brave."
"Come upstairs," said Patrick Royce heavily, "and I will show
you the whole cursed thing."
The attic, which was the secretary's private place (and rather
a small cell for so large a hermit), had indeed all the vestiges
of a violent drama. Near the centre of the floor lay a large
revolver as if flung away; nearer to the left was rolled a whisky
bottle, open but not quite empty. The cloth of the little table
lay dragged and trampled, and a length of cord, like that found on
the corpse, was cast wildly across the windowsill. Two vases were
smashed on the mantelpiece and one on the carpet.
"I was drunk," said Royce; and this simplicity in the
prematurely battered man somehow had the pathos of the first sin
of a baby.
"You all know about me," he continued huskily; "everybody
knows how my story began, and it may as well end like that too.
I was called a clever man once, and might have been a happy one;
Armstrong saved the remains of a brain and body from the taverns,
and was always kind to me in his own way, poor fellow! Only he
wouldn't let me marry Alice here; and it will always be said that
he was right enough. Well, you can form your own conclusions, and
you won't want me to go into details. That is my whisky bottle
half emptied in the corner; that is my revolver quite emptied on
the carpet. It was the rope from my box that was found on the
corpse, and it was from my window the corpse was thrown. You need
not set detectives to grub up my tragedy; it is a common enough
weed in this world. I give myself to the gallows; and, by God,
that is enough!"
At a sufficiently delicate sign, the police gathered round
the large man to lead him away; but their unobtrusiveness was
somewhat staggered by the remarkable appearance of Father Brown,
who was on his hands and knees on the carpet in the doorway, as
if engaged in some kind of undignified prayers. Being a person
utterly insensible to the social figure he cut, he remained in
this posture, but turned a bright round face up at the company,
presenting the appearance of a quadruped with a very comic human
"I say," he said good-naturedly, "this really won't do at all,
you know. At the beginning you said we'd found no weapon. But
now we're finding too many; there's the knife to stab, and the
rope to strangle, and the pistol to shoot; and after all he broke
his neck by falling out of a window! It won't do. It's not
economical." And he shook his head at the ground as a horse does
Inspector Gilder had opened his mouth with serious intentions,
but before he could speak the grotesque figure on the floor had
gone on quite volubly.
"And now three quite impossible things. First, these holes in
the carpet, where the six bullets have gone in. Why on earth
should anybody fire at the carpet? A drunken man lets fly at his
enemy's head, the thing that's grinning at him. He doesn't pick a
quarrel with his feet, or lay siege to his slippers. And then
there's the rope"--and having done with the carpet the speaker
lifted his hands and put them in his pocket, but continued
unaffectedly on his knees--"in what conceivable intoxication
would anybody try to put a rope round a man's neck and finally put
it round his leg? Royce, anyhow, was not so drunk as that, or he
would be sleeping like a log by now. And, plainest of all, the
whisky bottle. You suggest a dipsomaniac fought for the whisky
bottle, and then having won, rolled it away in a corner, spilling
one half and leaving the other. That is the very last thing a
dipsomaniac would do."
He scrambled awkwardly to his feet, and said to the
self-accused murderer in tones of limpid penitence: "I'm awfully
sorry, my dear sir, but your tale is really rubbish."
"Sir," said Alice Armstrong in a low tone to the priest, "can
I speak to you alone for a moment?"
This request forced the communicative cleric out of the
gangway, and before he could speak in the next room, the girl was
talking with strange incisiveness.
"You are a clever man," she said, "and you are trying to save
Patrick, I know. But it's no use. The core of all this is black,
and the more things you find out the more there will be against
the miserable man I love."
"Why?" asked Brown, looking at her steadily.
"Because," she answered equally steadily, "I saw him commit
the crime myself."
"Ah!" said the unmoved Brown, "and what did he do?"
"I was in this room next to them," she explained; "both doors
were closed, but I suddenly heard a voice, such as I had never
heard on earth, roaring `Hell, hell, hell,' again and again, and
then the two doors shook with the first explosion of the revolver.
Thrice again the thing banged before I got the two doors open and
found the room full of smoke; but the pistol was smoking in my
poor, mad Patrick's hand; and I saw him fire the last murderous
volley with my own eyes. Then he leapt on my father, who was
clinging in terror to the window-sill, and, grappling, tried to
strangle him with the rope, which he threw over his head, but
which slipped over his struggling shoulders to his feet. Then it
tightened round one leg and Patrick dragged him along like a
maniac. I snatched a knife from the mat, and, rushing between
them, managed to cut the rope before I fainted."
"I see," said Father Brown, with the same wooden civility.
As the girl collapsed under her memories, the priest passed
stiffly into the next room, where he found Gilder and Merton alone
with Patrick Royce, who sat in a chair, handcuffed. There he said
to the Inspector submissively:
"Might I say a word to the prisoner in your presence; and
might he take off those funny cuffs for a minute?"
"He is a very powerful man," said Merton in an undertone.
"Why do you want them taken off?"
"Why, I thought," replied the priest humbly, "that perhaps I
might have the very great honour of shaking hands with him."
Both detectives stared, and Father Brown added: "Won't you
tell them about it, sir?"
The man on the chair shook his tousled head, and the priest
"Then I will," he said. "Private lives are more important
than public reputations. I am going to save the living, and let
the dead bury their dead."
He went to the fatal window, and blinked out of it as he went
"I told you that in this case there were too many weapons and
only one death. I tell you now that they were not weapons, and
were not used to cause death. All those grisly tools, the noose,
the bloody knife, the exploding pistol, were instruments of a
curious mercy. They were not used to kill Sir Aaron, but to save
"To save him!" repeated Gilder. "And from what?"
"From himself," said Father Brown. "He was a suicidal maniac."
"What?" cried Merton in an incredulous tone. "And the
Religion of Cheerfulness--"
"It is a cruel religion," said the priest, looking out of the
window. "Why couldn't they let him weep a little, like his fathers
before him? His plans stiffened, his views grew cold; behind that
merry mask was the empty mind of the atheist. At last, to keep up
his hilarious public level, he fell back on that dram-drinking he
had abandoned long ago. But there is this horror about alcoholism
in a sincere teetotaler: that he pictures and expects that
psychological inferno from which he has warned others. It leapt
upon poor Armstrong prematurely, and by this morning he was in
such a case that he sat here and cried he was in hell, in so crazy
a voice that his daughter did not know it. He was mad for death,
and with the monkey tricks of the mad he had scattered round him
death in many shapes--a running noose and his friend's revolver
and a knife. Royce entered accidentally and acted in a flash. He
flung the knife on the mat behind him, snatched up the revolver,
and having no time to unload it, emptied it shot after shot all
over the floor. The suicide saw a fourth shape of death, and made
a dash for the window. The rescuer did the only thing he could--
ran after him with the rope and tried to tie him hand and foot.
Then it was that the unlucky girl ran in, and misunderstanding the
struggle, strove to slash her father free. At first she only
slashed poor Royce's knuckles, from which has come all the little
blood in this affair. But, of course, you noticed that he left
blood, but no wound, on that servant's face? Only before the poor
woman swooned, she did hack her father loose, so that he went
crashing through that window into eternity."
There was a long stillness slowly broken by the metallic
noises of Gilder unlocking the handcuffs of Patrick Royce, to whom
he said: "I think I should have told the truth, sir. You and the
young lady are worth more than Armstrong's obituary notices."
"Confound Armstrong's notices," cried Royce roughly. "Don't
you see it was because she mustn't know?"
"Mustn't know what?" asked Merton.
"Why, that she killed her father, you fool!" roared the other.
"He'd have been alive now but for her. It might craze her to know
"No, I don't think it would," remarked Father Brown, as he
picked up his hat. "I rather think I should tell her. Even the
most murderous blunders don't poison life like sins; anyhow, I
think you may both be the happier now. I've got to go back to the
As he went out on to the gusty grass an acquaintance from
Highgate stopped him and said:
"The Coroner has arrived. The inquiry is just going to begin."
"I've got to get back to the Deaf School," said Father Brown.
"I'm sorry I can't stop for the inquiry."
End of The Project Gutenberg Etext of The Innocence of Father Brown