Part 1 out of 5
THE INNOCENCE OF FATHER BROWN
The Blue Cross
The Secret Garden
The Queer Feet
The Flying Stars
The Invisible Man
The Honour of Israel Gow
The Wrong Shape
The Sins of Prince Saradine
The Hammer of God
The Eye of Apollo
The Sign of the Broken Sword
The Three Tools of Death
The Blue Cross
Between the silver ribbon of morning and the green glittering
ribbon of sea, the boat touched Harwich and let loose a swarm of
folk like flies, among whom the man we must follow was by no means
conspicuous--nor wished to be. There was nothing notable about
him, except a slight contrast between the holiday gaiety of his
clothes and the official gravity of his face. His clothes
included a slight, pale grey jacket, a white waistcoat, and a
silver straw hat with a grey-blue ribbon. His lean face was dark
by contrast, and ended in a curt black beard that looked Spanish
and suggested an Elizabethan ruff. He was smoking a cigarette
with the seriousness of an idler. There was nothing about him to
indicate the fact that the grey jacket covered a loaded revolver,
that the white waistcoat covered a police card, or that the straw
hat covered one of the most powerful intellects in Europe. For
this was Valentin himself, the head of the Paris police and the
most famous investigator of the world; and he was coming from
Brussels to London to make the greatest arrest of the century.
Flambeau was in England. The police of three countries had
tracked the great criminal at last from Ghent to Brussels, from
Brussels to the Hook of Holland; and it was conjectured that he
would take some advantage of the unfamiliarity and confusion of
the Eucharistic Congress, then taking place in London. Probably
he would travel as some minor clerk or secretary connected with
it; but, of course, Valentin could not be certain; nobody could be
certain about Flambeau.
It is many years now since this colossus of crime suddenly
ceased keeping the world in a turmoil; and when he ceased, as they
said after the death of Roland, there was a great quiet upon the
earth. But in his best days (I mean, of course, his worst)
Flambeau was a figure as statuesque and international as the
Kaiser. Almost every morning the daily paper announced that he
had escaped the consequences of one extraordinary crime by
committing another. He was a Gascon of gigantic stature and
bodily daring; and the wildest tales were told of his outbursts of
athletic humour; how he turned the juge d'instruction upside down
and stood him on his head, "to clear his mind"; how he ran down
the Rue de Rivoli with a policeman under each arm. It is due to
him to say that his fantastic physical strength was generally
employed in such bloodless though undignified scenes; his real
crimes were chiefly those of ingenious and wholesale robbery. But
each of his thefts was almost a new sin, and would make a story by
itself. It was he who ran the great Tyrolean Dairy Company in
London, with no dairies, no cows, no carts, no milk, but with some
thousand subscribers. These he served by the simple operation of
moving the little milk cans outside people's doors to the doors of
his own customers. It was he who had kept up an unaccountable and
close correspondence with a young lady whose whole letter-bag was
intercepted, by the extraordinary trick of photographing his
messages infinitesimally small upon the slides of a microscope. A
sweeping simplicity, however, marked many of his experiments. It
is said that he once repainted all the numbers in a street in the
dead of night merely to divert one traveller into a trap. It is
quite certain that he invented a portable pillar-box, which he put
up at corners in quiet suburbs on the chance of strangers dropping
postal orders into it. Lastly, he was known to be a startling
acrobat; despite his huge figure, he could leap like a grasshopper
and melt into the tree-tops like a monkey. Hence the great
Valentin, when he set out to find Flambeau, was perfectly aware
that his adventures would not end when he had found him.
But how was he to find him? On this the great Valentin's
ideas were still in process of settlement.
There was one thing which Flambeau, with all his dexterity of
disguise, could not cover, and that was his singular height. If
Valentin's quick eye had caught a tall apple-woman, a tall
grenadier, or even a tolerably tall duchess, he might have
arrested them on the spot. But all along his train there was
nobody that could be a disguised Flambeau, any more than a cat
could be a disguised giraffe. About the people on the boat he had
already satisfied himself; and the people picked up at Harwich or
on the journey limited themselves with certainty to six. There
was a short railway official travelling up to the terminus, three
fairly short market gardeners picked up two stations afterwards,
one very short widow lady going up from a small Essex town, and a
very short Roman Catholic priest going up from a small Essex
village. When it came to the last case, Valentin gave it up and
almost laughed. The little priest was so much the essence of
those Eastern flats; he had a face as round and dull as a Norfolk
dumpling; he had eyes as empty as the North Sea; he had several
brown paper parcels, which he was quite incapable of collecting.
The Eucharistic Congress had doubtless sucked out of their local
stagnation many such creatures, blind and helpless, like moles
disinterred. Valentin was a sceptic in the severe style of
France, and could have no love for priests. But he could have
pity for them, and this one might have provoked pity in anybody.
He had a large, shabby umbrella, which constantly fell on the
floor. He did not seem to know which was the right end of his
return ticket. He explained with a moon-calf simplicity to
everybody in the carriage that he had to be careful, because he
had something made of real silver "with blue stones" in one of his
brown-paper parcels. His quaint blending of Essex flatness with
saintly simplicity continuously amused the Frenchman till the
priest arrived (somehow) at Tottenham with all his parcels, and
came back for his umbrella. When he did the last, Valentin even
had the good nature to warn him not to take care of the silver by
telling everybody about it. But to whomever he talked, Valentin
kept his eye open for someone else; he looked out steadily for
anyone, rich or poor, male or female, who was well up to six feet;
for Flambeau was four inches above it.
He alighted at Liverpool Street, however, quite conscientiously
secure that he had not missed the criminal so far. He then went
to Scotland Yard to regularise his position and arrange for help
in case of need; he then lit another cigarette and went for a long
stroll in the streets of London. As he was walking in the streets
and squares beyond Victoria, he paused suddenly and stood. It was
a quaint, quiet square, very typical of London, full of an
accidental stillness. The tall, flat houses round looked at once
prosperous and uninhabited; the square of shrubbery in the centre
looked as deserted as a green Pacific islet. One of the four
sides was much higher than the rest, like a dais; and the line of
this side was broken by one of London's admirable accidents--a
restaurant that looked as if it had strayed from Soho. It was an
unreasonably attractive object, with dwarf plants in pots and
long, striped blinds of lemon yellow and white. It stood specially
high above the street, and in the usual patchwork way of London, a
flight of steps from the street ran up to meet the front door
almost as a fire-escape might run up to a first-floor window.
Valentin stood and smoked in front of the yellow-white blinds and
considered them long.
The most incredible thing about miracles is that they happen.
A few clouds in heaven do come together into the staring shape of
one human eye. A tree does stand up in the landscape of a
doubtful journey in the exact and elaborate shape of a note of
interrogation. I have seen both these things myself within the
last few days. Nelson does die in the instant of victory; and a
man named Williams does quite accidentally murder a man named
Williamson; it sounds like a sort of infanticide. In short, there
is in life an element of elfin coincidence which people reckoning
on the prosaic may perpetually miss. As it has been well
expressed in the paradox of Poe, wisdom should reckon on the
Aristide Valentin was unfathomably French; and the French
intelligence is intelligence specially and solely. He was not "a
thinking machine"; for that is a brainless phrase of modern
fatalism and materialism. A machine only is a machine because it
cannot think. But he was a thinking man, and a plain man at the
same time. All his wonderful successes, that looked like conjuring,
had been gained by plodding logic, by clear and commonplace French
thought. The French electrify the world not by starting any
paradox, they electrify it by carrying out a truism. They carry a
truism so far--as in the French Revolution. But exactly because
Valentin understood reason, he understood the limits of reason.
Only a man who knows nothing of motors talks of motoring without
petrol; only a man who knows nothing of reason talks of reasoning
without strong, undisputed first principles. Here he had no
strong first principles. Flambeau had been missed at Harwich; and
if he was in London at all, he might be anything from a tall tramp
on Wimbledon Common to a tall toast-master at the Hotel Metropole.
In such a naked state of nescience, Valentin had a view and a
method of his own.
In such cases he reckoned on the unforeseen. In such cases,
when he could not follow the train of the reasonable, he coldly
and carefully followed the train of the unreasonable. Instead of
going to the right places--banks, police stations, rendezvous--
he systematically went to the wrong places; knocked at every empty
house, turned down every cul de sac, went up every lane blocked
with rubbish, went round every crescent that led him uselessly out
of the way. He defended this crazy course quite logically. He
said that if one had a clue this was the worst way; but if one had
no clue at all it was the best, because there was just the chance
that any oddity that caught the eye of the pursuer might be the
same that had caught the eye of the pursued. Somewhere a man must
begin, and it had better be just where another man might stop.
Something about that flight of steps up to the shop, something
about the quietude and quaintness of the restaurant, roused all
the detective's rare romantic fancy and made him resolve to strike
at random. He went up the steps, and sitting down at a table by
the window, asked for a cup of black coffee.
It was half-way through the morning, and he had not
breakfasted; the slight litter of other breakfasts stood about on
the table to remind him of his hunger; and adding a poached egg to
his order, he proceeded musingly to shake some white sugar into
his coffee, thinking all the time about Flambeau. He remembered
how Flambeau had escaped, once by a pair of nail scissors, and
once by a house on fire; once by having to pay for an unstamped
letter, and once by getting people to look through a telescope at
a comet that might destroy the world. He thought his detective
brain as good as the criminal's, which was true. But he fully
realised the disadvantage. "The criminal is the creative artist;
the detective only the critic," he said with a sour smile, and
lifted his coffee cup to his lips slowly, and put it down very
quickly. He had put salt in it.
He looked at the vessel from which the silvery powder had
come; it was certainly a sugar-basin; as unmistakably meant for
sugar as a champagne-bottle for champagne. He wondered why they
should keep salt in it. He looked to see if there were any more
orthodox vessels. Yes; there were two salt-cellars quite full.
Perhaps there was some speciality in the condiment in the
salt-cellars. He tasted it; it was sugar. Then he looked round
at the restaurant with a refreshed air of interest, to see if
there were any other traces of that singular artistic taste which
puts the sugar in the salt-cellars and the salt in the sugar-basin.
Except for an odd splash of some dark fluid on one of the
white-papered walls, the whole place appeared neat, cheerful and
ordinary. He rang the bell for the waiter.
When that official hurried up, fuzzy-haired and somewhat
blear-eyed at that early hour, the detective (who was not without
an appreciation of the simpler forms of humour) asked him to taste
the sugar and see if it was up to the high reputation of the hotel.
The result was that the waiter yawned suddenly and woke up.
"Do you play this delicate joke on your customers every
morning?" inquired Valentin. "Does changing the salt and sugar
never pall on you as a jest?"
The waiter, when this irony grew clearer, stammeringly assured
him that the establishment had certainly no such intention; it
must be a most curious mistake. He picked up the sugar-basin and
looked at it; he picked up the salt-cellar and looked at that, his
face growing more and more bewildered. At last he abruptly
excused himself, and hurrying away, returned in a few seconds with
the proprietor. The proprietor also examined the sugar-basin and
then the salt-cellar; the proprietor also looked bewildered.
Suddenly the waiter seemed to grow inarticulate with a rush of
"I zink," he stuttered eagerly, "I zink it is those two
"What two clergymen?"
"The two clergymen," said the waiter, "that threw soup at the
"Threw soup at the wall?" repeated Valentin, feeling sure this
must be some singular Italian metaphor.
"Yes, yes," said the attendant excitedly, and pointed at the
dark splash on the white paper; "threw it over there on the wall."
Valentin looked his query at the proprietor, who came to his
rescue with fuller reports.
"Yes, sir," he said, "it's quite true, though I don't suppose
it has anything to do with the sugar and salt. Two clergymen came
in and drank soup here very early, as soon as the shutters were
taken down. They were both very quiet, respectable people; one of
them paid the bill and went out; the other, who seemed a slower
coach altogether, was some minutes longer getting his things
together. But he went at last. Only, the instant before he
stepped into the street he deliberately picked up his cup, which
he had only half emptied, and threw the soup slap on the wall. I
was in the back room myself, and so was the waiter; so I could
only rush out in time to find the wall splashed and the shop
empty. It don't do any particular damage, but it was confounded
cheek; and I tried to catch the men in the street. They were too
far off though; I only noticed they went round the next corner
into Carstairs Street."
The detective was on his feet, hat settled and stick in hand.
He had already decided that in the universal darkness of his mind
he could only follow the first odd finger that pointed; and this
finger was odd enough. Paying his bill and clashing the glass
doors behind him, he was soon swinging round into the other
It was fortunate that even in such fevered moments his eye was
cool and quick. Something in a shop-front went by him like a mere
flash; yet he went back to look at it. The shop was a popular
greengrocer and fruiterer's, an array of goods set out in the open
air and plainly ticketed with their names and prices. In the two
most prominent compartments were two heaps, of oranges and of nuts
respectively. On the heap of nuts lay a scrap of cardboard, on
which was written in bold, blue chalk, "Best tangerine oranges,
two a penny." On the oranges was the equally clear and exact
description, "Finest Brazil nuts, 4d. a lb." M. Valentin looked
at these two placards and fancied he had met this highly subtle
form of humour before, and that somewhat recently. He drew the
attention of the red-faced fruiterer, who was looking rather
sullenly up and down the street, to this inaccuracy in his
advertisements. The fruiterer said nothing, but sharply put each
card into its proper place. The detective, leaning elegantly on
his walking-cane, continued to scrutinise the shop. At last he
said, "Pray excuse my apparent irrelevance, my good sir, but I
should like to ask you a question in experimental psychology and
the association of ideas."
The red-faced shopman regarded him with an eye of menace; but
he continued gaily, swinging his cane, "Why," he pursued, "why are
two tickets wrongly placed in a greengrocer's shop like a shovel
hat that has come to London for a holiday? Or, in case I do not
make myself clear, what is the mystical association which connects
the idea of nuts marked as oranges with the idea of two clergymen,
one tall and the other short?"
The eyes of the tradesman stood out of his head like a
snail's; he really seemed for an instant likely to fling himself
upon the stranger. At last he stammered angrily: "I don't know
what you 'ave to do with it, but if you're one of their friends,
you can tell 'em from me that I'll knock their silly 'eads off,
parsons or no parsons, if they upset my apples again."
"Indeed?" asked the detective, with great sympathy. "Did they
upset your apples?"
"One of 'em did," said the heated shopman; "rolled 'em all
over the street. I'd 'ave caught the fool but for havin' to pick
"Which way did these parsons go?" asked Valentin.
"Up that second road on the left-hand side, and then across
the square," said the other promptly.
"Thanks," replied Valentin, and vanished like a fairy. On the
other side of the second square he found a policeman, and said:
"This is urgent, constable; have you seen two clergymen in shovel
The policeman began to chuckle heavily. "I 'ave, sir; and if
you arst me, one of 'em was drunk. He stood in the middle of the
road that bewildered that--"
"Which way did they go?" snapped Valentin.
"They took one of them yellow buses over there," answered the
man; "them that go to Hampstead."
Valentin produced his official card and said very rapidly:
"Call up two of your men to come with me in pursuit," and crossed
the road with such contagious energy that the ponderous policeman
was moved to almost agile obedience. In a minute and a half the
French detective was joined on the opposite pavement by an
inspector and a man in plain clothes.
"Well, sir," began the former, with smiling importance, "and
Valentin pointed suddenly with his cane. "I'll tell you on
the top of that omnibus," he said, and was darting and dodging
across the tangle of the traffic. When all three sank panting on
the top seats of the yellow vehicle, the inspector said: "We could
go four times as quick in a taxi."
"Quite true," replied their leader placidly, "if we only had
an idea of where we were going."
"Well, where are you going?" asked the other, staring.
Valentin smoked frowningly for a few seconds; then, removing
his cigarette, he said: "If you know what a man's doing, get in
front of him; but if you want to guess what he's doing, keep
behind him. Stray when he strays; stop when he stops; travel as
slowly as he. Then you may see what he saw and may act as he
acted. All we can do is to keep our eyes skinned for a queer
"What sort of queer thing do you mean?" asked the inspector.
"Any sort of queer thing," answered Valentin, and relapsed
into obstinate silence.
The yellow omnibus crawled up the northern roads for what
seemed like hours on end; the great detective would not explain
further, and perhaps his assistants felt a silent and growing doubt
of his errand. Perhaps, also, they felt a silent and growing
desire for lunch, for the hours crept long past the normal luncheon
hour, and the long roads of the North London suburbs seemed to
shoot out into length after length like an infernal telescope. It
was one of those journeys on which a man perpetually feels that
now at last he must have come to the end of the universe, and then
finds he has only come to the beginning of Tufnell Park. London
died away in draggled taverns and dreary scrubs, and then was
unaccountably born again in blazing high streets and blatant
hotels. It was like passing through thirteen separate vulgar
cities all just touching each other. But though the winter
twilight was already threatening the road ahead of them, the
Parisian detective still sat silent and watchful, eyeing the
frontage of the streets that slid by on either side. By the time
they had left Camden Town behind, the policemen were nearly
asleep; at least, they gave something like a jump as Valentin
leapt erect, struck a hand on each man's shoulder, and shouted to
the driver to stop.
They tumbled down the steps into the road without realising
why they had been dislodged; when they looked round for
enlightenment they found Valentin triumphantly pointing his finger
towards a window on the left side of the road. It was a large
window, forming part of the long facade of a gilt and palatial
public-house; it was the part reserved for respectable dining, and
labelled "Restaurant." This window, like all the rest along the
frontage of the hotel, was of frosted and figured glass; but in
the middle of it was a big, black smash, like a star in the ice.
"Our cue at last," cried Valentin, waving his stick; "the
place with the broken window."
"What window? What cue?" asked his principal assistant.
"Why, what proof is there that this has anything to do with them?"
Valentin almost broke his bamboo stick with rage.
"Proof!" he cried. "Good God! the man is looking for proof!
Why, of course, the chances are twenty to one that it has nothing
to do with them. But what else can we do? Don't you see we must
either follow one wild possibility or else go home to bed?" He
banged his way into the restaurant, followed by his companions,
and they were soon seated at a late luncheon at a little table,
and looked at the star of smashed glass from the inside. Not that
it was very informative to them even then.
"Got your window broken, I see," said Valentin to the waiter
as he paid the bill.
"Yes, sir," answered the attendant, bending busily over the
change, to which Valentin silently added an enormous tip. The
waiter straightened himself with mild but unmistakable animation.
"Ah, yes, sir," he said. "Very odd thing, that, sir."
"Indeed?" Tell us about it," said the detective with careless
"Well, two gents in black came in," said the waiter; "two of
those foreign parsons that are running about. They had a cheap
and quiet little lunch, and one of them paid for it and went out.
The other was just going out to join him when I looked at my
change again and found he'd paid me more than three times too
much. `Here,' I says to the chap who was nearly out of the door,
`you've paid too much.' `Oh,' he says, very cool, `have we?'
'Yes,' I says, and picks up the bill to show him. Well, that was
"What do you mean?" asked his interlocutor.
"Well, I'd have sworn on seven Bibles that I'd put 4s. on that
bill. But now I saw I'd put 14s., as plain as paint."
"Well?" cried Valentin, moving slowly, but with burning eyes,
"The parson at the door he says all serene, `Sorry to confuse
your accounts, but it'll pay for the window.' `What window?' I
says. `The one I'm going to break,' he says, and smashed that
blessed pane with his umbrella."
All three inquirers made an exclamation; and the inspector
said under his breath, "Are we after escaped lunatics?" The waiter
went on with some relish for the ridiculous story:
"I was so knocked silly for a second, I couldn't do anything.
The man marched out of the place and joined his friend just round
the corner. Then they went so quick up Bullock Street that I
couldn't catch them, though I ran round the bars to do it."
"Bullock Street," said the detective, and shot up that
thoroughfare as quickly as the strange couple he pursued.
Their journey now took them through bare brick ways like
tunnels; streets with few lights and even with few windows;
streets that seemed built out of the blank backs of everything and
everywhere. Dusk was deepening, and it was not easy even for the
London policemen to guess in what exact direction they were
treading. The inspector, however, was pretty certain that they
would eventually strike some part of Hampstead Heath. Abruptly
one bulging gas-lit window broke the blue twilight like a
bull's-eye lantern; and Valentin stopped an instant before a little
garish sweetstuff shop. After an instant's hesitation he went in;
he stood amid the gaudy colours of the confectionery with entire
gravity and bought thirteen chocolate cigars with a certain care.
He was clearly preparing an opening; but he did not need one.
An angular, elderly young woman in the shop had regarded his
elegant appearance with a merely automatic inquiry; but when she
saw the door behind him blocked with the blue uniform of the
inspector, her eyes seemed to wake up.
"Oh," she said, "if you've come about that parcel, I've sent
it off already."
"Parcel?" repeated Valentin; and it was his turn to look
"I mean the parcel the gentleman left--the clergyman
"For goodness' sake," said Valentin, leaning forward with his
first real confession of eagerness, "for Heaven's sake tell us
what happened exactly."
"Well," said the woman a little doubtfully, "the clergymen
came in about half an hour ago and bought some peppermints and
talked a bit, and then went off towards the Heath. But a second
after, one of them runs back into the shop and says, `Have I left
a parcel!' Well, I looked everywhere and couldn't see one; so he
says, `Never mind; but if it should turn up, please post it to
this address,' and he left me the address and a shilling for my
trouble. And sure enough, though I thought I'd looked everywhere,
I found he'd left a brown paper parcel, so I posted it to the
place he said. I can't remember the address now; it was somewhere
in Westminster. But as the thing seemed so important, I thought
perhaps the police had come about it."
"So they have," said Valentin shortly. "Is Hampstead Heath
"Straight on for fifteen minutes," said the woman, "and you'll
come right out on the open." Valentin sprang out of the shop and
began to run. The other detectives followed him at a reluctant
The street they threaded was so narrow and shut in by shadows
that when they came out unexpectedly into the void common and vast
sky they were startled to find the evening still so light and
clear. A perfect dome of peacock-green sank into gold amid the
blackening trees and the dark violet distances. The glowing green
tint was just deep enough to pick out in points of crystal one or
two stars. All that was left of the daylight lay in a golden
glitter across the edge of Hampstead and that popular hollow which
is called the Vale of Health. The holiday makers who roam this
region had not wholly dispersed; a few couples sat shapelessly on
benches; and here and there a distant girl still shrieked in one
of the swings. The glory of heaven deepened and darkened around
the sublime vulgarity of man; and standing on the slope and looking
across the valley, Valentin beheld the thing which he sought.
Among the black and breaking groups in that distance was one
especially black which did not break--a group of two figures
clerically clad. Though they seemed as small as insects, Valentin
could see that one of them was much smaller than the other.
Though the other had a student's stoop and an inconspicuous manner,
he could see that the man was well over six feet high. He shut
his teeth and went forward, whirling his stick impatiently. By
the time he had substantially diminished the distance and
magnified the two black figures as in a vast microscope, he had
perceived something else; something which startled him, and yet
which he had somehow expected. Whoever was the tall priest, there
could be no doubt about the identity of the short one. It was his
friend of the Harwich train, the stumpy little cure of Essex whom
he had warned about his brown paper parcels.
Now, so far as this went, everything fitted in finally and
rationally enough. Valentin had learned by his inquiries that
morning that a Father Brown from Essex was bringing up a silver
cross with sapphires, a relic of considerable value, to show some
of the foreign priests at the congress. This undoubtedly was the
"silver with blue stones"; and Father Brown undoubtedly was the
little greenhorn in the train. Now there was nothing wonderful
about the fact that what Valentin had found out Flambeau had also
found out; Flambeau found out everything. Also there was nothing
wonderful in the fact that when Flambeau heard of a sapphire cross
he should try to steal it; that was the most natural thing in all
natural history. And most certainly there was nothing wonderful
about the fact that Flambeau should have it all his own way with
such a silly sheep as the man with the umbrella and the parcels.
He was the sort of man whom anybody could lead on a string to the
North Pole; it was not surprising that an actor like Flambeau,
dressed as another priest, could lead him to Hampstead Heath. So
far the crime seemed clear enough; and while the detective pitied
the priest for his helplessness, he almost despised Flambeau for
condescending to so gullible a victim. But when Valentin thought
of all that had happened in between, of all that had led him to
his triumph, he racked his brains for the smallest rhyme or reason
in it. What had the stealing of a blue-and-silver cross from a
priest from Essex to do with chucking soup at wall paper? What
had it to do with calling nuts oranges, or with paying for windows
first and breaking them afterwards? He had come to the end of his
chase; yet somehow he had missed the middle of it. When he failed
(which was seldom), he had usually grasped the clue, but
nevertheless missed the criminal. Here he had grasped the
criminal, but still he could not grasp the clue.
The two figures that they followed were crawling like black
flies across the huge green contour of a hill. They were evidently
sunk in conversation, and perhaps did not notice where they were
going; but they were certainly going to the wilder and more silent
heights of the Heath. As their pursuers gained on them, the
latter had to use the undignified attitudes of the deer-stalker,
to crouch behind clumps of trees and even to crawl prostrate in
deep grass. By these ungainly ingenuities the hunters even came
close enough to the quarry to hear the murmur of the discussion,
but no word could be distinguished except the word "reason"
recurring frequently in a high and almost childish voice. Once
over an abrupt dip of land and a dense tangle of thickets, the
detectives actually lost the two figures they were following.
They did not find the trail again for an agonising ten minutes,
and then it led round the brow of a great dome of hill overlooking
an amphitheatre of rich and desolate sunset scenery. Under a tree
in this commanding yet neglected spot was an old ramshackle wooden
seat. On this seat sat the two priests still in serious speech
together. The gorgeous green and gold still clung to the darkening
horizon; but the dome above was turning slowly from peacock-green
to peacock-blue, and the stars detached themselves more and more
like solid jewels. Mutely motioning to his followers, Valentin
contrived to creep up behind the big branching tree, and, standing
there in deathly silence, heard the words of the strange priests
for the first time.
After he had listened for a minute and a half, he was gripped
by a devilish doubt. Perhaps he had dragged the two English
policemen to the wastes of a nocturnal heath on an errand no saner
than seeking figs on its thistles. For the two priests were
talking exactly like priests, piously, with learning and leisure,
about the most aerial enigmas of theology. The little Essex
priest spoke the more simply, with his round face turned to the
strengthening stars; the other talked with his head bowed, as if
he were not even worthy to look at them. But no more innocently
clerical conversation could have been heard in any white Italian
cloister or black Spanish cathedral.
The first he heard was the tail of one of Father Brown's
sentences, which ended: "... what they really meant in the Middle
Ages by the heavens being incorruptible."
The taller priest nodded his bowed head and said:
"Ah, yes, these modern infidels appeal to their reason; but
who can look at those millions of worlds and not feel that there
may well be wonderful universes above us where reason is utterly
"No," said the other priest; "reason is always reasonable,
even in the last limbo, in the lost borderland of things. I know
that people charge the Church with lowering reason, but it is just
the other way. Alone on earth, the Church makes reason really
supreme. Alone on earth, the Church affirms that God himself is
bound by reason."
The other priest raised his austere face to the spangled sky
"Yet who knows if in that infinite universe--?"
"Only infinite physically," said the little priest, turning
sharply in his seat, "not infinite in the sense of escaping from
the laws of truth."
Valentin behind his tree was tearing his fingernails with
silent fury. He seemed almost to hear the sniggers of the English
detectives whom he had brought so far on a fantastic guess only to
listen to the metaphysical gossip of two mild old parsons. In his
impatience he lost the equally elaborate answer of the tall cleric,
and when he listened again it was again Father Brown who was
"Reason and justice grip the remotest and the loneliest star.
Look at those stars. Don't they look as if they were single
diamonds and sapphires? Well, you can imagine any mad botany or
geology you please. Think of forests of adamant with leaves of
brilliants. Think the moon is a blue moon, a single elephantine
sapphire. But don't fancy that all that frantic astronomy would
make the smallest difference to the reason and justice of conduct.
On plains of opal, under cliffs cut out of pearl, you would still
find a notice-board, `Thou shalt not steal.'"
Valentin was just in the act of rising from his rigid and
crouching attitude and creeping away as softly as might be, felled
by the one great folly of his life. But something in the very
silence of the tall priest made him stop until the latter spoke.
When at last he did speak, he said simply, his head bowed and his
hands on his knees:
"Well, I think that other worlds may perhaps rise higher than
our reason. The mystery of heaven is unfathomable, and I for one
can only bow my head."
Then, with brow yet bent and without changing by the faintest
shade his attitude or voice, he added:
"Just hand over that sapphire cross of yours, will you? We're
all alone here, and I could pull you to pieces like a straw doll."
The utterly unaltered voice and attitude added a strange
violence to that shocking change of speech. But the guarder of
the relic only seemed to turn his head by the smallest section of
the compass. He seemed still to have a somewhat foolish face
turned to the stars. Perhaps he had not understood. Or, perhaps,
he had understood and sat rigid with terror.
"Yes," said the tall priest, in the same low voice and in the
same still posture, "yes, I am Flambeau."
Then, after a pause, he said:
"Come, will you give me that cross?"
"No," said the other, and the monosyllable had an odd sound.
Flambeau suddenly flung off all his pontifical pretensions.
The great robber leaned back in his seat and laughed low but long.
"No," he cried, "you won't give it me, you proud prelate. You
won't give it me, you little celibate simpleton. Shall I tell you
why you won't give it me? Because I've got it already in my own
The small man from Essex turned what seemed to be a dazed face
in the dusk, and said, with the timid eagerness of "The Private
"Are--are you sure?"
Flambeau yelled with delight.
"Really, you're as good as a three-act farce," he cried.
"Yes, you turnip, I am quite sure. I had the sense to make a
duplicate of the right parcel, and now, my friend, you've got the
duplicate and I've got the jewels. An old dodge, Father Brown--
a very old dodge."
"Yes," said Father Brown, and passed his hand through his hair
with the same strange vagueness of manner. "Yes, I've heard of it
The colossus of crime leaned over to the little rustic priest
with a sort of sudden interest.
"You have heard of it?" he asked. "Where have you heard of
"Well, I mustn't tell you his name, of course," said the
little man simply. "He was a penitent, you know. He had lived
prosperously for about twenty years entirely on duplicate brown
paper parcels. And so, you see, when I began to suspect you, I
thought of this poor chap's way of doing it at once."
"Began to suspect me?" repeated the outlaw with increased
intensity. "Did you really have the gumption to suspect me just
because I brought you up to this bare part of the heath?"
"No, no," said Brown with an air of apology. "You see, I
suspected you when we first met. It's that little bulge up the
sleeve where you people have the spiked bracelet."
"How in Tartarus," cried Flambeau, "did you ever hear of the
"Oh, one's little flock, you know!" said Father Brown, arching
his eyebrows rather blankly. "When I was a curate in Hartlepool,
there were three of them with spiked bracelets. So, as I
suspected you from the first, don't you see, I made sure that the
cross should go safe, anyhow. I'm afraid I watched you, you know.
So at last I saw you change the parcels. Then, don't you see, I
changed them back again. And then I left the right one behind."
"Left it behind?" repeated Flambeau, and for the first time
there was another note in his voice beside his triumph.
"Well, it was like this," said the little priest, speaking in
the same unaffected way. "I went back to that sweet-shop and
asked if I'd left a parcel, and gave them a particular address if
it turned up. Well, I knew I hadn't; but when I went away again I
did. So, instead of running after me with that valuable parcel,
they have sent it flying to a friend of mine in Westminster."
Then he added rather sadly: "I learnt that, too, from a poor
fellow in Hartlepool. He used to do it with handbags he stole at
railway stations, but he's in a monastery now. Oh, one gets to
know, you know," he added, rubbing his head again with the same
sort of desperate apology. "We can't help being priests. People
come and tell us these things."
Flambeau tore a brown-paper parcel out of his inner pocket and
rent it in pieces. There was nothing but paper and sticks of lead
inside it. He sprang to his feet with a gigantic gesture, and
"I don't believe you. I don't believe a bumpkin like you
could manage all that. I believe you've still got the stuff on
you, and if you don't give it up--why, we're all alone, and I'll
take it by force!"
"No," said Father Brown simply, and stood up also, "you won't
take it by force. First, because I really haven't still got it.
And, second, because we are not alone."
Flambeau stopped in his stride forward.
"Behind that tree," said Father Brown, pointing, "are two
strong policemen and the greatest detective alive. How did they
come here, do you ask? Why, I brought them, of course! How did I
do it? Why, I'll tell you if you like! Lord bless you, we have
to know twenty such things when we work among the criminal classes!
Well, I wasn't sure you were a thief, and it would never do to
make a scandal against one of our own clergy. So I just tested
you to see if anything would make you show yourself. A man
generally makes a small scene if he finds salt in his coffee; if
he doesn't, he has some reason for keeping quiet. I changed the
salt and sugar, and you kept quiet. A man generally objects if
his bill is three times too big. If he pays it, he has some motive
for passing unnoticed. I altered your bill, and you paid it."
The world seemed waiting for Flambeau to leap like a tiger.
But he was held back as by a spell; he was stunned with the utmost
"Well," went on Father Brown, with lumbering lucidity, "as you
wouldn't leave any tracks for the police, of course somebody had
to. At every place we went to, I took care to do something that
would get us talked about for the rest of the day. I didn't do
much harm--a splashed wall, spilt apples, a broken window; but I
saved the cross, as the cross will always be saved. It is at
Westminster by now. I rather wonder you didn't stop it with the
"With the what?" asked Flambeau.
"I'm glad you've never heard of it," said the priest, making a
face. "It's a foul thing. I'm sure you're too good a man for a
Whistler. I couldn't have countered it even with the Spots myself;
I'm not strong enough in the legs."
"What on earth are you talking about?" asked the other.
"Well, I did think you'd know the Spots," said Father Brown,
agreeably surprised. "Oh, you can't have gone so very wrong yet!"
"How in blazes do you know all these horrors?" cried Flambeau.
The shadow of a smile crossed the round, simple face of his
"Oh, by being a celibate simpleton, I suppose," he said. "Has
it never struck you that a man who does next to nothing but hear
men's real sins is not likely to be wholly unaware of human evil?
But, as a matter of fact, another part of my trade, too, made me
sure you weren't a priest."
"What?" asked the thief, almost gaping.
"You attacked reason," said Father Brown. "It's bad theology."
And even as he turned away to collect his property, the three
policemen came out from under the twilight trees. Flambeau was an
artist and a sportsman. He stepped back and swept Valentin a great
"Do not bow to me, mon ami," said Valentin with silver
clearness. "Let us both bow to our master."
And they both stood an instant uncovered while the little Essex
priest blinked about for his umbrella.
The Secret Garden
Aristide Valentin, Chief of the Paris Police, was late for his
dinner, and some of his guests began to arrive before him. These
were, however, reassured by his confidential servant, Ivan, the
old man with a scar, and a face almost as grey as his moustaches,
who always sat at a table in the entrance hall--a hall hung with
weapons. Valentin's house was perhaps as peculiar and celebrated
as its master. It was an old house, with high walls and tall
poplars almost overhanging the Seine; but the oddity--and
perhaps the police value--of its architecture was this: that
there was no ultimate exit at all except through this front door,
which was guarded by Ivan and the armoury. The garden was large
and elaborate, and there were many exits from the house into the
garden. But there was no exit from the garden into the world
outside; all round it ran a tall, smooth, unscalable wall with
special spikes at the top; no bad garden, perhaps, for a man to
reflect in whom some hundred criminals had sworn to kill.
As Ivan explained to the guests, their host had telephoned
that he was detained for ten minutes. He was, in truth, making
some last arrangements about executions and such ugly things; and
though these duties were rootedly repulsive to him, he always
performed them with precision. Ruthless in the pursuit of
criminals, he was very mild about their punishment. Since he had
been supreme over French--and largely over European--policial
methods, his great influence had been honourably used for the
mitigation of sentences and the purification of prisons. He was
one of the great humanitarian French freethinkers; and the only
thing wrong with them is that they make mercy even colder than
When Valentin arrived he was already dressed in black clothes
and the red rosette--an elegant figure, his dark beard already
streaked with grey. He went straight through his house to his
study, which opened on the grounds behind. The garden door of it
was open, and after he had carefully locked his box in its official
place, he stood for a few seconds at the open door looking out upon
the garden. A sharp moon was fighting with the flying rags and
tatters of a storm, and Valentin regarded it with a wistfulness
unusual in such scientific natures as his. Perhaps such scientific
natures have some psychic prevision of the most tremendous problem
of their lives. From any such occult mood, at least, he quickly
recovered, for he knew he was late, and that his guests had
already begun to arrive. A glance at his drawing-room when he
entered it was enough to make certain that his principal guest was
not there, at any rate. He saw all the other pillars of the
little party; he saw Lord Galloway, the English Ambassador--a
choleric old man with a russet face like an apple, wearing the
blue ribbon of the Garter. He saw Lady Galloway, slim and
threadlike, with silver hair and a face sensitive and superior.
He saw her daughter, Lady Margaret Graham, a pale and pretty girl
with an elfish face and copper-coloured hair. He saw the Duchess
of Mont St. Michel, black-eyed and opulent, and with her her two
daughters, black-eyed and opulent also. He saw Dr. Simon, a
typical French scientist, with glasses, a pointed brown beard, and
a forehead barred with those parallel wrinkles which are the
penalty of superciliousness, since they come through constantly
elevating the eyebrows. He saw Father Brown, of Cobhole, in Essex,
whom he had recently met in England. He saw--perhaps with more
interest than any of these--a tall man in uniform, who had bowed
to the Galloways without receiving any very hearty acknowledgment,
and who now advanced alone to pay his respects to his host. This
was Commandant O'Brien, of the French Foreign Legion. He was a
slim yet somewhat swaggering figure, clean-shaven, dark-haired,
and blue-eyed, and, as seemed natural in an officer of that famous
regiment of victorious failures and successful suicides, he had an
air at once dashing and melancholy. He was by birth an Irish
gentleman, and in boyhood had known the Galloways--especially
Margaret Graham. He had left his country after some crash of
debts, and now expressed his complete freedom from British
etiquette by swinging about in uniform, sabre and spurs. When he
bowed to the Ambassador's family, Lord and Lady Galloway bent
stiffly, and Lady Margaret looked away.
But for whatever old causes such people might be interested in
each other, their distinguished host was not specially interested
in them. No one of them at least was in his eyes the guest of the
evening. Valentin was expecting, for special reasons, a man of
world-wide fame, whose friendship he had secured during some of
his great detective tours and triumphs in the United States. He
was expecting Julius K. Brayne, that multi-millionaire whose
colossal and even crushing endowments of small religions have
occasioned so much easy sport and easier solemnity for the
American and English papers. Nobody could quite make out whether
Mr. Brayne was an atheist or a Mormon or a Christian Scientist;
but he was ready to pour money into any intellectual vessel, so
long as it was an untried vessel. One of his hobbies was to wait
for the American Shakespeare--a hobby more patient than angling.
He admired Walt Whitman, but thought that Luke P. Tanner, of
Paris, Pa., was more "progressive" than Whitman any day. He liked
anything that he thought "progressive." He thought Valentin
"progressive," thereby doing him a grave injustice.
The solid appearance of Julius K. Brayne in the room was as
decisive as a dinner bell. He had this great quality, which very
few of us can claim, that his presence was as big as his absence.
He was a huge fellow, as fat as he was tall, clad in complete
evening black, without so much relief as a watch-chain or a ring.
His hair was white and well brushed back like a German's; his face
was red, fierce and cherubic, with one dark tuft under the lower
lip that threw up that otherwise infantile visage with an effect
theatrical and even Mephistophelean. Not long, however, did that
salon merely stare at the celebrated American; his lateness had
already become a domestic problem, and he was sent with all speed
into the dining-room with Lady Galloway on his arm.
Except on one point the Galloways were genial and casual
enough. So long as Lady Margaret did not take the arm of that
adventurer O'Brien, her father was quite satisfied; and she had
not done so, she had decorously gone in with Dr. Simon.
Nevertheless, old Lord Galloway was restless and almost rude. He
was diplomatic enough during dinner, but when, over the cigars,
three of the younger men--Simon the doctor, Brown the priest,
and the detrimental O'Brien, the exile in a foreign uniform--all
melted away to mix with the ladies or smoke in the conservatory,
then the English diplomatist grew very undiplomatic indeed. He
was stung every sixty seconds with the thought that the scamp
O'Brien might be signalling to Margaret somehow; he did not
attempt to imagine how. He was left over the coffee with Brayne,
the hoary Yankee who believed in all religions, and Valentin, the
grizzled Frenchman who believed in none. They could argue with
each other, but neither could appeal to him. After a time this
"progressive" logomachy had reached a crisis of tedium; Lord
Galloway got up also and sought the drawing-room. He lost his way
in long passages for some six or eight minutes: till he heard the
high-pitched, didactic voice of the doctor, and then the dull
voice of the priest, followed by general laughter. They also, he
thought with a curse, were probably arguing about "science and
religion." But the instant he opened the salon door he saw only
one thing--he saw what was not there. He saw that Commandant
O'Brien was absent, and that Lady Margaret was absent too.
Rising impatiently from the drawing-room, as he had from the
dining-room, he stamped along the passage once more. His notion
of protecting his daughter from the Irish-Algerian n'er-do-weel
had become something central and even mad in his mind. As he went
towards the back of the house, where was Valentin's study, he was
surprised to meet his daughter, who swept past with a white,
scornful face, which was a second enigma. If she had been with
O'Brien, where was O'Brien! If she had not been with O'Brien,
where had she been? With a sort of senile and passionate
suspicion he groped his way to the dark back parts of the mansion,
and eventually found a servants' entrance that opened on to the
garden. The moon with her scimitar had now ripped up and rolled
away all the storm-wrack. The argent light lit up all four corners
of the garden. A tall figure in blue was striding across the lawn
towards the study door; a glint of moonlit silver on his facings
picked him out as Commandant O'Brien.
He vanished through the French windows into the house, leaving
Lord Galloway in an indescribable temper, at once virulent and
vague. The blue-and-silver garden, like a scene in a theatre,
seemed to taunt him with all that tyrannic tenderness against
which his worldly authority was at war. The length and grace of
the Irishman's stride enraged him as if he were a rival instead of
a father; the moonlight maddened him. He was trapped as if by
magic into a garden of troubadours, a Watteau fairyland; and,
willing to shake off such amorous imbecilities by speech, he
stepped briskly after his enemy. As he did so he tripped over
some tree or stone in the grass; looked down at it first with
irritation and then a second time with curiosity. The next
instant the moon and the tall poplars looked at an unusual sight
--an elderly English diplomatist running hard and crying or
bellowing as he ran.
His hoarse shouts brought a pale face to the study door, the
beaming glasses and worried brow of Dr. Simon, who heard the
nobleman's first clear words. Lord Galloway was crying: "A corpse
in the grass--a blood-stained corpse." O'Brien at last had gone
utterly out of his mind.
"We must tell Valentin at once," said the doctor, when the
other had brokenly described all that he had dared to examine.
"It is fortunate that he is here"; and even as he spoke the great
detective entered the study, attracted by the cry. It was almost
amusing to note his typical transformation; he had come with the
common concern of a host and a gentleman, fearing that some guest
or servant was ill. When he was told the gory fact, he turned
with all his gravity instantly bright and businesslike; for this,
however abrupt and awful, was his business.
"Strange, gentlemen," he said as they hurried out into the
garden, "that I should have hunted mysteries all over the earth,
and now one comes and settles in my own back-yard. But where is
the place?" They crossed the lawn less easily, as a slight mist
had begun to rise from the river; but under the guidance of the
shaken Galloway they found the body sunken in deep grass--the
body of a very tall and broad-shouldered man. He lay face
downwards, so they could only see that his big shoulders were clad
in black cloth, and that his big head was bald, except for a wisp
or two of brown hair that clung to his skull like wet seaweed. A
scarlet serpent of blood crawled from under his fallen face.
"At least," said Simon, with a deep and singular intonation,
"he is none of our party."
"Examine him, doctor," cried Valentin rather sharply. "He may
not be dead."
The doctor bent down. "He is not quite cold, but I am afraid
he is dead enough," he answered. "Just help me to lift him up."
They lifted him carefully an inch from the ground, and all
doubts as to his being really dead were settled at once and
frightfully. The head fell away. It had been entirely sundered
from the body; whoever had cut his throat had managed to sever the
neck as well. Even Valentin was slightly shocked. "He must have
been as strong as a gorilla," he muttered.
Not without a shiver, though he was used to anatomical
abortions, Dr. Simon lifted the head. It was slightly slashed
about the neck and jaw, but the face was substantially unhurt. It
was a ponderous, yellow face, at once sunken and swollen, with a
hawk-like nose and heavy lids--a face of a wicked Roman emperor,
with, perhaps, a distant touch of a Chinese emperor. All present
seemed to look at it with the coldest eye of ignorance. Nothing
else could be noted about the man except that, as they had lifted
his body, they had seen underneath it the white gleam of a
shirt-front defaced with a red gleam of blood. As Dr. Simon said,
the man had never been of their party. But he might very well
have been trying to join it, for he had come dressed for such an
Valentin went down on his hands and knees and examined with
his closest professional attention the grass and ground for some
twenty yards round the body, in which he was assisted less
skillfully by the doctor, and quite vaguely by the English lord.
Nothing rewarded their grovellings except a few twigs, snapped or
chopped into very small lengths, which Valentin lifted for an
instant's examination and then tossed away.
"Twigs," he said gravely; "twigs, and a total stranger with
his head cut off; that is all there is on this lawn."
There was an almost creepy stillness, and then the unnerved
Galloway called out sharply:
"Who's that! Who's that over there by the garden wall!"
A small figure with a foolishly large head drew waveringly
near them in the moonlit haze; looked for an instant like a
goblin, but turned out to be the harmless little priest whom they
had left in the drawing-room.
"I say," he said meekly, "there are no gates to this garden,
do you know."
Valentin's black brows had come together somewhat crossly, as
they did on principle at the sight of the cassock. But he was far
too just a man to deny the relevance of the remark. "You are
right," he said. "Before we find out how he came to be killed, we
may have to find out how he came to be here. Now listen to me,
gentlemen. If it can be done without prejudice to my position and
duty, we shall all agree that certain distinguished names might
well be kept out of this. There are ladies, gentlemen, and there
is a foreign ambassador. If we must mark it down as a crime, then
it must be followed up as a crime. But till then I can use my own
discretion. I am the head of the police; I am so public that I
can afford to be private. Please Heaven, I will clear everyone of
my own guests before I call in my men to look for anybody else.
Gentlemen, upon your honour, you will none of you leave the house
till tomorrow at noon; there are bedrooms for all. Simon, I think
you know where to find my man, Ivan, in the front hall; he is a
confidential man. Tell him to leave another servant on guard and
come to me at once. Lord Galloway, you are certainly the best
person to tell the ladies what has happened, and prevent a panic.
They also must stay. Father Brown and I will remain with the
When this spirit of the captain spoke in Valentin he was obeyed
like a bugle. Dr. Simon went through to the armoury and routed
out Ivan, the public detective's private detective. Galloway went
to the drawing-room and told the terrible news tactfully enough,
so that by the time the company assembled there the ladies were
already startled and already soothed. Meanwhile the good priest
and the good atheist stood at the head and foot of the dead man
motionless in the moonlight, like symbolic statues of their two
philosophies of death.
Ivan, the confidential man with the scar and the moustaches,
came out of the house like a cannon ball, and came racing across
the lawn to Valentin like a dog to his master. His livid face was
quite lively with the glow of this domestic detective story, and
it was with almost unpleasant eagerness that he asked his master's
permission to examine the remains.
"Yes; look, if you like, Ivan," said Valentin, "but don't be
long. We must go in and thrash this out in the house."
Ivan lifted the head, and then almost let it drop.
"Why," he gasped, "it's--no, it isn't; it can't be. Do you
know this man, sir?"
"No," said Valentin indifferently; "we had better go inside."
Between them they carried the corpse to a sofa in the study,
and then all made their way to the drawing-room.
The detective sat down at a desk quietly, and even without
hesitation; but his eye was the iron eye of a judge at assize. He
made a few rapid notes upon paper in front of him, and then said
shortly: "Is everybody here?"
"Not Mr. Brayne," said the Duchess of Mont St. Michel, looking
"No," said Lord Galloway in a hoarse, harsh voice. "And not
Mr. Neil O'Brien, I fancy. I saw that gentleman walking in the
garden when the corpse was still warm."
"Ivan," said the detective, "go and fetch Commandant O'Brien
and Mr. Brayne. Mr. Brayne, I know, is finishing a cigar in the
dining-room; Commandant O'Brien, I think, is walking up and down
the conservatory. I am not sure."
The faithful attendant flashed from the room, and before
anyone could stir or speak Valentin went on with the same
soldierly swiftness of exposition.
"Everyone here knows that a dead man has been found in the
garden, his head cut clean from his body. Dr. Simon, you have
examined it. Do you think that to cut a man's throat like that
would need great force? Or, perhaps, only a very sharp knife?"
"I should say that it could not be done with a knife at all,"
said the pale doctor.
"Have you any thought," resumed Valentin, "of a tool with
which it could be done?"
"Speaking within modern probabilities, I really haven't," said
the doctor, arching his painful brows. "It's not easy to hack a
neck through even clumsily, and this was a very clean cut. It
could be done with a battle-axe or an old headsman's axe, or an
old two-handed sword."
"But, good heavens!" cried the Duchess, almost in hysterics,
"there aren't any two-handed swords and battle-axes round here."
Valentin was still busy with the paper in front of him. "Tell
me," he said, still writing rapidly, "could it have been done with
a long French cavalry sabre?"
A low knocking came at the door, which, for some unreasonable
reason, curdled everyone's blood like the knocking in Macbeth.
Amid that frozen silence Dr. Simon managed to say: "A sabre--
yes, I suppose it could."
"Thank you," said Valentin. "Come in, Ivan."
The confidential Ivan opened the door and ushered in Commandant
Neil O'Brien, whom he had found at last pacing the garden again.
The Irish officer stood up disordered and defiant on the
threshold. "What do you want with me?" he cried.
"Please sit down," said Valentin in pleasant, level tones.
"Why, you aren't wearing your sword. Where is it?"
"I left it on the library table," said O'Brien, his brogue
deepening in his disturbed mood. "It was a nuisance, it was
"Ivan," said Valentin, "please go and get the Commandant's
sword from the library." Then, as the servant vanished, "Lord
Galloway says he saw you leaving the garden just before he found
the corpse. What were you doing in the garden?"
The Commandant flung himself recklessly into a chair. "Oh,"
he cried in pure Irish, "admirin' the moon. Communing with
Nature, me bhoy."
A heavy silence sank and endured, and at the end of it came
again that trivial and terrible knocking. Ivan reappeared,
carrying an empty steel scabbard. "This is all I can find," he
"Put it on the table," said Valentin, without looking up.
There was an inhuman silence in the room, like that sea of
inhuman silence round the dock of the condemned murderer. The
Duchess's weak exclamations had long ago died away. Lord
Galloway's swollen hatred was satisfied and even sobered. The
voice that came was quite unexpected.
"I think I can tell you," cried Lady Margaret, in that clear,
quivering voice with which a courageous woman speaks publicly. "I
can tell you what Mr. O'Brien was doing in the garden, since he is
bound to silence. He was asking me to marry him. I refused; I
said in my family circumstances I could give him nothing but my
respect. He was a little angry at that; he did not seem to think
much of my respect. I wonder," she added, with rather a wan
smile, "if he will care at all for it now. For I offer it him
now. I will swear anywhere that he never did a thing like this."
Lord Galloway had edged up to his daughter, and was
intimidating her in what he imagined to be an undertone. "Hold
your tongue, Maggie," he said in a thunderous whisper. "Why
should you shield the fellow? Where's his sword? Where's his
He stopped because of the singular stare with which his
daughter was regarding him, a look that was indeed a lurid magnet
for the whole group.
"You old fool!" she said in a low voice without pretence of
piety, "what do you suppose you are trying to prove? I tell you
this man was innocent while with me. But if he wasn't innocent,
he was still with me. If he murdered a man in the garden, who was
it who must have seen--who must at least have known? Do you
hate Neil so much as to put your own daughter--"
Lady Galloway screamed. Everyone else sat tingling at the
touch of those satanic tragedies that have been between lovers
before now. They saw the proud, white face of the Scotch
aristocrat and her lover, the Irish adventurer, like old portraits
in a dark house. The long silence was full of formless historical
memories of murdered husbands and poisonous paramours.
In the centre of this morbid silence an innocent voice said:
"Was it a very long cigar?"
The change of thought was so sharp that they had to look round
to see who had spoken.
"I mean," said little Father Brown, from the corner of the
room, "I mean that cigar Mr. Brayne is finishing. It seems nearly
as long as a walking-stick."
Despite the irrelevance there was assent as well as irritation
in Valentin's face as he lifted his head.
"Quite right," he remarked sharply. "Ivan, go and see about
Mr. Brayne again, and bring him here at once."
The instant the factotum had closed the door, Valentin
addressed the girl with an entirely new earnestness.
"Lady Margaret," he said, "we all feel, I am sure, both
gratitude and admiration for your act in rising above your lower
dignity and explaining the Commandant's conduct. But there is a
hiatus still. Lord Galloway, I understand, met you passing from
the study to the drawing-room, and it was only some minutes
afterwards that he found the garden and the Commandant still
"You have to remember," replied Margaret, with a faint irony
in her voice, "that I had just refused him, so we should scarcely
have come back arm in arm. He is a gentleman, anyhow; and he
loitered behind--and so got charged with murder."
"In those few moments," said Valentin gravely, "he might
The knock came again, and Ivan put in his scarred face.
"Beg pardon, sir," he said, "but Mr. Brayne has left the
"Left!" cried Valentin, and rose for the first time to his
"Gone. Scooted. Evaporated," replied Ivan in humorous
French. "His hat and coat are gone, too, and I'll tell you
something to cap it all. I ran outside the house to find any
traces of him, and I found one, and a big trace, too."
"What do you mean?" asked Valentin.
"I'll show you," said his servant, and reappeared with a
flashing naked cavalry sabre, streaked with blood about the point
and edge. Everyone in the room eyed it as if it were a
thunderbolt; but the experienced Ivan went on quite quietly:
"I found this," he said, "flung among the bushes fifty yards
up the road to Paris. In other words, I found it just where your
respectable Mr. Brayne threw it when he ran away."
There was again a silence, but of a new sort. Valentin took
the sabre, examined it, reflected with unaffected concentration of
thought, and then turned a respectful face to O'Brien.
"Commandant," he said, "we trust you will always produce this
weapon if it is wanted for police examination. Meanwhile," he
added, slapping the steel back in the ringing scabbard, "let me
return you your sword."
At the military symbolism of the action the audience could
hardly refrain from applause.
For Neil O'Brien, indeed, that gesture was the turning-point
of existence. By the time he was wandering in the mysterious
garden again in the colours of the morning the tragic futility of
his ordinary mien had fallen from him; he was a man with many
reasons for happiness. Lord Galloway was a gentleman, and had
offered him an apology. Lady Margaret was something better than a
lady, a woman at least, and had perhaps given him something better
than an apology, as they drifted among the old flowerbeds before
breakfast. The whole company was more lighthearted and humane,
for though the riddle of the death remained, the load of suspicion
was lifted off them all, and sent flying off to Paris with the
strange millionaire--a man they hardly knew. The devil was cast
out of the house--he had cast himself out.
Still, the riddle remained; and when O'Brien threw himself on
a garden seat beside Dr. Simon, that keenly scientific person at
once resumed it. He did not get much talk out of O'Brien, whose
thoughts were on pleasanter things.
"I can't say it interests me much," said the Irishman frankly,
"especially as it seems pretty plain now. Apparently Brayne hated
this stranger for some reason; lured him into the garden, and
killed him with my sword. Then he fled to the city, tossing the
sword away as he went. By the way, Ivan tells me the dead man had
a Yankee dollar in his pocket. So he was a countryman of Brayne's,
and that seems to clinch it. I don't see any difficulties about
"There are five colossal difficulties," said the doctor
quietly; "like high walls within walls. Don't mistake me. I
don't doubt that Brayne did it; his flight, I fancy, proves that.
But as to how he did it. First difficulty: Why should a man kill
another man with a great hulking sabre, when he can almost kill
him with a pocket knife and put it back in his pocket? Second
difficulty: Why was there no noise or outcry? Does a man commonly
see another come up waving a scimitar and offer no remarks? Third
difficulty: A servant watched the front door all the evening; and
a rat cannot get into Valentin's garden anywhere. How did the
dead man get into the garden? Fourth difficulty: Given the same
conditions, how did Brayne get out of the garden?"
"And the fifth," said Neil, with eyes fixed on the English
priest who was coming slowly up the path.
"Is a trifle, I suppose," said the doctor, "but I think an odd
one. When I first saw how the head had been slashed, I supposed
the assassin had struck more than once. But on examination I
found many cuts across the truncated section; in other words, they
were struck after the head was off. Did Brayne hate his foe so
fiendishly that he stood sabring his body in the moonlight?"
"Horrible!" said O'Brien, and shuddered.
The little priest, Brown, had arrived while they were talking,
and had waited, with characteristic shyness, till they had
finished. Then he said awkwardly:
"I say, I'm sorry to interrupt. But I was sent to tell you
"News?" repeated Simon, and stared at him rather painfully
through his glasses.
"Yes, I'm sorry," said Father Brown mildly. "There's been
another murder, you know."
Both men on the seat sprang up, leaving it rocking.
"And, what's stranger still," continued the priest, with his
dull eye on the rhododendrons, "it's the same disgusting sort;
it's another beheading. They found the second head actually
bleeding into the river, a few yards along Brayne's road to Paris;
so they suppose that he--"
"Great Heaven!" cried O'Brien. "Is Brayne a monomaniac?"
"There are American vendettas," said the priest impassively.
Then he added: "They want you to come to the library and see it."
Commandant O'Brien followed the others towards the inquest,
feeling decidedly sick. As a soldier, he loathed all this
secretive carnage; where were these extravagant amputations going
to stop? First one head was hacked off, and then another; in this
case (he told himself bitterly) it was not true that two heads
were better than one. As he crossed the study he almost staggered
at a shocking coincidence. Upon Valentin's table lay the coloured
picture of yet a third bleeding head; and it was the head of
Valentin himself. A second glance showed him it was only a
Nationalist paper, called The Guillotine, which every week showed
one of its political opponents with rolling eyes and writhing
features just after execution; for Valentin was an anti-clerical
of some note. But O'Brien was an Irishman, with a kind of
chastity even in his sins; and his gorge rose against that great
brutality of the intellect which belongs only to France. He felt
Paris as a whole, from the grotesques on the Gothic churches to
the gross caricatures in the newspapers. He remembered the
gigantic jests of the Revolution. He saw the whole city as one
ugly energy, from the sanguinary sketch lying on Valentin's table
up to where, above a mountain and forest of gargoyles, the great
devil grins on Notre Dame.
The library was long, low, and dark; what light entered it shot
from under low blinds and had still some of the ruddy tinge of
morning. Valentin and his servant Ivan were waiting for them at
the upper end of a long, slightly-sloping desk, on which lay the
mortal remains, looking enormous in the twilight. The big black
figure and yellow face of the man found in the garden confronted
them essentially unchanged. The second head, which had been
fished from among the river reeds that morning, lay streaming and
dripping beside it; Valentin's men were still seeking to recover
the rest of this second corpse, which was supposed to be afloat.
Father Brown, who did not seem to share O'Brien's sensibilities in
the least, went up to the second head and examined it with his
blinking care. It was little more than a mop of wet white hair,
fringed with silver fire in the red and level morning light; the
face, which seemed of an ugly, empurpled and perhaps criminal
type, had been much battered against trees or stones as it tossed
in the water.
"Good morning, Commandant O'Brien," said Valentin, with quiet
cordiality. "You have heard of Brayne's last experiment in
butchery, I suppose?"
Father Brown was still bending over the head with white hair,
and he said, without looking up:
"I suppose it is quite certain that Brayne cut off this head,
"Well, it seems common sense," said Valentin, with his hands
in his pockets. "Killed in the same way as the other. Found
within a few yards of the other. And sliced by the same weapon
which we know he carried away."
"Yes, yes; I know," replied Father Brown submissively. "Yet,
you know, I doubt whether Brayne could have cut off this head."
"Why not?" inquired Dr. Simon, with a rational stare.
"Well, doctor," said the priest, looking up blinking, "can a
man cut off his own head? I don't know."
O'Brien felt an insane universe crashing about his ears; but
the doctor sprang forward with impetuous practicality and pushed
back the wet white hair.
"Oh, there's no doubt it's Brayne," said the priest quietly.
"He had exactly that chip in the left ear."
The detective, who had been regarding the priest with steady
and glittering eyes, opened his clenched mouth and said sharply:
"You seem to know a lot about him, Father Brown."
"I do," said the little man simply. "I've been about with him
for some weeks. He was thinking of joining our church."
The star of the fanatic sprang into Valentin's eyes; he strode
towards the priest with clenched hands. "And, perhaps," he cried,
with a blasting sneer, "perhaps he was also thinking of leaving
all his money to your church."
"Perhaps he was," said Brown stolidly; "it is possible."
"In that case," cried Valentin, with a dreadful smile, "you
may indeed know a great deal about him. About his life and about
Commandant O'Brien laid a hand on Valentin's arm. "Drop that
slanderous rubbish, Valentin," he said, "or there may be more
But Valentin (under the steady, humble gaze of the priest) had
already recovered himself. "Well," he said shortly, "people's
private opinions can wait. You gentlemen are still bound by your
promise to stay; you must enforce it on yourselves--and on each
other. Ivan here will tell you anything more you want to know;
I must get to business and write to the authorities. We can't
keep this quiet any longer. I shall be writing in my study if
there is any more news."
"Is there any more news, Ivan?" asked Dr. Simon, as the chief
of police strode out of the room.
"Only one more thing, I think, sir," said Ivan, wrinkling up
his grey old face, "but that's important, too, in its way.
There's that old buffer you found on the lawn," and he pointed
without pretence of reverence at the big black body with the
yellow head. "We've found out who he is, anyhow."
"Indeed!" cried the astonished doctor, "and who is he?"
"His name was Arnold Becker," said the under-detective,
"though he went by many aliases. He was a wandering sort of scamp,
and is known to have been in America; so that was where Brayne got
his knife into him. We didn't have much to do with him ourselves,
for he worked mostly in Germany. We've communicated, of course,
with the German police. But, oddly enough, there was a twin
brother of his, named Louis Becker, whom we had a great deal to do
with. In fact, we found it necessary to guillotine him only
yesterday. Well, it's a rum thing, gentlemen, but when I saw that
fellow flat on the lawn I had the greatest jump of my life. If I
hadn't seen Louis Becker guillotined with my own eyes, I'd have
sworn it was Louis Becker lying there in the grass. Then, of
course, I remembered his twin brother in Germany, and following up
The explanatory Ivan stopped, for the excellent reason that
nobody was listening to him. The Commandant and the doctor were
both staring at Father Brown, who had sprung stiffly to his feet,
and was holding his temples tight like a man in sudden and violent
"Stop, stop, stop!" he cried; "stop talking a minute, for I
see half. Will God give me strength? Will my brain make the one
jump and see all? Heaven help me! I used to be fairly good at
thinking. I could paraphrase any page in Aquinas once. Will my
head split--or will it see? I see half--I only see half."
He buried his head in his hands, and stood in a sort of rigid
torture of thought or prayer, while the other three could only go
on staring at this last prodigy of their wild twelve hours.
When Father Brown's hands fell they showed a face quite fresh
and serious, like a child's. He heaved a huge sigh, and said:
"Let us get this said and done with as quickly as possible. Look
here, this will be the quickest way to convince you all of the
truth." He turned to the doctor. "Dr. Simon," he said, "you have
a strong head-piece, and I heard you this morning asking the five
hardest questions about this business. Well, if you will ask them
again, I will answer them."
Simon's pince-nez dropped from his nose in his doubt and
wonder, but he answered at once. "Well, the first question, you
know, is why a man should kill another with a clumsy sabre at all
when a man can kill with a bodkin?"
"A man cannot behead with a bodkin," said Brown calmly, "and
for this murder beheading was absolutely necessary."
"Why?" asked O'Brien, with interest.
"And the next question?" asked Father Brown.
"Well, why didn't the man cry out or anything?" asked the
doctor; "sabres in gardens are certainly unusual."
"Twigs," said the priest gloomily, and turned to the window
which looked on the scene of death. "No one saw the point of the
twigs. Why should they lie on that lawn (look at it) so far from
any tree? They were not snapped off; they were chopped off. The
murderer occupied his enemy with some tricks with the sabre,
showing how he could cut a branch in mid-air, or what-not. Then,
while his enemy bent down to see the result, a silent slash, and
the head fell."
"Well," said the doctor slowly, "that seems plausible enough.
But my next two questions will stump anyone."
The priest still stood looking critically out of the window
"You know how all the garden was sealed up like an air-tight
chamber," went on the doctor. "Well, how did the strange man get
into the garden?"
Without turning round, the little priest answered: "There
never was any strange man in the garden."
There was a silence, and then a sudden cackle of almost
childish laughter relieved the strain. The absurdity of Brown's
remark moved Ivan to open taunts.
"Oh!" he cried; "then we didn't lug a great fat corpse on to a
sofa last night? He hadn't got into the garden, I suppose?"
"Got into the garden?" repeated Brown reflectively. "No, not
"Hang it all," cried Simon, "a man gets into a garden, or he
"Not necessarily," said the priest, with a faint smile. "What
is the nest question, doctor?"
"I fancy you're ill," exclaimed Dr. Simon sharply; "but I'll
ask the next question if you like. How did Brayne get out of the
"He didn't get out of the garden," said the priest, still
looking out of the window.
"Didn't get out of the garden?" exploded Simon.
"Not completely," said Father Brown.
Simon shook his fists in a frenzy of French logic. "A man
gets out of a garden, or he doesn't," he cried.
"Not always," said Father Brown.
Dr. Simon sprang to his feet impatiently. "I have no time to
spare on such senseless talk," he cried angrily. "If you can't
understand a man being on one side of a wall or the other, I won't
trouble you further."
"Doctor," said the cleric very gently, "we have always got on
very pleasantly together. If only for the sake of old friendship,
stop and tell me your fifth question."
The impatient Simon sank into a chair by the door and said
briefly: "The head and shoulders were cut about in a queer way.
It seemed to be done after death."
"Yes," said the motionless priest, "it was done so as to make
you assume exactly the one simple falsehood that you did assume.
It was done to make you take for granted that the head belonged to
The borderland of the brain, where all the monsters are made,
moved horribly in the Gaelic O'Brien. He felt the chaotic
presence of all the horse-men and fish-women that man's unnatural
fancy has begotten. A voice older than his first fathers seemed
saying in his ear: "Keep out of the monstrous garden where grows
the tree with double fruit. Avoid the evil garden where died the
man with two heads." Yet, while these shameful symbolic shapes
passed across the ancient mirror of his Irish soul, his
Frenchified intellect was quite alert, and was watching the odd
priest as closely and incredulously as all the rest.
Father Brown had turned round at last, and stood against the
window, with his face in dense shadow; but even in that shadow
they could see it was pale as ashes. Nevertheless, he spoke quite
sensibly, as if there were no Gaelic souls on earth.
"Gentlemen," he said, "you did not find the strange body of
Becker in the garden. You did not find any strange body in the
garden. In face of Dr. Simon's rationalism, I still affirm that
Becker was only partly present. Look here!" (pointing to the
black bulk of the mysterious corpse) "you never saw that man in
your lives. Did you ever see this man?"
He rapidly rolled away the bald, yellow head of the unknown,
and put in its place the white-maned head beside it. And there,
complete, unified, unmistakable, lay Julius K. Brayne.
"The murderer," went on Brown quietly, "hacked off his enemy's
head and flung the sword far over the wall. But he was too clever
to fling the sword only. He flung the head over the wall also.
Then he had only to clap on another head to the corpse, and (as he
insisted on a private inquest) you all imagined a totally new
"Clap on another head!" said O'Brien staring. "What other
head? Heads don't grow on garden bushes, do they?"
"No," said Father Brown huskily, and looking at his boots;
"there is only one place where they grow. They grow in the basket
of the guillotine, beside which the chief of police, Aristide
Valentin, was standing not an hour before the murder. Oh, my
friends, hear me a minute more before you tear me in pieces.
Valentin is an honest man, if being mad for an arguable cause is
honesty. But did you never see in that cold, grey eye of his that
he is mad! He would do anything, anything, to break what he calls
the superstition of the Cross. He has fought for it and starved
for it, and now he has murdered for it. Brayne's crazy millions
had hitherto been scattered among so many sects that they did
little to alter the balance of things. But Valentin heard a
whisper that Brayne, like so many scatter-brained sceptics, was
drifting to us; and that was quite a different thing. Brayne
would pour supplies into the impoverished and pugnacious Church of
France; he would support six Nationalist newspapers like The
Guillotine. The battle was already balanced on a point, and the
fanatic took flame at the risk. He resolved to destroy the
millionaire, and he did it as one would expect the greatest of
detectives to commit his only crime. He abstracted the severed
head of Becker on some criminological excuse, and took it home in
his official box. He had that last argument with Brayne, that
Lord Galloway did not hear the end of; that failing, he led him
out into the sealed garden, talked about swordsmanship, used twigs
and a sabre for illustration, and--"
Ivan of the Scar sprang up. "You lunatic," he yelled; "you'll
go to my master now, if I take you by--"
"Why, I was going there," said Brown heavily; "I must ask him
to confess, and all that."
Driving the unhappy Brown before them like a hostage or
sacrifice, they rushed together into the sudden stillness of
The great detective sat at his desk apparently too occupied to
hear their turbulent entrance. They paused a moment, and then
something in the look of that upright and elegant back made the
doctor run forward suddenly. A touch and a glance showed him that
there was a small box of pills at Valentin's elbow, and that
Valentin was dead in his chair; and on the blind face of the
suicide was more than the pride of Cato.
The Queer Feet
If you meet a member of that select club, "The Twelve True
Fishermen," entering the Vernon Hotel for the annual club dinner,
you will observe, as he takes off his overcoat, that his evening
coat is green and not black. If (supposing that you have the
star-defying audacity to address such a being) you ask him why, he
will probably answer that he does it to avoid being mistaken for a
waiter. You will then retire crushed. But you will leave behind
you a mystery as yet unsolved and a tale worth telling.
If (to pursue the same vein of improbable conjecture) you were
to meet a mild, hard-working little priest, named Father Brown,
and were to ask him what he thought was the most singular luck of
his life, he would probably reply that upon the whole his best
stroke was at the Vernon Hotel, where he had averted a crime and,
perhaps, saved a soul, merely by listening to a few footsteps in a
passage. He is perhaps a little proud of this wild and wonderful
guess of his, and it is possible that he might refer to it. But
since it is immeasurably unlikely that you will ever rise high
enough in the social world to find "The Twelve True Fishermen," or
that you will ever sink low enough among slums and criminals to
find Father Brown, I fear you will never hear the story at all
unless you hear it from me.
The Vernon Hotel at which The Twelve True Fishermen held their
annual dinners was an institution such as can only exist in an
oligarchical society which has almost gone mad on good manners.
It was that topsy-turvy product--an "exclusive" commercial
enterprise. That is, it was a thing which paid not by attracting
people, but actually by turning people away. In the heart of a
plutocracy tradesmen become cunning enough to be more fastidious
than their customers. They positively create difficulties so that
their wealthy and weary clients may spend money and diplomacy in
overcoming them. If there were a fashionable hotel in London
which no man could enter who was under six foot, society would
meekly make up parties of six-foot men to dine in it. If there
were an expensive restaurant which by a mere caprice of its
proprietor was only open on Thursday afternoon, it would be
crowded on Thursday afternoon. The Vernon Hotel stood, as if by
accident, in the corner of a square in Belgravia. It was a small
hotel; and a very inconvenient one. But its very inconveniences
were considered as walls protecting a particular class. One
inconvenience, in particular, was held to be of vital importance:
the fact that practically only twenty-four people could dine in
the place at once. The only big dinner table was the celebrated
terrace table, which stood open to the air on a sort of veranda
overlooking one of the most exquisite old gardens in London. Thus
it happened that even the twenty-four seats at this table could
only be enjoyed in warm weather; and this making the enjoyment yet
more difficult made it yet more desired. The existing owner of
the hotel was a Jew named Lever; and he made nearly a million out
of it, by making it difficult to get into. Of course he combined
with this limitation in the scope of his enterprise the most
careful polish in its performance. The wines and cooking were
really as good as any in Europe, and the demeanour of the
attendants exactly mirrored the fixed mood of the English upper
class. The proprietor knew all his waiters like the fingers on
his hand; there were only fifteen of them all told. It was much
easier to become a Member of Parliament than to become a waiter in
that hotel. Each waiter was trained in terrible silence and
smoothness, as if he were a gentleman's servant. And, indeed,
there was generally at least one waiter to every gentleman who
The club of The Twelve True Fishermen would not have consented
to dine anywhere but in such a place, for it insisted on a
luxurious privacy; and would have been quite upset by the mere
thought that any other club was even dining in the same building.
On the occasion of their annual dinner the Fishermen were in the
habit of exposing all their treasures, as if they were in a
private house, especially the celebrated set of fish knives and
forks which were, as it were, the insignia of the society, each
being exquisitely wrought in silver in the form of a fish, and
each loaded at the hilt with one large pearl. These were always
laid out for the fish course, and the fish course was always the
most magnificent in that magnificent repast. The society had a
vast number of ceremonies and observances, but it had no history
and no object; that was where it was so very aristocratic. You
did not have to be anything in order to be one of the Twelve
Fishers; unless you were already a certain sort of person, you
never even heard of them. It had been in existence twelve years.
Its president was Mr. Audley. Its vice-president was the Duke of
If I have in any degree conveyed the atmosphere of this
appalling hotel, the reader may feel a natural wonder as to how I
came to know anything about it, and may even speculate as to how
so ordinary a person as my friend Father Brown came to find himself
in that golden galley. As far as that is concerned, my story is
simple, or even vulgar. There is in the world a very aged rioter
and demagogue who breaks into the most refined retreats with the
dreadful information that all men are brothers, and wherever this
leveller went on his pale horse it was Father Brown's trade to
follow. One of the waiters, an Italian, had been struck down with
a paralytic stroke that afternoon; and his Jewish employer,
marvelling mildly at such superstitions, had consented to send for
the nearest Popish priest. With what the waiter confessed to
Father Brown we are not concerned, for the excellent reason that
that cleric kept it to himself; but apparently it involved him in
writing out a note or statement for the conveying of some message
or the righting of some wrong. Father Brown, therefore, with a
meek impudence which he would have shown equally in Buckingham
Palace, asked to be provided with a room and writing materials.
Mr. Lever was torn in two. He was a kind man, and had also that
bad imitation of kindness, the dislike of any difficulty or scene.
At the same time the presence of one unusual stranger in his hotel
that evening was like a speck of dirt on something just cleaned.
There was never any borderland or anteroom in the Vernon Hotel, no
people waiting in the hall, no customers coming in on chance.
There were fifteen waiters. There were twelve guests. It would
be as startling to find a new guest in the hotel that night as to
find a new brother taking breakfast or tea in one's own family.
Moreover, the priest's appearance was second-rate and his clothes
muddy; a mere glimpse of him afar off might precipitate a crisis
in the club. Mr. Lever at last hit on a plan to cover, since he
might not obliterate, the disgrace. When you enter (as you never
will) the Vernon Hotel, you pass down a short passage decorated
with a few dingy but important pictures, and come to the main
vestibule and lounge which opens on your right into passages
leading to the public rooms, and on your left to a similar passage
pointing to the kitchens and offices of the hotel. Immediately on
your left hand is the corner of a glass office, which abuts upon
the lounge--a house within a house, so to speak, like the old
hotel bar which probably once occupied its place.
In this office sat the representative of the proprietor
(nobody in this place ever appeared in person if he could help
it), and just beyond the office, on the way to the servants'
quarters, was the gentlemen's cloak room, the last boundary of the
gentlemen's domain. But between the office and the cloak room was
a small private room without other outlet, sometimes used by the
proprietor for delicate and important matters, such as lending a
duke a thousand pounds or declining to lend him sixpence. It is a
mark of the magnificent tolerance of Mr. Lever that he permitted
this holy place to be for about half an hour profaned by a mere
priest, scribbling away on a piece of paper. The story which
Father Brown was writing down was very likely a much better story
than this one, only it will never be known. I can merely state
that it was very nearly as long, and that the last two or three
paragraphs of it were the least exciting and absorbing.
For it was by the time that he had reached these that the
priest began a little to allow his thoughts to wander and his
animal senses, which were commonly keen, to awaken. The time of
darkness and dinner was drawing on; his own forgotten little room
was without a light, and perhaps the gathering gloom, as
occasionally happens, sharpened the sense of sound. As Father
Brown wrote the last and least essential part of his document, he
caught himself writing to the rhythm of a recurrent noise outside,
just as one sometimes thinks to the tune of a railway train. When
he became conscious of the thing he found what it was: only the
ordinary patter of feet passing the door, which in an hotel was no
very unlikely matter. Nevertheless, he stared at the darkened
ceiling, and listened to the sound. After he had listened for a
few seconds dreamily, he got to his feet and listened intently,
with his head a little on one side. Then he sat down again and
buried his brow in his hands, now not merely listening, but
listening and thinking also.
The footsteps outside at any given moment were such as one
might hear in any hotel; and yet, taken as a whole, there was
something very strange about them. There were no other footsteps.
It was always a very silent house, for the few familiar guests
went at once to their own apartments, and the well-trained waiters
were told to be almost invisible until they were wanted. One
could not conceive any place where there was less reason to
apprehend anything irregular. But these footsteps were so odd
that one could not decide to call them regular or irregular.
Father Brown followed them with his finger on the edge of the
table, like a man trying to learn a tune on the piano.
First, there came a long rush of rapid little steps, such as a
light man might make in winning a walking race. At a certain
point they stopped and changed to a sort of slow, swinging stamp,
numbering not a quarter of the steps, but occupying about the same
time. The moment the last echoing stamp had died away would come
again the run or ripple of light, hurrying feet, and then again
the thud of the heavier walking. It was certainly the same pair
of boots, partly because (as has been said) there were no other
boots about, and partly because they had a small but unmistakable
creak in them. Father Brown had the kind of head that cannot help
asking questions; and on this apparently trivial question his head
almost split. He had seen men run in order to jump. He had seen
men run in order to slide. But why on earth should a man run in
order to walk? Or, again, why should he walk in order to run?
Yet no other description would cover the antics of this invisible
pair of legs. The man was either walking very fast down one-half
of the corridor in order to walk very slow down the other half; or
he was walking very slow at one end to have the rapture of walking
fast at the other. Neither suggestion seemed to make much sense.
His brain was growing darker and darker, like his room.
Yet, as he began to think steadily, the very blackness of his
cell seemed to make his thoughts more vivid; he began to see as in
a kind of vision the fantastic feet capering along the corridor in
unnatural or symbolic attitudes. Was it a heathen religious dance?
Or some entirely new kind of scientific exercise? Father Brown
began to ask himself with more exactness what the steps suggested.
Taking the slow step first: it certainly was not the step of the
proprietor. Men of his type walk with a rapid waddle, or they sit
still. It could not be any servant or messenger waiting for
directions. It did not sound like it. The poorer orders (in an
oligarchy) sometimes lurch about when they are slightly drunk, but
generally, and especially in such gorgeous scenes, they stand or
sit in constrained attitudes. No; that heavy yet springy step,
with a kind of careless emphasis, not specially noisy, yet not
caring what noise it made, belonged to only one of the animals of
this earth. It was a gentleman of western Europe, and probably
one who had never worked for his living.
Just as he came to this solid certainty, the step changed to
the quicker one, and ran past the door as feverishly as a rat.
The listener remarked that though this step was much swifter it
was also much more noiseless, almost as if the man were walking on
tiptoe. Yet it was not associated in his mind with secrecy, but
with something else--something that he could not remember. He
was maddened by one of those half-memories that make a man feel
half-witted. Surely he had heard that strange, swift walking
somewhere. Suddenly he sprang to his feet with a new idea in his
head, and walked to the door. His room had no direct outlet on
the passage, but let on one side into the glass office, and on the
other into the cloak room beyond. He tried the door into the
office, and found it locked. Then he looked at the window, now a
square pane full of purple cloud cleft by livid sunset, and for an
instant he smelt evil as a dog smells rats.
The rational part of him (whether the wiser or not) regained
its supremacy. He remembered that the proprietor had told him
that he should lock the door, and would come later to release him.
He told himself that twenty things he had not thought of might
explain the eccentric sounds outside; he reminded himself that
there was just enough light left to finish his own proper work.
Bringing his paper to the window so as to catch the last stormy
evening light, he resolutely plunged once more into the almost