Part 3 out of 5
stripped and empty; but the pale, sneering faces of one or two of
the wicked Ogilvies looked down out of black periwigs and
Following them into an inner room, Father Brown found that the
allies had been seated at a long oak table, of which their end was
covered with scribbled papers, flanked with whisky and cigars.
Through the whole of its remaining length it was occupied by
detached objects arranged at intervals; objects about as
inexplicable as any objects could be. One looked like a small
heap of glittering broken glass. Another looked like a high heap
of brown dust. A third appeared to be a plain stick of wood.
"You seem to have a sort of geological museum here," he said,
as he sat down, jerking his head briefly in the direction of the
brown dust and the crystalline fragments.
"Not a geological museum," replied Flambeau; "say a
"Oh, for the Lord's sake," cried the police detective laughing,
"don't let's begin with such long words."
"Don't you know what psychology means?" asked Flambeau with
friendly surprise. "Psychology means being off your chump."
"Still I hardly follow," replied the official.
"Well," said Flambeau, with decision, "I mean that we've only
found out one thing about Lord Glengyle. He was a maniac."
The black silhouette of Gow with his top hat and spade passed
the window, dimly outlined against the darkening sky. Father
Brown stared passively at it and answered:
"I can understand there must have been something odd about the
man, or he wouldn't have buried himself alive--nor been in such
a hurry to bury himself dead. But what makes you think it was
"Well," said Flambeau, "you just listen to the list of things
Mr. Craven has found in the house."
"We must get a candle," said Craven, suddenly. "A storm is
getting up, and it's too dark to read."
"Have you found any candles," asked Brown smiling, "among your
Flambeau raised a grave face, and fixed his dark eyes on his
"That is curious, too," he said. "Twenty-five candles, and
not a trace of a candlestick."
In the rapidly darkening room and rapidly rising wind, Brown
went along the table to where a bundle of wax candles lay among
the other scrappy exhibits. As he did so he bent accidentally
over the heap of red-brown dust; and a sharp sneeze cracked the
"Hullo!" he said, "snuff!"
He took one of the candles, lit it carefully, came back and
stuck it in the neck of the whisky bottle. The unrestful night
air, blowing through the crazy window, waved the long flame like a
banner. And on every side of the castle they could hear the miles
and miles of black pine wood seething like a black sea around a
"I will read the inventory," began Craven gravely, picking up
one of the papers, "the inventory of what we found loose and
unexplained in the castle. You are to understand that the place
generally was dismantled and neglected; but one or two rooms had
plainly been inhabited in a simple but not squalid style by
somebody; somebody who was not the servant Gow. The list is as
"First item. A very considerable hoard of precious stones,
nearly all diamonds, and all of them loose, without any setting
whatever. Of course, it is natural that the Ogilvies should have
family jewels; but those are exactly the jewels that are almost
always set in particular articles of ornament. The Ogilvies would
seem to have kept theirs loose in their pockets, like coppers.
"Second item. Heaps and heaps of loose snuff, not kept in a
horn, or even a pouch, but lying in heaps on the mantelpieces, on
the sideboard, on the piano, anywhere. It looks as if the old
gentleman would not take the trouble to look in a pocket or lift a
"Third item. Here and there about the house curious little
heaps of minute pieces of metal, some like steel springs and some
in the form of microscopic wheels. As if they had gutted some
"Fourth item. The wax candles, which have to be stuck in
bottle necks because there is nothing else to stick them in. Now
I wish you to note how very much queerer all this is than anything
we anticipated. For the central riddle we are prepared; we have
all seen at a glance that there was something wrong about the last
earl. We have come here to find out whether he really lived here,
whether he really died here, whether that red-haired scarecrow who
did his burying had anything to do with his dying. But suppose
the worst in all this, the most lurid or melodramatic solution you
like. Suppose the servant really killed the master, or suppose
the master isn't really dead, or suppose the master is dressed up
as the servant, or suppose the servant is buried for the master;
invent what Wilkie Collins' tragedy you like, and you still have
not explained a candle without a candlestick, or why an elderly
gentleman of good family should habitually spill snuff on the
piano. The core of the tale we could imagine; it is the fringes
that are mysterious. By no stretch of fancy can the human mind
connect together snuff and diamonds and wax and loose clockwork."
"I think I see the connection," said the priest. "This
Glengyle was mad against the French Revolution. He was an
enthusiast for the ancien regime, and was trying to re-enact
literally the family life of the last Bourbons. He had snuff
because it was the eighteenth century luxury; wax candles, because
they were the eighteenth century lighting; the mechanical bits of
iron represent the locksmith hobby of Louis XVI; the diamonds are
for the Diamond Necklace of Marie Antoinette."
Both the other men were staring at him with round eyes. "What
a perfectly extraordinary notion!" cried Flambeau. "Do you really
think that is the truth?"
"I am perfectly sure it isn't," answered Father Brown, "only
you said that nobody could connect snuff and diamonds and clockwork
and candles. I give you that connection off-hand. The real truth,
I am very sure, lies deeper."
He paused a moment and listened to the wailing of the wind in
the turrets. Then he said, "The late Earl of Glengyle was a thief.
He lived a second and darker life as a desperate housebreaker. He
did not have any candlesticks because he only used these candles
cut short in the little lantern he carried. The snuff he employed
as the fiercest French criminals have used pepper: to fling it
suddenly in dense masses in the face of a captor or pursuer. But
the final proof is in the curious coincidence of the diamonds and
the small steel wheels. Surely that makes everything plain to
you? Diamonds and small steel wheels are the only two instruments
with which you can cut out a pane of glass."
The bough of a broken pine tree lashed heavily in the blast
against the windowpane behind them, as if in parody of a burglar,
but they did not turn round. Their eyes were fastened on Father
"Diamonds and small wheels," repeated Craven ruminating.
"Is that all that makes you think it the true explanation?"
"I don't think it the true explanation," replied the priest
placidly; "but you said that nobody could connect the four things.
The true tale, of course, is something much more humdrum. Glengyle
had found, or thought he had found, precious stones on his estate.
Somebody had bamboozled him with those loose brilliants, saying
they were found in the castle caverns. The little wheels are some
diamond-cutting affair. He had to do the thing very roughly and
in a small way, with the help of a few shepherds or rude fellows
on these hills. Snuff is the one great luxury of such Scotch
shepherds; it's the one thing with which you can bribe them. They
didn't have candlesticks because they didn't want them; they held
the candles in their hands when they explored the caves."
"Is that all?" asked Flambeau after a long pause. "Have we
got to the dull truth at last?"
"Oh, no," said Father Brown.
As the wind died in the most distant pine woods with a long
hoot as of mockery Father Brown, with an utterly impassive face,
"I only suggested that because you said one could not plausibly
connect snuff with clockwork or candles with bright stones. Ten
false philosophies will fit the universe; ten false theories will
fit Glengyle Castle. But we want the real explanation of the
castle and the universe. But are there no other exhibits?"
Craven laughed, and Flambeau rose smiling to his feet and
strolled down the long table.
"Items five, six, seven, etc.," he said, "and certainly more
varied than instructive. A curious collection, not of lead
pencils, but of the lead out of lead pencils. A senseless stick
of bamboo, with the top rather splintered. It might be the
instrument of the crime. Only, there isn't any crime. The only
other things are a few old missals and little Catholic pictures,
which the Ogilvies kept, I suppose, from the Middle Ages--their
family pride being stronger than their Puritanism. We only put
them in the museum because they seem curiously cut about and
The heady tempest without drove a dreadful wrack of clouds
across Glengyle and threw the long room into darkness as Father
Brown picked up the little illuminated pages to examine them. He
spoke before the drift of darkness had passed; but it was the
voice of an utterly new man.
"Mr. Craven," said he, talking like a man ten years younger,
"you have got a legal warrant, haven't you, to go up and examine
that grave? The sooner we do it the better, and get to the bottom
of this horrible affair. If I were you I should start now."
"Now," repeated the astonished detective, "and why now?"
"Because this is serious," answered Brown; "this is not spilt
snuff or loose pebbles, that might be there for a hundred reasons.
There is only one reason I know of for this being done; and the
reason goes down to the roots of the world. These religious
pictures are not just dirtied or torn or scrawled over, which
might be done in idleness or bigotry, by children or by
Protestants. These have been treated very carefully--and very
queerly. In every place where the great ornamented name of God
comes in the old illuminations it has been elaborately taken out.
The only other thing that has been removed is the halo round the
head of the Child Jesus. Therefore, I say, let us get our warrant
and our spade and our hatchet, and go up and break open that
"What do you mean?" demanded the London officer.
"I mean," answered the little priest, and his voice seemed to
rise slightly in the roar of the gale. "I mean that the great
devil of the universe may be sitting on the top tower of this
castle at this moment, as big as a hundred elephants, and roaring
like the Apocalypse. There is black magic somewhere at the bottom
"Black magic," repeated Flambeau in a low voice, for he was
too enlightened a man not to know of such things; "but what can
these other things mean?"
"Oh, something damnable, I suppose," replied Brown impatiently.
"How should I know? How can I guess all their mazes down below?
Perhaps you can make a torture out of snuff and bamboo. Perhaps
lunatics lust after wax and steel filings. Perhaps there is a
maddening drug made of lead pencils! Our shortest cut to the
mystery is up the hill to the grave."
His comrades hardly knew that they had obeyed and followed him
till a blast of the night wind nearly flung them on their faces in
the garden. Nevertheless they had obeyed him like automata; for
Craven found a hatchet in his hand, and the warrant in his pocket;
Flambeau was carrying the heavy spade of the strange gardener;
Father Brown was carrying the little gilt book from which had been
torn the name of God.
The path up the hill to the churchyard was crooked but short;
only under that stress of wind it seemed laborious and long. Far
as the eye could see, farther and farther as they mounted the
slope, were seas beyond seas of pines, now all aslope one way
under the wind. And that universal gesture seemed as vain as it
was vast, as vain as if that wind were whistling about some
unpeopled and purposeless planet. Through all that infinite
growth of grey-blue forests sang, shrill and high, that ancient
sorrow that is in the heart of all heathen things. One could
fancy that the voices from the under world of unfathomable foliage
were cries of the lost and wandering pagan gods: gods who had gone
roaming in that irrational forest, and who will never find their
way back to heaven.
"You see," said Father Brown in low but easy tone, "Scotch
people before Scotland existed were a curious lot. In fact,
they're a curious lot still. But in the prehistoric times I fancy
they really worshipped demons. That," he added genially, "is why
they jumped at the Puritan theology."
"My friend," said Flambeau, turning in a kind of fury, "what
does all that snuff mean?"
"My friend," replied Brown, with equal seriousness, "there is
one mark of all genuine religions: materialism. Now, devil-worship
is a perfectly genuine religion."
They had come up on the grassy scalp of the hill, one of the
few bald spots that stood clear of the crashing and roaring pine
forest. A mean enclosure, partly timber and partly wire, rattled
in the tempest to tell them the border of the graveyard. But by
the time Inspector Craven had come to the corner of the grave,
and Flambeau had planted his spade point downwards and leaned on
it, they were both almost as shaken as the shaky wood and wire.
At the foot of the grave grew great tall thistles, grey and silver
in their decay. Once or twice, when a ball of thistledown broke
under the breeze and flew past him, Craven jumped slightly as if
it had been an arrow.
Flambeau drove the blade of his spade through the whistling
grass into the wet clay below. Then he seemed to stop and lean on
it as on a staff.
"Go on," said the priest very gently. "We are only trying to
find the truth. What are you afraid of?"
"I am afraid of finding it," said Flambeau.
The London detective spoke suddenly in a high crowing voice
that was meant to be conversational and cheery. "I wonder why he
really did hide himself like that. Something nasty, I suppose;
was he a leper?"
"Something worse than that," said Flambeau.
"And what do you imagine," asked the other, "would be worse
than a leper?"
"I don't imagine it," said Flambeau.
He dug for some dreadful minutes in silence, and then said in
a choked voice, "I'm afraid of his not being the right shape."
"Nor was that piece of paper, you know," said Father Brown
quietly, "and we survived even that piece of paper."
Flambeau dug on with a blind energy. But the tempest had
shouldered away the choking grey clouds that clung to the hills
like smoke and revealed grey fields of faint starlight before he
cleared the shape of a rude timber coffin, and somehow tipped it
up upon the turf. Craven stepped forward with his axe; a
thistle-top touched him, and he flinched. Then he took a firmer
stride, and hacked and wrenched with an energy like Flambeau's
till the lid was torn off, and all that was there lay glimmering
in the grey starlight.
"Bones," said Craven; and then he added, "but it is a man," as
if that were something unexpected.
"Is he," asked Flambeau in a voice that went oddly up and
down, "is he all right?"
"Seems so," said the officer huskily, bending over the obscure
and decaying skeleton in the box. "Wait a minute."
A vast heave went over Flambeau's huge figure. "And now I
come to think of it," he cried, "why in the name of madness
shouldn't he be all right? What is it gets hold of a man on these
cursed cold mountains? I think it's the black, brainless
repetition; all these forests, and over all an ancient horror of
unconsciousness. It's like the dream of an atheist. Pine-trees
and more pine-trees and millions more pine-trees--"
"God!" cried the man by the coffin, "but he hasn't got a head."
While the others stood rigid the priest, for the first time,
showed a leap of startled concern.
"No head!" he repeated. "No head?" as if he had almost
expected some other deficiency.
Half-witted visions of a headless baby born to Glengyle, of a
headless youth hiding himself in the castle, of a headless man
pacing those ancient halls or that gorgeous garden, passed in
panorama through their minds. But even in that stiffened instant
the tale took no root in them and seemed to have no reason in it.
They stood listening to the loud woods and the shrieking sky quite
foolishly, like exhausted animals. Thought seemed to be something
enormous that had suddenly slipped out of their grasp.
"There are three headless men," said Father Brown, "standing
round this open grave."
The pale detective from London opened his mouth to speak, and
left it open like a yokel, while a long scream of wind tore the
sky; then he looked at the axe in his hands as if it did not
belong to him, and dropped it.
"Father," said Flambeau in that infantile and heavy voice he
used very seldom, "what are we to do?"
His friend's reply came with the pent promptitude of a gun
"Sleep!" cried Father Brown. "Sleep. We have come to the end
of the ways. Do you know what sleep is? Do you know that every
man who sleeps believes in God? It is a sacrament; for it is an
act of faith and it is a food. And we need a sacrament, if only a
natural one. Something has fallen on us that falls very seldom on
men; perhaps the worst thing that can fall on them."
Craven's parted lips came together to say, "What do you mean?"
The priest had turned his face to the castle as he answered:
"We have found the truth; and the truth makes no sense."
He went down the path in front of them with a plunging and
reckless step very rare with him, and when they reached the castle
again he threw himself upon sleep with the simplicity of a dog.
Despite his mystic praise of slumber, Father Brown was up
earlier than anyone else except the silent gardener; and was found
smoking a big pipe and watching that expert at his speechless
labours in the kitchen garden. Towards daybreak the rocking storm
had ended in roaring rains, and the day came with a curious
freshness. The gardener seemed even to have been conversing, but
at sight of the detectives he planted his spade sullenly in a bed
and, saying something about his breakfast, shifted along the lines
of cabbages and shut himself in the kitchen. "He's a valuable
man, that," said Father Brown. "He does the potatoes amazingly.
Still," he added, with a dispassionate charity, "he has his faults;
which of us hasn't? He doesn't dig this bank quite regularly.
There, for instance," and he stamped suddenly on one spot. "I'm
really very doubtful about that potato."
"And why?" asked Craven, amused with the little man's hobby.
"I'm doubtful about it," said the other, "because old Gow was
doubtful about it himself. He put his spade in methodically in
every place but just this. There must be a mighty fine potato
Flambeau pulled up the spade and impetuously drove it into the
place. He turned up, under a load of soil, something that did not
look like a potato, but rather like a monstrous, over-domed
mushroom. But it struck the spade with a cold click; it rolled
over like a ball, and grinned up at them.
"The Earl of Glengyle," said Brown sadly, and looked down
heavily at the skull.
Then, after a momentary meditation, he plucked the spade from
Flambeau, and, saying "We must hide it again," clamped the skull
down in the earth. Then he leaned his little body and huge head
on the great handle of the spade, that stood up stiffly in the
earth, and his eyes were empty and his forehead full of wrinkles.
"If one could only conceive," he muttered, "the meaning of this
last monstrosity." And leaning on the large spade handle, he
buried his brows in his hands, as men do in church.
All the corners of the sky were brightening into blue and
silver; the birds were chattering in the tiny garden trees; so
loud it seemed as if the trees themselves were talking. But the
three men were silent enough.
"Well, I give it all up," said Flambeau at last boisterously.
"My brain and this world don't fit each other; and there's an end
of it. Snuff, spoilt Prayer Books, and the insides of musical
Brown threw up his bothered brow and rapped on the spade
handle with an intolerance quite unusual with him. "Oh, tut, tut,
tut, tut!" he cried. "All that is as plain as a pikestaff. I
understood the snuff and clockwork, and so on, when I first opened
my eyes this morning. And since then I've had it out with old
Gow, the gardener, who is neither so deaf nor so stupid as he
pretends. There's nothing amiss about the loose items. I was
wrong about the torn mass-book, too; there's no harm in that. But
it's this last business. Desecrating graves and stealing dead
men's heads--surely there's harm in that? Surely there's black
magic still in that? That doesn't fit in to the quite simple
story of the snuff and the candles." And, striding about again,
he smoked moodily.
"My friend," said Flambeau, with a grim humour, "you must be
careful with me and remember I was once a criminal. The great
advantage of that estate was that I always made up the story
myself, and acted it as quick as I chose. This detective business
of waiting about is too much for my French impatience. All my
life, for good or evil, I have done things at the instant; I
always fought duels the next morning; I always paid bills on the
nail; I never even put off a visit to the dentist--"
Father Brown's pipe fell out of his mouth and broke into three
pieces on the gravel path. He stood rolling his eyes, the exact
picture of an idiot. "Lord, what a turnip I am!" he kept saying.
"Lord, what a turnip!" Then, in a somewhat groggy kind of way, he
began to laugh.
"The dentist!" he repeated. "Six hours in the spiritual
abyss, and all because I never thought of the dentist! Such a
simple, such a beautiful and peaceful thought! Friends, we have
passed a night in hell; but now the sun is risen, the birds are
singing, and the radiant form of the dentist consoles the world."
"I will get some sense out of this," cried Flambeau, striding
forward, "if I use the tortures of the Inquisition."
Father Brown repressed what appeared to be a momentary
disposition to dance on the now sunlit lawn and cried quite
piteously, like a child, "Oh, let me be silly a little. You don't
know how unhappy I have been. And now I know that there has been
no deep sin in this business at all. Only a little lunacy, perhaps
--and who minds that?"
He spun round once more, then faced them with gravity.
"This is not a story of crime," he said; "rather it is the
story of a strange and crooked honesty. We are dealing with the
one man on earth, perhaps, who has taken no more than his due. It
is a study in the savage living logic that has been the religion
of this race.
"That old local rhyme about the house of Glengyle--
As green sap to the simmer trees
Is red gold to the Ogilvies--
was literal as well as metaphorical. It did not merely mean that
the Glengyles sought for wealth; it was also true that they
literally gathered gold; they had a huge collection of ornaments
and utensils in that metal. They were, in fact, misers whose
mania took that turn. In the light of that fact, run through all
the things we found in the castle. Diamonds without their gold
rings; candles without their gold candlesticks; snuff without the
gold snuff-boxes; pencil-leads without the gold pencil-cases; a
walking stick without its gold top; clockwork without the gold
clocks--or rather watches. And, mad as it sounds, because the
halos and the name of God in the old missals were of real gold;
these also were taken away."
The garden seemed to brighten, the grass to grow gayer in the
strengthening sun, as the crazy truth was told. Flambeau lit a
cigarette as his friend went on.
"Were taken away," continued Father Brown; "were taken away--
but not stolen. Thieves would never have left this mystery.
Thieves would have taken the gold snuff-boxes, snuff and all; the
gold pencil-cases, lead and all. We have to deal with a man with
a peculiar conscience, but certainly a conscience. I found that
mad moralist this morning in the kitchen garden yonder, and I
heard the whole story.
"The late Archibald Ogilvie was the nearest approach to a good
man ever born at Glengyle. But his bitter virtue took the turn of
the misanthrope; he moped over the dishonesty of his ancestors,
from which, somehow, he generalised a dishonesty of all men. More
especially he distrusted philanthropy or free-giving; and he swore
if he could find one man who took his exact rights he should have
all the gold of Glengyle. Having delivered this defiance to
humanity he shut himself up, without the smallest expectation of
its being answered. One day, however, a deaf and seemingly
senseless lad from a distant village brought him a belated
telegram; and Glengyle, in his acrid pleasantry, gave him a new
farthing. At least he thought he had done so, but when he turned
over his change he found the new farthing still there and a
sovereign gone. The accident offered him vistas of sneering
speculation. Either way, the boy would show the greasy greed of
the species. Either he would vanish, a thief stealing a coin; or
he would sneak back with it virtuously, a snob seeking a reward.
In the middle of that night Lord Glengyle was knocked up out of
his bed--for he lived alone--and forced to open the door to
the deaf idiot. The idiot brought with him, not the sovereign,
but exactly nineteen shillings and eleven-pence three-farthings
"Then the wild exactitude of this action took hold of the mad
lord's brain like fire. He swore he was Diogenes, that had long
sought an honest man, and at last had found one. He made a new
will, which I have seen. He took the literal youth into his huge,
neglected house, and trained him up as his solitary servant and
--after an odd manner--his heir. And whatever that queer
creature understands, he understood absolutely his lord's two
fixed ideas: first, that the letter of right is everything; and
second, that he himself was to have the gold of Glengyle. So far,
that is all; and that is simple. He has stripped the house of
gold, and taken not a grain that was not gold; not so much as a
grain of snuff. He lifted the gold leaf off an old illumination,
fully satisfied that he left the rest unspoilt. All that I
understood; but I could not understand this skull business.
I was really uneasy about that human head buried among the
potatoes. It distressed me--till Flambeau said the word.
"It will be all right. He will put the skull back in the
grave, when he has taken the gold out of the tooth."
And, indeed, when Flambeau crossed the hill that morning, he
saw that strange being, the just miser, digging at the desecrated
grave, the plaid round his throat thrashing out in the mountain
wind; the sober top hat on his head.
The Wrong Shape
Certain of the great roads going north out of London continue far
into the country a sort of attenuated and interrupted spectre of a
street, with great gaps in the building, but preserving the line.
Here will be a group of shops, followed by a fenced field or
paddock, and then a famous public-house, and then perhaps a market
garden or a nursery garden, and then one large private house, and
then another field and another inn, and so on. If anyone walks
along one of these roads he will pass a house which will probably
catch his eye, though he may not be able to explain its attraction.
It is a long, low house, running parallel with the road, painted
mostly white and pale green, with a veranda and sun-blinds, and
porches capped with those quaint sort of cupolas like wooden
umbrellas that one sees in some old-fashioned houses. In fact, it
is an old-fashioned house, very English and very suburban in the
good old wealthy Clapham sense. And yet the house has a look of
having been built chiefly for the hot weather. Looking at its
white paint and sun-blinds one thinks vaguely of pugarees and even
of palm trees. I cannot trace the feeling to its root; perhaps
the place was built by an Anglo-Indian.
Anyone passing this house, I say, would be namelessly
fascinated by it; would feel that it was a place about which some
story was to be told. And he would have been right, as you shall
shortly hear. For this is the story--the story of the strange
things that did really happen in it in the Whitsuntide of the year
Anyone passing the house on the Thursday before WhitSunday at
about half-past four p.m. would have seen the front door open, and
Father Brown, of the small church of St. Mungo, come out smoking a
large pipe in company with a very tall French friend of his called
Flambeau, who was smoking a very small cigarette. These persons
may or may not be of interest to the reader, but the truth is that
they were not the only interesting things that were displayed when
the front door of the white-and-green house was opened. There are
further peculiarities about this house, which must be described to
start with, not only that the reader may understand this tragic
tale, but also that he may realise what it was that the opening of
the door revealed.
The whole house was built upon the plan of a T, but a T with a
very long cross piece and a very short tail piece. The long cross
piece was the frontage that ran along in face of the street, with
the front door in the middle; it was two stories high, and
contained nearly all the important rooms. The short tail piece,
which ran out at the back immediately opposite the front door, was
one story high, and consisted only of two long rooms, the one
leading into the other. The first of these two rooms was the study
in which the celebrated Mr. Quinton wrote his wild Oriental poems
and romances. The farther room was a glass conservatory full of
tropical blossoms of quite unique and almost monstrous beauty, and
on such afternoons as these glowing with gorgeous sunlight. Thus
when the hall door was open, many a passer-by literally stopped to
stare and gasp; for he looked down a perspective of rich apartments
to something really like a transformation scene in a fairy play:
purple clouds and golden suns and crimson stars that were at once
scorchingly vivid and yet transparent and far away.
Leonard Quinton, the poet, had himself most carefully arranged
this effect; and it is doubtful whether he so perfectly expressed
his personality in any of his poems. For he was a man who drank
and bathed in colours, who indulged his lust for colour somewhat
to the neglect of form--even of good form. This it was that had
turned his genius so wholly to eastern art and imagery; to those
bewildering carpets or blinding embroideries in which all the
colours seem fallen into a fortunate chaos, having nothing to
typify or to teach. He had attempted, not perhaps with complete
artistic success, but with acknowledged imagination and invention,
to compose epics and love stories reflecting the riot of violent
and even cruel colour; tales of tropical heavens of burning gold or
blood-red copper; of eastern heroes who rode with twelve-turbaned
mitres upon elephants painted purple or peacock green; of gigantic
jewels that a hundred negroes could not carry, but which burned
with ancient and strange-hued fires.
In short (to put the matter from the more common point of
view), he dealt much in eastern heavens, rather worse than most
western hells; in eastern monarchs, whom we might possibly call
maniacs; and in eastern jewels which a Bond Street jeweller (if
the hundred staggering negroes brought them into his shop) might
possibly not regard as genuine. Quinton was a genius, if a morbid
one; and even his morbidity appeared more in his life than in his
work. In temperament he was weak and waspish, and his health had
suffered heavily from oriental experiments with opium. His wife
--a handsome, hard-working, and, indeed, over-worked woman
objected to the opium, but objected much more to a live Indian
hermit in white and yellow robes, whom her husband insisted on
entertaining for months together, a Virgil to guide his spirit
through the heavens and the hells of the east.
It was out of this artistic household that Father Brown and
his friend stepped on to the door-step; and to judge from their
faces, they stepped out of it with much relief. Flambeau had
known Quinton in wild student days in Paris, and they had renewed
the acquaintance for a week-end; but apart from Flambeau's more
responsible developments of late, he did not get on well with the
poet now. Choking oneself with opium and writing little erotic
verses on vellum was not his notion of how a gentleman should go
to the devil. As the two paused on the door-step, before taking a
turn in the garden, the front garden gate was thrown open with
violence, and a young man with a billycock hat on the back of his
head tumbled up the steps in his eagerness. He was a
dissipated-looking youth with a gorgeous red necktie all awry, as
if he had slept in it, and he kept fidgeting and lashing about
with one of those little jointed canes.
"I say," he said breathlessly, "I want to see old Quinton. I
must see him. Has he gone?"
"Mr. Quinton is in, I believe," said Father Brown, cleaning
his pipe, "but I do not know if you can see him. The doctor is
with him at present."
The young man, who seemed not to be perfectly sober, stumbled
into the hall; and at the same moment the doctor came out of
Quinton's study, shutting the door and beginning to put on his
"See Mr. Quinton?" said the doctor coolly. "No, I'm afraid
you can't. In fact, you mustn't on any account. Nobody must see
him; I've just given him his sleeping draught."
"No, but look here, old chap," said the youth in the red tie,
trying affectionately to capture the doctor by the lapels of his
coat. "Look here. I'm simply sewn up, I tell you. I--"
"It's no good, Mr. Atkinson," said the doctor, forcing him to
fall back; "when you can alter the effects of a drug I'll alter my
decision," and, settling on his hat, he stepped out into the
sunlight with the other two. He was a bull-necked, good-tempered
little man with a small moustache, inexpressibly ordinary, yet
giving an impression of capacity.
The young man in the billycock, who did not seem to be gifted
with any tact in dealing with people beyond the general idea of
clutching hold of their coats, stood outside the door, as dazed as
if he had been thrown out bodily, and silently watched the other
three walk away together through the garden.
"That was a sound, spanking lie I told just now," remarked the
medical man, laughing. "In point of fact, poor Quinton doesn't
have his sleeping draught for nearly half an hour. But I'm not
going to have him bothered with that little beast, who only wants
to borrow money that he wouldn't pay back if he could. He's a
dirty little scamp, though he is Mrs. Quinton's brother, and she's
as fine a woman as ever walked."
"Yes," said Father Brown. "She's a good woman."
"So I propose to hang about the garden till the creature has
cleared off," went on the doctor, "and then I'll go in to Quinton
with the medicine. Atkinson can't get in, because I locked the
"In that case, Dr. Harris," said Flambeau, "we might as well
walk round at the back by the end of the conservatory. There's no
entrance to it that way, but it's worth seeing, even from the
"Yes, and I might get a squint at my patient," laughed the
doctor, "for he prefers to lie on an ottoman right at the end of
the conservatory amid all those blood-red poinsettias; it would
give me the creeps. But what are you doing?"
Father Brown had stopped for a moment, and picked up out of
the long grass, where it had almost been wholly hidden, a queer,
crooked Oriental knife, inlaid exquisitely in coloured stones and
"What is this?" asked Father Brown, regarding it with some
"Oh, Quinton's, I suppose," said Dr. Harris carelessly; "he
has all sorts of Chinese knickknacks about the place. Or perhaps
it belongs to that mild Hindoo of his whom he keeps on a string."
"What Hindoo?" asked Father Brown, still staring at the dagger
in his hand.
"Oh, some Indian conjuror," said the doctor lightly; "a fraud,
"You don't believe in magic?" asked Father Brown, without
"O crickey! magic!" said the doctor.
"It's very beautiful," said the priest in a low, dreaming
voice; "the colours are very beautiful. But it's the wrong shape."
"What for?" asked Flambeau, staring.
"For anything. It's the wrong shape in the abstract. Don't
you ever feel that about Eastern art? The colours are
intoxicatingly lovely; but the shapes are mean and bad--
deliberately mean and bad. I have seen wicked things in a Turkey
"Mon Dieu!" cried Flambeau, laughing.
"They are letters and symbols in a language I don't know; but
I know they stand for evil words," went on the priest, his voice
growing lower and lower. "The lines go wrong on purpose--like
serpents doubling to escape."
"What the devil are you talking about?" said the doctor with a
Flambeau spoke quietly to him in answer. "The Father
sometimes gets this mystic's cloud on him," he said; "but I give
you fair warning that I have never known him to have it except
when there was some evil quite near."
"Oh, rats!" said the scientist.
"Why, look at it," cried Father Brown, holding out the crooked
knife at arm's length, as if it were some glittering snake.
"Don't you see it is the wrong shape? Don't you see that it has
no hearty and plain purpose? It does not point like a spear. It
does not sweep like a scythe. It does not look like a weapon. It
looks like an instrument of torture."
"Well, as you don't seem to like it," said the jolly Harris,
"it had better be taken back to its owner. Haven't we come to the
end of this confounded conservatory yet? This house is the wrong
shape, if you like."
"You don't understand," said Father Brown, shaking his head.
"The shape of this house is quaint--it is even laughable. But
there is nothing wrong about it."
As they spoke they came round the curve of glass that ended
the conservatory, an uninterrupted curve, for there was neither
door nor window by which to enter at that end. The glass,
however, was clear, and the sun still bright, though beginning to
set; and they could see not only the flamboyant blossoms inside,
but the frail figure of the poet in a brown velvet coat lying
languidly on the sofa, having, apparently, fallen half asleep over
a book. He was a pale, slight man, with loose, chestnut hair and
a fringe of beard that was the paradox of his face, for the beard
made him look less manly. These traits were well known to all
three of them; but even had it not been so, it may be doubted
whether they would have looked at Quinton just then. Their eyes
were riveted on another object.
Exactly in their path, immediately outside the round end of
the glass building, was standing a tall man, whose drapery fell to
his feet in faultless white, and whose bare, brown skull, face,
and neck gleamed in the setting sun like splendid bronze. He was
looking through the glass at the sleeper, and he was more
motionless than a mountain.
"Who is that?" cried Father Brown, stepping back with a
hissing intake of his breath.
"Oh, it is only that Hindoo humbug," growled Harris; "but I
don't know what the deuce he's doing here."
"It looks like hypnotism," said Flambeau, biting his black
"Why are you unmedical fellows always talking bosh about
hypnotism?" cried the doctor. "It looks a deal more like
"Well, we will speak to it, at any rate," said Flambeau, who
was always for action. One long stride took him to the place
where the Indian stood. Bowing from his great height, which
overtopped even the Oriental's, he said with placid impudence:
"Good evening, sir. Do you want anything?"
Quite slowly, like a great ship turning into a harbour, the
great yellow face turned, and looked at last over its white
shoulder. They were startled to see that its yellow eyelids were
quite sealed, as in sleep. "Thank you," said the face in
excellent English. "I want nothing." Then, half opening the
lids, so as to show a slit of opalescent eyeball, he repeated, "I
want nothing." Then he opened his eyes wide with a startling
stare, said, "I want nothing," and went rustling away into the
rapidly darkening garden.
"The Christian is more modest," muttered Father Brown; "he
"What on earth was he doing?" asked Flambeau, knitting his
black brows and lowering his voice.
"I should like to talk to you later," said Father Brown.
The sunlight was still a reality, but it was the red light of
evening, and the bulk of the garden trees and bushes grew blacker
and blacker against it. They turned round the end of the
conservatory, and walked in silence down the other side to get
round to the front door. As they went they seemed to wake
something, as one startles a bird, in the deeper corner between
the study and the main building; and again they saw the
white-robed fakir slide out of the shadow, and slip round towards
the front door. To their surprise, however, he had not been
alone. They found themselves abruptly pulled up and forced to
banish their bewilderment by the appearance of Mrs. Quinton, with
her heavy golden hair and square pale face, advancing on them out
of the twilight. She looked a little stern, but was entirely
"Good evening, Dr. Harris," was all she said.
"Good evening, Mrs. Quinton," said the little doctor heartily.
"I am just going to give your husband his sleeping draught."
"Yes," she said in a clear voice. "I think it is quite time."
And she smiled at them, and went sweeping into the house.
"That woman's over-driven," said Father Brown; "that's the
kind of woman that does her duty for twenty years, and then does
The little doctor looked at him for the first time with an eye
of interest. "Did you ever study medicine?" he asked.
"You have to know something of the mind as well as the body,"
answered the priest; "we have to know something of the body as
well as the mind."
"Well," said the doctor, "I think I'll go and give Quinton his
They had turned the corner of the front facade, and were
approaching the front doorway. As they turned into it they saw
the man in the white robe for the third time. He came so straight
towards the front door that it seemed quite incredible that he had
not just come out of the study opposite to it. Yet they knew that
the study door was locked.
Father Brown and Flambeau, however, kept this weird
contradiction to themselves, and Dr. Harris was not a man to
waste his thoughts on the impossible. He permitted the
omnipresent Asiatic to make his exit, and then stepped briskly
into the hall. There he found a figure which he had already
forgotten. The inane Atkinson was still hanging about, humming
and poking things with his knobby cane. The doctor's face had a
spasm of disgust and decision, and he whispered rapidly to his
companion: "I must lock the door again, or this rat will get in.
But I shall be out again in two minutes."
He rapidly unlocked the door and locked it again behind him,
just balking a blundering charge from the young man in the
billycock. The young man threw himself impatiently on a hall
chair. Flambeau looked at a Persian illumination on the wall;
Father Brown, who seemed in a sort of daze, dully eyed the door.
In about four minutes the door was opened again. Atkinson was
quicker this time. He sprang forward, held the door open for an
instant, and called out: "Oh, I say, Quinton, I want--"
From the other end of the study came the clear voice of
Quinton, in something between a yawn and a yell of weary laughter.
"Oh, I know what you want. Take it, and leave me in peace.
I'm writing a song about peacocks."
Before the door closed half a sovereign came flying through
the aperture; and Atkinson, stumbling forward, caught it with
"So that's settled," said the doctor, and, locking the door
savagely, he led the way out into the garden.
"Poor Leonard can get a little peace now," he added to Father
Brown; "he's locked in all by himself for an hour or two."
"Yes," answered the priest; "and his voice sounded jolly enough
when we left him." Then he looked gravely round the garden, and
saw the loose figure of Atkinson standing and jingling the
half-sovereign in his pocket, and beyond, in the purple twilight,
the figure of the Indian sitting bolt upright upon a bank of grass
with his face turned towards the setting sun. Then he said
abruptly: "Where is Mrs. Quinton!"
"She has gone up to her room," said the doctor. "That is her
shadow on the blind."
Father Brown looked up, and frowningly scrutinised a dark
outline at the gas-lit window.
"Yes," he said, "that is her shadow," and he walked a yard or
two and threw himself upon a garden seat.
Flambeau sat down beside him; but the doctor was one of those
energetic people who live naturally on their legs. He walked
away, smoking, into the twilight, and the two friends were left
"My father," said Flambeau in French, "what is the matter with
Father Brown was silent and motionless for half a minute, then
he said: "Superstition is irreligious, but there is something in
the air of this place. I think it's that Indian--at least,
He sank into silence, and watched the distant outline of the
Indian, who still sat rigid as if in prayer. At first sight he
seemed motionless, but as Father Brown watched him he saw that the
man swayed ever so slightly with a rhythmic movement, just as the
dark tree-tops swayed ever so slightly in the wind that was
creeping up the dim garden paths and shuffling the fallen leaves a
The landscape was growing rapidly dark, as if for a storm, but
they could still see all the figures in their various places.
Atkinson was leaning against a tree with a listless face; Quinton's
wife was still at her window; the doctor had gone strolling round
the end of the conservatory; they could see his cigar like a
will-o'-the-wisp; and the fakir still sat rigid and yet rocking,
while the trees above him began to rock and almost to roar. Storm
was certainly coming.
"When that Indian spoke to us," went on Brown in a
conversational undertone, "I had a sort of vision, a vision of him
and all his universe. Yet he only said the same thing three
times. When first he said `I want nothing,' it meant only that he
was impenetrable, that Asia does not give itself away. Then he
said again, `I want nothing,' and I knew that he meant that he was
sufficient to himself, like a cosmos, that he needed no God,
neither admitted any sins. And when he said the third time, `I
want nothing,' he said it with blazing eyes. And I knew that he
meant literally what he said; that nothing was his desire and his
home; that he was weary for nothing as for wine; that annihilation,
the mere destruction of everything or anything--"
Two drops of rain fell; and for some reason Flambeau started
and looked up, as if they had stung him. And the same instant the
doctor down by the end of the conservatory began running towards
them, calling out something as he ran.
As he came among them like a bombshell the restless Atkinson
happened to be taking a turn nearer to the house front; and the
doctor clutched him by the collar in a convulsive grip. "Foul
play!" he cried; "what have you been doing to him, you dog?"
The priest had sprung erect, and had the voice of steel of a
soldier in command.
"No fighting," he cried coolly; "we are enough to hold anyone
we want to. What is the matter, doctor?"
"Things are not right with Quinton," said the doctor, quite
white. "I could just see him through the glass, and I don't like
the way he's lying. It's not as I left him, anyhow."
"Let us go in to him," said Father Brown shortly. "You can
leave Mr. Atkinson alone. I have had him in sight since we heard
"I will stop here and watch him," said Flambeau hurriedly.
"You go in and see."
The doctor and the priest flew to the study door, unlocked it,
and fell into the room. In doing so they nearly fell over the
large mahogany table in the centre at which the poet usually
wrote; for the place was lit only by a small fire kept for the
invalid. In the middle of this table lay a single sheet of paper,
evidently left there on purpose. The doctor snatched it up,
glanced at it, handed it to Father Brown, and crying, "Good God,
look at that!" plunged toward the glass room beyond, where the
terrible tropic flowers still seemed to keep a crimson memory of
Father Brown read the words three times before he put down the
paper. The words were: "I die by my own hand; yet I die murdered!"
They were in the quite inimitable, not to say illegible, handwriting
of Leonard Quinton.
Then Father Brown, still keeping the paper in his hand, strode
towards the conservatory, only to meet his medical friend coming
back with a face of assurance and collapse. "He's done it," said
They went together through the gorgeous unnatural beauty of
cactus and azalea and found Leonard Quinton, poet and romancer,
with his head hanging downward off his ottoman and his red curls
sweeping the ground. Into his left side was thrust the queer
dagger that they had picked up in the garden, and his limp hand
still rested on the hilt.
Outside the storm had come at one stride, like the night in
Coleridge, and garden and glass roof were darkened with driving
rain. Father Brown seemed to be studying the paper more than the
corpse; he held it close to his eyes; and seemed trying to read it
in the twilight. Then he held it up against the faint light, and,
as he did so, lightning stared at them for an instant so white
that the paper looked black against it.
Darkness full of thunder followed, and after the thunder
Father Brown's voice said out of the dark: "Doctor, this paper is
the wrong shape."
"What do you mean?" asked Doctor Harris, with a frowning
"It isn't square," answered Brown. "It has a sort of edge
snipped off at the corner. What does it mean?"
"How the deuce should I know?" growled the doctor. "Shall we
move this poor chap, do you think? He's quite dead."
"No," answered the priest; "we must leave him as he lies and
send for the police." But he was still scrutinising the paper.
As they went back through the study he stopped by the table
and picked up a small pair of nail scissors. "Ah," he said, with
a sort of relief, "this is what he did it with. But yet--" And
he knitted his brows.
"Oh, stop fooling with that scrap of paper," said the doctor
emphatically. "It was a fad of his. He had hundreds of them. He
cut all his paper like that," as he pointed to a stack of sermon
paper still unused on another and smaller table. Father Brown
went up to it and held up a sheet. It was the same irregular
"Quite so," he said. "And here I see the corners that were
snipped off." And to the indignation of his colleague he began to
"That's all right," he said, with an apologetic smile.
"Twenty-three sheets cut and twenty-two corners cut off them. And
as I see you are impatient we will rejoin the others."
"Who is to tell his wife?" asked Dr. Harris. "Will you go and
tell her now, while I send a servant for the police?"
"As you will," said Father Brown indifferently. And he went
out to the hall door.
Here also he found a drama, though of a more grotesque sort.
It showed nothing less than his big friend Flambeau in an attitude
to which he had long been unaccustomed, while upon the pathway at
the bottom of the steps was sprawling with his boots in the air
the amiable Atkinson, his billycock hat and walking cane sent
flying in opposite directions along the path. Atkinson had at
length wearied of Flambeau's almost paternal custody, and had
endeavoured to knock him down, which was by no means a smooth game
to play with the Roi des Apaches, even after that monarch's
Flambeau was about to leap upon his enemy and secure him once
more, when the priest patted him easily on the shoulder.
"Make it up with Mr. Atkinson, my friend," he said. "Beg a
mutual pardon and say `Good night.' We need not detain him any
longer." Then, as Atkinson rose somewhat doubtfully and gathered
his hat and stick and went towards the garden gate, Father Brown
said in a more serious voice: "Where is that Indian?"
They all three (for the doctor had joined them) turned
involuntarily towards the dim grassy bank amid the tossing trees
purple with twilight, where they had last seen the brown man
swaying in his strange prayers. The Indian was gone.
"Confound him," cried the doctor, stamping furiously. "Now I
know that it was that nigger that did it."
"I thought you didn't believe in magic," said Father Brown
"No more I did," said the doctor, rolling his eyes. "I only
know that I loathed that yellow devil when I thought he was a sham
wizard. And I shall loathe him more if I come to think he was a
"Well, his having escaped is nothing," said Flambeau. "For we
could have proved nothing and done nothing against him. One hardly
goes to the parish constable with a story of suicide imposed by
witchcraft or auto-suggestion."
Meanwhile Father Brown had made his way into the house, and
now went to break the news to the wife of the dead man.
When he came out again he looked a little pale and tragic, but
what passed between them in that interview was never known, even
when all was known.
Flambeau, who was talking quietly with the doctor, was
surprised to see his friend reappear so soon at his elbow; but
Brown took no notice, and merely drew the doctor apart. "You have
sent for the police, haven't you?" he asked.
"Yes," answered Harris. "They ought to be here in ten
"Will you do me a favour?" said the priest quietly. "The
truth is, I make a collection of these curious stories, which
often contain, as in the case of our Hindoo friend, elements which
can hardly be put into a police report. Now, I want you to write
out a report of this case for my private use. Yours is a clever
trade," he said, looking the doctor gravely and steadily in the
face. "I sometimes think that you know some details of this
matter which you have not thought fit to mention. Mine is a
confidential trade like yours, and I will treat anything you write
for me in strict confidence. But write the whole."
The doctor, who had been listening thoughtfully with his head
a little on one side, looked the priest in the face for an
instant, and said: "All right," and went into the study, closing
the door behind him.
"Flambeau," said Father Brown, "there is a long seat there
under the veranda, where we can smoke out of the rain. You are my
only friend in the world, and I want to talk to you. Or, perhaps,
be silent with you."
They established themselves comfortably in the veranda seat;
Father Brown, against his common habit, accepted a good cigar and
smoked it steadily in silence, while the rain shrieked and rattled
on the roof of the veranda.
"My friend," he said at length, "this is a very queer case. A
very queer case."
"I should think it was," said Flambeau, with something like a
"You call it queer, and I call it queer," said the other, "and
yet we mean quite opposite things. The modern mind always mixes
up two different ideas: mystery in the sense of what is marvellous,
and mystery in the sense of what is complicated. That is half its
difficulty about miracles. A miracle is startling; but it is
simple. It is simple because it is a miracle. It is power coming
directly from God (or the devil) instead of indirectly through
nature or human wills. Now, you mean that this business is
marvellous because it is miraculous, because it is witchcraft
worked by a wicked Indian. Understand, I do not say that it was
not spiritual or diabolic. Heaven and hell only know by what
surrounding influences strange sins come into the lives of men.
But for the present my point is this: If it was pure magic, as you
think, then it is marvellous; but it is not mysterious--that is,
it is not complicated. The quality of a miracle is mysterious,
but its manner is simple. Now, the manner of this business has
been the reverse of simple."
The storm that had slackened for a little seemed to be swelling
again, and there came heavy movements as of faint thunder. Father
Brown let fall the ash of his cigar and went on:
"There has been in this incident," he said, "a twisted, ugly,
complex quality that does not belong to the straight bolts either
of heaven or hell. As one knows the crooked track of a snail, I
know the crooked track of a man."
The white lightning opened its enormous eye in one wink, the
sky shut up again, and the priest went on:
"Of all these crooked things, the crookedest was the shape of
that piece of paper. It was crookeder than the dagger that killed
"You mean the paper on which Quinton confessed his suicide,"
"I mean the paper on which Quinton wrote, `I die by my own
hand,'" answered Father Brown. "The shape of that paper, my
friend, was the wrong shape; the wrong shape, if ever I have seen
it in this wicked world."
"It only had a corner snipped off," said Flambeau, "and I
understand that all Quinton's paper was cut that way."
"It was a very odd way," said the other, "and a very bad way,
to my taste and fancy. Look here, Flambeau, this Quinton--God
receive his soul!--was perhaps a bit of a cur in some ways, but
he really was an artist, with the pencil as well as the pen. His
handwriting, though hard to read, was bold and beautiful. I can't
prove what I say; I can't prove anything. But I tell you with the
full force of conviction that he could never have cut that mean
little piece off a sheet of paper. If he had wanted to cut down
paper for some purpose of fitting in, or binding up, or what not,
he would have made quite a different slash with the scissors. Do
you remember the shape? It was a mean shape. It was a wrong
shape. Like this. Don't you remember?"
And he waved his burning cigar before him in the darkness,
making irregular squares so rapidly that Flambeau really seemed to
see them as fiery hieroglyphics upon the darkness--hieroglyphics
such as his friend had spoken of, which are undecipherable, yet
can have no good meaning.
"But," said Flambeau, as the priest put his cigar in his mouth
again and leaned back, staring at the roof, "suppose somebody else
did use the scissors. Why should somebody else, cutting pieces off
his sermon paper, make Quinton commit suicide?"
Father Brown was still leaning back and staring at the roof,
but he took his cigar out of his mouth and said: "Quinton never
did commit suicide."
Flambeau stared at him. "Why, confound it all," he cried,
"then why did he confess to suicide?"
The priest leant forward again, settled his elbows on his
knees, looked at the ground, and said, in a low, distinct voice:
"He never did confess to suicide."
Flambeau laid his cigar down. "You mean," he said, "that the
writing was forged?"
"No," said Father Brown. "Quinton wrote it all right."
"Well, there you are," said the aggravated Flambeau; "Quinton
wrote, `I die by my own hand,' with his own hand on a plain piece
"Of the wrong shape," said the priest calmly.
"Oh, the shape be damned!" cried Flambeau. "What has the
shape to do with it?"
"There were twenty-three snipped papers," resumed Brown
unmoved, "and only twenty-two pieces snipped off. Therefore one
of the pieces had been destroyed, probably that from the written
paper. Does that suggest anything to you?"
A light dawned on Flambeau's face, and he said: "There was
something else written by Quinton, some other words. `They will
tell you I die by my own hand,' or `Do not believe that--'"
"Hotter, as the children say," said his friend. "But the
piece was hardly half an inch across; there was no room for one
word, let alone five. Can you think of anything hardly bigger
than a comma which the man with hell in his heart had to tear away
as a testimony against him?"
"I can think of nothing," said Flambeau at last.
"What about quotation marks?" said the priest, and flung his
cigar far into the darkness like a shooting star.
All words had left the other man's mouth, and Father Brown
said, like one going back to fundamentals:
"Leonard Quinton was a romancer, and was writing an Oriental
romance about wizardry and hypnotism. He--"
At this moment the door opened briskly behind them, and the
doctor came out with his hat on. He put a long envelope into the
"That's the document you wanted," he said, "and I must be
getting home. Good night."
"Good night," said Father Brown, as the doctor walked briskly
to the gate. He had left the front door open, so that a shaft of
gaslight fell upon them. In the light of this Brown opened the
envelope and read the following words:
DEAR FATHER BROWN,--Vicisti Galilee. Otherwise, damn your
eyes, which are very penetrating ones. Can it be possible that
there is something in all that stuff of yours after all?
I am a man who has ever since boyhood believed in Nature and
in all natural functions and instincts, whether men called them
moral or immoral. Long before I became a doctor, when I was a
schoolboy keeping mice and spiders, I believed that to be a good
animal is the best thing in the world. But just now I am shaken;
I have believed in Nature; but it seems as if Nature could betray
a man. Can there be anything in your bosh? I am really getting
I loved Quinton's wife. What was there wrong in that? Nature
told me to, and it's love that makes the world go round. I also
thought quite sincerely that she would be happier with a clean
animal like me than with that tormenting little lunatic. What was
there wrong in that? I was only facing facts, like a man of
science. She would have been happier.
According to my own creed I was quite free to kill Quinton,
which was the best thing for everybody, even himself. But as a
healthy animal I had no notion of killing myself. I resolved,
therefore, that I would never do it until I saw a chance that
would leave me scot free. I saw that chance this morning.
I have been three times, all told, into Quinton's study today.
The first time I went in he would talk about nothing but the weird
tale, called "The Cure of a Saint," which he was writing, which
was all about how some Indian hermit made an English colonel kill
himself by thinking about him. He showed me the last sheets, and
even read me the last paragraph, which was something like this:
"The conqueror of the Punjab, a mere yellow skeleton, but still
gigantic, managed to lift himself on his elbow and gasp in his
nephew's ear: `I die by my own hand, yet I die murdered!'" It so
happened by one chance out of a hundred, that those last words
were written at the top of a new sheet of paper. I left the room,
and went out into the garden intoxicated with a frightful
We walked round the house; and two more things happened in my
favour. You suspected an Indian, and you found a dagger which the
Indian might most probably use. Taking the opportunity to stuff
it in my pocket I went back to Quinton's study, locked the door,
and gave him his sleeping draught. He was against answering
Atkinson at all, but I urged him to call out and quiet the fellow,
because I wanted a clear proof that Quinton was alive when I left
the room for the second time. Quinton lay down in the conservatory,
and I came through the study. I am a quick man with my hands, and
in a minute and a half I had done what I wanted to do. I had
emptied all the first part of Quinton's romance into the fireplace,
where it burnt to ashes. Then I saw that the quotation marks
wouldn't do, so I snipped them off, and to make it seem likelier,
snipped the whole quire to match. Then I came out with the
knowledge that Quinton's confession of suicide lay on the front
table, while Quinton lay alive but asleep in the conservatory
The last act was a desperate one; you can guess it: I pretended
to have seen Quinton dead and rushed to his room. I delayed you
with the paper, and, being a quick man with my hands, killed
Quinton while you were looking at his confession of suicide. He
was half-asleep, being drugged, and I put his own hand on the
knife and drove it into his body. The knife was of so queer a
shape that no one but an operator could have calculated the angle
that would reach his heart. I wonder if you noticed this.
When I had done it, the extraordinary thing happened. Nature
deserted me. I felt ill. I felt just as if I had done something
wrong. I think my brain is breaking up; I feel some sort of
desperate pleasure in thinking I have told the thing to somebody;
that I shall not have to be alone with it if I marry and have
children. What is the matter with me? ... Madness ... or can one
have remorse, just as if one were in Byron's poems! I cannot
write any more.
James Erskine Harris.
Father Brown carefully folded up the letter, and put it in his
breast pocket just as there came a loud peal at the gate bell, and
the wet waterproofs of several policemen gleamed in the road
The Sins of Prince Saradine
When Flambeau took his month's holiday from his office in
Westminster he took it in a small sailing-boat, so small that it
passed much of its time as a rowing-boat. He took it, moreover,
in little rivers in the Eastern counties, rivers so small that the
boat looked like a magic boat, sailing on land through meadows and
cornfields. The vessel was just comfortable for two people; there
was room only for necessities, and Flambeau had stocked it with
such things as his special philosophy considered necessary. They
reduced themselves, apparently, to four essentials: tins of
salmon, if he should want to eat; loaded revolvers, if he should
want to fight; a bottle of brandy, presumably in case he should
faint; and a priest, presumably in case he should die. With this
light luggage he crawled down the little Norfolk rivers, intending
to reach the Broads at last, but meanwhile delighting in the
overhanging gardens and meadows, the mirrored mansions or villages,
lingering to fish in the pools and corners, and in some sense
hugging the shore.
Like a true philosopher, Flambeau had no aim in his holiday;
but, like a true philosopher, he had an excuse. He had a sort of
half purpose, which he took just so seriously that its success
would crown the holiday, but just so lightly that its failure
would not spoil it. Years ago, when he had been a king of thieves
and the most famous figure in Paris, he had often received wild
communications of approval, denunciation, or even love; but one
had, somehow, stuck in his memory. It consisted simply of a
visiting-card, in an envelope with an English postmark. On the
back of the card was written in French and in green ink: "If you
ever retire and become respectable, come and see me. I want to
meet you, for I have met all the other great men of my time. That
trick of yours of getting one detective to arrest the other was
the most splendid scene in French history." On the front of the
card was engraved in the formal fashion, "Prince Saradine, Reed
House, Reed Island, Norfolk."
He had not troubled much about the prince then, beyond
ascertaining that he had been a brilliant and fashionable figure
in southern Italy. In his youth, it was said, he had eloped with
a married woman of high rank; the escapade was scarcely startling
in his social world, but it had clung to men's minds because of an
additional tragedy: the alleged suicide of the insulted husband,
who appeared to have flung himself over a precipice in Sicily.
The prince then lived in Vienna for a time, but his more recent
years seemed to have been passed in perpetual and restless travel.
But when Flambeau, like the prince himself, had left European
celebrity and settled in England, it occurred to him that he might
pay a surprise visit to this eminent exile in the Norfolk Broads.
Whether he should find the place he had no idea; and, indeed, it
was sufficiently small and forgotten. But, as things fell out, he
found it much sooner than he expected.
They had moored their boat one night under a bank veiled in
high grasses and short pollarded trees. Sleep, after heavy
sculling, had come to them early, and by a corresponding accident
they awoke before it was light. To speak more strictly, they
awoke before it was daylight; for a large lemon moon was only just
setting in the forest of high grass above their heads, and the sky
was of a vivid violet-blue, nocturnal but bright. Both men had
simultaneously a reminiscence of childhood, of the elfin and
adventurous time when tall weeds close over us like woods.
Standing up thus against the large low moon, the daisies really
seemed to be giant daisies, the dandelions to be giant dandelions.
Somehow it reminded them of the dado of a nursery wall-paper. The
drop of the river-bed sufficed to sink them under the roots of all
shrubs and flowers and make them gaze upwards at the grass. "By
Jove!" said Flambeau, "it's like being in fairyland."
Father Brown sat bolt upright in the boat and crossed himself.
His movement was so abrupt that his friend asked him, with a mild
stare, what was the matter.
"The people who wrote the mediaeval ballads," answered the
priest, "knew more about fairies than you do. It isn't only nice
things that happen in fairyland."
"Oh, bosh!" said Flambeau. "Only nice things could happen
under such an innocent moon. I am for pushing on now and seeing
what does really come. We may die and rot before we ever see
again such a moon or such a mood."
"All right," said Father Brown. "I never said it was always
wrong to enter fairyland. I only said it was always dangerous."
They pushed slowly up the brightening river; the glowing
violet of the sky and the pale gold of the moon grew fainter and
fainter, and faded into that vast colourless cosmos that precedes
the colours of the dawn. When the first faint stripes of red and
gold and grey split the horizon from end to end they were broken
by the black bulk of a town or village which sat on the river just
ahead of them. It was already an easy twilight, in which all
things were visible, when they came under the hanging roofs and
bridges of this riverside hamlet. The houses, with their long,
low, stooping roofs, seemed to come down to drink at the river,
like huge grey and red cattle. The broadening and whitening dawn
had already turned to working daylight before they saw any living
creature on the wharves and bridges of that silent town.
Eventually they saw a very placid and prosperous man in his shirt
sleeves, with a face as round as the recently sunken moon, and
rays of red whisker around the low arc of it, who was leaning on a
post above the sluggish tide. By an impulse not to be analysed,
Flambeau rose to his full height in the swaying boat and shouted
at the man to ask if he knew Reed Island or Reed House. The
prosperous man's smile grew slightly more expansive, and he simply
pointed up the river towards the next bend of it. Flambeau went
ahead without further speech.
The boat took many such grassy corners and followed many such
reedy and silent reaches of river; but before the search had
become monotonous they had swung round a specially sharp angle and
come into the silence of a sort of pool or lake, the sight of
which instinctively arrested them. For in the middle of this
wider piece of water, fringed on every side with rushes, lay a
long, low islet, along which ran a long, low house or bungalow
built of bamboo or some kind of tough tropic cane. The upstanding
rods of bamboo which made the walls were pale yellow, the sloping
rods that made the roof were of darker red or brown, otherwise the
long house was a thing of repetition and monotony. The early
morning breeze rustled the reeds round the island and sang in the
strange ribbed house as in a giant pan-pipe.
"By George!" cried Flambeau; "here is the place, after all!
Here is Reed Island, if ever there was one. Here is Reed House,
if it is anywhere. I believe that fat man with whiskers was a
"Perhaps," remarked Father Brown impartially. "If he was, he
was a bad fairy."
But even as he spoke the impetuous Flambeau had run his boat
ashore in the rattling reeds, and they stood in the long, quaint
islet beside the odd and silent house.
The house stood with its back, as it were, to the river and
the only landing-stage; the main entrance was on the other side,
and looked down the long island garden. The visitors approached
it, therefore, by a small path running round nearly three sides of
the house, close under the low eaves. Through three different
windows on three different sides they looked in on the same long,
well-lit room, panelled in light wood, with a large number of
looking-glasses, and laid out as for an elegant lunch. The front
door, when they came round to it at last, was flanked by two
turquoise-blue flower pots. It was opened by a butler of the
drearier type--long, lean, grey and listless--who murmured
that Prince Saradine was from home at present, but was expected
hourly; the house being kept ready for him and his guests. The
exhibition of the card with the scrawl of green ink awoke a flicker
of life in the parchment face of the depressed retainer, and it
was with a certain shaky courtesy that he suggested that the
strangers should remain. "His Highness may be here any minute,"
he said, "and would be distressed to have just missed any gentleman
he had invited. We have orders always to keep a little cold lunch
for him and his friends, and I am sure he would wish it to be
Moved with curiosity to this minor adventure, Flambeau assented
gracefully, and followed the old man, who ushered him ceremoniously
into the long, lightly panelled room. There was nothing very
notable about it, except the rather unusual alternation of many
long, low windows with many long, low oblongs of looking-glass,
which gave a singular air of lightness and unsubstantialness to
the place. It was somehow like lunching out of doors. One or two
pictures of a quiet kind hung in the corners, one a large grey
photograph of a very young man in uniform, another a red chalk
sketch of two long-haired boys. Asked by Flambeau whether the
soldierly person was the prince, the butler answered shortly in
the negative; it was the prince's younger brother, Captain Stephen
Saradine, he said. And with that the old man seemed to dry up
suddenly and lose all taste for conversation.
After lunch had tailed off with exquisite coffee and liqueurs,
the guests were introduced to the garden, the library, and the
housekeeper--a dark, handsome lady, of no little majesty, and
rather like a plutonic Madonna. It appeared that she and the
butler were the only survivors of the prince's original foreign
menage the other servants now in the house being new and collected
in Norfolk by the housekeeper. This latter lady went by the name
of Mrs. Anthony, but she spoke with a slight Italian accent, and
Flambeau did not doubt that Anthony was a Norfolk version of some
more Latin name. Mr. Paul, the butler, also had a faintly foreign
air, but he was in tongue and training English, as are many of the
most polished men-servants of the cosmopolitan nobility.
Pretty and unique as it was, the place had about it a curious
luminous sadness. Hours passed in it like days. The long,
well-windowed rooms were full of daylight, but it seemed a dead
daylight. And through all other incidental noises, the sound of
talk, the clink of glasses, or the passing feet of servants, they
could hear on all sides of the house the melancholy noise of the
"We have taken a wrong turning, and come to a wrong place,"
said Father Brown, looking out of the window at the grey-green
sedges and the silver flood. "Never mind; one can sometimes do
good by being the right person in the wrong place."
Father Brown, though commonly a silent, was an oddly
sympathetic little man, and in those few but endless hours he
unconsciously sank deeper into the secrets of Reed House than his
professional friend. He had that knack of friendly silence which
is so essential to gossip; and saying scarcely a word, he probably
obtained from his new acquaintances all that in any case they
would have told. The butler indeed was naturally uncommunicative.
He betrayed a sullen and almost animal affection for his master;
who, he said, had been very badly treated. The chief offender
seemed to be his highness's brother, whose name alone would
lengthen the old man's lantern jaws and pucker his parrot nose
into a sneer. Captain Stephen was a ne'er-do-weel, apparently,
and had drained his benevolent brother of hundreds and thousands;
forced him to fly from fashionable life and live quietly in this
retreat. That was all Paul, the butler, would say, and Paul was
obviously a partisan.
The Italian housekeeper was somewhat more communicative,
being, as Brown fancied, somewhat less content. Her tone about
her master was faintly acid; though not without a certain awe.
Flambeau and his friend were standing in the room of the
looking-glasses examining the red sketch of the two boys, when the
housekeeper swept in swiftly on some domestic errand. It was a
peculiarity of this glittering, glass-panelled place that anyone
entering was reflected in four or five mirrors at once; and Father
Brown, without turning round, stopped in the middle of a sentence
of family criticism. But Flambeau, who had his face close up to
the picture, was already saying in a loud voice, "The brothers
Saradine, I suppose. They both look innocent enough. It would be
hard to say which is the good brother and which the bad." Then,
realising the lady's presence, he turned the conversation with
some triviality, and strolled out into the garden. But Father
Brown still gazed steadily at the red crayon sketch; and Mrs.
Anthony still gazed steadily at Father Brown.
She had large and tragic brown eyes, and her olive face glowed
darkly with a curious and painful wonder--as of one doubtful of
a stranger's identity or purpose. Whether the little priest's coat
and creed touched some southern memories of confession, or whether
she fancied he knew more than he did, she said to him in a low
voice as to a fellow plotter, "He is right enough in one way, your
friend. He says it would be hard to pick out the good and bad
brothers. Oh, it would be hard, it would be mighty hard, to pick
out the good one."
"I don't understand you," said Father Brown, and began to move
The woman took a step nearer to him, with thunderous brows and
a sort of savage stoop, like a bull lowering his horns.
"There isn't a good one," she hissed. "There was badness
enough in the captain taking all that money, but I don't think
there was much goodness in the prince giving it. The captain's
not the only one with something against him."
A light dawned on the cleric's averted face, and his mouth
formed silently the word "blackmail." Even as he did so the woman
turned an abrupt white face over her shoulder and almost fell.
The door had opened soundlessly and the pale Paul stood like a
ghost in the doorway. By the weird trick of the reflecting walls,
it seemed as if five Pauls had entered by five doors
"His Highness," he said, "has just arrived."
In the same flash the figure of a man had passed outside the
first window, crossing the sunlit pane like a lighted stage. An
instant later he passed at the second window and the many mirrors
repainted in successive frames the same eagle profile and marching
figure. He was erect and alert, but his hair was white and his
complexion of an odd ivory yellow. He had that short, curved
Roman nose which generally goes with long, lean cheeks and chin,
but these were partly masked by moustache and imperial. The
moustache was much darker than the beard, giving an effect
slightly theatrical, and he was dressed up to the same dashing
part, having a white top hat, an orchid in his coat, a yellow
waistcoat and yellow gloves which he flapped and swung as he
walked. When he came round to the front door they heard the stiff
Paul open it, and heard the new arrival say cheerfully, "Well, you
see I have come." The stiff Mr. Paul bowed and answered in his
inaudible manner; for a few minutes their conversation could not
be heard. Then the butler said, "Everything is at your disposal";
and the glove-flapping Prince Saradine came gaily into the room to
greet them. They beheld once more that spectral scene--five
princes entering a room with five doors.
The prince put the white hat and yellow gloves on the table
and offered his hand quite cordially.
"Delighted to see you here, Mr. Flambeau," he said. "Knowing
you very well by reputation, if that's not an indiscreet remark."
"Not at all," answered Flambeau, laughing. "I am not
sensitive. Very few reputations are gained by unsullied virtue."
The prince flashed a sharp look at him to see if the retort
had any personal point; then he laughed also and offered chairs to
everyone, including himself.
"Pleasant little place, this, I think," he said with a
detached air. "Not much to do, I fear; but the fishing is really
The priest, who was staring at him with the grave stare of a
baby, was haunted by some fancy that escaped definition. He looked
at the grey, carefully curled hair, yellow white visage, and slim,
somewhat foppish figure. These were not unnatural, though perhaps
a shade prononcÚ, like the outfit of a figure behind the
footlights. The nameless interest lay in something else, in the
very framework of the face; Brown was tormented with a half memory
of having seen it somewhere before. The man looked like some old
friend of his dressed up. Then he suddenly remembered the
mirrors, and put his fancy down to some psychological effect of
that multiplication of human masks.
Prince Saradine distributed his social attentions between his
guests with great gaiety and tact. Finding the detective of a
sporting turn and eager to employ his holiday, he guided Flambeau
and Flambeau's boat down to the best fishing spot in the stream,
and was back in his own canoe in twenty minutes to join Father
Brown in the library and plunge equally politely into the priest's
more philosophic pleasures. He seemed to know a great deal both
about the fishing and the books, though of these not the most
edifying; he spoke five or six languages, though chiefly the slang
of each. He had evidently lived in varied cities and very motley
societies, for some of his cheerfullest stories were about
gambling hells and opium dens, Australian bushrangers or Italian
brigands. Father Brown knew that the once-celebrated Saradine had
spent his last few years in almost ceaseless travel, but he had
not guessed that the travels were so disreputable or so amusing.
Indeed, with all his dignity of a man of the world, Prince
Saradine radiated to such sensitive observers as the priest, a
certain atmosphere of the restless and even the unreliable. His
face was fastidious, but his eye was wild; he had little nervous
tricks, like a man shaken by drink or drugs, and he neither had,
nor professed to have, his hand on the helm of household affairs.
All these were left to the two old servants, especially to the
butler, who was plainly the central pillar of the house. Mr.
Paul, indeed, was not so much a butler as a sort of steward or,
even, chamberlain; he dined privately, but with almost as much
pomp as his master; he was feared by all the servants; and he
consulted with the prince decorously, but somewhat unbendingly--
rather as if he were the prince's solicitor. The sombre
housekeeper was a mere shadow in comparison; indeed, she seemed to
efface herself and wait only on the butler, and Brown heard no
more of those volcanic whispers which had half told him of the
younger brother who blackmailed the elder. Whether the prince was
really being thus bled by the absent captain, he could not be
certain, but there was something insecure and secretive about
Saradine that made the tale by no means incredible.
When they went once more into the long hall with the windows
and the mirrors, yellow evening was dropping over the waters and
the willowy banks; and a bittern sounded in the distance like an
elf upon his dwarfish drum. The same singular sentiment of some
sad and evil fairyland crossed the priest's mind again like a
little grey cloud. "I wish Flambeau were back," he muttered.
"Do you believe in doom?" asked the restless Prince Saradine
"No," answered his guest. "I believe in Doomsday."
The prince turned from the window and stared at him in a
singular manner, his face in shadow against the sunset. "What do
you mean?" he asked.
"I mean that we here are on the wrong side of the tapestry,"
answered Father Brown. "The things that happen here do not seem
to mean anything; they mean something somewhere else. Somewhere
else retribution will come on the real offender. Here it often
seems to fall on the wrong person."
The prince made an inexplicable noise like an animal; in his
shadowed face the eyes were shining queerly. A new and shrewd
thought exploded silently in the other's mind. Was there another
meaning in Saradine's blend of brilliancy and abruptness? Was the
prince-- Was he perfectly sane? He was repeating, "The wrong
person--the wrong person," many more times than was natural in a
Then Father Brown awoke tardily to a second truth. In the
mirrors before him he could see the silent door standing open, and
the silent Mr. Paul standing in it, with his usual pallid
"I thought it better to announce at once," he said, with the
same stiff respectfulness as of an old family lawyer, "a boat
rowed by six men has come to the landing-stage, and there's a
gentleman sitting in the stern."
"A boat!" repeated the prince; "a gentleman?" and he rose to
There was a startled silence punctuated only by the odd noise
of the bird in the sedge; and then, before anyone could speak
again, a new face and figure passed in profile round the three
sunlit windows, as the prince had passed an hour or two before.
But except for the accident that both outlines were aquiline, they
had little in common. Instead of the new white topper of Saradine,
was a black one of antiquated or foreign shape; under it was a
young and very solemn face, clean shaven, blue about its resolute
chin, and carrying a faint suggestion of the young Napoleon. The
association was assisted by something old and odd about the whole
get-up, as of a man who had never troubled to change the fashions
of his fathers. He had a shabby blue frock coat, a red, soldierly
looking waistcoat, and a kind of coarse white trousers common among
the early Victorians, but strangely incongruous today. From all
this old clothes-shop his olive face stood out strangely young and
"The deuce!" said Prince Saradine, and clapping on his white
hat he went to the front door himself, flinging it open on the
By that time the new-comer and his followers were drawn up on
the lawn like a small stage army. The six boatmen had pulled the
boat well up on shore, and were guarding it almost menacingly,
holding their oars erect like spears. They were swarthy men, and
some of them wore earrings. But one of them stood forward beside
the olive-faced young man in the red waistcoat, and carried a large
black case of unfamiliar form.
"Your name," said the young man, "is Saradine?"
Saradine assented rather negligently.
The new-comer had dull, dog-like brown eyes, as different as
possible from the restless and glittering grey eyes of the prince.
But once again Father Brown was tortured with a sense of having
seen somewhere a replica of the face; and once again he remembered
the repetitions of the glass-panelled room, and put down the
coincidence to that. "Confound this crystal palace!" he muttered.
"One sees everything too many times. It's like a dream."
"If you are Prince Saradine," said the young man, "I may tell
you that my name is Antonelli."
"Antonelli," repeated the prince languidly. "Somehow I
remember the name."
"Permit me to present myself," said the young Italian.
With his left hand he politely took off his old-fashioned
top-hat; with his right he caught Prince Saradine so ringing a
crack across the face that the white top hat rolled down the steps
and one of the blue flower-pots rocked upon its pedestal.
The prince, whatever he was, was evidently not a coward; he
sprang at his enemy's throat and almost bore him backwards to the
grass. But his enemy extricated himself with a singularly
inappropriate air of hurried politeness.
"That is all right," he said, panting and in halting English.
"I have insulted. I will give satisfaction. Marco, open the
The man beside him with the earrings and the big black case
proceeded to unlock it. He took out of it two long Italian
rapiers, with splendid steel hilts and blades, which he planted
point downwards in the lawn. The strange young man standing facing
the entrance with his yellow and vindictive face, the two swords
standing up in the turf like two crosses in a cemetery, and the
line of the ranked towers behind, gave it all an odd appearance of
being some barbaric court of justice. But everything else was
unchanged, so sudden had been the interruption. The sunset gold
still glowed on the lawn, and the bittern still boomed as
announcing some small but dreadful destiny.
"Prince Saradine," said the man called Antonelli, "when I was
an infant in the cradle you killed my father and stole my mother;
my father was the more fortunate. You did not kill him fairly, as
I am going to kill you. You and my wicked mother took him driving
to a lonely pass in Sicily, flung him down a cliff, and went on
your way. I could imitate you if I chose, but imitating you is
too vile. I have followed you all over the world, and you have
always fled from me. But this is the end of the world--and of
you. I have you now, and I give you the chance you never gave my
father. Choose one of those swords."
Prince Saradine, with contracted brows, seemed to hesitate a
moment, but his ears were still singing with the blow, and he
sprang forward and snatched at one of the hilts. Father Brown had
also sprung forward, striving to compose the dispute; but he soon
found his personal presence made matters worse. Saradine was a
French freemason and a fierce atheist, and a priest moved him by
the law of contraries. And for the other man neither priest nor
layman moved him at all. This young man with the Bonaparte face
and the brown eyes was something far sterner than a puritan--a
pagan. He was a simple slayer from the morning of the earth; a
man of the stone age--a man of stone.
One hope remained, the summoning of the household; and Father
Brown ran back into the house. He found, however, that all the
under servants had been given a holiday ashore by the autocrat
Paul, and that only the sombre Mrs. Anthony moved uneasily about
the long rooms. But the moment she turned a ghastly face upon
him, he resolved one of the riddles of the house of mirrors. The
heavy brown eyes of Antonelli were the heavy brown eyes of Mrs.
Anthony; and in a flash he saw half the story.
"Your son is outside," he said without wasting words; "either
he or the prince will be killed. Where is Mr. Paul?"
"He is at the landing-stage," said the woman faintly. "He is
--he is--signalling for help."
"Mrs. Anthony," said Father Brown seriously, "there is no time
for nonsense. My friend has his boat down the river fishing.
Your son's boat is guarded by your son's men. There is only this
one canoe; what is Mr. Paul doing with it?"
"Santa Maria! I do not know," she said; and swooned all her
length on the matted floor.
Father Brown lifted her to a sofa, flung a pot of water over
her, shouted for help, and then rushed down to the landing-stage
of the little island. But the canoe was already in mid-stream,
and old Paul was pulling and pushing it up the river with an
energy incredible at his years.
"I will save my master," he cried, his eyes blazing maniacally.
"I will save him yet!"
Father Brown could do nothing but gaze after the boat as it
struggled up-stream and pray that the old man might waken the
little town in time.
"A duel is bad enough," he muttered, rubbing up his rough
dust-coloured hair, "but there's something wrong about this duel,
even as a duel. I feel it in my bones. But what can it be?"
As he stood staring at the water, a wavering mirror of sunset,
he heard from the other end of the island garden a small but
unmistakable sound--the cold concussion of steel. He turned his
Away on the farthest cape or headland of the long islet, on a
strip of turf beyond the last rank of roses, the duellists had
already crossed swords. Evening above them was a dome of virgin
gold, and, distant as they were, every detail was picked out.
They had cast off their coats, but the yellow waistcoat and white
hair of Saradine, the red waistcoat and white trousers of
Antonelli, glittered in the level light like the colours of the
dancing clockwork dolls. The two swords sparkled from point to
pommel like two diamond pins. There was something frightful in
the two figures appearing so little and so gay. They looked like
two butterflies trying to pin each other to a cork.
Father Brown ran as hard as he could, his little legs going
like a wheel. But when he came to the field of combat he found he
was born too late and too early--too late to stop the strife,
under the shadow of the grim Sicilians leaning on their oars, and
too early to anticipate any disastrous issue of it. For the two
men were singularly well matched, the prince using his skill with
a sort of cynical confidence, the Sicilian using his with a
murderous care. Few finer fencing matches can ever have been seen
in crowded amphitheatres than that which tinkled and sparkled on
that forgotten island in the reedy river. The dizzy fight was
balanced so long that hope began to revive in the protesting
priest; by all common probability Paul must soon come back with
the police. It would be some comfort even if Flambeau came back
from his fishing, for Flambeau, physically speaking, was worth
four other men. But there was no sign of Flambeau, and, what was
much queerer, no sign of Paul or the police. No other raft or
stick was left to float on; in that lost island in that vast
nameless pool, they were cut off as on a rock in the Pacific.
Almost as he had the thought the ringing of the rapiers
quickened to a rattle, the prince's arms flew up, and the point
shot out behind between his shoulder-blades. He went over with a
great whirling movement, almost like one throwing the half of a
boy's cart-wheel. The sword flew from his hand like a shooting
star, and dived into the distant river. And he himself sank with