Part 5 out of 5
"Where does a wise man hide a leaf? In the forest. But what
does he do if there is no forest?"
"Well, well," cried Flambeau irritably, "what does he do?"
"He grows a forest to hide it in," said the priest in an
obscure voice. "A fearful sin."
"Look here," cried his friend impatiently, for the dark wood
and the dark saying got a little on his nerves; "will you tell
me this story or not? What other evidence is there to go on?"
"There are three more bits of evidence," said the other, "that
I have dug up in holes and corners; and I will give them in logical
rather than chronological order. First of all, of course, our
authority for the issue and event of the battle is in Olivier's
own dispatches, which are lucid enough. He was entrenched with
two or three regiments on the heights that swept down to the Black
River, on the other side of which was lower and more marshy
ground. Beyond this again was gently rising country, on which was
the first English outpost, supported by others which lay, however,
considerably in its rear. The British forces as a whole were
greatly superior in numbers; but this particular regiment was just
far enough from its base to make Olivier consider the project of
crossing the river to cut it off. By sunset, however, he had
decided to retain his own position, which was a specially strong
one. At daybreak next morning he was thunderstruck to see that
this stray handful of English, entirely unsupported from their
rear, had flung themselves across the river, half by a bridge to
the right, and the other half by a ford higher up, and were massed
upon the marshy bank below him.
"That they should attempt an attack with such numbers against
such a position was incredible enough; but Olivier noticed
something yet more extraordinary. For instead of attempting to
seize more solid ground, this mad regiment, having put the river
in its rear by one wild charge, did nothing more, but stuck there
in the mire like flies in treacle. Needless to say, the Brazilians
blew great gaps in them with artillery, which they could only
return with spirited but lessening rifle fire. Yet they never
broke; and Olivier's curt account ends with a strong tribute of
admiration for the mystic valour of these imbeciles. `Our line
then advanced finally,' writes Olivier, `and drove them into the
river; we captured General St. Clare himself and several other
officers. The colonel and the major had both fallen in the battle.
I cannot resist saying that few finer sights can have been seen in
history than the last stand of this extraordinary regiment; wounded
officers picking up the rifles of dead soldiers, and the general
himself facing us on horseback bareheaded and with a broken sword.'
On what happened to the general afterwards Olivier is as silent as
"Well," grunted Flambeau, "get on to the next bit of evidence."
"The next evidence," said Father Brown, "took some time to
find, but it will not take long to tell. I found at last in an
almshouse down in the Lincolnshire Fens an old soldier who not
only was wounded at the Black River, but had actually knelt beside
the colonel of the regiment when he died. This latter was a
certain Colonel Clancy, a big bull of an Irishman; and it would
seem that he died almost as much of rage as of bullets. He, at
any rate, was not responsible for that ridiculous raid; it must
have been imposed on him by the general. His last edifying words,
according to my informant, were these: `And there goes the damned
old donkey with the end of his sword knocked off. I wish it was
his head.' You will remark that everyone seems to have noticed
this detail about the broken sword blade, though most people
regard it somewhat more reverently than did the late Colonel
Clancy. And now for the third fragment."
Their path through the woodland began to go upward, and the
speaker paused a little for breath before he went on. Then he
continued in the same business-like tone:
"Only a month or two ago a certain Brazilian official died in
England, having quarrelled with Olivier and left his country. He
was a well-known figure both here and on the Continent, a Spaniard
named Espado; I knew him myself, a yellow-faced old dandy, with a
hooked nose. For various private reasons I had permission to see
the documents he had left; he was a Catholic, of course, and I had
been with him towards the end. There was nothing of his that lit
up any corner of the black St. Clare business, except five or six
common exercise books filled with the diary of some English
soldier. I can only suppose that it was found by the Brazilians
on one of those that fell. Anyhow, it stopped abruptly the night
before the battle.
"But the account of that last day in the poor fellow's life
was certainly worth reading. I have it on me; but it's too dark
to read it here, and I will give you a resume. The first part of
that entry is full of jokes, evidently flung about among the men,
about somebody called the Vulture. It does not seem as if this
person, whoever he was, was one of themselves, nor even an
Englishman; neither is he exactly spoken of as one of the enemy.
It sounds rather as if he were some local go-between and
non-combatant; perhaps a guide or a journalist. He has been
closeted with old Colonel Clancy; but is more often seen talking
to the major. Indeed, the major is somewhat prominent in this
soldier's narrative; a lean, dark-haired man, apparently, of the
name of Murray--a north of Ireland man and a Puritan. There are
continual jests about the contrast between this Ulsterman's
austerity and the conviviality of Colonel Clancy. There is also
some joke about the Vulture wearing bright-coloured clothes.
"But all these levities are scattered by what may well be
called the note of a bugle. Behind the English camp and almost
parallel to the river ran one of the few great roads of that
district. Westward the road curved round towards the river, which
it crossed by the bridge before mentioned. To the east the road
swept backwards into the wilds, and some two miles along it was
the next English outpost. From this direction there came along
the road that evening a glitter and clatter of light cavalry, in
which even the simple diarist could recognise with astonishment
the general with his staff. He rode the great white horse which
you have seen so often in illustrated papers and Academy pictures;
and you may be sure that the salute they gave him was not merely
ceremonial. He, at least, wasted no time on ceremony, but,
springing from the saddle immediately, mixed with the group of
officers, and fell into emphatic though confidential speech. What
struck our friend the diarist most was his special disposition to
discuss matters with Major Murray; but, indeed, such a selection,
so long as it was not marked, was in no way unnatural. The two
men were made for sympathy; they were men who `read their Bibles';
they were both the old Evangelical type of officer. However this
may be, it is certain that when the general mounted again he was
still talking earnestly to Murray; and that as he walked his horse
slowly down the road towards the river, the tall Ulsterman still
walked by his bridle rein in earnest debate. The soldiers watched
the two until they vanished behind a clump of trees where the road
turned towards the river. The colonel had gone back to his tent,
and the men to their pickets; the man with the diary lingered for
another four minutes, and saw a marvellous sight.
"The great white horse which had marched slowly down the road,
as it had marched in so many processions, flew back, galloping up
the road towards them as if it were mad to win a race. At first
they thought it had run away with the man on its back; but they
soon saw that the general, a fine rider, was himself urging it to
full speed. Horse and man swept up to them like a whirlwind; and
then, reining up the reeling charger, the general turned on them a
face like flame, and called for the colonel like the trumpet that
wakes the dead.
"I conceive that all the earthquake events of that catastrophe
tumbled on top of each other rather like lumber in the minds of
men such as our friend with the diary. With the dazed excitement
of a dream, they found themselves falling--literally falling--
into their ranks, and learned that an attack was to be led at once
across the river. The general and the major, it was said, had
found out something at the bridge, and there was only just time to
strike for life. The major had gone back at once to call up the
reserve along the road behind; it was doubtful if even with that
prompt appeal help could reach them in time. But they must pass
the stream that night, and seize the heights by morning. It is
with the very stir and throb of that romantic nocturnal march that
the diary suddenly ends."
Father Brown had mounted ahead; for the woodland path grew
smaller, steeper, and more twisted, till they felt as if they were
ascending a winding staircase. The priest's voice came from above
out of the darkness.
"There was one other little and enormous thing. When the
general urged them to their chivalric charge he half drew his
sword from the scabbard; and then, as if ashamed of such
melodrama, thrust it back again. The sword again, you see."
A half-light broke through the network of boughs above them,
flinging the ghost of a net about their feet; for they were
mounting again to the faint luminosity of the naked night.
Flambeau felt truth all round him as an atmosphere, but not as an
idea. He answered with bewildered brain: "Well, what's the matter
with the sword? Officers generally have swords, don't they?"
"They are not often mentioned in modern war," said the other
dispassionately; "but in this affair one falls over the blessed
"Well, what is there in that?" growled Flambeau; "it was a
twopence coloured sort of incident; the old man's blade breaking
in his last battle. Anyone might bet the papers would get hold of
it, as they have. On all these tombs and things it's shown broken
at the point. I hope you haven't dragged me through this Polar
expedition merely because two men with an eye for a picture saw
St. Clare's broken sword."
"No," cried Father Brown, with a sharp voice like a pistol
shot; "but who saw his unbroken sword?"
"What do you mean?" cried the other, and stood still under the
stars. They had come abruptly out of the grey gates of the wood.
"I say, who saw his unbroken sword?" repeated Father Brown
obstinately. "Not the writer of the diary, anyhow; the general
sheathed it in time."
Flambeau looked about him in the moonlight, as a man struck
blind might look in the sun; and his friend went on, for the first
time with eagerness:
"Flambeau," he cried, "I cannot prove it, even after hunting
through the tombs. But I am sure of it. Let me add just one more
tiny fact that tips the whole thing over. The colonel, by a
strange chance, was one of the first struck by a bullet. He was
struck long before the troops came to close quarters. But he saw
St. Clare's sword broken. Why was it broken? How was it broken?
My friend, it was broken before the battle."
"Oh!" said his friend, with a sort of forlorn jocularity; "and
pray where is the other piece?"
"I can tell you," said the priest promptly. "In the northeast
corner of the cemetery of the Protestant Cathedral at Belfast."
"Indeed?" inquired the other. "Have you looked for it?"
"I couldn't," replied Brown, with frank regret. "There's a
great marble monument on top of it; a monument to the heroic Major
Murray, who fell fighting gloriously at the famous Battle of the
Flambeau seemed suddenly galvanised into existence. "You
mean," he cried hoarsely, "that General St. Clare hated Murray,
and murdered him on the field of battle because--"
"You are still full of good and pure thoughts," said the
other. "It was worse than that."
"Well," said the large man, "my stock of evil imagination is
The priest seemed really doubtful where to begin, and at last
he said again:
"Where would a wise man hide a leaf? In the forest."
The other did not answer.
"If there were no forest, he would make a forest. And if he
wished to hide a dead leaf, he would make a dead forest."
There was still no reply, and the priest added still more
mildly and quietly:
"And if a man had to hide a dead body, he would make a field
of dead bodies to hide it in."
Flambeau began to stamp forward with an intolerance of delay
in time or space; but Father Brown went on as if he were continuing
the last sentence:
"Sir Arthur St. Clare, as I have already said, was a man who
read his Bible. That was what was the matter with him. When will
people understand that it is useless for a man to read his Bible
unless he also reads everybody else's Bible? A printer reads a
Bible for misprints. A Mormon reads his Bible, and finds polygamy;
a Christian Scientist reads his, and finds we have no arms and
legs. St. Clare was an old Anglo-Indian Protestant soldier. Now,
just think what that might mean; and, for Heaven's sake, don't
cant about it. It might mean a man physically formidable living
under a tropic sun in an Oriental society, and soaking himself
without sense or guidance in an Oriental Book. Of course, he read
the Old Testament rather than the New. Of course, he found in the
Old Testament anything that he wanted--lust, tyranny, treason.
Oh, I dare say he was honest, as you call it. But what is the
good of a man being honest in his worship of dishonesty?
"In each of the hot and secret countries to which the man went
he kept a harem, he tortured witnesses, he amassed shameful gold;
but certainly he would have said with steady eyes that he did it
to the glory of the Lord. My own theology is sufficiently
expressed by asking which Lord? Anyhow, there is this about such
evil, that it opens door after door in hell, and always into
smaller and smaller chambers. This is the real case against crime,
that a man does not become wilder and wilder, but only meaner and
meaner. St. Clare was soon suffocated by difficulties of bribery
and blackmail; and needed more and more cash. And by the time of
the Battle of the Black River he had fallen from world to world to
that place which Dante makes the lowest floor of the universe."
"What do you mean?" asked his friend again.
"I mean that," retorted the cleric, and suddenly pointed at a
puddle sealed with ice that shone in the moon. "Do you remember
whom Dante put in the last circle of ice?"
"The traitors," said Flambeau, and shuddered. As he looked
around at the inhuman landscape of trees, with taunting and almost
obscene outlines, he could almost fancy he was Dante, and the
priest with the rivulet of a voice was, indeed, a Virgil leading
him through a land of eternal sins.
The voice went on: "Olivier, as you know, was quixotic, and
would not permit a secret service and spies. The thing, however,
was done, like many other things, behind his back. It was managed
by my old friend Espado; he was the bright-clad fop, whose hook
nose got him called the Vulture. Posing as a sort of
philanthropist at the front, he felt his way through the English
Army, and at last got his fingers on its one corrupt man--please
God!--and that man at the top. St. Clare was in foul need of
money, and mountains of it. The discredited family doctor was
threatening those extraordinary exposures that afterwards began
and were broken off; tales of monstrous and prehistoric things in
Park Lane; things done by an English Evangelist that smelt like
human sacrifice and hordes of slaves. Money was wanted, too, for
his daughter's dowry; for to him the fame of wealth was as sweet
as wealth itself. He snapped the last thread, whispered the word
to Brazil, and wealth poured in from the enemies of England. But
another man had talked to Espado the Vulture as well as he.
Somehow the dark, grim young major from Ulster had guessed the
hideous truth; and when they walked slowly together down that road
towards the bridge Murray was telling the general that he must
resign instantly, or be court-martialled and shot. The general
temporised with him till they came to the fringe of tropic trees
by the bridge; and there by the singing river and the sunlit palms
(for I can see the picture) the general drew his sabre and plunged
it through the body of the major."
The wintry road curved over a ridge in cutting frost, with
cruel black shapes of bush and thicket; but Flambeau fancied that
he saw beyond it faintly the edge of an aureole that was not
starlight and moonlight, but some fire such as is made by men. He
watched it as the tale drew to its close.
"St. Clare was a hell-hound, but he was a hound of breed.
Never, I'll swear, was he so lucid and so strong as when poor
Murray lay a cold lump at his feet. Never in all his triumphs, as
Captain Keith said truly, was the great man so great as he was in
this last world-despised defeat. He looked coolly at his weapon
to wipe off the blood; he saw the point he had planted between his
victim's shoulders had broken off in the body. He saw quite
calmly, as through a club windowpane, all that must follow. He
saw that men must find the unaccountable corpse; must extract the
unaccountable sword-point; must notice the unaccountable broken
sword--or absence of sword. He had killed, but not silenced.
But his imperious intellect rose against the facer; there was one
way yet. He could make the corpse less unaccountable. He could
create a hill of corpses to cover this one. In twenty minutes
eight hundred English soldiers were marching down to their death."
The warmer glow behind the black winter wood grew richer and
brighter, and Flambeau strode on to reach it. Father Brown also
quickened his stride; but he seemed merely absorbed in his tale.
"Such was the valour of that English thousand, and such the
genius of their commander, that if they had at once attacked the
hill, even their mad march might have met some luck. But the evil
mind that played with them like pawns had other aims and reasons.
They must remain in the marshes by the bridge at least till British
corpses should be a common sight there. Then for the last grand
scene; the silver-haired soldier-saint would give up his shattered
sword to save further slaughter. Oh, it was well organised for an
impromptu. But I think (I cannot prove), I think that it was
while they stuck there in the bloody mire that someone doubted--
and someone guessed."
He was mute a moment, and then said: "There is a voice from
nowhere that tells me the man who guessed was the lover ... the
man to wed the old man's child."
"But what about Olivier and the hanging?" asked Flambeau.
"Olivier, partly from chivalry, partly from policy, seldom
encumbered his march with captives," explained the narrator. "He
released everybody in most cases. He released everybody in this
"Everybody but the general," said the tall man.
"Everybody," said the priest.
Flambeau knit his black brows. "I don't grasp it all yet," he
"There is another picture, Flambeau," said Brown in his more
mystical undertone. "I can't prove it; but I can do more--I can
see it. There is a camp breaking up on the bare, torrid hills at
morning, and Brazilian uniforms massed in blocks and columns to
march. There is the red shirt and long black beard of Olivier,
which blows as he stands, his broad-brimmed hat in his hand. He
is saying farewell to the great enemy he is setting free--the
simple, snow-headed English veteran, who thanks him in the name of
his men. The English remnant stand behind at attention; beside
them are stores and vehicles for the retreat. The drums roll; the
Brazilians are moving; the English are still like statues. So
they abide till the last hum and flash of the enemy have faded
from the tropic horizon. Then they alter their postures all at
once, like dead men coming to life; they turn their fifty faces
upon the general--faces not to be forgotten."
Flambeau gave a great jump. "Ah," he cried, "you don't mean--"
"Yes," said Father Brown in a deep, moving voice. "It was an
English hand that put the rope round St. Clare's neck; I believe
the hand that put the ring on his daughter's finger. They were
English hands that dragged him up to the tree of shame; the hands
of men that had adored him and followed him to victory. And they
were English souls (God pardon and endure us all!) who stared at
him swinging in that foreign sun on the green gallows of palm, and
prayed in their hatred that he might drop off it into hell."
As the two topped the ridge there burst on them the strong
scarlet light of a red-curtained English inn. It stood sideways
in the road, as if standing aside in the amplitude of hospitality.
Its three doors stood open with invitation; and even where they
stood they could hear the hum and laughter of humanity happy for a
"I need not tell you more," said Father Brown. "They tried
him in the wilderness and destroyed him; and then, for the honour
of England and of his daughter, they took an oath to seal up for
ever the story of the traitor's purse and the assassin's sword
blade. Perhaps--Heaven help them--they tried to forget it.
Let us try to forget it, anyhow; here is our inn."
"With all my heart," said Flambeau, and was just striding into
the bright, noisy bar when he stepped back and almost fell on the
"Look there, in the devil's name!" he cried, and pointed
rigidly at the square wooden sign that overhung the road. It
showed dimly the crude shape of a sabre hilt and a shortened
blade; and was inscribed in false archaic lettering, "The Sign of
the Broken Sword."
"Were you not prepared?" asked Father Brown gently. "He is
the god of this country; half the inns and parks and streets are
named after him and his story."
"I thought we had done with the leper," cried Flambeau, and
spat on the road.
"You will never have done with him in England," said the
priest, looking down, "while brass is strong and stone abides.
His marble statues will erect the souls of proud, innocent boys
for centuries, his village tomb will smell of loyalty as of lilies.
Millions who never knew him shall love him like a father--this
man whom the last few that knew him dealt with like dung. He shall
be a saint; and the truth shall never be told of him, because I
have made up my mind at last. There is so much good and evil in
breaking secrets, that I put my conduct to a test. All these
newspapers will perish; the anti-Brazil boom is already over;
Olivier is already honoured everywhere. But I told myself that if
anywhere, by name, in metal or marble that will endure like the
pyramids, Colonel Clancy, or Captain Keith, or President Olivier,
or any innocent man was wrongly blamed, then I would speak. If it
were only that St. Clare was wrongly praised, I would be silent.
And I will."
They plunged into the red-curtained tavern, which was not only
cosy, but even luxurious inside. On a table stood a silver model
of the tomb of St. Clare, the silver head bowed, the silver sword
broken. On the walls were coloured photographs of the same scene,
and of the system of wagonettes that took tourists to see it.
They sat down on the comfortable padded benches.
"Come, it's cold," cried Father Brown; "let's have some wine
"Or brandy," said Flambeau.
The Three Tools of Death
Both by calling and conviction Father Brown knew better than most
of us, that every man is dignified when he is dead. But even he
felt a pang of incongruity when he was knocked up at daybreak and
told that Sir Aaron Armstrong had been murdered. There was
something absurd and unseemly about secret violence in connection
with so entirely entertaining and popular a figure. For Sir Aaron
Armstrong was entertaining to the point of being comic; and
popular in such a manner as to be almost legendary. It was like
hearing that Sunny Jim had hanged himself; or that Mr. Pickwick
had died in Hanwell. For though Sir Aaron was a philanthropist,
and thus dealt with the darker side of our society, he prided
himself on dealing with it in the brightest possible style. His
political and social speeches were cataracts of anecdotes and
"loud laughter"; his bodily health was of a bursting sort; his
ethics were all optimism; and he dealt with the Drink problem (his
favourite topic) with that immortal or even monotonous gaiety
which is so often a mark of the prosperous total abstainer.
The established story of his conversion was familiar on the
more puritanic platforms and pulpits, how he had been, when only a
boy, drawn away from Scotch theology to Scotch whisky, and how he
had risen out of both and become (as he modestly put it) what he
was. Yet his wide white beard, cherubic face, and sparkling
spectacles, at the numberless dinners and congresses where they
appeared, made it hard to believe, somehow, that he had ever been
anything so morbid as either a dram-drinker or a Calvinist. He
was, one felt, the most seriously merry of all the sons of men.
He had lived on the rural skirt of Hampstead in a handsome
house, high but not broad, a modern and prosaic tower. The
narrowest of its narrow sides overhung the steep green bank of a
railway, and was shaken by passing trains. Sir Aaron Armstrong,
as he boisterously explained, had no nerves. But if the train had
often given a shock to the house, that morning the tables were
turned, and it was the house that gave a shock to the train.
The engine slowed down and stopped just beyond that point
where an angle of the house impinged upon the sharp slope of turf.
The arrest of most mechanical things must be slow; but the living
cause of this had been very rapid. A man clad completely in
black, even (it was remembered) to the dreadful detail of black
gloves, appeared on the ridge above the engine, and waved his
black hands like some sable windmill. This in itself would hardly
have stopped even a lingering train. But there came out of him a
cry which was talked of afterwards as something utterly unnatural
and new. It was one of those shouts that are horridly distinct
even when we cannot hear what is shouted. The word in this case
But the engine-driver swears he would have pulled up just the
same if he had heard only the dreadful and definite accent and not
The train once arrested, the most superficial stare could take
in many features of the tragedy. The man in black on the green
bank was Sir Aaron Armstrong's man-servant Magnus. The baronet in
his optimism had often laughed at the black gloves of this dismal
attendant; but no one was likely to laugh at him just now.
So soon as an inquirer or two had stepped off the line and
across the smoky hedge, they saw, rolled down almost to the bottom
of the bank, the body of an old man in a yellow dressing-gown with
a very vivid scarlet lining. A scrap of rope seemed caught about
his leg, entangled presumably in a struggle. There was a smear or
so of blood, though very little; but the body was bent or broken
into a posture impossible to any living thing. It was Sir Aaron
Armstrong. A few more bewildered moments brought out a big
fair-bearded man, whom some travellers could salute as the dead
man's secretary, Patrick Royce, once well known in Bohemian
society and even famous in the Bohemian arts. In a manner more
vague, but even more convincing, he echoed the agony of the
servant. By the time the third figure of that household, Alice
Armstrong, daughter of the dead man, had come already tottering
and waving into the garden, the engine-driver had put a stop to
his stoppage. The whistle had blown and the train had panted on
to get help from the next station.
Father Brown had been thus rapidly summoned at the request of
Patrick Royce, the big ex-Bohemian secretary. Royce was an
Irishman by birth; and that casual kind of Catholic that never
remembers his religion until he is really in a hole. But Royce's
request might have been less promptly complied with if one of the
official detectives had not been a friend and admirer of the
unofficial Flambeau; and it was impossible to be a friend of
Flambeau without hearing numberless stories about Father Brown.
Hence, while the young detective (whose name was Merton) led the
little priest across the fields to the railway, their talk was more
confidential than could be expected between two total strangers.
"As far as I can see," said Mr. Merton candidly, "there is no
sense to be made of it at all. There is nobody one can suspect.
Magnus is a solemn old fool; far too much of a fool to be an
assassin. Royce has been the baronet's best friend for years; and
his daughter undoubtedly adored him. Besides, it's all too absurd.
Who would kill such a cheery old chap as Armstrong? Who could dip
his hands in the gore of an after-dinner speaker? It would be
like killing Father Christmas."
"Yes, it was a cheery house," assented Father Brown. "It was
a cheery house while he was alive. Do you think it will be cheery
now he is dead?"
Merton started a little and regarded his companion with an
enlivened eye. "Now he is dead?" he repeated.
"Yes," continued the priest stolidly, "he was cheerful. But
did he communicate his cheerfulness? Frankly, was anyone else in
the house cheerful but he?"
A window in Merton's mind let in that strange light of surprise
in which we see for the first time things we have known all along.
He had often been to the Armstrongs', on little police jobs of the
philanthropist; and, now he came to think of it, it was in itself
a depressing house. The rooms were very high and very cold; the
decoration mean and provincial; the draughty corridors were lit by
electricity that was bleaker than moonlight. And though the old
man's scarlet face and silver beard had blazed like a bonfire in
each room or passage in turn, it did not leave any warmth behind
it. Doubtless this spectral discomfort in the place was partly
due to the very vitality and exuberance of its owner; he needed no
stoves or lamps, he would say, but carried his own warmth with
him. But when Merton recalled the other inmates, he was compelled
to confess that they also were as shadows of their lord. The
moody man-servant, with his monstrous black gloves, was almost a
nightmare; Royce, the secretary, was solid enough, a big bull of a
man, in tweeds, with a short beard; but the straw-coloured beard
was startlingly salted with grey like the tweeds, and the broad
forehead was barred with premature wrinkles. He was good-natured
enough also, but it was a sad sort of good-nature, almost a
heart-broken sort--he had the general air of being some sort of
failure in life. As for Armstrong's daughter, it was almost
incredible that she was his daughter; she was so pallid in colour
and sensitive in outline. She was graceful, but there was a
quiver in the very shape of her that was like the lines of an
aspen. Merton had sometimes wondered if she had learnt to quail
at the crash of the passing trains.
"You see," said Father Brown, blinking modestly, "I'm not sure
that the Armstrong cheerfulness is so very cheerful--for other
people. You say that nobody could kill such a happy old man, but
I'm not sure; ne nos inducas in tentationem. If ever I murdered
somebody," he added quite simply, "I dare say it might be an
"Why?" cried Merton amused. "Do you think people dislike
"People like frequent laughter," answered Father Brown, "but I
don't think they like a permanent smile. Cheerfulness without
humour is a very trying thing."
They walked some way in silence along the windy grassy bank by
the rail, and just as they came under the far-flung shadow of the
tall Armstrong house, Father Brown said suddenly, like a man
throwing away a troublesome thought rather than offering it
seriously: "Of course, drink is neither good nor bad in itself.
But I can't help sometimes feeling that men like Armstrong want an
occasional glass of wine to sadden them."
Merton's official superior, a grizzled and capable detective
named Gilder, was standing on the green bank waiting for the
coroner, talking to Patrick Royce, whose big shoulders and bristly
beard and hair towered above him. This was the more noticeable
because Royce walked always with a sort of powerful stoop, and
seemed to be going about his small clerical and domestic duties in
a heavy and humbled style, like a buffalo drawing a go-cart.
He raised his head with unusual pleasure at the sight of the
priest, and took him a few paces apart. Meanwhile Merton was
addressing the older detective respectfully indeed, but not
without a certain boyish impatience.
"Well, Mr. Gilder, have you got much farther with the mystery?"
"There is no mystery," replied Gilder, as he looked under
dreamy eyelids at the rooks.
"Well, there is for me, at any rate," said Merton, smiling.
"It is simple enough, my boy," observed the senior
stroking his grey, pointed beard. "Three minutes after you'd gone
for Mr. Royce's parson the whole thing came out. You know that
pasty-faced servant in the black gloves who stopped the train?"
"I should know him anywhere. Somehow he rather gave me the
"Well," drawled Gilder, "when the train had gone on again,
that man had gone too. Rather a cool criminal, don't you think,
to escape by the very train that went off for the police?"
"You're pretty sure, I suppose," remarked the young man, "that
he really did kill his master?"
"Yes, my son, I'm pretty sure," replied Gilder drily, "for the
trifling reason that he has gone off with twenty thousand pounds
in papers that were in his master's desk. No, the only thing
worth calling a difficulty is how he killed him. The skull seems
broken as with some big weapon, but there's no weapon at all lying
about, and the murderer would have found it awkward to carry it
away, unless the weapon was too small to be noticed."
"Perhaps the weapon was too big to be noticed," said the
priest, with an odd little giggle.
Gilder looked round at this wild remark, and rather sternly
asked Brown what he meant.
"Silly way of putting it, I know," said Father Brown
apologetically. "Sounds like a fairy tale. But poor Armstrong
was killed with a giant's club, a great green club, too big to be
seen, and which we call the earth. He was broken against this
green bank we are standing on."
"How do you mean?" asked the detective quickly.
Father Brown turned his moon face up to the narrow facade of
the house and blinked hopelessly up. Following his eyes, they saw
that right at the top of this otherwise blind back quarter of the
building, an attic window stood open.
"Don't you see," he explained, pointing a little awkwardly
like a child, "he was thrown down from there?"
Gilder frowningly scrutinised the window, and then said:
"Well, it is certainly possible. But I don't see why you are so
sure about it."
Brown opened his grey eyes wide. "Why," he said, "there's a
bit of rope round the dead man's leg. Don't you see that other
bit of rope up there caught at the corner of the window?"
At that height the thing looked like the faintest particle of
dust or hair, but the shrewd old investigator was satisfied.
"You're quite right, sir," he said to Father Brown; "that is
certainly one to you."
Almost as he spoke a special train with one carriage took the
curve of the line on their left, and, stopping, disgorged another
group of policemen, in whose midst was the hangdog visage of
Magnus, the absconded servant.
"By Jove! they've got him," cried Gilder, and stepped forward
with quite a new alertness.
"Have you got the money!" he cried to the first policeman.
The man looked him in the face with a rather curious expression
and said: "No." Then he added: "At least, not here."
"Which is the inspector, please?" asked the man called Magnus.
When he spoke everyone instantly understood how this voice had
stopped a train. He was a dull-looking man with flat black hair,
a colourless face, and a faint suggestion of the East in the level
slits in his eyes and mouth. His blood and name, indeed, had
remained dubious, ever since Sir Aaron had "rescued" him from a
waitership in a London restaurant, and (as some said) from more
infamous things. But his voice was as vivid as his face was dead.
Whether through exactitude in a foreign language, or in deference
to his master (who had been somewhat deaf), Magnus's tones had a
peculiarly ringing and piercing quality, and the whole group quite
jumped when he spoke.
"I always knew this would happen," he said aloud with brazen
blandness. "My poor old master made game of me for wearing black;
but I always said I should be ready for his funeral."
And he made a momentary movement with his two dark-gloved
"Sergeant," said Inspector Gilder, eyeing the black hands with
wrath, "aren't you putting the bracelets on this fellow; he looks
"Well, sir," said the sergeant, with the same odd look of
wonder, "I don't know that we can."
"What do you mean?" asked the other sharply. "Haven't you
A faint scorn widened the slit-like mouth, and the whistle of
an approaching train seemed oddly to echo the mockery.
"We arrested him," replied the sergeant gravely, "just as he
was coming out of the police station at Highgate, where he had
deposited all his master's money in the care of Inspector
Gilder looked at the man-servant in utter amazement. "Why on
earth did you do that?" he asked of Magnus.
"To keep it safe from the criminal, of course," replied that
"Surely," said Gilder, "Sir Aaron's money might have been
safely left with Sir Aaron's family."
The tail of his sentence was drowned in the roar of the train
as it went rocking and clanking; but through all the hell of
noises to which that unhappy house was periodically subject, they
could hear the syllables of Magnus's answer, in all their
bell-like distinctness: "I have no reason to feel confidence in
Sir Aaron's family."
All the motionless men had the ghostly sensation of the
presence of some new person; and Merton was scarcely surprised
when he looked up and saw the pale face of Armstrong's daughter
over Father Brown's shoulder. She was still young and beautiful
in a silvery style, but her hair was of so dusty and hueless a
brown that in some shadows it seemed to have turned totally grey.
"Be careful what you say," said Royce gruffly, "you'll
frighten Miss Armstrong."
"I hope so," said the man with the clear voice.
As the woman winced and everyone else wondered, he went on:
"I am somewhat used to Miss Armstrong's tremors. I have seen her
trembling off and on for years. And some said she was shaking
with cold and some she was shaking with fear, but I know she was
shaking with hate and wicked anger--fiends that have had their
feast this morning. She would have been away by now with her
lover and all the money but for me. Ever since my poor old master
prevented her from marrying that tipsy blackguard--"
"Stop," said Gilder very sternly. "We have nothing to do with
your family fancies or suspicions. Unless you have some practical
evidence, your mere opinions--"
"Oh! I'll give you practical evidence," cut in Magnus, in his
hacking accent. "You'll have to subpoena me, Mr. Inspector, and I
shall have to tell the truth. And the truth is this: An instant
after the old man was pitched bleeding out of the window, I ran
into the attic, and found his daughter swooning on the floor with
a red dagger still in her hand. Allow me to hand that also to the
proper authorities." He took from his tail-pocket a long
horn-hilted knife with a red smear on it, and handed it politely
to the sergeant. Then he stood back again, and his slits of eyes
almost faded from his face in one fat Chinese sneer.
Merton felt an almost bodily sickness at the sight of him; and
he muttered to Gilder: "Surely you would take Miss Armstrong's
word against his?"
Father Brown suddenly lifted a face so absurdly fresh that it
looked somehow as if he had just washed it. "Yes," he said,
radiating innocence, "but is Miss Armstrong's word against his?"
The girl uttered a startled, singular little cry; everyone
looked at her. Her figure was rigid as if paralysed; only her
face within its frame of faint brown hair was alive with an
appalling surprise. She stood like one of a sudden lassooed and
"This man," said Mr. Gilder gravely, "actually says that you
were found grasping a knife, insensible, after the murder."
"He says the truth," answered Alice.
The next fact of which they were conscious was that Patrick
Royce strode with his great stooping head into their ring and
uttered the singular words: "Well, if I've got to go, I'll have a
bit of pleasure first."
His huge shoulder heaved and he sent an iron fist smash into
Magnus's bland Mongolian visage, laying him on the lawn as flat as
a starfish. Two or three of the police instantly put their hands
on Royce; but to the rest it seemed as if all reason had broken up
and the universe were turning into a brainless harlequinade.
"None of that, Mr. Royce," Gilder had called out
"I shall arrest you for assault."
"No, you won't," answered the secretary in a voice like an
iron gong, "you will arrest me for murder."
Gilder threw an alarmed glance at the man knocked down; but
since that outraged person was already sitting up and wiping a
little blood off a substantially uninjured face, he only said
shortly: "What do you mean?"
"It is quite true, as this fellow says," explained Royce,
"that Miss Armstrong fainted with a knife in her hand. But she
had not snatched the knife to attack her father, but to defend
"To defend him," repeated Gilder gravely. "Against whom?"
"Against me," answered the secretary.
Alice looked at him with a complex and baffling face; then she
said in a low voice: "After it all, I am still glad you are brave."
"Come upstairs," said Patrick Royce heavily, "and I will show
you the whole cursed thing."
The attic, which was the secretary's private place (and rather
a small cell for so large a hermit), had indeed all the vestiges
of a violent drama. Near the centre of the floor lay a large
revolver as if flung away; nearer to the left was rolled a whisky
bottle, open but not quite empty. The cloth of the little table
lay dragged and trampled, and a length of cord, like that found on
the corpse, was cast wildly across the windowsill. Two vases were
smashed on the mantelpiece and one on the carpet.
"I was drunk," said Royce; and this simplicity in the
prematurely battered man somehow had the pathos of the first sin
of a baby.
"You all know about me," he continued huskily; "everybody
knows how my story began, and it may as well end like that too.
I was called a clever man once, and might have been a happy one;
Armstrong saved the remains of a brain and body from the taverns,
and was always kind to me in his own way, poor fellow! Only he
wouldn't let me marry Alice here; and it will always be said that
he was right enough. Well, you can form your own conclusions, and
you won't want me to go into details. That is my whisky bottle
half emptied in the corner; that is my revolver quite emptied on
the carpet. It was the rope from my box that was found on the
corpse, and it was from my window the corpse was thrown. You need
not set detectives to grub up my tragedy; it is a common enough
weed in this world. I give myself to the gallows; and, by God,
that is enough!"
At a sufficiently delicate sign, the police gathered round
the large man to lead him away; but their unobtrusiveness was
somewhat staggered by the remarkable appearance of Father Brown,
who was on his hands and knees on the carpet in the doorway, as
if engaged in some kind of undignified prayers. Being a person
utterly insensible to the social figure he cut, he remained in
this posture, but turned a bright round face up at the company,
presenting the appearance of a quadruped with a very comic human
"I say," he said good-naturedly, "this really won't do at all,
you know. At the beginning you said we'd found no weapon. But
now we're finding too many; there's the knife to stab, and the
rope to strangle, and the pistol to shoot; and after all he broke
his neck by falling out of a window! It won't do. It's not
economical." And he shook his head at the ground as a horse does
Inspector Gilder had opened his mouth with serious intentions,
but before he could speak the grotesque figure on the floor had
gone on quite volubly.
"And now three quite impossible things. First, these holes in
the carpet, where the six bullets have gone in. Why on earth
should anybody fire at the carpet? A drunken man lets fly at his
enemy's head, the thing that's grinning at him. He doesn't pick a
quarrel with his feet, or lay siege to his slippers. And then
there's the rope"--and having done with the carpet the speaker
lifted his hands and put them in his pocket, but continued
unaffectedly on his knees--"in what conceivable intoxication
would anybody try to put a rope round a man's neck and finally put
it round his leg? Royce, anyhow, was not so drunk as that, or he
would be sleeping like a log by now. And, plainest of all, the
whisky bottle. You suggest a dipsomaniac fought for the whisky
bottle, and then having won, rolled it away in a corner, spilling
one half and leaving the other. That is the very last thing a
dipsomaniac would do."
He scrambled awkwardly to his feet, and said to the
self-accused murderer in tones of limpid penitence: "I'm awfully
sorry, my dear sir, but your tale is really rubbish."
"Sir," said Alice Armstrong in a low tone to the priest, "can
I speak to you alone for a moment?"
This request forced the communicative cleric out of the
gangway, and before he could speak in the next room, the girl was
talking with strange incisiveness.
"You are a clever man," she said, "and you are trying to save
Patrick, I know. But it's no use. The core of all this is black,
and the more things you find out the more there will be against
the miserable man I love."
"Why?" asked Brown, looking at her steadily.
"Because," she answered equally steadily, "I saw him commit
the crime myself."
"Ah!" said the unmoved Brown, "and what did he do?"
"I was in this room next to them," she explained; "both doors
were closed, but I suddenly heard a voice, such as I had never
heard on earth, roaring `Hell, hell, hell,' again and again, and
then the two doors shook with the first explosion of the revolver.
Thrice again the thing banged before I got the two doors open and
found the room full of smoke; but the pistol was smoking in my
poor, mad Patrick's hand; and I saw him fire the last murderous
volley with my own eyes. Then he leapt on my father, who was
clinging in terror to the window-sill, and, grappling, tried to
strangle him with the rope, which he threw over his head, but
which slipped over his struggling shoulders to his feet. Then it
tightened round one leg and Patrick dragged him along like a
maniac. I snatched a knife from the mat, and, rushing between
them, managed to cut the rope before I fainted."
"I see," said Father Brown, with the same wooden civility.
As the girl collapsed under her memories, the priest passed
stiffly into the next room, where he found Gilder and Merton alone
with Patrick Royce, who sat in a chair, handcuffed. There he said
to the Inspector submissively:
"Might I say a word to the prisoner in your presence; and
might he take off those funny cuffs for a minute?"
"He is a very powerful man," said Merton in an undertone.
"Why do you want them taken off?"
"Why, I thought," replied the priest humbly, "that perhaps I
might have the very great honour of shaking hands with him."
Both detectives stared, and Father Brown added: "Won't you
tell them about it, sir?"
The man on the chair shook his tousled head, and the priest
"Then I will," he said. "Private lives are more important
than public reputations. I am going to save the living, and let
the dead bury their dead."
He went to the fatal window, and blinked out of it as he went
"I told you that in this case there were too many weapons and
only one death. I tell you now that they were not weapons, and
were not used to cause death. All those grisly tools, the noose,
the bloody knife, the exploding pistol, were instruments of a
curious mercy. They were not used to kill Sir Aaron, but to save
"To save him!" repeated Gilder. "And from what?"
"From himself," said Father Brown. "He was a suicidal maniac."
"What?" cried Merton in an incredulous tone. "And the
Religion of Cheerfulness--"
"It is a cruel religion," said the priest, looking out of the
window. "Why couldn't they let him weep a little, like his fathers
before him? His plans stiffened, his views grew cold; behind that
merry mask was the empty mind of the atheist. At last, to keep up
his hilarious public level, he fell back on that dram-drinking he
had abandoned long ago. But there is this horror about alcoholism
in a sincere teetotaler: that he pictures and expects that
psychological inferno from which he has warned others. It leapt
upon poor Armstrong prematurely, and by this morning he was in
such a case that he sat here and cried he was in hell, in so crazy
a voice that his daughter did not know it. He was mad for death,
and with the monkey tricks of the mad he had scattered round him
death in many shapes--a running noose and his friend's revolver
and a knife. Royce entered accidentally and acted in a flash. He
flung the knife on the mat behind him, snatched up the revolver,
and having no time to unload it, emptied it shot after shot all
over the floor. The suicide saw a fourth shape of death, and made
a dash for the window. The rescuer did the only thing he could--
ran after him with the rope and tried to tie him hand and foot.
Then it was that the unlucky girl ran in, and misunderstanding the
struggle, strove to slash her father free. At first she only
slashed poor Royce's knuckles, from which has come all the little
blood in this affair. But, of course, you noticed that he left
blood, but no wound, on that servant's face? Only before the poor
woman swooned, she did hack her father loose, so that he went
crashing through that window into eternity."
There was a long stillness slowly broken by the metallic
noises of Gilder unlocking the handcuffs of Patrick Royce, to whom
he said: "I think I should have told the truth, sir. You and the
young lady are worth more than Armstrong's obituary notices."
"Confound Armstrong's notices," cried Royce roughly. "Don't
you see it was because she mustn't know?"
"Mustn't know what?" asked Merton.
"Why, that she killed her father, you fool!" roared the other.
"He'd have been alive now but for her. It might craze her to know
"No, I don't think it would," remarked Father Brown, as he
picked up his hat. "I rather think I should tell her. Even the
most murderous blunders don't poison life like sins; anyhow, I
think you may both be the happier now. I've got to go back to the
As he went out on to the gusty grass an acquaintance from
Highgate stopped him and said:
"The Coroner has arrived. The inquiry is just going to begin."
"I've got to get back to the Deaf School," said Father Brown.
"I'm sorry I can't stop for the inquiry."