Part 4 out of 5
so earth-shaking a subsidence that he broke a big rose-tree with
his body and shook up into the sky a cloud of red earth--like
the smoke of some heathen sacrifice. The Sicilian had made
blood-offering to the ghost of his father.
The priest was instantly on his knees by the corpse; but only
to make too sure that it was a corpse. As he was still trying
some last hopeless tests he heard for the first time voices from
farther up the river, and saw a police boat shoot up to the
landing-stage, with constables and other important people,
including the excited Paul. The little priest rose with a
distinctly dubious grimace.
"Now, why on earth," he muttered, "why on earth couldn't he
have come before?"
Some seven minutes later the island was occupied by an
invasion of townsfolk and police, and the latter had put their
hands on the victorious duellist, ritually reminding him that
anything he said might be used against him.
"I shall not say anything," said the monomaniac, with a
wonderful and peaceful face. "I shall never say anything more.
I am very happy, and I only want to be hanged."
Then he shut his mouth as they led him away, and it is the
strange but certain truth that he never opened it again in this
world, except to say "Guilty" at his trial.
Father Brown had stared at the suddenly crowded garden, the
arrest of the man of blood, the carrying away of the corpse after
its examination by the doctor, rather as one watches the break-up
of some ugly dream; he was motionless, like a man in a nightmare.
He gave his name and address as a witness, but declined their
offer of a boat to the shore, and remained alone in the island
garden, gazing at the broken rose bush and the whole green theatre
of that swift and inexplicable tragedy. The light died along the
river; mist rose in the marshy banks; a few belated birds flitted
Stuck stubbornly in his sub-consciousness (which was an
unusually lively one) was an unspeakable certainty that there was
something still unexplained. This sense that had clung to him all
day could not be fully explained by his fancy about "looking-glass
land." Somehow he had not seen the real story, but some game or
masque. And yet people do not get hanged or run through the body
for the sake of a charade.
As he sat on the steps of the landing-stage ruminating he grew
conscious of the tall, dark streak of a sail coming silently down
the shining river, and sprang to his feet with such a backrush of
feeling that he almost wept.
"Flambeau!" he cried, and shook his friend by both hands again
and again, much to the astonishment of that sportsman, as he came
on shore with his fishing tackle. "Flambeau," he said, "so you're
"Killed!" repeated the angler in great astonishment. "And why
should I be killed?"
"Oh, because nearly everybody else is," said his companion
rather wildly. "Saradine got murdered, and Antonelli wants to be
hanged, and his mother's fainted, and I, for one, don't know
whether I'm in this world or the next. But, thank God, you're in
the same one." And he took the bewildered Flambeau's arm.
As they turned from the landing-stage they came under the
eaves of the low bamboo house, and looked in through one of the
windows, as they had done on their first arrival. They beheld a
lamp-lit interior well calculated to arrest their eyes. The table
in the long dining-room had been laid for dinner when Saradine's
destroyer had fallen like a stormbolt on the island. And the
dinner was now in placid progress, for Mrs. Anthony sat somewhat
sullenly at the foot of the table, while at the head of it was Mr.
Paul, the major domo, eating and drinking of the best, his
bleared, bluish eyes standing queerly out of his face, his gaunt
countenance inscrutable, but by no means devoid of satisfaction.
With a gesture of powerful impatience, Flambeau rattled at the
window, wrenched it open, and put an indignant head into the
"Well," he cried. "I can understand you may need some
refreshment, but really to steal your master's dinner while he
lies murdered in the garden--"
"I have stolen a great many things in a long and pleasant
life," replied the strange old gentleman placidly; "this dinner is
one of the few things I have not stolen. This dinner and this
house and garden happen to belong to me."
A thought flashed across Flambeau's face. "You mean to say,"
he began, "that the will of Prince Saradine--"
"I am Prince Saradine," said the old man, munching a salted
Father Brown, who was looking at the birds outside, jumped as
if he were shot, and put in at the window a pale face like a
"You are what?" he repeated in a shrill voice.
"Paul, Prince Saradine, A vos ordres," said the venerable
person politely, lifting a glass of sherry. "I live here very
quietly, being a domestic kind of fellow; and for the sake of
modesty I am called Mr. Paul, to distinguish me from my
unfortunate brother Mr. Stephen. He died, I hear, recently--in
the garden. Of course, it is not my fault if enemies pursue him
to this place. It is owing to the regrettable irregularity of his
life. He was not a domestic character."
He relapsed into silence, and continued to gaze at the
opposite wall just above the bowed and sombre head of the woman.
They saw plainly the family likeness that had haunted them in the
dead man. Then his old shoulders began to heave and shake a
little, as if he were choking, but his face did not alter.
"My God!" cried Flambeau after a pause, "he's laughing!"
"Come away," said Father Brown, who was quite white. "Come
away from this house of hell. Let us get into an honest boat
Night had sunk on rushes and river by the time they had pushed
off from the island, and they went down-stream in the dark,
warming themselves with two big cigars that glowed like crimson
ships' lanterns. Father Brown took his cigar out of his mouth and
"I suppose you can guess the whole story now? After all, it's
a primitive story. A man had two enemies. He was a wise man.
And so he discovered that two enemies are better than one."
"I do not follow that," answered Flambeau.
"Oh, it's really simple," rejoined his friend. "Simple,
though anything but innocent. Both the Saradines were scamps, but
the prince, the elder, was the sort of scamp that gets to the top,
and the younger, the captain, was the sort that sinks to the
bottom. This squalid officer fell from beggar to blackmailer, and
one ugly day he got his hold upon his brother, the prince.
Obviously it was for no light matter, for Prince Paul Saradine was
frankly `fast,' and had no reputation to lose as to the mere sins
of society. In plain fact, it was a hanging matter, and Stephen
literally had a rope round his brother's neck. He had somehow
discovered the truth about the Sicilian affair, and could prove
that Paul murdered old Antonelli in the mountains. The captain
raked in the hush money heavily for ten years, until even the
prince's splendid fortune began to look a little foolish.
"But Prince Saradine bore another burden besides his
blood-sucking brother. He knew that the son of Antonelli, a mere
child at the time of the murder, had been trained in savage
Sicilian loyalty, and lived only to avenge his father, not with
the gibbet (for he lacked Stephen's legal proof), but with the old
weapons of vendetta. The boy had practised arms with a deadly
perfection, and about the time that he was old enough to use them
Prince Saradine began, as the society papers said, to travel. The
fact is that he began to flee for his life, passing from place to
place like a hunted criminal; but with one relentless man upon his
trail. That was Prince Paul's position, and by no means a pretty
one. The more money he spent on eluding Antonelli the less he had
to silence Stephen. The more he gave to silence Stephen the less
chance there was of finally escaping Antonelli. Then it was that
he showed himself a great man--a genius like Napoleon.
"Instead of resisting his two antagonists, he surrendered
suddenly to both of them. He gave way like a Japanese wrestler,
and his foes fell prostrate before him. He gave up the race round
the world, and he gave up his address to young Antonelli; then he
gave up everything to his brother. He sent Stephen money enough
for smart clothes and easy travel, with a letter saying roughly:
`This is all I have left. You have cleaned me out. I still have
a little house in Norfolk, with servants and a cellar, and if you
want more from me you must take that. Come and take possession if
you like, and I will live there quietly as your friend or agent or
anything.' He knew that the Sicilian had never seen the Saradine
brothers save, perhaps, in pictures; he knew they were somewhat
alike, both having grey, pointed beards. Then he shaved his own
face and waited. The trap worked. The unhappy captain, in his
new clothes, entered the house in triumph as a prince, and walked
upon the Sicilian's sword.
"There was one hitch, and it is to the honour of human nature.
Evil spirits like Saradine often blunder by never expecting the
virtues of mankind. He took it for granted that the Italian's
blow, when it came, would be dark, violent and nameless, like the
blow it avenged; that the victim would be knifed at night, or shot
from behind a hedge, and so die without speech. It was a bad
minute for Prince Paul when Antonelli's chivalry proposed a formal
duel, with all its possible explanations. It was then that I
found him putting off in his boat with wild eyes. He was fleeing,
bareheaded, in an open boat before Antonelli should learn who he
"But, however agitated, he was not hopeless. He knew the
adventurer and he knew the fanatic. It was quite probable that
Stephen, the adventurer, would hold his tongue, through his mere
histrionic pleasure in playing a part, his lust for clinging to
his new cosy quarters, his rascal's trust in luck, and his fine
fencing. It was certain that Antonelli, the fanatic, would hold
his tongue, and be hanged without telling tales of his family.
Paul hung about on the river till he knew the fight was over.
Then he roused the town, brought the police, saw his two vanquished
enemies taken away forever, and sat down smiling to his dinner."
"Laughing, God help us!" said Flambeau with a strong shudder.
"Do they get such ideas from Satan?"
"He got that idea from you," answered the priest.
"God forbid!" ejaculated Flambeau. "From me! What do you
The priest pulled a visiting-card from his pocket and held it
up in the faint glow of his cigar; it was scrawled with green ink.
"Don't you remember his original invitation to you?" he asked,
"and the compliment to your criminal exploit? `That trick of
yours,' he says, `of getting one detective to arrest the other'?
He has just copied your trick. With an enemy on each side of him,
he slipped swiftly out of the way and let them collide and kill
Flambeau tore Prince Saradine's card from the priest's hands
and rent it savagely in small pieces.
"There's the last of that old skull and crossbones," he said
as he scattered the pieces upon the dark and disappearing waves of
the stream; "but I should think it would poison the fishes."
The last gleam of white card and green ink was drowned and
darkened; a faint and vibrant colour as of morning changed the
sky, and the moon behind the grasses grew paler. They drifted in
"Father," said Flambeau suddenly, "do you think it was all a
The priest shook his head, whether in dissent or agnosticism,
but remained mute. A smell of hawthorn and of orchards came to
them through the darkness, telling them that a wind was awake; the
next moment it swayed their little boat and swelled their sail,
and carried them onward down the winding river to happier places
and the homes of harmless men.
The Hammer of God
The little village of Bohun Beacon was perched on a hill so steep
that the tall spire of its church seemed only like the peak of a
small mountain. At the foot of the church stood a smithy,
generally red with fires and always littered with hammers and
scraps of iron; opposite to this, over a rude cross of cobbled
paths, was "The Blue Boar," the only inn of the place. It was
upon this crossway, in the lifting of a leaden and silver
daybreak, that two brothers met in the street and spoke; though
one was beginning the day and the other finishing it. The Rev.
and Hon. Wilfred Bohun was very devout, and was making his way to
some austere exercises of prayer or contemplation at dawn.
Colonel the Hon. Norman Bohun, his elder brother, was by no means
devout, and was sitting in evening dress on the bench outside "The
Blue Boar," drinking what the philosophic observer was free to
regard either as his last glass on Tuesday or his first on
Wednesday. The colonel was not particular.
The Bohuns were one of the very few aristocratic families
really dating from the Middle Ages, and their pennon had actually
seen Palestine. But it is a great mistake to suppose that such
houses stand high in chivalric tradition. Few except the poor
preserve traditions. Aristocrats live not in traditions but in
fashions. The Bohuns had been Mohocks under Queen Anne and
Mashers under Queen Victoria. But like more than one of the
really ancient houses, they had rotted in the last two centuries
into mere drunkards and dandy degenerates, till there had even
come a whisper of insanity. Certainly there was something hardly
human about the colonel's wolfish pursuit of pleasure, and his
chronic resolution not to go home till morning had a touch of the
hideous clarity of insomnia. He was a tall, fine animal, elderly,
but with hair still startlingly yellow. He would have looked
merely blonde and leonine, but his blue eyes were sunk so deep in
his face that they looked black. They were a little too close
together. He had very long yellow moustaches; on each side of
them a fold or furrow from nostril to jaw, so that a sneer seemed
cut into his face. Over his evening clothes he wore a curious
pale yellow coat that looked more like a very light dressing gown
than an overcoat, and on the back of his head was stuck an
extraordinary broad-brimmed hat of a bright green colour,
evidently some oriental curiosity caught up at random. He was
proud of appearing in such incongruous attires--proud of the
fact that he always made them look congruous.
His brother the curate had also the yellow hair and the
elegance, but he was buttoned up to the chin in black, and his
face was clean-shaven, cultivated, and a little nervous. He
seemed to live for nothing but his religion; but there were some
who said (notably the blacksmith, who was a Presbyterian) that it
was a love of Gothic architecture rather than of God, and that his
haunting of the church like a ghost was only another and purer
turn of the almost morbid thirst for beauty which sent his brother
raging after women and wine. This charge was doubtful, while the
man's practical piety was indubitable. Indeed, the charge was
mostly an ignorant misunderstanding of the love of solitude and
secret prayer, and was founded on his being often found kneeling,
not before the altar, but in peculiar places, in the crypts or
gallery, or even in the belfry. He was at the moment about to
enter the church through the yard of the smithy, but stopped and
frowned a little as he saw his brother's cavernous eyes staring in
the same direction. On the hypothesis that the colonel was
interested in the church he did not waste any speculations. There
only remained the blacksmith's shop, and though the blacksmith was
a Puritan and none of his people, Wilfred Bohun had heard some
scandals about a beautiful and rather celebrated wife. He flung a
suspicious look across the shed, and the colonel stood up laughing
to speak to him.
"Good morning, Wilfred," he said. "Like a good landlord I am
watching sleeplessly over my people. I am going to call on the
Wilfred looked at the ground, and said: "The blacksmith is out.
He is over at Greenford."
"I know," answered the other with silent laughter; "that is
why I am calling on him."
"Norman," said the cleric, with his eye on a pebble in the
road, "are you ever afraid of thunderbolts?"
"What do you mean?" asked the colonel. "Is your hobby
"I mean," said Wilfred, without looking up, "do you ever think
that God might strike you in the street?"
"I beg your pardon," said the colonel; "I see your hobby is
"I know your hobby is blasphemy," retorted the religious man,
stung in the one live place of his nature. "But if you do not
fear God, you have good reason to fear man."
The elder raised his eyebrows politely. "Fear man?" he said.
"Barnes the blacksmith is the biggest and strongest man for
forty miles round," said the clergyman sternly. "I know you are
no coward or weakling, but he could throw you over the wall."
This struck home, being true, and the lowering line by mouth
and nostril darkened and deepened. For a moment he stood with the
heavy sneer on his face. But in an instant Colonel Bohun had
recovered his own cruel good humour and laughed, showing two
dog-like front teeth under his yellow moustache. "In that case,
my dear Wilfred," he said quite carelessly, "it was wise for the
last of the Bohuns to come out partially in armour."
And he took off the queer round hat covered with green,
showing that it was lined within with steel. Wilfred recognised
it indeed as a light Japanese or Chinese helmet torn down from a
trophy that hung in the old family hall.
"It was the first hat to hand," explained his brother airily;
"always the nearest hat--and the nearest woman."
"The blacksmith is away at Greenford," said Wilfred quietly;
"the time of his return is unsettled."
And with that he turned and went into the church with bowed
head, crossing himself like one who wishes to be quit of an
unclean spirit. He was anxious to forget such grossness in the
cool twilight of his tall Gothic cloisters; but on that morning it
was fated that his still round of religious exercises should be
everywhere arrested by small shocks. As he entered the church,
hitherto always empty at that hour, a kneeling figure rose hastily
to its feet and came towards the full daylight of the doorway.
When the curate saw it he stood still with surprise. For the
early worshipper was none other than the village idiot, a nephew
of the blacksmith, one who neither would nor could care for the
church or for anything else. He was always called "Mad Joe," and
seemed to have no other name; he was a dark, strong, slouching
lad, with a heavy white face, dark straight hair, and a mouth
always open. As he passed the priest, his moon-calf countenance
gave no hint of what he had been doing or thinking of. He had
never been known to pray before. What sort of prayers was he
saying now? Extraordinary prayers surely.
Wilfred Bohun stood rooted to the spot long enough to see the
idiot go out into the sunshine, and even to see his dissolute
brother hail him with a sort of avuncular jocularity. The last
thing he saw was the colonel throwing pennies at the open mouth of
Joe, with the serious appearance of trying to hit it.
This ugly sunlit picture of the stupidity and cruelty of the
earth sent the ascetic finally to his prayers for purification and
new thoughts. He went up to a pew in the gallery, which brought
him under a coloured window which he loved and always quieted his
spirit; a blue window with an angel carrying lilies. There he
began to think less about the half-wit, with his livid face and
mouth like a fish. He began to think less of his evil brother,
pacing like a lean lion in his horrible hunger. He sank deeper
and deeper into those cold and sweet colours of silver blossoms
and sapphire sky.
In this place half an hour afterwards he was found by Gibbs,
the village cobbler, who had been sent for him in some haste. He
got to his feet with promptitude, for he knew that no small matter
would have brought Gibbs into such a place at all. The cobbler
was, as in many villages, an atheist, and his appearance in church
was a shade more extraordinary than Mad Joe's. It was a morning
of theological enigmas.
"What is it?" asked Wilfred Bohun rather stiffly, but putting
out a trembling hand for his hat.
The atheist spoke in a tone that, coming from him, was quite
startlingly respectful, and even, as it were, huskily sympathetic.
"You must excuse me, sir," he said in a hoarse whisper, "but
we didn't think it right not to let you know at once. I'm afraid
a rather dreadful thing has happened, sir. I'm afraid your
Wilfred clenched his frail hands. "What devilry has he done
now?" he cried in voluntary passion.
"Why, sir," said the cobbler, coughing, "I'm afraid he's done
nothing, and won't do anything. I'm afraid he's done for. You
had really better come down, sir."
The curate followed the cobbler down a short winding stair
which brought them out at an entrance rather higher than the
street. Bohun saw the tragedy in one glance, flat underneath him
like a plan. In the yard of the smithy were standing five or six
men mostly in black, one in an inspector's uniform. They included
the doctor, the Presbyterian minister, and the priest from the
Roman Catholic chapel, to which the blacksmith's wife belonged.
The latter was speaking to her, indeed, very rapidly, in an
undertone, as she, a magnificent woman with red-gold hair, was
sobbing blindly on a bench. Between these two groups, and just
clear of the main heap of hammers, lay a man in evening dress,
spread-eagled and flat on his face. From the height above Wilfred
could have sworn to every item of his costume and appearance, down
to the Bohun rings upon his fingers; but the skull was only a
hideous splash, like a star of blackness and blood.
Wilfred Bohun gave but one glance, and ran down the steps into
the yard. The doctor, who was the family physician, saluted him,
but he scarcely took any notice. He could only stammer out: "My
brother is dead. What does it mean? What is this horrible
mystery?" There was an unhappy silence; and then the cobbler, the
most outspoken man present, answered: "Plenty of horror, sir," he
said; "but not much mystery."
"What do you mean?" asked Wilfred, with a white face.
"It's plain enough," answered Gibbs. "There is only one man
for forty miles round that could have struck such a blow as that,
and he's the man that had most reason to."
"We must not prejudge anything," put in the doctor, a tall,
black-bearded man, rather nervously; "but it is competent for me
to corroborate what Mr. Gibbs says about the nature of the blow,
sir; it is an incredible blow. Mr. Gibbs says that only one man
in this district could have done it. I should have said myself
that nobody could have done it."
A shudder of superstition went through the slight figure of
the curate. "I can hardly understand," he said.
"Mr. Bohun," said the doctor in a low voice, "metaphors
literally fail me. It is inadequate to say that the skull was
smashed to bits like an eggshell. Fragments of bone were driven
into the body and the ground like bullets into a mud wall. It was
the hand of a giant."
He was silent a moment, looking grimly through his glasses;
then he added: "The thing has one advantage--that it clears most
people of suspicion at one stroke. If you or I or any normally
made man in the country were accused of this crime, we should be
acquitted as an infant would be acquitted of stealing the Nelson
"That's what I say," repeated the cobbler obstinately;
"there's only one man that could have done it, and he's the man
that would have done it. Where's Simeon Barnes, the blacksmith?"
"He's over at Greenford," faltered the curate.
"More likely over in France," muttered the cobbler.
"No; he is in neither of those places," said a small and
colourless voice, which came from the little Roman priest who had
joined the group. "As a matter of fact, he is coming up the road
at this moment."
The little priest was not an interesting man to look at,
having stubbly brown hair and a round and stolid face. But if he
had been as splendid as Apollo no one would have looked at him at
that moment. Everyone turned round and peered at the pathway
which wound across the plain below, along which was indeed walking,
at his own huge stride and with a hammer on his shoulder, Simeon
the smith. He was a bony and gigantic man, with deep, dark,
sinister eyes and a dark chin beard. He was walking and talking
quietly with two other men; and though he was never specially
cheerful, he seemed quite at his ease.
"My God!" cried the atheistic cobbler, "and there's the hammer
he did it with."
"No," said the inspector, a sensible-looking man with a sandy
moustache, speaking for the first time. "There's the hammer he
did it with over there by the church wall. We have left it and
the body exactly as they are."
All glanced round and the short priest went across and looked
down in silence at the tool where it lay. It was one of the
smallest and the lightest of the hammers, and would not have
caught the eye among the rest; but on the iron edge of it were
blood and yellow hair.
After a silence the short priest spoke without looking up, and
there was a new note in his dull voice. "Mr. Gibbs was hardly
right," he said, "in saying that there is no mystery. There is at
least the mystery of why so big a man should attempt so big a blow
with so little a hammer."
"Oh, never mind that," cried Gibbs, in a fever. "What are we
to do with Simeon Barnes?"
"Leave him alone," said the priest quietly. "He is coming
here of himself. I know those two men with him. They are very
good fellows from Greenford, and they have come over about the
Even as he spoke the tall smith swung round the corner of the
church, and strode into his own yard. Then he stood there quite
still, and the hammer fell from his hand. The inspector, who had
preserved impenetrable propriety, immediately went up to him.
"I won't ask you, Mr. Barnes," he said, "whether you know
anything about what has happened here. You are not bound to say.
I hope you don't know, and that you will be able to prove it. But
I must go through the form of arresting you in the King's name for
the murder of Colonel Norman Bohun."
"You are not bound to say anything," said the cobbler in
officious excitement. "They've got to prove everything. They
haven't proved yet that it is Colonel Bohun, with the head all
smashed up like that."
"That won't wash," said the doctor aside to the priest.
"That's out of the detective stories. I was the colonel's medical
man, and I knew his body better than he did. He had very fine
hands, but quite peculiar ones. The second and third fingers were
the same length. Oh, that's the colonel right enough."
As he glanced at the brained corpse upon the ground the iron
eyes of the motionless blacksmith followed them and rested there
"Is Colonel Bohun dead?" said the smith quite calmly. "Then
"Don't say anything! Oh, don't say anything," cried the
atheist cobbler, dancing about in an ecstasy of admiration of the
English legal system. For no man is such a legalist as the good
The blacksmith turned on him over his shoulder the august face
of a fanatic.
"It's well for you infidels to dodge like foxes because the
world's law favours you," he said; "but God guards His own in His
pocket, as you shall see this day."
Then he pointed to the colonel and said: "When did this dog
die in his sins?"
"Moderate your language," said the doctor.
"Moderate the Bible's language, and I'll moderate mine. When
did he die?"
"I saw him alive at six o'clock this morning," stammered
"God is good," said the smith. "Mr. Inspector, I have not the
slightest objection to being arrested. It is you who may object
to arresting me. I don't mind leaving the court without a stain
on my character. You do mind perhaps leaving the court with a bad
set-back in your career."
The solid inspector for the first time looked at the
blacksmith with a lively eye; as did everybody else, except the
short, strange priest, who was still looking down at the little
hammer that had dealt the dreadful blow.
"There are two men standing outside this shop," went on the
blacksmith with ponderous lucidity, "good tradesmen in Greenford
whom you all know, who will swear that they saw me from before
midnight till daybreak and long after in the committee room of our
Revival Mission, which sits all night, we save souls so fast. In
Greenford itself twenty people could swear to me for all that
time. If I were a heathen, Mr. Inspector, I would let you walk on
to your downfall. But as a Christian man I feel bound to give you
your chance, and ask you whether you will hear my alibi now or in
The inspector seemed for the first time disturbed, and said,
"Of course I should be glad to clear you altogether now."
The smith walked out of his yard with the same long and easy
stride, and returned to his two friends from Greenford, who were
indeed friends of nearly everyone present. Each of them said a
few words which no one ever thought of disbelieving. When they
had spoken, the innocence of Simeon stood up as solid as the great
church above them.
One of those silences struck the group which are more strange
and insufferable than any speech. Madly, in order to make
conversation, the curate said to the Catholic priest:
"You seem very much interested in that hammer, Father Brown."
"Yes, I am," said Father Brown; "why is it such a small
The doctor swung round on him.
"By George, that's true," he cried; "who would use a little
hammer with ten larger hammers lying about?"
Then he lowered his voice in the curate's ear and said: "Only
the kind of person that can't lift a large hammer. It is not a
question of force or courage between the sexes. It's a question
of lifting power in the shoulders. A bold woman could commit ten
murders with a light hammer and never turn a hair. She could not
kill a beetle with a heavy one."
Wilfred Bohun was staring at him with a sort of hypnotised
horror, while Father Brown listened with his head a little on one
side, really interested and attentive. The doctor went on with
more hissing emphasis:
"Why do these idiots always assume that the only person who
hates the wife's lover is the wife's husband? Nine times out of
ten the person who most hates the wife's lover is the wife. Who
knows what insolence or treachery he had shown her--look there!"
He made a momentary gesture towards the red-haired woman on
the bench. She had lifted her head at last and the tears were
drying on her splendid face. But the eyes were fixed on the
corpse with an electric glare that had in it something of idiocy.
The Rev. Wilfred Bohun made a limp gesture as if waving away
all desire to know; but Father Brown, dusting off his sleeve some
ashes blown from the furnace, spoke in his indifferent way.
"You are like so many doctors," he said; "your mental science
is really suggestive. It is your physical science that is utterly
impossible. I agree that the woman wants to kill the
co-respondent much more than the petitioner does. And I agree
that a woman will always pick up a small hammer instead of a big
one. But the difficulty is one of physical impossibility. No
woman ever born could have smashed a man's skull out flat like
that." Then he added reflectively, after a pause: "These people
haven't grasped the whole of it. The man was actually wearing an
iron helmet, and the blow scattered it like broken glass. Look at
that woman. Look at her arms."
Silence held them all up again, and then the doctor said
rather sulkily: "Well, I may be wrong; there are objections to
everything. But I stick to the main point. No man but an idiot
would pick up that little hammer if he could use a big hammer."
With that the lean and quivering hands of Wilfred Bohun went
up to his head and seemed to clutch his scanty yellow hair. After
an instant they dropped, and he cried: "That was the word I wanted;
you have said the word."
Then he continued, mastering his discomposure: "The words you
said were, `No man but an idiot would pick up the small hammer.'"
"Yes," said the doctor. "Well?"
"Well," said the curate, "no man but an idiot did." The rest
stared at him with eyes arrested and riveted, and he went on in a
febrile and feminine agitation.
"I am a priest," he cried unsteadily, "and a priest should be
no shedder of blood. I--I mean that he should bring no one to
the gallows. And I thank God that I see the criminal clearly now
--because he is a criminal who cannot be brought to the gallows."
"You will not denounce him?" inquired the doctor.
"He would not be hanged if I did denounce him," answered
Wilfred with a wild but curiously happy smile. "When I went into
the church this morning I found a madman praying there--that
poor Joe, who has been wrong all his life. God knows what he
prayed; but with such strange folk it is not incredible to suppose
that their prayers are all upside down. Very likely a lunatic
would pray before killing a man. When I last saw poor Joe he was
with my brother. My brother was mocking him."
"By Jove!" cried the doctor, "this is talking at last. But
how do you explain--"
The Rev. Wilfred was almost trembling with the excitement of
his own glimpse of the truth. "Don't you see; don't you see," he
cried feverishly; "that is the only theory that covers both the
queer things, that answers both the riddles. The two riddles are
the little hammer and the big blow. The smith might have struck
the big blow, but would not have chosen the little hammer. His
wife would have chosen the little hammer, but she could not have
struck the big blow. But the madman might have done both. As for
the little hammer--why, he was mad and might have picked up
anything. And for the big blow, have you never heard, doctor,
that a maniac in his paroxysm may have the strength of ten men?"
The doctor drew a deep breath and then said, "By golly, I
believe you've got it."
Father Brown had fixed his eyes on the speaker so long and
steadily as to prove that his large grey, ox-like eyes were not
quite so insignificant as the rest of his face. When silence had
fallen he said with marked respect: "Mr. Bohun, yours is the only
theory yet propounded which holds water every way and is
essentially unassailable. I think, therefore, that you deserve to
be told, on my positive knowledge, that it is not the true one."
And with that the old little man walked away and stared again at
"That fellow seems to know more than he ought to," whispered
the doctor peevishly to Wilfred. "Those popish priests are
"No, no," said Bohun, with a sort of wild fatigue. "It was
the lunatic. It was the lunatic."
The group of the two clerics and the doctor had fallen away
from the more official group containing the inspector and the man
he had arrested. Now, however, that their own party had broken
up, they heard voices from the others. The priest looked up
quietly and then looked down again as he heard the blacksmith say
in a loud voice:
"I hope I've convinced you, Mr. Inspector. I'm a strong man,
as you say, but I couldn't have flung my hammer bang here from
Greenford. My hammer hasn't got wings that it should come flying
half a mile over hedges and fields."
The inspector laughed amicably and said: "No, I think you can
be considered out of it, though it's one of the rummiest
coincidences I ever saw. I can only ask you to give us all the
assistance you can in finding a man as big and strong as yourself.
By George! you might be useful, if only to hold him! I suppose
you yourself have no guess at the man?"
"I may have a guess," said the pale smith, "but it is not at a
man." Then, seeing the scared eyes turn towards his wife on the
bench, he put his huge hand on her shoulder and said: "Nor a woman
"What do you mean?" asked the inspector jocularly. "You don't
think cows use hammers, do you?"
"I think no thing of flesh held that hammer," said the
blacksmith in a stifled voice; "mortally speaking, I think the man
Wilfred made a sudden forward movement and peered at him with
"Do you mean to say, Barnes," came the sharp voice of the
cobbler, "that the hammer jumped up of itself and knocked the man
"Oh, you gentlemen may stare and snigger," cried Simeon; "you
clergymen who tell us on Sunday in what a stillness the Lord smote
Sennacherib. I believe that One who walks invisible in every
house defended the honour of mine, and laid the defiler dead
before the door of it. I believe the force in that blow was just
the force there is in earthquakes, and no force less."
Wilfred said, with a voice utterly undescribable: "I told
Norman myself to beware of the thunderbolt."
"That agent is outside my jurisdiction," said the inspector
with a slight smile.
"You are not outside His," answered the smith; "see you to it,"
and, turning his broad back, he went into the house.
The shaken Wilfred was led away by Father Brown, who had an
easy and friendly way with him. "Let us get out of this horrid
place, Mr. Bohun," he said. "May I look inside your church? I
hear it's one of the oldest in England. We take some interest,
you know," he added with a comical grimace, "in old English
Wilfred Bohun did not smile, for humour was never his strong
point. But he nodded rather eagerly, being only too ready to
explain the Gothic splendours to someone more likely to be
sympathetic than the Presbyterian blacksmith or the atheist
"By all means," he said; "let us go in at this side." And he
led the way into the high side entrance at the top of the flight
of steps. Father Brown was mounting the first step to follow him
when he felt a hand on his shoulder, and turned to behold the dark,
thin figure of the doctor, his face darker yet with suspicion.
"Sir," said the physician harshly, "you appear to know some
secrets in this black business. May I ask if you are going to
keep them to yourself?"
"Why, doctor," answered the priest, smiling quite pleasantly,
"there is one very good reason why a man of my trade should keep
things to himself when he is not sure of them, and that is that it
is so constantly his duty to keep them to himself when he is sure
of them. But if you think I have been discourteously reticent
with you or anyone, I will go to the extreme limit of my custom.
I will give you two very large hints."
"Well, sir?" said the doctor gloomily.
"First," said Father Brown quietly, "the thing is quite in
your own province. It is a matter of physical science. The
blacksmith is mistaken, not perhaps in saying that the blow was
divine, but certainly in saying that it came by a miracle. It was
no miracle, doctor, except in so far as man is himself a miracle,
with his strange and wicked and yet half-heroic heart. The force
that smashed that skull was a force well known to scientists--
one of the most frequently debated of the laws of nature."
The doctor, who was looking at him with frowning intentness,
only said: "And the other hint?"
"The other hint is this," said the priest. "Do you remember
the blacksmith, though he believes in miracles, talking scornfully
of the impossible fairy tale that his hammer had wings and flew
half a mile across country?"
"Yes," said the doctor, "I remember that."
"Well," added Father Brown, with a broad smile, "that fairy
tale was the nearest thing to the real truth that has been said
today." And with that he turned his back and stumped up the steps
after the curate.
The Reverend Wilfred, who had been waiting for him, pale and
impatient, as if this little delay were the last straw for his
nerves, led him immediately to his favourite corner of the church,
that part of the gallery closest to the carved roof and lit by the
wonderful window with the angel. The little Latin priest explored
and admired everything exhaustively, talking cheerfully but in a
low voice all the time. When in the course of his investigation
he found the side exit and the winding stair down which Wilfred
had rushed to find his brother dead, Father Brown ran not down but
up, with the agility of a monkey, and his clear voice came from an
outer platform above.
"Come up here, Mr. Bohun," he called. "The air will do you
Bohun followed him, and came out on a kind of stone gallery or
balcony outside the building, from which one could see the
illimitable plain in which their small hill stood, wooded away to
the purple horizon and dotted with villages and farms. Clear and
square, but quite small beneath them, was the blacksmith's yard,
where the inspector still stood taking notes and the corpse still
lay like a smashed fly.
"Might be the map of the world, mightn't it?" said Father
"Yes," said Bohun very gravely, and nodded his head.
Immediately beneath and about them the lines of the Gothic
building plunged outwards into the void with a sickening swiftness
akin to suicide. There is that element of Titan energy in the
architecture of the Middle Ages that, from whatever aspect it be
seen, it always seems to be rushing away, like the strong back of
some maddened horse. This church was hewn out of ancient and
silent stone, bearded with old fungoids and stained with the nests
of birds. And yet, when they saw it from below, it sprang like a
fountain at the stars; and when they saw it, as now, from above,
it poured like a cataract into a voiceless pit. For these two men
on the tower were left alone with the most terrible aspect of
Gothic; the monstrous foreshortening and disproportion, the dizzy
perspectives, the glimpses of great things small and small things
great; a topsy-turvydom of stone in the mid-air. Details of stone,
enormous by their proximity, were relieved against a pattern of
fields and farms, pygmy in their distance. A carved bird or beast
at a corner seemed like some vast walking or flying dragon wasting
the pastures and villages below. The whole atmosphere was dizzy
and dangerous, as if men were upheld in air amid the gyrating
wings of colossal genii; and the whole of that old church, as tall
and rich as a cathedral, seemed to sit upon the sunlit country
like a cloudburst.
"I think there is something rather dangerous about standing on
these high places even to pray," said Father Brown. "Heights were
made to be looked at, not to be looked from."
"Do you mean that one may fall over," asked Wilfred.
"I mean that one's soul may fall if one's body doesn't," said
the other priest.
"I scarcely understand you," remarked Bohun indistinctly.
"Look at that blacksmith, for instance," went on Father Brown
calmly; "a good man, but not a Christian--hard, imperious,
unforgiving. Well, his Scotch religion was made up by men who
prayed on hills and high crags, and learnt to look down on the
world more than to look up at heaven. Humility is the mother of
giants. One sees great things from the valley; only small things
from the peak."
"But he--he didn't do it," said Bohun tremulously.
"No," said the other in an odd voice; "we know he didn't do
After a moment he resumed, looking tranquilly out over the
plain with his pale grey eyes. "I knew a man," he said, "who
began by worshipping with others before the altar, but who grew
fond of high and lonely places to pray from, corners or niches in
the belfry or the spire. And once in one of those dizzy places,
where the whole world seemed to turn under him like a wheel, his
brain turned also, and he fancied he was God. So that, though he
was a good man, he committed a great crime."
Wilfred's face was turned away, but his bony hands turned blue
and white as they tightened on the parapet of stone.
"He thought it was given to him to judge the world and strike
down the sinner. He would never have had such a thought if he had
been kneeling with other men upon a floor. But he saw all men
walking about like insects. He saw one especially strutting just
below him, insolent and evident by a bright green hat--a
Rooks cawed round the corners of the belfry; but there was no
other sound till Father Brown went on.
"This also tempted him, that he had in his hand one of the
most awful engines of nature; I mean gravitation, that mad and
quickening rush by which all earth's creatures fly back to her
heart when released. See, the inspector is strutting just below
us in the smithy. If I were to toss a pebble over this parapet it
would be something like a bullet by the time it struck him. If I
were to drop a hammer--even a small hammer--"
Wilfred Bohun threw one leg over the parapet, and Father Brown
had him in a minute by the collar.
"Not by that door," he said quite gently; "that door leads to
Bohun staggered back against the wall, and stared at him with
"How do you know all this?" he cried. "Are you a devil?"
"I am a man," answered Father Brown gravely; "and therefore
have all devils in my heart. Listen to me," he said after a short
pause. "I know what you did--at least, I can guess the great
part of it. When you left your brother you were racked with no
unrighteous rage, to the extent even that you snatched up a small
hammer, half inclined to kill him with his foulness on his mouth.
Recoiling, you thrust it under your buttoned coat instead, and
rushed into the church. You pray wildly in many places, under the
angel window, upon the platform above, and a higher platform
still, from which you could see the colonel's Eastern hat like the
back of a green beetle crawling about. Then something snapped in
your soul, and you let God's thunderbolt fall."
Wilfred put a weak hand to his head, and asked in a low voice:
"How did you know that his hat looked like a green beetle?"
"Oh, that," said the other with the shadow of a smile, "that
was common sense. But hear me further. I say I know all this;
but no one else shall know it. The next step is for you; I shall
take no more steps; I will seal this with the seal of confession.
If you ask me why, there are many reasons, and only one that
concerns you. I leave things to you because you have not yet gone
very far wrong, as assassins go. You did not help to fix the
crime on the smith when it was easy; or on his wife, when that was
easy. You tried to fix it on the imbecile because you knew that
he could not suffer. That was one of the gleams that it is my
business to find in assassins. And now come down into the
village, and go your own way as free as the wind; for I have said
my last word."
They went down the winding stairs in utter silence, and came
out into the sunlight by the smithy. Wilfred Bohun carefully
unlatched the wooden gate of the yard, and going up to the
inspector, said: "I wish to give myself up; I have killed my
The Eye of Apollo
That singular smoky sparkle, at once a confusion and a transparency,
which is the strange secret of the Thames, was changing more and
more from its grey to its glittering extreme as the sun climbed to
the zenith over Westminster, and two men crossed Westminster
Bridge. One man was very tall and the other very short; they
might even have been fantastically compared to the arrogant
clock-tower of Parliament and the humbler humped shoulders of the
Abbey, for the short man was in clerical dress. The official
description of the tall man was M. Hercule Flambeau, private
detective, and he was going to his new offices in a new pile of
flats facing the Abbey entrance. The official description of the
short man was the Reverend J. Brown, attached to St. Francis
Xavier's Church, Camberwell, and he was coming from a Camberwell
deathbed to see the new offices of his friend.
The building was American in its sky-scraping altitude, and
American also in the oiled elaboration of its machinery of
telephones and lifts. But it was barely finished and still
understaffed; only three tenants had moved in; the office just
above Flambeau was occupied, as also was the office just below
him; the two floors above that and the three floors below were
entirely bare. But the first glance at the new tower of flats
caught something much more arresting. Save for a few relics of
scaffolding, the one glaring object was erected outside the office
just above Flambeau's. It was an enormous gilt effigy of the
human eye, surrounded with rays of gold, and taking up as much
room as two or three of the office windows.
"What on earth is that?" asked Father Brown, and stood still.
"Oh, a new religion," said Flambeau, laughing; "one of those new
religions that forgive your sins by saying you never had any.
Rather like Christian Science, I should think. The fact is that a
fellow calling himself Kalon (I don't know what his name is,
except that it can't be that) has taken the flat just above me.
I have two lady typewriters underneath me, and this enthusiastic
old humbug on top. He calls himself the New Priest of Apollo, and
he worships the sun."
"Let him look out," said Father Brown. "The sun was the
cruellest of all the gods. But what does that monstrous eye mean?"
"As I understand it, it is a theory of theirs," answered
Flambeau, "that a man can endure anything if his mind is quite
steady. Their two great symbols are the sun and the open eye; for
they say that if a man were really healthy he could stare at the
"If a man were really healthy," said Father Brown, "he would
not bother to stare at it."
"Well, that's all I can tell you about the new religion," went
on Flambeau carelessly. "It claims, of course, that it can cure
all physical diseases."
"Can it cure the one spiritual disease?" asked Father Brown,
with a serious curiosity.
"And what is the one spiritual disease?" asked Flambeau,
"Oh, thinking one is quite well," said his friend.
Flambeau was more interested in the quiet little office below
him than in the flamboyant temple above. He was a lucid
Southerner, incapable of conceiving himself as anything but a
Catholic or an atheist; and new religions of a bright and pallid
sort were not much in his line. But humanity was always in his
line, especially when it was good-looking; moreover, the ladies
downstairs were characters in their way. The office was kept by
two sisters, both slight and dark, one of them tall and striking.
She had a dark, eager and aquiline profile, and was one of those
women whom one always thinks of in profile, as of the clean-cut
edge of some weapon. She seemed to cleave her way through life.
She had eyes of startling brilliancy, but it was the brilliancy of
steel rather than of diamonds; and her straight, slim figure was a
shade too stiff for its grace. Her younger sister was like her
shortened shadow, a little greyer, paler, and more insignificant.
They both wore a business-like black, with little masculine cuffs
and collars. There are thousands of such curt, strenuous ladies
in the offices of London, but the interest of these lay rather in
their real than their apparent position.
For Pauline Stacey, the elder, was actually the heiress of a
crest and half a county, as well as great wealth; she had been
brought up in castles and gardens, before a frigid fierceness
(peculiar to the modern woman) had driven her to what she
considered a harsher and a higher existence. She had not, indeed,
surrendered her money; in that there would have been a romantic or
monkish abandon quite alien to her masterful utilitarianism. She
held her wealth, she would say, for use upon practical social
objects. Part of it she had put into her business, the nucleus of
a model typewriting emporium; part of it was distributed in
various leagues and causes for the advancement of such work among
women. How far Joan, her sister and partner, shared this slightly
prosaic idealism no one could be very sure. But she followed her
leader with a dog-like affection which was somehow more attractive,
with its touch of tragedy, than the hard, high spirits of the
elder. For Pauline Stacey had nothing to say to tragedy; she was
understood to deny its existence.
Her rigid rapidity and cold impatience had amused Flambeau
very much on the first occasion of his entering the flats. He had
lingered outside the lift in the entrance hall waiting for the
lift-boy, who generally conducts strangers to the various floors.
But this bright-eyed falcon of a girl had openly refused to endure
such official delay. She said sharply that she knew all about the
lift, and was not dependent on boys--or men either. Though her
flat was only three floors above, she managed in the few seconds
of ascent to give Flambeau a great many of her fundamental views
in an off-hand manner; they were to the general effect that she
was a modern working woman and loved modern working machinery.
Her bright black eyes blazed with abstract anger against those who
rebuke mechanic science and ask for the return of romance.
Everyone, she said, ought to be able to manage machines, just as
she could manage the lift. She seemed almost to resent the fact
of Flambeau opening the lift-door for her; and that gentleman went
up to his own apartments smiling with somewhat mingled feelings at
the memory of such spit-fire self-dependence.
She certainly had a temper, of a snappy, practical sort; the
gestures of her thin, elegant hands were abrupt or even
Once Flambeau entered her office on some typewriting business, and
found she had just flung a pair of spectacles belonging to her
sister into the middle of the floor and stamped on them. She was
already in the rapids of an ethical tirade about the "sickly
medical notions" and the morbid admission of weakness implied in
such an apparatus. She dared her sister to bring such artificial,
unhealthy rubbish into the place again. She asked if she was
expected to wear wooden legs or false hair or glass eyes; and as
she spoke her eyes sparkled like the terrible crystal.
Flambeau, quite bewildered with this fanaticism, could not
refrain from asking Miss Pauline (with direct French logic) why a
pair of spectacles was a more morbid sign of weakness than a lift,
and why, if science might help us in the one effort, it might not
help us in the other.
"That is so different," said Pauline Stacey, loftily.
"Batteries and motors and all those things are marks of the force
of man--yes, Mr. Flambeau, and the force of woman, too! We
shall take our turn at these great engines that devour distance
and defy time. That is high and splendid--that is really
science. But these nasty props and plasters the doctors sell--
why, they are just badges of poltroonery. Doctors stick on legs
and arms as if we were born cripples and sick slaves. But I was
free-born, Mr. Flambeau! People only think they need these things
because they have been trained in fear instead of being trained in
power and courage, just as the silly nurses tell children not to
stare at the sun, and so they can't do it without blinking. But
why among the stars should there be one star I may not see? The
sun is not my master, and I will open my eyes and stare at him
whenever I choose."
"Your eyes," said Flambeau, with a foreign bow, "will dazzle
the sun." He took pleasure in complimenting this strange stiff
beauty, partly because it threw her a little off her balance. But
as he went upstairs to his floor he drew a deep breath and
whistled, saying to himself: "So she has got into the hands of
that conjurer upstairs with his golden eye." For, little as he
knew or cared about the new religion of Kalon, he had heard of his
special notion about sun-gazing.
He soon discovered that the spiritual bond between the floors
above and below him was close and increasing. The man who called
himself Kalon was a magnificent creature, worthy, in a physical
sense, to be the pontiff of Apollo. He was nearly as tall even as
Flambeau, and very much better looking, with a golden beard, strong
blue eyes, and a mane flung back like a lion's. In structure he
was the blonde beast of Nietzsche, but all this animal beauty was
heightened, brightened and softened by genuine intellect and
spirituality. If he looked like one of the great Saxon kings, he
looked like one of the kings that were also saints. And this
despite the cockney incongruity of his surroundings; the fact that
he had an office half-way up a building in Victoria Street; that
the clerk (a commonplace youth in cuffs and collars) sat in the
outer room, between him and the corridor; that his name was on a
brass plate, and the gilt emblem of his creed hung above his
street, like the advertisement of an oculist. All this vulgarity
could not take away from the man called Kalon the vivid oppression
and inspiration that came from his soul and body. When all was
said, a man in the presence of this quack did feel in the presence
of a great man. Even in the loose jacket-suit of linen that he
wore as a workshop dress in his office he was a fascinating and
formidable figure; and when robed in the white vestments and
crowned with the golden circlet, in which he daily saluted the sun,
he really looked so splendid that the laughter of the street people
sometimes died suddenly on their lips. For three times in the day
the new sun-worshipper went out on his little balcony, in the face
of all Westminster, to say some litany to his shining lord: once
at daybreak, once at sunset, and once at the shock of noon. And
it was while the shock of noon still shook faintly from the towers
of Parliament and parish church that Father Brown, the friend of
Flambeau, first looked up and saw the white priest of Apollo.
Flambeau had seen quite enough of these daily salutations of
Phoebus, and plunged into the porch of the tall building without
even looking for his clerical friend to follow. But Father Brown,
whether from a professional interest in ritual or a strong
individual interest in tomfoolery, stopped and stared up at the
balcony of the sun-worshipper, just as he might have stopped and
stared up at a Punch and Judy. Kalon the Prophet was already
erect, with argent garments and uplifted hands, and the sound of
his strangely penetrating voice could be heard all the way down
the busy street uttering his solar litany. He was already in the
middle of it; his eyes were fixed upon the flaming disc. It is
doubtful if he saw anything or anyone on this earth; it is
substantially certain that he did not see a stunted, round-faced
priest who, in the crowd below, looked up at him with blinking
eyes. That was perhaps the most startling difference between even
these two far divided men. Father Brown could not look at
anything without blinking; but the priest of Apollo could look on
the blaze at noon without a quiver of the eyelid.
"O sun," cried the prophet, "O star that art too great to be
allowed among the stars! O fountain that flowest quietly in that
secret spot that is called space. White Father of all white
unwearied things, white flames and white flowers and white peaks.
Father, who art more innocent than all thy most innocent and quiet
children; primal purity, into the peace of which--"
A rush and crash like the reversed rush of a rocket was cloven
with a strident and incessant yelling. Five people rushed into
the gate of the mansions as three people rushed out, and for an
instant they all deafened each other. The sense of some utterly
abrupt horror seemed for a moment to fill half the street with bad
news--bad news that was all the worse because no one knew what
it was. Two figures remained still after the crash of commotion:
the fair priest of Apollo on the balcony above, and the ugly
priest of Christ below him.
At last the tall figure and titanic energy of Flambeau
appeared in the doorway of the mansions and dominated the little
mob. Talking at the top of his voice like a fog-horn, he told
somebody or anybody to go for a surgeon; and as he turned back
into the dark and thronged entrance his friend Father Brown dipped
in insignificantly after him. Even as he ducked and dived through
the crowd he could still hear the magnificent melody and monotony
of the solar priest still calling on the happy god who is the
friend of fountains and flowers.
Father Brown found Flambeau and some six other people standing
round the enclosed space into which the lift commonly descended.
But the lift had not descended. Something else had descended;
something that ought to have come by a lift.
For the last four minutes Flambeau had looked down on it; had
seen the brained and bleeding figure of that beautiful woman who
denied the existence of tragedy. He had never had the slightest
doubt that it was Pauline Stacey; and, though he had sent for a
doctor, he had not the slightest doubt that she was dead.
He could not remember for certain whether he had liked her or
disliked her; there was so much both to like and dislike. But she
had been a person to him, and the unbearable pathos of details and
habit stabbed him with all the small daggers of bereavement. He
remembered her pretty face and priggish speeches with a sudden
secret vividness which is all the bitterness of death. In an
instant like a bolt from the blue, like a thunderbolt from nowhere,
that beautiful and defiant body had been dashed down the open well
of the lift to death at the bottom. Was it suicide? With so
insolent an optimist it seemed impossible. Was it murder? But
who was there in those hardly inhabited flats to murder anybody?
In a rush of raucous words, which he meant to be strong and
suddenly found weak, he asked where was that fellow Kalon. A
voice, habitually heavy, quiet and full, assured him that Kalon
for the last fifteen minutes had been away up on his balcony
worshipping his god. When Flambeau heard the voice, and felt the
hand of Father Brown, he turned his swarthy face and said abruptly:
"Then, if he has been up there all the time, who can have done
"Perhaps," said the other, "we might go upstairs and find out.
We have half an hour before the police will move."
Leaving the body of the slain heiress in charge of the
surgeons, Flambeau dashed up the stairs to the typewriting office,
found it utterly empty, and then dashed up to his own. Having
entered that, he abruptly returned with a new and white face to
"Her sister," he said, with an unpleasant seriousness, "her
sister seems to have gone out for a walk."
Father Brown nodded. "Or, she may have gone up to the office
of that sun man," he said. "If I were you I should just verify
that, and then let us all talk it over in your office. No," he
added suddenly, as if remembering something, "shall I ever get
over that stupidity of mine? Of course, in their office
Flambeau stared; but he followed the little father downstairs
to the empty flat of the Staceys, where that impenetrable pastor
took a large red-leather chair in the very entrance, from which he
could see the stairs and landings, and waited. He did not wait
very long. In about four minutes three figures descended the
stairs, alike only in their solemnity. The first was Joan Stacey,
the sister of the dead woman--evidently she had been upstairs in
the temporary temple of Apollo; the second was the priest of
Apollo himself, his litany finished, sweeping down the empty
stairs in utter magnificence--something in his white robes,
beard and parted hair had the look of Dore's Christ leaving the
Pretorium; the third was Flambeau, black browed and somewhat
Miss Joan Stacey, dark, with a drawn face and hair prematurely
touched with grey, walked straight to her own desk and set out her
papers with a practical flap. The mere action rallied everyone
else to sanity. If Miss Joan Stacey was a criminal, she was a
cool one. Father Brown regarded her for some time with an odd
little smile, and then, without taking his eyes off her, addressed
himself to somebody else.
"Prophet," he said, presumably addressing Kalon, "I wish you
would tell me a lot about your religion."
"I shall be proud to do it," said Kalon, inclining his still
crowned head, "but I am not sure that I understand."
"Why, it's like this," said Father Brown, in his frankly
doubtful way: "We are taught that if a man has really bad first
principles, that must be partly his fault. But, for all that, we
can make some difference between a man who insults his quite clear
conscience and a man with a conscience more or less clouded with
sophistries. Now, do you really think that murder is wrong at
"Is this an accusation?" asked Kalon very quietly.
"No," answered Brown, equally gently, "it is the speech for
In the long and startled stillness of the room the prophet of
Apollo slowly rose; and really it was like the rising of the sun.
He filled that room with his light and life in such a manner that
a man felt he could as easily have filled Salisbury Plain. His
robed form seemed to hang the whole room with classic draperies;
his epic gesture seemed to extend it into grander perspectives,
till the little black figure of the modern cleric seemed to be a
fault and an intrusion, a round, black blot upon some splendour of
"We meet at last, Caiaphas," said the prophet. "Your church
and mine are the only realities on this earth. I adore the sun,
and you the darkening of the sun; you are the priest of the dying
and I of the living God. Your present work of suspicion and
slander is worthy of your coat and creed. All your church is but
a black police; you are only spies and detectives seeking to tear
from men confessions of guilt, whether by treachery or torture.
You would convict men of crime, I would convict them of innocence.
You would convince them of sin, I would convince them of virtue.
"Reader of the books of evil, one more word before I blow away
your baseless nightmares for ever. Not even faintly could you
understand how little I care whether you can convict me or no.
The things you call disgrace and horrible hanging are to me no
more than an ogre in a child's toy-book to a man once grown up.
You said you were offering the speech for the defence. I care so
little for the cloudland of this life that I will offer you the
speech for the prosecution. There is but one thing that can be
said against me in this matter, and I will say it myself. The
woman that is dead was my love and my bride; not after such manner
as your tin chapels call lawful, but by a law purer and sterner
than you will ever understand. She and I walked another world
from yours, and trod palaces of crystal while you were plodding
through tunnels and corridors of brick. Well, I know that
policemen, theological and otherwise, always fancy that where
there has been love there must soon be hatred; so there you have
the first point made for the prosecution. But the second point is
stronger; I do not grudge it you. Not only is it true that
Pauline loved me, but it is also true that this very morning,
before she died, she wrote at that table a will leaving me and my
new church half a million. Come, where are the handcuffs? Do you
suppose I care what foolish things you do with me? Penal
servitude will only be like waiting for her at a wayside station.
The gallows will only be going to her in a headlong car."
He spoke with the brain-shaking authority of an orator, and
Flambeau and Joan Stacey stared at him in amazed admiration.
Father Brown's face seemed to express nothing but extreme
distress; he looked at the ground with one wrinkle of pain across
his forehead. The prophet of the sun leaned easily against the
mantelpiece and resumed:
"In a few words I have put before you the whole case against
me--the only possible case against me. In fewer words still I
will blow it to pieces, so that not a trace of it remains. As to
whether I have committed this crime, the truth is in one sentence:
I could not have committed this crime. Pauline Stacey fell from
this floor to the ground at five minutes past twelve. A hundred
people will go into the witness-box and say that I was standing
out upon the balcony of my own rooms above from just before the
stroke of noon to a quarter-past--the usual period of my public
prayers. My clerk (a respectable youth from Clapham, with no sort
of connection with me) will swear that he sat in my outer office
all the morning, and that no communication passed through. He
will swear that I arrived a full ten minutes before the hour,
fifteen minutes before any whisper of the accident, and that I did
not leave the office or the balcony all that time. No one ever
had so complete an alibi; I could subpoena half Westminster. I
think you had better put the handcuffs away again. The case is at
"But last of all, that no breath of this idiotic suspicion
remain in the air, I will tell you all you want to know. I
believe I do know how my unhappy friend came by her death. You
can, if you choose, blame me for it, or my faith and philosophy at
least; but you certainly cannot lock me up. It is well known to
all students of the higher truths that certain adepts and
illuminati have in history attained the power of levitation--
that is, of being self-sustained upon the empty air. It is but a
part of that general conquest of matter which is the main element
in our occult wisdom. Poor Pauline was of an impulsive and
ambitious temper. I think, to tell the truth, she thought herself
somewhat deeper in the mysteries than she was; and she has often
said to me, as we went down in the lift together, that if one's
will were strong enough, one could float down as harmlessly as a
feather. I solemnly believe that in some ecstasy of noble thoughts
she attempted the miracle. Her will, or faith, must have failed
her at the crucial instant, and the lower law of matter had its
horrible revenge. There is the whole story, gentlemen, very sad
and, as you think, very presumptuous and wicked, but certainly not
criminal or in any way connected with me. In the short-hand of
the police-courts, you had better call it suicide. I shall always
call it heroic failure for the advance of science and the slow
scaling of heaven."
It was the first time Flambeau had ever seen Father Brown
vanquished. He still sat looking at the ground, with a painful
and corrugated brow, as if in shame. It was impossible to avoid
the feeling which the prophet's winged words had fanned, that here
was a sullen, professional suspecter of men overwhelmed by a
prouder and purer spirit of natural liberty and health. At last
he said, blinking as if in bodily distress: "Well, if that is so,
sir, you need do no more than take the testamentary paper you
spoke of and go. I wonder where the poor lady left it."
"It will be over there on her desk by the door, I think," said
Kalon, with that massive innocence of manner that seemed to acquit
him wholly. "She told me specially she would write it this
morning, and I actually saw her writing as I went up in the lift
to my own room."
"Was her door open then?" asked the priest, with his eye on
the corner of the matting.
"Yes," said Kalon calmly.
"Ah! it has been open ever since," said the other, and resumed
his silent study of the mat.
"There is a paper over here," said the grim Miss Joan, in a
somewhat singular voice. She had passed over to her sister's desk
by the doorway, and was holding a sheet of blue foolscap in her
hand. There was a sour smile on her face that seemed unfit for
such a scene or occasion, and Flambeau looked at her with a
Kalon the prophet stood away from the paper with that loyal
unconsciousness that had carried him through. But Flambeau took
it out of the lady's hand, and read it with the utmost amazement.
It did, indeed, begin in the formal manner of a will, but after
the words "I give and bequeath all of which I die possessed" the
writing abruptly stopped with a set of scratches, and there was no
trace of the name of any legatee. Flambeau, in wonder, handed
this truncated testament to his clerical friend, who glanced at it
and silently gave it to the priest of the sun.
An instant afterwards that pontiff, in his splendid sweeping
draperies, had crossed the room in two great strides, and was
towering over Joan Stacey, his blue eyes standing from his head.
"What monkey tricks have you been playing here?" he cried.
"That's not all Pauline wrote."
They were startled to hear him speak in quite a new voice,
with a Yankee shrillness in it; all his grandeur and good English
had fallen from him like a cloak.
"That is the only thing on her desk," said Joan, and
confronted him steadily with the same smile of evil favour.
Of a sudden the man broke out into blasphemies and cataracts
of incredulous words. There was something shocking about the
dropping of his mask; it was like a man's real face falling off.
"See here!" he cried in broad American, when he was breathless
with cursing, "I may be an adventurer, but I guess you're a
murderess. Yes, gentlemen, here's your death explained, and
without any levitation. The poor girl is writing a will in my
favour; her cursed sister comes in, struggles for the pen, drags
her to the well, and throws her down before she can finish it.
Sakes! I reckon we want the handcuffs after all."
"As you have truly remarked," replied Joan, with ugly calm,
"your clerk is a very respectable young man, who knows the nature
of an oath; and he will swear in any court that I was up in your
office arranging some typewriting work for five minutes before and
five minutes after my sister fell. Mr. Flambeau will tell you
that he found me there."
There was a silence.
"Why, then," cried Flambeau, "Pauline was alone when she fell,
and it was suicide!"
"She was alone when she fell," said Father Brown, "but it was
"Then how did she die?" asked Flambeau impatiently.
"She was murdered."
"But she was alone," objected the detective.
"She was murdered when she was all alone," answered the
All the rest stared at him, but he remained sitting in the
same old dejected attitude, with a wrinkle in his round forehead
and an appearance of impersonal shame and sorrow; his voice was
colourless and sad.
"What I want to know," cried Kalon, with an oath, "is when the
police are coming for this bloody and wicked sister. She's killed
her flesh and blood; she's robbed me of half a million that was
just as sacredly mine as--"
"Come, come, prophet," interrupted Flambeau, with a kind of
sneer; "remember that all this world is a cloudland."
The hierophant of the sun-god made an effort to climb back on
his pedestal. "It is not the mere money," he cried, "though that
would equip the cause throughout the world. It is also my beloved
one's wishes. To Pauline all this was holy. In Pauline's eyes--"
Father Brown suddenly sprang erect, so that his chair fell
over flat behind him. He was deathly pale, yet he seemed fired
with a hope; his eyes shone.
"That's it!" he cried in a clear voice. "That's the way to
begin. In Pauline's eyes--"
The tall prophet retreated before the tiny priest in an almost
mad disorder. "What do you mean? How dare you?" he cried
"In Pauline's eyes," repeated the priest, his own shining more
and more. "Go on--in God's name, go on. The foulest crime the
fiends ever prompted feels lighter after confession; and I implore
you to confess. Go on, go on--in Pauline's eyes--"
"Let me go, you devil!" thundered Kalon, struggling like a
giant in bonds. "Who are you, you cursed spy, to weave your
spiders' webs round me, and peep and peer? Let me go."
"Shall I stop him?" asked Flambeau, bounding towards the exit,
for Kalon had already thrown the door wide open.
"No; let him pass," said Father Brown, with a strange deep
sigh that seemed to come from the depths of the universe. "Let
Cain pass by, for he belongs to God."
There was a long-drawn silence in the room when he had left
it, which was to Flambeau's fierce wits one long agony of
interrogation. Miss Joan Stacey very coolly tidied up the papers
on her desk.
"Father," said Flambeau at last, "it is my duty, not my
curiosity only--it is my duty to find out, if I can, who
committed the crime."
"Which crime?" asked Father Brown.
"The one we are dealing with, of course," replied his
"We are dealing with two crimes," said Brown, "crimes of very
different weight--and by very different criminals."
Miss Joan Stacey, having collected and put away her papers,
proceeded to lock up her drawer. Father Brown went on, noticing
her as little as she noticed him.
"The two crimes," he observed, "were committed against the
same weakness of the same person, in a struggle for her money.
The author of the larger crime found himself thwarted by the
smaller crime; the author of the smaller crime got the money."
"Oh, don't go on like a lecturer," groaned Flambeau; "put it
in a few words."
"I can put it in one word," answered his friend.
Miss Joan Stacey skewered her business-like black hat on to
her head with a business-like black frown before a little mirror,
and, as the conversation proceeded, took her handbag and umbrella
in an unhurried style, and left the room.
"The truth is one word, and a short one," said Father Brown.
"Pauline Stacey was blind."
"Blind!" repeated Flambeau, and rose slowly to his whole huge
"She was subject to it by blood," Brown proceeded. "Her
sister would have started eyeglasses if Pauline would have let
her; but it was her special philosophy or fad that one must not
encourage such diseases by yielding to them. She would not admit
the cloud; or she tried to dispel it by will. So her eyes got
worse and worse with straining; but the worst strain was to come.
It came with this precious prophet, or whatever he calls himself,
who taught her to stare at the hot sun with the naked eye. It was
called accepting Apollo. Oh, if these new pagans would only be
old pagans, they would be a little wiser! The old pagans knew
that mere naked Nature-worship must have a cruel side. They knew
that the eye of Apollo can blast and blind."
There was a pause, and the priest went on in a gentle and even
broken voice. "Whether or no that devil deliberately made her
blind, there is no doubt that he deliberately killed her through
her blindness. The very simplicity of the crime is sickening.
You know he and she went up and down in those lifts without
official help; you know also how smoothly and silently the lifts
slide. Kalon brought the lift to the girl's landing, and saw her,
through the open door, writing in her slow, sightless way the will
she had promised him. He called out to her cheerily that he had
the lift ready for her, and she was to come out when she was ready.
Then he pressed a button and shot soundlessly up to his own floor,
walked through his own office, out on to his own balcony, and was
safely praying before the crowded street when the poor girl,
having finished her work, ran gaily out to where lover and lift
were to receive her, and stepped--"
"Don't!" cried Flambeau.
"He ought to have got half a million by pressing that button,"
continued the little father, in the colourless voice in which he
talked of such horrors. "But that went smash. It went smash
because there happened to be another person who also wanted the
money, and who also knew the secret about poor Pauline's sight.
There was one thing about that will that I think nobody noticed:
although it was unfinished and without signature, the other Miss
Stacey and some servant of hers had already signed it as witnesses.
Joan had signed first, saying Pauline could finish it later, with
a typical feminine contempt for legal forms. Therefore, Joan
wanted her sister to sign the will without real witnesses. Why?
I thought of the blindness, and felt sure she had wanted Pauline
to sign in solitude because she had wanted her not to sign at all.
"People like the Staceys always use fountain pens; but this
was specially natural to Pauline. By habit and her strong will
and memory she could still write almost as well as if she saw; but
she could not tell when her pen needed dipping. Therefore, her
fountain pens were carefully filled by her sister--all except
this fountain pen. This was carefully not filled by her sister;
the remains of the ink held out for a few lines and then failed
altogether. And the prophet lost five hundred thousand pounds and
committed one of the most brutal and brilliant murders in human
history for nothing."
Flambeau went to the open door and heard the official police
ascending the stairs. He turned and said: "You must have followed
everything devilish close to have traced the crime to Kalon in ten
Father Brown gave a sort of start.
"Oh! to him," he said. "No; I had to follow rather close to
find out about Miss Joan and the fountain pen. But I knew Kalon
was the criminal before I came into the front door."
"You must be joking!" cried Flambeau.
"I'm quite serious," answered the priest. "I tell you I knew
he had done it, even before I knew what he had done."
"These pagan stoics," said Brown reflectively, "always fail by
their strength. There came a crash and a scream down the street,
and the priest of Apollo did not start or look round. I did not
know what it was. But I knew that he was expecting it."
The Sign of the Broken Sword
The thousand arms of the forest were grey, and its million fingers
silver. In a sky of dark green-blue-like slate the stars were
bleak and brilliant like splintered ice. All that thickly wooded
and sparsely tenanted countryside was stiff with a bitter and
brittle frost. The black hollows between the trunks of the trees
looked like bottomless, black caverns of that Scandinavian hell, a
hell of incalculable cold. Even the square stone tower of the
church looked northern to the point of heathenry, as if it were
some barbaric tower among the sea rocks of Iceland. It was a
queer night for anyone to explore a churchyard. But, on the other
hand, perhaps it was worth exploring.
It rose abruptly out of the ashen wastes of forest in a sort
of hump or shoulder of green turf that looked grey in the
starlight. Most of the graves were on a slant, and the path
leading up to the church was as steep as a staircase. On the top
of the hill, in the one flat and prominent place, was the monument
for which the place was famous. It contrasted strangely with the
featureless graves all round, for it was the work of one of the
greatest sculptors of modern Europe; and yet his fame was at once
forgotten in the fame of the man whose image he had made. It
showed, by touches of the small silver pencil of starlight, the
massive metal figure of a soldier recumbent, the strong hands
sealed in an everlasting worship, the great head pillowed upon a
gun. The venerable face was bearded, or rather whiskered, in the
old, heavy Colonel Newcome fashion. The uniform, though suggested
with the few strokes of simplicity, was that of modern war. By
his right side lay a sword, of which the tip was broken off; on
the left side lay a Bible. On glowing summer afternoons
wagonettes came full of Americans and cultured suburbans to see
the sepulchre; but even then they felt the vast forest land with
its one dumpy dome of churchyard and church as a place oddly dumb
and neglected. In this freezing darkness of mid-winter one would
think he might be left alone with the stars. Nevertheless, in the
stillness of those stiff woods a wooden gate creaked, and two dim
figures dressed in black climbed up the little path to the tomb.
So faint was that frigid starlight that nothing could have
been traced about them except that while they both wore black, one
man was enormously big, and the other (perhaps by contrast) almost
startlingly small. They went up to the great graven tomb of the
historic warrior, and stood for a few minutes staring at it.
There was no human, perhaps no living, thing for a wide circle;
and a morbid fancy might well have wondered if they were human
themselves. In any case, the beginning of their conversation
might have seemed strange. After the first silence the small man
said to the other:
"Where does a wise man hide a pebble?"
And the tall man answered in a low voice: "On the beach."
The small man nodded, and after a short silence said: "Where
does a wise man hide a leaf?"
And the other answered: "In the forest."
There was another stillness, and then the tall man resumed:
"Do you mean that when a wise man has to hide a real diamond he
has been known to hide it among sham ones?"
"No, no," said the little man with a laugh, "we will let
bygones be bygones."
He stamped his cold feet for a second or two, and then said:
"I'm not thinking of that at all, but of something else; something
rather peculiar. Just strike a match, will you?"
The big man fumbled in his pocket, and soon a scratch and a
flare painted gold the whole flat side of the monument. On it was
cut in black letters the well-known words which so many Americans
had reverently read: "Sacred to the Memory of General Sir Arthur
St. Clare, Hero and Martyr, who Always Vanquished his Enemies and
Always Spared Them, and Was Treacherously Slain by Them At Last.
May God in Whom he Trusted both Reward and Revenge him."
The match burnt the big man's fingers, blackened, and dropped.
He was about to strike another, but his small companion stopped
him. "That's all right, Flambeau, old man; I saw what I wanted.
Or, rather, I didn't see what I didn't want. And now we must walk
a mile and a half along the road to the next inn, and I will try
to tell you all about it. For Heaven knows a man should have a
fire and ale when he dares tell such a story."
They descended the precipitous path, they relatched the rusty
gate, and set off at a stamping, ringing walk down the frozen
forest road. They had gone a full quarter of a mile before the
smaller man spoke again. He said: "Yes; the wise man hides a
pebble on the beach. But what does he do if there is no beach?
Do you know anything of that great St. Clare trouble?"
"I know nothing about English generals, Father Brown,"
answered the large man, laughing, "though a little about English
policemen. I only know that you have dragged me a precious long
dance to all the shrines of this fellow, whoever he is. One would
think he got buried in six different places. I've seen a memorial
to General St. Clare in Westminster Abbey. I've seen a ramping
equestrian statue of General St. Clare on the Embankment. I've
seen a medallion of St. Clare in the street he was born in, and
another in the street he lived in; and now you drag me after dark
to his coffin in the village churchyard. I am beginning to be a
bit tired of his magnificent personality, especially as I don't in
the least know who he was. What are you hunting for in all these
crypts and effigies?"
"I am only looking for one word," said Father Brown. "A word
that isn't there."
"Well," asked Flambeau; "are you going to tell me anything
"I must divide it into two parts," remarked the priest.
"First there is what everybody knows; and then there is what I
know. Now, what everybody knows is short and plain enough. It is
also entirely wrong."
"Right you are," said the big man called Flambeau cheerfully.
"Let's begin at the wrong end. Let's begin with what everybody
knows, which isn't true."
"If not wholly untrue, it is at least very inadequate,"
continued Brown; "for in point of fact, all that the public knows
amounts precisely to this: The public knows that Arthur St. Clare
was a great and successful English general. It knows that after
splendid yet careful campaigns both in India and Africa he was in
command against Brazil when the great Brazilian patriot Olivier
issued his ultimatum. It knows that on that occasion St. Clare
with a very small force attacked Olivier with a very large one,
and was captured after heroic resistance. And it knows that after
his capture, and to the abhorrence of the civilised world, St.
Clare was hanged on the nearest tree. He was found swinging there
after the Brazilians had retired, with his broken sword hung round
"And that popular story is untrue?" suggested Flambeau.
"No," said his friend quietly, "that story is quite true, so
far as it goes."
"Well, I think it goes far enough!" said Flambeau; "but if the
popular story is true, what is the mystery?"
They had passed many hundreds of grey and ghostly trees before
the little priest answered. Then he bit his finger reflectively
and said: "Why, the mystery is a mystery of psychology. Or,
rather, it is a mystery of two psychologies. In that Brazilian
business two of the most famous men of modern history acted flat
against their characters. Mind you, Olivier and St. Clare were
both heroes--the old thing, and no mistake; it was like the
fight between Hector and Achilles. Now, what would you say to an
affair in which Achilles was timid and Hector was treacherous?"
"Go on," said the large man impatiently as the other bit his
"Sir Arthur St. Clare was a soldier of the old religious type
--the type that saved us during the Mutiny," continued Brown.
"He was always more for duty than for dash; and with all his
personal courage was decidedly a prudent commander, particularly
indignant at any needless waste of soldiers. Yet in this last
battle he attempted something that a baby could see was absurd.
One need not be a strategist to see it was as wild as wind; just
as one need not be a strategist to keep out of the way of a
motor-bus. Well, that is the first mystery; what had become of
the English general's head? The second riddle is, what had become
of the Brazilian general's heart? President Olivier might be
called a visionary or a nuisance; but even his enemies admitted
that he was magnanimous to the point of knight errantry. Almost
every other prisoner he had ever captured had been set free or
even loaded with benefits. Men who had really wronged him came
away touched by his simplicity and sweetness. Why the deuce
should he diabolically revenge himself only once in his life; and
that for the one particular blow that could not have hurt him?
Well, there you have it. One of the wisest men in the world acted
like an idiot for no reason. One of the best men in the world
acted like a fiend for no reason. That's the long and the short
of it; and I leave it to you, my boy."
"No, you don't," said the other with a snort. "I leave it to
you; and you jolly well tell me all about it."
"Well," resumed Father Brown, "it's not fair to say that the
public impression is just what I've said, without adding that two
things have happened since. I can't say they threw a new light;
for nobody can make sense of them. But they threw a new kind of
darkness; they threw the darkness in new directions. The first was
this. The family physician of the St. Clares quarrelled with that
family, and began publishing a violent series of articles, in which
he said that the late general was a religious maniac; but as far as
the tale went, this seemed to mean little more than a religious
"Anyhow, the story fizzled out. Everyone knew, of course, that St.
Clare had some of the eccentricities of puritan piety. The second
incident was much more arresting. In the luckless and unsupported
regiment which made that rash attempt at the Black River there was
a certain Captain Keith, who was at that time engaged to St. Clare's
daughter, and who afterwards married her. He was one of those who
were captured by Olivier, and, like all the rest except the general,
appears to have been bounteously treated and promptly set free.
Some twenty years afterwards this man, then Lieutenant-Colonel
Keith, published a sort of autobiography called `A British Officer
in Burmah and Brazil.' In the place where the reader looks eagerly
for some account of the mystery of St. Clare's disaster may be
found the following words: `Everywhere else in this book I have
narrated things exactly as they occurred, holding as I do the
old-fashioned opinion that the glory of England is old enough to
take care of itself. The exception I shall make is in this matter
of the defeat by the Black River; and my reasons, though private,
are honourable and compelling. I will, however, add this in
justice to the memories of two distinguished men. General St.
Clare has been accused of incapacity on this occasion; I can at
least testify that this action, properly understood, was one of
the most brilliant and sagacious of his life. President Olivier
by similar report is charged with savage injustice. I think it
due to the honour of an enemy to say that he acted on this
occasion with even more than his characteristic good feeling.
To put the matter popularly, I can assure my countrymen that St.
Clare was by no means such a fool nor Olivier such a brute as he
looked. This is all I have to say; nor shall any earthly
consideration induce me to add a word to it.'"
A large frozen moon like a lustrous snowball began to show
through the tangle of twigs in front of them, and by its light the
narrator had been able to refresh his memory of Captain Keith's
text from a scrap of printed paper. As he folded it up and put it
back in his pocket Flambeau threw up his hand with a French
"Wait a bit, wait a bit," he cried excitedly. "I believe I
can guess it at the first go."
He strode on, breathing hard, his black head and bull neck
forward, like a man winning a walking race. The little priest,
amused and interested, had some trouble in trotting beside him.
Just before them the trees fell back a little to left and right,
and the road swept downwards across a clear, moonlit valley, till
it dived again like a rabbit into the wall of another wood. The
entrance to the farther forest looked small and round, like the
black hole of a remote railway tunnel. But it was within some
hundred yards, and gaped like a cavern before Flambeau spoke
"I've got it," he cried at last, slapping his thigh with his
great hand. "Four minutes' thinking, and I can tell your whole
"All right," assented his friend. "You tell it."
Flambeau lifted his head, but lowered his voice. "General Sir
Arthur St. Clare," he said, "came of a family in which madness was
hereditary; and his whole aim was to keep this from his daughter,
and even, if possible, from his future son-in-law. Rightly or
wrongly, he thought the final collapse was close, and resolved on
suicide. Yet ordinary suicide would blazon the very idea he
dreaded. As the campaign approached the clouds came thicker on
his brain; and at last in a mad moment he sacrificed his public
duty to his private. He rushed rashly into battle, hoping to fall
by the first shot. When he found that he had only attained
capture and discredit, the sealed bomb in his brain burst, and he
broke his own sword and hanged himself."
He stared firmly at the grey facade of forest in front of him,
with the one black gap in it, like the mouth of the grave, into
which their path plunged. Perhaps something menacing in the road
thus suddenly swallowed reinforced his vivid vision of the tragedy,
for he shuddered.
"A horrid story," he said.
"A horrid story," repeated the priest with bent head. "But
not the real story."
Then he threw back his head with a sort of despair and cried:
"Oh, I wish it had been."
The tall Flambeau faced round and stared at him.
"Yours is a clean story," cried Father Brown, deeply moved.
"A sweet, pure, honest story, as open and white as that moon.
Madness and despair are innocent enough. There are worse things,
Flambeau looked up wildly at the moon thus invoked; and from
where he stood one black tree-bough curved across it exactly like
a devil's horn.
"Father--father," cried Flambeau with the French gesture
and stepping yet more rapidly forward, "do you mean it was worse
"Worse than that," said Paul like a grave echo. And they
plunged into the black cloister of the woodland, which ran by them
in a dim tapestry of trunks, like one of the dark corridors in a
They were soon in the most secret entrails of the wood, and
felt close about them foliage that they could not see, when the
priest said again: