Part 1 out of 4
Etext prepared by Dianne Bean of Phoenix, Arizona.
THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH by Gilbert K. Chesterton
THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH:
I. THE FACE IN THE TARGET
II. THE VANISHING PRINCE
III. THE SOUL OF THE SCHOOLBOY
IV. THE BOTTOMLESS WELL
V. THE FAD OF THE FISHERMAN
VI. THE HOLE IN THE WALL
VII. THE TEMPLE OF SILENCE
VIII. THE VENGEANCE OF THE STATUE
THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH
I. THE FACE IN THE TARGET
Harold March, the rising reviewer and social
critic, was walking vigorously across a great
tableland of moors and commons, the horizon
of which was fringed with the far-off woods of
the famous estate of Torwood Park. He was
a good-looking young man in tweeds, with
very pale curly hair and pale clear eyes.
Walking in wind and sun in the very landscape
of liberty, he was still young enough to
remember his politics and not merely try to
forget them. For his errand at Torwood Park
was a political one; it was the place of
appointment named by no less a person than
the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sir Howard
Horne, then introducing his so-called Socialist
budget, and prepared to expound it in an
interview with so promising a penman. Harold
March was the sort of man who knows
everything about politics, and nothing about
politicians. He also knew a great deal about art,
letters, philosophy, and general culture; about almost
everything, indeed, except the world he was living in.
Abruptly, in the middle of those sunny and windy
flats, he came upon a sort of cleft almost narrow
enough to be called a crack in the land. It was just
large enough to be the water-course for a small
stream which vanished at intervals under green
tunnels of undergrowth, as if in a dwarfish forest.
Indeed, he had an odd feeling as if he were a giant
looking over the valley of the pygmies. When he
dropped into the hollow, however, the impression was
lost; the rocky banks, though hardly above the height
of a cottage, hung over and had the profile of a
precipice. As he began to wander down the course of
the stream, in idle but romantic curiosity, and saw the
water shining in short strips between the great gray
boulders and bushes as soft as great green mosses, he
fell into quite an opposite vein of fantasy. It was
rather as if the earth had opened and swallowed him
into a sort of underworld of dreams. And when he
became conscious of a human figure dark against the
silver stream, sitting on a large boulder and looking
rather like a large bird, it was perhaps with some of
the premonition's proper to a man who meets the
strangest friendship of his life.
The man was apparently fishing; or at least was
fixed in a fisherman's attitude with more than a
fisherman's immobility. March was able to examine
the man almost as if he had been a statue for some
minutes before the statue spoke. He was a tall, fair
man, cadaverous, and a little lackadaisical, with
heavy eyelids and a highbridged nose. When his face
was shaded with his wide white hat, his light
mustache and lithe figure gave him a look of youth.
But the Panama lay on the moss beside him; and the
spectator could see that his brow was prematurely
bald; and this, combined with a certain hollowness
about the eyes, had an air of headwork and even
headache. But the most curious thing about him,
realized after a short scrutiny, was that, though he
looked like a fisherman, he was not fishing.
He was holding, instead of a rod, something that
might have been a landing-net which some fishermen
use, but which was much more like the ordinary toy
net which children carry, and which they generally
use indifferently for shrimps or butterflies. He was
dipping this into the water at intervals, gravely
regarding its harvest of weed or mud, and emptying
it out again.
"No, I haven't caught anything," he remarked,
calmly, as if answering an unspoken query. "When I
do I have to throw it back again; especially the big
fish. But some of the little beasts interest me when I
"A scientific interest, I suppose?" observed March.
"Of a rather amateurish sort, I fear," answered the
strange fisherman. "I have a sort of hobby about
what they call 'phenomena of phosphorescence.' But
it would be rather awkward to go about in society
crying stinking fish."
"I suppose it would," said March, with a smile.
"Rather odd to enter a drawing-room carrying a
large luminous cod," continued the stranger, in his
listless way. "How quaint it would, be if one could
carry it about like a lantern, or have little sprats for
candles. Some of the seabeasts would really be very
pretty like lampshades; the blue sea-snail that glitters
all over like starlight; and some of the red starfish
really shine like red stars. But, naturally, I'm not
looking for them here."
March thought of asking him what he was looking
for; but, feeling unequal to a technical discussion at
least as deep as the deep-sea fishes, he returned to
more ordinary topics.
"Delightful sort of hole this is," he said. "This little
dell and river here. It's like those places Stevenson
talks about, where something ought to happen."
"I know," answered the other. "I think it's because
the place itself, so to speak, seems to happen and not
merely to exist. Perhaps that's what old Picasso and
some of the Cubists are trying to express by angles
and jagged lines. Look at that wall like low cliffs that
juts forward just at right angles to the slope of turf
sweeping up to it. That's like a silent collision. It's like
a breaker and the back-wash of a wave."
March looked at the low-browed crag
overhanging the green slope and nodded. He was
interested in a man who turned so easily from the
technicalities of science to those of art; and asked
him if he admired the new angular artists.
"As I feel it, the Cubists are not Cubist enough,"
replied the stranger. "I mean they're not thick
enough. By making things mathematical they make
them thin. Take the living lines out of that landscape,
simplify it to a right angle, and you flatten it out to a
mere diagram on paper. Diagrams have their own
beauty; but it is of just the other sort, They stand for
the unalterable things; the calm, eternal, mathematical
sort of truths; what somebody calls the 'white
He stopped, and before the next word came
something had happened almost too quickly and
completely to be realized. From behind the
overhanging rock came a noise and rush like that of a
railway train; and a great motor car appeared. It
topped the crest of cliff, black against the sun, like a
battle-chariot rushing to destruction in some wild
epic. March automatically put out his hand in one
futile gesture, as if to catch a falling tea-cup in a
For the fraction of a flash it seemed to leave the
ledge of rock like a flying ship; then the very sky
seemed to turn over like a wheel, and it lay a ruin
amid the tall grasses below, a line of gray smoke
going up slowly from it into the silent air. A little
lower the figure of a man with gray hair lay tumbled
down the steep green slope, his limbs lying all at
random, and his face turned away.
The eccentric fisherman dropped his net and
walked swiftly toward the spot, his new acquaintance
following him. As they drew near there seemed a
sort of monstrous irony in the fact that the dead
machine was still throbbing and thundering as busily
as a factory, while the man lay so still.
He was unquestionably dead. The blood flowed in
the grass from a hopelessly fatal fracture at the back
of the skull; but the face, which was turned to the
sun, was uninjured and strangely arresting in itself. It
was one of those cases of a strange face so
unmistakable as to feel familiar. We feel, somehow,
that we ought to recognize it, even though we do not.
It was of the broad, square sort with great jaws,
almost like that of a highly intellectual ape; the wide
mouth shut so tight as to be traced by a mere line; the
nose short with the sort of nostrils that seem to gape
with an appetite for the air. The oddest thing about
the face was that one of the eyebrows was cocked
up at a much sharper angle than the other. March
thought he had never seen a face so naturally alive as
that dead one. And its ugly energy seemed all the
stranger for its halo of hoary hair. Some papers lay
half fallen out of the pocket, and from among them
March extracted a card-case. He read the name on
the card aloud.
"Sir Humphrey Turnbull. I'm sure I've heard that
His companion only gave a sort of a little sigh and
was silent for a moment, as if ruminating, then he
merely said, "The poor fellow is quite gone," and
added some scientific terms in which his auditor once
more found himself out of his depth.
"As things are," continued the same curiously well-informed
person, "it will be more legal for us to leave
the body as it is until the police are informed. In fact,
I think it will be well if nobody except the police is
informed. Don't be surprised if I seem to be keeping
it dark from some of our neighbors round here." Then, as if
prompted to regularize his rather abrupt confidence, he said:
"I've come down to see my
cousin at Torwood; my name is Horne Fisher. Might
be a pun on my pottering about here, mightn't it?"
"Is Sir Howard Horne your cousin?" asked
March. "I'm going to Torwood Park to see him
myself; only about his public work, of course, and the
wonderful stand he is making for his principles. I
think this Budget is the greatest thing in English
history. If it fails, it will be the most heroic failure in
English history. Are you an admirer of your great
kinsman, Mr. Fisher?"
"Rather," said Mr. Fisher. "He's the best shot I
Then, as if sincerely repentant of his nonchalance,
he added, with a sort of enthusiasm:
"No, but really, he's a BEAUTIFUL shot."
As if fired by his own words, he took a sort of leap
at the ledges of the rock above him, and scaled them
with a sudden agility in startling contrast to his
general lassitude. He had stood for some seconds on
the headland above, with his aquiline profile under the
Panama hat relieved against the sky and peering over
the countryside before his companion had collected
himself sufficiently to scramble up after him.
The level above was a stretch of common turf on
which the tracks of the fated car were plowed plainly
enough; but the brink of it was broken as with rocky
teeth; broken boulders of all shapes and sizes lay
near the edge; it was almost incredible that any one
could have deliberately driven into such a death trap,
especially in broad daylight.
"I can't make head or tail of it," said March.
"Was he blind? Or blind drunk?"
"Neither, by the look of him," replied the other.
"Then it was suicide."
"It doesn't seem a cozy way of doing it," remarked
the man called Fisher. "Besides, I don't fancy poor
old Puggy would commit suicide, somehow."
"Poor old who?" inquired the wondering journalist.,
"Did you know this unfortunate man?"
"Nobody knew him exactly," replied Fisher, with
some vagueness. "But one KNEW him, of course.
He'd been a terror in his time, in Parliament and the
courts, and so on; especially in that row about the
aliens who were deported as undesirables, when he
wanted one of 'em hanged for murder. He was so
sick about it that he retired from the bench. Since
then he mostly motored about by himself; but he was
coming to Torwood, too, for the week-end; and I
don't see why he should deliberately break his neck
almost at the very door. I believe Hoggs--I mean my
cousin Howard--was coming down specially to meet
"Torwood Park doesn't belong to your cousin?"
"No; it used to belong to the Winthrops, you
know," replied the other. "Now a new man's
got it; a man from Montreal named Jenkins. Hoggs
comes for the shooting; I told you he was a lovely
This repeated eulogy on the great social statesman
affected Harold March as if somebody had defined
Napoleon as a distinguished player of nap. But he
had another half-formed impression struggling in this
flood of unfamiliar things, and he brought it to the
surface before it could vanish.
"Jenkins," he repeated. "Surely you don't mean
Jefferson Jenkins, the social reformer? I mean the
man who's fighting for the new cottage-estate
scheme. It would be as interesting to meet him as
any Cabinet Minister in the world, if you'll excuse my
"Yes; Hoggs told him it would have to be
cottages," said Fisher. "He said the breed of cattle
had improved too often, and people were beginning to
laugh. And, of course, you must hang a peerage on to
something; though the poor chap hasn't got it yet.
Hullo, here's somebody else."
They had started walking in the tracks of the car,
leaving it behind them in the hollow, still humming
horribly like a huge insect that had killed a man. The
tracks took them to the corner of the road, one arm
of which went on in the same line toward the distant
gates of the park. It was clear that the car had been
driven down the long straight road, and then, instead
of turning with the road to the left, had gone straight
on over the turf to its doom. But it was not this
discovery that had riveted Fisher's eye, but something
even more solid. At the angle of the white road a
dark and solitary figure was standing almost as still
as a finger post. It was that of a big man in rough
shooting-clothes, bareheaded, and with tousled curly
hair that gave him a rather wild look. On a nearer
approach this first more fantastic impression faded;
in a full light the figure took on more conventional
colors, as of an ordinary gentleman who happened to
have come out without a hat and without very
studiously brushing his hair. But the massive stature
remained, and something deep and even cavernous
about the setting of the eyes redeemed. his animal
good looks from the commonplace. But March had
no time to study the man more closely, for, much to
his astonishment, his guide merely observed, "Hullo,
Jack!" and walked past him as if he had indeed been
a signpost, and without attempting to inform him of
the catastrophe beyond the rocks. It was relatively a
small thing, but it was only the first in a string of
singular antics on which his new and eccentric friend
was leading him.
The man they had passed looked after them in
rather a suspicious fashion, but Fisher continued serenely on his
way along the straight road that ran past the gates of the great
"That's John Burke, the traveler," he
condescended to explain. "I expect you've heard of
him; shoots big game and all that. Sorry I couldn't
stop to introduce you, but I dare say you'll meet him
"I know his book, of course," said March, with
renewed interest. "That is certainly a fine piece of
description, about their being only conscious of the
closeness of the elephant when the colossal head
blocked out the moon."
"Yes, young Halkett writes jolly well, I think.
What? Didn't you know Halkett wrote Burke's book
for him? Burke can't use anything except a gun; and
you can't write with that. Oh, he's genuine enough in
his way, you know, as brave as a lion, or a good deal
braver by all accounts."
"You seem to know all about him," observed
March, with a rather bewildered laugh, "and about a
good many other people."
Fisher's bald brow became abruptly corrugated,
and a curious expression came into his eyes.
"I know too much," he said. "That's what's the
matter with me. That's what's the matter with all of
us, and the whole show; we know too much. Too
much about one another; too much about ourselves.
That's why I'm really interested, just now, about one
thing that I don't know."
"And that is?" inquired the other.
"Why that poor fellow is dead."
They had walked along the straight road for nearly
a mile, conversing at intervals in this fashion; and
March had a singular sense of the whole world being
turned inside out. Mr. Horne Fisher did not especially
abuse his friends and relatives in fashionable society;
of some of them he spoke with affection. But they
seemed to be an entirely new set of men and women,
who happened to have the same nerves as the men
and women mentioned most often in the newspapers.
Yet no fury of revolt could have seemed to him more
utterly revolutionary than this cold familiarity. It was
like daylight on the other side of stage scenery.
They reached the great lodge gates of the
park, and, to March's surprise, passed them
and continued along the interminable white,
straight road. But he was himself too early
for his appointment with Sir Howard, and was
not disinclined to see the end of his new friend's
experiment, whatever it might be. They had
long left the moorland behind them, and half
the white road was gray in the great shadow of
the Torwood pine forests, themselves like gray
bars shuttered against the sunshine and within,
amid that clear noon, manufacturing their own
midnight. Soon, however, rifts began to appear in
them like gleams of colored windows; the trees
thinned and fell away as the road went forward,
showing the wild, irregular copses in which, as Fisher
said, the house-party had been blazing away all day.
And about two hundred yards farther on they came
to the first turn of the road.
At the corner stood a sort of decayed inn with the
dingy sign of The Grapes. The signboard was dark
and indecipherable by now, and hung black against
the sky and the gray moorland beyond, about as
inviting as a gallows. March remarked that it looked
like a tavern for vinegar instead of wine.
"A good phrase," said Fisher, "and so it would be
if you were silly enough to drink wine in it. But the
beer is very good, and so is the brandy."
March followed him to the bar parlor with some
wonder, and his dim sense of repugnance was not
dismissed by the first sight of the innkeeper, who was
widely different from the genial innkeepers of
romance, a bony man, very silent behind a black
mustache, but with black, restless eyes. Taciturn as
he was, the investigator succeeded at last in
extracting a scrap of information from him, by dint of
ordering beer and talking to him persistently and
minutely on the subject of motor cars. He evidently
regarded the innkeeper as in some singular way an
authority on motor cars; as being deep in the secrets
of the mechanism, management, and mismanagement
of motor cars; holding the man all the time with a
glittering eye like the Ancient Mariner. Out of all this
rather mysterious conversation there did emerge at
last a sort of admission that one particular motor car,
of a given description, had stopped before the inn
about an hour before, and that an elderly man had
alighted, requiring some mechanical assistance.
Asked if the visitor required any other assistance, the
innkeeper said shortly that the old gentleman had
filled his flask and taken a packet of sandwiches.
And with these words the somewhat inhospitable
host had walked hastily out of the bar, and they heard
him banging doors in the dark interior.
Fisher's weary eye wandered round the dusty and
dreary inn parlor and rested dreamily on a glass case
containing a stuffed bird, with a gun hung on hooks
above it, which seemed to be its only ornament.
"Puggy was a humorist," he observed, "at least in
his own rather grim style. But it seems rather too
grim a joke for a man to buy a packet of sandwiches
when he is just going to commit suicide."
"If you come to that," answered March, "it
isn't very usual for a man to buy a packet of
sandwiches when he's just outside the door of a
grand house he's going to stop at."
"No . . . no," repeated Fisher, almost mechanically;
and then suddenly cocked his eye at his interlocutor
with a much livelier expression.
"By Jove! that's an idea. You're perfectly right.
And that suggests a very queer idea, doesn't it?"
There was a silence, and then March started with
irrational nervousness as the door of the inn was
flung open and another man walked rapidly to the
counter. He had struck it with a coin and called out
for brandy before he saw the other two guests, who
were sitting at a bare wooden table under the
window. When he turned about with a rather wild
stare, March had yet another unexpected emotion,
for his guide hailed the man as Hoggs and introduced
him as Sir Howard Horne.
He looked rather older than his boyish portraits in
the illustrated papers, as is the way of politicians; his
flat, fair hair was touched with gray, but his face was
almost comically round, with a Roman nose which,
when combined with his quick, bright eyes, raised a
vague reminiscence of a parrot. He had a cap rather
at the back of his head and a gun under his arm.
Harold March had imagined many things about his
meeting with the great political reformer, but he had
never pictured him with a gun under his arm, drinking
brandy in a public house.
"So you're stopping at Jink's, too," said Fisher.
"Everybody seems to be at Jink's."
"Yes," replied the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
"Jolly good shooting. At least all of it that isn't Jink's
shooting. I never knew a chap with such good
shooting that was such a bad shot. Mind you, he's a
jolly good fellow and all that; I don't say a word
against him. But he never learned to hold a gun when
he was packing pork or whatever he did. They say
he shot the cockade off his own servant's hat; just
like him to have cockades, of course. He shot the
weathercock off his own ridiculous gilded
summerhouse. It's the only cock he'll ever kill, I
should think. Are you coming up there now?"
Fisher said, rather vaguely, that he was following
soon, when he had fixed something up; and the
Chancellor of the Exchequer left the inn. March
fancied he had been a little upset or impatient when
he called for the brandy; but he had talked himself
back into a satisfactory state, if the talk had not been
quite what his literary visitor had expected. Fisher, a
few minutes afterward, slowly led the way out of the
tavern and stood in the middle of the road, looking
down in the direction from which they had traveled.
Then he walked back about two
hundred yards in that direction and stood still
"I should think this is about the place," he said.
"What place?" asked his companion.
"The place where the poor fellow was killed," said Fisher, sadly.
"What do you mean?" demanded March.
"He was smashed up on the rocks a mile and a half from here."
"No, he wasn't," replied Fisher. "He didn't
fall on the rocks at all. Didn't you notice that
he only fell on the slope of soft grass underneath? But I saw
that he had a bullet in him already."
Then after a pause he added:
"He was alive at the inn, but he was dead
long before he came to the rocks. So he was
shot as he drove his car down this strip of
straight road, and I should think somewhere
about here. After that, of course, the car went
straight on with nobody to stop or turn it. It's
really a very cunning dodge in its way; for the
body would be found far away, and most people
would say, as you do, that it was an accident to
a motorist. The murderer must have been a
"But wouldn't the shot be heard at the inn or somewhere?" asked
"It would be heard. But it would not be
noticed. That," continued the investigator,
"is where he was clever again. Shooting was
going on all over the place all day; very likely
he timed his shot so as to drown it in a number
of others. Certainly he was a first-class criminal. And he was
something else as well."
"What do you mean?" asked his companion,
with a creepy premonition of something coming,
he knew not why.
"He was a first-class shot," said Fisher.
He had turned his back abruptly and was
walking down a narrow, grassy lane, little more
than a cart track, which lay opposite the inn and
marked the end of the great estate and the
beginning of the open moors. March plodded
after him with the same idle perseverance, and
found him staring through a gap in giant weeds
and thorns at the flat face of a painted paling. From behind the
paling rose the great
gray columns of a row of poplars, which filled
the heavens above them with dark-green shadow
and shook faintly in a wind which had sunk
slowly into a breeze. The afternoon was already deepening into
evening, and the titanic
shadows of the poplars lengthened over a third
of the landscape.
"Are you a first-class criminal?" asked Fisher,
in a friendly tone. "I'm afraid I'm not. But
I think I can manage to be a sort of fourth-rate
And before his companion could reply he had
managed to swing himself up and over the fence;
March followed without much bodily effort, but
with considerable mental disturbance. The
poplars grew so close against the fence that they
had some difficulty in slipping past them, and
beyond the poplars they could see only a high
hedge of laurel, green and lustrous in the level
sun. Something in this limitation by a series of
living walls made him feel as if he were really
entering a shattered house instead of an open
field. It was as if he came in by a disused
door or window and found the way blocked by
furniture. When they had circumvented the
laurel hedge, they came out on a sort of terrace
of turf, which fell by one green step to an oblong lawn like a
bowling green. Beyond this
was the only building in sight, a low conservatory, which seemed
far away from anywhere,
like a glass cottage standing in its own fields in
fairyland. Fisher knew that lonely look of the
outlying parts of a great house well enough. He
realized that it is more of a satire on aristocracy
than if it were choked with weeds and littered
with ruins. For it is not neglected and yet it
is deserted; at any rate, it is disused. It is
regularly swept and garnished for a master who
Looking over the lawn, however, he saw one
object which he had not apparently expected.
It was a sort of tripod supporting a large disk
like the round top of a table tipped sideways,
and it was not until they had dropped on to the
lawn and walked across to look at it that March
realized that it was a target. It was worn and
weatherstained; the gay colors of its concentric
rings were faded; possibly it had been set up in
those far-off Victorian days when there was a
fashion of archery. March had one of his
vague visions of ladies in cloudy crinolines and
gentlemen in outlandish hats and whiskers revisiting that lost
garden like ghosts.
Fisher, who was peering more closely at the
target, startled him by an exclamation.
"Hullo!" he said. "Somebody has been
peppering this thing with shot, after all, and
quite lately, too. Why, I believe old Jink's
been trying to improve his bad shooting here."
"Yes, and it looks as if it still wanted improving," answered
March, laughing. "Not one of these shots is anywhere near the
bull's-eye; they seem just scattered about in the wildest way."
"In the wildest way," repeated Fisher, still
peering intently at the target. He seemed
merely to assent, but March fancied his eye was
shining under its sleepy lid and that he straightened his
stooping figure with a strange effort.
"Excuse me a moment," he said, feeling in
his pockets. "I think I've got some of my chemicals; and after
that we'll go up to the house." And he stooped again over the
target, putting something with his finger over each of the
shot-holes, so far as March could see merely a dull-gray smear.
Then they went through the gathering twilight up the long green
avenues to the great house.
Here again, however, the eccentric investigator did not enter by
the front door. He
walked round the house until he found a window
open, and, leaping into it, introduced his friend
to what appeared to be the gun-room. Rows of
the regular instruments for bringing down birds
stood against the walls; but across a table in the
window lay one or two weapons of a heavier and
more formidable pattern.
"Hullo I these are Burke's big-game rifles,"
said Fisher. "I never knew he kept them here."
He lifted one of them, examined it briefly, and
put it down again, frowning heavily. Almost
as he did so a strange young man came hurriedly
into the room. He was dark and sturdy, with
a bumpy forehead and a bulldog jaw, and he
spoke with a curt apology.
"I left Major Burke's guns here," he said,
"and he wants them packed up. He's going away to-night."
And he carried off the two rifles without casting a glance at the
stranger; through the open
window they could see his short, dark figure
walking away across the glimmering garden.
Fisher got out of the window again and stood
looking after him.
"That's Halkett, whom I told you about," he
said. "I knew he was a sort of secretary and
had to do with Burke's papers; but I never knew
he. had anything to do with his guns. But he's
just the sort of silent, sensible little devil who
might be very good at anything; the sort of man
you know for years before you find he's a chess
He had begun to walk in the direction of the
disappearing secretary, and they soon came
within sight of the rest of the house-party talking
and laughing on the lawn. They could see the
tall figure and loose mane of the lion-hunter
dominating the little group.
"By the way," observed Fisher, "when we
were talking about Burke and Halkett, I said
that a man couldn't very well write with a gun.
Well, I'm not so sure now. Did you ever hear
of an artist so clever that he could draw with
a gun? There's a wonderful chap loose about
Sir Howard hailed Fisher and his friend the
journalist with almost boisterous amiability. The
latter was presented to Major Burke and Mr.
Halkett and also (by way of a parenthesis) to
his host, Mr. Jenkins, a commonplace little man
in loud tweeds, whom everybody else seemed
to treat with a sort of affection, as if he were a
The irrepressible Chancellor of the Exchequer
was still talking about the birds he had brought
down, the birds that Burke and Halkett had
brought down, and the birds that Jenkins, their
host, had failed to bring down. It seemed to
be a sort of sociable monomania.
"You and your big game," he ejaculated,
aggressively, to Burke. "Why, anybody could
shoot big game. You want to be a shot to shoot
"Quite so," interposed Horne Fisher. "Now
if only a hippopotamus could fly up in the air out
of that bush, or you preserved flying elephants
on the estate, why, then--"
"Why even Jink might hit that sort of bird,"
cried Sir Howard, hilariously slapping his host
on the back. "Even he might hit a haystack or
"Look here, you fellows," said Fisher. "I
want you to come along with me for a minute
and shoot at something else. Not a hippopotamus. Another kind of
queer animal I've found
on the estate. It's an animal with three legs and
one eye, and it's all the colors of the rainbow."
"What the deuce are you talking about?"
"You come along and see," replied Fisher, cheerfully.
Such people seldom reject anything nonsensical, for they are
always seeking for somethingnew. They gravely rearmed themselves
fromthe gun-room and trooped along at the tail of their guide,
Sir Howard only pausing, in a sort
of ecstasy, to point out the celebrated gilt summerhouse on which
the gilt weathercock still
stood crooked. It was dusk turning to dark by
the time they reached the remote green by the
poplars and accepted the new and aimless game
of shooting at the old mark.
The last light seemed to fade from the lawn,
and the poplars against the sunset were like
great plumes upon a purple hearse, when the
futile procession finally curved round,and came
out in front of the target.
Sir Howard again slapped his host on the
shoulder, shoving him playfully forward to take
the first shot. The shoulder and arm he touched
seemed unnaturally stiff and angular. Mr.
Jenkins was holding his gun in an attitude more
awkward than any that his satiric friends had
seen or expected.
At the same instant a horrible scream seemed
to come from nowhere. It was so unnatural
and so unsuited to the scene that it might have
been made by some inhuman thing flying on wings
above them or eavesdropping in the dark woods
beyond. But Fisher knew that it had started
and stopped on the pale lips of Jefferson Jenkins,
of Montreal, and no one at that moment catching sight of
Jefferson Jenkins's face would have
complained that it was commonplace.
The next moment a torrent of guttural but
good-humored oaths came from Major Burke
as he and the two other men saw what was in
front of them. The target stood up in the dim
grass like a dark goblin grinning at them, and
it was literally grinning. It had two eyes like
stars, and in similar livid points of light were
picked out the two upturned and open nostrils
and the two ends of the wide and tight mouth.
A few white dots above each eye indicated
the hoary eyebrows; and one of them ran upward almost erect. It
was a brilliant caricature
done in bright botted lines and March knew of
whom. It shone in the shadowy grass, smeared
with sea fire as if one of the submarine monsters
had crawled into the twilight garden; but it had
the head of a dead man.
"It's only luminous paint," said Burke. "Old
Fisher's been having a joke with that phosphorescent stuff of
"Seems to be meant for old Puggy"' observed
Sir Howard. "Hits him off very well."
With that they all laughed, except Jenkins.
When they had all done, he made a noise like
the first effort of an animal to laugh, and
Horne Fisher suddenly strode across to him
"Mr. Jenkins, I must speak to you at once in
It was by the little watercourse in the moors,
on the slope under the hanging rock, that March
met his new friend Fisher, by appointment,
shortly after the ugly and almost grotesque scene
that had broken up the group in the garden.
"It was a monkey-trick of mine," observed
Fisher, gloomily, "putting phosphorus on the
target; but the only chance to make him jump
was to give him the horrors suddenly. And
when he saw the face he'd shot at shining on the
target he practiced on, all lit up with an infernal
light, he did jump. Quite enough for my own
"I'm afraid I don't quite understand even
now," said March, "exactly what he did or why
he did it."
"You ought to," replied Fisher, with his
rather dreary smile, "for you gave me the first
suggestion yourself. Oh yes, you did; and it was.
a very shrewd one. You said a man wouldn't
take sandwiches with him to dine at a great
house. It was quite true; and the inference was
that, though he was going there, he didn't mean
to dine there. Or, at any rate, that he might
not be dining there. It occurred to me at once
that he probably expected the visit to be unpleasant, or the
reception doubtful, or something
that would prevent his accepting hospitality.
Then it struck me that Turnbull was a terror to
certain shady characters in the past, and that
he had come down to identify and denounce one
of them. The chances at the start pointed to
the host--that is, Jenkins. I'm morally certain
now that Jenkins was the undesirable alien Turnbull wanted to
convict in another shooting-affair,
but you see the shooting gentleman had another
shot in his locker."
"But you said he would have to be a very good
shot," protested March.
"Jenkins is a very good shot," said Fisher.
"A very good shot who can pretend to be a very
bad shot. Shall I tell you the second hint I hit
on, after yours, to make me think it was
Jenkins? It was my cousin's account of his
bad shooting. He'd shot a cockade off a hat
and a weathercock off a building. Now, in
fact, a man must shoot very well indeed to shoot
so badly as that. He must shoot very neatly to
hit the cockade and not the head, or even the hat.
If the shots had really gone at random, the
chances are a thousand to one that they would
not have hit such prominent and picturesque
objects. They were chosen because they were
prominent and picturesque objects. They make
a story to go the round of society. He keeps the
crooked weathercock in the summerhouse to
perpetuate the story of a legend. And then he
lay in wait with his evil eye and wicked gun,
safely ambushed behind the legend of his own
"But there is more than that. There is the
summerhouse itself. I mean there is the whole
thing. There's all that Jenkins gets chaffed
about, the gilding and the gaudy colors and all
the vulgarity that's supposed to stamp him as an
upstart. Now, as a matter of fact, upstarts
generally don't do this. God knows there's
enough of 'em in society; and one knows 'em well
enough. And this is the very last thing they do.
They're generally only too keen to know the
right thing and do it; and they instantly put
themselves body and soul into the hands of art
decorators and art experts, who do the whole
thing for them. There's hardly another millionaire alive who has
the moral courage to have
a gilt monogram on a chair like that one in
the gun-room. For that matter, there's the name
as well as the monogram. Names like Tompkins
and Jenkins and Jinks are funny without being
vulgar; I mean they are vulgar without being
common. If you prefer it, they are commonplace without being
common. They are just the
names to be chosen to LOOK ordinary, but they're
really rather extraordinary. Do you know many
people called Tompkins? It's a good deal rarer
than Talbot. It's pretty much the same with the
comic clothes of the parvenu. Jenkins dresses
like a character in Punch. But that's because he
is a character in Punch. I mean he's a fictitious
character. He's a fabulous animal. He doesn't
"Have you ever considered what it must be
like to be a man who doesn't exist? I mean to
be a man with a fictitious character that he has
to keep up at the expense not merely of personal
talents: To be a new kind of hypocrite hiding
a talent in a new kind of napkin. This man has
chosen his hypocrisy very ingeniously; it was
really a new one. A subtle villain has dressed
up as a dashing gentleman and a worthy business
man and a philanthropist and a saint; but the
loud checks of a comical little cad were really
rather a new disguise. But the disguise must be
very irksome to a man who can really do things.
This is a dexterous little cosmopolitan guttersnipe who can do
scores of things, not only shoot,
but draw and paint, and probably play the fiddle.
Now a man like that may find the hiding of his
talents useful; but he could never help wanting
to use them where they were useless. If he can
draw, he will draw absent-mindedly on blotting
paper. I suspect this rascal has often drawn
poor old Puggy's face on blotting paper. Probably he began doing
it in blots as he afterward
did it in dots, or rather shots. It was the same
sort of thing; he found a disused target in a deserted yard and
couldn't resist indulging in a
little secret shooting, like secret drinking. You
thought the shots all scattered and irregular, and
so they were; but not accidental. No two distances were alike;
but the different points were
exactly where he wanted to put them. There's
nothing needs such mathematical precision as a
wild caricature. I've dabbled a little in drawing
myself, and I assure you that to put one dot
where you want it is a marvel with a pen close
to a piece of paper. It was a miracle to do it
across a garden with a gun. But a man who can
work those miracles will always itch to work
them, if it's only in the dark."
After a pause March observed, thoughtfully,
"But he couldn't have brought him down like a
bird with one of those little guns."
"No; that was why I went into the gun-room,"
replied Fisher. "He did it with one of Burke's
rifles, and Burke thought he knew the sound of
it. That's why he rushed out without a hat,
looking so wild. He saw nothing but a car passing quickly, which
he followed for a little way,
and then concluded he'd made a mistake."
There was another silence, during which Fisher
sat on a great stone as motionless as on their
first meeting, and watched the gray and silver
river eddying past under the bushes. Then
March said, abruptly, "Of course he knows the
"Nobody knows the truth but you and I,"
answered Fisher, with a certain softening in his
voice. "And I don't think you and I will ever quarrel."
"What do you mean?" asked March, in an
altered accent. "What have you done about it?"
Horne Fisher continued to gaze steadily at
the eddying stream. At last he said, "The police
have proved it was a motor accident."
"But you know it was not."
"I told you that I know too much," replied
Fisher, with his eye on the river. "I know that,
and I know a great many other things. I know
the atmosphere and the way the whole thing
works. I know this fellow has succeeded in making himself
something incurably commonplace and comic. I know you can't get
up a persecution of old Toole or Little Tich. If I were
to tell Hoggs or Halkett that old Jink was an
assassin, they would almost die of laughter before my eyes. Oh, I
don't say their laughter's quite innocent, though it's genuine in
its way. They want old Jink, and they couldn't do without him. I
don't say I'm quite innocent. I like Hoggs; I don't want him to
be down and out; and he'd be done for if Jink can't pay for his
coronet. They were devilish near the line at the last election.
But the only real objection to it is that it's impossible. Nobody
would believe it; it's not in the picture. The crooked
weathercock would always turn it into a joke."
"Don't you think this is infamous?" asked March, quietly.
"I think a good many things," replied the
other. "If you people ever happen to blow the
whole tangle of society to hell with dynamite,
I don't know that the human race will be much
the worse. But don't be too hard on me merely
because I know what society is. That's why I
moon away my time over things like stinking
There was a pause as he settled himself down
again by the stream; and then he added:
"I told you before I had to throw back the big fish."
II. THE VANISHING PRINCE
This tale begins among a tangle of tales round a
name that is at once recent and legendary. The name
is that of Michael O'Neill, popularly called Prince
Michael, partly because he claimed descent from
ancient Fenian princes, and partly because he was
credited with a plan to make himself prince president
of Ireland, as the last Napoleon did of France. He
was undoubtedly a gentleman of honorable pedigree
and of many accomplishments, but two of his
accomplishments emerged from all the rest. He had
a talent for appearing when he was not wanted and a
talent for disappearing when he was wanted,
especially when he was wanted by the police. It may
be added that his disappearances were more
dangerous than his appearances. In the latter he
seldom went beyond the sensational--pasting up
seditious placards, tearing down official placards,
making flamboyant speeches, or unfurling forbidden
flags. But in order to effect the former he would
sometimes fight for his freedom with startling energy,
from which men were sometimes lucky to escape
with a broken head instead of a broken neck. His
most famous feats of escape, however, were due to
dexterity and not to violence. On a cloudless summer
morning he had come down a country road white
with dust, and, pausing outside a farmhouse, had told
the farmer's daughter, with elegant indifference, that
the local police were in pursuit of him. The girl's
name was Bridget Royce, a somber and even sullen
type of beauty, and she looked at him darkly, as if in
doubt, and said, "Do you want me to hide you?"
Upon which he only laughed, leaped lightly over the
stone wall, and strode toward the farm, merely
throwing over his shoulder the remark, "Thank you, I
have generally been quite capable of hiding myself."
In which proceeding he acted with a tragic ignorance
of the nature of women; and there fell on his path in
that sunshine a shadow of doom.
While he disappeared through the farmhouse the
girl remained for a few moments looking up the road,
and two perspiring policemen came plowing up to the
door where she stood. Though still angry, she was
still silent, and a quarter of an hour later the officers
had searched the house and were already inspecting
the kitchen garden and cornfield behind it. In the ugly
reaction of her mood she might have been tempted
even to point out the fugitive, but for a small
difficulty that she had no more notion than the policemen
had of where he could possibly have gone. The
kitchen garden was inclosed by a very low wall,
and the cornfield beyond lay aslant like a square
patch on a great green hill on which he could still
have been seen even as a dot in the distance.
Everything stood solid in its familiar place; the
apple tree was too small to support or hide a
climber; the only shed stood open and obviously
empty; there was no sound save the droning of
summer flies and the occasional flutter of a bird
unfamiliar enough to be surprised by the scarecrow in the field;
there was scarcely a shadow
save a few blue lines that fell from the thin tree;
every detail was picked out by the brilliant day
light as if in a microscope. The girl described
the scene later, with all the passionate realism of
her race, and, whether or no the policemen had
a similar eye for the picturesque, they had at
least an eye for the facts of the case, and were
compelled to give up the chase and retire from
the scene. Bridget Royce remained as if in a
trance, staring at the sunlit garden in which a
man had just vanished like a fairy. She was still
in a sinister mood, and the miracle took in her
mind a character of unfriendliness and fear, as
if the fairy were decidedly a bad fairy. The sun
upon the glittering garden depressed her more
than the darkness, but she continued to stare at
it. Then the world itself went half-witted and
she screamed. The scarecrow moved in the sun
light. It had stood with its back to her in a battered
old black hat and a tattered garment, and with all its
tatters flying, it strode away across the hill.
She did not analyze the audacious trick by which
the man had turned to his advantage the subtle effects
of the expected and the obvious; she was still under
the cloud of more individual complexities, and she
noticed must of all that the vanishing scarecrow did
not even turn to look at the farm. And the fates that
were running so adverse to his fantastic career of
freedom ruled that his next adventure, though it had
the same success in another quarter, should increase
the danger in this quarter. Among the many similar
adventures related of him in this manner it is also said
that some days afterward another girl, named Mary
Cregan, found him concealed on the farm where she
worked; and if the story is true, she must also have
had the shock of an uncanny experience, for when
she was busy at some lonely task in the yard she
heard a voice speaking out of the well, and found that
the eccentric had managed to drop himself into the
bucket which was some little way below, the well only
partly full of water. In this case, however, he had to
appeal to the woman to wind up the rope. And men
say it was when this news was told to the other
woman that her soul walked over the border line of
Such, at least, were the stories told of him in the
countryside, and there were many more--as that he
had stood insolently in a splendid green dressing gown
on the steps of a great hotel, and then led the police a
chase through a long suite of grand apartments, and
finally through his own bedroom on to a balcony that
overhung the river. The moment the pursuers stepped
on to the balcony it broke under them, and they
dropped pell-mell into the eddying waters, while
Michael, who had thrown off his gown and dived,
was able to swim away. It was said that he had
carefully cut away the props so that they would not
support anything so heavy as a policeman. But here
again he was immediately fortunate, yet ultimately
unfortunate, for it is said that one of the men was
drowned, leaving a family feud which made a little rift
in his popularity. These stories can now be told in
some detail, not because they are the most marvelous
of his many adventures, but because these alone
were not covered with silence by the loyalty of the
peasantry. These alone found their way into official
reports, and it is these which three of the chief
officials of the country were reading and discussing
when the more remarkable part of this story begins.
Night was far advanced and the lights shone in the
cottage that served for a temporary police station
near the coast. On one side of it were the last houses
of the straggling village, and on the other nothing but
a waste moorland stretching away toward the sea,
the line of which was broken by no landmark except
a solitary tower of the prehistoric pattern still found in
Ireland, standing up as slender as a column, but
pointed like a pyramid. At a wooden table in front of
the window, which normally looked out on this
landscape, sat two men in plain clothes, but with
something of a military bearing, for indeed they were
the two chiefs of the detective service of that district.
The senior of the two, both in age and rank, was a
sturdy man with a short white beard, and frosty
eyebrows fixed in a frown which suggested rather
worry than severity.
His name was Morton, and he was a Liverpool
man long pickled in the Irish quarrels, and doing his
duty among them in a sour fashion not altogether
unsympathetic. He had spoken a few sentences to his
companion, Nolan, a tall, dark man with a cadaverous
equine Irish face, when he seemed to remember
something and touched a bell which rang in another
room. The subordinate he had summoned immediately
appeared with a sheaf of papers in his hand.
"Sit down, Wilson," he said. "Those are the
dispositions, I suppose."
"Yes," replied the third officer. "I think I've got
all there is to be got out of them, so I sent the
"Did Mary Cregan give evidence?" asked
Morton, with a frown that looked a little heavier than
"No, but her master did," answered the man called
Wilson, who had flat, red hair and a plain, pale face,
not without sharpness. "I think he's hanging round the
girl himself and is out against a rival. There's always
some reason of that sort when we are told the truth
about anything. And you bet the other girl told right
"Well, let's hope they'll be some sort of use,"
remarked Nolan, in a somewhat hopeless manner,
gazing out into the darkness.
"Anything is to the good," said Morton, "that lets
us know anything about him."
"Do we know anything about him?" asked the
"We know one thing about him," said Wilson, "and
it's the one thing that nobody ever knew before. We
know where be is."
"Are you sure?" inquired Morton, looking at him
"Quite sure," replied his assistant. "At this very
minute he is in that tower over there by the shore. If
you go near enough you'll see the candle burning in
As he spoke the noise of a horn sounded on the
road outside, and a moment after they heard the
throbbing of a motor car brought to a standstill before
the door. Morton instantly sprang to his feet.
tly sprang to his feet.
"Thank the Lord that's the car from Dublin," he
said. "I can't do anything without special authority,
not if he were sitting on the top of the tower and
putting out his tongue at us. But the chief can do
what he thinks best."
He hurried out to the entrance and was soon
exchanging greetings with a big handsome man in a
fur coat, who brought into the dingy little station the
indescribable glow of the great cities and the luxuries
of the great world.
For this was Sir Walter Carey, an official of such
eminence in Dublin Castle that nothing short of the
case of Prince Michael would have brought him on
such a journey in the middle of the night. But the case
of Prince Michael, as it happened, was complicated
by legalism as well as lawlessness. On the last
occasion he had escaped by a forensic quibble and
not, as usual, by a private escapade; and it was a
question whether at the moment he was amenable to
the law or not. It might be necessary to stretch a
point, but a man like Sir Walter could probably stretch
it as far as he liked.
Whether he intended to do so was a question to be
considered. Despite the almost aggressive touch of
luxury in the fur coat, it soon became apparent that
Sir Walter's large leonine head was for use as well as
ornament, and he considered the matter soberly and
sanely enough. Five chairs were set round the plain
deal table, for who should Sir Walter bring with him but his
young relative and secretary, Horne Fisher. Sir
Walter listened with grave attention, and his
secretary with polite boredom, to the string of
episodes by which the police had traced the flying
rebel from the steps of the hotel to the solitary tower
beside the sea. There at least he was cornered
between the moors and the breakers; and the scout
sent by Wilson reported him as writing under a
solitary candle, perhaps composing another of his
tremendous proclamations. Indeed, it would have
been typical of him to choose it as the place in which
finally to turn to bay. He had some remote claim on it,
as on a family castle; and those who knew him
thought him capable of imitating the primitive Irish
chieftains who fell fighting against the sea.
"I saw some queer-looking people leaving as I
came in," said Sir Walter Carey. "I suppose they
were your witnesses. But why do they turn up here
at this time of night?"
Morton smiled grimly. "They come here by night
because they would be dead men if they came here
by day. They are criminals committing a crime that is
more horrible here than theft or murder."
"What crime do you mean?" asked the other, with
"They are helping the law," said Morton.
There was a silence, and Sir Walter considered the papers before
him with an abstracted eye. At last he spoke.
"Quite so; but look here, if the local feeling is as
lively as that there are a good many points to
consider. I believe the new Act will enable
me to collar him now if I think it best. But is
it best? A serious rising would do us no good
in Parliament, and the government has enemies
in England as well as Ireland. It won't do if I
have done what looks a little like sharp practice,
and then only raised a revolution."
"It's all the other way," said the man called Wilson,
rather quickly. "There won't be half so much of a
revolution if you arrest him as there will if you leave
him loose for three days longer. But, anyhow, there
can't be anything nowadays that the proper police
"Mr. Wilson is a Londoner," said the Irish
detective, with a smile.
"Yes, I'm a cockney, all right," replied Wilson,
"and I think I'm all the better for that. Especially at
this job, oddly enough."
Sir Walter seemed slightly amused at the
pertinacity of the third officer, and perhaps even
more amused at the slight accent with which he
spoke, which rendered rather needless his boast
about his origin.
"Do you mean to say," he asked, "that you know
more about the business here because you have
come from London?"
"Sounds funny, I know, but I do believe it,"
answered Wilson. "I believe these affairs want fresh
methods. But most of all I believe they want a fresh
The superior officers laughed, and the redhaired
man went on with a slight touch of temper:
"Well, look at the facts. See how the fellow got
away every time, and you'll understand what I mean.
Why was he able to stand in the place of the
scarecrow, hidden by nothing but an old hat?
Because it was a village policeman who knew the
scarecrow was there, was expecting it, and therefore
took no notice of it. Now I never expect a
scarecrow. I've never seen one in the street, and I
stare at one when I see it in the field. It's a new thing
to me and worth noticing. And it was just the same
when he hid in the well. You are ready to find a well
in a place like that; you look for a well, and so you
don't see it. I don't look for it, and therefore I do look
"It is certainly an idea," said Sir Walter, smiling,
"but what about the balcony? Balconies are
occasionally seen in London."
"But not rivers right under them, as if it was in
Venice," replied Wilson.
"It is certainly a new idea," repeated Sir Walter,
with something like respect. He had all the love of
the luxurious classes for new ideas. But he also had
a critical faculty, and was inclined to think, after due
reflection, that it was a true idea as well.
Growing dawn had already turned the window
panes from black to gray when Sir Walter got
abruptly to his feet. The others rose also, taking this
for a signal that the arrest was to be undertaken. But
their leader stood for a moment in deep thought, as if
conscious that he had come to a parting of the ways.
Suddenly the silence was pierced by a long,
wailing cry from the dark moors outside. The silence
that followed it seemed more startling than the shriek
itself, and it lasted until Nolan said, heavily:
" 'Tis the banshee. Somebody is marked for the grave."
His long, large-featured face was as pale as a
moon, and it was easy to remember that he was the
only Irishman in the room.
"Well, I know that banshee," said Wilson,
cheerfully, "ignorant as you think I am of these
things. I talked to that banshee myself an hour ago,
and I sent that banshee up to the tower and told her
to sing out like that if she could get a glimpse of our
friend writing his proclamation."
"Do you mean that girl Bridget Royce?" asked
Morton, drawing his frosty brows together. "Has she
turned king's evidence to that extent?"
"Yes," answered Wilson. "I know very little of
these local things, you tell me, but I reckon an angry
woman is much the same in all countries."
Nolan, however, seemed still moody and unlike
himself. "It's an ugly noise and an ugly business
altogether," he said. "If it's really the end of Prince
Michael it may well be the end of other things as
well. When the spirit is on him he would escape by a
ladder of dead men, and wade through that sea if it
were made of blood."
"Is that the real reason of your pious alarms?"
asked Wilson, with a slight sneer.
The Irishman's pale face blackened with a new passion.
"I have faced as many murderers in County Clare
as you ever fought with in Clapham junction, Mr.
Cockney," he said.
"Hush, please," said Morton, sharply. "Wilson, you
have no kind of right to imply doubt of your superior's
conduct. I hope you will prove yourself as
courageous and trustworthy as he has always been."
The pale face of the red-haired man seemed a
shade paler, but he was silent and composed, and Sir
Walter went up to Nolan with marked courtesy,
saying, "Shall we go outside now, and get this
Dawn had lifted, leaving a wide chasm of white
between a great gray cloud and the great gray
moorland, beyond which the tower was outlined
against the daybreak and the sea.
Something in its plain and primitive shape vaguely
suggested the dawn in the first days of the earth, in
some prehistoric time when even the colors were
hardly created, when there was only blank daylight
between cloud and clay. These dead hues were
relieved only by one spot of gold--the spark of the
candle alight in the window of the lonely tower, and
burning on into the broadening daylight. As the
group of detectives, followed by a cordon of
policemen, spread out into a crescent to cut off all
escape, the light in the tower flashed as if it were
moved for a moment, and then went out. They knew
the man inside had realized the daylight and blown
out his candle.
"There are other windows, aren't there?" asked
Morton, "and a door, of course, somewhere round the
corner? Only a round tower has no corners."
"Another example of my small suggestion,"
observed Wilson, quietly. "That queer tower
was the first thing I saw when I came to these
parts; and I can tell you a little more about it--or, at any
rate, the outside of it. There are four windows altogether, one a
little way from this one, but just out of sight. Those are both
on the ground floor, and so is the third on the
other side, making a sort of triangle. But the
fourth is just above the third, and I suppose it
looks on an upper floor."
"It's only a sort of loft, reached by a ladder, said
Nolan. "I've played in the place when I was a child.
It's no more than an empty shell." And his sad face
grew sadder, thinking perhaps of the tragedy of his
country and the part that he played in it.
"The man must have got a table and chair, at any
rate," said Wilson, "but no doubt he could have got
those from some cottage. If I might make a
suggestion, sir, I think we ought to approach all the
five entrances at once, so to speak. One of us should
go to the door and one to each window; Macbride
here has a ladder for the upper window."
Mr. Horne Fisher languidly turned to his distinguished relative
and spoke for the first time.
"I am rather a convert to the cockney school
of psychology," he said in an almost inaudible voice.
The others seemed to feel the same influence in different ways,
for the group began to break up in the manner indicated. Morton
moved toward the window immediately in front of them, where the
hidden outlaw had just snuffed the candle; Nolan, a little
farther westward to the next window; while Wilson, followed by
Macbride with the ladder, went round to the two windows at the
back. Sir Walter Carey himself, followed by his secretary, began
to walk round toward the only door, to demand admittance in a
more regular fashion.
"He will be armed, of course," remarked Sir
"By all accounts," replied Horne Fisher, "he can do
more with a candlestick than most men with a pistol.
But he is pretty sure to have the pistol, too."
Even as he spoke the question was answered with
a tongue of thunder. Morton had just placed himself in
front of the nearest window, his broad shoulders.
blocking the aperture. For an instant it was lit from
within as with red fire, followed by a thundering
throng of echoes. The square shoulders seemed to
alter in shape, and the sturdy figure collapsed among
the tall, rank grasses at the foot of the tower. A puff
of smoke floated from the window like a little cloud.
The two men behind rushed to the spot and raised
him, but he was dead.
Sir Walter straightened himself and called out
something that was lost in another noise of firing; it
was possible that the police were already avenging
their comrade from the other side. Fisher had already
raced round to the next window, and a new cry of
astonishment from him brought his patron to the same
spot. Nolan, the Irish policeman, had also fallen,
sprawling all his great length in the grass, and it was
red with his blood. He was still alive when they reached him,
but there was death on his face, and he was only able
to make a final gesture telling them that all was over;
and, with a broken word and a heroic effort,
motioning them on to where his other comrades were
besieging the back of the tower. Stunned by these
rapid and repeated shocks, the two men could only
vaguely obey the gesture, and, finding their way to
the other windows at the back, they discovered a
scene equally startling, if less final and tragic. The
other two officers were not dead or mortally
wounded, but Macbride lay with a broken leg and his
ladder on top of him, evidently thrown down from the
top window of the tower; while Wilson lay on his
face, quite still as if stunned, with his red head among
the gray and silver of the sea holly. In him, however,
the impotence was but momentary, for he began to
move and rise as the others came round the tower.
"My God! it's like an explosion!" cried Sir Walter;
and indeed it was the only word for this unearthly
energy, by which one man had been able to deal
death or destruction on three sides of the same small
triangle at the same instant.
Wilson had already scrambled to his feet and with
splendid energy flew again at the window, revolver in
hand. He fired twice into the opening and then
disappeared in his own smoke; but the thud of his
feet and the shock of a falling chair told them that
the intrepid Londoner had managed at last to leap
into the room. Then followed a curious silence; and
Sir Walter, walking to the window through the
thinning smoke, looked into the hollow shell of the
ancient tower. Except for Wilson, staring around him,
there was nobody there.
The inside of the tower was a single empty room,
with nothing but a plain wooden chair and a table on
which were pens, ink and paper, and the candlestick.
Halfway up the high wall there was a rude timber
platform under the upper window, a small loft which
was more like a large shelf. It was reached only by a
ladder, and it seemed to be as bare as the bare walls.
Wilson completed his survey of the place and then
went and stared at the things on the table. Then he
silently pointed with his lean forefinger at the open
page of the large notebook. The writer had suddenly
stopped writing, even in the middle of a word.
"I said it was like an explosion," said Sir Walter
Carey at last. "And really the man himself seems to
have suddenly exploded. But he has blown himself up
somehow without touching the tower. He's burst
more like a bubble than a bomb."
"He has touched more valuable things than the
tower," said Wilson, gloomily.
There was a long silence, and then Sir Walter said,
seriously: "Well, Mr. Wilson, I am not a detective,
and these unhappy happenings have left you in
charge of that branch of the business. We all lament
the cause of this, but I should like to say that I myself
have the strongest confidence in your capacity for
carrying on the work. What do you think we should
Wilson seemed to rouse himself from his
depression and acknowledged the speaker's words
with a warmer civility than he had hitherto shown to
anybody. He called in a few of the police to assist in
routing out the interior, leaving the rest to spread
themselves in a search party outside.
"I think," he said, "the first thing is to make quite
sure about the inside of this place, as it was hardly
physically possible for him to have got outside. I
suppose poor Nolan would have brought in his
banshee and said it was supernaturally possible. But
I've got no use for disembodied spirits when I'm
dealing with facts. And the facts before me are an
empty tower with a ladder, a chair, and a table."
"The spiritualists," said Sir Walter, with a smile,
"would say that spirits could find a great deal of use
for a table."
"I dare say they could if the spirits were on
the table--in a bottle," replied Wilson, with a
curl of his pale lip. "The people round here, when
they're all sodden up with Irish whisky, may believe
in such things. I think they want a little education in
Horne Fisher's heavy eyelids fluttered in a faint
attempt to rise, as if he were tempted to a lazy
protest against the contemptuous tone of the
"The Irish believe far too much in spirits to
believe in spiritualism," he murmured. "They know
too much about 'em. If you want a simple and
childlike faith in any spirit that comes along you can
get it in your favorite London."
"I don't want to get it anywhere," said Wilson,
shortly. "I say I'm dealing with much simpler things
than your simple faith, with a table and a chair and a
ladder. Now what I want to say about them at the
start is this. They are all three made roughly enough
of plain wood. But the table and the chair are fairly
new and comparatively clean. The ladder is covered
with dust and there is a cobweb under the top rung of
it. That means that he borrowed the first two quite
recently from some cottage, as we supposed, but the
ladder has been a long time in this rotten old dustbin.
Probably it was part of the original furniture, an
heirloom in this magnificent palace of the Irish kings."
Again Fisher looked at him under his eyelids, but
seemed too sleepy to speak, and Wilson went on
with his argument.
"Now it's quite clear that something very odd has
just happened in this place. The chances are ten to
one, it seems to me, that it had something specially to
do with this place. Probably he came here because
he could do it only here; it doesn't seem very inviting
otherwise. But the man knew it of old; they say it
belonged to his family, so that altogether, I think,
everything points to something in the construction of
the tower itself."
"Your reasoning seems to me excellent," said Sir
Walter, who was listening attentively. "But what
could it be?"
"You see now what I mean about the ladder,"
went on the detective; "it's the only old piece of
furniture here and the first thing that caught that
cockney eye of mine. But there is something else.
That loft up there is a sort of lumber room without
any lumber. So far as I can see, it's as empty as
everything else; and, as things are, I don't see the use
of the ladder leading to it. It seems to me, as I can't
find anything unusual down here, that it might pay us
to look up there."
He got briskly off the table on which he was
sitting (for the only chair was allotted to Sir Walter)
and ran rapidly up the ladder to the platform above.
He was soon followed by the others, Mr. Fisher
going last, however, with an appearance of
At this stage, however, they were destined to
disappointment; Wilson nosed in every corner like a
terrier and examined the roof almost in the posture of
a fly, but half an hour afterward they had to confess
that they were still without a clew. Sir Walter's
private secretary seemed more and more threatened
with inappropriate slumber, and, having been the last
to climb up the ladder, seemed now to lack the
energy even to climb down again.
"Come along, Fisher," called out Sir Walter from
below, when the others had regained the floor. "We
must consider whether we'll pull the whole place to
pieces to see what it's made of."
"I'm coming in a minute," said the voice from the
ledge above their heads, a voice somewhat
suggestive of an articulate yawn.
"What are you waiting for?" asked Sir Walter,
impatiently. "Can you see anything there?"
"Well, yes, in a way," replied the voice, vaguely.
"In fact, I see it quite plain now."
"What is it?" asked Wilson, sharply, from the table
on which he sat kicking his heels restlessly.
"Well, it's a man," said Horne Fisher.
Wilson bounded off the table as if he had been
kicked off it. "What do you mean?" he cried. "How
can you possibly see a man?"
"I can see him through the window," replied the secretary,
mildly. "I see him coming across
the moor. He's making a bee line across the open
country toward this tower. He evidently means to pay
us a visit. And, considering who it seems to be,
perhaps it would be more polite. if we were all at the
door to receive him." And in a leisurely manner the
secretary came down the ladder.
"Who it seems to be!" repeated Sir Walter in
"Well, I think it's the man you call Prince
Michael," observed Mr. Fisher, airily. "In fact, I'm
sure it is. I've seen the police portraits of him."
There was a dead silence, and Sir Walter's usually
steady brain seemed to go round like a windmill.
"But, hang it all!" he said at last, "even supposing
his own explosion could have thrown him half a mile
away, without passing through any of the windows,
and left him alive enough for a country walk--even
then, why the devil should he walk in this direction?
The murderer does not generally revisit the scene of
his crime so rapidly as all that."
"He doesn't know yet that it is the scene of his
crime," answered Horne Fisher.
"What on earth do you mean? You credit him
with rather singular absence of mind."
"Well, the truth is, it isn't the scene of his crime,
said Fisher, and went and looked out of the window.
There was another silence, and then Sir Walter
said, quietly: "What sort of notion have you really got
in your head, Fisher? Have you developed a new
theory about how this fellow escaped out of the ring
"He never escaped at all," answered the man
at the window, without turning round. "He
never escaped out of the ring because he was
never inside the ring. He was not in this tower
at all, at least not when we were surrounding it."
He turned and leaned back against the window,
but, in spite of his usual listless manner, they almost
fancied that the face in shadow was a little pale.
"I began to guess something of the sort when we
were some way from the tower," he said. "Did you
notice that sort of flash or flicker the candle gave
before it was extinguished? I was almost certain it
was only the last leap the flame gives when a candle
burns itself out. And then I came into this room and I
He pointed at the table and Sir Walter caught his
breath with a sort of curse at his own blindness. For
the candle in the candlestick had obviously burned
itself away to nothing and left him, mentally, at least,
very completely in the dark.
"Then there is a sort of mathematical question," went on Fisher,
leaning back in his limp way
and looking up at the bare walls, as if tracing
imaginary diagrams there. "It's not so easy for a man
in the third angle to face the other two at the same
moment, especially if they are at the base of an
isosceles. I am sorry if it sounds like a lecture on
"I'm afraid we have no time for it," said Wilson,
coldly. "If this man is really coming back, I must give
my orders at once."
"I think I'll go on with it, though," observed Fisher,
staring at the roof with insolent serenity.
"I must ask you, Mr. Fisher, to let me conduct my
inquiry on my own lines," said Wilson, firmly. "I am
the officer in charge now."
"Yes," remarked Horne Fisher, softly, but with an
accent that somehow chilled the hearer. "Yes. But why?"
Sir Walter was staring, for he had never seen his
rather lackadaisical young friend look like that
before. Fisher was looking at Wilson with lifted lids,
and the eyes under them seemed to have shed or
shifted a film, as do the eyes of an eagle.
"Why are you the officer in charge now?" he
asked. "Why can you conduct the inquiry on your
own lines now? How did it come about, I wonder,
that the elder officers are not here to interfere with
anything you do?"
Nobody spoke, and nobody can say how soon anyone would have
collected his wits to speak when a noise came from
without. It was the heavy and hollow sound of a blow
upon the door of the tower, and to their shaken spirits it
sounded strangely like the hammer of doom.
The wooden door of the tower moved on its rusty
hinges under the hand that struck it and Prince
Michael came into the room. Nobody had the smallest
doubt about his identity. His light clothes, though
frayed with his adventures, were of fine and almost
foppish cut, and he wore a pointed beard, or imperial,
perhaps as a further reminiscence of Louis Napoleon;
but he was a much taller and more graceful man that
his prototype. Before anyone could speak he had
silenced everyone for an instant with a slight but
splendid gesture of hospitality.
"Gentlemen," he said, "this is a poor place now,
but you are heartily welcome."
Wilson was the first to recover, and he took a
stride toward the newcomer.
"Michael O'Neill, I arrest you in the king's name
for the murder of Francis Morton and James Nolan.
It is my duty to warn you--"
"No, no, Mr. Wilson," cried Fisher, suddenly.
"You shall not commit a third murder."
Sir Walter Carey rose from his chair, which fell
over with a crash behind him. "What does all this
mean?" he called out in an authoritative manner.
"It means," said Fisher, "that this man, Hooker
Wilson, as soon as he had put his head in at that
window, killed his two comrades who had put their
heads in at the other windows, by firing across the
empty room. That is what it means. And if you want
to know, count how many times he is supposed to
have fired and then count the charges left in his
Wilson, who was still sitting on the table, abruptly
put a hand out for the weapon that lay beside him.
But the next movement was the most unexpected of
all, for the prince standing in the doorway passed
suddenly from the dignity of a statue to the swiftness
of an acrobat and rent the revolver out of the
"You dog!" he cried. "So you are the type of
English truth, as I am of Irish tragedy--you who come
to kill me, wading through the blood of your brethren.
If they had fallen in a feud on the hillside, it would be
called murder, and yet your sin might be forgiven
you. But I, who am innocent, I was to be slain with
ceremony. There would belong speeches and patient
judges listening to my vain plea of innocence, noting
down my despair and disregarding it. Yes, that is
what I call assassination. But killing may be no
murder; there is one shot left in this little gun, and I
know where it should go."
Wilson turned quickly on the table, and even as he
turned he twisted in agony, for Michael shot him
through the body where he sat, so that he tumbled
off the table like lumber.
The police rushed to lift him; Sir Walter stood
speechless; and then, with a strange and weary
gesture, Horne Fisher spoke.
"You are indeed a type of the Irish tragedy," he
said. "You were entirely in the right, and you have
put yourself in the wrong."
The prince's face was like marble for a space
then there dawned in his eyes a light not unlike that
of despair. He laughed suddenly and flung the
smoking pistol on the ground.
"I am indeed in the wrong," he said. "I have
committed a crime that may justly bring a curse on
me and my children."
Horne Fisher did not seem entirely satisfied with
this very sudden repentance; he kept his eyes on the
man and only said, in a low voice, "What crime do
"I have helped English justice," replied Prince
Michael. "I have avenged your king's officers; I have
done the work of his hangman. For that truly I
deserve to be hanged."
And he turned to the police with a gesture that did
not so much surrender to them, but rather command
them to arrest him.
This was the story that Horne Fisher told to
Harold March, the journalist, many years after, in a
little, but luxurious, restaurant near Picca
dilly. He had invited March to dinner some time after
the affair he called "The Face in the Target," and the
conversation had naturally turned on that mystery and
afterward on earlier memories of Fisher's life and the
way in which he was led to study such problems as
those of Prince Michael. Horne Fisher was fifteen
years older; his thin hair had faded to frontal baldness,
and his long, thin hands dropped less with affectation
and more with fatigue. And he told the story of the
Irish adventure of his youth, because it recorded the
first occasion on which he had ever come in contact
with crime, or discovered how darkly and how terribly
crime can be entangled with law.
"Hooker Wilson was the first criminal I ever
knew, and he was a policeman," explained Fisher,
twirling his wine glass. "And all my life has been a
mixed-up business of the sort. He was a man of very
real talent, and perhaps genius, and well worth
studying, both as a detective and a criminal. His
white face and red hair were typical of him, for he
was one of those who are cold and yet on fire for
fame; and he could control anger, but not ambition.
He swallowed the snubs of his superiors in that first
quarrel, though he boiled with resentment; but when
he suddenly saw the two heads dark against the
dawn and framed in the two windows, he could not
miss the chance, not only of revenge, but of the
removal of the two obstacles to his promotion. He
was a dead shot and counted on silencing both,
though proof against him would have been hard in
any case. But, as a matter of fact, he had a narrow
escape, in the case of Nolan, who lived just long
enough to say, 'Wilson' and point. We thought he was
summoning help for his comrade, but he was really
denouncing his murderer. After that it was easy to
throw down the ladder above him (for a man up a
ladder cannot see clearly what is below and behind)
and to throw himself on the ground as another victim
of the catastrophe.
"But there was mixed up with his murderous
ambition a real belief, not only in his own talents, but
in his own theories. He did believe in what he called a