THE WISDOM OF FATHER BROWN
ONE — The Absence of Mr Glass
THE consulting-rooms of Dr Orion Hood, the eminent criminologist and
specialist in certain moral disorders, lay along the sea-front at
Scarborough, in a series of very large and well-lighted french windows,
which showed the North Sea like one endless outer wall of blue-green
marble. In such a place the sea had something of the monotony of a
blue-green dado: for the chambers themselves were ruled throughout by a
terrible tidiness not unlike the terrible tidiness of the sea. It must
not be supposed that Dr Hood's apartments excluded luxury, or even
poetry. These things were there, in their place; but one felt that they
were never allowed out of their place. Luxury was there: there stood
upon a special table eight or ten boxes of the best cigars; but they
were built upon a plan so that the strongest were always nearest the
wall and the mildest nearest the window. A tantalus containing three
kinds of spirit, all of a liqueur excellence, stood always on this table
of luxury; but the fanciful have asserted that the whisky, brandy, and
rum seemed always to stand at the same level. Poetry was there: the
left-hand corner of the room was lined with as complete a set of
English classics as the right hand could show of English and foreign
physiologists. But if one took a volume of Chaucer or Shelley from that
rank, its absence irritated the mind like a gap in a man's front teeth.
One could not say the books were never read; probably they were, but
there was a sense of their being chained to their places, like the
Bibles in the old churches. Dr Hood treated his private book-shelf as
if it were a public library. And if this strict scientific intangibility
steeped even the shelves laden with lyrics and ballads and the tables
laden with drink and tobacco, it goes without saying that yet more
of such heathen holiness protected the other shelves that held the
specialist's library, and the other tables that sustained the frail and
even fairylike instruments of chemistry or mechanics.
Dr Hood paced the length of his string of apartments, bounded—as the
boys' geographies say—on the east by the North Sea and on the west by
the serried ranks of his sociological and criminologist library. He was
clad in an artist's velvet, but with none of an artist's negligence; his
hair was heavily shot with grey, but growing thick and healthy; his face
was lean, but sanguine and expectant. Everything about him and his room
indicated something at once rigid and restless, like that great northern
sea by which (on pure principles of hygiene) he had built his home.
Fate, being in a funny mood, pushed the door open and introduced into
those long, strict, sea-flanked apartments one who was perhaps the most
startling opposite of them and their master. In answer to a curt but
civil summons, the door opened inwards and there shambled into the room
a shapeless little figure, which seemed to find its own hat and umbrella
as unmanageable as a mass of luggage. The umbrella was a black and
prosaic bundle long past repair; the hat was a broad-curved black hat,
clerical but not common in England; the man was the very embodiment of
all that is homely and helpless.
The doctor regarded the new-comer with a restrained astonishment, not
unlike that he would have shown if some huge but obviously harmless
sea-beast had crawled into his room. The new-comer regarded the doctor
with that beaming but breathless geniality which characterizes a
corpulent charwoman who has just managed to stuff herself into an
omnibus. It is a rich confusion of social self-congratulation and bodily
disarray. His hat tumbled to the carpet, his heavy umbrella slipped
between his knees with a thud; he reached after the one and ducked
after the other, but with an unimpaired smile on his round face spoke
simultaneously as follows:
"My name is Brown. Pray excuse me. I've come about that business of the
MacNabs. I have heard, you often help people out of such troubles. Pray
excuse me if I am wrong."
By this time he had sprawlingly recovered the hat, and made an odd
little bobbing bow over it, as if setting everything quite right.
"I hardly understand you," replied the scientist, with a cold intensity
of manner. "I fear you have mistaken the chambers. I am Dr Hood, and my
work is almost entirely literary and educational. It is true that I have
sometimes been consulted by the police in cases of peculiar difficulty
and importance, but—"
"Oh, this is of the greatest importance," broke in the little man called
Brown. "Why, her mother won't let them get engaged." And he leaned back
in his chair in radiant rationality.
The brows of Dr Hood were drawn down darkly, but the eyes under them
were bright with something that might be anger or might be amusement.
"And still," he said, "I do not quite understand."
"You see, they want to get married," said the man with the clerical hat.
"Maggie MacNab and young Todhunter want to get married. Now, what can be
more important than that?"
The great Orion Hood's scientific triumphs had deprived him of many
things—some said of his health, others of his God; but they had not
wholly despoiled him of his sense of the absurd. At the last plea of the
ingenuous priest a chuckle broke out of him from inside, and he threw
himself into an arm-chair in an ironical attitude of the consulting
"Mr Brown," he said gravely, "it is quite fourteen and a half years
since I was personally asked to test a personal problem: then it was
the case of an attempt to poison the French President at a Lord Mayor's
Banquet. It is now, I understand, a question of whether some friend of
yours called Maggie is a suitable fiancee for some friend of hers called
Todhunter. Well, Mr Brown, I am a sportsman. I will take it on. I will
give the MacNab family my best advice, as good as I gave the French
Republic and the King of England—no, better: fourteen years better. I
have nothing else to do this afternoon. Tell me your story."
The little clergyman called Brown thanked him with unquestionable
warmth, but still with a queer kind of simplicity. It was rather as
if he were thanking a stranger in a smoking-room for some trouble in
passing the matches, than as if he were (as he was) practically thanking
the Curator of Kew Gardens for coming with him into a field to find a
four-leaved clover. With scarcely a semi-colon after his hearty thanks,
the little man began his recital:
"I told you my name was Brown; well, that's the fact, and I'm the
priest of the little Catholic Church I dare say you've seen beyond those
straggly streets, where the town ends towards the north. In the last and
straggliest of those streets which runs along the sea like a sea-wall
there is a very honest but rather sharp-tempered member of my flock, a
widow called MacNab. She has one daughter, and she lets lodgings, and
between her and the daughter, and between her and the lodgers—well, I
dare say there is a great deal to be said on both sides. At present she
has only one lodger, the young man called Todhunter; but he has given
more trouble than all the rest, for he wants to marry the young woman of
"And the young woman of the house," asked Dr Hood, with huge and silent
amusement, "what does she want?"
"Why, she wants to marry him," cried Father Brown, sitting up eagerly.
"That is just the awful complication."
"It is indeed a hideous enigma," said Dr Hood.
"This young James Todhunter," continued the cleric, "is a very decent
man so far as I know; but then nobody knows very much. He is a bright,
brownish little fellow, agile like a monkey, clean-shaven like an actor,
and obliging like a born courtier. He seems to have quite a pocketful of
money, but nobody knows what his trade is. Mrs MacNab, therefore (being
of a pessimistic turn), is quite sure it is something dreadful, and
probably connected with dynamite. The dynamite must be of a shy and
noiseless sort, for the poor fellow only shuts himself up for several
hours of the day and studies something behind a locked door. He declares
his privacy is temporary and justified, and promises to explain before
the wedding. That is all that anyone knows for certain, but Mrs MacNab
will tell you a great deal more than even she is certain of. You know
how the tales grow like grass on such a patch of ignorance as that.
There are tales of two voices heard talking in the room; though, when
the door is opened, Todhunter is always found alone. There are tales of
a mysterious tall man in a silk hat, who once came out of the sea-mists
and apparently out of the sea, stepping softly across the sandy fields
and through the small back garden at twilight, till he was heard talking
to the lodger at his open window. The colloquy seemed to end in a
quarrel. Todhunter dashed down his window with violence, and the man in
the high hat melted into the sea-fog again. This story is told by the
family with the fiercest mystification; but I really think Mrs MacNab
prefers her own original tale: that the Other Man (or whatever it is)
crawls out every night from the big box in the corner, which is kept
locked all day. You see, therefore, how this sealed door of Todhunter's
is treated as the gate of all the fancies and monstrosities of the
'Thousand and One Nights'. And yet there is the little fellow in his
respectable black jacket, as punctual and innocent as a parlour clock.
He pays his rent to the tick; he is practically a teetotaller; he is
tirelessly kind with the younger children, and can keep them amused
for a day on end; and, last and most urgent of all, he has made himself
equally popular with the eldest daughter, who is ready to go to church
with him tomorrow."
A man warmly concerned with any large theories has always a relish
for applying them to any triviality. The great specialist having
condescended to the priest's simplicity, condescended expansively. He
settled himself with comfort in his arm-chair and began to talk in the
tone of a somewhat absent-minded lecturer:
"Even in a minute instance, it is best to look first to the main
tendencies of Nature. A particular flower may not be dead in early
winter, but the flowers are dying; a particular pebble may never be
wetted with the tide, but the tide is coming in. To the scientific eye
all human history is a series of collective movements, destructions or
migrations, like the massacre of flies in winter or the return of birds
in spring. Now the root fact in all history is Race. Race produces
religion; Race produces legal and ethical wars. There is no stronger
case than that of the wild, unworldly and perishing stock which we
commonly call the Celts, of whom your friends the MacNabs are specimens.
Small, swarthy, and of this dreamy and drifting blood, they accept
easily the superstitious explanation of any incidents, just as they
still accept (you will excuse me for saying) that superstitious
explanation of all incidents which you and your Church represent. It is
not remarkable that such people, with the sea moaning behind them
and the Church (excuse me again) droning in front of them, should put
fantastic features into what are probably plain events. You, with your
small parochial responsibilities, see only this particular Mrs MacNab,
terrified with this particular tale of two voices and a tall man out of
the sea. But the man with the scientific imagination sees, as it
were, the whole clans of MacNab scattered over the whole world, in its
ultimate average as uniform as a tribe of birds. He sees thousands
of Mrs MacNabs, in thousands of houses, dropping their little drop of
morbidity in the tea-cups of their friends; he sees—"
Before the scientist could conclude his sentence, another and more
impatient summons sounded from without; someone with swishing skirts was
marshalled hurriedly down the corridor, and the door opened on a young
girl, decently dressed but disordered and red-hot with haste. She had
sea-blown blonde hair, and would have been entirely beautiful if her
cheek-bones had not been, in the Scotch manner, a little high in relief
as well as in colour. Her apology was almost as abrupt as a command.
"I'm sorry to interrupt you, sir," she said, "but I had to follow Father
Brown at once; it's nothing less than life or death."
Father Brown began to get to his feet in some disorder. "Why, what has
happened, Maggie?" he said.
"James has been murdered, for all I can make out," answered the girl,
still breathing hard from her rush. "That man Glass has been with him
again; I heard them talking through the door quite plain. Two separate
voices: for James speaks low, with a burr, and the other voice was high
"That man Glass?" repeated the priest in some perplexity.
"I know his name is Glass," answered the girl, in great impatience.
"I heard it through the door. They were quarrelling—about money, I
think—for I heard James say again and again, 'That's right, Mr Glass,'
or 'No, Mr Glass,' and then, 'Two or three, Mr Glass.' But we're talking
too much; you must come at once, and there may be time yet."
"But time for what?" asked Dr Hood, who had been studying the young
lady with marked interest. "What is there about Mr Glass and his money
troubles that should impel such urgency?"
"I tried to break down the door and couldn't," answered the girl
shortly, "Then I ran to the back-yard, and managed to climb on to the
window-sill that looks into the room. It was an dim, and seemed to be
empty, but I swear I saw James lying huddled up in a corner, as if he
were drugged or strangled."
"This is very serious," said Father Brown, gathering his errant hat and
umbrella and standing up; "in point of fact I was just putting your case
before this gentleman, and his view—"
"Has been largely altered," said the scientist gravely. "I do not think
this young lady is so Celtic as I had supposed. As I have nothing else
to do, I will put on my hat and stroll down town with you."
In a few minutes all three were approaching the dreary tail of the
MacNabs' street: the girl with the stern and breathless stride of the
mountaineer, the criminologist with a lounging grace (which was
not without a certain leopard-like swiftness), and the priest at an
energetic trot entirely devoid of distinction. The aspect of this edge
of the town was not entirely without justification for the doctor's
hints about desolate moods and environments. The scattered houses stood
farther and farther apart in a broken string along the seashore; the
afternoon was closing with a premature and partly lurid twilight; the
sea was of an inky purple and murmuring ominously. In the scrappy
back garden of the MacNabs which ran down towards the sand, two black,
barren-looking trees stood up like demon hands held up in astonishment,
and as Mrs MacNab ran down the street to meet them with lean hands
similarly spread, and her fierce face in shadow, she was a little like a
demon herself. The doctor and the priest made scant reply to her shrill
reiterations of her daughter's story, with more disturbing details
of her own, to the divided vows of vengeance against Mr Glass for
murdering, and against Mr Todhunter for being murdered, or against
the latter for having dared to want to marry her daughter, and for not
having lived to do it. They passed through the narrow passage in the
front of the house until they came to the lodger's door at the back,
and there Dr Hood, with the trick of an old detective, put his shoulder
sharply to the panel and burst in the door.
It opened on a scene of silent catastrophe. No one seeing it, even for a
flash, could doubt that the room had been the theatre of some thrilling
collision between two, or perhaps more, persons. Playing-cards lay
littered across the table or fluttered about the floor as if a game had
been interrupted. Two wine glasses stood ready for wine on a side-table,
but a third lay smashed in a star of crystal upon the carpet. A few feet
from it lay what looked like a long knife or short sword, straight, but
with an ornamental and pictured handle, its dull blade just caught a
grey glint from the dreary window behind, which showed the black trees
against the leaden level of the sea. Towards the opposite corner of
the room was rolled a gentleman's silk top hat, as if it had just been
knocked off his head; so much so, indeed, that one almost looked to see
it still rolling. And in the corner behind it, thrown like a sack of
potatoes, but corded like a railway trunk, lay Mr James Todhunter,
with a scarf across his mouth, and six or seven ropes knotted round his
elbows and ankles. His brown eyes were alive and shifted alertly.
Dr Orion Hood paused for one instant on the doormat and drank in the
whole scene of voiceless violence. Then he stepped swiftly across the
carpet, picked up the tall silk hat, and gravely put it upon the head
of the yet pinioned Todhunter. It was so much too large for him that it
almost slipped down on to his shoulders.
"Mr Glass's hat," said the doctor, returning with it and peering into
the inside with a pocket lens. "How to explain the absence of Mr Glass
and the presence of Mr Glass's hat? For Mr Glass is not a careless man
with his clothes. That hat is of a stylish shape and systematically
brushed and burnished, though not very new. An old dandy, I should
"But, good heavens!" called out Miss MacNab, "aren't you going to untie
the man first?"
"I say 'old' with intention, though not with certainty" continued the
expositor; "my reason for it might seem a little far-fetched. The hair
of human beings falls out in very varying degrees, but almost always
falls out slightly, and with the lens I should see the tiny hairs in a
hat recently worn. It has none, which leads me to guess that Mr Glass is
bald. Now when this is taken with the high-pitched and querulous
voice which Miss MacNab described so vividly (patience, my dear lady,
patience), when we take the hairless head together with the tone common
in senile anger, I should think we may deduce some advance in years.
Nevertheless, he was probably vigorous, and he was almost certainly
tall. I might rely in some degree on the story of his previous
appearance at the window, as a tall man in a silk hat, but I think I
have more exact indication. This wineglass has been smashed all over
the place, but one of its splinters lies on the high bracket beside the
mantelpiece. No such fragment could have fallen there if the vessel
had been smashed in the hand of a comparatively short man like Mr
"By the way," said Father Brown, "might it not be as well to untie Mr
"Our lesson from the drinking-vessels does not end here," proceeded the
specialist. "I may say at once that it is possible that the man Glass
was bald or nervous through dissipation rather than age. Mr Todhunter,
as has been remarked, is a quiet thrifty gentleman, essentially an
abstainer. These cards and wine-cups are no part of his normal habit;
they have been produced for a particular companion. But, as it
happens, we may go farther. Mr Todhunter may or may not possess this
wine-service, but there is no appearance of his possessing any wine.
What, then, were these vessels to contain? I would at once suggest
some brandy or whisky, perhaps of a luxurious sort, from a flask in the
pocket of Mr Glass. We have thus something like a picture of the man, or
at least of the type: tall, elderly, fashionable, but somewhat frayed,
certainly fond of play and strong waters, perhaps rather too fond of
them. Mr Glass is a gentleman not unknown on the fringes of society."
"Look here," cried the young woman, "if you don't let me pass to untie
him I'll run outside and scream for the police."
"I should not advise you, Miss MacNab," said Dr Hood gravely, "to be
in any hurry to fetch the police. Father Brown, I seriously ask you to
compose your flock, for their sakes, not for mine. Well, we have seen
something of the figure and quality of Mr Glass; what are the chief
facts known of Mr Todhunter? They are substantially three: that he is
economical, that he is more or less wealthy, and that he has a secret.
Now, surely it is obvious that there are the three chief marks of the
kind of man who is blackmailed. And surely it is equally obvious that
the faded finery, the profligate habits, and the shrill irritation of Mr
Glass are the unmistakable marks of the kind of man who blackmails him.
We have the two typical figures of a tragedy of hush money: on the one
hand, the respectable man with a mystery; on the other, the West-end
vulture with a scent for a mystery. These two men have met here today
and have quarrelled, using blows and a bare weapon."
"Are you going to take those ropes off?" asked the girl stubbornly.
Dr Hood replaced the silk hat carefully on the side table, and went
across to the captive. He studied him intently, even moving him a little
and half-turning him round by the shoulders, but he only answered:
"No; I think these ropes will do very well till your friends the police
bring the handcuffs."
Father Brown, who had been looking dully at the carpet, lifted his round
face and said: "What do you mean?"
The man of science had picked up the peculiar dagger-sword from the
carpet and was examining it intently as he answered:
"Because you find Mr Todhunter tied up," he said, "you all jump to the
conclusion that Mr Glass had tied him up; and then, I suppose, escaped.
There are four objections to this: First, why should a gentleman so
dressy as our friend Glass leave his hat behind him, if he left of his
own free will? Second," he continued, moving towards the window, "this
is the only exit, and it is locked on the inside. Third, this blade
here has a tiny touch of blood at the point, but there is no wound on Mr
Todhunter. Mr Glass took that wound away with him, dead or alive. Add
to all this primary probability. It is much more likely that the
blackmailed person would try to kill his incubus, rather than that the
blackmailer would try to kill the goose that lays his golden egg. There,
I think, we have a pretty complete story."
"But the ropes?" inquired the priest, whose eyes had remained open with
a rather vacant admiration.
"Ah, the ropes," said the expert with a singular intonation. "Miss
MacNab very much wanted to know why I did not set Mr Todhunter free from
his ropes. Well, I will tell her. I did not do it because Mr Todhunter
can set himself free from them at any minute he chooses."
"What?" cried the audience on quite different notes of astonishment.
"I have looked at all the knots on Mr Todhunter," reiterated Hood
quietly. "I happen to know something about knots; they are quite a
branch of criminal science. Every one of those knots he has made himself
and could loosen himself; not one of them would have been made by an
enemy really trying to pinion him. The whole of this affair of the
ropes is a clever fake, to make us think him the victim of the struggle
instead of the wretched Glass, whose corpse may be hidden in the garden
or stuffed up the chimney."
There was a rather depressed silence; the room was darkening, the
sea-blighted boughs of the garden trees looked leaner and blacker than
ever, yet they seemed to have come nearer to the window. One could
almost fancy they were sea-monsters like krakens or cuttlefish, writhing
polypi who had crawled up from the sea to see the end of this tragedy,
even as he, the villain and victim of it, the terrible man in the tall
hat, had once crawled up from the sea. For the whole air was dense with
the morbidity of blackmail, which is the most morbid of human things,
because it is a crime concealing a crime; a black plaster on a blacker
The face of the little Catholic priest, which was commonly complacent
and even comic, had suddenly become knotted with a curious frown. It
was not the blank curiosity of his first innocence. It was rather that
creative curiosity which comes when a man has the beginnings of an idea.
"Say it again, please," he said in a simple, bothered manner; "do you
mean that Todhunter can tie himself up all alone and untie himself all
"That is what I mean," said the doctor.
"Jerusalem!" ejaculated Brown suddenly, "I wonder if it could possibly
He scuttled across the room rather like a rabbit, and peered with quite
a new impulsiveness into the partially-covered face of the captive. Then
he turned his own rather fatuous face to the company. "Yes, that's it!"
he cried in a certain excitement. "Can't you see it in the man's face?
Why, look at his eyes!"
Both the Professor and the girl followed the direction of his glance.
And though the broad black scarf completely masked the lower half of
Todhunter's visage, they did grow conscious of something struggling and
intense about the upper part of it.
"His eyes do look queer," cried the young woman, strongly moved. "You
brutes; I believe it's hurting him!"
"Not that, I think," said Dr Hood; "the eyes have certainly a singular
expression. But I should interpret those transverse wrinkles as
expressing rather such slight psychological abnormality—"
"Oh, bosh!" cried Father Brown: "can't you see he's laughing?"
"Laughing!" repeated the doctor, with a start; "but what on earth can he
be laughing at?"
"Well," replied the Reverend Brown apologetically, "not to put too fine
a point on it, I think he is laughing at you. And indeed, I'm a little
inclined to laugh at myself, now I know about it."
"Now you know about what?" asked Hood, in some exasperation.
"Now I know," replied the priest, "the profession of Mr Todhunter."
He shuffled about the room, looking at one object after another with
what seemed to be a vacant stare, and then invariably bursting into an
equally vacant laugh, a highly irritating process for those who had to
watch it. He laughed very much over the hat, still more uproariously
over the broken glass, but the blood on the sword point sent him
into mortal convulsions of amusement. Then he turned to the fuming
"Dr Hood," he cried enthusiastically, "you are a great poet! You have
called an uncreated being out of the void. How much more godlike that is
than if you had only ferreted out the mere facts! Indeed, the mere facts
are rather commonplace and comic by comparison."
"I have no notion what you are talking about," said Dr Hood rather
haughtily; "my facts are all inevitable, though necessarily incomplete.
A place may be permitted to intuition, perhaps (or poetry if you prefer
the term), but only because the corresponding details cannot as yet be
ascertained. In the absence of Mr Glass—"
"That's it, that's it," said the little priest, nodding quite eagerly,
"that's the first idea to get fixed; the absence of Mr Glass. He is so
extremely absent. I suppose," he added reflectively, "that there was
never anybody so absent as Mr Glass."
"Do you mean he is absent from the town?" demanded the doctor.
"I mean he is absent from everywhere," answered Father Brown; "he is
absent from the Nature of Things, so to speak."
"Do you seriously mean," said the specialist with a smile, "that there
is no such person?"
The priest made a sign of assent. "It does seem a pity," he said.
Orion Hood broke into a contemptuous laugh. "Well," he said, "before
we go on to the hundred and one other evidences, let us take the first
proof we found; the first fact we fell over when we fell into this room.
If there is no Mr Glass, whose hat is this?"
"It is Mr Todhunter's," replied Father Brown.
"But it doesn't fit him," cried Hood impatiently. "He couldn't possibly
Father Brown shook his head with ineffable mildness. "I never said he
could wear it," he answered. "I said it was his hat. Or, if you insist
on a shade of difference, a hat that is his."
"And what is the shade of difference?" asked the criminologist with a
"My good sir," cried the mild little man, with his first movement akin
to impatience, "if you will walk down the street to the nearest hatter's
shop, you will see that there is, in common speech, a difference between
a man's hat and the hats that are his."
"But a hatter," protested Hood, "can get money out of his stock of new
hats. What could Todhunter get out of this one old hat?"
"Rabbits," replied Father Brown promptly.
"What?" cried Dr Hood.
"Rabbits, ribbons, sweetmeats, goldfish, rolls of coloured paper," said
the reverend gentleman with rapidity. "Didn't you see it all when
you found out the faked ropes? It's just the same with the sword.
Mr Todhunter hasn't got a scratch on him, as you say; but he's got a
scratch in him, if you follow me."
"Do you mean inside Mr Todhunter's clothes?" inquired Mrs MacNab
"I do not mean inside Mr Todhunter's clothes," said Father Brown. "I
mean inside Mr Todhunter."
"Well, what in the name of Bedlam do you mean?"
"Mr Todhunter," explained Father Brown placidly, "is learning to be a
professional conjurer, as well as juggler, ventriloquist, and expert in
the rope trick. The conjuring explains the hat. It is without traces
of hair, not because it is worn by the prematurely bald Mr Glass, but
because it has never been worn by anybody. The juggling explains the
three glasses, which Todhunter was teaching himself to throw up and
catch in rotation. But, being only at the stage of practice, he smashed
one glass against the ceiling. And the juggling also explains the sword,
which it was Mr Todhunter's professional pride and duty to swallow.
But, again, being at the stage of practice, he very slightly grazed the
inside of his throat with the weapon. Hence he has a wound inside him,
which I am sure (from the expression on his face) is not a serious
one. He was also practising the trick of a release from ropes, like the
Davenport Brothers, and he was just about to free himself when we all
burst into the room. The cards, of course, are for card tricks, and they
are scattered on the floor because he had just been practising one of
those dodges of sending them flying through the air. He merely kept his
trade secret, because he had to keep his tricks secret, like any other
conjurer. But the mere fact of an idler in a top hat having once
looked in at his back window, and been driven away by him with great
indignation, was enough to set us all on a wrong track of romance, and
make us imagine his whole life overshadowed by the silk-hatted spectre
of Mr Glass."
"But What about the two voices?" asked Maggie, staring.
"Have you never heard a ventriloquist?" asked Father Brown. "Don't you
know they speak first in their natural voice, and then answer themselves
in just that shrill, squeaky, unnatural voice that you heard?"
There was a long silence, and Dr Hood regarded the little man who
had spoken with a dark and attentive smile. "You are certainly a very
ingenious person," he said; "it could not have been done better in a
book. But there is just one part of Mr Glass you have not succeeded in
explaining away, and that is his name. Miss MacNab distinctly heard him
so addressed by Mr Todhunter."
The Rev. Mr Brown broke into a rather childish giggle. "Well, that,"
he said, "that's the silliest part of the whole silly story. When our
juggling friend here threw up the three glasses in turn, he counted
them aloud as he caught them, and also commented aloud when he failed to
catch them. What he really said was: 'One, two and three—missed a glass
one, two—missed a glass.' And so on."
There was a second of stillness in the room, and then everyone with
one accord burst out laughing. As they did so the figure in the corner
complacently uncoiled all the ropes and let them fall with a flourish.
Then, advancing into the middle of the room with a bow, he produced
from his pocket a big bill printed in blue and red, which announced that
ZALADIN, the World's Greatest Conjurer, Contortionist, Ventriloquist and
Human Kangaroo would be ready with an entirely new series of Tricks
at the Empire Pavilion, Scarborough, on Monday next at eight o'clock
TWO. — The Paradise of Thieves
THE great Muscari, most original of the young Tuscan poets,
walked swiftly into his favourite restaurant, which overlooked the
Mediterranean, was covered by an awning and fenced by little lemon and
orange trees. Waiters in white aprons were already laying out on white
tables the insignia of an early and elegant lunch; and this seemed to
increase a satisfaction that already touched the top of swagger. Muscari
had an eagle nose like Dante; his hair and neckerchief were dark and
flowing; he carried a black cloak, and might almost have carried a black
mask, so much did he bear with him a sort of Venetian melodrama. He
acted as if a troubadour had still a definite social office, like a
bishop. He went as near as his century permitted to walking the world
literally like Don Juan, with rapier and guitar.
For he never travelled without a case of swords, with which he had
fought many brilliant duels, or without a corresponding case for his
mandolin, with which he had actually serenaded Miss Ethel Harrogate, the
highly conventional daughter of a Yorkshire banker on a holiday. Yet he
was neither a charlatan nor a child; but a hot, logical Latin who liked
a certain thing and was it. His poetry was as straightforward as anyone
else's prose. He desired fame or wine or the beauty of women with
a torrid directness inconceivable among the cloudy ideals or cloudy
compromises of the north; to vaguer races his intensity smelt of danger
or even crime. Like fire or the sea, he was too simple to be trusted.
The banker and his beautiful English daughter were staying at the hotel
attached to Muscari's restaurant; that was why it was his favourite
restaurant. A glance flashed around the room told him at once, however,
that the English party had not descended. The restaurant was glittering,
but still comparatively empty. Two priests were talking at a table in
a corner, but Muscari (an ardent Catholic) took no more notice of them
than of a couple of crows. But from a yet farther seat, partly concealed
behind a dwarf tree golden with oranges, there rose and advanced towards
the poet a person whose costume was the most aggressively opposite to
This figure was clad in tweeds of a piebald check, with a pink tie, a
sharp collar and protuberant yellow boots. He contrived, in the
true tradition of 'Arry at Margate, to look at once startling and
commonplace. But as the Cockney apparition drew nearer, Muscari was
astounded to observe that the head was distinctly different from the
body. It was an Italian head: fuzzy, swarthy and very vivacious, that
rose abruptly out of the standing collar like cardboard and the comic
pink tie. In fact it was a head he knew. He recognized it, above all
the dire erection of English holiday array, as the face of an old but
forgotten friend name Ezza. This youth had been a prodigy at college,
and European fame was promised him when he was barely fifteen; but when
he appeared in the world he failed, first publicly as a dramatist and a
demagogue, and then privately for years on end as an actor, a traveller,
a commission agent or a journalist. Muscari had known him last behind
the footlights; he was but too well attuned to the excitements of that
profession, and it was believed that some moral calamity had swallowed
"Ezza!" cried the poet, rising and shaking hands in a pleasant
astonishment. "Well, I've seen you in many costumes in the green room;
but I never expected to see you dressed up as an Englishman."
"This," answered Ezza gravely, "is not the costume of an Englishman, but
of the Italian of the future."
"In that case," remarked Muscari, "I confess I prefer the Italian of the
"That is your old mistake, Muscari," said the man in tweeds, shaking
his head; "and the mistake of Italy. In the sixteenth century we Tuscans
made the morning: we had the newest steel, the newest carving, the
newest chemistry. Why should we not now have the newest factories, the
newest motors, the newest finance—the newest clothes?"
"Because they are not worth having," answered Muscari. "You cannot make
Italians really progressive; they are too intelligent. Men who see the
short cut to good living will never go by the new elaborate roads."
"Well, to me Marconi, or D'Annunzio, is the star of Italy" said the
other. "That is why I have become a Futurist—and a courier."
"A courier!" cried Muscari, laughing. "Is that the last of your list of
trades? And whom are you conducting?"
"Oh, a man of the name of Harrogate, and his family, I believe."
"Not the banker in this hotel?" inquired the poet, with some eagerness.
"That's the man," answered the courier.
"Does it pay well?" asked the troubadour innocently.
"It will pay me," said Ezza, with a very enigmatic smile. "But I am a
rather curious sort of courier." Then, as if changing the subject, he
said abruptly: "He has a daughter—and a son."
"The daughter is divine," affirmed Muscari, "the father and son are, I
suppose, human. But granted his harmless qualities doesn't that banker
strike you as a splendid instance of my argument? Harrogate has millions
in his safes, and I have—the hole in my pocket. But you daren't
say—you can't say—that he's cleverer than I, or bolder than I, or even
more energetic. He's not clever, he's got eyes like blue buttons; he's
not energetic, he moves from chair to chair like a paralytic. He's a
conscientious, kindly old blockhead; but he's got money simply because
he collects money, as a boy collects stamps. You're too strong-minded
for business, Ezza. You won't get on. To be clever enough to get all
that money, one must be stupid enough to want it."
"I'm stupid enough for that," said Ezza gloomily. "But I should suggest
a suspension of your critique of the banker, for here he comes."
Mr Harrogate, the great financier, did indeed enter the room, but nobody
looked at him. He was a massive elderly man with a boiled blue eye and
faded grey-sandy moustaches; but for his heavy stoop he might have been
a colonel. He carried several unopened letters in his hand. His son
Frank was a really fine lad, curly-haired, sun-burnt and strenuous; but
nobody looked at him either. All eyes, as usual, were riveted, for
the moment at least, upon Ethel Harrogate, whose golden Greek head and
colour of the dawn seemed set purposely above that sapphire sea, like
a goddess's. The poet Muscari drew a deep breath as if he were drinking
something, as indeed he was. He was drinking the Classic; which his
fathers made. Ezza studied her with a gaze equally intense and far more
Miss Harrogate was specially radiant and ready for conversation on this
occasion; and her family had fallen into the easier Continental habit,
allowing the stranger Muscari and even the courier Ezza to share their
table and their talk. In Ethel Harrogate conventionality crowned itself
with a perfection and splendour of its own. Proud of her father's
prosperity, fond of fashionable pleasures, a fond daughter but an arrant
flirt, she was all these things with a sort of golden good-nature that
made her very pride pleasing and her worldly respectability a fresh and
They were in an eddy of excitement about some alleged peril in the
mountain path they were to attempt that week. The danger was not from
rock and avalanche, but from something yet more romantic. Ethel had
been earnestly assured that brigands, the true cut-throats of the modern
legend, still haunted that ridge and held that pass of the Apennines.
"They say," she cried, with the awful relish of a schoolgirl, "that
all that country isn't ruled by the King of Italy, but by the King of
Thieves. Who is the King of Thieves?"
"A great man," replied Muscari, "worthy to rank with your own Robin
Hood, signorina. Montano, the King of Thieves, was first heard of in the
mountains some ten years ago, when people said brigands were extinct.
But his wild authority spread with the swiftness of a silent revolution.
Men found his fierce proclamations nailed in every mountain village; his
sentinels, gun in hand, in every mountain ravine. Six times the Italian
Government tried to dislodge him, and was defeated in six pitched
battles as if by Napoleon."
"Now that sort of thing," observed the banker weightily, "would never
be allowed in England; perhaps, after all, we had better choose another
route. But the courier thought it perfectly safe."
"It is perfectly safe," said the courier contemptuously. "I have been
over it twenty times. There may have been some old jailbird called a
King in the time of our grandmothers; but he belongs to history if not
to fable. Brigandage is utterly stamped out."
"It can never be utterly stamped out," Muscari answered; "because armed
revolt is a recreation natural to southerners. Our peasants are like
their mountains, rich in grace and green gaiety, but with the fires
beneath. There is a point of human despair where the northern poor take
to drink—and our own poor take to daggers."
"A poet is privileged," replied Ezza, with a sneer. "If Signor Muscari
were English he would still be looking for highwaymen in Wandsworth.
Believe me, there is no more danger of being captured in Italy than of
being scalped in Boston."
"Then you propose to attempt it?" asked Mr Harrogate, frowning.
"Oh, it sounds rather dreadful," cried the girl, turning her glorious
eyes on Muscari. "Do you really think the pass is dangerous?"
Muscari threw back his black mane. "I know it is dangerous:" he said. "I
am crossing it tomorrow."
The young Harrogate was left behind for a moment emptying a glass of
white wine and lighting a cigarette, as the beauty retired with the
banker, the courier and the poet, distributing peals of silvery satire.
At about the same instant the two priests in the corner rose; the
taller, a white-haired Italian, taking his leave. The shorter priest
turned and walked towards the banker's son, and the latter was
astonished to realize that though a Roman priest the man was an
Englishman. He vaguely remembered meeting him at the social crushes
of some of his Catholic friends. But the man spoke before his memories
could collect themselves.
"Mr Frank Harrogate, I think," he said. "I have had an introduction, but
I do not mean to presume on it. The odd thing I have to say will come
far better from a stranger. Mr Harrogate, I say one word and go: take
care of your sister in her great sorrow."
Even for Frank's truly fraternal indifference the radiance and derision
of his sister still seemed to sparkle and ring; he could hear her
laughter still from the garden of the hotel, and he stared at his sombre
adviser in puzzledom.
"Do you mean the brigands?" he asked; and then, remembering a vague fear
of his own, "or can you be thinking of Muscari?"
"One is never thinking of the real sorrow," said the strange priest.
"One can only be kind when it comes."
And he passed promptly from the room, leaving the other almost with his
A day or two afterwards a coach containing the company was really
crawling and staggering up the spurs of the menacing mountain range.
Between Ezza's cheery denial of the danger and Muscari's boisterous
defiance of it, the financial family were firm in their original
purpose; and Muscari made his mountain journey coincide with theirs. A
more surprising feature was the appearance at the coast-town station of
the little priest of the restaurant; he alleged merely that business
led him also to cross the mountains of the midland. But young Harrogate
could not but connect his presence with the mystical fears and warnings
The coach was a kind of commodious wagonette, invented by the modernist
talent of the courier, who dominated the expedition with his scientific
activity and breezy wit. The theory of danger from thieves was banished
from thought and speech; though so far conceded in formal act that some
slight protection was employed. The courier and the young banker carried
loaded revolvers, and Muscari (with much boyish gratification) buckled
on a kind of cutlass under his black cloak.
He had planted his person at a flying leap next to the lovely
Englishwoman; on the other side of her sat the priest, whose name was
Brown and who was fortunately a silent individual; the courier and the
father and son were on the banc behind. Muscari was in towering spirits,
seriously believing in the peril, and his talk to Ethel might well have
made her think him a maniac. But there was something in the crazy and
gorgeous ascent, amid crags like peaks loaded with woods like orchards,
that dragged her spirit up alone with his into purple preposterous
heavens with wheeling suns. The white road climbed like a white cat;
it spanned sunless chasms like a tight-rope; it was flung round far-off
headlands like a lasso.
And yet, however high they went, the desert still blossomed like the
rose. The fields were burnished in sun and wind with the colour of
kingfisher and parrot and humming-bird, the hues of a hundred flowering
flowers. There are no lovelier meadows and woodlands than the English,
no nobler crests or chasms than those of Snowdon and Glencoe. But
Ethel Harrogate had never before seen the southern parks tilted on the
splintered northern peaks; the gorge of Glencoe laden with the fruits
of Kent. There was nothing here of that chill and desolation that in
Britain one associates with high and wild scenery. It was rather like a
mosaic palace, rent with earthquakes; or like a Dutch tulip garden blown
to the stars with dynamite.
"It's like Kew Gardens on Beachy Head," said Ethel.
"It is our secret," answered he, "the secret of the volcano; that is
also the secret of the revolution—that a thing can be violent and yet
"You are rather violent yourself," and she smiled at him.
"And yet rather fruitless," he admitted; "if I die tonight I die
unmarried and a fool."
"It is not my fault if you have come," she said after a difficult
"It is never your fault," answered Muscari; "it was not your fault that
As they spoke they came under overwhelming cliffs that spread almost
like wings above a corner of peculiar peril. Shocked by the big shadow
on the narrow ledge, the horses stirred doubtfully. The driver leapt to
the earth to hold their heads, and they became ungovernable. One horse
reared up to his full height—the titanic and terrifying height of
a horse when he becomes a biped. It was just enough to alter the
equilibrium; the whole coach heeled over like a ship and crashed through
the fringe of bushes over the cliff. Muscari threw an arm round Ethel,
who clung to him, and shouted aloud. It was for such moments that he
At the moment when the gorgeous mountain walls went round the poet's
head like a purple windmill a thing happened which was superficially
even more startling. The elderly and lethargic banker sprang erect in
the coach and leapt over the precipice before the tilted vehicle could
take him there. In the first flash it looked as wild as suicide; but in
the second it was as sensible as a safe investment. The Yorkshireman had
evidently more promptitude, as well as more sagacity, than Muscari had
given him credit for; for he landed in a lap of land which might
have been specially padded with turf and clover to receive him. As
it happened, indeed, the whole company were equally lucky, if less
dignified in their form of ejection. Immediately under this abrupt turn
of the road was a grassy and flowery hollow like a sunken meadow; a
sort of green velvet pocket in the long, green, trailing garments of
the hills. Into this they were all tipped or tumbled with little damage,
save that their smallest baggage and even the contents of their pockets
were scattered in the grass around them. The wrecked coach still hung
above, entangled in the tough hedge, and the horses plunged painfully
down the slope. The first to sit up was the little priest, who scratched
his head with a face of foolish wonder. Frank Harrogate heard him say to
himself: "Now why on earth have we fallen just here?"
He blinked at the litter around him, and recovered his own very clumsy
umbrella. Beyond it lay the broad sombrero fallen from the head of
Muscari, and beside it a sealed business letter which, after a glance
at the address, he returned to the elder Harrogate. On the other side of
him the grass partly hid Miss Ethel's sunshade, and just beyond it lay a
curious little glass bottle hardly two inches long. The priest picked it
up; in a quick, unobtrusive manner he uncorked and sniffed it, and his
heavy face turned the colour of clay.
"Heaven deliver us!" he muttered; "it can't be hers! Has her sorrow come
on her already?" He slipped it into his own waistcoat pocket. "I think
I'm justified," he said, "till I know a little more."
He gazed painfully at the girl, at that moment being raised out of the
flowers by Muscari, who was saying: "We have fallen into heaven; it is
a sign. Mortals climb up and they fall down; but it is only gods and
goddesses who can fall upwards."
And indeed she rose out of the sea of colours so beautiful and happy
a vision that the priest felt his suspicion shaken and shifted. "After
all," he thought, "perhaps the poison isn't hers; perhaps it's one of
Muscari's melodramatic tricks."
Muscari set the lady lightly on her feet, made her an absurdly
theatrical bow, and then, drawing his cutlass, hacked hard at the taut
reins of the horses, so that they scrambled to their feet and stood
in the grass trembling. When he had done so, a most remarkable thing
occurred. A very quiet man, very poorly dressed and extremely sunburnt,
came out of the bushes and took hold of the horses' heads. He had a
queer-shaped knife, very broad and crooked, buckled on his belt; there
was nothing else remarkable about him, except his sudden and silent
appearance. The poet asked him who he was, and he did not answer.
Looking around him at the confused and startled group in the hollow,
Muscari then perceived that another tanned and tattered man, with a
short gun under his arm, was looking at them from the ledge just below,
leaning his elbows on the edge of the turf. Then he looked up at the
road from which they had fallen and saw, looking down on them, the
muzzles of four other carbines and four other brown faces with bright
but quite motionless eyes.
"The brigands!" cried Muscari, with a kind of monstrous gaiety. "This
was a trap. Ezza, if you will oblige me by shooting the coachman first,
we can cut our way out yet. There are only six of them."
"The coachman," said Ezza, who was standing grimly with his hands in his
pockets, "happens to be a servant of Mr Harrogate's."
"Then shoot him all the more," cried the poet impatiently; "he was
bribed to upset his master. Then put the lady in the middle, and we will
break the line up there—with a rush."
And, wading in wild grass and flowers, he advanced fearlessly on the
four carbines; but finding that no one followed except young Harrogate,
he turned, brandishing his cutlass to wave the others on. He beheld
the courier still standing slightly astride in the centre of the grassy
ring, his hands in his pockets; and his lean, ironical Italian face
seemed to grow longer and longer in the evening light.
"You thought, Muscari, I was the failure among our schoolfellows," he
said, "and you thought you were the success. But I have succeeded more
than you and fill a bigger place in history. I have been acting epics
while you have been writing them."
"Come on, I tell you!" thundered Muscari from above. "Will you stand
there talking nonsense about yourself with a woman to save and three
strong men to help you? What do you call yourself?"
"I call myself Montano," cried the strange courier in a voice equally
loud and full. "I am the King of Thieves, and I welcome you all to my
And even as he spoke five more silent men with weapons ready came out of
the bushes, and looked towards him for their orders. One of them held a
large paper in his hand.
"This pretty little nest where we are all picnicking," went on the
courier-brigand, with the same easy yet sinister smile, "is, together
with some caves underneath it, known by the name of the Paradise of
Thieves. It is my principal stronghold on these hills; for (as you have
doubtless noticed) the eyrie is invisible both from the road above and
from the valley below. It is something better than impregnable; it is
unnoticeable. Here I mostly live, and here I shall certainly die, if
the gendarmes ever track me here. I am not the kind of criminal that
'reserves his defence,' but the better kind that reserves his last
All were staring at him thunderstruck and still, except Father Brown,
who heaved a huge sigh as of relief and fingered the little phial in his
pocket. "Thank God!" he muttered; "that's much more probable. The poison
belongs to this robber-chief, of course. He carries it so that he may
never be captured, like Cato."
The King of Thieves was, however, continuing his address with the same
kind of dangerous politeness. "It only remains for me," he said,
"to explain to my guests the social conditions upon which I have the
pleasure of entertaining them. I need not expound the quaint old ritual
of ransom, which it is incumbent upon me to keep up; and even this only
applies to a part of the company. The Reverend Father Brown and the
celebrated Signor Muscari I shall release tomorrow at dawn and escort
to my outposts. Poets and priests, if you will pardon my simplicity
of speech, never have any money. And so (since it is impossible to
get anything out of them), let us, seize the opportunity to show our
admiration for classic literature and our reverence for Holy Church."
He paused with an unpleasing smile; and Father Brown blinked repeatedly
at him, and seemed suddenly to be listening with great attention. The
brigand captain took the large paper from the attendant brigand and,
glancing over it, continued: "My other intentions are clearly set forth
in this public document, which I will hand round in a moment; and which
after that will be posted on a tree by every village in the valley, and
every cross-road in the hills. I will not weary you with the verbalism,
since you will be able to check it; the substance of my proclamation is
this: I announce first that I have captured the English millionaire, the
colossus of finance, Mr Samuel Harrogate. I next announce that I have
found on his person notes and bonds for two thousand pounds, which he
has given up to me. Now since it would be really immoral to announce
such a thing to a credulous public if it had not occurred, I suggest it
should occur without further delay. I suggest that Mr Harrogate senior
should now give me the two thousand pounds in his pocket."
The banker looked at him under lowering brows, red-faced and sulky, but
seemingly cowed. That leap from the failing carriage seemed to have used
up his last virility. He had held back in a hang-dog style when his son
and Muscari had made a bold movement to break out of the brigand
trap. And now his red and trembling hand went reluctantly to his
breast-pocket, and passed a bundle of papers and envelopes to the
"Excellent!" cried that outlaw gaily; "so far we are all cosy. I resume
the points of my proclamation, so soon to be published to all Italy.
The third item is that of ransom. I am asking from the friends of the
Harrogate family a ransom of three thousand pounds, which I am sure
is almost insulting to that family in its moderate estimate of their
importance. Who would not pay triple this sum for another day's
association with such a domestic circle? I will not conceal from you
that the document ends with certain legal phrases about the unpleasant
things that may happen if the money is not paid; but meanwhile, ladies
and gentlemen, let me assure you that I am comfortably off here
for accommodation, wine and cigars, and bid you for the present a
sportsman-like welcome to the luxuries of the Paradise of Thieves."
All the time that he had been speaking, the dubious-looking men with
carbines and dirty slouch hats had been gathering silently in such
preponderating numbers that even Muscari was compelled to recognize his
sally with the sword as hopeless. He glanced around him; but the girl
had already gone over to soothe and comfort her father, for her natural
affection for his person was as strong or stronger than her somewhat
snobbish pride in his success. Muscari, with the illogicality of a
lover, admired this filial devotion, and yet was irritated by it.
He slapped his sword back in the scabbard and went and flung himself
somewhat sulkily on one of the green banks. The priest sat down within
a yard or two, and Muscari turned his aquiline nose on him in an
"Well," said the poet tartly, "do people still think me too romantic?
Are there, I wonder, any brigands left in the mountains?"
"There may be," said Father Brown agnostically.
"What do you mean?" asked the other sharply.
"I mean I am puzzled," replied the priest. "I am puzzled about Ezza or
Montano, or whatever his name is. He seems to me much more inexplicable
as a brigand even than he was as a courier."
"But in what way?" persisted his companion. "Santa Maria! I should have
thought the brigand was plain enough."
"I find three curious difficulties," said the priest in a quiet voice.
"I should like to have your opinion on them. First of all I must tell
you I was lunching in that restaurant at the seaside. As four of you
left the room, you and Miss Harrogate went ahead, talking and laughing;
the banker and the courier came behind, speaking sparely and rather low.
But I could not help hearing Ezza say these words—'Well, let her have
a little fun; you know the blow may smash her any minute.' Mr Harrogate
answered nothing; so the words must have had some meaning. On the
impulse of the moment I warned her brother that she might be in peril;
I said nothing of its nature, for I did not know. But if it meant
this capture in the hills, the thing is nonsense. Why should the
brigand-courier warn his patron, even by a hint, when it was his whole
purpose to lure him into the mountain-mousetrap? It could not have
meant that. But if not, what is this disaster, known both to courier and
banker, which hangs over Miss Harrogate's head?"
"Disaster to Miss Harrogate!" ejaculated the poet, sitting up with some
ferocity. "Explain yourself; go on."
"All my riddles, however, revolve round our bandit chief," resumed the
priest reflectively. "And here is the second of them. Why did he put
so prominently in his demand for ransom the fact that he had taken two
thousand pounds from his victim on the spot? It had no faintest tendency
to evoke the ransom. Quite the other way, in fact. Harrogate's friends
would be far likelier to fear for his fate if they thought the thieves
were poor and desperate. Yet the spoliation on the spot was emphasized
and even put first in the demand. Why should Ezza Montano want so
specially to tell all Europe that he had picked the pocket before he
levied the blackmail?"
"I cannot imagine," said Muscari, rubbing up his black hair for once
with an unaffected gesture. "You may think you enlighten me, but you are
leading me deeper in the dark. What may be the third objection to the
King of the Thieves?" "The third objection," said Father Brown, still
in meditation, "is this bank we are sitting on. Why does our
brigand-courier call this his chief fortress and the Paradise of
Thieves? It is certainly a soft spot to fall on and a sweet spot to look
at. It is also quite true, as he says, that it is invisible from valley
and peak, and is therefore a hiding-place. But it is not a fortress. It
never could be a fortress. I think it would be the worst fortress in the
world. For it is actually commanded from above by the common high-road
across the mountains—the very place where the police would most
probably pass. Why, five shabby short guns held us helpless here about
half an hour ago. The quarter of a company of any kind of soldiers could
have blown us over the precipice. Whatever is the meaning of this odd
little nook of grass and flowers, it is not an entrenched position. It
is something else; it has some other strange sort of importance; some
value that I do not understand. It is more like an accidental theatre or
a natural green-room; it is like the scene for some romantic comedy; it
As the little priest's words lengthened and lost themselves in a dull
and dreamy sincerity, Muscari, whose animal senses were alert and
impatient, heard a new noise in the mountains. Even for him the sound
was as yet very small and faint; but he could have sworn the evening
breeze bore with it something like the pulsation of horses' hoofs and a
At the same moment, and long before the vibration had touched the
less-experienced English ears, Montano the brigand ran up the bank above
them and stood in the broken hedge, steadying himself against a tree and
peering down the road. He was a strange figure as he stood there, for he
had assumed a flapped fantastic hat and swinging baldric and cutlass in
his capacity of bandit king, but the bright prosaic tweed of the courier
showed through in patches all over him.
The next moment he turned his olive, sneering face and made a movement
with his hand. The brigands scattered at the signal, not in confusion,
but in what was evidently a kind of guerrilla discipline. Instead of
occupying the road along the ridge, they sprinkled themselves along the
side of it behind the trees and the hedge, as if watching unseen for an
enemy. The noise beyond grew stronger, beginning to shake the mountain
road, and a voice could be clearly heard calling out orders. The
brigands swayed and huddled, cursing and whispering, and the evening
air was full of little metallic noises as they cocked their pistols, or
loosened their knives, or trailed their scabbards over the stones. Then
the noises from both quarters seemed to meet on the road above; branches
broke, horses neighed, men cried out.
"A rescue!" cried Muscari, springing to his feet and waving his hat;
"the gendarmes are on them! Now for freedom and a blow for it! Now to
be rebels against robbers! Come, don't let us leave everything to
the police; that is so dreadfully modern. Fall on the rear of these
ruffians. The gendarmes are rescuing us; come, friends, let us rescue
And throwing his hat over the trees, he drew his cutlass once more and
began to escalade the slope up to the road. Frank Harrogate jumped up
and ran across to help him, revolver in hand, but was astounded to hear
himself imperatively recalled by the raucous voice of his father, who
seemed to be in great agitation.
"I won't have it," said the banker in a choking voice; "I command you
not to interfere."
"But, father," said Frank very warmly, "an Italian gentleman has led the
way. You wouldn't have it said that the English hung back."
"It is useless," said the older man, who was trembling violently, "it is
useless. We must submit to our lot."
Father Brown looked at the banker; then he put his hand instinctively as
if on his heart, but really on the little bottle of poison; and a great
light came into his face like the light of the revelation of death.
Muscari meanwhile, without waiting for support, had crested the bank
up to the road, and struck the brigand king heavily on the shoulder,
causing him to stagger and swing round. Montano also had his cutlass
unsheathed, and Muscari, without further speech, sent a slash at his
head which he was compelled to catch and parry. But even as the two
short blades crossed and clashed the King of Thieves deliberately
dropped his point and laughed.
"What's the good, old man?" he said in spirited Italian slang; "this
damned farce will soon be over."
"What do you mean, you shuffler?" panted the fire-eating poet. "Is your
courage a sham as well as your honesty?"
"Everything about me is a sham," responded the ex-courier in complete
good humour. "I am an actor; and if I ever had a private character, I
have forgotten it. I am no more a genuine brigand than I am a genuine
courier. I am only a bundle of masks, and you can't fight a duel
with that." And he laughed with boyish pleasure and fell into his old
straddling attitude, with his back to the skirmish up the road.
Darkness was deepening under the mountain walls, and it was not easy to
discern much of the progress of the struggle, save that tall men were
pushing their horses' muzzles through a clinging crowd of brigands,
who seemed more inclined to harass and hustle the invaders than to kill
them. It was more like a town crowd preventing the passage of the police
than anything the poet had ever pictured as the last stand of doomed and
outlawed men of blood. Just as he was rolling his eyes in bewilderment
he felt a touch on his elbow, and found the odd little priest standing
there like a small Noah with a large hat, and requesting the favour of a
word or two.
"Signor Muscari," said the cleric, "in this queer crisis personalities
may be pardoned. I may tell you without offence of a way in which you
will do more good than by helping the gendarmes, who are bound to break
through in any case. You will permit me the impertinent intimacy, but do
you care about that girl? Care enough to marry her and make her a good
husband, I mean?"
"Yes," said the poet quite simply.
"Does she care about you?"
"I think so," was the equally grave reply.
"Then go over there and offer yourself," said the priest: "offer her
everything you can; offer her heaven and earth if you've got them. The
time is short."
"Why?" asked the astonished man of letters.
"Because," said Father Brown, "her Doom is coming up the road."
"Nothing is coming up the road," argued Muscari, "except the rescue."
"Well, you go over there," said his adviser, "and be ready to rescue her
from the rescue."
Almost as he spoke the hedges were broken all along the ridge by a rush
of the escaping brigands. They dived into bushes and thick grass
like defeated men pursued; and the great cocked hats of the mounted
gendarmerie were seen passing along above the broken hedge. Another
order was given; there was a noise of dismounting, and a tall officer
with cocked hat, a grey imperial, and a paper in his hand appeared
in the gap that was the gate of the Paradise of Thieves. There was a
momentary silence, broken in an extraordinary way by the banker, who
cried out in a hoarse and strangled voice: "Robbed! I've been robbed!"
"Why, that was hours ago," cried his son in astonishment: "when you were
robbed of two thousand pounds."
"Not of two thousand pounds," said the financier, with an abrupt and
terrible composure, "only of a small bottle."
The policeman with the grey imperial was striding across the green
hollow. Encountering the King of the Thieves in his path, he clapped him
on the shoulder with something between a caress and a buffet and gave
him a push that sent him staggering away. "You'll get into trouble,
too," he said, "if you play these tricks."
Again to Muscari's artistic eye it seemed scarcely like the capture of
a great outlaw at bay. Passing on, the policeman halted before the
Harrogate group and said: "Samuel Harrogate, I arrest you in the name
of the law for embezzlement of the funds of the Hull and Huddersfield
The great banker nodded with an odd air of business assent, seemed to
reflect a moment, and before they could interpose took a half turn and
a step that brought him to the edge of the outer mountain wall. Then,
flinging up his hands, he leapt exactly as he leapt out of the coach.
But this time he did not fall into a little meadow just beneath; he fell
a thousand feet below, to become a wreck of bones in the valley.
The anger of the Italian policeman, which he expressed volubly to Father
Brown, was largely mixed with admiration. "It was like him to escape us
at last," he said. "He was a great brigand if you like. This last
trick of his I believe to be absolutely unprecedented. He fled with
the company's money to Italy, and actually got himself captured by sham
brigands in his own pay, so as to explain both the disappearance of
the money and the disappearance of himself. That demand for ransom was
really taken seriously by most of the police. But for years he's been
doing things as good as that, quite as good as that. He will be a
serious loss to his family."
Muscari was leading away the unhappy daughter, who held hard to him, as
she did for many a year after. But even in that tragic wreck he could
not help having a smile and a hand of half-mocking friendship for the
indefensible Ezza Montano. "And where are you going next?" he asked him
over his shoulder.
"Birmingham," answered the actor, puffing a cigarette. "Didn't I tell
you I was a Futurist? I really do believe in those things if I believe
in anything. Change, bustle and new things every morning. I am going to
Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, Hull, Huddersfield, Glasgow, Chicago—in
short, to enlightened, energetic, civilized society!"
"In short," said Muscari, "to the real Paradise of Thieves."
THREE — The Duel of Dr Hirsch
M. MAURICE BRUN and M. Armand Armagnac were crossing the sunlit Champs
Elysee with a kind of vivacious respectability. They were both short,
brisk and bold. They both had black beards that did not seem to belong
to their faces, after the strange French fashion which makes real hair
look like artificial. M. Brun had a dark wedge of beard apparently
affixed under his lower lip. M. Armagnac, by way of a change, had two
beards; one sticking out from each corner of his emphatic chin. They
were both young. They were both atheists, with a depressing fixity of
outlook but great mobility of exposition. They were both pupils of the
great Dr Hirsch, scientist, publicist and moralist.
M. Brun had become prominent by his proposal that the common expression
"Adieu" should be obliterated from all the French classics, and a slight
fine imposed for its use in private life. "Then," he said, "the very
name of your imagined God will have echoed for the last time in the ear
of man." M. Armagnac specialized rather in a resistance to militarism,
and wished the chorus of the Marseillaise altered from "Aux armes,
citoyens" to "Aux greves, citoyens". But his antimilitarism was of a
peculiar and Gallic sort. An eminent and very wealthy English Quaker,
who had come to see him to arrange for the disarmament of the whole
planet, was rather distressed by Armagnac's proposal that (by way of
beginning) the soldiers should shoot their officers.
And indeed it was in this regard that the two men differed most from
their leader and father in philosophy. Dr Hirsch, though born in France
and covered with the most triumphant favours of French education, was
temperamentally of another type—mild, dreamy, humane; and, despite his
sceptical system, not devoid of transcendentalism. He was, in short,
more like a German than a Frenchman; and much as they admired him,
something in the subconsciousness of these Gauls was irritated at his
pleading for peace in so peaceful a manner. To their party throughout
Europe, however, Paul Hirsch was a saint of science. His large and
daring cosmic theories advertised his austere life and innocent, if
somewhat frigid, morality; he held something of the position of Darwin
doubled with the position of Tolstoy. But he was neither an anarchist
nor an antipatriot; his views on disarmament were moderate and
evolutionary—the Republican Government put considerable confidence in
him as to various chemical improvements. He had lately even discovered
a noiseless explosive, the secret of which the Government was carefully
His house stood in a handsome street near the Elysee—a street which in
that strong summer seemed almost as full of foliage as the park itself;
a row of chestnuts shattered the sunshine, interrupted only in one place
where a large cafe ran out into the street. Almost opposite to this
were the white and green blinds of the great scientist's house, an iron
balcony, also painted green, running along in front of the first-floor
windows. Beneath this was the entrance into a kind of court, gay with
shrubs and tiles, into which the two Frenchmen passed in animated talk.
The door was opened to them by the doctor's old servant, Simon, who
might very well have passed for a doctor himself, having a strict suit
of black, spectacles, grey hair, and a confidential manner. In fact, he
was a far more presentable man of science than his master, Dr Hirsch,
who was a forked radish of a fellow, with just enough bulb of a head to
make his body insignificant. With all the gravity of a great physician
handling a prescription, Simon handed a letter to M. Armagnac. That
gentleman ripped it up with a racial impatience, and rapidly read the
I cannot come down to speak to you. There is a man in this house whom I
refuse to meet. He is a Chauvinist officer, Dubosc. He is sitting on the
stairs. He has been kicking the furniture about in all the other rooms;
I have locked myself in my study, opposite that cafe. If you love me,
go over to the cafe and wait at one of the tables outside. I will try
to send him over to you. I want you to answer him and deal with him. I
cannot meet him myself. I cannot: I will not.
There is going to be another Dreyfus case.
M. Armagnac looked at M. Brun. M. Brun borrowed the letter, read it, and
looked at M. Armagnac. Then both betook themselves briskly to one of the
little tables under the chestnuts opposite, where they procured two tall
glasses of horrible green absinthe, which they could drink apparently in
any weather and at any time. Otherwise the cafe seemed empty, except
for one soldier drinking coffee at one table, and at another a large man
drinking a small syrup and a priest drinking nothing.
Maurice Brun cleared his throat and said: "Of course we must help the
master in every way, but—"
There was an abrupt silence, and Armagnac said: "He may have excellent
reasons for not meeting the man himself, but—"
Before either could complete a sentence, it was evident that the invader
had been expelled from the house opposite. The shrubs under the archway
swayed and burst apart, as that unwelcome guest was shot out of them
like a cannon-ball.
He was a sturdy figure in a small and tilted Tyrolean felt hat, a
figure that had indeed something generally Tyrolean about it. The man's
shoulders were big and broad, but his legs were neat and active in
knee-breeches and knitted stockings. His face was brown like a nut; he
had very bright and restless brown eyes; his dark hair was brushed
back stiffly in front and cropped close behind, outlining a square and
powerful skull; and he had a huge black moustache like the horns of a
bison. Such a substantial head is generally based on a bull neck; but
this was hidden by a big coloured scarf, swathed round up the man's ears
and falling in front inside his jacket like a sort of fancy waistcoat.
It was a scarf of strong dead colours, dark red and old gold and purple,
probably of Oriental fabrication. Altogether the man had something a
shade barbaric about him; more like a Hungarian squire than an ordinary
French officer. His French, however, was obviously that of a native;
and his French patriotism was so impulsive as to be slightly absurd.
His first act when he burst out of the archway was to call in a clarion
voice down the street: "Are there any Frenchmen here?" as if he were
calling for Christians in Mecca.
Armagnac and Brun instantly stood up; but they were too late. Men
were already running from the street corners; there was a small but
ever-clustering crowd. With the prompt French instinct for the politics
of the street, the man with the black moustache had already run across
to a corner of the cafe, sprung on one of the tables, and seizing a
branch of chestnut to steady himself, shouted as Camille Desmoulins once
shouted when he scattered the oak-leaves among the populace.
"Frenchmen!" he volleyed; "I cannot speak! God help me, that is why I
am speaking! The fellows in their filthy parliaments who learn to
speak also learn to be silent—silent as that spy cowering in the house
opposite! Silent as he is when I beat on his bedroom door! Silent as he
is now, though he hears my voice across this street and shakes where he
sits! Oh, they can be silent eloquently—the politicians! But the time
has come when we that cannot speak must speak. You are betrayed to the
Prussians. Betrayed at this moment. Betrayed by that man. I am Jules
Dubosc, Colonel of Artillery, Belfort. We caught a German spy in the
Vosges yesterday, and a paper was found on him—a paper I hold in my
hand. Oh, they tried to hush it up; but I took it direct to the man who
wrote it—the man in that house! It is in his hand. It is signed with
his initials. It is a direction for finding the secret of this new
Noiseless Powder. Hirsch invented it; Hirsch wrote this note about it.
This note is in German, and was found in a German's pocket. 'Tell the
man the formula for powder is in grey envelope in first drawer to the
left of Secretary's desk, War Office, in red ink. He must be careful.
He rattled short sentences like a quick-firing gun, but he was plainly
the sort of man who is either mad or right. The mass of the crowd
was Nationalist, and already in threatening uproar; and a minority of
equally angry Intellectuals, led by Armagnac and Brun, only made the
majority more militant.
"If this is a military secret," shouted Brun, "why do you yell about it
in the street?"
"I will tell you why I do!" roared Dubosc above the roaring crowd. "I
went to this man in straight and civil style. If he had any explanation
it could have been given in complete confidence. He refuses to explain.
He refers me to two strangers in a cafe as to two flunkeys. He has
thrown me out of the house, but I am going back into it, with the people
of Paris behind me!"
A shout seemed to shake the very facade of mansions and two stones flew,
one breaking a window above the balcony. The indignant Colonel plunged
once more under the archway and was heard crying and thundering inside.
Every instant the human sea grew wider and wider; it surged up against
the rails and steps of the traitor's house; it was already certain that
the place would be burst into like the Bastille, when the broken french
window opened and Dr Hirsch came out on the balcony. For an instant
the fury half turned to laughter; for he was an absurd figure in such
a scene. His long bare neck and sloping shoulders were the shape of a
champagne bottle, but that was the only festive thing about him. His
coat hung on him as on a peg; he wore his carrot-coloured hair long
and weedy; his cheeks and chin were fully fringed with one of those
irritating beards that begin far from the mouth. He was very pale, and
he wore blue spectacles.
Livid as he was, he spoke with a sort of prim decision, so that the mob
fell silent in the middle of his third sentence.
"...only two things to say to you now. The first is to my foes, the
second to my friends. To my foes I say: It is true I will not meet M.
Dubosc, though he is storming outside this very room. It is true I have
asked two other men to confront him for me. And I will tell you why!
Because I will not and must not see him—because it would be against all
rules of dignity and honour to see him. Before I am triumphantly cleared
before a court, there is another arbitration this gentleman owes me as a
gentleman, and in referring him to my seconds I am strictly—"
Armagnac and Brun were waving their hats wildly, and even the Doctor's
enemies roared applause at this unexpected defiance. Once more a few
sentences were inaudible, but they could hear him say: "To my friends—I
myself should always prefer weapons purely intellectual, and to these
an evolved humanity will certainly confine itself. But our own most
precious truth is the fundamental force of matter and heredity. My books
are successful; my theories are unrefuted; but I suffer in politics
from a prejudice almost physical in the French. I cannot speak like
Clemenceau and Deroulede, for their words are like echoes of their
pistols. The French ask for a duellist as the English ask for a
sportsman. Well, I give my proofs: I will pay this barbaric bribe, and
then go back to reason for the rest of my life."
Two men were instantly found in the crowd itself to offer their services
to Colonel Dubosc, who came out presently, satisfied. One was the common
soldier with the coffee, who said simply: "I will act for you, sir. I
am the Duc de Valognes." The other was the big man, whom his friend the
priest sought at first to dissuade; and then walked away alone.
In the early evening a light dinner was spread at the back of the Cafe
Charlemagne. Though unroofed by any glass or gilt plaster, the guests
were nearly all under a delicate and irregular roof of leaves; for the
ornamental trees stood so thick around and among the tables as to give
something of the dimness and the dazzle of a small orchard. At one of
the central tables a very stumpy little priest sat in complete solitude,
and applied himself to a pile of whitebait with the gravest sort of
enjoyment. His daily living being very plain, he had a peculiar taste
for sudden and isolated luxuries; he was an abstemious epicure. He did
not lift his eyes from his plate, round which red pepper, lemons, brown
bread and butter, etc., were rigidly ranked, until a tall shadow fell
across the table, and his friend Flambeau sat down opposite. Flambeau
"I'm afraid I must chuck this business," said he heavily. "I'm all on
the side of the French soldiers like Dubosc, and I'm all against the
French atheists like Hirsch; but it seems to me in this case we've made
a mistake. The Duke and I thought it as well to investigate the charge,
and I must say I'm glad we did."
"Is the paper a forgery, then?" asked the priest
"That's just the odd thing," replied Flambeau. "It's exactly like
Hirsch's writing, and nobody can point out any mistake in it. But it
wasn't written by Hirsch. If he's a French patriot he didn't write it,
because it gives information to Germany. And if he's a German spy he
didn't write it, well—because it doesn't give information to Germany."
"You mean the information is wrong?" asked Father Brown.
"Wrong," replied the other, "and wrong exactly where Dr Hirsch would
have been right—about the hiding-place of his own secret formula in his
own official department. By favour of Hirsch and the authorities, the
Duke and I have actually been allowed to inspect the secret drawer at
the War Office where the Hirsch formula is kept. We are the only people
who have ever known it, except the inventor himself and the Minister for
War; but the Minister permitted it to save Hirsch from fighting. After
that we really can't support Dubosc if his revelation is a mare's nest."
"And it is?" asked Father Brown.
"It is," said his friend gloomily. "It is a clumsy forgery by somebody
who knew nothing of the real hiding-place. It says the paper is in the
cupboard on the right of the Secretary's desk. As a fact the cupboard
with the secret drawer is some way to the left of the desk. It says
the grey envelope contains a long document written in red ink. It isn't
written in red ink, but in ordinary black ink. It's manifestly absurd to
say that Hirsch can have made a mistake about a paper that nobody knew
of but himself; or can have tried to help a foreign thief by telling him
to fumble in the wrong drawer. I think we must chuck it up and apologize
to old Carrots."
Father Brown seemed to cogitate; he lifted a little whitebait on his
fork. "You are sure the grey envelope was in the left cupboard?" he
"Positive," replied Flambeau. "The grey envelope—it was a white
Father Brown put down the small silver fish and the fork and stared
across at his companion. "What?" he asked, in an altered voice.
"Well, what?" repeated Flambeau, eating heartily.
"It was not grey," said the priest. "Flambeau, you frighten me."
"What the deuce are you frightened of?"
"I'm frightened of a white envelope," said the other seriously, "If it
had only just been grey! Hang it all, it might as well have been grey.
But if it was white, the whole business is black. The Doctor has been
dabbling in some of the old brimstone after all."
"But I tell you he couldn't have written such a note!" cried Flambeau.
"The note is utterly wrong about the facts. And innocent or guilty, Dr
Hirsch knew all about the facts."
"The man who wrote that note knew all about the facts," said his
clerical companion soberly. "He could never have got 'em so wrong
without knowing about 'em. You have to know an awful lot to be wrong on
every subject—like the devil."
"Do you mean—?"
"I mean a man telling lies on chance would have told some of the truth,"
said his friend firmly. "Suppose someone sent you to find a house with
a green door and a blue blind, with a front garden but no back garden,
with a dog but no cat, and where they drank coffee but not tea. You
would say if you found no such house that it was all made up. But I say
no. I say if you found a house where the door was blue and the blind
green, where there was a back garden and no front garden, where cats
were common and dogs instantly shot, where tea was drunk in quarts and
coffee forbidden—then you would know you had found the house. The man
must have known that particular house to be so accurately inaccurate."
"But what could it mean?" demanded the diner opposite.
"I can't conceive," said Brown; "I don't understand this Hirsch affair
at all. As long as it was only the left drawer instead of the right, and
red ink instead of black, I thought it must be the chance blunders of a
forger, as you say. But three is a mystical number; it finishes things.
It finishes this. That the direction about the drawer, the colour of
ink, the colour of envelope, should none of them be right by accident,
that can't be a coincidence. It wasn't."
"What was it, then? Treason?" asked Flambeau, resuming his dinner.
"I don't know that either," answered Brown, with a face of blank
bewilderment. "The only thing I can think of.... Well, I never
understood that Dreyfus case. I can always grasp moral evidence easier
than the other sorts. I go by a man's eyes and voice, don't you know,
and whether his family seems happy, and by what subjects he chooses—and
avoids. Well, I was puzzled in the Dreyfus case. Not by the horrible
things imputed both ways; I know (though it's not modern to say so) that
human nature in the highest places is still capable of being Cenci or
Borgia. No—, what puzzled me was the sincerity of both parties. I don't
mean the political parties; the rank and file are always roughly
honest, and often duped. I mean the persons of the play. I mean the
conspirators, if they were conspirators. I mean the traitor, if he was a
traitor. I mean the men who must have known the truth. Now Dreyfus
went on like a man who knew he was a wronged man. And yet the French
statesmen and soldiers went on as if they knew he wasn't a wronged man
but simply a wrong 'un. I don't mean they behaved well; I mean they
behaved as if they were sure. I can't describe these things; I know what
"I wish I did," said his friend. "And what has it to do with old
"Suppose a person in a position of trust," went on the priest, "began to
give the enemy information because it was false information. Suppose
he even thought he was saving his country by misleading the foreigner.
Suppose this brought him into spy circles, and little loans were made
to him, and little ties tied on to him. Suppose he kept up his
contradictory position in a confused way by never telling the foreign
spies the truth, but letting it more and more be guessed. The better
part of him (what was left of it) would still say: 'I have not helped
the enemy; I said it was the left drawer.' The meaner part of him would
already be saying: 'But they may have the sense to see that means the
right.' I think it is psychologically possible—in an enlightened age,
"It may be psychologically possible," answered Flambeau, "and it
certainly would explain Dreyfus being certain he was wronged and his
judges being sure he was guilty. But it won't wash historically, because
Dreyfus's document (if it was his document) was literally correct."
"I wasn't thinking of Dreyfus," said Father Brown.
Silence had sunk around them with the emptying of the tables; it was
already late, though the sunlight still clung to everything, as if
accidentally entangled in the trees. In the stillness Flambeau shifted
his seat sharply—making an isolated and echoing noise—and threw his
elbow over the angle of it. "Well," he said, rather harshly, "if Hirsch
is not better than a timid treason-monger..."
"You mustn't be too hard on them," said Father Brown gently. "It's not
entirely their fault; but they have no instincts. I mean those things
that make a woman refuse to dance with a man or a man to touch an
investment. They've been taught that it's all a matter of degree."
"Anyhow," cried Flambeau impatiently, "he's not a patch on my principal;
and I shall go through with it. Old Dubosc may be a bit mad, but he's a
sort of patriot after all."
Father Brown continued to consume whitebait.
Something in the stolid way he did so caused Flambeau's fierce black
eyes to ramble over his companion afresh. "What's the matter with you?"
Flambeau demanded. "Dubosc's all right in that way. You don't doubt
"My friend," said the small priest, laying down his knife and fork in a
kind of cold despair, "I doubt everything. Everything, I mean, that has
happened today. I doubt the whole story, though it has been acted before
my face. I doubt every sight that my eyes have seen since morning. There
is something in this business quite different from the ordinary police
mystery where one man is more or less lying and the other man more or
less telling the truth. Here both men.... Well! I've told you the only
theory I can think of that could satisfy anybody. It doesn't satisfy
"Nor me either," replied Flambeau frowning, while the other went on
eating fish with an air of entire resignation. "If all you can suggest
is that notion of a message conveyed by contraries, I call it uncommonly
clever, but...well, what would you call it?"
"I should call it thin," said the priest promptly. "I should call it
uncommonly thin. But that's the queer thing about the whole business.
The lie is like a schoolboy's. There are only three versions, Dubosc's
and Hirsch's and that fancy of mine. Either that note was written by
a French officer to ruin a French official; or it was written by the
French official to help German officers; or it was written by the French
official to mislead German officers. Very well. You'd expect a secret
paper passing between such people, officials or officers, to look
quite different from that. You'd expect, probably a cipher, certainly
abbreviations; most certainly scientific and strictly professional
terms. But this thing's elaborately simple, like a penny dreadful: 'In
the purple grotto you will find the golden casket.' It looks as if... as
if it were meant to be seen through at once."
Almost before they could take it in a short figure in French uniform
had walked up to their table like the wind, and sat down with a sort of
"I have extraordinary news," said the Duc de Valognes. "I have just come
from this Colonel of ours. He is packing up to leave the country, and he
asks us to make his excuses sur le terrain."
"What?" cried Flambeau, with an incredulity quite
"Yes," said the Duke gruffly; "then and there—before everybody—when
the swords are drawn. And you and I have to do it while he is leaving
"But what can this mean?" cried Flambeau. "He can't be afraid of that
little Hirsch! Confound it!" he cried, in a kind of rational rage;
"nobody could be afraid of Hirsch!"
"I believe it's some plot!" snapped Valognes—"some plot of the Jews and
Freemasons. It's meant to work up glory for Hirsch..."
The face of Father Brown was commonplace, but curiously contented; it
could shine with ignorance as well as with knowledge. But there was
always one flash when the foolish mask fell, and the wise mask fitted
itself in its place; and Flambeau, who knew his friend, knew that his
friend had suddenly understood. Brown said nothing, but finished his
plate of fish.
"Where did you last see our precious Colonel?" asked Flambeau,
"He's round at the Hotel Saint Louis by the Elysee, where we drove with
him. He's packing up, I tell you."
"Will he be there still, do you think?" asked Flambeau, frowning at the
"I don't think he can get away yet," replied the Duke; "he's packing to
go a long journey..."
"No," said Father Brown, quite simply, but suddenly standing up, "for a
very short journey. For one of the shortest, in fact. But we may still
be in time to catch him if we go there in a motor-cab."
Nothing more could be got out of him until the cab swept round the
corner by the Hotel Saint Louis, where they got out, and he led the
party up a side lane already in deep shadow with the growing dusk. Once,
when the Duke impatiently asked whether Hirsch was guilty of treason or
not, he answered rather absently: "No; only of ambition—like Caesar."
Then he somewhat inconsequently added: "He lives a very lonely life; he
has had to do everything for himself."
"Well, if he's ambitious, he ought to be satisfied now," said Flambeau
rather bitterly. "All Paris will cheer him now our cursed Colonel has
"Don't talk so loud," said Father Brown, lowering his voice, "your
cursed Colonel is just in front."
The other two started and shrank farther back into the shadow of the
wall, for the sturdy figure of their runaway principal could indeed be
seen shuffling along in the twilight in front, a bag in each hand. He
looked much the same as when they first saw him, except that he had
changed his picturesque mountaineering knickers for a conventional pair
of trousers. It was clear he was already escaping from the hotel.
The lane down which they followed him was one of those that seem to
be at the back of things, and look like the wrong side of the stage
scenery. A colourless, continuous wall ran down one flank of it,
interrupted at intervals by dull-hued and dirt-stained doors, all shut
fast and featureless save for the chalk scribbles of some passing
gamin. The tops of trees, mostly rather depressing evergreens, showed
at intervals over the top of the wall, and beyond them in the grey and
purple gloaming could be seen the back of some long terrace of tall
Parisian houses, really comparatively close, but somehow looking as
inaccessible as a range of marble mountains. On the other side of the
lane ran the high gilt railings of a gloomy park.
Flambeau was looking round him in rather a weird way. "Do you know," he
said, "there is something about this place that—"
"Hullo!" called out the Duke sharply; "that fellow's disappeared.
Vanished, like a blasted fairy!"
"He has a key," explained their clerical friend. "He's only gone into
one of these garden doors," and as he spoke they heard one of the dull
wooden doors close again with a click in front of them.
Flambeau strode up to the door thus shut almost in his face, and stood
in front of it for a moment, biting his black moustache in a fury of
curiosity. Then he threw up his long arms and swung himself aloft like
a monkey and stood on the top of the wall, his enormous figure dark
against the purple sky, like the dark tree-tops.
The Duke looked at the priest. "Dubosc's escape is more elaborate than
we thought," he said; "but I suppose he is escaping from France."
"He is escaping from everywhere," answered Father Brown.
Valognes's eyes brightened, but his voice sank. "Do you mean suicide?"
"You will not find his body," replied the other.
A kind of cry came from Flambeau on the wall above. "My God," he
exclaimed in French, "I know what this place is now! Why, it's the back
of the street where old Hirsch lives. I thought I could recognize the
back of a house as well as the back of a man."
"And Dubosc's gone in there!" cried the Duke, smiting his hip. "Why,
they'll meet after all!" And with sudden Gallic vivacity he hopped up on
the wall beside Flambeau and sat there positively kicking his legs with
excitement. The priest alone remained below, leaning against the wall,
with his back to the whole theatre of events, and looking wistfully
across to the park palings and the twinkling, twilit trees.
The Duke, however stimulated, had the instincts of an aristocrat, and
desired rather to stare at the house than to spy on it; but Flambeau,
who had the instincts of a burglar (and a detective), had already swung
himself from the wall into the fork of a straggling tree from which he
could crawl quite close to the only illuminated window in the back of
the high dark house. A red blind had been pulled down over the light,
but pulled crookedly, so that it gaped on one side, and by risking his
neck along a branch that looked as treacherous as a twig, Flambeau
could just see Colonel Dubosc walking about in a brilliantly-lighted and
luxurious bedroom. But close as Flambeau was to the house, he heard the
words of his colleagues by the wall, and repeated them in a low voice.
"Yes, they will meet now after all!"
"They will never meet," said Father Brown. "Hirsch was right when he
said that in such an affair the principals must not meet. Have you
read a queer psychological story by Henry James, of two persons who so
perpetually missed meeting each other by accident that they began to
feel quite frightened of each other, and to think it was fate? This is
something of the kind, but more curious."
"There are people in Paris who will cure them of such morbid fancies,"
said Valognes vindictively. "They will jolly well have to meet if we
capture them and force them to fight."
"They will not meet on the Day of Judgement," said the priest. "If God
Almighty held the truncheon of the lists, if St Michael blew the trumpet
for the swords to cross—even then, if one of them stood ready, the
other would not come."
"Oh, what does all this mysticism mean?" cried the Duc de Valognes,
impatiently; "why on earth shouldn't they meet like other people?"
"They are the opposite of each other," said Father Brown, with a queer
kind of smile. "They contradict each other. They cancel out, so to
He continued to gaze at the darkening trees opposite, but Valognes
turned his head sharply at a suppressed exclamation from Flambeau. That
investigator, peering into the lighted room, had just seen the Colonel,
after a pace or two, proceed to take his coat off. Flambeau's first
thought was that this really looked like a fight; but he soon dropped
the thought for another. The solidity and squareness of Dubosc's chest
and shoulders was all a powerful piece of padding and came off with his
coat. In his shirt and trousers he was a comparatively slim gentleman,
who walked across the bedroom to the bathroom with no more pugnacious
purpose than that of washing himself. He bent over a basin, dried his
dripping hands and face on a towel, and turned again so that the strong
light fell on his face. His brown complexion had gone, his big black
moustache had gone; he—was clean-shaven and very pate. Nothing remained
of the Colonel but his bright, hawk-like, brown eyes. Under the wall
Father Brown was going on in heavy meditation, as if to himself.
"It is all just like what I was saying to Flambeau. These opposites
won't do. They don't work. They don't fight. If it's white instead of
black, and solid instead of liquid, and so on all along the line—then
there's something wrong, Monsieur, there's something wrong. One of these
men is fair and the other dark, one stout and the other slim, one strong
and the other weak. One has a moustache and no beard, so you can't see
his mouth; the other has a beard and no moustache, so you can't see his
chin. One has hair cropped to his skull, but a scarf to hide his neck;
the other has low shirt-collars, but long hair to bide his skull. It's
all too neat and correct, Monsieur, and there's something wrong. Things
made so opposite are things that cannot quarrel. Wherever the one
sticks out the other sinks in. Like a face and a mask, like a lock and a
Flambeau was peering into the house with a visage as white as a sheet.
The occupant of the room was standing with his back to him, but in front
of a looking-glass, and had already fitted round his face a sort
of framework of rank red hair, hanging disordered from the head and
clinging round the jaws and chin while leaving the mocking mouth
uncovered. Seen thus in the glass the white face looked like the face of
Judas laughing horribly and surrounded by capering flames of hell. For
a spasm Flambeau saw the fierce, red-brown eyes dancing, then they were
covered with a pair of blue spectacles. Slipping on a loose black coat,
the figure vanished towards the front of the house. A few moments later
a roar of popular applause from the street beyond announced that Dr
Hirsch had once more appeared upon the balcony.
FOUR — The Man in the Passage
TWO men appeared simultaneously at the two ends of a sort of passage
running along the side of the Apollo Theatre in the Adelphi. The evening
daylight in the streets was large and luminous, opalescent and empty.
The passage was comparatively long and dark, so each man could see the
other as a mere black silhouette at the other end. Nevertheless, each
man knew the other, even in that inky outline; for they were both men of
striking appearance and they hated each other.
The covered passage opened at one end on one of the steep streets of the
Adelphi, and at the other on a terrace overlooking the sunset-coloured
river. One side of the passage was a blank wall, for the building it
supported was an old unsuccessful theatre restaurant, now shut up. The
other side of the passage contained two doors, one at each end. Neither
was what was commonly called the stage door; they were a sort of special
and private stage doors used by very special performers, and in this
case by the star actor and actress in the Shakespearean performance of
the day. Persons of that eminence often like to have such private exits
and entrances, for meeting friends or avoiding them.
The two men in question were certainly two such friends, men who
evidently knew the doors and counted on their opening, for each
approached the door at the upper end with equal coolness and confidence.
Not, however, with equal speed; but the man who walked fast was the man
from the other end of the tunnel, so they both arrived before the secret
stage door almost at the same instant. They saluted each other with
civility, and waited a moment before one of them, the sharper walker who
seemed to have the shorter patience, knocked at the door.
In this and everything else each man was opposite and neither could
be called inferior. As private persons both were handsome, capable and
popular. As public persons, both were in the first public rank. But
everything about them, from their glory to their good looks, was of a
diverse and incomparable kind. Sir Wilson Seymour was the kind of man
whose importance is known to everybody who knows. The more you mixed
with the innermost ring in every polity or profession, the more often
you met Sir Wilson Seymour. He was the one intelligent man on twenty
unintelligent committees—on every sort of subject, from the reform of
the Royal Academy to the project of bimetallism for Greater Britain.
In the Arts especially he was omnipotent. He was so unique that nobody
could quite decide whether he was a great aristocrat who had taken up
Art, or a great artist whom the aristocrats had taken up. But you could
not meet him for five minutes without realizing that you had really been
ruled by him all your life.
His appearance was "distinguished" in exactly the same sense; it was at
once conventional and unique. Fashion could have found no fault with his
high silk hat—, yet it was unlike anyone else's hat—a little higher,
perhaps, and adding something to his natural height. His tall, slender
figure had a slight stoop yet it looked the reverse of feeble. His hair
was silver-grey, but he did not look old; it was worn longer than the
common yet he did not look effeminate; it was curly but it did not
look curled. His carefully pointed beard made him look more manly and
militant than otherwise, as it does in those old admirals of Velazquez
with whose dark portraits his house was hung. His grey gloves were a
shade bluer, his silver-knobbed cane a shade longer than scores of
such gloves and canes flapped and flourished about the theatres and the
The other man was not so tall, yet would have struck nobody as short,
but merely as strong and handsome. His hair also was curly, but fair and
cropped close to a strong, massive head—the sort of head you break a
door with, as Chaucer said of the Miller's. His military moustache and
the carriage of his shoulders showed him a soldier, but he had a pair
of those peculiar frank and piercing blue eyes which are more common in
sailors. His face was somewhat square, his jaw was square, his shoulders
were square, even his jacket was square. Indeed, in the wild school
of caricature then current, Mr Max Beerbohm had represented him as a
proposition in the fourth book of Euclid.
For he also was a public man, though with quite another sort of success.
You did not have to be in the best society to have heard of Captain
Cutler, of the siege of Hong-Kong, and the great march across China. You
could not get away from hearing of him wherever you were; his portrait
was on every other postcard; his maps and battles in every other
illustrated paper; songs in his honour in every other music-hall turn or
on every other barrel-organ. His fame, though probably more temporary,
was ten times more wide, popular and spontaneous than the other man's.
In thousands of English homes he appeared enormous above England, like
Nelson. Yet he had infinitely less power in England than Sir Wilson
The door was opened to them by an aged servant or "dresser", whose
broken-down face and figure and black shabby coat and trousers
contrasted queerly with the glittering interior of the great actress's
dressing-room. It was fitted and filled with looking-glasses at every
angle of refraction, so that they looked like the hundred facets of one
huge diamond—if one could get inside a diamond. The other features of
luxury, a few flowers, a few coloured cushions, a few scraps of stage
costume, were multiplied by all the mirrors into the madness of the
Arabian Nights, and danced and changed places perpetually as the
shuffling attendant shifted a mirror outwards or shot one back against
They both spoke to the dingy dresser by name, calling him Parkinson, and
asking for the lady as Miss Aurora Rome. Parkinson said she was in the
other room, but he would go and tell her. A shade crossed the brow of
both visitors; for the other room was the private room of the great
actor with whom Miss Aurora was performing, and she was of the kind that
does not inflame admiration without inflaming jealousy. In about half
a minute, however, the inner door opened, and she entered as she always
did, even in private life, so that the very silence seemed to be a roar
of applause, and one well-deserved. She was clad in a somewhat strange
garb of peacock green and peacock blue satins, that gleamed like blue
and green metals, such as delight children and aesthetes, and her heavy,
hot brown hair framed one of those magic faces which are dangerous to
all men, but especially to boys and to men growing grey. In company with
her male colleague, the great American actor, Isidore Bruno, she was
producing a particularly poetical and fantastic interpretation of
Midsummer Night's Dream: in which the artistic prominence was given
to Oberon and Titania, or in other words to Bruno and herself. Set in
dreamy and exquisite scenery, and moving in mystical dances, the
green costume, like burnished beetle-wings, expressed all the elusive
individuality of an elfin queen. But when personally confronted in what
was still broad daylight, a man looked only at the woman's face.
She greeted both men with the beaming and baffling smile which kept so
many males at the same just dangerous distance from her. She accepted
some flowers from Cutler, which were as tropical and expensive as his
victories; and another sort of present from Sir Wilson Seymour, offered
later on and more nonchalantly by that gentleman. For it was against
his breeding to show eagerness, and against his conventional
unconventionality to give anything so obvious as flowers. He had picked
up a trifle, he said, which was rather a curiosity, it was an ancient
Greek dagger of the Mycenaean Epoch, and might well have been worn in
the time of Theseus and Hippolyta. It was made of brass like all the
Heroic weapons, but, oddly enough, sharp enough to prick anyone still.
He had really been attracted to it by the leaf-like shape; it was as
perfect as a Greek vase. If it was of any interest to Miss Rome or could
come in anywhere in the play, he hoped she would—
The inner door burst open and a big figure appeared, who was more of
a contrast to the explanatory Seymour than even Captain Cutler. Nearly
six-foot-six, and of more than theatrical thews and muscles, Isidore
Bruno, in the gorgeous leopard skin and golden-brown garments of Oberon,
looked like a barbaric god. He leaned on a sort of hunting-spear, which
across a theatre looked a slight, silvery wand, but which in the small
and comparatively crowded room looked as plain as a pike-staff—and as
menacing. His vivid black eyes rolled volcanically, his bronzed
face, handsome as it was, showed at that moment a combination of
high cheekbones with set white teeth, which recalled certain American
conjectures about his origin in the Southern plantations.
"Aurora," he began, in that deep voice like a drum of passion that had
moved so many audiences, "will you—"
He stopped indecisively because a sixth figure had suddenly presented
itself just inside the doorway—a figure so incongruous in the scene as
to be almost comic. It was a very short man in the black uniform of
the Roman secular clergy, and looking (especially in such a presence as
Bruno's and Aurora's) rather like the wooden Noah out of an ark. He
did not, however, seem conscious of any contrast, but said with dull
civility: "I believe Miss Rome sent for me."
A shrewd observer might have remarked that the emotional temperature
rather rose at so unemotional an interruption. The detachment of a
professional celibate seemed to reveal to the others that they stood
round the woman as a ring of amorous rivals; just as a stranger coming
in with frost on his coat will reveal that a room is like a furnace. The
presence of the one man who did not care about her increased Miss Rome's
sense that everybody else was in love with her, and each in a somewhat
dangerous way: the actor with all the appetite of a savage and a spoilt
child; the soldier with all the simple selfishness of a man of will
rather than mind; Sir Wilson with that daily hardening concentration
with which old Hedonists take to a hobby; nay, even the abject
Parkinson, who had known her before her triumphs, and who followed her
about the room with eyes or feet, with the dumb fascination of a dog.
A shrewd person might also have noted a yet odder thing. The man like a
black wooden Noah (who was not wholly without shrewdness) noted it with
a considerable but contained amusement. It was evident that the great
Aurora, though by no means indifferent to the admiration of the other
sex, wanted at this moment to get rid of all the men who admired her and
be left alone with the man who did not—did not admire her in that
sense at least; for the little priest did admire and even enjoy the
firm feminine diplomacy with which she set about her task. There was,
perhaps, only one thing that Aurora Rome was clever about, and that was
one half of humanity—the other half. The little priest watched, like a
Napoleonic campaign, the swift precision of her policy for expelling all
while banishing none. Bruno, the big actor, was so babyish that it
was easy to send him off in brute sulks, banging the door. Cutler, the
British officer, was pachydermatous to ideas, but punctilious about
behaviour. He would ignore all hints, but he would die rather than
ignore a definite commission from a lady. As to old Seymour, he had to
be treated differently; he had to be left to the last. The only way to
move him was to appeal to him in confidence as an old friend, to let him
into the secret of the clearance. The priest did really admire Miss Rome
as she achieved all these three objects in one selected action.
She went across to Captain Cutler and said in her sweetest manner:
"I shall value all these flowers, because they must be your favourite
flowers. But they won't be complete, you know, without my favourite
flower. Do go over to that shop round the corner and get me some
lilies-of-the-valley, and then it will be quite lovely."
The first object of her diplomacy, the exit of the enraged Bruno, was at
once achieved. He had already handed his spear in a lordly style, like
a sceptre, to the piteous Parkinson, and was about to assume one of
the cushioned seats like a throne. But at this open appeal to his rival
there glowed in his opal eyeballs all the sensitive insolence of the
slave; he knotted his enormous brown fists for an instant, and then,
dashing open the door, disappeared into his own apartments beyond. But
meanwhile Miss Rome's experiment in mobilizing the British Army had not
succeeded so simply as seemed probable. Cutler had indeed risen stiffly
and suddenly, and walked towards the door, hatless, as if at a word of
command. But perhaps there was something ostentatiously elegant about
the languid figure of Seymour leaning against one of the looking-glasses
that brought him up short at the entrance, turning his head this way and
that like a bewildered bulldog.
"I must show this stupid man where to go," said Aurora in a whisper to
Seymour, and ran out to the threshold to speed the parting guest.
Seymour seemed to be listening, elegant and unconscious as was his
posture, and he seemed relieved when he heard the lady call out some
last instructions to the Captain, and then turn sharply and run laughing
down the passage towards the other end, the end on the terrace above the
Thames. Yet a second or two after Seymour's brow darkened again. A man
in his position has so many rivals, and he remembered that at the other
end of the passage was the corresponding entrance to Bruno's private
room. He did not lose his dignity; he said some civil words to Father
Brown about the revival of Byzantine architecture in the Westminster
Cathedral, and then, quite naturally, strolled out himself into the
upper end of the passage. Father Brown and Parkinson were left
alone, and they were neither of them men with a taste for superfluous
conversation. The dresser went round the room, pulling out
looking-glasses and pushing them in again, his dingy dark coat and
trousers looking all the more dismal since he was still holding the
festive fairy spear of King Oberon. Every time he pulled out the frame
of a new glass, a new black figure of Father Brown appeared; the absurd
glass chamber was full of Father Browns, upside down in the air like
angels, turning somersaults like acrobats, turning their backs to
everybody like very rude persons.
Father Brown seemed quite unconscious of this cloud of witnesses, but
followed Parkinson with an idly attentive eye till he took himself
and his absurd spear into the farther room of Bruno. Then he abandoned
himself to such abstract meditations as always amused him—calculating
the angles of the mirrors, the angles of each refraction, the angle at
which each must fit into the wall...when he heard a strong but strangled
He sprang to his feet and stood rigidly listening. At the same instant
Sir Wilson Seymour burst back into the room, white as ivory. "Who's that
man in the passage?" he cried. "Where's that dagger of mine?"
Before Father Brown could turn in his heavy boots Seymour was plunging
about the room looking for the weapon. And before he could possibly
find that weapon or any other, a brisk running of feet broke upon the
pavement outside, and the square face of Cutler was thrust into the
same doorway. He was still grotesquely grasping a bunch of
lilies-of-the-valley. "What's this?" he cried. "What's that creature
down the passage? Is this some of your tricks?"
"My tricks!" hissed his pale rival, and made a stride towards him.
In the instant of time in which all this happened Father Brown stepped
out into the top of the passage, looked down it, and at once walked
briskly towards what he saw.
At this the other two men dropped their quarrel and darted after him,
Cutler calling out: "What are you doing? Who are you?"
"My name is Brown," said the priest sadly, as he bent over something
and straightened himself again. "Miss Rome sent for me, and I came as
quickly as I could. I have come too late."
The three men looked down, and in one of them at least the life died in
that late light of afternoon. It ran along the passage like a path of
gold, and in the midst of it Aurora Rome lay lustrous in her robes of
green and gold, with her dead face turned upwards. Her dress was torn
away as in a struggle, leaving the right shoulder bare, but the wound
from which the blood was welling was on the other side. The brass dagger
lay flat and gleaming a yard or so away.
There was a blank stillness for a measurable time, so that they could
hear far off a flower-girl's laugh outside Charing Cross, and someone
whistling furiously for a taxicab in one of the streets off the Strand.
Then the Captain, with a movement so sudden that it might have been
passion or play-acting, took Sir Wilson Seymour by the throat.
Seymour looked at him steadily without either fight or fear. "You need
not kill me," he said in a voice quite cold; "I shall do that on my own
The Captain's hand hesitated and dropped; and the other added with the
same icy candour: "If I find I haven't the nerve to do it with that
dagger I can do it in a month with drink."
"Drink isn't good enough for me," replied Cutler, "but I'll have blood
for this before I die. Not yours—but I think I know whose."
And before the others could appreciate his intention he snatched up the
dagger, sprang at the other door at the lower end of the passage, burst
it open, bolt and all, and confronted Bruno in his dressing-room. As he
did so, old Parkinson tottered in his wavering way out of the door
and caught sight of the corpse lying in the passage. He moved shakily
towards it; looked at it weakly with a working face; then moved shakily
back into the dressing-room again, and sat down suddenly on one of
the richly cushioned chairs. Father Brown instantly ran across to him,
taking no notice of Cutler and the colossal actor, though the room
already rang with their blows and they began to struggle for the dagger.
Seymour, who retained some practical sense, was whistling for the police
at the end of the passage.
When the police arrived it was to tear the two men from an almost
ape-like grapple; and, after a few formal inquiries, to arrest Isidore
Bruno upon a charge of murder, brought against him by his furious
opponent. The idea that the great national hero of the hour had arrested
a wrongdoer with his own hand doubtless had its weight with the police,
who are not without elements of the journalist. They treated Cutler with
a certain solemn attention, and pointed out that he had got a slight
slash on the hand. Even as Cutler bore him back across tilted chair and
table, Bruno had twisted the dagger out of his grasp and disabled him
just below the wrist. The injury was really slight, but till he was
removed from the room the half-savage prisoner stared at the running
blood with a steady smile.
"Looks a cannibal sort of chap, don't he?" said the constable
confidentially to Cutler.
Cutler made no answer, but said sharply a moment after: "We must attend
to the...the death..." and his voice escaped from articulation.
"The two deaths," came in the voice of the priest from the farther side
of the room. "This poor fellow was gone when I got across to him." And
he stood looking down at old Parkinson, who sat in a black huddle on the
gorgeous chair. He also had paid his tribute, not without eloquence, to
the woman who had died.
The silence was first broken by Cutler, who seemed not untouched by a
rough tenderness. "I wish I was him," he said huskily. "I remember he
used to watch her wherever she walked more than—anybody. She was his
air, and he's dried up. He's just dead."
"We are all dead," said Seymour in a strange voice, looking down the
They took leave of Father Brown at the corner of the road, with some
random apologies for any rudeness they might have shown. Both their
faces were tragic, but also cryptic.
The mind of the little priest was always a rabbit-warren of wild
thoughts that jumped too quickly for him to catch them. Like the white
tail of a rabbit he had the vanishing thought that he was certain of
their grief, but not so certain of their innocence.
"We had better all be going," said Seymour heavily; "we have done all we
can to help."
"Will you understand my motives," asked Father Brown quietly, "if I say
you have done all you can to hurt?"
They both started as if guiltily, and Cutler said sharply: "To hurt
"To hurt yourselves," answered the priest. "I would not add to your
troubles if it weren't common justice to warn you. You've done nearly
everything you could do to hang yourselves, if this actor should be
acquitted. They'll be sure to subpoena me; I shall be bound to say that
after the cry was heard each of you rushed into the room in a wild state
and began quarrelling about a dagger. As far as my words on oath can go,
you might either of you have done it. You hurt yourselves with that; and
then Captain Cutler must have hurt himself with the dagger."
"Hurt myself!" exclaimed the Captain, with contempt. "A silly little
"Which drew blood," replied the priest, nodding. "We know there's blood
on the brass now. And so we shall never know whether there was blood on
There was a silence; and then Seymour said, with an emphasis quite alien
to his daily accent: "But I saw a man in the passage."
"I know you did," answered the cleric Brown with a face of wood, "so did
Captain Cutler. That's what seems so improbable."
Before either could make sufficient sense of it even to answer, Father
Brown had politely excused himself and gone stumping up the road with
his stumpy old umbrella.
As modern newspapers are conducted, the most honest and most important
news is the police news. If it be true that in the twentieth century
more space is given to murder than to politics, it is for the excellent
reason that murder is a more serious subject. But even this would hardly
explain the enormous omnipresence and widely distributed detail of "The
Bruno Case," or "The Passage Mystery," in the Press of London and the
provinces. So vast was the excitement that for some weeks the
Press really told the truth; and the reports of examination and
cross-examination, if interminable, even if intolerable are at least
reliable. The true reason, of course, was the coincidence of persons.
The victim was a popular actress; the accused was a popular actor; and
the accused had been caught red-handed, as it were, by the most popular
soldier of the patriotic season. In those extraordinary circumstances
the Press was paralysed into probity and accuracy; and the rest of this
somewhat singular business can practically be recorded from reports of
The trial was presided over by Mr Justice Monkhouse, one of those
who are jeered at as humorous judges, but who are generally much more
serious than the serious judges, for their levity comes from a living
impatience of professional solemnity; while the serious judge is really
filled with frivolity, because he is filled with vanity. All the chief
actors being of a worldly importance, the barristers were well balanced;
the prosecutor for the Crown was Sir Walter Cowdray, a heavy, but
weighty advocate of the sort that knows how to seem English and
trustworthy, and how to be rhetorical with reluctance. The prisoner was
defended by Mr Patrick Butler, K.C., who was mistaken for a mere flaneur
by those who misunderstood the Irish character—and those who had not
been examined by him. The medical evidence involved no contradictions,
the doctor, whom Seymour had summoned on the spot, agreeing with the
eminent surgeon who had later examined the body. Aurora Rome had been
stabbed with some sharp instrument such as a knife or dagger; some
instrument, at least, of which the blade was short. The wound was just
over the heart, and she had died instantly. When the doctor first saw
her she could hardly have been dead for twenty minutes. Therefore when
Father Brown found her she could hardly have been dead for three.
Some official detective evidence followed, chiefly concerned with the
presence or absence of any proof of a struggle; the only suggestion of
this was the tearing of the dress at the shoulder, and this did not seem
to fit in particularly well with the direction and finality of the blow.
When these details had been supplied, though not explained, the first of
the important witnesses was called.
Sir Wilson Seymour gave evidence as he did everything else that he did
at all—not only well, but perfectly. Though himself much more of
a public man than the judge, he conveyed exactly the fine shade of
self-effacement before the King's justice; and though everyone looked at
him as they would at the Prime Minister or the Archbishop of Canterbury,
they could have said nothing of his part in it but that it was that of a
private gentleman, with an accent on the noun. He was also refreshingly
lucid, as he was on the committees. He had been calling on Miss Rome at
the theatre; he had met Captain Cutler there; they had been joined for
a short time by the accused, who had then returned to his own
dressing-room; they had then been joined by a Roman Catholic priest, who
asked for the deceased lady and said his name was Brown. Miss Rome had
then gone just outside the theatre to the entrance of the passage, in
order to point out to Captain Cutler a flower-shop at which he was to
buy her some more flowers; and the witness had remained in the room,
exchanging a few words with the priest. He had then distinctly heard the
deceased, having sent the Captain on his errand, turn round laughing
and run down the passage towards its other end, where was the prisoner's
dressing-room. In idle curiosity as to the rapid movement of his
friends, he had strolled out to the head of the passage himself and
looked down it towards the prisoner's door. Did he see anything in the
passage? Yes; he saw something in the passage.
Sir Walter Cowdray allowed an impressive interval, during which the
witness looked down, and for all his usual composure seemed to have more
than his usual pallor. Then the barrister said in a lower voice, which
seemed at once sympathetic and creepy: "Did you see it distinctly?"
Sir Wilson Seymour, however moved, had his excellent brains in full
working-order. "Very distinctly as regards its outline, but quite
indistinctly, indeed not at all, as regards the details inside the
outline. The passage is of such length that anyone in the middle of it
appears quite black against the light at the other end." The witness
lowered his steady eyes once more and added: "I had noticed the fact
before, when Captain Cutler first entered it." There was another
silence, and the judge leaned forward and made a note.
"Well," said Sir Walter patiently, "what was the outline like? Was it,
for instance, like the figure of the murdered woman?"
"Not in the least," answered Seymour quietly.
"What did it look like to you?"
"It looked to me," replied the witness, "like a tall man."
Everyone in court kept his eyes riveted on his pen, or his
umbrella-handle, or his book, or his boots or whatever he happened to be
looking at. They seemed to be holding their eyes away from the prisoner
by main force; but they felt his figure in the dock, and they felt it
as gigantic. Tall as Bruno was to the eye, he seemed to swell taller and
taller when an eyes had been torn away from him.
Cowdray was resuming his seat with his solemn face, smoothing his
black silk robes, and white silk whiskers. Sir Wilson was leaving the
witness-box, after a few final particulars to which there were many
other witnesses, when the counsel for the defence sprang up and stopped
"I shall only detain you a moment," said Mr Butler, who was a
rustic-looking person with red eyebrows and an expression of partial
slumber. "Will you tell his lordship how you knew it was a man?"
A faint, refined smile seemed to pass over Seymour's features. "I'm
afraid it is the vulgar test of trousers," he said. "When I saw daylight
between the long legs I was sure it was a man, after all."
Butler's sleepy eyes opened as suddenly as some silent explosion. "After
all!" he repeated slowly. "So you did think at first it was a woman?"
Seymour looked troubled for the first time. "It is hardly a point of
fact," he said, "but if his lordship would like me to answer for my
impression, of course I shall do so. There was something about the thing
that was not exactly a woman and yet was not quite a man; somehow the
curves were different. And it had something that looked like long hair."
"Thank you," said Mr Butler, K.C., and sat down suddenly, as if he had
got what he wanted.
Captain Cutler was a far less plausible and composed witness than Sir
Wilson, but his account of the opening incidents was solidly the same.
He described the return of Bruno to his dressing-room, the dispatching
of himself to buy a bunch of lilies-of-the-valley, his return to the
upper end of the passage, the thing he saw in the passage, his suspicion
of Seymour, and his struggle with Bruno. But he could give little
artistic assistance about the black figure that he and Seymour had seen.
Asked about its outline, he said he was no art critic—with a somewhat
too obvious sneer at Seymour. Asked if it was a man or a woman, he said
it looked more like a beast—with a too obvious snarl at the prisoner.
But the man was plainly shaken with sorrow and sincere anger, and
Cowdray quickly excused him from confirming facts that were already
The defending counsel also was again brief in his cross-examination;
although (as was his custom) even in being brief, he seemed to take a
long time about it. "You used a rather remarkable expression," he said,
looking at Cutler sleepily. "What do you mean by saying that it looked
more like a beast than a man or a woman?"
Cutler seemed seriously agitated. "Perhaps I oughtn't to have said
that," he said; "but when the brute has huge humped shoulders like a
chimpanzee, and bristles sticking out of its head like a pig—"
Mr Butler cut short his curious impatience in the middle. "Never mind
whether its hair was like a pig's," he said, "was it like a woman's?"
"A woman's!" cried the soldier. "Great Scott, no!"
"The last witness said it was," commented the counsel, with unscrupulous
swiftness. "And did the figure have any of those serpentine and
semi-feminine curves to which eloquent allusion has been made? No? No
feminine curves? The figure, if I understand you, was rather heavy and
square than otherwise?"
"He may have been bending forward," said Cutler, in a hoarse and rather
"Or again, he may not," said Mr Butler, and sat down suddenly for the
The third, witness called by Sir Walter Cowdray was the little Catholic
clergyman, so little, compared with the others, that his head seemed
hardly to come above the box, so that it was like cross-examining a
child. But unfortunately Sir Walter had somehow got it into his head
(mostly by some ramifications of his family's religion) that Father
Brown was on the side of the prisoner, because the prisoner was wicked
and foreign and even partly black. Therefore he took Father Brown up
sharply whenever that proud pontiff tried to explain anything; and told
him to answer yes or no, and tell the plain facts without any jesuitry.
When Father Brown began, in his simplicity, to say who he thought the
man in the passage was, the barrister told him that he did not want his
"A black shape was seen in the passage. And you say you saw the black
shape. Well, what shape was it?"
Father Brown blinked as under rebuke; but he had long known the literal
nature of obedience. "The shape," he said, "was short and thick, but had
two sharp, black projections curved upwards on each side of the head or
top, rather like horns, and—"
"Oh! the devil with horns, no doubt," ejaculated Cowdray, sitting down
in triumphant jocularity. "It was the devil come to eat Protestants."
"No," said the priest dispassionately; "I know who it was."
Those in court had been wrought up to an irrational, but real sense of
some monstrosity. They had forgotten the figure in the dock and thought
only of the figure in the passage. And the figure in the passage,
described by three capable and respectable men who had all seen it, was
a shifting nightmare: one called it a woman, and the other a beast, and
the other a devil....
The judge was looking at Father Brown with level and piercing eyes.
"You are a most extraordinary witness," he said; "but there is something
about you that makes me think you are trying to tell the truth. Well,
who was the man you saw in the passage?"
"He was myself," said Father Brown.
Butler, K.C., sprang to his feet in an extraordinary stillness, and said
quite calmly: "Your lordship will allow me to cross-examine?" And then,
without stopping, he shot at Brown the apparently disconnected question:
"You have heard about this dagger; you know the experts say the crime
was committed with a short blade?"
"A short blade," assented Brown, nodding solemnly like an owl, "but a
very long hilt."
Before the audience could quite dismiss the idea that the priest had
really seen himself doing murder with a short dagger with a long hilt
(which seemed somehow to make it more horrible), he had himself hurried
on to explain.
"I mean daggers aren't the only things with short blades. Spears
have short blades. And spears catch at the end of the steel just like
daggers, if they're that sort of fancy spear they had in theatres; like
the spear poor old Parkinson killed his wife with, just when she'd sent
for me to settle their family troubles—and I came just too late, God
forgive me! But he died penitent—he just died of being penitent. He
couldn't bear what he'd done."
The general impression in court was that the little priest, who was
gobbling away, had literally gone mad in the box. But the judge still
looked at him with bright and steady eyes of interest; and the counsel
for the defence went on with his questions unperturbed.
"If Parkinson did it with that pantomime spear," said Butler, "he
must have thrust from four yards away. How do you account for signs of
struggle, like the dress dragged off the shoulder?" He had slipped into
treating his mere witness as an expert; but no one noticed it now.
"The poor lady's dress was torn," said the witness, "because it was
caught in a panel that slid to just behind her. She struggled to free
herself, and as she did so Parkinson came out of the prisoner's room and
lunged with the spear."
"A panel?" repeated the barrister in a curious voice.
"It was a looking-glass on the other side," explained Father Brown.
"When I was in the dressing-room I noticed that some of them could
probably be slid out into the passage."
There was another vast and unnatural silence, and this time it was the
judge who spoke. "So you really mean that when you looked down that
passage, the man you saw was yourself—in a mirror?"
"Yes, my lord; that was what I was trying to say," said Brown, "but they
asked me for the shape; and our hats have corners just like horns, and
The judge leaned forward, his old eyes yet more brilliant, and said
in specially distinct tones: "Do you really mean to say that when Sir
Wilson Seymour saw that wild what-you-call-him with curves and a woman's
hair and a man's trousers, what he saw was Sir Wilson Seymour?"
"Yes, my lord," said Father Brown.
"And you mean to say that when Captain Cutler saw that chimpanzee with
humped shoulders and hog's bristles, he simply saw himself?"
"Yes, my lord."
The judge leaned back in his chair with a luxuriance in which it was
hard to separate the cynicism and the admiration. "And can you tell us
why," he asked, "you should know your own figure in a looking-glass,
when two such distinguished men don't?"
Father Brown blinked even more painfully than before; then he stammered:
"Really, my lord, I don't know unless it's because I don't look at it so
FIVE — The Mistake of the Machine
FLAMBEAU and his friend the priest were sitting in the Temple Gardens
about sunset; and their neighbourhood or some such accidental influence
had turned their talk to matters of legal process. From the problem
of the licence in cross-examination, their talk strayed to Roman and
mediaeval torture, to the examining magistrate in France and the Third
Degree in America.
"I've been reading," said Flambeau, "of this new psychometric method
they talk about so much, especially in America. You know what I mean;
they put a pulsometer on a man's wrist and judge by how his heart goes
at the pronunciation of certain words. What do you think of it?"
"I think it very interesting," replied Father Brown; "it reminds me
of that interesting idea in the Dark Ages that blood would flow from a
corpse if the murderer touched it."
"Do you really mean," demanded his friend, "that you think the two
methods equally valuable?"
"I think them equally valueless," replied Brown. "Blood flows, fast or
slow, in dead folk or living, for so many more million reasons than we
can ever know. Blood will have to flow very funnily; blood will have
to flow up the Matterhorn, before I will take it as a sign that I am to
"The method," remarked the other, "has been guaranteed by some of the
greatest American men of science."
"What sentimentalists men of science are!" exclaimed Father Brown, "and
how much more sentimental must American men of science be! Who but a
Yankee would think of proving anything from heart-throbs? Why, they must
be as sentimental as a man who thinks a woman is in love with him if she
blushes. That's a test from the circulation of the blood, discovered by
the immortal Harvey; and a jolly rotten test, too."
"But surely," insisted Flambeau, "it might point pretty straight at
something or other."
"There's a disadvantage in a stick pointing straight," answered the
other. "What is it? Why, the other end of the stick always points the
opposite way. It depends whether you get hold of the stick by the right
end. I saw the thing done once and I've never believed in it since." And
he proceeded to tell the story of his disillusionment.
It happened nearly twenty years before, when he was chaplain to his
co-religionists in a prison in Chicago—where the Irish population
displayed a capacity both for crime and penitence which kept him
tolerably busy. The official second-in-command under the Governor was an
ex-detective named Greywood Usher, a cadaverous, careful-spoken Yankee
philosopher, occasionally varying a very rigid visage with an odd
apologetic grimace. He liked Father Brown in a slightly patronizing way;
and Father Brown liked him, though he heartily disliked his theories.
His theories were extremely complicated and were held with extreme
One evening he had sent for the priest, who, according to his custom,
took a seat in silence at a table piled and littered with papers, and
waited. The official selected from the papers a scrap of newspaper
cutting, which he handed across to the cleric, who read it gravely. It
appeared to be an extract from one of the pinkest of American Society
papers, and ran as follows:
"Society's brightest widower is once more on the Freak Dinner stunt. All
our exclusive citizens will recall the Perambulator Parade Dinner, in
which Last-Trick Todd, at his palatial home at Pilgrim's Pond, caused so
many of our prominent debutantes to look even younger than their years.
Equally elegant and more miscellaneous and large-hearted in social
outlook was Last-Trick's show the year previous, the popular Cannibal
Crush Lunch, at which the confections handed round were sarcastically
moulded in the forms of human arms and legs, and during which more than
one of our gayest mental gymnasts was heard offering to eat his partner.
The witticism which will inspire this evening is as yet in Mr Todd's
pretty reticent intellect, or locked in the jewelled bosoms of our
city's gayest leaders; but there is talk of a pretty parody of the
simple manners and customs at the other end of Society's scale. This
would be all the more telling, as hospitable Todd is entertaining in
Lord Falconroy, the famous traveller, a true-blooded aristocrat fresh
from England's oak-groves. Lord Falconroy's travels began before his
ancient feudal title was resurrected, he was in the Republic in his
youth, and fashion murmurs a sly reason for his return. Miss Etta Todd
is one of our deep-souled New Yorkers, and comes into an income of
nearly twelve hundred million dollars."
"Well," asked Usher, "does that interest you?"
"Why, words rather fail me," answered Father Brown. "I cannot think at
this moment of anything in this world that would interest me less. And,
unless the just anger of the Republic is at last going to electrocute
journalists for writing like that, I don't quite see why it should
interest you either."
"Ah!" said Mr Usher dryly, and handing across another scrap of
newspaper. "Well, does that interest you?"
The paragraph was headed "Savage Murder of a Warder. Convict Escapes,"
and ran: "Just before dawn this morning a shout for help was heard
in the Convict Settlement at Sequah in this State. The authorities,
hurrying in the direction of the cry, found the corpse of the warder who
patrols the top of the north wall of the prison, the steepest and most
difficult exit, for which one man has always been found sufficient. The
unfortunate officer had, however, been hurled from the high wall, his
brains beaten out as with a club, and his gun was missing. Further
inquiries showed that one of the cells was empty; it had been occupied
by a rather sullen ruffian giving his name as Oscar Rian. He was only
temporarily detained for some comparatively trivial assault; but he
gave everyone the impression of a man with a black past and a dangerous
future. Finally, when daylight had fully revealed the scene of
murder, it was found that he had written on the wall above the body a
fragmentary sentence, apparently with a finger dipped in blood: 'This
was self-defence and he had the gun. I meant no harm to him or any man
but one. I am keeping the bullet for Pilgrim's Pond—O.R.' A man must
have used most fiendish treachery or most savage and amazing bodily
daring to have stormed such a wall in spite of an armed man."
"Well, the literary style is somewhat improved," admitted the priest
cheerfully, "but still I don't see what I can do for you. I should cut
a poor figure, with my short legs, running about this State after an
athletic assassin of that sort. I doubt whether anybody could find him.
The convict settlement at Sequah is thirty miles from here; the country
between is wild and tangled enough, and the country beyond, where he
will surely have the sense to go, is a perfect no-man's land tumbling
away to the prairies. He may be in any hole or up any tree."
"He isn't in any hole," said the governor; "he isn't up any tree."
"Why, how do you know?" asked Father Brown, blinking.
"Would you like to speak to him?" inquired Usher.
Father Brown opened his innocent eyes wide. "He is here?" he exclaimed.
"Why, how did your men get hold of him?"
"I got hold of him myself," drawled the American, rising and lazily
stretching his lanky legs before the fire. "I got hold of him with the
crooked end of a walking-stick. Don't look so surprised. I really did.
You know I sometimes take a turn in the country lanes outside this
dismal place; well, I was walking early this evening up a steep lane
with dark hedges and grey-looking ploughed fields on both sides; and a
young moon was up and silvering the road. By the light of it I saw a man
running across the field towards the road; running with his body bent
and at a good mile-race trot. He appeared to be much exhausted; but when
he came to the thick black hedge he went through it as if it were made
of spiders' webs;—or rather (for I heard the strong branches breaking
and snapping like bayonets) as if he himself were made of stone. In the
instant in which he appeared up against the moon, crossing the road, I
slung my hooked cane at his legs, tripping him and bringing him down.
Then I blew my whistle long and loud, and our fellows came running up to
"It would have been rather awkward," remarked Brown, "if you had found
he was a popular athlete practising a mile race."
"He was not," said Usher grimly. "We soon found out who he was; but I
had guessed it with the first glint of the moon on him."
"You thought it was the runaway convict," observed the priest simply,
"because you had read in the newspaper cutting that morning that a
convict had run away."
"I had somewhat better grounds," replied the governor coolly. "I pass
over the first as too simple to be emphasized—I mean that fashionable
athletes do not run across ploughed fields or scratch their eyes out
in bramble hedges. Nor do they run all doubled up like a crouching dog.
There were more decisive details to a fairly well-trained eye. The man
was clad in coarse and ragged clothes, but they were something more
than merely coarse and ragged. They were so ill-fitting as to be quite
grotesque; even as he appeared in black outline against the moonrise,
the coat-collar in which his head was buried made him look like a
hunchback, and the long loose sleeves looked as if he had no hands. It
at once occurred to me that he had somehow managed to change his convict
clothes for some confederate's clothes which did not fit him. Second,
there was a pretty stiff wind against which he was running; so that I
must have seen the streaky look of blowing hair, if the hair had not
been very short. Then I remembered that beyond these ploughed fields
he was crossing lay Pilgrim's Pond, for which (you will remember) the
convict was keeping his bullet; and I sent my walking-stick flying."
"A brilliant piece of rapid deduction," said Father Brown; "but had he
got a gun?"
As Usher stopped abruptly in his walk the priest added apologetically:
"I've been told a bullet is not half so useful without it."
"He had no gun," said the other gravely; "but that was doubtless due to
some very natural mischance or change of plans. Probably the same policy
that made him change the clothes made him drop the gun; he began to
repent the coat he had left behind him in the blood of his victim."
"Well, that is possible enough," answered the priest.
"And it's hardly worth speculating on," said Usher, turning to some
other papers, "for we know it's the man by this time."
His clerical friend asked faintly: "But how?" And Greywood Usher threw
down the newspapers and took up the two press-cuttings again.
"Well, since you are so obstinate," he said, "let's begin at the
beginning. You will notice that these two cuttings have only one thing
in common, which is the mention of Pilgrim's Pond, the estate, as
you know, of the millionaire Ireton Todd. You also know that he is a
remarkable character; one of those that rose on stepping-stones—"
"Of our dead selves to higher things," assented his companion. "Yes; I
know that. Petroleum, I think."
"Anyhow," said Usher, "Last-Trick Todd counts for a great deal in this
He stretched himself once more before the fire and continued talking in
his expansive, radiantly explanatory style.
"To begin with, on the face of it, there is no mystery here at all. It
is not mysterious, it is not even odd, that a jailbird should take his
gun to Pilgrim's Pond. Our people aren't like the English, who will
forgive a man for being rich if he throws away money on hospitals or
horses. Last-Trick Todd has made himself big by his own considerable
abilities; and there's no doubt that many of those on whom he has shown
his abilities would like to show theirs on him with a shot-gun. Todd
might easily get dropped by some man he'd never even heard of; some
labourer he'd locked out, or some clerk in a business he'd busted.
Last-Trick is a man of mental endowments and a high public character;
but in this country the relations of employers and employed are
"That's how the whole thing looks supposing this Rian made for Pilgrim's
Pond to kill Todd. So it looked to me, till another little discovery
woke up what I have of the detective in me. When I had my prisoner safe,
I picked up my cane again and strolled down the two or three turns of
country road that brought me to one of the side entrances of Todd's
grounds, the one nearest to the pool or lake after which the place
is named. It was some two hours ago, about seven by this time; the
moonlight was more luminous, and I could see the long white streaks
of it lying on the mysterious mere with its grey, greasy, half-liquid
shores in which they say our fathers used to make witches walk until
they sank. I'd forgotten the exact tale; but you know the place I mean;
it lies north of Todd's house towards the wilderness, and has two queer
wrinkled trees, so dismal that they look more like huge fungoids than
decent foliage. As I stood peering at this misty pool, I fancied I saw
the faint figure of a man moving from the house towards it, but it was
all too dim and distant for one to be certain of the fact, and still
less of the details. Besides, my attention was very sharply arrested by
something much closer. I crouched behind the fence which ran not more
than two hundred yards from one wing of the great mansion, and which was
fortunately split in places, as if specially for the application of a
cautious eye. A door had opened in the dark bulk of the left wing, and a
figure appeared black against the illuminated interior—a muffled figure
bending forward, evidently peering out into the night. It closed the
door behind it, and I saw it was carrying a lantern, which threw a patch
of imperfect light on the dress and figure of the wearer. It seemed to
be the figure of a woman, wrapped up in a ragged cloak and evidently
disguised to avoid notice; there was something very strange both about
the rags and the furtiveness in a person coming out of those rooms lined
with gold. She took cautiously the curved garden path which brought her
within half a hundred yards of me—, then she stood up for an instant on
the terrace of turf that looks towards the slimy lake, and holding her
flaming lantern above her head she deliberately swung it three times to
and fro as for a signal. As she swung it the second time a flicker of
its light fell for a moment on her own face, a face that I knew. She
was unnaturally pale, and her head was bundled in her borrowed plebeian
shawl; but I am certain it was Etta Todd, the millionaire's daughter.
"She retraced her steps in equal secrecy and the door closed behind her
again. I was about to climb the fence and follow, when I realized that
the detective fever that had lured me into the adventure was rather
undignified; and that in a more authoritative capacity I already held
all the cards in my hand. I was just turning away when a new noise broke
on the night. A window was thrown up in one of the upper floors, but
just round the corner of the house so that I could not see it; and a
voice of terrible distinctness was heard shouting across the dark garden
to know where Lord Falconroy was, for he was missing from every room in
the house. There was no mistaking that voice. I have heard it on many a
political platform or meeting of directors; it was Ireton Todd himself.
Some of the others seemed to have gone to the lower windows or on to the
steps, and were calling up to him that Falconroy had gone for a stroll
down to the Pilgrim's Pond an hour before, and could not be traced
since. Then Todd cried 'Mighty Murder!' and shut down the window
violently; and I could hear him plunging down the stairs inside.
Repossessing myself of my former and wiser purpose, I whipped out of the
way of the general search that must follow; and returned here not later
than eight o'clock.
"I now ask you to recall that little Society paragraph which seemed to
you so painfully lacking in interest. If the convict was not keeping
the shot for Todd, as he evidently wasn't, it is most likely that he was
keeping it for Lord Falconroy; and it looks as if he had delivered the
goods. No more handy place to shoot a man than in the curious geological
surroundings of that pool, where a body thrown down would sink through
thick slime to a depth practically unknown. Let us suppose, then, that
our friend with the cropped hair came to kill Falconroy and not Todd.
But, as I have pointed out, there are many reasons why people in America
might want to kill Todd. There is no reason why anybody in America
should want to kill an English lord newly landed, except for the
one reason mentioned in the pink paper—that the lord is paying his
attentions to the millionaire's daughter. Our crop-haired friend,
despite his ill-fitting clothes, must be an aspiring lover.
"I know the notion will seem to you jarring and even comic; but that's
because you are English. It sounds to you like saying the Archbishop of
Canterbury's daughter will be married in St George's, Hanover Square,
to a crossing-sweeper on ticket-of-leave. You don't do justice to the
climbing and aspiring power of our more remarkable citizens. You see a
good-looking grey-haired man in evening-dress with a sort of authority
about him, you know he is a pillar of the State, and you fancy he had
a father. You are in error. You do not realize that a comparatively few
years ago he may have been in a tenement or (quite likely) in a jail.
You don't allow for our national buoyancy and uplift. Many of our
most influential citizens have not only risen recently, but risen
comparatively late in life. Todd's daughter was fully eighteen when her
father first made his pile; so there isn't really anything impossible in
her having a hanger-on in low life; or even in her hanging on to him, as
I think she must be doing, to judge by the lantern business. If so, the
hand that held the lantern may not be unconnected with the hand that
held the gun. This case, sir, will make a noise."
"Well," said the priest patiently, "and what did you do next?"
"I reckon you'll be shocked," replied Greywood Usher, "as I know you
don't cotton to the march of science in these matters. I am given a good
deal of discretion here, and perhaps take a little more than I'm given;
and I thought it was an excellent opportunity to test that Psychometric
Machine I told you about. Now, in my opinion, that machine can't lie."
"No machine can lie," said Father Brown; "nor can it tell the truth."
"It did in this case, as I'll show you," went on Usher positively.
"I sat the man in the ill-fitting clothes in a comfortable chair, and
simply wrote words on a blackboard; and the machine simply recorded the
variations of his pulse; and I simply observed his manner. The trick is
to introduce some word connected with the supposed crime in a list of
words connected with something quite different, yet a list in which it
occurs quite naturally. Thus I wrote 'heron' and 'eagle' and 'owl', and
when I wrote 'falcon' he was tremendously agitated; and when I began to
make an 'r' at the end of the word, that machine just bounded. Who else
in this republic has any reason to jump at the name of a newly-arrived
Englishman like Falconroy except the man who's shot him? Isn't that
better evidence than a lot of gabble from witnesses—if the evidence of
a reliable machine?"
"You always forget," observed his companion, "that the reliable machine
always has to be worked by an unreliable machine."
"Why, what do you mean?" asked the detective.
"I mean Man," said Father Brown, "the most unreliable machine I know of.
I don't want to be rude; and I don't think you will consider Man to be
an offensive or inaccurate description of yourself. You say you observed
his manner; but how do you know you observed it right? You say the
words have to come in a natural way; but how do you know that you did it
naturally? How do you know, if you come to that, that he did not observe
your manner? Who is to prove that you were not tremendously agitated?
There was no machine tied on to your pulse."
"I tell you," cried the American in the utmost excitement, "I was as
cool as a cucumber."
"Criminals also can be as cool as cucumbers," said Brown with a smile.
"And almost as cool as you."
"Well, this one wasn't," said Usher, throwing the papers about. "Oh, you
make me tired!"
"I'm sorry," said the other. "I only point out what seems a reasonable
possibility. If you could tell by his manner when the word that might
hang him had come, why shouldn't he tell from your manner that the word
that might hang him was coming? I should ask for more than words myself
before I hanged anybody."
Usher smote the table and rose in a sort of angry triumph.
"And that," he cried, "is just what I'm going to give you. I tried the
machine first just in order to test the thing in other ways afterwards
and the machine, sir, is right."
He paused a moment and resumed with less excitement. "I rather want
to insist, if it comes to that, that so far I had very little to go on
except the scientific experiment. There was really nothing against the
man at all. His clothes were ill-fitting, as I've said, but they were
rather better, if anything, than those of the submerged class to which
he evidently belonged. Moreover, under all the stains of his plunging
through ploughed fields or bursting through dusty hedges, the man was
comparatively clean. This might mean, of course, that he had only just
broken prison; but it reminded me more of the desperate decency of
the comparatively respectable poor. His demeanour was, I am bound to
confess, quite in accordance with theirs. He was silent and dignified as
they are; he seemed to have a big, but buried, grievance, as they do.
He professed total ignorance of the crime and the whole question; and
showed nothing but a sullen impatience for something sensible that might
come to take him out of his meaningless scrape. He asked me more than
once if he could telephone for a lawyer who had helped him a long time
ago in a trade dispute, and in every sense acted as you would expect an
innocent man to act. There was nothing against him in the world except
that little finger on the dial that pointed to the change of his pulse.
"Then, sir, the machine was on its trial; and the machine was right.
By the time I came with him out of the private room into the vestibule
where all sorts of other people were awaiting examination, I think
he had already more or less made up his mind to clear things up by
something like a confession. He turned to me and began to say in a low
voice: 'Oh, I can't stick this any more. If you must know all about
"At the same instant one of the poor women sitting on the long bench
stood up, screaming aloud and pointing at him with her finger. I have
never in my life heard anything more demoniacally distinct. Her lean
finger seemed to pick him out as if it were a pea-shooter. Though the
word was a mere howl, every syllable was as clear as a separate stroke
on the clock.
"'Drugger Davis!' she shouted. 'They've got Drugger Davis!'
"Among the wretched women, mostly thieves and streetwalkers, twenty
faces were turned, gaping with glee and hate. If I had never heard the
words, I should have known by the very shock upon his features that
the so-called Oscar Rian had heard his real name. But I'm not quite so
ignorant, you may be surprised to hear. Drugger Davis was one of the
most terrible and depraved criminals that ever baffled our police. It is
certain he had done murder more than once long before his last exploit
with the warder. But he was never entirely fixed for it, curiously
enough because he did it in the same manner as those milder—or
meaner—crimes for which he was fixed pretty often. He was a handsome,
well-bred-looking brute, as he still is, to some extent; and he used
mostly to go about with barmaids or shop-girls and do them out of their
money. Very often, though, he went a good deal farther; and they were
found drugged with cigarettes or chocolates and their whole property
missing. Then came one case where the girl was found dead; but
deliberation could not quite be proved, and, what was more practical
still, the criminal could not be found. I heard a rumour of his having
reappeared somewhere in the opposite character this time, lending money
instead of borrowing it; but still to such poor widows as he might
personally fascinate, but still with the same bad result for them. Well,
there is your innocent man, and there is his innocent record. Even,
since then, four criminals and three warders have identified him and
confirmed the story. Now what have you got to say to my poor little
machine after that? Hasn't the machine done for him? Or do you prefer to
say that the woman and I have done for him?"
"As to what you've done for him," replied Father Brown, rising and
shaking himself in a floppy way, "you've saved him from the electrical
chair. I don't think they can kill Drugger Davis on that old vague story
of the poison; and as for the convict who killed the warder, I suppose
it's obvious that you haven't got him. Mr Davis is innocent of that
crime, at any rate."
"What do you mean?" demanded the other. "Why should he be innocent of
"Why, bless us all!" cried the small man in one of his rare moments of
animation, "why, because he's guilty of the other crimes! I don't know
what you people are made of. You seem to think that all sins are kept
together in a bag. You talk as if a miser on Monday were always a
spendthrift on Tuesday. You tell me this man you have here spent weeks
and months wheedling needy women out of small sums of money; that he
used a drug at the best, and a poison at the worst; that he turned up
afterwards as the lowest kind of moneylender, and cheated most poor
people in the same patient and pacific style. Let it be granted—let us
admit, for the sake of argument, that he did all this. If that is so, I
will tell you what he didn't do. He didn't storm a spiked wall against a
man with a loaded gun. He didn't write on the wall with his own hand, to
say he had done it. He didn't stop to state that his justification was
self-defence. He didn't explain that he had no quarrel with the poor
warder. He didn't name the house of the rich man to which he was going
with the gun. He didn't write his own, initials in a man's blood. Saints
alive! Can't you see the whole character is different, in good and evil?
Why, you don't seem to be like I am a bit. One would think you'd never
had any vices of your own."
The amazed American had already parted his lips in protest when the
door of his private and official room was hammered and rattled in an
unceremonious way to which he was totally unaccustomed.
The door flew open. The moment before Greywood Usher had been coming to
the conclusion that Father Brown might possibly be mad. The moment after
he began to think he was mad himself. There burst and fell into his
private room a man in the filthiest rags, with a greasy squash hat still
askew on his head, and a shabby green shade shoved up from one of his
eyes, both of which were glaring like a tiger's. The rest of his face
was almost undiscoverable, being masked with a matted beard and whiskers
through which the nose could barely thrust itself, and further buried in
a squalid red scarf or handkerchief. Mr Usher prided himself on having
seen most of the roughest specimens in the State, but he thought he had
never seen such a baboon dressed as a scarecrow as this. But, above all,
he had never in all his placid scientific existence heard a man like
that speak to him first.
"See here, old man Usher," shouted the being in the red handkerchief,
"I'm getting tired. Don't you try any of your hide-and-seek on me; I
don't get fooled any. Leave go of my guests, and I'll let up on the
fancy clockwork. Keep him here for a split instant and you'll feel
pretty mean. I reckon I'm not a man with no pull."
The eminent Usher was regarding the bellowing monster with an amazement
which had dried up all other sentiments. The mere shock to his eyes had
rendered his ears, almost useless. At last he rang a bell with a hand
of violence. While the bell was still strong and pealing, the voice of
Father Brown fell soft but distinct.
"I have a suggestion to make," he said, "but it seems a little
confusing. I don't know this gentleman—but—but I think I know
him. Now, you know him—you know him quite well—but you don't know
him—naturally. Sounds paradoxical, I know."
"I reckon the Cosmos is cracked," said Usher, and fell asprawl in his
round office chair.
"Now, see here," vociferated the stranger, striking the table, but
speaking in a voice that was all the more mysterious because it was
comparatively mild and rational though still resounding. "I won't let
you in. I want—"
"Who in hell are you?" yelled Usher, suddenly sitting up straight.
"I think the gentleman's name is Todd," said the priest.
Then he picked up the pink slip of newspaper.
"I fear you don't read the Society papers properly," he said, and began
to read out in a monotonous voice, "'Or locked in the jewelled bosoms of
our city's gayest leaders; but there is talk of a pretty parody of the
manners and customs of the other end of Society's scale.' There's been
a big Slum Dinner up at Pilgrim's Pond tonight; and a man, one of the
guests, disappeared. Mr Ireton Todd is a good host, and has tracked him
here, without even waiting to take off his fancy-dress."
"What man do you mean?"
"I mean the man with comically ill-fitting clothes you saw running
across the ploughed field. Hadn't you better go and investigate him? He
will be rather impatient to get back to his champagne, from which he ran
away in such a hurry, when the convict with the gun hove in sight."
"Do you seriously mean—" began the official.
"Why, look here, Mr Usher," said Father Brown quietly, "you said the
machine couldn't make a mistake; and in one sense it didn't. But the
other machine did; the machine that worked it. You assumed that the
man in rags jumped at the name of Lord Falconroy, because he was Lord
Falconroy's murderer. He jumped at the name of Lord Falconroy because he
is Lord Falconroy."
"Then why the blazes didn't he say so?" demanded the staring Usher.
"He felt his plight and recent panic were hardly patrician," replied
the priest, "so he tried to keep the name back at first. But he was
just going to tell it you, when"—and Father Brown looked down at his
boots—"when a woman found another name for him."
"But you can't be so mad as to say," said Greywood Usher, very white,
"that Lord Falconroy was Drugger Davis."
The priest looked at him very earnestly, but with a baffling and
"I am not saying anything about it," he said. "I leave all the rest to
you. Your pink paper says that the title was recently revived for him;
but those papers are very unreliable. It says he was in the States in
youth; but the whole story seems very strange. Davis and Falconroy are
both pretty considerable cowards, but so are lots of other men. I would
not hang a dog on my own opinion about this. But I think," he went on
softly and reflectively, "I think you Americans are too modest. I think
you idealize the English aristocracy—even in assuming it to be so
aristocratic. You see a good-looking Englishman in evening-dress; you
know he's in the House of Lords; and you fancy he has a father. You
don't allow for our national buoyancy and uplift. Many of our most
influential noblemen have not only risen recently, but—"
"Oh, stop it!" cried Greywood Usher, wringing one lean hand in
impatience against a shade of irony in the other's face.
"Don't stay talking to this lunatic!" cried Todd brutally. "Take me to
Next morning Father Brown appeared with the same demure expression,
carrying yet another piece of pink newspaper.
"I'm afraid you neglect the fashionable press rather," he said, "but
this cutting may interest you."
Usher read the headlines, "Last-Trick's Strayed Revellers: Mirthful
Incident near Pilgrim's Pond." The paragraph went on: "A laughable
occurrence took place outside Wilkinson's Motor Garage last night.
A policeman on duty had his attention drawn by larrikins to a man
in prison dress who was stepping with considerable coolness into the
steering-seat of a pretty high-toned Panhard; he was accompanied by a
girl wrapped in a ragged shawl. On the police interfering, the young
woman threw back the shawl, and all recognized Millionaire Todd's
daughter, who had just come from the Slum Freak Dinner at the Pond,
where all the choicest guests were in a similar deshabille. She and the
gentleman who had donned prison uniform were going for the customary
Under the pink slip Mr Usher found a strip of a later paper, headed,
"Astounding Escape of Millionaire's Daughter with Convict. She had
Arranged Freak Dinner. Now Safe in—"
Mr Greenwood Usher lifted his eyes, but Father Brown was gone.
SIX — The Head of Caesar
THERE is somewhere in Brompton or Kensington an interminable avenue of
tall houses, rich but largely empty, that looks like a terrace of tombs.
The very steps up to the dark front doors seem as steep as the side of
pyramids; one would hesitate to knock at the door, lest it should be
opened by a mummy. But a yet more depressing feature in the grey facade
is its telescopic length and changeless continuity. The pilgrim walking
down it begins to think he will never come to a break or a corner; but
there is one exception—a very small one, but hailed by the pilgrim
almost with a shout. There is a sort of mews between two of the tall
mansions, a mere slit like the crack of a door by comparison with
the street, but just large enough to permit a pigmy ale-house or
eating-house, still allowed by the rich to their stable-servants, to
stand in the angle. There is something cheery in its very dinginess,
and something free and elfin in its very insignificance. At the feet of
those grey stone giants it looks like a lighted house of dwarfs.
Anyone passing the place during a certain autumn evening, itself almost
fairylike, might have seen a hand pull aside the red half-blind which
(along with some large white lettering) half hid the interior from the
street, and a face peer out not unlike a rather innocent goblin's. It
was, in fact, the face of one with the harmless human name of Brown,
formerly priest of Cobhole in Essex, and now working in London. His
friend, Flambeau, a semi-official investigator, was sitting opposite
him, making his last notes of a case he had cleared up in the
neighbourhood. They were sitting at a small table, close up to the
window, when the priest pulled the curtain back and looked out. He
waited till a stranger in the street had passed the window, to let the
curtain fall into its place again. Then his round eyes rolled to the
large white lettering on the window above his head, and then strayed to
the next table, at which sat only a navvy with beer and cheese, and a
young girl with red hair and a glass of milk. Then (seeing his friend
put away the pocket-book), he said softly:
"If you've got ten minutes, I wish you'd follow that man with the false
Flambeau looked up in surprise; but the girl with the red hair also
looked up, and with something that was stronger than astonishment. She
was simply and even loosely dressed in light brown sacking stuff;
but she was a lady, and even, on a second glance, a rather needlessly
haughty one. "The man with the false nose!" repeated Flambeau. "Who's
"I haven't a notion," answered Father Brown. "I want you to find out;
I ask it as a favour. He went down there"—and he jerked his thumb over
his shoulder in one of his undistinguished gestures—"and can't have
passed three lamp-posts yet. I only want to know the direction."
Flambeau gazed at his friend for some time, with an expression between
perplexity and amusement; and then, rising from the table; squeezed his
huge form out of the little door of the dwarf tavern, and melted into
Father Brown took a small book out of his pocket and began to read
steadily; he betrayed no consciousness of the fact that the red-haired
lady had left her own table and sat down opposite him. At last she
leaned over and said in a low, strong voice: "Why do you say that? How
do you know it's false?"
He lifted his rather heavy eyelids, which fluttered in considerable
embarrassment. Then his dubious eye roamed again to the white lettering
on the glass front of the public-house. The young woman's eyes followed
his, and rested there also, but in pure puzzledom.
"No," said Father Brown, answering her thoughts. "It doesn't say 'Sela',
like the thing in the Psalms; I read it like that myself when I was
wool-gathering just now; it says 'Ales.'"
"Well?" inquired the staring young lady. "What does it matter what it
His ruminating eye roved to the girl's light canvas sleeve, round the
wrist of which ran a very slight thread of artistic pattern, just enough
to distinguish it from a working-dress of a common woman and make it
more like the working-dress of a lady art-student. He seemed to find
much food for thought in this; but his reply was very slow and hesitant.
"You see, madam," he said, "from outside the place looks—well, it is a
perfectly decent place—but ladies like you don't—don't generally think
so. They never go into such places from choice, except—"
"Well?" she repeated.
"Except an unfortunate few who don't go in to drink milk."
"You are a most singular person," said the young lady. "What is your
object in all this?"
"Not to trouble you about it," he replied, very gently. "Only to arm
myself with knowledge enough to help you, if ever you freely ask my
"But why should I need help?"
He continued his dreamy monologue. "You couldn't have come in to see
protegees, humble friends, that sort of thing, or you'd have gone
through into the parlour...and you couldn't have come in because
you were ill, or you'd have spoken to the woman of the place, who's
obviously respectable...besides, you don't look ill in that way, but
only unhappy.... This street is the only original long lane that has
no turning; and the houses on both sides are shut up.... I could only
suppose that you'd seen somebody coming whom you didn't want to meet;
and found the public-house was the only shelter in this wilderness
of stone.... I don't think I went beyond the licence of a stranger
in glancing at the only man who passed immediately after.... And as I
thought he looked like the wrong sort...and you looked like the right
sort.... I held myself ready to help if he annoyed you; that is all.
As for my friend, he'll be back soon; and he certainly can't find out
anything by stumping down a road like this.... I didn't think he could."
"Then why did you send him out?" she cried, leaning forward with yet
warmer curiosity. She had the proud, impetuous face that goes with
reddish colouring, and a Roman nose, as it did in Marie Antoinette.
He looked at her steadily for the first time, and said: "Because I hoped
you would speak to me."
She looked back at him for some time with a heated face, in which there
hung a red shadow of anger; then, despite her anxieties, humour broke
out of her eyes and the corners of her mouth, and she answered almost
grimly: "Well, if you're so keen on my conversation, perhaps you'll
answer my question." After a pause she added: "I had the honour to ask
you why you thought the man's nose was false."
"The wax always spots like that just a little in this weather," answered
Father Brown with entire simplicity.
"But it's such a crooked nose," remonstrated the red-haired girl.
The priest smiled in his turn. "I don't say it's the sort of nose one
would wear out of mere foppery," he admitted. "This man, I think, wears
it because his real nose is so much nicer."
"But why?" she insisted.
"What is the nursery-rhyme?" observed Brown absent-mindedly. "There was
a crooked man and he went a crooked mile.... That man, I fancy, has gone
a very crooked road—by following his nose."
"Why, what's he done?" she demanded, rather shakily.
"I don't want to force your confidence by a hair," said Father Brown,
very quietly. "But I think you could tell me more about that than I can
The girl sprang to her feet and stood quite quietly, but with clenched
hands, like one about to stride away; then her hands loosened slowly,
and she sat down again. "You are more of a mystery than all the others,"
she said desperately, "but I feel there might be a heart in your
"What we all dread most," said the priest in a low voice, "is a maze
with no centre. That is why atheism is only a nightmare." "I will tell
you everything," said the red-haired girl doggedly, "except why I am
telling you; and that I don't know."
She picked at the darned table-cloth and went on: "You look as if you
knew what isn't snobbery as well as what is; and when I say that ours
is a good old family, you'll understand it is a necessary part of the
story; indeed, my chief danger is in my brother's high-and-dry notions,
noblesse oblige and all that. Well, my name is Christabel Carstairs; and
my father was that Colonel Carstairs you've probably heard of, who made
the famous Carstairs Collection of Roman coins. I could never describe
my father to you; the nearest I can say is that he was very like a Roman
coin himself. He was as handsome and as genuine and as valuable and as
metallic and as out-of-date. He was prouder of his Collection than of
his coat-of-arms—nobody could say more than that. His extraordinary
character came out most in his will. He had two sons and one daughter.
He quarrelled with one son, my brother Giles, and sent him to Australia
on a small allowance. He then made a will leaving the Carstairs
Collection, actually with a yet smaller allowance, to my brother Arthur.
He meant it as a reward, as the highest honour he could offer, in
acknowledgement of Arthur's loyalty and rectitude and the distinctions
he had already gained in mathematics and economics at Cambridge. He left
me practically all his pretty large fortune; and I am sure he meant it
"Arthur, you may say, might well complain of this; but Arthur is my
father over again. Though he had some differences with my father in
early youth, no sooner had he taken over the Collection than he became
like a pagan priest dedicated to a temple. He mixed up these Roman
halfpence with the honour of the Carstairs family in the same stiff,
idolatrous way as his father before him. He acted as if Roman money
must be guarded by all the Roman virtues. He took no pleasures; he spent
nothing on himself; he lived for the Collection. Often he would not
trouble to dress for his simple meals; but pattered about among the
corded brown-paper parcels (which no one else was allowed to touch) in
an old brown dressing-gown. With its rope and tassel and his pale, thin,
refined face, it made him look like an old ascetic monk. Every now
and then, though, he would appear dressed like a decidedly fashionable
gentleman; but that was only when he went up to the London sales or
shops to make an addition to the Carstairs Collection.
"Now, if you've known any young people, you won't be shocked if I say
that I got into rather a low frame of mind with all this; the frame of
mind in which one begins to say that the Ancient Romans were all very
well in their way. I'm not like my brother Arthur; I can't help enjoying
enjoyment. I got a lot of romance and rubbish where I got my red hair,
from the other side of the family. Poor Giles was the same; and I think
the atmosphere of coins might count in excuse for him; though he really
did wrong and nearly went to prison. But he didn't behave any worse than
I did; as you shall hear.
"I come now to the silly part of the story. I think a man as clever as
you can guess the sort of thing that would begin to relieve the monotony
for an unruly girl of seventeen placed in such a position. But I am so
rattled with more dreadful things that I can hardly read my own feeling;
and don't know whether I despise it now as a flirtation or bear it as a
broken heart. We lived then at a little seaside watering-place in South
Wales, and a retired sea-captain living a few doors off had a son about
five years older than myself, who had been a friend of Giles before he
went to the Colonies. His name does not affect my tale; but I tell you
it was Philip Hawker, because I am telling you everything. We used to
go shrimping together, and said and thought we were in love with each
other; at least he certainly said he was, and I certainly thought I was.
If I tell you he had bronzed curly hair and a falconish sort of face,
bronzed by the sea also, it's not for his sake, I assure you, but for
the story; for it was the cause of a very curious coincidence.
"One summer afternoon, when I had promised to go shrimping along
the sands with Philip, I was waiting rather impatiently in the front
drawing-room, watching Arthur handle some packets of coins he had just
purchased and slowly shunt them, one or two at a time, into his own dark
study and museum which was at the back of the house. As soon as I heard
the heavy door close on him finally, I made a bolt for my shrimping-net
and tam-o'-shanter and was just going to slip out, when I saw that my
brother had left behind him one coin that lay gleaming on the long bench
by the window. It was a bronze coin, and the colour, combined with the
exact curve of the Roman nose and something in the very lift of the
long, wiry neck, made the head of Caesar on it the almost precise
portrait of Philip Hawker. Then I suddenly remembered Giles telling
Philip of a coin that was like him, and Philip wishing he had it.
Perhaps you can fancy the wild, foolish thoughts with which my head went
round; I felt as if I had had a gift from the fairies. It seemed to me
that if I could only run away with this, and give it to Philip like a
wild sort of wedding-ring, it would be a bond between us for ever; I
felt a thousand such things at once. Then there yawned under me, like
the pit, the enormous, awful notion of what I was doing; above all, the
unbearable thought, which was like touching hot iron, of what Arthur
would think of it. A Carstairs a thief; and a thief of the Carstairs
treasure! I believe my brother could see me burned like a witch for such
a thing, But then, the very thought of such fanatical cruelty heightened
my old hatred of his dingy old antiquarian fussiness and my longing for
the youth and liberty that called to me from the sea. Outside was strong
sunlight with a wind; and a yellow head of some broom or gorse in the
garden rapped against the glass of the window. I thought of that living
and growing gold calling to me from all the heaths of the world—and
then of that dead, dull gold and bronze and brass of my brother's
growing dustier and dustier as life went by. Nature and the Carstairs
Collection had come to grips at last.
"Nature is older than the Carstairs Collection. As I ran down the
streets to the sea, the coin clenched tight in my fist, I felt all the
Roman Empire on my back as well as the Carstairs pedigree. It was not
only the old lion argent that was roaring in my ear, but all the eagles
of the Caesars seemed flapping and screaming in pursuit of me. And yet
my heart rose higher and higher like a child's kite, until I came over
the loose, dry sand-hills and to the flat, wet sands, where Philip stood
already up to his ankles in the shallow shining water, some hundred
yards out to sea. There was a great red sunset; and the long stretch of
low water, hardly rising over the ankle for half a mile, was like a lake
of ruby flame. It was not till I had torn off my shoes and stockings and
waded to where he stood, which was well away from the dry land, that I
turned and looked round. We were quite alone in a circle of sea-water
and wet sand, and I gave him the head of Caesar.
"At the very instant I had a shock of fancy: that a man far away on
the sand-hills was looking at me intently. I must have felt immediately
after that it was a mere leap of unreasonable nerves; for the man was
only a dark dot in the distance, and I could only just see that he was
standing quite still and gazing, with his head a little on one side.
There was no earthly logical evidence that he was looking at me; he
might have been looking at a ship, or the sunset, or the sea-gulls,
or at any of the people who still strayed here and there on the shore
between us. Nevertheless, whatever my start sprang from was prophetic;
for, as I gazed, he started walking briskly in a bee-line towards us
across the wide wet sands. As he drew nearer and nearer I saw that
he was dark and bearded, and that his eyes were marked with dark
spectacles. He was dressed poorly but respectably in black, from the old
black top hat on his head to the solid black boots on his feet. In spite
of these he walked straight into the sea without a flash of hesitation,
and came on at me with the steadiness of a travelling bullet.
"I can't tell you the sense of monstrosity and miracle I had when he
thus silently burst the barrier between land and water. It was as if he
had walked straight off a cliff and still marched steadily in mid-air.
It was as if a house had flown up into the sky or a man's head had
fallen off. He was only wetting his boots; but he seemed to be a demon
disregarding a law of Nature. If he had hesitated an instant at the
water's edge it would have been nothing. As it was, he seemed to look so
much at me alone as not to notice the ocean. Philip was some yards away
with his back to me, bending over his net. The stranger came on till
he stood within two yards of me, the water washing half-way up to
his knees. Then he said, with a clearly modulated and rather mincing
articulation: 'Would it discommode you to contribute elsewhere a coin
with a somewhat different superscription?'
"With one exception there was nothing definably abnormal about him. His
tinted glasses were not really opaque, but of a blue kind common enough,
nor were the eyes behind them shifty, but regarded me steadily. His dark
beard was not really long or wild—, but he looked rather hairy, because
the beard began very high up in his face, just under the cheek-bones.
His complexion was neither sallow nor livid, but on the contrary rather
clear and youthful; yet this gave a pink-and-white wax look which
somehow (I don't know why) rather increased the horror. The only oddity
one could fix was that his nose, which was otherwise of a good shape,
was just slightly turned sideways at the tip; as if, when it was soft,
it had been tapped on one side with a toy hammer. The thing was hardly
a deformity; yet I cannot tell you what a living nightmare it was to
me. As he stood there in the sunset-stained water he affected me as some
hellish sea-monster just risen roaring out of a sea like blood. I don't
know why a touch on the nose should affect my imagination so much. I
think it seemed as if he could move his nose like a finger. And as if he
had just that moment moved it.
"'Any little assistance,' he continued with the same queer, priggish
accent, 'that may obviate the necessity of my communicating with the
"Then it rushed over me that I was being blackmailed for the theft of
the bronze piece; and all my merely superstitious fears and doubts were
swallowed up in one overpowering, practical question. How could he
have found out? I had stolen the thing suddenly and on impulse; I was
certainly alone; for I always made sure of being unobserved when I
slipped out to see Philip in this way. I had not, to all appearance,
been followed in the street; and if I had, they could not 'X-ray' the
coin in my closed hand. The man standing on the sand-hills could no more
have seen what I gave Philip than shoot a fly in one eye, like the man
in the fairy-tale.
"'Philip,' I cried helplessly, 'ask this man what he wants.'
"When Philip lifted his head at last from mending his net he looked
rather red, as if sulky or ashamed; but it may have been only the
exertion of stooping and the red evening light; I may have only had
another of the morbid fancies that seemed to be dancing about me. He
merely said gruffly to the man: 'You clear out of this.' And, motioning
me to follow, set off wading shoreward without paying further attention
to him. He stepped on to a stone breakwater that ran out from among the
roots of the sand-hills, and so struck homeward, perhaps thinking our
incubus would find it less easy to walk on such rough stones, green and
slippery with seaweed, than we, who were young and used to it. But my
persecutor walked as daintily as he talked; and he still followed
me, picking his way and picking his phrases. I heard his delicate,
detestable voice appealing to me over my shoulder, until at last, when
we had crested the sand-hills, Philip's patience (which was by no means
so conspicuous on most occasions) seemed to snap. He turned suddenly,
saying, 'Go back. I can't talk to you now.' And as the man hovered and
opened his mouth, Philip struck him a buffet on it that sent him flying
from the top of the tallest sand-hill to the bottom. I saw him crawling
out below, covered with sand.
"This stroke comforted me somehow, though it might well increase my
peril; but Philip showed none of his usual elation at his own prowess.
Though as affectionate as ever, he still seemed cast down; and before
I could ask him anything fully, he parted with me at his own gate,
with two remarks that struck me as strange. He said that, all things
considered, I ought to put the coin back in the Collection; but that
he himself would keep it 'for the present'. And then he added quite
suddenly and irrelevantly: 'You know Giles is back from Australia?'"
The door of the tavern opened and the gigantic shadow of the
investigator Flambeau fell across the table. Father Brown presented him
to the lady in his own slight, persuasive style of speech, mentioning
his knowledge and sympathy in such cases; and almost without knowing,
the girl was soon reiterating her story to two listeners. But Flambeau,
as he bowed and sat down, handed the priest a small slip of paper. Brown
accepted it with some surprise and read on it: "Cab to Wagga Wagga, 379,
Mafeking Avenue, Putney." The girl was going on with her story.
"I went up the steep street to my own house with my head in a whirl; it
had not begun to clear when I came to the doorstep, on which I found a
milk-can—and the man with the twisted nose. The milk-can told me the
servants were all out; for, of course, Arthur, browsing about in his
brown dressing-gown in a brown study, would not hear or answer a bell.
Thus there was no one to help me in the house, except my brother, whose
help must be my ruin. In desperation I thrust two shillings into the
horrid thing's hand, and told him to call again in a few days, when I
had thought it out. He went off sulking, but more sheepishly than I had
expected—perhaps he had been shaken by his fall—and I watched the
star of sand splashed on his back receding down the road with a horrid
vindictive pleasure. He turned a corner some six houses down.
"Then I let myself in, made myself some tea, and tried to think it out.
I sat at the drawing-room window looking on to the garden, which still
glowed with the last full evening light. But I was too distracted and
dreamy to look at the lawns and flower-pots and flower-beds with any
concentration. So I took the shock the more sharply because I'd seen it
"The man or monster I'd sent away was standing quite still in the middle
of the garden. Oh, we've all read a lot about pale-faced phantoms in the
dark; but this was more dreadful than anything of that kind could ever
be. Because, though he cast a long evening shadow, he still stood in
warm sunlight. And because his face was not pale, but had that waxen
bloom still upon it that belongs to a barber's dummy. He stood quite
still, with his face towards me; and I can't tell you how horrid
he looked among the tulips and all those tall, gaudy, almost
hothouse-looking flowers. It looked as if we'd stuck up a waxwork
instead of a statue in the centre of our garden.
"Yet almost the instant he saw me move in the window he turned and ran
out of the garden by the back gate, which stood open and by which he had
undoubtedly entered. This renewed timidity on his part was so different
from the impudence with which he had walked into the sea, that I felt
vaguely comforted. I fancied, perhaps, that he feared confronting Arthur
more than I knew. Anyhow, I settled down at last, and had a quiet
dinner alone (for it was against the rules to disturb Arthur when he was
rearranging the museum), and, my thoughts, a little released, fled to
Philip and lost themselves, I suppose. Anyhow, I was looking blankly,
but rather pleasantly than otherwise, at another window, uncurtained,
but by this time black as a slate with the final night-fall. It seemed
to me that something like a snail was on the outside of the window-pane.
But when I stared harder, it was more like a man's thumb pressed on the
pane; it had that curled look that a thumb has. With my fear and courage
re-awakened together, I rushed at the window and then recoiled with a
strangled scream that any man but Arthur must have heard.
"For it was not a thumb, any more than it was a snail. It was the tip
of a crooked nose, crushed against the glass; it looked white with
the pressure; and the staring face and eyes behind it were at first
invisible and afterwards grey like a ghost. I slammed the shutters
together somehow, rushed up to my room and locked myself in. But, even
as I passed, I could swear I saw a second black window with something on
it that was like a snail.
"It might be best to go to Arthur after all. If the thing was crawling
close all around the house like a cat, it might have purposes worse even
than blackmail. My brother might cast me out and curse me for ever, but
he was a gentleman, and would defend me on the spot. After ten minutes'
curious thinking, I went down, knocked on the door and then went in: to
see the last and worst sight.
"My brother's chair was empty, and he was obviously out. But the man
with the crooked nose was sitting waiting for his return, with his hat
still insolently on his head, and actually reading one of my brother's
books under my brother's lamp. His face was composed and occupied, but
his nose-tip still had the air of being the most mobile part of his
face, as if it had just turned from left to right like an elephant's
proboscis. I had thought him poisonous enough while he was pursuing and
watching me; but I think his unconsciousness of my presence was more
"I think I screamed loud and long; but that doesn't matter. What I did
next does matter: I gave him all the money I had, including a good deal
in paper which, though it was mine, I dare say I had no right to touch.
He went off at last, with hateful, tactful regrets all in long words;
and I sat down, feeling ruined in every sense. And yet I was saved that
very night by a pure accident. Arthur had gone off suddenly to London,
as he so often did, for bargains; and returned, late but radiant, having
nearly secured a treasure that was an added splendour even to the
family Collection. He was so resplendent that I was almost emboldened to
confess the abstraction of the lesser gem—, but he bore down all other
topics with his over-powering projects. Because the bargain might still
misfire any moment, he insisted on my packing at once and going up
with him to lodgings he had already taken in Fulham, to be near the
curio-shop in question. Thus in spite of myself, I fled from my foe
almost in the dead of night—but from Philip also.... My brother was
often at the South Kensington Museum, and, in order to make some sort of
secondary life for myself, I paid for a few lessons at the Art Schools.
I was coming back from them this evening, when I saw the abomination of
desolation walking alive down the long straight street and the rest is
as this gentleman has said.
"I've got only one thing to say. I don't deserve to be helped; and I
don't question or complain of my punishment; it is just, it ought to
have happened. But I still question, with bursting brains, how it can
have happened. Am I punished by miracle? or how can anyone but Philip
and myself know I gave him a tiny coin in the middle of the sea?"
"It is an extraordinary problem," admitted Flambeau.
"Not so extraordinary as the answer," remarked Father Brown rather
gloomily. "Miss Carstairs, will you be at home if we call at your Fulham
place in an hour and a half hence?"
The girl looked at him, and then rose and put her gloves on. "Yes," she
said, "I'll be there"; and almost instantly left the place.
That night the detective and the priest were still talking of the matter
as they drew near the Fulham house, a tenement strangely mean even for a
temporary residence of the Carstairs family.
"Of course the superficial, on reflection," said Flambeau, "would think
first of this Australian brother who's been in trouble before,
who's come back so suddenly and who's just the man to have shabby
confederates. But I can't see how he can come into the thing by any
process of thought, unless..."
"Well?" asked his companion patiently.
Flambeau lowered his voice. "Unless the girl's lover comes in, too,
and he would be the blacker villain. The Australian chap did know that
Hawker wanted the coin. But I can't see how on earth he could know that
Hawker had got it, unless Hawker signalled to him or his representative
across the shore."
"That is true," assented the priest, with respect.
"Have you noted another thing?" went on Flambeau eagerly, "this Hawker
hears his love insulted, but doesn't strike till he's got to the soft
sand-hills, where he can be victor in a mere sham-fight. If he'd struck
amid rocks and sea, he might have hurt his ally."
"That is true again," said Father Brown, nodding.
"And now, take it from the start. It lies between few people, but at
least three. You want one person for suicide; two people for murder; but
at least three people for blackmail"
"Why?" asked the priest softly.
"Well, obviously," cried his friend, "there must be one to be exposed;
one to threaten exposure; and one at least whom exposure would horrify."
After a long ruminant pause, the priest said: "You miss a logical step.
Three persons are needed as ideas. Only two are needed as agents."
"What can you mean?" asked the other.
"Why shouldn't a blackmailer," asked Brown, in a low voice, "threaten
his victim with himself? Suppose a wife became a rigid teetotaller in
order to frighten her husband into concealing his pub-frequenting, and
then wrote him blackmailing letters in another hand, threatening to
tell his wife! Why shouldn't it work? Suppose a father forbade a son to
gamble and then, following him in a good disguise, threatened the boy
with his own sham paternal strictness! Suppose—but, here we are, my
"My God!" cried Flambeau; "you don't mean—"
An active figure ran down the steps of the house and showed under the
golden lamplight the unmistakable head that resembled the Roman coin.
"Miss Carstairs," said Hawker without ceremony, "wouldn't go in till you
"Well," observed Brown confidently, "don't you think it's the best
thing she can do to stop outside—with you to look after her? You see, I
rather guess you have guessed it all yourself."
"Yes," said the young man, in an undertone, "I guessed on the sands and
now I know; that was why I let him fall soft."
Taking a latchkey from the girl and the coin from Hawker, Flambeau let
himself and his friend into the empty house and passed into the outer
parlour. It was empty of all occupants but one. The man whom Father
Brown had seen pass the tavern was standing against the wall as if
at bay; unchanged, save that he had taken off his black coat and was
wearing a brown dressing-gown.
"We have come," said Father Brown politely, "to give back this coin to
its owner." And he handed it to the man with the nose.
Flambeau's eyes rolled. "Is this man a coin-collector?" he asked.
"This man is Mr Arthur Carstairs," said the priest positively, "and he
is a coin-collector of a somewhat singular kind."
The man changed colour so horribly that the crooked nose stood out on
his face like a separate and comic thing. He spoke, nevertheless, with a
sort of despairing dignity. "You shall see, then," he said, "that I have
not lost all the family qualities." And he turned suddenly and strode
into an inner room, slamming the door.
"Stop him!" shouted Father Brown, bounding and half falling over a
chair; and, after a wrench or two, Flambeau had the door open. But it
was too late. In dead silence Flambeau strode across and telephoned for
doctor and police.
An empty medicine bottle lay on the floor. Across the table the body
of the man in the brown dressing-gown lay amid his burst and gaping
brown-paper parcels; out of which poured and rolled, not Roman, but very
modern English coins.
The priest held up the bronze head of Caesar. "This," he said, "was all
that was left of the Carstairs Collection."
After a silence he went on, with more than common gentleness: "It was
a cruel will his wicked father made, and you see he did resent it a
little. He hated the Roman money he had, and grew fonder of the real
money denied him. He not only sold the Collection bit by bit, but sank
bit by bit to the basest ways of making money—even to blackmailing his
own family in a disguise. He blackmailed his brother from Australia for
his little forgotten crime (that is why he took the cab to Wagga Wagga
in Putney), he blackmailed his sister for the theft he alone could have
noticed. And that, by the way, is why she had that supernatural guess
when he was away on the sand-dunes. Mere figure and gait, however
distant, are more likely to remind us of somebody than a well-made-up
face quite close."
There was another silence. "Well," growled the detective, "and so this
great numismatist and coin-collector was nothing but a vulgar miser."
"Is there so great a difference?" asked Father Brown, in the same
strange, indulgent tone. "What is there wrong about a miser that is not
often as wrong about a collector? What is wrong, except... thou shalt
not make to thyself any graven image; thou shalt not bow down to them
nor serve them, for I...but we must go and see how the poor young people
are getting on."
"I think," said Flambeau, "that in spite of everything, they are
probably getting on very well."
SEVEN — The Purple Wig
MR EDWARD NUTT, the industrious editor of the Daily Reformer, sat at
his desk, opening letters and marking proofs to the merry tune of a
typewriter, worked by a vigorous young lady.
He was a stoutish, fair man, in his shirt-sleeves; his movements were
resolute, his mouth firm and his tones final; but his round, rather
babyish blue eyes had a bewildered and even wistful look that rather
contradicted all this. Nor indeed was the expression altogether
misleading. It might truly be said of him, as for many journalists in
authority, that his most familiar emotion was one of continuous fear;
fear of libel actions, fear of lost advertisements, fear of misprints,
fear of the sack.
His life was a series of distracted compromises between the proprietor
of the paper (and of him), who was a senile soap-boiler with three
ineradicable mistakes in his mind, and the very able staff he had
collected to run the paper; some of whom were brilliant and experienced
men and (what was even worse) sincere enthusiasts for the political
policy of the paper.
A letter from one of these lay immediately before him, and rapid and
resolute as he was, he seemed almost to hesitate before opening it. He
took up a strip of proof instead, ran down it with a blue eye, and a
blue pencil, altered the word "adultery" to the word "impropriety,"
and the word "Jew" to the word "Alien," rang a bell and sent it flying
Then, with a more thoughtful eye, he ripped open the letter from his
more distinguished contributor, which bore a postmark of Devonshire, and
read as follows:
DEAR NUTT,—As I see you're working Spooks and Dooks at the same time,
what about an article on that rum business of the Eyres of Exmoor; or
as the old women call it down here, the Devil's Ear of Eyre? The head of
the family, you know, is the Duke of Exmoor; he is one of the few really
stiff old Tory aristocrats left, a sound old crusted tyrant it is quite
in our line to make trouble about. And I think I'm on the track of a
story that will make trouble.
Of course I don't believe in the old legend about James I; and as for
you, you don't believe in anything, not even in journalism. The legend,
you'll probably remember, was about the blackest business in English
history—the poisoning of Overbury by that witch's cat Frances Howard,
and the quite mysterious terror which forced the King to pardon the
murderers. There was a lot of alleged witchcraft mixed up with it; and
the story goes that a man-servant listening at the keyhole heard the
truth in a talk between the King and Carr; and the bodily ear with which
he heard grew large and monstrous as by magic, so awful was the secret.
And though he had to be loaded with lands and gold and made an ancestor
of dukes, the elf-shaped ear is still recurrent in the family. Well, you
don't believe in black magic; and if you did, you couldn't use it for
copy. If a miracle happened in your office, you'd have to hush it up,
now so many bishops are agnostics. But that is not the point The point
is that there really is something queer about Exmoor and his family;
something quite natural, I dare say, but quite abnormal. And the Ear
is in it somehow, I fancy; either a symbol or a delusion or disease
or something. Another tradition says that Cavaliers just after James I
began to wear their hair long only to cover the ear of the first Lord
Exmoor. This also is no doubt fanciful.
The reason I point it out to you is this: It seems to me that we make
a mistake in attacking aristocracy entirely for its champagne and
diamonds. Most men rather admire the nobs for having a good time, but I
think we surrender too much when we admit that aristocracy has made even
the aristocrats happy. I suggest a series of articles pointing out how
dreary, how inhuman, how downright diabolist, is the very smell and
atmosphere of some of these great houses. There are plenty of instances;
but you couldn't begin with a better one than the Ear of the Eyres. By
the end of the week I think I can get you the truth about it.—Yours
ever, FRANCIS FINN.
Mr Nutt reflected a moment, staring at his left boot; then he called out
in a strong, loud and entirely lifeless voice, in which every syllable
sounded alike: "Miss Barlow, take down a letter to Mr Finn, please."
DEAR FINN,—I think it would do; copy should reach us second post
Saturday.—Yours, E. NUTT.
This elaborate epistle he articulated as if it were all one word; and
Miss Barlow rattled it down as if it were all one word. Then he took
up another strip of proof and a blue pencil, and altered the word
"supernatural" to the word "marvellous", and the expression "shoot down"
to the expression "repress".
In such happy, healthful activities did Mr Nutt disport himself, until
the ensuing Saturday found him at the same desk, dictating to the same
typist, and using the same blue pencil on the first instalment of Mr
Finn's revelations. The opening was a sound piece of slashing invective
about the evil secrets of princes, and despair in the high places of the
earth. Though written violently, it was in excellent English; but the
editor, as usual, had given to somebody else the task of breaking it
up into sub-headings, which were of a spicier sort, as "Peeress and
Poisons", and "The Eerie Ear", "The Eyres in their Eyrie", and so on
through a hundred happy changes. Then followed the legend of the Ear,
amplified from Finn's first letter, and then the substance of his later
discoveries, as follows:
I know it is the practice of journalists to put the end of the story
at the beginning and call it a headline. I know that journalism largely
consists in saying "Lord Jones Dead" to people who never knew that Lord
Jones was alive. Your present correspondent thinks that this, like
many other journalistic customs, is bad journalism; and that the Daily
Reformer has to set a better example in such things. He proposes to tell
his story as it occurred, step by step. He will use the real names of
the parties, who in most cases are ready to confirm his testimony. As
for the headlines, the sensational proclamations—they will come at the
I was walking along a public path that threads through a private
Devonshire orchard and seems to point towards Devonshire cider, when
I came suddenly upon just such a place as the path suggested. It was a
long, low inn, consisting really of a cottage and two barns; thatched
all over with the thatch that looks like brown and grey hair grown
before history. But outside the door was a sign which called it the Blue
Dragon; and under the sign was one of those long rustic tables that used
to stand outside most of the free English inns, before teetotallers
and brewers between them destroyed freedom. And at this table sat three
gentlemen, who might have lived a hundred years ago.
Now that I know them all better, there is no difficulty about
disentangling the impressions; but just then they looked like three very
solid ghosts. The dominant figure, both because he was bigger in all
three dimensions, and because he sat centrally in the length of the
table, facing me, was a tall, fat man dressed completely in black,
with a rubicund, even apoplectic visage, but a rather bald and rather
bothered brow. Looking at him again, more strictly, I could not exactly
say what it was that gave me the sense of antiquity, except the antique
cut of his white clerical necktie and the barred wrinkles across his
It was even less easy to fix the impression in the case of the man at
the right end of the table, who, to say truth, was as commonplace a
person as could be seen anywhere, with a round, brown-haired head and a
round snub nose, but also clad in clerical black, of a stricter cut. It
was only when I saw his broad curved hat lying on the table beside him
that I realized why I connected him with anything ancient. He was a
Roman Catholic priest.
Perhaps the third man, at the other end of the table, had really more
to do with it than the rest, though he was both slighter in physical
presence and more inconsiderate in his dress. His lank limbs were clad,
I might also say clutched, in very tight grey sleeves and pantaloons;
he had a long, sallow, aquiline face which seemed somehow all the more
saturnine because his lantern jaws were imprisoned in his collar and
neck-cloth more in the style of the old stock; and his hair (which ought
to have been dark brown) was of an odd dim, russet colour which, in
conjunction with his yellow face, looked rather purple than red. The
unobtrusive yet unusual colour was all the more notable because his hair
was almost unnaturally healthy and curling, and he wore it full. But,
after all analysis, I incline to think that what gave me my first
old-fashioned impression was simply a set of tall, old-fashioned
wine-glasses, one or two lemons and two churchwarden pipes. And also,
perhaps, the old-world errand on which I had come.
Being a hardened reporter, and it being apparently a public inn, I did
not need to summon much of my impudence to sit down at the long
table and order some cider. The big man in black seemed very learned,
especially about local antiquities; the small man in black, though he
talked much less, surprised me with a yet wider culture. So we got on
very well together; but the third man, the old gentleman in the tight
pantaloons, seemed rather distant and haughty, until I slid into the
subject of the Duke of Exmoor and his ancestry.
I thought the subject seemed to embarrass the other two a little; but it
broke the spell of the third man's silence most successfully. Speaking
with restraint and with the accent of a highly educated gentleman, and
puffing at intervals at his long churchwarden pipe, he proceeded to tell
me some of the most horrible stories I have ever heard in my life:
how one of the Eyres in the former ages had hanged his own father; and
another had his wife scourged at the cart tail through the village; and
another had set fire to a church full of children, and so on.
Some of the tales, indeed, are not fit for public print—, such as the
story of the Scarlet Nuns, the abominable story of the Spotted Dog,
or the thing that was done in the quarry. And all this red roll of
impieties came from his thin, genteel lips rather primly than otherwise,
as he sat sipping the wine out of his tall, thin glass.
I could see that the big man opposite me was trying, if anything,
to stop him; but he evidently held the old gentleman in considerable
respect, and could not venture to do so at all abruptly. And the little
priest at the other end of the-table, though free from any such air of
embarrassment, looked steadily at the table, and seemed to listen to the
recital with great pain—as well as he might.
"You don't seem," I said to the narrator, "to be very fond of the Exmoor
He looked at me a moment, his lips still prim, but whitening and
tightening; then he deliberately broke his long pipe and glass on the
table and stood up, the very picture of a perfect gentleman with the
framing temper of a fiend.
"These gentlemen," he said, "will tell you whether I have cause to like
it. The curse of the Eyres of old has lain heavy on this country, and
many have suffered from it. They know there are none who have suffered
from it as I have." And with that he crushed a piece of the fallen
glass under his heel, and strode away among the green twilight of the
"That is an extraordinary old gentleman," I said to the other two; "do
you happen to know what the Exmoor family has done to him? Who is he?"
The big man in black was staring at me with the wild air of a baffled
bull; he did not at first seem to take it in. Then he said at last,
"Don't you know who he is?"
I reaffirmed my ignorance, and there was another silence; then the
little priest said, still looking at the table, "That is the Duke of
Then, before I could collect my scattered senses, he added equally
quietly, but with an air of regularizing things: "My friend here is
Doctor Mull, the Duke's librarian. My name is Brown."
"But," I stammered, "if that is the Duke, why does he damn all the old
dukes like that?"
"He seems really to believe," answered the priest called Brown, "that
they have left a curse on him." Then he added, with some irrelevance,
"That's why he wears a wig."
It was a few moments before his meaning dawned on me. "You don't mean
that fable about the fantastic ear?" I demanded. "I've heard of it, of
course, but surely it must be a superstitious yarn spun out of something
much simpler. I've sometimes thought it was a wild version of one of
those mutilation stories. They used to crop criminals' ears in the
"I hardly think it was that," answered the little man thoughtfully, "but
it is not outside ordinary science or natural law for a family to have
some deformity frequently reappearing—such as one ear bigger than the
The big librarian had buried his big bald brow in his big red hands,
like a man trying to think out his duty. "No," he groaned. "You do the
man a wrong after all. Understand, I've no reason to defend him, or even
keep faith with him. He has been a tyrant to me as to everybody else.
Don't fancy because you see him sitting here that he isn't a great lord
in the worst sense of the word. He would fetch a man a mile to ring a
bell a yard off—if it would summon another man three miles to fetch
a matchbox three yards off. He must have a footman to carry his
walking-stick; a body servant to hold up his opera-glasses—"
"But not a valet to brush his clothes," cut in the priest, with a
curious dryness, "for the valet would want to brush his wig, too."
The librarian turned to him and seemed to forget my presence; he was
strongly moved and, I think, a little heated with wine. "I don't know
how you know it, Father Brown," he said, "but you are right. He lets the
whole world do everything for him—except dress him. And that he insists
on doing in a literal solitude like a desert. Anybody is kicked out
of the house without a character who is so much as found near his
"He seems a pleasant old party," I remarked.
"No," replied Dr Mull quite simply; "and yet that is just what I mean by
saying you are unjust to him after all. Gentlemen, the Duke does really
feel the bitterness about the curse that he uttered just now. He does,
with sincere shame and terror, hide under that purple wig something he
thinks it would blast the sons of man to see. I know it is so; and I
know it is not a mere natural disfigurement, like a criminal mutilation,
or a hereditary disproportion in the features. I know it is worse than
that; because a man told me who was present at a scene that no man could
invent, where a stronger man than any of us tried to defy the secret,
and was scared away from it."
I opened my mouth to speak, but Mull went on in oblivion of me, speaking
out of the cavern of his hands. "I don't mind telling you, Father,
because it's really more defending the poor Duke than giving him away.
Didn't you ever hear of the time when he very nearly lost all the
The priest shook his head; and the librarian proceeded to tell the tale
as he had heard it from his predecessor in the same post, who had been
his patron and instructor, and whom he seemed to trust implicitly. Up
to a certain point it was a common enough tale of the decline of a great
family's fortunes—the tale of a family lawyer. His lawyer, however, had
the sense to cheat honestly, if the expression explains itself. Instead
of using funds he held in trust, he took advantage of the Duke's
carelessness to put the family in a financial hole, in which it might be
necessary for the Duke to let him hold them in reality.
The lawyer's name was Isaac Green, but the Duke always called him
Elisha; presumably in reference to the fact that he was quite bald,
though certainly not more than thirty. He had risen very rapidly, but
from very dirty beginnings; being first a "nark" or informer, and then a
money-lender: but as solicitor to the Eyres he had the sense, as I say,
to keep technically straight until he was ready to deal the final blow.
The blow fell at dinner; and the old librarian said he should never
forget the very look of the lampshades and the decanters, as the little
lawyer, with a steady smile, proposed to the great landlord that they
should halve the estates between them. The sequel certainly could not
be overlooked; for the Duke, in dead silence, smashed a decanter on the
man's bald head as suddenly as I had seen him smash the glass that day
in the orchard. It left a red triangular scar on the scalp, and the
lawyer's eyes altered, but not his smile.
He rose tottering to his feet, and struck back as such men do strike. "I
am glad of that," he said, "for now I can take the whole estate. The law
will give it to me."
Exmoor, it seems, was white as ashes, but his eyes still blazed. "The
law will give it you," he said; "but you will not take it.... Why not?
Why? because it would mean the crack of doom for me, and if you take it
I shall take off my wig.... Why, you pitiful plucked fowl, anyone can
see your bare head. But no man shall see mine and live."
Well, you may say what you like and make it mean what you like. But Mull
swears it is the solemn fact that the lawyer, after shaking his knotted
fists in the air for an instant, simply ran from the room and never
reappeared in the countryside; and since then Exmoor has been feared
more for a warlock than even for a landlord and a magistrate.
Now Dr Mull told his story with rather wild theatrical gestures, and
with a passion I think at least partisan. I was quite conscious of the
possibility that the whole was the extravagance of an old braggart and
gossip. But before I end this half of my discoveries, I think it due to
Dr Mull to record that my two first inquiries have confirmed his story.
I learned from an old apothecary in the village that there was a bald
man in evening dress, giving the name of Green, who came to him one
night to have a three-cornered cut on his forehead plastered. And
I learnt from the legal records and old newspapers that there was a
lawsuit threatened, and at least begun, by one Green against the Duke of
Mr Nutt, of the Daily Reformer, wrote some highly incongruous words
across the top of the copy, made some highly mysterious marks down
the side of it, and called to Miss Barlow in the same loud, monotonous
voice: "Take down a letter to Mr Finn."
DEAR FINN,—Your copy will do, but I have had to headline it a bit; and
our public would never stand a Romanist priest in the story—you
must keep your eye on the suburbs. I've altered him to Mr Brown, a
A day or two afterward found the active and judicious editor examining,
with blue eyes that seemed to grow rounder and rounder, the second
instalment of Mr Finn's tale of mysteries in high life. It began with
I have made an astounding discovery. I freely confess it is quite
different from anything I expected to discover, and will give a much
more practical shock to the public. I venture to say, without any
vanity, that the words I now write will be read all over Europe, and
certainly all over America and the Colonies. And yet I heard all I have
to tell before I left this same little wooden table in this same little
wood of apple-trees.
I owe it all to the small priest Brown; he is an extraordinary man. The
big librarian had left the table, perhaps ashamed of his long tongue,
perhaps anxious about the storm in which his mysterious master had
vanished: anyway, he betook himself heavily in the Duke's tracks through
the trees. Father Brown had picked up one of the lemons and was eyeing
it with an odd pleasure.
"What a lovely colour a lemon is!" he said. "There's one thing I don't
like about the Duke's wig—the colour."
"I don't think I understand," I answered.
"I dare say he's got good reason to cover his ears, like King Midas,"
went on the priest, with a cheerful simplicity which somehow seemed
rather flippant under the circumstances. "I can quite understand that
it's nicer to cover them with hair than with brass plates or leather
flaps. But if he wants to use hair, why doesn't he make it look like
hair? There never was hair of that colour in this world. It looks more
like a sunset-cloud coming through the wood. Why doesn't he conceal the
family curse better, if he's really so ashamed of it? Shall I tell you?
It's because he isn't ashamed of it. He's proud of it"
"It's an ugly wig to be proud of—and an ugly story," I said.
"Consider," replied this curious little man, "how you yourself really
feel about such things. I don't suggest you're either more snobbish or
more morbid than the rest of us: but don't you feel in a vague way that
a genuine old family curse is rather a fine thing to have? Would you
be ashamed, wouldn't you be a little proud, if the heir of the Glamis
horror called you his friend? or if Byron's family had confided, to
you only, the evil adventures of their race? Don't be too hard on the
aristocrats themselves if their heads are as weak as ours would be, and
they are snobs about their own sorrows."
"By Jove!" I cried; "and that's true enough. My own mother's family had
a banshee; and, now I come to think of it, it has comforted me in many a
"And think," he went on, "of that stream of blood and poison that
spurted from his thin lips the instant you so much as mentioned his
ancestors. Why should he show every stranger over such a Chamber of
Horrors unless he is proud of it? He doesn't conceal his wig, he doesn't
conceal his blood, he doesn't conceal his family curse, he doesn't
conceal the family crimes—but—"
The little man's voice changed so suddenly, he shut his hand so sharply,
and his eyes so rapidly grew rounder and brighter like a waking owl's,
that it had all the abruptness of a small explosion on the table.
"But," he ended, "he does really conceal his toilet."
It somehow completed the thrill of my fanciful nerves that at that
instant the Duke appeared again silently among the glimmering trees,
with his soft foot and sunset-hued hair, coming round the corner of
the house in company with his librarian. Before he came within earshot,
Father Brown had added quite composedly, "Why does he really hide the
secret of what he does with the purple wig? Because it isn't the sort of
secret we suppose."
The Duke came round the corner and resumed his seat at the head of the
table with all his native dignity. The embarrassment of the librarian
left him hovering on his hind legs, like a huge bear. The Duke addressed
the priest with great seriousness. "Father Brown," he said, "Doctor
Mull informs me that you have come here to make a request. I no longer
profess an observance of the religion of my fathers; but for their
sakes, and for the sake of the days when we met before, I am very
willing to hear you. But I presume you would rather be heard in
Whatever I retain of the gentleman made me stand up. Whatever I have
attained of the journalist made me stand still. Before this paralysis
could pass, the priest had made a momentarily detaining motion. "If,"
he said, "your Grace will permit me my real petition, or if I retain any
right to advise you, I would urge that as many people as possible should
be present. All over this country I have found hundreds, even of my own
faith and flock, whose imaginations are poisoned by the spell which I
implore you to break. I wish we could have all Devonshire here to see
you do it."
"To see me do what?" asked the Duke, arching his eyebrows.
"To see you take off your wig," said Father Brown.
The Duke's face did not move; but he looked at his petitioner with a
glassy stare which was the most awful expression I have ever seen on a
human face. I could see the librarian's great legs wavering under him
like the shadows of stems in a pool; and I could not banish from my own
brain the fancy that the trees all around us were filling softly in the
silence with devils instead of birds.
"I spare you," said the Duke in a voice of inhuman pity. "I refuse. If
I gave you the faintest hint of the load of horror I have to bear alone,
you would lie shrieking at these feet of mine and begging to know no
more. I will spare you the hint. You shall not spell the first letter of
what is written on the altar of the Unknown God."
"I know the Unknown God," said the little priest, with an unconscious
grandeur of certitude that stood up like a granite tower. "I know his
name; it is Satan. The true God was made flesh and dwelt among us. And
I say to you, wherever you find men ruled merely by mystery, it is the
mystery of iniquity. If the devil tells you something is too fearful to
look at, look at it. If he says something is too terrible to hear, hear
it. If you think some truth unbearable, bear it. I entreat your Grace to
end this nightmare now and here at this table."
"If I did," said the Duke in a low voice, "you and all you believe, and
all by which alone you live, would be the first to shrivel and perish.
You would have an instant to know the great Nothing before you died."
"The Cross of Christ be between me and harm," said Father Brown. "Take
off your wig."
I was leaning over the table in ungovernable excitement; in listening
to this extraordinary duel half a thought had come into my head. "Your
Grace," I cried, "I call your bluff. Take off that wig or I will knock
I suppose I can be prosecuted for assault, but I am very glad I did it.
When he said, in the same voice of stone, "I refuse," I simply sprang
on him. For three long instants he strained against me as if he had all
hell to help him; but I forced his head until the hairy cap fell off it.
I admit that, whilst wrestling, I shut my eyes as it fell.
I was awakened by a cry from Mull, who was also by this time at the
Duke's side. His head and mine were both bending over the bald head
of the wigless Duke. Then the silence was snapped by the librarian
exclaiming: "What can it mean? Why, the man had nothing to hide. His
ears are just like everybody else's."
"Yes," said Father Brown, "that is what he had to hide."
The priest walked straight up to him, but strangely enough did not even
glance at his ears. He stared with an almost comical seriousness at his
bald forehead, and pointed to a three-cornered cicatrice, long healed,
but still discernible. "Mr Green, I think." he said politely, "and he
did get the whole estate after all."
And now let me tell the readers of the Daily Reformer what I think the
most remarkable thing in the whole affair. This transformation scene,
which will seem to you as wild and purple as a Persian fairy-tale, has
been (except for my technical assault) strictly legal and constitutional
from its first beginnings. This man with the odd scar and the ordinary
ears is not an impostor. Though (in one sense) he wears another man's
wig and claims another man's ear, he has not stolen another man's
coronet. He really is the one and only Duke of Exmoor. What happened was
this. The old Duke really had a slight malformation of the ear, which
really was more or less hereditary. He really was morbid about it; and
it is likely enough that he did invoke it as a kind of curse in the
violent scene (which undoubtedly happened) in which he struck Green with
the decanter. But the contest ended very differently. Green pressed his
claim and got the estates; the dispossessed nobleman shot himself
and died without issue. After a decent interval the beautiful English
Government revived the "extinct" peerage of Exmoor, and bestowed it,
as is usual, on the most important person, the person who had got the
This man used the old feudal fables—properly, in his snobbish soul,
really envied and admired them. So that thousands of poor English people
trembled before a mysterious chieftain with an ancient destiny and
a diadem of evil stars—when they are really trembling before a
guttersnipe who was a pettifogger and a pawnbroker not twelve years ago.
I think it very typical of the real case against our aristocracy as it
is, and as it will be till God sends us braver men.
Mr Nutt put down the manuscript and called out with unusual sharpness:
"Miss Barlow, please take down a letter to Mr Finn."
DEAR FINN,—You must be mad; we can't touch this. I wanted vampires and
the bad old days and aristocracy hand-in-hand with superstition. They
like that But you must know the Exmoors would never forgive this. And
what would our people say then, I should like to know! Why, Sir Simon
is one of Exmoor's greatest pals; and it would ruin that cousin of the
Eyres that's standing for us at Bradford. Besides, old Soap-Suds was
sick enough at not getting his peerage last year; he'd sack me by wire
if I lost him it with such lunacy as this. And what about Duffey? He's
doing us some rattling articles on "The Heel of the Norman." And how
can he write about Normans if the man's only a solicitor? Do be
reasonable.—Yours, E. NUTT.
As Miss Barlow rattled away cheerfully, he crumpled up the copy
and tossed it into the waste-paper basket; but not before he had,
automatically and by force of habit, altered the word "God" to the word
EIGHT — The Perishing of the Pendragons
FATHER BROWN was in no mood for adventures. He had lately fallen ill
with over-work, and when he began to recover, his friend Flambeau had
taken him on a cruise in a small yacht with Sir Cecil Fanshaw, a young
Cornish squire and an enthusiast for Cornish coast scenery. But Brown
was still rather weak; he was no very happy sailor; and though he was
never of the sort that either grumbles or breaks down, his spirits did
not rise above patience and civility. When the other two men praised the
ragged violet sunset or the ragged volcanic crags, he agreed with them.
When Flambeau pointed out a rock shaped like a dragon, he looked at it
and thought it very like a dragon. When Fanshaw more excitedly indicated
a rock that was like Merlin, he looked at it, and signified assent. When
Flambeau asked whether this rocky gate of the twisted river was not the
gate of Fairyland, he said "Yes." He heard the most important things and
the most trivial with the same tasteless absorption. He heard that the
coast was death to all but careful seamen; he also heard that the ship's
cat was asleep. He heard that Fanshaw couldn't find his cigar-holder
anywhere; he also heard the pilot deliver the oracle "Both eyes bright,
she's all right; one eye winks, down she sinks." He heard Flambeau say
to Fanshaw that no doubt this meant the pilot must keep both eyes open
and be spry. And he heard Fanshaw say to Flambeau that, oddly enough, it
didn't mean this: it meant that while they saw two of the coast lights,
one near and the other distant, exactly side by side, they were in the
right river-channel; but that if one light was hidden behind the other,
they were going on the rocks. He heard Fanshaw add that his country was
full of such quaint fables and idioms; it was the very home of romance;
he even pitted this part of Cornwall against Devonshire, as a claimant
to the laurels of Elizabethan seamanship. According to him there had
been captains among these coves and islets compared with whom Drake was
practically a landsman. He heard Flambeau laugh, and ask if, perhaps,
the adventurous title of "Westward Ho!" only meant that all Devonshire
men wished they were living in Cornwall. He heard Fanshaw say there was
no need to be silly; that not only had Cornish captains been heroes, but
that they were heroes still: that near that very spot there was an
old admiral, now retired, who was scarred by thrilling voyages full
of adventures; and who had in his youth found the last group of eight
Pacific Islands that was added to the chart of the world. This Cecil
Fanshaw was, in person, of the kind that commonly urges such crude but
pleasing enthusiasms; a very young man, light-haired, high-coloured,
with an eager profile; with a boyish bravado of spirits, but an almost
girlish delicacy of tint and type. The big shoulders, black brows and
black mousquetaire swagger of Flambeau were a great contrast.
All these trivialities Brown heard and saw; but heard them as a tired
man hears a tune in the railway wheels, or saw them as a sick man sees
the pattern of his wall-paper. No one can calculate the turns of mood in
convalescence: but Father Brown's depression must have had a great deal
to do with his mere unfamiliarity with the sea. For as the river mouth
narrowed like the neck of a bottle, and the water grew calmer and the
air warmer and more earthly, he seemed to wake up and take notice like
a baby. They had reached that phase just after sunset when air and water
both look bright, but earth and all its growing things look almost
black by comparison. About this particular evening, however, there was
something exceptional. It was one of those rare atmospheres in which
a smoked-glass slide seems to have been slid away from between us and
Nature; so that even dark colours on that day look more gorgeous than
bright colours on cloudier days. The trampled earth of the river-banks
and the peaty stain in the pools did not look drab but glowing umber,
and the dark woods astir in the breeze did not look, as usual, dim blue
with mere depth of distance, but more like wind-tumbled masses of some
vivid violet blossom. This magic clearness and intensity in the colours
was further forced on Brown's slowly reviving senses by something
romantic and even secret in the very form of the landscape.
The river was still well wide and deep enough for a pleasure boat so
small as theirs; but the curves of the country-side suggested that it
was closing in on either hand; the woods seemed to be making broken and
flying attempts at bridge-building—as if the boat were passing from
the romance of a valley to the romance of a hollow and so to the supreme
romance of a tunnel. Beyond this mere look of things there was little
for Brown's freshening fancy to feed on; he saw no human beings, except
some gipsies trailing along the river bank, with faggots and osiers
cut in the forest; and one sight no longer unconventional, but in
such remote parts still uncommon: a dark-haired lady, bare-headed, and
paddling her own canoe. If Father Brown ever attached any importance to
either of these, he certainly forgot them at the next turn of the river
which brought in sight a singular object.
The water seemed to widen and split, being cloven by the dark wedge of
a fish-shaped and wooded islet. With the rate at which they went, the
islet seemed to swim towards them like a ship; a ship with a very high
prow—or, to speak more strictly, a very high funnel. For at the extreme
point nearest them stood up an odd-looking building, unlike anything
they could remember or connect with any purpose. It was not specially
high, but it was too high for its breadth to be called anything but a
tower. Yet it appeared to be built entirely of wood, and that in a most
unequal and eccentric way. Some of the planks and beams were of good,
seasoned oak; some of such wood cut raw and recent; some again of white
pinewood, and a great deal more of the same sort of wood painted black
with tar. These black beams were set crooked or crisscross at all kinds
of angles, giving the whole a most patchy and puzzling appearance. There
were one or two windows, which appeared to be coloured and leaded in an
old-fashioned but more elaborate style. The travellers looked at it with
that paradoxical feeling we have when something reminds us of something,
and yet we are certain it is something very different.
Father Brown, even when he was mystified, was clever in analysing his
own mystification. And he found himself reflecting that the oddity
seemed to consist in a particular shape cut out in an incongruous
material; as if one saw a top-hat made of tin, or a frock-coat cut out
of tartan. He was sure he had seen timbers of different tints arranged
like that somewhere, but never in such architectural proportions. The
next moment a glimpse through the dark trees told him all he wanted to
know and he laughed. Through a gap in the foliage there appeared for a
moment one of those old wooden houses, faced with black beams, which are
still to be found here and there in England, but which most of us see
imitated in some show called "Old London" or "Shakespeare's England'.
It was in view only long enough for the priest to see that, however
old-fashioned, it was a comfortable and well-kept country-house, with
flower-beds in front of it. It had none of the piebald and crazy look of
the tower that seemed made out of its refuse.
"What on earth's this?" said Flambeau, who was still staring at the
Fanshaw's eyes were shining, and he spoke triumphantly. "Aha! you've not
seen a place quite like this before, I fancy; that's why I've brought
you here, my friend. Now you shall see whether I exaggerate about the
mariners of Cornwall. This place belongs to Old Pendragon, whom we call
the Admiral; though he retired before getting the rank. The spirit of
Raleigh and Hawkins is a memory with the Devon folk; it's a modern fact
with the Pendragons. If Queen Elizabeth were to rise from the grave
and come up this river in a gilded barge, she would be received by
the Admiral in a house exactly such as she was accustomed to, in every
corner and casement, in every panel on the wall or plate on the table.
And she would find an English Captain still talking fiercely of fresh
lands to be found in little ships, as much as if she had dined with
"She'd find a rum sort of thing in the garden," said Father Brown,
"which would not please her Renaissance eye. That Elizabethan domestic
architecture is charming in its way; but it's against the very nature of
it to break out into turrets."
"And yet," answered Fanshaw, "that's the most romantic and Elizabethan
part of the business. It was built by the Pendragons in the very days
of the Spanish wars; and though it's needed patching and even rebuilding
for another reason, it's always been rebuilt in the old way. The story
goes that the lady of Sir Peter Pendragon built it in this place and
to this height, because from the top you can just see the corner where
vessels turn into the river mouth; and she wished to be the first to see
her husband's ship, as he sailed home from the Spanish Main."
"For what other reason," asked Father Brown, "do you mean that it has
"Oh, there's a strange story about that, too," said the young squire
with relish. "You are really in a land of strange stories. King Arthur
was here and Merlin and the fairies before him. The story goes that Sir
Peter Pendragon, who (I fear) had some of the faults of the pirates
as well as the virtues of the sailor, was bringing home three Spanish
gentlemen in honourable captivity, intending to escort them to
Elizabeth's court. But he was a man of flaming and tigerish temper, and
coming to high words with one of them, he caught him by the throat and
flung him by accident or design, into the sea. A second Spaniard, who
was the brother of the first, instantly drew his sword and flew at
Pendragon, and after a short but furious combat in which both got three
wounds in as many minutes, Pendragon drove his blade through the other's
body and the second Spaniard was accounted for. As it happened the ship
had already turned into the river mouth and was close to comparatively
shallow water. The third Spaniard sprang over the side of the ship,
struck out for the shore, and was soon near enough to it to stand up to
his waist in water. And turning again to face the ship, and holding
up both arms to Heaven—like a prophet calling plagues upon a wicked
city—he called out to Pendragon in a piercing and terrible voice, that
he at least was yet living, that he would go on living, that he would
live for ever; and that generation after generation the house of
Pendragon should never see him or his, but should know by very certain
signs that he and his vengeance were alive. With that he dived under the
wave, and was either drowned or swam so long under water that no hair of
his head was seen afterwards."
"There's that girl in the canoe again," said Flambeau irrelevantly,
for good-looking young women would call him off any topic. "She seems
bothered by the queer tower just as we were."
Indeed, the black-haired young lady was letting her canoe float slowly
and silently past the strange islet; and was looking intently up at the
strange tower, with a strong glow of curiosity on her oval and olive
"Never mind girls," said Fanshaw impatiently, "there are plenty of them
in the world, but not many things like the Pendragon Tower. As you may
easily suppose, plenty of superstitions and scandals have followed in
the track of the Spaniard's curse; and no doubt, as you would put it,
any accident happening to this Cornish family would be connected with
it by rural credulity. But it is perfectly true that this tower has been
burnt down two or three times; and the family can't be called lucky,
for more than two, I think, of the Admiral's near kin have perished by
shipwreck; and one at least, to my own knowledge, on practically the
same spot where Sir Peter threw the Spaniard overboard."
"What a pity!" exclaimed Flambeau. "She's going."
"When did your friend the Admiral tell you this family history?" asked
Father Brown, as the girl in the canoe paddled off, without showing the
least intention of extending her interest from the tower to the yacht,
which Fanshaw had already caused to lie alongside the island.
"Many years ago," replied Fanshaw; "he hasn't been to sea for some time
now, though he is as keen on it as ever. I believe there's a family
compact or something. Well, here's the landing stage; let's come ashore
and see the old boy."
They followed him on to the island, just under the tower, and Father
Brown, whether from the mere touch of dry land, or the interest of
something on the other bank of the river (which he stared at very hard
for some seconds), seemed singularly improved in briskness. They entered
a wooded avenue between two fences of thin greyish wood, such as often
enclose parks or gardens, and over the top of which the dark trees
tossed to and fro like black and purple plumes upon the hearse of a
giant. The tower, as they left it behind, looked all the quainter,
because such entrances are usually flanked by two towers; and this one
looked lopsided. But for this, the avenue had the usual appearance of
the entrance to a gentleman's grounds; and, being so curved that the
house was now out of sight, somehow looked a much larger park than any
plantation on such an island could really be. Father Brown was, perhaps,
a little fanciful in his fatigue, but he almost thought the whole place
must be growing larger, as things do in a nightmare. Anyhow, a mystical
monotony was the only character of their march, until Fanshaw suddenly
stopped, and pointed to something sticking out through the grey
fence—something that looked at first rather like the imprisoned horn
of some beast. Closer observation showed that it was a slightly curved
blade of metal that shone faintly in the fading light.
Flambeau, who like all Frenchmen had been a soldier, bent over it and
said in a startled voice: "Why, it's a sabre! I believe I know the sort,
heavy and curved, but shorter than the cavalry; they used to have them
in artillery and the—"
As he spoke the blade plucked itself out of the crack it had made and
came down again with a more ponderous slash, splitting the fissiparous
fence to the bottom with a rending noise. Then it was pulled out again,
flashed above the fence some feet further along, and again split it
halfway down with the first stroke; and after waggling a little to
extricate itself (accompanied with curses in the darkness) split it down
to the ground with a second. Then a kick of devilish energy sent the
whole loosened square of thin wood flying into the pathway, and a great
gap of dark coppice gaped in the paling.
Fanshaw peered into the dark opening and uttered an exclamation of
astonishment. "My dear Admiral!" he exclaimed, "do you—er—do you
generally cut out a new front door whenever you want to go for a walk?"
The voice in the gloom swore again, and then broke into a jolly laugh.
"No," it said; "I've really got to cut down this fence somehow; it's
spoiling all the plants, and no one else here can do it. But I'll only
carve another bit off the front door, and then come out and welcome
And sure enough, he heaved up his weapon once more, and, hacking twice,
brought down another and similar strip of fence, making the opening
about fourteen feet wide in all. Then through this larger forest gateway
he came out into the evening light, with a chip of grey wood sticking to
He momentarily fulfilled all Fanshaw's fable of an old piratical
Admiral; though the details seemed afterwards to decompose into
accidents. For instance, he wore a broad-brimmed hat as protection
against the sun; but the front flap of it was turned up straight to the
sky, and the two corners pulled down lower than the ears, so that it
stood across his forehead in a crescent like the old cocked hat worn by
Nelson. He wore an ordinary dark-blue jacket, with nothing special about
the buttons, but the combination of it with white linen trousers somehow
had a sailorish look. He was tall and loose, and walked with a sort of
swagger, which was not a sailor's roll, and yet somehow suggested it;
and he held in his hand a short sabre which was like a navy cutlass, but
about twice as big. Under the bridge of the hat his eagle face looked
eager, all the more because it was not only clean-shaven, but without
eyebrows. It seemed almost as if all the hair had come off his face from
his thrusting it through a throng of elements. His eyes were prominent
and piercing. His colour was curiously attractive, while partly
tropical; it reminded one vaguely of a blood-orange. That is, that while
it was ruddy and sanguine, there was a yellow in it that was in no
way sickly, but seemed rather to glow like gold apples of the
Hesperides—Father Brown thought he had never seen a figure so
expressive of all the romances about the countries of the Sun.
When Fanshaw had presented his two friends to their host he fell again
into a tone of rallying the latter about his wreckage of the fence and
his apparent rage of profanity. The Admiral pooh-poohed it at first as
a piece of necessary but annoying garden work; but at length the ring of
real energy came back into his laughter, and he cried with a mixture of
impatience and good humour:
"Well, perhaps I do go at it a bit rabidly, and feel a kind of pleasure
in smashing anything. So would you if your only pleasure was in cruising
about to find some new Cannibal Islands, and you had to stick on this
muddy little rockery in a sort of rustic pond. When I remember how I've
cut down a mile and a half of green poisonous jungle with an old cutlass
half as sharp as this; and then remember I must stop here and chop this
matchwood, because of some confounded old bargain scribbled in a family
Bible, why, I—"
He swung up the heavy steel again; and this time sundered the wall of
wood from top to bottom at one stroke.
"I feel like that," he said laughing, but furiously flinging the sword
some yards down the path, "and now let's go up to the house; you must
have some dinner."
The semicircle of lawn in front of the house was varied by three
circular garden beds, one of red tulips, a second of yellow tulips, and
the third of some white, waxen-looking blossoms that the visitors
did not know and presumed to be exotic. A heavy, hairy and rather
sullen-looking gardener was hanging up a heavy coil of garden hose. The
corners of the expiring sunset which seemed to cling about the corners
of the house gave glimpses here and there of the colours of remoter
flowerbeds; and in a treeless space on one side of the house opening
upon the river stood a tall brass tripod on which was tilted a big brass
telescope. Just outside the steps of the porch stood a little painted
green garden table, as if someone had just had tea there. The entrance
was flanked with two of those half-featured lumps of stone with holes
for eyes that are said to be South Sea idols; and on the brown oak beam
across the doorway were some confused carvings that looked almost as
As they passed indoors, the little cleric hopped suddenly on to the
table, and standing on it peered unaffectedly through his spectacles at
the mouldings in the oak. Admiral Pendragon looked very much astonished,
though not particularly annoyed; while Fanshaw was so amused with what
looked like a performing pigmy on his little stand, that he could not
control his laughter. But Father Brown was not likely to notice either
the laughter or the astonishment.
He was gazing at three carved symbols, which, though very worn and
obscure, seemed still to convey some sense to him. The first seemed to
be the outline of some tower or other building, crowned with what looked
like curly-pointed ribbons. The second was clearer: an old Elizabethan
galley with decorative waves beneath it, but interrupted in the middle
by a curious jagged rock, which was either a fault in the wood or
some conventional representation of the water coming in. The third
represented the upper half of a human figure, ending in an escalloped
line like the waves; the face was rubbed and featureless, and both arms
were held very stiffly up in the air.
"Well," muttered Father Brown, blinking, "here is the legend of the
Spaniard plain enough. Here he is holding up his arms and cursing in the
sea; and here are the two curses: the wrecked ship and the burning of
Pendragon shook his head with a kind of venerable amusement. "And how
many other things might it not be?" he said. "Don't you know that that
sort of half-man, like a half-lion or half-stag, is quite common
in heraldry? Might not that line through the ship be one of those
parti-per-pale lines, indented, I think they call it? And though the
third thing isn't so very heraldic, it would be more heraldic to suppose
it a tower crowned with laurel than with fire; and it looks just as like
"But it seems rather odd," said Flambeau, "that it should exactly
confirm the old legend."
"Ah," replied the sceptical traveller, "but you don't know how much of
the old legend may have been made up from the old figures. Besides, it
isn't the only old legend. Fanshaw, here, who is fond of such things,
will tell you there are other versions of the tale, and much more
horrible ones. One story credits my unfortunate ancestor with having
had the Spaniard cut in two; and that will fit the pretty picture also.
Another obligingly credits our family with the possession of a tower
full of snakes and explains those little, wriggly things in that
way. And a third theory supposes the crooked line on the ship to be a
conventionalized thunderbolt; but that alone, if seriously examined,
would show what a very little way these unhappy coincidences really go."
"Why, how do you mean?" asked Fanshaw.
"It so happens," replied his host coolly, "that there was no thunder
and lightning at all in the two or three shipwrecks I know of in our
"Oh!" said Father Brown, and jumped down from the little table.
There was another silence in which they heard the continuous murmur of
the river; then Fanshaw said, in a doubtful and perhaps disappointed
tone: "Then you don't think there is anything in the tales of the tower
"There are the tales, of course," said the Admiral, shrugging his
shoulders; "and some of them, I don't deny, on evidence as decent as
one ever gets for such things. Someone saw a blaze hereabout, don't you
know, as he walked home through a wood; someone keeping sheep on the
uplands inland thought he saw a flame hovering over Pendragon Tower.
Well, a damp dab of mud like this confounded island seems the last place
where one would think of fires."
"What is that fire over there?" asked Father Brown with a gentle
suddenness, pointing to the woods on the left river-bank. They were all
thrown a little off their balance, and the more fanciful Fanshaw had
even some difficulty in recovering his, as they saw a long, thin stream
of blue smoke ascending silently into the end of the evening light.
Then Pendragon broke into a scornful laugh again. "Gipsies!" he said;
"they've been camping about here for about a week. Gentlemen, you want
your dinner," and he turned as if to enter the house.
But the antiquarian superstition in Fanshaw was still quivering, and he
said hastily: "But, Admiral, what's that hissing noise quite near the
island? It's very like fire."
"It's more like what it is," said the Admiral, laughing as he led the
way; "it's only some canoe going by."
Almost as he spoke, the butler, a lean man in black, with very black
hair and a very long, yellow face, appeared in the doorway and told him
that dinner was served.
The dining-room was as nautical as the cabin of a ship; but its note
was rather that of the modern than the Elizabethan captain. There were,
indeed, three antiquated cutlasses in a trophy over the fireplace, and
one brown sixteenth-century map with Tritons and little ships dotted
about a curly sea. But such things were less prominent on the white
panelling than some cases of quaint-coloured South American birds, very
scientifically stuffed, fantastic shells from the Pacific, and several
instruments so rude and queer in shape that savages might have used
them either to kill their enemies or to cook them. But the alien colour
culminated in the fact that, besides the butler, the Admiral's only
servants were two negroes, somewhat quaintly clad in tight uniforms of
yellow. The priest's instinctive trick of analysing his own impressions
told him that the colour and the little neat coat-tails of these bipeds
had suggested the word "Canary," and so by a mere pun connected them
with southward travel. Towards the end of the dinner they took their
yellow clothes and black faces out of the room, leaving only the black
clothes and yellow face of the butler.
"I'm rather sorry you take this so lightly," said Fanshaw to the host;
"for the truth is, I've brought these friends of mine with the idea of
their helping you, as they know a good deal of these things. Don't you
really believe in the family story at all?"
"I don't believe in anything," answered Pendragon very briskly, with a
bright eye cocked at a red tropical bird. "I'm a man of science."
Rather to Flambeau's surprise, his clerical friend, who seemed to have
entirely woken up, took up the digression and talked natural history
with his host with a flow of words and much unexpected information,
until the dessert and decanters were set down and the last of the
servants vanished. Then he said, without altering his tone.
"Please don't think me impertinent, Admiral Pendragon. I don't ask for
curiosity, but really for my guidance and your convenience. Have I made
a bad shot if I guess you don't want these old things talked of before
The Admiral lifted the hairless arches over his eyes and exclaimed:
"Well, I don't know where you got it, but the truth is I can't stand the
fellow, though I've no excuse for discharging a family servant. Fanshaw,
with his fairy tales, would say my blood moved against men with that
black, Spanish-looking hair."
Flambeau struck the table with his heavy fist. "By Jove!" he cried; "and
so had that girl!"
"I hope it'll all end tonight," continued the Admiral, "when my
nephew comes back safe from his ship. You looked surprised. You won't
understand, I suppose, unless I tell you the story. You see, my father
had two sons; I remained a bachelor, but my elder brother married, and
had a son who became a sailor like all the rest of us, and will inherit
the proper estate. Well, my father was a strange man; he somehow
combined Fanshaw's superstition with a good deal of my scepticism—they
were always fighting in him; and after my first voyages, he developed a
notion which he thought somehow would settle finally whether the curse
was truth or trash. If all the Pendragons sailed about anyhow, he
thought there would be too much chance of natural catastrophes to
prove anything. But if we went to sea one at a time in strict order
of succession to the property, he thought it might show whether any
connected fate followed the family as a family. It was a silly notion,
I think, and I quarrelled with my father pretty heartily; for I was an
ambitious man and was left to the last, coming, by succession, after my
"And your father and brother," said the priest, very gently, "died at
sea, I fear."
"Yes," groaned the Admiral; "by one of those brutal accidents on
which are built all the lying mythologies of mankind, they were both
shipwrecked. My father, coming up this coast out of the Atlantic, was
washed up on these Cornish rocks. My brother's ship was sunk, no one
knows where, on the voyage home from Tasmania. His body was never found.
I tell you it was from perfectly natural mishap; lots of other people
besides Pendragons were drowned; and both disasters are discussed in
a normal way by navigators. But, of course, it set this forest of
superstition on fire; and men saw the flaming tower everywhere. That's
why I say it will be all right when Walter returns. The girl he's
engaged to was coming today; but I was so afraid of some chance delay
frightening her that I wired her not to come till she heard from me. But
he's practically sure to be here some time tonight, and then it'll all
end in smoke—tobacco smoke. We'll crack that old lie when we crack a
bottle of this wine."
"Very good wine," said Father Brown, gravely lifting his glass, "but, as
you see, a very bad wine-bibber. I most sincerely beg your pardon": for
he had spilt a small spot of wine on the table-cloth. He drank and put
down the glass with a composed face; but his hand had started at the
exact moment when he became conscious of a face looking in through the
garden window just behind the Admiral—the face of a woman, swarthy,
with southern hair and eyes, and young, but like a mask of tragedy.
After a pause the priest spoke again in his mild manner. "Admiral," he
said, "will you do me a favour? Let me, and my friends if they like,
stop in that tower of yours just for tonight? Do you know that in my
business you're an exorcist almost before anything else?"
Pendragon sprang to his feet and paced swiftly to and fro across the
window, from which the face had instantly vanished. "I tell you there is
nothing in it," he cried, with ringing violence. "There is one thing I
know about this matter. You may call me an atheist. I am an atheist."
Here he swung round and fixed Father Brown with a face of frightful
concentration. "This business is perfectly natural. There is no curse in
it at all."
Father Brown smiled. "In that case," he said, "there can't be any
objection to my sleeping in your delightful summer-house."
"The idea is utterly ridiculous," replied the Admiral, beating a tattoo
on the back of his chair.
"Please forgive me for everything," said Brown in his most sympathetic
tone, "including spilling the wine. But it seems to me you are not quite
so easy about the flaming tower as you try to be."
Admiral Pendragon sat down again as abruptly as he had risen; but he sat
quite still, and when he spoke again it was in a lower voice. "You do
it at your own peril," he said; "but wouldn't you be an atheist to keep
sane in all this devilry?"
Some three hours afterwards Fanshaw, Flambeau and the priest were still
dawdling about the garden in the dark; and it began to dawn on the other
two that Father Brown had no intention of going to bed either in the
tower or the house.
"I think the lawn wants weeding," said he dreamily. "If I could find a
spud or something I'd do it myself."
They followed him, laughing and half remonstrating; but he replied with
the utmost solemnity, explaining to them, in a maddening little sermon,
that one can always find some small occupation that is helpful to
others. He did not find a spud; but he found an old broom made of twigs,
with which he began energetically to brush the fallen leaves off the
"Always some little thing to be done," he said with idiotic
cheerfulness; "as George Herbert says: 'Who sweeps an Admiral's garden
in Cornwall as for Thy laws makes that and the action fine.' And now,"
he added, suddenly slinging the broom away, "Let's go and water the
With the same mixed emotions they watched him uncoil some considerable
lengths of the large garden hose, saying with an air of wistful
discrimination: "The red tulips before the yellow, I think. Look a bit
dry, don't you think?"
He turned the little tap on the instrument, and the water shot out
straight and solid as a long rod of steel.
"Look out, Samson," cried Flambeau; "why, you've cut off the tulip's
Father Brown stood ruefully contemplating the decapitated plant.
"Mine does seem to be a rather kill or cure sort of watering," he
admitted, scratching his head. "I suppose it's a pity I didn't find the
spud. You should have seen me with the spud! Talking of tools, you've
got that swordstick, Flambeau, you always carry? That's right; and Sir
Cecil could have that sword the Admiral threw away by the fence here.
How grey everything looks!"
"The mist's rising from the river," said the staring Flambeau.
Almost as he spoke the huge figure of the hairy gardener appeared on
a higher ridge of the trenched and terraced lawn, hailing them with a
brandished rake and a horribly bellowing voice. "Put down that hose," he
shouted; "put down that hose and go to your—"
"I am fearfully clumsy," replied the reverend gentleman weakly; "do
you know, I upset some wine at dinner." He made a wavering half-turn of
apology towards the gardener, with the hose still spouting in his hand.
The gardener caught the cold crash of the water full in his face like
the crash of a cannon-ball; staggered, slipped and went sprawling with
his boots in the air.
"How very dreadful!" said Father Brown, looking round in a sort of
wonder. "Why, I've hit a man!"
He stood with his head forward for a moment as if looking or listening;
and then set off at a trot towards the tower, still trailing the hose
behind him. The tower was quite close, but its outline was curiously
"Your river mist," he said, "has a rum smell."
"By the Lord it has," cried Fanshaw, who was very white. "But you can't
"I mean," said Father Brown, "that one of the Admiral's scientific
predictions is coming true tonight. This story is going to end in
As he spoke a most beautiful rose-red light seemed to burst into blossom
like a gigantic rose; but accompanied with a crackling and rattling
noise that was like the laughter of devils.
"My God! what is this?" cried Sir Cecil Fanshaw.
"The sign of the flaming tower," said Father Brown, and sent the driving
water from his hose into the heart of the red patch.
"Lucky we hadn't gone to bed!" ejaculated Fanshaw. "I suppose it can't
spread to the house."
"You may remember," said the priest quietly, "that the wooden fence that
might have carried it was cut away."
Flambeau turned electrified eyes upon his friend, but Fanshaw only said
rather absently: "Well, nobody can be killed, anyhow."
"This is rather a curious kind of tower," observed Father Brown, "when
it takes to killing people, it always kills people who are somewhere
At the same instant the monstrous figure of the gardener with the
streaming beard stood again on the green ridge against the sky, waving
others to come on; but now waving not a rake but a cutlass. Behind him
came the two negroes, also with the old crooked cutlasses out of the
trophy. But in the blood-red glare, with their black faces and yellow
figures, they looked like devils carrying instruments of torture. In
the dim garden behind them a distant voice was heard calling out brief
directions. When the priest heard the voice, a terrible change came over
But he remained composed; and never took his eye off the patch of flame
which had begun by spreading, but now seemed to shrink a little as it
hissed under the torch of the long silver spear of water. He kept his
finger along the nozzle of the pipe to ensure the aim, and attended to
no other business, knowing only by the noise and that semi-conscious
corner of the eye, the exciting incidents that began to tumble
themselves about the island garden. He gave two brief directions to his
friends. One was: "Knock these fellows down somehow and tie them up,
whoever they are; there's rope down by those faggots. They want to take
away my nice hose." The other was: "As soon as you get a chance, call
out to that canoeing girl; she's over on the bank with the gipsies. Ask
her if they could get some buckets across and fill them from the river."
Then he closed his mouth and continued to water the new red flower as
ruthlessly as he had watered the red tulip.
He never turned his head to look at the strange fight that followed
between the foes and friends of the mysterious fire. He almost felt the
island shake when Flambeau collided with the huge gardener; he merely
imagined how it would whirl round them as they wrestled. He heard the
crashing fall; and his friend's gasp of triumph as he dashed on to the
first negro; and the cries of both the blacks as Flambeau and Fanshaw
bound them. Flambeau's enormous strength more than redressed the odds
in the fight, especially as the fourth man still hovered near the house,
only a shadow and a voice. He heard also the water broken by the paddles
of a canoe; the girl's voice giving orders, the voices of gipsies
answering and coming nearer, the plumping and sucking noise of empty
buckets plunged into a full stream; and finally the sound of many feet
around the fire. But all this was less to him than the fact that the
red rent, which had lately once more increased, had once more slightly
Then came a cry that very nearly made him turn his head. Flambeau and
Fanshaw, now reinforced by some of the gipsies, had rushed after the
mysterious man by the house; and he heard from the other end of the
garden the Frenchman's cry of horror and astonishment. It was echoed by
a howl not to be called human, as the being broke from their hold and
ran along the garden. Three times at least it raced round the whole
island, in a way that was as horrible as the chase of a lunatic, both in
the cries of the pursued and the ropes carried by the pursuers; but was
more horrible still, because it somehow suggested one of the chasing
games of children in a garden. Then, finding them closing in on
every side, the figure sprang upon one of the higher river banks and
disappeared with a splash into the dark and driving river.
"You can do no more, I fear," said Brown in a voice cold with pain.
"He has been washed down to the rocks by now, where he has sent so many
others. He knew the use of a family legend."
"Oh, don't talk in these parables," cried Flambeau impatiently. "Can't
you put it simply in words of one syllable?"
"Yes," answered Brown, with his eye on the hose. "'Both eyes bright,
she's all right; one eye blinks, down she sinks.'"
The fire hissed and shrieked more and more, like a strangled thing, as
it grew narrower and narrower under the flood from the pipe and buckets,
but Father Brown still kept his eye on it as he went on speaking:
"I thought of asking this young lady, if it were morning yet, to look
through that telescope at the river mouth and the river. She might
have seen something to interest her: the sign of the ship, or Mr Walter
Pendragon coming home, and perhaps even the sign of the half-man, for
though he is certainly safe by now, he may very well have waded ashore.
He has been within a shave of another shipwreck; and would never
have escaped it, if the lady hadn't had the sense to suspect the old
Admiral's telegram and come down to watch him. Don't let's talk about
the old Admiral. Don't let's talk about anything. It's enough to say
that whenever this tower, with its pitch and resin-wood, really caught
fire, the spark on the horizon always looked like the twin light to the
"And that," said Flambeau, "is how the father and brother died. The
wicked uncle of the legends very nearly got his estate after all."
Father Brown did not answer; indeed, he did not speak again, save for
civilities, till they were all safe round a cigar-box in the cabin of
the yacht. He saw that the frustrated fire was extinguished; and then
refused to linger, though he actually heard young Pendragon, escorted by
an enthusiastic crowd, come tramping up the river bank; and might (had
he been moved by romantic curiosities) have received the combined thanks
of the man from the ship and the girl from the canoe. But his fatigue
had fallen on him once more, and he only started once, when Flambeau
abruptly told him he had dropped cigar-ash on his trousers.
"That's no cigar-ash," he said rather wearily. "That's from the fire,
but you don't think so because you're all smoking cigars. That's just
the way I got my first faint suspicion about the chart."
"Do you mean Pendragon's chart of his Pacific Islands?" asked Fanshaw.
"You thought it was a chart of the Pacific Islands," answered Brown.
"Put a feather with a fossil and a bit of coral and everyone will think
it's a specimen. Put the same feather with a ribbon and an artificial
flower and everyone will think it's for a lady's hat. Put the same
feather with an ink-bottle, a book and a stack of writing-paper, and
most men will swear they've seen a quill pen. So you saw that map among
tropic birds and shells and thought it was a map of Pacific Islands. It
was the map of this river."
"But how do you know?" asked Fanshaw.
"I saw the rock you thought was like a dragon, and the one like Merlin,
"You seem to have noticed a lot as we came in," cried Fanshaw. "We
thought you were rather abstracted."
"I was sea-sick," said Father Brown simply. "I felt simply horrible.
But feeling horrible has nothing to do with not seeing things." And he
closed his eyes.
"Do you think most men would have seen that?" asked Flambeau. He
received no answer: Father Brown was asleep.
NINE — The God of the Gongs
IT was one of those chilly and empty afternoons in early winter, when
the daylight is silver rather than gold and pewter rather than silver.
If it was dreary in a hundred bleak offices and yawning drawing-rooms,
it was drearier still along the edges of the flat Essex coast, where the
monotony was the more inhuman for being broken at very long intervals
by a lamp-post that looked less civilized than a tree, or a tree that
looked more ugly than a lamp-post. A light fall of snow had half-melted
into a few strips, also looking leaden rather than silver, when it had
been fixed again by the seal of frost; no fresh snow had fallen, but a
ribbon of the old snow ran along the very margin of the coast, so as to
parallel the pale ribbon of the foam.
The line of the sea looked frozen in the very vividness of its
violet-blue, like the vein of a frozen finger. For miles and miles,
forward and back, there was no breathing soul, save two pedestrians,
walking at a brisk pace, though one had much longer legs and took much
longer strides than the other.
It did not seem a very appropriate place or time for a holiday, but
Father Brown had few holidays, and had to take them when he could, and
he always preferred, if possible, to take them in company with his old
friend Flambeau, ex-criminal and ex-detective. The priest had had
a fancy for visiting his old parish at Cobhole, and was going
north-eastward along the coast.
After walking a mile or two farther, they found that the shore was
beginning to be formally embanked, so as to form something like a
parade; the ugly lamp-posts became less few and far between and more
ornamental, though quite equally ugly. Half a mile farther on Father
Brown was puzzled first by little labyrinths of flowerless flower-pots,
covered with the low, flat, quiet-coloured plants that look less like
a garden than a tessellated pavement, between weak curly paths studded
with seats with curly backs. He faintly sniffed the atmosphere of a
certain sort of seaside town that he did not specially care about, and,
looking ahead along the parade by the sea, he saw something that put
the matter beyond a doubt. In the grey distance the big bandstand of a
watering-place stood up like a giant mushroom with six legs.
"I suppose," said Father Brown, turning up his coat-collar and drawing
a woollen scarf rather closer round his neck, "that we are approaching a
"I fear," answered Flambeau, "a pleasure resort to which few people just
now have the pleasure of resorting. They try to revive these places in
the winter, but it never succeeds except with Brighton and the old ones.
This must be Seawood, I think—Lord Pooley's experiment; he had the
Sicilian Singers down at Christmas, and there's talk about holding one
of the great glove-fights here. But they'll have to chuck the rotten
place into the sea; it's as dreary as a lost railway-carriage."
They had come under the big bandstand, and the priest was looking up at
it with a curiosity that had something rather odd about it, his head
a little on one side, like a bird's. It was the conventional, rather
tawdry kind of erection for its purpose: a flattened dome or canopy,
gilt here and there, and lifted on six slender pillars of painted wood,
the whole being raised about five feet above the parade on a round
wooden platform like a drum. But there was something fantastic about
the snow combined with something artificial about the gold that haunted
Flambeau as well as his friend with some association he could not
capture, but which he knew was at once artistic and alien.
"I've got it," he said at last. "It's Japanese. It's like those fanciful
Japanese prints, where the snow on the mountain looks like sugar, and
the gilt on the pagodas is like gilt on gingerbread. It looks just like
a little pagan temple."
"Yes," said Father Brown. "Let's have a look at the god." And with an
agility hardly to be expected of him, he hopped up on to the raised
"Oh, very well," said Flambeau, laughing; and the next instant his own
towering figure was visible on that quaint elevation.
Slight as was the difference of height, it gave in those level wastes a
sense of seeing yet farther and farther across land and sea. Inland the
little wintry gardens faded into a confused grey copse; beyond that, in
the distance, were long low barns of a lonely farmhouse, and beyond that
nothing but the long East Anglian plains. Seawards there was no sail
or sign of life save a few seagulls: and even they looked like the last
snowflakes, and seemed to float rather than fly.
Flambeau turned abruptly at an exclamation behind him. It seemed to come
from lower down than might have been expected, and to be addressed to
his heels rather than his head. He instantly held out his hand, but he
could hardly help laughing at what he saw. For some reason or other the
platform had given way under Father Brown, and the unfortunate little
man had dropped through to the level of the parade. He was just tall
enough, or short enough, for his head alone to stick out of the hole in
the broken wood, looking like St John the Baptist's head on a charger.
The face wore a disconcerted expression, as did, perhaps, that of St
John the Baptist.
In a moment he began to laugh a little. "This wood must be rotten," said
Flambeau. "Though it seems odd it should bear me, and you go through the
weak place. Let me help you out."
But the little priest was looking rather curiously at the corners and
edges of the wood alleged to be rotten, and there was a sort of trouble
on his brow.
"Come along," cried Flambeau impatiently, still with his big brown hand
extended. "Don't you want to get out?"
The priest was holding a splinter of the broken wood between his finger
and thumb, and did not immediately reply. At last he said thoughtfully:
"Want to get out? Why, no. I rather think I want to get in." And he
dived into the darkness under the wooden floor so abruptly as to knock
off his big curved clerical hat and leave it lying on the boards above,
without any clerical head in it.
Flambeau looked once more inland and out to sea, and once more could see
nothing but seas as wintry as the snow, and snows as level as the sea.
There came a scurrying noise behind him, and the little priest came
scrambling out of the hole faster than he had fallen in. His face was no
longer disconcerted, but rather resolute, and, perhaps only through the
reflections of the snow, a trifle paler than usual.
"Well?" asked his tall friend. "Have you found the god of the temple?"
"No," answered Father Brown. "I have found what was sometimes more
important. The Sacrifice."
"What the devil do you mean?" cried Flambeau, quite alarmed.
Father Brown did not answer. He was staring, with a knot in his
forehead, at the landscape; and he suddenly pointed at it. "What's that
house over there?" he asked.
Following his finger, Flambeau saw for the first time the corners of a
building nearer than the farmhouse, but screened for the most part with
a fringe of trees. It was not a large building, and stood well back from
the shore—, but a glint of ornament on it suggested that it was part
of the same watering-place scheme of decoration as the bandstand, the
little gardens and the curly-backed iron seats.
Father Brown jumped off the bandstand, his friend following; and as they
walked in the direction indicated the trees fell away to right and
left, and they saw a small, rather flashy hotel, such as is common in
resorts—the hotel of the Saloon Bar rather than the Bar Parlour. Almost
the whole frontage was of gilt plaster and figured glass, and between
that grey seascape and the grey, witch-like trees, its gimcrack quality
had something spectral in its melancholy. They both felt vaguely that
if any food or drink were offered at such a hostelry, it would be the
paste-board ham and empty mug of the pantomime.
In this, however, they were not altogether confirmed. As they drew
nearer and nearer to the place they saw in front of the buffet, which
was apparently closed, one of the iron garden-seats with curly backs
that had adorned the gardens, but much longer, running almost the whole
length of the frontage. Presumably, it was placed so that visitors might
sit there and look at the sea, but one hardly expected to find anyone
doing it in such weather.
Nevertheless, just in front of the extreme end of the iron seat stood
a small round restaurant table, and on this stood a small bottle of
Chablis and a plate of almonds and raisins. Behind the table and on the
seat sat a dark-haired young man, bareheaded, and gazing at the sea in a
state of almost astonishing immobility.
But though he might have been a waxwork when they were within four yards
of him, he jumped up like a jack-in-the-box when they came within three,
and said in a deferential, though not undignified, manner: "Will you
step inside, gentlemen? I have no staff at present, but I can get you
anything simple myself."
"Much obliged," said Flambeau. "So you are the proprietor?"
"Yes," said the dark man, dropping back a little into his motionless
manner. "My waiters are all Italians, you see, and I thought it only
fair they should see their countryman beat the black, if he really can
do it. You know the great fight between Malvoli and Nigger Ned is coming
off after all?"
"I'm afraid we can't wait to trouble your hospitality seriously," said
Father Brown. "But my friend would be glad of a glass of sherry, I'm
sure, to keep out the cold and drink success to the Latin champion."
Flambeau did not understand the sherry, but he did not object to it in
the least. He could only say amiably: "Oh, thank you very much."
"Sherry, sir—certainly," said their host, turning to his hostel.
"Excuse me if I detain you a few minutes. As I told you, I have no
staff—" And he went towards the black windows of his shuttered and
"Oh, it doesn't really matter," began Flambeau, but the man turned to
"I have the keys," he said. "I could find my way in the dark."
"I didn't mean—" began Father Brown.
He was interrupted by a bellowing human voice that came out of the
bowels of the uninhabited hotel. It thundered some foreign name loudly
but inaudibly, and the hotel proprietor moved more sharply towards it
than he had done for Flambeau's sherry. As instant evidence proved, the
proprietor had told, then and after, nothing but the literal truth. But
both Flambeau and Father Brown have often confessed that, in all their
(often outrageous) adventures, nothing had so chilled their blood as
that voice of an ogre, sounding suddenly out of a silent and empty inn.
"My cook!" cried the proprietor hastily. "I had forgotten my cook. He
will be starting presently. Sherry, sir?"
And, sure enough, there appeared in the doorway a big white bulk with
white cap and white apron, as befits a cook, but with the needless
emphasis of a black face. Flambeau had often heard that negroes made
good cooks. But somehow something in the contrast of colour and caste
increased his surprise that the hotel proprietor should answer the
call of the cook, and not the cook the call of the proprietor. But he
reflected that head cooks are proverbially arrogant; and, besides, the
host had come back with the sherry, and that was the great thing.
"I rather wonder," said Father Brown, "that there are so few people
about the beach, when this big fight is coming on after all. We only met
one man for miles."
The hotel proprietor shrugged his shoulders. "They come from the other
end of the town, you see—from the station, three miles from here. They
are only interested in the sport, and will stop in hotels for the night
only. After all, it is hardly weather for basking on the shore."
"Or on the seat," said Flambeau, and pointed to the little table.
"I have to keep a look-out," said the man with the motionless face. He
was a quiet, well-featured fellow, rather sallow; his dark clothes had
nothing distinctive about them, except that his black necktie was worn
rather high, like a stock, and secured by a gold pin with some grotesque
head to it. Nor was there anything notable in the face, except something
that was probably a mere nervous trick—a habit of opening one eye
more narrowly than the other, giving the impression that the other was
larger, or was, perhaps, artificial.
The silence that ensued was broken by their host saying quietly:
"Whereabouts did you meet the one man on your march?"
"Curiously enough," answered the priest, "close by here—just by that
Flambeau, who had sat on the long iron seat to finish his sherry, put it
down and rose to his feet, staring at his friend in amazement. He opened
his mouth to speak, and then shut it again.
"Curious," said the dark-haired man thoughtfully. "What was he like?"
"It was rather dark when I saw him," began Father Brown, "but he was—"
As has been said, the hotel-keeper can be proved to have told the
precise truth. His phrase that the cook was starting presently was
fulfilled to the letter, for the cook came out, pulling his gloves on,
even as they spoke.
But he was a very different figure from the confused mass of white and
black that had appeared for an instant in the doorway. He was buttoned
and buckled up to his bursting eyeballs in the most brilliant fashion.
A tall black hat was tilted on his broad black head—a hat of the sort
that the French wit has compared to eight mirrors. But somehow the black
man was like the black hat. He also was black, and yet his glossy skin
flung back the light at eight angles or more. It is needless to say
that he wore white spats and a white slip inside his waistcoat. The red
flower stood up in his buttonhole aggressively, as if it had suddenly
grown there. And in the way he carried his cane in one hand and his
cigar in the other there was a certain attitude—an attitude we must
always remember when we talk of racial prejudices: something innocent
and insolent—the cake walk.
"Sometimes," said Flambeau, looking after him, "I'm not surprised that
they lynch them."
"I am never surprised," said Father Brown, "at any work of hell. But as
I was saying," he resumed, as the negro, still ostentatiously pulling on
his yellow gloves, betook himself briskly towards the watering-place,
a queer music-hall figure against that grey and frosty scene—"as I was
saying, I couldn't describe the man very minutely, but he had a flourish
and old-fashioned whiskers and moustachios, dark or dyed, as in the
pictures of foreign financiers, round his neck was wrapped a long purple
scarf that thrashed out in the wind as he walked. It was fixed at the
throat rather in the way that nurses fix children's comforters with a
safety-pin. Only this," added the priest, gazing placidly out to sea,
"was not a safety-pin."
The man sitting on the long iron bench was also gazing placidly out to
sea. Now he was once more in repose. Flambeau felt quite certain that
one of his eyes was naturally larger than the other. Both were now well
opened, and he could almost fancy the left eye grew larger as he gazed.
"It was a very long gold pin, and had the carved head of a monkey or
some such thing," continued the cleric; "and it was fixed in a rather
odd way—he wore pince-nez and a broad black—"
The motionless man continued to gaze at the sea, and the eyes in his
head might have belonged to two different men. Then he made a movement
of blinding swiftness.
Father Brown had his back to him, and in that flash might have fallen
dead on his face. Flambeau had no weapon, but his large brown hands were
resting on the end of the long iron seat. His shoulders abruptly altered
their shape, and he heaved the whole huge thing high over his head, like
a headsman's axe about to fall. The mere height of the thing, as he held
it vertical, looked like a long iron ladder by which he was inviting men
to climb towards the stars. But the long shadow, in the level evening
light, looked like a giant brandishing the Eiffel Tower. It was the
shock of that shadow, before the shock of the iron crash, that made the
stranger quail and dodge, and then dart into his inn, leaving the flat
and shining dagger he had dropped exactly where it had fallen.
"We must get away from here instantly," cried Flambeau, flinging the
huge seat away with furious indifference on the beach. He caught the
little priest by the elbow and ran him down a grey perspective of barren
back garden, at the end of which there was a closed back garden door.
Flambeau bent over it an instant in violent silence, and then said: "The
door is locked."
As he spoke a black feather from one of the ornamental firs fell,
brushing the brim of his hat. It startled him more than the small and
distant detonation that had come just before. Then came another distant
detonation, and the door he was trying to open shook under the bullet
buried in it. Flambeau's shoulders again filled out and altered
suddenly. Three hinges and a lock burst at the same instant, and he went
out into the empty path behind, carrying the great garden door with him,
as Samson carried the gates of Gaza.
Then he flung the garden door over the garden wall, just as a third shot
picked up a spurt of snow and dust behind his heel. Without ceremony he
snatched up the little priest, slung him astraddle on his shoulders, and
went racing towards Seawood as fast as his long legs could carry him.
It was not until nearly two miles farther on that he set his small
companion down. It had hardly been a dignified escape, in spite of the
classic model of Anchises, but Father Brown's face only wore a broad
"Well," said Flambeau, after an impatient silence, as they resumed their
more conventional tramp through the streets on the edge of the town,
where no outrage need be feared, "I don't know what all this means, but
I take it I may trust my own eyes that you never met the man you have so
"I did meet him in a way," Brown said, biting his finger rather
nervously—"I did really. And it was too dark to see him properly,
because it was under that bandstand affair. But I'm afraid I didn't
describe him so very accurately after all, for his pince-nez was broken
under him, and the long gold pin wasn't stuck through his purple scarf
but through his heart."
"And I suppose," said the other in a lower voice, "that glass-eyed guy
had something to do with it."
"I had hoped he had only a little," answered Brown in a rather troubled
voice, "and I may have been wrong in what I did. I acted on impulse. But
I fear this business has deep roots and dark."
They walked on through some streets in silence. The yellow lamps were
beginning to be lit in the cold blue twilight, and they were evidently
approaching the more central parts of the town. Highly coloured bills
announcing the glove-fight between Nigger Ned and Malvoli were slapped
about the walls.
"Well," said Flambeau, "I never murdered anyone, even in my criminal
days, but I can almost sympathize with anyone doing it in such a
dreary place. Of all God-forsaken dustbins of Nature, I think the most
heart-breaking are places like that bandstand, that were meant to be
festive and are forlorn. I can fancy a morbid man feeling he must kill
his rival in the solitude and irony of such a scene. I remember once
taking a tramp in your glorious Surrey hills, thinking of nothing but
gorse and skylarks, when I came out on a vast circle of land, and over
me lifted a vast, voiceless structure, tier above tier of seats, as huge
as a Roman amphitheatre and as empty as a new letter-rack. A bird sailed
in heaven over it. It was the Grand Stand at Epsom. And I felt that no
one would ever be happy there again."
"It's odd you should mention Epsom," said the priest. "Do you remember
what was called the Sutton Mystery, because two suspected men—ice-cream
men, I think—happened to live at Sutton? They were eventually released.
A man was found strangled, it was said, on the Downs round that part. As
a fact, I know (from an Irish policeman who is a friend of mine) that he
was found close up to the Epsom Grand Stand—in fact, only hidden by one
of the lower doors being pushed back."
"That is queer," assented Flambeau. "But it rather confirms my view
that such pleasure places look awfully lonely out of season, or the man
wouldn't have been murdered there."
"I'm not so sure he—" began Brown, and stopped.
"Not so sure he was murdered?" queried his companion.
"Not so sure he was murdered out of the season," answered the little
priest, with simplicity. "Don't you think there's something rather
tricky about this solitude, Flambeau? Do you feel sure a wise murderer
would always want the spot to be lonely? It's very, very seldom a man is
quite alone. And, short of that, the more alone he is, the more certain
he is to be seen. No; I think there must be some other—Why, here we are
at the Pavilion or Palace, or whatever they call it."
They had emerged on a small square, brilliantly lighted, of which the
principal building was gay with gilding, gaudy with posters, and flanked
with two giant photographs of Malvoli and Nigger Ned.
"Hallo!" cried Flambeau in great surprise, as his clerical friend
stumped straight up the broad steps. "I didn't know pugilism was your
latest hobby. Are you going to see the fight?"
"I don't think there will be any fight," replied Father Brown.
They passed rapidly through ante-rooms and inner rooms; they passed
through the hall of combat itself, raised, roped, and padded with
innumerable seats and boxes, and still the cleric did not look round
or pause till he came to a clerk at a desk outside a door marked
"Committee". There he stopped and asked to see Lord Pooley.
The attendant observed that his lordship was very busy, as the fight
was coming on soon, but Father Brown had a good-tempered tedium of
reiteration for which the official mind is generally not prepared. In a
few moments the rather baffled Flambeau found himself in the presence of
a man who was still shouting directions to another man going out of the
room. "Be careful, you know, about the ropes after the fourth—Well, and
what do you want, I wonder!"
Lord Pooley was a gentleman, and, like most of the few remaining to our
race, was worried—especially about money. He was half grey and half
flaxen, and he had the eyes of fever and a high-bridged, frost-bitten
"Only a word," said Father Brown. "I have come to prevent a man being
Lord Pooley bounded off his chair as if a spring had flung him from it.
"I'm damned if I'll stand any more of this!" he cried. "You and your
committees and parsons and petitions! Weren't there parsons in the old
days, when they fought without gloves? Now they're fighting with the
regulation gloves, and there's not the rag of a possibility of either of
the boxers being killed."
"I didn't mean either of the boxers," said the little priest.
"Well, well, well!" said the nobleman, with a touch of frosty humour.
"Who's going to be killed? The referee?"
"I don't know who's going to be killed," replied Father Brown, with a
reflective stare. "If I did I shouldn't have to spoil your pleasure. I
could simply get him to escape. I never could see anything wrong about
prize-fights. As it is, I must ask you to announce that the fight is off
for the present."
"Anything else?" jeered the gentleman with feverish eyes. "And what do
you say to the two thousand people who have come to see it?"
"I say there will be one thousand nine-hundred and ninety-nine of them
left alive when they have seen it," said Father Brown.
Lord Pooley looked at Flambeau. "Is your friend mad?" he asked.
"Far from it," was the reply.
"And look here," resumed Pooley in his restless way, "it's worse than
that. A whole pack of Italians have turned up to back Malvoli—swarthy,
savage fellows of some country, anyhow. You know what these
Mediterranean races are like. If I send out word that it's off we shall
have Malvoli storming in here at the head of a whole Corsican clan."
"My lord, it is a matter of life and death," said the priest. "Ring your
bell. Give your message. And see whether it is Malvoli who answers."
The nobleman struck the bell on the table with an odd air of new
curiosity. He said to the clerk who appeared almost instantly in the
doorway: "I have a serious announcement to make to the audience shortly.
Meanwhile, would you kindly tell the two champions that the fight will
have to be put off."
The clerk stared for some seconds as if at a demon and vanished.
"What authority have you for what you say?" asked Lord Pooley abruptly.
"Whom did you consult?"
"I consulted a bandstand," said Father Brown, scratching his head. "But,
no, I'm wrong; I consulted a book, too. I picked it up on a bookstall in
London—very cheap, too."
He had taken out of his pocket a small, stout, leather-bound volume, and
Flambeau, looking over his shoulder, could see that it was some book of
old travels, and had a leaf turned down for reference.
"'The only form in which Voodoo—'" began Father Brown, reading aloud.
"In which what?" inquired his lordship.
"'In which Voodoo,'" repeated the reader, almost with relish, "'is
widely organized outside Jamaica itself is in the form known as the
Monkey, or the God of the Gongs, which is powerful in many parts of the
two American continents, especially among half-breeds, many of whom
look exactly like white men. It differs from most other forms of
devil-worship and human sacrifice in the fact that the blood is not shed
formally on the altar, but by a sort of assassination among the crowd.
The gongs beat with a deafening din as the doors of the shrine open and
the monkey-god is revealed; almost the whole congregation rivet ecstatic
eyes on him. But after—'"
The door of the room was flung open, and the fashionable negro stood
framed in it, his eyeballs rolling, his silk hat still insolently tilted
on his head. "Huh!" he cried, showing his apish teeth. "What this? Huh!
Huh! You steal a coloured gentleman's prize—prize his already—yo'
think yo' jes' save that white 'Talian trash—"
"The matter is only deferred," said the nobleman quietly. "I will be
with you to explain in a minute or two."
"Who you to—" shouted Nigger Ned, beginning to storm.
"My name is Pooley," replied the other, with a creditable coolness.
"I am the organizing secretary, and I advise you just now to leave the
"Who this fellow?" demanded the dark champion, pointing to the priest
"My name is Brown," was the reply. "And I advise you just now to leave
The prize-fighter stood glaring for a few seconds, and then, rather to
the surprise of Flambeau and the others, strode out, sending the door to
with a crash behind him.
"Well," asked Father Brown rubbing his dusty hair up, "what do you think
of Leonardo da Vinci? A beautiful Italian head."
"Look here," said Lord Pooley, "I've taken a considerable
responsibility, on your bare word. I think you ought to tell me more
"You are quite right, my lord," answered Brown. "And it won't take long
to tell." He put the little leather book in his overcoat pocket. "I
think we know all that this can tell us, but you shall look at it to see
if I'm right. That negro who has just swaggered out is one of the most
dangerous men on earth, for he has the brains of a European, with the
instincts of a cannibal. He has turned what was clean, common-sense
butchery among his fellow-barbarians into a very modern and scientific
secret society of assassins. He doesn't know I know it, nor, for the
matter of that, that I can't prove it."
There was a silence, and the little man went on.
"But if I want to murder somebody, will it really be the best plan to
make sure I'm alone with him?"
Lord Pooley's eyes recovered their frosty twinkle as he looked at the
little clergyman. He only said: "If you want to murder somebody, I
should advise it."
Father Brown shook his head, like a murderer of much riper experience.
"So Flambeau said," he replied, with a sigh. "But consider. The more a
man feels lonely the less he can be sure he is alone. It must mean empty
spaces round him, and they are just what make him obvious. Have you
never seen one ploughman from the heights, or one shepherd from the
valleys? Have you never walked along a cliff, and seen one man walking
along the sands? Didn't you know when he's killed a crab, and wouldn't
you have known if it had been a creditor? No! No! No! For an intelligent
murderer, such as you or I might be, it is an impossible plan to make
sure that nobody is looking at you."
"But what other plan is there?"
"There is only one," said the priest. "To make sure that everybody is
looking at something else. A man is throttled close by the big stand at
Epsom. Anybody might have seen it done while the stand stood empty—any
tramp under the hedges or motorist among the hills. But nobody would
have seen it when the stand was crowded and the whole ring roaring,
when the favourite was coming in first—or wasn't. The twisting of a
neck-cloth, the thrusting of a body behind a door could be done in an
instant—so long as it was that instant. It was the same, of course,"
he continued turning to Flambeau, "with that poor fellow under the
bandstand. He was dropped through the hole (it wasn't an accidental
hole) just at some very dramatic moment of the entertainment, when the
bow of some great violinist or the voice of some great singer opened
or came to its climax. And here, of course, when the knock-out blow
came—it would not be the only one. That is the little trick Nigger Ned
has adopted from his old God of Gongs."
"By the way, Malvoli—" Pooley began.
"Malvoli," said the priest, "has nothing to do with it. I dare say he
has some Italians with him, but our amiable friends are not Italians.
They are octoroons and African half-bloods of various shades, but I fear
we English think all foreigners are much the same so long as they are
dark and dirty. Also," he added, with a smile, "I fear the English
decline to draw any fine distinction between the moral character
produced by my religion and that which blooms out of Voodoo."
The blaze of the spring season had burst upon Seawood, littering its
foreshore with famines and bathing-machines, with nomadic preachers and
nigger minstrels, before the two friends saw it again, and long before
the storm of pursuit after the strange secret society had died away.
Almost on every hand the secret of their purpose perished with them.
The man of the hotel was found drifting dead on the sea like so much
seaweed; his right eye was closed in peace, but his left eye was
wide open, and glistened like glass in the moon. Nigger Ned had been
overtaken a mile or two away, and murdered three policemen with his
closed left hand. The remaining officer was surprised—nay, pained—and
the negro got away. But this was enough to set all the English papers in
a flame, and for a month or two the main purpose of the British Empire
was to prevent the buck nigger (who was so in both senses) escaping by
any English port. Persons of a figure remotely reconcilable with his
were subjected to quite extraordinary inquisitions, made to scrub their
faces before going on board ship, as if each white complexion were made
up like a mask, of greasepaint. Every negro in England was put under
special regulations and made to report himself; the outgoing ships would
no more have taken a nigger than a basilisk. For people had found out
how fearful and vast and silent was the force of the savage secret
society, and by the time Flambeau and Father Brown were leaning on the
parade parapet in April, the Black Man meant in England almost what he
once meant in Scotland.
"He must be still in England," observed Flambeau, "and horridly well
hidden, too. They must have found him at the ports if he had only
whitened his face."
"You see, he is really a clever man," said Father Brown apologetically.
"And I'm sure he wouldn't whiten his face."
"Well, but what would he do?"
"I think," said Father Brown, "he would blacken his face."
Flambeau, leaning motionless on the parapet, laughed and said: "My dear
Father Brown, also leaning motionless on the parapet, moved one finger
for an instant into the direction of the soot-masked niggers singing on
TEN — The Salad of Colonel Cray
FATHER BROWN was walking home from Mass on a white weird morning when
the mists were slowly lifting—one of those mornings when the very
element of light appears as something mysterious and new. The scattered
trees outlined themselves more and more out of the vapour, as if they
were first drawn in grey chalk and then in charcoal. At yet more distant
intervals appeared the houses upon the broken fringe of the suburb;
their outlines became clearer and clearer until he recognized many in
which he had chance acquaintances, and many more the names of whose
owners he knew. But all the windows and doors were sealed; none of the
people were of the sort that would be up at such a time, or still less
on such an errand. But as he passed under the shadow of one handsome
villa with verandas and wide ornate gardens, he heard a noise that made
him almost involuntarily stop. It was the unmistakable noise of a pistol
or carbine or some light firearm discharged; but it was not this that
puzzled him most. The first full noise was immediately followed by a
series of fainter noises—as he counted them, about six. He supposed
it must be the echo; but the odd thing was that the echo was not in the
least like the original sound. It was not like anything else that he
could think of; the three things nearest to it seemed to be the noise
made by siphons of soda-water, one of the many noises made by an animal,
and the noise made by a person attempting to conceal laughter. None of
which seemed to make much sense.
Father Brown was made of two men. There was a man of action, who was
as modest as a primrose and as punctual as a clock; who went his small
round of duties and never dreamed of altering it. There was also a man
of reflection, who was much simpler but much stronger, who could not
easily be stopped; whose thought was always (in the only intelligent
sense of the words) free thought. He could not help, even unconsciously,
asking himself all the questions that there were to be asked, and
answering as many of them as he could; all that went on like his
breathing or circulation. But he never consciously carried his actions
outside the sphere of his own duty; and in this case the two attitudes
were aptly tested. He was just about to resume his trudge in the
twilight, telling himself it was no affair of his, but instinctively
twisting and untwisting twenty theories about what the odd noises
might mean. Then the grey sky-line brightened into silver, and in
the broadening light he realized that he had been to the house which
belonged to an Anglo-Indian Major named Putnam; and that the Major had
a native cook from Malta who was of his communion. He also began to
remember that pistol-shots are sometimes serious things; accompanied
with consequences with which he was legitimately concerned. He turned
back and went in at the garden gate, making for the front door.
Half-way down one side of the house stood out a projection like a very
low shed; it was, as he afterwards discovered, a large dustbin. Round
the corner of this came a figure, at first a mere shadow in the haze,
apparently bending and peering about. Then, coming nearer, it solidified
into a figure that was, indeed, rather unusually solid. Major Putnam was
a bald-headed, bull-necked man, short and very broad, with one of those
rather apoplectic faces that are produced by a prolonged attempt to
combine the oriental climate with the occidental luxuries. But the face
was a good-humoured one, and even now, though evidently puzzled and
inquisitive, wore a kind of innocent grin. He had a large palm-leaf
hat on the back of his head (suggesting a halo that was by no means
appropriate to the face), but otherwise he was clad only in a very vivid
suit of striped scarlet and yellow pyjamas; which, though glowing enough
to behold, must have been, on a fresh morning, pretty chilly to wear. He
had evidently come out of his house in a hurry, and the priest was not
surprised when he called out without further ceremony: "Did you hear
"Yes," answered Father Brown; "I thought I had better look in, in case
anything was the matter."
The Major looked at him rather queerly with his good-humoured gooseberry
eyes. "What do you think the noise was?" he asked.
"It sounded like a gun or something," replied the other, with some
hesitation; "but it seemed to have a singular sort of echo."
The Major was still looking at him quietly, but with protruding eyes,
when the front door was flung open, releasing a flood of gaslight on the
face of the fading mist; and another figure in pyjamas sprang or tumbled
out into the garden. The figure was much longer, leaner, and more
athletic; the pyjamas, though equally tropical, were comparatively
tasteful, being of white with a light lemon-yellow stripe. The man was
haggard, but handsome, more sunburned than the other; he had an aquiline
profile and rather deep-sunken eyes, and a slight air of oddity arising
from the combination of coal-black hair with a much lighter moustache.
All this Father Brown absorbed in detail more at leisure. For the moment
he only saw one thing about the man; which was the revolver in his hand.
"Cray!" exclaimed the Major, staring at him; "did you fire that shot?"
"Yes, I did," retorted the black-haired gentleman hotly; "and so would
you in my place. If you were chased everywhere by devils and nearly—"
The Major seemed to intervene rather hurriedly. "This is my friend
Father Brown," he said. And then to Brown: "I don't know whether you've
met Colonel Cray of the Royal Artillery."
"I have heard of him, of course," said the priest innocently. "Did
you—did you hit anything?"
"I thought so," answered Cray with gravity.
"Did he—" asked Major Putnam in a lowered voice, "did he fall or cry
out, or anything?"
Colonel Cray was regarding his host with a strange and steady stare.
"I'll tell you exactly what he did," he said. "He sneezed."
Father Brown's hand went half-way to his head, with the gesture of a man
remembering somebody's name. He knew now what it was that was neither
soda-water nor the snorting of a dog.
"Well," ejaculated the staring Major, "I never heard before that a
service revolver was a thing to be sneezed at."
"Nor I," said Father Brown faintly. "It's lucky you didn't turn your
artillery on him or you might have given him quite a bad cold." Then,
after a bewildered pause, he said: "Was it a burglar?"
"Let us go inside," said Major Putnam, rather sharply, and led the way
into his house.
The interior exhibited a paradox often to be marked in such morning
hours: that the rooms seemed brighter than the sky outside; even after
the Major had turned out the one gaslight in the front hall. Father
Brown was surprised to see the whole dining-table set out as for a
festive meal, with napkins in their rings, and wine-glasses of some six
unnecessary shapes set beside every plate. It was common enough, at that
time of the morning, to find the remains of a banquet over-night; but to
find it freshly spread so early was unusual.
While he stood wavering in the hall Major Putnam rushed past him and
sent a raging eye over the whole oblong of the tablecloth. At last he
spoke, spluttering: "All the silver gone!" he gasped. "Fish-knives and
forks gone. Old cruet-stand gone. Even the old silver cream-jug gone.
And now, Father Brown, I am ready to answer your question of whether it
was a burglar."
"They're simply a blind," said Cray stubbornly. "I know better than you
why people persecute this house; I know better than you why—"
The Major patted him on the shoulder with a gesture almost peculiar to
the soothing of a sick child, and said: "It was a burglar. Obviously it
was a burglar."
"A burglar with a bad cold," observed Father Brown, "that might assist
you to trace him in the neighbourhood."
The Major shook his head in a sombre manner. "He must be far beyond
trace now, I fear," he said.
Then, as the restless man with the revolver turned again towards the
door in the garden, he added in a husky, confidential voice: "I doubt
whether I should send for the police, for fear my friend here has been a
little too free with his bullets, and got on the wrong side of the law.
He's lived in very wild places; and, to be frank with you, I think he
sometimes fancies things."
"I think you once told me," said Brown, "that he believes some Indian
secret society is pursuing him."
Major Putnam nodded, but at the same time shrugged his shoulders. "I
suppose we'd better follow him outside," he said. "I don't want any
more—shall we say, sneezing?"
They passed out into the morning light, which was now even tinged
with sunshine, and saw Colonel Cray's tall figure bent almost double,
minutely examining the condition of gravel and grass. While the Major
strolled unobtrusively towards him, the priest took an equally indolent
turn, which took him round the next corner of the house to within a yard
or two of the projecting dustbin.
He stood regarding this dismal object for some minute and a half—, then
he stepped towards it, lifted the lid and put his head inside. Dust and
other discolouring matter shook upwards as he did so; but Father
Brown never observed his own appearance, whatever else he observed. He
remained thus for a measurable period, as if engaged in some mysterious
prayers. Then he came out again, with some ashes on his hair, and walked
By the time he came round to the garden door again he found a group
there which seemed to roll away morbidities as the sunlight had already
rolled away the mists. It was in no way rationally reassuring; it was
simply broadly comic, like a cluster of Dickens's characters. Major
Putnam had managed to slip inside and plunge into a proper shirt and
trousers, with a crimson cummerbund, and a light square jacket over
all; thus normally set off, his red festive face seemed bursting with a
commonplace cordiality. He was indeed emphatic, but then he was talking
to his cook—the swarthy son of Malta, whose lean, yellow and rather
careworn face contrasted quaintly with his snow-white cap and costume.
The cook might well be careworn, for cookery was the Major's hobby. He
was one of those amateurs who always know more than the professional.
The only other person he even admitted to be a judge of an omelette was
his friend Cray—and as Brown remembered this, he turned to look for the
other officer. In the new presence of daylight and people clothed and
in their right mind, the sight of him was rather a shock. The taller and
more elegant man was still in his night-garb, with tousled black hair,
and now crawling about the garden on his hands and knees, still looking
for traces of the burglar; and now and again, to all appearance,
striking the ground with his hand in anger at not finding him. Seeing
him thus quadrupedal in the grass, the priest raised his eyebrows rather
sadly; and for the first time guessed that "fancies things" might be an
The third item in the group of the cook and the epicure was also known
to Father Brown; it was Audrey Watson, the Major's ward and housekeeper;
and at this moment, to judge by her apron, tucked-up sleeves and
resolute manner, much more the housekeeper than the ward.
"It serves you right," she was saying: "I always told you not to have
that old-fashioned cruet-stand."
"I prefer it," said Putnam, placably. "I'm old-fashioned myself; and the
things keep together."
"And vanish together, as you see," she retorted. "Well, if you are not
going to bother about the burglar, I shouldn't bother about the lunch.
It's Sunday, and we can't send for vinegar and all that in the town; and
you Indian gentlemen can't enjoy what you call a dinner without a lot
of hot things. I wish to goodness now you hadn't asked Cousin Oliver to
take me to the musical service. It isn't over till half-past twelve,
and the Colonel has to leave by then. I don't believe you men can manage
"Oh yes, we can, my dear," said the Major, looking at her very amiably.
"Marco has all the sauces, and we've often done ourselves well in very
rough places, as you might know by now. And it's time you had a treat,
Audrey; you mustn't be a housekeeper every hour of the day; and I know
you want to hear the music."
"I want to go to church," she said, with rather severe eyes.
She was one of those handsome women who will always be handsome, because
the beauty is not in an air or a tint, but in the very structure of the
head and features. But though she was not yet middle-aged and her auburn
hair was of a Titianesque fullness in form and colour, there was a
look in her mouth and around her eyes which suggested that some sorrows
wasted her, as winds waste at last the edges of a Greek temple. For
indeed the little domestic difficulty of which she was now speaking so
decisively was rather comic than tragic. Father Brown gathered, from the
course of the conversation, that Cray, the other gourmet, had to leave
before the usual lunch-time; but that Putnam, his host, not to be done
out of a final feast with an old crony, had arranged for a special
dejeuner to be set out and consumed in the course of the morning, while
Audrey and other graver persons were at morning service. She was going
there under the escort of a relative and old friend of hers, Dr Oliver
Oman, who, though a scientific man of a somewhat bitter type, was
enthusiastic for music, and would go even to church to get it. There was
nothing in all this that could conceivably concern the tragedy in Miss
Watson's face; and by a half conscious instinct, Father Brown turned
again to the seeming lunatic grubbing about in the grass.
When he strolled across to him, the black, unbrushed head was lifted
abruptly, as if in some surprise at his continued presence. And indeed,
Father Brown, for reasons best known to himself, had lingered much
longer than politeness required; or even, in the ordinary sense,
"Well!" cried Cray, with wild eyes. "I suppose you think I'm mad, like
"I have considered the thesis," answered the little man, composedly.
"And I incline to think you are not."
"What do you mean?" snapped Cray quite savagely.
"Real madmen," explained Father Brown, "always encourage their own
morbidity. They never strive against it. But you are trying to find
traces of the burglar; even when there aren't any. You are struggling
against it. You want what no madman ever wants."
"And what is that?"
"You want to be proved wrong," said Brown.
During the last words Cray had sprung or staggered to his feet and was
regarding the cleric with agitated eyes. "By hell, but that is a true
word!" he cried. "They are all at me here that the fellow was only after
the silver—as if I shouldn't be only too pleased to think so! She's
been at me," and he tossed his tousled black head towards Audrey, but
the other had no need of the direction, "she's been at me today about
how cruel I was to shoot a poor harmless house-breaker, and how I have
the devil in me against poor harmless natives. But I was a good-natured
man once—as good-natured as Putnam."
After a pause he said: "Look here, I've never seen you before; but you
shall judge of the whole story. Old Putnam and I were friends in the
same mess; but, owing to some accidents on the Afghan border, I got my
command much sooner than most men; only we were both invalided home
for a bit. I was engaged to Audrey out there; and we all travelled back
together. But on the journey back things happened. Curious things. The
result of them was that Putnam wants it broken off, and even Audrey
keeps it hanging on—and I know what they mean. I know what they think I
am. So do you.
"Well, these are the facts. The last day we were in an Indian city I
asked Putnam if I could get some Trichinopoli cigars, he directed me to
a little place opposite his lodgings. I have since found he was quite
right; but 'opposite' is a dangerous word when one decent house stands
opposite five or six squalid ones; and I must have mistaken the door. It
opened with difficulty, and then only on darkness; but as I turned back,
the door behind me sank back and settled into its place with a noise as
of innumerable bolts. There was nothing to do but to walk forward; which
I did through passage after passage, pitch-dark. Then I came to a flight
of steps, and then to a blind door, secured by a latch of elaborate
Eastern ironwork, which I could only trace by touch, but which I
loosened at last. I came out again upon gloom, which was half turned
into a greenish twilight by a multitude of small but steady lamps
below. They showed merely the feet or fringes of some huge and empty
architecture. Just in front of me was something that looked like a
mountain. I confess I nearly fell on the great stone platform on which
I had emerged, to realize that it was an idol. And worst of all, an idol
with its back to me.
"It was hardly half human, I guessed; to judge by the small squat head,
and still more by a thing like a tail or extra limb turned up behind and
pointing, like a loathsome large finger, at some symbol graven in the
centre of the vast stone back. I had begun, in the dim light, to guess
at the hieroglyphic, not without horror, when a more horrible thing
happened. A door opened silently in the temple wall behind me and a man
came out, with a brown face and a black coat. He had a carved smile on
his face, of copper flesh and ivory teeth; but I think the most hateful
thing about him was that he was in European dress. I was prepared, I
think, for shrouded priests or naked fakirs. But this seemed to say that
the devilry was over all the earth. As indeed I found it to be.
"'If you had only seen the Monkey's Feet,' he said, smiling steadily,
and without other preface, 'we should have been very gentle—you would
only be tortured and die. If you had seen the Monkey's Face, still we
should be very moderate, very tolerant—you would only be tortured and
live. But as you have seen the Monkey's Tail, we must pronounce the
worst sentence, which is—Go Free.'
"When he said the words I heard the elaborate iron latch with which I
had struggled, automatically unlock itself: and then, far down the dark
passages I had passed, I heard the heavy street-door shifting its own
"'It is vain to ask for mercy; you must go free,' said the smiling man.
'Henceforth a hair shall slay you like a sword, and a breath shall bite
you like an adder; weapons shall come against you out of nowhere; and
you shall die many times.' And with that he was swallowed once more in
the wall behind; and I went out into the street."
Cray paused; and Father Brown unaffectedly sat down on the lawn and
began to pick daisies.
Then the soldier continued: "Putnam, of course, with his jolly common
sense, pooh-poohed all my fears; and from that time dates his doubt of
my mental balance. Well, I'll simply tell you, in the fewest words, the
three things that have happened since; and you shall judge which of us
"The first happened in an Indian village on the edge of the jungle,
but hundreds of miles from the temple, or town, or type of tribes and
customs where the curse had been put on me. I woke in black midnight,
and lay thinking of nothing in particular, when I felt a faint tickling
thing, like a thread or a hair, trailed across my throat. I shrank back
out of its way, and could not help thinking of the words in the temple.
But when I got up and sought lights and a mirror, the line across my
neck was a line of blood.
"The second happened in a lodging in Port Said, later, on our journey
home together. It was a jumble of tavern and curiosity-shop; and though
there was nothing there remotely suggesting the cult of the Monkey, it
is, of course, possible that some of its images or talismans were in
such a place. Its curse was there, anyhow. I woke again in the dark with
a sensation that could not be put in colder or more literal words than
that a breath bit like an adder. Existence was an agony of extinction;
I dashed my head against walls until I dashed it against a window; and
fell rather than jumped into the garden below. Putnam, poor fellow, who
had called the other thing a chance scratch, was bound to take seriously
the fact of finding me half insensible on the grass at dawn. But I fear
it was my mental state he took seriously; and not my story.
"The third happened in Malta. We were in a fortress there; and as it
happened our bedrooms overlooked the open sea, which almost came up to
our window-sills, save for a flat white outer wall as bare as the sea.
I woke up again; but it was not dark. There was a full moon, as I walked
to the window; I could have seen a bird on the bare battlement, or
a sail on the horizon. What I did see was a sort of stick or branch
circling, self-supported, in the empty sky. It flew straight in at my
window and smashed the lamp beside the pillow I had just quitted. It was
one of those queer-shaped war-clubs some Eastern tribes use. But it had
come from no human hand."
Father Brown threw away a daisy-chain he was making, and rose with a
wistful look. "Has Major Putnam," he asked, "got any Eastern curios,
idols, weapons and so on, from which one might get a hint?"
"Plenty of those, though not much use, I fear," replied Cray; "but by
all means come into his study."
As they entered they passed Miss Watson buttoning her gloves for church,
and heard the voice of Putnam downstairs still giving a lecture on
cookery to the cook. In the Major's study and den of curios they came
suddenly on a third party, silk-hatted and dressed for the street,
who was poring over an open book on the smoking-table—a book which he
dropped rather guiltily, and turned.
Cray introduced him civilly enough, as Dr Oman, but he showed such
disfavour in his very face that Brown guessed the two men, whether
Audrey knew it or not, were rivals. Nor was the priest wholly
unsympathetic with the prejudice. Dr Oman was a very well-dressed
gentleman indeed; well-featured, though almost dark enough for an
Asiatic. But Father Brown had to tell himself sharply that one should be
in charity even with those who wax their pointed beards, who have small
gloved hands, and who speak with perfectly modulated voices.
Cray seemed to find something specially irritating in the small
prayer-book in Oman's dark-gloved hand. "I didn't know that was in your
line," he said rather rudely.
Oman laughed mildly, but without offence. "This is more so, I know," he
said, laying his hand on the big book he had dropped, "a dictionary of
drugs and such things. But it's rather too large to take to church."
Then he closed the larger book, and there seemed again the faintest
touch of hurry and embarrassment.
"I suppose," said the priest, who seemed anxious to change the subject,
"all these spears and things are from India?"
"From everywhere," answered the doctor. "Putnam is an old soldier, and
has been in Mexico and Australia, and the Cannibal Islands for all I
"I hope it was not in the Cannibal Islands," said Brown, "that he learnt
the art of cookery." And he ran his eyes over the stew-pots or other
strange utensils on the wall.
At this moment the jolly subject of their conversation thrust his
laughing, lobsterish face into the room. "Come along, Cray," he cried.
"Your lunch is just coming in. And the bells are ringing for those who
want to go to church."
Cray slipped upstairs to change; Dr Oman and Miss Watson betook
themselves solemnly down the street, with a string of other churchgoers;
but Father Brown noticed that the doctor twice looked back and
scrutinized the house; and even came back to the corner of the street to
look at it again.
The priest looked puzzled. "He can't have been at the dustbin," he
muttered. "Not in those clothes. Or was he there earlier today?"
Father Brown, touching other people, was as sensitive as a barometer;
but today he seemed about as sensitive as a rhinoceros. By no social
law, rigid or implied, could he be supposed to linger round the lunch
of the Anglo-Indian friends; but he lingered, covering his position with
torrents of amusing but quite needless conversation. He was the more
puzzling because he did not seem to want any lunch. As one after another
of the most exquisitely balanced kedgerees of curries, accompanied with
their appropriate vintages, were laid before the other two, he only
repeated that it was one of his fast-days, and munched a piece of bread
and sipped and then left untasted a tumbler of cold water. His talk,
however, was exuberant.
"I'll tell you what I'll do for you," he cried—, "I'll mix you a salad!
I can't eat it, but I'll mix it like an angel! You've got a lettuce
"Unfortunately it's the only thing we have got," answered the
good-humoured Major. "You must remember that mustard, vinegar, oil and
so on vanished with the cruet and the burglar."
"I know," replied Brown, rather vaguely. "That's what I've always been
afraid would happen. That's why I always carry a cruet-stand about with
me. I'm so fond of salads."
And to the amazement of the two men he took a pepper-pot out of his
waistcoat pocket and put it on the table.
"I wonder why the burglar wanted mustard, too," he went on, taking a
mustard-pot from another pocket. "A mustard plaster, I suppose. And
vinegar"—and producing that condiment—"haven't I heard something about
vinegar and brown paper? As for oil, which I think I put in my left—"
His garrulity was an instant arrested; for lifting his eyes, he saw what
no one else saw—the black figure of Dr Oman standing on the sunlit
lawn and looking steadily into the room. Before he could quite recover
himself Cray had cloven in.
"You're an astounding card," he said, staring. "I shall come and hear
your sermons, if they're as amusing as your manners." His voice changed
a little, and he leaned back in his chair.
"Oh, there are sermons in a cruet-stand, too," said Father Brown, quite
gravely. "Have you heard of faith like a grain of mustard-seed; or
charity that anoints with oil? And as for vinegar, can any soldiers
forget that solitary soldier, who, when the sun was darkened—"
Colonel Cray leaned forward a little and clutched the tablecloth.
Father Brown, who was making the salad, tipped two spoonfuls of the
mustard into the tumbler of water beside him; stood up and said in a
new, loud and sudden voice—"Drink that!"
At the same moment the motionless doctor in the garden came running, and
bursting open a window cried: "Am I wanted? Has he been poisoned?"
"Pretty near," said Brown, with the shadow of a smile; for the emetic
had very suddenly taken effect. And Cray lay in a deck-chair, gasping as
for life, but alive.
Major Putnam had sprung up, his purple face mottled. "A crime!" he cried
hoarsely. "I will go for the police!"
The priest could hear him dragging down his palm-leaf hat from the peg
and tumbling out of the front door; he heard the garden gate slam. But
he only stood looking at Cray; and after a silence said quietly:
"I shall not talk to you much; but I will tell you what you want to
know. There is no curse on you. The Temple of the Monkey was either a
coincidence or a part of the trick; the trick was the trick of a white
man. There is only one weapon that will bring blood with that mere
feathery touch: a razor held by a white man. There is one way of making
a common room full of invisible, overpowering poison: turning on the
gas—the crime of a white man. And there is only one kind of club that
can be thrown out of a window, turn in mid-air and come back to the
window next to it: the Australian boomerang. You'll see some of them in
the Major's study."
With that he went outside and spoke for a moment to the doctor. The
moment after, Audrey Watson came rushing into the house and fell on
her knees beside Cray's chair. He could not hear what they said to each
other; but their faces moved with amazement, not unhappiness. The doctor
and the priest walked slowly towards the garden gate.
"I suppose the Major was in love with her, too," he said with a sigh;
and when the other nodded, observed: "You were very generous, doctor.
You did a fine thing. But what made you suspect?"
"A very small thing," said Oman; "but it kept me restless in church till
I came back to see that all was well. That book on his table was a work
on poisons; and was put down open at the place where it stated that
a certain Indian poison, though deadly and difficult to trace, was
particularly easily reversible by the use of the commonest emetics. I
suppose he read that at the last moment—"
"And remembered that there were emetics in the cruet-stand," said Father
Brown. "Exactly. He threw the cruet in the dustbin—where I found it,
along with other silver—for the sake of a burglary blind. But if you
look at that pepper-pot I put on the table, you'll see a small hole.
That's where Cray's bullet struck, shaking up the pepper and making the
There was a silence. Then Dr Oman said grimly: "The Major is a long time
looking for the police."
"Or the police in looking for the Major?" said the priest. "Well,
ELEVEN — The Strange Crime of John Boulnois
MR CALHOUN KIDD was a very young gentleman with a very old face, a face
dried up with its own eagerness, framed in blue-black hair and a black
butterfly tie. He was the emissary in England of the colossal American
daily called the Western Sun—also humorously described as the "Rising
Sunset". This was in allusion to a great journalistic declaration
(attributed to Mr Kidd himself) that "he guessed the sun would rise
in the west yet, if American citizens did a bit more hustling." Those,
however, who mock American journalism from the standpoint of somewhat
mellower traditions forget a certain paradox which partly redeems it.
For while the journalism of the States permits a pantomimic vulgarity
long past anything English, it also shows a real excitement about the
most earnest mental problems, of which English papers are innocent, or
rather incapable. The Sun was full of the most solemn matters treated
in the most farcical way. William James figured there as well as
"Weary Willie," and pragmatists alternated with pugilists in the long
procession of its portraits.
Thus, when a very unobtrusive Oxford man named John Boulnois wrote in a
very unreadable review called the Natural Philosophy Quarterly a series
of articles on alleged weak points in Darwinian evolution, it fluttered
no corner of the English papers; though Boulnois's theory (which was
that of a comparatively stationary universe visited occasionally by
convulsions of change) had some rather faddy fashionableness at Oxford,
and got so far as to be named "Catastrophism". But many American papers
seized on the challenge as a great event; and the Sun threw the shadow
of Mr Boulnois quite gigantically across its pages. By the paradox
already noted, articles of valuable intelligence and enthusiasm were
presented with headlines apparently written by an illiterate maniac,
headlines such as "Darwin Chews Dirt; Critic Boulnois says He Jumps the
Shocks"—or "Keep Catastrophic, says Thinker Boulnois." And Mr Calhoun
Kidd, of the Western Sun, was bidden to take his butterfly tie and
lugubrious visage down to the little house outside Oxford where Thinker
Boulnois lived in happy ignorance of such a title.
That fated philosopher had consented, in a somewhat dazed manner, to
receive the interviewer, and had named the hour of nine that evening.
The last of a summer sunset clung about Cumnor and the low wooded hills;
the romantic Yankee was both doubtful of his road and inquisitive about
his surroundings; and seeing the door of a genuine feudal old-country
inn, The Champion Arms, standing open, he went in to make inquiries.
In the bar parlour he rang the bell, and had to wait some little time
for a reply to it. The only other person present was a lean man with
close red hair and loose, horsey-looking clothes, who was drinking very
bad whisky, but smoking a very good cigar. The whisky, of course, was
the choice brand of The Champion Arms; the cigar he had probably brought
with him from London. Nothing could be more different than his cynical
negligence from the dapper dryness of the young American; but something
in his pencil and open notebook, and perhaps in the expression of his
alert blue eye, caused Kidd to guess, correctly, that he was a brother
"Could you do me the favour," asked Kidd, with the courtesy of his
nation, "of directing me to the Grey Cottage, where Mr Boulnois lives,
as I understand?"
"It's a few yards down the road," said the red-haired man, removing his
cigar; "I shall be passing it myself in a minute, but I'm going on to
Pendragon Park to try and see the fun."
"What is Pendragon Park?" asked Calhoun Kidd.
"Sir Claude Champion's place—haven't you come down for that, too?"
asked the other pressman, looking up. "You're a journalist, aren't you?"
"I have come to see Mr Boulnois," said Kidd.
"I've come to see Mrs Boulnois," replied the other. "But I shan't catch
her at home." And he laughed rather unpleasantly.
"Are you interested in Catastrophism?" asked the wondering Yankee.
"I'm interested in catastrophes; and there are going to be some,"
replied his companion gloomily. "Mine's a filthy trade, and I never
pretend it isn't."
With that he spat on the floor; yet somehow in the very act and instant
one could realize that the man had been brought up as a gentleman.
The American pressman considered him with more attention. His face was
pale and dissipated, with the promise of formidable passions yet to be
loosed; but it was a clever and sensitive face; his clothes were coarse
and careless, but he had a good seal ring on one of his long, thin
fingers. His name, which came out in the course of talk, was James
Dalroy; he was the son of a bankrupt Irish landlord, and attached to
a pink paper which he heartily despised, called Smart Society, in the
capacity of reporter and of something painfully like a spy.
Smart Society, I regret to say, felt none of that interest in Boulnois
on Darwin which was such a credit to the head and hearts of the Western
Sun. Dalroy had come down, it seemed, to snuff up the scent of a scandal
which might very well end in the Divorce Court, but which was at present
hovering between Grey Cottage and Pendragon Park.
Sir Claude Champion was known to the readers of the Western Sun as well
as Mr Boulnois. So were the Pope and the Derby Winner; but the idea
of their intimate acquaintanceship would have struck Kidd as equally
incongruous. He had heard of (and written about, nay, falsely pretended
to know) Sir Claude Champion, as "one of the brightest and wealthiest of
England's Upper Ten"; as the great sportsman who raced yachts round the
world; as the great traveller who wrote books about the Himalayas, as
the politician who swept constituencies with a startling sort of Tory
Democracy, and as the great dabbler in art, music, literature, and,
above all, acting. Sir Claude was really rather magnificent in other
than American eyes. There was something of the Renascence Prince about
his omnivorous culture and restless publicity—, he was not only a great
amateur, but an ardent one. There was in him none of that antiquarian
frivolity that we convey by the word "dilettante".
That faultless falcon profile with purple-black Italian eye, which had
been snap-shotted so often both for Smart Society and the Western Sun,
gave everyone the impression of a man eaten by ambition as by a fire,
or even a disease. But though Kidd knew a great deal about Sir Claude—a
great deal more, in fact, than there was to know—it would never have
crossed his wildest dreams to connect so showy an aristocrat with the
newly-unearthed founder of Catastrophism, or to guess that Sir Claude
Champion and John Boulnois could be intimate friends. Such, according
to Dalroy's account, was nevertheless the fact. The two had hunted in
couples at school and college, and, though their social destinies had
been very different (for Champion was a great landlord and almost a
millionaire, while Boulnois was a poor scholar and, until just lately,
an unknown one), they still kept in very close touch with each other.
Indeed, Boulnois's cottage stood just outside the gates of Pendragon
But whether the two men could be friends much longer was becoming a
dark and ugly question. A year or two before, Boulnois had married a
beautiful and not unsuccessful actress, to whom he was devoted in his
own shy and ponderous style; and the proximity of the household to
Champion's had given that flighty celebrity opportunities for behaving
in a way that could not but cause painful and rather base excitement.
Sir Claude had carried the arts of publicity to perfection; and he
seemed to take a crazy pleasure in being equally ostentatious in an
intrigue that could do him no sort of honour. Footmen from Pendragon
were perpetually leaving bouquets for Mrs Boulnois; carriages and
motor-cars were perpetually calling at the cottage for Mrs Boulnois;
balls and masquerades perpetually filled the grounds in which the
baronet paraded Mrs Boulnois, like the Queen of Love and Beauty at a
tournament. That very evening, marked by Mr Kidd for the exposition of
Catastrophism, had been marked by Sir Claude Champion for an open-air
rendering of Romeo and Juliet, in which he was to play Romeo to a Juliet
it was needless to name.
"I don't think it can go on without a smash," said the young man
with red hair, getting up and shaking himself. "Old Boulnois may be
squared—or he may be square. But if he's square he's thick—what you
might call cubic. But I don't believe it's possible."
"He is a man of grand intellectual powers," said Calhoun Kidd in a deep
"Yes," answered Dalroy; "but even a man of grand intellectual powers
can't be such a blighted fool as all that. Must you be going on? I shall
be following myself in a minute or two."
But Calhoun Kidd, having finished a milk and soda, betook himself
smartly up the road towards the Grey Cottage, leaving his cynical
informant to his whisky and tobacco. The last of the daylight had faded;
the skies were of a dark, green-grey, like slate, studded here and there
with a star, but lighter on the left side of the sky, with the promise
of a rising moon.
The Grey Cottage, which stood entrenched, as it were, in a square of
stiff, high thorn-hedges, was so close under the pines and palisades of
the Park that Kidd at first mistook it for the Park Lodge. Finding the
name on the narrow wooden gate, however, and seeing by his watch that
the hour of the "Thinker's" appointment had just struck, he went in and
knocked at the front door. Inside the garden hedge, he could see that
the house, though unpretentious enough, was larger and more luxurious
than it looked at first, and was quite a different kind of place from a
porter's lodge. A dog-kennel and a beehive stood outside, like symbols
of old English country-life; the moon was rising behind a plantation
of prosperous pear trees, the dog that came out of the kennel was
reverend-looking and reluctant to bark; and the plain, elderly
man-servant who opened the door was brief but dignified.
"Mr Boulnois asked me to offer his apologies, sir," he said, "but he has
been obliged to go out suddenly."
"But see here, I had an appointment," said the interviewer, with a
rising voice. "Do you know where he went to?"
"To Pendragon Park, sir," said the servant, rather sombrely, and began
to close the door.
Kidd started a little.
"Did he go with Mrs—with the rest of the party?" he asked rather
"No, sir," said the man shortly; "he stayed behind, and then went out
alone." And he shut the door, brutally, but with an air of duty not
The American, that curious compound of impudence and sensitiveness,
was annoyed. He felt a strong desire to hustle them all along a bit
and teach them business habits; the hoary old dog and the grizzled,
heavy-faced old butler with his prehistoric shirt-front, and the drowsy
old moon, and above all the scatter-brained old philosopher who couldn't
keep an appointment.
"If that's the way he goes on he deserves to lose his wife's purest
devotion," said Mr Calhoun Kidd. "But perhaps he's gone over to make
a row. In that case I reckon a man from the Western Sun will be on the
And turning the corner by the open lodge-gates, he set off, stumping up
the long avenue of black pine-woods that pointed in abrupt perspective
towards the inner gardens of Pendragon Park. The trees were as black and
orderly as plumes upon a hearse; there were still a few stars. He was
a man with more literary than direct natural associations; the word
"Ravenswood" came into his head repeatedly. It was partly the raven
colour of the pine-woods; but partly also an indescribable atmosphere
almost described in Scott's great tragedy; the smell of something that
died in the eighteenth century; the smell of dank gardens and broken
urns, of wrongs that will never now be righted; of something that is
none the less incurably sad because it is strangely unreal.
More than once, as he went up that strange, black road of tragic
artifice, he stopped, startled, thinking he heard steps in front of him.
He could see nothing in front but the twin sombre walls of pine and
the wedge of starlit sky above them. At first he thought he must have
fancied it or been mocked by a mere echo of his own tramp. But as he
went on he was more and more inclined to conclude, with the remains of
his reason, that there really were other feet upon the road. He thought
hazily of ghosts; and was surprised how swiftly he could see the
image of an appropriate and local ghost, one with a face as white as
Pierrot's, but patched with black. The apex of the triangle of dark-blue
sky was growing brighter and bluer, but he did not realize as yet that
this was because he was coming nearer to the lights of the great house
and garden. He only felt that the atmosphere was growing more intense,
there was in the sadness more violence and secrecy—more—he hesitated
for the word, and then said it with a jerk of laughter—Catastrophism.
More pines, more pathway slid past him, and then he stood rooted as by
a blast of magic. It is vain to say that he felt as if he had got into a
dream; but this time he felt quite certain that he had got into a book.
For we human beings are used to inappropriate things; we are accustomed
to the clatter of the incongruous; it is a tune to which we can go to
sleep. If one appropriate thing happens, it wakes us up like the pang of
a perfect chord. Something happened such as would have happened in such
a place in a forgotten tale.
Over the black pine-wood came flying and flashing in the moon a naked
sword—such a slender and sparkling rapier as may have fought many an
unjust duel in that ancient park. It fell on the pathway far in front of
him and lay there glistening like a large needle. He ran like a hare and
bent to look at it. Seen at close quarters it had rather a showy look:
the big red jewels in the hilt and guard were a little dubious. But
there were other red drops upon the blade which were not dubious.
He looked round wildly in the direction from which the dazzling missile
had come, and saw that at this point the sable facade of fir and pine
was interrupted by a smaller road at right angles; which, when he turned
it, brought him in full view of the long, lighted house, with a lake and
fountains in front of it. Nevertheless, he did not look at this, having
something more interesting to look at.
Above him, at the angle of the steep green bank of the terraced garden,
was one of those small picturesque surprises common in the old landscape
gardening; a kind of small round hill or dome of grass, like a giant
mole-hill, ringed and crowned with three concentric fences of roses, and
having a sundial in the highest point in the centre. Kidd could see the
finger of the dial stand up dark against the sky like the dorsal fin of
a shark and the vain moonlight clinging to that idle clock. But he saw
something else clinging to it also, for one wild moment—the figure of a
Though he saw it there only for a moment, though it was outlandish and
incredible in costume, being clad from neck to heel in tight crimson,
with glints of gold, yet he knew in one flash of moonlight who it was.
That white face flung up to heaven, clean-shaven and so unnaturally
young, like Byron with a Roman nose, those black curls already
grizzled—he had seen the thousand public portraits of Sir Claude
Champion. The wild red figure reeled an instant against the sundial; the
next it had rolled down the steep bank and lay at the American's feet,
faintly moving one arm. A gaudy, unnatural gold ornament on the arm
suddenly reminded Kidd of Romeo and Juliet; of course the tight crimson
suit was part of the play. But there was a long red stain down the bank
from which the man had rolled—that was no part of the play. He had been
run through the body.
Mr Calhoun Kidd shouted and shouted again. Once more he seemed to hear
phantasmal footsteps, and started to find another figure already near
him. He knew the figure, and yet it terrified him. The dissipated youth
who had called himself Dalroy had a horribly quiet way with him; if
Boulnois failed to keep appointments that had been made, Dalroy had
a sinister air of keeping appointments that hadn't. The moonlight
discoloured everything, against Dalroy's red hair his wan face looked
not so much white as pale green.
All this morbid impressionism must be Kidd's excuse for having cried
out, brutally and beyond all reason: "Did you do this, you devil?"
James Dalroy smiled his unpleasing smile; but before he could speak, the
fallen figure made another movement of the arm, waving vaguely towards
the place where the sword fell; then came a moan, and then it managed to
"Boulnois.... Boulnois, I say.... Boulnois did it... jealous of me...he
was jealous, he was, he was..."
Kidd bent his head down to hear more, and just managed to catch the
"Boulnois...with my own sword...he threw it..."
Again the failing hand waved towards the sword, and then fell rigid with
a thud. In Kidd rose from its depth all that acrid humour that is the
strange salt of the seriousness of his race.
"See here," he said sharply and with command, "you must fetch a doctor.
This man's dead."
"And a priest, too, I suppose," said Dalroy in an undecipherable manner.
"All these Champions are papists."
The American knelt down by the body, felt the heart, propped up the
head and used some last efforts at restoration; but before the other
journalist reappeared, followed by a doctor and a priest, he was already
prepared to assert they were too late.
"Were you too late also?" asked the doctor, a solid prosperous-looking
man, with conventional moustache and whiskers, but a lively eye, which
darted over Kidd dubiously.
"In one sense," drawled the representative of the Sun. "I was too
late to save the man, but I guess I was in time to hear something of
importance. I heard the dead man denounce his assassin."
"And who was the assassin?" asked the doctor, drawing his eyebrows
"Boulnois," said Calhoun Kidd, and whistled softly.
The doctor stared at him gloomily with a reddening brow—, but he did
not contradict. Then the priest, a shorter figure in the background,
said mildly: "I understood that Mr Boulnois was not coming to Pendragon
Park this evening."
"There again," said the Yankee grimly, "I may be in a position to give
the old country a fact or two. Yes, sir, John Boulnois was going to stay
in all this evening; he fixed up a real good appointment there with me.
But John Boulnois changed his mind; John Boulnois left his home abruptly
and all alone, and came over to this darned Park an hour or so ago.
His butler told me so. I think we hold what the all-wise police call a
clue—have you sent for them?"
"Yes," said the doctor, "but we haven't alarmed anyone else yet."
"Does Mrs Boulnois know?" asked James Dalroy, and again Kidd was
conscious of an irrational desire to hit him on his curling mouth.
"I have not told her," said the doctor gruffly—, "but here come the
The little priest had stepped out into the main avenue, and now returned
with the fallen sword, which looked ludicrously large and theatrical
when attached to his dumpy figure, at once clerical and commonplace.
"Just before the police come," he said apologetically, "has anyone got a
The Yankee journalist took an electric torch from his pocket, and the
priest held it close to the middle part of the blade, which he examined
with blinking care. Then, without glancing at the point or pommel, he
handed the long weapon to the doctor.
"I fear I'm no use here," he said, with a brief sigh. "I'll say good
night to you, gentlemen." And he walked away up the dark avenue towards
the house, his hands clasped behind him and his big head bent in
The rest of the group made increased haste towards the lodge-gates,
where an inspector and two constables could already be seen in
consultation with the lodge-keeper. But the little priest only walked
slower and slower in the dim cloister of pine, and at last stopped dead,
on the steps of the house. It was his silent way of acknowledging an
equally silent approach; for there came towards him a presence that
might have satisfied even Calhoun Kidd's demands for a lovely and
aristocratic ghost. It was a young woman in silvery satins of a
Renascence design; she had golden hair in two long shining ropes, and
a face so startingly pale between them that she might have been
chryselephantine—made, that is, like some old Greek statues, out of
ivory and gold. But her eyes were very bright, and her voice, though
low, was confident.
"Father Brown?" she said.
"Mrs Boulnois?" he replied gravely. Then he looked at her and
immediately said: "I see you know about Sir Claude."
"How do you know I know?" she asked steadily.
He did not answer the question, but asked another: "Have you seen your
"My husband is at home," she said. "He has nothing to do with this."
Again he did not answer; and the woman drew nearer to him, with a
curiously intense expression on her face.
"Shall I tell you something more?" she said, with a rather fearful
smile. "I don't think he did it, and you don't either." Father Brown
returned her gaze with a long, grave stare, and then nodded, yet more
"Father Brown," said the lady, "I am going to tell you all I know, but
I want you to do me a favour first. Will you tell me why you haven't
jumped to the conclusion of poor John's guilt, as all the rest have
done? Don't mind what you say: I—I know about the gossip and the
appearances that are against me."
Father Brown looked honestly embarrassed, and passed his hand across
his forehead. "Two very little things," he said. "At least, one's very
trivial and the other very vague. But such as they are, they don't fit
in with Mr Boulnois being the murderer."
He turned his blank, round face up to the stars and continued
absentmindedly: "To take the vague idea first. I attach a good deal of
importance to vague ideas. All those things that 'aren't evidence'
are what convince me. I think a moral impossibility the biggest of all
impossibilities. I know your husband only slightly, but I think this
crime of his, as generally conceived, something very like a moral
impossibility. Please do not think I mean that Boulnois could not be so
wicked. Anybody can be wicked—as wicked as he chooses. We can direct
our moral wills; but we can't generally change our instinctive tastes
and ways of doing things. Boulnois might commit a murder, but not this
murder. He would not snatch Romeo's sword from its romantic scabbard;
or slay his foe on the sundial as on a kind of altar; or leave his body
among the roses, or fling the sword away among the pines. If Boulnois
killed anyone he'd do it quietly and heavily, as he'd do any other
doubtful thing—take a tenth glass of port, or read a loose Greek poet.
No, the romantic setting is not like Boulnois. It's more like Champion."
"Ah!" she said, and looked at him with eyes like diamonds.
"And the trivial thing was this," said Brown. "There were finger-prints
on that sword; finger-prints can be detected quite a time after they are
made if they're on some polished surface like glass or steel. These were
on a polished surface. They were half-way down the blade of the sword.
Whose prints they were I have no earthly clue; but why should anybody
hold a sword half-way down? It was a long sword, but length is an
advantage in lunging at an enemy. At least, at most enemies. At all
enemies except one."
"Except one," she repeated.
"There is only one enemy," said Father Brown, "whom it is easier to kill
with a dagger than a sword."
"I know," said the woman. "Oneself."
There was a long silence, and then the priest said quietly but abruptly:
"Am I right, then? Did Sir Claude kill himself?"
"Yes" she said, with a face like marble. "I saw him do it."
"He died," said Father Brown, "for love of you?"
An extraordinary expression flashed across her face, very different
from pity, modesty, remorse, or anything her companion had expected: her
voice became suddenly strong and full. "I don't believe," she said, "he
ever cared about me a rap. He hated my husband."
"Why?" asked the other, and turned his round face from the sky to the
"He hated my husband because...it is so strange I hardly know how to say
"Yes?" said Brown patiently.
"Because my husband wouldn't hate him."
Father Brown only nodded, and seemed still to be listening; he differed
from most detectives in fact and fiction in a small point—he never
pretended not to understand when he understood perfectly well.
Mrs Boulnois drew near once more with the same contained glow of
certainty. "My husband," she said, "is a great man. Sir Claude Champion
was not a great man: he was a celebrated and successful man. My husband
has never been celebrated or successful; and it is the solemn truth that
he has never dreamed of being so. He no more expects to be famous for
thinking than for smoking cigars. On all that side he has a sort of
splendid stupidity. He has never grown up. He still liked Champion
exactly as he liked him at school; he admired him as he would admire
a conjuring trick done at the dinner-table. But he couldn't be got
to conceive the notion of envying Champion. And Champion wanted to be
envied. He went mad and killed himself for that."
"Yes," said Father Brown; "I think I begin to understand."
"Oh, don't you see?" she cried; "the whole picture is made for that—the
place is planned for it. Champion put John in a little house at his very
door, like a dependant—to make him feel a failure. He never felt it.
He thinks no more about such things than—than an absent-minded lion.
Champion would burst in on John's shabbiest hours or homeliest meals
with some dazzling present or announcement or expedition that made it
like the visit of Haroun Alraschid, and John would accept or refuse
amiably with one eye off, so to speak, like one lazy schoolboy agreeing
or disagreeing with another. After five years of it John had not turned
a hair; and Sir Claude Champion was a monomaniac."
"And Haman began to tell them," said Father Brown, "of all the things
wherein the king had honoured him; and he said: 'All these things profit
me nothing while I see Mordecai the Jew sitting in the gate.'"
"The crisis came," Mrs Boulnois continued, "when I persuaded John to let
me take down some of his speculations and send them to a magazine. They
began to attract attention, especially in America, and one paper wanted
to interview him. When Champion (who was interviewed nearly every day)
heard of this late little crumb of success falling to his unconscious
rival, the last link snapped that held back his devilish hatred. Then he
began to lay that insane siege to my own love and honour which has been
the talk of the shire. You will ask me why I allowed such atrocious
attentions. I answer that I could not have declined them except by
explaining to my husband, and there are some things the soul cannot
do, as the body cannot fly. Nobody could have explained to my husband.
Nobody could do it now. If you said to him in so many words, 'Champion
is stealing your wife,' he would think the joke a little vulgar: that
it could be anything but a joke—that notion could find no crack in his
great skull to get in by. Well, John was to come and see us act this
evening, but just as we were starting he said he wouldn't; he had got an
interesting book and a cigar. I told this to Sir Claude, and it was his
death-blow. The monomaniac suddenly saw despair. He stabbed himself,
crying out like a devil that Boulnois was slaying him; he lies there
in the garden dead of his own jealousy to produce jealousy, and John is
sitting in the dining-room reading a book."
There was another silence, and then the little priest said: "There is
only one weak point, Mrs Boulnois, in all your very vivid account. Your
husband is not sitting in the dining-room reading a book. That American
reporter told me he had been to your house, and your butler told him Mr
Boulnois had gone to Pendragon Park after all."
Her bright eyes widened to an almost electric glare; and yet it seemed
rather bewilderment than confusion or fear. "Why, what can you
mean?" she cried. "All the servants were out of the house, seeing the
theatricals. And we don't keep a butler, thank goodness!"
Father Brown started and spun half round like an absurd teetotum. "What,
what?" he cried seeming galvanized into sudden life. "Look here—I
say—can I make your husband hear if I go to the house?"
"Oh, the servants will be back by now," she said, wondering.
"Right, right!" rejoined the cleric energetically, and set off scuttling
up the path towards the Park gates. He turned once to say: "Better get
hold of that Yankee, or 'Crime of John Boulnois' will be all over the
Republic in large letters."
"You don't understand," said Mrs Boulnois. "He wouldn't mind. I don't
think he imagines that America really is a place."
When Father Brown reached the house with the beehive and the drowsy dog,
a small and neat maid-servant showed him into the dining-room, where
Boulnois sat reading by a shaded lamp, exactly as his wife described
him. A decanter of port and a wineglass were at his elbow; and the
instant the priest entered he noted the long ash stand out unbroken on
"He has been here for half an hour at least," thought Father Brown. In
fact, he had the air of sitting where he had sat when his dinner was
"Don't get up, Mr Boulnois," said the priest in his pleasant, prosaic
way. "I shan't interrupt you a moment. I fear I break in on some of your
"No," said Boulnois; "I was reading 'The Bloody Thumb.'" He said it with
neither frown nor smile, and his visitor was conscious of a certain deep
and virile indifference in the man which his wife had called greatness.
He laid down a gory yellow "shocker" without even feeling its
incongruity enough to comment on it humorously. John Boulnois was a big,
slow-moving man with a massive head, partly grey and partly bald,
and blunt, burly features. He was in shabby and very old-fashioned
evening-dress, with a narrow triangular opening of shirt-front: he had
assumed it that evening in his original purpose of going to see his wife
"I won't keep you long from 'The Bloody Thumb' or any other catastrophic
affairs," said Father Brown, smiling. "I only came to ask you about the
crime you committed this evening."
Boulnois looked at him steadily, but a red bar began to show across his
broad brow; and he seemed like one discovering embarrassment for the
"I know it was a strange crime," assented Brown in a low voice.
"Stranger than murder perhaps—to you. The little sins are sometimes
harder to confess than the big ones—but that's why it's so important to
confess them. Your crime is committed by every fashionable hostess six
times a week: and yet you find it sticks to your tongue like a nameless
"It makes one feel," said the philosopher slowly, "such a damned fool."
"I know," assented the other, "but one often has to choose between
feeling a damned fool and being one."
"I can't analyse myself well," went on Boulnois; "but sitting in that
chair with that story I was as happy as a schoolboy on a half-holiday.
It was security, eternity—I can't convey it... the cigars were within
reach...the matches were within reach... the Thumb had four more
appearances to...it was not only a peace, but a plenitude. Then that
bell rang, and I thought for one long, mortal minute that I couldn't get
out of that chair—literally, physically, muscularly couldn't. Then I
did it like a man lifting the world, because I knew all the servants
were out. I opened the front door, and there was a little man with his
mouth open to speak and his notebook open to write in. I remembered the
Yankee interviewer I had forgotten. His hair was parted in the middle,
and I tell you that murder—"
"I understand," said Father Brown. "I've seen him."
"I didn't commit murder," continued the Catastrophist mildly, "but only
perjury. I said I had gone across to Pendragon Park and shut the door in
his face. That is my crime, Father Brown, and I don't know what penance
you would inflict for it."
"I shan't inflict any penance," said the clerical gentleman, collecting
his heavy hat and umbrella with an air of some amusement; "quite the
contrary. I came here specially to let you off the little penance which
would otherwise have followed your little offence."
"And what," asked Boulnois, smiling, "is the little penance I have so
luckily been let off?"
"Being hanged," said Father Brown.
TWELVE — The Fairy Tale of Father Brown
THE picturesque city and state of Heiligwaldenstein was one of those toy
kingdoms of which certain parts of the German Empire still consist. It
had come under the Prussian hegemony quite late in history—hardly fifty
years before the fine summer day when Flambeau and Father Brown found
themselves sitting in its gardens and drinking its beer. There had been
not a little of war and wild justice there within living memory, as soon
will be shown. But in merely looking at it one could not dismiss
that impression of childishness which is the most charming side of
Germany—those little pantomime, paternal monarchies in which a king
seems as domestic as a cook. The German soldiers by the innumerable
sentry-boxes looked strangely like German toys, and the clean-cut
battlements of the castle, gilded by the sunshine, looked the more
like the gilt gingerbread. For it was brilliant weather. The sky was
as Prussian a blue as Potsdam itself could require, but it was yet more
like that lavish and glowing use of the colour which a child extracts
from a shilling paint-box. Even the grey-ribbed trees looked young, for
the pointed buds on them were still pink, and in a pattern against the
strong blue looked like innumerable childish figures.
Despite his prosaic appearance and generally practical walk of life,
Father Brown was not without a certain streak of romance in his
composition, though he generally kept his daydreams to himself, as many
children do. Amid the brisk, bright colours of such a day, and in the
heraldic framework of such a town, he did feel rather as if he had
entered a fairy tale. He took a childish pleasure, as a younger brother
might, in the formidable sword-stick which Flambeau always flung as he
walked, and which now stood upright beside his tall mug of Munich. Nay,
in his sleepy irresponsibility, he even found himself eyeing the knobbed
and clumsy head of his own shabby umbrella, with some faint memories of
the ogre's club in a coloured toy-book. But he never composed anything
in the form of fiction, unless it be the tale that follows:
"I wonder," he said, "whether one would have real adventures in a place
like this, if one put oneself in the way? It's a splendid back-scene for
them, but I always have a kind of feeling that they would fight you with
pasteboard sabres more than real, horrible swords."
"You are mistaken," said his friend. "In this place they not only fight
with swords, but kill without swords. And there's worse than that."
"Why, what do you mean?" asked Father Brown.
"Why," replied the other, "I should say this was the only place in
Europe where a man was ever shot without firearms."
"Do you mean a bow and arrow?" asked Brown in some wonder.
"I mean a bullet in the brain," replied Flambeau. "Don't you know the
story of the late Prince of this place? It was one of the great police
mysteries about twenty years ago. You remember, of course, that this
place was forcibly annexed at the time of Bismarck's very earliest
schemes of consolidation—forcibly, that is, but not at all easily. The
empire (or what wanted to be one) sent Prince Otto of Grossenmark to
rule the place in the Imperial interests. We saw his portrait in
the gallery there—a handsome old gentleman if he'd had any hair or
eyebrows, and hadn't been wrinkled all over like a vulture; but he had
things to harass him, as I'll explain in a minute. He was a soldier of
distinguished skill and success, but he didn't have altogether an easy
job with this little place. He was defeated in several battles by
the celebrated Arnhold brothers—the three guerrilla patriots to whom
Swinburne wrote a poem, you remember:
Wolves with the hair of the ermine,
Crows that are crowned and kings—
These things be many as vermin,
Yet Three shall abide these things.
Or something of that kind. Indeed, it is by no means certain that the
occupation would ever have been successful had not one of the three
brothers, Paul, despicably, but very decisively declined to abide
these things any longer, and, by surrendering all the secrets of the
insurrection, ensured its overthrow and his own ultimate promotion to
the post of chamberlain to Prince Otto. After this, Ludwig, the one
genuine hero among Mr Swinburne's heroes, was killed, sword in hand,
in the capture of the city; and the third, Heinrich, who, though not a
traitor, had always been tame and even timid compared with his active
brothers, retired into something like a hermitage, became converted to a
Christian quietism which was almost Quakerish, and never mixed with men
except to give nearly all he had to the poor. They tell me that not long
ago he could still be seen about the neighbourhood occasionally, a man
in a black cloak, nearly blind, with very wild, white hair, but a face
of astonishing softness."
"I know," said Father Brown. "I saw him once."
His friend looked at him in some surprise. "I didn't know you'd been
here before," he said. "Perhaps you know as much about it as I do.
Anyhow, that's the story of the Arnholds, and he was the last survivor
of them. Yes, and of all the men who played parts in that drama."
"You mean that the Prince, too, died long before?"
"Died," repeated Flambeau, "and that's about as much as we can say. You
must understand that towards the end of his life he began to have
those tricks of the nerves not uncommon with tyrants. He multiplied the
ordinary daily and nightly guard round his castle till there seemed to
be more sentry-boxes than houses in the town, and doubtful characters
were shot without mercy. He lived almost entirely in a little room that
was in the very centre of the enormous labyrinth of all the other rooms,
and even in this he erected another sort of central cabin or cupboard,
lined with steel, like a safe or a battleship. Some say that under the
floor of this again was a secret hole in the earth, no more than large
enough to hold him, so that, in his anxiety to avoid the grave, he was
willing to go into a place pretty much like it. But he went further yet.
The populace had been supposed to be disarmed ever since the suppression
of the revolt, but Otto now insisted, as governments very seldom
insist, on an absolute and literal disarmament. It was carried out,
with extraordinary thoroughness and severity, by very well-organized
officials over a small and familiar area, and, so far as human strength
and science can be absolutely certain of anything, Prince Otto was
absolutely certain that nobody could introduce so much as a toy pistol
"Human science can never be quite certain of things like that," said
Father Brown, still looking at the red budding of the branches over
his head, "if only because of the difficulty about definition and
connotation. What is a weapon? People have been murdered with the
mildest domestic comforts; certainly with tea-kettles, probably with
tea-cosies. On the other hand, if you showed an Ancient Briton a
revolver, I doubt if he would know it was a weapon—until it was fired
into him, of course. Perhaps somebody introduced a firearm so new that
it didn't even look like a firearm. Perhaps it looked like a thimble or
something. Was the bullet at all peculiar?"
"Not that I ever heard of," answered Flambeau; "but my information is
fragmentary, and only comes from my old friend Grimm. He was a very able
detective in the German service, and he tried to arrest me; I arrested
him instead, and we had many interesting chats. He was in charge here
of the inquiry about Prince Otto, but I forgot to ask him anything about
the bullet. According to Grimm, what happened was this." He paused a
moment to drain the greater part of his dark lager at a draught, and
"On the evening in question, it seems, the Prince was expected to appear
in one of the outer rooms, because he had to receive certain visitors
whom he really wished to meet. They were geological experts sent to
investigate the old question of the alleged supply of gold from the
rocks round here, upon which (as it was said) the small city-state
had so long maintained its credit and been able to negotiate with
its neighbours even under the ceaseless bombardment of bigger armies.
Hitherto it had never been found by the most exacting inquiry which
"Which could be quite certain of discovering a toy pistol," said Father
Brown with a smile. "But what about the brother who ratted? Hadn't he
anything to tell the Prince?"
"He always asseverated that he did not know," replied Flambeau; "that
this was the one secret his brothers had not told him. It is only right
to say that it received some support from fragmentary words—spoken by
the great Ludwig in the hour of death, when he looked at Heinrich but
pointed at Paul, and said, 'You have not told him...' and was soon
afterwards incapable of speech. Anyhow, the deputation of distinguished
geologists and mineralogists from Paris and Berlin were there in the
most magnificent and appropriate dress, for there are no men who like
wearing their decorations so much as the men of science—as anybody
knows who has ever been to a soiree of the Royal Society. It was a
brilliant gathering, but very late, and gradually the Chamberlain—you
saw his portrait, too: a man with black eyebrows, serious eyes, and a
meaningless sort of smile underneath—the Chamberlain, I say, discovered
there was everything there except the Prince himself. He searched all
the outer salons; then, remembering the man's mad fits of fear, hurried
to the inmost chamber. That also was empty, but the steel turret or
cabin erected in the middle of it took some time to open. When it did
open it was empty, too. He went and looked into the hole in the ground,
which seemed deeper and somehow all the more like a grave—that is his
account, of course. And even as he did so he heard a burst of cries and
tumult in the long rooms and corridors without.
"First it was a distant din and thrill of something unthinkable on the
horizon of the crowd, even beyond the castle. Next it was a wordless
clamour startlingly close, and loud enough to be distinct if each word
had not killed the other. Next came words of a terrible clearness,
coming nearer, and next one man, rushing into the room and telling the
news as briefly as such news is told.
"Otto, Prince of Heiligwaldenstein and Grossenmark, was lying in the
dews of the darkening twilight in the woods beyond the castle, with his
arms flung out and his face flung up to the moon. The blood still pulsed
from his shattered temple and jaw, but it was the only part of him that
moved like a living thing. He was clad in his full white and yellow
uniform, as to receive his guests within, except that the sash or scarf
had been unbound and lay rather crumpled by his side. Before he could
be lifted he was dead. But, dead or alive, he was a riddle—he who had
always hidden in the inmost chamber out there in the wet woods, unarmed
"Who found his body?" asked Father Brown.
"Some girl attached to the Court named Hedwig von something or other,"
replied his friend, "who had been out in the wood picking wild flowers."
"Had she picked any?" asked the priest, staring rather vacantly at the
veil of the branches above him.
"Yes," replied Flambeau. "I particularly remember that the Chamberlain,
or old Grimm or somebody, said how horrible it was, when they came up
at her call, to see a girl holding spring flowers and bending over
that—that bloody collapse. However, the main point is that before help
arrived he was dead, and the news, of course, had to be carried back to
the castle. The consternation it created was something beyond even that
natural in a Court at the fall of a potentate. The foreign visitors,
especially the mining experts, were in the wildest doubt and excitement,
as well as many important Prussian officials, and it soon began to be
clear that the scheme for finding the treasure bulked much bigger in
the business than people had supposed. Experts and officials had been
promised great prizes or international advantages, and some even said
that the Prince's secret apartments and strong military protection were
due less to fear of the populace than to the pursuit of some private
"Had the flowers got long stalks?" asked Father Brown.
Flambeau stared at him. "What an odd person you are!" he said. "That's
exactly what old Grimm said. He said the ugliest part of it, he
thought—uglier than the blood and bullet—was that the flowers were
quite short, plucked close under the head."
"Of course," said the priest, "when a grown up girl is really picking
flowers, she picks them with plenty of stalk. If she just pulled their
heads off, as a child does, it looks as if—" And he hesitated.
"Well?" inquired the other.
"Well, it looks rather as if she had snatched them nervously, to make an
excuse for being there after—well, after she was there."
"I know what you're driving at," said Flambeau rather gloomily. "But
that and every other suspicion breaks down on the one point—the want
of a weapon. He could have been killed, as you say, with lots of other
things—even with his own military sash; but we have to explain not how
he was killed, but how he was shot. And the fact is we can't. They had
the girl most ruthlessly searched; for, to tell the truth, she was a
little suspect, though the niece and ward of the wicked old Chamberlain,
Paul Arnhold. But she was very romantic, and was suspected of sympathy
with the old revolutionary enthusiasm in her family. All the same,
however romantic you are, you can't imagine a big bullet into a man's
jaw or brain without using a gun or pistol. And there was no pistol,
though there were two pistol shots. I leave it to you, my friend."
"How do you know there were two shots?" asked the little priest.
"There was only one in his head," said his companion, "but there was
another bullet-hole in the sash."
Father Brown's smooth brow became suddenly constricted. "Was the other
bullet found?" he demanded.
Flambeau started a little. "I don't think I remember," he said.
"Hold on! Hold on! Hold on!" cried Brown, frowning more and more, with
a quite unusual concentration of curiosity. "Don't think me rude. Let me
think this out for a moment."
"All right," said Flambeau, laughing, and finished his beer. A slight
breeze stirred the budding trees and blew up into the sky cloudlets of
white and pink that seemed to make the sky bluer and the whole coloured
scene more quaint. They might have been cherubs flying home to the
casements of a sort of celestial nursery. The oldest tower of the
castle, the Dragon Tower, stood up as grotesque as the ale-mug, but as
homely. Only beyond the tower glimmered the wood in which the man had
"What became of this Hedwig eventually?" asked the priest at last.
"She is married to General Schwartz," said Flambeau. "No doubt you've
heard of his career, which was rather romantic. He had distinguished
himself even, before his exploits at Sadowa and Gravelotte; in fact, he
rose from the ranks, which is very unusual even in the smallest of the
Father Brown sat up suddenly.
"Rose from the ranks!" he cried, and made a mouth as if to whistle.
"Well, well, what a queer story! What a queer way of killing a man;
but I suppose it was the only one possible. But to think of hate so
"What do you mean?" demanded the other. "In what way did they kill the
"They killed him with the sash," said Brown carefully; and then, as
Flambeau protested: "Yes, yes, I know about the bullet. Perhaps I ought
to say he died of having a sash. I know it doesn't sound like having a
"I suppose," said Flambeau, "that you've got some notion in your head,
but it won't easily get the bullet out of his. As I explained before, he
might easily have been strangled. But he was shot. By whom? By what?"
"He was shot by his own orders," said the priest.
"You mean he committed suicide?"
"I didn't say by his own wish," replied Father Brown. "I said by his own
"Well, anyhow, what is your theory?"
Father Brown laughed. "I am only on my holiday," he said. "I haven't got
any theories. Only this place reminds me of fairy stories, and, if you
like, I'll tell you a story."
The little pink clouds, that looked rather like sweet-stuff, had floated
up to crown the turrets of the gilt gingerbread castle, and the pink
baby fingers of the budding trees seemed spreading and stretching to
reach them; the blue sky began to take a bright violet of evening, when
Father Brown suddenly spoke again:
"It was on a dismal night, with rain still dropping from the trees
and dew already clustering, that Prince Otto of Grossenmark stepped
hurriedly out of a side door of the castle and walked swiftly into the
wood. One of the innumerable sentries saluted him, but he did not notice
it. He had no wish to be specially noticed himself. He was glad when the
great trees, grey and already greasy with rain, swallowed him up like
a swamp. He had deliberately chosen the least frequented side of his
palace, but even that was more frequented than he liked. But there was
no particular chance of officious or diplomatic pursuit, for his exit
had been a sudden impulse. All the full-dressed diplomatists he left
behind were unimportant. He had realized suddenly that he could do
"His great passion was not the much nobler dread of death, but the
strange desire of gold. For this legend of the gold he had left
Grossenmark and invaded Heiligwaldenstein. For this and only this he
had bought the traitor and butchered the hero, for this he had long
questioned and cross-questioned the false Chamberlain, until he had come
to the conclusion that, touching his ignorance, the renegade really
told the truth. For this he had, somewhat reluctantly, paid and promised
money on the chance of gaining the larger amount; and for this he had
stolen out of his palace like a thief in the rain, for he had thought of
another way to get the desire of his eyes, and to get it cheap.
"Away at the upper end of a rambling mountain path to which he was
making his way, among the pillared rocks along the ridge that hangs
above the town, stood the hermitage, hardly more than a cavern fenced
with thorn, in which the third of the great brethren had long hidden
himself from the world. He, thought Prince Otto, could have no real
reason for refusing to give up the gold. He had known its place for
years, and made no effort to find it, even before his new ascetic creed
had cut him off from property or pleasures. True, he had been an enemy,
but he now professed a duty of having no enemies. Some concession to his
cause, some appeal to his principles, would probably get the mere
money secret out of him. Otto was no coward, in spite of his network of
military precautions, and, in any case, his avarice was stronger than
his fears. Nor was there much cause for fear. Since he was certain there
were no private arms in the whole principality, he was a hundred times
more certain there were none in the Quaker's little hermitage on the
hill, where he lived on herbs, with two old rustic servants, and with
no other voice of man for year after year. Prince Otto looked down
with something of a grim smile at the bright, square labyrinths of the
lamp-lit city below him. For as far as the eye could see there ran the
rifles of his friends, and not one pinch of powder for his enemies.
Rifles ranked so close even to that mountain path that a cry from him
would bring the soldiers rushing up the hill, to say nothing of the fact
that the wood and ridge were patrolled at regular intervals; rifles so
far away, in the dim woods, dwarfed by distance, beyond the river, that
an enemy could not slink into the town by any detour. And round the
palace rifles at the west door and the east door, at the north door and
the south, and all along the four facades linking them. He was safe.
"It was all the more clear when he had crested the ridge and found
how naked was the nest of his old enemy. He found himself on a small
platform of rock, broken abruptly by the three corners of precipice.
Behind was the black cave, masked with green thorn, so low that it was
hard to believe that a man could enter it. In front was the fall of the
cliffs and the vast but cloudy vision of the valley. On the small rock
platform stood an old bronze lectern or reading-stand, groaning under a
great German Bible. The bronze or copper of it had grown green with the
eating airs of that exalted place, and Otto had instantly the thought,
'Even if they had arms, they must be rusted by now.' Moonrise had
already made a deathly dawn behind the crests and crags, and the rain
"Behind the lectern, and looking across the valley, stood a very old
man in a black robe that fell as straight as the cliffs around him, but
whose white hair and weak voice seemed alike to waver in the wind.
He was evidently reading some daily lesson as part of his religious
exercises. 'They trust in their horses...'
"'Sir,' said the Prince of Heiligwaldenstein, with quite unusual
courtesy, 'I should like only one word with you.'
"'...and in their chariots,' went on the old man weakly, 'but we
will trust in the name of the Lord of Hosts....' His last words were
inaudible, but he closed the book reverently and, being nearly blind,
made a groping movement and gripped the reading-stand. Instantly his two
servants slipped out of the low-browed cavern and supported him. They
wore dull-black gowns like his own, but they had not the frosty silver
on the hair, nor the frost-bitten refinement of the features. They were
peasants, Croat or Magyar, with broad, blunt visages and blinking eyes.
For the first time something troubled the Prince, but his courage and
diplomatic sense stood firm.
"'I fear we have not met,' he said, 'since that awful cannonade in which
your poor brother died.'
"'All my brothers died,' said the old man, still looking across the
valley. Then, for one instant turning on Otto his drooping, delicate
features, and the wintry hair that seemed to drip over his eyebrows like
icicles, he added: 'You see, I am dead, too.'
"'I hope you'll understand,' said the Prince, controlling himself almost
to a point of conciliation, 'that I do not come here to haunt you, as a
mere ghost of those great quarrels. We will not talk about who was right
or wrong in that, but at least there was one point on which we were
never wrong, because you were always right. Whatever is to be said of
the policy of your family, no one for one moment imagines that you were
moved by the mere gold; you have proved yourself above the suspicion
"The old man in the black gown had hitherto continued to gaze at him
with watery blue eyes and a sort of weak wisdom in his face. But
when the word 'gold' was said he held out his hand as if in arrest of
something, and turned away his face to the mountains.
"'He has spoken of gold,' he said. 'He has spoken of things not lawful.
Let him cease to speak.'
"Otto had the vice of his Prussian type and tradition, which is to
regard success not as an incident but as a quality. He conceived himself
and his like as perpetually conquering peoples who were perpetually
being conquered. Consequently, he was ill acquainted with the emotion
of surprise, and ill prepared for the next movement, which startled and
stiffened him. He had opened his mouth to answer the hermit, when the
mouth was stopped and the voice strangled by a strong, soft gag suddenly
twisted round his head like a tourniquet. It was fully forty seconds
before he even realized that the two Hungarian servants had done it, and
that they had done it with his own military scarf.
"The old man went again weakly to his great brazen-supported Bible,
turned over the leaves, with a patience that had something horrible
about it, till he came to the Epistle of St James, and then began to
read: 'The tongue is a little member, but—'
"Something in the very voice made the Prince turn suddenly and plunge
down the mountain-path he had climbed. He was half-way towards the
gardens of the palace before he even tried to tear the strangling scarf
from his neck and jaws. He tried again and again, and it was impossible;
the men who had knotted that gag knew the difference between what a man
can do with his hands in front of him and what he can do with his hands
behind his head. His legs were free to leap like an antelope on the
mountains, his arms were free to use any gesture or wave any signal, but
he could not speak. A dumb devil was in him.
"He had come close to the woods that walled in the castle before he had
quite realized what his wordless state meant and was meant to mean.
Once more he looked down grimly at the bright, square labyrinths of
the lamp-lit city below him, and he smiled no more. He felt himself
repeating the phrases of his former mood with a murderous irony. Far as
the eye could see ran the rifles of his friends, every one of whom would
shoot him dead if he could not answer the challenge. Rifles were so
near that the wood and ridge could be patrolled at regular intervals;
therefore it was useless to hide in the wood till morning. Rifles were
ranked so far away that an enemy could not slink into the town by
any detour; therefore it was vain to return to the city by any remote
course. A cry from him would bring his soldiers rushing up the hill. But
from him no cry would come.
"The moon had risen in strengthening silver, and the sky showed in
stripes of bright, nocturnal blue between the black stripes of the pines
about the castle. Flowers of some wide and feathery sort—for he had
never noticed such things before—were at once luminous and discoloured
by the moonshine, and seemed indescribably fantastic as they clustered,
as if crawling about the roots of the trees. Perhaps his reason had been
suddenly unseated by the unnatural captivity he carried with him, but in
that wood he felt something unfathomably German—the fairy tale. He knew
with half his mind that he was drawing near to the castle of an ogre—he
had forgotten that he was the ogre. He remembered asking his mother if
bears lived in the old park at home. He stooped to pick a flower, as
if it were a charm against enchantment. The stalk was stronger than he
expected, and broke with a slight snap. Carefully trying to place it in
his scarf, he heard the halloo, 'Who goes there?' Then he remembered the
scarf was not in its usual place.
"He tried to scream and was silent. The second challenge came; and then
a shot that shrieked as it came and then was stilled suddenly by impact.
Otto of Grossenmark lay very peacefully among the fairy trees, and would
do no more harm either with gold or steel; only the silver pencil of the
moon would pick out and trace here and there the intricate ornament of
his uniform, or the old wrinkles on his brow. May God have mercy on his
"The sentry who had fired, according to the strict orders of the
garrison, naturally ran forward to find some trace of his quarry. He was
a private named Schwartz, since not unknown in his profession, and what
he found was a bald man in uniform, but with his face so bandaged by a
kind of mask made of his own military scarf that nothing but open, dead
eyes could be seen, glittering stonily in the moonlight. The bullet had
gone through the gag into the jaw; that is why there was a shot-hole
in the scarf, but only one shot. Naturally, if not correctly, young
Schwartz tore off the mysterious silken mask and cast it on the grass;
and then he saw whom he had slain.
"We cannot be certain of the next phase. But I incline to believe that
there was a fairy tale, after all, in that little wood, horrible as
was its occasion. Whether the young lady named Hedwig had any previous
knowledge of the soldier she saved and eventually married, or whether
she came accidentally upon the accident and their intimacy began that
night, we shall probably never know. But we can know, I fancy, that this
Hedwig was a heroine, and deserved to marry a man who became something
of a hero. She did the bold and the wise thing. She persuaded the sentry
to go back to his post, in which place there was nothing to connect him
with the disaster; he was but one of the most loyal and orderly of fifty
such sentries within call. She remained by the body and gave the alarm;
and there was nothing to connect her with the disaster either, since she
had not got, and could not have, any firearms.
"Well," said Father Brown rising cheerfully "I hope they're happy."
"Where are you going?" asked his friend.
"I'm going to have another look at that portrait of the Chamberlain, the
Arnhold who betrayed his brethren," answered the priest. "I wonder what
part—I wonder if a man is less a traitor when he is twice a traitor?"
And he ruminated long before the portrait of a white-haired man
with black eyebrows and a pink, painted sort of smile that seemed to
contradict the black warning in his eyes.
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